Changes Are Coming: How to Stay Ahead of Workplace Disruptions

Changes Are Coming: How to Stay Ahead of Workplace Disruptions

When we think about the future of work, we often picture robots taking our jobs and a permanent end to the decreasingly popular 9-to-5. While changes as extreme as these may be coming at some point in the future, ongoing technological innovations are changing the future of work today, while subsequent disruptions will continue to shape our working lives tomorrow. Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, machine learning, and other emerging technologies are already promising to fundamentally change how we work and what we need from our HR functions. The ongoing and upcoming waves of technological change will fundamentally disrupt the way work is done and who does it.

HR functions are starting to engage with these changes: Gartner research shows that one in four HR teams are already using or piloting AI in some form. However, only 10% of Chief HR Officers feel that they have an operational strategy to address the risks of automation. In order for HR to evolve, its leaders need to better understand the technology trends that affect the future of work. HR executives are now expected to evaluate the impact of these trends on their organization, both to leverage them in growing the business and to prepare the organization for the risks they pose.

So how do you proactively prepare for workplace disruptions instead of reactively lagging behind them? We reviewed how some of the most progressive organizations and HR leaders are tracking, assessing, and managing the implications of upcoming technology trends on their employees and the work they do. From our research, we determined that HR leaders must focus on two key areas: identifying and anticipating business disruptions, and preparing for workforce transformation.

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With Brexit Uncertainty Looming, UK Businesses and Employees Lose Confidence in Economy

With Brexit Uncertainty Looming, UK Businesses and Employees Lose Confidence in Economy

The deadline for the UK to withdraw from the European Union is coming up in just two weeks, on March 29. This week, the UK Parliament voted against a deal negotiated between Prime Minister Theresa May’s government and EU leaders, against a no-deal Brexit, and in favor of delaying the Brexit date in order to buy additional time to figure out a solution. Any delay will require the consent of the 27 remaining EU countries, which is not guaranteed, and even with more time, legislators will still face the same tough choices.

As the clock counts down to the deadline, Brexit has created a lot of uncertainty for UK organizations and their employees, especially workers from other EU countries whose future status is up in the air. This uncertainty has done significant damage to UK employees’ confidence in the business environment, Gartner’s latest Global Talent Monitor report indicates:

Employee confidence in the UK business environment has slumped, according to Gartner, Inc. The latest data in Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor report for 4Q18 shows employee confidence in near-term business conditions and long-term economic prospects reaching an index score of 55.6, a decline of 7.5 per cent from an index score of 60.09 in 3Q18. These results follow a worldwide trend that has seen global business confidence sink to its lowest point since the fourth quarter of 2017.

This lapse in confidence was paired with a sharp decline in employees’ active job seeking behavior, which fell by 7.2 per cent from 3Q18. Amid declining perceptions of the job market, coupled with the highly uncertain Brexit outlook, employees’ intent to stay in their current jobs in 4Q18 increased for the first time in 2018, as did their willingness to go above and beyond in their present roles.

UK employers are staring down the uncertainty of Brexit in the context of a tight talent market in which it has become exceptionally challenging to fill critical skills gaps. The Global Talent Monitor data from the final quarter of last year suggests that talent attraction will be a major challenge for employers this year, regardless of what happens with Brexit, as employees take a more pessimistic view of the job market and become more averse to the risks inherent in changing jobs. (Gartner for HR Leaders clients can see all the latest data from our Global Talent Monitor here.)

Uncertainty is a key factor — perhaps the key factor — driving the Brexit panic, as illustrated by the Decision Maker Panel, a survey of 7,500 UK business executives that researchers from the Bank of England, University of Nottingham, and Stanford University have been running regularly to gauge the impact of Brexit on companies. Writing at the Harvard Business Review, the researchers ascribe declines in investment, employment, and productivity to Brexit-related uncertainty:

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New US Overtime Rule Proposal Would Raise Salary Threshold to $35k

New US Overtime Rule Proposal Would Raise Salary Threshold to $35k

The US Department of Labor unveiled its new proposal for updating overtime regulations last Thursday, offering a version of the rule that would expand overtime eligibility to more employees, but millions fewer than the one the Obama administration attempted to enact in 2016. The proposed rule raises the salary threshold at which executive, administrative, or professional employees become exempt from overtime requirements from $23,660 to $35,308: higher than many businesses expected but a far cry from the $913 per week, or $47,476 per year, set by the previous administration, Proskauer attorney Allan Bloom notes in a blog post summarizing the finer points of the proposal. Up to 10 percent of that minimum can be satisfied through non-discretionary bonuses, incentives, or commissions, or through “catch-up” payments made at the end of the year, which effectively reduces the weekly minimum further.

Another exemption for highly compensated employees would increase from $100,000 to $147,414, which is actually higher than the Obama administration’s threshold of $134,004. The new proposed figure equates to the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally, projected forward to 2020. Employees are exempt from overtime if they meet this higher level of compensation as long as they are primarily engaged in office work and regularly perform at least one of the duties of an executive, administrative or professional employee. If the proposed rule comes into force as written, employers of workers who are no longer exempt based on their level of compensation will have to decide whether to pay them overtime or bump their salaries up over the threshold. “Paying overtime on $125,000 per year is a huge economic burden, but it still may be less expensive than going to the new level,” Seyfarth Shaw attorney Alexander Passantino tells Lisa Nagele-Piazza at SHRM.

One feature of the Obama-era rule, subsequently struck down by a federal judge in 2017 before coming into effect, to which employers objected was its scheme for automatically increasing the threshold every three years based on inflation. This was intended to ensure that lack of legislative or regulatory action did not result in an outdated minimum: The threshold had not been updated since 2004, which was the first change since 1975. The new proposal does not include automatic increases. Instead, the notice of proposed rule-making expresses the department’s “intention to propose updates to the earnings thresholds every four years. This would provide clarity and help workers and employers by having a regular and orderly process for future changes.”

The new proposal also does not change the duties tests for overtime eligibility, Ryan Mick, an attorney with Dorsey & Whitney in Minneapolis, tells SHRM’s Allen Smith, which “would have required many employers to undertake a far more complex analysis to determine exempt status for many employees.” Still, it may be a good time for employers to make sure their exempt employees meet the existing criteria:

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US Job Growth Slowed in February, but Average Earnings Rose

US Job Growth Slowed in February, but Average Earnings Rose

The US economy added only 20,000 jobs last month, according to the Labor Department’s latest jobs report, marking a sharp slowdown from a streak of monthly gains in the hundreds of thousands. The unemployment rate, however, fell from 4.0 to 3.8 percent, while the number of people employed part time for economic reasons decreased by 837,000 to 4.3 million, following a sharp increase in January attributed to the federal government shutdown that month. The return of furloughed federal employees also contributed to the decline in the overall unemployment rate.

The number of new jobs fell far short of economists’ predictions, which were in the range of 170,000-180,000. Employment in fields like professional services and health care continued to increase apace with recent trends, but the construction sector cut 31,000 jobs and manufacturing added only 4,000. Employment in other industries like retail, leisure, and hospitality stagnated.

The contrast with other recent months is even more striking as the numbers of new jobs created in December and January were both revised upward slightly, to 227,000 and 311,000 respectively. This sudden swing from robust to lackluster job growth is difficult to interpret as it may signal a slowdown be just a blip in the data, the New York Times notes:

January’s payroll gains were exhilarating. February’s numbers were disappointing. Together they offer a potent reminder that each monthly employment report from the Labor Department captures just a moment in time. Longer-term trends are what matter, and the streak of job growth continues to set records. …

Still, as Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist of Northern Trust in Chicago, said: “This is a disappointing report. I don’t think there’s any way to sugarcoat it.” Rising wage growth is good for workers, but combined with soft payroll growth, he said, “it’s a signal we need to be cautious with the U.S. economic outlook.”

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Goldman Sachs Adopts a More Flexible Dress Code

Goldman Sachs Adopts a More Flexible Dress Code

In an announcement that went out on Tuesday to the roughly 36,000 staff of Goldman Sachs, the bank’s new CEO David Solomon, CFO Stephen Scherr, and COO John Waldron indicated that employees would now have more flexibility in deciding what to wear to work, joining a growing number of financial and professional services firms that have embraced less formal dress codes:

Given our firm philosophy and the changing nature of workplaces generally in favor of a more casual environment, we believe this is the right time to move to a firmwide flexible dress code. Goldman Sachs has a broad and diverse client base around the world, and we want all of our clients to feel comfortable with and confident in our team, so please dress in a manner that is consistent with your clients’ expectations.

Of course, casual dress is not appropriate every day and for every interaction and we trust you will consistently exercise good judgment in this regard. All of us know what is and is not appropriate for the workplace. We hope this approach will provide flexibility for our people and create a welcoming environment for all.

The trend of “white-shoe” firms going business casual took its last big step forward in the summer of 2016, when JPMorgan Chase and PwC both relaxed their policies. Reuters characterizes Goldman Sachs’ decision to follow suit as “a move once considered unimaginable for the Wall Street firm’s leagues of monk-shoed partners and bankers in bespoke suits”:

Historically known as a white-shoe investment bank, Goldman Sachs traditionally required formal business attire. But since 2017, the bank began relaxing its dress code for employees in the technology division and other new digital businesses. This created a divide in the workforce as clear as denim versus pinstripes.

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Feeling Trapped: Can HR Leaders Take On a Toxic Culture?

Feeling Trapped: Can HR Leaders Take On a Toxic Culture?

Culture is having a moment in the sun. In our analysis of earnings calls, Gartner discovered that culture was the most frequently discussed talent issue in 2017, while mentions of the word increased 12 percent from the previous year. When we discuss culture change with HR leaders, their objective is usually to align the culture to changing business models or strategies, in order to accelerate and improve the outcomes of those transformations. A culture challenge is often phrased as: “We need to be more innovative,” or “we’re not as inclusive as we could be.”

But recent events have prompted another set of conversations on what to do when you find yourself in a culture that requires not just an adjustment, but a true overhaul. Many companies have recently faced public scrutiny for possessing workplace environments deemed “toxic”—in terms of enabling sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, or other forms of unethical conduct. Over the past two years, we’ve seen several high-profile organizations undergo significant organizational restructuring to address this issue. In the #MeToo era, as the corporate world engages in a long-overdue reckoning with sexism and sexual harassment, more of these toxic workplace cultures are sure to be uncovered.

When we talk about a “toxic” culture here, we mean something more than just a low-performing culture demonstrated by low employee engagement, siloed workstreams, or high turnover. Those issues are worth addressing, but cultural toxicity is higher stakes. Toxic cultures engender malevolent harassment or corrupt business practices, protect the perpetrators of these toxic behaviors, and create an unsafe environment for employees, permeated with fear and anxiety. While the symptoms may vary, toxic cultures can directly and acutely damage a business’ reputation, profits, and employer brand, while doing real harm to employees and their careers along the way.

Many HR leaders have walked into a new position, only to find themselves in a deeply toxic culture, and wondered what’s next. Of course, since the door is right there, many of these leaders give feedback with their feet, understandably unwilling to fight a force as large and as nebulous as culture. On the other hand, fixing a toxic culture is one of most powerful and positive legacies an HR leader can achieve, in terms of both employee welfare and the health of the organization.

Before leaving a culturally toxic organization behind, HR leaders should determine whether there is an opportunity to partner with relevant stakeholders and address this problem. Here are some steps you, as an HR leader, can consider:

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Does Hermes’ Union Deal Predict the Future of Gig Economy Workers’ Rights in the UK?

Does Hermes’ Union Deal Predict the Future of Gig Economy Workers’ Rights in the UK?

In a deal reached earlier this month with one of the UK’s largest trade unions, the courier company Hermes is offering its self-employed drivers the option to obtain some of the rights enjoyed by regular employees, including a guaranteed minimum wage and holiday pay, the Guardian reported:

Under the agreement with the GMB union, Hermes’ 15,000 drivers will continue to be self-employed but can opt into contracts with better rights. The deal comes after almost 200 Hermes couriers won the right to be recognised as “workers” at an employment tribunal last summer in a case backed by the GMB. Under employment law, “workers” are guaranteed rights including holiday pay, the legal minimum wage, minimum rest breaks and protection against unlawful discrimination.

The GMB has been active in advocating for the rights of British workers in the gig economy, also backing similar labor tribunal cases against other companies operating on an independent contractor model, including Uber, which lost a landmark case in 2016. Other British unions and union federations have also supported claims regarding the rights of gig economy workers, with tribunals ruling in favor of the workers in most of these cases. The settlement reached this month means that Hermes will drop its planned appeal against the ruling last year, while the GMB will refrain from pursuing further litigation against the company.

The “worker” classification in UK employment law defines a space between employees and the self-employed, but the tests for classifying workers as such are primarily defined by case law and increasingly unclear as technological shifts have brought about changes in the way people work. The Taylor Review of modern working practices recommended in its 2017 report that the government relabel “workers” as “dependent contractors,” write a clearer definition of this category into law, and make it the default status for companies that have a self-employed workforce above a certain size. The government said last year that it would adopt most of the review’s recommendations, but did not commit to writing this “worker by default” model into law.

Yvonne Gallagher, A partner at the London-based law firm Harbottle and Lewis, commented to Personnel Today that the Hermes deal would raise some questions about these drivers’ tax and national insurance obligations:

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