Is There a Place for User Rating Systems in Performance Management?

Is There a Place for User Rating Systems in Performance Management?

A recent article at the Economist described Uber’s user rating system for drivers as a strategy for supplanting traditional performance management, arguing that these ratings “increasingly function to make management cheaper by shifting the burden of monitoring workers to users.” Uber has an interest in ensuring that customers have a consistently good experience and thus is harmed when drivers perform poorly, but instead of devoting resources to monitoring and managing drivers’ performance, it counts on customers to assess it instead. Meanwhile, the platform gives drivers a strong incentive to earn high marks, “aligning the firm’s interests with those of workers,” with the risk of being deactivated if their average rating falls too low.

This type of outsourced performance rating has expanded outside of the gig economy, the author adds, pointing to the ratings and feedback companies increasingly solicit from customers online after they interact with employees, such as in a customer service call.

As the Economist points out, user ratings systems are an attractive method for crowdsourcing the monitoring of employee performance without having to spend the time, money, and effort of having managers do it themselves. And it’s no surprise that organizations are looking for an easy way out. Our own data at CEB, now Gartner, shows that 55 percent of managers believe performance management is too time consuming, and only 4 percent of HR leaders believe their current process accurately assesses performance. With all the effort that has ostensibly been wasted trying to fix performance management, leaving it up to the wisdom of the crowd sure is tempting.

This makes a lot of sense for Uber, which treats its drivers as contractors and will never need them to perform a task other than driving. Customer ratings may be all the performance information Uber needs to decide whether or not to allow a driver to continue working on its platform. With more conventional models of employment, this usually isn’t an option, so most organizations that choose to integrate user ratings into their performance management process must do so more carefully.

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VCs, Entrepreneurs See Midwestern Cities as Potential Startup Hubs

VCs, Entrepreneurs See Midwestern Cities as Potential Startup Hubs

Once the industrial base of the US, the Midwest has struggled in the high-tech era to capture the talent-driven growth enjoyed by coastal cities like Boston and San Francisco, but the region’s fortunes are changing fast. In the past year or so, a burgeoning Midwestern tech scene has begun attracting more attention from venture capitalists and Silicon Valley giants, with many local startups and big-company expansions focusing on the middle-skill roles for which the tech sector’s demand is insatiable, but that are still in short supply nationwide. These “mid-tech” or “new-collar” jobs are described as a 21st century analog to the factory jobs of the past—and as such, a promising path to revival for the industrial Midwest.

High-tech industries including major international firms have been making some big bets in the region: The Indian IT services and business process outsourcing giant Infosys is planning a sprawling campus near Indianapolis, which aims to create 3,000 new jobs within five years, while the Taiwanese multinational Foxconn Technology Group made a deal with the Wisconsin state government last year to build a display panel factory there, which will see the company invest as much as $10 billion and hire as many as 13,000 people. Several midwestern cities are on the list of finalists in the competition to host Amazon’s second headquarters, though Detroit, for example, didn’t make the cut, partly due to a lack of readily available talent.

Yet “mid-tech” companies and regional outposts of tech giants are just one side of the Midwest’s high-tech renaissance. Over the weekend, VentureBeat reporter Anna Hensel took a look at the growing community of AI and machine learning startups in the heartland:

“The real benefit of artificial intelligence is the application to traditional problems and products that the world needs, and the really successful companies have that domain knowledge that they can understand how to apply this technology,” [Chris Olsen, a partner at Columbus, Ohio VC firm Drive Capital,] told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “We see more of those domain experts in these industries [with] massive chunks of GDP that exist here in the Midwest.”

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Is Your Dress Code Accessible to Employees With Disabilities?

Is Your Dress Code Accessible to Employees With Disabilities?

Nearly 20 million people of working age live with a disability in the US, according to Census data, while the unemployment rate among this demographic is about three times the national average. Recent research suggests that a lack of adaptive clothing suited to a professional environment may play a role in the underemployment of persons with disabilities. Kerri McBee-Black and Jung Ha-Brookshire, from the University of Missouri’s department of textile and apparel management, analyzed the professional experiences of 12 people with either physical or psychological disabilities to see what impact workplace dress codes had on their experiences in the job market. As they discovered, these rules can seriously limit their employability.

Just a few retailers, such as Izzy Camilleri or Silvert’s, specialize in adaptive clothing, which might include snaps or magnets instead of buttons, for example, or accommodate the specific needs of wheelchair users. Even fewer mainstream apparel brands, such as Target and Tommy Hilfiger, produce lines of adaptive clothing. Professional attire for people with disabilities is particularly limited, expensive, and hard to find. This lack of availability creates obstacles when trying to fit into a corporate work environment, of which people without disabilities may not be cognizant. These obstacles keep some people with disabilities out of the workforce entirely, or discourage them from pursuing careers for which they are highly qualified, McBee-Black said in an interview last month with Nadra Nittle at Racked:

One particular young woman who used a wheelchair and has a college degree and experience in the banking industry did not feel comfortable applying for a job in the bank when she graduated. She said, “I knew they had a specific dress code and that dress code would make it hard to use the restroom without assistance from others.” She was independent in every other aspect of her life but that, so she never once considered applying for a job at the bank.

It is imperative, McBee-Black argues, that more clothing retailers market adaptive clothing appropriate for the professional environment. Employers also have an important role, however, in ensuring that they are not inadvertently creating unwelcoming work environments for people with disabilities. Here are a few steps organizations can take to make their workplaces more disability-friendly:

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US Women May Have Most to Gain from Student Debt Assistance

US Women May Have Most to Gain from Student Debt Assistance

A recent analysis by the American Association of University Women found that a sizable majority of all student debt in the US is owed by women—$890 billion out of $1.4 trillion—while individual women with bachelor’s degrees graduate with an average debt $2,700 greater than that of their male classmates:

The newly-released data from the 2015-16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study also reveal that:

  • Women comprise 56 percent of enrolled college students, but hold 65 percent of outstanding student loan debt;
  • 71 percent of women have student loan debt at bachelor’s graduation compared to 66 percent of men; and
  • Black women graduate with the most debt – at $30,400 – compared to $22,000 for white women and $19,500 for white men. …

The analysis shows how the burdens become compounded by other financial factors – where women take two years longer than men to repay their student loans, in part because of the gender pay gap. Women with college degrees who work full time make, on average, 26 percent less than their male peers, which leaves women with less income to devote to debt repayment. Compared to white men with bachelor’s degrees, black and Hispanic women with bachelor’s degrees make 37 percent and 34 percent less (respectively) and struggle to repay their loans as a result.

The Millennial generation is already known to be struggling with an unprecedented burden of student debt, driven by the rising cost of college, the financial impact of the Great Recession, and other factors. The AAUW analysis adds a new dimension to this problem by illustrating how acutely it affects women (particularly women of color), in combination with the other factors that contribute to their disproportionate levels of financial insecurity.

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Study: Open Offices Shut Down Face-to-Face Communication

Study: Open Offices Shut Down Face-to-Face Communication

In a paper published last week, Harvard Business School professor Ethan Bernstein and co-author Stephen Turban set out to measure the impact of open offices on how employees communicate in the workplace, using sociometric devices to track employee interactions at Fortune 500 companies that were transitioning to open office plans. Quartz’s Lila MacLellan explains their counterintuitive findings:

In two studies, the researchers found that conversations by email and instant messaging (IM) increased significantly after the office redesign, while productivity declined, and, for most people, face-to-face interaction decreased. Participants in the first study spent 72% less time interacting in person in the open space. Before the renovation, employees had met face to face for nearly 5.8 hours per person over three weeks. In the after picture, the same people held face-to-face conversations for only about 1.7 hours per person.

These employees were emailing and IM-ing much more often, however, sending 56% more email messages to other participants in the study. This is how employees sought the privacy that their cubicle walls once provided, the authors reason. IM messages soared, both in terms of messages sent and total word count, by 67% and 75%, respectively.

Bernstein’s paper adds to the growing body of research questioning the value of open-plan offices, which came into vogue in the US over the past decade as part of an effort to make the office environment more interactive and collaborative. Critiques of the practice usually focus on the distractions and lack of privacy an open office provides; the proliferation of open offices in the US has even been suggested as a possible factor contributing to the spread of the flu virus in American workplaces during winter.

Other research, like Bernstein’s, has found that open offices don’t improve employee communication as advertised, and can even have the opposite effect. A major study in Australia in 2016, for example, found that workers in open offices form poorer relationships with their colleagues and managers, making fewer friends at work and seeing their supervisors less supportive.

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US Economy Added 213,000 Jobs in June As Labor Force Expanded

US Economy Added 213,000 Jobs in June As Labor Force Expanded

The latest jobs numbers from the US Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics paint an encouraging picture of the state of the labor market, with new jobs being created at a steady clip and more people joining the workforce than leaving it. Total nonfarm employment increased by 213,000 last month, while the civilian labor force grew by 601,000, edging labor force participation up to 62.9 percent.

Unemployment increased from 3.8 to 4.0 percent as the number of unemployed persons increased by 499,000 to 6.6 million, but these changes reflected the large numbers of new job seekers, not people being thrown out of work. The bureau also revised its estimates for job growth upward for the previous two months, from 233,000 to 244,000 new jobs in May and from 159,000 to 175,000 in April.

Wage growth remains lower than in previous expansionary periods, with June’s earnings numbers showing a year-over-year increase of just 2.7 percent. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 5 cents to $26.98 last month. Coming after a long period of wage stagnation, these numbers are better than nothing for American workers, but still below economists’ expectations and barely enough to keep pace with inflation.

“Taken at face value,” Neil Irwin interprets at the New York Times, “it’s a sign that the hot job market is succeeding at pulling people off the sidelines and into the work force”:

It’s easy to imagine people who have become disengaged from the work force who, in this tightening job market, are more likely than they were a few years ago to see help wanted signs everywhere, or to have friends and acquaintances urge them to start working.

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Progressive Companies Adding More Benefits for Trans Employees

Progressive Companies Adding More Benefits for Trans Employees

Large US employers, particularly tech companies, have been vocal advocates of transgender rights and acceptance in recent years. Beyond public statements and activism, however, these organizations are also looking at ways to make their HR policies more inclusive of their transgender employees. Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman observed recently that major companies are doing making more of an effort to be trans-inclusive, particularly in terms of ensuring that their benefit plans cover gender-affirming health care:

The Human Rights Campaign, a leading advocacy group, announced last year that over 450 major U.S. employers now have policies to support employees through the transitioning process. Separate research from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) found that these numbers are inching up throughout the U.S. workforce. Twenty-two percent of the nearly 600 HR professionals surveyed said their health plans cover gender confirmation procedures, up from 8% in 2016; a quarter provide mental-health counseling pre- and/or post-surgery, up from 11% two years ago; and 24% cover prescription drug therapy, up from 9% over the same period.

However, these benefits are more likely to be found at large employers like Intel, with workforces in the tens of thousands, than at smaller ones; IFEBP found that only 10% of companies with fewer than 50 employees offer trans-friendly health benefits, up from 4% in 2016.

By way of example, Dishman looks at Intel, which introduced coverage for all gender confirmation procedures, following standards set by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), in 2016, with no maximum lifetime benefit; and Amazon, which began offering unlimited coverage for trans medical care in 2015. Starbucks announced late last month that it had updated its health insurance policy, with help from WPATH, to cover a wider range of procedures that insurers often label cosmetic and refuse to cover but that trans people and their health providers consider essential to their transition process:

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