April Jobs Report Shows Lowest US Unemployment in 50 Years

April Jobs Report Shows Lowest US Unemployment in 50 Years

The latest jobs numbers from the US Department of Labor, released on Friday, show that the US economy continues to create jobs at a robust pace despite historically low levels of unemployment. According to the April report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 263,000 jobs were created last month, overshooting analysts’ predictions in the range of 185,000-190,000. The unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, a level not seen in the US since December 1969.

Wages also rose, albeit more modestly than economists would expect to see in such a tight labor market: Average hourly earnings were up 0.2 percent month-to-month for a 3.2 percent increase over the last 12 months. While this was nearly the best year-over-year growth figure since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, it doesn’t make up for years of stagnation, while inflation wiped out a significant portion of those gains, Vox highlighted in its coverage of the jobs report:

The latest pay data suggests that workers and labor unions will continue to strike to force businesses to boost wages. Slow income growth has been the weakest part of the US economy in its recovery from the Great Recession. Wages have barely kept up with the cost of living, even as the unemployment rate dropped and the economy expanded. April’s 6-cent average hourly wage hike suggests more of the same, despite a surprising 10-cent jump in February.

Over the past year, the cost of food and housing has gone up, so paychecks have had to stretch further. But because of recent falling gas prices, the annual inflation rate has fallen to 1.9 percent, compared to a high of 2.4 percent in 2018 (based on the Consumer Price Index). So when you take inflation into account, workers’ real wages only grew about 1.3 percent within the past year.

There are also reasons to hesitate before celebrating the decline in the unemployment rate, the New York Times pointed out, noting that “the factors behind it aren’t as hopeful as the headline number itself”:

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Two Studies Suggest Incentives May Not Drive Participation in Wellness Programs

Two Studies Suggest Incentives May Not Drive Participation in Wellness Programs

A new study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Harvard, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, sheds new light on the impact on increasingly popular workplace wellness programs on employees’ actual health outcomes. The effectiveness of these programs has not been extensively researched, as they are relatively new and rely on an evolving set of strategies and technologies, and studies so far have drawn mixed conclusions. The new research, Kaiser Health News senior correspondent Julie Appleby explains, had a more sophisticated design than many past studies in this area: The researchers randomly chose 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all their employees, then compared their results with 140 other stores with no program, covering a total study group of almost 33,000 employees.

Unfortunately, the researchers found no significant correlation between the introduction of the wellness program and a strong improvement in employee health:

After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled. But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

The BJ’s wellness program offered small incentives for participation: Employees could receive about $250 in small-dollar gift cards for taking courses on nutrition, exercise, and other wellness topics. Around 35 percent of eligible employees completed at least one course throughout the duration of the study. One wellness program vendor commented to KHN that the limited impact of the program may have come down to the incentives being too small:

Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes. Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.

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State and Local Minimum Wage Hikes Continue This Year Throughout the US

State and Local Minimum Wage Hikes Continue This Year Throughout the US

A consistent trend in the US business environment over the past three years has been a shift from federal to state and local governments as the main source of regulatory pressure on employers. Even as federal regulations stall or are rolled back under the Trump administration, businesses are facing higher minimum wages, paid leave mandates, and other new regulations at the state and local level. This trend has continued so far in 2019. While the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives plans to push for an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to (eventually) $15 an hour, their intent is largely to put political pressure on Republicans with regard to labor issues, and the effort is unlikely to bear much fruit as long as Republicans control the Senate and the White House.

Meanwhile, however, the patchwork of state and local wage floors is rising and growing more complex. Minimum wages are going up this year in at least 22 US states plus Washington, DC, as well as a number of cities and counties. Most of these increases reflect automatic increases or inflation indexing built into the states’ minimum wage laws, while a few are the result of legislation or referenda passed last year.

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Google Will Require Full Benefits for its Contractor Workforce by 2022

Google Will Require Full Benefits for its Contractor Workforce by 2022

Google revealed on Tuesday that it was phasing in a policy that will require its outside suppliers to provide health insurance, paid parental leave benefits, and a $15 minimum wage to employees working for the tech giant on a temporary or contract basis. The announcement was made in an internal memo issued to all employees and shared with the Hill:

Google will now require that the outside companies employing the workers provide them with comprehensive health care, a minimum wage of $15 per hour, 12 weeks of parental leave and a minimum of eight days of sick leave.

Google is beginning the efforts in the U.S., where there are not specific regulations around paid parental leave or comprehensive health care. Other countries in which the company operates have specific legislation around paid parental leave and other benefits. The company said it made sense to start in the U.S. because Google is setting a standard.

Google is giving the “suppliers” — companies that employ the temporary workers and contractors — until January to institute the minimum wage requirements. A Google spokesperson said it will give suppliers until 2022 to institute comprehensive health care benefits.

Google has faced increasing pressure from its “TVC” (temporary, vendor, and contractor) workers, as well as an activist community of its full-time employees, to improve the conditions under which TVCs work for the company. A day before the memo was issued, the Guardian reported on a letter signed by more than 900 Google workers calling for significant changes in the way the company deals with its contingent workforce. The letter originated from TVCs working on the global “personality team” responsible for crafting the voice for Google Assistant, most of whom had their contracts abruptly and unexpectedly shortened in early March:

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Staying Off the ‘Naughty List’ Is a Growing Concern for HR Leaders

Staying Off the ‘Naughty List’ Is a Growing Concern for HR Leaders

For many years, business publications and research organizations have put out “best employer” lists, ranking organizations based on their employees’ reported job satisfaction, the quantity and quality of their benefits, learning opportunities, and other selling points of the employee experience. These lists offer employers an opportunity to earn some good press and burnish their employer brand, and can be particularly valuable in helping lesser-known companies get their names out there and compete for talent with their higher-profile peers. These lists are typically opt-in: Employers that have good stories to tell submit their information, the top ten or 20 of them get a brand boost, and the rest don’t need to tell anyone they didn’t make the cut.

With more information about organizations’ talent policies becoming publicly available, these lists have evolved to draw on new sources of information and to focus on issues of increasing importance to employees today, like diversity and inclusion or corporate social responsibility. Glassdoor, for example, puts out an annual list of best places to work based on employee ratings and reviews, while Forbes and the activist investment firm Just Capital have begun publishing a “Just 100” ranking of the most socially responsible publicly-traded companies in the US and Bloomberg’s Gender Equality Index highlights companies that are investing in gender equality. The proliferation of best-of lists, however, has led to diminishing returns in their reputational value: Our research at Gartner has found that only 7 percent of candidates say being on one of these lists was an important factor for them in deciding whether to accept an offer from an employer.

The Lists Organizations Don’t Want to Be On

At the same time as the value of a spot on the nice list is waning, a growing trove of publicly available data has led to the emergence of new lists on which employers didn’t ask to be included. Some of these are extensive indices that identify both the best and the worst, like FertilityIQ’s Family Builder Workplace Index, which ranks employers based on the generosity of their fertility benefits. In some rankings, even the best-scoring companies are not great: Equileap recently published a special report on gender equality in the S&P 100, in which the highest grade was a B+. Furthermore, investors, governments, and media outlets have begun to compile what we might call “naughty lists” of companies that are not living up to expectations in terms of fairness, inclusion, transparency, or social responsibility — and you really don’t want to see your organization’s name on one of those.

These naughty lists tend to focus on gender pay equity, executive compensation, handling of sexual harassment claims, and the experiences of diverse employees. One recent, prominent example was a BuzzFeed report in November that pressed leading US tech companies on whether they required employees to resolve sexual harassment claims in private arbitration and called out those that did have such policies or declined to answer (Ironically, the reporters also discovered that BuzzFeed had a mandatory arbitration policy itself). The publication of this report prompted several companies to announce changes in their policies.

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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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How Can an Employer Incentivize Social Responsibility?

How Can an Employer Incentivize Social Responsibility?

At an all-company meeting last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company was retooling its employee bonus system to reflect a new set of priorities, focused on addressing the controversies surrounding the social media giant concerning the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation on its platform. In addition to traditional metrics like user growth and product quality, Facebook will reward employees this year based on their success at promoting the social good including combating fake accounts, protecting users’ safety, and making progress on other social issues affected by Facebook and the internet in general.

The decision to reward employees for doing social good reflects a challenge that many companies, particularly large corporations with major public profiles, are facing today. Investors, politicians, the media, and consumers are paying more attention than ever before to the social, environmental, and ethical consequences of what businesses do. And Facebook is not alone in this desire, for example, Chevron recently announced that it would tie executive compensation to reductions in the energy corporation’s greenhouse gas emissions. This dynamic, in turn, puts more pressure on corporate leaders to deliver sustainability and social responsibility as well as growth.

For Facebook, awarding bonuses to employees for meeting social responsibility goals will inevitably test the company’s ability to live up to two truisms: “actions speak louder than words,” and “what gets measured gets done.” To the first point, companies can articulate all the values they want, but at the end of the quarter or fiscal year, what matters is whether the organization actually lived up to those values in its day-to-day business practices. We’ve seen companies attempt to project an image of social responsibility, only to get called out for not really reflecting that image in their work. The impact of Facebook’s new policy will take time to fully materialize, but when it pays out bonuses for 2019, investors and reporters will be curious to see whether they have really rewarded the kind of choices they say they intend to, and whether those rewards reflect a real change.

As to the second point, Facebook has set itself an ambitious goal of identifying quantifiable metrics by which to determine progress against its goals of social good. Facebook has acknowledged that there is no easy or obvious formula for doing this, but they are looking at targets like number of fake accounts shut down daily or improvements to safety and security as possible metrics. Being a data-driven company, Facebook will likely get more granular and detailed about how it defines success, especially with both the media and governments paying closer and closer attention.

Here are four things that any company considering a similar change should be ready to do to make it more likely that an incentive program like this will be successful:

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