Archives for March 2017

Making Room for Wellness

Many workers are reporting that their companies don’t offer wellness benefits, according to a recent poll.

The poll, commissioned by Workplace Options, a company that provides integrated employee well-being services, revealed that 55 percent of working Americans say their employers do not offer support, assistance or benefits designed to help them improve physical health or wellness.

The results varied by gender, with 61 percent of women reporting no access to employer-sponsored wellness support, compared with just 48 percent of men who said the same.

The poll’s findings are in contrast to a 2015 report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that found that 70 percent of U.S. employers were offering a general wellness program—with an additional 8 percent planning to introduce wellness benefits in 2016.

“If more than 70 percent of companies are offering wellness programs, but less than half of employees report having access to them, then something obviously isn’t adding up,” stated Dean Debnam, chief executive officer at Workplace Options, in a press release. “Employers might have programs or support structures in place designed to keep employees healthy and well, but if employees don’t know about them or have no idea how to access them, then they are basically useless.”

The majority of employees (61 percent) stated that they believed their employer cared about the health and wellness of employees. Men and women saw eye-to-eye on this topic, with 59 percent of women and 63 percent of men in agreement.

“The disconnect between what employers say they are offering and what employees believe they have access to is not the result of animosity or strife; it’s a simple perception problem,” Debnam said. “If the programs available are things that employees either don’t want or don’t use, they might as well not even exist.”

Respondents also were asked which area of physical health and well-being were most important to them, personally. The following were the top three categories:

  • Nutrition/Healthy Eating (34 percent)
  • Weight Loss/Fitness (33 percent)
  • Emotional/Mental Well-Being (20 percent)

“Employees were very clear that these three categories were far and away the most important to them in terms of personal wellness,” Debnam said. “If employers want their wellness offerings to be successful, they should make sure they are making some kind of support or assistance in all three of these areas available.”

Additional results from the poll showed the following:

  • 89 percent of employees reported that maintaining physical health is something that is personally important.
  • 74 percent of employees said they at least sometimes took time to exercise (walk, jog, stretch, work out, etc.) during the workday.
  • 56 percent of employees said that they at least sometimes took time to focus on their mental health during the workday.

“The takeaway point for employers is that perception does not always equal reality,” Debnam said. “Effective employees are the most valuable resource any organization can have. If an organization is offering support programs that are unknown, unused or ineffective, then they aren’t going to produce results.”

The national poll was commissioned by Workplace Options and conducted by Public Policy Polling.

Reprinted from PREMIUM INCENTIVE PRODUCTS magazine

Workplace Predictions for 2017

Each year, top leaders within organizations are required to confront pressing internal issues, many of which result from events taking place both nationally and internationally. Events from 2016—including the presidential election, growing Millennial workforce, and technological advancements—have created a new set of workplace priorities as we head into the New Year.

The impact of the last year is affecting organizations in a real way by bringing to light a number of issues company leaders are looking to address head-on in 2017. As organizations commit to ensuring leadership development skills are prioritized, here are some important trends last year’s issues have inspired that we can expect to see over the next 12 months, and how employers can address them:

Trend #1: Diversity and inclusion initiatives will be top of mind. Regardless of your political views, it’s apparent that a rift has been created within our country due to this year’s presidential election. This division of beliefs can create conflict or discomfort in the workplace if individual workers feel excluded, alienated, or afraid.

Recommended Approach: Organizations need to take control of this conversation if they want to maintain the overall health of their companies. By doing so, they can ensure that employees are taken care of by creating an inclusive and accepting environment within every department internally, as well as with external stakeholders. This control can be achieved by inviting perspective through conversation, welcoming differences, and implementing diversity programs aimed at creating a sense of company-wide acceptance.

Trend #2: Change leadership will be prioritized across all levels. In a world that values efficiency and progress, change is inevitable—from structural shifts to leadership changes to industry disruption. These can be major transformations or several small adjustments over time. Historically, organizations have created change management teams or appointed individuals in charge of getting a company or team to manage change, yet data shows that 70 percent of change initiatives fail.

Recommended Approach: Company leaders should shift their focus from leaving the expertise on change management in the hands of a singular team to viewing change management as a critical skill, essential for every leader within an organization. Ensure your organization is equipped to handle any change that may come by incorporating change leadership into all levels within the company.

Trend #3: Conversations will play a key role in performance management. The once-a-year review is gone for good. However, many employees, Millennials in particular, are looking for more action-based feedback from their employers, on an as-needed basis.

Recommended Approach: Organizations need to increase their focus on the competency of conversations—from coaching to feedback to confrontation. Leaders should focus on empowering individuals to meet their goals by initiating conversations and ensuring they receive what they need, when they need it.

Trend #4: New technologies will be embraced. Advancements in technology are happening fast, and their impact on HR training and development continues to increase. Organizations of all sizes want greater options when it comes to on-demand, digitized versions of programs that provide lessons in a truly interactive way. Learners want more concrete options for implementing what they’ve learned beyond a session, and technology can and will play a large role in making this not only possible, but a real game changer.

Recommended Approach: To keep up, organizations need to be open to the idea of using up-to-date, innovative digital options when it comes to expanding the depth, scope, and reach of training to ensure the impact on the largest number of individuals.

Trend #5: The desire for participant-driven learning will increase. Partially due to an increase in Millennials in the workplace, employees want to have a hand in what they’re learning and how they learn it, specifically when it comes to leadership training skills.

Recommended Approach: Organizations that want to stay on top of this trend will need to put a greater focus on placing participants in the driver’s seat of their education. Employees are demanding their workplace be one in which they are able to advance on their own terms, and working to meet this demand rather than resisting it inevitably will lead to greater employee satisfaction.

While every organization will face its own unique set of issues, there is no doubt this year will be a pivotal one in how we respond to challenges surrounding diversity, technology, and change. And most importantly, how we respond to each other.

AUTHOR:  Stacey Engle is executive vice president at Fierce Inc., a leadership development and training company that drives results for business and education by improving workplace communication. For more information on how Fierce can transform your conversations, visit


Pearson Shares Its Learning Design Principles

In December 2016, Pearson published a set of 45 learning-design principles under a Creative Commons license. A company blog post calls them the “nexus of education research (i.e., products based on research) and product efficacy (i.e., research-based products that evidence impact on outcomes).”

Pearson is an international company that creates educational courseware, publishes textbooks, and sells a variety of technology-based learning services and products. From its place at the center of the US battle over “privatization” of public education, the multibillion-dollar company is not without controversy, particularly for its dominance of the standardized testing market. Pearson designs curriculum, creates learning materials and standardized tests, trains testers, runs tutoring centers and online education programs, and more.

The publication of the learning design principles is, according to EdWeek Market Brief editorial intern Leo Doran, “part of a company-wide push for transparency in evaluating the efficacy of their products.” The company simultaneously released a report on how it uses learning design. Transparency is certainly valuable, as is insight into how Pearson and other instructional designers “make the sausage,” so to speak.

The principles are grouped into six themes:

  • Foundations (eight principles)
  • The nature of knowledge (ten principles)
  • Practices that foster effective learning (eleven principles)
  • Learning together (five principles)
  • Learning environments (seven principles)
  • Moving learning sciences research into the classroom (four principles)

They are presented as “cards,” each filling the front and back of a full sheet of paper. Each includes a description, list of capabilities, sample design implementations, learner impacts, and a “self-assessment instrument.”

It’s not clear how Pearson hopes or anticipates that learning or eLearning professionals will use these principles or “cards.” They are not written in a way that will be easily understood or useful to everyone. For example, one principle under “practices that foster effective learning” is “universal design for learning” (UDL), pictured in the original article.

The description offers a broad definition of what UDL means and why it matters. The learner impacts—behavior and self-regulation—are vague, and the capabilities and sample design implementations listed are somewhat obscure, though perhaps they are meaningful to Pearson insiders. The self-assessment grid, also vague, does provide some insight as to how a designer might apply or implement the principle, with several entries hinting at “provision of multiple options” presumably referring to providing learners with multiple ways to achieve each learning objective.

Similarly, the description for “games and virtual worlds,” under “learning environments,” explains why people use games in learning and references several research studies. But the “capabilities” section says only “Instruction: Active learning experience”—not very meaningful. Nor are the statements on the “self-assessment instrument” particularly helpful.

In short, some of the principles are more accessible than others, and instructional designers might find useful ideas among the sample design implementations suggested. The PDF with the 45 principles also includes a lengthy bibliography, which could be useful to many eLearning professionals. 

The Pearson blog post says that the company has also created design tools and guidance documents. They use the cards to “set a common language and understanding of learning science research” for their product designers and developers. The Pearson announcement hints at additional releases and an “extended dialogue,” which might provide more information on how people, both within Pearson and outside of the company, are using the principles.


The Talent Landscape Is Changing. Are You?

Two things are happening in parallel in today’s workplace that are challenging human resources and learning professionals to reevaluate their approach. First, there aren’t enough highly qualified people to go around these days. This month, McKinsey and Co. reported that nearly 40 percent of U.S. employers are struggling to find skilled workers. Second, the high-quality talent that is currently powering companies forward has no qualms about leaving if they don’t feel like their needs are beings met, said Mika Nash, academic dean for Champlain College Online’s Continuing Professional Studies division.

An ample paycheck isn’t enough; it may not even be the difference-maker. Now more than ever, employees want to know organizations will invest in them, and they will walk away from one opportunity for another if they don’t.

In the face of this mounting stress on the business, Nash said it’s critical that academic human resources programs adjust their curriculum to this new reality, if they haven’t done so already. She said over the past 10 years, a trend has emerged where human resources leaders are becoming chief learning officers and other decision-makers more focused on strategic business goals. In these positions, leaders can support their organizations’ efforts to think differently about talent.

It’s a philosophical shift human resources is having to reckon with, Nash said. The old-school human resources approach reduced people to the lowest common denominator, an employee, one easily substituted for another. Today, however, leaders understand that retaining workers means acknowledging their individual value and strategically investing in it.

Nash said when human resources integrates talent management and organizational development agendas, the goal is no longer to bring in and work people until they are sick of coming to the office. “The goal is to bring people in, and then make them feel good about the work they’re doing so they want to stay and grow and be productive — a great symbiotic relationship.”

Arriving at this evolved view requires going beyond building an understanding of benefits, payroll, employment law, promotion policies and other records-mired responsibilities that once defined the HR role. People preparing to enter the field also need to know how to identify skills gaps and development needs and how to support people when evolving personally and professionally.

The modern human resources professional needs to know how to design a workplace culture, how to engage workers and cultivate leadership and coaching approaches that empower employees to respond effectively to work problems, and to grow and think different about their work, Nash said. An ability to synthesize metrics and other analytics will increasingly be necessary as well.

Jean Roque, founder and president of the human resources consulting firm Trupp HR, said HR professionals — new graduates as well as those with established careers — also lack an awareness of what comprises a company’s employee value proposition and how to market an employer brand, align with it and promote it. This is important, because through interactions with company websites, social media and even conversations with current and former employees, prospective workers can build an idea of what a business stands for as an employer.

“Are we being intentional about what that brand is and are we making sure that once those applicants come to work for us that what they were expecting based on what they saw on our employer brand is what they’re getting from the standpoint of engagement and that employee value proposition?” Roque asked.

An understanding of marketing and social media also would be beneficial to today’s human resources and learning professionals, she said. And it’s critical they have greater awareness about different types of applicant pools, the different generations of workers, their stages of life and what appeals to them.

Leaders may naturally encounter insight into these areas once on the job, but Roque said development of these competencies should start before then. Academia must extend its view of human resources management from an operations enabler to a strategic business arm responsible for attracting, engaging, developing and retaining people. “A lot of HR professionals come out of school not even knowing that that’s part of what they need to be doing because when we don’t intentionally do that, it gets defined for us.”

The generation of people now entering the workforce are well-acquainted with the speed of change and ambiguity in ways their predecessors may not be, Nash said. Companies would be remiss to cling to antiquated human resources practice.

Reprinted from CHIEF LEARNING OFFICER magazine

How to Tell If You Should Hire a Freelance or Full-Time Employee

The gig economy and the increasing prevalence of freelance work is changing how companies do business. Some 55 million Americans, or 35 percent of the U.S. population, worked as a freelancer last year — more people than ever before, according to research from contract-based jobs site Upwork and the Freelancers Union. That follows a 2015 Intuit study that found non-permanent employees have grown to 36 percent from 17 percent of the workforce over the past 25 years, and is expected to hit 43 percent by 2020.

Employers are generally seen as the big winners as workers rush to take short-term jobs coordinated through mobile apps and websites. In an unpredictable business environment, contract assignments let companies better manage their labor needs more flexibly, avoid hiring mistakes and find niche talent quickly.

Ken Kanara, a managing director at Ex-Consultants Agency in Miami Beach, Florida, said HR professionals come to him to hire people with top-tier management consulting experience for short-term assignments when they have discrete projects “that are either outside the scope of ‘business as usual’ or need to be done at a more rapid pace.” Clients also hire short-term workers to fill temporary gaps in their full-time employee ranks, such as when people take maternity leave or sabbaticals. They also may do so when considering a full-time hire but first want to test an employee with project-based work, Kanara said.

On the other hand, the move to a freelance economy can also benefit workers who find security in diverse revenue streams. “In a world of at-will employment, it can be more secure and sustainable to be independent than to have a full-time job,” Leif Abraham points out in a blog post on “If you lose your full-time job, you’re ‘out of a job.’ But if you lose a client, well, you lost a client,” writes Abraham, co-founder of And Co., a New York City company that provides billing and tech support to freelancers.

But as the flexible workforce evolves, some companies are rethinking the strategy. In 2015, the app-based courier service Shyp made headlines when it reclassified its contractors as employees, which made them eligible for workers’ compensation and other benefits, in the face of a lawsuit filed by two workers.

Kevin Gibbon, Shyp’s CEO, told TechCrunch the change wasn’t a response to the lawsuit, but rather a strategic quality-control move. “Operationally, we get a lot of benefit from it,” Gibbon said. “Our service doesn’t just involve dropping off an item; our customers need to be comfortable with [the person] who is picking up their $10,000 painting.”

Jimmy Fabiano, general manager of OnForce, a freelancer management software system based in Lexington, Massachusetts, said many companies are moving to a “blended” workforce. While many use short-term workers to ramp up when demand spikes, companies with steady demand are better served by hiring full-time employees. Profitable businesses that sell services — which span everything from accounting and banking to landscaping and cleaning — can meet their labor demands most efficiently with a workforce that’s comprised of 80 percent or more full-time workers, Fabiano said.

Some human resources executives worry they lose access to the best and brightest talent when they don’t offer a traditional position with benefits. There’s also concern that gig workers lack the commitment to an employer that’s required to deliver truly dazzling performance.

At StartupBros LLC, a Tampa, Florida-based company that helps entrepreneurs launch their companies, CEO Will Mitchell said he employs contract-based virtual assistants who handle bookkeeping and database management. But it’s a different story for jobs that require customer interaction.

“We’ve found it’s much better to hire internally for customer-facing positions,” Mitchell said. “Our customers are our first priority.” As a result, Mitchell hires full-time workers to manage customer support, social media and content production.

Another deterrent for employers is the potential loss of intellectual property, said Thomas White, a corporate attorney who specializes in human resources management at the Rimon law firm in Chicago. Employers “may expand contractors’ bodies of knowledge that could ultimately help their competitors,” White said. “It may be intentional; it may be through negligence, but it’s very difficult to police.”

Ultimately, each employer needs to examine the potential upsides and downsides of contract labor based on their needs, White said. “You gain flexibility but you lose loyalty.”

The question, then: Which do you value more?

AUTHOR: Kate Rockwood is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.

Reprinted from TALENT ECONOMY

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