In Focus: Employees and Responsive Workplaces
Mar 15, 2013 | Permalink »
Can Technology Push Workers over a Workplace Cliff?
Guest In Focus by Rachel Disselkamp
Introduction from Jodie Levin-Epstein, Deputy Director at CLASP:
I'm a Susan Lambert groupie. Susan's at the University of Chicago and a leading researcher on low-wage worker scheduling issues. A news clip quote from Susan led to the guest "In Focus" below, which is based on an interview with Lisa Disselkamp, a time and labor management specialist and advisor to the Workforce Educational Organization (WEO). I can't put my hands on the clip any longer but I remember well that Susan said a new certification program related to workforce assessment management would likely make an important and positive contribution to improving schedules for low-wage workers. I called Susan, and she confirmed that she was part of an advisory group to WEO and was hopeful that workers' needs will be better understood and met as a result of the certification program. We thought CLASP readers would like to hear more about this development as it is unfolding... Jodie
Technology holds remarkable promise for simplicity and efficiency, but also introduces some important dilemmas, particularly around low wage hourly workers. Labor costs are well-known as one of the largest expenses for an organization. Clearly there is incentive to optimize labor scheduling and time reporting systems. However, optimization - an effort by employers to schedule workers with a high level of precision so their staffs are fully utilized -- may enable unintended consequences just as easily as it can serve as a model for balancing employer and employee needs and budgets. In today's tenuous economy with fiscal cliffs and other dramatic metaphors, employees fear falling off their own cliffs.
Increasingly, intelligent systems are being allowed to replace managers as decision makers when it comes to aspects of business - including staff scheduling. There are painful gaps in both understanding and practice with workforce management (WFM) technology. Who, or what, is managing the workforce? How are these powerful workforce asset management (WAM) tools being implemented? Bridging the gap between understanding and practice requires professionals who take ownership of the WFM systems and manage or configure with intent. That means actively working to balance employer and employee requirements, constraints, and objectives.
So why are workers pushed to the edge? Workforce technology disharmony. Systems are being used without alignment and harmonization of worker, employer, and technology. Workers can feel over-worked and under-appreciated, while employers rack up costly pay or shift premiums and unnecessary overtime payments. Disharmony can manifest in several ways:
- Schedule Deprivation. Over-optimized schedules can be unpredictable and vary week to week. Sometimes an employee might receive shifts that conflict with schedule requests or desired work time. This leads to high turnover, absenteeism, and lower productivity.
- Wage insufficiency. Schedule assignments may not adequately provide low wage workers with enough hours to support themselves and their families, or allow them to qualify for needed employee benefits or job stability.
- Over-utilization. Persuaded by paycheck or schedule requirements, people can end up over-working. Fatigued workers may cause more accidents and decreased product or service quality.
- Work-life imbalance. Today, there is a growing need for job flexibility and a schedule that respects employees' constraints outside of work. Those who feel that their needs are not consistently met may choose to work elsewhere.
- Schedule favoritism. Sometimes the schedule can favor certain employees (either through manager discretion, seniority programs, or poor schedule configuration) by continually scheduling them for more desirable shift times or pay, leaving other workers feeling unfairly treated.
These issues have not gone unnoticed. A group of leaders in the industry, ranging from academics and policy advocates like Susan Lambert, Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration, and Joan Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Hastings College of the Law, to WFM technology specialists and small business owners, have recognized the problems and worked together on a solution. Coming in spring 2013 is a guidebook and certification program on workforce management issues. The Workforce Asset Management Book of Knowledge (John Wiley & Sons, 2013) empowers anyone involved and interested in how to properly engage technology to manage people in the workplace. Certified Workforce Asset Management Professionals (WAM-Pros) will be the real "architects of change," bringing measurable impact to the workplace through all-win mentalities and actionable solutions. Customizable job and system designs will allow more user input and autonomy; and properly automated processes will standardize pay practices and policy enforcement for fairer and more consistent treatment.
Workforce scheduling has changed drastically with more 24/7 operations, more single heads of household, increased family budget needs that demand two jobs, greater difficulty of juggling child and eldercare. All the while the workplace is growing even more competitive, and even more pervaded by technology. Yet, highly sophisticated WFM systems are only part of the solution for making mutually beneficial gains for employer and employee. Quick fixes like layoffs, reductions in benefits or hours, or reconstituting the workforce may seem like solutions, but they may push employees closer to the edge of the cliff. To bridge the gap, organizations should critically assess their situations and be willing to tear down existing models that are unable to keep up with current circumstances. Scheduling should no longer be viewed as a last-minute, random task. Schedules do not need to be overly complicated, but need to be carefully designed and strategically configured to appropriately account for organizational requirements and employee needs. WAM-Pros could become the builders of a new era in workforce management, able to skillfully use the tools already at our disposal to address these dynamic workforce issues and keep workers at a safe distance from the cliff.
Mar 01, 2013 | Permalink »
New Tool for Job Quality Advocates: A Primer on Business Certifications
Today, CLASP and its partner, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), released a new tool for job quality advocates, including advocates for earned sick days and paid family leave. The jointly produced brief provides advocates with a primer on the nuts and bolts of the business certification movement and suggests ways to foster fruitful relationships between the movement and campaigns for improved job quality, such as earned sick days campaigns.
Increasingly, businesses are seeking out certifications as means to assess their impact and verify that their practices are consistent with their values. Such certifications — which assess practices regarding environmental sustainability, living wages, paid sick days, flexible schedules, etc. — help businesses to maintain a high level of commitment to ethical practices and allow them to showcase this commitment to consumers and the public. In addition, a growing number of states have adopted “benefit corporation” legislation, which promotes and legally protects socially responsible businesses, many of which have attained certifications.
For job quality advocates, who are increasingly recognizing the crucial role of business support in successful campaigns, both certifying organizations and certified businesses can be valuable partners. Be sure to read the brief and follow up with ASBC in order to learn more.
Feb 19, 2013 | Permalink »
When Family Leave Crosses the Aisle
Two decades ago on February 5, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law and has helped millions of families -- whatever their politics. Under the FMLA some people can keep their jobs when they take up to 12 unpaid weeks to care for their own or a family member's serious illness or when a new child arrives. This bipartisan accomplishment is worth celebrating; it also is a time to help more families in blue and red states alike.
The time is ripe to find common political ground on family issues. The November election revealed a huge gender and Hispanic voter gap between the two parties. As Republicans seek to close the gap, new proposals about short-term job leave that help keep families together ought to prove fertile ground. Bipartisanship is hard work. In the Senate in the 1990s, when Republican Sen. Kit Bond crossed the aisle to join forces with Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd on the FMLA, they had to push past the charges of those in the business community that any leave law would unravel companies. Bond and Dodd found ways to agree. Read more>>