Business owners give the lowdown on workplace — and their own — productivity.

The owner of a business is arguably the single most important employee on the payroll. As such, the findings from a recent survey of business owners conducted by The Alternative Board are revealing.

According to the survey, which was conducted in May 2017, the typical business owner reports having only about 1.5 hours of uninterrupted, high-productive time per day.

Four in five of the business owners reported that they feel most productive in the mornings. It stands to reason, then, that nearly nine in ten respondents reported that they prefer to get the most important tasks of the day out of the way first.

The majority of respondents reported that they are most productive working from the office, but nearly one-third of them reported that most of their work is done from their home.

A majority of the respondents also reported that they spend the biggest block of their daily time on e-mail activities.  Tellingly, less than 10% feel that this is the most important use of their time.

Asked to report on what factors are working against their employees achieving a high level of productivity in the owner’s business, these following four factors were named most frequently:

  • Poor time management: ~35% of survey respondents cited
  • Poor communications: ~25%
  • Personal/personnel problems: ~18%
  • Technology distractions: ~16%

Taken as a whole, these findings suggest that while there are certainly issues that affect business productivity, business owners have it within their power to improve time management, foster better communication between employees, and ultimately run a tighter ship.

More findings from the TAB research can be found on this infographic.

“Boomerang employees”: No longer such a rarity in the corporate world.

Time was, once a person left a company – for whatever reason – the likelihood that they’d ever come back to work there was pretty slim.

Perhaps to be re-engaged as a consultant or a contract worker … but as a return employee? Not likely at all.

That mindset appears to be changing.  Data accumulated from a recent survey by HR research and advisory firm Workplace Trends from ~1,800 human resources executives, managers of staff, and employees provide the following clues:

  • Half of the HR professionals responding to the survey claimed that their organization once had formal policies against rehiring former employees (even if the employee had departed in good standing).
  • Three-fourths of the HR respondents reported that they are more accepting of hiring boomerang employees today. More than half of the respondents who are people managers felt the same way.

The actual incidence of returning to work at a former company isn’t all that common.  Of the employees who took part in the survey, fewer than 15% of them fell into this category.

Still, 15% is way up from where it has been traditionally — and the current percentage is higher than I would have guessed.

What’s more, nearly 40% of employee respondents reported that they would consider going back to an employer where they had once worked.

There are distinct differences in employee attitudes based on age demographics: More than 45% of Millennials would consider returning to work for a former employer … but the percentage is just 29% for Baby Boomer respondents.

As for why boomerang employees are becoming more common, a number of factors are at play:

  • Intense competition for certain technically advanced employees who may be in short supply makes poaching more common … and also intensifies the need for companies to respond in kind. In fields were strong talent is hard to come by, often the pool of workers is too small to summarily omit former employees from consideration.
  • Familiarity with a company’s organization, culture and ways of doing business reduces “ramp-up” requirements and the amount of training needed, when compared to bringing on a brand-new employee.
  • The “devil you know” factor: Even if a former employee possesses a few characteristics that are less-than-ideal, at least these are known quantities, as compared to a brand-new employee who may or may not be all that she or he seems to be on paper.

chairGoing forward, I suspect that boomerang employees will become even more prevalent than they are today.

To do well at that, companies might wish to look into maintaining open lines of communication with select former employees. It seems like a good way to keep choice workers “in the loop” and potentially available — and interactive/social media makes it easier to keep those channels open.

As things stands now, the results of this survey suggest that such channels are, at best, ad hoc rather than being part of a formal “alumni” communications strategy.

Addressing this point, Dan Schawbel, head of WorkplaceTrends, had this to say:

“In previous research we’ve done, we’ve found that Millennials are switching jobs every two years because they are searching for the job – and organization – of best fit. But this new study indicates that this younger generation is more likely to boomerang back when they’ve experienced other company cultures and realized what they’ve missed.”

Schawbel’s prediction? “We’ll see the boomerang employee trend continue in the future as more employees adopt a ‘free agent’ mentality – and more organizations create a stronger alumni ecosystem.”

What about you? Are you a boomerang employee? Or do you know colleagues who have done this? What are the pluses and minuses? Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Ipsos Reid Poll: Female Execs Gauge Their Advances

women managers and executivesAn interesting Ipsos Reid poll of female executives conducted late last year sheds light on what the perceived career holdbacks are for women in the workforce these days.

The results of the online survey, which queried ~500 American women working in managerial or executive roles, suggest that women continue to face obstacles in advancing their careers to upper-level management and executive positions … although the disparities are less today – and hopefully continuing the trend toward parity.

An example of one perception which continues to show a big divide between women and men is this:  While ~37% the survey respondents feel that physical appearance and personal image are factors in career progression for men, nearly all (~90%) believe that they are for women.

On the other hand, the perceived differences are less stark when it comes to opportunities for career progression based on the gender of a female employee’s immediate superior.  When asked how gender affects the chances for women to obtain a managerial position, here’s how the respondents answered:

If the superior is a woman …

  • 26% better chance for advancement
  • 30% worse chance for advancement
  • 44% no difference

If the superior is a man …

  • 26% better chance for advancement
  • 25% worse chance for advancement
  • 49% no difference

… Which translates into trust levels that aren’t so very different at all:

  • ~22% would trust a man more for help with career advancement
  • ~18% would trust a woman more for help with career advancement
  • ~60% express no difference in trust levels

Positive Work Attributes

The Ipsos/Reid survey also found that nearly two-thirds of the respondents consider women to be better leaders than men, primarily for these five reasons:

  • Women are better communicators
  • They are more organized
  • They are more empathetic
  • They have a better understanding of the needs of their employees
  • They are more open to changing their approach

For the record, two attributes that respondents do not attribute to women over men are:

  • Women have better instincts than men
  • They are more invested in an organization’s success compared to men.

With a confident self-image and backed by positive work habits, what do these respondents see as the biggest continuing challenges to their career growth?  Here’s what the Ipsos Reid survey found:

  • The requirement for women to work harder and put in longer hours to prove themselves: ~77%
  • Managing work and family balance: ~61%
  • External factors (economic climate/job loss): ~56%
  • Being welcomed into an established senior management team:  ~48%
  • Dealing with outdated perceptions of women in managerial and executive roles: ~48%
  • Lack of female mentors: ~47%

Moreover, ~78% of respondents discern a “noticeable” different in salaries between men and women.

Asked what a company might “fear” about promoting women to senior managerial and executive posts, the respondents cited several probable factors:  the fear that an executive might want to start and maintain a family … and the fear of too many absences from work due to family obligations.

Bottom line, the Ipsos Reid survey reveals some continuing obstacles for women in the executive-level work force.  But there’s positive news, too.  Additional survey findings can be found here.

If you have additional observations or perspectives on this topic, please share them with other readers here.

LinkedIn: The “Other” Social Network Makes its Move

linkedinWe may be reading quite a few news reports these days about Facebook and Twitter facing a plateau in usage … but LinkedIn’s fortunes continue to be on the upswing (financial losses notwithstanding).

In late April, the social network reported that it now has more than 300 million active members throughout the world, which is up more than 35% since the beginning of the year.

Too, the gender gap in membership is narrowing, albeit more slowly:  Today, ~44% of LinkedIn members are women, up from ~39% in 2009.

Even more impressive for a network that has the lofty goal of “creating economic opportunity for every one of the 3.3 billion people in the global workforce,” is the fact that two-thirds of LinkedIn’s active members are located outside the United States.

This is underscored by the top three countries represented  in LinkedIn’s membership, which are the U.S. (#1), India (#2) and Brazil (#3).

worldwide membersLinkedIn’s latest international push is into China, where it seeks to add more than 140 million Chinese professionals to its membership rolls.

Mobile Movement

The increased use of “smart” mobile units has affected the ways users interact with LinkedIn as well; mobile traffic is expected to overtake desktop access later this year.

[In fact, that’s already happened in markets like the United Kingdom, Singapore and Sweden.]

Here are a few “factoids” that illustrate how significant mobile has become for LinkedIn operating as the world’s mobile employment bazaar:

  • Average number of LinkedIn profiles viewed daily via mobile devices:  ~15 million
  • Average number of job position openings viewed daily via mobile:  ~1.5 million
  • Average number of job applications submitted daily via mobile:  ~44,000

Despite these healthy usage figures, a continuing challenge for LinkedIn is the degree to which it has been able to “monetize” its membership.  Among U.S. members, the average revenue-per-user is hovering around $11.30.

That’s much better than the ~$3.75 average revenue-per-user amount for members overseas.  But it’s still well below the revenue-per-member figures being charted by Facebook, which helps explain LinkedIn’s continuing revenue and profit challenges.

Still, when you consider that LinkedIn is becoming the de facto “Help Wanted” public square for the professional world, it’s hard to criticize its business model as the “go-to resource” for human resources professionals involved in personnel recruitment.

And now that the platform has a an active membership north of 300 million people, it’s hard seeing how that dynamic is going to change going forward; LinkedIn really is in the catbird seat when it comes to recruitment.

Speaking personally, I’m glad LinkedIn is resisting going the route of Facebook and Twitter in their evolving “all advertising, all the time” revenue models.  If LinkedIn can continue to derive a large chunk of its revenue stream from recruitment solutions instead of relying on display advertising or sponsored posts that are too often distracting or irritating, so much the better for us.

Google finds that in hiring practices, what’s old is new again.

Google hiring practices
Google Gone Retro: Its hiring practices look more familiar than different today.

Has Google made an about-face when it comes to the way it hires staff?

Over the years, there have been numerous articles written about Google’s unorthodox and highly selective recruitment and interviewing process

The company seemed to take a certain delight in the degree to which it subjected job candidates to mind-bending suitability tests and humiliating proctology-like HR examinations.

So I was a bit surprised to read this June 19, 2013 article in the New York Times, in which staff business reporter Adam Bryant published excerpts from an interview he had with Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google.

A major objective of the interview was to determine to what degree so-called “Big Data” can be used to help find the right candidates fill leadership and managerial positions in companies.

Instead of giving us all sorts of ways in which Big Data is helping to do that, Mr. Bock focused instead on the limitations.  And in the process, he revealed that Google has made attempts to harness more experiential data to come up with more effective hiring practices.  Here’s what he said:

“We’ve done some interesting things to figure out how many job candidates we should be interviewing for each position, who are better interviewers than others, and what kind of attributes tend to predict success at Google.

On the leadership side, we’re looking at what makes people successful leaders and how we can we cultivate that.”

And what about some of the more infamous Google hiring practices, such as looking at college transcripts from a million years ago or asking people to solve impossible “challenge questions” or equations?  Bock revealed these learnings:

“We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time.  How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane?  How many gas stations in Manhattan?  A complete waste of time.  They don’t predict anything.  They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

And about GPA stats, Bock revealed that after all of the data crunching, Google’s HR department came to this conclusion:

“GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless – no correlation at all, except for brand-new college grades where there’s a slight correlation … we found that they don’t predict anything.

After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different.  You’re also fundamentally a different person.  You learn and grow.  You think about things differently.”

So now Google has reverted to the tried-and-true formula of structured behavioral interviews, consistently applied across all applicants. 

This includes using standardized behavioral questions to listen to open-ended responses, which then makes it possible to see how candidates actually interacted in real-world situations, as well as what they consider to be “easy” or “difficult” situations in which they found themselves.

Regarding leadership qualifications, according to Bock, Google has found that these are ambiguous or amorphous characteristics:

“For leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions, and that there’s an element of predictability.  If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want.”

Where “big data” comes in to play here is in twice-a-year employee surveys that Google conducts on all of its managers, evaluating a variety of factors. 

Those factors are the fundamental ones — things like sharing information, treating all team employees fairly, and providing clear goals and performance standards.

But Bock cautions that leadership success is highly dependent on the context; what works at one company isn’t necessarily right for another firm.  “I don’t think you’ll ever replace human judgment and human inspiration and creativity,” he notes.

I was pleased to read these comments, because I always felt that attempting to develop a radically new paradigm for job hiring, while being an interesting and novel endeavor, was also somewhat presumptuous on the part of Google. 

At the end of the day, human nature is what it is:  fickle, unpredictable, fallible.  No amount of “re-engineering” is going to change that.

Ziggeo: The HR Manager’s Newest Friend

Ziggeo logoWho hasn’t ever interviewed someone and known within the first minute or so that the meeting was going to be a complete waste of time?

[Then the fun part was having to make inconsequential small talk for the rest of the interview just to appear civil!]

Unfortunately, this scenario happens more often than we’d care to admit.  And considering the effort involved in planning and conducting phone or in-person interviews, it’s a major waste of time and resources.

But now a company has come along that harnesses the Internet and camera technology to offer a different approach that I find pretty intriguing.

It’s called ZiggeoFounded by entrepreneurs Susan Danziger and Oliver Friedmann, it’s an online service that enables HR managers and others to screen job candidates and other people using video technology.

It’s as simple as posing a few questions on the Ziggeo site … then providing a Ziggeo link to the interested parties for them to respond.

Job candidates simply click on the link to receive the questions.  They respond with short video recordings, which the HR manager can view at his or her convenience.  It’s an efficient and inexpensive way to prescreen job candidates in the very first stage of the interview process.

Since most people have video capabilities embedded in their digital devices these days, they can respond easily without being impeded by a lack of technical tools.  And if candidates balk at participating … chances are those people wouldn’t have ended up on the short-list of finalists anyway.

Job interview via videoZiggeo has also incorporated a simple “rating” functionality into its system to make it easy to grade the quality of video responses, which would come in handy for people who are evaluating a large number of candidates.

I think this is a great way to separate the “wheat from the chaff” when it comes to people selection.  Plus, we get to see how people are responding to our own specific questions … not having to rely just on resumes, covers letters and the like.

While job applicants are probably the biggest potential uses, there are numerous other applications of the Ziggeo approach.  I can see it being used to screen all manner of people:

  • Interns
  • Casting calls
  • Babysitters
  • Adult/senior caretaking
  • Roommates and apartment mates

Ziggeo can also serve as a quick, easy and affordable method to “vet” video testimonials and media interviews.

Like so many other web-based offerings, Ziggeo offers different usage plans based on the level of need.  There’s a free plan that allows for video clips up to 20 seconds in length, as well as a “personal” paid plan that allows clips up to two minutes long.

The Ziggeo Pro premium-level service levels goes a lot further than that, allowing  for hundreds of videos up to 15-minutes in length plus multiple screening rooms, which should prove most popular with hiring practitioners and human resources departments at large companies.

I don’t have personal experience with this tool myself, but it seems like its positive attributes as a “first sort” for personnel selection would far outweigh any negative aspects.

What experience have readers had with Ziggeo or similar video screening services?  Would you recommend using them, or are there drawbacks?  Please share your comments here.

HR managers’ views of new college grad hires: Curmudgeonly … or canaries in the coal mine?

Lack of professionalism among new hiresAs those of us in the world of business begin to add years (or decades) to our tenure, it becomes easier than ever to look at the younger crop of workers coming onstream and see traits that don’t align with our worldview about what is acceptable, “SFW” behavior.

Perhaps we’re too set in our ways. Maybe we’re not being flexible enough or making a sufficient effort to keep an open mind about proper office professionalism and etiquette.

But maybe we’re not offbase after all:  A new survey of HR professionals suggests that others have also noticed — and they’re not very forgiving, either.

In fact, this survey of ~400 human resources managers, which was conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College, found that opinions of recent college graduates in the workforce have grown more negative over the past five years.  (The survey is conducted annually.)

When asked about their experiences in recruiting and hiring recent college graduates, these HR managers were pretty unsparing in their criticism. Here are some of the opinions the survey uncovered:

  • More than one-third of HR respondents felt that the level of professionalism among new college-educated employees has worsened over the past five years.
  • Nearly half believe that the work ethic of new employees is worse today than before.
  • More than half of the respondents feel that new workers come into the workforce with an unrealistic air of entitlement.

What are some of the specific areas where HR managers see new hires failing to measure up? These were the most prevalent mentions in the York survey:

  • Appropriate appearance and dress
  • Punctuality and workplace attendance
  • Attentiveness
  • Staying on-task through to completion of assignments
  • Honesty

And that’s not all.

The human resources professionals in this survey reported that younger employees “appear arrogant” during the hiring process and once they come on the job.

Moreover, these HR professionals contend that new employees aren’t taking proper cues from older, more established workers in the office, but instead from their peers and friends.

A manifestation of this is the predilection to text co-workers rather than to communicate via e-mail messages, or through personal conversations and interfaces.

The basic problem with the attitudes of new company hires was pointed out by Deborah Ricker, director of the Center for Professional Excellence: “Acceptable behavior among peers is not necessarily acceptable among coworkers and superiors.”

Amen to that.

[Click here if you’re interested in downloading a full summary of the 2013 Professionalism in the Workplace survey results.]

Most of us can probably think of one or two examples of employees who personify many of the issues brought up by the HR managers in the York survey.

One example that comes to my mind from our own office’s experience was a young worker who decided she needed to take short naps during her lunch periods.

Nothing really wrong with that, except … she did so by lying down on the floor next to her desk — which was directly behind another worker’s cubicle. Imagine trying to do your work while having someone snoozing (snoring) at your feet!

If you have similar anecdotes about some of the younger hires in your office, feel free to leave a comment. It’ll be good for a chuckle or two – even if there’s an underlying context that’s way sober.