Well, How About Wellness?

“How much do I cost?”

“Wellness Plans” are a popular (yet kitschy) Human Resources initiative. SHRM has posted an article for companies interested in establishing “outcome-based” Wellness programs to make sure they are HIPAA compliant (not everybody is physically capable of engaging in the activities some programs might require), and……here’s the key – EFFECTIVE. Here’s a pared down list of 10 recommendations offered to companies, courtesy of Stephen Miller of SHRM, with a few admittedly snarky add-ons courtesy of Hardball.

10 Recommendations for Employers

1. Consider using the four biometric target categories of weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and tobacco use. 

2. Factor in potential financial and time burdens for employees when determining the specific standard you are asking them to meet. And remember that asking employees to spend money to earn an incentive is a losing proposition.

3. Consider whether the incentive design is likely to place a greater economic burden on one race, ethnic group or other category of employees. ‘Cause that would be bad.

4. Consider incentive designs that are reasonable goals (preferably individualized to the employee) rather than ideal targets applied rigidly to all employees.

5. Offer (as required by law) a reasonable alternative standard to employees for whom it would be unreasonably difficult to achieve a health standard due to a medical condition, or who have a medical reason that makes it inadvisable for them to do so within the allotted time. No 4.4 40’s should be included in the program.

6. For employees with a medical condition that makes it unreasonably difficult to achieve the health standard, or medically inadvisable to do so, consider deferring to the views of the employee’s health care provider for setting and achieving a reasonable alternative standard or providing a waiver.

7. Consider providing all employees with options for attaining the incentive, rather than only offering an alternative standard to those with a medical circumstance. Are you getting the sense, like I am, that you’re opening up Pandora’s Box here?

8. Avoid using a reward or penalty that is so large it discourages health plan enrollment, denies coverage, or creates too heavy a financial penalty on individuals who do not satisfy an initial wellness standard. Some industry experts suggest, based on extensive real­world experience administering such programs, that amounts in the range of $40 to $60 per month are capable of generating behavior changes by many participants, at least in the short run. I fundamentally and categorically refute this advice.

9. Consider an incentive design that rewards for progress toward the standard targets, instead of just rewarding employees who meet the goal. This acknowledges the effort and behavior change that is at play, rather than focusing only on the outcome. Yes, a ribbon for participation is just what we need MORE of.

10. Consider strategies that help employees integrate healthy behaviors into their personal value framework by promoting individual choice, so they are more likely to sustain healthy behavior changes over time. For example, encourage autonomy and personalization by using a health coach or other qualified health professional to tailor a standard to an individual’s circumstances or to provide follow-up support in pursuit of a standard. “Health Coach,” soon to be a new HR headcount nobody quite understands.

I have a colleague, she will remain nameless, who has a much firmer stance on Wellness Initiatives. “Mommy Love,” i.e., orange slices in break room and an extra jeans day for dropping that extra pound, are not the answer here. Make no mistake, the incentive for healthier employees are initiated to help the company, not the individual – and that’s okay. But if you want to change behavior, you need to take action that hurts. “Daddy Love” may be required – yank out the vending machines; 100% smoke-free campus; coffee-free workplace; contract with food vendors to establish a Farmer’s Market, be creative and aggressive in your program.

Anything else is a Public Relations campaign. As Jim Hightower once said, “The middle of the road is for yellow lines and dead armadillos.” In other words, if you want to lose weight, put the fork down.

John “Whit” Whitaker is the Founder and Managing Partner of HR Hardball™. And yes, he’d like to lose an extra five pounds, too! To send Mr. “Love Handles” an email, or to submit your own thoughts for publishing on this site:

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.


States Hedging Healthcare Bets?

Which way are we going?

According to an article posted by Stephen Miller (www.shrm.org), less than 1/3 of our states have made policy/procedure change in preparation for Healthcare Reform statutes taking effect in 2014.

Read what you will into this, but it seems optimism is shaky for Obamacare being implemented in its current state and/or on the current timeline. Considering as of 1/1/2014, States will be subject to penalties,* one might think they would be more diligently pushing towards a deadline that is only 17 months away. Unless…..ah, make your own conclusions.

*Employer penalties, with thanks to SHRM.org,fyi:

Health Exchanges and Employer Penalties

As the law now reads, beginning in 2014 companies with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees that do not offer insurance will be fined up to $2,000 per employee (less the first 30 employees) if an employee enrolls in an exchange plan and is eligible to receive a tax credit or subsidy.

In addition, companies with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees that do offer insurance can be fined up to $3,000 for each employee who enrolls in an exchange plan and is eligible to receive a tax credit or subsidy. To avoid the fine, the employer can offer the employee a voucher equivalent to the employer’s contribution toward health care coverage under their group health plan. The employee would use the voucher to purchase coverage from the exchange.


John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.


HR Bodies of Knowledge; “Strategic Management”

“Strategic” is THE buzzword in Corporate Human Resources. The need/quest/goal of every HR department, regardless of size or scope, is to be more “strategic” ~ we hear constantly about the inherent loss of HR’s value to the business because of “non-strategic” contributions. It’s not an exclusive desire of HR, but it certainly seems to be the validating characteristic HR desperately seeks for a stamp of approval.

“Chess is so strategerous.”

It’s an expansive word bandied about in fairly liberal fashion, so what does “strategic” Human Resources actually mean? For a professional definition, what better source than the Human Resources Certification Institute? ~ after all, “Strategic Management” has been established (2001) as one of the key functions for certification for both PHR (Professional in Human Resources) and SPHR (Sr. Professional in Human Resources.) For your PHR, 12% of the questions will deal with Strategic Management, for the SPHR, 29% [subject to change at any time, reference www.hrci.org].

Strategic Management – “Big Picture” (fittingly, another innocuous, expansive term), knowledge of business & Operations; ensures the alignment of HR activities and organizational goals and also includes the establishment of HR effectiveness measurements (ignore the fact that we are asking HR to establish the “effectiveness” measures for HR.)

Reviewing the PHR/SPHR Certification Study Guide (Bogardus, 3rd Edition; 2009), what does “strategic management” mean to the HRCI? The list is daunting:

  • Ability to interpret data from all internal business sources as it applies to organizational strategic plan
  • Ability to interpret data from all external sources as it applies to organizational strategic plan
  • Establish key internal relationships critical to organizational strategic planning
  • Establish key external relationships critical to strategic planning
  • Develop and utilize metrics to evaluate HR’s contributions*
  • Develop/execute strategy for change management
  • Align human capital plan (ugh, I hate that term) with strategic plan
  • Develop/communicate organizational values, core behaviors
  • Reinforce core behaviors via communication plan & coaching(?)
  • Manage HR budget
  • Provide information for overall organizational budget
  • Develop policies and procedures
  • Monitor legislative and regulatory  for proposed changes, prepare to address/change/support these changes
  • Participate in Enterprise Risk Mgmt.
  • Vendor selection & selection processes
  • Due diligence related to M&A, integration, “right-sizing” activities
  • Application of technical tools, systems, advances in technology

I don’t know this HR person, do you? SWOT, PEST, Strat Plan, Communication Plan, Enterprise Risk, Budget responsibility….is this what the business leaders want from Human Resources? What if you were asked to narrow this list down to the 3 most critical strategic HR functions? What would they be?

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.


Recruiting, Where’s the Love?

In a previous post, I concluded by mentioning that while SHRM/HRCI offer Generalist certifications (PHR, SPHR), the

“…so, tell me about yourself.”

movement to also have certifications in specialty areas was abandoned. That’s not to say there isn’t a voluminous amount of information to edify your studies in any one functional area; you can get lost down the wormhole if you start researching SHRM.org for any significant amount of time. I’m referring specifically to the little letters we, as self-evident beings, love to attach to our business cards. MBA, CPA, PHR, SPHR, CPM, PE, PhD, MD, etc., etc.

Outside of SHRM, there are different programs individuals can pursue in many of the HR disciplines. Compensation, for example, has a robust offering for professional and academic validation. There is a glaring exception, however, that vexes me. Where is the Recruiting certification?

How can we say that the “people” are the most important asset of the company (going so far as to rename people “Human Capital,” in a ill-sounding Soylent Green type misnomer), yet consistently short-shrift the professionals who are tasked with screening, sourcing, interviewing, on-boarding, and hiring new talent?

Hmmmmmm? Made you think, didn’t I? My wife is a saint, I assure you, because this is the kind of stuff I throw at her in the middle of the night.

Recruiting (or Staffing, or Talent Acquisition, or Human Capital Acquisition and Free-Range Development) is still the entry point to Human Resources. Phone jockeys, computer humps, resume Rangers. Companies consistently bring in contract recruiters to handle peak hiring periods; hourly mercenaries to plow through the stacks of resumes received. Most companies also have contingency recruiters (“Headhunters,” now that is a name I can sink my teeth into) to focus on the most critical or highly-salaried positions. What the hell? Every touchpoint is a potential customer as well as potential candidate. HR should have it’s best face forward in the recruiting position, these are the people selling DTC.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems ass-backwards to me to profess employees as the life-blood of an organization while designating the function as a back-seat rider. Is it me?

Physician, heal thyself.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.


ACOS, Deer Valley 2012; Consultant

Posting at 20,000 feet is actually rather peaceful. High above the plains of West Texas, I’m on the first of a 3-leg flight to Deer Valley, UT. That’s right – a THREE LEG flight, from Dallas to El Paso to Phoenix to Salt Lake City…….at 6am.

another day, another 2,000 advantage miles

This is what entrepreneurs do. We catch crappy flights to capitalize our Reward points, anything to reach the next potential client. This week’s quest? Deer Valley, UT for the American European Congress of Ophthalmic Surgery (ACOS) Summit. Surgeons, Physicians, MD’s, and Ophthalmic Industry Leaders gather for 3-days of information sharing, case reviews, new technique demonstrations, and general revelry (it IS Deer Valley, after all.)

I’m fortunate enough to have had 12 years Human Resources experience in the Ophthalmic field, so I’m hoping to parlay that experience into a few new clients.

Successful medical practices require successful business practices ~ very few of these individuals have dedicated HR support, so we are trying to establish HR Hardball™ as the consultant of choice.

31 minutes to El Paso, 1-hour layover for the 30-minute flight to Phoenix, change planes and spend another hour flying to Salt Lake.

Consultant insider joke ~ the difference in corporate air travel and entrepreneur air travel? Answer – Only one resembles a bus ride.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.


HR ~ Who’s Your Daddy?

The ASPA (American Society of Personnel Administration) was created in the late 1940’s  when it became evident that the

“Don’t forget your roots!”

“people” piece of the business was developing into a separate job function. This organization operated on a volunteer basis for almost 20 years before taking a more formal step defining “Personnel/Industrial Relations” as a profession.

The results? Five “qualifiers” to establish HR/Personnel as a profession:

  • HR would require full-time practice.
  • A common body of knowledge (BOK, get used to this term) must be defined; courses of study at educational institutions parallel the BOK
  • To represent HR as a separate voice, a professional organization would be established.
  • A certification process would be required for HR professionals.
  • A code of ethics must be established for HR professionals.

So the ASPA would define the BOK and certification program to validate and evaluate the competency levels of practitioners in their profession. A special task force (that term never fails to raise my eyebrow) was formed to do just that.

The ASPA Accreditation Institute (AAI) was established in 1975 – the first six functional areas defined by the AAI as the original BOK for Human Resources professionals:

  • Employment, Placement, and Personnel
  • Training & Development
  • Compensation & Benefits
  • Health, Safety, and Security
  • Employee & Labor Relations
  • Personnel Research

Now, the ASPA is called “SHRM,” and the AAI is called “HRCI.” The six areas making up the first “BOK” for HR has also changed throughout the years, adapting as the profession has adapted.  Validation studies have been conducted several times over the last 35+ years to ensure an accurate reflection of the needs of the profession. Most of the areas have remained similar, if not identical, to the original BOK. There were, however, a few significant changes…

  1. In 2001, “Strategic Management” was officially unveiled as a functional area in Human Resources, replacing Personnel Research.
  2. In 2006, “Total Rewards” replaced “Compensation & Benefits” ~ seemingly a change in nomenclature only.
  3. In 2006, “Risk Management” replaced “Health, Safety, and Security”

One final note to set the stage for the coming weeks….the original intent was for each of the Functional Areas to have a Specialist Certification process for those seeking professional designation as a Subject-Matter-Expert. For reasons not fully understood, that plan was scrapped in favor of the Generalist designations we see today.

The Professional in Human Resources (PHR), and the Sr. Professional in Human Resources (SPHR.)

More to come…..

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.



Negative Returns in Recruiting

recruiting-staffing-recruiter-human-resources [I originally posted this back in May, 2012 on the “Tim Sackett Project” as a guest blogger. Tim is a recruiting/talent acquisition SME, so it’s impressive he let this one go ‘live’ on his site! While exaggerated for effect, the risk involved in ‘career’ recruiting for the individual AND the organization is worth addressing.]    

     Occupational hazards come in all forms … Cops get shot, waiters get stiffed, and dentists smell breath that would gag a dog. In human resources, the hazard is learning to hate people. Ironic, yes?

HR Senior Execs are toadies to the “real” leaders of the organization … Generalists are often witness to the most base of human behavior. Specialists in compensation or benefits are dying inside waiting for one more person to complain about their pay, their coverage, their co-pay, or their 401K compared to what “other” companies offer.

All HR people bear witness to the double standards and favoritism that somehow benefit the wrong people. Seriously, do you know how annoying and  despicable we are as a species?

Yup, by and large HR folks can be a pretty acrimonious bunch. None of these, however, hold a candle to the most jaded of all HR professionals … the Internal Recruiter [Generalus nofriender].

Experience in recruiting is invaluable as you move up the HR food chain, but I suggest you begin to encounter diminishing returns after Year Two. Why is this?

Think about it from the perspective of the recruiter:

      •  Volume – after you’ve looked at 10,000 resumes, had phone interviews with 1,000 job seekers and had your head ripped off by 100 hiring managers, you cultivate a certain level of pure exasperation for idiots.
      • Too much inside knowledge – You know what really ticks off the average recruiter? Getting exposure to the offers that other people get when they walk in the door. Even worse, seeing the ridiculous “add-on’s” that candidates (or current employees) demand before assuming a new role – especially when they get the stupid requests.
      • Second-fiddle syndrome – During the initial interview & selection process, the recruiter is the critical person for a candidate. BFF, sounding board, coach, advisor ~ then they get hired and pfffffft. Count on it, once they get the job, the recruiter is a toot in the breeze.
      • The bad hire – If a newbie flames out, it’s the recruiter’s fault. If the newbie goes on to be CEO, nobody cares or remembers who brought them into the company.
      • “Real” HR – Even within their own kind, Recruiters are the whipping post. They don’t do “real” HR work and the internet has reduced a lot of their job to a screen & sort position. Whenever the topic of outsourcing comes up, you can be sure that Staffing is in the crosshairs as a first cut.
      • Career vacuum – Stick around too long in the recruiter role & you’ll be given the career kiss of death, the dreaded “Senior Recruiter” title. You now have zero transferable skills internally and you’ve priced yourself too high for an HR “rotation” assignment. Either suck it up or get your own resume ready, ‘cuz your fate is sealed.

A decidedly grim view, I know, but I speak the truth because I care.

So, what do you do about it?

Top three things to do immediately and often:

1. Make it known that your five-year plan does not include being a phone-jockey for job applicants.

2. Gain the gracious support of your internal clients: Offer perspective and insight they don’t normally get from their recruiter, and challenge them on the ranking and selection of candidates. Remind them of the cost-avoidance (a great ROI in theory, but they may not give a rip) you offer them by providing a service an external recruiter would charge  thousands of dollars to do.

3.  Push those in charge to let you “shadow” or participate in any number of different functions.

And for Pete’s sake, do it before you get promoted to Senior Recruiter.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.


Turnover…and We Don’t Mean the Apple Variety

“THIS is voluntary turnover.”

HR Magazine (yes, I do have a racy reading selection) offers a very interesting Cover Story in its July 2012 edition. “Drive Turnover Down” covers a wide array of the factors involved in employee turnover. Without re-hashing the entire 5-page article, a few items that stood out:

  • As could be expected, “voluntary” turnover is fairly static ~ employees are still unlikely to leave a job on their own terms.
  • “Right Management” conducted a survey in 2011 (albeit a sample of only 1,000); 84% of respondents indicated they would search for a new job in the upcoming calendar year.
  • HR still struggles with the appropriate way to utilize this metric.

Wasn’t too long ago that low Turnover rates were trumpeted as an indicator of an employer’s inherent value. The Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For” almost always highlighted companies that had 5% (or less) turnover ~ clearly, the fact that no one wanted to leave the company indicated it was a wonderful place to work.

We know in retrospect that may not be a clear indicator of the actual situation ~ “comfortable” may be a more accurate term to describe the retention rates prior to the economic downturn of the late ’00’s. When the headcount squeeze began in earnest, many companies may have been (pleasantly) shocked at the ease in which the first cut was processed. That brief period of productive turnover eventually led to more painful cuts, but one lesson was learned by all – “turnover” is a wiggly term.

Human Resources, which had hung its collective hat on “low” turnover, became more cautious in aligning turnover rates with successful business practices.

As HR professionals, we need to hone our attention on two very specific groups:

1. Key Employees ~ Who are they? What is their respective engagement level? What is the plan should they leave? Force the issue with your business leaders.

2. Performance Issues ~ We know the employees on “formal” performance plans; how about the employees who aren’t on the PIP radar? If you’re paying attention, you KNOW who these employees are ~ push your leaders to take action; manage them up or manage them out. Period.

That’s the problem with a “statistic” that disguises itself as a “metric.” Unless you are 100% certain about the mechanics behind the number, it’s best to walk lightly.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.


FMLA, and Other 4-Letter Words

“…this is just too easy.”

Strange as it may seem, some of the better bonding experiences I’ve had with my internal business “partners” have revolved around FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act, 1993). For those unfamiliar with the Act, it’s a prime example of a great program that can be manipulated by an increasingly savvy employee base – in any regard, FMLA cases can be an absolute nightmare to manage. The scope of FMLA covers the following:

  • Pregnancy, prenatal complications, or the adoption/fostering of a child
  • Chronic conditions — diabetes, epilepsy, etc
  • Long-term conditions — Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, etc
  • Hospitalization
  • A condition that requires ongoing treatment — chemotherapy, dialysis, etc

The act grants 12 weeks of excused (job-protected) absences each year, should an employee obtain the proper medical documentation. The Leave can be continuous, intermittent, or include a reduced work schedule. When the employee returns to work, they must be permitted to return to the same position, or if unable to physically perform the job the employer must find a position of equal salary/bonus/benefits. The benefit begins again every 12-months. What’s not to like?

IT’s a complex and confusing employee protection mechanism, so much so that most employers out-source the management of the process. Truth is, most employees are terrified to manage the process, so they are only to happy to give the responsibility to an outside vendor. BIG MISTAKE.

While you may remove yourself from the headaches involved in the administration of the process, you are also absolving control of a process that is consistently abused by employees. Almost comical how many poor performing employees end up  hiding in the comforting bosom of FMLA.

Human Resources must take advantage of any opportunity to add value to the organization – if you are currently outsourcing the administration of the process, I would highly encourage you to take the bull by the horns and become the SME in your department regarding FMLA. Believe me, not only will you be unchallenged in this endeavor (nobody understands FMLA!), but you will become a highly valued business consultant as your internal clients manage a process that scares and frustrates them to no end. I became a brother-in-arms with some of the tougher client groups, if only for the   fact that we suffered through these battles together.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.


The Godfather and Human Resources

“Fredo got a seat?…fuhgeddaboudit”

The “OBP”(Original Business Partner), Tom Hagen. Remember the name? Movie buffs will instantly recognize the name as a member of the Corleone family. The Dutch-Irish adopted brother to Mike, Sonny, Connie, and Fredo, right-hand man to Vito, and official “consigliere” for the Family.

Tom is the original HR Business Partner. His role as consigliere offered him a seat at the table for all family matters; he advises and consults the Don on matters of importance, but keeps his hands clean from any of the dirty business that happens on the front lines. He’s a diplomat. A negotiator. A politician, a lawyer, a shadow.

He’s also the first one to be excluded from the family business when the shit hits the fan. Unable to control the volatile Sonny, unable to stand up to the charismatic Michael, his voice is muted when the situation calls for a “war time” consigliere, aka, an outside consultant. You know, just like when the boys and girls from Deloitte come piling into your corporate headquarters to “assist” in the upcoming M&A activities.

The metaphor is even further enhanced by the fact that he’s the adopted brother, i.e., not a “real” member of the family. They love him, they invite him along, the rely on him to keep things moving slowly (“make sure a car is following Kate”), but when the situation is boiled down to its essence, he’s NOT in the inner circle. If you’re in Human Resources, I swear to Pete that’s an uncanny resemblance to the life of a Business Partner. It’s not as bad as being “Fredo” (pretty sure Fredo is Manufacturing), but it’s still not Michael.  (For the sake of the metaphor, “Sonny” is Sales and Marketing.)

Are you involved in the “dirty business” meetings? Are you excluded? A seat at the table comes with privileges and responsibilities that most employees will not enjoy ~ make sure your seat isn’t next to Luca Brazi.

(I’m so unbelievably impressed with my analogy that I’m going to treat myself to a cannoli and watch “Godfather II.”)

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.