Dutch Executives Seeing Green – How Millennials Are Reshaping the World

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Davos, Switzerland — If you can’t beat them, bribe them. Are the days of environmentalists versus capitalists coming to an end?  DSM, a global firm based in The Netherlands, is tying forty-percent of its executives’ short-term incentive pay to whether or not the company meets its environmental and sustainability goals. 

What is driving capitalism’s sudden interest in saving the environment? My guess is that it’s the Millennials, the twenty-somethings who make up the most rapidly growing demographic in our current workforce.  When  Millennials go looking for jobs, they seek out employers who are a cultural fit. That is, they want to work for companies which care about the same things they care about and which demonstrate that care both by the way they do business and by the non-business causes they support.  Outside of Silicon  Valley and the High-Tech world, Millennials have not yet made it to the C-Suite. However they are the force which is motivating a growing number of companies to select and act on a cause. Actions companies take may include realigning their business practices to support the cause they’ve adopted, allowing employees to perform volunteer work on company time,  educating their employees and their clients about the cause, or making outright donations to non-profit organizations.

Because they are tuned into and care deeply about such things as culture and branding, Millennials are making an impression on corporations not only as prospective employees but as prospective consumers of their products and services.  The radio station I listen to each morning (The Rod Ryan Show  on Houston’s 94.5 The Buzz) appeals  to a Millennial audience. In their sometimes R-rated, may-not-be-suitable-for-more-sensitive-listeners morning banter, the Buzz’s DJs make more references to “giving back” and talk more about what celebrity or what local business is doing what good deeds than any station I have ever listened to before. Not only that, the show itself supports its favorite causes. Its Drumsticks for Drumsticks campaign auctions off drumsticks signed by famous drummers to raise money for the Houston Food Bank.  In the fall, it raises funds to provide backpacks to underprivileged Houston school children. This spirit of giving back is being repeated by other companies throughout the United States whose clientele is primarily Millennials.

Because the Millennials’ manner of speaking (concise, direct, straight-from-the-hip) often comes across as curt, Baby Boomers tend to write them off as rude. But these young people have heart. They not only care about the world, they pay attention to how individual companies treat the environment,  animals, third world countries, and other underdogs, and they demonstrate their concern by choosing which companies they will or will not work for and whose products or services they will or will not buy.

The BBC reports that  “At the Davos 2014 World Economic Forum, a gathering of more than 1600 global business leaders in Switzerland this week, one of the hot topics is ‘doing business the right way’.”  In fact, the summit’s theme is Reshaping the World.

When I was growing up, Bob Dylan sang, in his awful twang, about “The Times, They Are A-Changing.”  Well, guess what. Nothing is static. The times are changing again, maybe, (sorry, all you doomsayers) for the better. Under pressure from our young people, corporations are recognizing that the bottom line and making the world a better place are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, they may be more closely linked than we ever imagined before.

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Reverse Polar Vortex – American workers are whipping their way up across the Canadian Plains

ImageFor years oil industry workers headed east to Saudi to make quick thousands (or  tens of thousands) toiling in air conditioned offices beneath an unrelenting Saharan sun.  Now there is a new migration patterns as American workers flow north, a Keystone Pipeline  in reverse, to Canadian oil fields.

With 50,000 job vacancies in the energy employment sector,  Canadian employers are hungrily eying skilled American workers to the south.  The province of Alberta, in particular,  has launched a recruitment campaign in the United States. American veterans are among those being targeted.

Reasons Canadian companies are particularly looking our direction to fill their skilled labor gap include the fact that Americans speak English, share a similar business culture, and, most importantly, after spending a couple of dark, sub-zero winters up north, will be more than happy to relocate back to the United States.

Let’s just hope they don’t bring another polar vortex with them.

What Does Your Desk Say About You?

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On the radio, today, I heard a mini-broadcast about how the neatness of a worker’s desk affects his behavior. According to a study conducted at the University of Minnesota, workers seated at neatly organized desks tend to behave better (follow the rules) and make wiser choices (an apple as a snack instead of a candy bar) than those working at cluttered desks.

I looked up the study and found it on the  Association for Psychological Science (APS) website.

Turns out the radio blurb left something out. Workers seated at the cluttered desks were more creative and more innovative than workers with neatly organized workspaces.  Hopefully my daughter doesn’t read that or she’ll have one more excuse not to clean her room!

Age Discrimination Pushes Baby Boomers to Become Encore Entrepreneurs

Open for BusinessEarlier this month I blogged about the growing number of Baby Boomers who are exiting one career to start something totally new.  While many of these Boomers do so because they are seeking a more rewarding way to spend their final decade or two in the workforce, others are making the leap out of sheer necessity.

Despite the Age Discrimination Act, once an older worker is unemployed, he remains jobless for longer periods than his younger counterparts. In 2012-2013, the average duration of unemployment for older people was 53 weeks, compared with 19 weeks for teenagers.

In a PBS Newshour broadcast, Economist Alicia Munnell commented that employers worry about the older applicants’  “ability to learn new things, about their physical stamina and basically how long are they going to stay.”

This would explain why those who do find work  often take jobs which pay far less than the salaries they were earning before. In the face of unemployment and underemployment, a growing number of Americans over age fifty are showing  resilience by starting businesses of their own.  In fact,  people aged  55 to 64 started nearly a quarter of all new businesses in the US in 2012.

If you or someone you’re close to is thinking about starting a business, The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) “has a number of resources and tools to help encore entrepreneurs effectively prepare for starting and running a small business, including business planning, mentoring and financial assistance.” It also works with numerous local partners throughout the country “to counsel, mentor, and train small businesses.”  Enter your zip code to connect with an SBA Office and local resources in your area.  In addition, the  SBA  offers a free online course for entrepreneurs age fifty and older.

Hungry for more? The Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons   (AARP) is currently hosting an online Encore Entrepreneurship Webinar Series. Or check out the video-series The Khan Academy has put together in which successful entrepreneurs share personal lessons and insights.

You can find a descriptive list of additional  resources, on my earlier post  about Baby Boomers shifting gears and starting whole new careers.

As Tim Devaney and Tom Stein put it in their Forbes.com article Encore Entrepreneurs: Big Dreams for Small Business Owners, “Fifty is not the new 40. It’s not even the new 30. For an increasing number of Americans, 50 is the new 20, a time to decide what they want to do with the rest of their life.”

Are you one of those people?

Create a Mini-Library at Your Workplace

One of the things I love about doing workforce training at Noble Energy  are the many ways the employees make their workplace homey.  My favorite (after the home baked goods which frequently materialize on the communal table in the break room) is the impromptu library which has evolved atop a row of metal filing cabinets lining one of the interior hallways. Employees place books they have finished reading on top of the filing cabinets. People can take and read any book they like and can donate books of their own. There is no checkout procedure and there are no due dates. If you fall in love with a book, you can keep it or even pass it on to a family member or friend.

booksAn office lending library is a nice perk Human Resources staffers can initiate at no cost to their employers.  They might also encourage employees who subscribe to professional trade magazines to place the issues they have finished reading in a designated basket in the breakroom, for their colleagues to leaf through over coffee or at lunch.

Yes, I know everyone can read whatever they like on their ipads and Kindles these days. But there is nothing like a shelf of real books to make a place cozier or a hard copy magazine or newspaper to give our overworked retinas a much needed break.

Attack of the UFO’s

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Sadly, in the world of Human Resources,  UFO  no longer stands for Unidentified Flying Object but for something far more pedestrian and, some might say, more sinister. Union Front Organization.  Just what is a Union Front Organization?  I just read a five page spread on the subject (“Leading from Behind?” HR Magazine, December 2013) and I’m still trying to understand it.  The best I can make out is that a UFO is a non-union union. It does not have to gain approval from the majority of the workers it purports to represent.  It’s not subject to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) nor the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA).   Even so, these UFOs (also known as “Work Centers” or “alt-labor” groups) are providing their members with all manner of services including worker advocacy, lobbying, legal advice, and training and many of them are initiating class action lawsuits.

Perhaps the most newsworthy of these UFOs, of late, has been the  Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) and its ROC affiliates in other major cities throughout the U.S., as they have joined the fight to increase fast food workers’ wages.

As memberships in traditional, regulated unions decline (having  lost 4,000 members in 2012 alone), many labor relations professionals view UFOs as union wolves in Martians’ clothing, on a mission to beam  working class earthlings on board. Union activists are creating or joining  these so-called work centers  as a means of gaining the  support of and, ultimately, inducting more  earthlings into their unions.

It’s possible that some of the recently sighted UFOs are as benevolent Our Favorite Martian from the black and white days of yore: that they have only the safety and the most basic rights of their members in mind and that they have harbor no ill will towards employers, the free-market, or capitalism.  At the same time, I suggest that employers listen carefully to what these UFOs are saying. If their rhetoric bears  a strong resemblance to the Klingons’ sayings  ( “If you are sad act!” “Choose to fight, not negotiate.” “To survive, we must expand.”), we must take care and beware.  The last thing our economy needs is an attack from a fleet of UFOs.

Photo courtesy of Stefan-XP (WikiCommons)