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.

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What Are Behavioral Economics? Or Why Johnny Lingo Paid Eight Cows for His Wife

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From a Human Resources standpoint, Behavioral Economics occurs when an employer pays its workers more than what the current market demands, on the premise that the more valued the workers feel, the better they will perform.

Patricia McGrerr‘s  famous short story “Johnny Lingo’s Eight-Cow Wife” (Women’s Day, November 1965) is a good example of this principal. On the Pacific island where Johnny Lingo lived, a man could purchase a decent wife for two to three cows. A highly satisfactory wife could be had for four to five cows.  Sarita, the woman Johnny wanted to marry, was plain and skinny and, in the opinion of most islanders, worth only two cows, three at most.  To everyone’s amazement, Johnny paid eight cows for her.

After Johnny and Sarita wed, she became a beautiful, charming woman, one of the finest in the village. Johnny attributed her transformation to the price he had paid for her.

“Do you ever think,” he asked, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? … I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. … Many things can change a woman. Things happen inside, things happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks of herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands.”  

In theory, the more valued your employees feel (as reflected by their salaries), the more they will value themselves and their skills and the more likely they are to live up to your high expectations.

This is just one aspect of Behavioral Economics, the main gist of which is that humans do not always behave in an economically rational way.  Johnny Lingo’s decision to pay eight cows for a wife who was originally worth no more than two or three was anything but rational.

The sometimes irrational and, therefore, unpredictable decisions people make in regards to finances and economics can be a force for good (the transformation of Johnny’s wife) or for evil. Many economists blame the crash of 2008 on the irrational decisions made by banks and other organizations.

This theory of Behavior Economics plays an important role in Janet Yellen, our newly appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve’s, approach to economics.

If this post is the first time you’ve heard of Behavioral Economics, it’s not likely to be the last, as Ms. Yellen takes over our nation’s economic reigns.

Only time will tell how many cows she is truly worth.

The Buck Stops Where? What Bridgegate and Benghazi Have in Common

George Washington Bridge Once a popular Broadway musical, Jersey Boys has reinvented itself as mini-series of scandals heading the front pages of our newspapers. Has its star, Governor Chris Christie,  gone from being  “Big Man in Town” to  “Fallen Angel?”

As I write, the Democrats are expanding their “Bridgegate  investigation to look at claims that politics played a role in the distribution of Sandy relief funds.”  (“Democrats Plan to Expand Christie Probe” USA Today, January 20, 2014). Governor Christie’s administration allegedly withheld Sandy recovery aid from the City of Hoboken, when the city rejected a major redevelopment plan.

Regardless of whether Governor Christie knew about, much less authorized, these not-so-natural disasters, the fact is they occurred on his watch.  Executives of corporations, non-profit organizations, and government offices alike have a responsibility to establish a cultural tone, a brand, an ethos, if you will, for the organizations they lead.

One of the tools they have at their disposable for accomplishing this are their Human Resources Directors. They should enable and empower  Human Resources to communicate, promote, and, when necessary, enforce their organizations’ code of ethics. This cultural branding should begin at the recruiting and selection stage and should be reinforced during onboarding.

When a local corporation recently asked me to help screen applications for a Safety Officer opening, I read through stacks and stacks of resumes.  The one resume which jumped out at me belonged to an applicant who, under work experience, had written, “created a culture of safety.”  Yes! That’s what the corporation was looking for.

When you have a position to fill, read resumes not just for the facts they contain but for their tone. You may also take advantage of social media  to assess each applicant’s “personal brand” (how he presents himself online).   Is he a good fit for your organization’s culture?

Next, use new employee orientations to emphasize your organization’s culture and its code of ethics.  Last, but far from least, encourage management to live up to and model that code.  Refer to it in your organization’s newsletters or on your intranet. When someone, anyone, in the organization falls short of  The Code, they should be reminded of what the organization stands for and the behavioral expectations which go with it.

The Buck Stops HereIt seems The Buck Stops Here has gone from a clever sign that President Harry Truman once kept on his desk to  a sometimes overused cliché to, regrettably,  a thing of the past. We saw this when the Democrats attempted to place the blame for the Benghazi attack on the shoulders of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Of course, Benghazi was not so much a breach of ethics, as it was a breach of competence. Either way, it should never have happened. Maybe Governor Christie, like President Obama, didn’t know exactly what was going on with the George Washington Bridge traffic jam until it was too late.  Neither Governor Christie nor President Obama can undo what has been done, but they can take full responsibility for it. President Truman would have done no less. Or so his sign said.

Going forward, all executives (corporate, non-profit, and government alike) would do well to draw on the ethical expertise of their Human Resources Directors, not only to guide them through the often choppy, gray waters of business and politics, but to establish and nurture a culture of ethics among their staffs.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the show. Jersey Boys is in for a long run.

 

Do Employment Laws Hurt Rather Than Help Those Who Serve in The Military?

VeteransClose to 48,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are either homeless or are “in federal programs aimed at keeping them off the streets.” (USA Today, January 17-19, 2014). The unemployment rate among veterans who served after 9-11, is 8.6%,  compared to a nation’s overall jobless rate of  6.7%.

One of the factors which may account for this gap is the fear among employers spawned by   the publicity given to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Employers worry that if they hire a veteran and that person displays the outbursts of anger sometimes correlated with the disease, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can make it very difficult for the employer to let the individual go.   The ADA specifically identifies post-traumatic stress disorder as a protected mental impairment.

Should the employer become concerned about workplace safety, his only recourse may be to go to the expense of paying a psychiatrist to perform a fitness-for-duty evaluation (FFD).

Another reason many employers now shy away from hiring members of the  Armed Services, The Reserves, and the National Guard  is to avoid having to comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). This act requires employers to  promptly reemploy them in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty  (even if this means laying off the people hired to replace them) and to grant them any pay increases and, in some cases, any promotions they would likely have been entitled to had they not been deployed.

Employers who violate  or who are perceived as having violated USERRA  may be sued.  In 2011, U.S. Army Reservist David C. Fyock filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging that  the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) had violated USERRA   ” by failing to retroactively promote Fyock from a corrections officer 1 to a corrections officer 2 position” after he returned from military deployment. Fyock took a make-up promotional exam after he returned and scored higher than those colleagues who had been promoted to the higher position while he was deployed.  The Department of Justice found in favor of Fyock and has ordered PDOC to  promote him to the Corrections Officer 2 (Sergeant) position and to give him back pay along with other benefits.

More recently (in 2013), U.S. Army Reservist Curtis Kirk sued All Battery Sales and Service (ABS) for reemploying him in a lower position than the one he had held when he left for active duty. The new position came with fewer guaranteed working hours, a less lucrative commission and bonus structure and fewer opportunities for promotion. Later ABS let Kirk go, which Kirk claimed was also a violation of his rights under USERRA. The Department of Justice found in favor of Kirk and ordered ABS to pay him $37,500 to compensate for lost or reduced wages and benefits. 

Yes, not hiring someone because they might suffer from PTSD is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and not hiring them in order to avoid USERRA is outright discrimination, but this hardly curbs employers from putting their  business interests first and the law second. In fact, it’s quite possible that by scaring off prospective employers,  the ADA and USERRA has done more harm than good to those enlisted in the military.

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?

International Travel Alert: Your Laptop Can Be Seized by Federal Agents Without A Warrant

tsaDid you know that at the United States Border, U.S. agents can legally seize your laptop, iPad, and other electronic devices without a search warrant and without probable cause? Not only can they seize it and  search its contents, they can take their own sweet time doing so. You may not see your laptop again for weeks.

Based on legal precedent, the Fourth Amendment — the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures — does not apply along the border. Furthermore, said border can extend one-hundred miles into the interior of the country. 

There have also been cases of laptops being seized from airline passengers returning from foreign countries. The  government may be backing off on this particular invasion of privacy, however, as it has just reached a settlement with Human Rights Activist David House, whose laptop, camera, and USB drive were seized when he returned to the United States after vacationing abroad.  In the settlement, the government  has agreed to destroy all data it obtained from his laptop and other electronics.

Then again, the government is not paying any restitution and, according to the terms of the settlement, House is responsible for his own legal fees. So what is to stop agents from doing the same thing in the future?

Some travelers with computers containing confidential or proprietary information now scrub their hard drives prior to traveling internationally (not terribly practical if you’re traveling on business).  Others have  an expert encrypt their data behind a secure password.  The catch is, should your laptop or iPad be seized, neither of these strategies will help you get it back any sooner. On the contrary, I’m willing to bet that if the contents are encrypted, government agents are likely to hold it all the longer as they attempt to hack it.

In addition, there is also a possibility that your computer may be returned to you with a few freebies added. As I discussed in a previous post, the NSA has been intercepting laptops in transit and installing malware on them which can record what users are typing across their screens.

Using a malware compromised computer offline may not necessarily protect you from prying eyes. It has recently come to light that the NSA has embedded some computers (mostly those owned by foreigners or by suspected terrorists) with with tiny circuit boards or USB cards that emit radio waves, enabling them to spy on offline computers.

True, you may be the last person in America security personnel would ever mistake for a spy. Then again my clean-cut, professionally dressed brother with an Italian surname was once detained and interrogated for hours at a Canadian airport because his name closely resembled that of a suspected terrorist on their no-fly list. I guess there’s a branch of the family we don’t know about.

I have dealt with this issue by purchasing a travel-laptop. On it, I only store those files I will absolutely need while traveling.  If it gets seized, damaged, lost, or stolen, the harm is minimal; my regular laptop is waiting for me back home. If you do this, you can carry along any confidential data you may need on a thumb-drive (hopefully they don’t seize that as well!) or make use cloud storage to access your data from anywhere in the world.

Happy travels.