Road Time Costly to Companies, Employees

Too much traffic, too long a commute and too many workers losing productivity. The challenge is not new and neither is the potential solution of telecommuting. The leader of one of the nation's leading workplace consulting firms says it's time for change.

“By not expanding the use of telecommuting, employers are negatively impacting the environment, worker productivity, job satisfaction and, most importantly, their bottom lines.  And, it is not a lack of technology or other resources that is holding back this expansion.  It is simply a lack of vision, a shortage of trust and an irrational adherence to antiquated notions of how and where work should be done,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

The call for increased telecommuting comes on the heels of a new report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which revealed that increased traffic congestion is forcing the nation’s workers to build in extra time to their daily commutes to the tune of $121 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2011.

Obviously, there are many occupations that are not conducive to telecommuting.  However, the number of jobs that can be done remotely have grown significantly over the last two decades and will continue to expand going forward.

The latest available statistics from the Telework Research Network indicate that 3.1 million people, not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers, considered home to be their primary place of work in 2011.  That is roughly 2.5 percent of U.S. nonfarm payrolls.

Overall, the number of telecommuters increased by 73 percent between 2005 and 2011.  However, according to the data, the number of telecommuters remains well below the potential.  The Telework Research Network estimates that as many as 64 million U.S. employees (just under 50 percent of the workforce) hold a job that is compatible with telework.

“Companies are embracing the latest portable tablets and laptops, social networking, video conferencing and many of the other technological advancements that make telecommuting increasingly viable.  However, in many ways, companies are stuck in the old way of doing business, where people are expected to work from 9 to 5 and are judged more on the amount of ‘face time’ than on the quantity or quality of output."

Companies that have embraced telecommuting have found that their remote workers are just as, if not more productive than traditional office workers.  Analyses of Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical and many other employers have found that teleworkers are 35 percent to 45 percent more productive.  American Express found that its teleworkers produced 43 percent more than their office-based counterparts.

In addition, various studies have found that telecommuting employees are happier, more loyal, and have fewer unscheduled absences.
 

It’s Not All Bad News for Older Workers

Here are some contradicting numbers to ponder. According to data from the Government Accountability Office, 55% of workers 55 and older have been unemployed for 27 weeks with 36% out of work for more than a year. On the other hand, between January 2012 and May 2012 this same age group accounted for nearly three million (or 69%) of total employment growth in the country.

Global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas has more statistics and analysis:

While a larger portion of older workers are experiencing prolonged unemployment, the overall unemployment rate for this group has seen improvement over the last two years, falling from 7.1% in May 2010 to a current level of 6.5%.

“The unemployment rate among older workers still has a ways to go before reaching pre-recession levels of about 3.0%, but the pace at which these job seekers are finding employment compared to younger ones suggests they could reach pre-recession jobless rates before anyone else,” said company CEO John A. Challenger.

“Older workers may be benefitting from a desire among employers to keep hiring to a minimum.  The economy is still only slowly recovering, so employers have repeatedly indicated that they are only adding workers when absolutely necessary.  In this environment, a seasoned candidate who brings a wide variety of skills and experience to the table is going to have an advantage over younger candidates.  For employers, one experienced candidate is worth two or three younger, greener candidates, in terms of the ability to make immediate and meaningful contributions to output and the bottom line,” said Challenger.

Belying the myth that older workers are finding only low-paying jobs in retail or other service-oriented industries, the latest employment statistics reveal that some of the biggest employment gains for those 55 and older have occurred among managers and professionals.  As of May 2012, there were 6.2 million Americans 55 and older employed in management, business and financial operations.  That is up 12% from 5.5 million in May 2010.  The number working in professional and related occupations has increased 10% from 6.8 million in May 2010 to nearly 7.5 million in May 2012.

Helping to drive the employment gains among experienced job seekers is the fact that a majority of companies recognize the value of having these workers on their payrolls.  In a 2011 survey of company executives and benefit administrators by Bank of America, about 94% said it is important to keep older workers due to their skills.  In order to attract and retain these workers, the survey found that companies are offering customized schedules, education on retirement and health care, and the ability to work from home.

More and more older workers are starting their own businesses.  The number of self-employed workers age 55 and older has grown 13% from 2.8 million in May 2010 to 3.2 million as of May 2012.  Most of the growth occurred among those 65 and older, whose ranks of self-employed increased from 820,000 two years ago to a record high of 1,030,000 as of May, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Indiana Chamber and BizVoice magazine took an in-depth look at older workers in a study and series of magazine articles

Resolve to Better Your Career in 2012

It’s safe to say there is always room for improvement.

And while it’s possible that you’ve made (and already broken) a few goals or resolutions for personal development in 2012, (did someone say they were going to do 100 sit-ups every morning or cut back on caffeine?) you shouldn’t forget to focus on improving your job performance as well.

The job market is a tough one, so while valuable, hard-working employees remain on the payroll, employers also understand that there is a wealth of talent for them to choose from should their employees begin to fall short.

Instead of sitting by complacently, make 2012 the year you follow through on your boss’ suggestions from your performance evaluations and take the necessary measures to continue to improve professionally.

To help you get started, here are a few helpful tips, courtesy of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.:

  • Find opportunities for more responsibility, which shows your employer that you are up to the challenge, thus increasing your value for the company
  • Depending on the size of the company you work for, this one might already be accomplished – go out of your way to meet leaders at least two levels higher on the corporate ladder
  • Become a joiner; and by that we mean join a committee – help plan the next company outing on the Fun Committee or join in with healthy workplace policies on a Wellness Committee. It can help you bond with co-workers you don’t normally interact with and shows your willingness to be involved
  • Get a mentor or become one – the benefits are endless
  • If your company offers any professional development courses or career-enhancing programs, take advantage of them
  • Increase your efficiency while decreasing costs. Employers are looking for ways to tighten up the bottom line, so they’ll be happy to take your suggestions under consideration and make a mental note that you’re working on their behalf
  • Learn everything you can about something and be the go-to person on the subject at your company; it will make you the most valuable player for that particular topic.

Decided 2012 is the year for a career change? Be proactive about it – increase your skill set, remain positive and do whatever is necessary to improve yourself both personally and professionally.

How do you plan to grow and evolve in the workplace this year?

Does NFL Put Your Staffers on ‘Fantasy Island?’

I’m what you’d call a fantasy football enthusiast. I never allow myself to join more than two leagues, however (normally one with money, and one just for pride), lest I lose focus. And I’m not one to be bragadocious, but I’ve won my paid league three out of the last four years — but whatever. Surprisingly, women never seem to be as impressed by that on first dates as one might think. But they soon change their tunes when that $100 first place check rolls in at the end of the season and I treat them to a romantic evening at Applebee’s. "Go ahead, get some dessert; you’re rolling with a champion tonight."

Challenger, Gray & Christmas sent a release that I’ll post in its entirety below conveying that while 21 million American workers indulge in the seductive temptress that is fantasy football, employers may not need to view it as a danger to productivity.

With less than two weeks to go before the opening kick-off in the National Football League season, fantasy football participants across the country are undoubtedly spending more time than usual fine-tuning their draft selections and rosters due to a lock-out shortened pre-season.  Unfortunately for the nation’s employers, some of the extra time spent on player research may come during business hours.

However, even with an estimated 21.3 million full-time workers participating in fantasy sports each year, with some spending as much as nine hours per week managing their teams, the impact on overall workplace productivity is negligible, according to the workplace experts at global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“In an information-based economy, productivity is very difficult to measure.  And the same widespread access to the internet from our desks, phones and laptops that allows people to manage their fantasy teams from any place at any time, also allows work to be completed outside of traditional 9-to-5 work hours,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

According to statistics from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, the number of people participating in fantasy sports in the United States and Canada has grown 60 percent over the past four years to 32 million.  The Association’s research indicates that 19 percent of full-time workers in the U.S. have played fantasy sports in the past year. That comes to about 21,253,000 workers.

Football is, of course, the most popular fantasy sport, played by roughly 80 percent of all fantasy sports participants.  According to market research, players spend up to nine hours a week planning and plotting their strategies for weekly matchups in 70 million free and paid leagues (the average player belongs to 2.5 leagues).

“It is impossible to determine how much of that weekly prep time is spent during work hours.  It is even more difficult to determine how time spent managing teams during work hours actually impacts productivity or the company’s bottom line,” said Challenger.

“If you look at a company’s third and fourth quarter earnings statements, it is unlikely that you will find a fantasy football effect.  The impact is more likely to be seen by department managers and team leaders, who have a better sense of their workers’ day-to-day work flow.  Even at level, though, it might not be worth cracking down on fantasy football, unless the quantity or quality of an individual’s work drops off significantly,” he added.

A survey conducted during the 2010 football season by Challenger found that fantasy football had little to no impact on productivity.  Ranking the level of distraction on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no noticeable impact, nearly 70 percent said four or lower.  Less than eight percent of respondents said the level of distraction rated a 7 or 8 and none of the respondents felt the phenomenon deserved a 9 or 10.

“An across-the-board ban on all fantasy football or sports websites could backfire in the form of reduced morale and loyalty.  The result could be far worse than the loss of productivity caused by 10 to 20 minutes of team management each day.

“Companies that not only allow workers to indulge in fantasy football, but actually encourage it by organizing company leagues are likely to see significant benefits in morale as well as productivity,” Challenger said. “In the long run, this may lead to increased employee retention.”

In a 2006 Ipsos survey, 40 percent of respondents said fantasy sports participation was a positive influence in the workplace.  Another 40 percent said it increases camaraderie among employees.  One in five said their involvement in fantasy sports enabled them to make a valuable business contact.

Furthermore, a more recent study by researchers at the National University of Singapore found that occasional non-work-related web browsing at the office can refresh tired workers and enhance overall productivity.

Despite evidence of fantasy football’s positive impact on the workplace, less than eight percent those surveyed by Challenger last season said their companies “embrace” fantasy football participation as a morale-boosting activity and none of the employers reported officially organized leagues.

And yes, for the first time, the Chamber is having an internal league for staff. Of course, it’s just for pride (and assuming pride is a zero sum game, I plan to acquire all of it by the end of the season).

Optimism From the Job Cut King

Forgive the poor E.F. Hutton pun, but when John Challenger talks, people generally pay attention. The Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas firm is viewed as the guru of job market reports and trends — and John Challenger is its leader.

Usually quick to report on employment cuts and leadership exits, Challenger is out with an analysis that says the economic recovery is no longer "jobless." Here’s some of what he offered:

“The pessimism about the job market is evidenced in latest readings on consumer confidence by the Conference Board and the University of Michigan, both of which declined in March. However, while some might perceive that the job market is standing still, it has actually made significant strides since the end of the recession in several areas, including planned layoffs, private-sector payrolls, unemployment and hiring,” noted Challenger.

In the Challenger analysis of government data it found that, much like the previous two recessions, private-sector payrolls continued to contract following the declared end of the recession. From July 2009 through February 2010, private payrolls experienced a net decline of nearly 1.2 million jobs, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ survey of employers. Since February 2010, however, private sector employment has seen net job gains for 13 consecutive months, adding a total of 1.8 million jobs. As of March, there were approximately 108.6 million Americans on private sector payrolls, which is about 93 percent of the pre-recession high of 115.6 million.

Employment is also growing in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey, which is used to establish the unemployment rate.  Similar to private payrolls, overall employment continued to decline during the six-month period following the end of the recession. However, over the past 15 months, there have been 10 months of gains for a net increase of 1.9 million newly employed Americans.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate, which initially continued to rise for four months following the June 2009 end of the recession to a high of 10.1 percent in October 2009, fell to a 24-month low of 8.8 percent in March.  By contrast, unemployment peaked 19 months after the end of the 2001 recession and, following the recession that ended in March 1991, unemployment continued to rise for 15 months.

“There is no reason to think that these positive trends will not continue, even with the threat of higher fuel costs. Based on our tracking of planned job-cut announcements, which tend to be a forward-looking indicator of how employers see future business conditions, there are no signs of sudden reversal of fortune,” said Challenger.

Monthly job-cut announcements are at their lowest levels since the late 1990s.  In fact, the 130,749 job cuts announced between January and March represents the lowest first-quarter total since 1995.

At the same time, planned hiring announced in the first quarter totaled 112,942, which is more than double the 53,675 planned hires announced during the same period a year ago. 

Business of Sports (Impact) at Work

Global workplace productivity is expected to suffer over the next month as the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament takes center stage. The U.S. impact won’t be as substantial. Despite the continued growth in youth soccer (my son wanted to take a personal day from camp to watch the South Africa-Mexico opener on Friday morning), the world’s most popular game has not attracted the same fanatical support here at home.

But the folks at Challenger, Gray & Christmas have put together a non-scientific ranking of the sporting events that likely do have the biggest effect on employees … and ultimately employers. No surprise to me at No. 1. I’m of the belief that a certain Thursday and Friday in March are really national holidays.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (aka, March Madness) – Widespread office tournament pools and the fact that about half of the first 32 games are played during work hours (and streamed live on CBS Sports March Madness on Demand) make this the granddaddy of productivity sappers. Proof of the event’s impact on productivity: the “Boss Button,” which instantly hides the webcast behind a fake spreadsheet, was hit 3.3 million times during the 2010 Tournament.
 
NFL Fantasy Football – Millions of fantasy football participants manage their teams from their office, whether it’s preparing for the fantasy draft or initiating a four-way trade.   

The Super Bowl – While the game is not played during traditional work hours, the impact on the workplace comes the following day, when many Super Bowl revelers find this particular Monday especially difficult to manage.  

World Cup Soccer – Some companies in Europe and South America may even shut down on the day of a big match.
 
College Football Bowl Season – Bowl games start in mid-December and many die-hard college football fans attempt to watch every game. Some of these games are played during the day, while others go late into the evening.  

Baseball Playoffs and World Series – Games are mostly played in the evening, but often stretch into the wee hours. Groggy fans, particularly in cities with playoff/World Series teams, may be less productive the day after these prolonged games.
 
NHL Playoffs/Stanley Cup Finals – Professional hockey playoffs last almost two months. For cities with teams playing, this can create considerable distractions. 
 
NBA Playoffs/Finals – Much like with baseball and hockey, productivity is mostly killed in cities with competing teams. The biggest threat comes from late night game-watching on work nights. 
 
The Olympics – While most people get their fill through prime-time coverage, faster Internet connections are making it possible to watch live streaming of events from one’s desk. 
 
Apple Product Announcements – While this technically is not a sporting event, these announcements feature almost as much pre-event hype and watercooler speculation about what will transpire, particularly among members of the IT staff. Most events, which occur in the middle of the workday, are covered via live blogging, so those who cannot wait for news reports after the fact are able to be among the first to learn about Apple’s latest creation or product update.

Networking Helps Net That New Job

I guess I better keep working hard and keep the job I’ve got. Because while I’m very comfortable sitting down with business and political leaders for interviews when I’m asking the questions, I’m not a big fan of social events or that one-on-one process of making contacts.

New survey results, however, put networking at the top of the effectiveness list for job seekers. In somewhat of a surprise, HR pros ranked social/professional networking sites (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) second on the list of top tools. Least effective among the respondents were job fairs and newspaper help wanted ads.

While the Internet has the potential to be very useful for job seekers, John Challenger of the Challenger, Gray & Christmas firm said that it has become the primary tool for many, when it should be considered secondary to the traditional technique of networking and meeting prospective employers in person.

“It is important to remember that the job search is a multifaceted process.  Those who rely on just one tool, even if it is networking, will take longer to find a position.  The problem with the ease and accessibility of the Internet is that many job seekers make it their primary job search tool. 

“Overuse of the Internet also threatens to prolong the hiring process on the employer’s end, as well, by inundating employers with irrelevant resumes.  Some human resource executives complain that for every qualified candidate that comes in from the Internet, there are 10 to 20 who do not even come close to being a good fit,” said Challenger.

“The more irrelevant resumes that hiring managers have to wade through in order to select the handful to bring in for interviews, the longer it takes to fill the position.  One result of this has been the increased use of digital screening software that scans incoming resumes for keywords.  Resumes without the right words are filtered out of the process.  This will make it even more difficult for job seekers to get their resume in front of the hiring executive," said Challenger.

“Job seekers must learn how to use all of the tools at their disposal, including networking, the Internet, newspapers, job fairs and even cold-calling employers,” he concluded.

More Make the Call to Start Own Businesses

Entrepreneurism is on a slight rise, according to a new survey. In the second quarter, 8.7% of job seekers went back to work by starting their own businesses. This was an increase from 6.4% in first quarter 2009 and a low of 2.7% in fourth quarter 2008.

The increase comes despite credit that is still difficult to obtain and sluggish spending by businesses and consumers. John Challenger of the consultant firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas says, “Small business owners do not quite see the light at the end of the tunnel, but there is a sense that we have at least passed the halfway point.  Once banks are in a position to open the lending spigot again, we are likely to see a surge in start-ups.”

Despite the increase, the numbers remain quite low compared to past years.

Even as the percentage of job seekers turning entrepreneurs edges toward 10 percent, it is unlikely that the start-up rate among the unemployed will reach levels achieved in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Between the inaugural year of the Challenger Index in 1986 and 1992, the start-up rate averaged 16 percent annually, peaking in 1989 when 20 percent of job seekers became entrepreneurs.

From 1993 to 1996, the annual start-up rate averaged 10.6 percent.