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HR News Roundup: Artificial Intelligence & HR, compliance matters, meditation & more

Your company’s human resources department could get less human
Steven Overly, Washington Post

Some of the questions you ask your human resources department could soon be answered by, well, non-humans.

That’s the concept behind Talla, a Boston-area start-up that has developed a chatbot to do some of the more mundane tasks that HR departments carry out on a daily basis. That includes explaining company policy, surveying employees, collecting information or training new hires.


The number of workers joining the gig economy has slowed dramatically, says study
Harriet Taylor, CNBC

Growth in the number of workers joining the gig economy has slowed and wages for these jobs have declined in the last two years, according to a new study from the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

Slowing growth is happening both at companies that let people sell or lease assets — like eBay and Airbnb — as well as ones that connect workers with part-time jobs — like Uber, Lyft or TaskRabbit — the study found. For the average worker, dwindling paychecks are the new reality.

Post no bills? Employers have to post plenty!
Stephanie Underwood, Employment & Labor Insider

This year is ending with quite a few changes in various federal workplace posters. To ensure that employers, especially federal contractors, have kept up with the required changes, here is a summary.

Targeting FMLA fraud and abuse: 10 ways to reduce subtle FMLA abuse
HR Daily Advisor

Rooting out the more subtle types of FMLA abuse takes, first of all, diligence on your part to track patterns of leave. Keep an eye out for absences that tend to be concentrated in particular departments or with certain individuals as well as those that occur disproportionately in conjunction with weekends, holidays, or paydays.

Evidence of a pattern of abuse is usually going to be circumstantial rather than medical, so you need to track such evidence over a long enough period so as to demonstrate that the suspicious absences are due to more than mere coincidence.

Women in the Workplace 2016
McKinsey & Company

Women in the Workplace 2016 is a comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America. The study is part of a long-term partnership between LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company to give companies the information they need to promote female leadership and foster gender equality in the workplace.

132 companies employing more than 4.6 million people shared their pipeline data and completed a survey of HR practices. In addition, 34,000 employees completed a survey designed to uncover their attitudes on gender, job satisfaction, ambition, and work-life issues.

Stop meditating alone – for productivity gains, it’s a team sport
Stephanie Vozza, Fast Company

A survey by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health predicts that 22% of Fortune 500 companies will use mindfulness or brain training at the workplace by the end of the year, as a way to improve employee health and productivity, decrease absenteeism, and enhance quality of life. And the survey suggests that this number could double in 2017.

Employers offering ‘insurance on insurance’
Michael O’Brien, HRE Daily

For many workers, the WSJ notes, paying for healthcare has become “such a difficult budgeting exercise that the insurance industry is marketing additional products to help.” This gap insurance, also known as supplemental or voluntary insurance, is designed to provide extra coverage for things like hospital stays, unexpected accidents or treatment for acute illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. The policies are also designed to help cover the cost of high deductibles or copays for treatment—the gap that employees face before their health insurance kicks in.

More HR news of note

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Inspiration of the week: Ability vs disability

This is a brief post featuring a heartwarming video that someone brought to our attention – a 3-minute promotion for the Rio Summer Paralympics 2016. The Paralympic Games are an international multi-sport event involving athletes with a range of disabilities. The next scheduled event will be winter games on 2018, scheduled to be held in South Korea.

It’s a great video because it has a lot of energy and excitement but it also has the power to make viewers change perceptions about ability vs. disability. Among its goals, the International Paralympic Committee cites athlete empowerment but also a goal of inspiring and exciting the world and touching the heart of all people for a more equitable society. Among the values the it espouses:

“Through sport Para athletes challenge stereotypes and transform attitudes, helping to increase inclusion by breaking down social barriers and discrimination towards people with an impairment.”

Inspired? If your organization would like to achieve greater diversity and best practices in disability employment, there are many opportunities. The National Organization on Disability says that “25 years after the passage of the Americans with Disability Act, only one in five Americans with disabilities holds a job.” Here are some reasources they offer:

Leading Employment Practice for resources, surveys and research

503 Compliance Guidelines

Disability Employment Tracker

Also see The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)

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December Health & Wellness Focus

With a variety of holidays this month, it’s a hectic season so a good health & wellness focus is stress reduction. One important way to do that is to stick to good eating, sleeping and fitness regimes. For help, see our Workplace Wellness Blog posts:

December is also National Handwashing Awareness Month. Keeping hands clean is one of the easiest and best things we can do to keep from getting sick and avoid spreading germs to others. The CDC says “Handwashing is like a “do-it-yourself” vaccine — it involves five simple and effective steps (Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry) you can take to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness so you can stay healthy.”  Promotional tools include fact sheets, posters, video, social media messages.



Flu season is approaching: Are you ready?  December 4-10 is National Influenza Vaccine Week. Encourage your employees to get their flu shots! The CDC has many resources you can use to get the word out. We also have many resources at

Other health observances for the month of December, as suggested by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

AIDS Awareness:  December 1 is World AIDS Day and the CDC offers a toolkit of resources — but we’d suggest that the World AIDS Day could be a springboard to a month-long focus. According to the World Health Organization, HIV/AIDS continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 34 million lives so far. Prevention and testing are still critical, as is a focus on educating younger generations who may be less knowledgeable about risks.   Get more tools, facts and resources from the CDC’s HIV/AIDS resource center.

Disability Awareness:  December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities . The theme for 2015 is: Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want

Family Matters: Safe Toys:  December is Safe Toys and Gifts Month. With holiday gift giving a huge focus this month, an important health and wellness message for families should be the importance of safe toys and gifts. Here are some tips and resources to help:

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Injunction puts a halt to Overtime rules for Dec. 1 – now what?

If you were geared up to implement the new FLSA overtime rules on December 1, you certainly weren’t alone.  Human Resource managers and payroll firms were ready to implement changes based on the new  threshold for qualification of overtime pay, a move that would have affected millions of employees. In surprise pre-Thanksgiving surprise, a federal judge in Texas issued a national injunction.

The legal challenge was a response to a suit that had been filed by 21 states and multiple business groups.

See the New York Times article — Judge Suspends Rule Expanding Overtime for Millions of Workers – for a copy of the ruling. Noam Scheiber reports that, “…because undoing the regulation could have required a months- or years-long rule-making process similar to the one that produced it, the new overtime limit appeared likely to survive in some form.”

The big open question is what will happen to this rule under a new administration. Because the rule was issued as an executive order, it can be readily negated. On the other hand, it has been 12 years since there was any increase in the threshold so it is possible that the new administration may opt to make some change.

What should employers do next?

The change leaves many employers confused about what to do next. We’ve compiled a list or articles, advice and opinions from some trusted HR and employment law sources to help you in your decision-making.

In CFO magazine’s article Is Court Ruling on Overtime Regs the Last Word?, David McCann notes that while many companies may be cheering the judge’s decision, “thorny issues are in play, including the prospect of an appeal.”  With the deadline right around the corner, many employers had already implemented the changes. What’s the best course of action? McCann turns to labor attorney Bryan Stillwagon of Sherman & Howard, who offered this advice:

  • If you have already made changes in response to the DoL regulations, stay the course until there is greater clarity.
  • If you have already announced such changes but not implemented them, stay the course by implementing the changes.
  • If you have neither implemented nor announced changes, stay the course by doing nothing until there is greater clarity.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers two articles about the injunction that weigh options of how employers should handle the situation: Undoing Overtime Pay Changes Could Be Tricky and Overtime Rule Hang-Up Requires Careful Communication About Pay Decisions.

Bloomberg’s Daily Labor Report discusses the dilemma in its article Employers Wrestle with Whether to Cancel Overtime Rule Plans. The article discusses preliminary employer responses.

At Employment and Labor Insider, Robin Shea posts a client bulletin from her law firm: Court blocks DOL overtime rule: The fuller story

At Employment Law Matters, Maria Danaher examines the repercussions of the decision and offers advice for employers: Employers are not yet required to pay overtime in accordance with the revised FLSA regs . . . but proceed with caution

At Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, Jon Hyman discusses employer options in his post With the new overtime rules DOA, what now for employers?

Michael Haberman at Omega HR Solutions offers guidance to HR managers: The FLSA changes have been stopped, NOW WHAT?

Additional resources  

Business Insurance: Labor Department mulls legal options after overtime ruling

EBN: Should employers continue to prepare for overtime regulations?

ADP:  FLSA Overtime Rules Temporarily Blocked

SHRM: FLSA Overtime Rule Resources


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humor at work

Humor at work

humor at work


Is humor at work a key component in your organizational culture? As a manager, if you are not using humor with the people that you manage, it’s time to rethink that. We offer perspectives from several  humor proponents who advocate for more laughter in our lives and in our workplaces. If you already do try to tap into humor, you might pick up a few pointers or ideas. We’re big proponents of humor at work!

Jacquelyn Smith interviews authors who have written books about humor in the workplace in her article 10 Reasons Why Humor Is A Key To Success At Work. She notes that the degree of humor in any given workplace is related to the culture: a relaxed culture tends to have more humor, while a formal workplace may exhibit less. Humor at work is certainly not without risks: it can be inappropriate, it can backfire, or it can just plain bomb. But even with these risks, she cites several advantages – among them: humor is good for morale; it can be a stress buster; it is humanizing; it’s a way to put people at ease; it can build trust and spark creativity.

She cites author Michael Kerr:

“… dozens of surveys suggest that humor can be at least one of the keys to success. A Robert Half International survey, for instance, found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor.

“At an organizational level, some organizations are tapping into what I’d call ‘the humor advantage,’” Kerr says. “Companies such as Zappos and Southwest Airlines LUV have used humor and a positive fun culture to help brand their business, attract and retain employees and to attract customers.”

Alison Beard also looks at two books on humor in her article Leading with Humor  in the Harvard Business Review. Her focus is on the essence of humor or what makes things funny. Among her observations, she cites recommendations from The Humor Code by Peter McGraw

  • It’s not whether or not you’re funny, it’s what kind of funny you are.
  • Be honest and authentic.
  • If you can’t be “ha-ha” funny, at least be “aha!” funny.
  • Cleverness is sometimes good enough.
  • Good comedy is a conspiracy. Create an in-group.
  • Don’t be afraid to chuckle at yourself. It signals everything is okay.
  • Laughter is disarming. Poke fun at the stuff everyone’s worried about.

Beard also points us to Laughter: Serious Business, a talk by Eric Tsytsylin that was featured on the Stanford website. Tsytsylin says that we are in a laughter drought and it is taking a toll in our productivity. He cites a Stanford study, which showed that there can be physical health benefits: 30 seconds of deep belly laughter is equal to 10 minutes of rowing on our heart rate. He advocates “taking laughter seriously” by finding ways to bring it to the workplace. He offers examples and steps to take to increase laughter.


For another perspective on whether you should you crack jokes in the office, Wharton research says that a sense of humor, when deftly and appropriately used, can enhance workplace status and perception of one’s competence. That’s one of the findings of the research paper, “Risky Business: When Humor Increases and Decreases Status,” by Maurice Schweitzer, Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions; doctoral candidate Brad Bitterly, and Alison Wood Brooks, a Harvard University assistant professor.  Check out the podcast: Using Humor in the Office: When It Works, When It Backfires

Finally, we close with On laughter, a talk by Anthony McCarten at TEDx in Münich.


Prior HR Web Cafe posts on the benefits of humor and laughter:

Just for the laughs: How laughter helps us cope

The healing properties of laughter

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On leadership: Why leaders eat last

What’s the essence of leadership vs authority? Why do some teams pull together when others don’t? Simon Sinek looks to human biology for the answers to what motivates and inspires people. He lays his ideas out in this thought=provoking talk.

Sinek is an author, speaker, ethnographer and consultant who writes on leadership and management. In this in-depth talk, he reveals the hidden dynamics that inspire leadership and trust. In biological terms, leaders get the first pick of food and other spoils, but at a cost. When danger is present, the group expects the leader to mitigate all threats even at the expense of their personal well-being. Understanding this deep-seated expectation is the key difference between someone who is just an “authority” versus a true “leader.”

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