Those Employees With Financial Wellbeing Keep The Workplace Pumping

“Big money got a heavy hand
Big money take control
Big money got a mean streak
Big money got no soul…”

Rush, Big Money

Throughout commencement on that warm May morning over two decades ago I thought, I did it. Not the traditional seamless timeline of 4ish years, but I did it nonetheless. The first one in my immediate family to do it in fact. I did it and received a Bachelors of Arts degree in psychology with a minor in anthropology from San Jose State University. I financed most of it myself, working full-time at SJSU during the latter half of completing my degree.

But there were loans involved in bankrolling my degree. Not an excessive amount, but somewhere north of $15,000 worth of loans during those frenetic college years. In economic comparison, the full time job I had at the time with the university paid about $30,000 annually.

The future looked brighter than ever. I had my degree, I left the university job for one in the exciting world of high-tech marketing and the boom – all was well in my world.

Until it wasn’t and I was swimming in other debt plus the student loans and lots of other life choices hitting the skids.

As the saying goes – life happens and not all the choices we make work out – but I made it and fortunately many people with similar stories did and do as well, especially since we’ve had two economic busts within the booms since. But today student loan debt had increased dramatically. With smaller savings (if any) and continually rising tuition, there are over 40 million Americans with at least one outstanding student loan, which is up from 29 million consumers in 2008.

Of those, the average student loan balance is about $30,000 per borrower. For those who finish graduate school the total can be over $80,000. Medical school debt is twice that or much more. Today the nationwide student loan debt is at an all-time high of over $1.2 trillion, an 84% jump since the great recession, according to a study from Experian, which analyzed student loan trends from 2008 through 2014.

Plus there’s the fact that “student loans surpassed home equity loans/lines of credit, credit card and automotive debt.” Yet, for the millions who struggle with student loan debt, not many loan relief and repayment programs have been available to these borrowers, unlike those with underwater mortgages over the past seven years.

There is the Federal Student Aid website that provides resources and recommendations on how to manage and repay federal loans, which accounts for the majority of student loans, but otherwise repayment and refinancing programs have been limited.

Dan Macklin, co-founder and vice president of the nation’s second largest marketplace lender called SoFi, told us on the TalentCulture #TChat Show that the student-lending market is a very strange one indeed. When he and his co-founders started SoFi about four years ago – which offers mortgages, personal loans, student loan refinancing and more including free services for employers and employees – they looked into the market and there was no one refinancing federal student loan debt at the time. In fact, they almost didn’t launch the company because they thought there must be a reason there weren’t any lenders offering these services.

Financial wellbeing has finally gained traction in the workplace and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few startups in the space years ago, GuideSpark being one of them. According to a survey by benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt, more than 90 percent of 250 large employers said they want to introduce or expand their financial wellness programs this year. These programs have been on the rise and help employees understand and manage their personal finances, save money for emergencies and employ strategies for dealing with economics ups and downs.

The impact of debt can be overwhelming. Add to that the instability of the job market and the world of work and life become a pressure cooker affecting productivity, psychological and physical wellbeing. Too many student loan debtors are delaying saving for retirement until they’ve paid off their debt, which seems like it’ll never happen and exacerbates helplessness exponentially.

More and more companies obviously do great things (and creative things) around 401K, retirement planning, financial wellbeing and other healthcare benefits, with HR taking the lead here. Cost-benefit analysis of higher education aside, the reality is that when you come out of college with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, you’re probably more worried about that for the first few years or even decades and getting that off your back until you’re really able to think about starting a family, buy a house, retirement and so on.

Big money may have no soul, but it’s always been a means to beginnings, middles and ends. Those employees with financial wellbeing keep the workplace pumping.

Opportunity Cost Be Damned

More CowbellTwo middle-aged men walk into an elevator. The taller and heavier of the two points to the other’s t-shirt. It’s an Saturday Night Live t-shirt with a silkscreen silhouette of Will Ferrell in the “More Cowbell” sketch.

“Very nice,” he says. “Classic.”

The other guy, the one with a mostly white goatee beard wearing the Rush baseball cap, gives him a thumbs up.

“I know. One of the best.”

“Yes, it’s my favorite.”

“Where did you get it?”

“At the SNL store at 30 Rockefeller Center. I’m on vacation with my family.”

“Excellent. That’s a great buy. Can never have enough cowbell.”

The guy in the SNL t-shirt shrugs and says, “You’re right, but not really a good deal. It was thirty bucks out the door, but it’s a must have and we were there. Plus, if I had ordered it online and added in shipping costs, it might’ve been a wash, or maybe I would’ve saved. Who knows.”

The bigger guy winks then smiles and says, “Maybe, but that’s the price we pay for the opportunity cost, right?”

“You are correct,” I say. I was energized that this kind stranger gave me a economics reference with a lighthearted wink and a smile.

Opportunity cost, a core concept of economics that ensures we use limited resources wisely and choose accordingly, although there will always be a cost (not always monetary either) associated with not choosing the other choices other than the first one we choose, like a missed opportunity we’ll never know we missed.

Got that?

Like choosing a career path for the first time, or choosing a new job from a few offers (if you’re sought-after folk), or choosing the people you want to work for your business (if you’re in the people-choosing profession). Any way you slice it there’s an opportunity cost associated with these choices, one that you may never fully comprehend because there’s no way to get to the “what if’s” in the real world.

You can imagine and project based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, salary data, population demographics, and other types of workplace market data readily available today. I mean, I could’ve been a civil engineer or an architect.

But that doesn’t matter now, and it doesn’t matter for any of us once we’ve progressed beyond choosing the career or the person to fill that career – at least, not until we choose again.

According to the latest Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement research report, the choice rewards are up slightly and the opportunity cost down, with 86 percent of U.S. employees reporting overall satisfaction with their current job, an improvement of five percentage points since 2013. In fact, this percentage matches the highest level of satisfaction over the last 10 years, which was in 2009, and between 2009 and 2013 the levels of job satisfaction had gradually declined.

Plus, according to the same SHRM research, the top five contributors to employee job satisfaction in 2015 included:

  1. Respectful treatment of all employees at all levels
  2. Trust between employees and senior management
  3. Benefits, overall
  4. Compensation/pay, overall
  5. Job security

Now, 26 percent of these respondents were Millennials, the soon to be if not already majority of the workforce. My mothership PeopleFluent is actually on a mission to capture new insights from these kids today and our Millennial research will close on July 17 (Millennials can take the survey here). In the meantime, we’ve uncovered some a few things that I think are worth sharing, a couple of which align with the above SHRM research:

  • 75% say they’d leave their current job for better pay (isn’t that most of us?)
  • Nearly 80% are more engaged when they have mentorship programs at work (respectful treatment and trust are born from these)
  • More than 26% expect their next role is with an entirely new employer (ah, more opportunity costs)

We look forward to uncovering more and you can register now for the full independent research report to be published in September.

We all know what happens to employer brands when the current employees aren’t satisfied and engaged – there’s a poison that seeps into the people pools and taints them for miles and miles.

But when they are satisfied and engaged, they will evangelize your company culture in an authentic, transparent way, something we discussed on the TalentCulture #TChat Show with Stacy Donovan Zapar, an 18-year recruiting veteran for Fortune 500 tech companies and Founder of Tenfold, a boutique recruiting consultancy and training firm.

We agreed that, although we all long for flexibility and fun, work is actually really hard at times, and it will be stressful and mind-numbing and soul-sucking, regardless if its full-time or contract work. But if those individuals and organizations who employ have an “satisfying” employer brand and offer fulfilling work experiences, it helps those who are seeking to choose a potentially better career path and a more rewarding job. And it helps those HR and recruiting professionals choose those who are seeking, rounding out that magical economic equation of supply and demand.

The part when you wink and smile and think opportunity cost be damned.

This Workplace Merry-Go-Round Never Slows

“Midway hawkers calling
‘Try your luck with me’
Merry-go-round wheezing
The same old melody…”

—Neil Peart (Lakeside Park)

We became carnies for a day – midway hawkers calling out from our very own front yard. The main reason was to make some quick cash since my sister and I had already blown through our weekly allowance. It was summertime, decades ago, when I was 12 and she was 10.

School was out so we had to promote our little Saturday carnival via the neighborhood kids and the viral word of mouth. At 10 the morning of, after our mom had left to run errands, we taped the big poster to the garage door that read:

Carnival Today – 10:30-12:30. All games 25 cents. Everybody Wins!

We hung colorful balloons from the mailbox and set up chairs, TV trays and a folding table in the front yard. We used an old cigar box for our cash register. We then pulled out beaten up boxes we had dragged out from the garage full of old games and toys and set them up on the table as prizes. A few of the toys were in good shape, but most had broken or missing parts, especially the games.

My sister was the mastermind of the operation. She created a series of actual carnival games from everyday items around the house, some of which included a ring toss with our mom’s wooden and metal bracelets and Pepsi bottles; a lawn dart toss with real metal darts; and a baseball throw using my old little league baseballs and some of our expendable stuffed animals to knock down. To keep the littler kids occupied during carnival, we turned on our Slip-N-Slide at the other end of the front yard.

At first I felt a little guilty that we gave away our old toys and games to the kids as prizes. That lasted until noon after we had raked in the dough, about $10 in total. We couldn’t have been happier with our entrepreneurial endeavor and were already planning how we’d spend the loot at the mall that afternoon.

Never mind the part about some of the parents coming to our house that night asking for refunds and returning our broken toys and games. That’s not the point.

No, the point is that my sister’s been hawking herself and her skills her entire life. I’ve been a exuberant hawker myself; adapt or perish, as I found out quite readily during the past five years alone. Most of us have learned to do the same.

For as long as we’re trying to earn a buck and turn it into two, we have to shape and hawk our wares. On a merry-go-round wheezing the same old melody. That’s the perpetual carnie candidate experience – from individual contributor to captain of industry.

“Try your luck with me!”

Where lady luck is nothing but a game of chance weighted in your favor with sought-after skills and circumstance. And a better marketplace as well. Hey, hiring plans across the board are favorable:

  • According to the recent Vistage CEO confidence index survey, 62 percent of respondents plan to expand their workforce in the year ahead, up from 56 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 and the highest since the first quarter of 2006.
  • CareerBuilder’s annual job survey found that 36 percent of employers expect to add permanent, full-time staff this year. That’s a 50 percent increase over what employers said at the beginning of 2014.
  • Released in early December, Manpower’s Employment Outlook Survey of 18,000+ employers found a seasonally adjusted 19 percent of them plan to add staff in the first quarter alone.

Lady luck indeed. Every startup founder to CEO to CHRO to board member knows (or better know) the right people can mean the difference between boom or bust (including themselves), which is why organizations are moving away from how they source and categorize their people and toward a unified workforce that’s managed for results regardless of employment status. We’re talking full-time folks and freelancers.

According to Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA), temporary workers currently make up 15 percent of the workforce and are predicted to climb to 20 percent by 2016. In fact, contingent workers can make up more than 50% of the workforce, especially at tech companies, where contractors or freelancers are hired for their expertise. It’s called the “blended workforce,” although more accurately should be called the “fluid workforce” since 40% of contingent workers convert eventually to permanent roles.

Plus, a recent study by the Freelancers Union suggests that one in three members of the American workforce do some freelance work, which does include a higher proportion of younger people. The on-demand economy is crazy hot!

But even with all this exciting and disruptive workplace economic change not seen since the early part of the 20th century, the new how and why of work, the “sourcing the right” skills race continues to heighten dramatically. In fact, according to a soon-to-be-released PeopleFluent talent strategy survey, over 50% of respondent companies said recruiting hard-to-find skills in both leaders and employees is one of main issues keeping them up at night.

That mantra continues with the same Vistage CEO confidence index survey referenced above revealing that the high demand for skilled labor, specifically finding, hiring and training staff, was mentioned about three times as frequently as financial issues or economic uncertainty.

“Try your luck with me – if you can find me!”

The 2014 Candidate Experience Awards report will be released soon (also known as the CandEs), and part of the latest data from nearly 150 companies and 95,000 candidates includes the fact that 30 percent of candidates actively researched and applied for jobs for more than 16 weeks before landing one (or giving up).

Plus, the vast majority of these candidates, the ones that either weren’t selected or simply gave up trying, were never asked for further feedback on the recruiting process, whether they were notified by the company the process was ending or they withdrew on their own. This continues to be a big missed opportunity to better understand what may have been “missed” on both sides during any part of the recruiting process, including the “why” of skills disparity and what both sides should do about it.

The complexity of this situation is compounded by the fact that more and more of the work that “knowledge professionals” deliver will be automated by magic algorithms and software, and skill flexibility and fluidity will be the new currency – constantly being assessed by magic algorithms and software.

“Try your luck with me – please?!?”

So let me wrap it all up now with this idea, one shared with us in full by Brian Carter and Garrison Wynn on the TalentCulture #TChat Show, co-authors of The Cowbell Principle. Yes, a metaphor based on the SNL skit of the cowbell namesake. For individuals, a cowbell is a talent or gift. For businesses, it’s a durable competitive advantage.

The key to happiness and success is knowing who you are and how to succeed with hawking your best stuff. Your cowbell gives your value to people and they (hopefully) love you (and invest in you) for it. But do make sure you target those “investors” that align with your best stuff.

Today more companies are asking candidates to show more of their skills and talents up front in the form of virtual job tryouts, and 25 percent of candidates who responded to the CandEs solved a puzzle, problem or case situation relevant for the job they applied to.

We’re all in this never-ending game of workplace chance and we’ve got to practice, practice, practice our ring tossing to get a ringer. It’s not impossible to win once in a while either – if we continuously develop the skills that are deemed relevant, in demand and economically valuable, and learn how to continuously hawk the hell out of them to maximize our unique differentiating strengths.

Because this workplace merry-go-round ain’t ever slowing down for us carnies.

“Try your luck with us – a winner every time!”

About the Author: Kevin W. Grossman co-founded and co-hosts the highly popular weekly TalentCulture #TChat Show with Meghan M. Biro. He’s also currently the Product Marketing Director for Total Talent Acquisition products at PeopleFluent.

photo credit: mbtrama via photopin cc

When Passion Fits the Bill

That’s the thing about full circle — sometimes it wraps you in a warm hug in spite of itself. Even a fiery one.

Earlier this week on #TChat Radio, and then during the Twitter #TChat, we talked about what to do with getting the long-term unemployed employed. According to a recent Businessweek article, “The long-term unemployed make up 38 percent of all workers without jobs, double the average share and just a few notches down from the 2010-11 peak of 45 percent.”

Devastating and perplexing. Our dialogue about the subject became a little strained when we discussed who are the job creators and how the unemployed of any duration can and should package and market themselves to prospective employers. Seeing any job seeker for who they are and what they could be still doesn’t mean they’ll be considered. In fact, from the same article above:

“[Researchers] sent out fictitious résumés to employers in 50 metro areas to see how they reacted to long spells of unemployment. [They] found that an ‘applicant’ out of work more than six months had little to no chance of being called back. The résumés of those out of work for less than six months drew more interest when they showed the applicants had relevant industry experience. At more than six months of no work, having industry experience didn’t help at all.”

Most economists agree that the primary job creators are the start-ups and small businesses, but they’re just as perplexed as to why this long-term unemployment is so pervasive. I’m with the Keynesians who say more government investment is needed, especially since the U.S. infrastructure is woefully in need of dramatic repairs and upgrades. This could be the jump start that the long-term unemployed need to return to relevancy, while at the same time make it easier for small businesses to thrive and grow (and hire).

But then our #TChat conversation took a fluffy turn. Or at least that’s what I’d call it. Why aren’t leaders looking at the unemployed as people primed and ready? Why aren’t they giving those with passion a chance? Chances are the reasons, however unfair, still come back to the volatile economy, hesitancy to add headcount, and that if you aren’t applying your skills to an immediate body of work in a business of any kind, even freelance work or volunteering, you’re relevancy fades quickly. That doesn’t make it right, it just reiterates the status quo.

“Passion doesn’t pay the bills,” I said. “Unicorns and rainbows don’t invest in business to create jobs and help place the unemployed.” I was quickly reprimanded on that point, but still stand by it, even when I held it up in front of me and the class.

Segue to a being on a local career panel with other professionals this week speaking to high school students about career futures, whatever those may hold. We shared our backgrounds, wisdom and realities of what the world of work may have in store for them, and how to plan for it all and take ownership of it all, through boom and bust. This was another career panel I participated in put on by an amazing local organization called Your Future Is Our Business. YFIOB is a community-based 501(C) (3) non-profit organization dedicated to fostering business/education partnerships that benefit students. Their mission is to support young people in Santa Cruz County with making informed educational and career decisions.

“Let me time travel back to you, starting here,” I told the class.

I held up my first real-life published work — my business/tech career management book titled Tech Job Hunt Handbook — and told them the story of my passion: writing. Through every incarnation, it always been about the writing. I told them no matter what they do or where they go professionally in life, if there’s an activity they long like writing, or art, or music, or sports, or whatever, to never let it die, to always keep it fueled with ferocity and fun.

There were some smiles. A couple of kids scoffed. But they all heard me, and I heard me, and then felt my arms reach round and pull tight.

Screw the bills, I thought. As long as it fits the bill…although most economists would disagree (and yet, they’re not hiring me).

Image Credit: Flickr