Boeing staffer wins 747 (million dollars); firms accused of hiring just to hit DEI targets

This week's round-up of HR news that caught our eye includes the incredible story of one lucky Boeing employee. Plus: Why US office occupancy rates are way behind other parts of the world still.

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Mar 10, 2023

Boeing employee takes inspiration to win $747m on lottery ticket

They say work sometimes becomes our life, but for one Boeing employee, taking inspiration from her workplace has resulted in her winning nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars. Becky Bell, a supply chain analyst for The Boeing Company for the past 36 years, just happened to glance at the display at her local supermarket, announcing that the estimated Powerball prize had shot up to $747 million. Registering the number (she says Boeing had also just delivered its last 747 jet six days prior), she said she felt compelled to buy a ticket. When she checked the results later, she realised she’d won a whopping US $754,550,826 – making her the fifth-largest winner in Powerball history. In winning the money she defied odds of one in 292.2 million. “I’ve never won more than $20 in my life,” said Bell. “So you can imagine my shock when I realized what had just happened. I just broke down and cried.” Bell had already planned to retire in June and was training people to take over her job. Now, she’ll be retiring later this month, but added she didn’t want to “leave new employees in a lurch.”

Most think their ethnicity/gender/sex ‘helps’ them get a job

More employees (60%) think that their race, ethnicity or gender has been a contributing factor in them securing their current job than those who think it has hindered them (50%), according to new research. It’s a finding which suggests companies are hiring specifically to meet DEI targets. The poll, by Employ Inc, found that the vast majority (82%) of employers said they now have recruiting diversity metrics that they’re required to meet. Two-thirds (66%) of employers said they’d interviewed someone to meet a diversity quota, with male employers (76%) more likely than female employers (50%) to agree with this statement. The survey also found that 75% of employers require DEI training as part of their onboarding experience, while 63% of employees said their company required it. But is it all just box-ticking? The data revealed that amongst those who had completed diversity training, a significant 48% said it felt like it was ‘checking a box on their company’s diversity goals.’ The survey, polled more than 1,000 employees and more than 500 employers.

Americans aren’t returning to the office like their international counterparts

Research suggests US office occupancy levels remain stagnant at around 40% to 60% of pre-pandemic levels – in stark contrast to the rest of the world. Data from real estate firm, JLL, finds several international cities have reached at least 75% occupancy – including the likes of Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore, Paris and Stockholm. By contrast, average office attendance in 10 major US metros only recently reached 50% for the first time since the pandemic hit (based on further data from Kastle Systems). CNBC reports that this is explained by Americans having bigger homes, and more likely to live in suburbs – meaning their is room to work at home, and because commuting is more burdensome. Less reliable public transport is also being blamed for keeping US workers away from offices, while it also suggests the tight labor market gives employees more leverage to resist calls by their employers to return. According to a survey of 2,300 workers from Owl Labs and Global Workplace Analytics, some 39% of staff say they would quit their job if the ability to work from home was removed from them.

…as Gartner predicts 39% of knowledge workers will be hybrid by end of 2023

Two-fifths (39%) of knowledge workers will be ‘hybrid workers’ by the end of the year – up from the current 37% – according to new research by Gartner. “Hybrid is no longer just an employee perk but an employee expectation,” said Ranjit Atwal, senior director analyst at Gartner. He added: “Many employees started to partially return to the office in 2022, but the hybrid work style will remain prominent in 2023 and beyond.” Gartner defines hybrid workers as those who work in the office at least one day a week. Fully remote workers are those working from home all the time. In the US, the hybrid work trend will be more pronounced than the rest of the world, with 51% of knowledge workers projected to work hybrid and 20% to work fully remote in 2023. In the US, the number of fully and remote and hybrid knowledge workers will account for 71% of the workforce in 2023. Gartner also predicts that by 2025, 10% of workers will use virtual spaces for activities such as sales, onboarding and working remotely.

Starbucks CEO to testify before Senate Committee over handling of unionization attempts

Howard Schultz, CEO of coffee chain, Starbucks, has U-turned and agreed to testify before a US Senate Committee, amid an investigation about how the company has handled attempts by staff to form unions. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, had been asking Schultz to testify for several weeks, but Schultz had previously refused, saying the company’s chief public affairs officer would be better equipped to discuss the company’s labor record. But the committee disagreed and had scheduled a vote to subpoena Schultz in an effort to force him to testify. In a letter to the committee, Schultz said he now looks forward to “productive dialogue” with the committee. The company has long-opposed unionization, claiming it already offers industry-leading benefits, and that stores work better when negotiating locally with teams. But at least 290 company-owned US Starbucks stores have now voted to unionize since late 2021. Last week, a federal labor judge found that the company violated US labor laws “hundreds of times” during the unionization campaign in Buffalo, New York.

Amazon hints at re-hiring laid off workers

After slashing 18,000 jobs in January, Insider reports that Ian Wilson, human resources vice president at Amazon Web Services (AWS) is considering rehiring some of them. At a town hall meeting, Wilson said he hopes to “leverage” former employees to fill roles created by future opportunities. He added that Amazon had “learned a lot,” from the lay-off process and that the scale of the job cuts were not compatible with Amazon’s mission to become “Earth’s best employer.” But, Wilson also said that the rehiring process he envisages has been made impossible – so far – by Amazon’s ongoing hiring freeze. In talking about the potential to rehire former staff, Wilson acknowledged that Amazon had previously been forced to cut jobs due to over-expansion during the rapid growth period triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

…as it defeats work from home ‘expenses’ lawsuit

Retail behemoth, Amazon, has experienced a rare victory in the courts – by successfully fending off a lawsuit by employees over work from home expenses. A group of workers were attempting to get reimbursements for internet expenses incurred while working from home during the pandemic. However, the proposed class-action lawsuit filed by a California-based engineer named David Williams on behalf of nearly 7,000 employees, was rejected by US District Judge Vince Chhabria. The judge noted that more than 600 of the proposed class members had already received reimbursements averaging more than $66 per month, indicating that Amazon was already making efforts to compensate workers for their increased internet expenses. He also ruled that Williams had not shown that Amazon had a “common policy” of only reimbursing workers for “incremental” increases in home internet costs, which is the amount above what an employee would normally pay if not working from home.