Weekly Wrap: Head-Scratching Surveys and $95 Million for Sexual Harassment

It must be survey season because I seem to be getting a new one just about every day. Not all of them are worth writing about, of course, because not all of them have a lot to say.

But some of them do, and that’s the case with the 2011 Aflac WorkForces Report, which is being touted as “a national study that analyzes forces impacting the trends, attitudes and use of employee benefits.”

Benefits are always an interesting topic in my book, because the right mix of benefits can either be a tremendous recruitment and retention tool, or, a reason why employees might decide to depart for another organization where the benefits are more bountiful and progressive.

Some noteworthy findings

So, here are some of the findings of the Aflac WorkForces Report that seemed noteworthy:

  • 54 percent of American workers would accept a job offer with better benefits even if their salary would be lower;
  • 42 percent of employees strongly agree that a well-communicated benefits program would make them less likely to leave their jobs;
  • 59 percent of American workers are likely to buy voluntary insurance if offered;
  • 66 percent of employees say HR is not or only somewhat effective at benefits communications, and 46 percent say their HR departments communicate too little about employee benefits overall; and,
  • 53 percent of workers said they are planning to look for a job in the next 12 months.

Although none of these findings in the Aflac WorkForces Report are terribly surprising, it’s hard to dig into the numbers behind them because the only part of the summary that is easily accessible is the Executive Summary (you can get a copy here), and it doesn’t offer enough detail to follow up on any of the top line findings.

But, does the methodology make sense?

Make of that what you will, but as sharp TLNT readers noted this week about a McKinsey survey on benefits (see the comments on Lance Haun’s post), the methodology of this stuff matters and matters a lot. Although Aflac was certainly open about the methodology of this survey, it still left me scratching my head.

As the press release notes, “The 2011 Aflac WorkForces Research was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Aflac. The research contained two components of research among the US workforce – Employer research and Employee research.”

Okay, nothing wrong with that. Harris Interactive is a well-respected research organization, and doing a survey of both employers and employees makes a lot of sense, but it’s the timing of when they did the actual research that concerned me.

According to the press release, “the Employer Survey was conducted online within the United States between August 17, 2010 and September 9, 2010 among 2,117 Benefits Decision Makers. Results were weighted to be representative of U.S. companies with at least 3 employees based on company size.”

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Two things about that: 1) Employers were surveyed between nine and 10 months ago, which seems like a long time given the ongoing changes in the economy; and 2) this is a small company survey, although Aflac never comes out and says it in the press release (though they do in the Executive Summary).

With surveys, it’s always caveat emptor

Plus, employees were surveyed in two different time periods according to the press release, with about 75 percent contacted in the August-September 2010 period when the employees were surveyed, with the remaining 25 percent contacted between February 11-15, 2011.

I’m hardly an expert on surveys, but I have read and written about enough of them to know that the methodology of the Aflac WorkForces Report is odd. Why the long time lag of close to a year between the field survey and the release of the data? And, why split the employee research into two periods six months apart? Might that not skew the findings?

Those of you who are survey experts should feel free to weigh in on this, but it’s like I said in my comment on the McKinsey report – with surveys, it’s caveat emptor. Take them for what they are: a snapshot of public opinion by a specific group at a specific point in time — no more or no less. And the more specific the methodology, the better.

Of course, there’s more in the news this week than the latest workplace related survey. Here are some other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. Yes, I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Automation instead of new workers. Here’s another indication of the lengths that America’s employers will go to so they can avoid hiring new workers — they are choosing to spend on machines and technology instead of people. As The New York Times reports, “Workers are getting more expensive while equipment is getting cheaper, and the combination is encouraging companies to spend on machines rather than people … The economy is producing as much as it was before the downturn, but with seven million fewer jobs. Since the recovery began, businesses’ spending on employees has grown 2 percent as equipment and software spending has swelled 26 percent, according to the Commerce Department. A capital rebound that sharp and a labor rebound that slow have been recorded only once before — after the 1982 recession.”
  • The largest sexual harassment judgment ever? There’s a good reason why HR people are always so focused on how to keep their organizations out of legal hot water — it’s because no one wants their company on the short end of a court case like this. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, “The Aaron’s Inc. chain of more than 1,800 stores made a profit of $118 million last year, and a jury here says it owes the vast majority to a former employee of the Fairview Heights branch in a sexual harassment case against her boss. The woman, whose life struggles became part of the case, is entitled to $95 million in compensation, U.S. District Court jurors decided Wednesday. But a cap on damages in federal sexual harassment cases will reduce that to about $41.6 million. Attorneys for the plaintiff, Ashley Alford, of Fairview Heights, said the award of $15 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages could be a record. ‘From what we can tell, this is the absolute largest sex harassment verdict in the country for an individual plaintiff,’ said lawyer David S. Ratner.”
  • For graduates, a lot of talk about the “f” word. The San Francisco Chronicle did a nice round-up of what business leaders are telling college graduates in their commencement speeches this spring and it all has to do with the dreaded “f” word — failure, as in, “it’s OK to fail.” Is this good and wise advice for a young college grad getting launched into a treacherous and uncertain economy? Take a read and decide for yourself.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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