Fact Finder
HRA Services, Inc.
July 2006

" . . . helping organizations find solutions to people-related problems"



As a sort of Father’s Day gift and experience, my son Jonathan convinced me that it would be a good thing for the two of us to sign on for a three-day sailing course over Father’s Day weekend. Since we signed up several months in advance, I began having reservations about the wisdom of the whole enterprise, from concerns about my own physical fitness to the practicality of acquiring such skills. As our appointed time drew near, however, I found myself catching his enthusiasm and excitement for learning to sail.

Our first day began with our instructor—a very nautical chap—telling us that almost nothing on a sailboat is called what one would expect. Right is starboard, left is port, and at least some lines are sheets. Those were the easy ones. All three days presented weather beyond our fondest wish. But at the end of each day, I was more than ready to hit the sack despite recurring twinges from newly discovered muscles. As I sought to master these new skills, our instructor accused me of “thinking too much.” “Relax, Dave, you’ll get the hang of it.” And sure enough, you could simply “feel it” when the wind and the sails were working together and you could hear the soft purring churn of the wake as the Nantucket glided through the water.

Learning new things is good for us. While I had to work at not “thinking too much” on the water, I am reminded of how organizations sometimes exercise the wrong kind of leadership at the wrong time and pursue an unproductive course even when it doesn’t feel right.


1. Set clear goals and direction. Be sure the whole crew knows the common vocabulary, and be sensitive to the wind and be willing to jibe and tack to stay on course and to arrive at your ultimate destination. In leadership, the “It Depends Principle” is all-important.

2. Keep language clear and simple. In the nautical language of sailing, words mean distinct things. A block is a block, not a pulley. In organizations, language is often fuzzy and there is no clear, recurring, relentless message. Therefore, it is often difficult for all hands to really understand what they need to do to keep things on course in terms of individual roles and responsibilities.

3. Underscore the Principle of Interdependency. Move in unison with common understanding. Readiness commands in sailing give everyone on board a “heads up.” “Prepare to come about” means get ready to do your job and shift positions if necessary. Our new tack will be successful only if each crew member executes his or her role and responsibilities in unison. Timing is everything.

Someone once said that leaders are masters of metaphor—of relating the unknown to the known, the unfamiliar to the familiar, of using comparisons that convey common elements to which most of us can easily relate.

As you look at your organizational ship, keep these simple principles in mind and keep your crew informed as the winds shift and as you change your tactics, goals, and destination.


A recent Business and Legal Reporter article identifies a number of important trends in employee compensation. Factors like low inflation and a flat economy have given employers an advantage. Employees have had relatively low pay increase expectations, and unions have been less effective in influencing the workplace. “At the same time, growth in the use of a contingent workforce made up of outsourcing providers, independent contractors, part timers, home workers, temporary staff, and retired employees has been outpacing real workforce growth.” These factors combined with steep healthcare cost increases have conspired to generate shifting compensation patterns.

As a result, the article points out that employers are reverting to more traditional pay practices that emphasize the importance of internal job relationships and the fairness of pay practices. Experiments in broad-banding have given way to more traditional “minimum-midpoint-maximum” structures with pay increase patterns of three to four percent annually. Broad-banding, skill-based pay, and cost-of-living are fading, and management incentives, key staff incentives, and team incentives are growing in an effort to tie annual pay to annual individual and team performance.

In addition the article also points out generational issues affecting the workplace and the importance of work-life balance, resulting in more flexible scheduling, telecommuting, and less conventional work week patterns.

If you are uncertain about whether your pay practices are fair and competitive or whether you are using the most effective methods to generate performance and profitability, call us so we can talk.


The U.S. Supreme Court rendered a decision on June 22 that held that any action by an employer against an employee, applicant, or former employee constitutes unlawful retaliation if the action would deter a reasonable employee from filing a discrimination charge against an employer. The case, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad v. White, will significantly impact employers.

With retaliation cases already account for thirty percent of the EEOC cases, employees now will be more encouraged to get their cases before juries.

If supervisors and managers are unaware of the potential for retaliation claims and their far-reaching and subtle implications, it is an opportune time to re-emphasize the importance of not taking employment or other personnel actions that might be viewed as retaliatory. In general, this amounts to exercising special caution when doing anything that could be viewed as a adverse action against an employee who has lodged a complaint in an area protected by law. This could include making off-handed negative comments to others about an employee who has filed a complaint.

To protect your organization from retaliation claims, be sure to:

  • Remind employees of the organization’s anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies;
  • Review company policies on anti-harassment, anti-retaliation and equal employment, particularly those reflected in your employee handbook;
  • Provide training to supervisors on company's policies relating to these areas; and
  • Take timely steps to investigate allegations of discrimination and/or retaliation while protecting the confidentiality of the employees bringing such complaints.

Call us if you have questions or need help in these areas.


The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that the Pennsylvania minimum wage increase looks assured. The article goes on to say that legislation to raise Pennsylvania's hourly minimum wage rate cleared the state Senate on July 1, a day after the House overwhelmingly supported it. It now heads to Gov. Ed Rendell, who is expected to sign it.

The measure would increase the state's minimum wage from the current $5.15 per hour to $6.25 per hour on Jan. 1 and then to $7.15 per hour on July 1. Businesses with fewer than 10 employees will be allowed to pay a rate that rises more slowly under the legislation.

The bill will increase the pay of more than 254,000 state residents. A provision added by the House on June 30 will help lawmakers track the number of minimum wage workers employed in the state. The Senate approved the measure 38-12.

Pennsylvania will join 19 other states, including Delaware and New Jersey, in raising their minimum wage rate above the federal $5.15 per hour, the Governor's Office said. Pennsylvania's General Assembly last increased the minimum wage in 1988.


According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), HR professionals recently identified the following as the top ten trends that will affect the workplace overall:

1. Rising healthcare costs

2. Increased use of outsourcing/offshoring of jobs to other countries

3. Threat of increased health care/medical costs on the economic competitiveness of the United States

4. Increased demand for work/life balance

5. Retirement of large numbers of baby boomers around the same time

6. New attitudes toward aging and retirement as baby boomers reach retirement age

7. Rise in the number of individuals and families without health insurance

8. Increase in identity theft

9. Work intensification as employers try to increase productivity with fewer employees

10. Vulnerability of technology to attack or disaster

The HRA Fact Finder is published by HRA Services, Inc., to keep clients and business associates abreast of developments and trends in human resources and personnel management and is not intended to serve as professional advice on specific personnel and organizational issues.

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