The amount of data and the speed at which it travels in our digital age means many of the ideas bouncing around the world of HR get lost in the deluge – and it’s easy to miss some of the more interesting ones. So here’s a roundup of three seemingly counter-intuitive facts, ideas and trends with important lessons for HR professionals.
1. Is there a healthy kind of stress?
We all know about the perils of burnout, and how employees suffering from it are more likely to quit. But could stress make you live longer?
Research by the University of Indiana, conducted on 10,000 workers aged over 60, found that one segment of employees living with demanding jobs and high stress were a third less likely to die over the duration of the 12 year study.
Why just one segment and not all? It’s a matter of control. The employees who lived longer had a job where they were allowed to make their own decisions and create change where necessary. But those stressed employees who were not in command, who had no say in the direction of their job, were 15 per cent more likely to have severe health problems.
How can HR use this lesson to help their employees?
“You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision-making and the like,” says co-author of the study Erik Gonzalez-Mulé. His suggestion is to allow “employees to have a voice in the goal-setting process, so when you’re telling someone what they’re going to do … it’s more of a two-way conversation.”
2. The sexuality pay gap and the ‘lesbian premium’
The wage inequality we’re most familiar with is the fact that, on average, women are paid less than men. Less well known, even though it has been studied since at least 1995, is the sexuality pay-gap; differing pay expectations dependent on whether or not an individual identifies as gay.
According to one meta analysis, rather than this being a straightforward case of anti-gay bias, the sexuality pay gap has a ‘lesbian premium’. It found that on average lesbians earned 9 per cent more than heterosexual women.
Separate research suggests a couple of theories for this. Firstly, there’s evidence that lesbians are more likely to go into jobs with more men in them. And as one of the author’s of the study, M.V. Badgett, says, “The more men in the job the higher the salary tends to be.”
The other theory is based on the differing levels of work-experience people gain in a society where a family structure with one primary earner and one primary caregiver is still the norm. The ‘lesbian premium’ might simply be a matter of one partner in a lesbian relationship taking on the primary earner role. For gay men the theory works in reverse, they are more likely to be in a primary carer role than heterosexual men.
But gender is still more important than sexuality for determining wage. If you were to account for both gender and sexuality the pay scale descends like this: Heterosexual men, gay men, gay women and then heterosexual women.
What can HR do to reduce the pay inequality? One simple way to help is to increase workplace flexibility, which can aid both partners in a relationship maintain their chosen careers during parenthood.
3. Gender-exclusive workspaces
Do women work better when men are excluded?
There is a movement in Canada and the US towards the creation of women-only clubs and work-spaces. The idea has been tried in Australia before, and is often centered around female entrepreneurs who face particular challenges in the male-dominated startup industry.
“Women deserve a work-space and culture that empowers and inspires them to be their best and sometimes it’s worth building our own table rather than fighting for a seat at a table,” says Emily Rose Antflick, founder of Canadian company Shecosystem in a Globe and Mail report.
Another workspace in Perth, BubDesk, focuses more on catering to working parents with very young children by offering childcare and a creche. While not exclusive to women the space holds special value for mothers. “Since the majority of single parents are women you can understand why that would be useful for women who work in this space,” says Monica Wullf, CEO of Startup Muster, in a Sydney Morning Herald report.
Much more rare is the male-only workspace, yet they do exist. One emerged last year in Sydney. Called Nomadic Thinkers, it received a lot of media scrutiny.
The owners of Nomadic Thinkers professed altruistic goals, telling the news website Junkee, “As guys in Australia we’re told to suck it up. When women are around we have trouble being vulnerable. We’re helping men who are professional.” But one of the founders’ past ties to men’s rights groups undermine their professed intentions.
And given that the pay gap is in their favour and that they are far more likely to hold senior positions, arguing that men require places where they can work free from gender discrimination rings a little hollow.