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Social Movements Raise Worker Expectations


Heightened social activism and trends have employees reconsidering how they think and feel about their employers, according to a survey by Globoforce’s WorkHuman Analytics and Research Institute (WARI). The report, “Social Impact in the Human Workplace,” which surveyed 3,600 people in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Ireland examines how movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp along with heightened social activism and record low unemployment are causing a shift in power in the workplace.

The survey’s findings reveal that employees are asking for more out of their employers, especially with regard to pay equity. Men are more likely to agree that they are paid fairly (70%) compared to women (61%), and more women than men reported not receiving any monetary bonuses.

“The forces shaping our societal landscape — calls for fairness, equity, transparency and trust — are driving an awakening in the workplace,” said Derek Irvine, Globoforce senior vice president of strategy and consulting services. “No longer do we go to work and expect to leave our selves — our humanity — at home. This year’s employee survey tells the story of a workforce ready to make an impact — but unwilling to stick around if bureaucratic processes get in the way. Organizations that provide a positive culture for their people will see renewed commitment, engagement, and strengthened relationships that fuel the backbone of their business and their bottom line.”

The “Social Impact in the Human Workplace” report reveals that employees are holding their employers to higher standards and are expecting more out of their workplace, fueled by growing distrust in authority. Employees increasingly want their voices to be heard, to be recognized for their accomplishments, and transparency in the way they are rewarded and evaluated.

The report identified:

  1. Most employees have not been recognized recently, but there are opportunities to make recognition more meaningful. The recognition experience varies greatly across the workforce, with 16% of workers recognized in the past month, based in part on the fact that one in three companies (30%) have no formal recognition program. In addition, another 25% of companies have a recognition program that is not tied to core values, which does not lead employees to feel engaged. Giving everyone in the company the power to recognize others through social recognition also has a positive effect on employees’ experience at work. When only senior leaders are allowed to recognize, 73% of workers report a positive experience. That number jumps to 88% when everyone in the company can celebrate good work.
  2. Annual performance reviews remain in many organizations, but workers want more flexibility and openness. The more frequently an employee reports checking in with his or her manager, the more likely he or she is to trust and respect that manager. Thirty-eight percent of workers said they check in with their manager daily and another 35% check in on a weekly basis.
  3. As traditional compensation can present pay equity risks, employees are open to growing concepts like crowdsourced pay. More women than men reported not receiving any bonus. In the United States, nearly two times as many men as women received a bonus greater than $5,000, and in the United Kingdom, more than three times as many men as women received a bonus greater than ‎£5,000.
  4. While there is progress around belonging, psychological safety varies greatly by gender and position in a company. Employees’ perception of whether their organization has a human work culture is strongly associated with whether they believe they are paid fairly. When employees believe they are paid fairly, they are 61% more likely to agree their company has a human work culture.
  5. Traditional methods for celebrating life events and service anniversaries leave employees feeling uninspired and are causing them to rethink their commitment to the organization. In response to traditional service anniversaries, more than half (51%) of respondents said, “It made me feel nothing at all.” Another 13% reported, “It made me feel less valued.” Celebrating just one life event in a meaningful way with your colleagues and community at work can have a considerable effect, making workers 19% more likely to feel like they belong.

European Employers Addressing #MeToo Movement 

The #MeToo movement effect isn’t limited to employers in the United States.

It has prompted 79% of surveyed European employers to take concrete action to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace, according to new research conducted by the law firm Littler.

The research, which is based on survey responses from more than 800 senior employees working at companies in Europe, indicates the steps taken by employers during the past year have resulted in significant changes to workplace practices, physical work spaces and interactions among employees.

The research found that one in five European employers have gone as far as to reopen past sexual harassment investigations. This has been a common response among employers in Belgium (28%), Germany (23%) and France (23%).

Reopening past investigations is a serious step for employers to take and reflects the high levels of concern caused by #MeToo, Littler said. As a result, a large number of both current and former employees could be exposed to further investigation and subsequent legal action.

Some employers have already acted as a result of reopening investigations. For example, a European investment bank dismissed two employees in London last year after an ex-employee was inspired by #MeToo to write to the CEO asking him to look again at a past sexual harassment case. However, the research finds that 13% of responding UK employers have reopened past investigations, the lowest in Europe. At 29%, UK employers also exceed the European average (21%) of being the least likely to take any action in response to #MeToo.

Additional steps European employers have taken to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace in the past year include:

  • 23% have introduced new tools or investigatory procedures to address sexual harassment complaints.
  • 19% have changed the layout of workspaces, such as making office design open and increasing the size of communal areas.
  • 17% have eliminated some social outings, particularly those involving alcohol.

“The research shows how headline-grabbing HR issues are being dealt with differently across Europe,” said Stephan Swinkels, managing partner Europe at Littler. “We’re surprised that UK businesses are behind their European peers — either they believe they have a smaller problem concerning sexual harassment or they’re being complacent. It’s an important distinction that we’re taking a closer look at.”

43% of responding employers want to see gender pay gap reporting laws introduced across the European Union (EU), with Spain and Italy emerging as the two individual countries that eclipse 50%.

The significant number of employers in favor of additional regulation and reporting requirements shows how important gender pay equity has become. Early adopters include the UK, Belgium and Germany, while France is planning to introduce gender pay gap reporting laws in the next two years.

There are clear parallels between the concerns of European employers and their counterparts in the United States. Littler’s Seventh Annual Employer Survey revealed that 36% of U.S. employers see gender pay equity as causing a high or very high level of concern, very close to European employers at 37%.

Indian Companies Increasing Well-Being Offerings

Companies in India are beginning to take a more holistic view of employee health and wellness.

The Health and Wellbeing Study 2018 by Willis Towers Watson found that Indian companies are going beyond physical well-being to include emotional and financial aspects as well.

66% of responding employers said they have already taken or will take steps in the next three years to develop a mental health strategy. 59% are planning to offer programs to support chronic behavioral-health conditions, which are currently offered by 8% of employers. Similarly, 63% already have or are developing a strategy to improve financial well-being and 13% are considering it in three years’ time. 50% of companies are planning to deliver customized or personalized messages to help improve financial planning as compared to 6% today.

The study found that in 2018 more than 80% of the organizations have taken at least one action in the following areas: health risks or condition management; weight management; physical activity and nutrition; and employee stress and mental health. While 61% have taken at least one action to improve the financial well-being of employees in 2018, it is a concern that almost half of the surveyed organizations still do not have a formally articulated health and well-being strategy.

“It is immensely encouraging to observe this increased focus on employee health and wellness,” said Rohit Jain, head of India at Willis Towers Watson. “However, to translate this into all round well-being, enhanced productivity and ultimately improved financial performance, companies must develop a coherent and holistic health and wellness strategy encompassing all four aspects — physical, emotional, financial and family.”

Some of the initiatives include: inviting family members to participate in various programs and activities (27%) organized by the companies; focusing communication to reach/involve family members (24%); and redesigning employee assistance programs to better address emotional and financial well-being for employees and dependents (44%).

Companies in India identified rising benefits cost and the lack of actionable data, appropriate technology and employee engagement as the top four challenges in delivering health and well-being programs.

Furthermore, employers ranked lack of physical activity (62%) and stress (55%) as top concerns about their employees’ lifestyle, followed by obesity (43%), poor financial well-being (27%) and tobacco use (25%).

Technology is being increasingly leveraged. One in three responding organizations already have a formal technology strategy in place, and a similar number have developed a dedicated portal as a hub for health and well-being programs. During the next three years, 67% of the companies expect to be using web- and mobile-based lifestyle behavior coaching programs, and 58% will be sponsoring the use of wearable devices for tracking physical activity or nutrition.

The study also found that although 82% of the organizations have started to provide regular communications that encourage employee safety and well-being, two in five said poor employee understanding is a barrier.

Portugal Passes Law Designed to Close Gender Pay Gap

Portugal has passed legislation that addresses its significant gender pay gap in both private and public organizations. The legislation will take effect on Feb. 21 to promote equal pay in a nation whose unadjusted gender pay gap is 17.5%.

Under the new law, all companies are required to have a transparent compensation policy based on an objective evaluation of employee jobs, which accounts for differences related to productivity, merit pay, attendance record and seniority.

Further, companies must use annually updated data from the labor authority to calculate their gender pay gap. Employers with 250 or more employees must submit an annual assessment of their gender pay gap, an action plan for eliminating the gap during the coming year, and a report on their progress in fulfilling the previous year’s plan. The assessment and plan must be submitted within 120 days of the labor authority’s publication of the pay gap data. In the annual progress report, organizations must set out justified salary differences and the reduction of unjustified pay gaps. Gender pay differences that are not corrected or justified will be presumed to be discriminatory.

“Portugal’s new law goes a step further than the United Kingdom. In the UK, companies are required to disclose the difference between salary and bonus for all male and female employees, and they are encouraged to publish an action plan to address any inequities, but it isn’t mandatory,” said Melissa Murdock, director of external affairs at WorldatWork, adding the Portuguese legislation is one more example of policymakers trying to figure out what laws and policies will be effective to force companies to address the gender pay gap.”

Portuguese employers with at least 50 employees will be required to assess gender pay gaps and publish an action plan three years after the law goes into effect. Trade unions and worker representatives can ask a government committee to review specific allegations of gender pay discrimination. In such cases, employers would have to provide information to the committee within strict timeframes. The committee’s report will be binding and organizations found to have discriminated must set out remedial steps.

Companies will face penalties for noncompliance and a two-year ban on tendering for public contracts.

Global Health-Care Prices Expected to Increase Again

The annual increase in employer-provided health-care costs around the globe is anticipated to be higher this year than last year.

Willis Towers Watson’s “2019 Global Medical Trends Survey” found medical insurers globally are projecting healthcare benefit costs to rise 7.6% in 2019, a slight increase from 7.1% in 2018.

Insurers blame the high cost of medical technology and the overuse and overprescribing of services as the major cost-driving factors, and caution that soaring pharmacy costs will become a significant factor in the next five years.

The smallest increases (5%) are projected in Europe, while the largest increases are expected in the Middle East and Africa, where costs are projected to jump 12.4%. Cost increases in the Americas, excluding the United States, are expected to decline slightly but still increase at double-digit levels (10.7%).

Health-care benefit cost increases in the United States are expected to decline slightly, from 8.7% in 2018 to 7.9% in 2019, according to other Willis Towers Watson research.

The study also found the outlook for cost increases the next three years varies greatly by region. One-third of insurers in the Americas (34%) expect higher or significantly higher medical trend costs the next three years. However, 60% of Middle East and African insurers and 54% of insurers in Europe anticipate higher costs. Globally, nearly half of insurers (49%) expect cost increases will be higher or significantly higher.

“Rising health-care costs continue to be a major issue for insurers and employers globally as increases continue to outstrip inflation by more than a two-to-one margin and are unsustainable over the long term,” said Cecil Hemingway, managing director and global co-head of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. “To better control costs, many employers are taking a close look at how they design and deliver health-care benefits. This includes how medical treatment is being provided, the reliance on pharmacy services and the cost implications of innovative future treatments, all of which can fuel sharp cost increases down the road.”

According to the survey, insurers are predicting that pharmacy costs will become an increasingly significant part of medical expenses during the next five years. Eight in 10 insurers (80%) in the Americas and 66% of Middle East and Africa insurers believe pharmacy costs will increase either modestly or significantly during the next five years. The vast majority of insurers, except those in the Middle East and Africa, also think the cost for behavioral and mental-health care will increase modestly or significantly in the future.

When asked for the most significant cost-driving factors outside the control of employers and vendors, nearly two-thirds (65%) cited the high cost of medical technology followed by providers’ profit motives (48%). Interestingly, seven in 10 insurers (70%) ranked overuse of care based on medical practitioners recommending too many services as the most significant factor driving costs related to employee and provider behavior. Just over half (52%) cited overuse of care due to employees seeking inappropriate care.

Other survey findings include:

  • Top three conditions. Insurers report cardiovascular (54%), musculoskeletal (49%) and cancer (42%) as the top three conditions that cause the highest number of claims. However, the prevalence of other conditions such as diabetes and mental health are increasing rapidly.
  • Trends in managing medical costs. Nearly two-thirds (63%) use contracted networks, while 61% require preapproval for scheduled inpatient services to help manage costs. Nearly six in 10 (57%) place limits on certain medical services to control costs.


Written and compiled by WorldatWork staff writer Brett Christie.