When is a Newsline Not News?

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As much as I would like to be hiking, or dreaming poetry, or playing some zany game with my kids, I cannot get this WorldatWork “Newsline” article, or is it the Kronos Newsline, out of my mind. It literally has been making me crazy. I doubt I am the only one confused, disappointed, this once professional membership organization has transformed itself into a blatantly “pay for play” mouthpiece for whatever cockamamie sponsors pay them to publish. When is Newsline not news? Pretty sure you can answer this yourself with a single visit to their website.

Here is the lede that got me going, ‘More than half of HR and payroll professionals (54%) say that, on average, it costs their organization between $40,000 and $100,000 to prepare for each labor-related regulatory change, regardless of whether that’s at the federal, state or local level’, from their post on September 6 this month entitled, Labor-Related Regulations Take a Financial Toll. Kronos actually suggested a different title, The $100,000 Bill. The survey link is here, Kronos Workforce Institute research. Don’t expect research though; you will be sorely disappointed. All they wanted was the headline, as inflammatory as a Chump tweet, with patented psuedo-factuality.

Takes you back to those Highlights Magazine pictures when you were a kid challenging you to find all the embedded images; in this case it’s find all the red herrings. See how many you can find? Here’s a little help to get you started.

  • Regulations continue as an obsession with WorldatWork, despite the fact that in their countless surveys of membership about the top issues for HR and Compensation and Benefits, regulation has never been in the top 3, never even in the top 10? I cannot recall it ever making the list. Ever. So why this fantastical devotion to a topic more political than professional? First, their loyal obsession with the EEO-1 Report, where they align their thought followership meekly with the most anti-president in our history, to chime in from the peanut gallery on an issue about which they simply do not have a dog in the hunt. But ok, it’s natural for them throw their hand in with the rest of their DC shill neighbors. It’s who they spend their time with, to say nothing of rent, so it is no wonder they are so easily duped into pretending this is what members want. 
  • The headline tag alone, “The $100,000 Bill,” is patently misleading if not false. Yep, it’s simply a hyperbolic marketing headline that distorts the source survey finding beyond even a tenuous connection to reality. In fact, the survey of “812 HR and payroll professionals” found that ‘More than half of HR and payroll professionals (54%) say that, on average, it costs their organization between $40,000 and $100,000 to prepare for each labor-related regulatory change, regardless of whether that’s at the federal, state or local level’. And if you read further, some 20% of respondents have no clue? So there is a wide distribution of confusion concealed behind this headline. All we can be sure of is that some say the number is less than $100,000 and some say it is more than $40,000, and others do not know, and perhaps do not care? Oh, on average too.
  • The assumption implicit in the marketing copy WorldatWork shamelessly promoted as news is not news at all. It is marketing fiction thinly disguised as myth to portray regulations as bad by asking HR people if compliance is important and what they do to remain compliant. Their responses are just what you would expect.  The survey reports they, consult with legal counsel on internal policies, train HR and payroll employees, educate leaders and managers, and do employee communications on compliance. Seems like standard due diligence for any HR department. Seems farfetched to “blame” this behavior on regulations. When I teach my kids to drive I don’t blame the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • There is also some very curious data, portrayed as information in the release, that compliance had become more expensive in the past year (68%) yet almost three-quarters say it’s more expensive than 10 years ago. It is hard to reconcile these data points. It is harder still to call it information. The last 10 years have been brutal on all of us, and the last year has been especially so. I can agree with that. But is there a nugget in here that you can use to indict the big bad compliance bogeyman as the culprit? I think not.
  • 812 HR and payroll professionals were surveyed. OK. Sounds like a lot. But there are north of 500,000 HR professionals in the U.S., according to WorldatWork’s own data, and this does not even include payroll. So what is the validity of this much smaller survey data set, we’re talking tenths of a percent of the target population here. Do we know the surveyed population’s affiliation with WorldatWork? With Kronos? No, but you can be sure that WorldatWork’s membership are a desirable target for Kronos marketing? Of course. So regulations = bad, and Kronos = good. This is the Newsline headline, shorter.
  • Which brings us to the obvious point. Kronos is the sponsor of this Newsline placement. Their line of questions is directed at the SMB market with various nods to overworked people in this segment being too busy, perhaps cutting corners, and simply being overwhelmed by the challenge of compliance. All of which may be true, but it’s a stretch to diagnose the cause as regulations. Compliance has been one of the five planks of the profession since Adam. Of course compliance is an uber important responsibility requiring resources and focus. It is a task requiring professional rigor. I am sure Kronos wants the business, and they cannot be faulted for offering to share their competence for a fee. Is this what you call scaring up business? Seems like. And by the way, you have to wonder if WorldatWork gets a commission beyond the advert placement fee?
  • In the embarrassing quote category, the study cites Dan Schawbel,partner and research director at Kronos’ Future Workplace initiative, “Businesses are having trouble keeping up with all the new regulations and feel that we are now at an unsustainable pace of change; As the government becomes more regulated, the costs to business will increase and the workforce will suffer as a result.” This “sky is falling” statement would be hilarious if it were not so cravenly self-serving. Seems Ivanka Trump-Kushner and Mitch McConnell have collaborated to write his alarmist talking points? We are always left to wonder which regulations they want to eliminate? Equal Pay, Age Discrimination, Equal Employment Opportunity, and that oppressive EEO-1 report? Perhaps Child Labor Laws too, let’s start with a clean slate! Please feel free to complete the list yourself. Bottom line, it is hard to govern and manage the largest GDP on the planet, yet we seem to be doing a decent job, winning in fact. Regulations notwithstanding, or perhaps because of regulations. A survey is simply not going to answer this question. If it could, it would have been done already, and it would indeed be news.
  • On the plus side, Kronos’ survey was kind enough to recognize the inherent virtues of our Compensation profession in citing the near universal agreement confirmed by the survey that respondents overwhelmingly report compliance remains a guiding principal in their organizations and that their organizations do recognize the value in training employees to better handle compliance. WorldatWork apparently could not be troubled to read this far down in the survey. Or perhaps they are simply complying with Kronos’ terms?  We would have to read the contract.

Call me confused, misguided even, believing that news, rather than marketing, should be the sole focus of a segment called Newsline. And if you are going to insist on putting marketing in my feed, at least make it factual and less the political shill and the marketing hyperbole. Compensation people tend to be nerds, obsessed with facts and data. Our bullshit detectors are more sensitive than a Geiger counter. Your market research might confirm this for you if you took the time to listen.

WorldatWork is a once-proud professional membership organization. If it wishes to be proud again, and viable too, it would do well to turn a page back, prior to its devolution into a blatantly “pay for play” mouthpiece and errand boy for sponsors coveting its members’ share of wallet.  I know journalism is a hard way to go nowadays, but Newsline should remain solely the province of news, and not commercials.

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