Forget Global: What Happens When the Workforce Goes Galactic?

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If we’ve learned one thing in HR during the past decade, it’s that change is upon us. And there is no reason to expect things to move at a slower pace going forward. Even as we grapple with the reality of an increasingly global workforce, a number of recent news items are triggering an even more fantastical train of thought—what happens when the workforce goes galactic?

Mars Orbit Undocking by SpaceGuy5, Wikimedia Commons

Who cares, you say? That’s so far in the future it can’t possibly impact us.  

According to retired US Marine, Captain Kaye, the international military machine has already been struggling with off-planet HR issues while deploying an elite defense force to protect colonies on Mars

While we don’t believe Captain Kaye’s assertion that human colonies already exist on Mars, the reality may not be as far in the future as you might think. Case in point: Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, is talking about taking people to Mars in 10-12 years and considers establishing a self-sustaining city on Mars key to human survival.

Musk is not alone in this belief. The international team who established Mars One claim:

 “Mars One will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Crews of four will depart every two years, starting in 2024. Our first unmanned mission will be launched in 2018”

What if these visionaries actually achieve what they’ve set out to do? We already have a handful of people working off-planet on orbiting space stations. What if our workforce will soon span interplanetary space just as it now spans the oceans between continents? And if (when) it does, what new HR challenges will we face?

Here are just a few possibilities that come to mind.

Interplanetary Income Tax

The USA is unusual in its policy of taxing worldwide income. As an American citizen, wherever you live and work, you file income tax returns and pay income tax to the United States—sometimes on top of any taxes collected in your country (or planet) of residence. The resources required to monitor and enforce these tax policies are substantial. As citizens of one of the most entrepreneurial nations on planet earth, Americans would likely be well represented in any off-planet exploration. If the tax on worldwide income were extended across the solar system, the complexity and cost of enforcing it would likely be astronomical! For that matter, figuring out the simple logistics of payroll, deductions, income tax, vacation pay and benefits for employees working off-planet might require a new Galactic HR specialization for all nations involved.

Burden of Proof

The USA is an at-will employer. Many other jurisdictions offer greater protections to employees; for example, the Mexican Labor Act (MLA) puts the burden of proof on the employer in the event of a dispute. Canadian law provides that an employer can only terminate an employee without cause if it provides the employee with "reasonable notice" of the termination or compensation in lieu of notice. Other countries provide varying degrees of protection against dismissal. With Mars so far away, monitoring actions and collecting information becomes arduous and the burden of proof may be insurmountable—not to mention the fact that a dismissed employee may have no other job opportunities or any way to get back to earth. As such, countries participating in a Mars Mission will have to overcome significant philosophical differences to arrive at consistent, workable off-planet policies.

Selection and Discrimination

The anticipated multi-national nature of a Mars Mission (and other inter-planetary ventures) presents other unique challenges. The recruiting process, for example, might fall under the non-discrimination legislation of various countries. When recruiting in the USA, we must avoid discriminating against veterans, people with disabilities, etc. In other parts of the world, employers are urged (or required) to hire in proportion to the ethnic diversity of the regional population. Since the destination is (to the best of our knowledge), a lifeless planet, how will the representative population be measured? Would the composition of the team be based on the population of the country with the launch pad, that of the organization running the mission, or the globe? Would the unique demands of such a mission necessitate the relaxation of certain anti-discrimination rules?

Extending Critical Technologies

There’s a lot of discussion about making sure remote workers have the right tools to do their jobs and are given plenty of opportunity for communication with the rest of the organization. But what happens when remote means 35.8 million miles away? What will it mean to provide employees with the right technology and ample opportunities to communicate when each spoken sentence has a 7-21 minute time lag and video conferencing is not an option?

Vacation and Leave

The Mars Mission will require a long-term commitment. Many countries mandate substantial paid vacation time and require employees to take their time off each year. Employers have to provide it and employees (technically) can’t avoid it. Since travelling to Mars takes (on average) 162 days, any viable Mars Mission will last a lot longer than one year. But no one will be vacationing in the Caymans while working on the red planet! The feasibility of mandated holidays and vacation will come into question when people are focused on surviving in a hostile physical environment. Life support can’t take a coffee break, let alone a long weekend! Once again, new approaches and new policies will be needed.

As far-fetched as it may seem, within the next two decades we might find ourselves managing a whole new level of remote workers and taking on a whole new universe of HR challenges. What’s your take? Will our expansion off-planet lead to multi-national collaboration in human capital management and the emergence of universal standards, or will we take the current global hodgepodge with us across the galaxy?

 

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Soccer by Any Other Name: The Workplace and the World Cup

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World Cup 2014 by Thomas, Wikimedia Commons Whether you call it soccer, football or the beautiful game, it has unquestionably united the sentiments of millions of people around the globe. In fact, the FIFA World Cup is the biggest single-event sporting competition in the world and the most watched sporting event on the planet. So much so, that one week into the competition, advertisers had already benefited from over 1.2 billion minutes of TV and online ad viewing by a voracious global fan-base. The patriotism and passion the sport evokes is legendary. For the people of participating nations, the World Cup represents …

When an Employee Feels Underpaid

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Overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated is the current mood of many workers across the country. According to a survey conducted by employment site, Glassdoor.com, 39 percent of people do not feel they are being compensated fairly in their current jobs. Women still bear the brunt of this, with 42% of women who responded feeling they’re unfairly paid, compared to one third of the men who answered the survey. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain The disparity between CEO’s compensation and that of front-line workers is also a constant source of tension, especially in larger corporations. According to the AFL-CIO[1], …

Get Engaged With A Globalized Workforce

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The Internet is arguably the greatest communications and technological achievement society has so far attained. If technology were to fail us, as it does in the post-apocalyptic future J. J. Abrams creates in the NBC series, Revolution, we would look back on the first two decades of the 21st-century and marvel at the incredible power each of us had at our disposal. Earth by Azcolvin429, Wikimedia Commons Thanks to the Internet, we are perpetually connected and no one is constrained by geography anymore. When it comes to sourcing staff, this creates an enormous opportunity—one we have never been …

Why HR Should Toss the Annual Compensation Review

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Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Most of us are familiar with the annual performance review process (whether we like it or not!). In addition to annual performance reviews, some companies also implement an annual compensation review process. Sometimes the compensation review is linked to the performance review process, and sometimes it’s not. But regardless of how it’s positioned, the annual compensation review is one potentially destructive practice. What Drives Annual Compensation Reviews? When a company chooses to review compensation on an annual basis, the decision is generally driven by a Finance process rather than an HR process. …

Compensation Equity

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Arriving at fair compensation is not always easy. Aside from the fact that each position has a unique value to an organization and not all jobs are created equal, employers also face the challenge of recognizing and rewarding exemplary performance in a given role. Add to that the fact that people seldom agree on what’s fair and compensation design becomes that much more complicated. Freedom or Fairness by Nina Paley, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Employees consider two things when assessing whether their own compensation is fair. How their compensation compares to their co-workers. How their compensation compares to …

Compensation Design: Beyond Foundational Needs

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US Treasury, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain We spend a lot of time thinking about (and writing about) employee motivation,engagement and what it takes to create an awesome work environment with a high performance culture. But, before we can turn our sights to creating that awesome environment, there are some basics that must be addressed. As Maslow discovered, people are motivated by different things depending on their current state. This means that people’s foundational (physiological) needs must be met before more complex needs even hit their radar. In the context of the workplace, foundational needs typically relate to …

Managing Multiple Generations in the Workplace

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The face of today’s workforce is changing and the pace of that change is unprecedented. As the typical retirement age moves up and another generation enters the workplace, human capital management will continue to become more complex. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain The Millennial Influx In Mentoring Millennials, a Harvard Business Review article, the authors state: “The makeup of the global workforce is undergoing a seismic shift: In four years Millennials—the people born between 1977 and 1997—will account for nearly half the employees in the world. In some companies, they already constitute a majority.” In …

Fairness in the Workplace

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Street Art by Alex Proimos,Sydney, Australia, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license People have an inherent need for fairness. In the workplace, perceived injustice has been directly linked to burnout and job dissatisfaction.[1] The challenge for HR arises from the fact that one employee’s fairness often becomes another employee’s perceived injustice. For example, policies designed to address the cumulative effects of systemic injustice over many years may be seen as “special treatment,” triggering feelings of unfairness in other employees today. Various forms of accommodation, whether required by law or preferred by management, …

Help Employees Tackle the Post-Holiday Blues

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Once the chaos and excitement of the holiday season has faded, the decorations have been put away and the social calendar looms empty, it is not uncommon to feel a little lost and blue. Once January rolls around, the focus quickly shifts from managing stress to dealing with this post-holiday crash, the effects of which can range from mild sadness to full-blown depression. Depressed by Sander van der Wel, Netherlands, CC-BY-SA-2.0, Wikimedia Creative Commons What Causes the Post-Holiday Blues? There are a lot of reasons for experiencing post-holiday blues. Those reasons differ from person to person and even from place …

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