By Gayle Cinquegrani
Ray Lane contributed to this report
standard developed by the Society for Human Resource Management, which is
intended to help investors evaluate the worth of a company's human capital, is
causing controversy among human resources professionals who claim the standard
will be burdensome to companies and irrelevant to investors.
The standard, titled Human Resource Indices for Investors, is being developed
for certification by the American National Standards Institute.
Tim Bartl of the HR Policy Association told BNA May 24 that his organization
is “not exactly sure why” SHRM is developing the standard. “The type, extent,
and content of information contemplated by the standard is currently not being
requested by investors,” said Bartl, who heads the association's Center on
If ANSI certifies the standard, it can be called a consensus standard, Bartl
explained, and regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange
Commission may defer to it. The standard “is on top of a current disclosure and
regulatory regime that is already being criticized” for being too voluminous, he
said. “Our members have not heard from investors that they're looking for more
information on the HR side.”
SHRM received 45 comments on its draft standard, which is dated April 9. SHRM
told BNA June 1 that it will open another review and comment period after it
revises the draft standard based on the comments it received during the first
comment period, which ended May 24.
Lee Webster, SHRM's director of HR standards, told BNA June 5 that SHRM
welcomes the comments on the standards proposal.
Investment communications such as annual reports and 10-Ks fail to give a
comprehensive picture of a company's worth, “so the true wealth of the
organization is consistently underreported to investors and other stakeholders,”
SHRM said in its summary of the draft standard.
“Establishing respected and durable measurements of human capital value that
must be included in investor communications is crucial for presenting a full
picture of the performance and wealth of an organization.”
Under the draft, companies would prepare a human capital discussion and
analysis that would provide information in five main areas:
on human capital, including the total head count and number of full-time
equivalent employees; and the total amount spent on employees (all wages,
benefits, and taxes); spending in lieu of employees (temps, contractors,
outsourcing); and the total spent on training and development;
company's ability to retain talent, including voluntary and total turnover
broken down by job types;
company's leadership depth, including the percentage of defined positions with
an identified successor, and whether defined positions were filled internally or
company's leadership quality based on responses to an employee survey; and
engagement based on an employee survey.
The HR Policy Association, which represents the chief human resources
officers of more than 335 large employers, urged SHRM to withdraw the
“Publicly held companies are overwhelmed by financial market and accounting
compliance requirements,” the association told SHRM in a May 18 letter commenting
on the standard. “The members of our Association were taken aback that the
Society of Human Resource Management would propose yet another significant new
The association also was skeptical that investors even want this information.
“The investment community is flooded with the financial information generated to
meet these requirements,” it said, adding that its members have not heard
investors request this sort of information.
Even if investors were inclined to consider the information that would be
provided under the standard, the association said, the variations in human
resources norms among industries and regions would make it difficult for
investors to apply the data.
The HR Policy Association said the information in the human capital
discussion and analysis would duplicate information already provided in the
management analysis in the annual 10-K report required by SEC and the
compensation discussion in the proxy statement that a company files before its
“Further, companies disclosing the information proposed in the standard could
be placed at a considerable competitive disadvantage,” the association
It said they could become prey to “organizations seeking to raid their
talent; competitors trying to gain insights into how they are organized, staffed
and structured; and hedge funds and other entities seeking financial prey.”
According to the association, “[t]he percentage of defined positions with
identified successors and the percentage of defined positions filled internally
during the last fiscal period” is “highly strategic information.”
“[A] change in the extent to which a company fills positions externally
versus internally in a certain business or region might speak to the company's
plans to terminate or expand a line of business--information which competitors
could use to the company's detriment,” the group explained.
Furthermore, disclosing the actual titles of people in critical leadership
positions could make a company “a clear target for executive recruiters and
competitors looking for talent,” the association said.
The standard's required disclosure of “information regarding their
compensation structures, reliance on contingent workers, and strategy with
regard to full-time versus part-time staffing” could disadvantage companies
involved in bidding on a contract because their competitors may be able “to
undercut a bid based on insight into margins and other proprietary information
gleaned from these disclosures,” the association said.
The association also focused on the difficulty companies would have in
gathering the data.
“The data required for this disclosure is not currently gathered by all
companies,” the association said, so “it would require significant time, effort
and resources for our members to track down and collect the proposed information
on a routine basis.”
The association said “the required disclosure of total compensation for all
employees globally would be inordinately complex and time-consuming” for many
companies because many multinational companies maintain their payroll data in
each country where employees work, and “compensation packages vary tremendously
across the globe” and are subject to different privacy rules in different
The association added that employees located in foreign countries often are
part of joint ventures, and the businesses rarely share common data systems.
In addition, the association said, fluctuations in foreign currencies could
complicate the compilation of salary data.
The HR Policy Association also questioned the utility of gauging the
leadership quality of a company's managers by relying on an employee survey.
It said leadership “is far more than an employee popularity contest” and
noted that in most organizations, managers are assessed by their boss's
The association expressed concern that companies might have to enlarge their
bureaucracies or hire outside consultants to complete the human capital
discussion and analysis.
In fact, the association asserted that some members of the task force
drafting the proposal could be motivated by a desire to increase the profits of
their own consulting businesses.
“Compliance with the standard would necessitate companies relying quite
heavily on outside vendors and consultants in order to generate the data needed
for disclosure,” it said. “In fact, the standard encourages this outright, which
is noteworthy given the significant presence of management consultants on the
Taskforce involved in the development of this proposal,” the association
“Many of the requirements in the standard appear to be written primarily for
the benefit of consulting organizations selling HR services to our member
companies, especially those doing employee surveys,” the association
Section 5.6 of the draft standard is “self-serving,” the association said,
because it would require disclosure of all “direct spending” on training and
development while explicitly exempting from disclosure “any costs associated
with traveling to, paying for, attending, and teaching at conferences as well as
lost work time while engaged in 'formal learning activities.' ”
The association said this exemption “appears to be an express exemption for
SHRM related activities.”
The HR Policy Association encouraged SHRM to withdraw the proposal. It said
if the task force believes a standard on HR metrics is desirable, it should
develop a metric that a company could use internally to measure the
effectiveness of its HR programs.
The American Staffing Association, which represents staffing and recruiting
firms, expressed concern that the guidelines would require companies to disclose
information about their use of contingent workers and their overall staffing
In a May 21 letter to SHRM, ASA
said such disclosure would reduce a company's flexibility to adjust its
workforce to accommodate fluctuating market demands. It also said such
disclosures could reveal a company's proprietary staffing practices and trade
Furthermore, ASA predicted that the disclosure of staffing costs “would
invariably result in pressure to reduce such spending whether or not justified
by business necessity.”
As a result, it said, “[c]ompanies would lose the flexibility and other
benefits attendant to using temporary and contract labor, and temporary and
contract workers could lose jobs.”
ASA explained that “companies' staffing needs vary according to their size,
geographic location, revenue, and products sold or services rendered.”
Therefore, the association said, scrutinizing contingent labor expenditures
“without context would be pointless at best and potentially harmful to companies
and workers alike.”
ASA pointed out that a company could be “tapping specialized talent to
develop a new product or service,” or it could be shifting its workforce from
one line of business to another.
“Simply indicating the costs of contingent labor in a vacuum would be
misleading,” it said.
“These are exactly the kinds of comments being sought from the human
resources community,” SHRM's Webster told BNA.
“We're not advocating anything,” he continued. The Human Resource Indices for
Investors was proposed and put forward for consideration by a coalition of
domestic and international business leaders and human resource professionals,
not SHRM, Webster emphasized.
“The process for drafting, amending, changing, or discarding the proposal is
open-ended, and that's not boilerplate,” he said. “The open process is what
makes this effort great. Everyone in the human resources community can and
should speak their mind on this and all the other standards being considered in
the years to come.”
“We're listening,” Webster said.
By Gayle CinquegraniRay Lane contributed to this report
Text of SHRM's draft standard is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=gcii-8ulu8r.
The HR Policy Association letter is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=gcii-8uumd8.
The American Staffing Association letter is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=gcii-8uumb6.