Employee Communications When Emotions Run High: Five Steps to a Successful Message

Check out this great read from The Society of Human Resources (SHRM), by SHRM Staff

All across the country, companies are grappling with the decision of whether or not to send a company-wide communication about the election results. On Wednesday morning, organizations – especially with offices in major cities – were faced with an employee population experiencing a wide array of emotions. For some, these emotions may have even begun to affect productivity and overall office morale.
So, when an issue like politics – which can be divisive and cause heightened emotions – spills into the workplace, is there value in addressing the situation with employees?  The answer is an absolute yes.

Ultimately, leaders must understand their organization’s culture to determine the most appropriate employee message, or whether a message is necessary at all. In the case of the election results, however, we cannot deny that a change has occurred and for some employees that change was not what they were expecting.

As with any major change an organization and its people go through, it’s important for leadership to create an environment where open, transparent and constructive dialogue is encouraged within the workplace. Pretending like nothing has happened or that people aren’t feeling directly affected does a disservice to your people and ultimately your organization. Here are 5 ways to communicate with your employees when emotions run high.

1.      Reinforce your Company Values

When crafting a message to employees, you will find the most success if you use this as an opportunity to reinforce the values of your company. One of our values at SHRM is, “Our People Matter” and so, for us, it’s important that our employees feel supported and heard. Acknowledging their feelings will go a long way in establishing trust in the organization.

2.      Double Down on Benefits

Employers can also use this as an opportunity to highlight some of the company’s benefits offerings. Direct employees to their company Employee Assistance Program for resources that might be available to them. Many EAP programs offer stress management and personal wellness tools that employees can take advantage of during this time.

3.      Offer Support

There are a range of activities – some of which can be tied to a wellness campaign – that an organization can do to assist employees:

  • Bring in a massage therapist and offer de-stressing hand and foot massages to help employees unwind
  • Bring in a yoga instructor or offer meditation resources
  • Offer donuts or other snacks and create safe space zones around the workplace where employees can congregate and have discussions.

4.      Open Lines of Communication

If a company does send a message to employees, it is important to reinforce the importance of person-to-person communication. At a time when tensions are high, internal social media platforms may not be the best place for employee dialogue.

5.      Manage with Empathy

Most important, it is crucial that people managers recognize the signs of stress in their employees and approach them with compassion and empathy in the coming days and weeks. We do not always know what people are going through or dealing with outside of the office. Supervisors should work with their HR department to know what resources are available for employees, but they should also just be there as a supportive listener.

Finally, whether post-election communication comes from HR, executive leadership, a communications department – or if ultimately the decision is made not to send any message at all – this is a good time to take a closer look at your employee culture, reinforce your values, highlight your benefits and wellness offerings and show employees that they are supported, valued and heard. In the end, the most important lesson, and perhaps what your employees will value the most, is simply showing that you care.

See the original article Here.


SHRM Staff (2016 November 12). Employee communications when emotions run high: five steps to a successful message[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.shrm.org/blog/employee-communications-when-emotions-run-high-five-steps-to-a-successful-m

The demand for data transparency is mounting

Interesting thoughts on transparency data from Employee Benefit Adviser, by Suzy K. Johnson

December 2003 was a great time for health plans in America. This was when high deductible health plans and the underlying health savings accounts were enacted into law by the federal government.

With this law, we were provided the ability to engage employees more directly in the cost of their care with the elimination of copays and Rx cards under these plans.

What many brokers don’t realize is that the law allows anyone to fund the underlying health savings accounts. This means that employers can and should be shown how to use the savings in premiums created by moving to these types of plans to “fund” employees’ health savings accounts. This can result in a win/win for all.

When employers fund the employee’s HSA, they provide the employee the ability to direct additional money into a flex spending type of plan (HSA) that has much higher limits for funding, and allows the same expenses to be reimbursed along with long-term care premiums, COBRA premiums and Medicare Part B expenses. These accounts don’t have the “use it lose it” risk that flex medical reimbursement plans have always included.

A top priority
Now what we need is transparency data from the hospitals and providers. It is my belief that if every American was required to have a high deductible health plan paired with a health savings account only, the demand for transparency data would be palpable and the pressure forced on providers and hospitals to comply would amplify.

Right now the transparency data is not available and this needs to change. If the only plans employers could offer were HDHP plans with HSA accounts and if employers provided funding to help their employees to be able to afford the additional exposure shifted to them, the demand for transparency data would suddenly become top priority and the government would demand it of providers.

Yes, they are more complicated to understand, and yes, the programs require more employee education and hand holding. Nothing good happens when we sit on the sidelines. Let’s commit to becoming part of the solution!

See the original article Here.


Johnson, S. K. (2016 October 4). The demand for data transparency is mounting. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/the-demand-for-data-transparency-is-mounting

Should virtual patients worry about the side effects of telemedicine?

Although telemedicine is expected to become more prevalent, there are many boundaries this new technology still has to cross. Jay Horton gives more insight in the article below.

Original Post from BenefitsPro.com on June 28, 2016

As technological advancements heighten the accuracy and immediacy of medical consultations conducted remotely, the practice of telemedicine has blossomed alongside.

A Research and Markets study released this week announced the worldwide virtual health care market should jump from last year's estimated $17.9 billion to more than $40 billion by 2021.

Driven by the steadily-increasing capabilities of digital communication, medical professionals are now only a click away from even the furthest reaches of the globe, and the widening access has opened up avenues for diagnoses and treatment once unimaginable.

However, while the availability of far-flung examinations has aided the work of rural practitioners and Doctors Without Borders volunteers, the growth of telemedicine as a practical variant to traditional hospital visits has brought to light thorny regulatory issues and widespread concerns over such programs' inherent limitations.

Although the most technologically adept remote-care facilities may obtain real-time vital signs data and control precision optics able to convey the smallest visual detail, critics fear the physical absence of diagnosticians will necessarily raise the risk that less-obvious symptoms only recognizable through physical presence (clammy skin, eye tremors, sweetened scents) would be ignored.

At this point, telemedicine remains a relatively niche alternative largely undertaken by only those prospective patients within the United States otherwise unable to easily obtain traditional care. A recent HealthMine poll found nearly a third of web-friendly consumers had yet to take advantage of the services primarily because of questions about when they would be most appropriate.

These numbers are widely expected to leap in the coming years, however. As long as telemedicine consults cut the costs of face-to-face visits so dramatically — estimates range from 50 percent to 5000 percent depending upon the nature of the meeting — health insurance companies and the large firms that subsidize the majority of their policies will aggressively urge consumers to choose the cheaper option.

Further complicating matters, state licensing boards have so zealously guarded their dominion that many doctors are forbidden from even offering an opinion when expressly requested by a regular patient vacationing elsewhere.

Literally hundreds of legislative remedies have been introduced on the local level this year as state governments attempt to streamline the process of virtual care. Still, with no clear federal rulings to outline the boundaries of telemedicine, there's an ocean of gray area separating the proposed measures.

The sheer novelty of the practice has also stymied efforts to ensure remote treatment will be reimbursed under Medicaid. While most officials agree some aspects of telemedicine should deserve full compensation, the varying degrees of aid currently in use range from the occasional scan of vital signs to exhaustive video interviews and analyses.

Defending the necessity of immediate legislation last week, Pennsylvania state Rep. Marguerite Quinn stated her case bluntly: "We're trying to put down some basic guidelines here to match policy with technology and make sure we're not thwarting the growth of this in the meantime.”

Read the original article at: http://www.benefitspro.com/2016/06/28/should-virtual-patients-worry-about-the-side-effec?ref=hp-news&slreturn=1468614391


Horton, J. (2016, June 28). Should virtual patients worry about the side effects of telemedicine? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.benefitspro.com/2016/06/28/should-virtual-patients-worry-about-the-side-effec?ref=hp-news&slreturn=1468614391

5 rules for engaging millennials in wellness

As wellness programs become increasingly popular, it is important to understand how to get your employees engaged. Dr. Rajiv Kumar lends 6 tips to engaging millennials in your wellness program in the article below.

Original Post from BenefitsPro.com on June 27, 2016

These days, you can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without hearing a new indictment of millennials.

You know the stereotype: this newest generation of employees is selfish, narcissistic, entitled, and impatient.

I understand where this portrayal comes from — no one admires the guy with the selfie stick — but it’s an inaccurate generalization of my generation.

In fact, a growing body of data has revealed that the millennial generation is more altruistic, socially engaged, and health-minded than our predecessors, making us perfect consumers for employee well-being programs.

The trick is to speak the language of millennials, and as a millennial myself, I’ve got some advice to share.

Here are my five rules for engaging millennial employees in employee well-being programs.

Rule 1: Be legit.

The key to earning the trust of millennial employees is authenticity. Mine is a generation that has grown up with the internet, and thus has a very keen eye for public relations spin, marketing jargon, and advertising. Millennials have grown up truly surrounded by marketing, and they’re a bit immune.

Research has shown authenticity is of utmost value to millennials. 70 percent of millennials will stay loyal to a brand that has earned their trust. And 75 percent view themselves as authentic, meaning that being legit is the truest way to earn that trust.

When you’re considering your well-being benefits, create a brand that resonates and accurately represents your workforce. Use images of real people instead of photo-shopped models. Offer programs that allow people to set their own goals, rather than impose parameters and benchmarks.

Avoid jargon and long detailed benefits explanations. Instead, be straightforward. You’ll telegraph authenticity and your employees will connect with your brand.

Rule 2: Cut to the chase.

The millennial preference for all things direct and convenient is unsurprising given our obsession with authenticity. A marketplace devoid of middle men, where consumers are empowered to make their own informed decisions, is a millennial touchstone. Some of the country’s most impressive consumer companies have tapped into this preference. Consider Uber, Roku, and Airbnb.

The attributes that define the millennial marketplace — speed, convenience, transparency — are the ones that will also shape the future of well-being benefits.

45 percent of millennials say they’re more likely to participate in health and wellness programs if they’re easy or convenient to do. This means that we need to make enrolling in well-being programs straightforward and easy if we’re going to attract the next generation.

Seek out vendors that offer Single Sign On (SSO) integrations to relieve your employees of additional accounts, usernames, and passwords. When possible, offer programs that are flexible — that employees can tackle in their own time, on their own schedule.

This flexibility means programs can easily be accommodated and adopted within an existing or preferred schedule, and your engagement rates will climb.

Rule 3: There’s gotta be an app for that.

An appropriate motto for the millennial generation is “all mobile, all the time.” It may astonish older generations to hear that even a PC is passé to a millennial. Instead, we rely on our phones, tablets, and even our watches for all of the information we need.

Wellness and benefits cannot expect to be an exception to this rule. To remain relevant to millennials, you must allow them to enroll, participate, and access resources from their phone. This is absolutely critical, as millennials have little tolerance for anything else.

The good news is the industry is catching up to these preferences. Many well-being vendors have native apps that employees can download and access through their phones and smartwatches.

When selecting your wellbeing program, find a vendor that is committed to mobile innovation — this trend is advancing rapidly, and you’re going to want a partner that keeps up with the swift pace of mobile invention.

Rule 4: Sharing is caring.

For a generation that is constantly in touch, frequently checking in online, and publicly voicing our opinions, sharing is an important part of millennial life — professional and otherwise. Contrary to the stereotypes, this tendency to “overshare” isn’t just about self-involvement or grandstanding. In fact, sharing opinions, publicly voicing feedback, and reaching out to others serve an important purpose.

More than any other generational cohort, millennials rely on our friends, family, and peers for recommendations and suggestions. This is particularly true in the consumer arena — consider sites like Yelp and Amazon — but it has important implications for well-being benefits as well.

If you’re able to get an enthusiastic group of early adopters to enroll in your benefits program, you’ll likely enjoy a successful ripple effect with millennials. That’s because word-of-mouth is the most effective form of marketing for my generation. This ties back directly to our obsession with authenticity — we trust the recommendations and views of our friends and peers more than the promotional efforts of a corporate department.

When you’re implementing a well-being program, devote time and resources to building a champions network that will get the word out, share updates, and encourage others to join.

This will attract hard-to-engage populations and keep them invested throughout the program duration. Find a well-being vendor that has experience creating champion networks and your program will benefit immensely.

Rule 5: Offer well-being, not wellness.

Unlike previous generations who have used traditional milestones to measure success — climbing the corporate ladder, getting married, buying a house — millennials aspire towards balance, in life and in work. In fact, 97 percent of millennials named happiness as a primary interest. It’s nearly unanimous.

This focus on balance extends to the way millennials conceptualize health, which is much more focused on well-being than previous generations. 72 percent of millennials say they exercise once a week or more, and 95 percent say they care deeply about their health.

For wellness benefits to be relevant to millennials they can’t merely focus on the physical realm of health — clearly, millennials are already on that bandwagon.

Instead, they’ll be drawn to a range of programs that address other ways to find balance and achieve happiness. For example, financial wellness is of great interest to a generation that’s shouldering record levels of debt. My generation would also benefit greatly from emotional resiliency programs, since we are incredibly stressed.

To engage millennials in wellness, you have to extend the definition to embrace holistic wellbeing, incorporating programs that address the multiple factors that contribute to work/life balance, including mental, social, and emotional variables. Companies that adopt this millennial view of well-being will be much more successful in attracting, retaining, and engaging the most powerful generation in the workforce today.

Read the full article at: http://www.benefitspro.com/2016/06/27/5-rules-for-engaging-millennials-in-wellness?ref=hp-blogs&page_all=1


Kumar, R. (2016, June 27). 5 rules for engaging millennials in wellness [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.benefitspro.com/2016/06/27/5-rules-for-engaging-millennials-in-wellness?ref=hp-blogs&page_all=1

5 Top Employee Benefits Questions and How to Answer Them

Original Post from BenfitsPro.com

By: Monica Majors

Legislative changes continue to markedly affect the health benefits marketplace. Employers and their workers face challenges on a number of fronts. Along with those challenges come questions that range from current and future requirements of health care reform, to providing adequate plan coverage that serves employees well.

By understanding the top-of-mind employer benefit issues and responding to them appropriately and effectively, brokers and advisors can better serve existing clients, attract new ones, and help employees protect themselves and their families going forward.

1.     How can I meet my employees’ needs?

A key concern of today’s employers is making sure benefits they offer for both prospective and current employees are competitive. Businesses recognize the role a solid benefit program plays in attracting and keeping good talent, and they want to know what is included in plans offered by their competitors.

Brokers serving the health benefits marketplace can best serve customers by knowing the current market landscape well, speaking confidently about it and sharing that knowledge with customers. Key to this knowledge is understanding what the employer currently offers, what types of employees make up its workforce, what their needs are, and what gaps may currently exist.

Then, talk with insurers and learn what industry and market insight they may possess based on geographic and industry-specific factors. Search out findings made available from insurance- and customer-specific industry research organizations and trade associations. You can also mine data from within your own office, such as aggregated customer information by industry.

Integrate all of this information with comprehensive benefit offerings available from the carriers you represent, and show employers how they can gain a competitive market advantage with the right benefit plan.

2.     How can I control my costs?

The question of controlling costs is common for obvious reasons. Small groups, in particular, are looking for creative ways to keep their health benefit expenses down. Brokers can address this question by understanding current offerings and combining that with knowledge of the plans available through the carriers they represent.

Understanding the various coverage tiers available and sharing that knowledge with employers is key. Often, implementing a health benefit program that meets the minimum required coverage levels brings the lowest cost.

Other cost-reduction strategies include addressing coverage for dependents or part-time employees. Some employers may consider eliminating dependent coverage or reducing contributions for this coverage. Also, determine with the employer the cost versus the benefit of including part-time staff in the plan. Employers may need to make tough decisions to maintain viable programs for employees.

Employers need to consider other costs that may come into play. For example, new IRS and ACA reporting requirements for employers to notify employees about new mandates bring with them administrative expenses. While they may not be able to eliminate these costs, brokers can help provide guidance and increase awareness around the changing requirements. They can also recommend approaches that might help employers streamline the process to reduce the impact of the requirements.

3.     What about exchanges?

Employer questions about health benefit exchanges are prevalent. How do the exchanges align with the employer’s desire to deliver benefits in a cost-effective manner? What advantages do they offer? What are the drawbacks? Brokers need to be familiar with individual and group exchanges — both private and public.

Brokers working with some employers may find that certain tax advantages come along with using a public exchange. Private exchanges offer other benefits, from cost-management tools to a broader set of administrative support options and a choice of benefit options that extend beyond basic medical coverage. Group or employer-focused exchanges are becoming increasingly popular as a way to efficiently manage health benefits. Brokers should become familiar with the pros and cons, as well as processes involved.

It’s important to understand the advantages for different employer groups, as well as the reputation and satisfaction levels of exchanges, and use that knowledge to help employers select the right option.

4.     What’s on the horizon?

Large employers are concerned about looming changes. They wonder how new regulations—for example, the Cadillac tax —may affect them in the future. Brokers need to be knowledgeable about what is coming down the pike, and how to minimize negative resulting impacts.

Preparing for the Cadillac tax, for example, may require a strategy shift. While the tax is primarily levied against health plans for coverage deemed “too rich,” it will ultimately affect employers and workers. Health plans are likely to pass off at least some of the costs to employers in the form of higher premiums. Employers may then pass costs off to workers in the form of higher cost-sharing arrangements. Of course, employers will have to consider how this will impact employee retention and recruitment.

The Internal Revenue Service posts helpful information about the ACA’s requirements on employers on its website: irs.gov/affordable-care-act. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website is another valuable resource: cms.gov/cciio/.

5.     Why you?

The final top question may be one employers don’t explicitly ask; but it’s one you need to answer: “Why should I use you as a broker?” How is it that you set yourself apart from other brokers — industry knowledge, market strategy or customer service? Brokers need to carefully and clearly explain benefit plan designs, educate employers, guide them through the maze of changes in the benefits arena, and explain all the implications.

Building knowledge is the first part of the answer. Learn about laws, regulations and your employers’ workforce attributes. Learn more about the products offered by carriers and through the exchanges. Combine that knowledge with employer and employee data you capture to design programs that can help employers attract and retain good workers. Work with financially strong carrier partners to find and deliver the right benefit plans, and consider offering your clients a multi-year strategy where appropriate. And leverage administrative, technology, client portals and other resources your carrier partners offer.

Be sure to document and explain the advantages you can bring to the employer. Also, encourage satisfied customers to provide testimonials, directly and on social platforms, and then share these testimonials and references to help differentiate yourself and your shop from your competitors.

By understanding the needs of your clients, offering cost control solutions and keeping businesses apprised of changes on the horizon, you set yourself apart from other brokers and demonstrate your value as a trusted adviser. New and existing clients will come to you year after year for help in designing affordable health benefit plans that will attract and hold onto good workers.

How to Avoid Penalties Under the Affordable Care Act

Original Post from SHRM.org

By: Lisa Nagele-Piazza

2016 is expected to be the most expensive year for businesses complying with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), said David Lindgren, senior manager of compliance and public affairs for Flexible Benefit Service Corporation, a benefit administrator headquartered in Rosemont, Ill.

It’s the first year for dealing with ACA reporting, which many employers will have to complete by the end of June, Lindgren said during a concurrent session at the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition.

There are more than 30,000 pages of guidance about the law, but Lindgren said the ACA is fairly easy to comprehend. “Of course, many people would disagree with me,” he noted.

“It’s not necessarily easy to comply with the ACA, and it’s not financially inexpensive, but most of the rules aren’t overly complicated,” he said.

The federal agencies that regulate the ACA have said they intend to monitor all businesses for compliance. This may not be realistic, but employers should keep in mind that more auditing can be expected.

Lindgren identified 30 penalties associated with noncompliance and provided insight on how to avoid them.

Employers can choose to pay the penalties for noncompliance, but steep fines are often attached, he said. For example, market reform violations carry a penalty of $100 per participant per day, up to $500,000 for each violation.

Employees Must Receive Notices

Some noteworthy penalties to avoid are those associated with the failure to provide required notices to plan participants, including a written notice of patient protections.

Lindgren said sometimes employers aren’t clear about who has been designated to provide this notice. “A lot of times the insurance company thinks the employer provided it and the employer thinks the insurance company did,” he said. “So it’s important to double check who is in fact giving the notice.”

Participants must also be provided with a summary of benefits and coverage in a standardized format. Lindgren likened this format to a nutrition label on a can of soup.

A participant should be able to easily compare the benefits to other plans, such as a spouse’s plan, just as the nutrition facts for two cans of soup can be easily compared.

There is a standardized template for the summary of benefits and coverage on the Department of Labor website.

The requirement to provide a summary of benefits and coverage applies to medical plans, but not to dental or vision plans.

The summary should be distributed at the time of open enrollment and special enrollments related to qualifying events, as well as at the request of participants and when a material modification has been made to the plan.

Although there is no penalty attached for noncompliance, employers must also provide written notice about the health insurance marketplace to new hires within 14 days of their start date.

This applies even for organizations that don’t offer benefits and even to those employees who aren’t eligible for benefits, Lindgren said.

There are some exceptions. For example, if an employer isn’t subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act, then it doesn’t have to provide the marketplace notice.

Exceptions for Grandfathered Plans

Grandfathered plans aren’t subject to some of the requirements under the ACA. This includes plans purchased on or before March 23, 2010, that haven’t made certain material changes.

Lindgren noted that employers with grandfathered plans must provide written notice to participants notifying them that it is a grandfathered plan and describing what that means for participants.

If participants aren’t provided this information, the plan will lose its grandfathered status, Lindgren said.

HR Takes the Lead

Benefits compliance isn’t just a human resources issue anymore, but HR often takes the lead in compliance efforts, according to Lindgren.

However, other departments, such as finance, legal and information technology, are increasingly getting more involved.

3 Key Takeaways of Designing Employee Benefits Programs

Original Post from BenefitsPro.com

By: Nate Randall

Throughout my career, I’ve had the good fortune to work for a variety of industry leading organizations from stratospheric startup Tesla Motors to Fortune 100s Safeway and Washington Mutual.

I planted myself knee deep in managing, analyzing, and creating everything related to employee benefits and have learned more than a few finer points along the way.

The common thread across these three companies was a genuine desire and drive to apply innovative, forward-thinking approaches to change and improve the way employee benefits are delivered.

I’ve reflected on my experiences to give you three takeaways that helped these companies make the biggest impact possible with their benefits and employee experience programs.

Innovation isn’t easy

Much has been written about long work hours. Stories abound of people sleeping in their cars or under their desks and subsisting on Top Ramen and frozen vegetables. That might exist for you at some point along the path, but that’s not the type of innovative environment that I’m talking about here. I am talking about an atmosphere that applies a conscious drive for change which can lead to meaningful acceptance of new ideas.

Whether you’re rethinking the value of the way health insurance is delivered to families or trying to disrupt a 100-year-old automotive industry, mindfully striving for innovation isn’t a cakewalk.

That’s because humans are programmed not to like change, and for many, working through innovation doesn’t come naturally. It takes a laser-focused and cognizant decision to examine the way things are traditionally or typically done. To do that, you’ll need to gather data, build a team, prove a case, influence, iterate, fail, and to achieve success, you’ll need to do all of these things quickly with minimal errors and missteps.

In my experience, it all comes down to the team that you surround yourself with. When hiring or building your team, I always advise to think creatively about your problems and look for passion in those you recruit. More important than having “done it before” is an intense drive to solve problems and an underlying interest in the core subject.

Early in my career at Tesla, an HR manager said to me, “there are three reasons people come to Tesla. Either they are passionate about cars, passionate about the environment, or passionate about their chosen profession. And Tesla is the best place in the world to be for all three of those things.” Notice there is nothing about money, benefits, or perks. That brings me to the second lesson I’ve learned..

Top talent doesn’t care about perks (until you take them away)

Rarely do candidates and their families make the decision to change their lives — in some cases moving across the country or world — because of the benefits and perks you offer.

Attracting top talent is about storytelling. It’s about having a mission and purpose that a person (and his or her family) can identify with through hard work. I have literally witnessed thousands of people join a common mission early on with little more than unlimited cereal and coffee being offered as the perk. And this was in the geographic backyard of arguably the most intense company perk culture on the planet in Silicon Valley. At the end of the day, people want to feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply employees don’t care about the benefits offered to them. They must be satisfied knowing that the basics — health, disability, life insurance, and retirement — are covered. But in my experience, top talent doesn’t make the decision to join a company because of free lunches and massages on Wednesdays.

Keeping that in mind, it is extremely important to construct benefits and perks with care and thought. Once implemented, any experienced HR manager will tell you his or her sad tale of trying to take something away that people are accustomed to.

It’s also imperative to align benefits with perks. Trust me, employees notice if either appears alien to the company culture and mission. I learned this lesson at Safeway during a program that linked the amount of premium a person paid for health insurance to their biometric measures like blood pressure and cholesterol. Employees scratched their heads wondering why the company cafeteria featured cheap burgers and sodas in comparison to the healthy (but pricey) salad bar if poor eating habits could potentially equate to higher health insurance premiums. To promote the healthy lunch options, we had to align its costs with the culture we were trying to foster.

Silicon Valley has become legendary for perks and what many of my colleagues across the country consider frivolous and extravagant benefits. While I agree that many of the Valley’s largest and most iconic brands along with many wannabe cool kids are foolishly wasting time, resources, and money on programs that really do not serve any identifiable goal, I will argue that offering smartly aligned, personalized benefits and perks are the wave of the future. And that brings me to my third and final take-away...

Let the people choose

We have a lot of choice in our lives. We choose the items, price points, and brands to put into our carts when shopping at Safeway. Every Tesla purchase is made to order, built to the specific requirements of the buyer. Google organizes information to make it individualized and useful. Amazon provides a personalized online shopping experience. Uber and Airbnb tap into excess individual capacity in existing systems to create value. We all have different needs, priorities, family situations, and interests, so is it so difficult to offer benefits that can be personalized, too?

The traditional way of offering limited choice employee benefits and perks for everyone (i.e., group benefits) is outdated and bloated with waste. Upwards of 30 percent of compensation costs are funneled to these traditional benefits and American companies spend over a trillion and a half dollars on these inefficient benefits per year.

And that doesn’t even include any so-called perks. In my own research, most employers are paying anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000 per year for a single traditional benefits package. That’s a huge chunk of change and much of those benefits will never be used by the individual if it doesn’t apply to their situation or they find no personal value in it.

Instead of these antiquated and engorged traditional benefits, smart people are creating systems and methods whereby employees can build personalized benefits packages that meet individual needs and circumstances. Giving people the choice and ability to craft what they need can and will make a real difference in people’s daily lives.

Adoption by forward-leaning employers along with regulatory cooperation will finally result in a system for employee benefits and perks that is modern, flexible, and valued. A system that looks like the rest of our world: personalized.

Report: Make Workforce Analytics Work for Business

Original Post from SHRM.org

By: Kathy Gurchiek

More businesses will be using workforce analytics over the next three years, especially to help with retention and recruitment, according to a new report published by the SHRM Foundation.

For HR practitioners, it will be increasingly important to understand analytics and to be able to present the findings to senior executives. In a data-driven world, organizations will establish specialist HR teams and recruit data-oriented personnel, according to Use of Workforce Analytics for Competitive Advantage, released June 21 at the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C.

“Workforce analytics is transforming human capital strategy,” said Mark Schmit, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, executive director of the SHRM Foundation, in a news release. In the foreword to the report, Schmit noted that a 2015 Economist Intelligence Unit survey found 82 percent of organizations recognize the importance of talent-related data in managing recruitment, retention, and turnover, and increasingly see workforce analytics “as a critical tool to shape future business strategy.”

“This new report can help HR and business leaders prepare for the future and leverage the power of analytics to generate valuable business insights. This new report can help HR and business leaders prepare for the future and leverage the power of analytics to generate valuable business insights.”

Organizations wanting to exploit “big data” to gain a competitive advantage are setting up small specialist teams of data analysts, training their existing staff in the use of big data and recruiting college graduates with skills in workforce analytics, according to the report.

“Executives and academics interviewed for this report consistently argue that a new-style HR professional should possess a combination of two skills—a head for analytics together with the ability to present findings in the manner and language convincing to senior executives,” the report authors noted.

The first step in getting data analysis into the HR decision-making process “is having the will to do it,” the authors said, but it’s also critical for the data to be presented in a way that is clear and accessible, if the analytics are to yield results.

Organizations seeking to effectively use workforce analytics likely will encounter some obstacles. The report offers the following recommendations for overcoming these obstacles:

  • Improve the analytical skills of the HR function.
  • Ensure data are clean, organized and ready for analysis.
  • Keep projects focused on solving key business problems.
  • Maintain rigor by not confusing correlation and causation. If data show that older sales representatives sell more than younger colleagues, for example, that doesn’t necessarily mean that age is the cause.
  • Avoid the pursuit of perfectionism in data; it can lead to procrastination. Organizations don’t need complete assurance that measurements are totally accurate before beginning a project.
  • Seek small wins initially, which can lead to bigger wins.
  • Establish cross-functional cooperation for data gathering, storage and analysis.
  • Reassure staff that analytics is an aid to human decision-making, not a replacement for it.
  • Understand the legal and ethical complexities of employee monitoring.

The report includes case studies that demonstrate “the need for senior decision-makers to embrace workforce analytics as an essential aspect of strategic HR,” the report authors noted.

The report was sponsored by IBM Kenexa, researched and written by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), and published by the SHRM Foundation. The EIU is a research and analysis division of The Economist Group, a British-based global organization that is a sister company to The Economist.

The report is the latest in a series from the Foundation and the EIU, which launched a partnership and strategic thought leadership initiative in 2013, resulting in this report and the following previous publications:

Evolution of Work and the Worker, which focused on the globalization of business, changing demographics and changing patterns of mobility and how these affect the , which focused on the globalization of business, changing demographics and changing patterns of mobility and how these affect the , which focused on the globalization of business, changing demographics and changing patterns of mobility and how these affect the nature of work and the worker.

Engaging and Integrating a Global Workforce, which focused on how “clashes/unrest will continue to grow globally at both a societal and a corporate level.”

“We believe these reports provide important insights to help forward-thinking HR and business leaders plan more effectively for the future,” Schmit wrote in the foreword.

This research, he added, also provides “excellent background information for students and researchers who wish to study the many questions raised.”

Some of those questions include cultural and practical obstacles such as the skills gap, as well as ethical and legal questions about the monitoring of employees and job candidates in the process of collecting workforce analytics, according to the report.

“Legal rulings on the monitoring of employee behavior vary from region to region and are still in a state of flux,” the report noted. “Some view such monitoring to be beyond the boundaries of acceptable ethical practice.”

Additionally, the report suggested that some executives might fear that analytics will contradict their personal judgment; however, as they see competitors benefitting from HR analytics, that barrier is likely to be overcome.

Health Care Consumerism Is More Than A Benefit Design

Original Post from BeneftisPro.com

By: Steven Auerbach

The shift to health care consumerism is well underway. Trends continue to point to increased financial responsibility for consumers with rising deductibles, increased consumer out-of-pocket responsibilities, and accelerated adoption of consumer-directed health care plans (CDHPs), health savings accounts (HSAs), and other account-based benefit offerings.

According to Mercer, enrollment in CDHPs among large employers nearly doubled in the past three years from 15 percent to 28 percent of covered employees.

Employer adoption of these consumer-directed benefit designs will continue to grow for the foreseeable future, driven by the need for cost control, the impact of health care reform and the looming excise tax. The costs of providing health care continue to rise, surpassing $25,000 for an average family for the first time in 2016 (Milliman Medical Index).

However, the fact that the term “consumer-directed health care (CDH)” has become almost synonymous with CDHPs and HSAs is a bit of a misnomer. In reality, CDH is much more than a benefit design – it is a paradigm shift for how consumers must manage their health care and make health care decisions going forward.

Dimensions of consumer-directed health care  

The underlying premise of CDH is that, if given more financial responsibility for health care and empowered to make informed decisions, consumers will make better choices – leading to improved health outcomes and decreased overall health care costs. Implicit in this definition are two equally important dimensions:

  1. Benefit designs that require increased consumer financial accountability
  2. Empowerment and engagement to support decision-making

The market has made considerable progress shifting to benefit models that increase consumer financial responsibility, as evidenced by the data above. While new plan designs have been created and successfully implemented, financial accountability is only the beginning— behavior must change too, not just costs. We have only just begun to unlock the second dimension of health care consumerism.

Giving somebody new responsibility without the education, tools and support to manage those responsibilities is like giving a teenager the keys to the car without teaching them to drive.

Unlocking consumer engagement

So where does the health care industry really stand in terms of engaging and empowering consumers to make better choices?  The health care industry is still struggling to drive meaningful consumer engagement.

Consumer fluency is low. Alegeus research is clear that consumers still don’t have a good grasp on how the plans work, how to predict and manage out of pocket costs, how to determine coverage, etc.  Engagement overall is low. The average consumer interacts with their health plan just one or two times per year – and more than 40 percent of members have never taken the time to log-on, dial-in, subscribe, or download any content from their benefit providers.

And in many cases, consumers are resistant to change. When asked whether they wanted to take a more active role in managing their health care, 50 percent said no thanks.

Employers are now spending nearly $700 per employee on various employee engagement programs related to health care, per Fidelity. There are more tools and resources than ever before. Yet most of these programs are delivered with a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and the consumer experience is still very fragmented.

However, by its very nature, CDH may be the key to unlocking consumer engagement. CDHP members are significantly more engaged than their counterparts in traditional coverage for one very important reason…

People pay attention to their money

According to our research, people enrolled in CDHPs scored universally higher on all measures of engagement.  CDHP members:

  • Are considerably more fluent in the details of health care coverage, costs and billing
  • Are more value-conscious - 50 percent more likely to research and compare costs for health care purchases
  • Interact more frequently– the average CDHP member interacts with their account 10-50 times per year
  • Leverage available resources & channels - one-third more likely to consume content and engage with their benefit service providers through available channels
  • Are more likely to participate - twice as likely to participate in employer engagement and wellness programs

Although CDHP members interact more frequently, the key to true engagement and behavior change is not just driving more interactions, it is driving strategic engagement that is targeted, timely and relevant.

Health & wealth must converge

The path to true, meaningful engagement in health care may lie in the convergence of these financial components with the traditional health care domain.  No matter what age, health status, or consumer segment, the responsibility for managing finances and costs will become universal.

The convergence of claims, financial transactions and other behavioral and demographic data will provide a robust foundation for targeted engagement.

The fact that consumers pay closer attention to their finances presents a unique opportunity to tap into a captive audience with personalized offers, messages and value-added tools designed to improve engagement, influence behavior and enhance decision-making.

For the vision of consumer-directed health care to be fully realized, it is imperative that employers and benefit providers do not overlook the critical importance of education and targeted engagement to empower better decision making – and better outcomes for all stakeholders.

Employers Advised to Re-Evaluate Retirement Plan Costs

Original post benefitnews.com

Even with fee disclosure rules in place, it is hard for plan sponsors to discern the fairness of the fee structures in their retirement plans.

The TIAA Institute has taken issue with the fairness of per capita administrative service fees. In a recent report, the Institute says that plan sponsors need to look harder at the fee structures of their plans because what may seem fair might actually be penalizing the lowest paid or shortest term workers.

“When people started charging per head fees, people claimed it was fair. It doesn’t meet an economic standard of fairness. It is simple and transparent but definitely not fair,” says David Richardson, senior economist with the TIAA Institute and author of a recent research paper on assessing fee fairness.

It is up to plan sponsors to “do that classical weighing of efficiency vs. fairness and what it means. A per head fee is transparent but it is not a fair thing to do. … These per head fees are a clever way to charge expensive fees to younger, shorter tenure workers. I find it worrisome,” he says.

This has always been an issue but all of the fees were wrapped up in an all-inclusive fee that paid for investment, administrative and other services. Once the government began requiring an unbundling of fees, “we started seeing all of these things,” he says.

Historically, fees were charged on a percentage of assets basis, which was fair, he says.

He uses Social Security as an example of why a per-head fee is not equitable. Currently, Social Security charges administrative costs as a percentage of income taken in. If it decided to charge all 325 million people in the Social Security Administration system a flat $50 fee, “every man, woman and child, firm or disabled, would be charged the same because we are providing that service,” Richardson says. “I don’t think anybody would consider that to be fair but that is what flat fee advocates are claiming in a retirement plan.”

He doesn’t believe fee issues will go away anytime soon, saying that he believes the overwhelming majority of vendors in the market are honest but many of the regulations are geared to those who may not be.

“So, the government has to be proactive, not reactive on this. The tendency is to say if people have more information, they are better informed. That is not necessarily true,” he says. “A lot of people have a hard time understanding that information. It is tough. When they are saying we need more and more disclosure, more and more information is not just helpful. Sometimes it is just noise to people.”

So when deciding how to assess the effectiveness of a plan administrative fee structure, TIAA Institute says plan sponsors must follow four standards: adequacy, meaning that total fees collected must cover the cost of features and services provided to plan participants; transparency, meaning that everyone can easily find information about the fee structure and how the fees are used to cover the cost of plan features and services; administrative ease, meaning the fee structure is not too complicated or costly for either the plan sponsors or plan vendors; and fairness, which ensures that administrative fee structures must provide horizontal and vertical equity.

Horizontal equity means that “participants with similar levels of assets pay similar levels of fees”; and vertical equity means that “participants with higher levels of assets pay at least the same proportion in fees as those with lower asset balances,” according to TIAA Institute.

The Institute says that an administrative fee structure charging a flat pro rata fee can meet all four standards.

“This fee structure will be transparent, can easily satisfy adequacy, and is simple to administer. The pro rata fee will be fair because similar participants pay the same level of fees and higher asset participants pay the same proportion of fees as low asset participants,” TIAA Institute finds.

“Our goal is to help plan sponsors make the best decision for their plan and their plan participants,” Richardson says.

He also cautions ERISA plans to keep these four standards in mind because not doing so could violate the “spirit of non-discrimination rules,” he adds. “It tilts benefits in favor of key and highly paid employees.”