Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds

A recent study from JAMA found that workplace wellness programs do not cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers' health. Read this blog post to learn more about this recent study.


Workplace wellness programs have become an $8 billion industry in the U.S. But a study published Tuesday in JAMA found they don’t cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers’ health.

Most large employers offer some type of wellness program — with growth fueled by incentives in the federal Affordable Care Act.

A host of studies over the years have provided conflicting results about how well they work, with some showing savings and health improvements while others say the efforts fall short.

Many studies, however, faced a number of limitations, such as failing to have a comparison group, or figuring out whether people who sign up for such wellness programs are somehow healthier or more motivated than those who do not.

Now researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard may have overcome these obstacles with one of the first large-scale studies that is peer-reviewed and employs a more sophisticated trial design.

They randomly assigned 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all employees, then compared results with 140 stores that did not.

The big-box retailer employed nearly 33,000 workers across all 160 clubs during the test.

After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled.

But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

“The optimistic interpretation is there is no way we can get improvements in health or more efficient spending if we don’t’ first have changes in health behavior,” said one study author, Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. (Dr. Zirui Song, an assistant professor of health policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, was its co-author.)

“But if employers are offering these programs in hopes that health spending and absenteeism will go down, this study should give them pause,” Baicker said.

The study comes amid widespread interest in wellness programs.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey of employers found that 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle change. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Some programs are simple, offering gift cards or other small incentives to fill out a health risk assessment, take a lunch-and-learn class or join a gym or walking group. Others are far more invasive, asking employees to report on a variety of health-related questions and roll up their sleeves for blood tests.

A few employers tie financial incentives to workers actually lowering risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol — or making concerted efforts to participate in programs that might help them do so over time.

The Affordable Care Act allowed employers to offer financial incentives worth up to 30% of the cost of health insurance, leading some employers to offer what could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars off workers’ deductibles or premiums to get them to participate. That led to court challenges about whether those programs are truly voluntary.

In the study reported in JAMA, the incentives were modest. Participants got small-dollar gift cards for taking wellness courses on topics such as nutrition, exercise, disease management and stress control. Total potential incentives averaged $250. About 35% of eligible employees at the 20 participating sites completed at least one module.

Results from those workers — including attendance and tenure data, their self-reported health assessment and results from lab blood tests — were specifically compared with similar reports from 20 primary comparison sites where workers were not offered the wellness gift cards and classes. Overall employment and health spending data from all worksites were included in the study.

Wellness program vendors said details matter when considering whether efforts will be successful.

Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes.

Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.

An accompanying editorial in JAMA noted that “traditional, broad-based programs like the one analyzed by Song and Baicker may lack the necessary intensity, duration, and focus on particular employee segments to generate significant effects over a short time horizon.”

In other words, don’t give up entirely on wellness efforts, but consider “more targeted approaches” that focus on specific workers with higher risks or on “health behaviors [that] may yield larger health and economic benefits,” the editorial suggested.

It could be, the study acknowledges, that 18 months isn’t enough time to track such savings. So, Baicker and Song also plan to publish three-year results once they are finalized.

Still, similar findings were recently reported in another randomized control trial conducted at the University of Illinois, where individuals were randomly selected to be offered wellness programs.

In one interesting point, that study found that wellness-program participants were likely already healthier and more motivated, “thus a primary benefit of these programs to employers may be their potential to attract and retain healthy workers with low medical spending.”

Everyone involved in studying or conducting wellness agrees on one thing: Changing behavior — and getting people motivated to participate at all — can be difficult.

Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps, a wellness program vendor, said that for the efforts to be successful they must cut across many areas, from the food served in company cafeterias to including spouses or significant others to help people quit smoking, eat better or exercise more.

“Behavior is more complicated than simply taking a few wellness modules,” said Aldana. “It’s a lifestyle matrix or pattern you have to adopt.”

SOURCE: Appleby, J. (16 April 2019) "Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/workplace-wellness-programs-barely-move-the-needle-study-finds/


A better place to work: How well-being impacts the bottom line

Did you know: One in 10 employers are skeptical about the value of well-being programs. Health challenges, near stagnant wages, financial stress and more can take a personal toll on your employees, causing their stress levels to rise. Read this blog post to learn more.


Logically, employees bring their “whole selves” to work. Unfortunately, health challenges, relatively stagnant wages, heightened financial pressures, always-on technology and contentious geo-political climates around the world all take a personal toll on employees in the form of rising stress.

Employers recognize that the health and well-being of their workers is vital to engagement, performance and productivity, yet one in ten are skeptical about the value of well-being programs. But by learning from peers’ experiences, employers can take steps to help employees improve their well-being through access to related programs and services. And that contributes strongly to the overall success of the organization.

Survey says

According to the 252 global employers polled in the Working Well: A Global Survey of Workforce Wellbeing Strategies, building a culture of well-being is a higher priority than ever. Fully 40 percent of organizations believe they’ve actually achieved it, up from 33 percent in our 2016 survey. Of those who have not, another 81 percent are making plans to get there.

Top priorities for wellness programs in North America were to reduce stress and boost physical activity. Stress is a bottom-line issue for employers: 96 percent identified employee stress as the biggest challenge to a productive workforce.

Closely related priorities were improving nutrition and work-life issues, addressing depression and anxiety, and getting better access to health care services. On the latter, discussion with many employers confirms this includes sufficient access to mental and behavioral health providers—directly related to the top challenge of stress and its more serious potential debilitative consequences that can include anxiety, depression, addiction and more.

Health

The most frequently offered employee health benefits which respondents also assessed as most effective included the following:

  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs): By far the most frequent program, offered by 86 percent of global employers and 96 percent of US respondents. About 7 in 10 of those who offer an EAP said it’s effective in achieving their objectives, although actual experience reveals a wish that many more employees would take full advantage of EAP services. Know your numbers assessments, including health screenings and health risk appraisals, rose in prevalence globally and were considered effective by 86 percent of respondents.
  • On-site care: While smaller numbers of employers offer on-site immunizations, delivery of medical care, or fitness centers, they were still rated at just over 80 percent effective – demonstrating that convenience and access can remove barriers and enhance results.
  • Flexible working policies: These rose in prevalence over our last survey, consistent with other research demonstrating that multiple generations prize work flexibility to enable balance and help manage life’s stressors.
  • Wearables: Sensors and trackers also rose in prevalence. Globally, two-thirds of respondents credited them with effectiveness in monitoring and perhaps motivating healthy activities.

The survey also found health literacy is required to engage and drive behavioral change, and employers need targeted solutions to build it.

Finances

Validated by other research, a majority of employees live paycheck to paycheck today. Of US respondents, 87 percent reported financial distress among employees (the global average was 83 percent). Employers cited negative bottom-line results from financial stress, such as lower morale and engagement, delayed retirement and lower productivity, among other detrimental impacts. Other studies show financially stressed employees spend three hours or more each week distracted by it.

In prior years, this survey showed a top focus on saving for retirement; now, non-retirement-related objectives are rapidly catching up as priorities. It’s hard to focus on retirement when current needs are pressing. As a result, well over 7 in 10 employers also seek ways to ensure adequate insurance protection, help in saving for other future needs, better handling day-to-day expenses, reducing debt, and having emergency savings.

ROI vs. VOI

Just under half of respondents have specific, measurable goals or targets and outcomes for their well-being programs overall. But measurement is tricky, and 45 percent of respondents noted a lack of resources to support measurement as the top barrier to metrics. Nevertheless, only 8 percent perceived “no measurable return.”

Of those measuring the health care cost impact, 54 percent reported their programs were reducing trend by 2 to 5 percentage points per year. Financial well-being ratings were more challenging, with only 4 percent globally saying they have objective data to demonstrate their financial well-being program effectiveness.

Concurrently, many placed their bets on technology tools to inform program design and outreach: 84 percent rated predictive analytics as effective in helping to support well-being, even if just over a quarter offer it today—another half plan to do so in the next 2 to 3 years.

A value-of-investment priority emerges from the data. Employers intuitively pursue programs that build goodwill by providing helpful resources. The top four objectives globally focused on engagement and morale, performance and productivity, attraction and retention, and overall, enhancing the total rewards offering while managing spend. While reducing health care costs was the top objective for the US, it was fifth globally. Other objectives linked the organization’s image or brand and values and mission—if the company has a message to external customers, it needs to “walk the talk” internally with employees.

Holistic strategy

Compared to prior surveys, employers continue to explore new ways to support well-being, in response to employee and business needs. The historically stronger emphasis on health-related well-being continues, but financial well-being efforts are on the rise. For the US/Canada, the recent fast-rising program elements have been spiritual well-being (67 percent), retirement financial security and preparedness (57 percent), social connectedness (57 percent), and financial literacy/skills (63 percent).

In total, survey responses suggest employers understand that these well-being issues are interconnected and cannot be effectively addressed in isolation without a more holistic strategy and delivery solutions.

That’s where value of investment comes in, acknowledging that enhancing physical and emotional, financial, social, and other aspects of employee well-being can help make the organization a better place to work.

SOURCE: Hunt, R. (11 April 2019) "A better place to work: How well-being impacts the bottom line" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/04/11/a-better-place-to-work-how-well-being-impacts-the-bottom-line/


Adulting’ benefits: Employers’ new solution to burned-out employees

Generation Z and Millennials are expected to make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020, leading many to believe that “adulting” benefits could be the next big trend in employee benefits. Read this blog post from Employee Benefit News to learn more.


In a time when globetrotting Gen Z and Postmates-loving millennials are expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020, could benefits that help with “adulting” be the next big trend?

Adulting is defined as “the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.” Although millennials and Gen Z are well into adulthood, the struggle for them to accomplish day-to-day life management tasks is very real.

Many bemoan feeling busy all the time, tired and even burned out. In her Buzzfeed post, “How millennials became the burnout generation,” author Anne Helen Peterson strikes a chord with her “errand paralysis” reference. Pants going unhemmed for over a year, packages sitting in the corner waiting to be mailed for months, a car that desperately needs vacuuming — all part of a long list of never-ending low-priority, mundane tasks that get chronically avoided, yet still add to mental stress and anxiety.

Peterson blames underlying burnout as the culprit, even calls burnout the “millennial condition” affecting everyone, from the “people patching together a retail job with unpredictable scheduling while driving Uber and arranging child care to the startup workers with fancy catered lunches, free laundry service, and 70-minute commutes.”

So can convenience benefits — such as onsite errand runners — help with this problem?

There’s no denying those benefits might take aim at a big problem: employee stress. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report, members of Gen Z report the worst mental health of any generation. Only 45% of those in Gen Z reported “excellent” or “very good” mental health, compared to 56% of millennials, 51% of Gen X individuals, 70% of baby boomers and 74% of adults older than 73. Additionally, 27% of Gen Z respondents called their mental health “fair” or “poor,” and 91% said they had felt physical or emotional symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, associated with stress.

While employers cannot solve all employee problems, they can go beyond the basics of competitive pay, comprehensive health insurance and career advancement opportunities. Forward-thinking employers can look to new convenience benefits to help simplify the mundane and incessant responsibilities of life, alleviate errand paralysis and give their employees back valuable time to actually live.

For instance, a number of companies—including a major law firm in Atlanta has an onsite errand runner who helps employees do everything from plan exotic vacation getaways, shop for Christmas presents and go on weekly Costco runs. The onsite errand runner is on call all day to take care of employees’ personal tasks so they can focus on work and clients. The reaction has been very positive, with employees saying the service helps them stay focused and physically present at work knowing that other things in their life are being handled capably. An added bonus: It helps employees better achieve work-life balance because errands are not cutting into their home life like it did before.

As more and more companies look to prioritize the employee experience and get creative with nontraditional benefits, it makes sense to consider growing trends in convenience and lifestyle benefits. For instance, providing an errand running benefit to pick up groceries for an employee or drop off that mailing package saves the employee countless hours, not to mention stress, and speaks to the challenges of the modern world.

SOURCE: Clark, A. (8 April 2019) "Adulting’ benefits: Employers’ new solution to burned-out employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/employers-address-burnout-through-adulting-employee-benefits


A 16-Year-Old Explains 10 Things You Need to Know About Generation Z

What was life like when you were a teenager? The world has been focused on understanding and adapting to Millennials. Now Generation Z is beginning to graduate and enter the workforce. Read this blog post for 10 things the world should know about Gen Z.


Think about what life was like when you were 16. The clothes you wore, the places you shopped. What was most important to you then?

Whenever I speak to an organization eager to learn about Generation Z, I always ask that question. I get responses that include everything from the fleeting fashion trends of the day (bell-bottom jeans, anyone?) to the time-honored tradition of getting a driver’s license.

What I hope to achieve as a 16-year-old in 2018 is probably not all that different from what anyone else wanted when they were my age. It’s the way people go about reaching their goals that evolves over time—and that’s what also forms the basis of most generational clashes.

For the past several years, the world has been focused on understanding and adapting to Millennials, the largest and most-educated generation in history. Born between 1981 and the mid-1990s, this group has inspired important dialogues about generational differences and challenged all industries to evolve to meet their needs. In the workplace, Millennials have helped drive a greater focus on flexibility and collaboration and a rethinking of traditional hierarchies.

Of course, any analysis of generations relies on generalities that can’t possibly describe every person or situation. It’s important to remember that generations exist on a continuum—and that there is a large degree of individual variation within them. The point of this type of research is to identify macro trends among age groups that can help foster workplace harmony. Essentially, it’s a way of attempting to understand people better by getting a sense of their formative life experiences. The generation to which one belongs is among the many factors, such as race, religion and socioeconomic background, that can shape how a person sees the world.

But there’s little doubt that gaps among the U.S. generations have widened dramatically. For example, an 8-year-old boy in the United States who grew up with a tablet will likely have more in common with an 8-year-old in China who used a similar mobile device than he will with his 70-year-old U.S. grandparents.

In thinking about the generations, a key thing to understand is that these groups are typically categorized by events rather than arbitrary dates. Generation Z’s birth years are generally recognized as 1996 to 2009. The start year was chosen so that the cohort would include only those who do not remember the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The belief is that if you were born in 1996 or later, you simply cannot process what the world was like before those attacks. For Generation Z, the War on Terror has always been the norm.

Like all other generations, mine has been shaped by the circumstances we were born into, such as terrorism, school shootings and the Great Recession. These dark events have had profound effects on the behavioral traits of the members of Generation Z, but they have also inspired us to change the world.

Earlier this year, XYZ University, a generations research and management consulting firm where I act as the director of Gen Z studies, surveyed more than 1,800 members of Generation Z globally and released a study titled “Ready or Not, Here Comes Z.” The results were fascinating.

We discovered key characteristics about Generation Z and what the arrival of my generation will mean for the future of work. At 57 million strong and representing the most diverse generation in U.S. history, we are just starting to graduate from college and will account for 36 percent of the workforce by 2020.

Needless to say, Generation Z matters. And it is more important than ever for HR professionals to become familiar with the following 10 characteristics so that they know how to engage with my generation.

1. Gen Z Always Knows the Score

Members of this generation will put everything on the line to win. We grew up with sports woven into the fabric of our lives and culture. To us, the NFL truly does own a day of the week. But it’s more than just professional, college or even high school teams that have shaped us; it’s the youth sports that we played or watched throughout our childhoods. This is the generation of elite young teams and the stereotypical baseball mom or dad yelling at the umpire from the bleachers.

Our competitive nature applies to almost everything, from robotics to debates that test mental fortitude. We carry the mindset that we are not necessarily at school just to learn but to get good grades that will secure our place in the best colleges. Generation Z has been thrown into perhaps the most competitive educational environment in history. Right or wrong, we sometimes view someone else’s success as our own failure or their failure as our success.

We are also accustomed to getting immediate feedback. A great example is the online grading portals where we can get frequent updates on our academic performance. In the past, students sometimes had to wait weeks or longer to receive a test grade. Now, we get frustrated if we can’t access our scores within hours of finishing an exam—and sometimes our parents do, too.

2. Gen Z Adopted Gen X’s Skepticism and Individuality

Generations are shaped by the behavioral characteristics of their parents, which is why clumping Millennials and Generation Z together is a mistake. In fact, when it comes to each generation’s behavioral traits, Millennials are most similar to their parents—the Baby Boomers. Both are large, idealistic cohorts with influences that will shape consumer and workplace behavior for decades.

Members of Generation Z, on the other hand, are more akin to their parents from Generation X—a smaller group with a skeptical, individualistic focus—than they are to Millennials. That’s why many generational traits are cyclical. Just because Millennials and members of Generation Z are closer in age does not necessarily mean they share the same belief systems.

3. Gen Z Is Financially Focused

Over the past 15 to 20 years, HR professionals have been hyper-focused on employee engagement and figuring out what makes their workers tick. What drives someone to want to get up in the morning and come to work for your organization?

As it turns out, workplace engagement matters less to Generation Z than it did to previous generations. What’s most important to us is compensation and benefits. We are realists and pragmatists who view work primarily as a way to make a living rather than as the main source of meaning and purpose in our lives.

Obviously, we’d prefer to operate in an enjoyable environment, but financial stability takes precedence. XYZ University discovered that 2 in 3 Generation Zers would rather have a job that offers financial stability than one that they enjoy. That’s the opposite of Millennials, who generally prioritize finding a job that is more fulfilling over one that simply pays the bills.

That financial focus likely stems in part from witnessing the struggles our parents faced. According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trust, “Retirement Security Across Generations: Are Americans Prepared for Their Golden Years?,” members of Generation X lost 45 percent of their wealth during the Great Recession of 2008.

“Gen X is the first generation that’s unlikely to exceed the wealth of the group that came before it,” says Erin Currier, former project manager of Pew’s Economic Mobility Project in Washington, D.C. “They have lower financial net worth than previous groups had at this same age, and they lost nearly half of their wealth in the recession.”

Before Generation Z was decreed the ‘official’ name for my generation, there were a few other candidates, including the ‘Selfie Generation’ and ‘iGen.’

Employers will also need to recognize that members of Generation Z crave structure, goals, challenges and a way to measure their progress. After all, the perceived road to success has been mapped out for us our entire lives.

At the same time, it’s important to be aware of the potential for burnout among young overachievers—and to incorporate fun and breaks into the work environment and provide access to healthy escapes focused on relaxation and stress relief.

4. Gen Z Is Entrepreneurial

Even though they witnessed their parents grapple with financial challenges and felt the impact of the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, members of Generation Z believe there is a lot of money to be made in today’s economy. Shows like “Shark Tank” have inspired us to look favorably on entrepreneurship, and we’ve also seen how technology can be leveraged to create exciting—and lucrative—business opportunities with relatively low overhead. Fifty-eight percent of the members of my generation want to own a business one day and 14 percent of us already do, according to XYZ University.

Organizations that emphasize Generation Z’s desire for entrepreneurship and allow us space to contribute ideas will see higher engagement because we’ll feel a sense of personal ownership. We are motivated to win and determined to make it happen.

5. Gen Z Is Connected

Before Generation Z was decreed the “official” name for my generation, there were a few other candidates, including the “Selfie Generation” and “iGen.”

I find those proposed names both condescending and misleading. While it’s often assumed that Generation Z is focused solely on technology, talking face to face is our preferred method of communication. Sure, social media is important and has undoubtedly affected who we are as a generation, but when we’re communicating about something that matters to us, we seek authenticity and honesty, which are best achieved in person.

“Gen Z has the power of technology in their hands, which allows them to communicate faster, more often and with many colleagues at one time; but it also brings a danger when it’s used as a crutch for messages that are better delivered face to face,” says Jill Katz, CHRO at New York City-based Assemble HR. “As humans in the workplace, they will continue to seek empathy, interest and care, which are always best received face to face.”

XYZ University’s research found that cellphones and other electronic devices are primarily used for the purpose of entertainment and are tapped for communication only when the face-to-face option isn’t available.

However, successfully engaging with Generation Z requires striking a balance between conversing directly and engaging online. Both are important, and we need to feel connected in both ways to be fully satisfied.

6. Gen Z Craves Human Interaction

Given that members of Generation Z gravitate toward in-person interactions, HR leaders should re-evaluate how to best put the “human” aspect back into business. For example, hiring processes should emphasize in-person interviews more than online applications.

A great way to engage us is to hold weekly team meetings that gather everyone together to recap their achievements. Although members of Generation Z don’t necessarily need a pat on the back, it’s human nature to want to feel appreciated. This small gesture will give us something to look forward to and keep us feeling optimistic about our work. In addition, we tend to work best up against a deadline—for example, needing to have a project done by the team meeting—due to our experience facing time-sensitive projects at school.

7. Gen Z Prefers to Work Independently

Millennials generally prefer collaborative work environments, which has posed a challenge to conventional workplace cultures and structures. In fact, many workplaces have eliminated offices and lowered cubicle walls to promote more interaction. Yet recent studies indicate that totally open offices may actually discourage people from working together. The noise and lack of privacy could prompt more people to work at home or tune others out with headphones. Since different types of work require varying levels of collaboration, focus and quiet reflection, ideal workplaces incorporate room for both togetherness and alone time.

It’s important to be aware of the potential for burnout among young overachievers—and to incorporate fun and breaks into the work environment and provide access to healthy escapes focused on relaxation and stress relief.

The emphasis on privacy will likely only intensify under Generation Z. Unlike Millennials, we have been raised to have individualistic and competitive natures. For that reason—along with growing research into optimal office design—we may see the trend shift away from collaborative workplaces toward more individualistic and competitive environments.

8. Gen Z Is So Diverse That We Don’t Even Recognize Diversity

Generation Z marks the last generation in U.S. history where a majority of the population is white. Given the shifting demographics of the country, we don’t focus as much on someone’s color, religion or sexual orientation as some of our older counterparts might. To us, a diverse population is simply the norm. What we care about most in other people is honesty, sincerity and—perhaps most important—competence.

Indeed, we have been shaped by a society that celebrates diversity and openness. A black man occupied the White House for most of our lives, and we view gay marriage as a common and accepted aspect of society.

9. Gen Z Embraces Change

Compared to teenagers of other generations, Generation Z ranks as the most informed. We worry about our future and are much less concerned about typical teen problems, such as dating or cliques, than we are about becoming successful in the world.

The chaos and unrest in our political system have inspired us to want to get involved and make a difference. Regardless of which side of the aisle we are on, most of us are informed and passionate about the issues facing our society today. Witness, for example, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who organized a political movement around gun control in the wake of a mass shooting at their school.

Social media allows us to have a voice in our political system even before we can vote. This opportunity has forced us to develop critical-thinking and reasoning skills as we engage in sophisticated debates about important issues that might not even affect us yet.

“Gen Z has a strong ability to adapt to change,” says Paul Carney, an author and speaker on HR trends and a former HR manager with the Navy Federal Credit Union. “For those of us who have spanned many decades in the workplace, we have seen the rate of change increase and it makes most of us uncomfortable. Gen Z are the people who will help all of us adapt better.”

According to numerous polls, the political views of Generation Z trend fiscally conservative (stemming from our need for financial stability) and socially liberal (fueled by diverse demographics and society).

10. Gen Z Wants a Voice

Given how socially aware and concerned its members are, Generation Z seeks jobs that provide opportunities to contribute, create, lead and learn.

“One of the best ways I have seen leaders engage with Gen Z is to ask them how they would build a product or service or design a process,” Carney says. “Gen Z has some amazing abilities to bring together information, process it and take action. When we do allow them to share ideas, great things happen.”

We’re also an exceptionally creative bunch. Managers will need to give members of this generation the time and freedom to come up with innovative ideas and accept that, despite our young age, we have valuable insights and skills to offer—just like the generations that came before us and those that will follow.

Josh Miller is a speaker, researcher and thought leader on all things Generation Z. He is the director of Gen Z studies at management consulting firm XYZ University and a high school junior in suburban Minneapolis.
Illustration by Tim McDonagh
SOURCE: Miller, J. (30 October 2018) "A 16-Year-Old Explains 10 Things You Need to Know About Generation Z" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1118/pages/a-16-year-old-explains-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-generation-z.aspx

7 ways employers can support employee caregivers

Seventy-three percent of employees in the United States act as caregivers for a child, parent or friend, according to research from Harvard Business School. Continue reading for seven ways employers can support employee caregivers.


The number of caregiving adults in the U.S. has reached a tipping point.

As the baby boomer generation gets older, an increasing number of people in the workforce are taking on the role of unpaid caregiver for a family member or friend. Many also are in the midst of raising their own children, which means they’re pulled in many different directions, trying to keep up with work commitments and family responsibilities. In fact, according to researchers at Harvard Business School, 73% of employees in the U.S. are caring for a child, parent or friend.

What do all these statistics point to? They mean that employers have an opportunity to play a role in helping employees balance these often competing priorities.

The Harvard study highlights the impact of employee caregiving responsibilities on the workplace. While only 24% of employers surveyed believed employee caregiving influenced their employees’ performance at work, 80% of the employees who were surveyed admitted that caregiving had an effect on their productivity at work and interfered with their ability to do their best work.

The survey also found that caregiving can affect employee retention, with 32% of the employees surveyed saying they had left a job because of their caregiving responsibilities. In addition, employees who are caregivers are more likely to miss work, arrive late or leave early, which affects not only productivity, but also the employees’ ability to progress in their careers.

Employers can take a proactive role in supporting employees who are caregivers. That support, in turn, can have a positive effect on productivity, morale and employee retention. Here are seven strategies employers should consider.

Create an organization-wide understanding of the challenges caregivers face.

Employees who aren’t sure that their managers and leaders would understand the juggling they’re doing and the stresses they face are more likely to not only have problems at work, but — because they face high stress levels trying to get everything done at home and work — they also are at higher risk for a number of health problems such as depression and heart disease. By creating a culture that allows employees to openly express their challenges and ask for support, employers can not only keep employees healthy and productive, they also can reduce secondary costs associated with decreased productivity and chronic health problems.

Know what challenges employees face.

Regular employee surveys can help employers assess employees’ needs in terms of caregiving and tailor the benefits the organization offers to help meet those needs.

Communicate the benefits that are available.

In many cases, employers already offer programs and benefits that can help employees who are caregivers such as an employee assistance program and referral services for finding caregivers who can help when the employee isn’t able to. However, many employees aren’t aware these programs are available, so it’s important to continuously share information about them in company newsletters, emails and at meetings.

Consider flex time and remote work options.

Depending on the employees’ work responsibilities, employers can offer flexible work arrangements that allow employees to work different hours or to telecommute for a certain number of days per week.

Change the approach to paid time off.

Rather than dividing paid time off into vacation days, sick days and personal days, consider grouping all time off into one category. That allows employees to take time off for caregiving as needed. A growing number of companies, including Adobe, Deloitte, Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Coca-Cola, are also offering paid family leave benefits so that employees can take time off to provide care.

Connect employees with resources.

Beyond an EAP and referral services, employers can offer programs that connect caregivers with resources for both their caregiving role and for the self-care they need to remain healthy and able to handle both job and caregiving roles better. Those resources can include:

Beyond an EAP and referral services, employers can offer programs that connect caregivers with resources for both their caregiving role and for the self-care they need to remain healthy and able to handle both job and caregiving roles better. Those resources can include:

  • Advisory services that help employees connect with healthcare providers for their parents, children and themselves
  • Nurse managers, case managers and geriatric care managers who can help employees who are managing the care of a family member who’s living with a serious health condition or disability
  • Advocates who can help employees who are dealing with complex insurance claims for the person they care for, planning for long-term care, or managing the legal and financial complexities that can arise when a parent or spouse dies

Internal caregiver resources groups that bring together employees who are dealing with the issues surrounding caregiving so that they can share ideas and experiences

Measure how well your support is working.

The first step to supporting caregivers in the workforce is to implement policies, programs and benefits that offer them the tools they need to balance work and caregiving. An equally important second step is to regularly review what is offered, how much the offerings are used, and by which employees. Ask employees for feedback on how effectively what the organization provides is in helping them with issues they face as working caregivers and solicit ideas for new approaches and tools they’d like to have.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (25 March 2019) "7 ways employers can support employee caregivers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/7-ways-employers-can-support-employee-caregivers


DOL proposes new rule clarifying, updating regular rate of pay

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently released a proposal that defines and updates what forms of payment employers can include and exclude in the time-and-one-half calculation when determining overtime rates. Read this blog post to learn more.


For the first time in 50 years, the Department of Labor has proposed changing the definition of the regular rate of pay.

The proposal, announced Thursday, “defines and updates” what forms of payment employers include and exclude in the time-and-one-half calculation when determining workers’ overtime rates, according to the DOL.

The regulations the DOL is proposing to revise govern how employers must calculate the regular rate and overtime pay rate, including the types of compensation that must be included and may be excluded from the overtime pay calculation, says Tammy McCutchen, a principal at Littler Mendelson and former administrator of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

The regular rate of pay is not just an employee’s hourly rate, she says, but rather includes “all remuneration for employment” — unless specifically excluded by section 7(e) of the FLSA.

Under current rules, employers are discouraged from offering more perks to their employees as it may be unclear whether those perks must be included in the calculation of an employees’ regular rate of pay, the DOL says. The proposed rule focuses primarily on clarifying whether certain kinds of perks, benefits or other miscellaneous items must be included in the regular rate.

The DOL proposes that employers may exclude the following from an employee’s regular rate of pay:

  • The cost of providing wellness programs, onsite specialist treatment, gym access and fitness classes and employee discounts on retail goods and services;
  • Payments for unused paid leave, including paid sick leave;
  • Reimbursed expenses, even if not incurred solely for the employer’s benefit;
  • Reimbursed travel expenses that do not exceed the maximum travel reimbursement permitted under the Federal Travel Regulation System regulations and that satisfy other regulatory requirements;
  • Discretionary bonuses;
  • Benefit plans, including accident, unemployment, and legal services; and
  • Tuition programs, such as reimbursement programs or repayment of educational debt.

The proposed rule also includes additional clarification about other forms of compensation, including payment for meal periods and call back pay.

The regulations will benefit employees, primarily, ensuring that employers can continue to provide benefits that employees’ value — tuition reimbursements, student loan repayment, employee discounts, payout of unused paid leave and gym memberships, McCutchen says.

“Remember, there is no law that employers must provide employees these types of benefits,” she adds. “Employers will not provide such benefits if doing so creates risk of massive overtime liability.”

Knowing when employers must pay overtime on these types of benefits, how to calculate the value of those benefits and overtime pay are all difficult questions, she adds. “Unintentional mistakes by good faith employers providing valued benefits to employees is easy. With this proposed rule, the DOL is embracing the philosophy that good deeds should not be punished.”

She notes the proposal does not include any specific examples of what reimbursements may be excluded from the regular rate.

“One big open question is whether employers must pay overtime when they provide employees with subsidies to take public transportation to work — as the federal government does for many of its own employees — I think around $260 per month in the DC Metro area,” she adds.

The DOL earlier this month proposed to increase the salary threshold for overtime eligibility to $35,308 up from the current $23,660. If finalized, the rule would expand overtime eligibility to more than a million additional U.S. workers, far fewer than an Obama administration rule that was struck down by a federal judge in 2017.

Employers are expected to challenge the new rule as well, based on similar complaints of administrative burdens, but a legal challenge might be more difficult to pass this time around.

SOURCE: Otto, N. (28 March 2019) "DOL proposes new rule clarifying, updating regular rate of pay" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/dol-proposes-new-rule-on-regular-rate-of-pay-calculation?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Half of older Americans have nothing in retirement savings

Almost half of Americans approaching retirement have nothing saved in a 401(k) or another individual account, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Read this blog post to learn more.


The bad news is that almost half of Americans approaching retirement have nothing saved in a 401(k) or other individual account. The good news is that the new estimate, from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, is slightly better than a few years earlier.

Of those 55 and older, 48% had nothing put away in a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan or an individual retirement account, according to a GAO estimate for 2016 that was released Tuesday. That’s an improvement from the 52% without retirement money in 2013.

Two in five of such households did have access to a traditional pension, also known as a defined benefit plan. However, 29% of older Americans had neither a pension nor any assets in a 401(k) or IRA account.

The estimate from the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, is a brief update to a more comprehensive 2015 report on retirement savings in the U.S. Both are based on the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

The previous report found the median household of those age 65 to 74 had about $148,000 saved, the equivalent of an inflation-protected annuity of $649 a month.

“Social Security provides most of the income for about half of households age 65 and older,” the GAO said.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated earlier this month that 41% of U.S. households headed by someone age 35 to 64 are likely to run out of money in retirement. That’s down 1.7 percentage points since 2014.

EBRI found these Americans face a combined retirement deficit of $3.83 trillion.

SOURCE: Steverman, B.; Bloomberg News (27 March 2019) "Half of older Americans have nothing in retirement savings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/half-of-older-americans-have-no-retirement-savings


Understanding Group Health Insurance

Health insurance can easily be defined as bookended in volumes of mystery. You know you need the coverage, you want to have the coverage for your employees, but chances are you simply do not know enough about it to make the first two points happen. For an employer thinking about introducing group health insurance to your employees, it can be unclear why you should provide something that is surrounded with much confusion. In this installment of CenterStage, Kelley Bell, a Group Health Benefits Consultant at SAXON, sheds some light onto the darkness that group health insurance so often casts.

What is Group Health Insurance?

In its most basic definition, group health insurance is a plan that covers all the employees who work for a given company or organization, and it potentially covers their spouses and other dependents. As the individual marketplace continues to change, Kelley noted the “increasingly difficult task of finding desirable plan designs, lower deductibles and doctors and hospitals that are in the network”. “Individuals with marketplace plans have even been told by many doctors and hospitals,” Kelley added, “that they will not accept the ACA plans from the individual marketplace. Here are reasons that considering a group plan makes more sense than leaving your employees at the mercy of the exchange:”

  1. Group Health Insurance has larger networks of doctors and hospitals.
  2. Employee premiums can be deducted pre-tax. The premium can be divided among pay periods, allowing them the convenience of paying less in from a total income perspective and allowing the premium to be broken in pieces versus a monthly sum income.
  3. The employer still selects the health insurance plan(s) to offer, thus choosing an appropriate plan for the staff versus allowing them to choose the “cheapest” that will hurt them financially if they need to pay for the large deductible.
  4. Employer contributions are tax deductible, allowing the company to save versus paying payroll tax on any compensation provided to the employee in lieu of offering health insurance.

Do I Need Group Health Insurance?

Why should you consider a group health insurance plan? Outfitting your team with health benefits simplifies the process for employees to include regular and urgent doctor visits, hospital stays and medical treatments such as physical therapy.

Health plans are the primary benefit (aside from compensation) individuals seek out when applying for employment. Your overall benefits offerings are crucial to your company or organization’s ability to attract and retain employees. Therefore, why would you not want to offer health coverage as a part of your overall compensation package?

Group health insurance involves assuming the shared risk and shared costs. Kelley defines shared risk as covering a multitude of individuals who are fairly, healthy people. “This can help keep your premium rates lower than individual plans whose rates are based solely on a person’s age and assumed risk versus the sharing of risk over a pooled premium. This relationship creates savings that reward good behavior,” Kelley said. Shared costs mean the premium can be shared between you the employer and employees. Employers have the flexibility of paying varying percentages of the premium, which could reduce the amount the employee pays versus the individual market premiums.

Working alongside a broker such as SAXON is highly recommended for smaller businesses. SAXON specializes in assisting employers with 1 to 50 employees on how to discover and purchase the benefits they need within their budget. SAXON begins each engagement process by listening to you – the employer – to develop and discover the best course of action for your business or organization. We have a proven history of discovering healthcare plans that are vital to the recruitment and retainment of talented employees.

Saxon’s Role When Considering Group Health Insurance

It is important to understand the needs of every client and educate their employees on how to use their healthcare. SAXON values client education and service above all else. We make educating employees a priority and ensure their benefits are understood and easy to use, making them value the relationship they have with you that much more. SAXON represents you, allowing us to secure the best plans and rates for you and your staff, which we review annually.

If you are considering offering group health insurance to your employees, contact Kelley Bell today at (513) 774-5493 or (937) 672-1547 or via email at kbell@gosaxon.com to begin exploring the benefits of adding this superior level of coverage today.


Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far

Digital health devices provide personalized feedback to users, helping improve their health. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about the evolving digital health revolution.


The promise of the digital health revolution is tantalizing: a multitude of connected devices providing personalized feedback to help people improve their health. Yet, some recent studies have called into question the effectiveness of these resources.

While still evolving, many compelling use-cases are starting to emerge for digital health, including a set of best practices that can help guide the maturation of this emerging field. In the near future, many people may gain access to individual health records, a modern medical record that curates information from multiple sources, including electronic health records, pharmacies and medical claims, to help support physicians in care delivery through data sharing and evidence-based guidelines.

As these advances become a reality, here are several digital health strategies employers, employees and healthcare innovators should consider.

Micro-behavior change.

Part of the power of digital health is the ability to provide people with actionable information about their health status and behavior patterns. As part of that, some of the most successful digital health programs are demonstrating an ability to encourage daily “micro-behavior change” that, over time, may contribute to improved health outcomes and lower costs. For instance, wearable device walking programs can remind people to move consistently throughout the day, while offering objective metrics showcasing actual activity patterns and, ideally, reinforcing positive habits to support sustained change. Technology that encourages seemingly small healthy habits — each day — can eventually translate to meaningful improvements.

Clinical interventions.

Big data is a buzz word often associated with digital health, but the use of analytics and technology is only meaningful as part of a holistic approach to care. Through programs that incorporate clinical intervention and support by care providers, the true value of digital health can be unlocked to help make meaningful differences in people’s well-being. For instance, new programs are featuring connected asthma inhalers that use wirelessly enabled sensors to track adherence rates, including frequency and dosage, and relay that information to healthcare professionals. Armed with this tangible data, care providers can counsel patients more effectively on following recommended treatments. Rather than simply giving consumers the latest technologies and sending them along, these innovations can be most effective when integrated with a holistic care plan.

Real-time information.

One key advantage of digital resources, such as apps or websites, is the ability to provide real-time information, both to consumers and healthcare professionals. This can help improve how physicians treat people, enabling for more customized recommendations based on personal health histories and a patient’s specific health plan. For instance, new apps are enabling physicians to know which medications are covered by a person’s health plan and recommend lower-cost alternatives (if available) before the patient actually leaves the office. The ability to access real-time information — and act on it — can be crucial in the effort to use technology to empower healthcare providers and patients.

Financial incentives.

Nearly everyone wants to be healthy, but sometimes people need a nudge to take that first step toward wellness. To help drive that engagement, the use of financial incentives is becoming more widespread by employers and health plans, with targeted and structured rewards proving most effective. From using mobile apps and comparison shopping for healthcare services to encouraging expectant women to use a website to follow recommended prenatal and post-partum appointments, financial incentives can range from nominal amounts (such as gift cards) to hundreds of dollars per year. Coupling digital health resources with financial rewards can be an important step in getting — and keeping — people engaged.

The digital health market will continue to grow, with some studies estimating that the industry will exceed $379 billion by 2024. To make the most of these resources, healthcare innovators will be well served to take note of these initial concepts.

SOURCE: Madsen, R. (14 March 2019) "Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/digital-health-revolution-what-weve-learned-so-far?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


What HR pros should know about clinical guidelines

Sets of science-based recommendations, also known as clinical guidelines, are designed to optimize patient care in areas such as screening and testing, diagnosis and treatment. Read this blog post for what HR professionals should know about these guidelines.


Your employees and their family members frequently face tough questions about their healthcare: How do I know when it’s time to get a mammogram? When does my child need a vision screening? Should I get a thyroid screening? If I have high blood pressure or diabetes, what is the best treatment for me?

For the providers who care for them, the key question is: How do we implement appropriate, science-backed treatments for our patients, testing where needed, but avoiding potentially harmful or unnecessary (and expensive) care? The answer is to seek guidance from and use clinical guidelines —along with existing clinical skills — wisely.

Clinical guidelines are sets of science-based recommendations, designed to optimize care for patients in areas such as screening and testing, diagnosis and treatment. They are developed after a critical review by experts of current scientific data and additional evidence to help inform clinical decisions across a spectrum of specialties.

Based upon this process, guidelines are then released by a number of sources and collaborations, including academic and non-profit healthcare entities, government organizations and medical specialty organizations.

From preventive care to treatment protocols for chronic conditions, guidelines provide a framework healthcare providers use with patients to help guide care. However, it’s important to note that clinical guidelines are not rigid substitutes for professional judgment, and not all patient care can be encompassed within guidelines.

The impact on healthcare and benefits

Clinical guidelines are used in myriad ways across the healthcare spectrum, and providers are not the only ones who utilize them. Insurers also may use guidelines to develop coverage policies for specific procedures, services and treatment, which can affect the care your covered population receives.

To illustrate a key example of an intended impact of guidelines on health plan coverage, consider those issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, whose A and B level recommendations comprise the preventive services now covered at no cost under the mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

As another example, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, which accredits health plans and improves the quality of care through its evidence-based measures, uses the American Heart Association guidelines when creating its quality rules for treating high cholesterol with statin drugs.

Other examples exist among commercial coverage policies. For example, some cancer drug reimbursement policies use components from nationally recognized guidelines for cancer care.

Because science is rapidly changing, guidelines are often updated, leading insurers to revisit their policies to decide if they will change how services and medications are covered for their members. Providers and health systems may modify processes of patient care in response to major changes in guidelines and/or resultant changes in payer reimbursement.

Not all guidelines are updated on a set schedule, making it even more important for providers and organizations that rely on guidelines to stay on top of changing information, as it can have a direct impact on how they work. Attending conferences, visiting the recently established ECRI Guidelines Trust, and regularly reviewing relevant professional association websites and journals can help ensure needed guidelines are current. Lack of current information can affect care decisions and potential outcomes for patients. Those who have access to the most up-to-date, evidence-based information are able to work together to make well-informed healthcare decisions.

Why it matters for employers

As employers or benefits consultants, it’s critical to ensure that your health plan, advocacy or decision support providers, and other partners that depend on this information to guide their practices and decisions understand and follow current, relevant guidelines.

Further, by combining information from relevant guidelines and data from biometric screenings, health risk assessments, claims and other sources, it’s possible for clinical advocacy and other decision support providers to identify employees with gaps in care and generate targeted communications (through a member website and/or mobile app) to help them take action to improve their health.

Clinical guidelines are science distilled into practical recommendations meant to be applied to most patients for quality healthcare. By maintaining current, relevant guidelines, organizations and providers who work with your covered population can ensure that all parties have the key information they need to make the best decisions for their health.

SOURCE: Sivalingam, J. (18 March 2019) "What HR pros should know about clinical guidelines" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-hr-managers-should-know-about-clinical-guidelines?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000