Employee benefit trends to watch in 2019

Are you looking ahead to 2019? As the year comes to an end, employment rates are continuing to rise and the economy is still showing signs of growth. Continue reading for employee benefits trends to watch in 2019.


As we close out 2018, the economy is still showing signs of tremendous growth and employment rates continue to rise.

For employers looking ahead to next year, the health of the economy will play a part in how they begin thinking about which benefits to implement. Not only can employees be more selective about the companies they apply to work for, but companies will have to differentiate themselves with their benefits catalog to attract the best candidates.

Along with a shifting political climate, the impacts of the Affordable Care Act will still need navigating in 2019 as health care costs remain a prominent issue.

Shifting health care costs

Health care costs are on track to eclipse $15,000 per employee per year in 2019. In an effort to reduce these costs, employers are shifting their attention to finding alternative health care options for employees.

Expansion of telemedicine and virtual care are at the top of the list for employers looking to reduce their health care costs.

Additionally, after the passing of the Affordable Care Act, many employers shifted their attention to offering consumer-direct health plans (CDHPs) as the sole option at their organization.

These plans combined high-deductibles with health savings accounts. By asking employees to pay for their doctor's visits with a savings account, they’re likely to seek out cheaper coverage, thus saving the company money overall.

The popularity of CDHPs was driven in large part by a proposed 40 percent tax on high-value health care plans. Employers quickly moved to CDHPs to save money, but the proposed tax has yet to take effect and employers are less eager to shift to CDHP options so quickly.

Custom communications

Personalized communications to employees about their benefits are becoming more prevalent.

Every employees’ benefits journey is different and their communications should be too.

As employees show interest or a need for a certain type of benefit, benefits platforms are gearing up to be able to communicate directly with employees to help.

For employees who prefer to communicate via text message or calendar reminders, platforms will begin to integrate more closely with employees’ lives to deliver the guidance they need.

Employers should focus on partnering with providers who are delivering customized messaging to employees to maximize engagement and adoption rates. 2019 will likely see employers not only offering more customized and personalized benefits, but also more robust communications that speak directly to employees’ needs.

Benefits over salary

Hiring efforts have been made difficult by a strong job market and economy. Employers in almost every industry are struggling to attract talent because of stiff competition.

Basic benefits like paid vacation and a 401(k) aren’t enough to break through the noise anymore. People are able to be more selective about which jobs they apply for based on the benefits being offered.

In 2019, employers will need to focus on making their entire benefits package more enticing—including offering help with things like student loans, tuition reimbursement, and college savings plans.

Rise of voluntary benefits

Voluntary benefits, while supplemental to core benefits like health insurance, are a way to address the unique needs of employees and allow employees to personalize their rewards.

Voluntary benefits are appealing to employees because they offer a nice flexibility to their compensation package. As employers are discovering that benefits are not a one-size-fits-all package, voluntary benefits provide a cadre of solutions that can be built for the employee base.

Attractive benefits can make the difference between whether a prospective employee accepts a job offer or not. In 2019, employees will demand more from their benefits packages and the addition of voluntary benefits will be used as a factor in recruitment.

As 2018 comes to a close, employers should focus on talking to employees about their benefits and where they’d like to see improvement. Start conversations with your IT team about security measures you can work towards in 2019 and try to begin the conversation with your benefits providers about how to communicate more directly with your employees to stay competitive in the current job market.

SOURCE: Whitlow, C. (29 November 2018) "Employee benefit trends to watch in 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/29/employee-benefit-trends-to-watch-in-2019/


Counting sleep: New benefit encourages employees to track their shut-eye

Are your employees getting enough sleep? According to the CDC, about one-third of U.S. adults reported getting less than the recommended amount of rest. Read this blog post to learn more.


It’s one of employers’ recurring nightmares: Employees aren’t getting enough sleep — and it’s having a big impact on business.

Roughly one-third of U.S. adults report that they get less than the recommended amount of rest, which is tied to chronic health issues including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression, the Centers for Disease Control reports.

That lack of sleep is also costing businesses approximately $411 billion a year in lost productivity, according to figures from global policy think tank RAND Corporation.

But one company thinks it has a solution to the problem: A new employee benefit that helps workers track, monitor and improve sleep.

Welltrinsic Sleep Network, a subsidiary of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this month launched an online sleep wellness program to help workers get more out of their eight hours of shuteye. Employees use the online tool to create a sleep diary, which tracks the quantity and quality of rest, says Dr. Lawrence Epstein, president and CEO of Welltrinsic. Employees manually log their time or upload data from a fitness tracker, like a Fitbit, to the platform.

Employers can offer the program as a benefit to complement broader wellness initiatives. The program allows companies to track how often an employee uses the platform and offer incentives like days off or reduced health insurance premiums if they are consistent, Epstein says. Welltrinsic charges an implementation fee to set up a company’s account, plus a per-user fee determined by the number of participants.

“Sleep affects a lot of aspects of how people feel about their work and their productivity,” Epstein says. “If you can help improve their health and morale, it will help with retaining staff.”

Epstein says lethargic workers are more likely to miss work or not be productive when they are in the office. But there are actionable ways employees can improve the quality of their rest, he adds.

Welltrinsic’s program gives employees a comprehensive review of their sleep. Then employees set a sleep goal — the goal can be as simple as getting to bed at a particular time or improving sleep quality. After employees have logged their data, Welltrinsic provides them with custom tips for improving sleep, which may include reducing light exposure or increasing mindfulness and relaxation.

Still, sometimes an employee may have a more serious issue, Epstein says. If numerous efforts to improve a nighttime ritual have fallen short, an employee may need to be examined for a sleep disorder, he explains. To that end, the program also offers sleep disorder screening tools. If it appears an individual is at risk for a disorder, Welltrinsic provides workers with a list of specialists who can help.

“If we feel they are at risk for a sleep disorder, we can direct them to somebody close to them who will be able to address their problem,” Epstein adds.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is providing Welltrinsic’s sleep program as a benefit to its own roughly 60 workers. Meanwhile, Epstein says Welltrinsic recently engaged in a beta test of the program with multiple employers but did provide additional names.

“It’s a way that they can help motivate their employees to improve their own health,” he says.

Epstein doesn’t think that employees are aware that they aren’t getting enough sleep — ­and demanding work schedules aren’t helping. He’s hoping the program will help people realize that sometimes they need to turn off their email and take a rest.

“We are built to spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and there are consequences for not doing that,” he says. “Hopefully this helps get that message and information out to people.”

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (20 November 2018) "Counting sleep: New benefit encourages employees to track their shut-eye" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/counting-sleep-new-benefit-encourages-employees-to-track-their-shut-eye?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


Don't Mistake Perks for Corporate Culture

Are you mistaking great employee perks for great corporate culture? Too often, companies confuse employee perks with corporate culture. Continue reading to learn how to differentiate the two.


Too often, companies confuse perks and culture. Leaders think that to create a great culture, they should go purchase ping-pong and pool tables, get a keg for the office, or offer four-day workweeks. But these are all perks, not culture, which are two very different things. If a company only focuses on adding flashy perks, they may attract an employee, but they won’t retain them.

Don’t get me wrong, perks are great, but if there are beanbag chairs and no one likes each other, that doesn’t accomplish much. Allowing your employees to bring dogs to work is a perk. Texting an employee after they had to put their dog down is culture.

Culture is made up of emotion and experiences. It’s the intangible feelings created by tangible actions. It’s about caring for your people and creating a sense of community that allows employees to feel connected to something bigger than their individual role. It’s allowing them to feel comfortable to be themselves. Culture is creating an experience that employees wouldn’t otherwise be able to have. It’s spending the time to actually listen and support them in their personal lives, both good and bad. It’s about asking for their opinion and then acting on the feedback.

Perks are short-term happiness. They will attract talent, but if companies aren’t investing in professional and personal development, if they’re not willing to spend the time listening and gauging individual motivators, if there is a lack of empathy for an employee who is struggling with a personal issue, the employee will leave as soon as they are offered a higher paycheck elsewhere. It’s like a relationship: If all you get are flashy gifts from your significant other without any emotional investment or support, it will fizzle.

Culture is transparency, and that is a two-way-street. If leaders expect their staff to be transparent, they too have to be transparent with their staff. They stand up in front of their co-workers and share their mistakes that have cost money, damaged confidence and produced tears and heartache. They share mistakes to show employees, new and old, that if you are running 100 mph, mistakes will happen, but the future success will overshadow them. That you can learn from them.

What about the companies that have their core values of integrity and honesty painted on their walls, but when influential employees go against them, they’re not penalized? That’s fake. Culture is when leadership removes someone from the organization who is bringing others down regardless of them being the company’s top producer. They are dismissed because that is the right thing to do for the team.

Culture is holding people accountable. Pushing them to be better. Training them to learn how. Developing their skills and then allowing them to execute the directives. When people are challenged and pushed and they become better, you are establishing culture.

Building a culture is hard work. It’s not a one-month or one-year initiative. The truly great places to work—the ones that get all the recognition and accolades—didn’t start investing in employees for the awards. The awards were ancillary.

An employee who thinks of jumping ship can compare perks easily, but culture is much harder to evaluate. Instead of focusing on temporary benefits, leaders should focus on creating an environment which makes your company hard to leave.

SOURCE: Gimbel, T. (14 November 2018) "Don't Mistake Perks for Corporate Culture" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/dont-mistake-perks-for-corporate-culture

Originally posted on LaSalle blog.


Poor employee health costs employers half trillion dollars a year

According to a recent report from the Integrated Benefits Institute, poor employee health costs employers half a trillion dollars each year and almost 1.4 billion in missed work days. Read on to learn more.


Poor employee health is costing employers in a big way — to the tune of half a trillion dollars and nearly 1.4 billion days of missed work each year.

That’s according to a new report from the Integrated Benefits Institute, which finds that employees miss around 893 million days a year from illness and chronic conditions, and another 527 million days because of impaired performance due to those illnesses. Those days add up to $530 billion in lost productivity.

“To put this in further context, the cost of poor health to employers is greater than the combined revenues of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, eBay and Adobe,” says Thomas Parry, president of Integrated Benefits Institute, an independent nonprofit that serves more than 1,250 employers including Amazon, Kroger, McDonald’s and Walmart.

The $530 billion price tag is on top of what employers already spend on healthcare benefits. Employers pay $880 billion in healthcare benefits for their employees and dependents, which means that poor health costs amount to “60 cents for every dollar employers spend on healthcare benefits,” according to the study.

“There’s not a CEO or CFO that can placidly accept their business expending the equivalent of almost two-thirds of their healthcare dollars on lost productivity,” Perry says. “Illness costs this country hundreds of billions of dollars, and we can no longer afford to ignore the health of our workforce.”

Employers invest in healthcare benefits to maintain a productive workforce. But this new study suggests that more needs to be done to keep employees healthy, or strategies need to be put in place to lower spending. Or both.

“It’s critical that employers understand how strategies for managing healthcare spend — such as cost- shifting to employees or ensuring better access and more cost-effective care — can impact the kinds of conditions that drive illness-related lost productivity,” says Brian Gifford, director of research and analytics at IBI.

The study broke down the estimated costs of poor health into several categories:

Wage and benefits (incidental absence due to illness, workers’ compensation and federal family and medical leave): $178 billion.

Impaired performance (attributed to chronic health conditions): $198 billion.

Medical and pharmacy (workers’ compensation, employee group health medical treatments, employee group health pharmacy treatments): $48 billion.

Workers’ compensation other costs (absence due to illness, reduced performance): $25 billion.

Opportunity costs of absence (missed revenues, costs of hiring substitutes, overtime): $82 billion.

For its study, IBI used 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as its own benchmarking data from 66,000 U.S. employers.

SOURCE: Paget, S. (20 November 2018) "Poor employee health costs employers half trillion dollars a year" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/poor-employee-health-costs-employers-half-trillion-dollars-a-year?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


End-of-year FSA expenses: An employer cheat sheet

Do your employees still have unspent funds in their flexible spending accounts (FSA)? Often, reminding employees what expenses their FSA funds can help mitigate this issue. Read this blog post to learn more.


The scenario is all too familiar for employers and human resource managers: The year ends, and employees still have unspent funds in their flexible spending accounts. Whether employees forget that the money in their FSAs must be used or it will be lost, or they simply aren’t aware of which expenses can be covered by FSA funds, their frustration at losing money often falls on the employer.

Reminding employees which expenses are eligible to be covered by an FSA can help mitigate headaches for employers and HR departments in the new year and shed light on lesser-known options for making the best use of remaining funds before the end of the plan year.

As a general rule, an eligible expense is any medical expense the health plan doesn’t cover. This includes things such as out-of-pocket costs, co-pays, co-insurance, hospital visits and prescription drugs. Employees also can apply their FSA funds to dental and vision expenses, which often are not covered in health insurance plans.

Some eligible expenses employees might not be aware of include flu shots, prescription sunglasses, sunscreen that is 30 SPF or higher, grooming for service dogs, acupuncture, arch supports and nutritional consultations. Employees can also use money from FSAs to cover pregnancy tests and prenatal vitamins, hearing aids, canes and wheelchairs. They can also use funds to cover personal trainer fees, as long as a letter of medical necessity accompanies the claim.

The IRS determines which expenses qualify for FSAs and maintains a list on its website. Most FSA administrators have lists on their websites as well. FSA-holders can either search for individual expenses or scroll through the list to see what opportunities they might be missing. But it’s a good idea for employers to provide those lists for employees.

In addition to reminding employees what types of expenses are eligible for coverage by FSA funds, employers should review if their plan has a grace period, runout or rollover. If so, employers should communicate the details with employees, as this can help them take full advantage of the time they have to incur expenses and submit receipts for reimbursement.

A grace period is the amount of time an FSA-holder has after the end of the plan year to spend unused funds or incur expenses. A typical grace period is up to 2.5 months after the plan year ends. A run out is the amount of time an FSA-holder has after the end of the plan year to submit claims for reimbursement. In this case, expenses must be incurred before the end of the plan year. An FSA rollover allows up to $500 to be carried over from one calendar year to the next.

Employees also might not be aware that they can use FSA funds on a medical dependent, whether that dependent is covered by the FSA holder's health plan or not. For instance, if an employee has a 24-year-old daughter not covered by the employer health plan who needs a co-pay for a doctor appointment covered, the employee can use their FSA.

Lastly, it’s also important to make it clear to employees the distinction between an FSA and a health savings account. While many of the same expenses are eligible for coverage by either an FSA or HSA, make sure to remind employees about a few key distinctions. An HSA is not “use it or lose it.” All funds roll into the new year and do not need to be used up before the end of the plan year. And for an employee to use his or her HSA to cover a dependent’s medical expenses, the dependent must be a tax dependent.

Helping employees make the best use of their FSA funds before the end of the year not only positions the employer as a hero for saving employees’ hard-earned money, but it inevitably saves the employer from a headache heading into 2019.

SOURCE: Peterson, M. (19 November 2018) "End-of-year FSA expenses: An employer cheat sheet" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/end-of-year-fsa-expenses-an-employer-cheat-sheet?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Coping with stress: Workplace tips

Are you effectively coping with workplace stress? The workplace is a common source of stress. Read this blog post for tips on how to cope with stress.


The workplace is a likely source of stress, but you're not powerless to the effects of stress at work. Effectively coping with job stress can benefit both your professional and personal life. Here's help taking charge.

Identify your stress triggers

Your personality, experiences and other unique characteristics all influence the way you respond to and cope with stress. Situations and events that are distressing for your colleagues might not bother you in the least. Or you might be particularly sensitive to certain stressors that don't seem to bother other people.

To begin coping with stress at work, identify your stress triggers.

For a week or two, record the situations, events and people who cause you to have a negative physical, mental or emotional response. Include a brief description of each situation, answering questions such as:

  • Where were you?
  • Who was involved?
  • What was your reaction?
  • How did you feel?

Then evaluate your stress inventory. You might find obvious causes of stress, such as the threat of losing your job or obstacles with a particular project. You might also notice subtle but persistent causes of stress, such as a long commute or an uncomfortable workspace.

Tackle your stress triggers

Once you've identified your stress triggers, consider each situation or event and look for ways to resolve it.

Suppose, for instance, that you're behind at work because you leave early to pick up your son from school. You might check with other parents or neighbors about an after-school carpool. Or you might begin work earlier, shorten your lunch hour or take work home to catch up in the evening.

Often, the best way to cope with stress is to find a way to change the circumstances that are causing it.

Sharpen your time management skills

In addition to addressing specific stress triggers, it's often helpful to improve time management skills — especially if you tend to feel overwhelmed or under pressure at work. For example:

  • Set realistic goals. Work with colleagues and leaders to set realistic expectations and deadlines. Set regular progress reviews and adjust your goals as needed.
  • Make a priority list. Prepare a list of tasks and rank them in order of priority. Throughout the day, scan your master list and work on tasks in priority order.
  • Protect your time. For an especially important or difficult project, block time to work on it without interruption. Also, break large projects into smaller steps.

Keep perspective

When your job is stressful, it can feel as if it's taking over your life. To maintain perspective:

  • Get other points of view. Talk with trusted colleagues or friends about the issues you're facing at work. They might be able to provide insights or offer suggestions for coping. Sometimes simply talking about a stressor can be a relief.
  • Take a break. Make the most of workday breaks. Even a few minutes of personal time during a busy workday can be refreshing. Similarly, take time off when you can, whether it's a two-week vacation or an occasional long weekend. Also try to take breaks from thinking about work, such as not checking your email at home in the evening or choosing times to turn off your cell phone at home.
  • Have an outlet. To prevent burnout, set aside time for activities you enjoy — such as reading, socializing or pursuing a hobby.
  • Take care of yourself. Be vigilant about taking care of your health. Include physical activity in your daily routine, get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet.

Know when to seek help

If none of these steps relieves your feelings of job stress or burnout, consult a mental health provider — either on your own or through an employee assistance program offered by your employer. Through counseling, you can learn effective ways to handle job stress.

SOURCE: The Mayo Clinic Staff (16 May 2016) "Coping with stress: Workplace tips" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/coping-with-stress/art-20048369


Changing the conversation on mental health

Canadian employer, Bell, has helped fund the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in efforts to provide voluntary guidelines, tools and resources for employers to utilize. Continue reading to learn more.


NEW ORLEANS — With no existing standard for how to deal with mental health issues from a workplace perspective, one Canadian employer aimed to tackle the stigma around discussing mental illness, using steps that U.S. employers can follow.

Bell, the telecom giant headquartered in Montreal, has helped change the landscape for mental health in Canada by creating a set of guidelines employers can use as they put in place policies that encourage conversations around mental health.

“When we first went on our journey to establish workplace best practices, we couldn’t find any established guidelines,” Monika Mielnik, senior consultant, human resources, workplace health at Bell, said last week at the Benefits Forum & Expo, hosted by Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser.

So the company helped fund the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety to provide a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources employers can use.

There are 13 psychological factors within the guide, ranging from workload management and organizational culture to engagement, recognition and reward, which Mielnik says is “low-hanging fruit” for employers looking for a place to start.

Mielnik offers five steps for employers looking to build a successful program that promotes psychological health in the workplace: Commitment and awareness, support services, mental health training, return to work and accommodation processes, and the ability to measure progress.

Before starting out, Mielnik added, “it’s important to engage individuals across the organization to establish successful mental health initiatives.” Getting executive support and sponsorship, a dedicated mental health leader, and cross-functional involvement are also key.

And while commitment is important, awareness is equally necessary, she added. Bell has three annual campaigns with events aimed at engaging and educating employees across the country to address stigma and create a supportive and inclusive environment: Bell Let’s Talk (January), Mental Health Week (May) and Mental Illness Awareness Week (October).

“Understanding there is stigma and taboo around mental health, we want to make sure our employees are educated and aware of the impact it can have on them, their spouses, and others,” she said.

Bell partnered with digital wellness platform LifeSpeak in 2013 to provide employees with around-the-clock access to tools and assistance programs. In addition, Bell created a dedicated intranet page to provide weekly articles and an on-demand video library.

Bell employees access LifeSpeak 97% of the calendar days, said panelist Danny Weill, VP of partnerships at LifeSpeak. “This has become part of their culture. I like how Bell walks the walk. They do all this amazing stuff in the community, and then they do this stuff in the workplace, which is ultimately good,” he said.

In addition to access, mental health training is a huge part of the culture at Bell.

All employees are required to complete the building blocks to positive mental health training – which includes six interactive modules to help improve and maintain their own mental health.

Further, workplace mental health leadership is mandatory for all leaders within the organization. “This training equips leaders with a better understanding of mental health and [helps them to] be better equipped to have a conversation with employees,” she said. “That has been very key for us.” More than 10,000 leaders have been trained to date.

Part of leadership training includes return-to-work processes, as well as accommodation programs, she noted.

Measuring progress within the organization is an important final component of her five-step plan.

“When we took on this cause in 2010, we did it to make a lasting and significant impact,” she said. Dollars and percentages linked to such things as long- and short-term disability rates, utilization of benefits, etc., can all be measured for success, she added.

Bell noted a positive impact over a two- to three-year period, including a 20% reduction in mental health-related short-term disability and a 50% reduction in relapse and reoccurrence rates.

“One key area, and something we did early, is to take a pulse and baseline check with what’s occurring right,” she said. “Look at your short-term claims or any metric results you have that can speak to the mental health area in your workplace.”

There is a misconception that you have to start big and re-create the wheel when it comes to mental health programs, Mielnik said. “Look at metrics and programs in place and either build off or enhance those programs, but that baseline will be a good place to start.”

SOURCE: Otto, N. (3 October 2018) "Changing the conversation on mental health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/news/changing-the-conversation-on-mental-health?feed=00000152-18a4-d58e-ad5a-99fc032b0000


Do you have a strong foundation of best practices for your wellness program?

Nine out of 10 U.S. corporations offer some type of wellness initiative, according to a study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. Read on to learn how you can improve involvement in your company's wellness program.


Wellness programs at the office are becoming increasingly popular, but not all of them are as successful as they could be. Here are three simple things you can do to improve involvement in your association’s wellness program.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plan’s new study—A Closer Look: Workplace Wellness Trends—takes a deeper dive into data from one of its previously published studies, with an aim to “determine practices that lead to potential wellness success.”

To do so, IFEBP analyzed responses from 431 U.S. corporations and government entities, and what the foundation uncovered is that nine out of 10 of the respondents offer some type of wellness initiative.

But the wellness initiatives they offer vary, ranging from fitness challenges and employee assistance programs, to healthy food and drink choices in the kitchen and opportunities for employees to do charity work.

Employers’ goals for even instituting wellness initiatives differ widely too. “There are a lot of different reasons why employers have wellness programs,” said Julie Stich, associate vice president of content at IFEBP. “You want your employees to be healthier, not only to keep healthcare costs down, but you want to increase their morale, increase their productivity and efficiency while they’re in the office, [and] you want to cut back on absenteeism …”

No matter the program or the goals associated with it, here are a few ingredients IFEBP has found are essential in creating a successful wellness program:

Leadership involvement.

“What we’ve seen repeated over and over in our analysis of our data was the involvement of leadership,” Stich said. And it’s important that the leaders of the organization support it publicly and communicate about it with their employees, encouraging staff, for example, to go get their flu shot during work hours or get up from their desks and take a walk. But leadership participation in the initiative is also important. “When you’ve got a fitness challenge going on, you actually [want to] see the CEO taking their walk around the building as well,” Stich said.

Communication.

Employers might first ask their employees what they’d like to see in a wellness program, whether a flu shot or a lunch-and-learn session on stress management and then use that feedback in crafting the organization’s wellness program. But, after an organization has launched an initiative, “it’s important to always be reminding employees about your wellness program and its activities,” Stich said.

Incentives.

Offering incentives is a great way to motivate employee involvement in an organization’s wellness initiative. One way to do this is to put the names of staff who are participating in the program into a raffle and then hold a gift card drawing.

Stick it’s important to keep in mind that the results of such a program won’t be revealed quickly. “You’re not going to see a positive or any kind of ROI in the first year,” she said. “If you roll out a new program or a new component of your program, it takes on average three to five years before you can really get a good sense of whether this is working or not and what impact it’s having.”

SOURCE: Smith, K. (20 March 2018) "Do you have a strong foundation of best practices for your wellness program?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.provanthealth.com/industry-trends/2018/3/26/are-you-succeeding-at-the-three-the-foundational-elements-of-a-successful-program

Original source: Associations Now | Emily Bratcher | How to Boost the Success of Your Workplace Wellness Program


Employers Assess Risk Tolerance with Wellness Program Incentives

Do you offer wellness programs to your employees? Employers are now uncertain to what extent they can use incentives as part of a wellness program. Continue reading to learn more.


Employers designing 2019 wellness programs must decide what approach to take on program incentives without Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

The commission has a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking tentatively slated for January 2019. Last year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided the commission's 2016 ADA and GINA wellness regulations were arbitrary and vacated them, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

Employers again are "in the uncomfortable position of not knowing with certainty whether and to what extent they can use incentives as part of a wellness program that involves medical examinations, disability-related inquiries and/or genetic information," wrote Lynne Wakefield and Emily Zimmer, attorneys with K&L Gates in Charlotte, N.C., in a joint statement.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) "has long advocated for proposals that will ensure consistency between the wellness rules that the EEOC has jurisdiction over, the ADA and GINA, with those provided under the ACA [Affordable Care Act]," said Nancy Hammer, SHRM vice president, regulatory affairs and judicial counsel. "While EEOC's 2016 rulemaking effort adopted the ACA's 30 percent incentive, it added new requirements that would have discouraged employers from providing wellness options for employees. We are hopeful that the EEOC is able to revisit the rules to ensure both consistency with existing rules and flexibility to encourage employers to adopt innovative programs to improve employee health and reduce costs."

ADA and GINA Requirements

Employers have long sought guidance over whether and when wellness program incentives—rewards or penalties for participating in biometric screenings and health risk assessments connected with the programs—comply with the ADA and GINA.

The ADA prohibits employers from conducting medical examinations and collecting employee medical history as part of an employee health program unless the employee's participation is voluntary, noted Ann Caresani, an attorney with Tucker Ellis in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.

GINA prohibits employers from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information from employees or their family members, unless the information is provided voluntarily.

The EEOC in 2000 asserted that for a wellness program to be voluntary, employers could not condition the receipt of incentives on the employee's disclosure of ADA- or GINA-protected information.

However, in 2016, the commission issued regulations providing that the use of a penalty or incentive of up to 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage would not render involuntary a wellness program that seeks the disclosure of ADA-protected information. The regulations also permitted employers to offer incentives of up to 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage for disclosure of information, in accordance with a wellness program, about the manifestation of a spouse's diseases or disorder, Caresani said.

Wakefield and Zimmer noted that the EEOC's 2016 wellness regulations applied to wellness programs that provided incentives tied to:

  • Biometric screenings for employees and spouses.
  • Disability-related inquiries directed at employees, which might include some questions on health risk assessments.
  • Family medical history questions, such as risk-assessment questions that ask about the manifestation of disease or disorder in an employee's family member and/or such questions about the disease or disorder of an employee's spouse.
  • Any other factors that involve genetic information.

Court Actions

The AARP challenged the 2016 rule, arguing that the 30 percent incentives were inconsistent with the voluntary requirements of the ADA and GINA. Employees who cannot afford to pay a 30 percent increase in premiums would be forced to disclose their protected information when they otherwise would choose not to do so, Caresani explained.

While the 30 percent cap was consistent with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as amended by the ACA, the AARP said this was inappropriate, as HIPAA and the ADA have different purposes, noted Erin Sweeney, an attorney with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C..

In addition, the change from prohibiting any penalty to permitting one of 30 percent was not supported by any data, according to the AARP.

In the summer of 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that the EEOC's rule was arbitrary. The court sent the regulations back to the EEOC for further revisions.

In December 2017, the court vacated the 2016 rule after the EEOC initially said that the new rule would not be ready until 2021.

Conservative to Aggressive Approaches

Wakefield and Zimmer observed that employers may take several different approaches as they design wellness programs for next year:

  • No incentives (most conservative approach). These types of wellness programs can still include biometric screening and health risk assessments that employees and spouses are encouraged to complete, but no rewards or penalties would be provided in connection with their completion.
  • Modest incentives (middle-ground approach). A modest incentive is likely significantly less than 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage, given the court's finding that the EEOC did not provide adequate justification for an incentive level-up to 30 percent.
  • Up to 30 percent incentives (more aggressive approach). Although the court did not rule that a 30 percent incentive level would definitely cause a wellness program to be considered involuntary, incentives at this level after 2018 likely will expose employers to lawsuits, they wrote.

Multiple-Point Program

One good way to demonstrate compliance, they noted, is a multiple-point program in which participants engage in different activities and earn an incentive by participating in enough activities apart from biometric screenings, risk assessments or providing their spouse's health information.

For example, an employer could let employees take health care literacy quizzes or offer a program that measures a worker's activity as opposed to fitness, Caresani noted. She said, "Programs that are participatory are probably less effective than outcome-based programs, but they are more popular with employees and are less likely to pose litigation risks."

SOURCE: Smith, A. (1 August 2018) "Employers Assess Risk Tolerance with Wellness Program Incentives" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/risk-tolerance-wellness-program-incentives.aspx


What Benefits and Perks Do Employees Actually Want?

What employee benefits does your organization offer? Today's benefit offerings have grown to include much more than just healthcare benefits. Read this blog post to learn what benefits and perks your employees want.


With open enrollment just around the corner for most companies, employee benefits are top of mind. Today’s offerings have grown to include more than just medical, dental, and vision coverage. Companies are now including perks like scheduling flexibility, tuition reimbursement, and even parental assistance as part of their overall package.

Let’s cut through the hype: what benefits and perks do employees actually care about? As someone who has administered his fair share of open enrollments, I’ve wondered the same thing. But over the years, I’ve learned that you sometimes just need to ask. By running benefits “pulse” surveys, HR teams can get the data and perspective they need to tailor their company’s offerings.

It’s also important to research what’s happening in the marketplace and what your competitors are doing. When was the last time you spoke to your benefits broker? They’ll have the greatest visibility into what types of claims employees are filing and where you might have coverage gaps. Working closely with your broker is one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re meeting employees’ expectations and the job market’s standards.

While studies have shown that traditional medical, dental, and vision coverage are still employees’ top priority, here are some non-traditional offerings that your employees may be clamoring for:

  • Parental assistance and leave: Companies are now enriching their policies with tools that assist new parents, including everything from post-birth specialist care to reimbursements for newborn necessities.
  • Virtual medical care: One of the hottest trends is virtual medical care. Employees can have access to a doctor 24/7 via a laptop or smartphone, all in the comfort of their own home.
  • Tuition reimbursement and assistance: Today, Americans owe over $1.3 trillion in student loans. That’s more than twice what they owed a decade ago. Needless to say, young employees are looking for companies that offer some type of student loan assistance.
  • Mental health: Over 18 percent of adults in the United States experience some form of anxiety disorder. Given the growing national focus on mental health issues, it’s no surprise that workplaces are joining the conversation. Increasingly, businesses are offering workers better access to mental health therapists and coaches.
  • Physical wellness: Two words: gym reimbursements. Sometimes the motivation to work out can be hard to muster, but when your gym membership is paid for by your employer, why not take full advantage? Healthier, more active employees could lead to lower medical insurance costs, too!

Those are just some of the unique benefits that you should consider offering employees. At the end of the day, I’ve learned that each workplace has different needs and wants. Be sure to regularly survey employees on their preferences and keep tabs on what peer companies are offering.

SOURCE: Cosme, J. (14 November 2018) "What Benefits and Perks Do Employees Actually Want?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/what-benefits-and-perks-do-employees-actually-want