Stop making 401(k) contributions. Fill up your HSA first

Open enrollment season is nearing, and soon, employees will be able to decide how much they want to contribute to their health savings accounts (HSA) next year. Read this blog post to learn why employees should contribute to their HSA before their 401(k).


With healthcare open enrollment season approaching, employees electing a high-deductible health plan will soon have an opportunity to decide how much to contribute to their health savings account for next year.

My advice?

Contribute as much as you possibly can. And prioritize your HSA contributions ahead of your 401(k) contributions. I believe that employees eligible to contribute to an HSA should max out their HSA contributions each year. Here’s why.

See also: What’s the best combination of spending/saving with an HSA?

HSAs are triple tax-free. HSA payroll contributions are made pre-tax. When balances are used to pay qualified healthcare expenses, the money comes out of HSA accounts tax-free. Earnings on HSA balances also accumulate tax-free. There are no other employee benefits that work this way.

HSA payroll contributions are truly tax-free. Unlike pre-tax 401(k) contributions, HSA contributions made from payroll deductions are truly pre-tax in that Medicare and Social Security taxes are not withheld. Both 401(k) pre-tax payroll contributions and HSA payroll contributions are made without deductions for state and federal taxes.

No use it or lose it. You may confuse HSAs with flexible spending accounts, where balances not used during a particular year are forfeited. With HSAs, unused balances carry over to the next year. And so on, forever. Well at least until you pass away. HSA balances are never forfeited due to lack of use.

Paying retiree healthcare expenses. Anyone fortunate enough to accumulate an HSA balance that is carried over into retirement may use it to pay for many routine and non-routine healthcare expenses.

See also: 3 things you should be telling employees about HSAs

HSA balances can be used to pay for Medicare premiums, long-term care insurance premiums, COBRA premiums, prescription drugs, dental expenses and, of course, any co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance amounts for you or your spouse. HSA accounts are a tax-efficient way of paying for healthcare expenses in retirement, especially if the alternative is taking a taxable 401(k) or IRA distribution.

No age 70 1/2 minimum distribution requirements. There are no requirements to take minimum distributions at age 70.5 from HSA accounts as there are on 401(k) and IRA accounts. Any unused balance at your death can be passed on to your spouse (make sure you have completed a beneficiary designation so the account avoids probate). After your death, your spouse can enjoy the same tax-free use of your account. (Non-spouse beneficiaries lose all tax-free benefits of HSAs).

Contribution limits. Maximum annual HSA contribution limits (employer plus employee) for 2019 are modest — $3,500 per individual and $7,000 for a family. An additional $1,000 in catch-up contributions is permitted for those age 55 and older. Legislation has been proposed to increase the amount of allowable contributions and make usage more flexible. Hopefully, it will pass.

HSAs and retirement planning. Most individuals will likely benefit from the following contribution strategy incorporating HSA and 401(k) accounts:

  1. Determine and make the maximum contributions to your HSA account via payroll deduction. The maximum annual contributions are outlined above.
  2. Calculate the percentage that allows you to receive the maximum company match in your 401(k) plan. Make sure you contribute at least that percentage each year. There is no better investment anyone can make than receiving free money. You may be surprised that I am prioritizing HSA contributions ahead of employee 401(k) contributions that generate a match. There are good reasons. Besides being triple tax-free and not being subject to age 70 1/2 required minimum distributions, these account balances will likely be used every year. Unfortunately, you may die before using any of your retirement savings. However, someone in your family is likely to have healthcare expenses each year.
  3. If the ability to contribute still exists, then calculate what it would take to max out your contributions to your 401(k) plan by making either the maximum percentage contribution or reaching the annual limit.
  4. Finally, if you are still able to contribute and are eligible, consider contributing to a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs have no age 70 1/2 minimum distribution requirements (unlike pre-tax IRAs and 401(k) accounts). In addition, account balances may be withdrawn tax-free if certain conditions are met.

The contributions outlined above do not have to be made sequentially. In fact, it would be easiest and best to make all contributions on a continuous, simultaneous, regular basis throughout the year. Calculate each contribution percentage separately and then determine what you can commit to for the year.

See also: Change to 2018 HSA Family Contribution Limit

Investing in HSA contributions is important. The keys to building an HSA balance that carries over into retirement include maxing out HSA contributions each year and investing unused contributions so account balances can grow. If your HSAs don’t offer investment funds, talk to your human resources department about adding them.

HSAs will continue to become a more important source of funds for retirees to pay healthcare expenses as the use of HDHPs becomes more prevalent. Make sure you maximize your use of these accounts every year.

SOURCE: Lawton, R. (19 September 2018) "Stop making 401(k) contributions. Fill up your HSA first" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/viewsstop-making-401k-contributions-fill-up-your-hsa-first


8 Benefits Of Measuring Employee Engagement

Are you measuring your company’s employee engagement? Measuring employee engagement helps companies attain real results and solve problems before they get worse. Read on to learn about the eight benefits of measuring employee engagement.


Employment engagement matters to achieving company success and developing employee skills and talents toward future goals. Happy employees equal a happy and prominent company. However, outdated traditional surveys used to measure engagement fail to reflect how modern employees operate and what they most desire and need to succeed.

Measuring employment engagement in real-time helps companies achieve real results, just as the importance of measuring finances and sales regularly do. Here are eight benefits of measuring employee engagement — much like taking your company's work culture temperature.

1. Solve Problems Before They Worsen

When you have a deadline, what can you do with issues that only now reveal their consequences? You have to deal with the issue quickly, and that often means putting a tourniquet on the problem and moving on. When you keep checking the temperature, you address issues — and their roots — before escalation occurs.

Problems only get big when you let them. Don't wonder why your employee retention and sales suddenly plummet.

2. Employ Empathy and Build Trust

Both employees and leaders need ongoing feedback to keep growing and improving. Make feedback a two-way process and communication that also stems naturally out of conversation and connection. Ongoing, open feedback allows leaders to pose better questions — especially those that relate to the company mission and vision.

When leaders ask good questions and connect, they build trust among employees and workflow improves as a result.

You may think your human resources department handles the human side of things, and that's that. However, thinking that way leaves your company out in the cold. It creates a negative communication gap between leader and employee, leading to #1 and risking you losing a talented individual.

Employ empathy and get the whole story when you see a struggling employee, whether their obstacle is personal or work-related. Everyone is human.

3. Make Morale #1

When employees disconnect, engage them in a meaningful conversation. It doesn't have to last the whole lunch hour — even a brief chat to check in will show you care. You’ll learn more about your employee's concerns, as well as their promise for the organization.

Make morale a top priority in your company, and you will reap the rewards. Productivity increases and you retain employees longer when their morale moves upward.

4. Share Insights Transparently

Back to those metrics. Use the analytics reports regarding workforce trends and finances to motivate your mission and, thus, your employees. Your employees need to be an active part of positive change-making. Employees feel more involved and valued when they know how and why they contribute to an organization and seeing the results drives them to push even harder.

5. Opportunity for Improvement

Surveys provide a snapshot of employee activity and thinking in a single moment in time as they struggle to think up thorough answers and complete the questionnaire to get back to work — or select variations of seven to nine on a 10-point scale to get it done. What does that measure exactly?

Snapshot surveys provide results that develop game plans months down the road. You can also measure social activities and interconnectivity at work to increase the ability to find meaning at work.

Encourage employees to keep track of their thoughts and feelings weekly and speak up. Better measurement tools — especially employee-preferred ones — increase opportunities for improvement and engagement.

6. Take Action When it Matters

Leaders can take action in small, cost-effective ways to engage their employees and improve morale, such as through conversation and opportunities to balance work and life.

Around 99 percent of meetings waste time, so take action as needed. Allow employees to think aloud in conferences and even be a little late, but start the session. When you have a strong work culture, employees and leaders collaborate and co-create to produce real-time, meaningful results.

7. Look for Trends

Technology allows employers to spot trends and take immediate action when used correctly. Does your website measure user experience for the customer? What about your employee's "user experience?"

When you identify trends, you can impact engagement in the day-to-day doldrums of routine. You make work meaningful and help the entire staff take responsibility for trends, as well as their engagements levels. Platforms like Slack allow employees to develop activity-based work styles that boost satisfaction scores, and engagement doesn't always equal productivity. So, deepen your definition of engagement.

8. Keep the Positive Flow Going

What chain reaction would you rather have — a negative one where issues worsen due to disengagement or a positive one where employees feel engaged and value their performance beyond getting a paycheck? Monitor your initiatives for employee engagement regularly, and keep what works going to maintain the positive flow.

Human resources don't begin and end in one department. Every department requires a human touch — your workers aren't drones or robots. They have real needs that, when met, can improve morale and lift up the company to success.

SOURCE: Craig, W. (18 September 2018) "8 Benefits Of Measuring Employee Engagement" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamcraig/2018/09/18/8-benefits-of-measuring-employee-engagement/#5b9bf20a7c55


How to Build a Motivated Workforce

Are your employees motivated? Getting an engaged workforce requires employers to focus on nurturing motivation. Read this blog post to learn how to nurture motivation in your workplace.


There’s a lot of buzz and conversation happening around the importance of employee engagement to a successful organization. But I believe that engagement is an overused or at least misused term. Engagement, to me, isn’t a process but rather an end-state where your employees are “all in.”

Engaged employees work hard on today’s priorities, and when they believe what they do matters and know that you’re invested in them, they will stay with your business for the long term and help you solve the challenges of tomorrow. But getting to this state of engagement requires focusing on nurturing motivation.

Simply put, motivated workers are more productive and efficient, and stretch themselves to do more. When employees are motivated, they get their work done faster and with greater levels of collaboration, creativity and commitment. A motivated workforce goes above and beyond to do what is in the best interest of the organization and, ultimately, the bottom line. So, what are ways you can truly motivate employees?

Set Clear Expectations and Goals, and Communicate Frequently

It’s a strange truth, but many employees simply don’t know what is expected of them at work. Workers are more motivated and engaged when they are given clear objectives, understand how they will be evaluated, and see how their efforts contribute to the bigger picture. Isn’t that what we all want anyway; to contribute to and be a part of something bigger than ourselves? When HR teams help create this clarity for our employees, they experience a greater “purposefulness” or “meaningfulness”  which in turn contributes to motivation. So how do you ensure organizational alignment and foster this sense of meaningfulness?

One critical step that HR leaders can take is working with managers to increase the frequency of communication around performance and goals. When employees work with their managers to set goals and then check in on progress on an ongoing basis rather than treating them as ‘set and forget,’ it can help improve employee motivation, elevate performance and benefit organizations overall. By increasing the frequency of conversations between managers and employees around progress towards goals, HR teams can take a huge step towards creating an effective performance management program for today’s workforce.

This ongoing endeavor isn’t easy.  There are time and commitment involved, and it only works when managers and employees are both invested in open and ongoing dialog about goals and expectations. But the more often managers talk to their employees, the more motivation and performance increases within the workforce. Even quick, informal check-ins, or “managing in the moment” to address priorities or give feedback boosts an employee’s sense that someone is invested in them, and drives motivation.

Spend Time Talking About Career Development

Motivation is tied to a future outlook. One critical way to boost motivation is to move away from ineffective, backward-looking annual performance reviews, and start coaching your managers around having more frequent conversations with their employees that focus on career development. By focusing on development, these conversations become more constructive, forward-looking, and connected to both personal and business objectives. Now you’ve motivated an employee because you’re actually talking about their future and showing you are invested in them!

Implementing performance management processes that are rooted in continuous conversations that center on coaching and career development is vastly more effective for motivating the modern workforce. Focusing on ”performance development” rather than “performance review” shifts the conversation around the process to a more forward-looking, positive and employee-focused stance. This can have a huge impact from an employee motivation perspective, rather than feeling like their managers are micromanaging them or questioning their work, workers feel invested in and motivated to get to the next level in their career, which translates to increases in employee performance.

Provide Timely and Relevant Feedback

Almost half of employees receive feedback from their managers only a few times a year or less. Not only do employees want clear expectations to be established, they also want to know how these are mapping to their larger career goals. Managers need to provide feedback in a timely manner to promote career development. Feedback can be tricky to deliver, and many don’t like delivering or receiving it. So managers need to normalize the feedback by making sure it is timely and is relevant to the employee and their work.

There are many approaches to delivering feedback, but delivering all feedback all the time isn’t the right answer. Managers need to be thoughtful about evaluating all the feedback they receive about their employees and select those items that are most relevant to the employee and those items that they are ready to hear, all in a timely manner to assist the employee in their career.

So, for many reasons, a quarterly review cadence, vs. an annual review, enables managers to align employees’ individual career goals with the organization’s top priorities, ensuring the employee has a sense of purpose and business goals are met.

This is what motivating your workforce is all about. There is no silver bullet to motivate your workforce, however, HR leaders and managers can make a big impact by having frequent and continuous conversations with employees that focus on career development, communicating clear expectations and providing timely feedback. It’s an ongoing process and won’t happen overnight, but by focusing on motivation, both employees and organization at large are better positioned for success.

SOURCE: Strohfus, D (27 August 2018) "How to Build a Motivated Workforce" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://hrexecutive.com/how-to-build-a-motivated-workforce/


The days of employers ignoring the opioid crisis are over

What do employers need to know to help their employees and help reduce the risk of the opioid crisis? The opioid crisis is affecting companies' productivity, medical claims, work injuries and their bottom line. Read this blog post to learn more.


Productivity, medical claims, work injuries, and the company’s bottom line — what do these things all have in common? They are all being drastically affected by the effects of substance abuse. The opioid crisis that is running rampant across the United States is having an impact on employees at every level.

As an employer, what do you need to know to support your employees and reduce the risk of this national crisis?

First, you need to educate yourself on the facts. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every day, more than 115 people in the U.S. die after overdosing on opioids. It is not just the deadly heroin/fentanyl combination that we have been hearing about in the news, sources of opioid addiction include prescription pain relievers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, morphine, codeine, and other prescribed substances.

See also: Taking A Page From Pharma’s Playbook To Fight The Opioid Crisis

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates prescription opioid misuse in the U.S. cost $78.5 billion per year; affecting medical spend, productivity, and law enforcement supervision.

Substance abuse does not discriminate on any demographic, however if your business is construction, entertainment, recreation, or food service, the National Safety Council found your employees are twice as likelyas the national average to have substance abuse disorders.

Secondly, you need to take action. The most important thing an employer can do is to have a proactive plan in place to help your employees live a healthy lifestyle. It is easy to get in the habit of saying “that does not happen here,” but the reality is substance abuse can — and does — happen anywhere.

Solving the opioid crisis won’t happen overnight, but here are some steps to take to build a better relationship with your employees and quite possibly help someone overcome a substance abuse problem.

Train your staff. Explain what resources are available to help them help your employees. If you have an employee assistance program in place, leverage it, and have the information easily available so any employee can access the information at any time. This will help lower the fear barrier for employees who are not ready to ask someone they know for help. If you do not have the right resources in place today there are many programs available, and it is important that you adopt one that will fit your culture and help employees be high performers.

See also: Employers take steps to address opioid crisis

Show employees you care. Look for signs and symptoms that an employee might have a problem with substance abuse. Make sure supervisors, managers, and team leaders are aware of these signs and what actions they should take. Have an open door policy, and make sure your employees feel they can ask for assistance when they need it. It is important to know how to handle sensitive, often painful, discussions in a professional and action-oriented manner. It is essential that you have the right steps in place to ensure leadership is aligned with the organization’s strategy on how best to help your at-risk population.

Be transparent. Have clear policies in place that promote a drug-free workplace. Consider expanding your drug testing panel to include opioids.

Share the savings. Consider sharing the dollars a successful well-being program will save your organization’s bottom line through lower prescription drug costs and less lost productivity due to illness and time away from work.

See also: A look at how the opioid crisis has affected people with employer coverage

If your organization is struggling with how to successfully address the challenges of substance abuse and opioid addiction, seek out employee benefit consultants to help you develop a strategy for success. Like anyone with an addiction, there is no shame in asking for help.

SOURCE: Panning, C (7 September 2018) "The days of employers ignoring the opioid crisis are over" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/employers-cannot-ignoring-the-opioid-crisis?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


5 critical conversations to have before retiring

According to the Society of Actuaries' Retirement Section and Committee on Post Retirement Needs and Risks, about 70 percent of Americans are on course to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Are your employees ready for retirement? Continue reading to learn more.


Reports of Americans’ lack of retirement preparedness roll on. Not all the news is grim, however. A recent study from the Society of Actuaries’ Retirement Section and Committee on Post Retirement Needs and Risks reports that roughly 70% of Americans are on course to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.

What we know from those who report being comfortable in retirement is that they took the steps necessary to properly prepare.

It’s not just what employees and clients have earned and saved that contributes to their quality of life in retirement, it’s also how they approach their assets, expenses, and income. To this end, individuals must speak frankly with those in their lives — partner or spouse, employer, children — who are pivotal to key aspects of retirement living.

Here are the five critical conversations individuals should have well in advance of retirement:

With your spouse or partner

1. Are we on the same page about the lifestyle we expect to have in retirement?

Before you retire, you and your partner need to get on the same page about what this means in day-to-day terms. For example, did you know that your living expenses in retirement will likely be about 80% of your pre-retirement living expenses? This means that your monthly budget will change and it’s important to make the changes thoughtfully. Examine your priorities and assumptions together to avoid misunderstandings that lead to financial missteps.

Do yourselves a favor and take a gradual approach to downsizing your spending well before retirement. This will let you significantly cut your monthly expenses without feeling the shock of adjustment. Take a close look at your monthly expenses together and identify items you can do without. Then, start eliminating a few at a time.

2. Are there parts of our life we should “downsize” before we retire?

Downsizing your home can be a real savings opportunity in retirement. Relocating to a city with a lower cost of living can also cut your monthly expenses considerably. You can even downsize your car, or go car-free altogether. These are big changes, however, that you and your partner need to consider very carefully together. You’ll want to weigh the possible savings against other important but not necessarily financial factors, such as proximity to friends and family and access to good recreational and medical facilities. Take your time weighing the pros and cons. If you can agree on which tradeoffs you are both willing to make, the impact on your security and comfort in retirement can be huge.

3. Are we really ready to retire? If not, what do we need to do to get there?

Compare your “retirement number” to your anticipated monthly expenses. Identify discrepancies so you can make adjustments and plans as needed.

Do we need to delay retirement by a few years? Even one or two extra years of work, during your peak earning years, may have a significant effect on your quality of life in retirement. Consider this question carefully as you plan when to leave work.

What other sources of income will be available to us in retirement? There are many paths to a comfortable retirement and many different ways to patch together the right assets and investments to provide for your retirement. Even if your investment portfolio is not large enough to support your retirement needs, for example, you may find that you have other assets (a business, or real estate) that can contribute. Or one or both of you may choose to work part time — the “sharing economy” is a good place to start. Or, you may decide to sell off assets you no longer need.

With your employer

4. Should I transition to a freelance/consulting relationship?
Even if you’re looking forward to stepping away from your professional career, the smart move may be to maintain a freelance or consulting relationship with your current employer. Chances are, you have experience and skills that will continue to be valuable to your employer, even when you are no longer on staff full-time. A dependable source of extra income will help you cover unexpected expenses in retirement. Or, you can use the extra income to pay for more of the things you always dreamed of doing in retirement, like hobbies and travel.

Before you have the conversation with your boss, research what a fair fee rate is for someone at your experience level, in your industry. This will allow you to negotiate your future contract from a position of strength. Your track record as a reliable employee and the cost savings to your employer of no longer having you as full time staff should also boost the argument in your favor.

With your adult children

5. How will our lifestyle changes in retirement affect the rest of the family?

Changes in your lifestyle in retirement may affect your extended family in various ways. Setting realistic expectations up front may help ease any necessary adjustments.

For example, are your adult children accustomed to receiving financial assistance from you? Let them know that this may no longer be possible after you retire and have less disposable income.

Downsizing your house? If you have been the default host for family holiday celebrations, downsizing to a smaller home may require the family to rethink future holiday arrangements. Don’t wait until the holidays are upon you to spring the change on them: discussing it ahead of time will ensure that everyone’s best ideas are considered and good alternate plans made.

Planning to relocate, or travel frequently after you retire? You will likely no longer be available for babysitting or many other family activities. Giving your kids and grandkids plenty of notice will help them plan ahead.

These conversations may be awkward and possibly painful, but they need to take place. After saving for years, a clear eye will help with your post-work years.

SOURCE: Dearing, C (12 September 2018) "5 critical conversations to have before retiring" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/critical-conversations-to-have-before-retiring


Identity theft protection benefits and the business case for employers

Employees are turning to their employers for identity theft protection benefits with the rise in identity theft news. Continue reading to learn more.


With identity theft in the news constantly, many employees are turning to their employers to ask for an identity protection benefit.

Let us focus on productivity and wellness. Identity theft can wreak havoc on an employee’s personal and work life. According to SANS Institute, it takes an average of six months and up to 200 hours of personal time to resolve issues related to the theft. This includes hours calling banks, credit card companies, filing police reports, notifying the Social Security Administration, and alerting credit bureaus. Most of these calls and follow up activity must be made during business hours. According to ITRC’s latest study, 22% of respondents took time off of work when dealing with issues of identity theft.

Identity theft also impacts wellness and mental health. According to the ITRC study, 75% of respondents reported that they were severely distressed by the misuse of their information, and many sought professional help to manage their identity theft experience — either by going to a doctor for their physical symptoms or seeking mental health counseling.

These findings make it clear that identity theft directly impacts productivity and wellness. That is why comprehensive and compassionate restoration services should be a key element of any ID Protection plan offered by the employer.

Restoration services are the fixers in a comprehensive identity protection plan. For victims of identity theft, the restoration specialist will do the required work to restore the victim’s identity. Specialists make the calls during business hours, complete the necessary paperwork, and manage the process. They free up the employee to focus on their job, and alleviate the stress of dealing with the challenges of identity restoration.

There are a range of features to look for when evaluating restoration services across plans. Some plans only offer advice and information kits to guide members on what steps they need to take. Those services typically do not do the work for the member.

For plans that provide a full restoration process, consider if the plan provides victims with a dedicated restoration specialist as a single point of contact. Since the restoration process can take months or years, it’s best if a victim has a consistent person to speak with who knows the case and can provide periodic updates. Restoration services should be available 24/7 so victims can initiate the process immediately to lessen the damage. Plans should also provide multilingual specialists to best serve all members and handle all types of identity theft.

Although monitoring may alert individuals that are a victim of identity theft, the even greater value is in fixing the situation. Be sure to fully evaluate the restoration features of an identity protection plan as part of the selection process.

SOURCE: Hazan, J (31 August 2018) "Identity theft protection benefits and the business case for employers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/identity-theft-protection-benefits-and-the-business-case-for-employers


Do employees know where to go in a health crisis?

Does your organization have a plan for employee health crises? Employees are often confused and unsure about who they should turn to for assistance when they have a health crisis at work. Read on to learn more.


When talking to employers about their disability programs, I often ask, “Who do your employees go to first for assistance when they have a health condition?”

If I ask that question of a direct supervisor, it’s met with a quick response of “Me!”, which is quickly followed by the statement, “My employees know that my door is always open and I’m here to help them!”

Sadly, this is not true. Another insurance company recently surveyed employees who experienced a health condition in the workplace and asked that same question: Who did you go to for assistance? The responses varied.

For example, we found that at midsize companies with 100 to 499 employees, it varied:

· 44% went to their HR manager
· 33% went to their direct supervisor
· 18% went to their HR manager and direct supervisor
· 5% went elsewhere

What this shows is that many employers don’t have a consistent process in place for addressing employees with health conditions. This confusion or misunderstanding about whom to approach for assistance can create an inconsistent process for your clients and their workforce — potentially resulting in a negative experience for employees and lost productivity for employers.

Based on the survey findings, employees who worked with their HR manager tended to have a more positive experience and felt more valued and productive after speaking with them about their health condition.

For instance, 54% of employees felt uncomfortable discussing their health condition with their direct supervisor, versus only 37% of employees who went to their HR manager. In addition, 73% of employees who worked with their HR manager felt they knew how to provide the right support for their condition versus 61% of employees who worked with their direct supervisor.

There are several reasons why working with an HR manager can be more beneficial for employees, and ultimately, your clients. Typically, working with an HR manager can lead to more communication while an employee is on leave. Our research shows employees who worked with an HR manager were more likely to receive communication on leave and returned to work 44% faster than when they worked with their direct supervisor.

HR managers also are usually more aware of available resources and how to connect employees to necessary programs to help treat their condition. HR managers who engaged their disability carriers saw a 22% boost in employees’ use of workplace resources, such as an EAP, or disease management or wellness program, when involved in a return-to-work or stay-at-work plan.

This connection to additional resources is essential, as it can help employees receive holistic support to manage their health condition — whether it’s financial wellness support, connection to mental health resources through an EAP or one-on-one sessions with a health coach. HR managers also are usually able to better engage their disability carrier to provide tailored accommodations, which can help aid in stay-at-work or return-to-work plans.

Providing your client with these findings can help them understand the importance of creating a disability process that puts HR as the main point of contact. Not only does this create a consistent experience that helps provide employees with the support they need, it can improve employee morale and reduce turnover.

SOURCE: Smith, Jeffery (16 August 2018) "Do employees know where to go in a health crisis?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/do-employees-know-where-to-go-in-a-health-crisis


10 creative ways to help working parents

The parenting workforce is changing. Most working parents are concerned they won’t have enough time for their children. Continue reading to learn how employers can help working parents.


Can working moms have it all? Say goodbye to the broad-shouldered power suits of the ’80s and ’90s. Juggling a career and raising children is no longer a women’s-only issue.

While mothers are now the primary or sole source of income for 40% of American households with children, 75% of employees of all genders report their biggest concern as a working parent is not having enough time for their children. From single dads to same-sex couples, breadwinning moms to full-time working grandparents, the parenting workforce is changing.

No matter a family’s parenting makeup, employers can take an active role to help alleviate daily stressors affecting all working parents in the new, high-demand workplace. Here are 10 ways to do so.

1. Get real about childcare.

One of the biggest challenges working parents face is finding good quality, reliable, affordable care. Employers can help by offering programs and services such as backup childcare, onsite childcare, or dependent care flexible spending accounts. An employee assistance program with comprehensive dependent care resource and referrals, adoption assistance and personal finance services can relieve a lot of the hassle and pressures of finding childcare services for working parents.

2. Offer flexibility.

Many working parents report that the resource they value most is the ability to have some control over where and when they work. A policy allowing for fixed alternative hours, or the opportunity to work at home as needed, can be a big help. Providing the further ability to have some flexibility on a day-to-day basis — whether to get to a parent conference or accommodate a missed school bus — is even better.

3. Make it convenient.

The ability for working parents to get some of life’s necessities taken care of right at the workplace is a huge plus. On-site amenities that employers offer range from big-ticket items like childcare and fitness centers to postal and banking services, take-home dinners to dry cleaning pick-up and delivery, and car washes to oil changes.

4. Help tackle the “hate-to-do” list.

Often without the support of the village, working parents are saddled with overwhelming responsibilities at home and a laundry list of ‘hate’ to-dos. From grocery shopping to laundry services, employers can offer convenient concierge and errand running perks to save employees time, money, and stress in all areas of life, house, and family management. These services help free up golden personal time, so working parents can focus on more fulfilling family experiences rather than constantly catching up on personal tasks and errands.

5. Promote total health.

Being a working parent is stressful. Don’t underestimate the power of wellness offerings to provide much-needed support. From standing desks to yoga classes, walking meetings to meditation rooms, there are many ways to promote a healthy lifestyle at work.

6. Prioritize mental wellness.

Mental wellness should also be a top priority, and employers can partner with an engaged EAP to build strong stress management solutions and reduce the stigma around mental health at work. Mental health support should be confidential and available at all stages of parenting, from pre-natal to post-partum, empty-nesting and beyond. Mental wellness benefits should be promoted year-round and available to all family members.

7. Remember the older kids.

Parenting doesn’t end when children graduate from grade school. Many employers offer programs such as homework hotlines to help kids through their teen years; EAPs can also provide a wide range of resources and referrals on parenting and education. Services and activities like college coaching, financial counseling, and “lunch and learns” with scholarship or admissions experts can be invaluable to parents facing the next adventure.

8. Simplify travel.

Business travel can be hard when you’re a parent, especially of young children. Careful planning can help ensure working parents don’t have to spend precious weekend time traveling or head to meetings that might have been just as effective by phone. Increasing numbers of employers are also offering breast milk storage and shipping services; some even pay for childcare while employees are out of town.

9. Don’t forget the “working” in working parents.

Becoming a parent doesn’t automatically mean losing interest in your career. Leave it up to employees to decide if they want to take up educational or advancement opportunities.

10. Stay inclusive.

Remember that caregiving responsibilities can encompass a wide range of family situations. Make sure programs and policies — as well as communications about them — support fathers, single parents, adoptive and foster parents, same-sex couples and grandparent-caregivers.

Being a parent is a rewarding and enriching experience — but it can also be exhausting and thankless, especially for those juggling work and family. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to make the workplace a more supportive, less stressful place for working parents, who will likely return the favor with greater productivity, engagement and loyalty.

SOURCE: Krehbiel, E (2 July 2018) "10 creative ways to help working parents" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/slideshow/10-creative-ways-to-help-working-parents#slide-6

Retirement ABCs: How employers can help baby boomers prepare

More than half of baby boomers are working past traditional retirement age for a variety of different reasons. Continue reading to learn how employers can help employees prepare for retirement.


Seventy-four million: That’s the estimated number of baby boomers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And 66% of baby boomers are working past traditional retirement ages for a variety of reasons. Some feel they can’t afford to retire, particularly with the looming high costs of healthcare; others may choose to work longer to keep their brains active or because they fear the adjustment to a less structured lifestyle.

Older workers approaching full retirement age (which varies, depending on when they were born) where they can begin receiving 100% of Social Security, face some daunting decisions about Medicare, Social Security and retirement plans such as health savings accounts and 401(k)s — unchartered territory until this point in their lives. There are specific rules about contributions and withdrawals in retirement, and employers should help with the education process. Here are three ways to do so.

Break down the HSA rules from a retiree perspective. If you offer HSAs to your employees, it’s important they understand how HSAs work with Medicare: The IRS dictates that a person can’t contribute to an HSA if they’re enrolled in part of Medicare (Part A, Part D, etc.) However, they can draw on funds already in the account to pay for qualified medical expenses and premiums for Medicare Parts B, C and D (but generally not Medicare supplement plans or Medigap insurance premiums).

Importantly, your employees may be penalized for delaying Medicare, depending on the number of employees you have and whether you have group health insurance. These requirements may not be well known by your employees and should be communicated clearly.

Of course, because Medicare, Social Security and any retirement plans involve several layers of government rules and financial regulations, there are some tricky issues your employees need to know about. One is retirement “back pay.”

When employees sign up for Social Security at least six months beyond the full retirement age, they’ll receive six months of retirement benefit back pay. This is problematic if your employees contributed to their HSAs over the previous six months — they are liable for tax penalties on HSAs. Create an education strategy that includes this information for employees looking to retire, so that they can stop contributing to their HSA six months before retirement and avoid costly mistakes.

Help employees understand how all their benefits work together. Your employees have contributed their knowledge and skills to you; it’s important to help them understand their options as they work toward retirement. For those just a few years out from retirement, your education plan may include helping employees understand eligibility requirements for both Social Security and Medicare, as well as any penalties that might arise from applying late to Medicare.

As your employees age, they are also eligible to contribute “catch-up” funds to HSAs, IRAs and 401(k)s in preparation for retirement. Your 401(k) partners and financial wellness resources can help employees assess their financial situations and prepare for retirement. For example, it’s a good idea to encourage employees who may have multiple 401(k) plans to consolidate them into one — this will make it easier to manage when they retire. They may ultimately roll these into an IRA to access additional investment options.

Maintain a focus on wellness. If you have a wellness program in place, take measures to boost participation and steer employees, especially older participants, toward healthy habits to help them live well and be productive leading up to retirement.

Wellness may extend outside of physical, emotional and mental wellness to professional development. Help them improve their retirement outlook by keeping job skills up to date so they are better prepared if they need to take on other employment to supplement their retirement.

For anyone nearing retirement age it’s a good idea to become acquainted with “Medicare and You,” the government’s official Medicare handbook. While each employee’s situation will differ, there’s no doubt that planning and education are key to a successful retirement strategy and, as an employer, you can support these efforts.

SOURCE: Metzger, L (14 August 2018) "Retirement ABCs: How employers can help baby boomers prepare" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-best-educate-baby-boomer-workers-on-retirement


The corporate asset you’ve completely overlooked — and what to do about it

Have you heard of social capital? The social capital of your employees is a huge asset to your business. Continue reading to learn more.


As an HR professional, you already know the importance of human capital in the workplace. You may have even started to see the shift of referring to human resources as human capital management. Human capital is undoubtedly important, but there’s an even more important “capital” that might not be on your radar: social capital.

Social capital can be defined very simply as the resources embedded in relationships. When you find a rockstar candidate for a position because of a recommendation from a friend, that reference is your social capital. When an employee is working on a challenging project and seeks expertise from an industry veteran he knows, that advice is his social capital. When an executive scores a meeting with a coveted customer because she used to work with someone who sits on their board, that introduction is her social capital. There is no question that the social capital of your employees can be a powerful corporate asset.

The academic literature takes this insight one step further. For example, Tom Schuller of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) differentiates between social capital that results from bonding relationships (links between people with similar characteristics within a community) and bridging relationships (links between people who are different outside a community). He poses that the right balance between these two types of relationships leads to a confident, creative and enduring community. Just replace the word “community” with “team” in the sentences above, and you’ll start seeing that our efforts to promote trust and diversity in the workplace are directly related to social capital.

What can HR professionals do to consciously cultivate social capital in the workplace? Here are a few concrete ideas that you can implement immediately.

1. Consider relationship-building aptitude during the hiring process. Employees who excel at cultivating their networks have the most potential for contributing to an organization rich in social capital resources.

Here are some simple questions you can incorporate into your interview process to assess candidates’ potential: What is your process for cultivating relationships in your network? Who is your most valued relationship as it relates to your career and why? When is the last time you reached out to someone in your network for help on an important task, and how did you do it? Start with questions like these, and then dig deeper to explore how candidates would mobilize resources within their networks to solve problems they encounter in the workplace.

2. Establish policies that reward knowledge sharing. The workplace can become competitive as employees strive to prove their excellence and climb the corporate ladder. A little competition is good, but too much can stifle productivity. Even if team members trust each other, those relationships cannot bear fruit if employees see their coworkers’ success as a threat. Reward employees for helping their coworkers achieve a successful outcome and allow employees to log hours spent helping so they don’t fear retaliation for taking time away from their own projects. Employee recognition software is a great first step toward moving your corporate culture in this direction.

See also: 5 software providers for employee recognition

3. Promote bridging relationships inside and outside the organization.Good managers cultivate a tight-knit team with high levels of trust. But sometimes those managers forget to cultivate relationships outside the team. Perhaps you’ve seen this play out in the scenario where the marketing department rolls out a new piece of software, but doesn’t think to get feedback from the IT team early on in the vetting process. If even just one person in marketing had a trusted relationship with someone in IT, their connection would likely ensure a more successful launch. Remind managers of the importance of fostering cognitive diversity with ideas from outside of the team, because diversity shouldn’t end after the hiring process.

Social capital may not be an asset on your company’s balance sheet — yet. But as an HR professional, you can ensure that your employees’ relationships are cultivated to their fullest potential. What is your organization doing to develop social capital?

SOURCE: Emerson, M (13 August 2018) "The corporate asset you’ve completely overlooked — and what to do about it" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/the-overlooked-corporate-asset-and-what-to-do-about-it