4 questions to ask before adding biometric screenings

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), fifty-two percent of large firms that provide employee health benefits offer workers the opportunity to complete a biometric screening. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


A growing number of employers are adopting workplace wellness programs to improve employee health and subsequently lower their health insurance spend. As they do, benefit managers are tasked with vetting options that will deliver meaningful health and financial results for their companies.

This vetting process typically involves answering questions that range from which types of participation incentives their organization should offer to what type of wellness programs will yield the greatest health-improvement outcomes.

But there’s a problem: Very few benefits managers ask for details about wellness biometric testing, even though most programs are, at least in theory, designed around the information that screening provides. Biometric screening typically involves one or more laboratory tests as well as physical readings, such as blood pressure and body weight, to identify markers of health risks if not an actual disease.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 52% of large firms that provide employee health benefits offer workers the opportunity to complete a biometric screening.

Just as workplace wellness programs are not all the same, biometric screening can vary. Failure to question the specific details of a proposed biometric screening program can lead to suboptimal results.

Before moving forward with biometric screenings as part of a workplace wellness program, benefit managers should pause to ask themselves certain questions. Doing so will enhance the likelihood of favorable outcomes — both for employee wellness and the financial bottom line.

1. Why should we screen?

It sounds simple, but setting clear goals for biometric screening is a step too many benefits managers overlook. This may be because they do not know how to anticipate the kind of actions that will be available to them and their employees given the results.

Based on my experience, the most compelling reason to provide biometric screening as part of a wellness program is to help individuals identify risks for several chronic conditions that, if caught early, may be prevented. With insights from a biometric screening, an individual may be better able to take steps to reduce health risks. Common goals may be to reduce body weight, exercise more or visit a physician for treatment.

Biometric screening often can reveal disease risks an individual may not otherwise know. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, for instance, found that one in three first-time participants in a company-sponsored, lab-based wellness program by Quest Diagnostics were not aware they were at risk for a serious medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, according to biometric screening results. Many of these individuals were in a health plan, suggesting that healthcare access alone does not guarantee preventive care to identify risk for common chronic health conditions.

Biometric screening also can help an employer identify programs to target at-risk employee segments based on the type of risk with appropriate interventions. Reliable insight into disease risks for a workforce population may also aid the prediction of future healthcare costs.

2. What should we screen for?

Ideally, biometric screening should provide enough information into disease risks for both individuals and the employer in order to take meaningful actions. Here, many employers miss the mark by implementing bare bones biometric screening options. The result is potentially misleading results — and missed opportunities to identify individuals at risk.

Take diabetes screening, for instance. A non-fasting fingerstick glucose screening really doesn’t tell us anything considering the variety of food individuals might have eaten, and how that may have affected their measurement.

A fasting fingerstick glucose test may help identify diabetes risk in some individuals and be less costly to perform than a hemoglobin A1c test, which involves a venipuncture blood draw. However, a study from Quest Diagnostics found that some individuals in a workforce population with normal fasting glucose results were still at higher risk for diabetes, and a glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) test identified them.

In a similar manner, many employers overlook screening for chronic kidney disease, one of the major causes of kidney transplantation. Eighty-nine percent of participants identified as at risk for chronic kidney disease did not know it, according to the aforementioned PLoS ONE study. The estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) lab test can help identify this condition very cost-effectively, but it’s often absent in biometric screening programs. Other conditions that laboratory tests can help identify include metabolic disorders, thyroid disease, and colorectal cancer, among others.

3. How often should we screen?

Annual biometric screening reinforces the importance of management places on employee wellness. It can also help identify health risks in individuals who are new to the organization. An annual program also provides a regular cadence of engagement that is not too onerous on employees while minimizing the confusion that can occur when screening happens less frequently.

Annual screening has an added benefit of allowing the employee to track her progress over time. Quest provides graphic charts that show changes in an individual’s numbers year over year. This is a powerful motivator for those who have adopted healthful behaviors to stay the course. And longitudinal changes also can reveal patterns, like modest annual weight gain, that the individual may otherwise dismiss until they see the cumulative effect.

4. How can we connect employees to care and intervention?

Screening is just one facet of a successful wellness program. Some individuals who identify health risks may proactively modify their behavior or consult a physician. But not all will. Employers can improve the odds of at-risk employees accessing the care they need following biometric screening.

Most employees in biometric programs receive a personalized report of their screening results. Additionally, many participants can consult over the phone with a third-party administered physician.

At Quest, for instance, we offer programs that help at-risk employees access behavioral change programs. If an individual’s screening results suggest evidence of prediabetes, that employee may participate free of charge in a 16-week, CDC-based diabetes prevention program that includes coaching and lifestyle modification. An individual with a problematic cholesterol result may be able to access a similar program for heart disease prevention.

Biometric screenings can be a powerful facet of an employee wellness program. Understanding the reasons to screen, which methods to use and how often to use them, and the paths to connect employees to care are key. Benefit managers who do this well will be rewarded with a wellness program that results in healthier employees and lower healthcare costs over time.

SOURCE: Goldberg, S. (21 February 2019) "4 questions to ask before adding biometric screenings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/4-questions-to-ask-before-adding-biometric-screenings


Younger generations driving lifestyle benefits

Millennials will make up seventy-five percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025, according to a study by Forbes. The self-confidence of younger generations is pushing companies to adopt more non-traditional benefits. Continue reading to learn more.


Younger generations are often characterized as entitled and demanding — but that self-confidence in their work is pushing companies to adopt benefits outside the traditional healthcare and retirement packages.

By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the U.S. workforce, according to a study by Forbes. The first wave of Generation Z — millennials’ younger siblings — graduated college and entered the workforce last year. With these younger generations flooding the workplace, benefit advisers need to steer clients toward innovative benefits to attract and retain talent, according to panelists during a lifestyle benefits discussion at Workplace Benefits Renaissance, a broker convention hosted by Employee Benefit Adviser.

“Millennials came into the workforce with a level of entitlement — which is actually a good thing,” said Lindsay Ryan Bailey, founder and CEO of Fitpros, during the panel discussion. “They’re bringing their outside life into the workplace because they value being a well-rounded person.”

Catering benefits to younger generations doesn’t necessarily exclude the older ones, the panelists said, in a discussion led by Employee Benefit Adviser Associate Editor Caroline Hroncich. Older generations are accustomed to receiving traditional benefits, but that doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate new ones introduced by younger generations.

“Baby boomers put their heads down and get stuff done without asking for more — that’s just how they’ve always done things,” Bailey said. “But they see what millennials are getting and are demanding the same.”

In a job market where there are more vacant positions than available talent to fill them, the panelists said it’s important now, more than ever, to advise clients to pursue lifestyle benefits. While a comprehensive medical and retirement package is attractive, benefits that help employees live a more balanced life will attract and retain the best employees, the panelists said.

“Once you’ve taken care of their basic needs, have clients look at [lifestyle benefits],” said Dave Freedman, general manager of group plans at LegalZoom. “These benefits demonstrate to workers that the employer has their back.”

The most attractive lifestyle benefits are wellness centered, the panelists said. Wellness benefits include everything from gym memberships, maternity and paternity leave, flexible hours and experiences like acupuncture and facials. But no matter which program employers decide to offer, if it’s not easily accessible, employees won’t use it, the panel said.

“Traditional gym memberships can be a nightmare with all the paperwork,” said Paul O’Reilly-Hyland, CEO and founder of Zeamo, a digital company connecting users with gym memberships. “[Younger employees] want easy access and choices — they don’t want to be locked into contracts.

Freedman said brokers should suggest clients offer benefits catered to people based on life stages. He says there are four distinct stages: Starting out, planting roots, career growth and retirement. Providing benefits that help entry-level employees pay down student debt, buy their first car or rent their first apartment will give companies access to the best new talent.

To retain older employees, Freedman suggests offering programs to help employees buy their first house, in addition to offering time off to bond with their child when they start having families. The career growth phase is when most divorces happen and kids start going to college, Freedman said. Offering legal and financial planning services can help reduce employee burdens in these situations. And, of course, offering a comprehensive retirement plan is a great incentive for employees to stay with a company, Freedman said.

Clients may balk at the additional costs of implementing lifestyle benefits, but they help safeguard against low employee morale and job turnover. Replacing existing employees can cost companies significant amounts of money, the panelists said.

“Offering these benefits is a soft dollar investment,” Freedman said. “Studies show it helps companies save money, but employers have to be in the mindset that this is the right thing to do.”

SOURCE: Webster, K. (25 February 2019) "Younger generations driving lifestyle benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/younger-generations-driving-lifestyle-benefits?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret

How can you take advantage of insurance companies’ best-kept secret? Some insurance carries pay wellness dollars to companies who implement wellness programs. Read on to learn more.


Did you know some insurance carriers pay companies to implement wellness programs? It’s called wellness dollars, and it is insurance companies’ best-kept secret.

Wellness dollars are a percentage of a company’s premiums that can be used to cover wellness-related purchases. The healthier employees are, the fewer dollars insurance carriers need to pay out for a policy. Many insurers have incentives like wellness dollars for employers to improve the well-being of their workers.

The benefits of adding a wellness program are plenty. These programs typically generate a positive return on investment for companies. Research done by three Harvard professors found that overall medical costs decline $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. Costs from absenteeism fall about $2.73 for each dollar. Well-designed programs can improve employees’ overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a new year, and group health insurance plans are starting fresh. Here’s how employers can take advantage of wellness dollars.

Get in touch with your carrier. The first step is to get in touch with your insurance carrier to find out if your self-insured or fully-insured plan covers participatory or health-contingent programs. If you don’t have wellness dollars, it’s still early in the year, and it’s worth negotiating to see if you can include them in your company’s current package.

You will work with your insurance carrier to determine how your wellness dollars can be spent, based on an agreed-upon contract. The amount of wellness dollars that you receive depends on the number of employees and profitability.

Every company is different, so the range of services varies and could include wellness programs, gym memberships, nutrition programs, massages and more. Sometimes incentives for wellness activities can be used; sometimes it can’t. Ask your carrier for a complete list of covered expenses. This will help you as you shop around to find the right offerings. Save receipts and records for reimbursements.

Determine the best use. There are a few ways to determine what offerings you should use for your company. Before making any decisions, ask your employees and the leadership team what type of program they would be most likely to engage in. Gallup named the five elements that affect business outcomes: purpose, social, community, physical and financial. Look for a comprehensive program that includes these five elements, instead of coordinating with multiple vendors. If only a portion of your expenses will be reimbursed, it’s still worth getting a wellness program. They have cost-savings on an individual and team level.

Wellness programs are all about building culture, and with unemployment at a record low, it’s a sticking point to keep employees invested in your company. A few examples of wellness offerings include fitness classes, preventive screenings, on-site yoga, financial wellness workshops, healthy living educational workshops, and health tracking apps.

Once you’ve implemented wellness offerings in your workplace, keep track of your company’s progress. Create a wellness task force, a healthy workplace social group, or conduct monthly survey check-ins to make sure employees are staying engaged. Some wellness programs utilize technology to track participation, integrate with wearables, and report other analytics. Ask your insurance carrier if wellness dollars have flexibility in adding or changing the services throughout the year, based on engagement.

SOURCE: Cohn, J. (14 February 2019) "How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-take-advantage-of-the-best-kept-wellness-secret


Goodbye group benefits. Hello personalized pay

Do you offer a uniform benefits package to your employees? With five generations in the workplace now, off-the-shelf benefit options are presenting employers with a challenge. Read this blog post to learn more.


In the past, it was typical for a company to provide all employees with access to the same group benefits — regardless of their age, demographics or education level. From health insurance to retirement plans and paid time off, these uniform benefit packages were designed to meet the needs of the entire workforce in one fell swoop.

But over the past few years, these off-the-shelf benefit options have presented a bit of a challenge. With five generations now in the workplace — Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers and the silent generation — there are diverse expectations about pay and benefit packages.

For example, baby boomers and the silent generation tend to value health insurance and a robust retirement plan. Meanwhile, Gen X workers seek a healthy work-life balance, advancement opportunities and a competitive 401(k) — or a retirement savings plan that lets you set aside and invest money from your paycheck, to which your employer can then contribute. Millennials and Gen Z prioritize flexibility — they want more paid time off, the ability to work when and where they wish and tuition reimbursement.

There is no one-size-fits-all compensation package that can fairly satisfy each generation of workers. Employees today want to feel heard, understood and cared for by their employer. Furthermore, most want a job that fits with their personal interests and lifestyle.

As a result, companies are moving away from traditional group benefits and taking a more personalized approach to compensation.

Many organizations are using social listening tools, focus groups and surveys to gather information about the types of benefits employees want. Others are taking it a step further and having one-on-one conversations to determine what motivates each individual worker and provides them with a sense of purpose at work. How else will we know what, specifically, each employee wants unless we ask them?

By collecting this information, organizations can tailor packages that effectively meet the varying wants and needs of the diverse workforce. They’re offering mixes of pay, bonuses, flex time, paid time off, retirement plans, student loan repayment assistance and professional growth opportunities. Some companies have designed an a la carte menu of benefits, with which employees can pick and choose the perks they care most about.

According to a recent survey conducted by WorldatWork and KornFerry, organizations also are offering more non-traditional benefits that can further acknowledge employees’ concerns and responsibilities outside of work. Eldercare resource and referral services, women advancement initiatives and disaster relief funds all became significantly more prevalent in employee benefits programs within the last year. Telemedicine, identity theft insurance and paid parental leave offerings increased as well.

And many organizations are taking innovation one step further. One firm recently introduced a new benefits reward program in which employees earn points based on both personal and company-wide achievements and then cash them in for perks across various categories: health and wellness, travel, housing, transportation, time off, annual grocery passes — you name it. The purpose is to give employees the power to choose the types of perks that mean the post to them.

Personalized pay can boost attraction and retention

The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in decades, and the war for talent is extremely tough. The average tenure for workers is 4.6 years. For millennials, it’s half that.

This sort of high employee turnover can take a massive toll on a company’s bottom line: Experts estimate that it can cost up to twice an employee’s salary to recruit and train a replacement. Not to mention, employee churn can damage company morale and tarnish your company’s reputation.

Customized pay and benefits plans can make an employer be more attractive in a tight, crowded job market. If you want to not only attract top talent but retain them as well, it’s worth taking the time to understand what matters to your candidates and offering them personalized pay and reward packages.

Organizations need to introduce more flexibility into their pay packages and adapt to the needs of the changing workforce. After all, when you invest in your employees, you invest in the overall success and performance of your business.

SOURCE: Wesselkamper, B. (11 February 2019) "Goodbye group benefits. Hello personalized pay" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/tailored-employee-benefit-plans-gaining-popularity


Hospital pricing transparency: More information, more confusion?

As of January 1, a new rule that requires hospitals to list the prices of all their services and medications they provide is in effect. Read this blog post to learn more about this ruling.


As of the first of this year, a new rule is in effect that requires hospitals to list the price for all the services they provide and medications they prescribe for patients while they’re in the hospital. In theory, this should give patients more information that can help them decide where it makes the most economic sense to receive hospital care. In actuality, while there’s a wealth of new data available, it can be difficult to find — and nearly impossible for people outside the healthcare industry to understand.

The document that aggregates the price information is called a chargemaster, and it can contain tens of thousands of entries. The new rule doesn’t require that the information be written in plain language, only that it be machine readable, so much of the data reads like it’s in a yet-to-be-discovered language. For example, if you download Memorial Sloan Kettering’s chargemaster, you’ll find an Excel spreadsheet that contains 13,088 entries such as “CAP MALE/FEMALE RAIL, $765” and “BX SUBCUT SKIN/INC, $1,771.” Even if a patient puzzles out the meaning of these abbreviations, the prices listed are different from the lower fees that insurers negotiate, so estimating how much you would pay for care is complicated at best and impossible at worst.

The goal of the hospital pricing transparency rule is to help patients understand the cost of their care and choose more wisely when deciding where to receive that care. Unfortunately, the information that is now available adds to the confusion and doesn’t help patients make one-to-one price comparisons when choosing where to receive care. In addition, the rule only covers care delivered by a hospital, so patients don’t have the information they need to make price comparisons for services performed in doctor’s offices, urgent care facilities, diagnostic test sites and outpatient surgical centers.

Though the new rule generally doesn’t help employees, employers can.

Even if price transparency doesn’t help workers better understand the cost of care and choose where to receive that care, there are strategies and resources that employers can provide to help their employees make more informed decisions about healthcare. Here are some of them.

Second opinions. Wrong diagnoses, inappropriate treatments (treatments that don’t meet the evidenced-based standard of care) and medical errors all drive up healthcare costs for both employers and employees and can lead to poorer health outcomes. One strategy to lower the risk of these types of problems is providing employees with streamlined access to second opinions from experienced physicians.

A second opinion can confirm or change an employee’s diagnosis, suggest other treatment options and pinpoint misdiagnoses, especially in the case of serious and complex conditions like cancer, autoimmune disease and back and joint problems. In fact, a Mayo Clinic study found that 88% of people who sought a second opinion from the hospital’s physicians for a complex medical condition received a new or refined diagnosis. Employers can make second opinions available to employees through several channels, including a health insurance plan or as a standalone benefit.

Care coordination. Duplicate testing and medical care is another source of wasted healthcare dollars. When communication between healthcare providers is inconsistent or medical records aren’t updated and shared among all treating physicians, employees may undergo repeat testing — for example, when a primary care physician and a cardiologist both order a cardiac stress test for a patient with shortness of breath. Employers can offer care coordination through a case manager for employees who are living with multiple health conditions.

This support can lower the risk of duplicative testing as well as duplicate prescriptions or medications that can result in interactions, which can put an employee’s health needlessly at risk. Another piece of this equation is the review and coordination of medical records, which is especially important when employees see multiple physicians. A medical records management service should include a review of the employee’s records by an RN or physician, consolidation of a comprehensive medical record, and the creation of a secure electronic medical record that can be shared with the employee’s permission with all treating physicians.

Guidance on where to receive care. While you can undergo a colonoscopy, medication infusion or a range of common surgical procedures at a hospital, that may not always be the most appropriate or cost-effective place to receive care. By offering employees the ability to talk with a care manager or adviser about the procedure they need and the options for where they can receive that care (a hospital, outpatient surgery center or doctor’s office), employers can help them receive the care they need and lower both claims costs and employee out-of-pocket costs.

Medical bill review. Another resource employers can offer to make sure healthcare costs are carefully managed is a medical bill review. Experts estimate that between 30% and 80% of medical bills contain errors that increase costs. There are many different causes of these errors, including the use of the incorrect billing codes and use of out-of-network healthcare providers. In addition to offering employees the services of a medical billing review and negotiation firm, they can provide education that lets employees know what types of errors are commonly made and how to spot them on their own bills.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (13 February 2019) "Hospital pricing transparency: More information, more confusion?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/hospital-pricing-transparency-more-information-more-confusion?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now

How do you decipher any given wellness program's compliance under the law? Under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) current guidance, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” Read this blog post to learn more about wellness program regulations.


Defining “wellness” for any one person is no simple task, and neither is deciphering a given wellness program’s compliance under the law.

In 2016, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its final regulations defining a “voluntary” program under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the entire landscape — at least what can be seen on a hazy day — appeared defined. But thanks to AARP’s successful challenge to these regulations and the EEOC’s recent acknowledgment of the demise of its incentive limitations, employers find themselves back in the “Wild West” of sorts for wellness compliance.

That being said, the uncertainty is not new for employers with wellness programs, and there is now more guidance than before, so let’s take a moment to take in the current view.

The current guidance under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) remains unchanged, so any wellness program integrated with a health plan or otherwise constituting a health plan itself, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” The health-contingent plans (which condition the award of incentives on accomplishing a health goal) will require additional compliance considerations, including—but not limited to—incentive limitations, reasonable alternative standards (RAS), and notice requirements.

The RAS should be of particular importance because they can be missed most out of the compliance parameters. Often there is an “accidental” program such as a tobacco surcharge, and the employer does not even realize the wellness rules are implicated, or the employer’s RAS is another health-contingent parameter that actually necessitates another RAS.

The Department of Labor is actively enforcing compliance in this area, so employers will want to take care.

Additionally, the EEOC’s ADA (and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) regulations are still largely in force. This seems to be a common misconception—ranging from a celebration of no rules to a lament for the end of incentivized wellness programs that include disability-related questionnaires (like an average health risk assessment) or medical examinations (including biometric screenings).

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

The ADA’s own RAS and notice concepts still apply, along with confidentiality requirements. All that has changed is that the EEOC has declined (again) to tell us at what point an incentive turns a program compulsory. So employers sponsoring wellness programs subject to the ADA have three choices, based on risk tolerance (In truth, there are four options, but charging above the ADA’s previous incentive limitations would be excessively risky):

  • Run incentives for ADA plans up to the 30 percent cap that existed before. This is the riskiest approach. To take this route, an employer must rely upon HIPAA’s similar (though not exactly the same) incentive limitations as indicative of non-compulsory levels. The fact that Judge Bates did not accept this argument in the AARP case advises against this approach, but this case does not have global application. If this path is chosen, it will be imperative to document analysis as to why this incentive preserves voluntariness for your participants.
  • Keep the incentives below the previous 30 percent cap but incentivize the program. This approach does have risk because no one knows at what point an incentive takes choice away from participants. However, the incentive is a useful tool to motivate and reward health-conscientious behavior. The wellness incentive limitations stood at 20 percent under the HIPAA regulations for quite some time without much concern, so this could be a relatively safe target. But the most important thing is to carefully assess the overall structure of the program(s) offered, consider the culture and demographics of the employees who may participate, and balance the desire to motivate against the particular tensions of the program to decide on a reasonable incentive. Make sure to document this analysis and reconsider it every time a program changes.
  • Not incentivize the program at all. This is the most conservative approach from a compliance perspective but ultimately not required. Before the EEOC’s 2016 regulations, employers were incentivizing programs subject to the ADA, and nothing about the AARP case or the EEOC’s response to it prohibits incentives.

There’s no doubt the wellness compliance landscape has changed a little over this last year, but this is also just the tip of the iceberg. With enforcement heating up, it is imperative for employers to carefully consider compliance, document the reasonableness of incentive choices and lean on trusted counsel when necessary to avoid potentially costly and time-consuming issues.

SOURCE: Davenport, B. (13 February 2019) "Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/02/13/employee-wellness-programs-and-compliance-what-to-know-right-now/


U.S. Department of Labor's New Compliance Assistance Tool

On February 6, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the launch of the electronic version of their Compliance Assistance Tool (Handy Reference Guide to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)). This new version will assist employers by providing them with basic Wage and Hour Division (WHD) information, as well as links to other resources.

This electronic resource was created as a part of the WHD's efforts to modernize compliance assistance tools, as well as provide easy-to-use, accessible compliance information. In coexistence with worker.govemployer.gov, and other online tools, this tool will help improve employer understanding of federal labor laws and regulations.

View the digital Compliance Assistance Tool here.

Read the DOL's full press release here.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor (6 February 2019) "U.S. Department of Labor Announces New Compliance Assistance Tool" (Web Press Release). Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20190206-0


With the Advent of Remote Work, Is the ‘Sick Day’ Becoming Passé?

With many employees working remotely full time, is the practice of employee sick days becoming out of date? Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Your advertising manager works from home full time. She has a nasty cold. But hey—she only needs to walk a few steps from her bedroom to her desk, can nap when she needs to and won't infect her colleagues. So she doesn't really need to take a sick day, right?

Well, she probably should, but as remote work continues to rise, workplace experts find that those who do their jobs from home are inclined to stay on the clock while soldiering through colds, the flu and other maladies—in part because they don't want to appear to be taking advantage of their work-from-home benefit.

"Remote workers find it hard to integrate work with the rest of their life because it is so easy to overwork and even plow through your work while you are sick," said Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, a New York City-based HR executive network and research firm. "If you are only traveling from your bedroom to your home office, remote workers may rationalize, 'What harm can be done if I work while I am sick? At least I'm not contagious.' "

In addition, the advent of remote working has introduced another trend: managers suggesting that onsite employees work from home when they're sick.

"It's no secret that many [workplaces] have cultures that encourage the 'always-on' mentality," said Erica Denner, head of people and culture at YouEarnedIt/HighGround, an Austin, Texas-based company that focuses on employee recognition, rewards and performance management. "In my experience, I've found that because of this, employees at these organizations can find it difficult to ask for time off when they're sick and are often encouraged to work from home instead."

Circumstances Matter

Thanks to technology that facilitates remote work, there are instances when working during what otherwise would have been a sick day may actually be a win for the employee and employer.

"There are all kinds of reasons to take sick days," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute and a senior research advisor for the Society for Human Resource Management. "If employees have a condition that affects their ability to be mobile, like a broken bone or torn tendon, they might have to take a sick day if they work in a traditional workplace because travel to work would be difficult, but they could easily work at home. I can think of other such illnesses, such as having something contagious and not wanting to infect others but feeling good enough to work or being postoperative and being able to work in short spurts. Working at home could be ideal for that."

Consider U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who recovered from cancer surgery at home but nonetheless heard arguments in a case before the court. A court spokesperson said Ginsburg would participate "on the basis of briefs, filings and transcripts," CNBC reported.

But if working while ill prevents an employee from fully resting and recuperating, this will likely hinder performance—and even future productivity and morale.

"If an employee is really sick, he or she might power through and get a few things done but might not do them well," Galinsky said.

Working through your cold, sore throat or flu not only can lead to a decline in physical well-being but "also can present mental health challenges," Meister said.

Contractors, or so-called gig workers, in particular, may be wary of taking sick time. Lacking job security, they may fear that doing so would make them appear dispensable to their employers.

What Employers Can Do

To discourage employees from avoiding sick days because they're working remotely:

Communicate to employees that you expect them to take time off when they're sick. Or, encourage them to be open about how much work, if any, they feel they can accomplish. "If you can't produce high-quality work, even from the comfort of your own home, when you're under the weather, relay that message to your manager," Denner said. "If they value your contributions and are a good supervisor, they will understand and step in to help until you're feeling better."

At YouEarnedIt/HighGround, workers are asked to make it clear when they are out sick and unavailable. This includes setting up not only the typical out-of-office notification by e-mail but also notifications across productivity platforms the company uses, such as Slack. "It's remarkable how effective turning on the 'out sick' emoji in Slack is in terms of alerting colleagues you need time to recover," Denner said. "When employees are out on a longer-term medical leave, we actually remove their technology access so they can't check e-mails or Slack. This way, the employee doesn't feel guilty or obligated to respond to messages."

Talk about the importance of taking sick days for one's physical and mental well-being. Bring up the topic during all-hands meetings with onsite as well as remote workers. In benefits materials and handouts, address the importance of taking sick days.

Ensure that managers and executives take sick days themselves. When a boss shows up at a meeting sniffling and coughing, she sends the clear message that work is too important to be interrupted by illness. And that only leaves her subordinates feeling guilty if they take sick days.

"We've found that [modeling sick-day behavior] actually goes a long way in not just encouraging our employees to do the same, but also in further solidifying a culture of trust and respect," Denner said.

Encourage remote workers to take time for themselves even when they're healthy—such as taking a midday break—and reinforce how this is important for their well-being and productivity.

SOURCE: Wilkie, D. (6 February 2019) "With the Advent of Remote Work, Is the ‘Sick Day’ Becoming Passé?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/remote-workers-and-sick-days-.aspx


How to Speak to Your Employees About Their Intimidating Benefits

Employers spend thousands annually to secure and offer benefits to their employees. However, a small amount of time and money are devoted to ensuring employees understand and appreciate their benefits. Properly communicating – what you say, how you say it and to whom you say it to – can make a tremendous difference in how employees think, feel and react to their benefits, employer and fellow co-workers.

In this installment of CenterStage, Jamie Charlton, founding partner and CEO of Saxon Financial Services, discusses the importance of offering sound education of benefits to employees, as well as how to effectively communicate their benefits in a clear, concise manner. Through 18 years in the financial services field, Jamie has instilled a focus on stressing to employers the importance of communicating and educating employees on all that is available currently and what may change with each upcoming plan year. Jamie believes a focus on premiums leads to “next level benefits”, an offering Saxon delivers.

The Need for Benefits Communication

Clearly communicating benefits is an increasing issue due to the complex dynamics of benefits plans. Previously, benefits decisions have been made primarily by employers. As a result, employees have not become educated consumers about their benefits or on how to implement them. This absence of engagement, as Jamie notes, causes employees to enroll in benefits that don’t fit their needs, pay too much for their coverage and not discover the full advantage of their offerings. Good communication is important and should cover all matters regarding plan offerings to employees and their dependents alike. The goal of a proper benefits plan, Jamie states, is to be enjoyable, comprehendible, and easily accessible. However, there currently exists an infliction point in employee benefits, and the entire process is changing.

This change is a factor of two main topics: (1) the continuing rise in medical costs and health insurance premiums and (2) a truly multigenerational workforce within the workplace. So how does an employer communicate their benefits to their employees?

Employers seeking to spread the word about their benefits offerings are continuing to seek out the expertise and experience found through Saxon. Understanding there is no one-size-fits-all method for every employer, Saxon delivers tools through tested methods to get your message across to employees. We explore your company’s offerings and assist you in crafting the perfect method to communicate and educate your employees on their existing plan offerings. Jamie gives the example of wellness programs and how to broadcast these offerings. Utilizing channels in which employees are bound to check – computers and smartphones – Saxon places the knowledge of how to display these offerings through informational web pages or email blasts.

Proper Benefit Education Begins with Saxon

While the methods above serve as channels for reaching employees, nothing compares to a direct, in-house explanation of your benefits to ensure your message is addressed and comprehended. Unique to Saxon is what Jamie notes as the “secret sauce” of Saxon’s employer and employee empowerment – the annual open enrollment meeting, which consists of nothing more than a step-by-step walk through of your entire health plan. This annual ‘seminar’ within your office closely examines the “nuts and bolts” of your plan to ensure everything is in-tact, working and done so with comprehension across the entirety of the organization.

Saxon understands the complexity of the modern healthcare scene and therefore is driven to provide the most comprehensive breakdown of your plan. Have more than one? No problem – We can compose a side-by-side analysis of your plans to show not only employers but employees where the strongest assets lie. Additionally, we stress the importance of shopping around at renewal time to make sure you get the best you can for your money. Jamie explained the goal of the meeting, as well as Saxon’s continued service year-round, is to “empower employees to have a choice.”

Empowerment from Saxon comes in many different forms. Just one of these many ways discovered through Saxon’s annual meeting is placing the power of online benefits administration at the fingertips of employees. Traditionally, when an employee needed to update their plan (i.e. having a new baby in the middle of a plan year), they were entitled to visiting their employer’s office and updating their plan by filling out a form. Risks associated with this older process included the “potential loss of documentation and therefore an inaccurate reading of an employee’s coverage needs”, said Jamie. The online method saves time, stress and paper.

How Saxon Helps

At Saxon, we want to invest in you. We begin by engaging experts that truly listen, building successful strategies that stay focused on your vision and goals. We strive to not be a name you turn to for assistance but a knowledgeable face always at your service. Saxon exists to care, cultivate and empower through relationships, expertise and exceptional standards of service. From finding a doctor, solving a complicated claim or partnering with an insurance agency to help protect your company’s sensitive medical data to ensure you are HIPAA compliant – with us; it’s personal.

To begin the conversation with Jamie on how to better communicate with your employees, contact him at (513) 573-0129.


Move over mainstream: Alternative health options a road to better value

A number of employers are seeking alternative ways to get better value for their healthcare spending. Read this blog post to learn more about alternative health options.


While employers may be the largest purchasers of healthcare outside of the federal government, rarely does one organization have enough influence when negotiating with the powerful health plans and provider systems. As a result, employers — and ultimately the consumers for whom they purchase healthcare services — pay the price.

Instead of taking these lumps of coal sitting down, there are a growing number of employers on the cutting edge of healthcare purchasing seeking alternative ways in 2019 to get better value for their healthcare spending. They are looking for the diamonds in the rough.

In more than half of the healthcare markets in the U.S., providers have merged reducing competition and leaving employers and consumers with little choice for their care. Employers must stop insisting that health insurance products provide access to the broadest network of healthcare providers — if providers know they’ll be kept “in network” no matter how they behave, employers and payers further reduce their negotiating position. Employers also should band together to be sizable enough to call the shots, but this rarely happens.

While this lack of market power and influence is a major frustration for employers, it’s far from the only one. Educated employers also know that the healthcare system produces uneven quality and high prices have nothing to do with excellent care. The amount an employer pays for a service merely represents the relative negotiating strength of the health insurance carriers and providers.

As prices continue to drive healthcare cost growth, Americans are finding their healthcare unaffordable and are willing to trade choice for affordability. Many Americans no longer view having the ability to pick any doctor they choose as essential if it means increased premiums and cost-sharing that comes at the expense of other basic needs. These shifting attitudes represent an opportunity for employers seeking diamonds to pursue the following new healthcare benefits options. Here are some.

Narrow networks: Health insurance plans built around a narrower network that cuts out care providers who are outlandishly expensive or have a particularly poor record on quality. Alternatively, center a smaller network around a direct contract with an accountable care organization selected for its potential to deliver higher quality and value. More commercial health insurance carriers and lesser known third-party administrators are offering and supporting these options. Premiums and cost-sharing are typically lower for the consumer than with broader network plans.

Centers of excellence (CoE): Steer patients to designated high-quality providers with expertise in a given medical area who are willing to enter into an alternative payment arrangement or offer a more reasonable price in return for more patients. Make CoEs attractive through more generous coverage or make them mandatory if employees want an elective or non-emergent procedure (e.g., bariatric or spine surgery). Either way, employers reduce the risk that employees will receive subpar or low value care.

Alternative sites of care: Increase access to and use of alternative sites of care including onsite or near-site clinics and telehealth services. These enhance the convenience of primary or behavioral healthcare for employees and can help the employer better control referrals to overpriced hospitals or specialists.

So, move over mainstream. When it comes to the tactics employers use to purchase healthcare, alternative is likely to become less fringe. Narrow networks, CoEs or alternative sites of care may not solve all of the frustrations. But employers’ pursuit of these new models sends a strong signal that lumps of coal aren’t going to cut it. Employers are on the hunt for a shinier, more attractive set of solutions.

SOURCE: "Move over mainstream: Alternative health options a road to better value" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/move-over-mainstream-alternative-health-options-a-road-to-better-value?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000