7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal

Need more energy and excitement in your office? Keep your employees healthy and motivated with these fun wellness program ideas.


Building your own workplace wellness program takes work–and time–but it’s worth it.

“It’s an investment we need to make,” Jennifer Bartlett, HR director at Griffin Communication, told a group of benefits managers during a session at the Human Resource Executive Health and Benefits Leadership Conference. “We want [employees] to be healthy and happy, and if they’re healthy and happy they’ll be more productive.”

Bartlett shared her experiences building, and (continually) tweaking, a wellness program at her company–a multimedia company running TV outlets across Oklahoma –over the last seven years. “If there was a contest or challenge we’ve done it,” she said, noting there have been some failed ventures.

“We got into wellness because we wanted to reduce health costs, but that’s not why we do it today,” she said. “We do it today because employees like it and it increases morale and engagement.”

Though Griffin Communication's wellness program is extensive and covers more than this list, here are some components of it that's working out well that your company might want to steal:

  1. Fitbit challenge.Yes, fit bits can make a difference, Bartlett said. The way she implemented a program was to have a handful of goals and different levels as not everyone is at the same pace-some might walk 20,000 steps in a day, while someone else might strive for 5,000. There are also competition and rewards attached. At Griffin Communications, the company purchased a number of Fitbits, then sold them to its employees for half the cost.
  2. Race entry.Griffin tries to get its employees moving by being supportive of their fitness goals. If an employee wants to participate in a race-whether walking or running a 5k or even a marathon, it will reimburse them up to $50 one time.
  3. Wellness pantry.This idea, Bartlett said, was "more popular than I ever could have imagined." Bartlett stocks up the fridge and pantry in the company's kitchen with healthy food options. Employees then pay whole sale the price of the food, so it's a cheap option for them to instead of hitting the vending machine. "Employees can pay 25 cents for a bottled water or $1.50 for a soda from the machine."
  4. Gym membership."We don't have an onsite workout facility, but we offer 50 percent reimbursement of (employees') gym membership cost up to a max of 200 per year," she said. The company also reimburses employees for fitness classes, such as yoga.
  5. Biggest Loser contest.Though this contest isn't always popular among companies, a Biggest Loser-type competition- in which employees compete to lose the most weight-worked out well at Griffin. Plus, Bartlett said, "this doesn't cost us anything because the employee buys in $10 to do it." She also insisted the company is sensitive to employees. For example, they only share percentages of weight loss instead of sharing how much each worker weights.
  6. "Project Zero" contest.This is a program pretty much everyone can use: Its aim is to avoid gaining the dreaded holiday wights. The contest runs from early to mid- November through the first of the year. "Participants will weigh in the first and last day of the contest," Bartlett said. "The goal is to not gain weight during the holidays-we're not trying to get people to lose weight but we're just to not get them to not eat that third piece of pie."
  7. Corporate challenges.Nothing both builds camaraderie and encourages fitness like a team sports or company field day. Bartlett said that employees have basically taken this idea and run with it themselves- coming up with fun ideas throughout the year.

SOURCE:
Mayer K (14 June 2018) "7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2015/10/10/7-wellness-program-ideas-you-may-want-to-steal/


Lack Of Insurance Exposes Blind Spots In Vision Care

Vision problems are typically not life threatening but can impact the success of your everyday life. Vision care is a significant benefit that could change the lives of many families.


Every day, a school bus drops off as many as 45 children at a community eye clinic on Chicago’s South Side. Many of them are referred to the clinic after failing vision screenings at their public schools.

Clinicians and students from the Illinois College of Optometry give the children comprehensive eye exams, which feature refraction tests to determine a correct prescription for eyeglasses and dilation of their pupils to examine their eyes, including the optic nerve and retina.

No family pays out-of-pocket for the exam. The program bills insurance if the children have coverage, but about a third are uninsured. Operated in partnership with Chicago public schools, the program annually serves up to 7,000 children from birth through high school.

“Many of the kids we’re serving fall through the cracks,” said Dr. Sandra Block, a professor of optometry at the Illinois College of Optometry and medical director of the school-based vision clinics program. Many are low-income Hispanic and African-American children whose parents may not speak English or are immigrants who are not in the country legally.

Falling through the cracks is not an uncommon problem when it comes to vision care. According to a 2016 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, as many as 16 million people in the United States have undiagnosed or uncorrected “refractive” errors that could be fixed with eyeglasses, contact lenses or surgery. And while insurance coverage for eye exams and corrective lenses clearly has improved, significant gaps remain.

The national academies’ report noted that impaired vision affects how people experience their world, including normal communication and social activities, independence and mobility. Not seeing clearly can hamper children’s academic achievement, social development and long-term health.

But when people must choose, vision care may lose out to more pressing medical concerns, said Block, who was on the committee that developed the report.

“Vision issues are not life-threatening,” she said. “People get through their day knowing they can’t see as well as they’d like.”

Insurance can make regular eye exams, glasses and treatment for medical problems such as cataracts more accessible and affordable. But comprehensive vision coverage is often achieved only through a patchwork of plans.

The Medicare program that provides coverage for millions of Americans age 65 and older doesn’t include routine eye exams, refraction testing or eyeglasses. Some tests are covered if you’re at high risk for a condition such as glaucoma, for example. And if you develop a vision-related medical condition such as cataracts, the program will cover your medical care.

But if you’re just a normal 70-year-old and you want to get your eyes examined, the program won’t cover it, said Dr. David Glasser, an ophthalmologist in Columbia, Md., who is a clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. If you make an appointment because you’re experiencing troubling symptoms and get measured for eyeglasses while there, you’ll likely be charged anywhere from about $30 to $75, Glasser said.

There are a few exceptions. Medicare will pay for one pair of glasses or contact lenses following cataract surgery, for example. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer vision care.

Many commercial health insurance plans also exclude routine vision care from their coverage. Employers may offer workers a separate vision plan to fill in the gaps.

VSP Vision Care provides vision care plans to 60,000 employers and other clients, said Kate Renwick-Espinosa, the organization’s president. A typical plan provides coverage for a comprehensive eye exam once a year and an allowance toward standard eyeglasses or contact lenses, sometimes with a copayment. Also, individuals seeking plans make up a growing part of their business, she said.

Vision coverage for kids improved under the Affordable Care Act. The law requires most plans sold on the individual and small-group market to offer vision benefits for children younger than 19. That generally means that those plans cover a comprehensive eye exam, including refraction, every year, as well as a pair of glasses or contact lenses.

But since pediatric eye exams aren’t considered preventive care that must be covered without charging people anything out-of-pocket under the ACA, they’re subject to copays and the deductible.

Medicaid programs for low-income people also typically cover vision benefits for children and sometimes for adults as well, said Dr. Christopher Quinn, president of the American Optometric Association, a professional group.

But coverage alone isn’t enough. To bring down the number of people with undiagnosed or uncorrected vision, education is key to helping people understand the importance of eye health in maintaining good vision. Just as important, it can also reduce the impact of chronic conditions such as diabetes, the national academies’ report found.

“All health care providers need to at least ask vision questions when providing primary care,” said Block.

SOURCE:
Andrews M (13 JUNE 2018). "Lack Of Insurance Exposes Blind Spots In Vision Care" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/lack-of-insurance-exposes-blind-spots-in-vision-care/


Are You And Your Primary Care Doc Ready To Talk About Your DNA?

Knowing your genes could save your life, especially if a genetic mutation is hereditary. See why incorporating DNA testing is a crucial part of your primary care.


If you have a genetic mutation that increases your risk for a treatable medical condition, would you want to know? For many people the answer is yes. But such information is not commonly part of routine primary care.

For patients at Geisinger Health System, that could soon change. Starting in the next month or so, the Pennsylvania-based system will offer DNA sequencing to 1,000 patients, with the goal to eventually extend the offer to all 3 million Geisinger patients.

The test will look for mutations in at least 77 genes that are associated with dozens of medical conditions ranging from heart disease to cancer, as well as variability in how people respond to pharmaceuticals based on heredity.

“We’re giving more precision to the very important decisions that people need to make,” said Dr. David Feinberg, Geisinger’s president and CEO. In the same way that primary care providers currently suggest checking someone’s cholesterol, “we would have that discussion with patients,” he said. “‘It looks like we haven’t done your genome. Why don’t we do that?’”

Some physicians and health policy analysts question whether such genetic information is necessary to provide good primary care — or feasible for many primary care physicians.

The new clinical program builds on a research biobank and genome-sequencing initiative called MyCode that Geisinger started in 2007 to collect and analyze its patients’ DNA. That effort has enrolled more than 200,000 people.

Like MyCode, the new clinical program is based on whole “exome” sequencing, analyzing the roughly 1 percent of the genome that provides instructions for making proteins, where most known disease-causing mutations occur.

Using this analysis, clinicians might be able to tell Geisinger patients that they have a genetic variant associated with Lynch syndrome, for example, which leads to increased risk of colon and other cancers, or familial hypercholesterolemia, which can result in high cholesterol levels and heart disease at a young age. Some people might learn they have increased susceptibility to  malignant hyperthermia, a hereditary mutation that can be fatal since it causes a severe reaction to certain medications used during anesthesia.

Samples of a patient’s blood or spit are used to provide a DNA sample. After analysis, the results are sent to the patient’s primary care doctor.

Before speaking with the patient, the doctor takes a 30-minute online continuing education tutorial to review details about genetic testing and the disorder. Then the patient is informed and invited to meet with the primary care provider, along with a genetic counselor if desired. At that point, doctor and patient can discuss treatment and prevention options, including lifestyle changes like diet and exercise that can reduce the risk of disease.

About 3.5 percent of the people who’ve been tested through Geisinger’s research program had a genetic variant that could result in a medical problem for which clinicians can recommend steps to influence their health, Feinberg said. Only actionable mutations are communicated to patients. Geisinger won’t inform them if they have a variant of the APOE gene that increases their risk for Alzheimer’s disease, for example, because there’s no clinical treatment. (Geisinger is working toward developing a policy for how to handle these results if patients ask for them.)

Wendy Wilson, a Geisinger spokeswoman, said that what they’re doing is very different from direct-to-consumer services like 23andMe, which tests customers’ saliva to determine their genetic risk for several diseases and traits and makes the results available in an online report.

“Geisinger is prescribing DNA sequencing to patients and putting DNA results in electronic health records and actually creating an action plan to prevent that predisposition from occurring. We are preventing disease from happening,” she said.

Geisinger will absorb the estimated $300 to $500 cost of the sequencing test. Insurance companies typically don’t cover DNA sequencing and limit coverage for adult genetic tests for specific mutations, such as those related to the breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 or BRCA2, unless the patient has a family history of the condition or other indications they’re at high risk.

“Most of the medical spending in America is done after people have gotten sick,” said Feinberg. “We think this will decrease spending on a lot of care.”

Some clinicians aren’t so sure. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch is a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice who has authored books about overdiagnosis and overscreening, including “Less Medicine, More Health.”

He credited Geisinger with carefully targeting the genes in which it looks for actionable mutations instead of taking an all-encompassing approach. He acknowledged that for some conditions, like Lynch syndrome, people with genetic mutations would benefit from being followed closely. But he questioned the value of DNA sequencing to identify other conditions, such as some related to heart disease.

“What are we really going to do differently for those patients?” he asked. “We should all be concerned about heart disease. We should all exercise, we should eat real food.”

Welch said he was also concerned about the cascading effect of expensive and potentially harmful medical treatment when a genetic risk is identified.

“Doctors will feel the pressure to do something: start a medication, order a test, make a referral. You have to be careful. Bad things happen,” he said.

Other clinicians question primary care physicians’ comfort with and time for incorporating DNA sequencing into their practices.

A survey of nearly 500 primary care providers in the New York City area published in Health Affairs this month found that only a third of them had ordered a genetic test, given patients a genetic test result or referred one for genetic counseling in the past year.

Only a quarter of survey respondents said they felt prepared to work with patients who had genetic testing for common diseases or were at high risk for genetic conditions. Just 14 percent reported they were confident they could interpret genetic test results.

“Even though they had training, they felt unprepared to incorporate genomics into their practice,” said Dr. Carol Horowitz, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who co-authored the study.

Speaking as a busy primary care practitioner, she questioned the feasibility of adding genomic medicine to regular visits.

“Geisinger is a very well-resourced health system and they’ve made a decision to incorporate that into their practices,” she said. In Harlem, where Horowitz works as an internist, it could be a daunting challenge. “Our plates are already overflowing, and now you’re going to dump a lot more on our plate.”

SOURCE:
Andrews, M (12 June 2018). "Are You And Your Primary Care Doc Ready To Talk About Your DNA?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/are-you-and-your-primary-care-doc-ready-to-talk-about-your-dna/


Viewpoint: Coaching Your Employees to Finish Strong as They Near Retirement

10,000 people a day are retiring. Help your employees transition into retirement with these important strategies. ​


Baby Boomers are beginning to retire in large numbers. AARP says 10,000 people a day are retiring from work. Most companies have no formal program to aid these employees in this transition. Although we often have extensive onboarding programs, little to nothing is done when an employee is ending his or her career, except a goodbye party.

For many people, upcoming retirement means coasting until the day they are done. Dave was a senior-level manager who announced his retirement one year in advance. The problem was that Dave then became "retired on the job." He stopped innovating. He stopped moving new ideas forward. He avoided conflict by ignoring problems. He no longer aggressively led his team.

Dave had been very successful in his career but he ended poorly, so that was how everyone remembered him. His team suffered poor morale because its members felt they were stuck until Dave left his position. That is a problem for the whole company.

Help retiring employees to end strong at your company. Instead of letting employees coast and drain the company coffers, HR can support retiring workers as they end their careers in the best way possible, fully contributing up until the last day.

Some key strategies include:

  • Creating a planning-to-retire educational program.HR should develop a workshop to show employees how to plan out their future, paying special consideration to how they will handle all the free time they will have once they leave the company. The course can cover financial planning, too. The employee will be grateful for this assistance.
  • Coaching the employee's manager.Managers of departing employees need instruction on how to support someone leaving the group. The formal coaching should offer proven strategies to keep the employee engaged until his or her last day. The supervisor should encourage the employee to complete as many key projects as possible and accept the responsibility to not let the employee become retired on the job.
  • Documenting their knowledge.As many Baby Boomers walk out the door, their depth of experience and insight depart with them. Companies should have these employees document their knowledge by creating a training manual or by adding pages to the organization's intranet so other employees can learn from these folks.
  • Training a new employee.Ideally, the organization should promote or hire a replacement and have the departing employee train the new person. Having a two- to three-week training period helps the new employee get up to speed and be more productive, more quickly. 
  • Offering a "bridge job."Finding talented workers to replace departing Baby Boomers will become harder to do in our tight labor market. Developing a transitional or bridge job where the employee remains at work on a part-time basis may allow the company to avoid the quest for talent that is often not available. Baby Boomers want more flexibility and fewer work hours at the end of their career. In fact, 72 percent say they plan to work in their retirement. Annette was an IT specialist who wanted to leave the energy utility she worked for. The HR department was under the gun to deliver a new human resource information system and asked her to continue working three days a week with the ability to take more unpaid vacations. This new bridge job kept her in her role for 18 months until the big project was completed.

Final days may be a bittersweet time for employees to say goodbye to their co-workers, friends and the company itself. Having a supportive send-off is a great policy to ensure that everyone leaves on a positive note and will speak highly of your organization after the departure.

 

SOURCE:
Ryan R (4 June 2018) "Viewpoint: Coaching Your Employees to Finish Strong as They Near Retirement" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/Viewpoint-Coaching-Your-Employees-on-Finishing-Strong-As-They-Retire-.aspx?_ga=2.37756515.1310386699.1527610160-238825258.1527610159


Employee benefit satisfaction has direct relation to job fulfillment

New reports say that employees would sacrifice pay increases for better benefits. Heres some tips on how to keep your employees satisfied.


A link between the satisfaction workers feel about their benefits — both employment based and voluntary — has a direct relation with retention opportunities for employers.

Eight in 10 employees who ranked their benefits satisfaction as extremely or very high also ranked job satisfaction as extremely or very high, according to Employee Benefit Research Institute’s recent 2017 Health and Workplace Benefits Survey. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of respondents who ranked benefits satisfaction as extremely or very high ranked their morel as excellent or very good.

“It is important for employers to understand that benefits continue to be valued by employees,” says Paul Fronstin, director of the health research and education program at EBRI. “Health insurance, retirement plans, dental, vision and life insurance continue to be highly important when making job change decisions.”

In fact, the survey finds that more than four in 10 respondents say they would forgo a wage increase to receive an increase in their work-life balance benefits, and nearly two in 10 state a preference for more health benefits and lower wages.

Employees continue to indicate benefits play a key role in whether to remain at a job or choose a new job. Since 2013, health insurance consistently remains one of the top benefits that employees consider in assessing a job change.

Last year, 83% say health insurance is very or extremely important in deciding whether to stay in or change jobs. A retirement savings plan is also one of the critical benefits, with 73% indicating it is extremely or very important in determining whether to stay in or switch jobs.

Although employees say they are generally satisfied with the employee benefits provide today, there is a growing concern benefit programs might start to dwindle. When asked, only 19% of respondents say they are extremely confident in what will be provided will be similar to what they have now in three years.

Other challenges remain

“The challenge is how employers can continue to provide the strong employee benefits package that employees want and need, while still controlling the costs of these benefits, particularly healthcare,” Fronstin notes.

Employee education on benefit offerings could use some beefing up. According to the study a little more than one-half (52%) of employees say they understand their health benefits and 43% indicate they understand their non-health benefits very/extremely well.

Some of this limited understanding of benefits may come from the lack — or perceived lack — of benefit educational opportunities that employees are receiving from their employer, according to the study.

Nearly one-third (31%) of employees indicate that their employer or benefits company provides no education or advice on benefits. Only 39% state that their employer provides education on how health insurance works, 24% say that their employer provides education on how a health savings account works, and 28% confirm that their employer offers education on how to invest money in their retirement plan.

In any case, Fronstin adds, “as employers weigh the future of benefits, they should consider that health insurance consistently remains one of the top benefits that employees consider in assessing a job change, with retirement savings plan also viewed as a critical benefit.”

SOURCE:
Otto N (4 June 2018) "Employee benefit satisfaction has direct relation to job fulfillment" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employee-benefit-satisfaction-has-direct-relation-to-job-fulfillment


Five Practical Ways to Support Mental Well-being at Work

Mental well-being impacts engagement, absenteeism and productivity. Discover how help make the workplace atmosphere and environment more pleasant with these tricks.


The American Institute of Stress reports that stress is the nation’s top health problem. This makes sense, as mental capacity is highly valued in the workplace but can also be highly vulnerable. Today’s workplace, with technology, fast-paced growth and decreased resources, can contribute to increased stress.

Companies should value the mental health of their employees as a top asset and fiercely protect it. Mental well-being impacts engagement, presenteeism, absenteeism and productivity — all of which impact businesses bottom lines. More importantly, supporting and protecting the mental health of your employees is the right thing to do.

Here are five best practices to support mental health in the workplace.

  1. Normalize the conversation.

Top-down support of mental health is crucial in creating an open dialogue, as is an open-door policy. Senior leaders should participate in the conversation about mental wellbeing to show buy in. Normalizing the occurrence of a grief reaction or stress disorder can insure that your employees seek help when it happens to them.

Establishing mental health champions within your organization is another way to encourage a healthy dialogue. People with mental health conditions who want to help others are great candidates for this role.

Use awareness days that focus on stress and mental health as external nudges to educate staff about these important issues. Importantly, remind staff that a diversity of perspectives, including those with lived mental health experiences, are valued and encouraged in inclusive environments.

  1. Implement strong policies and procedures.

Disclosure can help an employee seek the appropriate resources and care before conditions worsen, so having proper policies and procedures in place are important in removing barriers to disclose.

This includes protection against discrimination, which is usually a top concern for employees, as well as providing appropriate workplace accommodations. Ensure managers are aware of key resources, like employee assistance programs, and maintain confidentiality when an employee discloses information.

Beyond this, educate employees on policies, procedures and proper protocols to increase employee awareness. Here’s a tip: Repeat key messages and tailor your communications to better reach your staff.

  1. Prevention is better than cure.

It’s essential to remember that anyone is susceptible to stress and a resulting decline in their mental health, whether a preexisting condition exists or not. Big life events like having a baby or losing a loved one and every day struggles like money worries, relationship issues or work-related stress can cause or aggravate mental health conditions to the point of interfering with work. 

Mental wellness sessions or work/life balance programs can help. Bring in an expert and talk to your staff about how to safeguard their own mental health, build resilience and recognize signs of distress in others.

  1. Tailor your benefits package to support mental wellbeing.

Choose a major medical plan that gives employees access to quality mental health specialists in network, as these costs can add up significantly. Helping employees have access to and triage the right specialist support is crucial in managing conditions.

EAPs can act as a first line of defense for a wide range of problems – from money and relationship worries to support for working caregivers. They provide both practical and emotional support for employees through confidential counseling and can help prevent issues from escalating and impacting productivity. These programs are often offered as part of a major medical or disability plan, so your company may already have access to them.

Money worries can also take an emotional toll on wellbeing. In fact, financial concerns were the leading cause of stress across all generations in a recent consumer study conducted by my company, Unum.

Help your employees establish a strong financial foundation by offering financially-focused benefits, like life and disability insurance, retirement savings options and supplemental health benefits that can close the rising financial gap in medical plans.

If your budget doesn’t cover these benefits, consider offering them on a voluntary basis. Access to financial protection benefits are more affordable when offered through the workplace, even if the employee picks up the cost.

Flexible hours or remote working options can also help employees schedule their work days when they’re feeling most productive. This can help reduce presenteeism for mental ill-health, and it also signals to employees that you’re supportive of a healthy work/life balance.

  1. Encourage self-care.

Self-care plays a critical role in overall wellbeing. Encourage employees to do small tasks that’ll help them build resilience over time.

The basics like getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising are foundational in overall wellbeing.

Beyond these staples, developing appropriate time management and work/life balance skills are also important. Delegating and collaborating are also key to ensure healthy work behaviors which also decrease stress.

While technology and our always-on culture make it hard to disconnect, encourage employees to set device off-times so they can fully recharge before the next day. And most important, model this behavior to your staff and limit after hours work and emails.

Having a holistic mental well-being strategy that includes prevention, intervention and protection is essential for unlocking a workforce’s true potential.

 

SOURCE:
Jackson M (4 June 2018) "Five Practical Ways to Support Mental Well-being at Work" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.workforce.com/2018/05/18/five-practical-ways-support-mental-well-work/


4 perks to make your employees' lives easier and less stressful

Recruit top talent with ease and confidence when considering these tips on attractive, creative and innovative employment perks.


A 2016 survey from Glassdoor found that 57 percent of people looking for jobs said benefits and perks are among their top considerations when weighing offers. So how can a company stack the deck in its favor when recruiting top talent? Although some companies limit their benefits packages to traditional offerings such as health insurance, 401Ks and paid time off, a today’s forward-thinking employers know they need to find more creative ways to offer benefits that make a genuine difference in employees’ day-to-day work and personal lives.

As competition for employees intensifies, the race to improve employer-based services is likely to result in better options for employees. Unconventional benefits options come in many shapes and forms, but they share one thing in common: the goal of saving time for employees, reducing their stress, and ultimately improving their health and satisfaction at work.

All other things being equal, companies that offer innovative perks that speak to the well-being of their employees are more likely to attract and retain the top talent in their field. Here are a few such perks to consider.

Expectant-parent counseling

You’ve thrown the baby shower, cut the cake, helped carry staff gifts to the car—and you’ve explained the company’s parental leave policy in detail. As you wave Julie from accounting off with best wishes, you’re confident she’ll come back to her desk in a few months’ time.

But the truth is that 43 percent of women who have babies leave the workforce permanently within a matter of months. Many say it’s because they don’t have adequate support at home to enable them to resume their careers. That is why companies like Reddit and Slack use a service called Lucy that provides expectant employees help before, during, and after parental leave, including 24/7 messaging and one-on-one sessions that can be done in the home or online.

As Reddit VP of People Katelin Holloway put it, “It’s not enough to simply offer parental leave; every child and family is different and has independent needs.” By helping expectant parents find resources that meet their specific needs, you’re making an investment in your workforce that pays enormous dividends in retention, productivity, and morale.

Caregiving support

A Gallup survey revealed more than 1 in 6 full-time or part-time American workers has difficulty balancing caring for elderly parents with their work commitments. This results in decreased productivity and frequent leaves of absence. Companies can help their employees cope and stay engaged with their work by providing concierge services that offer amenities such as taking elderly parents to doctor’s appointments and eldercare coaching when choosing between assisted living options.

To help reduce stress (and retain highly specialized employees), take a cue from companies like Microsoft and Facebook, which provide caregiver paid-leave programs to help employees care for ailing family members or sick relatives.

Dry cleaning at work

Sometimes it’s the little things that save time during the workday that can push the needle in your favor as a potential employer. It may sound trivial, but company-provided dry cleaning is a perk that’s proving to be a big draw in workplaces from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Service providers pick up employees’ laundry or dry cleaning items from work and return them to a designated employer closet in their office building—one less errand, and no more lost tickets. “People have lives to live, so I try to make it easy for them to deal with any of those personal errands that could take up time for them,” said Experian CEO Craig Boundy, speaking about his company’s employee benefits programs in an interview with the The Orange County Register.

Car maintenance and service

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household owns 1.9 vehicles and spends around 1.5 percent of its annual income on auto maintenance and repairs. Cars are a significant investment for most of us, so the more you can help potential employees save time and money on maintaining their vehicles, the more tempting you’ll become as an employer. Growing numbers of innovative companies provide car repair services to help employees save money, find the best quality mechanics, and reduce stress associated with the entire process.

Some firms also offer on-site car wash services, giving employees peace of mind and a positive outlook as they drive home after work. Several big Silicon Valley corporations —including eBay, SanDisk, Cisco, and Oracle—use BoosterFuels to fill employees’ gas tanks while they’re at work. It saves employees time and protects them from potential accidents or robberies at gas stations.

SOURCE:
Weiss Y (31 May 2018) "4 perks to make your employees' lives easier and less stressful" Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/05/11/4-perks-to-make-your-employees-lives-easier-and-le/


Managing Benefits for High-Turnover Employers Is Different. Here's How to Cope

High turnover employers who are constantly hiring and firing employees need to feel comfortable with their plans. These tips will help direct you on how to deal with rapid change.


The rising costs and increased regulation of employee benefits have become a distraction for even the most smoothly running U.S. employers.

For organizations characterized by constant workforce turnover, those distractions can prove detrimental to their bottom line.

Take for instance, the retailer that routinely adds 25 new hires a month. Or the restaurant group that holds semi-monthly training orientations to remain adequately staffed for each shift. Or the manufacturing company that hires and fires up to 40 people a week to keep up with the production schedules.

In the mad scramble for personnel in these high turnover industries, it’s common to see benefits get lost in the shuffle. Mid- and large market employers, by sheer volume alone, are even more susceptible to the pains of maintaining a compliant benefits program in the midst of persistent staff turnover.

If your book of business includes employers that fit this criteria, the following practices will serve you (and, most importantly, your client) well.

  1. Audit, Audit, Audit

Conducting frequent, meticulous audits of the insurance carrier bills and invoices is critically important for employers with high turnover.

At least once a month, a representative of the company, or the broker, needs to cross-reference the most recent carrier invoice with payroll. How many employees listed on the invoice have been terminated in the last thirty days? Are there any employees on payroll being deducted for coverage that do not appear on the invoice? For cost and compliance purposes, it is imperative that the employer knows the answer to both questions each and every month.

If bills from insurance companies are not being actively audited, it is probable that the employer is paying for coverage that they shouldn’t be. For ancillary coverages like vision or basic life insurance, an incorrect cost likely won’t break the bank. But if medical carrier bills are left unmonitored, the premium dollars for ex-employees can add up to thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars each month depending on the size of the employer. Bill and payroll audits also add a second layer of protection for newly-hired employees. Let’s say a new hire elects his or her benefits after satisfying the company’s 60 day waiting period. The coverage effective date should be April 1st, but the employer or broker never enrolled them in the carrier systems.

April 1 rolls around and the employee presumes they have medical coverage. A month later, they have an accident that forces them to seek emergency treatment. At that point, the individual is told that the insurance company has no record of them being an active insured. Had the employer reviewed payroll and the April carrier bill, they would have avoided a potentially major compliance and coverage issue – not to mention a scary situation for their employee.

  1. Ongoing Communication

Ensuring that bill/payroll audits and other necessary managerial tasks are performed is a two-way street, though.

Today’s employers are not alone in the often tumultuous administration of employee benefits. Brokers, consultants and advisors have stepped in over the years to relieve their client organizations of the day-to-day benefits responsibilities. However, even the most involved third parties can’t manage the entire benefits program from end to end. An enduring communication stream must exist between client and advisor.

For employers with recurrent staff turnover, communication becomes even more critical. As employees come and go, these organizations must lean on their brokers for administrative counsel. Enrollments, terminations, eligibility, troubleshooting issues, carrier negotiations/interactions and the countless other administrative duties of a benefits advisor have become too burdensome for employers to take on alone.

Large, high-turnover companies are especially reliant on broker partnerships to ensure that the daily benefits tasks aren’t impeding their core business objectives.

Modern benefits advisors should understand their clients’ businesses inside and out and view themselves as an extension of the team. What are their organizational objectives? What are their three and five-year plans? How does the employee benefit program factor into those plans? And let’s face it… high turnover employers typically translate into higher maintenance clients. They require a greater level of administrative support than companies characterized by long employee tenure.

With more change comes more responsibility, and with more responsibility comes the need for more frequent communication. A dutiful broker should set the expectation that they will be available every day to handle any issue for these high-turnover clients.

  1. Benefit Administration Technology

The evolving role of technology in the administration of benefits is a saving grace to high-turnover employers. Ben-Admin Systems (BAS) have simplified every clerical process for companies of all sizes.

At the low-functionality end, BAS can serve as editable cloud-based storage houses for employee demographic info and benefits data. At the high end, BAS allows for an employee-user experience where benefit elections and terminations are integrated directly with the insurance or payroll companies at the click of a button. In either case, the emergence of BAS options has streamlined administrative processes, while greatly reducing the potential for human error. Cumbersome tasks like payroll audits are now systematized and can be completed in a matter of minutes.

Successfully pairing an employer with a ben-admin system requires strategic consideration and consultation. Despite what the system architects might tell you, these platforms are not “one size fits all.”

Let’s profile a 3,000 employee retailer, as an example: The group has 125 locations nationwide, with approximately 24 people employed at each store. 75% of the workforce is between the ages of 16 and 35, with the remaining 25% scattered in between 36 and 60 years old. 40% of the staff are considered part-time employees based on weekly hours worked, leaving 1,800 benefit eligible employees. The average monthly staff-turnover across the organization is 85 employees – meaning that the rate of annual turnover is 34%.

With all these moving parts, the retailer requires a technological solution to help manage their ever-changing business. The retailer needs data-housing capability to administer their benefits and payroll as a single large entity, rather than 125 separate ones. It needs payroll integration with insurance carriers so that their up-to-date employment numbers accurately reflect the $325,000 in premiums they pay each month for coverage. It needs a customized employee-user interface where their 1,800 benefit eligibles can enroll in or modify their elections. It also needs a solution capable of maintaining a compliant benefits program. COBRA, FMLA, Section 125, ERISA, Form 5500… – every government regulated standard for an employer of this size should be addressed within their ben-admin system.

Like any major business decision, this technology piece needs to be implemented thoughtfully. If selected and negotiated with precision, the right ben-admin system is capable of effectively managing even the most disjointed high-turnover employers.

SOURCE:
Odishoo S (31 May 2018) "Managing Benefits for High-Turnover Employers Is Different. Here's How to Cope" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2018/05/04/managing-benefits-for-high-turnover-employers-is-d/?slreturn=20180431130207


How to get the most out of a day off

Time off is necessary but planning an extended vacation may be stressful. These pointers will help show you how micro-vacations can positively benefit your lifestyle.


The idea of “vacation” often conjures up thoughts of trips to faraway lands. While it’s true that big trips can be fun and even refreshing, they can also take a lot of time, energy, and money. A lot of people feel exhausted just thinking about planning a vacation—not just navigating personal commitments and school breaks, but deciding how to delegate major projects or put work on hold, just so they can have a stress-free holiday. Because of this, some might put off their time away, figuring they’ll get to it when their schedule isn’t so demanding, only to discover at the end of the year that they haven’t used up their paid time off.

In my experience as a time management coach and as a business owner, I’ve found that vacations don’t have to be big to be significant to your health and happiness. In fact, I’ve been experimenting with the idea of taking “micro-vacations” on a frequent basis, usually every other week. These small bits of time off can increase my sense of happiness and the feeling of having “room to breathe.”

From my point of view, micro-vacations are times off that require you to use a day or less of vacation time. Because of their shorter duration, they typically require less effort to plan. And micro-vacations usually don’t require you to coordinate others taking care of your work while you’re gone. Because of these benefits, micro-vacations can happen more frequently throughout the year, which allows you to recharge before you’re feeling burnt out.

If you’re feeling like you need a break from the day-to-day but can’t find the time for an extended vacation, here are four ways to add micro-vacations to your life.

Weekend trips.Instead of limiting vacations to week-long adventures, consider a two- to three-day trip to someplace local. I’m blessed to live in Michigan, and one of my favorite weekend trips is to drive to Lake Michigan for some time in a little rented cottage on the shore or to drive up north to a state park. Especially if you live in an urban area, traveling even a few hours can make you feel like you’re in a different world.

To make the trip as refreshing as possible, consider taking time off on Friday so you can wrap up packing, get to your destination, and do a few things before calling it a night. That still leaves you with two days to explore the area. If you get home by dinnertime on Sunday, you can unpack and get the house in order before your workweek starts again.

There may be a few more e-mails than normal to process on Monday, but other than that, your micro-vacation shouldn’t create any big work pileups.

Margin for personal to-do items.Sometimes getting the smallest things done can make you feel fantastic. Consider taking an afternoon—or even a full day—to take an unrushed approach to all of the nonwork tasks that you really want to do but struggle to find time to do. For example, think of those appointments like getting your hair cut, nails done, oil changed, or doctor visits. You know that you should get these taken care of but finding the time is difficult with your normal schedule.

Or perhaps you want to take the time to do items that you never seem to get to, like picking out patio furniture, unpacking the remaining boxes in the guest room, or setting up your retirement account. You technically could get these kinds of items done on a weeknight or over the weekend. But if you’re consistently finding that you’re not and you have the vacation time, use it to lift some of the weight from the nagging undone items list.

Shorter days for socialization.As individuals get older and particularly after they get married, there tends to be a reduction in how much time they spend with friends. One way to find time for friends without feeling like you’re sacrificing your family time is to take an hour or two off in a day to meet a friend for lunch or to get together with friends before heading home. If you’re allowed to split up your vacation time in these small increments, a single vacation day could easily give you four opportunities to connect with friends who you otherwise might not see at all.

If you struggle to have an uninterrupted conversation with your spouse because your kids are always around, a similar strategy can be helpful. Find days when one or both of you can take a little time off to be together. An extra hour or two will barely make a difference at work but could make a massive impact on the quality of your relationship.

Remote days for decompression. Many offices offer remote working options for some or all of the week. If that’s offered and working remotely is conducive to your work style and your tasks, take advantage of that option.

Working remotely is not technically a micro-vacation, but it can often feel like one. (Please still do your work—I don’t want to get in trouble here!) If you have a commute of an hour or more each way, not having to commute can add back in two or more hours to your life that can be used for those personal tasks or social times mentioned above.

Also, for individuals who work in offices that are loud, lack windows, or where drive-by meetings are common, working remotely can feel like a welcome respite. Plus, you’re likely to get more done. A picturesque location can also give you a new sense of calm as you approach stressful projects. I find that if I’m working in a beautiful setting, like by a lake, it almost feels as good as a vacation. My surroundings have a massive impact on how I feel.

Instead of seeing “vacation” as a large event once or twice a year, consider integrating in micro-vacations into your life on a regular basis. By giving yourself permission to take time for yourself, you can increase your sense of ease with your time.

SOURCE:
Saunders E (28 May 2018). [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://hbr.org/2018/05/how-to-get-the-most-out-of-a-day-off


Benefit change could raise costs for patients getting drug copay assistance

Health plans may change with time. Know what to expect and how to respond with these tips on how to avoid unexpected changes.


Since Kristen Catton started taking the drug Gilenya two years ago, she’s had only one minor relapse of her multiple sclerosis, following a bout of the flu.

She can walk comfortably, see clearly and work part time as a nurse case manager at a hospital near her home in Columbus, Ohio. This is a big step forward; two drugs she previously tried failed to control her physical symptoms or prevent repeated flare-ups.

This year, Catton, 48, got a shock. Her health insurance plan changed the way it handles the payments that the drugmaker Novartis makes to help cover her prescription’s cost. Her copayment is roughly $3,800 a month, but Novartis helps reduce that out-of-pocket expense with payments to the health plan. The prescription costs about $90,000 a year.

Those Novartis payments no longer counted toward her family plan’s $8,800 annual pharmacy deductible. That meant once she hit the drugmaker’s payment cap for the copay assistance in April, she would have to pay the entire copayment herself until her pharmacy deductible was met.

Catton is one of a growing number of consumers taking expensive drugs who are discovering they are no longer insulated by copay assistance programs that help cover their costs. Through such programs, consumers typically owe nothing or have modest monthly copayments for pricey drugs because many drug manufacturers pay a patient’s portion of the cost to the health plan, which chips away at the consumer’s deductible and out-of-pocket maximum limits until the health plan starts paying the whole tab.

Under new “copay accumulator” programs, that no longer happens.

In these programs, the monthly copayments drug companies make don’t count toward patients’ plan deductibles or out-of-pocket maximums. Once patients hit the annual limit on a drugmaker’s copay assistance program, they’re on the hook for their entire monthly copayment until they reach their plan deductible and spending limits.

Catton put the $3,800 May copayment on a credit card. She knows her insurer will start paying the entire tab once she hits the pharmacy deductible. But, she said, she can’t afford to pay nearly $9,000 a year out-of-pocket for the foreseeable future.

“I’m talking to my doctor to see if I can I take it every other day,” she said. “I guess I’m winging it until I can figure out what to do.”

Drug copay assistance programs have long been controversial.

Proponents say that in an age of increasingly high deductibles and coinsurance charges, such help is the only way some patients can afford crucial medications.

But opponents say the programs increase drug spending on expensive brand-name drugs by discouraging people from using more cost-effective alternatives.

Switching to a cheaper drug may not be an option, said Bari Talente, executive vice president for advocacy at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“Generally the multiple sclerosis drugs are not substitutable,” she said. “Most have different mechanisms of action, different administration and different side effect profiles.” Generics, when they’re available, are pricey too, typically costing $60,000 or more annually, she said.

Most MS drug annual copay assistance limits, if they have them, are between $9,000 and $12,000, Talente said.

Employers argue that the drug copayment programs are an attempt to circumvent their efforts to manage health care costs. For example, employers may try to discourage the use of a specialty drug when there’s a lower-cost drug available by requiring higher patient cost sharing.

There’s also the issue of fairness.

“From an employer perspective, everyone under the plan has to be treated the same,” said Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), which represents large employers.

If someone needs medical care such as surgery, for example, that person doesn’t get help covering his deductible, while the person with the expensive drug might, he said.

According to an NBGH survey of about 140 multistate employers with at least 5,000 workers, 17 percent reported they have a copay accumulator program in place this year, Marcotte said. Fifty-six percent reported they’re considering them for 2019 or 2020.

If there is no comparable drug available, drug copayment programs may have a role to play if they can be structured so that participating patients are paying some amount toward their deductible, Marcotte said. But, he said, assistance programs for drugs that are available from more than source, such as a brand drug that is also available as a generic, shouldn’t be allowed.

In 2016, 20 percent of prescriptions for brand-name drugs used a drug copay assistance coupon, according to an analysis by researchers at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. Among the top 200 drugs based on spending in 2014, the study found that 132 were brand-name drugs, and 90 of them offered copay coupons. Fifty-one percent of the drugs with copay coupons had no substitute at all or only another brand drug as a close therapeutic substitute, the analysis found.

Advocates for people with HIV and AIDS say copay accumulators are cropping up in their patients’ plans and beginning to cause patients trouble. Drugs to treat HIV typically don’t have generic alternatives.

The biggest impact for the community their organizations serve may be for PrEP, a daily pill that helps prevent HIV infection, said Carl Schmid, deputy executive director at the AIDS Institute, an advocacy group. A 30-day supply of PrEP (brand-name Truvada) can cost nearly $2,000. Drug manufacturer Gilead offers a copay assistance program that covers up to $3,600 annually in copay assistance, with no limit on how much is paid per month.

“They’re at risk for HIV, they know it and want to protect themselves,” Schmid said. “It’s a public health issue.”

Earlier this month, the AIDS Institute was among 60 HIV organizations that sent letters to state attorneys general and insurance commissioners across the country asking them to investigate this practice, which has emerged in employer and marketplace plans this year.

Compounding advocates’ concerns is the fact that these coverage changes are frequently not communicated clearly to patients, Schmid said. They are typically buried deep in the plan documents and don’t appear in the user-friendly summary of benefits and coverage that consumers receive from their health plan.

“How is a patient to know?” Schmid asks. They learn of the change only when they get a big bill midway through the year. “And then they’re stuck.”

SOURCE:
Andrews M (25 MAY 2018). [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/news/benefit-change-could-raise-costs-for-patients-getting-drug-copay-assistance/