5 ways benefits educators can ease the open enrollment process

Are you prepared for open enrollment? HR professionals are responsible for effectively communicating plan options and changes to employees so they make informed decisions regarding their coverage and healthcare. Continue reading to learn more.


Open enrollment season is on its way, which means that HR’s already full plate just got a bit fuller. In addition to developing competitive health plans that attract and retain top talent – talent of all ages and with varying needs – HR pros are also responsible for effectively communicating plan options to employees to ensure that individuals make informed, cost-conscious decisions about their coverage and care.

See also: Here’s how HR pros can breeze through open enrollment

As the healthcare landscape becomes more complex, so do employee questions around their health care benefits. Many healthcare consumers today don’t feel comfortable navigating the health care system – which is why most roll over the same plan year after year. While HR teams want to manage the influx of employee questions around their benefits options, they struggle to provide the necessary guidance given their current bandwidth. Covering health plans in a large townhall meeting won’t provide the personalized information that employees need to make educated decisions. To deliver a more personal, empowering experience, organizations can look to benefits educators to supplement strapped HR teams.

Benefits educators can help individuals better understand the plan options available to them and select the package that offers the coverage they need at the price that best fits their budget. To ensure that benefits educators are aligned with the organization’s strategy, HR teams should arrange for educators well in advance of open enrollment so they are equipped to best explain the employer’s benefits plan options. Once up to speed, benefits educators can hold one-on-one conversations with employees to:

1. Define healthcare terms that employees don’t understand. With low healthcare literacy rampant across the U.S., disturbingly few employees are comfortable defining basic health terms such as “deductible,” “copay” or “coinsurance.” benefits educators cannot only explain these important terms but also help employees understand their significance in their coverage selection process.

2. Compare different plans to suit each employee’s needs. Benefits educators will work to understand the specific needs of each employee they meet. By taking the time to sit and get to know each employee, the benefits educator can recommend options that provide the coverage that best meets the needs of the employee and his or her family.

See also: Avoid these 12 Common Open Enrollment Mistakes

Third-party, independent benefits educators can be particularly valuable for employees who do not feel comfortable posing personal questions to their coworkers. By meeting one-on-one with an outsider who understands both benefits in general and company options in particular, employees are often more inclined to raise specific health or personal details that should guide their benefits selection. In fact, 45 percent of employees say they would prefer to speak to a benefits expert when choosing their coverage.

3. Equip employees with the information they need to choose their coverage. Left to their own devices, 83 percent of employees spend less than an hour reviewing their plan options before open enrollment – a lack of preparation that does not bode well for educated benefits selection. benefits educators can focus on the details that matter – saving the employee time and effort.

4. Explain voluntary benefits. Despite the increasing popularity of voluntary benefits, many employees are still confused about what they are, how they work and why they might be helpful. In reality, certain voluntary benefits can help control health costs and bridge the gap between medical coverage and out-of-pocket costs – added expenses that concern 61 percent of employees. In today’s multigenerational workforce – where employees have very different priorities when it comes to their health and financial wellness – benefits educators can dispel some of the mystery and suggest options that might meet individual needs.

5. Empower employees to make the most of their benefits year-round. Benefits educators can lay the groundwork for more educated health care consumers by directing employees to resources where they can find more information about their coverage and how their plans work after the open enrollment ends.

See also: 5 tips to make this the best open enrollment ever

More informed employees not only make smarter choices about their coverage and care but also better appreciate their employers – which has the potential to help with retention and business productivity. Ultimately, organizations see a win-win-win: happier employees who save on care, happier HR teams who save on time and happier executives, who see a significant return on their health care investments.

SOURCE: Murdock, G (21 September 2018) "5 ways benefits educators can ease the open enrollment process" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/09/21/5-ways-benefits-educators-can-ease-the-open-enroll/


How employers can support employees during cancer treatment

Many people with cancer are choosing to continue working during their treatment. Read this blog post to learn how employers can support their employees during their cancer treatment.


Thanks to more sensitive diagnostic testing, earlier diagnosis and new treatments, the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. has grown to 15.5 million, and that number is projected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026. In addition, about 1.7 million Americans are projected to be diagnosed with cancer this year. A large percentage of these cancer patients and survivors are still active members of the workforce and the numbers have the potential to increase even more as people remain in the workforce beyond age 65.

Some people with cancer choose to continue working during treatment. Reasons for continuing to work can be psychological as well as financial. For some, their job or career is a big part of the foundation of their identity. A survey conducted by the non-profit Cancer and Careers found that 48% of those surveyed said they continued to work during treatment because they wanted to keep their lives as normal as possible, and 38% said they worked so that they felt productive. Being in the workforce also provides a connection to a supportive social system for many people and boosts their self-esteem and quality of life.

See also:

There also are financial benefits to the employer when employees continue to work during cancer treatment. Turnover costs, including hiring temporary employees and training replacement employees, are high. The cost of turnover for employees who earn $50,000 per year or less (which is approximately 75% of U.S. workers) average 20% of salary. For senior and executive level employees, that cost can reach 213% of salary. In addition, it can be costly to lose the experience, expertise, contacts and customer relationships employees have built.

This raises the question for employers: How can I support employees who choose to work while undergoing cancer treatment? Providing that support can be complex as employers work to balance their legal responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities and Family and Medical Leave Acts with the privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

When an employee chooses to share his or her diagnosis with a supervisor or HR representative, employers should view this disclosure as the beginning of a conversation with the employee taking the lead. (It’s up to the employee what information he or she wants to disclose about the diagnosis and treatment and with whom the information can be shared within the organization.) Here are four ways employers can support employees who are getting cancer treatment.

Help employees understand what benefits are available

The first step an employer should take is to refer the employee to the organization’s human resources manager (or someone who handles HR matters if the organization is smaller and does not have a human resources department) so that person can share information about all available benefits and pertinent policies. Provide details on:

  • Medical and prescription drug coverages, including deductibles, co-pays, precertification requirements, network healthcare providers and plan and lifetime maximums
  • Leave policies
  • Flexible scheduling and remote work options, if available
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Community resources and support groups

See also:

Offer professional guidance

Offering patient navigator or case management services can also be beneficial. Navigators and case managers can provide a range of services including:

  • Connecting employees with healthcare providers
  • Arranging second opinions
  • Providing evidence-based information on the type of cancer the employee has been diagnosed with and options for treatments
  • Help filing health insurance claims, reviewing medical bills and handling medical paperwork
  • Coordinating communication and medical records among members of the treatment team
  • Attending appointments with employees
  • Answering employee questions about treatments and managing side effects

Make accommodations

Workplace accommodations are another key pillar of support for employees working during cancer treatment. In addition to flexible scheduling, to accommodate medical appointments and help employees manage side effects like fatigue and nausea, and the option of working from home, workplace accommodations can include:

  • Temporary assignment to a less physically taxing job
  • Substituting video conferencing or online meetings for travel, which can be difficult for employees dealing with fatigue or a suppressed immune system, and can make it hard to attend needed medical appointments
  • Leave sharing for employees who have used all their paid time off and can’t afford to take unpaid leave. Some organizations offer leave banks or pools where employees can “deposit” or donate some of their vacation days for employees dealing with a serious illness to use.

See also:

Employees may continue to need accommodations after treatment ends if they face late side effects such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, numbness caused by nerve damage or heart or lung problems. Continuing job and schedule modifications can help mitigate the situation.

Ask for employee input

An often overlooked part of supporting employees who are working during cancer treatment is asking the employee what types of support he or she needs and prefers. Employees can share any medical restrictions related to their condition, what types of accommodations or equipment will help them do their job, and what schedule changes will allow them to attend needed appointments and recover from treatment. This should be an ongoing conversation because the employee’s needs are likely to change over the course of treatment and recovery.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (21 September 2018) "How employers can support employees during cancer treatment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-support-employees-during-cancer-treatment?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


The approaching ACA premium tax moratorium – take 2

In 2010, Congress scheduled the 2014 Affordable Care Act premium tax. Then in 2015 Congress introduced a one-year moratorium on the premium tax that would take place in 2017. This past January, Congress placed another moratorium for the ACA premium tax in 2019. Continue reading to learn more.


In 2010, Congress scheduled the 2014 introduction of the Affordable Care Act premium tax (aka the health insurer fee). Then, via the PACE Act of October 2015, Congress placed a one-year moratorium on this 4% or so premium tax for calendar year 2017. You might recall our ensuing discussion a couple of years ago about how employers sponsoring fully insured medical, dental and/or vision plans could leverage this 2017 moratorium to their advantage.

See also: ACA: 4 things employers should focus on this fall

Meanwhile, did you notice back in January that Congress placed another moratorium on this tax, this time for 2019? To review:

  • 2014-2016 – Tax applies
  • 2017 – Under moratorium
  • 2018 – Tax applies
  • 2019 – Under moratorium
  • 2020 – Tax scheduled to return

Fortunately, in moratorium years, fully insured medical, dental and vision premiums should be about 4% lower than they would have been otherwise, with these savings passed along proportionately by most employers to their plan participants.

Unfortunately, the budgetary challenge of this on-again-off-again Congressional approach is that when the tax returns, fully insured renewals naturally go up about 4% more than they would have otherwise. For example, an 8% premium increase becomes 12%.

See also: Proposals for Insurance Options That Don’t Comply with ACA Rules: Trade-offs In Cost and Regulation

Another complication occurs as employers annually compare the expected and maximum costs of self-funding their plans versus fully insuring the plans. Because this tax generally does not apply to self-funded plans, in “tax applies” years, any expected savings from self-funding will show about 4% higher than in moratorium years. This math especially complicates the financial comparison of level funding contracts to fully insured contracts (almost all level funding products are self-funded contracts).

With the Jan. 1 fully insured medical, dental and vision renewals beginning to cross our desks, what should employers do?

First, they should review the renewal’s rating methodology page and ensure that this tax was not included in the proposed 2019 premiums. If the rating methodology page was not provided, request it. If this request fails, ask for written confirmation that this tax is not included in your plan’s 2019 premiums.

Second, when comparing 2019 expected and maximum mature self-funded plan costs to 2019 fully insured premiums, extend the analysis to 2020 and project what will happen when this 4% fully insured tax tide returns.

See also: Pre-existing Conditions and Medical Underwriting in the Individual Insurance Market Prior to the ACA

Finally, complicating matters, several states, including Maryland, introduced new or higher state premium taxes for 2019. Ask your benefits consultant if these actions will impact your plans. For Maryland employers sponsoring fully insured plans, for example, the new additional one-year premium tax will essentially cancel out the 2019 ACA premium tax moratorium.

SOURCE: Pace, Z (27 September 2018) "The approaching ACA premium tax moratorium – take 2" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/the-approaching-obamacare-premium-tax-moratorium?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


30 employee handbook do’s and don’ts from the NLRB

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released a list of rules to help employers comply with the National Labor Relations Act. Read this blog post to learn more.


To help employers craft handbooks that don’t violate the National Labor Relations Act, the National Labor Relations Board has issued a compilation of rules it has found to be illegal — and rewritten them to illustrate how they can comply with the law.

It was issued as a memorandum by NLRB General Counsel Richard F. Griffin, Jr. to “help employers to review their handbooks and other rules, and conform them, if necessary, to ensure they are lawful.”

Specifically, the memorandum points out employer policies found to violate and conform to Section 7 of the NLRA.

The main area of concern

Section 7 mandates that employees be allowed to participate in “concerted activity” to help improve the terms and conditions of their work.

The NLRB has made it abundantly clear recently that it’s on the lookout for rules that:

  • explicitly restrict protected concerted activity, and/or
  • could be construed to restrict protected Section 7 activity.

One thing the memorandum makes very clear: extremely subtle variations in language could be the difference between having a legal policy in the NLRB’s eyes and having one that’s viewed as violating the NLRA.

What to say, what not to say

Here are many of the dos and don’ts highlighted by the memorandum, separated by topic:

Rules regarding confidentiality

  • Illegal: “Do not discuss ‘customer or employee information’ outside of work, including ‘phone numbers [and] addresses.'” The NLRB said, in addition to the overbroad reference to “employee information,” the blanket ban on discussing employee contact info, without regard for how employees obtain that info, is facially illegal.
  • Illegal: “Never publish or disclose [the Employer’s] or another’s confidential or other proprietary information. Never publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to [the Employer].” The NLRB said a broad reference to “another’s” information, without clarification, would reasonably be interpreted to include other employees’ wages and other terms and conditions of employment.
  • Illegal: Prohibiting employees from “[d]isclosing … details about the [Employer].” The NLRB said this is a broad restriction that failed to clarify that it doesn’t restrict Section 7 activity.
  • Legal: “No unauthorized disclosure of ‘business “secrets” or other confidential information.'”
  • Legal: “Misuse or unauthorized disclosure of confidential information not otherwise available to persons or firms outside [Employer] is cause for disciplinary action, including termination.”
  • Legal: “Do not disclose confidential financial data, or other non-public proprietary company information. Do not share confidential information regarding business partners, vendors or customers.”

The NLRB said the last three rules above were legal because: “1) they do not reference information regarding employees or employee terms and conditions of employment, 2) although they use the general term “confidential,” they do not define it in an overbroad manner, and 3) they do not otherwise contain language that would reasonably be construed to prohibit Section 7 communications.”

Rules regarding conduct toward the company and supervisors

  • Illegal: “[B]e respectful to the company, other employees, customers, partners, and competitors.”
  • Illegal: “Do ‘not make fun of, denigrate, or defame your co-workers, customers, franchisees, suppliers, the Company, or our competitors.'”
  • Illegal: “Be respectful of others and the Company.”
  • Illegal: “No ‘[d]efamatory, libelous, slanderous or discriminatory comments about [the Company], its customers and/or competitors, its employees or management.'”

The NLRB said the rules above were unlawfully overbroad because: “employees reasonably would construe them to ban protected criticism or protests regarding their supervisors, management, or the employer in general.”

  • Illegal: “Disrespectful conduct or insubordination, including, but not limited to, refusing to follow orders from a supervisor or a designated representative.”
  • Illegal: “‘Chronic resistance to proper work-related orders or discipline, even though not overt insubordination’ will result in discipline.”

The NLRB said the rules above, while banning “insubordination,” also ban “conduct that does not rise to the level of insubordination, which reasonably would be understood as including protected concerted activity.”

  • Illegal: “Refrain from any action that would harm persons or property or cause damage to the Company’s business or reputation.”
  • Illegal: “[I]t is important that employees practice caution and discretion when posting content [on social media] that could affect [the Employer’s] business operation or reputation.”
  • Illegal: “Do not make ‘[s]tatements “that damage the company or the company’s reputation or that disrupt or damage the company’s business relationships.”‘”
  • Illegal: “Never engage in behavior that would undermine the reputation of [the Employer], your peers or yourself.”

The NLRB said the rules above “were unlawfully overbroad because they reasonably would be read to require employees to refrain from criticizing the employer in public.

  • Legal: “No ‘rudeness or unprofessional behavior toward a customer, or anyone in contact with’ the company.”
  • Legal: “Employees will not be discourteous or disrespectful to a customer or any member of the public while in the course and scope of [company] business.”

The NLRB said the rules above are legal because they wouldn’t lead an employee to believe they restrict criticism of the company.

  • Legal: “Each employee is expected to work in a cooperative manner with management/supervision, coworkers, customers and vendors.” The NLRB says employees would reasonably understand that this states the employer’s legitimate expectation that employees work together in an atmosphere of civility.
  • Legal: “Each employee is expected to abide by Company policies and to cooperate fully in any investigation that the Company may undertake.” The NLRB said this rule is legal because “employees would reasonably interpret it to apply to employer investigations of workplace misconduct rather than investigations of unfair labor practices or preparations for arbitration.”
  • Legal: “‘Being insubordinate, threatening, intimidating, disrespectful or assaulting a manager/supervisor, coworker, customer or vendor will result in’ discipline.” The NLRB said: “Although a ban on being  disrespectful’ to management, by itself, would ordinarily be found to unlawfully chill Section 7 criticism of the employer, the term here is contained in a larger provision that is clearly focused on serious misconduct, like insubordination, threats, and assault. Viewed in that context, we concluded that employees would not reasonably believe this rule to ban protected criticism.”

Rules regarding conduct between employees

  • Illegal: “‘[D]on’t pick fights’ online.”
  • Illegal: “Do not make ‘insulting, embarrassing, hurtful or abusive comments about other company employees online,’ and ‘avoid the use of offensive, derogatory, or prejudicial comments.'”
  • Illegal: “[S]how proper consideration for others’ privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory, such as politics and religion.”
  • Illegal: “Do not send ‘unwanted, offensive, or inappropriate’ e-mails.”

The NLRB said the rules above were unlawfully overbroad because employees would reasonably construe them to restrict protected discussions with their co-workers.

  • Legal: “[No] ‘Making inappropriate gestures, including visual staring.'”
  • Legal: “Any logos or graphics worn by employees ‘must not reflect any form of violent, discriminatory, abusive, offensive, demeaning, or otherwise unprofessional message.'”
  • Legal: “[No] ‘[T]hreatening, intimidating, coercing, or otherwise interfering with the job performance of fellow employees or visitors.'”
  • Legal: “No ‘harassment of employees, patients or facility visitors.'”
  • Legal: “No ‘use of racial slurs, derogatory comments, or insults.'”

The NLRB said the rules above were legal because: “when an employer’s professionalism rule simply requires employees to be respectful to customers or competitors, or directs employees not to engage in unprofessional conduct, and does not mention the company or its management, employees would not reasonably believe that such a rule prohibits Section 7-protected criticism of the company.

SOURCE: Schappel, C. (18 July 2018) "30 employee handbook do’s and don’ts from the NLRB" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/employee-handbook-dos-and-donts-from-the-nlrb/


8 Benefits Of Measuring Employee Engagement

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


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

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

1. Solve Problems Before They Worsen

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

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

2. Employ Empathy and Build Trust

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

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

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

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

3. Make Morale #1

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

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

4. Share Insights Transparently

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

5. Opportunity for Improvement

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

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

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

6. Take Action When it Matters

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

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

7. Look for Trends

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

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

8. Keep the Positive Flow Going

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

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

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


Here’s how HR pros can breeze through open enrollment

Does open enrollment make your HR department tremble with fear? Open enrollment season is right around the corner and can make the most experienced HR professionals shudder. Read on to learn how your HR department can breeze through open enrollment this year.


Three words have the power to make the most experienced HR professional shudder: open enrollment season.

Open enrollment season is a challenge, no matter how well the HR department prepares. Costs for medical and pharmacy benefits continue to rise, which means there are adjusted employee contributions to present to an audience who’s unlikely to understand the reasoning behind cost increases. There may be new benefits offerings that require employees to pay close attention during the decision-making process. There are open enrollment education campaigns and communications meetings to plan and launch.

Employers with multiple generations of workers must accommodate a wide range of health and welfare benefit needs. New laws (like the federal tax law) plus evolving regulations around benefits add more to HR’s already full plate. (No wonder you don’t have time for lunch.)

But, there’s good news. First, open enrollment is made easier if you plan throughout the year for it. Second, these four tips can help HR professionals make open enrollment much easier.

Review trends and projections ASAP. Focus on the renewal rate long before the renewal date. If your employee benefits renew at the beginning of the year, you may not have received your rate yet. But frankly, by now you should have a very good idea where the rate is projected to land. Reviewing claims and trend data alongside benchmarking and industry analyses throughout the year can help you and your broker project, within a few percentage points, how your renewal rate will increase or decrease.

Your benefits broker should be analyzing your program data on an ongoing basis to estimate the renewal rate and avoid a nasty surprise. The broker should also challenge the first carrier rate offered — there’s almost always room for negotiation. Doing pre-renewal work throughout the year can help you prepare for plan changes and position you to make the best decisions for the organization and employees. It will also help facilitate a smoother open enrollment season.

Keep new benefit options simple. After reviewing benefits and trends, you may find that adding a pre-tax benefit, such as a health savings account, flexible spending account or a health reimbursement account, can help the organization save money while giving employees a way to better plan their healthcare and finances. However, with their alphabet soup acronyms, HSAs, FSAs and HRAs are confusing. Even if you did a whole campaign on the topic for the last open enrollment season, it makes sense to repeat it.

The same goes for voluntary benefits: keep them simple. There is a dearth of voluntary benefits available for a multi-generational workforce. While adding voluntary benefit sounds appealing —especially if your core benefits are changing — which products are right for your organization? Survey your employees to get their feedback; they’ll appreciate that you’re asking for their opinion. Once you tally the feedback, resist the urge to offer a slew of voluntary products. Keeping it simple means adding the one (or a few) that are most desired by your workforce.

Voluntary benefits require significant education and engagement — especially products that are newer to the market. (Student loan debt assistance is a good example.) When it comes to a successful voluntary benefits program, timing is everything. If you plan to add student loan debt repayment, pet insurance, long-term care, or any other new voluntary product, the open enrollment season is not the recommended time to do it. Running a voluntary education and communications campaign and open enrollment off cycle will allow employees to focus on their main menu of options during the open enrollment season, then decide later what they want to add for “dessert.”

Educate. Rinse and repeat. You offer employee benefits to help recruit and retain the best talent. But if your employees don’t understand the core and voluntary benefits you offer, you’re unlikely to increase engagement or retention — and you might even see costs rise.

The health and welfare benefits landscape is changing drastically, which means the onus is on the employer and the HR department to educate the workforce on how the plan is changing (if at all). This means putting decision-support tools, such as calculators, in employees’ hands to help them estimate how much insurance they will need to make the best decision. You could run a whole campaign around that topic.

In addition, try using new methods of communication such as social media messages, text messaging, small-group meetings, your company’s intranet, and one-on-one sessions to help employees avoid mistakes at decision time.

Create a 21st-century experience. Manual benefits enrollment and tracking is so 1999. Moving away from paper-based enrollment will save trees — and possibly your sanity — during the open enrollment season and throughout the year. Benefits administration technology allows employees to ponder their options and enroll at their leisure. A decision-support platform enables better enrollment tracking and eliminates typos and mistakes that can pose major issues for the plan participant and the HR team.

Benefits administration technology provides checks and balances that streamline important tactical functions. Mistakes can put you in a world of hurt when it comes to benefit laws and regulations, such as missing those all-important annual HIPAA and COBRA notifications. You can avoid potential government penalties, fines and employee lawsuits with automatic notifications by the benefits administration platform. Technology can also help you identify ineligible dependents, provide employee data to a COBRA provider if employment ends, interface with your payroll platform — the list is almost endless.

The bottom line: Employees won’t enroll in what they don’t understand — which could lead them to choose a benefits plan that is more expensive, or with fewer options, than what they need. Being prepared for open enrollment season, keeping plans simple, focusing on employee education and communications (and the employee experience) can help mitigate issues for plan participants and HR.

Putting all of your ducks in a row throughout the year will ease headaches during the open enrollment season. You might even be able to take a lunch break.

SOURCE: Newman, H (30 August 2018) "Here’s how HR pros can breeze through open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-human-resources-can-breeze-through-open-enrollment?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


How to evaluate an applicant tracking system

How are you evaluating applicant tracking systems? Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are supposed to fix any inefficiencies in your recruiting process. Read this blog post to learn more.


Unemployment is at 3.9%, a 17-year low. Competition for talent is fierce, especially when you’re trying to hire sellers, mid-level managers, professional staff and skilled labor. When hiring gets this tough, inefficiencies in your recruiting process that could otherwise be ignored will become code red emergencies.

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are supposed to fix those problems. Some do; many don’t. To tell the difference, HR professionals must do their research. Here are the three most important questions to ask before you invest in an ATS.

1. Will the ATS help or hurt my employment brand? If you’re not an employee at Google or Apple, you’ve probably daydreamed about having your own nap pod in Silicon Valley or being toted around in an automated car. You know the amazing benefits and the free-spirited culture at these organizations. That’s employment brand. Granted, not every organization can hope for Google-level brand awareness, but every company — for better or worse — has a brand of their own, made up of every interaction and detail of the recruiting and hiring process.

See also: What’s ahead for HR technology?

You should know that most ATS are made by software engineers, not recruiters. The downside there is that most systems don’t deliver a candidate experience designed to convey an impression of what it would be like to work for your company. If your ATS isn’t helping bolster your employment brand, it’s not working hard enough.

To ensure that candidates can get a feel for your company culture before they even submit an application, you’ll want to find an ATS that can offer fully-branded career pages that match your website. This means having the same colors, fonts, brand messaging and imaging will be crucial to your employment brand. And this is only the beginning. Your ideal ATS should allow you to integrate with major job boards and social media platforms (branding 101: Hang out with the cool kids), allow for one click application submission through mobile devices and keep the application process all in one browser No one wants their employment brand to be “clunky” and “unfriendly”.

2. Will the ATS help speed up the process or will it slow us down? Recruiters and hiring managers either love or hate their ATS. There’s not much middle ground. That’s because they often have to invent ingenious workarounds to use the system, which drives them crazy because it’s time wasted.

See also: LinkedIn voice messaging aims to connect HR with job seekers

When searching for the right ATS system, make sure that it can provide customizable email templates for hiring teams during the recruiting process. It’s important to remember that the system should allow you to send those emails in bulk to potential candidates. You need to be able to set reminders and schedule alerts for users to follow up with candidates or completed tasks. This ensures that you’re saving time and no candidate gets lost in the ether.

Know that dashboards are a great way to get a bird’s eye view on the recruiting process but they’re not the end all. Plenty of HCM providers will have flashy demos and dashboards that seem to work flawlessly, but after implementation you’ll be left with a clunky and glitchy product.

To avoid that outcome, ask these questions during your search: Can we see the step-by-step process for reviewing applications, approving candidates, and moving them through interviews? Look beyond the demo screens. You want to see how the system really works, step by step. Can we import and export candidate information? How are potential candidates scored?

3. Does the ATS offer compliance and reporting capabilities? This one’s a biggie. Recruiting and hiring compliance is complex, and so reporting and analytics is a must-have. You need to be able to drive recruiting and hiring decisions in real-time with powerful analytics rather than sloppy excel sheets and poorly filed assessment papers. An ATS will allow you to quickly view the metrics that matter to you, see where your best candidates are coming from, find bottlenecks and catch missed opportunities. With clear and easy to use reporting features that captures all pre-hire compliance data in one place, you’ll never have to worry about fines or tarnishing your reputation.

See also: 7 Ways Employers Can Support Older Workers And Job Seekers

Of course, there’s plenty more you could ask. Implementation, data security, mobile capabilities and ongoing service and support are all tires worth kicking. But this initial list of questions is a great place to start. Finding and hiring top talent requires lightning-fast action and decisions. When you’re shopping for an ATS, however, it pays to slow down long enough to get the facts.

SOURCE: Neese, Bill (12 September 2018) "How to evaluate an applicant tracking system" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-evaluate-an-applicant-tracking-system


How to Build a Motivated Workforce

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


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

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

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

Set Clear Expectations and Goals, and Communicate Frequently

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

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

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

Spend Time Talking About Career Development

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

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

Provide Timely and Relevant Feedback

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

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

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

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

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


The days of employers ignoring the opioid crisis are over

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also: Employers take steps to address opioid crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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


5 steps to improving employees’ mental health

Do your employees have an “always on” mentality? Many employees are making themselves available 24/7, costing businesses big time due to workplace stress. Read this blog post to learn more.


Technology has transformed the way many of us work, but it also has almost completely eliminated our ability to unplug, de-stress and take care of our mental health. Many employees make themselves available 24/7, checking email before they go to sleep and as soon as they wake up. This “always on” mentality is costing everyone — businesses spend $300 billion each year on absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and insurance fees due to workplace stress.

Stress and mental health are increasingly important issues in the office. Elevated stress levels lead to mistakes, lower productivity, lower employee morale, higher rates of absenteeism and even physical illnesses such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Up to 14% of mental health issues could be completely avoided by reducing workplace stress, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. Now, more than ever, employers need to make sure their employees have the right resources to help combat depression, anxiety, stress and job strain.

Here are five ways employers can improve employees’ mental health.

Remove the stigma. Improving the mental health of your employees starts with talking openly about it. Employers should focus on mental health as part of a wider wellbeing program — calling attention to the need to relieve stress and seek help for mental health problems.

Workplace training to help employees and managers recognize the signs of stress and poor mental health can also bring attention to the issue.

Provide and promote stress-relief activities. Employers can build in activities to help relieve stress during the workday. Yoga, exercise classes and walking groups can help employees cash in on the feel-good endorphins that come from physical activity.

Some larger companies take stress relief to the next level. Office gyms, weight rooms and boxing gyms provide stress relief outlets. Some companies even employ in-house psychologists and other professionals to help teach employees how to manage their stress and fears.

Consider a flexible work policy. On a more basic level, creating a more flexible work policy throughout the day can also help. Everyone needs to take care of personal business from time to time, whether it’s a doctor’s appointment or a home maintenance issue. Take advantage of technology and allowing your employees to work from home or change their hours can help reduce stress.

Develop a financial wellness program. Financial fears are stressing out your employees. More than half of workers say they are stressed about money, and the younger the worker, the more likely he or she is to be worried. Creating a financial wellness program that educates employees on how to better manage their money can help remove this stress. A program could include helping younger generations balance paying back student debt with budgeting and saving, while older generations may focus on putting their kids through college while saving for retirement. Other topics to cover include making big purchases, such as a home or a car.

Highlight your employee assistance program. Draw attention to benefits that can help people cope with mental health issues. You very likely already offer an EAP, but you may not stress enough how it can help employees who may need assistance. Generally, an EAP includes telephone-based or in-person counseling, referrals and other resources to help assess and treat mental health issues. Communicate the details of your company’s EAP often (not just during open enrollment) to give employers another way to improve their wellbeing.

Your employees are your greatest asset; ensuring they are healthy is in your best interest. Facing mental wellbeing head-on can help you keep your employees happy and healthy, and help you boost your business.

SOURCE: Newman, H (25 June 2018) "5 steps to improving employees’ mental health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/improving-mental-health-in-the-workplace?tag=00000151-16d0-def7-a1db-97f03ad90000