How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness

Does your business offer on-demand, virtual fitness to their employees? This new technology is making it easier for people to engage in physical activity. Continue reading to learn more.


The way we work out is changing. Technology makes it possible to watch movies, order meals, even rent bikes on our own terms, and people increasingly expect their fitness options to be just as easy. Enter on-demand, virtual fitness.

The demand for virtual fitness is booming. In the United States alone, the virtual fitness market is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2022. Whether people are too intimidated to go to the gym, have difficulty finding time in their schedules to attend a class, or have difficulty finding classes that fit their needs — virtual fitness makes it easy for them to engage over time.

As a result, more employers are realizing the value of investing in employee health and the benefits of keeping employees physically active. Lack of physical activity contributes to numerous health risks, which can lead to increased healthcare costs and lost productivity. Physical activity has also been found to have a positive impact on mental health and well-being. For example, it’s been estimated that employees who are in poor health are twice as likely as their healthier coworkers to be disengaged from work.

On-demand, virtual fitness is an option that can be more affordable than establishing an on-site gym, and with 35% of employees working remotely, on-demand fitness allows employers to offer the workouts to more employees.

As would-be fitness fanatics increasingly turn to apps to help tone their abs, what should employers know to ensure success? Here are a few strategies.

1. Make it personal. It’s a simple concept: People will be more likely to exercise if they find a workout that appeals to them. The best on-demand options offer classes for a wide range of interests — from cycling to yoga to kickboxing, to mom-and-baby fitness or simple stretching.

2. Make it flexible. People come in all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. Make sure classes work even if your employees aren’t super fit. Even better, look for something that offers users a natural progression from wherever they start to higher levels of fitness.

3. Make it accessible. The whole point of virtual fitness is that people can take part anytime and anywhere. Look for programming that makes classes available online from a desktop or laptop computer and on both Android and iOS-based smartphones or tablets. This allows employers to make fitness available during lunchtime in the break room, while also giving employees access to short exercises they can do during a break at their desks or even on the road.

4. Make it trackable. Virtual fitness programming can be integrated into your benefits portal to allow for tracking of wellness incentive points. This encourages employees to track their progress and to create a virtual community that encourages the success of all its members.

Today’s workforce is tech-savvy, and that dynamic is only going to become more prevalent. Using mobile devices or apps to give employees what they need to balance life and work will continue to be a smart move for employers.

SOURCE: Von Bank, J. (30 November 2018)  "How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/tips-to-make-on-demand-fitness-work-for-your-wellness-program?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Who let the dogs in? More companies are welcoming pets

More and more companies are welcoming pets. Seven percent of employers are now allowing employees to bring their pets to work. Read this blog post to learn more about setting up pet-friendly policies.


The list is growing of companies that now have bring your dog to work “paw-licies.” Is yours next? 

Google, Zappos and Amazon are some big companies that are pet-friendly, but smaller businesses are going to the dogs too, adding to the now 7% of employers that permit pets.

‘Ruff’ day? Take your dog to work

For example, electronics maker Crutchfield Corp. has a dog-friendly office, which the company says reduces stress.

Walking a dog helps to keep its owner fit, says Adrienne Webster, HR VP, Carfax, another pet-friendly company. But she adds that her employees are responsible for making sure their pets are well behaved.

Many companies implement policies that stipulate dogs need to be healthy, clean and up-to-date on vaccinations.

Dog-friendly office? ‘Paws’ for a foolproof pet policy

If you’re not quite ready to let the dogs in on a full-time basis, you might “paws” to allow your folks’ four-legged friends to sit, stay and play for a day, and see how it works out.

“Policies around bringing pets to work should be clear,” says employment attorney Karen Michael. “To be successful, careful attention and respect for all employees must be considered.”

Since allowing pets into the workplace creates a whole list of concerns – “from unruly, jumpy, biting, irritating dogs, to those that relieve themselves inside to those that bark and disrupt the workplace,” she urges employers to put certain rules in place:

  • Written pet policy that dictates a pet owner’s responsibilities, who’s responsible for animal bites, etc.
  • Sign-up calendar (to prevent too many pets at the same time)
  • Zero-tolerance policy for bad-behaving pets (barking, biting, etc.)
  • Pet-free zone (for those with allergies or a fear of animals)
  • Liability insurance (employers might ask workers to get as well)
  • Employee discipline (for those who fail to clean up after their pets)

SOURCE: Mucha, R. (30 November 2018) Who let the dogs in? More companies are welcoming pets" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/who-let-the-dogs-in-more-companies-are-welcoming-pets/


From HSA to 401(k) contribution limits, 11 numbers to know for 2019

Do you offer HSAs, FSAs or 401(k)s to your employees? There are many important numbers companies and employees need to know regarding HSAs, FSAs and 401(k)s. Read this blog post to learn more.


There are a slew of important figures companies and employees need to know regarding health savings accounts, 401(k)s and flexible spending accounts. While the IRS announced HSA changes in May, the agency only recently announced annual changes to FSAs and 401(k)s. From contribution limits to out-of-pocket amounts, here are the figures employers need to know — all of which take effect in January.

$19,000: 401(k) pre-tax contribution limits

The IRS in November said it is increasing the pre-tax contribution limits for employees who participate in a 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans to $19,000 from $18,500. That limit also applies to the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan.

$6,000: 401(k) catch-up contribution limit

For participants ages 50 and over, the additional 401(k) catch-up contribution limit, which is set by law, will stay at $6,000 for 2019.

$6,000: IRA contribution limits

IRA contribution limits are being raised to $6,000 from $5,500 — the first time the IRS has increased the limits since 2013. The catch-up contribution limit for people 50 and over will still be $1,000.

$3,500: Annual HSA contribution limit for individuals

The 2019 annual health savings account contribution limit for individuals with single medical coverage is $3,500, an increase of $50 from 2018.

$7,000: HSA contribution limit for family coverage

For HSAs linked to family coverage, the 2019 contribution limit will rise by $100, to $7,000, above the family cap set for 2018.

$1,350: HDHP minimum deductible for individual

The minimum deductible for a qualifying high-deductible health plan remains unchanged for 2019: $1,350 for individual coverage.

$2,700: HDHP minimum deductible for family

The minimum deductible for a qualifying high-deductible health plan remains at $2,700 for family coverage.

$6,750: HDHP maximum out-of-pocket amounts (individual)

Deductibles, copayments and other amounts that do not include premiums will have a maximum limit of $6,750 for individual coverage next year, up $100 from 2018.

$13,500: HDHP maximum out-of-pocket amounts (family)

Deductibles, copayments and other amounts that do not include premiums will have a maximum limit of $13,500 for family coverage, up $200 from 2018.

$1,000: HSA catch-up contributions

Individuals 55 years or older can contribute an extra $1,000 to their health savings account in 2019. The amount remains unchanged from 2018.

$2,700: FSA contribution limit

The health flexible spending account contribution limit for 2019 is $2,700 — an increase of $50 over the 2018 limit. The increase also applies to limited-purpose FSAs that are restricted to dental and vision care services, which can be used in tandem with health savings accounts.

SOURCE: Mayer, K. (6 December 2018) "From HSA to 401(k) contribution limits, 11 numbers to know for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/from-hsa-to-401-k-contribution-limits-11-numbers-to-know-for-2019


Poor hiring practices costing employers valuable talent

A survey by CareerBuilder and SilkRoad discovered that 68 percent of employees believe that their experience as a job candidate reflects how a company treats their employees. Read this blog post to learn more.


A growing number of employers say they find it hard to land good talent — but their own complicated or outdated hiring process may be partly to blame.

Job candidates today have higher expectations for communication, technology and onboarding during their job-search process, according to a new survey from job site CareerBuilder and onboarding tech provider SilkRoad. In fact, 68% of employees believe their experience as a job candidate reflects how the company treats its people.

Dissatisfaction with the process can begin as early as step one: Close to half of prospective workers (46%) are only willing to spend up to 15 minutes before giving up on an application, according to the report.

Not only is time of the essence, but the application experience is paramount, too. While potential workers won’t discount a company entirely for not having a mobile application option, employees are searching for jobs on their mobile devices more than ever before.

The fight for talent is only going to become more intense, and employers need to deliver on job seekers’ continuously evolving expectations to attract the best candidates, says CareerBuilder CEO Irina Novoselsky. “This starts with streamlining the entire hiring process, from the first candidate engagement to new-hire onboarding, which can be achieved through technological innovation and a more intuitive, mobile-friendly experience.”

A consistent dialogue remains another big must-have for candidates. Expectations among applicants are changing for when and how they hear from a prospective employer, the study found. Once they’ve applied, job seekers want more — not less — communication.

Many applicants cite a lack of acknowledgment or receipt notification from an employer for a submitted application as a top frustration of the job search. Additionally, 76% of job seekers say they expect to receive a personalized email from an employer acknowledging they received the application. This percentage decreases steadily as the age of the job seeker increases, but it’s consistently the top method of communication expected.

Other top notification methods include phone calls (36%) and text messages (18%).

Regardless of the type of communication, a majority of applicants want — and expect — employers to keep them updated throughout the process when they apply for a job. Candidates want a clear timeline for the hiring process and will begin to discount a company if they are left in the dark. When applying to a job, 55% of employees are willing to wait less than two weeks at the most to hear back from an employer before they give up and move on.

And employers shouldn’t end the engagement once an offer is made, the survey results suggest, because with 51% of potential candidates continuing to look for new opportunities after being extended an offer, the use of personalized, ongoing communication through the onboarding process will remain key.

When nearly one in 10 employees have left a company because of a poor onboarding experience, it’s important to understand the full scope of onboarding that is expected by today’s employees, according to the survey. Successful onboarding for a new hire is critical for their long-term vision of culture and career potential at the new company. However, a focus on the mission and growth factors of the company can’t neglect seemingly basic onboarding elements for the employee’s day-to-day experience and overall integration into operations.

“Technology is playing an increasingly critical role in enabling touchpoints along the recruitment and new-hire journey to facilitate human interactions,” says Robert Dvorak, CEO of SilkRoad. “We realize the customer’s journey doesn't end with a purchase, nor does the employee’s end with an offer. By using technology throughout the entire employment journey, employers can intentionally onboard candidates and employees, keeping them engaged at key points over time.”

SOURCE: Otto, N. (28 November 2018) "Poor hiring practices costing employers valuable talent" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/news/poor-hiring-practices-costing-employers-valuable-talent


2019: A Look Forward

A number of significant changes to group health plans have been made since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2010. Many of these changes became effective in 2014 and 2015 but certain changes to a few ACA requirements take effect in 2019.

 Changes for 2019 

  1. Cost-sharing Limits – Non-grandfathered plans are subject to limitations on cost sharing for essential health benefits (EHB). The annual limits on cost sharing for EHB are $7,900 for self-only coverage and $15,800 for family coverage, effective January 1, 2019.
    • Health plans with more than one service provider can divide maximums between EBH as long as the combined amount does not exceed the out-of-pocket maximum limit for the year.
    • Beginning in 2016, each individual – regardless of the coverage the individual is enrolled – is subject to the self-only annual limit on cost sharing.
    • The ACA’s annual cost-sharing limits are higher than high deductible health plans (HDHPs) out-of-pocket maximums. For plans to qualify as an HDHP, the plan must comply with HDHP’s lower out-of-pocket maximums. The HDHP out-of-pocket maximum for 2019 is $6,750 for self-only coverage and $13,500 for family coverage.
  2. Coverage Affordability Percentages – If an employee’s required contribution does not exceed 9.5 percent of their household income for the taxable year (adjusted each year), then the coverage is considered affordable. The adjusted percentage for 2019 is 9.86 percent.
  3. Reporting of Coverage – Returns for health plan coverage offered or provided in 2018 are due in early 2019. For 2018, returns must be filed by February 28, 2019, or April 1, 2019 (if electronically filed). Individual statements must be provided by January 31, 2019.
    • ALEs are required to report information to the IRS and their eligible employees regarding their employer-sponsored health coverage. This requirement is found in Section 6056. Reporting entities will generally file Forms 1094-B and 1095-B under this section.
    • Every health insurance issuer, self-insured health plan sponsor, government agency that provides government-sponsored health insurance, and any other entity that provides MEC is required to finalize an annual return with the IRS, reporting information for each individual who is enrolled. This requirement is found in Section 6055. Reporting entities will generally file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C under this section.
    • ALEs that provide self-funded plans must comply with both reporting requirements. Reporting entities will file using a combined reporting method on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C.
    • Forms Used for Reporting – Reporting entities must file the following with the IRS:
      1. A separate statement for each individual enrolled
      2. A transmittal form for all returns filed for a given calendar year.
    • Electronic Reporting – Any reporting entity that is required to file 250 or more returns in either section must file electronically on the ACA Information Returns (AIR) Program. Reporting entities that file less than 250 returns can file in paper form or electronically on the ACA Information Returns (AIR) Program.
    • Penalties – Entities that fail to comply with the reporting requirements are subject to general reporting penalties for failure to file correct information returns and failure to furnish correct payee statements. Penalty amounts for failure to comply with the reporting requirements in 2019 are listed below:
Penalty Type Per Violation Annual Maximum Annual Maximum for Employers with up to $5 million in Gross Receipts
General $270 $3,275,500 $1,091,500
Corrected within 30 days $50 $545,500 $191,000
Corrected after 30 days but before August 1 $100 $1,637,500 $545,500
Intentional Disregard $540* None N/A

**Intentional disregard penalties are equal to the greater of either the listed penalty amount or 10 percent of the aggregate amount of the items required to be reported correctly.

Expected Changes

  1. Health FSA Contributions – Effective January 1, 2018, health FSA salary contributions were limited to $2,650. The IRS usually announces limit adjustments at the end of each year. This limit does not apply to employer contributions or limit contributions under other employer-provided coverage.
  2. Employer Shared Responsibility Regulations – The dollar amount for calculating Employer Shared Responsibility 2 penalties is adjusted for each calendar year. Applicable large employers (ALEs) must offer affordable, minimum value (MV) healthcare coverage to full-time employees and dependent children or pay a penalty. If one or more full-time employees of an ALE receive a subsidy for purchasing healthcare coverage through an Exchange, the ALE is subject to penalties.
    • Applicable Large Employer Status – ALEs are employers who employ 50 or more full-time employees on business days during the prior calendar year.
    • Offering Coverage to Full-time Employees – ALEs must determine which employees are full-time. A full-time employee is defined as an employee who worked, on average, at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours in a calendar month. There are two methods for determining full-time employee status:
      1. Monthly Measurement Method – Full-time employees are identified based on a month-to-month analysis of the hours they worked.
      2. Look-Back Measurement Method – This method is based on whether employees are ongoing or new, and whether they work full time or variable, seasonal or part-time. This method involves three different periods:
        • Measurement period – for county hours of service
        • Administration period – for enrollment and disenrollment of eligible and ineligible employees
        • Stability period – when coverage is provided based on an employee’s average hours worked.
      3. Applicable Penalties – ALEs are liable for penalties if one or more full-time employees receive subsidies for purchasing healthcare coverage through an Exchange. One of two penalties may apply depending on the circumstances:
        • 4980H(a) penalty – Penalty for not offering coverage to all full-time employees and their dependents. This penalty does not apply if the ALE intends to cover all eligible employees. ALEs must offer at least 95 percent of their eligible employees’ health care coverage. Monthly penalties are determined by this equation:
          1. ALE’s number of full-time employees (minus 30) X 1/12 of $2,000 (as adjusted), for any applicable month
          2. The $2,000amount is adjusted for the calendar year after 2014:
          3. $2,080 – 2015; $2,160 – 2016; $2,260 – 2017; $2,320 – 2018
        • 4980H(b) penalty – penalty for offering coverage – ALEs are subject to penalties even if they offer coverage to eligible employees if one or more full-time employees obtain subsidies through an Exchange because:
          1. The ALE didn’t offer all eligible employees coverage
          2. The coverage offered is unaffordable or does not provide minimum value.
          3. Monthly penalties are determined by this equation: 1/12 of $3,000 (as adjusted) for any applicable month
            1. $3,120 – 2015; $3,240 – 2016; $3,390 – 2017; $3,480 – 2018

Contact one of our advisors for assistance or if you have any questions about compliance in the New Year.

SOURCES: www.dol.gov, www. HHS.gov, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/04/17/2018-07355/patient-protectionand-affordable-care-act-hhs-notice-of-benefit-and-payment-parameters-for-2019, https://www.irs.gov/e-fileproviders/air/affordable-care-act-information-return-air-program


The benefits issue that costs employers big: Ineligible dependents on company plans

Frequently, roughly 10 percent of enrolled dependents are ineligible for the healthcare programs. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


Are you paying insurance premiums for people who aren’t qualified to be on your company plan?

For some employers, too often the answer is “yes.”

In our experience, we find that nearly 10% of dependents enrolled in employee health and welfare plans are not eligible to be in the program. And for a company with a couple of hundred employees that spends around $2 million a year on benefits, ineligible dependents can become a significant financial issue.

When employers pay for ineligible dependents, costs increase for them and employees. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common issue that employers need a solid strategy to combat.

So how do ineligible dependents get enrolled in the first place? There are a couple of common ways that employers end up paying health insurance premiums for ineligible dependents. The most basic factor is a change in a person’s situation — children pass the age of 26, spouses get jobs, people get divorced, etc. — and the employee is unaware of the need to notify the plan sponsor. Most often, these situations arise because the employer doesn’t have a process in place.

But some situations are more nefarious: An employee mischaracterizes someone as a dependent. They may claim that a nephew is a son, or that they’re still married to an ex-spouse. In either of these situations, the employer loses.

Prevent ineligible dependents with best practices

Prevent paying for ineligible dependents by putting into place best practices that begin when a new employee joins the company.

During onboarding, investigate each potential plan member when the employee applies for insurance coverage. That means seeking documentation — such as marriage certificates and birth certificates — to verify that a person is, in fact, married, or that their kids are their kids and not someone else’s. Following these processes at the outset prevents the awkwardness of having to question employees about their various family relationships. Nobody wants to ask a colleague if the divorce is final yet.

To make it easy for employees to verify everyone’s eligibility, provide access to a portal where they can upload scans or images of relevant documents. This will also make it easier to track—and keep track of—onboarding documents and dependent audits when the time comes.

Once this best practice is established, it’s important to conduct periodic dependent eligibility audits, as required by ERISA. The employer can conduct an audit or hire an external auditor. This decision is usually driven by the size of the workforce.

The most logical time to conduct an audit is during benefit enrollment. Employees are already considering options for the next plan year, and they likely won’t be confused by the need to submit verifying documents. (During this exercise, it’s also a good idea to ask plan participants to verify beneficiaries on employer-provided life insurance.)

Some employers — again, depending on the size of the workforce — will conduct random sample audits of 20-25% of their employee population. Obviously, the larger the sample size, the better. Benefits administration platforms typically streamline this process.

What happens when employers identify an ineligible dependent?

Many employers offer workers an amnesty period during which an employee can come forward to say they have someone that should be taken off the plan. If the plan sponsor identifies an ineligible dependent, employees are typically offered a one-time pass. Then, they must sign an affidavit attesting that they can be terminated if it happens again.

If the employer has processed insurance claims for an ineligible dependent, they can declare fraud and seek back payment of claims payouts. Again, most in this situation prefer a more benevolent approach and will ask the employee to make monthly differential payments until the account is even. Conducting regular dependent eligibility audits as part of the benefits administration process needs to be handled with finesse for the good of organizational culture.

Some employers may shy away from conducting audits out of concern for creating awkward situations. But frankly, it’s the plan sponsor’s job to help them navigate the waters, educate them and keep them engaged in the process by becoming their best advocates. This will not only help enhance the efficiency and accuracy of employee benefit offerings, but it will result in a smoother ride for everyone involved.

Ensuring that a health and welfare benefits program follows eligibility best practices is the responsibility of the plan sponsor. But employees have a share in that responsibility, too.

SOURCE: O'Connor, P.(28 November 2018) "The benefits issue that costs employers big: Ineligible dependents on company plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from:


What’s in store for voluntary benefits in 2019

Voluntary benefits will continue to be popular with benefit managers who are trying to lower healthcare costs and retain employees. Read this blog post for more 2019 voluntary benefits trends.


Benefit managers are still catching their breath as the curtain closes on this year’s open enrollment season. But smart benefits managers are already evaluating new products and benefit changes for the 2019-2020 season.

Themes around cost-saving strategies concerning healthcare premiums will continue to resonate — but what else will happen in the upcoming year? Voluntary benefits will continue to hold the key for many benefit managers looking to lower costs and maintain value for employees by providing flexibility to a diverse workforce.

Voluntary benefits offer pivotal advantages to employers and employees alike. By offering these programs through an employer, employees often receive better pricing, plan designs and underwriting support compared to what is available on the individual market. Payroll deduction capability and enrollment as part of their normal core enrollment process and portability are also available.

Here are three voluntary benefits to watch in 2019.

Employee purchase programs.

Nearly one quarter of all Americans do not have adequate emergency savings, according to a survey by consumer financial services company Bankrate. This means that if they need to make a significant purchase, they are likely to withdraw a loan from their 401(k) plan.

Employee purchase programs help employees pay for items they may need immediately, but may not have the funds or credit available. These programs generally allow employees to spread out the payments on the purchased products — such as appliances, car tires or computers — over a period of time through payroll deduction. Young employees who are trying to establish credit while managing student loan repayments — and may be strapped for cash — can especially benefit from an employee purchase programs.

Group legal insurance plans.

Group legal plans are not new, but they are still valuable for employees. For a cost that is less than a cup of coffee, group legal plans provide employees with access to attorneys for will preparation, estate planning, dealing with elderly parents, traffic violations, real estate purchases, and document review and preparation. These plans offset the expense of professional legal representation and the time it takes to locate the right representation to handle legal matters.

These plans may be especially valuable to employees who are thinking of buying a house, adopting a child or planning for their estate. Still, group legal insurance plans are available to all employees, and can provide a buffer for workers who may need to navigate identity restoration after a theft or combat an unforeseen traffic ticket. These plans also save employees time and money when the need for a legal professional arises.

Student loan benefits.

Student loan benefits have been one of the hottest topics in voluntary benefits in 2018 and it’s not going away any time soon. An IRS private letter ruling this past August allowed one company to amend its 401(k) plan to allow employer contributions of up to 5% to individuals who contribute at least 2% to their student loan. This may just be the start to more legislation concerning student loan debt solutions.

In the interim, as the tuition debt crisis grows, employers are seeking ways to support their employees. There are several strategies that can be employed.

Some solutions can be offered at no cost, while others have administrative charges and the cost of contributions to factor in. For employers who have the budget, a student loan repayment plan may be the answer. There are many vendors who can partner with an employer to help develop a plan that is designed to meet the company’s goals.

Employers without a budget can seek a student loan solution partner that offers comprehensive educational tools such as written materials, debt navigation tools, FAQs, one-on-one counselors and webinars. Another option is to offer student loan refinancing. These lenders can help employees manage their debt. Even though refinancing is not for everyone, well-vetted student loan refinancing partners should be considered as part of a comprehensive student loan debt solution strategy. Understanding the approval rate is important, as well as whether there are any other incentives, such as a welcome bonus, that may be applied to the loan principal.

SOURCE: Marcia, P. (28 November 2018) "What’s in store for voluntary benefits in 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/whats-in-store-for-employers-and-voluntary-benefits-in-2019


Viewpoint: Why Respect, Dignity and Kindness Are Foundational Workplace Principles

Corporate leadership shouldn't wait for disruptive incidents to occur before they focus on the state of their workplace environment. Read this blog post to learn more.


SHRM has partnered with Security Management magazine to bring you relevant articles on key HR topics and strategies. 

This is the #MeToo era. The great wave of public accusations involving inappropriate conduct such as sexual harassment between managers, employees and co-workers has washed over U.S. workplaces, unsettling everything in its wake.

But sexual harassment is not the only conduct that can help turn a working environment hostile. Given this, employers who take action now to help establish and solidify a welcoming and hostility-free work environment will be better positioned for the future. Such actions can come in many forms, ranging from zero-tolerance anti-harassment policies and violence prevention training to diversity task forces and team-building exercises.

While they vary, these actions all benefit from a proactive approach. Opposing views and opinions are inevitable among a diverse workforce, but leaders of organizations should not wait until disruptive incidents break out before focusing on the state of the workplace environment. Instead, they can start immediately.

Respect and Dignity

Human resources is a team sport. No one HR manager, no matter how talented or knowledgeable, can completely shoulder the burden of protecting his or her firm from employee issues and litigation. A cohesive HR team, on the other hand, is positioned to tackle anything thrown its way. But when one gear gets out of whack, the whole team is affected and compromised.

Take, for example, how an entire company can be impacted by one disruptive manager. Sam's team was led by a small group of managers who worked well together; they collaborated to achieve goals and boost one another to success. However, a new manager, Chris, was brought on.

Chris had a markedly different type of attitude and leadership style. Chris was demanding and sometimes even yelled at employees in public. He occasionally disparaged another manager's directions to team members and would even threaten a firing in an attempt to improve performance.

A few months after this leadership transition, some employees began to leave Sam's team by choice. But those are not the only changes triggered by the new manager. Some of Sam's team members absorbed the negative qualities Chris exhibited, including degrading public chastisements, gossiping and expressing increased agitation in the office. Chris' overwhelming negativity threw a wrench into a once strong team and threatened to break it down into an unproductive group of individuals.

Before Chris took over, Sam's team members respected one another and successfully accomplished goals. Chris' harsh leadership eroded the members' respect and kindness, causing productivity to decrease and spirits to drop.

How can HR help make sure this type of situation is addressed and avoided? When building a team, it is important to establish respect, dignity and kindness as foundational principles. This will very likely increase productivity and reduce the risk of violent workplace behaviors. When employees feel respected and treated with dignity, they are more likely to treat co-workers and customers the same way. This creates a positive culture within the organization.

To facilitate this, HR should go beyond simply asking employees to be civil and respect one another. They should also explain how to do so, and demonstrate what civility means to the organization by providing examples of positive interactions.

Support the Company's Culture

During my time as a line manager, there were key opportunities for me to support the company culture. All managers can take advantage of the same opportunities, if their organizations are willing to provide them.

For example, orientation sessions are an opportunity for HR leaders to introduce themselves, their department and the values of the organization to those who are being onboarded. Time can be devoted to explaining appropriate workplace behavior through the use of scenario-based situations.

In addition, department team meetings offer opportunities for HR professionals to join in to discuss relevant issues and provide training through small group discussion or case study review. Team members can assess a situation and provide feedback on how it should have been appropriately handled. Using both positive and negative behaviors as examples will help employees understand the difference.

Open houses are another possible venue for educating discussions. HR may arrange with company leaders to have a time where employees stop by, ask questions and participate in discussions that help them understand their role as part of the larger effort to maintain a healthy, inclusive workplace.

Finally, it is important to remember that HR staff should help line managers serve as role models of appropriate behavior. If they are behaving badly by being rude, disrespectful or uncivil, how can HR expect them to help the organization promote a culture that values everyone?

In the end, HR cannot assume that people managers understand what is and is not appropriate. Setting expectations from the start, and clearly demonstrating how to positively act and show respect to co-workers is an effective way for HR to set the right tone—and a more active and effective approach than simply hoping for the best. This will have a ripple effect throughout the workforce, and it will help prevent future breaches of conduct from triggering a domino effect of disrespect, such as the one caused by Chris' behavior.

This article is adapted from Security Management magazine with permission from ASIS © 2018. All rights reserved.

SOURCE: Solon, R. (28 November 2018) "Viewpoint: Why Respect, Dignity and Kindness Are Foundational Workplace Principles" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Viewpoint-Why-Respect-Dignity-and-Kindness-Are-Foundational-Workplace-Principles.aspx


Employee benefit trends to watch in 2019

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


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

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

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

Shifting health care costs

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

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

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

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

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

Custom communications

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits over salary

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

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

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

Rise of voluntary benefits

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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