Boost employee engagement with these key people skills

Employers most likely won't be able to get every single employee to give their best every day, but with the right amount of effort, they could get the majority of employees to give their best. Continue reading for key people skills employers can use to boost employee engagement.


With all the talk about “employee engagement,” it’s only fair to ask, “Can I really get all the people in my organization to give their best – every day?”

The short answer is probably not “all.” But with the right amount of effort you can get “most” of them to give their best … most of the time. And that’s a lot better than where most companies are right now.

Boiled down to its simplest parts, employee engagement is about connecting with employees and getting them focused. It requires an ongoing and consistent effort by managers to bring out the best in people.

Employee engagement takes practice

You don’t need to be good friends with every employee – but it does help to build cordial relationships. That makes working with people more productive and cohesive.

People get more engaged in their work when the work means something to them, when they understand their role in the organization, and when they can see and appreciate the results of their own efforts.

Here are some “hands on” ways leaders can work to improve interactions and create a deeper connection with employees and colleagues:

  • Make it personal. Use people’s names when talking to them – from the janitor to the CEO. Even better, use the names of their significant others – spouses, kids, parents – when possible.
  • Say more than hello. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut to the chase and get to the business at hand – a project, deadline, important question, etc. But in other circumstances, there’s time to show interest in employees’ and colleagues’ lives. Instead of a generic “How are you?” ask about something that affects them.
  • Talk about their interests. People surround themselves with hints of what interests them outside of work (for instance, sports ticket stubs, photos of beach trips, logo T-shirts from local events, race medals, certificates of appreciation from philanthropic groups, etc.). Look for those hints and ask about them. Once you know a little about what they do outside work, you have a starter for other conversations: “How did your son’s soccer game turn out?” “Where did you volunteer this weekend?” “Planning any vacations?”
  • Show appreciation. Avoid waiting for the end of a project or annual reviews to thank employees and coworkers for their contributions. And it’s OK to say thanks for the little things they bring to the table – a good sense of humor, a sharp eye for errors, an impeccable work station, a positive attitude.
  • Make others feel important. Feeling important is slightly different than feeling appreciated. Employees need to know they’re relevant. Let them know you recognize their contributions by referring to past successes when you talk to them personally and to others in meetings. Explain why their work was important.
  • Recognize emotions. Work and life are roller coasters of emotions. Leaders don’t have to react to every peak and valley, but they’ll want to address the highs and lows they see. For instance, “You seem frustrated and anxious lately. Is something wrong that I can help with?” Or, “I can sense you’re very excited and proud. You deserve to be.”

Building morale

The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned. If you have employees, you’ll have morale problems. No matter how thorough a company’s hiring process is, at some point leaders will have to handle morale issues because employees get stressed, are overworked and deal with difficult people.

The good news: Most of the time, employees won’t be down if their managers build and maintain morale. To stay ahead of morale issues:

  • Communicate. Employees left in the dark will become fearful and anxious and likely make up negative news to fill the gap. This can be avoided by regularly reporting information, changes and company news.
  • Listen. While sharing information is a must, employees must also be heard. Give them different options to share their concerns and ideas. Offer the floor at department meetings, have regular one-on-one meetings, put up a suggestion box or anonymous e-mail account for submissions, invite executives to come in and listen, etc.
  • Appreciate. People who aren’t recognized for their contributions may assume they’re not doing well. Leaders should take the time to thank employees for their everyday efforts that keep the operations running smoothly. In addition, extra effort should be recognized and rewarded.
  • Be fair. Nothing hurts morale like unfair treatment. Leaders can’t turn their backs on poor performances, and they can’t play favorites. It’s best to document what’s done in response to good and bad behaviors so leaders can do the exact same thing when the situation arises again – and have a record of it.
  • Provide opportunities to grow. Growth is often equated with moving up the career ladder. But it doesn’t have to be. Many employees are motivated by learning and creating a larger role for themselves. So if people can’t move up a career ladder (because there aren’t positions available), encourage them to learn more about the company, industry or business through in-house or outside training. Or give them opportunities to grow socially by allowing them time to volunteer.
  • Create a friendly environment. Research shows people who have friends at work are more motivated and loyal to their employer. While this can’t be forced, opportunities to build friendships can be provided through potluck lunches, team-building activities and requesting staff to help in the recruiting process.
  • Paint the picture. Employees who know their purpose have higher morale than those who are “just doing the job.” Regularly explain to employees how their roles fit into the company’s mission and how they affect the department and the company.

Praise what you want to see repeated

Handing out recognition takes a little more skill than just saying “Good job” and giving a pat on the back, though that’s a good start.

Giving recognition well is a skill all leaders could improve upon to keep their employees encouraged and productive.

Here are five guidelines for recognizing good work:

  1. Make it a policy, not a perk. Set rules for different types of recognition. For instance, recognize people for tenure and meeting goals – things everyone can accomplish.
  2. Stay small. Handshakes and sincere appreciation are always welcome (especially since 65% of employees say they haven’t been recognized in the past year, according to a Gallup Poll). Leaders need to look their employees in the eye, thank them for specific work and explain why it made a difference.
  3. Add some fanfare. Recognize people at meetings when others can congratulate them.
  4. Include the team. In addition to praising individuals, recognize a whole group for coming through during an unexpected hard time, meeting a goal, working together, etc.
  5. Make it personal. When recognizing employees, match the reward and praise to the person. One person may like a quiet thank-you and a gift card to a favorite store. Someone else might thrive on applause and a certificate given at a group lunch. Find out what people like and cater to them when possible.

SOURCE: Henson, R. (7 May 2019) "Boost employee engagement with these key people skills" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrmorning.com/boost-employee-engagement-with-people-skills/


Think your employee is faking sickness? Here’s what you can do

Have your employees misused their FMLA leave before? Navigating FMLA can be tricky, leading to costly lawsuits if a wrong move is taken. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about handling FMLA misuse.


Your employee’s gout flared up, so they took the day off using intermittent medical leave. Later on, a photo of the same employee sliding into home base surfaces on social media that day. How do you find out if the employee was misusing FMLA leave?

Bryon Bass, senior vice president of workforce absence at Sedgwick — a business solution tech company — says navigating FMLA can be tricky, and the wrong move can provoke costly lawsuits. But if an employer has reason to believe the absence isn’t valid, Bass says there’s a process they can follow to investigate.

“I think [a social media photo] casts doubt on the reason for their absence,” Bass said during a recent webinar hosted by the Disability Management Employer Coalition. “It merits a second look, along with some potential code of conduct talks with HR.”

When a questionable situation arises, employers can ask for the worker’s approved medical condition to be recertified, Bass said. This involves having the employee resubmit their original FMLA application. Afterward, employers can send a list of absences to the employee’s healthcare provider to authenticate the dates as valid medical absences. Typically, employers can only request recertification after a 30 day period, unless there’s reason to believe the employee is taking advantage of the system.

“If, for example, you notice two employees — who happen to be dating — are taking off the same days for their different medical conditions, that’s a valid reason for asking for recertification,” Bass said. “Patterns of absence are a common reason to look into it.”

Instead of requesting recertification, some employers make the mistake of contacting the employee’s physician directly — a process called clarification. Employers are only allowed to use clarification during the initial FMLA application, and only after obtaining the employee’s permission. Clarification is used to answer employer questions about the amount of rest an employee’s condition merits.

Employers might not trust the opinion of their employee’s doctor, but they can’t ask for a second opinion until it’s time for the employee to re-submit their annual certification, Bass says. When that time comes, employers can appoint a physician to reexamine the employee at the company’s expense. If the employee objects to the second doctor’s report, a third opinion can be sought.

“With third opinions, both the employer and the employee have to agree on the provider because their decision is final,” Bass said. “Employers are also required to cover this expense.”

Although employers are within their right to file recertification, Bass says it should be done sparingly and in situations where evidence suggests misuse. An employee using slightly more time for recovery isn’t automatically abusing the policy, he said.

“FMLA does not permit healthcare providers to provide an exact schedule of leave, just an estimate of absences necessary for the employee’s treatment and recovery,” Bass said. “Treatments are more predictable, but it’s still only an estimate. If someone takes a little more time than estimated, it doesn’t mean you need to ask for recertification; in fact, the Department of Labor discourages that.”

SOURCE: Webster, K. (24 April 2019) "Think your employee is faking sickness? Here’s what you can do" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/how-to-certify-medical-leave-and-handle-pto-requests?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


Why your company needs a culture deck

Do you have a strong company culture? Many HR professionals will recommend that employers create strong, positive company cultures as a way to best attract and retain talent. Continue reading to learn more.


Ask any HR professional how an employer should best attract and retain talent, and they’ll likely tell you that they need to create a strong, positive company culture.

But they’re also likely to say it’s easier said than done.

Sure, you can help attract employees with salary and benefits — but any other employers with the right data or a good broker can match those enticements. However, the culture at an organization is something that is not so easy to replicate.

Building a culture isn’t done by issuing a memo. The C-suite has a clear role in building the culture of an organization, but it can’t dictate it. Instead, most corporate cultures take hold based upon the behavior of employees. No matter how much the CEO wants “empathy” to be a company value, it’ll never happen if you hire a bunch of people who aren’t empathetic. The example the C-suite sets will have a far greater impact on culture than what they say.

To shape and influence the culture, one of employers’ best tools is a culture deck — which breaks down your company’s culture, core values and mission into clear, easy-to-absorb pieces.

It’s been 10 years since Netflix published the first culture deck to the internet. In 125 slides, the company outlined its values, expected behaviors and core operating philosophy. In the decade since, it’s been viewed more than 18 million times. Many other companies have followed suit with their own versions of a culture deck.

Done well, a culture deck is a promise made among the people at a company, regardless of what role they’re in or what level they’re at. A culture deck unifies thinking around how everyone is going to behave, and what matters most to them. A culture deck can galvanize what’s already happening inside the organization, and help you chart a course into the future. It can serve as an important filter in the hiring process, as prospective employees either get excited about working in a culture like yours’ or self-select out. A culture deck can infuse your mission, vision and values throughout the company, making your culture top of mind for everyone and part of their everyday conversation, and serve as a terrific introduction during new employee orientation.

If you think a culture deck could help your company, here are five keys to ensuring the deck has a positive impact for your company.

It needs to ring true. While a culture deck must be aspirational, it also must be rooted in truth. If it’s wishful thinking, employees are going to roll their eyes and you’re not going to create much cohesion.

You need to give it high visibility. Consider that research shows people need to hear something seven times before it starts to sink in — if you communicate the culture deck once a quarter, it’ll take almost two years for people to begin to get on board. The culture deck needs to be talked about in meetings. It needs to be shown on video screens throughout your offices. This can’t be a PPT that’s posted to the intranet and forgotten.

The CEO needs to be a champion. While the CEO can’t simply dictate culture from on high, if they aren’t actively on board people will notice; the tone at the top needs to be pro-culture deck. How seriously the CEO takes the culture deck determines how important it is to employees. If the CEO brings it up in all-hands meetings, that shows how committed they are to building a positive culture.

You need other champions, too. It’s good to identify a number of ambassadors throughout the company. These folks can be counted on to talk about parts of the culture deck with their colleagues. When business discussions are happening, these are the people that will say, “There’s that section of the culture deck that we should consider in this discussion.” When people start using the culture deck as a decision-making tool, that’s when you know you’re on the right track.

Remember that your culture is about more than just the deck. The culture deck is just one tool of many. It needs to be a centerpiece of your culture conversations, but simply creating the deck does not automatically mean you’ve created a culture.

Your company is a living, breathing organism — it will grow and change over time. And that means your culture must also adapt. The culture deck is not written in stone, but is a guide that can enhance communication, help team members live the corporate values and become better employees, assist you in hiring people that fit better and thereby reduce employee churn, and ultimately to help your company thrive.

SOURCE: Miller, J. (3 April 2019) "Why your company needs a culture deck" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/why-employers-need-a-culture-deck?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


HR’s newest mission: Building a culture of trust

How can employers build employee trust? Fifty-eight percent of people report that they trust strangers more than their own bosses, according to a Harvard Business Review survey. Read this blog post to learn more.


NEW YORK -- In an environment of workplace uncertainty and change, building or even just maintaining trust can be a herculean task for employers.

Indeed, 58% of people say they trust strangers more than their own bosses, according to a Harvard Business Review survey. Trust is a critical component to creating a happy and effective workplace, Andrew Ross Sorkin, co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” said Tuesday at CNBC’s @Work Talent and HR event in New York City.

So how can HR professionals build employee trust? It begins with getting them to believe they have their employees’ best interests at heart.

“I don’t think we’d ever be satisfied until everyone felt that way,” said Jayne Parker, senior executive vice president and CHRO at the Walt Disney Company. “We do a lot of research to look at this because we know how important trust is.”

About 30% of workers aren’t happy with their jobs, according to a recent CNBC/SurveyMonkey survey. Factors contributing to an employee’s sense of work satisfaction are pay, opportunity, autonomy, recognition and meaning, Jon Cohen, SurveyMonkey’s chief research officer, said during another session at the event.

“Workers want to trust their managers and believe they want them to succeed,” Cohen said. “Of the employees who don’t trust their boss, two-thirds said they’d consider quitting.”

With a company the size of Disney, developing teams and building trust within those individual units can translate to overall company trust. Disney has worked hard, Parker said, to make sure employees can say, “I trust the person I work for. I trust they’ll treat me with sincerity.”

Indeed, 65% of employees who don't trust their direct supervisors to provide them opportunities to advance their careers have considered quitting their jobs in the last three months, according to the survey, which was discussed at the event. Conversely, just 17% of people who trust their supervisors "a lot" to advance their career have considered quitting.

SurveyMonkey asked 9,000 U.S. workers whether they were satisfied with their jobs; 85% of respondents said they were “somewhat satisfied” with their work. However, these results shouldn’t give employers comfort, says Cohen. Those employees still have plenty of reasons to look for new jobs — uncertainty being one of them.

“The happiness people report at work is real, but the anxiety is real too,” Cohen says.

Disney recently closed its $71.3 billion deal to acquire large swaths of Fox’s entertainment segment. As such, there is insecurity within the offices of both entertainment giants, Parker explained.

As the closing date approached, reports started circulating that employees of both companies were expecting layoffs. In a situation like this distrust starts to emerge and people begin to ask “backstabbing questions,” Parker said. Employees want to know who will have their back. It’s up to the employer to be as transparent as possible and be honest that there will be changes made.

The employee may not happily skip off after this conversation, but they can have a better understanding of what is going on, easing the tension of the situation.

“We spent the past year focusing on sincerity and authenticity,” Parker said of the merger. “We have to be honest that there is going to be change in the company.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A.; Webster, K. (3 April 2019) "HR’s newest mission: Building a culture of trust" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/hr-mission-to-build-a-workplace-culture-of-trust?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


Making the Case for Pay Transparency

Is your organization increasing pay transparency? According to this article from SHRM, pay transparency is a strategic move that delivers measurable business benefits. Read this blog post to learn more.


Recommending to senior leadership that your organization increase pay transparency can be a difficult sell for HR professionals. However, pay transparency is a strategic move that delivers measurable business benefits – and it’s an issue on which HR should lead.

It is important to understand that most executives in America today rose through organizational ranks that viewed compensation as a private matter. Few within organizations had access to salary information, and even fewer talked about it. As a result, many leaders still believe it is appropriate to dissuade or prohibit employees from discussing their own compensation with other employees.

Yet we now understand these outdated cultural norms have contributed to the wage gap for women and minorities, among other negative outcomes. Pay transparency can help close those gaps and produce benefits for both employers and employees.

For example, providing employees with pay ranges for their current position and those positions in their career path sets realistic expectations. This is crucial, as many employees hold unrealistic expectations based on internet salary searches for job titles that often do not account for or accurately reflect important factors such as experience level, geography, company size, actual tasks and responsibilities, or other types of compensation. These unrealistic salary expectations create serious challenges, including employee disengagement, low morale and retention problems.

Clearly communicating your company’s pay ranges facilitates an open dialogue about how those ranges are set, when and why they change, and how employees can move up within them. These discussions in turn increase mutual trust and engagement and foster productive compensation communication — all of which help retain employees, which is especially important in today’s tight labor market.

Increasing pay transparency also helps businesses attract and retain a more diverse workforce, which numerous studies have demonstrated translates into better business results. Sharing compensation data advances this effort by ensuring women and minorities have a clearer picture of the going rate for their skill sets, education, experience and performance. While many factors contribute to pay gaps, women and minority groups may have accepted lower compensation in the past because they could not access the information necessary to determine what they should be making based on what they bring to the table.

While recommending greater pay transparency to senior leadership in your organization may seem daunting, it is an important discussion to have and a compelling case for HR professionals to make. In a highly competitive labor market, businesses that make the right strategic move of increasing pay transparency will ultimately attract and retain the best talent and come out ahead of those that do not.

SOURCE: Ponder, L. (4 April 2019) "Making the Case for Pay Transparency" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/making-the-case-for-pay-transparency-0


The HR tech disconnect: Are there too many digital tools?

According to a new survey of more than 500 HR employees, 87 percent of HR professionals reported that having tools that integrate with existing technology is key. Continue reading this blog post from Employee Benefit Advisor to learn more.


Investing in new technology that combines with current systems looks to be a priority for HR departments.

That’s according to a new survey of more than 500 HR employees from Reward Gateway, which found that 87% of HR professionals say having tools that integrate into their existing technology is key.

That priority is likely due to the fact that HR technology is siloed, the employee engagement technology company found. Many employers use separate platforms for tasks relating to employee communication, recognition, applicant tracking, onboarding and performance management.

More than a fifth of companies use 10 or more different systems and applications at work, and roughly 60% are using more than five systems every day. In addition, HR professionals spent 512 hours a year, nearly two hours a day, manually checking, responding to and keeping up with multiple HR applications, Reward Gateway says.

“Many companies have systems-of-record in place with up-to-date details on their employees,” says Will Tracz, chief technology officer at Reward Gateway. “Creating and maintaining data in other systems, outside of this, often takes time and is prone to error, particularly in fast-moving businesses.”

The new survey echoes similar findings, which indicate that while employers may be increasingly using HR tech, they may not be doing so efficiently. For instance, research from the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants found that HR departments could be dropping the ball when it comes to using HR technology.

Karen Greenbaum, president and CEO of AESC told Employee Benefit News in November that total digital transformation is about more than just implementing new tech in the office.

“It’s not just, ‘Do they understand what artificial intelligence means,’ or what augmented reality means,” she says. “[It’s] ‘Do you really have an organization that can adapt to a new world?’”

Still, HR leaders are turning to tech solutions. Data from global talent acquisition and management firm Randstad Sourceright found that HR departments are going on a tech “buying spree.” The vast majority (92%) of those in the Randstad survey of more than 800 C-suite and HR leaders and 1,700 professionals believe that technology enhances the attraction, engagement and retention of talent.

Reward Gateway received similar responses. HR teams are hoping new tech will not only integrate with existing systems, but also help them achieve their goals, which include higher employee engagement, increased productivity and attracting talent.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (29 March 2019) "The HR tech disconnect: Are there too many digital tools?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/hr-tech-disconnect-are-there-too-many-digital-tools?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


DOL proposes new rule clarifying, updating regular rate of pay

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently released a proposal that defines and updates what forms of payment employers can include and exclude in the time-and-one-half calculation when determining overtime rates. Read this blog post to learn more.


For the first time in 50 years, the Department of Labor has proposed changing the definition of the regular rate of pay.

The proposal, announced Thursday, “defines and updates” what forms of payment employers include and exclude in the time-and-one-half calculation when determining workers’ overtime rates, according to the DOL.

The regulations the DOL is proposing to revise govern how employers must calculate the regular rate and overtime pay rate, including the types of compensation that must be included and may be excluded from the overtime pay calculation, says Tammy McCutchen, a principal at Littler Mendelson and former administrator of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

The regular rate of pay is not just an employee’s hourly rate, she says, but rather includes “all remuneration for employment” — unless specifically excluded by section 7(e) of the FLSA.

Under current rules, employers are discouraged from offering more perks to their employees as it may be unclear whether those perks must be included in the calculation of an employees’ regular rate of pay, the DOL says. The proposed rule focuses primarily on clarifying whether certain kinds of perks, benefits or other miscellaneous items must be included in the regular rate.

The DOL proposes that employers may exclude the following from an employee’s regular rate of pay:

  • The cost of providing wellness programs, onsite specialist treatment, gym access and fitness classes and employee discounts on retail goods and services;
  • Payments for unused paid leave, including paid sick leave;
  • Reimbursed expenses, even if not incurred solely for the employer’s benefit;
  • Reimbursed travel expenses that do not exceed the maximum travel reimbursement permitted under the Federal Travel Regulation System regulations and that satisfy other regulatory requirements;
  • Discretionary bonuses;
  • Benefit plans, including accident, unemployment, and legal services; and
  • Tuition programs, such as reimbursement programs or repayment of educational debt.

The proposed rule also includes additional clarification about other forms of compensation, including payment for meal periods and call back pay.

The regulations will benefit employees, primarily, ensuring that employers can continue to provide benefits that employees’ value — tuition reimbursements, student loan repayment, employee discounts, payout of unused paid leave and gym memberships, McCutchen says.

“Remember, there is no law that employers must provide employees these types of benefits,” she adds. “Employers will not provide such benefits if doing so creates risk of massive overtime liability.”

Knowing when employers must pay overtime on these types of benefits, how to calculate the value of those benefits and overtime pay are all difficult questions, she adds. “Unintentional mistakes by good faith employers providing valued benefits to employees is easy. With this proposed rule, the DOL is embracing the philosophy that good deeds should not be punished.”

She notes the proposal does not include any specific examples of what reimbursements may be excluded from the regular rate.

“One big open question is whether employers must pay overtime when they provide employees with subsidies to take public transportation to work — as the federal government does for many of its own employees — I think around $260 per month in the DC Metro area,” she adds.

The DOL earlier this month proposed to increase the salary threshold for overtime eligibility to $35,308 up from the current $23,660. If finalized, the rule would expand overtime eligibility to more than a million additional U.S. workers, far fewer than an Obama administration rule that was struck down by a federal judge in 2017.

Employers are expected to challenge the new rule as well, based on similar complaints of administrative burdens, but a legal challenge might be more difficult to pass this time around.

SOURCE: Otto, N. (28 March 2019) "DOL proposes new rule clarifying, updating regular rate of pay" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/dol-proposes-new-rule-on-regular-rate-of-pay-calculation?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


A guide to managing employee website usage

With remote workers, employers need to be mindful of the types of websites their employees are accessing on company-issued technology. Continue reading for key considerations and best practices to review when properly managing employee website usage.


Whether employees are working from home, the coffee shop or the office, employers need to be mindful of the types of websites workers are accessing on their company-issued technology.

New accessibility creates greater flexibility, but employers need to be vigilant to ensure workers maintain the expectation of productivity and workplace privacy. Now more than ever, the workplace heavily relies on technology and companies must understand how to manage it to avoid risk.

Nowhere is the tension between technology and privacy rights more prevalent than in today’s workplace. At the forefront of this discussion is whether employers should block access to certain websites on company-issued technology. Here are key considerations and best practices to review when properly managing employee website usage.

Creating boundaries between work and personal affairs, without invading privacy. Employees typically emphasize that their private affairs should not be accessed by their employer. But the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) states an employer-provided computer system is the property of the employer, so when an employee visits certain websites during typical office hours using company-issued technology, what is accessed by the employee becomes the employer’s business as well.

There is no denying that placing blocks on certain websites is an effective way to separate work and personal matters, maintain professionalism, protect the company’s security, respect company property and utilize work time appropriately. However, employers should beware of potential legality issues regarding privacy. For example, employees are given some protection from computer and other forms of electronic monitoring under certain circumstances.

Productivity distractions. Blocking certain websites will not prevent an employee from utilizing company time for personal reasons, but doing so reminds employees to have integrity, focus and discipline when it comes to using technology in the workplace. Some employees will use company-issued technology to visit a plethora of websites such as social media platforms, personal email accounts, instant messengers, financial institutions, sports, entertainment and music sites, as well as inappropriate websites. It is easy to become distracted with an overabundance of virtual activity at our fingertips, and blocking sites sends a serious message to workers that business technology and time is for business-purposes only.

Security of confidential company data and information. In today’s interconnected world, employers recognize the importance of protecting confidential company information. Employers often choose to block certain websites because of the risk of a security breach. Employers are concerned with the exposure of any release of its data, work products, ideas and information not otherwise disclosed to the public or its competitors. Blocking certain websites gives an organization an opportunity to decrease the risk of its confidential information being accessed by external influences.

What employers can do to be more transparent with staff

There are no foolproof methods to preventing an employee from using their work time for personal reasons or inadvertently exposing the company to security breaches.

Employees can still access many websites of their choosing through their personal technology. However, the aforementioned reasons are convincing enough for employees to take more accountability in using company-issued technology for business purposes only. An employer that endorses a policy and practice of business technology for business reasons sets a clear expectation for employees to remember and follow.

  • Enforce a written policy that sets clear expectations for in-house and remote employees about not using company-issued technology to visit certain websites and explain the reason for such policies. Policies and procedures should be well-defined, widely communicated and reviewed at least annually.
  • Inform new employees that certain websites are not accessible via company technology. Highlight the written policy for both new and existing employees. Again, explain the reason for this policy.
  • Offer training and other educational opportunities that motivate productivity during times when work focus suffers.
  • Work with the company’s internal IT department to ensure that websites are properly blocked.

Usually, when employers remain transparent with staff regarding why a policy exists, employees are more receptive. In general, employers are encouraged to consult with an experienced HR professional or employment lawyer to avoid any potential legality pitfalls in the workplace.

SOURCE: Banks, S. (11 March 2019) "A guide to managing employee website usage" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/a-guide-to-managing-employee-website-usage?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Do paycheck advance apps improve financial health?

Do you allow your employees access to draw money from their paycheck before payday? Many apps now let workers have early access to their money. Read this blog post to find out more about paycheck advance apps and how these may improve financial health.


Fintechs that let workers draw money from their paycheck before payday through an app are having a moment.

Such apps, including Even.com, PayActiv, EarnIn, DailyPay and FlexWage, are designed for consumers who live paycheck to paycheck — roughly 78% of the U.S. workforce according to one study.

More than 300,000 Walmart employees, for example, use this feature, called Instapay, provided by Even and PayActiv. PayActiv, which is available to 2 million people, announced a deal with Visa on Thursday that will let people put their pay advances on a feeless prepaid Visa card.

Earnin, which lets consumers retrieve up to $100 a day from upcoming paychecks, received $125 million in Series C funding from DST Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, Matrix Partners, March Capital Partners, Coatue Management and Ribbit Capital in December. The Earnin app has been downloaded more than a million times.

In theory, such apps are useful to those who run into timing problems due to large bills, like mortgage and rent, which come due a few days before their paycheck clears. Getting a payday advance from an employer through an app can be less expensive and less problematic than taking out a payday loan or paying overdraft fees.

But do these programs lead to financial health? Or are they a temporary Band-Aid or worse, something on which cash-strapped people can become overdependent?

Volatile incomes, gig economy jobs

One thing is clear — many working poor are living paycheck to paycheck. Pay levels have not kept up with the cost of living, even adjusted for government subsidy programs, said Todd Baker, senior fellow at the Richman Center for Business, Law and Public Policy at Columbia University.

“That’s particularly evident when you think of things like home prices and rental costs. A large portion of the population is living on the edge financially,” he said. “You see it in folks making $40,000 a year, teachers and others who are living in a world where they can’t handle any significant bump in their financial life."

A bump might be an unexpected expense like medical treatment or a change in income level, for instance by companies shifting to a bonus program. And about 75 million Americans work hourly, with unstable pay.

“Over the last several decades, we’ve changed the equation for many workers,” said John Thompson, chief program officer at the Center for Financial Services Innovation. “It’s harder to have predictable scheduling or even income flow from your job or jobs. But we haven’t changed the way we pay, nor have we changed the way bills are paid. Those are still due every month on a certain date. This income volatility problem that many people experience hasn’t been offset by giving the employee control of when they do have access to these funds.”

Where on-demand pay comes in

Safwan Shah, PayActiv's CEO, says he has been working on the problems for consumers like this for 11 years. The way he sees it, there are three possible ways to help: by paying these workers more, by changing their taxes, or by changing the timing of when they’re paid.

The first two seem out of reach. “I can’t give more money to people; that’s not what a Fintech guy does,” Shah said. “I can’t invent money. And I can’t change the tax laws.”

But he felt he could change the timing of pay.

“I can go to employers and say, your employees are living paycheck to paycheck,” Shah said. “They’re bringing that stress to work every day. And you are suffering too, because they are distracted — a Mercer study shows employers lose 15 hours a month in work from these distracted employees.”

Shah persuades employers to let their employees access a portion of the wages they have already earned. His early wins were at companies whose employees frequently request paycheck advances, which generates a lot of paperwork. Employees can access no more than 50% of what they have already earned — a worker who has earned $300 so far in a month could at most get $150.

Employees pay $5 for each two-week period in which they use PayActiv. (About 25% of the time, the employer pays this fee, Shah said.)

PayActiv also gives users unlimited free bill pay and use of a Visa prepaid card. In July, PayActiv became part of the ADP marketplace, so companies that use ADP can use its service.

PayActiv's largest employer is Walmart, which started offering it via the Even app in December 2017. In October, Walmart began allowing employees to pick up cash through the app in Walmart stores, so users who were unbanked could avoid ATM fees.

Shah said the service helps employers reduce employee turnover, improve retention and recruit employees who prefer real-time pay. He also has a guilt pitch.

“I was first in the market to this, in 2013,” Shah said. “People looked at me and said, ‘What? I’m not going to pay my employees in advance. Let them go to a payday lender.’ Then I’d show them pictures of their offices surrounded by payday loan shops. I’d say, ‘They’re here because of you.’ ”

Does early access to wages lead to financial health?

When Todd Baker was a Harvard University fellow last year, he studied the financial impact of PayActiv’s earned wage access program. He compared PayActiv’s $5 fee to payday loans and bank overdraft fees.

Baker found that a $200 salary advance from PayActiv is 16.7% of the cost of a payday loan. Payday lenders typically charge $15 per $100 borrowed, so $30 for a two-week, $200 loan. If the borrower can’t pay back the amount borrowed in two weeks, the loan gets rolled over at the original amount plus the 15% interest, so the loan amount gets compounded over time.

With PayActiv, "there is always a full repayment and then a delay before there is enough income in the employee’s payroll account for another advance," Baker said. "It never rolls over.”

Baker also calculated that the PayActiv fee was only 14.3%, or one-seventh, of the typical $35 overdraft fee banks charge.

So for people who are struggling to manage the costs of short-term timing problems and unexpected expenses, Fintech tools like PayActiv’s are a lot cheaper than alternatives, Baker said.

“Does it create extra income? No. What it does is help you with timing issues,” he said.

Aaron Klein, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said workers should have access to money they’ve already earned, whether that’s through real-time payments or through apps that provide pay advances.

“I also am on board with the idea that by saving your $35 overdraft and saving your payday loan rate, you’ll be better off,” Klein said.

But he’s not willing to say these tools solve the problems of low-income people.

“If the core problem is I used to make $35,000 a year, now I make $30,000, and because of that shock I’m going to end up accruing $600 of payday loan and overdraft fees, eliminating that $600 makes you a lot better off,” Klein said. “But it doesn’t negate the overall income shock.”

Thompson at CFSI says it’s too soon to tell whether earned wage access brings about financial well-being.

“We’re just beginning to explore the potential for these tools,” he said. “Right now they feel very promising. They could give people the ability to act quickly in an emergency and have access to and use funds in lieu of a payday loan or some other high-cost credit or consequence they would rather avoid, like an overdraft fee.”

What could go wrong

Thompson also sees a potential downside to giving employees payday advances.

“The every-other-week paycheck is one of the few normal structures we have for people around planning, budgeting and managing their money,” he said.

Without that structure, which is a form of savings, “we’re going to have to work hard to make sure we don’t just turn people loose on their own with even less structure or guidance or advice on their financial life.”

Another common concern about payday advance tools is that if you give people access to their money ahead of time, they’ll just spend it, and then when their paycheck arrives, they will come up short.

But Klein, for one, doesn’t see this as an issue.

“I trust people more to manage their money,” he said. “The people who work paycheck to paycheck spend more time budgeting and planning than the wealthy, because it’s a necessity.”

A related fear is that people could become addicted to payday advance tools, and dig themselves into a deeper hole.

Jon Schlossberg, CEO of Even.com, somewhat surprisingly acknowledges this could happen.

“Getting access to your pay on demand is a tool you can use the right way or the wrong way,” he said. “If you offer only on-demand pay, that could cause the problem to get worse, because getting access to that money all the time triggers dopamine; it makes you want to do it more and more. If you are struggling with a very low margin and you’re constantly up against it, getting more money all the time accelerates that problem."

Quantitative and qualitative analyses have borne this out, he said.

Even has granted users $700 million worth of Instapays; they typically use Instapay 1.4 times a month. Schlossberg doesn't see high use of the feature as success.

“You shouldn’t need to be using Instapay,” he said. “You should be becoming financially stable so you don’t have to.”

Baker said addiction to payday advances isn't a danger because they don't roll over the way payday loans do. With a salary advance, “It’s conceivable you could get $200 behind permanently, but it’s not a growing obligation and it’s not damaging,” he said.

Shah at PayActiv said users tend to withdraw less than they're allowed to — about 75%.

“When it comes to usage of their own salary, instead of asking for more, people behaviorally ask for less,” he said.

They see PayActiv more as a headache reliever like Tylenol, rather than an addictive candy or drug, Shah said.

Pay advances are just one of many tools that can help the working poor. They also need help understanding their finances and saving for goals like an emergency fund and retirement.

“This conversation about on-demand pay is a double-edged sword because people are paying attention to it now, which is good, but they’re viewing it as this magic tool to solve all problems,” Schlossberg said. “It isn’t that. It is a piece of the puzzle that solves a liquidity problem. But it is by no means going to help people turn their financial lives around.”

SOURCE: Crosman, P. (14 March 2019) "Do paycheck advance apps improve financial health?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/do-paycheck-advance-apps-improve-financial-health?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000

Editor at Large Penny Crosman welcomes feedback at penny.crosman@sourcemedia.com.


Goodbye, suits and ties. Hello, sneakers

As the workplace evolves, one thing many managers have in common is that they are throwing out their traditional business dress code. Continue reading this blog post from Employee Benefit News to learn more.


Casual Friday? Try casual Monday through Friday.

As the modern U.S. workplace evolves, one thing many office managers have in common is that they are throwing the traditional business dress code out the window.

About 88% of employers today offer some type of casual dress benefit, up from 81% five years ago, according to the 2018 employee benefits survey from the Society for Human Resource Management.

The most recent company to join the ranks of the suit-and-tie-less workplace is banking giant Goldman Sachs. The decision — once believed unthinkable for such a straight-laced organization — comes as the company looks to keep up with “changing nature of workplaces,” according to a Goldman memo last week.

“Casual dress attire at work is just one of the many ways employers are trying to retain and attract top talent in this competitive job market,” says Amelia Green-Vamos, an employer trends analyst with Glassdoor. “The unemployment rate is at a historic low, and casual dress attire is an inexpensive perk creating a more approachable and comfortable culture for new and existing employees.”

All employers want to attract the best possible talent and in today’s job market that talent is younger. Indeed, more than 75% of Goldman Sachs’ employees are members of the millennial or Gen Z generations. When it comes to hiring younger talent the more traditional companies — such as big banks — are competing against tech giants and hedge funds that are offering a different kind of workplace.

Facebook, for example, has had a relaxed dress code since the beginning. “We don’t want our people to have a work self and a personal self,” says Facebook spokesman Kyle Gerstenschlager. “That aspect of our culture extends to our lack of a formal dress code.”

Google is another company with a simple dress policy. “You must wear clothes,” was the response Susan Wojcicki — current CEO of YouTube — gave in a 2007 interview with Bay area media outlet The Mercury News. She was VP of ad services at Google at the time.

But, it’s not just the Silicon Valley tech companies that have embraced a more laid back attire policy. When Mary Barra — current CEO of General Motors — was vice president of global human resources at the automaker, she set out to replace the company’s 10-page dress code exposition with two words: “Dress appropriately.”

It’s a simple idea, but Barra was perplexed when she received pushback from HR and one of her senior-level directors, she explained at the 2018 Wharton People Analytics Conference. But this actually led to what Barra called an “ah-ha” moment, giving her better insight into the company and teaching her a lesson about making sure managers feel empowered.

Office culture has been evolving for decades, with offices with sleep pods and ping-pong tables now commonplace. But it’s practicality rather than entitlement that is leading offices to adapt their dress codes.

“I have a hard time imagining a position where wearing a tie could be considered an essential part of the job’s responsibilities,” says SHRM member Mark Marsen, director of human resources at Allies for Health + Wellbeing. “Even using arguments that it contributes to or enhances corporate image, client perceptions, or establishing a form of respect. What matters at the end of all, for everyone concerned, is that a successful service was rendered.”

SOURCE: Shiavo, A. (12 March 2019) "Goodbye, suits and ties. Hello, sneakers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/goldman-sachs-embraces-casual-dress