Dispelling the stigma around mental health disorders in the workplace

Forty million adults in the U.S. are affected by anxiety disorders each year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Continue reading to learn more about the stigma associated with mental health disorders in the workplace.


It’s no secret that poor mental health impacts employee performance. Anxiety disorders, for example, affect 40 million adults in the U.S. each year, and nearly six in 10 American workers report that anxiety impacts their workplace performance, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

But because of the stigma often associated with mental health disorders, employees might not be using the benefits and programs clients have in place to help address the problem. That’s why just having programs in place isn’t enough, experts say. Instead, employers need to help remove the stigma of mental health conditions by creating a culture of inclusiveness in the workplace and forming employee resource groups.

Employers including Johnson & Johnson, Trulia and Verizon Media are doing just that, company executives said during a webinar last week hosted by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions.

When Margaux Joffe, associate director of accessibility and inclusion at Verizon Media, started working on a proposal to form a mental health-focused employee resource group (ERG), dispelling stigma and empowering workers was one of her first priorities.

“We wanted to create a paradigm shift,” she said, speaking as part of the webinar. “Growing up, you’re taught to think you’re ‘normal or not normal;’ you’re mentally ill or you’re not. We started with the idea there is no such thing as a ‘normal brain’ as we’re increasingly understanding neurodiversity in the human race.”

A lot of people with mental health issues don’t necessarily identify with the word disability, added Meredith Arthur, content marketing manager at Trulia.

“We struggled around removing the word disability because there was a desire to face the stigma and take it on,” she said of Trulia’s ERG. “Ultimately, we wanted to reach as many people as we could. We wanted to be sharper in our focus on mental health.”

Trulia expanded its ERG statement of purpose from just focusing on mental health education and awareness to advocating for the needs of different abilities.

Joffe said putting in place an ERG for mental health at Verizon was done with the support of senior leadership. “We’ve been lucky to get a lot of support from the company for ERG,” she said. “A common challenge that exists across the board is lack of organization readiness.”

Readiness is a huge component of success in mental health programs, added Kelly Greenwood, founder and CEO of Mind Share, a nonprofit organization addressing the culture of workplace mental health.

“It is so important to achieve true culture change,” she said. “Oftentimes we work with leadership first and do workshops for executive teams before rolling them out to the company to really get that buy-in and understanding from the top down to build a transparent culture.”

At Johnson & Johnson, it took the company about nine months to get its ERG program up and running. “There was a lot of conversation internally if it should be its own ERG for mental health or integrated into another employee resource group,” said Geralyn Giorgio, talent acquisition change management communications and training lead at the pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods manufacturing company.

At that time, she said, the company had an ERG called the alliance for disability leadership. The decision was made to put mental health under that ERG umbrella. “Since than happened, there were a lot of [employees] not seeing themselves in this ERG. We felt strongly we had to rebrand the ERG, and we went live last year, using the name alliance for diverse abilities to make it more inclusive,” she said.

This year, Giorgio said, the company will work to empower managers to handle mental health conversations.

“If you have a manager open to the conversation, [employees] have a different experience than someone whose manager is ill-informed,” she said. “That’s something we need to focus on this year — helping our managers feel more comfortable with having the conversation.”

SOURCE: Otto, N. (12 March 2019) "Dispelling the stigma around mental health disorders in the workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/dispelling-workplace-mental-health-stigma?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Nine Ways To Motivate Employees That Don't Always Involve Cash

Employers are reporting that recruiting and retaining talent is the single greatest challenge they've experienced since the U.S. unemployment rate hit historic lows. Continue reading this blog post from Forbes for nine ways employers can motivate their employees.


With unemployment at near historic lows in the United States, employers report that their single greatest challenge is recruiting and retaining talent. The answer for many companies is to throw money at the problem: Bonuses, incentive pay, and out-of-cycle salary increases are often seen as motivators that will entice greater effort and loyalty out of workers.

Turns out, using cash as a carrot isn’t always the best answer, according to new research by Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ashley V. Whillans. More than 80 percent of American employees say they do not feel recognized or rewarded, despite the fact that US companies are spending more than a fifth of their budgets on wages.

What employees crave even more is to feel that their managers appreciate them and aren’t afraid to show it, not only in paycheck terms, but in other ways such as flexible work-at-home schedules, gift cards for pulling off impressive projects, or even just by saying “thank you” for a job well done.

“Cash matters in people’s lives, but it’s not all that matters,” says Whillans, who researches what makes people happy. “What really matters in the workplace is helping employees feel appreciated.”

Whillans co-wrote a recent article in Compensation & Benefits Review, “Winning the War for Talent: Modern Motivational Methods for Attracting and Retaining Employees,” with Anais Thibault-Landry of the Université du Québec à Montréal and Allan Schweyer of the Incentive Research Foundation.

Rewards that signal to employees that they did a good job and that their manager cares about them will encourage employees to want to work even harder, the research shows. Whillans provides nine tips for business leaders on how best to reward their workers in ways that will bring them greater job satisfaction and motivate them to work harder.

When recruiting, emphasize benefits. Talking up a job’s perks, such as flexible work schedules and skill training, can give companies a recruiting edge. A 2018 study that Whillans and her team conducted of more than 92,000 job ads found that the more benefits an employer described, the higher the application rates.

Cash can motivate workers—in some types of work. Cash rewards are best suited as a motivator for work that is measured quantitatively, Whillans says. But money is less meaningful as a motivator in the complex creative jobs that make up most work in our modern knowledge-based society.

If you give cash, include a meaningful note. It’s best to avoid merely adding a cash bonus to a worker’s paycheck; a separate bonus check stands out more as a recognition of their work. And managers should also include a sincere handwritten note explaining why the employee deserved the bonus.

Reconsider performance incentives. Decades of research confirms that financial incentives can boost effort and performance. But when an employee’s pay is contingent on performance, they can become obsessed with earning more. What often works better is to turn around the timing of the reward, handing it out immediately after an employee excels at a particular task, rather than dangling it beforehand.

Consider thoughtful gifts instead of cash. A 2017 study of 600 salespeople found that when a mixed cash and prize reward program was replaced with an equivalent value all-cash package, employee effort dropped dramatically, leading to a 4.36 percent decrease in sales that cost the company millions in lost revenue, Whillans’s article says. The firm may have inadvertently demotivated salespeople who preferred prizes or discouraged workers who liked having a choice.

Give the gift of time—and other intangible perks. A Glassdoor survey Whillans and her team conducted with 115,000 employees found that providing intangible non-cash benefits, like flexible work options or the ability to choose assignments, led to much stronger job satisfaction than straightforward cash rewards.

Encourage employees to reward one another. Companies can build recognition into their business practices by creating peer-to-peer recognition programs in which employees are provided monthly reward points that they can give away to colleagues for work-related wins. Employees who earn a certain number of points can redeem them for various perks, such as a restaurant gift card or an extra personal day.

Make the recognition public. If employees are receiving a $500 bonus, hold a workplace event to hand out checks, and invite the employees’ peers. Perhaps add a certificate of appreciation along with the check.

Sometimes a simple thank you is enough. Among the happiest employees, 95 percent say that their managers are good at providing positive feedback, Whillans says. A simple, heartfelt “thank you” from a manager is often enough for employees to feel like their contributions are valued and will motivate them to try harder.

Why rewarding employees works

Whillans says these types of rewards work because they tap into three strong psychological needs: Employees long for autonomy, with the freedom to choose how to do their work; they want to appear competent, armed with the skills needed to perform; and they want to feel a sense of belonging by socially connecting with colleagues in a meaningful way.

When these needs are satisfied, employees feel more motivated, engaged, and committed to their workplace—and they report fewer intentions of leaving their jobs, Whillans says.

SOURCE: 


7 ways to reduce stress this tax season

Does tax season leave you stressed out? Tax season is here, leaving many employers face-to-face with a number of demands. Continue reading this post from Employee Benefit News for seven ways employers can reduce stress during tax season.


Tax filing season is here, which means many employers will come face-to-face with a number of demands. Whether they do their own taxes, use online tax software or meet with a trusted tax adviser, there are many useful resources out there that will help employers work smarter, not harder.

Here are seven ways employers can reduce stress during tax season.

2019 U.S. Master Tax Guide

The U.S. Master Tax Guide contains timely and precise explanations of federal income taxes for individuals, partnerships and businesses. This guide contains information including tax tables, tax rates, checklists, special tax tables and explanatory text.

Legislative resources

Find a trusted, reputable resource for the latest news, opinions and laws regarding healthcare. Many companies in the industry have a designated section on their website that is dedicated to providing employers with updates and trends in the health insurance industry and how it will affect taxes.
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Payroll calculators

Employers can use payroll calculators to determine gross pay, withholdings, deductions, net pay after Social Security and Medicare and more. Calculator types include salary payroll calculators, hourly paycheck calculators, gross pay calculators, W-4 assistants, percentage bonus calculators and aggregate bonus calculators.

Keep, shred, toss

Now is the perfect time to organize tax records so that they’re easy to find in case they’re needed to apply for a loan, answer IRS questions or file an amended return.

The IRS has some helpful guidance you can share with your clients on what records to keep and for how long. They should remember to:

  • Keep copies of tax returns and supporting documents for at least three years.
  • Keep some documents for up to seven years.
  • Keep healthcare information statements for at least three years. These include records of employer-provided coverage, premiums paid, advance payments of the premium tax credit received and type of coverage.

Make sure records are kept safe — but when it’s time, shred or destroy

Whether they consist of paper stacked in a shoebox, electronic files stored on a device or in the cloud, it’s important to safeguard all personal records, especially anything that lists Social Security numbers. Consumer Affairs recommends scanning paper and keeping records stored securely on a flash drive, CD or DVD.

It’s more important than ever for employers to keep personal information out of the hands of identity thieves. That means not tossing records in the trash or recycling bin. Home paper shredders are often inadequate for large piles of paper, but many communities have professional, secure document shredding services.
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Start as early as possible

A deadline looming always makes the situation more stressful. It’s very important for employers to not wait until the last minute to start their tax return. If they choose to use a tax professional, be sure that they get in early. Tax professionals take on many clients, and only have a short timeframe to get all the work done.

Be honest

It may be tempting for employers to tell a white lie on their taxes to maximize their tax breaks or return, but that comes at a great risk. If they are audited by the IRS, they will liable for whatever was reported.

SOURCE: Waletzki, T. (12 March 2019) "7 ways to reduce stress this tax season" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/how-to-reduce-stress-this-tax-season?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


New tech helps HR pros practice hiring and firing — in virtual reality

A new platform from Talespin allows employees to practice challenging social situations, like the act of hiring and firing an employee, beforehand. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


What if HR professionals could practice hiring and firing someone before they even set foot in the office? Virtual reality and artificial intelligence may be closer to making that a reality for some employers.

Talespin, a developer of virtual reality technology has released a new platform that allows employees to practice challenging social situations. The platform, called its Virtual Human Technology, is meant to mimic typical conversations that an employee might have at work. The software can simulate anything from performance reviews, to leadership training, sales conversations or even firing.

“We’re thinking holistically about the employee life cycle and how spatial computing is going to affect that,” says Kyle Jackson, CEO of Talespin.

Talespin aims to evoke real human emotions and give employees a sense of the best way to handle a difficult situation, Jackson says. The platform demo, for example, puts users in the shoes of an HR manager and asks them to fire an employee named Barry. Barry is an AI-powered virtual character that displays realistic human responses, like anger, when a user tells him that he has been terminated.

Users can be successful or unsuccessful at terminating Barry and the platform provides feedback on how they can improve these skills over time. The system can be tailored to provide responses based on the specific needs of the employer, Jackson says.

“The system can record all sorts of things: from your sentiment, to what you say, what branches did you activate, what different paths of process did you go down. With all that data it’s a question of what’s the learning objective and what’s the learning outcome that you’re looking for?” he says.

While the platform is best used in virtual reality, users can access it via desktop, mobile or audio only. Jackson says the company is deploying the platform with five employers in the telecommunications, automotive, insurance and consumer packaged goods industries. Farmers Insurance is already using Talespin technology to train new hires. Employers using the software pay per monthly active user plus the cost of the module, Jackson says.

Some employers are investing in AI and virtual reality as a way to attract and retain new talent. Pharmaceutical company Takeda, for instance, combined 360-degree photographs and an interactive map of its Cambridge, Massachusetts campus to create a virtual reality office tour for current and potential employees.

Jackson says they’ve heard from employers that poor treatment from a manager has in some cases, led to employee turnover. A VR platform like Virtual Human Technology can help managers develop their soft skills for interacting with employees and potentially improve retention.

“It’s not a technology problem, it’s not an efficiency problem. It’s really a people problem,” he says. “It’s the one area that’s really hard to fix.”

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (8 March 2019) "New tech helps HR pros practice hiring and firing — in virtual reality" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/hr-tech-helps-practice-hiring-and-firing-in-virtual-reality?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


3 ways anxiety can hold back your employees’ careers

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly six in 10 American workers report anxiety impacts their workplace performance. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about workplace anxiety.


Employers want their employees to grow and succeed at their jobs. Unfortunately, there are a variety of external and psychological obstacles that can stand in the way of employees reaching their full potential. While most workers would like nothing better than to perform well on the job, anxiety can prevent them from doing so.

Anxiety disorders are extremely common: They affect 40 million adults in the U.S. each year, and nearly six in 10 American workers report anxiety impacts their workplace performance, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. A study in the academic journal Anxiety found the economic effects of this mental health condition are huge — costing employers almost $35 billion from lost or reduced productivity in the workplace, the study says. The good news is 80% of employees treated for mental health problems report improvements in their job satisfaction and productivity.

For employers to mitigate the impact anxiety has on their employees, it’s important to understand the form it takes in the workplace. Anxiety often takes shape in various thinking traps that can sabotage an employee’s growth. Three of the most common traps are social comparisons, personalization and overmagnification.

To explore how these thinking traps manifest in the workplace, let’s consider a scenario in which an employee sees a co-worker gets a promotion instead of them.

The social comparison trap. The research is clear that comparing yourself to others is bad for your mental health. However, that doesn’t stop people — especially those with anxiety — from doing just that. A co-worker’s promotion can lead an employee to leap to the conclusion they must be inferior to their colleague. In reality, there’s no way employees can fairly compare themselves to a co-worker. Their experiences, personalities and skills are different. Employees able to avoid that comparison trap might, instead, keep the focus on themselves, evaluating the growth they’ve achieved over the past year and determining how they can continue to improve in the year ahead.

The personalization trap. It’s hard for some employees to recognize not everything is about them. The co-worker who earned the promotion may have gotten the job because they were simply a better fit; that doesn’t diminish the talents and abilities of those who weren’t chosen for the position. Rather than assume the worst of themselves, employees could look at the situation more objectively and recognize that their co-worker may not be better than them, just different.

The overmagnification trap. Blowing things out of proportion is another thinking pattern with a destructive effect. Being passed over for a promotion can expand to a sense of being permanently, hopelessly, bad at one’s job. Instead of being able to parse out the specific reasons why the promotion didn’t go their way, employees who overmagnify convince themselves that they are not only unqualified for the promotion, but they’ll never get a promotion and their career is doomed — so why even try? To keep those overblown feelings at bay, a better approach is to stay focused on the specific and transient nature of what has just happened. Being passed over hurts now, but it won’t hurt forever. Not getting this particular job says nothing about the person’s ability to get other jobs. It may mean that they are missing certain skills or experience, but it doesn’t mean they will always lack them.

Workplace culture and practices can either exacerbate or diminish the self-sabotaging thinking traps that go hand in hand with anxiety. Some effective strategies that can help foster a positive work environment for all employees, but especially those who tend toward anxiety, include:

Create a collaborative workplace. Workplace collaboration helps employees feel valued for their contributions and allows them to see how their skills are important to achieving success for their team or company. It also provides the opportunity to learn from other employees and appreciate what they bring to the table, rather than viewing them as their competition.

Promote transparency. Employees who are kept in the loop, who understand their role, the criteria for what promotions are based on, and understand what they can do to get to the next level are more trusting of their leaders. Be particularly sensitive to what employees may be experiencing during annual performance reviews and make sure to overcommunicate during those times.

Offer tools and services. Providing programs and services to help reduce stress and anxiety can be beneficial for all employees. These can include subsidizing gym memberships, offering yoga classes, encouraging “mind vacation” breaks throughout the day, providing online programs that guide employees through mindful meditations or other well-being exercises.

Model self-care. Employees are more likely to engage in self-care at work if they see their supervisors practicing it, not just encouraging it. If a meditation class is offered in the workplace, employees are more likely to take part if their managers are taking time out of their day to participate as well. Similarly, organization-wide activities, such as a mid-day walk, allow employees to see management promote the message that self-care is a workplace priority.

Given the high number of working Americans with anxiety conditions, easing their anxieties and helping them avoid those thinking traps is good for business. It will improve employees’ overall well-being, workplace satisfaction and professional growth.

SOURCE: Parks, A. (5 March 2019) "3 ways anxiety can hold back your employees’ careers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/3-ways-anxiety-can-hold-back-your-employees-careers


The benefit you may not be offering to employees — but should be

The costs, gaps in care and stress associated with serious, long-term illness can negatively impact the health and productivity of your workforce. Surveys show that about 17 percent of full-time workers act as caregivers. Read on to learn more.


When it comes to getting better value for their healthcare dollars, employers and other healthcare purchasers may be overlooking a significant cost driver that negatively impacts the health and productivity of their workforce.

It’s the costs, gaps in care and stress associated with serious, long-term illness. In addition to the roughly 11.4 million adults and children living with serious illness, about 17% of full-time workers are also caregivers. And while a caregiving role is rewarding, it’s also been shown to reduce work productivity by more than 18%, costing U.S. businesses up to $33 billion annually. Given this, it’s surprising that palliative programs are not nearly as widespread as they should be.

Employers should give serious consideration to offering palliative care as a benefit to employees. Here are two misconceptions that can get in the way of implementing palliative care programs — and two reasons why serious illness care may be right for your organization.

First, the misconceptions:

It’s not the same as hospice care. While hospice care is a part of palliative care, they’re not synonymous. Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness that is appropriate at any age and any stage of their disease and can be provided along with curative treatment. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of their medical condition(s) — whatever the diagnosis.

The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and their family. Those who would greatly benefit from access to palliative care face conditions such as diabetes with complications, metastatic cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

It doesn’t affect my population. While people with a serious illness typically represent only a small proportion of the commercial population — roughly 2% to 3% — and up to 10% of retiree populations, they consume a disproportionate amount of healthcare resources. By addressing the needs of those living with serious illness, helping them avoid unnecessary, unwanted, and even potentially harmful care, employers can make a big impact on employees’ lives and the bottom line. Moreover, palliative care also greatly benefits caregivers, who can experience stress, negative impacts on their own health, and lessened productivity and presenteeism at work, even when they find their role fulfilling.

Now, why should employers offer palliative care benefits?

Quality can generate cost-savings. Palliative care’s focus on improving the quality of life of patients and their families means it leads with quality. The logic of “quality first” applies to many high-value healthcare strategies including accountable care organizations, centers of excellence (COEs) and second opinion programs. And like those other strategies, leading with quality can lead to lower costs. For instance, by providing access to high-quality care for certain services or conditions at a COE, employers hope that costly complications from low quality or inappropriate care can be avoided, just as introducing a palliative care team to a treatment plan can help patients better manage their symptoms, such as severe pain, proactively and lead to fewer trips to the emergency room.

Employers can make a big difference for patients and caregivers. Employers and other healthcare purchasers can play a powerful role in improving care for people living with serious illness by demanding certain capabilities and services from contracted health plans, other vendors and healthcare providers.

These include:

· Proactive identification of the population of patients living with a serious illness
· Training all healthcare providers in basic communication and symptom management skills
· Access to certified specialty palliative care teams across care settings
· Access to appropriately trained case managers
· Specific benefits that include home-based services and support for caregivers

To change the healthcare system, it’s important for purchasers to be on the same page with each other to ensure that providers and plans are on board with providing this type of care. After all, at the end of the day, it’s about the patient and their family. In focusing on palliative care, along with other key areas, purchasers have the power and influence to make a difference in the quality and affordability of care their employees receive.

SOURCE: Delbanco, S. (6 March 2019) "The benefit you may not be offering to employees — but should be" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/the-benefit-employers-may-not-be-offering-to-employees?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


4 questions to ask before adding biometric screenings

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Why should we screen?

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

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

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

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

2. What should we screen for?

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

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

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

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

3. How often should we screen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


6 key features your employee training program needs – and how LMS can help

One way employers can keep the right employees around and happy is by providing opportunities for professional development and training. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


Hiring the right employees is important, but keeping them around and happy is just as essential. One way to do that is to provide opportunities for professional development and training as a way to encourage workers to improve their skills and engage further with their jobs.

While you likely have a solid training program for new employees to get them accustomed to your organization, the training options for ongoing employees are often more limited.

It’s always a good idea to encourage all employees to continue learning new skills, perfecting old ones and developing as professionals. Having well-rounded workers with a range of skills boosts your business and opens up opportunities for their advancement.

Beyond making workers happier and more productive, there are revenue benefits associated with comprehensive training, too. Companies that offer workers training programs have 24% higher profit margins than those that don’t, according to the American Society for Training and Development.

And if you don’t yet have a learning management system (LMS) solution, consider investing in one. It can help streamline the training process and strengthen your entire program while offering a range of other benefits.

Whether you already have a training program you’re looking to improve, or you’re aiming to implement one, there are certain elements every successful training and development program has.

Short, specific sessions

You know better than anyone that employees’ attention spans aren’t long. No one wants to sit through hours of training, no matter how valuable the information is.

Focus instead on short, specific bursts of information that will interest workers and guarantee they retain the information.

This strategy, called microlearning, emphasizes brief (usually three to five minutes) sessions designed to meet specific outcomes. You can use it for both formal training and informal, but it’s generally more successful when applied to informal skills training instead of intense or complex processed-based training.

There are four essential characteristics of microlearning to hone in on. Make sure your training is:

  • Lean: It shouldn’t need a mob of people to implement
  • Adaptable: There should be ways to apply the training to many employees across a range of departments and locations. Although specificity is a key component of microlearning, it can’t be so specific that only one employee will benefit, otherwise, it’s not worth the time and resources.
  • Simple: Avoid over-complicating things and confusing workers.
  • Seamless: Use the technology at your disposal. Your solution shouldn’t require in-person sit-downs, but instead should be transferable to employees’ mobile devices and laptops when possible.

Many LMS solutions are accessible on mobile devices and desktops and allow you to create your own courses to provide the exact content you want to employees.

Remember: Microlearning doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of your training program. After all, there are some topics that simply can’t be condensed into bite-sized pieces. But integrating this method can help spice up your program and supply a new way of doing things.

Assessments

An effective training program is only as good as what employees retain, so you’ll want a way to measure where they started and how the training has impacted them.

A pre-training assessment can also shine a light on what workers are looking for and what they still need to learn. This allows you to target specific skills training and development to the employees who need it, while not wasting the time of workers who’re all caught up.

Post-training assessments, meanwhile, help you see who’s mastered the training and who still needs help. They can also show you where your training program could be improved.

To ensure assessments are as helpful as possible:

  • Avoid yes or no questions, instead of allowing workers to provide a variety of feedback.
  • Look over how the training objectives line up with workers’ perceptions of their professional development.
  • Offer both task- and skill-based evaluations that look at performance and adaptation of the skill, rather than memorization ability.

Note: These evaluations don’t need to take the form of traditional tests. Very few people enjoy taking tests, so taking the time to turn assessments into a game or more fun activity encourages workers to participate and provide their honest opinions without worrying about being “graded.”

With some LMS solutions, assessments can be taken online with the information stored right where you can access it easily. Often, you can also compile the results into reports that give you at-a-glance clarity on who benefited most from the training and who still needs improvement.

Collaboration

Providing chances for your workers to interact and form connections has multiple benefits for your training program and organization at large.

When employees have bonds with their co-workers, they’re more engaged in their tasks and more productive. Getting them to collaborate during training can help convince them to take the course seriously while encouraging teamwork beyond the training.

Collaboration tools, such as built-in messaging systems and discussion boards, are prevalent among LMS solutions and give workers the chance to learn together and develop along the same paths.

Multimedia options

You’ll also want to expand your horizons beyond basic text-based training. We’re living in an age with constantly evolving technology, and your training program should take advantage of the options at your disposal.

Workers will be more engaged with the content you offer if it’s more than words on a page. And with LMS solutions, creating and importing multimedia content into your training is easier than ever.

This doesn’t mean you can’t implement text into your training, of course, but rather that you should also have:

  • video
  • interactive content
  • images, and
  • audio.

Video and images are already extremely popular in training, and if you have a current program it’s likely there are already videos and photos in it. Don’t forget about graphs and other diagrams that could help clarify certain concepts.

Interactive content can take a range of forms, from quizzes given to workers after each module to games employees play to help them retain the information they’ve learned.

These games can also increase collaboration during training, which helps participants stay engaged in what they’re learning and form connections with co-workers. Bonding with co-workers is one of the benefits offered by in-house training programs and these bonds often strengthen employee engagement with your company.

Another option is audio content, like podcasts. Offering audio content allows workers to train while performing other tasks, since they don’t have to be in a specific room or looking at something to follow along.

If you’re worried about carving enough time out in employees’ workdays to add training or professional development, podcasts and other audio content are a good bridge to get them learning new skills while still able to complete their jobs.

Easy access

A training program won’t work if its inaccessible. If workers have to show up on a specific day and time to a certain conference room, it’s significantly less likely they’ll take you up on the offer.

And if the training is mandatory, employees won’t be excited to learn and may resist absorbing the info.

This is where an LMS solution comes in handy the most. It provides a central location for training and courses to be stored and accessed. Workers can check out training from all of their devices and tackle the topics individually or in groups, depending on what works best for them.

Having an LMS solution also helps if you employ remote workers or have multiple locations, since you don’t have to coordinate a time for them to come in or run multiple training sessions at once.

Professional development

Workers, especially younger ones, want a way forward in their careers. They don’t want to just learn skills applicable to their current jobs. They want options and the chance to develop further and pick up skills that will serve them well as they advance.

Clearly define how your training program will factor in professional development, so employees can see what the payoff will be down the line. This also motivates them to stay with your company in the long run, since you’re enabling them to develop and practice new abilities and investing in their futures.

Most LMS solutions have the ability to create customized learning paths depending on where employees are in their careers and what they’re aiming to learn and accomplish.

Laying out the ways forward can also help with recruiting and hiring, since prospective employees can see the opportunities for advancement and growth available to them.

Bottom line

Training matters for every employee, not just new hires or recent transfers. A strong comprehensive training program is essential to building up your workforce and keeping workers engaged in their jobs.

When given the chance to boost their skills and develop professionally, employees are also happier and more productive, making the potential expense of implementing training programs worth it.

Plus, LMS solutions can help improve your training and offer a variety of features to employees and trainers alike in a cost-effective way.

Your training doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be helpful for your workers and provide benefits for your business. It just has to work for your company and employees.

SOURCE: Ketchum, K. (18 February 2019) "6 key features your employee training program needs - and how LMS can help" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/employee-training-program-lms/


4 FAQs about W-2 business email compromise attacks during tax season

Has your business been a victim of tax season cyber attacks? The most popular time of the year for W-2 related cyber attacks is during tax season. Read this blog post to learn more.


The most likely cyber attack a company will face will come in the form of an email. One of the most common forms of email attack is the business email compromise (BEC), and the most popular time of the year for the W-2 version of BEC is right now — tax season.

A BEC attack involves attackers sending emails disguised as coming from high-level executives within a company, such as the CEO, to lower level personnel. During tax season, the spoof email will often request that W-2s for employees be provided by return email.

While the email looks identical to the executive’s email, it is coming from — and then returned to — the criminal, not the executive, along with the W-2s and the personal information associated with the documents.

If an employee falls for the scam, the company now has experienced a serious data breach and must comply with certain legal requirements. Worse yet, the company’s employees’ sensitive personal information has been given to the attackers and they have this problem to worry about instead of performing their job. The disruption is substantial in their personal lives and for the company’s operations.

How do attackers use W-2 information?

In most cases, once the attackers have that W-2 information, they use it to attempt to file fraudulent tax returns for those employees and have their tax refunds sent to them instead of the employee. They also use it for traditional identity theft.

The attackers act very quickly once the information is obtained. In some cases, they have begun to fraudulently use the information on the same day they obtained the W-2 information from the company. Time is truly of the essence in responding to these attacks and legal assistance is necessary for properly responding to these data breach events.

Why do so many attacks happen during tax season?

Law enforcement officers and cybersecurity professionals report a drastic increase in these types of attacks during the beginning of each year because of tax season. This is consistent with what is seen in helping companies with these cases in past years, as well. The reason this type of attack is so common during tax season is because of the tax-related fraud aspect of this type of attack. That is, the attackers monetize their attacks by using the fraudulently obtained information to file fraudulent tax returns and obtain refunds from innocent victims.

And the sooner they can do this, the better their chances are of getting the refund before the taxpayer files and receives their tax refund.

If a company has not yet been targeted, it is likely that it will be very soon so it is important to be prepared.

What can you do to protect your company?

Educating employees is critical because they will be the ones who receive the emails from the attackers.

  • Make them aware of this issue by sharing the information in this article with them so that they understand the threat, how it works and how it could affect them personally.
  • Train them by having appropriate personnel discuss this threat with them and help them understand that they should be very suspicious of any requests to email out anything of this nature (or make payments, such as with the very similar wire transfer version of the BEC).

Have appropriate internal controls in place to protect against these types of attacks. These controls can include:

  • Limit who has access to your company’s W-2s and other sensitive information as well as who has the authority to submit or approve wire payments.
  • Have established procedures in place for sending W-2 information or other sensitive information as well as for submitting or approving wire payments so that dual approvals are required for these activities.
  • Require employees to use an alternative means of confirming the identity of the person making the request. If the request is by email, the employee should talk to the requestor in-person or call and speak to the requestor using a known telephone number to get verbal confirmation. If the request is by telephone or fax (many times they are), then use email to confirm by using an email address known to be correct to confirm with the purported requestor. Never reply to one of these emails or call using a telephone number that is provided in one of these emails, faxes, or telephone calls.

What to do if your company is hit by an attack

  • Immediately contact experienced legal counsel who understands how to guide a company through these incidents and, ideally, has appropriate contacts with law enforcement and the IRS to assist in reporting this incident quickly.
  • Report the incident to the FBI or Secret Service and appropriate IRS investigators so that the IRS can implement appropriate procedures to protect the employees whose information was exposed in the W-2s.
  • Prepare appropriate notifications to the people whose information was exposed and comply with all legal and regulatory reporting requirements. This should be a part of an existing incident response plan. Companies should have such a procedure in place to be better prepared if and when a security breach occurs.
  • Inform employees that the IRS will never contact them directly, for the first time, via email, telephone, text message, social media or any way other than through a written “snail mail” letter.

SOURCE: Tuma, S. (19 February 2019) "4 FAQs about W-2 business email compromise attacks during tax season" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/02/19/4-faqs-about-w-2-business-email-compromise-attacks-during-tax-season/


Everything employers need to know about employee job classifications

FLSA job classifications can confuse even the most experienced HR managers. Continue reading this blog post for everything employers should know about employee job classifications.


Chief among the issues that keep employers up at night is staying compliant with federal and state employment laws.

Arguably, wage and hour rules are the most complex and cause the most issues for companies. Job classifications under the FLSA can confuse even the most experienced HR managers.

In fact, some of the costliest wage and hour lawsuits and penalties on record could have been avoided if only the employer properly classified an employee as either exempt or nonexempt. It’s critically important to understand the law — and the devil is in the details.

Exempt or nonexempt?

Most employers understand that an exempt employee is not entitled to receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week, according to the provisions of the FLSA. Conversely, nonexempt employees are required to receive overtime pay and should be classified as nonexempt from these same overtime provisions.

While it may sound straightforward, figuring out an employee’s exempt status is not that simple. Different types of exemptions exist and each has its own unique set of requirements that are outlined in the FLSA. Most of these exemptions are specific to certain jobs or industries, for example, some exemptions only apply to specific types of agricultural workers, or to truck drivers who transport goods in interstate commerce. But for most businesses, exempt employees will usually fall into one of the following three exemption categories: executive, administrative and professional. Collectively, these are referred to as the white collar exemptions.

A common error that employers make is to classify all their salaried employees, or all employees with the word manager in their title, as exempt. Neither of these factors alone is enough to make the exempt designation. Each of the white-collar exemptions has two components: a salary requirement and a duties requirement. The salary requirement is the same for each of the three exemptions, but the duties requirements are different.

The salary basis test

For any employee to be considered exempt under any of the white-collar exemptions, they must be paid on a salary basis. This means that any employee who is paid by the hour, per day, or is commission-only, regardless of their title or position, will not meet the criteria for any of the white-collar exemptions. How the salary is paid as well as the amount are also subject to certain restrictions. The salary basis test determines the minimum amount, which is subject to change from time to time. The minimum salary is currently $455.00 per week (or $23,660 per year). This test also provides restrictions on when and how an employer can make deductions from an exempt employee’s salary.

An increase to the minimum salary per week from $455 to $913 (or $47,476 per year) was originally scheduled to go into effect back in December 2016, but industry groups against the measure successfully lobbied to block it. The U.S. Department of Labor is exploring alternatives that could appease these industry groups while keeping the regulations in line with the times. The DOL is scheduled to re-start the rulemaking process in March 2019, and prior statements of the current DOL Secretary, Alexander Acosta, suggest that the new rule may propose a more modest salary increase to around $634 per week (or around $33,000 per year).

Job duties

In addition to the salary, each white-collar exemption has its own unique set of duties requirements. Employers must look at the actual duties that each employee performs to determine whether they meet the criteria and their title or position does little to influence the outcome. So, simply naming an employee a manager does not automatically qualify the worker as an exempt employee. To be considered exempt under the executive exemption, which is the most common exemption for managers, this employee would need to supervise two or more full-time employees (or the equivalent) and have the authority to hire and fire employees. Otherwise, they would need to meet the requirements for one of the other exemptions to be paid in this manner.

Knowing that these regulations exist and being well-informed of the framework is the first step in understanding overtime obligations – and reducing wage and hour worries. Employers should seek a qualified employment law attorney for additional guidance on the specifics of each requirement to ensure compliance with applicable overtime laws.

SOURCE: Starkman, J.; Nadal, A. (15 February 2019) "Everything employers need to know about employee job classifications" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-employers-need-to-know-about-job-classifications?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001