Coronavirus pandemic puts the spotlight on mental health resources

Mental health is a sensitive topic for those who are affected by it, but as businesses begin to close due to COVID-19, certain behaviors and uncertainty has led to an increased amount of anxiety. During this time, mental health is being challenged with balancing the stress of the COVID-19 outbreak and daily lives. Read this blog post to learn more.


Managing mental health in and outside of the office is a challenge for more than half of Americans, but the added stressors of coronavirus are pushing many people to reach out for help.

As attempts are made to quell the spread of COVID-19, companies have mandated employees work remotely and have cancelled conferences, gatherings and other non-essential travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended implementing “social distancing,” which involves minimizing exposure by avoiding large crowds, working remotely if possible, and practicing personal hygiene like washing your hands frequently.

“Obviously it’s a stressful time, and we’re seeing significant increases in sessions for therapy and psychiatry,” says Russ Glass, CEO of Ginger, a virtual mental health support platform. “The disruption in behavior and the uncertainty has led to a lot of anxiety.”

The increasing severity of the pandemic has many people on edge. The World Health Organization released guidance for dealing with stress and anxiety associated with coronavirus. Among their recommendations: avoid watching the news and implement plans to feel prepared and safe.

“Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that can cause you to feel anxious or distressed — the sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried,” the WHO guidelines say.

But for those with mental health issues, balancing the demands of work with this new reality can add additional stress and make work challenging.

“When people are experiencing fear, they try to exert control in whatever situation they can, but the results are often destructive,” says Ken Zuckerberg, vice president of training at ComPsych, a global EAP provider. “Employees are not performing their best if they’re dealing with feelings of isolation, or fears of being quarantined.”

Eighteen percent of Americans struggle with mental illness, and 61% of employees report their mental health affects their work, according to the CDC. Even in times when external stressors are not as prevalent, these issues lead to productivity loss and absenteeism in the workplace.

“People at work who are dealing with behavioral health issues self-report 20% or greater productivity loss and also develop other chronic health conditions,” Glass says. “Employees are coming to their employer and saying, ‘I need help but our current insurance plan or current EAPs aren't providing the right level of access. I can't get care.’”

Now more than ever, employers need to provide resources that address these mental health issues, Glass says.

“Companies have to be thinking about both physical and mental health and recognize that this is a very stressful time for their employees,” says Glass, whose mental health platform, Ginger, connects users with behavioral health coaches for chat and video-based sessions. Users can seek help from therapists and psychiatrists through the platform. Glass says they’ve reported an 16% increase in session volume and a 10% increase in their daily users in the past two weeks.

For those struggling with anxiety or feelings of isolation because of coronavirus, WHO recommends people maintain their daily routines and reach out for support and connection.

“Even in situations of isolation, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines. Stay connected via email, social media, video conference and telephone,” the guidelines say.

Ensuring the mental well-being of all employees, especially in high-stress times, involves providing communication and access to help, Glass says.

“Putting resources in place or communicating the resources you already have in place can be helpful to your employees,” Glass says. “If you're feeling anxious, it’s a good time to reach out to family members or friends or your behavioral health coach and talk through it. Have some outlets to discuss this in a way that's not just social media.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (13 March 2020) "Coronavirus pandemic puts the spotlight on mental health resources" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/coronavirus-pandemic-puts-the-spotlight-on-mental-health-resources


Coronavirus: How Employers Around the Globe Are Responding

Employers are continuously looking out for the safety of their employees and customers. With the spread of COVID-19 becoming faster and more relevant, employers are putting in effect their emergency plans to continue providing safety measures for both employees and customers. Continue Reading this blog post to learn more.


Companies are scrambling to respond as the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, spreads around the world. During a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) webcast March 10, an official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked employers to do all they can to slow the coronavirus.

SHRM Online has collected the following news reports that reflect the different ways in which organizations are reacting to protect their employees and their businesses.

Emergency Leave

Walmart to Allow Any Worker Concerned about Coronavirus to Stay Home 'Without Penalty'
Walmart is enacting an emergency leave policy for its 1.4 million hourly US workers that allows them to take time off without penalty if they fear the spread of a new virus. The nation's largest private employer said Tuesday that a worker at its store in Cynthiana, Ken., tested positive for the COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
(New York Post)

Colorado Will Require Paid Sick Leave for Certain Workers in Response to Coronavirus
The state of Colorado will soon require employers to offer paid sick days to hundreds of thousands of service and hospitality workers in response to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Gov. Jared Polis announced the new policy on Tuesday morning as he declared a state of emergency.
(Colorado Public Radio)

Employee Relief Fund

Amazon Launches $25 Million Relief Fund for Delivery Drivers, Seasonal Employees Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
Amazon is launching a $25 million relief fund for delivery drivers and seasonal workers amid the coronavirus outbreak, it announced March 11.  The aim is to help employees "that are under financial distress during this challenging time," the company said. This includes Amazon Flex drivers and its network of delivery service partners, who handle last-mile package deliveries, as well as seasonal employees, who help the company manage variation in customer demand during peak periods and holidays. Amazon will allow these employees to apply for grants that are equal to up to two weeks of pay if they're diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

(CNBC)

Coronavirus Testing

NYC's Hotel Workers Union to Offer Members Coronavirus Testing
The health insurance plan run by the city's powerful hotel workers union will soon offer more than 90,000 people tests for the coronavirus. About 40,000 workers and 50,000 of their relatives and union retirees are covered by the plan run by the New York Hotel Trades Council.
(New York Daily News)

Closures and Quarantines

Starbucks Closed a Seattle Store after 1st Case of Employee Diagnosed with Coronavirus
Starbucks temporarily closed a Reserve store location in downtown Seattle after an employee was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was quarantined March 6. This is the first case of coronavirus contracted by a Starbucks in-store employee. The company immediately closed the affected store, initiated a deep-clean procedure and sent home employees that had direct contact with the infected partner.
(Nation's Restaurant News)

'No-Contact' Food Delivery Offered

Gig Economy Companies from Uber to Lyft Take Action as Coronavirus Cases Grow
Uber and Lyft are planning to compensate drivers affected by the coronavirus for up to 14 days. Postmates and Instacart have unveiled "no-contact" food delivery. DoorDash is letting customers leave in-app instructions if they prefer orders left at the door. Amazon Flex, which taps independent contractors to make deliveries, doesn't have a policy to compensate drivers and is instead supporting on an "individual, case-by-case basis."
(CNBC)

Teleworking Promoted, Office Visits Restricted

Twitter Tells Employees to Work from Home as Tech Firms React to Coronavirus
Twitter on March 2 became the first major U.S. corporation to strongly encourage its employees to work from home to avoid spreading coronavirus.
(Los Angeles Times)

How IBM, Goldman Sachs, PwC and Others Are Responding to the Coronavirus Threat
IBM, which nearly three years ago ended remote work for some U.S. employees, said Feb. 27 it had asked workers in coronavirus-affected areas to work from home "wherever possible." The guidance was issued for IBM workers in China, Japan, South Korea and Italy. The company also restricted travel to some locations and canceled its in-person participation in the RSA Conference on cybersecurity in San Francisco.
(Washington Post)

Google Tells More than 100,000 North American Employees to Stay Home
Google is telling all of its North American employees to stay home until at least April 10, as the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads, CNBC reported March 10. On March 9, CNBC reported that the company blocked all external visitors from coming into some of its offices, including New York and the San Francisco Bay Area where its Silicon Valley headquarters are located.
(CNBC)

UBS Divvying Up Teams in Switzerland, Having Them Switch Off Teleworking
UBS, the Swiss bank headquartered in Zurich, has begun implementing a split-operations policy in Switzerland this week as part of its coronavirus response. The firm has already implemented a similar policy for its employees across the Asia Pacific region.
(News of the Day)

Cuomo Asks NY Businesses to Split Employee Shifts to Prevent Coronavirus Spread
The State of New York will ask businesses to consider having employees work two shifts and allowing telework, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a CNN interview.
(New York Post)

Domestic and Global Travel Restricted

Ford Bans Employee Travel on Coronavirus Fears
Ford Motor Company told employees March 3 that it is banning all non-essential air travel until at least March 27 because of concerns about the novel coronavirus. Ford had been restricting travel to and from China but has now extended the ban to all flights, both international and within the United States, out of concern for employees' health and safety. There may be exceptions, a Ford spokesperson said, but they will probably be rare.
(The Motley Fool)

Coronavirus Cancellations, Travel Bans
Google on March 3 called off its flagship developers conference, called I/O, which was scheduled for May in Mountain View, Calif. Last year, the three-day event drew 7,000 attendees. The company said it would look for ways to "evolve" the event, raising the possibility of livestreamed or remote sessions. Several other companies and organizations, including the World Bank and the IMF, said they would replace in-person gatherings and meetings with virtual ones.
(NPR)

Coronavirus Conference Gets Canceled Because of Coronavirus
The Council on Foreign Relations canceled a roundtable called "Doing Business Under Coronavirus" scheduled for Friday in New York due to the spread of the infection itself. CFR has also canceled other in-person conferences that were scheduled from March 11 to April 3.
(Bloomberg)

Airlines Cut More Flights, Execs Take Pay Cuts as Coronavirus Takes Toll on Flying
United CEO Oscar Munoz and president Scott Kirby will forgo their base salaries through at least June 30. United also said it was postponing "non-critical" projects requiring capital expenditures, got a $2 billion loan from a group of banks and expects to incur a first-quarter loss. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said Monday in a message to employees that he would take a 10 percent pay cut and Delta said it is instituting a hiring freeze, taking some planes out of service and retiring older aircraft.
(Herald & Review)

Work Areas Disinfected

How Dallas-Area Restaurants Are Prepping Their Kitchens and Dining Rooms for Coronavirus
Extra hand sanitizer is only part of the effort. Some say food delivery is the next big answer. At one eatery, crews have started sanitizing credit-card pin pads, surface areas and both sides of all door handles more regularly. Like many restaurants, it has put out more hand-sanitizing dispensers and ordered touchless hand sanitizer dispensers to replace manual ones.
(The Dallas Morning News)

Nike Closed Its Worldwide HQ in Oregon for Deep-Cleaning after 1st U.S. Coronavirus Death
Nike announced March 1 it temporarily closed its corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., in order to deep clean the campus following the first US death from COVID-19 the day prior. "While we have no information indicating any exposure to Nike employees, out of an abundance of caution, we are conducting a deep cleaning of campus," a Nike spokesperson told KGW, the Portland, Ore., NBC-affiliated station. "All WHQ buildings and facilities, including fitness centers, will be closed over the weekend."
(Business Insider)

Facebook Shuts London, Singapore Offices for 'Deep Cleaning' After Employee Diagnosed with Coronavirus
Facebook said March 6 it was shutting its London office and part of its Singapore base for "deep cleaning" after an employee in the Asian city state was diagnosed with coronavirus.
(The Economic Times)

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (12 March 2020) "Coronavirus: How Employers Around the Globe Are Responding" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/Coronavirus-How-Employers-Around-the-Globe-Are-Responding.aspx


5 ways hiring will feel more, not less, human in 2030

The interviewing process, the hiring process, and the process regarding paperwork are becoming easier with the help of technology. Although technology is creating a more efficient way to complete these processes, it may create a dehumanizing feeling. Read this blog post to learn more about keeping the human touch in the hiring process.


While 2030 may feel like something out of science fiction, recruiting will likely look more human than android. Trends such as using artificial intelligence and cloud technology to curate candidate analytics are on the horizon, experts said. But any new technological trend must be paired with a focus on onboarding, upskilling and reskilling current employees to compliment new talent that all require a human touch.

1. Talent acquisition agendas go strategic

EY Partner and the Americas Leader for People Advisory Services Kim Billeter told HR Dive that HR transformation and technology will be the cornerstone of any organizational transformation.

“HR is going to play a far more important role going forward in the overall visualization and disruption of an organization,” Billeter said.

A recruiter’s job — bringing new talent, and retaining and upscaling that talent — will drive the success of business transformation as a whole, not just the HR function, she said. Billeter helps clients understand how digital transformation includes both digital aspects and embracing human beings. A successful transformation will require hiring talent with hybrid skills, or hard and soft skills. In the coming years, Billeter said companies will use both internal and external recruiters in finding talent for specialty areas.

Recruitment will be “done largely by the internal teams and organizations,” but organizations will also incorporate external niche recruiters to find candidates with very specific skills, she said. For example, a company may have a D&I; executive-level position in the slate. To find the right candidate, they may use a specialty recruiting team to really focus on all aspects of the hiring agenda, Billeter explained.

Sourcing upfront to get niche or digital skills will become essential for recruiters. However, a lot of organizations are realizing that hiring talent with advanced or emerging digital skills can be costly, and they can’t hire them fast enough, Billeter said.

“So, we’re seeing more focus on upscaling and rescaling [existing employees] perhaps than just the puristic talent recruiting,” she said. That’s the “real value for organizations,” she added.

2. Curating candidate analytics happens in the cloud

There will be a focus on not only measuring a candidate’s technical skills but a candidate’s ability to align with a company’s culture, Billeter said.

“Quality-level metrics are a little harder to try to define as it relates to recruiting,” she said. But, “we’re seeing clients wanting to get to those candidate pools in a far more qualified way.”

That can be challenging, though.

“If a company’s strategy is in innovation, how can you measure if the candidate brings innovation?” Billeter said. “That’s where a lot of the next level thinking is coming. Curating a lot of that analytical data as it comes to really qualified candidates, and moving them in a very different way than we’ve done before.”

She said the companies that have been the most successful in implementing technology have done the hard work to “both standardize [and] understand the nuances of the processes.” But there aren’t a lot of organizations that know how to effectively utilize talent acquisition solutions or cloud HCM solutions, which provide methods intended to improve operations and cut expenses, Billeter said. Companies such as ADP are working to create a user-friendly workforce analytics platform intelligence to drill into a candidate’s potential.

One feature of ADP’s DataCloud platform is intelligent recruiting, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

“Organizations say they have a hard time sifting through resumes for candidate relevancy,” Imran Ahmed, director of product marketing at ADP DataCloud, told HR Dive.

The new Storyboard feature uses a combination of machine learning and predictive analytics, along with advice based on ADP’s experience in human resources, Ahmed said, comparing it to Google Analytics.

“Storyboard is the exact same scenario where we’re pushing [insight] to the front of the organization,” he said. “We pull all of this information from various sources of data that we put out, and we actually serve up these recommendations to provide guidance.”

The tool can provide a narrative about human resources business challenges, such as the aging workforce, he said. For example, he said you could find out which positions are retirement eligible and what impact the positions have on the organization — low, medium or high.

Companies can also mimic the profiles of talented past employees to curate desired qualifications for a position, he said. “You can drill down so deep in this information to actually find look-alike employees,” Ahmed said.

In regard to choosing and implementing cloud solutions, Billeter said it’s essential to first solidify the goal of an organization’s transformation. It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s a “business-led transformation not an HR function transformation,” she added.

3. An entry-level hire will be the company’s future CEO

Organizations will still put a big emphasis on hiring for a diversity of ideas, which enhances a company’s culture and leads to profitability, according to Terrance S. Lockett, senior diversity program manager of Campus Advisory at Oracle.

“That’s why it’s critical that we get this diverse talent,” Lockett told HR Dive. But, in his opinion, a trend will be more of a focus on inclusion and equity, and “less about the word of diversity, per se.”

Recruiting diverse populations at the collegiate level will remain important as companies move those candidates up the talent pipeline into leadership roles, instead of looking outside of the organization for top executive talent, he added.

Organizations are focusing on the C-suite and “shaking up the board, shaking up the chart.”

“So it’s going to start from campus to recruiting,” Lockett said. “It’s key now that we get those people with potential because that’s going lead to the next wave of focusing on more internal growth of diversity.” According to the results of a survey by Zapier released on Jan. 27, 2020, millennials and Gen Zers want to stay a job for a significant amount of time, defying myths that younger generations tend to be job-hoppers and thus not worth the investment.

In searching for diverse talent, Lockett said Oracle, a multinational computer technology corporation, has partnered with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to find science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent, but the company is also focusing on what he referred to as high diversity institutions (HDIs). For example, an HDI could be a college or university in which the engineering program has a high concentration of women students.

Lockett said that at Arizona State University, 40% or more of their engineering students are women.

4. Adjusting to communication styles becomes the norm

Billeter said a focus on enhancing communication styles for recruiters will grow in importance.

“If someone is very analytical, you’re communicating with them much differently than someone who’s on the more emotional side or more communicative,” she explained. “You’ll have to understand how to engage with them to get a more productive conversation.”

Even if a candidate is more analytical and prefers technology to be present in the interviewing process, like the 24/7 ability to ask questions online through chatbots, there still needs to be personal, one-on-one communication, Billeter said.

“It can’t just be only technology-based,” she said. “The human side of this is going to win the day.”

In addition to online conversations or phone calls, Billeter recommended that if a candidate is based in a location outside an organization’s headquarters, a company representative in that location could meet with them. She also said having “a quality candidate pool based on analytics and curating all of the different experience data” will enhance the delivery model, resulting in moving the process forward more quickly.

5. Candidate, employee and customer messaging merge

This year employers will begin to connect the candidate, employee and customer through one, insync company experience. “We’re seeing the employee and the candidate experience needs to meld into the customer experience because often times employees and or candidates are going to become customers,” Billeter said. “You have to be attracting the talent that’s going to drive your overall business strategy, but most importantly your customer strategy.”

She said chief human resources officers will focus on experience strategy first — one that involves both heightened tech and the human touch.

“The medium with which we meet people is going to be a combination of human as well as technology as well as ... living, feeling and seeing the culture of an organization — all of those things have to come together for it to be a good experience,” Billeter said.

No matter what year it is, candidates consider the quality of the recruitment process and their impressions of the recruiters, according to December 2019 survey results from career site Zety.

“If you can’t get the experience part of this equation right, you are probably going to be an unfortunate loser in the talent game,” Billeter said.

SOURCE: Estrada, S. (09 March 2020) "5 ways hiring will feel more, not less, human in 2030" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/5-ways-hiring-will-feel-more-not-less-human-in-2030/573153/


School and office closures are a logistical nightmare for working parents

While COVID-19 is affecting travel plans and workplaces, it's beginning to have school districts close down to reduce the spread of any germs to children. Although keeping the safety of children a priority, working parents are being faced with challenging situations regarding the care of their children while they are at work. Read this blog post to learn more.


Last weekend, Jannell Nolan woke up to dozens of texts: Elk Grove Unified School District had announced its decision to close all of its 67 Sacramento County schools in California for the next week after a student tested positive for coronavirus.

That sent all four of her kids — two elementary schoolers, a middle schooler and a high schooler — home for the foreseeable future and left her doing full-time childcare. Nolan works for the district, so she's staying home while her husband is working at a nearby Costco Wholesale.

“My kids have playdates planned for the rest of the week,” she said. “I’m not going to keep them locked up all week, I’ll lose my mind.”

It's not ideal, but at least the family has one parent who won’t have to negotiate work and childcare schedules.

In the U.S., having a stay-at-home parent is a luxury that’s proving even more beneficial as schools shutdown and offices send employees home. A majority of American mothers with children younger than 18 are employed and in more than 60% of married couples, both parents work, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With relatively little parental leave, fewer sick days and rigid schedules, working parents in the U.S. have a lot to juggle even when school is in session and everyone is healthy.

Coronavirus is adding new complications for that already stretched-thin demographic. Parents are scrambling to find childcare or figuring out how to be productive at home with kids around. Others are making tough choices between a paycheck and their families’ needs. Anxieties are even creeping up in places where the virus has not yet disrupted daily life.

“People are more stressed around the logistics than the actual disease,” said Elizabeth Gulliver, a mother of one and co-founder of Kunik, a membership-based community for working parents.

Alexa Mareschal, a Salt Lake City-based attorney, said she has “no idea” what she and her husband, who also has a full time job renovating homes, would do if her kids’ daycare is closed because of the virus. She finds it nearly impossible to be productive when working at home with her toddlers. “It’s kind of like trying to wrangle cats,” she said.

If widespread childcare and school closures come to Utah, Mareschal said she and her colleagues have discussed setting up a makeshift daycare for everyone’s kids, where the oldest ones would watch the younger ones. Other than that, she has no plan. “I’ll fly in my mom, I guess?” she said.

Like Mareschal, many working parents not yet affected by school or office closures are worrying about the feasibility of family quarantines. “The idea of being cooped up in my house trying to work with my kids running around for two weeks is not making me happy,” said Rachel Cherkis, a marketing manager for EY and mother of two, who already works remotely in the Miami area full-time. “There’s definitely not enough sound-proofing in my house.”

Brooklyn-based lawyer Colleen Carey Gulliver and her banker husband have started having conversations about what they’ll do if their three-year-old’s school closes. They may have to alternate days off work to watch their toddler. In the case that they both end up quarantined at home, she “might have to rely on TV more than you would like to get some actual time alone.”

In a way, these anxieties are for the privileged: Only 29% of the American workforce can do their jobs from home. To quarantine, most workers would have to take time off and many would forgo pay. Mendy Hughes, a single mother of four, has been working at a Walmart in Malvern, Arkansas, for the past decade and now makes a little more than $11 an hour. Not only is the 45-year-old cashier concerned about getting sick with the virus herself, she’s worried about what she’ll have to do if her kids, the youngest of whom is 10, had to stay home from school.

“I don’t know what I would do if they had to be on extended leave,” said Hughes, who is also a member of the Walmart watchdog organization United for Respect. “I’m a single parent so I really can’t afford to miss work.”

The U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries without federal paid sick leave. In light of the pandemic, President Donald Trump is expected to sign an order that would give some to hourly workers. Walmart this week also tweaked its own policy and now offers up to two weeks pay to employees who contract the virus or those who have to quarantine. These programs don’t necessarily cover the illness of a child or school closures.

No matter the situation, much of the care-taking and household burdens would likely fall to women, further exacerbating gender inequality. A 2017 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that working mothers are more likely to take care of sick kids than working fathers. Among mothers surveyed, about 40% said they’re the ones who take care of a sick child, compared to 10% of fathers surveyed. Women with young children also do twice as much childcare as men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They also do more cooking, cleaning, and laundry. This all contributes to the so-called “motherhood penalty,” which accounts for the bulk of the gender pay gap.

There may, however, be long-term benefits to this experiment, Gulliver, the Kunik co-founder said. She’s hopeful that this experience will change some of the harmful stereotypes around working parents that tend to hurt women.

“If you were not visibly pregnant at the office for all nine months of your pregnancy, a lot of people don’t even know that you’re a parent,” Gulliver said, explaining that’s the case for fathers, adoptive parents and step parents, among others. “Being forced to work from home and having kids pop up in the back of screens is going to show that you don’t necessarily need to hide that you have a kid.” This visibility could push employers to support the needs of employees with children.

Still employers can’t fix everything. Marketing manager Cherkis, who already telecommutes full time, said that despite the fact that her husband is the stay-at-home parent to their two kids, some things still fall to her.

“At the end of the day I’m mom, and sick kids want to be with mom,” Cherkis said. “That’s the truth of it."

SOURCE: Bloomberg News. (13 March 2020) "School and office closures are a logistical nightmare for working parents" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/articles/school-and-office-closures-are-a-logistical-nightmare-for-working-parents


Coronavirus Impacts Business Travel

With the Coronavirus being a major discussion for all travelers, many businesses are canceling meetings and events that require traveling. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about how the Coronavirus is impacting business travel.


To go or not to go: As the coronavirus spreads, more and more companies are opting to cancel long-planned conferences and tours, ditching all but the most essential business travel, and even warning employees to rethink their vacation plans or be prepared for an at-home quarantine.

Nestle made news last week when it announced plans to halt all international travel and limit domestic trips, but it was one of many companies to do so. A survey of member companies by the Global Business Travel Association, released Feb. 27, found that 65 percent of the 401 respondents had already cancelled at least a few meetings or events. More than half had nixed international travel to places beyond China, including some European countries. To keep a handle on the rapidly evolving situation, 43 percent of respondents had instituted new trip approval procedures.

"I think the major takeaway is that safety is the main concern for all travelers," said association spokesperson Meghan Henning. "Once companies feel that the virus has been contained, we are confident that travelers will be back on the road."

So far, though, the virus is not contained, and employers are scrambling to keep up. On Feb. 4, National Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Gary Ginstling announced the cancellation of performances in China for an upcoming Asia tour, but he said he was confident the Japan leg would be unaffected. "We'll be there for eight or nine days," he assured the public and NSO musicians. However, only a couple weeks later, on Feb. 28, the Japan tour was eliminated as well.

Should They Stay or Go?

The difference between a reasonable response and overreaction seems to change hourly. How can employers ensure they are making responsible decisions? Management specialists recommend the following:

  • Frequently check travel advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Update internal travel approval procedures to make sure managers know where all employees are traveling.
  • Communicate clearly with employees about travel decisions and listen to any concerns they might have.
  • Be prepared to be flexible.

Employers are obligated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to provide a workplace free of known safety and health hazards, and workers have a right to refuse work that they consider to be dangerous under certain circumstances. That could include travel to destinations at risk for the coronavirus.

Beyond that, companies would do well to err on the side of caution, said David Michaels, a professor of public health at George Washington University and assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for seven years during the Obama administration.

"Every employer has to consider whether or not the risk [of travel] is warranted—not just the destination but the plane trip itself," Michaels said. "It's a moving target right now. If you can avoid [having employees travel] as much as possible, you're going to be better off because when you minimize employee exposure, you improve your ability to function in the long run."

Courtney Harrison, chief human resources officer for San Francisco-based tech company OneLogin, said employee travel decisions are being made there individually, after consulting the CDC and WHO websites. "We are not mandating any restrictions at this point," she said. "We will work on a case-by-case basis with each employee to assess the safest path for that person."

Harrison said one challenge is ensuring the safety of colleagues and customers when an employee returns from a virus-prone area, whether for work or vacation. "[Our policy requires that], when an employee returns from an at-risk geography, they self-quarantine themselves for at least 14 days and they stay in close contact with HR," Harrison said. She noted that the company, which is in the business of providing secure login platforms, is well-positioned for remote work. "It might be the right time to reframe this challenge and use it as an opportunity to learn and practice a new way of working."

When Travel Is Part of the Job

For some, of course, travel is an integral and unavoidable part of the job. Take, for example, flight attendants, who not only travel globally but also interact with passengers along the way. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union that represents attendants at 20 airlines, has been posting the latest CDC alerts to its website and pushing airlines to provide greater protections and even curtail some flights. "AFA leaders at each airline are working directly with airline management through our contracts and other means to mitigate the impact," the union announced on its website.

The Allied Pilots Association also has been actively monitoring the coronavirus response. In late January, the union filed suit against American Airlines to stop all flights to China and encouraged pilots to refuse to fly there. The following day, American, which had already curtailed some flights to China, announced that all were canceled.

As employers scramble to get ahead of the fast-changing travel landscape, they must also consider when travel bans should end. At this point, that's one of many unanswered questions. The WHO website cautions against indefinite travel bans, saying they "may only be justified at the beginning of an outbreak, as they may allow countries to gain time, even if only a few days, to rapidly implement effective preparedness measures. Such restrictions must be based on a careful risk assessment, be proportionate to the public health risk, be short in duration, and be reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves."

Until then, monitoring public information sites and communicating with employees are key. "Our industry's first priority is the health and safety of the business traveler," said Scott Solombrino, executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, "and our members are being appropriately cautious and proactive in their approach to the situation."

SOURCE: Cleeland, N. (03 March 2020) "Coronavirus Impacts Business Travel" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Coronavirus-Grounds-Business-Travel.aspx


The little-discussed downsides of retirement

As the discussions of retirement are inevitable, there are questions that do not always get addressed. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about questions regarding retirement that are not always talked about.


The downsides of retirement that nobody talks about

Clients should identify the possible downsides in retirement and plan on how to avoid them, according to this article in Yahoo Finance. One of these snags is taxation on their retirement income, which can hurt their cash flow. To minimize income taxes in retirement, clients should consider creating sources of tax-free income, such as Roth 401(k), Roth IRA and permanent life insurance coverage.

Can clients have a 401(k) and an IRA?

Employees who are contributing to 401(k) plans can also save in traditional IRAs, but their IRA contributions will not be tax deductible if their income exceeds a certain threshold, according to this article in NerdWallet. Participants in 401(k)s can also contribute to Roth IRAs if they earn below the income limits set for Roth accounts. To make the most of these savings vehicles, clients should make enough 401(k) contributions to qualify for their employer's full match and save the rest of their retirement money in traditional IRAs to reduce their taxable income. Those in a lower tax bracket may opt to direct the funds to Roth IRAs to boost their after-tax income in retirement.

A big question in retirement planning: How long will I live?

Although people cannot predict their own lifespan retirement, there are online tools and services that clients can use to have a good estimate of their longevity and plan for retirement, according to this article in The Wall Street Journal. “No one can predict definitively how long someone is going to live,” says an expert. “But we can say, ‘For someone your age and gender, with your level of income and education, your body-mass index and sleep and exercise patterns, this is what science tells us you are likely to experience.’”

Retiring this year? Here's what clients need to do first

There are a few things seniors should do before they retire later this year, according to this article in Forbes. Pre-retirees should maximize their contributions to 401(k)s and other tax-favored retirement accounts, review Social Security numbers and Medicare changes and create estate plans. They should consider converting some of their traditional assets into Roths to boost their after-tax income in retirement.

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (28 February 2020) "The little-discussed downsides of retirement" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/the-little-discussed-downsides-of-retirement


Company Gifts That Workers Hate

Although giving a gift to compensate for a job well done can often lead to employees feeling unappreciated and may cause them to think the gift and feeling behind it is superficial. Read this blog post to learn more about gift-giving in the workplace.


Coffee mugs and water bottles emblazoned with the company's logo. Gift cards to stores that employees rarely visit.

These are among the gifts that managers give to workers—and that workers hate, that make them feel unappreciated, and that leave the impression that their employers are thoughtless.

So says a survey by Snappy, the New York City-based employee engagement company, which found that more than 8 in 10 U.S. employees have received a workplace gift—mostly from managers—that they didn't want.

Whether it's for an employee's birthday, for a work anniversary, or to celebrate the holidays, the survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers demonstrates that managers may want to give more thought to workplace gift-giving.

No Logos, Please

Almost 3 in 4 workers would prefer to get a gift without their company logo on it, according to the survey, which Snappy conducted in September.

"Some employees have reported to me that they don't mind some gifts with logos, but they resent feeling like a 'walking billboard' for the company," said Paul White, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, is president of Appreciation at Work, and is co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (Northfield Publishing, 2019). "Others state that when they are given gifts that have the company's logo, the item immediately is disqualified as a gift—because the focus of the item is the company, not the recipient."

White's research into how more than 100,000 employees feel about the workplace found that only 6 percent identified gifts as the primary way they want a company to show appreciation—far below getting words of affirmation (46 percent), quality time with a supervisor or co-workers (26 percent) and getting help from supervisors or colleagues on a project (22 percent).

"Employees are not saying they do not want tangible rewards … for doing good work," White wrote. "But what the data show is that when choosing comparatively between words of affirmation, quality time or an act of service—receiving a gift is far less meaningful than appreciation communicated through these actions. For example, employees often comment, 'If I receive some gift but I never hear any praise, no one stops to see how I'm doing, or I never get any help—the gift feels superficial.' "

Are Companies Catching On?

One would think, given research and books like White's that demonstrate how people feel about workplace gifts, that managers would adjust their gift-giving practices. Often, they don't because no one asks employees what they thought about the present. Workers are in a tight spot: If they complain or don't seem enthused, they may be seen as ungrateful or demanding, White said.

In fact, the Snappy survey found that of those workers who got a gift they didn't like, 9 in 10 pretended they liked the gift anyway.

"The leader needs to be interested in what the meaning or message of the gift is, [but] most often, it is a rather thoughtless process," White said. "In work relationships, it is the thought that counts. For employees who value gifts, either giving everyone the same item or giving them a generic gift with no thought or personal meaning is actually offensive."

Cord Himelstein is vice president of marketing and communications for HALO Recognition, an employee rewards and incentives company based in Long Island City, N.Y. He said he thinks companies are paying attention to their gift-giving practices. He noted recent data from WorldatWork showed that about 44 percent of recognition programs get updated or changed every year.

"If management isn't actively listening and applying feedback in a systematic way, then there's no point in offering gifts at all," he said. "Nailing down the right balance of rewards that employees really love takes time and effort."

Best and Worst Gifts

Respondents said that some of the "worst" gifts employers ever gave them included a pin, a plaque, and a gift card to a store they'd never visited.

In fact, more than 3 in 4 said a gift card is less meaningful than an actual gift, and almost 9 in 10 admitted that they'd lost the gift card or forgotten that it had a balance on it.

"Gift cards feel transactional and impersonal," said Hani Goldstein, co-founder and CEO of Snappy. "Employers fail to realize that gift cards put a price tag on the recipient's value and make them feel like they're worth $25. Our research points to one key insight: The most appreciated gifts aren't impactful because of their actual monetary value. What matters most is what the gifts are and how they are given."

Employers should remember that things like pins and plaques, Himelstein said, "are commemorative add-ons, not whole gifts, and should always be supplemented with more substantial and appropriate rewards."

Employees also described some of the "best" gifts employers gave them, which included an espresso machine, a trip to Paris, an iPad and a television.

White noted that such expensive gifts can be impractical for a company. They may be appropriate in rare situations, White said, such as rewarding a worker who reached an exceptional goal or recognizing someone who's served long and well.

"Generally, meaningful gifts between employees and supervisors are more impactful when they are personal and thoughtful rather than pricey," he said.

Himelstein said more expensive gifts—at least those more expensive than mugs or pins—"aren't only practical, it's a best practice."

"Nobody wants a cheap gift for their hard work, and employees can always tell when the company isn't trying," he said. "Also, don't lose sight of the fact that you don't need to constantly shower employees with expensive gifts to make them feel appreciated."

SOURCE: Wilkie, D. (03 March 2020) "Company Gifts That Workers Hate" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/gifts-workers-hate-.aspx


As Coronavirus Spreads, Managers Ask How to Handle Telecommuting

With the Coronavirus spreading throughout larger cities in the United States, employers are looking at various ways to keep the workplace and employees safe and healthy. Many employers are turning to remote work to support these efforts. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more about supporting remote work.


As the coronavirus continues to spread through the U.S.—so far infecting at least 162 people and causing 11 deaths—many employers are considering telling or have already told their employees to work from home. In China, where the virus was first identified, millions of people are working remotely.

But there are technological, process, security, workers' compensation and even tax considerations employers must keep in mind to support remote work.

How to Create an Effective Teleworking Program

One of the first tasks for those who plan to manage teleworkers is deciding who on staff may be eligible for telework. Once that's decided, managers should keep in mind the following best practices.

SHRM's Remote Work Resource Center

These resources can help employers set up flexible work arrangements. They include a sample telecommuting application form and telecommuting policy and information about whether telecommuters are covered under workers' compensation.

Considering a Remote Work Policy? Consider This

Have you checked whether your workers' compensation policy covers remote employees? Do you have technology that lets you see your remote workers during meetings? Do you micromanage a remote worker more than the people who sit beside you, simply because you can't see what the remote worker is doing? Those are questions that HR departments should address to create a telecommuting program.

Technology to Support Remote Workers Evolves

In addition to videoconferencing programs, file-sharing platforms, and project management and time-tracking tools, new adaptive analytics and secure data-access technologies are helping employees who work from home or other locations outside the office.

Building and Leading High-Performing Remote Teams

Overseeing a team of remote employees doesn't come naturally to many managers. Some even question how they can know if people working away from the office are really working. But the guiding principles of leadership are the same regardless of whether the team is located under one roof or geographically dispersed.

Helping Remote Workers Avoid Loneliness and Burnout

Remote work forces structural and systemic change to accommodate different ways of working and different ways of being "available" and productive. Remote and flex work also present new challenges for managers.  In particular, burnout and loneliness.

SOURCE: Wilkie, D. (06 March 2020) "As Coronavirus Spreads, Managers Ask How to Handle Telecommuting" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/people-managers/Pages/coronavirus-remote-work-.aspx


supreme court

Supreme Court to Rule Next Year on the ACA's Validity

With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) being questioned on whether it is in-whole or in-part constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to rule on this matter again. The ruling regarding the validity of the ACA is expected by June of 2021. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


The U.S. Supreme Court will again rule on whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is constitutional, in whole or in part, during its term beginning this October, the court announced on March 2. A ruling is expected before the term ends in June next year.

In 2019, Congress eliminated the ACA's penalty on individuals who lack health coverage—the so-called individual mandate. In the aftermath, several Republican state attorneys general filed a lawsuit claiming the ACA itself was no longer constitutional, while Democratic states and the House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, stepped in to defend the statute.

Back in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ACA's individual mandate as a justifiable exercise of Congress's power to tax. But without an existing tax penalty, ACA critics charge that the health care statute itself, or at least the parts of the act closely linked to the individual mandate, are no longer constitutionally valid.

In December 2018, a Texas district court struck down the ACA but stayed its ruling pending appeal, concluding that the individual mandate is so connected to the law that Congress would not have passed the ACA without it. On appeal, in Texas v. United States, a split panel of the 5th Circuit instructed the district court to rehear the matter and "to employ a finer-toothed comb on remand and conduct a more searching inquiry into which provisions of the ACA Congress intended to be inseverable from the individual mandate."

Now that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, it will not go back to the district court judge for that analysis, leaving the high court free to uphold the entire ACA, uphold the statute but void provisions linked to the individual mandate, or strike down the law in full, although that draconian option is viewed as exceedingly unlikely by legal analysts. The same five justices that upheld the ACA in 2012 remain on the court.

The health law remains fully in effect during the litigation, including all employer coverage obligations and reporting requirements.

The Supreme Court's Packed Schedule

The Supreme Court has placed five cases—including Texas v. United States—on the 2020 docket. This suggests that the hearing could be held in early or mid-October 2020, right before the 2020 election, although we may not know the oral argument schedule until later this spring or summer. In any event, a decision in Texas v. United States would not be expected until 2021 (and presumably not until June 2021).

It is worth noting that the Court will hear a separate ACA-related challenge on the final day of oral argument during its current term. On April 29, 2020, the Court will hear one hour of oral argument in the consolidated cases of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania. These cases focus on the validity of two Trump-era rules that created broad exemptions to the ACA's contraceptive mandate for religious or moral reasons. And we are still waiting on a decision from the Court over whether insurers are owed more than $12 billion in unpaid risk corridor payments; oral argument was held in that challenge in December 2019 and a decision could be issued at any time.
(Health Affairs)

Lawsuit Stoked Confusion

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the insurance industry's leading lobbying group, applauded the justices' decision to hear the lawsuit. "We are confident that the Supreme Court will agree that the district court's original decision to invalidate the entire ACA was misguided and wrong," said AHIP President Matt Eyles in a statement.

Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP), a group that represents more than 70 safety-net plans, noted that the lawsuit "has cast a pall of uncertainty over the future of the individual insurance market," according to ACAP CEO Margaret A. Murray.
(Fierce Healthcare)

5th Circuit Highlighted Suspect ACA Provisions

When the 5th Circuit instructed the district court to rehear the matter and to focus on those ACA provisions that Congress intended to be "inseverable from the individual mandate," this suggested, legal analysts said, that the appellate court was unlikely to overturn the ACA in full. However, the appellate court might have struck down those parts of the law directly related to the individual mandate, such as the 5:1 ratio age band, under which insurers can't charge seniors premiums more than five times what younger patients pay, and community rating, which prevents insurers from varying premiums within a geographic area based on age, gender, health status or other factors.

The increase in revenue to insurers from the individual mandate was meant to offset the decrease from these restrictions. It's unclear whether the U.S. Supreme Court will take a similar approach when it hears the case.
(SHRM Online)

SOURCE: Miller, S. (03 March 2020) "Supreme Court to Rule Next Year on the ACA's Validity" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/supreme-court-to-rule-next-year-on-CAs-validity.aspx


Tips for Making Your Workplace More Sustainable

Companies are continuously looking into ways to become a more sustainable workplace, which includes buying in bulk, reducing paper, and recycling. Read this blog post to learn helpful tips for becoming more eco-friendly in the workplace.


Employees at CareerPlug, a software company in Austin, Texas, loved their Keurig coffee. In fact, the 60 employees used around 300 of the brand's disposable K-Cups each month.

However, one employee on the company's sustainability committee was bothered by the amount of waste this practice was generating. Instead of trying to eliminate the coffee system, however, she proposed a solution: The company could save money and help the environment by investing in reusable K-Cups.

CareerPlug implemented her idea and, according to Natalie Morgan, director of HR, the company has reduced its monthly coffee budget from $126 to $42.

"Not only did we eliminate 300 K-Cups per month," she said, "we reduced costs by 67 percent."

At a time when climate change is dominating headlines, companies around the world are evaluating how they can put more sustainable practices into place.

"As hubs in our communities, workplaces represent a large footprint to create an impact within our broader society," said Anne Robinson, chief talent officer at VillageMD, a professional medical practice in Chicago. "Driving action against eliminating waste and reducing our carbon footprint are such critical elements to ensuring generations to come are able to enjoy and benefit from the environment that we know today."

To help make your office more environmentally friendly and do your part to protect the planet, here are some easy habits to put into practice.

Recycle, Reuse Paper or Go Paperless

Think about all the times you use paper in the office. You likely print out employee onboarding and performance review forms, the employee handbook, notes for distribution at meetings and notices to hang around the office. Recycle or try reusing paper, suggests Angelique J. Hamilton, founder of the HR Chique Group consulting firm in Jacksonville, Fla.

Also have employees view documents with their teams on shared drives instead of distributing paper copies. "Not everything needs printing out, especially not the documents handed out during meetings, which are glanced at for five minutes," said Nate Masterson, HR manager for Maple Holistics in Farmingdale, N.J. "Use online document-sharing platforms to collaborate and share work in the office."

Digital tools such as Google Drive, Slack, Dropbox, Basecamp and Asana can help employees make the leap from paper-based to digital communication.

Develop a Remote-Work Program

Most Americans—76.5 percent, to be precise—take a car to work every day, according to research by the World Wildlife Fund. Transportation is the second largest contributor to carbon emissions, behind the electricity sector.

One way to cut back on those commuting emissions is to allow employees to work from home at least some of the time, said Tony Bergida, HR director at Frosty Tech, an engineering firm in Overland Park, Kan. "Allow employees to work from home a couple of days a week, which, in addition to reducing the impact of commuting, [also] cuts down on in-office snack packaging, electricity use, trash creation and more."

Consider the Landscaping

When thinking about workplace sustainability, don't forget about your outdoor areas. Hamilton recommends xeriscaping—the practice of using plants that require less water and arranging them in ways that they need less water to thrive.

Many communities, especially those in areas plagued with water shortages, are rewarding companies that decrease water usage in this way through rebate and tax relief programs, such as those offered by the Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts.

Cut Back on Water Bottles

Many cities are now charging retailers that give customers plastic bags, and restaurants are being encouraged to seek alternatives to plastic straws and utensils. But many companies are still providing single-use plastic water bottles to employees.

A more environmentally friendly approach is to buy or rent a water dispenser for the office.

Buy Snacks in Bulk

Providing snacks to employees is a great perk. However, if you want to reduce plastic use and waste, buy in bulk instead.

Morgan said the CareerPlug team "evaluated how we were ordering breakroom snacks and realized we were buying a lot of individually packaged items. We purchased some reusable containers instead and now buy most of our snack items in bulk."

Seek Buy-in

When implementing waste-reduction initiatives, said Robinson at VillageMD, organizational leaders should model the change they want to see. They should publicly invest in and support programs that make a difference, which demonstrates to employees the behaviors they should emulate.

Robinson said her company involved employees from the beginning by creating a task force to plan and implement sustainability goals. "Employees are passionate about this, and they're wanting to do this."

You'll also need to educate employees on waste reduction to ensure they know why changes are taking place. Robinson is creating communication that explains the company's plan for putting different types of trash and recycling bins around the office, what employees can dispose of in each, and how to properly operate new composting equipment.

Becoming a more eco-friendly workplace will not only show employees and job candidates that the company is Earth-friendly but also that it cares about offering a healthy work environment.

"Workplaces are ultimately part of a larger community, and caring about your environmental impact is both healthy for your external reputation and your corporate connection to the individuals in your workplace," Morgan said. "It's also, plainly, the right thing to do to be engaged in this global conversation and take a stance for positive impact."

SOURCE: Lobell, K Ora. (26 February 2020) "Tips for Making Your Workplace More Sustainable" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Tips-for-Making-Your-Workplace-More-Sustainable.aspx