Have You Taken Any PTO Lately?

Original post benefitspro.com

Americans might be workaholics, but not necessarily because they’re in love with work. Studies show Americans yearn for vacation time, but some of them can’t bring themselves to take it.

A survey commissioned by Namely, a payroll and benefits company, finds that a majority of U.S. workers intend to take 15 days of vacation per year. It also found that 40 percent of employees have or would be willing to sacrifice pay to gain more paid time off. Similarly, more than two-thirds of workers said that vacation policies were at least somewhat critical when considering a new job.

But as a statement accompanying the survey from the company points out, another recent study found that the average American worker only take 11 days off per year.

The lower average is largely driven by the fact that many employees receive far less than three weeks of vacation a year, but there is some evidence to suggest that some workers who are entitled to generous PTO do not make use of it.

A quarter of  workers in the Namely survey cited strict company policies as an obstacle to taking vacation, while a fifth cited “stress at the thought of missing time at work” and 16 percent reported a “negative perception” in their organization of taking time off.

“What this tells us is that despite the best intentions to take large chunks of time away from work and unplug from technology, employees are feeling confined and are using vacation time differently than previous generations,” said Matt Straz, founder and CEO of Namely.

In recent years, a number of major companies have made a point of offering generous vacation benefits. Some offer unlimited vacation, while others have put in place policies to encourage workers to make use of their vacation, including bonuses for taking time off.

How to Bridge the Wellness Disconnect

Original post benefitnews.com

HR executives and business leaders are not always aligned about employee well-being or wellness solution buy-in, new research shows, signaling a need for adviser help to bridge the disconnect.

Optum’s seventh annual workplace study surveyed wellness budgets, return on investment (ROI), incentive strategies and challenges in building a culture of health among companies of all sizes.

Seventeen percent of HR executives versus 30% of business leaders think employee well-being is” very good,” according Optum Health’s Seventh Annual Wellness in the Workplace Study, conducted by the Optum Resource Center for Health & Well-Being.

On the other hand, 41% of HR executives versus 32% of business leaders say wellness solutions are important to the benefits mix.

Seth Serxner, chief health officer for Optum says it is important for benefit advisers and consultants to make sure that both HR executives and business leaders are all on the same page when it comes to understanding their wellness programs.

“[Advisers] might think they have everyone on board when speaking to HR executives,” Serxner says. “However, when HR goes to pitch this program to a CFO or members of the C-Suite, they may need to adjust how they present the business case.”

While HR managers view some of the non-financial productivity and moral factors that are important in a wellness program, the non-HR managers are focused on the bottom line, ROI, cost containment and healthcare cost issues, he adds.

“[Non-HR managers] tend to think the population is healthier and more well than the HR folks,” Serxner says. “So they may not think there is as much of a problem as the people who are closer to the data and understand the health risk condition of the population.”

Optum’s survey did find that wellness budgets are not decreasing, but are actually increasing. Twenty-eight percent of employers increased their wellness program budgets, according to the survey, up from 22% last year.

Serxner says advisers should use the data gathered in this study to help ground their clients in respect to what is happening within the client’s respected industry and with their peers.

“Clients will ask, ‘where do I sit in terms of culture of health, how am I doing with how I am investing my money,’ and what we find is it is very helpful to share some of these benchmarks about what other clients are doing and what the trend over time has been,” Serxner says.

Optum’s seventh annual workplace study surveyed wellness budgets, return on investment (ROI), incentive strategies and challenges in building a culture of health among companies of all sizes.

Optum surveyed 554 benefit professionals at U.S. companies across a variety of industries, which offer at least two types of wellness programs to employees. The size of respondent companies ranged from 20% small companies with two to 99 employees, to 38% jumbo employers with 10,000 or more employees.

There’s the Wage Gap, and Then There’s the Sleep Gap

Original post lifehealthpro.com

More than half of men say worrying about money costs them sleep. Nearly 70 percent of women say the same.

That gap increased eight percentage points over the past year, according to a new survey by CreditCards.com. It makes sense, since women really do have more to worry about when it comes to money. Lower earnings means less in savings and Social Security benefits to fund longer lifespans.

"In general, people tend to lose sleep over things that feel out of their control," said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com, part of the Bankrate Online Network. To him, the findings suggest you should "do whatever you can to take more control of your financial situation, whether it's just learning more, being more involved in your family's financial decisions, or starting a side gig."

The survey asked whether saving for retirement, paying for education, paying health-care or insurance bills, making the monthly rent or mortgage, and paying credit card debt were keeping people up at night.  The poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, took a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults.

The biggest fear cutting into a good night’s sleep is not having saved enough for retirement. The gender gap is narrower here than overall — 44 percent of women vs. 35 percent of men. All together, some 56 percent of men are losing sleep over money, compared with the 70 percent finding for women. In 2010, women received $12,000, on average, in Social Security benefits, a third less than a man’s average benefit of $17,856. At age 65 and older, women were 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished, according to a study by the National Institute on Retirement Security.

Yet you can see worrying about retirement savings as a luxury, in a way, if it means you can meet your monthly bills. That's the most common sleep-stealing worry for people 30 or older with a college degree and an annual household income of $75,000 or more. Heath-care and insurance bills are the second-biggest sleep killer for women. For men, it's educational expenses. Those are a particular worry for millennials; 45 percent of people between ages 18 and 29 rank them as their worst anxiety. Among respondents between 30 and 49, a third said they lose sleep over educational costs. One of them is CreditCards.com's Schulz, who is 44 and has a son headed to college in about a decade. "In five years," he said, "you could see educational expenses being No. 1, or very close to No. 1, when we do this survey again."

Why Do Some Workers Get Away with Bad Behavior?

Original post benefitspro.com

Researchers from Baylor University are seeking to explain why some workers get away with sleazy behavior on the job.

After three studies that included over 1,000 employees, they are convinced they have found an answer: You can get away with breaking the rules or acting less-than-honorably as long as you’re productive. A valuable worker can afford to cross the line occasionally, while those whose performance lags cannot.

It’s an intuitive answer, but one that is no doubt often overlooked by disgruntled employees who wonder why they are being disciplined by their superiors or ostracized by coworkers while others have not.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Matthew J. Quade, a Baylor professor of business, wrote that productive workers who ignore rules or act unethically present a dilemma to employers because of their “contrasting worth.”

“The employees’ unethical behaviors can be harmful, but their high job performance is also quite important to the organization’s success,” he explained in the study, which was published in Personnel Psychology. “In this vein, high job performance may offset unethical behavior enough to where the employee is less likely to be ostracized.”

But that calculus is often flawed, argued Quade. If a worker is regularly engaging in unethical behavior, the employer will likely pay a big price for it down the road. As any observer of the subprime mortgage crisis might say, the short term gains of crooked business are often more than offset by major losses later on.

Unsurprisingly, the study authors concluded that employers should establish that they have no tolerance for unethical behavior from employees, no matter how good they are at their jobs.

Furthermore, they argue, employers should make clear that workers can come to organization leaders with complaints about unethical behavior from colleagues. This point is aimed not only at stopping poor behavior, but to prevent divisions among coworkers.

Another recent study found that employees are more likely to be stressed and unhappy at work when they perceive a lack of “organizational justice,” meaning that rules are not applied consistently or fairly.

In Case of: Effective Responses to Workplace Emergencies

Original post business.com

Within sixty seconds of its launch on November 14, 1969, the Apollo 12 spacecraft was struck twice by lightning, which caused critical navigation systems and fuel cells to shut down.

A N.A.S.A. engineer who remembered his training for a similar scenario immediately recommended a fix, which saved the entire mission and quite possibly the lives of the Apollo 12 astronauts.

Four months later, those same engineers faced and successfully responded to challenges that they never anticipated with the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

Emergencies can and do happen in every workplace, but it does not take a rocket scientist to plan for them or to fashion an intelligent response when they do happen.

Emergencies and Violence: The Stats

Workplace emergencies are not limited to high-tech or high-risk operations light rocket launches. Statistics compiled by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveal more than 23,000 employee were injured in 2013 solely from workplace assaults.

The latest data available from the BLS show that the annual rate of workplace violence has held steady for more than twenty years, and violence continues to be the second leading cause of employee fatalities after transportation accidents.

This does not even account for injuries or fatalities that result from other workplace emergencies, including fires, natural disasters, chemical spills and contamination, or civil disturbances or terrorism. In 2010, more than three million workers suffered injuries following workplace emergencies. How a business responds to emergencies is typically a function of the nature of the emergency itself.

What Is Categorized as an Emergency? 

OSHA defines a workplace emergency as an “unforeseen situation that threatens your employees, customers, or the public; disrupts or shuts down your operations; or causes physical or environmental damage”.

Most individuals might limit their concept of a workplace emergency to newsworthy, large-scale evacuations caused by natural or man-made causes, but lesser-scale emergencies are far more common. One employee might suffer an injury or a sudden medical event.

A small fire might be easily contained by sprinkler systems, but that fire will be no less disruptive of business operations than a larger conflagration. A single disgruntled individual can start an emergency situation that shuts a business down for days. If that individual is armed, the emergency becomes a national tragedy.

OSHA has issued Emergency Action Plan standards for workplace emergencies that are codified in the Federal Regulations. Those standards define, for example, when and where businesses need to have fire extinguishers, building evacuation plans, and medical emergency response protocols.

The New Focus: Armed Shooter Scenarios

Because of high-profile publicity and responses, businesses are also becoming more attuned to armed shooter scenarios. Although not without objection or controversy, some workplaces are training employees in a run/hide/fight protocol that was popularized by a video produced by the City of Houston.

The gist of that protocol is to train employees first to run from an armed assailant. If running is not possible, the employees should hide, and if hiding is impossible, only then should employees attempt to fight the assailant.

Technology can be a boon during a workplace emergency if it is used as a tool and not a solution. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) places a high priority in communication technology in emergencies. Excessive reliance on technology can be a downfall, however, if an emergency removes the option to use technology. Businesses should consider deeper contingency plans in the event that the emergency takes down their communication networks.

A Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) is a notification that is sent to mobile devices in cases of tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis and other serious emergencies. These emergency alerts are complimentary public safety service provided by participating wireless service providers. But, if employees have trouble with cellphone reception inside their workplace, they may or may not receive these alerts.

If workplaces were able to plan for all possible workplace emergencies, then to the extent that they were anticipated those events would not be emergencies. The responses by the NASA engineers in the Apollo program are more instructive in developing an effective workplace emergency response plan.

The Apollo 12 lightning strike shows the efficacy of contingency planning for potential emergencies and trusting an employee to implement his or her training when the emergency happens.

The engineer who recommended the solution after the lightning strike was in his early twenties, but his co-workers and the ship’s crew had developed enough of a cohesive relationship and a sense of trust among themselves that they did not hesitate to implement his solution.

During the Apollo 13 mission, the entire workforce again worked cohesively toward a common purpose to develop an effective response that, almost fifty years later, remains one of NASA’s finest efforts.

A workplace will not always have the luxury of implementing thorough contingency training to prepare for an emergency. A business’s ability to survive a workplace emergency is on a par with the conduct of its regular business operations. As with other aspects of those operations, the most effective emergency response requires mutual employee trust and cohesiveness.

Employee Relations: Electing to Talk Politics at Work has Serious Implications

Original post workforce.com

As the political races unfold in 2016, just about everyone seems willing to share their opinions on candidates, parties and issues — whether they’re asked to or not.

For many of the nation’s workers, this can lead to uncomfortable situations or outright arguments while on the job. Responding with a personal opinion might seem like second nature, but it might also be a risky move careerwise.

Employers generally have the right to limit employees’ political commentary during work time, and many of them choose to do so given the often-heated nature of the subject. Workers should always use common sense when deciding whether to discuss political issues at work, but there are some situations in which employees should definitely steer clear of such talk, such as:

When the business owner or boss is vocal about their own beliefs. It’s a concept that might be shocking to many Americans, but, in many states, private employers may fire workers for their political beliefs.

Under the at-will employment doctrine, in the absence of a contract, employers can terminate employment at any time and for any reason not prohibited by law.

Every state except Montana subscribes to the at-will doctrine.

Under this principle, organizations don’t need “just cause” to fire someone. If local or state law doesn’t prohibit it, private employers generally may terminate an individual because of his or her political beliefs.

Many misinterpret the First Amendment and believe that it applies in all cases related to freedom of speech. The First Amendment only applies to government censorship of speech. As such, it restricts public employers from engaging in this practice.

Most private employers won’t typically terminate employees for their political beliefs. The bad publicity from such actions will typically outweigh any perceived benefits.

Even in states and locations without laws protecting employees’ political beliefs, employers will have to tread a fine line. Some states, like Wisconsin, prohibit employers from taking action on employees’ legal activities, such as running for office or voting. If the discussions are union-related, they might also be protected.

Yet, employees should still be cautious. A business owner or manager who is strongly invested in their political beliefs could discipline or terminate others with opposing viewpoints.

When it wastes time. Many employers recognize that restricting all nonwork-related conversations can have a detrimental effect on morale. But if employees are spending large amounts of time debating the pros and cons of a particular political candidate or issue when they should be working, an employer is going to take notice and possibly take action. Employers generally have control over what employees may and may not do on company property and on work time.

When discriminatory language is involved. Employers have a duty to prevent and address discrimination in the workplace.

If employees are holding inappropriate discussions about a candidate’s sex, age, race, religion, ethnicity or other protected traits, the employer will likely want to take action. A business may be held liable for fostering a hostile work environment if it does not halt such conduct.

Because of the legal ramifications, most employers take discrimination in the workplace very seriously and will respond accordingly. This could include discipline and even termination.

When representing the company. If an employee is passing themself off as a company representative, or even sporting company logos (on a shirt, hat, etc.) while giving a personal interview on the subject of politics, an employer likely has the right to act. Such actions could give customers and others the impression that the employee’s beliefs are those of the company.

Think before speaking. When faced with a workplace situation involving heavy political posturing, it can be hard to consider the effects of statements prior to making them in front of co-workers.

But taking a moment to think about the consequences of certain political discussions before engaging in them might be the best way for employees to safeguard their job.

Employees should consider the career risks of bringing politics to work. The best course of action might be to leave political discussion at the door.

Workplace Mindfulness Training Benefits Extend Beyond Individuals

Original post benefitsnews.com

Much of the research demonstrating benefits of mindfulness practice – stable attention, reduced stress, emotional resilience, and improved performance at work – focus on the benefits for the individual practicing mindfulness. But the workplace benefits extend far beyond that: Mindfulness has a huge impact on relationships. We’ve seen this in our work at eMindful, and it’s supported by considerable scientific research.

Humans are relational by nature, and the quality of our relationships deeply influences our health and well-being. The importance of relationships in the work environment is no exception. Satisfaction and performance at work are strongly linked to one’s ability to work well in teams, develop leadership skills, communicate effectively and resolve conflict.

Team performance obviously relies on relationship skills, and mindfulness training that improves these skills affects both the experience and productivity of teams. One study of health care workers found that a mindfulness-based mentoring intervention resulted in better active listening, more patient-focused discussion and collaboration, as well as greater respect among team members. Moreover, the newly learned mindful communication habits seemed to stick; one year later the team members still demonstrated the same skills.

Mindfulness has become particularly popular in the business world as a component of leadership training. CEOs and senior executives have revealed that practicing mindfulness helps build leadership skills, connect to employees and achieve business goals.

One study showed that leaders’ mindfulness was associated with employees’ work-life balance, job satisfaction, and job performance. In that same study, employees of mindful leaders also experienced less exhaustion and burnout. The researchers attributed these findings to leaders being more attentive to and aware of employees’ needs, while self-regulating their own impulses and personal agendas.

Studies confirm the idea that mindful leaders are more attuned to their employees’ nonverbal communication, body language and emotions. In one study, more mindful individuals were better able to recognize the emotions displayed on others’ faces. In fact, it is not uncommon for leaders who complete mindfulness training to say communication feels somehow different, like they are truly listening to their employees for the first time.

Communication, conflict management
Much of the improvement in teamwork likely stems from improvement in communication skills and conflict management. Research suggests mindfulness is associated with better conflict management, with less aggressive communication, and better perspective-taking. During conflicts, people who rate higher in mindfulness have been shown to exhibit more positivity in interpersonal interactions, fewer inappropriate reactions, and less hostility. Mindfulness leads people to process events and feedback in a less self-referential or personal way, which fosters greater attention to group outcomes over self-concerns.

In a study of groups without leaders, teams that were randomized to a short mindfulness exercise had better scores on measurements of team bonding, and they performed better as well. These mindfulness-enhanced skills are helpful not only in better teamwork, but also in enhancing negotiation. One study showed that negotiators randomized to a short mindfulness intervention were more successful in distributive bargaining.

Mindfulness may improve negotiations and team functioning by affecting the emotional tone (positivity vs. negativity) of the team. Since mindful individuals tend to be less reactive to negative events, and recover from negative emotions more quickly, they can influence the collective mood and reduce emotional contagion – the tendency for “negative people” to “bring down” the mood of the group. By practicing focused, kind attention and skillful self-management, mindful people tend to influence through example, engaging and inspiring others.

In summary, practicing mindfulness yields personal benefits, and it can benefit everyone around you. Leaders who practice mindfulness listen differently and communicate more carefully. One result is that they have employees who are more productive and report better job satisfaction. Since mindfulness leads to less reactivity, greater focus on others’ needs, and overall positivity, practicing mindfulness also enhances teamwork through better perspective-taking and more skillful self-management. In my personal experience as a coach, clinician and academic researcher, mindfulness makes working relationships more enjoyable and productive. I’m delighted that research is beginning to confirm how the impact of mindfulness on relationships contributes to better business outcomes.

Percent of Plans Offering HRA/HSA Option Plummet

Original post benefitspro.com

A study of some 10,000 employer sponsored plans by United Benefit Advisors of health plans revealed that about 24 percent of all health plans offered either an HSA or HRA component — a 29 percent decrease in the number of health plans nationally. That drop indicates that plan designers and health plan sponsors are still out of sync on the value of these accounts.

“Faulty plan design, in some instances, has led to smaller pricing gaps between traditional plans and HSA compatible plans,” says Steve Salinas, benefits advisor at Bridgeport Benefits, a California-based UBA Partner Firm. “Many insurers have added stipulations to their contracts disallowing employer-funded accounts in the presence of a high deductible plan.”

UBA’s data supports the overview that “enrollment and contributions to these account-based plans varied wildly based on employer size, industry, and region.”

It offered a large employer/small employer illustration of this near-chaotic situation. “While large employers typically offer the lowest contributions to account-based plans, companies with 200 to 1,000+ employees saw the most dramatic increases in enrollment, ranging from 50 to 90 percent over the last three years.”

In some respects, plan designers and consumers in California may be closer to figuring out how to design plans with HRAs and HSAs that strike a balance between the objectives of all three parties. California offers the best HRA and HSA plans for singles and families.

  • California leads the country with the highest HRA contributions for singles, which average $2,288;
  • California is the only region in the country that increased contributions over the last three years, making them the most generous in the nation by contributing $981 to singles and $1,789 to families;
  • Families in California receive the second highest average family contribution to HRAs at $3,950, a 13 percent decrease from three years ago when they led the nation at $4,537;
  • The average employer contribution to an HSA was $491 for a single employee and $882 for a family.

“In California, health insurance costs are so high that employees very often gravitate to the lowest cost options, typically the HSA-compatible high deductible plans,” says Keith McNeil, benefits advisor at Arrow Benefits Group in California, a UBA Partner Firm. “HRAs have been under health plan scrutiny due to the trend of self-insuring the high deductible through an HRA, which the health plan believes raises the cost of their plans. They have threatened penalties for non-compliance. So in the small group market, it has been much easier to simply offer HSA compatible plans and include the HSA as an option to members.”

“Large employers (1,000+ employees) have not typically offered competitive HRA or HSA plans because they are able to offer other types of more generous plans,” says Les McPhearson, CEO of UBA. “But this is the sector to watch: If they see the kind of double-digit cost increases other employer groups already have, they may have no choice but to offer more attractive HRA and HSA plans in an effort to control costs.”

Flexible Work Schedule Doesn't Hurt Productivity

Original post benefitspro.com

Schedule flexibility should not be perceived as a gift to employees, suggests a new study. If it were, the employer would be giving up something, presumably employee productivity.

But an increasing body of research indicates that flexible workplaces are no worse for wear than others with stricter schedules.

The most recent study, published this month by Phyllis Moen, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota, analyzed the effect that flexible work policies have on IT workers at a major firm.

Half of the 867 workers continued working under the company’s existing policy, with standard schedules and exceptions occasionally granted by supervisors.

The other group was given an entirely open-ended schedule, with no restrictions, so long as the employees completed their assigned work. Supervisors were also encouraged to think about ways to reduce work-family conflicts for employees, and were even prompted twice a day reminding them to come up with such ideas.

The study found that those who were granted the additional flexibility were not any less productive than those who labored under the traditional schedule. Those with the flexible schedules also reported being much happier because of the reduced stress of trying to make time to pick up kids and other typical work-family conflicts.

The study prompted a major feature story in the New York Times Magazine, “Rethinking the Work-Life Equation,” which profiled the growing ranks of experts in favor of flexible scheduling. Employers are under increased pressure to help their workers strike a work-life balance because of shifting gender roles, as more and more married couples commit themselves to both career advancement and child-rearing.

Even employers that are generous to employees seeking schedule flexibility may not produce the same level of stress-reduction as a policy that explicitly grants unlimited flexibility.

‘‘What people told us, over and over again, was that the new policy removed the guilt,’’ Erin Kelly, an MIT professor who collaborated on the study, told the New York Times Magazine. ‘‘We heard that word a lot.’’

4 Ways to Talk to Employees So They Listen

Original post entrepreneur.com

No one likes to be lectured in the workplace.

As a leader, you need to communicate with your employees to deliver strategic direction, reinforce corporate culture and rally the troops to achieve company goals and objectives. To be effective, you need to deliver these messages in a way that creates energy and enthusiasm, rather than deflating your team.

Here are four tips for talking to employees in a way that energizes them rather than depleting them:

1. Use humor. No matter how big or small your operation may be, there is often tension and emotional distance between the boss and employees. To diffuse that, I regularly use humor, a tactic that makes me more approachable. In my experience, the best kind is self-deprecating humor. When I showed up to meet new employees for the first time at a Midwest location, I started the conversations by poking fun at my pronounced "New Yawk" accent. It got a laugh and made me seem more accessible.

2. Ask open-ended questions. And then be quiet. My favorite question to ask is “Tell me about [insert topic here].” When you ask a new employee about his ideas or a technologist about a new device, you are asking them to do more than give you a pat sentence or two in response. You have the opportunity to access that person’s deep knowledge and passion. Ask a question that opens the conversation wide and then hold still and listen.

3. Bring others into the conversation. A boss-employee conversation may seem casual to the boss but can feel like an interrogation to the employee. To diffuse this situation, I like to bring others into the conversation to even out the experience. I may turn a one-on-one discussion into a larger conversation by inviting people to join us and share their thoughts and experiences. It benefits me, because I get to hear more voices, and it helps put everyone else at ease.

4. Let the little stuff slide. If you are the kind of hands-on person who helped build the business from the ground up, you probably have insight or advice on everything from the capital budget to color of the carpet. But you don’t have to communicate every thought to the staff. If it’s not an important critique, let it go. I visited a flower shop in my company once and noticed the manager was not lining the trashcans with plastic bags. I know from experience that liners make the job easier, but I also know that I don’t need to communicate every idea that comes into my head. It just creates a climate of nitpicking.

Conversations that take place up and down the food chain – between supervisor and staff, people of different departments and the boss and the new employee – are often the source of great new ideas.

As the boss, it’s your job to get those conversations started and keep them going. You have a chance to make that happen (or achieve the opposite) every time you open your mouth.