Getting employees up to speed with health literacy

Do your employees know how much sugar is in a granola bar or how much radiation is in a CT scan? If not, it's most likely because no one is teaching them. Continue reading to learn more on getting your employees up to speed with health literacy.


Your employees probably don’t know how much sugar is in a granola bar or how much radiation is in a CT scan. They may not even know how to reach your employee assistance program.

That’s because no one is teaching them. Which is what happens when wellness program education ends at eat more fruits and vegetables and avoid added sugar.

Sometimes the advice is even wrong. For example, below is a clipping from a popular health risk assessment. Focus on the lower right quadrant.

It isn’t entirely true that low-fat and nonfat dairy is healthier. In fact, full fat dairy does have health benefits, for example some studies suggest it could help protect against diabetes. By comparison, low-fat or nonfat yogurt could be a significant source of sugar.

This is why employee health literacy is so important. With easy access to mis-information, employees need to learn to sift through the noise to determine what is actually good for them.

Plus, there is plenty to learn. Spanning from everyday health, employee medical education and health benefits literacy. I’ve outlined just a few of the ways to employers can better educate their population.

Everyday health education

Sugar is one place where health education could be more impactful — but it should go beyond just telling workers to avoid added sugars. Education starts at work. Chances are your break room is stocked with granola bars, maybe Clif Bars. The first ingredient in a Clif Bar is organic brown rice syrup. That may sound healthy, but it’s really just sugar. In fact, there are almost 60 different sugars disguised with fancy names like turbinado or malted barley extract.

Another example is sleep. We all want employees to get enough of it, but do they know how? They may not know little bits of information that could help them get more shuteye, like there is a night shift setting on their iPhone or that energy-efficient light bulbs contribute to insomnia.

But teaching everyday health is just the beginning of health literacy. The real impact comes with employee medical education.

Employee medical education

U.S. consumers are voracious purchasers of healthcare services and yet our outcomes remain poor. Americans have about 240 CT scans per 1,000 people. To put that in perspective, only about 1 in 1,000 covered people in your employee population was hospitalized for diabetes last year. So 240 times more employees are getting scans than uncontrolled diabetes.

CT scans have risks. They have about 500 times the radiation of an x-ray and are especially concerning for children because their cells are dividing more rapidly than adults and are more sensitive to radiation exposure. The dye used intravenously also carries a risk.

But many employees don’t know about these risks. So it may be important to educate your workforce about these common medical procedures and how to decide whether or not it is right for them.

Health benefit education

Here’s a wild guess: your employees don’t appreciate the health benefits you provide for them. If so, you’ve got company. Most large organizations face the same issue.

Consider the employee assistance program. Do workers know you offer one? Do they know it’s confidential? They know their emails aren’t confidential, so don’t assume they know this. Do they know the URL, username and password? How many free sessions do they get?

Repeat a similar set of questions for all your benefits. You can’t expect that some memos and a website will implant your benefits firmly in their mind.

SOURCE: Lewis, A. (25 April 2019) "Getting employees up to speed with health literacy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/educating-employees-through-health-literacy


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7 tips for keeping shift workers healthy

Most companies that are open for more than 10 hours a day have some sort of shift work or work pattern. Though shift work can have multiple positives for companies and their workers, it can also have numerous negative impacts on physical and mental health. Read this blog post for seven tips on keeping shift workers healthy.


For companies open for more than 10 hours a day, it’s likely that you have some sort of shift work, or a pattern of work involving rotation through different fixed periods across a working week or month. Employees who work in healthcare, call centers, manufacturing and in a warehouse all regularly work round-the-clock shifts, and these are some of the most common industries utilizing this type of model.

While shift work can have numerous positives for the company and even the workers, it also can have many negative impacts on health — both physical and mental. Beyond the most common health impact — sleep disruption — there are numerous other ways shift work can negatively impact a worker’s health including: mood disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, injuries and accidents, metabolic disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disorders, interference on family live and limited social life.

Shift workers also experience high levels of annual leave requests and short-term disability claims.

For employers in one of these industries, or any industry with non-regular shift hours, there are a few best practices that will help improve worker productivity and minimize leave.

Provide schedules that are as predictable at possible. Allowing an employee to settle into a regular schedule will allow them to establish a routine both at work and at home. Interference with home and social life can be a key trigger for a variety of negative health habits.

Limit the number of nights worked consecutively. Just like a traditional Monday-Friday, 9-5 worker, those working night hours need a weekend of their own, too. While this may not always be Saturday-Sunday, allowing them a couple of consecutive days off will give them time to disconnect and recharge.

Designate areas and times for employees to rest in the workplace. Whether a nurse in a busy ER department or a warehouse worker stocking shelves, everyone needs a break during their workday. Work with the shift manager to map out regular breaks and a calm and quiet place for employees to take a break.

Provide health and wellness programs that are accessible at night and on weekends. Since most HR professionals work office day jobs, they often forget about accessibility of services to employees working different hours. Assure your EAP provider is accessible 24/7 and if you have on-campus programs, be sure to offer them at different times for your shift workers. A factory employee working third shift should have the same level of access as a first-shift office worker.

Give employees more control over their schedules with shift-based hiring. This is an approach of hiring people for individual shifts rather than hiring employees, then scheduling them into shifts. Employees come to companies with a range of responsibilities outside of the workplace. Allowing them to match with the shift that best works with their personal lives will result in greater productivity and fewer health impacts.

For those returning to work following a leave, keep the schedule as close to their normal schedule as possible. While it’s not always possible to perfectly align with their previous schedule, you’ll want to get those returning from a leave back into the routine of their previous shift work. While on leave, many will have transitioned into a different sleep routine, so getting them back to the previous patterns will help with the transition back to work.

Provide resources on good sleep health. For shift workers, a healthy sleep routine can be challenging. However, there are simple and well-proven approaches to establishing sleep patterns regardless of the time of day. Be sure to regularly promote resources in the workplace and through regular communications. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is a good place to start.

SOURCE: Willett, S. (26 April 2019) "7 tips for keeping shift workers healthy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/tips-for-keeping-hourly-employees-healthy?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds

A recent study from JAMA found that workplace wellness programs do not cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers' health. Read this blog post to learn more about this recent study.


Workplace wellness programs have become an $8 billion industry in the U.S. But a study published Tuesday in JAMA found they don’t cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers’ health.

Most large employers offer some type of wellness program — with growth fueled by incentives in the federal Affordable Care Act.

A host of studies over the years have provided conflicting results about how well they work, with some showing savings and health improvements while others say the efforts fall short.

Many studies, however, faced a number of limitations, such as failing to have a comparison group, or figuring out whether people who sign up for such wellness programs are somehow healthier or more motivated than those who do not.

Now researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard may have overcome these obstacles with one of the first large-scale studies that is peer-reviewed and employs a more sophisticated trial design.

They randomly assigned 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all employees, then compared results with 140 stores that did not.

The big-box retailer employed nearly 33,000 workers across all 160 clubs during the test.

After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled.

But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

“The optimistic interpretation is there is no way we can get improvements in health or more efficient spending if we don’t’ first have changes in health behavior,” said one study author, Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. (Dr. Zirui Song, an assistant professor of health policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, was its co-author.)

“But if employers are offering these programs in hopes that health spending and absenteeism will go down, this study should give them pause,” Baicker said.

The study comes amid widespread interest in wellness programs.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey of employers found that 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle change. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Some programs are simple, offering gift cards or other small incentives to fill out a health risk assessment, take a lunch-and-learn class or join a gym or walking group. Others are far more invasive, asking employees to report on a variety of health-related questions and roll up their sleeves for blood tests.

A few employers tie financial incentives to workers actually lowering risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol — or making concerted efforts to participate in programs that might help them do so over time.

The Affordable Care Act allowed employers to offer financial incentives worth up to 30% of the cost of health insurance, leading some employers to offer what could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars off workers’ deductibles or premiums to get them to participate. That led to court challenges about whether those programs are truly voluntary.

In the study reported in JAMA, the incentives were modest. Participants got small-dollar gift cards for taking wellness courses on topics such as nutrition, exercise, disease management and stress control. Total potential incentives averaged $250. About 35% of eligible employees at the 20 participating sites completed at least one module.

Results from those workers — including attendance and tenure data, their self-reported health assessment and results from lab blood tests — were specifically compared with similar reports from 20 primary comparison sites where workers were not offered the wellness gift cards and classes. Overall employment and health spending data from all worksites were included in the study.

Wellness program vendors said details matter when considering whether efforts will be successful.

Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes.

Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.

An accompanying editorial in JAMA noted that “traditional, broad-based programs like the one analyzed by Song and Baicker may lack the necessary intensity, duration, and focus on particular employee segments to generate significant effects over a short time horizon.”

In other words, don’t give up entirely on wellness efforts, but consider “more targeted approaches” that focus on specific workers with higher risks or on “health behaviors [that] may yield larger health and economic benefits,” the editorial suggested.

It could be, the study acknowledges, that 18 months isn’t enough time to track such savings. So, Baicker and Song also plan to publish three-year results once they are finalized.

Still, similar findings were recently reported in another randomized control trial conducted at the University of Illinois, where individuals were randomly selected to be offered wellness programs.

In one interesting point, that study found that wellness-program participants were likely already healthier and more motivated, “thus a primary benefit of these programs to employers may be their potential to attract and retain healthy workers with low medical spending.”

Everyone involved in studying or conducting wellness agrees on one thing: Changing behavior — and getting people motivated to participate at all — can be difficult.

Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps, a wellness program vendor, said that for the efforts to be successful they must cut across many areas, from the food served in company cafeterias to including spouses or significant others to help people quit smoking, eat better or exercise more.

“Behavior is more complicated than simply taking a few wellness modules,” said Aldana. “It’s a lifestyle matrix or pattern you have to adopt.”

SOURCE: Appleby, J. (16 April 2019) "Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/workplace-wellness-programs-barely-move-the-needle-study-finds/


Adulting’ benefits: Employers’ new solution to burned-out employees

Generation Z and Millennials are expected to make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020, leading many to believe that “adulting” benefits could be the next big trend in employee benefits. Read this blog post from Employee Benefit News to learn more.


In a time when globetrotting Gen Z and Postmates-loving millennials are expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020, could benefits that help with “adulting” be the next big trend?

Adulting is defined as “the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.” Although millennials and Gen Z are well into adulthood, the struggle for them to accomplish day-to-day life management tasks is very real.

Many bemoan feeling busy all the time, tired and even burned out. In her Buzzfeed post, “How millennials became the burnout generation,” author Anne Helen Peterson strikes a chord with her “errand paralysis” reference. Pants going unhemmed for over a year, packages sitting in the corner waiting to be mailed for months, a car that desperately needs vacuuming — all part of a long list of never-ending low-priority, mundane tasks that get chronically avoided, yet still add to mental stress and anxiety.

Peterson blames underlying burnout as the culprit, even calls burnout the “millennial condition” affecting everyone, from the “people patching together a retail job with unpredictable scheduling while driving Uber and arranging child care to the startup workers with fancy catered lunches, free laundry service, and 70-minute commutes.”

So can convenience benefits — such as onsite errand runners — help with this problem?

There’s no denying those benefits might take aim at a big problem: employee stress. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report, members of Gen Z report the worst mental health of any generation. Only 45% of those in Gen Z reported “excellent” or “very good” mental health, compared to 56% of millennials, 51% of Gen X individuals, 70% of baby boomers and 74% of adults older than 73. Additionally, 27% of Gen Z respondents called their mental health “fair” or “poor,” and 91% said they had felt physical or emotional symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, associated with stress.

While employers cannot solve all employee problems, they can go beyond the basics of competitive pay, comprehensive health insurance and career advancement opportunities. Forward-thinking employers can look to new convenience benefits to help simplify the mundane and incessant responsibilities of life, alleviate errand paralysis and give their employees back valuable time to actually live.

For instance, a number of companies—including a major law firm in Atlanta has an onsite errand runner who helps employees do everything from plan exotic vacation getaways, shop for Christmas presents and go on weekly Costco runs. The onsite errand runner is on call all day to take care of employees’ personal tasks so they can focus on work and clients. The reaction has been very positive, with employees saying the service helps them stay focused and physically present at work knowing that other things in their life are being handled capably. An added bonus: It helps employees better achieve work-life balance because errands are not cutting into their home life like it did before.

As more and more companies look to prioritize the employee experience and get creative with nontraditional benefits, it makes sense to consider growing trends in convenience and lifestyle benefits. For instance, providing an errand running benefit to pick up groceries for an employee or drop off that mailing package saves the employee countless hours, not to mention stress, and speaks to the challenges of the modern world.

SOURCE: Clark, A. (8 April 2019) "Adulting’ benefits: Employers’ new solution to burned-out employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/employers-address-burnout-through-adulting-employee-benefits


Making the Case for Pay Transparency

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A 16-Year-Old Explains 10 Things You Need to Know About Generation Z

What was life like when you were a teenager? The world has been focused on understanding and adapting to Millennials. Now Generation Z is beginning to graduate and enter the workforce. Read this blog post for 10 things the world should know about Gen Z.


Think about what life was like when you were 16. The clothes you wore, the places you shopped. What was most important to you then?

Whenever I speak to an organization eager to learn about Generation Z, I always ask that question. I get responses that include everything from the fleeting fashion trends of the day (bell-bottom jeans, anyone?) to the time-honored tradition of getting a driver’s license.

What I hope to achieve as a 16-year-old in 2018 is probably not all that different from what anyone else wanted when they were my age. It’s the way people go about reaching their goals that evolves over time—and that’s what also forms the basis of most generational clashes.

For the past several years, the world has been focused on understanding and adapting to Millennials, the largest and most-educated generation in history. Born between 1981 and the mid-1990s, this group has inspired important dialogues about generational differences and challenged all industries to evolve to meet their needs. In the workplace, Millennials have helped drive a greater focus on flexibility and collaboration and a rethinking of traditional hierarchies.

Of course, any analysis of generations relies on generalities that can’t possibly describe every person or situation. It’s important to remember that generations exist on a continuum—and that there is a large degree of individual variation within them. The point of this type of research is to identify macro trends among age groups that can help foster workplace harmony. Essentially, it’s a way of attempting to understand people better by getting a sense of their formative life experiences. The generation to which one belongs is among the many factors, such as race, religion and socioeconomic background, that can shape how a person sees the world.

But there’s little doubt that gaps among the U.S. generations have widened dramatically. For example, an 8-year-old boy in the United States who grew up with a tablet will likely have more in common with an 8-year-old in China who used a similar mobile device than he will with his 70-year-old U.S. grandparents.

In thinking about the generations, a key thing to understand is that these groups are typically categorized by events rather than arbitrary dates. Generation Z’s birth years are generally recognized as 1996 to 2009. The start year was chosen so that the cohort would include only those who do not remember the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The belief is that if you were born in 1996 or later, you simply cannot process what the world was like before those attacks. For Generation Z, the War on Terror has always been the norm.

Like all other generations, mine has been shaped by the circumstances we were born into, such as terrorism, school shootings and the Great Recession. These dark events have had profound effects on the behavioral traits of the members of Generation Z, but they have also inspired us to change the world.

Earlier this year, XYZ University, a generations research and management consulting firm where I act as the director of Gen Z studies, surveyed more than 1,800 members of Generation Z globally and released a study titled “Ready or Not, Here Comes Z.” The results were fascinating.

We discovered key characteristics about Generation Z and what the arrival of my generation will mean for the future of work. At 57 million strong and representing the most diverse generation in U.S. history, we are just starting to graduate from college and will account for 36 percent of the workforce by 2020.

Needless to say, Generation Z matters. And it is more important than ever for HR professionals to become familiar with the following 10 characteristics so that they know how to engage with my generation.

1. Gen Z Always Knows the Score

Members of this generation will put everything on the line to win. We grew up with sports woven into the fabric of our lives and culture. To us, the NFL truly does own a day of the week. But it’s more than just professional, college or even high school teams that have shaped us; it’s the youth sports that we played or watched throughout our childhoods. This is the generation of elite young teams and the stereotypical baseball mom or dad yelling at the umpire from the bleachers.

Our competitive nature applies to almost everything, from robotics to debates that test mental fortitude. We carry the mindset that we are not necessarily at school just to learn but to get good grades that will secure our place in the best colleges. Generation Z has been thrown into perhaps the most competitive educational environment in history. Right or wrong, we sometimes view someone else’s success as our own failure or their failure as our success.

We are also accustomed to getting immediate feedback. A great example is the online grading portals where we can get frequent updates on our academic performance. In the past, students sometimes had to wait weeks or longer to receive a test grade. Now, we get frustrated if we can’t access our scores within hours of finishing an exam—and sometimes our parents do, too.

2. Gen Z Adopted Gen X’s Skepticism and Individuality

Generations are shaped by the behavioral characteristics of their parents, which is why clumping Millennials and Generation Z together is a mistake. In fact, when it comes to each generation’s behavioral traits, Millennials are most similar to their parents—the Baby Boomers. Both are large, idealistic cohorts with influences that will shape consumer and workplace behavior for decades.

Members of Generation Z, on the other hand, are more akin to their parents from Generation X—a smaller group with a skeptical, individualistic focus—than they are to Millennials. That’s why many generational traits are cyclical. Just because Millennials and members of Generation Z are closer in age does not necessarily mean they share the same belief systems.

3. Gen Z Is Financially Focused

Over the past 15 to 20 years, HR professionals have been hyper-focused on employee engagement and figuring out what makes their workers tick. What drives someone to want to get up in the morning and come to work for your organization?

As it turns out, workplace engagement matters less to Generation Z than it did to previous generations. What’s most important to us is compensation and benefits. We are realists and pragmatists who view work primarily as a way to make a living rather than as the main source of meaning and purpose in our lives.

Obviously, we’d prefer to operate in an enjoyable environment, but financial stability takes precedence. XYZ University discovered that 2 in 3 Generation Zers would rather have a job that offers financial stability than one that they enjoy. That’s the opposite of Millennials, who generally prioritize finding a job that is more fulfilling over one that simply pays the bills.

That financial focus likely stems in part from witnessing the struggles our parents faced. According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trust, “Retirement Security Across Generations: Are Americans Prepared for Their Golden Years?,” members of Generation X lost 45 percent of their wealth during the Great Recession of 2008.

“Gen X is the first generation that’s unlikely to exceed the wealth of the group that came before it,” says Erin Currier, former project manager of Pew’s Economic Mobility Project in Washington, D.C. “They have lower financial net worth than previous groups had at this same age, and they lost nearly half of their wealth in the recession.”

Before Generation Z was decreed the ‘official’ name for my generation, there were a few other candidates, including the ‘Selfie Generation’ and ‘iGen.’

Employers will also need to recognize that members of Generation Z crave structure, goals, challenges and a way to measure their progress. After all, the perceived road to success has been mapped out for us our entire lives.

At the same time, it’s important to be aware of the potential for burnout among young overachievers—and to incorporate fun and breaks into the work environment and provide access to healthy escapes focused on relaxation and stress relief.

4. Gen Z Is Entrepreneurial

Even though they witnessed their parents grapple with financial challenges and felt the impact of the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, members of Generation Z believe there is a lot of money to be made in today’s economy. Shows like “Shark Tank” have inspired us to look favorably on entrepreneurship, and we’ve also seen how technology can be leveraged to create exciting—and lucrative—business opportunities with relatively low overhead. Fifty-eight percent of the members of my generation want to own a business one day and 14 percent of us already do, according to XYZ University.

Organizations that emphasize Generation Z’s desire for entrepreneurship and allow us space to contribute ideas will see higher engagement because we’ll feel a sense of personal ownership. We are motivated to win and determined to make it happen.

5. Gen Z Is Connected

Before Generation Z was decreed the “official” name for my generation, there were a few other candidates, including the “Selfie Generation” and “iGen.”

I find those proposed names both condescending and misleading. While it’s often assumed that Generation Z is focused solely on technology, talking face to face is our preferred method of communication. Sure, social media is important and has undoubtedly affected who we are as a generation, but when we’re communicating about something that matters to us, we seek authenticity and honesty, which are best achieved in person.

“Gen Z has the power of technology in their hands, which allows them to communicate faster, more often and with many colleagues at one time; but it also brings a danger when it’s used as a crutch for messages that are better delivered face to face,” says Jill Katz, CHRO at New York City-based Assemble HR. “As humans in the workplace, they will continue to seek empathy, interest and care, which are always best received face to face.”

XYZ University’s research found that cellphones and other electronic devices are primarily used for the purpose of entertainment and are tapped for communication only when the face-to-face option isn’t available.

However, successfully engaging with Generation Z requires striking a balance between conversing directly and engaging online. Both are important, and we need to feel connected in both ways to be fully satisfied.

6. Gen Z Craves Human Interaction

Given that members of Generation Z gravitate toward in-person interactions, HR leaders should re-evaluate how to best put the “human” aspect back into business. For example, hiring processes should emphasize in-person interviews more than online applications.

A great way to engage us is to hold weekly team meetings that gather everyone together to recap their achievements. Although members of Generation Z don’t necessarily need a pat on the back, it’s human nature to want to feel appreciated. This small gesture will give us something to look forward to and keep us feeling optimistic about our work. In addition, we tend to work best up against a deadline—for example, needing to have a project done by the team meeting—due to our experience facing time-sensitive projects at school.

7. Gen Z Prefers to Work Independently

Millennials generally prefer collaborative work environments, which has posed a challenge to conventional workplace cultures and structures. In fact, many workplaces have eliminated offices and lowered cubicle walls to promote more interaction. Yet recent studies indicate that totally open offices may actually discourage people from working together. The noise and lack of privacy could prompt more people to work at home or tune others out with headphones. Since different types of work require varying levels of collaboration, focus and quiet reflection, ideal workplaces incorporate room for both togetherness and alone time.

It’s important to be aware of the potential for burnout among young overachievers—and to incorporate fun and breaks into the work environment and provide access to healthy escapes focused on relaxation and stress relief.

The emphasis on privacy will likely only intensify under Generation Z. Unlike Millennials, we have been raised to have individualistic and competitive natures. For that reason—along with growing research into optimal office design—we may see the trend shift away from collaborative workplaces toward more individualistic and competitive environments.

8. Gen Z Is So Diverse That We Don’t Even Recognize Diversity

Generation Z marks the last generation in U.S. history where a majority of the population is white. Given the shifting demographics of the country, we don’t focus as much on someone’s color, religion or sexual orientation as some of our older counterparts might. To us, a diverse population is simply the norm. What we care about most in other people is honesty, sincerity and—perhaps most important—competence.

Indeed, we have been shaped by a society that celebrates diversity and openness. A black man occupied the White House for most of our lives, and we view gay marriage as a common and accepted aspect of society.

9. Gen Z Embraces Change

Compared to teenagers of other generations, Generation Z ranks as the most informed. We worry about our future and are much less concerned about typical teen problems, such as dating or cliques, than we are about becoming successful in the world.

The chaos and unrest in our political system have inspired us to want to get involved and make a difference. Regardless of which side of the aisle we are on, most of us are informed and passionate about the issues facing our society today. Witness, for example, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who organized a political movement around gun control in the wake of a mass shooting at their school.

Social media allows us to have a voice in our political system even before we can vote. This opportunity has forced us to develop critical-thinking and reasoning skills as we engage in sophisticated debates about important issues that might not even affect us yet.

“Gen Z has a strong ability to adapt to change,” says Paul Carney, an author and speaker on HR trends and a former HR manager with the Navy Federal Credit Union. “For those of us who have spanned many decades in the workplace, we have seen the rate of change increase and it makes most of us uncomfortable. Gen Z are the people who will help all of us adapt better.”

According to numerous polls, the political views of Generation Z trend fiscally conservative (stemming from our need for financial stability) and socially liberal (fueled by diverse demographics and society).

10. Gen Z Wants a Voice

Given how socially aware and concerned its members are, Generation Z seeks jobs that provide opportunities to contribute, create, lead and learn.

“One of the best ways I have seen leaders engage with Gen Z is to ask them how they would build a product or service or design a process,” Carney says. “Gen Z has some amazing abilities to bring together information, process it and take action. When we do allow them to share ideas, great things happen.”

We’re also an exceptionally creative bunch. Managers will need to give members of this generation the time and freedom to come up with innovative ideas and accept that, despite our young age, we have valuable insights and skills to offer—just like the generations that came before us and those that will follow.

Josh Miller is a speaker, researcher and thought leader on all things Generation Z. He is the director of Gen Z studies at management consulting firm XYZ University and a high school junior in suburban Minneapolis.
Illustration by Tim McDonagh
SOURCE: Miller, J. (30 October 2018) "A 16-Year-Old Explains 10 Things You Need to Know About Generation Z" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1118/pages/a-16-year-old-explains-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-generation-z.aspx

7 ways employers can support employee caregivers

Seventy-three percent of employees in the United States act as caregivers for a child, parent or friend, according to research from Harvard Business School. Continue reading for seven ways employers can support employee caregivers.


The number of caregiving adults in the U.S. has reached a tipping point.

As the baby boomer generation gets older, an increasing number of people in the workforce are taking on the role of unpaid caregiver for a family member or friend. Many also are in the midst of raising their own children, which means they’re pulled in many different directions, trying to keep up with work commitments and family responsibilities. In fact, according to researchers at Harvard Business School, 73% of employees in the U.S. are caring for a child, parent or friend.

What do all these statistics point to? They mean that employers have an opportunity to play a role in helping employees balance these often competing priorities.

The Harvard study highlights the impact of employee caregiving responsibilities on the workplace. While only 24% of employers surveyed believed employee caregiving influenced their employees’ performance at work, 80% of the employees who were surveyed admitted that caregiving had an effect on their productivity at work and interfered with their ability to do their best work.

The survey also found that caregiving can affect employee retention, with 32% of the employees surveyed saying they had left a job because of their caregiving responsibilities. In addition, employees who are caregivers are more likely to miss work, arrive late or leave early, which affects not only productivity, but also the employees’ ability to progress in their careers.

Employers can take a proactive role in supporting employees who are caregivers. That support, in turn, can have a positive effect on productivity, morale and employee retention. Here are seven strategies employers should consider.

Create an organization-wide understanding of the challenges caregivers face.

Employees who aren’t sure that their managers and leaders would understand the juggling they’re doing and the stresses they face are more likely to not only have problems at work, but — because they face high stress levels trying to get everything done at home and work — they also are at higher risk for a number of health problems such as depression and heart disease. By creating a culture that allows employees to openly express their challenges and ask for support, employers can not only keep employees healthy and productive, they also can reduce secondary costs associated with decreased productivity and chronic health problems.

Know what challenges employees face.

Regular employee surveys can help employers assess employees’ needs in terms of caregiving and tailor the benefits the organization offers to help meet those needs.

Communicate the benefits that are available.

In many cases, employers already offer programs and benefits that can help employees who are caregivers such as an employee assistance program and referral services for finding caregivers who can help when the employee isn’t able to. However, many employees aren’t aware these programs are available, so it’s important to continuously share information about them in company newsletters, emails and at meetings.

Consider flex time and remote work options.

Depending on the employees’ work responsibilities, employers can offer flexible work arrangements that allow employees to work different hours or to telecommute for a certain number of days per week.

Change the approach to paid time off.

Rather than dividing paid time off into vacation days, sick days and personal days, consider grouping all time off into one category. That allows employees to take time off for caregiving as needed. A growing number of companies, including Adobe, Deloitte, Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Coca-Cola, are also offering paid family leave benefits so that employees can take time off to provide care.

Connect employees with resources.

Beyond an EAP and referral services, employers can offer programs that connect caregivers with resources for both their caregiving role and for the self-care they need to remain healthy and able to handle both job and caregiving roles better. Those resources can include:

Beyond an EAP and referral services, employers can offer programs that connect caregivers with resources for both their caregiving role and for the self-care they need to remain healthy and able to handle both job and caregiving roles better. Those resources can include:

  • Advisory services that help employees connect with healthcare providers for their parents, children and themselves
  • Nurse managers, case managers and geriatric care managers who can help employees who are managing the care of a family member who’s living with a serious health condition or disability
  • Advocates who can help employees who are dealing with complex insurance claims for the person they care for, planning for long-term care, or managing the legal and financial complexities that can arise when a parent or spouse dies

Internal caregiver resources groups that bring together employees who are dealing with the issues surrounding caregiving so that they can share ideas and experiences

Measure how well your support is working.

The first step to supporting caregivers in the workforce is to implement policies, programs and benefits that offer them the tools they need to balance work and caregiving. An equally important second step is to regularly review what is offered, how much the offerings are used, and by which employees. Ask employees for feedback on how effectively what the organization provides is in helping them with issues they face as working caregivers and solicit ideas for new approaches and tools they’d like to have.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (25 March 2019) "7 ways employers can support employee caregivers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/7-ways-employers-can-support-employee-caregivers


DOL proposes new rule clarifying, updating regular rate of pay

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Half of older Americans have nothing in retirement savings

Almost half of Americans approaching retirement have nothing saved in a 401(k) or another individual account, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Read this blog post to learn more.


The bad news is that almost half of Americans approaching retirement have nothing saved in a 401(k) or other individual account. The good news is that the new estimate, from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, is slightly better than a few years earlier.

Of those 55 and older, 48% had nothing put away in a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan or an individual retirement account, according to a GAO estimate for 2016 that was released Tuesday. That’s an improvement from the 52% without retirement money in 2013.

Two in five of such households did have access to a traditional pension, also known as a defined benefit plan. However, 29% of older Americans had neither a pension nor any assets in a 401(k) or IRA account.

The estimate from the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, is a brief update to a more comprehensive 2015 report on retirement savings in the U.S. Both are based on the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

The previous report found the median household of those age 65 to 74 had about $148,000 saved, the equivalent of an inflation-protected annuity of $649 a month.

“Social Security provides most of the income for about half of households age 65 and older,” the GAO said.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated earlier this month that 41% of U.S. households headed by someone age 35 to 64 are likely to run out of money in retirement. That’s down 1.7 percentage points since 2014.

EBRI found these Americans face a combined retirement deficit of $3.83 trillion.

SOURCE: Steverman, B.; Bloomberg News (27 March 2019) "Half of older Americans have nothing in retirement savings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/half-of-older-americans-have-no-retirement-savings