How to Help Your Small Workplace Team Succeed

Often many small workplace teams have higher rates of productivity, due to a lesser amount of disruptions. Although there are more projects put onto single people instead of groups, it may not be a bad thing. Read this blog post for helpful tips on how to help your small workplace team succeed.


Are small workplace teams effective? Some savvy business innovators think so. After all, it was Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos who once said, "If you can't feed a team with two pizzas, it's too large."

Academia agrees. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study leans toward smaller teams. The study suggests that small workplace teams can "disrupt" conventional wisdom and get things done, according to authors Dashan Wang, a management professor at Northwestern University, and James A. Evans, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago.

"Our research suggests that team size fundamentally dictates the nature of work a team is capable of producing, and smaller team size confers certain critical benefits that large teams don't enjoy," Wang and Evans stated.

The study sought to "measure the disruptiveness" of workplace teams using "an established measure of disruption that assesses how much a given work destabilizes its field."

"This told us how the research eclipsed or made us rethink the prior 'state of the art,' setting a valuable new direction for others to follow," Wang and Evans wrote.

Why Small Teams Can Succeed

As Bezos and the Harvard Business Review study authors show, bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to workplace teams.

"Given the right resources, small teams can be incredibly powerful," said Michael Solomon, co-author of Game Changer: How to Be 10x in the Talent Economy (HarperCollins Leadership, 2020) and co-founder of 10x Management, a technology talent recruiting firm in New York City.

Solomon deploys an armed forces analogy to highlight the effectiveness of smaller workplace teams.

"If we think about the military, special ops are usually small units of highly trained, highly synchronized individuals who have prepared extensively, know each other incredibly well and are working toward a common goal," he said. "If companies can create a culture for small teams where there is a shared mission, a safe environment for constructive feedback and trust, there is little that can't be done."

For one project at his company, Solomon said, a team of between three and five people replaced a group of 35 to rebuild a product. "It was the right group of people with the right skills in the right culture, and they were able to literally achieve 10 times the result" of the larger team.

While smaller, more-nimble teams are commonplace at small businesses and startups with tight budgets, the concept can work at any company.

"Small teams can definitely be competitive against bigger teams, but the strategies are different," said John Doherty, chief executive officer and founder of GetCredo.com, a digital marketing company in Denver. "For instance, bigger teams will often have a lot more meetings and voices at the table, whereas smaller teams tend to motivate around a singular goal and focus. It really depends on what a company wants to achieve."

Getting Results with Smaller Teams: Top Tips

Team-building experts advise managers to consider these tips when building small teams:

Build an "ownership" mindset. Emphasizing ownership in a specific skill set is a great way to build small teams.

"Giving each person on a team an area of ownership helps small teams become more effective," Doherty said. "For example, I own business and marketing, my business partner owns the technology/software side, and we also have specialists on accounts, operations and finance."

Doherty's team uses Front, a business management tool, to steer tasks to the right person. "If something comes into our respective e-mail inboxes that should be handled by someone else, we can easily assign it to them and keep moving forward," he said.

Make accountability non-negotiable. Since fewer staffers are available, holding team members accountable is a must for small workplace teams.

"A smaller workplace team needs a combination of ingredients to succeed," said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com, a business startup services provider in Calabasas, Calif.

Sweeney lists several traits she looks for when building smaller, efficient company teams:

  • They must own their responsibilities. "Team members must be accountable for their work and for being able to drive assignments and initiatives."
  • They should be accessible. "There must be an understanding of how to reach a team member with open communications leading to answers."
  • They must be flexible. "Being flexible is important, as things quickly change and each member of a team must be nimble enough to handle those changes."
  • They must be creative. "Smaller workplaces have fewer resources and less budget than companies with more money and team members. Creativity allows you to brainstorm ideas with your team that are cost-effective. These ideas may help differentiate your brand [from] an expensive option."

Start planning early. Waiting until the last moment to get an assignment started and accomplished is a non-starter for those managing smaller teams.

"Sometimes, starting late cannot be helped, as some assignments come through with tight deadlines," Sweeney said. "When that happens, it's critical that managers address the new priority with their teams, put a hold on existing work, and divide and conquer to quickly get the item with the most urgency completed."

When possible, managers should also encourage small teams to work ahead. "If they're caught up with one piece of their workload, have them start a piece that has been set aside for later," Sweeney added.

Curb team meetings. "With a smaller staff, I strive to avoid meetings," said Lotus Felix, founder of Flawless Content Shop, a content marketing company in West Palm Beach, Fla. "Conventionally, meetings may appear as the backbone of businesses, but there is so much your team can achieve when you slice down the frequencies of these meetings. At Flawless Content Shop, we have been able to up our monthly output by 175 percent by keeping some days entirely meeting-free."

Felix said having a full day without meetings allows his team to build incredible momentum. "This way, my staff can get fully enveloped in their daily to-do lists," he said.

Give your team flexibility, across the board. Felix strives not to "drown staffers in overbearing professionalism.

"For example, we don't have a strict dress code," he noted. "Personally, I have gone to the office in slippers. I wear ripped jeans on casual days, and most Fridays I Rollerblade to work."

Felix said he views this as "a deliberate attempt to unshackle my small team, giving them more vacuum for creative expression."

Measure performance and value. Focus on how your workplace team adds value using three measures: how they help make money, save money or reduce your company's risk.

"Keep track of your team's accomplishments and, as much as possible, determine the return on investment for your smaller team's contributions to the company," said Terry McDougall, owner of Terry B. McDougall Coaching, in Highland Park, Ill. "When you can demonstrate a positive return on investment, this is generally when C-suite leaders feel confident that increased investment in your team will result in a greater return for the company."

Let go of bad performers. Above all else, don't let underperforming team members stick around, because total team performance can suffer.

"With smaller teams, one bad apple can really destroy the culture of a team," Solomon said. "Believing that you can overlook one underperforming or difficult member of the team may be the biggest mistake managers make in running small teams."

In his book, Game Changer, Solomon talks about workers with a "sabotage impulse" who "avoid responsibility for their own actions and are very quick to blame others. No one is eager to have them around because they never feel safe with someone around ready to blame others for their own mistakes."

Too often, team leaders overlook these behaviors in hopes that the worker will rectify his or her behavior.

"In reality, these types of individuals … can be incredibly destructive for small workplace teams," Solomon said. "It's very important to remove them quickly to avoid an adverse impact on the rest of the team."

SOURCE: O'Connell, B. (29 September 2020) "How to Help Your Small Workplace Team Succeed" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/helping-small-teams-succeed-.aspx


Three Communication Tips to Raise Productivity

Communication is often the key to success especially within the workplace and during team projects. If communication expectations are laid out and shown to employees, the chance of higher productivity is more common. Read this blog post for helpful tips.


If you're looking for ways to bump productivity, rescue slumping performers or improve teamwork, start with your expectations. These subtle—but very powerful—elements of your leadership toolkit can produce lasting results.

Raising your expectations doesn't require you to adopt a perpetual cheery optimism, but it does require you to make a brutally realistic assessment of current conditions. If productivity is low, cycle time is horrible and/or quality is poor, you need to acknowledge the facts—or you'll never be able to improve performance. And part of that brutal assessment requires looking in the mirror. Perhaps, without realizing it, your underlying beliefs are contributing to the performance situations you see around you.

Three components make up the messages you send: the words you use, the way you say them and your nonverbal cues.

Words

Here are some examples of how to frame your expectations for performance improvement in three different situations.

  • If productivity is down, you might say: "Well, as we look at productivity, we can see that it's 2 percent below where it was last year. I know we can get back to where we were—and eventually beyond—because we have the horsepower right in this room to do it." In selecting these words, you've acknowledged where performance is and expressed confidence about improvement.
  • If you're making progress in an area—but more progress is required—the message might be: "While we're making progress on quality, it's still not where it needs to be. I know we can get to where we need to be by continuing our Six Sigma efforts. Let's look and see where we need to put our resources next."
  • If performance is good and you want to boost it more, the message should be: "Cycle time is good, never been better. Let's look at how to cut it even further. I know we can do it if we work together to figure out how."

In each example, your words describe the present situation in simple and direct terms and also express confidence in moving to further improvement.

Verbal Intonations

The tone of your voice is the second element of your message. Everyone has experienced situations where the words sent one message and the tone of voice sent another. When there's a conflict, most people believe what is conveyed by the tone of your voice. So, make sure that your tone matches the positive message of your words. Not only should you avoid the obvious mismatch, but also the unintentional mismatch—those occasional situations where your words say one thing and your tone of voice says another.

Nonverbal Cues

The bulk of the meaning lies here. You can say the words, and your tone of voice can match the words. But if you're looking around, tapping your fingers, shaking your head "no" or doing any one of the hundreds of other seemingly little things that say, "I don't believe in you," you're not going to get the performance you want. Here are five categories to check yourself against:

1. Body position. If your arms are crossed, your legs are crossed away from the person you're communicating with or you're giving the "cold shoulder," then you're sending negative messages. On the other hand, if your body position is open—you're facing the person rather than looking away—you communicate honesty, warmth and openness. If your posture is erect rather than slumping, you communicate positive beliefs. And if you're leaning slightly forward, you demonstrate interest in the other individual.

2. Hand gestures. Avoid tapping your fingers ("I'm impatient"), hiding your mouth ("I'm hiding something"), wagging your finger (the equivalent of poking someone with your finger) and closed or clenched hands ("I'm upset"). These gestures all conflict with an "I believe in you" message. Instead, use open hands with palms up ("I'm being honest with nothing to hide") or touching your hands to your chest ("I believe in what I'm saying"). Both of these emphasize a positive message.

3. Head. If your head is shaking back and forth or tilted off to one side, you're sending a message of disbelief. On the other hand, if your head is facing directly toward someone and you're nodding up and down, you're delivering a nonverbal message of belief and confidence.

4. Facial expressions. Smile, and keep your mouth relaxed. Show alertness in your face and act like you're ready to listen. Do these regularly and you'll have created an open communication pattern with someone who will believe in your sincerity. On the other hand, if you're tight-lipped, are clenching your jaw muscles and have only a grim smile, no smile at all or a frown, you'll send a message that says: "No way can you possibly succeed at this project."

5. Eyes. Maintaining good eye contact is one of the most important nonverbal signals you can send. It conveys the message, "I'm interested in you and when I say I believe in you, I really do." Making sure that your eyes are open wide is also helpful. Squinting can deter the recipient. Worse yet is looking around, paying attention to other things and not paying attention to the person or topic at hand.

Communicate high expectations well enough and you may even have to step aside to avoid getting run over by a team of committed players whose performance is accelerating.

SOURCE: Connellan, T. (29 September 2020) "Three Communication Tips to Raise Productivity" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/three-communication-tips-to-raise-productivity.aspx


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Too much screen time from remote work? These tips can combat uncomfortable eye strain

Sitting behind a desk can cause more than just neck and shoulder pain, it can also cause many eye problems and not just headaches and hazy eyes. Read this blog post for helpful tips.


With much of the workforce working from home, employees are spending more time than ever on digital devices — and it’s been a real headache.

Too much screen time causes eye strain, which often leads to headaches, dry and irritated eyes, and neck and shoulder pain, according to a study by the Vision Council. Light emitted from digital devices can also suppress melatonin levels, preventing a good night’s sleep. To combat the uncomfortable side effects of screen time, optometrists and online retailers are marketing blue light filtering glasses, which claim to reduce or eliminate eye strain by blocking the light that causes it. But do they really work?

“Some people say it’s a hoax, some say it helps — but in my experience, about eight or nine out of 10 patients say they really notice a difference after using blue light lenses,” says Dr. Alina Reznik, an optometrist with the mobile optometrist company, 20/20 Onsite. “I do love these lenses — I’ve seen people feel more comfortable and get better sleep throughout the night.”

Eyes are also exposed to blue light from the sun, but staring at screens for long periods of time is what causes eye fatigue, Reznik says. Blue light filtering glasses and contact lenses are designed to prevent blue light from entering the eye and causing symptoms.

“When blue light enters the eye, it scatters and our eye perceives it as glare and has to work overtime to keep our vision clear and focused,” says Jen Wademan, an optometrist with VSP — the largest vision insurance provider in the U.S. “It’s like a muscle — if you engage that muscle, it fatigues.”

The optometrists say blue light exposure also causes people to stop blinking while using digital devices. Wearing blue light lenses can help prevent that, they say.

“You don’t think about it when it’s happening, but when we’re on our computer or phone, we don’t blink as much,” Wademan says. “Blinking lubricates our eyes, so when we don’t do it as much, our eyes get dry and irritated.”

Wademan and Reznik recommend that employees talk to their optometrist about different options for combatting eye fatigue — even those who don’t need corrective lenses to improve their eyesight. Reznik says employees can find high-quality lenses online, but employees need to do a lot of research to verify their legitimacy.

“When people say blue light lenses don’t work, it’s often because they’re not wearing them long enough, or because they’re using low-quality lenses that aren’t actually blocking the blue light,” Reznik says.

People with 20-20 vision can still use vision benefits to purchase lenses to combat eye fatigue, Reznik and Wademan say.

“There’s so many blue light filters on the market online, but your best option is to have an eye exam to talk about your concerns,” Wademan says. “[Optometrists are] held to higher standards, so you can validate that the lenses are high quality.”

Wademan pointed out that people with perfect eyesight should still visit an eye doctor regularly.

“What we do is more than just vision, we look to make sure your eyes are running efficiently and properly,” Wademan says. “We’re also able to monitor chronic conditions like glaucoma and diabetes through eye exams to address them quickly.”

Reznik and Wademan say blue light exposure is not the only vision concern employees should address during the pandemic. The amount of time people spend looking at their screens without breaks, and the distance between themselves and the monitor, have an impact on vision health too.

“You can actually make yourself near-sighted by not taking breaks to look out the window into the distance,” Reznik says. “Our eyes are like muscles, and muscles need to be engaged in order to work properly.”

In addition to wearing blue light lenses, Reznik and Wademan say employees should practice the 20-20-20 rule: look away from your screen every 20 minutes at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Computer screens should also be placed at arms’ length to reduce eye strain. But, most importantly, they said employees and their children should have regular appointments with their eye doctor.

“So much of what kids learn is through their eyes, so it’s really important to make sure they’re running efficiently,” Wademan says. “We can’t do much without our eyes, so if you have vision benefits, you should definitely use them.”

SOURCE: Webster, K. (24 September 2020) "Too much screen time from remote work? These tips can combat uncomfortable eye strain" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/tips-for-combatting-eye-strain-from-too-much-screen-time


HR Professionals Struggle over FMLA Compliance, SHRM Tells the DOL

In addition to the daily struggles that HR Professionals have to resolve, they are faced with many frustrations that have stemmed from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Read this blog post to learn more.


In a Sept. 15 letter to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) highlighted many of the challenges and frustrations that confront HR professionals as they comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

"SHRM supports the spirit and intent of the FMLA, and our members are committed to ensuring employees receive the benefits and job security afforded by the act," wrote Emily M. Dickens, SHRM's corporate secretary, chief of staff and head of Government Affairs. "While it has been more than 25 years since FMLA was enacted, SHRM members continue to report challenges in interpreting and administering the FMLA."

The letter, developed with input from SHRM members, was in response to a request for information issued by the DOL's Wage and Hour Division on July 17. The DOL solicited comments and data "to provide a foundation for examining the effectiveness of the current regulations in meeting the statutory objectives of the FMLA."

According to Ada W. Dolph, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw who practices labor and employment law in Chicago, “SHRM’s comments echo what we are hearing from clients in terms of their challenges in implementing FMLA leave, particularly now with the patchwork of additional state and local leave requirements that have emerged as a response to COVID-19."

She added, "Our experience shows that regulatory gray areas add significant costs to the administration of the FMLA and impact the consistency with which the FMLA is applied to employees. We are hopeful that [the DOL] will implement SHRM’s proposed revisions, which provide much-needed clarity for both employers and employees."

Wide-Ranging Challenges

In its comment letter, SHRM addressed several issues its members have reported:

CHALLENGES WITH CONSISTENTLY APPLYING THE REGULATORY DEFINITION OF A SERIOUS HEALTH CONDITION

"Continuing treatment by a health care provider" as currently defined in federal regulations creates uncertainty for SHRM members on how to treat an absence of more than three consecutive days, according to SHRM's letter. "If there is not 'continuing treatment,' then it does not constitute a 'serious health condition' under the regulations," the letter explained. "However, if the employee does receive additional treatment, it's not clear whether these initial three absences are related to a serious health condition."

SHRM pointed out that several members "have suggested increasing the time period of incapacity, indicating they spend a lot of time processing employee certifications for missing four days that they believe more readily falls under sick time or paid time off."

Further guidance, including criteria and examples of when employers may obtain second and third medical opinions, "would be helpful, as many SHRM members reported declining to challenge an employee's certification at all because the conditions under which they may challenge those certifications are unclear or cumbersome," SHRM said.

Members also reported that obtaining documentation from health care providers on the need for employees to take leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition was difficult, and that doctors were often vague about identifying how the employee fits into the caregiving equation.

CHALLENGES WITH INTERMITTENT LEAVE

SHRM members reported that intermittent leave-taking is the most likely FMLA leave to be abused by employees.

"Employees are permitted to take incremental leave in the smallest increment of time the employer pays, as little as .10 of an hour, which members reported allowed employees to use the time to shield tardiness or other attendance issues," the letter read. "SHRM strongly urges [the DOL] to increase the minimum increment of intermittent or reduced schedule leave that is unforeseeable or unscheduled, or for which an employee provides no advance notice." SHRM suggested several alternative approaches.

For instance, the DOL could:

  • Require that employees take unforeseeable or unscheduled intermittent or reduced schedule leave in half-day increments, at a minimum.
  • Establish a smaller increment, such as two hours, that automatically applies in any instance in which an employee takes unscheduled or unforeseeable intermittent or reduced schedule leave.

Additionally, when an employee takes intermittent or reduced FMLA leave, an employer may transfer an employee to an alternative position. However, under current regulations, employers may only require such a transfer when the leave taken is for "a planned medical treatment for the employee, a family member, or a covered servicemember, including during a period of recovery…."

"Given the potential burden and hardship that intermittent and reduced-schedule leave have on employers, SHRM believes that an employer should be permitted to temporarily transfer an employee on intermittent or reduced-schedule leave to an alternative position, regardless of whether the leave is foreseeable or unforeseeable or whether it is scheduled or unscheduled," SHRM told the DOL.

CHALLENGES REGARDING EMPLOYEES WHO ARE CERTIFIED FOR INTERMITTENT LEAVE FOR CONSECUTIVE YEARS

Employees continue to regularly exhaust and replenish their 12-week FMLA entitlement, based on the rolling 12-month entitlement period, SHRM members reported.

"Combined with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act requirements to accommodate absences under some circumstances, these unrelenting absences become unreasonable and unduly burdensome to employers," SHRM commented.

Similarly, many SHRM members reported being frustrated that there weren't more mechanisms to challenge potential abuses of intermittent leave (e.g., when employees take every Friday or Monday off).

FRUSTRATION WITH EMPLOYEES NOT PROVIDING SUFFICIENT NOTICE OF THE NEED FOR LEAVE

Many employees provide notice of even foreseeable leaves after the leave has begun, noted SHRM, which recommended that notice of foreseeable leave be required prior to the commencement of leave and not "as soon as practicable."

SHRM also suggested that "a more definitive requirement be imposed so that employees understand clearly that they must provide notice of leave prior to beginning leave," and that "if an employee does not give advance notice, it should be the employee's burden to articulate why it was not practicable to provide such notice prior to the start of the leave. If they are unable to meet this burden, the regulation should permit and specify the consequences."

DIFFICULTIES OBTAINING TIMELY RESPONSES FROM EMPLOYEES AND THEIR PHYSICIANS TO SUPPORT THE REQUESTED LEAVE

If an employee fails to provide sufficient information to demonstrate that he or she may seek FMLA leave, then the employee can be required to provide additional information "to determine whether an absence is potentially FMLA-qualifying," SHRM explained. "However, there is no deadline by which the employee must provide this clarifying information, resulting in extensive, continued delays and continued administrative burdens."

SHRM recommended tightening this time frame to seven days and that the DOL "endeavor to provide firmer and clearer deadlines and notice requirements throughout the regulations."

SHRM members also reported that health-provider fees for completing paperwork often slowed or halted the certification process and asked whether providers' ability to impose these fees could be limited.

New FMLA Forms

Overall, SHRM members expressed satisfaction with recently updated FMLA forms. However, members continue to report that the information received from medical providers is often unclear and that they struggle to determine whether the reported condition constitutes a serious health condition.

The new forms do not account for the possibility that an employee does not qualify for FMLA because the employee doesn't meet the requirement of being unable to perform the functions of his or her job. "As such, we suggest that the medical provider be given the option to indicate that an employee does not meet this requirement," SHRM wrote.

Many members suggested that the DOL allow completion of online forms to speed processing times and reduce the administrative burdens of processing FMLA leave.

Among other issues, SHRM members also reported struggling with how to effectively reconcile FMLA with other leave laws enacted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (21 September 2020) "HR Professionals Struggle over FMLA Compliance, SHRM Tells the DOL" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/hr-professionals-struggle-over-fmla-compliance-shrm-tells-the-dol.aspx


5 open enrollment communication strategies for your remote workforce

As the employee benefits workforce continues to stay remote in a majority of places, it's important for them to strategize their communication especially as open enrollment season is coming around the corner. Read this blog post for helpful tips.


Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many employers to switch from a mostly onsite workforce to a remote or dispersed workforce, employers were faced with effectively and consistently communicating benefits to employees who were located in different locations, whether that meant offices in different cities or countries; work from home employees; employees working in warehouses, factories, and distribution centers; or employees working at different branches of retail or service businesses.

This communication is important because when employees are unaware of what benefits are available or don’t know how to access their benefits, utilization can drop significantly, so neither employees nor employers are getting value from the benefit offerings. In addition, when employees aren’t using or aware of their benefits, satisfaction with employers decline, which can impact both productivity and retention.

The goal is to both effectively and continuously communicate with employees and build awareness and understanding of available benefits, not just during open enrollment, but all year long. Of course, each communication strategy will be shaped by the organization’s culture, but there are several tools that employers should consider including in their benefits communication toolkit.

Diversify your benefits communication tools
Before developing your benefits communications plan, determine how employees prefer to receive this information by surveying them. In most organizations, there will be several different approaches that appeal to employees because of differences in employee ages, locations (office vs. warehouse or delivery truck), and comfort level with technology.

In the past, standard benefits communications were printed materials that were either distributed at work or mailed home. And while this tool is still effective and gives employees something they can use as a reference throughout the year, there are several other tools that employers should consider using to reach their diverse employee audiences.

Dedicated benefits websites and/or mobile apps broaden access to information
Unlike printed materials, with an online benefits site and mobile app employees can access the content wherever they are, whenever they want, and employers can update the information frequently without incurring printing costs. The site can also serve as a convenient way for employees to ask benefits questions, which can be answered by email from an HR team member, a benefits vendor’s support team or for simple, frequently asked questions, by a chatbot.

Email or text?
Employers will most likely need to include both emails and texts in their plans, but these tools may be used in different ways and with different audiences. For example, texts are a good way to reach employees who are younger or more tech savvy as well as those who are on the road a great deal or don’t work at a desk. These messages will be shorter and will focus on prompting employees to take specific actions, such as enrolling in benefits, updating beneficiaries or submitting receipts for reimbursement under an FSA, HSA, or HRA. They can also be used to remind employees about underutilized benefits to drive participation.

Emails can communicate more detailed information and directly link employees to benefits websites and other resources. However, emails should be kept as succinct as possible to ensure that employees are not overwhelmed with information and skip reading the communication.

Open channels for two-way communication
Providing benefits information to employees is only one part of the communication equation. Employees also need frequent opportunities to ask questions and share their thoughts on what they want and need from their benefits plan. That can be harder to make happen for a dispersed workforce, but video-based webinars, town hall meetings and “ask me anything” sessions with members of the benefits team can be effective approaches.

To ensure everyone has access to information regardless of location or job type there should be multiple sessions for different time zones and schedules, and the sessions should be recorded, posted on the company employee site and include the opportunity to email or text in questions for employees who cannot attend a live event.

Try out-of-the-box communication tools to engage employees
In addition to more traditional communication tools, consider trying different formats that make information more digestible and engaging, such as quizzes, polls, short videos, infographics and storytelling. The goal is to keep employees interested in what their benefits offer and what’s new to help them get the most out of their plans.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (14 September 2020) "Views 5 open enrollment communication strategies for your remote workforce" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/5-open-enrollment-communication-strategies-for-your-remote-workforce


4 benefits of positive recognition to boost employee engagement

As both employers and employees are facing difficult times both in their work-life and home life due to the circumstances that the coronavirus pandemic has brought into the world, it's important that the negativity does not take place of the positivity needed. Positivity is powerful and can play a critical role in the workplace. Read this blog post for four benefits of positive recognition.


With all that’s happening, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the negativity in the world. Our emotional state is important at work. Positive emotions transform our minds and increase our ability to bounce back from hard times.

The power of positivity should not be overlooked, and recognition plays a critical role in generating these emotions in a modern workplace. Open acknowledgement and expressed appreciation for employees’ contributions can go a long way.

Improve employee retention
The first benefit of positive employee recognition is improving employee retention. In fact, according to industry analyst Josh Bersin, companies that build a recognition-rich culture actually have a 31% lower voluntary turnover rate.

Gallup research on recognition also shows that employees who don’t feel recognized at work are twice as likely to quit within a year. In today’s current environment where many organizations are driving more productivity with fewer employees, leaders need to ensure that they’re not forgetting to focus on employee retention. You’d be hard-pressed to find an organization that isn’t concerned about retaining top talent right now; top performers will find new opportunities even when they’re hesitant to move.

Creating a workplace where people want to stay isn’t just beneficial for employees; it’s also good for the bottom line. Turnover cost can be difficult to compute, but I challenge you to consider the costs of recruiting, onboarding, training, and the lost institutional knowledge that comes with poor retention.

Increase employee engagement
The second benefit that is particularly important right now is increased employee engagement. Our own research showed that 84% of highly engaged employees were recognized the last time they went above and beyond at work compared with only 25% of actively disengaged employees. We also found that while 71% of highly engaged organizations recognize employees for a job well done, only 41% of less-engaged organizations did so.

Positive recognition is powerful and has a clear tie to engagement. Yet, many organizations still do not adequately measure engagement. When was the last time you measured engagement with your own team? How much opportunity is there to improve through recognition?

Boost employee morale
The third benefit of positive recognition is boosted morale. I already mentioned the transformative effect of positivity, but the simple act of thanking people can make a tremendous difference. When employees were asked about their experience at work,70% said that motivation and morale would improve “massively”with managers saying thank you more.

How did you feel last time you were recognized?

Positivity has an important impact on employees, but it also pays literal dividends to companies that have figured out how to encourage it. Research from author Shawn Achor shows that happiness raises sales by 37% and productivity by 31%. Consider ways you can encourage your team to recognize each other more often.

Leverage peer recognition
It turns out that peer recognition massively outperforms top-down recognition. Peer recognition occurs when individuals give and receive recognition from their peers, managers, and direct reports.

Being recognized by colleagues is incredibly powerful for employees, especially when it’s done publicly. Peer recognition is 36% more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition, according to SHRM. Managers can’t see every positive action that occurs, so think about how to encourage everyone to participate in recognition of great work across the entire organization.

SOURCE: Crawford-Marks, R. (14 September 2020) "4 benefits of positive recognition to boost employee engagement" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/4-benefits-of-positive-recognition-to-boost-employee-engagement


Strategies for maintaining employee trust during executive turnovers

While being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to keep employee trust and confidence intact. As there may be turnovers and layoffs happening with executives, it's key to communicate with employees that their employers are listening. Read this blog post to learn more.


As businesses struggle with the obstacles of maintaining a new workplace normal in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, ambiguity and unpredictability can threaten employee trust and confidence.

Sweeping layoffs across all industries are putting more pressure on that delicate relationship between employers and employees. Employers increasingly must reassure employees about their job security and the stability of the company, and how they respond will have long-term ripple effects on loyalty and potential turnover, experts say.

“A CEO’s exit or a round of layoffs can have a detrimental effect on employee retention and well-being if not addressed properly,” says Laura Hamill, chief science officer and chief people officer at Limeade, an employee experience company. “It’s important to show employees as soon as possible that you are listening, that you understand their concerns, and that you are working to address them.”

Just before the virus took root in the U.S., former Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger unexpectedly stepped down at the end of February. Around the same time, Expedia laid off 12% of its global workforce, which came on the heels of Wayfair’s January layoffs. Online travel agency Booking announced in early April that CEO Glenn Fogel has tested positive for coronavirus but still plans to continue with his responsibilities.

These major changes can create a lot of uncertainty within an organization, leaving HR and senior leadership in charge of keeping the business on track and reducing employee turnover.

“CEO shake ups [and layoffs] can create two disharmonies,” says Dania Shaheen, vice president of people operations at Kazoo, an employee experience platform. “There is always a lot of noise created with things like this, gossip about why someone stepped down. This tends to be very distracting from what the business is actually doing.”

The often abrupt departure of a CEO can also lead to a shift in strategy, Shaheen says. While a CEO’s vision for a company can be a rallying cry within the organization when that changes, it can upset the company culture. But there are steps employers can take to get out ahead of this.

In the case of Disney, Iger has remained on board to insure the strategy he has established remains in place. This can help ensure a smoother transition of power.

“The more transparent [a company is] and the more open they are internally about what’s going on is going to be key,” Shaheen says.

Frequent and open communication is another necessity for employers during times of business tumult, Hamill says. By planning for the worst-case scenario and having a clear communication policy, organizations can address employee concerns, collect feedback, gauge sentiments, and implement change quickly. Employers shouldn’t wait until they have all of the answers buttoned up.

“When a major change occurs, organizations need to put employees first,” Hamill says. “Be transparent with employees and offer two-way communication – ensure that people feel supported. This needs to come from all angles — from leaders, managers, and internal teams like human resources.”

An organization’s culture is only as strong as the example being set by its senior leadership. In response to mass layoffs and financial losses, many CEOs and other executives have decided to take pay cuts or forego their salaries. New Disney CEO Bob Chapek will take a 50% pay cut, while Iger — who remains with the company as executive chairman — will forgo his entire salary.

Dick's Sporting Goods announced that CEO Ed Stack and President Lauren Hobart will forgo their salaries and Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson will not take home any salary for the rest of the year. The rest of the executive team will take a 50% pay cut.

When organizations set an example that you’re focused on protecting your employees, it will instill trust and create a more loyal workforce.

“Culture is absolutely critical for growth and success and you want to make sure that the culture stays steady,” Shaheen says. “You have to make sure you’re continuing to build a very purpose driven culture.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (06 April 2020) "Strategies for maintaining employee trust during executive turnovers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/strategies-for-maintaining-employee-trust-during-executive-turnovers


5 ways to prepare for open enrollment during COVID-19

As open enrollment draws near, it's time to critically prepare for it especially during the crazy time that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to many families. Read this blog post to learn more.


The COVID-19 pandemic has focused consumer attention on health care, germs and the impact a single illness can have on their lives, livelihoods and loved ones. With the fall open enrollment season just months away, you have the opportunity to think more critically about the specific plans you choose for yourself and your family, as well as any voluntary benefits that may be available to you, including childcare, elder care and critical illness. In a world where it feels like health is out of the individual’s control, we all want, at the very least, to feel control over our coverage.

As we know all too well, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing and using health care benefits. The most important piece of becoming an informed health care consumer is ensuring you have access to — and understand — the benefits information you need to make smart health care choices. Here are five tips to keep in mind as you prepare for and participate in open enrollment.

1. Prepare for COVID-19 aftermath

As if dealing with the threat of the virus (or actually contracting it) wasn’t enough, consumers must consider the unexpected consequences. Quarantines, stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns have resulted in missed preventive care visits — including annual immunizations. For instance, many children will have missed their preschool vaccinations, which could result in an uptick in measles, mumps and rubella. If school is conducted virtually, the risk of catching one of these highly contagious diseases is somewhat reduced, though consumers should still proceed with caution as states reopen. In fact, with continued waves of COVID-19 expected well into the school season, you and your children may have to wait even longer to get vaccinations due to pent up demand and possible shortages.

Don’t forget that preventive care is covered by most plans at 100% in-network regardless of where that care is received. Schedule your appointments as soon as possible (and permissible in their area), and research other venues for receiving care, such as pharmacies, retail clinics and urgent care facilities. Most are equipped to provide standard vaccinations and/or routine physicals.

Unfortunately, there are also the long-term implications of COVID-19 to consider. Research suggests that there are serious health impacts that emerge in survivors of COVID-19, such as the onset of diabetes and liver, heart and lung problems. And many who were able to ride out the virus at home are finding it’s taking months, not weeks, to fully recover. As a result, you should prepare for the possibility that you, or a loved one, may be ill and possibly out of work for an extended period of time. Be sure to evaluate all of the plans and programs your employer offers to ensure your family has the financial protections you need. For some, a richer health plan with a lower deductible, voluntary plans such as critical illness or hospital indemnity insurance, and buy-up life and disability insurance may be worth investigating for the first time.

2. Re-evaluate postponed elective procedures

Many employees or their family members have postponed or skipped elective procedures — either from fear of exposure to COVID-19 at hospitals and outpatient facilities, or because their hospitals and providers cancelled such procedures to conserve resources to treat COVID-19 patients. As a result, an estimated 28.4 million elective surgeries worldwide could be canceled or postponed in 2020 due to the virus.

As hospitals reopen, it may be difficult to schedule a procedure due to scheduling requirements and pent up demand. A second opinion may be in order if your condition stabilized, improved or worsened during the delay; there may be other treatment options available.

A delay in scheduling also provides an opportunity to “shop around” for a facility that will provide needed care at an appropriate price — especially if you are choosing to go out-of-network or have a plan without a network. Researching cost is the best way to find the most affordable providers and facilities with the best quality, based on your specific needs.

Many medical plans offer second opinion and transparency services, and there are independent organizations who provide “white glove,” personalized support in these areas. Read over your enrollment materials carefully, or check your plan’s summary plan description, to see what your employer offers. If nothing is available, ask your employer to look into it, and don’t hesitate to do some research on your own. Doing so can often result in substantial cost savings, without compromising on quality of care.

3. Confirm your caregivers

Because so few elective procedures were performed during the initial phases of the pandemic, many hospitals sustained huge financial losses. As a result, many small hospitals are closing, and large hospitals are using this opportunity to purchase smaller, independent medical practices that became more financially vulnerable during the pandemic. Further, many physicians have opted to retire or close their practices in light of the drastic reductions to their income during local shutdowns.

Be sure to check up on your preferred health care providers — especially those you might not see regularly — to confirm they are still in business and still in network (if applicable). If you live in a rural area, you may have to travel farther to reach in-network facilities. If you’re currently covered by an HMO or EPO, you may want to evaluate whether that option still makes sense, if your preferred in-network providers are no longer available.

4. Look at ALL the options

Voluntary coverages — such as critical illness, hospital indemnity, buy-up disability, and supplemental life insurance — may help ease your concerns about how you will protect your and your family’s finances if you become ill. Pandemic aside, these benefits can provide a substantial safety net at a relatively low cost. Investigate your employer’s offerings — many employers are offering virtual benefit fairs where vendors can provide more information about these benefits while remaining safe from large social gatherings.

When was the last time you changed your medical plan? If you’ve been keeping the same coverage for years, it might be time to look at what else is available. Your employer may have introduced new plans, or you may find that a different plan makes more sense financially based on how often you need health care. Don’t forget — the cheapest plan isn’t always the one with the lowest premiums.

5. Uncover every resource available

Besides your health coverage (medical, dental and vision), many employers offer other plans and programs to support your health. While you’re already focused on benefits, take the time to learn about what else is available to you. These offerings may range from the previously mentioned advocacy and transparency services and voluntary benefits, to personalized, one-on-one enrollment support, to telemedicine services and an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Also, many employers made temporary or permanent plan changes to address COVID-19 regulations and concerns. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these changes — and when they might expire.

You may also want to consider setting aside funds in a health savings account or health care flexible spending account (if available). If your employer offers a wellness program, this might be an opportunity to start adopting better health habits to ensure you’re better equipped physically and mentally to deal with whatever lies ahead.

While open enrollment may seem daunting, devoting an hour or two to reviewing your plan options, the programs available to support you and your family physically, mentally and financially, and how to get the most from the coverages you do elect, can go a long way towards providing peace of mind as we face the unknowns of 2021.

SOURCE: Buckey, K. (17 August 2020) "5 ways to prepare for open enrollment during COVID-19" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/5-ways-to-prepare-for-open-enrollment-during-covid-19


Personalization helps meet the needs of multiple generations in the workplace

In many workplace organizations, there has been an increase in age demographics. As many generations are beginning to work together, it's necessary for organizations to cater to all generations while catering to their different needs, wants, and styles. Read this blog post to learn more.


Changing demographics are creating more age diversity in the workplace, and this 5-generation age range means employers are increasingly faced with catering to different priorities and communication styles with benefits.

When it comes to health and wellbeing, employees between the ages of 55 and 64 prioritize benefits related to physical health, while younger employees care more about social and mental health, according to a study from Optum.

“The one-size-fits-all approach to communication, benefits and services needs to evolve,” says Seth Serxner, chief health officer at Optum. “The challenges a 35-year-old woman with young kids has is very different from a boomer or an empty nester who are dealing with other issues, so the life circumstances are very different.”

Instead, employers should look towards implementing a personalized communication strategy, or even hyper-personalization of benefits related to life cycles, Serxner says.

“If you think about saving in a health savings account, for example, we like to really target these different groups,” he says. “Once we do that, we see a tremendous increase in contributions and the overall savings averages.”

Wil Lewis, a diversity and inclusion executive and head of global disability strategy at Bank of America, says that since the company functions in several different countries, it emphasizes diversity of experience, culture and generations.

“One of the things that we've done as an organization is focused on how to integrate the wisdom that comes from past experiences and be sure that we leverage some of their ideas and make decisions for the future,” Lewis says.

Bank of America is one of over 1,000 employers who have signed the AARP Employer Pledge Program, a nationwide group of employers that stand with AARP in affirming the value of experienced workers and are committed to developing diverse organizations. They have pledged to promote equal opportunity for all workers, regardless of age.

Bank of America also has an intergenerational employee network, with chapters across the U.S. and other countries. The network has, among other things, created mentoring programs where employees in different generations can come together and learn from each other in person or virtually.

“It's actually one of our fastest growing employee networks inside the company,” Lewis says. “We’re really trying to drive connectivity and opportunity for them to learn from one another.”

The company aims to have a broad and comprehensive benefit range that touches on all individual generations, says Ebony Thomas, a global human resources executive at Bank of America.

“We are really thinking about where employees are in their life cycle, and tailoring services, learning, training or benefits to that life cycle,” she says. “It's really thinking ‘are we inclusive of everyone in the organization, in different stages and points in their lives?’ and how a benefit impacts them.”

The Optum data also discovered differences in financial service needs among generations. Younger generations are more concerned about debt, student tuition and how to start saving, whereas older generations may be more interested in things like buying a house, family health or retirement, says Optum’s Serxner.

Technology is another area of great discrepancy among the workplace age gap. Serxner says understanding how millennials or younger generations think about text messaging versus older generations can help employers rethink how they’re utilizing technology and what impact it has.

“There can be mental and behavioral impacts from using technology,” he says. “Employees can start to feel isolated, lonely or left out, based on the way an organization might cater to only one group, or might have a bias toward one kind of technology, whereas some people really feel it's critical to be face-to-face or on the phone.”

It’s critical employers learn and understand the makeup of their workforce, and tailor their communication strategy to their needs, Serxner says. Employers can drive up engagement and participation in their benefit offerings.

“I work with one digital company communications company that’s more than 70% millennial, and all of their outreach, benefits and promotions are phone based,” Serxner says. “I have other older energy and utility companies where they still do big pool meetings, and hand out brochures and packages, where they have individuals explaining the benefits. So the employers tend to have a sense of who their populations are, and tailor their approaches accordingly.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (08 May 2020) "Personalization helps meet the needs of multiple generations in the workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/personalization-helps-meet-the-needs-of-multiple-generations-in-the-workplace


3 steps to optimize intern onboarding and training

Internships are often used to help students form a decision of where they may want to continue their career, or what field they may want to pursue. Read this blog post to learn three steps on optimizing interns and their training.


HR leaders face myriad challenges in crafting a positive candidate experience and establishing a strong culture across organizations, and there's an added twist when it comes to internship programs: this must be achieved in an exceptionally short amount of time.

"As much as Facebook is evaluating interns for their long-term potential as future employees, we know for certain that interns are also evaluating whether Facebook is where they want to launch their career," Oscar Perez, diversity recruitment and programs manager at Facebook, told HR Dive. "Interning allows college students to make more informed decisions about the type of company they want to work for and helps them crystallize a vision for the type of employee they want to be."

The intern experience trifecta

Multiple academics and learning experts echoed Perez's sentiments to HR Dive, generally suggesting that HR can find success with three steps: a short, formal onboarding; building in mechanisms for continuous skill-building; and a focus on the value of exposure to the business world.

Some formal onboarding

While some experts suggest that employee onboarding plans should cover at least a new hire's first 90 days, that's obviously not feasible for an internship that may last only 90 days.

"Something on the order of 10 to 15% is not unusual," Brooks Holtom, a management professor at Georgetown University told HR Dive. "Two or three days of up front training, and then maybe two hours a week on a Friday helps to increase both the capacity of the people but also the probability that they enjoy the work and they come back."

Still, an employer's onboarding for traditional employees may provide a roadmap, especially when it comes to the early days. This should include administrative tasks, introductions and acclimation to tasks.

"For all interns [at Facebook], the first day of their internship is spent in New Hire Orientation," Perez shared. "Where you get to hear from employees around the company on guiding principles that we anchor in as a company, critical logistical information that you'll need to navigate your time as an intern, [and] get an understanding of the other interns that will be your ‘home-base' community during your time at Facebook."

From there, interns meet their teams and learn more about the scope of their internship project, Perez continued. They also attend role-specific training on tools, expectations and critical concepts for both their role and beyond.

It may help to think about onboarding in three parts — pre-boarding, orientation and ramping up to productivity — according to Leslie Deutsch, director of learning solutions at TEKsystems. Deutsch previously shared a model for onboarding traditional employees; a similar, albeit more streamlined, structure can help when thinking about interns, she said.

"You want to give them exposure to your organization," Deutsch told HR Dive in a February interview, adding that it's important to make clear company values, mission and vision. Although, if interns are there to support a specific project or initiative, it may need to be more detailed, she said.

Pre-boarding can also be valuable, both as a way to engage the intern as a high-potential full-time candidate and to ensure they are learning as much about the company as they can before their first day. "I've seen pretty commonly [that] the onboarding and training actually starts before they even formally start the job. It's about building the relationship," Nicole Coomber, a professor of management at the University of Maryland, told HR Dive. "There are a lot of smaller interactions that happen before they come on board so that they have a lot of clarity on what they're actually doing when they get there."

Continuous, experiential training

Following formal onboarding, HR will want to focus on continuous learning, according to Holtom.

He noted that such efforts are good for building capacity and making sure that interns feel they are gaining from the experience. There are a lot of ways to deliver this kind of training, however, and it does not need to be formal or in-person; it can be worthwhile, for example, to make learning opportunities experiential.

"[Students] want to gain the experience that prepares them for the next professional opportunity and the chance to build relationships with other professionals in their field. That really sets apart a positive internship experience from a negative one," Rachel Loock, associate director of career services at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, told HR Dive.

For graduate school interns, experiential learning can be particularly valuable because they are already experienced professionals that may be making a career switch. They may need to get up to speed on certain software or business concepts to successfully make that switch.

"MBA internships are often used as a ‘bridge' to pivot from one industry or function to another,  Doreen Amorosa, associate dean of career services at the Georgetown McDonough School of Business, told HR Dive. "Successful internships allow MBA students to demonstrate newly acquired academic skills which enable those career transitions," she said.

SOURCE: Kidwai, A. (13 April 2020) "3 steps to optimize intern onboarding and training" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/3-steps-to-optimize-intern-onboarding-and-training/576014/