Managers and employees have different attitudes about their COVID workplace

Managers and employees have always had different attitudes about work, and the COVID pandemic has widened that gap even furthur. This divided workforce means most managers believe in the support their company provides, while fewer employees think their employer genuinely cares about them.

Seventy-seven percent of managers feel like their employer genuinely cares about their overall well-being, compared to only 55% of employees, according to a recent survey from Limeade, an employee engagement platform. Similarly, 78% of managers feel as though their employer has engaged in initiatives or offered services to support employee well-being since the start of COVID, compared to 66% of employees.

“This pandemic has not only added to stressors in our life, it’s also taken away some resources we’ve all relied on, like spending time with loved ones, building relationships with coworkers, and getting to explore the world around us,” says Reetu Sandhu, senior manager of the Limeade Institute. “You can see this in the drop that both groups report for their well-being.”

Pre-pandemic, 96% of managers and 86% of employees said that they had favorable well-being levels, Limeade found. However, since the start of the pandemic, those figures have plummeted to 73% of managers and 59% of employees reporting positive well-being.

In a recent one-on-one interview, Sandhu shared what these discrepancies mean for employers and how companies can work to close the gap between employee and manager attitudes in the workplace.

How has the pandemic increased the disparity between managers and employees in the way they view their employers?
The pandemic has emphasized factors that have always been there. Consider power dynamics, for example. Managers are in a position of power that grants them additional permission to prioritize their well-being. This was evident in the findings too — 83% of managers felt comfortable asking for a day off to support their own well-being compared to just 68% of employees. If employees didn’t feel adequately empowered, supported and even expected to prioritize their well-being before the pandemic, they’re only going to continue to fall behind during the pandemic.

Why does this discrepancy exist in the first place?
Organizations haven’t always recognized their role in employee well-being. Unfortunately, companies are only now facing the reality that factors such as power dynamics and organizational norms can have significant impacts on employees. Now, in the face of a pandemic, organizations are scrambling to find the answer. But we can’t expect it to just happen — we need to really consider the employee perspective. Our study revealed that 70.8% of managers feel that since the outbreak of COVID-19, their one-on-ones with their direct reports have focused more on discussing their well-being at work. Only 33.6% of employees actually feel like that is the case.

This disconnect highlights that managers may not be equipped with the resources to lead these conversations, or perhaps there is a gap in trust present in these relationships for genuine conversations about well-being to occur. This isn’t to say that managers do not care. We found that 84% of managers said they feel at least “somewhat” responsible for whether their direct reports experience burnout or not. Instead, it highlights that organizations are missing the mark in enabling both managers and employees to feel supported, cared for and safe to communicate honestly and openly about their experiences.

What can employers do to make all employees feel supported and cared for?
When employers invest in giving managers support, this pays out in dividends, as managers are then enabled to support their employees. Managers can think creatively about demonstrating care to their employees. This can include sending them a gift or a pick-me-up, asking intentional questions about how they or their families are doing, scheduling time for team connection and bonding where work is not an agenda item. Managers can declare a team well-being day, or celebrate the work that is being accomplished despite the tough times we are in. These seemingly small moments of care make an incredible impact on people.

It is very important that people feel as though they can speak openly about their work experience with HR and their managers. Managers, leaders and even peers need to establish trust within organizations and ensure that open communication is welcomed and not tied to any negative consequences. Then, and only then, will employees feel the safety and support they need.

Authentic care is the most impactful resource an employer can offer. Only when these efforts are genuine, will organizations see the direct benefits these offerings and open conversations have in supporting employee well-being. As a manager, don’t just say you want your team to prioritize their well-being — hold them to it just as you would their performance. This communicates that you take it seriously and want to support in a serious way.

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (28 December 2020) "Managers and employees have different attitudes about their COVID workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/managers-and-employees-have-different-attitudes-about-their-covid-workplace


HR checklist: 5 things to-do before the new year

2020 has been… a year. But before HR professionals look hopefully to the future, they need to tie up loose ends to ensure their workforce starts the new year off on the right foot.

“This has been a strange year, and a stressful one for both employees and their companies,” says Tauhidah Shakir, vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer at Paylocity, an Illinois-based HR software company. “Anything you can do to get ahead of things to wrap up this year is going to help alleviate that stress and get everyone off to a good start.”

The pandemic has caused a lot of stress in the workplace. In November alone, 42% of Americans reported experiencing cases of anxiety or depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As an HR manager, Shakir believes that staying organized, and helping employees through end of year changes will help alleviate stress for everyone. To help other employers cope with these unprecedented times, she created an end of the year to-do list to help other HR professionals stay on track.

 Note last payroll date

“Keep an eye on the payroll process, and be sure to note the first day of the New Year falls on a Friday so it doesn’t take you by surprise,” Shakir says. “You have to make sure people are getting their sick and bonus time. Have it all plotted out so you’re not rushing at the last minute.”

 Open enrollment

“This isn’t like any other open enrollment; HR needs to over communicate what benefits they’re offering, and which ones are going to help their employees the most,” she says. “We don’t know how much things are going to change in the New Year; make sure employees are prepared by making them aware of any mental health, financial wellness and other benefits that can help.”

 Go paperless

“Since many of us are not all working in the same space right now, this is the perfect time to switch the workforce over to a completely paperless documentation process,” Shakir says. “Email employees their end of year documents; it’s going to be a lot less stressful than them waiting for it to come through the mail.”

 Employee feedback

“This year presented a lot of challenges for everyone, and you’re going to want to take any lessons learned into the New Year,” she says. “You’re looking for lessons learned, ways to improve to make benefits more accessible to employees. There’s always room for improvement, so be sure to be open to what employees are telling you.”

 Be flexible

“A lot of employees are fatigued about working from home and feeling like they have no control right now,” Shakir says. “Remember employees have a lot on their plate right now, especially with the winter holidays going on, so be kind and flexible about when they work so they can juggle all their responsibilities.”

SOURCE: Webster, K. (16 December 2020) "HR checklist: 5 things to-do before the new year" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/hr-checklist-5-things-to-do-before-the-new-year


Can employers mandate workers be vaccinated before returning to work?

With COVID-19 vaccines now being administered in the U.S., planning for a post-pandemic future could soon be a reality. As employers prepare to reopen offices, they have to consider whether they are going to require employees be vaccinated, and have the processes in place to support such a mandate.

“Protection is a must, not a nice to have,” says Gary Pearce, chief risk architect at Aclaimant, a workplace safety and risk management platform. “If you can't demonstrate that you're protecting your own people, you're not going to be able to keep employees.”

The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and will provide 100 million doses of the vaccine by the end of March, 2021. A second vaccine from Moderna is undergoing authorization from the FDA this week. Moderna has also promised 100 million doses by March.

Sixty percent of Americans say they would "definitely" or "probably" get a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Pew Research Center. Twenty-one percent say they do not plan to get vaccinated.

Employers may be tasked with mandating employees be vaccinated before returning to work. This tactic could be challenging because of personal opinions about vaccines, as well as the timeline of the roll out.

“There's still a lot of objection about vaccinations. Part of it is concern and part of it is ignorance,” Pearce says. “Given the reality, it won’t be like we’re flicking a switch. The vaccine will roll out over time.”

While employers are eager to return to the physical workplace, ensuring the safety of their employees must be top priority, Pearce says. Employers should communicate frequently and openly with employees to ensure they feel heard and their concerns are being met. He shares how employers can navigate vaccine mandates for COVID-19 and the best way to enforce these rules before returning to work.

 Can employers require employees to have the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to work?

It's pretty clearly established that yes, [individual] employers can require mandatory vaccinations, as a matter of prior health crises and common law. There'll be some industries where it's going to be a mandate, like in healthcare, for example. But private employers generally can require their employees to be vaccinated.

There are some exceptions. If somebody has a medical condition that puts them at a reasonable risk, then you have to go through the traditional Americans with Disabilities Act dialogue of determining whether a reasonable accommodation can be provided or whether having to provide such an accommodation would constitute an undue hardship. The second big issue is that if you have somebody who has a bonafide religious objection, you have to take that into consideration. You might want to make an accommodation, but that obligation is not absolute.

 How can employers enforce this rule?

If you're going to have that requirement, you have to have all the administrative processes in place. How do you verify as an employer that somebody went and got it? What documentation will suffice? How will you ensure confidentiality of this medical information?

If somebody is very resistant to this mandate, they could be a workplace disrupter. If ultimately you say, ‘You’ve had the opportunity to follow the mandate,’ then what else are you willing to do to make good on that? You should be prepared to find qualified replacements.

You can't just base your program and processes around what COVID-19 regulations are, because they are almost always retroactive to real world developments. Instead, base it around what the right thing is to do for your workforce, and use your relationships with your employees as a way to shape and inform the program you establish.

What are some alternatives to an employer mandate to get employees on board with this policy?

There's a certain trust culture and an existing relationship you have with your workforce. The science and information regarding COVID is constantly changing, and there will be a lot of questions. So where will employees turn for guidance and information? One of the places they're going to turn is their employer. The employer is going to be a source of information as the vaccinations roll out, so they need to ensure they’re conducting business safely to make employees confident in what they're doing. Employers need to be proactive and repetitive in terms of communication with their workers.

Employees are going to have a sixth sense for whether they trust the message from their employer. They may not like it, but at least if it's credible and they understand the reasoning and that the employer is trying to balance the needs of the public and fellow workers, people are going to get with the program. I think the best case is when it doesn't have to come down to a mandate, but rather people are persuaded by having been given the best information, this is the right thing to do to protect their family and to protect their fellow workers.

SOURCE: Place, A. (10 December 2020) "Can employers mandate workers be vaccinated before returning to work?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/can-employers-mandate-workers-be-vaccinated-before-returning-to-work


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


New financial benefits give small business employees early wage access

 


Mandatory quarantines and business closures during the coronavirus pandemic have taken a particularly large financial toll on small businesses, forcing many employers to reduce wages and health coverage.

Sixty-five percent of small businesses said they were either extremely concerned or very concerned about how the coronavirus will affect their business, according to a survey by Freshbooks. In addition to financial pressure, small business employers are also tasked with providing benefits that will support struggling employees.

“COVID-19 just exacerbated what was going on in the market and put even more pressure on small companies and their employees,” says Emily Ritter, head of product marketing at Gusto, a payroll and employee benefits platform for small businesses. “Employees across America are living paycheck-to-paycheck and the stress of that can be expensive for households.”

Gusto has launched a new set of health and financial wellness benefits to provide employees with early access to earned wages, medical bill reimbursement and a savings account.

These financial tools are especially beneficial as healthcare costs drive many employees into debt, Ritter says. According to a Salary Finance survey, 32% of American workers have medical debt, and 28% of those who have an outstanding balance owe $10,000 or more on their bills.

“Financial health and health coverage is so inextricably linked, which has come into the limelight with COVID-19,” Ritter says. “We're seeing that small group health insurance is something that is really important, so if we can help small businesses help their employees with health bills, that's another component of financial health.”

Gusto’s new benefit offering allows employers to contribute to employees’ monthly health insurance costs. Contributions can vary from $100 to amounts that would cover an employee’s entire premium. The contributions are payroll-tax-free for the business and income-tax-free for employees, and employers also have the flexibility to adjust their contribution at any time.

“A large portion of American workers say that they wouldn't be able to handle the financial implications of a large injury or illness, and of course illness is top of mind in the midst of a global pandemic,” Ritter says. “So it was really important for us to show up with these solutions.”

Additionally, Gusto has launched Gusto Cashout, which gives workers early access to earned wages without any fees, helping them avoid having to turn to payday loans, overdraft fees or credit card debt between paychecks. With a new debit card function and cash accounts — which also provide interest — workers can put aside savings straight from their paychecks, helping them better navigate short-term emergencies and unexpected expenses.

Even before coronavirus, less than half of adults living in the U.S. had enough savings to pay for a $1,000 emergency expense, according to a Bankrate.com study, and 50% of employees said they live paycheck to paycheck, a CareerBuilder survey found.

“We're really trying to help people be prepared in those rainy day moments and avoid the debt cycle that happens,” Ritter says. “Because this product is free [for our clients’ employees] and the wages come out of their paycheck on payday, there is no continuous debt cycle that happens with a payday loan.”

Fifty-one percent of Americans feel at least somewhat anxious about their financial situation following the coronavirus outbreak, according to a recent survey from NextAdvisor, and nearly three in 10 Americans’ financial situation (29%) has been negatively impacted since the pandemic began.

Providing employees with financial wellness resources and other support can help small business owners build a more efficient and competitive business, despite the challenges faced during COVID, Ritter says.

“It's a win win for their employees and for their business,” Ritter says. “When employees are more financially stable, they're able to show up more effectively at work.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (13 October 2020) "New financial benefits give small business employees early wage access"(Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/new-financial-benefits-give-small-business-employees-early-wage-access


Employees work an extra 26 hours a month when remote

 


Only months ago, a growing number of businesses were experimenting with or adopting a four-day workweek, but remote work policies imposed by the coronavirus pandemic have pivoted this trend in the opposite direction.

Full-time employees are working an extra 26 hours a month when remote, adding nearly an extra day of work to the week, according to a new report from Owl Labs, a video conferencing technology company.

The increase in work hours may be due to employees needing more time to adapt to new changes businesses have made in response to the pandemic, says Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs. Having the workplace always available — as employees work right in their house — is also blurring the lines between work and home, possibly adding to their hours worked.

Employees may also be filling in the time they spent commuting with more time at work. The report found employees were spending an average of 40 minutes daily on their commute.

“Everybody's situation is different, but I was commuting roughly two to three hours per day, which is 10-15 extra hours per week,” Weishaupt says. “Now I have a lot more flexibility in terms of when my workday starts and ends, and I don't have to give that time to the commute — but can actually give it to work.”

But along with increased work hours are increased levels of stress. Almost 1 in 2 employees are worried that staying remote could negatively affect their career, according to the findings. During the coronavirus pandemic, 91% percent of employees say they’ve experienced moderate to extreme stress while working from home, according to a survey by Ginger, a mental health benefits platform.

Despite these challenges, the flexibility of working remotely has helped many employees achieve better work-life balance. Overall, the report found that workers were benefiting from the perks of remote work, and named avoiding their commutes and having more time with their families as top reasons to continue working remotely.

“When you look at the overwhelming data, it shows that employees are much happier, which is a bigger indication of what this change has meant for people,” Weishaupt says. “Yes, people are working significantly more, but they're not having to sacrifice their personal lives to work. People are happier and feel just as productive, if not more [when working remotely].”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (21 October 2020) "Employees work an extra 26 hours a month when remote" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employees-work-an-extra-26-hours-a-month-when-remote


Employees are stressed caring for aging parents. How can employers help?

As many employees are caring for parents and close relatives, a balancing act on both physical and mental well being has impacted their work productivity. Read this blog post to learn more.


A growing number of employees are caring for aging parents, parents-in-law and relatives while working full time. One report puts the number of employees caring for aging family members at one in six, while other sources put the number even higher — 73% of employees caring for older family members, with 80% of those employees reporting that they struggle to balance their work and caregiving responsibilities.

This balancing act not only has an impact on employees’ physical and mental wellbeing, it also has a significant impact on their employers. But researchers at Harvard Business School found that many employers are not aware of the extent to which caregiving responsibilities are affecting employee performance, productivity and costs.

Support strategies for employee caregivers

Employers can offer several resources and benefits to help reduce the stress and physical and mental health impact on employees who are caring for aging family members. These strategies can also decrease the negative effect that caregiving can have on productivity and costs.

  • Flexible schedules and remote work options: Offering flexible schedules and the option to work from home can help employees fit caregiving responsibilities, like taking family members to doctor’s appointments, preparing meals and helping with other activities of daily living into their day with less stress and less missed work time.
  • Eldercare information and referral resources: These services can help employees find eldercare in their community, connect with other caregivers for support and advice, and learn about financial, health, legal and housing issues they may face as they provide care for aging family members and plan for the future.
  • Self-care resources for caregivers: The stress of caregiving can increase the risk of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, migraine headache, gastrointestinal problems, substance misuse, anxiety and depression. Employers can help employees better manage stress by offering access to free stress management resources including exercise and meditation classes, caregiver support groups and referrals to online and in-person mental health providers.
  • Medical second opinions: Managing the healthcare for an aging family member living with complex or serious medical problems such as dementia, cancer and heart failure can be especially difficult, stressful and time-consuming for employees. Access to second opinions can help employees make informed choices about their family member’s care and provide peace of mind about their decisions.
  • Specialist guidance and support: Employers can offer access to navigators and advisors who can help employees ensure that their aging family members’ healthcare is coordinated to lower the risk of medical errors, inappropriate care and missed follow-up care. These services can also ensure that their medical records are reviewed and consolidated, which is especially important when people see several physicians. Navigation and advisory services can help employees research medical treatments for their family member, find and connect with experienced specialists and build a plan to address the potential progression of their family member’s health issues. Advisors can also help with appointment scheduling, insurance issues and problems with medical bills, all of which can be exceptionally time-consuming and frustrating tasks.
  • Expand telehealth access: By expanding employees’ telehealth benefits to include aging parents and parents-in-law, employers can make it easier for employees to be involved in their family member’s care, even if they don’t live nearby. Telehealth can also make getting care easier for family members because they don’t need to arrange transportation to appointments.
  • Subsidize back-up care: Consider providing employees with subsidies to help pay for in-home back-up care for aging family members. With this safety net in place, employers can decrease the number of hours employees are absent from work due to caregiving responsibilities.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (28 October 2020) "Employees are stressed caring for aging parents. How can employers help?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/employees-are-stressed-caring-for-aging-parents-how-can-employers-help


Offices struggle with COVID-19 social distancing measures

Across the nation, many are beginning, if they have not already, are allowed to work from their offices, instead of having to work remotely. Now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are several new protocols that many may struggle to maintain. Read this blog post to learn more.


Millions of workers in recent months have returned to offices outfitted with new pandemic protocols meant to keep them healthy and safe. But temperature checks and plexiglass barriers between desks can't prevent one of the most dangerous workplace behaviors for the spread of COVID-19 — the irresistible desire to mingle.

“If you have people coming into the office, it’s very rare for them consistently to be six feet apart,” said Kanav Dhir, the head of product at VergeSense, a company that has 30,000 object-recognition sensors deployed in office buildings around the world tracking worker whereabouts.

Since the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, the company has found that 60% of interactions among North American workers violate the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s six-foot distancing guidelines, as do an even higher share in Asia, where offices usually are smaller.

Most people who can work at home still are and likely will be until at least mid-2021. But as some white-collar workers begin a cautious return, it’s becoming clear how hard it is to make the workplace safe. A bevy of sophisticated sensors and data are being used to develop detailed plans; even IBM’s vaunted Watson artificial intelligence is weighing in. In many cases the data can only verify what should be evident: The modern office, designed to pack in as many workers as possible, was never meant to enforce social distancing.

To date, the coronavirus has infected more than 8 million Americans and is blamed for 220,000 U.S. deaths. So far, efforts to get large numbers of workers into the office haven’t worked out very well. Some workers at Goldman Sachs Group and JPMorgan Chase tested positive after they returned to work and were sent home. With infection rates rising again nationwide, many companies have told most employees to work from home until next year, or even forever. Michigan’s governor approved new rules last week that bar employers from forcing workers back to the office if they can do their job at home.

For those employers pushing ahead with a return to the office, sensors that measure room occupancy are proving to be a necessity, said Doug Stewart, co-head of digital buildings at the technology unit Cushman & Wakefield, which manages about 785-million-square feet of commercial space in North and South America. Most offices are already fitted with sensors of some kind, even if it’s just a badging system or security cameras. Those lagging on such capabilities are now scrambling to add more, he said.

The systems were used before the pandemic to jam as many people together in the most cost-effective way, not limit workplace crowding or keep employees away from each other, Stewart said. With that in mind, companies can analyze the data all they want, but changing human behavior — we’re social creatures, after all — is harder, he said.

“Just because technology identifies it, and the analytics is flagging it, doesn’t mean the behavior will change,” Stewart said.

Because office crowding can show up in air quality, proper ventilation has replaced comfort as the focus for building managers, said Aaron Lapsley, who directs Cushman’s digital building operations with Stewart. Measuring the amount of carbon dioxide or the concentration of aerial particles can determine if airflow needs to be adjusted — or whether some people need to be told to leave a specific area. Employees are now more likely to use smartphone apps to receive alerts and keep tabs on the health and safety of the building, he said.

Something even as trivial as a trip to the bathroom or coffee machine has to be re-examined, said Mike Sandridge, executive director of client success at the technology unit of Jones Lang LaSalle, which oversees about 5-billion-square feet of property globally. Some restrooms have had to be limited to one person, and a red light will come on to let others know whether it’s occupied, based on stepping on a switch. When it’s free, the light turns green. Companies can also monitor whether the snack area is getting crowded, he said.

To help get some of its 350,000 employees back to its 150 offices around the world, International Business Machines is using its problem-solving Watson AI to analyze data from WiFi usage to help design and adjust office occupancy, said Joanne Wright, vice president of enterprise operations.

Understanding worker habits is more useful if you have a way to nudge them into new patterns. Since the pandemic began, Radiant RFID has sold 10,000 wristbands that vibrate when co-workers are too close to each other. The technology was originally designed to warn workers away from dangerous machinery, not other people. So far, the wristbands are responsible for reducing unsafe contacts by about 65%, said Kenneth Ratton, chief executive of the company, which makes radio-communication devices. At this point, the data on more than 3 billion encounters shows the average worker has had about 300 interactions closer than six feet lasting 10 minutes or more.

“The biggest problem is we as Americans haven't really been socially distanced, ever,” Ratton said.

Nadia Diwas is using another kind of technology: a wireless key fob she carries in her pocket made by her employer, Semtech, which tracks her movements and interactions, making it useful for contact tracing if someone gets sick, which is as important as warning people they are too close. The technology originally was developed by Semtech to help devices such as thermostats communicate on the so-called internet of things.

The reality is that people still need to work together, and if you’re back in the office, that means face-to-face interaction, said Diwas, who works in an electronics lab with two and sometimes three other people. She said she comes in contact with more people at the grocery store than in the office.

“It does make me more aware and more careful,” Diwas said in an interview. “The way I picture it in my head is that if both of us stretch our arms out, we should not touch each other.”

For most office workers, the best way to keep a safe distance from colleagues for the foreseeable future will still be on Zoom.

SOURCE: Green, J. (26 October 2020) "Offices struggle with COVID-19 social distancing measures" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/offices-struggle-with-covid-19-social-distancing-measures


How to bridge the health insurance knowledge gap for younger employees

More often times than not, when younger employees are searching for their own health insurance plans, they make common and costly mistakes due to the lack of education in regards to health care plans. Proper education could help the young generation of employees for their health, wellness, and future. Read this blog post to learn more.


With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, young adults were able to stay on their parents health insurance plans until the age of 26. But once they get their own health insurance, many young employees make common and costly mistakes because they don’t have the proper education when choosing their own programs.

This information gap could result in employees being hesitant to seek care, resulting in higher medical expenses for employees and reduced productivity from sick leave.

“It’s a challenge— there’s a fair number of employees that will come off of their parent's insurance at the age of 26,” says Amanda Baethke, director of corporate development at Aeroflow Healthcare. “There's not a lesson that you go through in order to understand insurance.”

How can employers help younger workers avoid health insurance mistakes?
It's beneficial for HR to do a training where they're going over what co-pays, premiums, deductibles and coinsurance are. When signing up for insurance, employees are trying to decide which insurance to pick and may not understand the full impact of that decision. Employees could pick the cheapest one because they want less out of their paycheck. There's just not a lot of discussions happening and employees are left blind.

What mistakes do young workers make when it comes to health insurance?
I’ll get a lot of questions from my team like ‘What’s an HSA and what’s the benefit?’ It's truly a lack of understanding, because nobody teaches it. A lot of mistakes will happen with out-of-network providers. They don't realize that there are insurance networks and then within those networks, there are more narrow networks underneath.

For example, an employee can call a doctor's office and ask if that office is in-network and the receptionist may respond that they are — especially for the national brands like UHC, Aetna, Cigna, Humana. However, many of those plans have narrow networks under them that allow them to better control cost. So the employee would want to ensure their particular group/plan is in-network.

Another thing is making sure employees know that even though they have a deductible, some preventative care is likely covered under their insurance. This will help them choose the right physician so if they do get sick later on, they can see that physician, rather than going to a hospital which would be more costly for them.

What specific role should HR take when it comes to educating younger employees about health insurance?
HR is responsible for making sure that employees understand the benefits that they're offering. HR works incredibly hard to deliver the best benefits possible and advocate for each and every employee. So why not just go the extra step and have a consultation with the insurance company to explain what the benefits mean, what is covered, what may not be covered, how to really navigate through the insurance company and work back with them.

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (19 October 2020) "How to bridge the health insurance knowledge gap for younger employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/how-to-bridge-the-health-insurance-knowledge-gap-for-younger-employees


Just 28% of Americans expect to return to the workplace before 2021

According to a recent study from a Conference Board Survey, only 28 percent of Americans expect that they can return to the workplace before the year 2021. Although that percentage has increased, many are still uneasy about the idea of returning to public spaces. Read this blog post to learn more.


Just 28% of Americans say they already have or expect to return to workplaces before the end of the year, indicating the coronavirus pandemic is making remote work more mainstream, a Conference Board survey showed Thursday.

Nearly one-third of respondents said they would be uncomfortable getting back to offices, shops and factories, while half said their greatest concern was contracting the disease at work, according to the Sept. 16-25 online survey of more than 1,100 workers. Only 17% of employees said they were very comfortable or even wanted to return.

The coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., with 34 states recording higher seven-day averages of new cases compared with a month ago. While progress is being made on a vaccine, it will be months before it’s available to the general public. Even when it is ready, the Conference Board’s survey showed just 7% expect a return to their workplace.

“For knowledge workers and others where remote working is an option, you’re going to see more of a remote or hybrid working arrangement become the standard way,” said Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital at the Conference Board.

A cultural shift to working from home and the pause or stop in business reopenings have upended the commercial real estate market. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren warned that a resurgence in the virus could lead to troubles in the financial sector via commerical real estate.

The “commercial real estate sector is going to be impacted in the long term as we now need much less space for offices, retail, and probably higher education,” said Gad Levanon, head of the Conference Board Labor Markets Institute.

The Conference Board’s survey echoed with a recent poll of company executives by Cisco Systems. More than half plan to downsize their offices as remote working will become commonplace after the pandemic subsides, according to the Cisco survey.

The Conference Board survey also showed that lower-ranking employees are more concerned about returning. Some 20% of rank-and-file workers and 21% of front-line managers indicated they feel pressure to return in order to keep their jobs, compared with just 4% of executives. Individual contributors are also the least comfortable coming back to job sites.

Some 29% of respondents said they had little faith that their colleagues would adhere to safety protocols and guidelines upon return. One-third questioned the wisdom of going back to workplaces because they said productivity has remained high when working remotely, the survey showed.

SOURCE: Ren, H. (15 October 2020) "Just 28% of Americans expect to return to the workplace before 2021" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/just-28-of-americans-expect-to-return-to-the-workplace-before-2021