Employees want year-round benefits instead of holiday parties

Are employees willing to trade holiday celebrations for better benefits? According to research from Reward Gateway, more than half of employees would skip the parties and celebrations for rewards and bonuses. Read the following blog post from Employee Benefit News for more information.


Tis’ the season to head to the holiday party and celebrate with coworkers, but more employees are willing to swap the festivities for better benefits and year-long recognition from their employers.

More than half of employees would skip the holiday party if it meant rewards and recognition throughout the year, according to a new survey by Reward Gateway, an employee engagement platform. Additionally, 58% of recent graduates said they would give up an end-of-year bonus for more frequent rewards.

“Being the holiday season, all parts of the workforce are trying to prioritize their flexibility and collaboration and their shared purpose,” says Robert Hicks, group HR director at Reward Gateway. “Employers could do more, and there is a growing trend of more frequent benefits that align to your purpose, mission and values.”

The office holiday party has long been a mainstay of work culture, and 76% of companies plan to throw a party in 2019, up 11% from last year. Additionally, 24% of companies plan to give performance-based bonuses to select employees, while just 9.6% plan to give bonuses to all employees, according to a survey from recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Employees are seeking value in a culture of recognition throughout the year instead, and want more consistent collaboration and communication with employers. Going hand-in-hand with that sentiment is financial assistance through their benefits offerings.

“This can come in two core ways, the first being perks that can help you reduce your overall spending.” Hicks says. “Employees are also looking for a really strong recognition culture, and on top of that, adding in financial rewards throughout the year.”

With unemployment at a 50-year low, the quest to attract and retain top talent should push employers to encourage a workplace that doesn’t just celebrate successes once a year.

“Everybody knows it’s a really competitive market place, and your number one response needs to be what can we do to be a really great workplace for people to stay and for people to join,” Hicks says. “Organizations that prioritize listening to their people and delivering continuous rewards and recognition can create an environment where employees are more engaged and excited about where they work all year — not just during the holidays.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (13 December 2019) "Employees want year-round benefits instead of holiday parties" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employees-want-year-round-benefits-instead-of-holiday-parties


Tech tools underused for workplace engagement: survey

Did you know: Only 45 percent of employers use technology to improve employee engagement, according to a survey of HR professionals. Read the following blog post to learn more about using technology to enhance workplace engagement.


Just 45% of employers are using technology to improve employee engagement, according to a new survey of thousands of HR professionals in organizations of varying sizes.

The research finding comes from the Next Concept Human Resource Association (NCHRA) and Waggl, a real-time engagement platform. HR tech industry professionals weighed in on the topic at the HR TechXpo 2019 and others as part of the latest “Voice of the Workplace” pulse survey.

Of those respondents, 92% said they would like to create a strong internal culture that affects results. In addition, 81% believed that investing in people-focused programs and skills such as onboarding, performance and employee engagement would help increase revenues and profit margins.

Lisa Hickey, VP of professional development at NCHRA, was “a bit surprised” that only 45% of her group’s members reported that their organizations are using technology to improve employee engagement in the face of business volatility and a tight labor market.

NCHRA and Waggl, both based in the San Francisco Bay Area, also distilled into a ranked list crowdsourced responses to a survey question about social media and gamification platforms as tools to increase employee engagement.

Several caveats were expressed. One HR leader, for example, cautioned that they need to be tied to the type of company and demographics, as well as the extent to which employees are willing to embrace change. Another respondent said it’s important that gamification not be “viewed as a nuisance and a distraction from accomplishing job tasks.”

The bottom line is that giving employees an opportunity to help shape their organization’s culture, experience, vision and execution enables them to “feel more connected to the workplace and empowered to drive change,” according to Alex Kinnebrew, chief marketing officer and head of growth strategy for Waggl.

Benefit brokers and advisers can play a critical role in helping their employer clients bridge the technology gap when it comes to improving employee engagement, Hickey believes. “From designing an offering that represents company goals to securing the best technology to administer the program, brokers are guiding you every step of the way and also helping utilize technology beyond benefits administration that delivers more services and solutions for the company,” she says.

Founded in 1960, NCHRA is the nation’s second-largest HR association — serving more than 30,000 professionals in 23 states and several countries and showcasing more than 100 annual educational events.

Waggl’s Employee Voice platform examines critical business topics that include culture, experience, vision and execution. The company’s management team includes executives from Glassdoor, SuccessFactors and Coupa. Customers include Paychex, eBay, City Electric Supply, UCHealth, American Public Media and Freddie Mac.

SOURCE: Shutan, B. (4 December 2019) "Tech tools underused for workplace engagement: survey" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/tech-tools-underused-for-workplace-engagement-survey


A health insurance primer for your employees during Open Enrollment

The end of open enrollment season is quickly approaching. During open enrollment, employees have the chance to choose a benefits plan or change from the plan they currently have. Read this blog post for a few things employees should consider when choosing a plan.


Now is the time to choose the best health plan for you and your family. During open enrollment season, employers and the Health Insurance Marketplace (or Exchange) let you choose a plan or change from the plan you have. Making the right choice can impact your health and your wallet.

Even if your current coverage seems satisfactory, your employer or the Exchange may offer new options that better suit your needs. It is important to compare costs and to understand differences in benefits, networks and other rules. In some states, plans available outside the official Marketplace offer attractive, low premiums but may have dollar limits on benefits, or may not provide coverage for childbirth, mental health and other services mandatory for plans that qualify under the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA” or “Obamacare”). Review and compare such plans’ terms carefully.

The time for your decision is limited. Employers generally provide a month or more to make your selection. Open enrollment for the federal Marketplace runs only from November 1, 2019, to December 15, 2019. Exceptions may be made for life changes like the birth of a child or loss of coverage under a spouse’s plan, but if you miss open enrollment season, you will probably have to wait another year to enroll. Here are some things to think about when choosing a plan.

Costs

The first cost to consider is the premium — the payment, usually monthly, to maintain coverage. If you get your plan through your job, your employer may pay all or part of the premium. If you choose a Marketplace plan, you may qualify for a premium tax credit to reduce the premium.

Other insurance costs are known as cost sharing, because you share the cost of care with your plan. They may take the form of a copay (a fixed dollar amount for each service), coinsurance (a set percentage of the cost of a service) or a deductible (the amount you must pay before your plan starts paying for services). If you select a Marketplace plan, you may qualify for cost-sharing reductions to lower those expenses.

In principle, it would be nice if all the costs were as low as possible. But usually, low-cost sharing comes with a high premium. High-deductible health plans may offer lower premiums but you will pay more out-of-pocket before your insurance pays anything.

In shopping for a health plan, consider how high a premium you are willing to pay for the level of cost sharing you would like. For example, if you or a family member have a chronic illness, you may need regular treatment and may be at risk for hospitalization. In that case, you may be willing to pay a higher premium for low-cost sharing. But if you are a healthy, young, single adult who rarely sees a doctor, you might accept a high deductible in exchange for a low premium.

Bear in mind that if you have a high-deductible health plan, you might be eligible to set up a health savings account (HSA). An HSA provides tax savings that stretch the dollars you contribute to the account to help pay for qualified medical expenses.

Choice of Doctors

If you like your current doctors and want to keep seeing them, make sure they and their facilities belong to the network of providers who have contracted with the plan you are considering. Check the plan’s online provider directory to make sure those doctors and their facilities are listed in its network. Even if you do not have a regular doctor, make sure the network includes providers close to where you live and work.

If you want to choose freely among many providers, a plan with a broad network might be for you. That may be more expensive than a plan with a narrow network, which may cost less but has a more limited choice of providers.

Out-of-Network Coverage

As good as a plan’s network might be, you may still wish to consult providers outside the network from time to time. If so, consider a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or Point of Service (POS) plan; each provides out-of-network benefits. With such plans, you will still spend more for out-of-network than in-network care, but at least you will have some coverage. Two other types of plans, Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO), typically will not pay for out-of-network care except for emergencies.

Who’s in Charge of Your Care?

In HMO and POS plans, you choose a primary care physician (PCP) who acts as a form of “gatekeeper” for your care. Unless it is an emergency, when you need medical treatment, you go to the PCP first. The PCP either treats you personally or refers you to specialists in your network. If you like having a PCP’s guidance, this arrangement might work for you. But if you prefer choosing specialists directly, you might opt for a PPO or EPO.

ACA-Compliant versus Association and Short-Term Plans

Whatever plan you choose, it is important to consider whether it covers all the types of healthcare you might need and whether it limits the dollar amount of your coverage. Plans that comply with the ACA are comprehensive because they have to cover 10 essential health benefits. Short-term, limited-duration (STLD) health plans, do not have to cover all those benefits. They may, for example, not cover childbirth, mental health or prescription drugs. If you end up needing care that is not covered, you will have to pay the whole cost yourself.

AHPs and STLD plans differ from ACA-compliant plans in other ways. For example, STLD plans can impose annual or lifetime dollar limits on coverage. If your care costs more than those limits, you have to pay the excess amount.

SOURCE: Gelburd, R. (5 December 2019) "A health insurance primer for your employees during Open Enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/a-health-insurance-primer-for-your-employees-during-open-enrollment


Why employers should consider adding volunteer time off benefits

Employers are being pushed to become savvier with social responsibility causes and their benefit offerings with the strong job market. This is giving rise to volunteer time off benefits. Read this blog post from Employee Benefits News for more on why employers should consider adding volunteer time off benefits.


The strong job market is pushing employers to become more savvy about socially responsible causes. This is giving rise to volunteer time off benefits as one popular strategy for employers seeking unique ways to attract and retain talent.

Indeed, 65% of companies offered paid time volunteer programs in 2018, according to data from the organization Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose, which looks to help companies transform their social strategy. That figure represents a 4% rise from 2017.

Organizations that offer employees paid days off to volunteer their time and support the nonprofit causes they care about are going to be more attractive to job seekers.

“Offering VTO as a benefit for employees is one of the best ways to engage employees with their local communities through volunteering and donations,” says Jeff Fraley, vice president of corporate engagement at United Way of the National Capital Area, an organization that provides relief of social problems affecting the community. “It encourages employees to participate in social good and helps to foster meaningful relationships within a community and the company itself.”

About 75% of millennials expect their employer to participate in social good, either with donations or through volunteering, according to a Glassdoor survey. Additionally, 51% of workers expect their employers to allocate work time and resources for their employees to volunteer for social causes.

United Way took a look at VTO benefits across the country in an effort to better understand these programs from an employer/employee perspective. The survey looked at the demographics of 49 large U.S. companies that offer VTO in order to get a sense of the types of workplaces offering this benefit. What it found was that the majority of companies that offer VTO are headquartered in New York, and in or around Silicon Valley.

Additionally, of the 49 companies studied, 12 were in the professional services industry, 12 were in the information technology industry, and nine companies were in the financial services and insurance industries. The survey also uncovered that the maximum number of volunteer hours offered per year to each employee is 20 hours, which amounts to about two and a half days of volunteer time off.

If the company with the largest revenue headquartered in each state implemented one day of VTO, the projection of total volunteer hours in the U.S. would be over 75 million hours, or nine million days, according to United Way. It would cost companies, on average, $27.4 million to implement an annual eight hour VTO policy.

“VTO is just one option if you're looking to expand your impact in the community,” Fraley says. “An employer can also sponsor a nonprofit, match employee donations, or other philanthropic initiatives. What’s important is to think about some sort of incorporation of corporate social responsibility as we're seeing that it's an increasingly important criterion of employers for millennials.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (2 December 2019) "Why employers should consider adding volunteer time off benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/why-employers-should-consider-adding-volunteer-time-off-benefits


IRA spousal contributions can mitigate the high cost of women’s work breaks in retirement plans

According to a November 2018 study, women who took a year off from work in a 15-year period had 39 percent lower average annual earnings than women who worked continuously through that time. Read this blog post for more on how spousal contributions can mitigate the high cost of work breaks in retirement plans.


Women employees face special retirement savings challenges compared with their male counterparts. On average, they earn less and log fewer years of earned income compared to men. That’s because, in part, because women take multiple breaks from work, turn down work or decline promotions because of family care obligations.

The cost of a career break can be high. A November 2018 study by the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women who took just one year off from work in a 15-year period had 39% lower average annual earnings than women who worked continuously through that time. The study also showed that the number of women taking at least one year off of work during a 15-year period was nearly twice the rate of men — 43% of women compared to 23% of men.

As a result, women are less likely to set aside money in a savings arrangement or to contribute to an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Spousal advantage

Married women (and men) who take work breaks may stay on track with their retirement savings goals by making IRA (traditional or Roth) contributions based on their working spouse’s income — if they meet these requirements.

  • The couple must file a joint federal income tax return
  • The working spouse must have enough earned income to make any IRA contributions on behalf of the nonworking spouse, or, if both spouses are contributing, enough income to support both spouses’ contributions
  • Assuming enough earned income, each spouse can contribute up to $6,000 (plus $1,000 if turning age 50) for 2019. This limit applies to traditional and Roth IRA contributions combined
  • The spouse receiving a traditional IRA contribution must be under age 70 ½ for the entire year
  • To be eligible for Roth IRA contributions, the couple must also satisfy income requirements.

Roth IRA income restrictions

The amount that an individual is eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA depends on the amount of the couple’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). If the couple’s joint MAGI for a tax year is less than the IRS phase-out range, each spouse can make the maximum Roth IRA contribution allowed for that tax year (assuming enough MAGI to support both spouse’s contributions). If it’s above the phase-out range, neither spouse is eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA. Keep in mind that they could still contribute to a traditional IRA, if under age 70 ½. If the couple’s joint MAGI falls within the phase-out range, their maximum contribution amount is reduced. The MAGI phase-out range is subject to cost-of-living adjustments each year.

Traditional IRA income tax deductions

Note that separate MAGI phase-out ranges apply to traditional IRA contribution deductions — another way for non-working married individuals to potentially benefit when saving for retirement with an IRA. The ability to take a federal income tax deduction for a traditional IRA contribution — if eligible — appeals to many savers. But deduction eligibility depends on whether either spouse is an “active participant” in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. An active participant is generally making or receiving contributions to her retirement plan accounts for the applicable year. Because active participants have access to a workplace retirement plan, the IRS uses its MAGI to determine whether each spouse can take a full deduction, a partial deduction or no deduction at all.

No minimum required

Regardless of which IRA a couple chooses to, the main thing is to contribute — even if it’s a small amount. There is no minimum amount that must be contributed to either type of IRA. Couples can contribute whatever they’re comfortable with, up to the previously described limit. For those concerned about not having enough to set aside in an IRA during a career break, contributing even just $500 or $1,000 for the year will still make a difference.

It certainly beats not saving at all.

SOURCE: Van Zomeren, B. (9 December 2019) "IRA spousal contributions can mitigate the high cost of women’s work breaks in retirement plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/ira-spousal-contributions-can-mitigate-cost-of-womens-work-breaks-in-retirement


6 steps to enhance your recruiting strategy

According to recent data from PwC, more and more potential employees are turning down job offers because of bad recruitment experiences. Often, when job candidates have a poor experience while applying for a job, they share the details of their encounter with friends, family and social media. Read this blog post for six steps employers can use to enhance their recruitment strategy.


Employers may be contributing to their organization’s bad reputation without even knowing it during the recruiting process

A strong labor market is presenting employees with more options, allowing them to weigh potential employers against each other, and eliminating the need to accept the first offer they get. Unique and inventive recruiting strategies are vital in attracting the right talent to your organization, but more potential employees are turning down job offers because of bad recruiting experiences, according to data from PwC.

Employers can develop some bad habits when it comes to recruiting, like dragging out the process and even ghosting candidates. When potential employees have a poor experience applying for a job with a company, they are going to share the details of that encounter with friends, family and the world at large thanks to social media.

“Job seekers today expect the hiring process to be streamlined, efficient and customized to their personal preferences, with effortless technology and sincere human interactions,” says Bhushan Sethi, a workforce strategy leader at PwC.

However, very few organizations are providing this experience, according to the PwC survey of 10,000 job seekers. Not only can a bad recruiting experience drive candidates away, it can also create lasting damage to an organization’s reputation as an employer.

“Leaders have an opportunity to gain an edge in the battle for talent by delivering a superior recruiting experience to every candidate, even those who don’t receive an offer,” Sethi says.

But there are ways to make a candidate’s recruiting experience more positive, even if they don’t ultimately get an offer. Here are six steps organizations can take to deliver a “first-rate” recruiting experience to potential candidates.

Find a balance between tech and human interaction

The human interactions candidates experience during the recruitment process makes a stronger impression than any digital experience, the survey shows. “Candidates want positive, direct human interaction throughout the recruiting process, whether that’s in person, over the phone or via email,” Sethi says. “Two-thirds of candidates said personalized initial outreach makes them more likely to apply for a position.”

Technology does have an important role to play in the recruiting process. However, recruiting technology is typically designed with the enterprise, not the candidate, in mind, Sethi says. Employers should look to utilize technology that streamlines routine tasks or makes the hiring process easier for job applicants. About 44% of those surveyed by PwC say they’re open to using automation and technology options for routine touchpoints and to get information during the recruiting process. Another 65% said they would like if an organization had an application dashboard so they could track their progress.

Communicate often and keep the process quick

More than half of job seekers (56%) said they would discourage someone else from applying for a job with a company where they had a bad recruiting experience, according to PwC data. A majority of job seekers (92%) said they’ve experienced poor recruiting practices at some point in their career. Candidates pointed out the two most frustrating behaviors by recruiters: dragging out the process by more than a month and recruiters who withdraw communication with no explanation.

“These practices are rampant: 61% of candidates said they’ve simply stopped hearing from an organization during the hiring process,” Sethi says. “And 67% gave up pursuing a role because the recruiting process took too long.”

Ask for social media details

About 50% of job seekers said they’d be willing to share their social media data with potential employers if it helps to determine a better job and organizational fit. Checking out a potential employee’s social media allows HR to understand more about the candidate. But candidates are only willing to share their social media data if the right privacy measures are in place. Recruiters can gain candidate’s trust by being transparent. About 78% of those surveyed by PwC said they expect the recruiting process to be clear on how personal data is used. About 77% of candidates said they wouldn’t apply for a job if they felt their privacy and information wasn’t protected.

Highlight the rewards potential employees most desire

Upskilling, personal flexibility and inclusion are three key aspects of workplace culture that have become more desirable among candidates than salary, according to PWC. Additionally, candidates are willing to give up 11.7% of their salary for more flexibility and training.

Give candidates a way to experience the company’s culture first hand

Today’s candidates are looking for more than a job, the PwC survey notes. They want an employee experience that provides a sense of purpose and pride.

“Culture is so meaningful that 33% of C-suite-level candidates said they’d take a pay cut to work for a mission-driven company that aligns with their ideals,” Sethi says.

It can be challenging for recruiters to provide an accurate sense of a company’s culture. Recruiters can help candidates experience this firsthand by holding networking and other social events.

Always be mindful of your reputation

When candidates have a bad recruiting experience it does more damage than recruiters realize. “It can cause lasting reputational harm and even hurt your chances of hiring the workers who are hardest to find,” Sethi says.

Almost half of candidates (49%) working in high-demand sectors like tech, banking and energy say they would be more likely to turn down a job due to a bad recruiting experience. Of those surveyed by PwC 71% say working for a company with a good reputation as an employer is more important than working for a well-known customer brand.

“That’s good news for small brands jockeying for talent with big-name competitors,” Sethi says. “You can gain an edge by cultivating and promoting a strong, positive reputation. It’s also a call to action for bigger brands: you can’t rely on name alone to attract talent.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (9 December 2019) "6 steps to enhance your recruiting strategy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from 6 steps to enhance your recruiting strategy


Why using a 401(k) to pay for emergencies is hurting employers and employees

More and more employees are withdrawing $1,000 or less from their 401(k) retirement accounts to help pay for emergency expenses according to HR leaders. This trend is causing corporate leaders to become concerned about the financial stress that their employees are living with. Read the following blog post to learn more.


More than ever, HR leaders at Fortune 500 companies are reporting that employees are withdrawing $1,000 or less from their hard-earned 401(k) retirement accounts to pay for emergency expenses. These employees — often living at the brink of being financially unstable — are using the funds for unexpected emergency expenses like car repairs, medical bills or even to purchase books for their college-age children.

Corporate leaders are now, more than ever, concerned that many of their employees live under a high degree of financial stress that can affect their productivity, creativity and even their health, resulting in absenteeism and drops in productivity that ultimately impact the bottom line. HR managers are especially feeling the pain as they are called upon to handle the excessive paperwork needed for the 401(k) plan withdrawals, causing extra work that could be spent more productively on other projects that benefit all employees.

The fact that more Americans than ever are dipping into their 401(k) accounts for emergency funds reveals that many are living above their means or working below their needs financially. While it’s important to have an emergency fund, for many people savings is a luxury they simply can’t afford. According to a Federal Reserve survey, nearly 40 percent of Americans said they don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 expense. The quick fix for many is to use credit cards or ask family or friends for a loan when an emergency arises, but when those are not options, tapping into the 401(k) accounts is becoming increasingly common.

Some companies are partnering with payday loan companies so employees will refrain from tapping into their retirement funds. This is actually a worse idea because they’re setting their employees up to fail by enabling a vicious cycle of debt employees may never be free of.

Financial education could be the key to helping employees gain control of their financial lives. Companies that promote financial literacy courses and attendance at financial seminars or conferences offer the first step toward a better path for future financial stability. Offering or subsidizing the cost of continuing education courses help inspire employees to begin a lifelong journey of education for higher salaries and career advancement. Companies that promote education and career advancement attract, engage and retain employees longer than companies that don’t.

Flexible benefits can help

Companies can help their employees refrain from using their 401(k) retirement accounts as a bank if they offer flexible benefits. Employees get to choose how to use their earned benefits, like utilizing the monetary value of their unused paid time off (PTO) for other priorities such as paying for an emergency expense, paying down student loan debt or funding a vacation, among other things. Companies that offer flexible benefits are giving workers the ability to finally be in the driver’s seat of their careers and lives. When companies empower employees in this way, job satisfaction, productivity and creativity go way up.

Flexible benefits are a no brainer to organizations that want to attract, recruit, engage and retain top talent. Salary isn’t the only factor in determining a good career move, and companies that want to win the talent war will offer some type of flexible benefits. Every employee should have the ability to choose benefits based on their individual needs, avoiding the damaging financial practice of using 401(k) accounts for emergency expenses.

SOURCE: Whalen, R. (25 November 2019) "Why using a 401(k) to pay for emergencies is hurting employers and employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/employees-are-using-401k-funds-for-emergencies


Improving your employee experience during open enrollment

Is your company open enrollment hosted on an online platform? Employers often struggle with employee participation during the open enrollment season. Hosting enrollments online is one way to increase employee participation this year. Read on for more tips to help ease this open enrollment season.d


For HR professionals, open enrollment is one of the most stressful and demanding times of the year. Many employers struggle with employee participation and expensive, time-consuming roll-outs. They also have to provide resources to help employees make the right plan selections for themselves and their families. As we head into another open enrollment season, consider these tips to ease the process.

Switch your open enrollments to online platforms.

If you’re still relying on paper enrollment forms, you are likely spending more money and time than you need to in pursuit of your manual work process and its many inconsistencies. Online platforms provide optimum efficiency, accuracy and convenience for your workforce, offering employee self-service options that encourage employees to take initiative in selecting the best plan for their situation. Not only will members of your workforce benefit from the convenience of being able to explore their options on their own time, but you’ll be able to offer them multi-lingual enrollment materials and have more time to assist them than ever before.

Prioritize and diversify communication.

One of the top ways to ensure a smooth open enrollment period is to use multiple communication channels, including frequent reminders regarding open enrollment deadlines. Without consistent outreach on the part of your HR officers and general managers, you will likely find yourself hunting people down to meet your enrollment and extension deadlines. Using an online self-service portal as well as traditional in-person meetings allow you to remind your employees of critical dates and changes as enrollment closes in.

The robust benefits administration system you choose should offer enrollment tracking and reporting features so you can see at a glance who still needs to begin open enrollment, who has left enrollment documents incomplete, who has made changes to their benefits (such as adding a dependent) and more. You can arrange for the system to send automatic reminders to signal the employee that further actions are needed. Providing multiple reminders will improve participation and the completion of on-time enrollments.

Help employees choose the best health plan for their situation.

In order to have the most successful open enrollment period possible, educating your employees on the different plan options available will go a long towards ensuring employee satisfaction. Studies have shown that most employees don’t have the necessary understanding of terms like “deductible” and “coinsurance,” let alone the tools to know which plan is best for their individual needs. Incorporating at-a-glance comparison tools and charts into your online or print enrollment materials can help employees make the most informed decision possible. It can also be helpful to provide educational materials like videos and simplified plan charts or cost calculators.

Keep Up with Benefit Trends and Voluntary Offerings.

Given the current labor shortage and competitive talent market, you’ll want to make sure your company is up to speed on which new benefits your competitors are looking to add, as well as which ones are appealing to specific roles, locations or generations within potential candidates from your hiring pool.

Voluntary benefits, for example, are playing an increasingly important role in employee benefits portfolios and they don’t cost you anything. Some of the most popular voluntary benefits right now include identity theft protection, pet insurance, long term care insurance and critical illness protection. If you aren’t currently offering these types of additional benefits, they could be a cost-effective way to boost employee morale, increase participation in enrollment and attract more workers to your business.

SOURCE: Smith, M. (2 December 2019) "Improving your employee experience during open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/improving-your-employee-experience-during-open-enrollment


4 Things to Know About Mental Health at Work

Did you know: 80 percent of workers will not seek help for mental health issues because of the associated shame and stigma. Read this blog post from SHRM for four things employees and employers should know about mental health in the workplace.


Kelly Greenwood graduated summa cum laude from Duke University with degrees in psychology and Spanish. She holds a master's degree in business from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, contributes to Forbes magazine and is editor-at-large for Mental Health at Work, a blog on Thrive Global.

She also is someone who has managed generalized anxiety disorder since she was a young girl. It twice led to debilitating depression. During a Smart Stage presentation at the recent Society for Human Resource Management Inclusion 2019 event in New Orleans, she discussed how someone can be a high-performing individual and still contend with mental health issues.

Greenwood had to take a leave of absence after experiencing a perfect storm at work—a new job in an understaffed, dysfunctional environment; an inflexible schedule that caused her to miss therapy sessions; and a change in her medication. When it became clear her performance had deteriorated, she was forced to disclose her condition to her manager.

She took a three-month leave, but that only fueled her anxiety. Still in her 30s, she worried about whether she would be able to return to work and feared her career was over. It wasn't. She went on to join the executive team of a nonprofit and in 2017 founded Mind Share Partners, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that offers corporate training and advising on mental health.

Greenwood shared the following four things she wishes she had known earlier in her life about mental health:

  1. Mental health is a spectrum. "Hardly anybody is 100 percent mentally healthy" all the time, she said. "We all go back and forth on this spectrum throughout the rest of our lives." The grief a person experiences over the loss of a loved one, for example, affects that person's mental health. "You can be successful and have a mental health condition," Greenwood said, noting that a study Mind Share Partner conducted with Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that mental health symptoms are equally prevalent across seniority levels within companies, all the way up to the C-suite.
  2. You cannot tell a person's mental condition by his or her behavior. "It's never your job," she told managers and other workplace leaders, "to diagnose or gather [information] or assume what's going on. Our goal at work is not to be clinicians, but to create a supportive environment."
  3. Mental health conditions and symptoms, including suicidal thoughts, are common. Greenwood said the Mind Share Partners/HBR study found that 60 percent of 1,500 people surveyed online in March and April said they had a mental health symptom: feeling anxious, sad or numb or experiencing a loss of interest or pleasure in most activities for at least two weeks. National Institutes of Health research suggests that up to 80 percent of people will manage a diagnosable mental health condition in their lifetime. "They may not know it," Greenwood said. "It may be a moment in time because of a job loss or grief over a death. That means mental health affects every conference call, every team meeting. It is the next frontier of diversity and inclusion."
  4. Workplace culture can reinforce the stigma around mental health issues. And so, 80 percent of workers will not seek help because of the associated shame and stigma. If they do, they cite a different reason, such as a headache or upset stomach, rather than admit they are taking time off because of stress. That is leading to what Greenwood calls a "huge retention issue," with 50 percent of Millennials and 75 percent of Generation Z saying they left a job—voluntarily and involuntarily—because of a mental health challenge. She advised leaders to have "courageous conversations" with those they work with. Even simply engaging in a discussion about having to deal with a child's tantrum can be powerful.

"There is so much research," she said, "about the power of vulnerability in leadership."

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (12 November 2019) "4 Things to Know About Mental Health at Work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/4-things-to-know-about-mental-health-at-work.aspx


Education benefits are a critical offering to retain top talent

The top reason why employees pursue higher education and training is to keep up with or get ahead of any changes in their specific position, according to a recent survey. Read the following blog post for more on why education benefits are critical when it pertains to retaining top talent.


The American workplace is changing rapidly and so are the expectations workers have of their employers. Under pressure to keep pace with technology’s transformation of the labor market, employers are racing to up- and re-skill their workforce. They know that frontline workers, whose tasks are often most susceptible to automation, need training to remain viable and competitive.

According to this year’s Bright Horizons Working Learning Index, which surveyed more than 30,000 working learners, employees are well aware that their workplace is changing. When asked to select their top three reasons for pursuing more education or training, the most prevalent answer was that they wanted to “keep pace with or get ahead of changes in my position.” This beat out all other reasons, including advancement, opportunities at another organization and even earning more money at work.

Generation Z workers now rank education over all other benefits in importance, excluding healthcare. But they tend to differentiate between education and training, ranking education benefits above training and development.

That’s with good reason: a college degree is still the great lever for economic mobility and career advancement among frontline workers, driving higher lifetime earnings that total more than $2 million, on average. But with college costs rising, Gen Z is looking to employers to fill the gap. About four in ten Gen Z employees believe their tuition reimbursement program is the single best benefit offered by their employer. Twice as many say it is among the top three voluntary benefits.

Among the surveyed workers, three-quarters (76%) say a tuition reimbursement program would make them more likely to remain at their organization, and eight in 10 (81%) say it would make them more likely to recommend working there to a friend. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say such benefits make them “happier at work.”

Indeed, employees of all generations rank education benefits far above those offered for wellness and even above highly coveted benefits like life or disability insurance and paid family leave. In this survey, only retirement savings programs and paid sick or vacation time ranked more highly.

Importantly, nearly half (49%) said they would not have pursued education if their employers did not offer tuition assistance. Slightly more (55%) say the time commitment required for a degree or certification under their employer’s tuition assistance program is the biggest challenge they faced — as a result, many see the value of competency-based and self-paced learning options, often delivered online.

Data like this may change the calculus for employers considering investments in not just upskilling but education. While it may seem counterintuitive, employers must offer their frontline workers broad learning opportunities and educational benefits that can help them move beyond their current positions and pursue the next steps of their careers. Companies must have the foresight to invest in their potential.

SOURCE: Donovan, P. (22 November 2019) "Education benefits are a critical offering to retain top talent" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/offering-education-benefits-retains-top-talent