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


6 ways technology changed the workplace in 2020

Without technology, working remotely during a global pandemic wouldn’t have been possible. But it also helped employers overcome unforeseen obstacles created by this new reality.

To help maintain social distancing, 42% of the U.S. workforce has been working from home, according to a study conducted by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. While working remotely has helped quell the spread of COVID, it’s caused new challenges for the workforce: balancing work while caring for children or the elderly, deteriorating mental health, lack of opportunities to network — the list goes on.

Despite the promising news of vaccines pointing to changes in 2021, remote work is here to stay. Employers including Dropbox and Wikimedia Foundation have all announced options for employees to work from home permanently, and Wells Fargo and Apple have extended remote work until the summer.

 Professional training and coaching:

BetterUp, a mobile-based professional coaching platform, is teaming up with NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, in its first partnership with government agencies to provide their employees with personalized professional coaching.

In the coming months, the FAA and NASA will roll out BetterUp’s professional coaching to supervisors and executives. At the individual level, employees will gain unlimited access to one-on-one professional coaching, accessible via any computer or smartphone. Employees will have access to a digital library that includes thousands of resources designed to reinforce coaching session topics.

“Our evidence-based coaching approach has been linked to significant behavioral gains in areas such as resilience, strategic planning, stress reduction, and the ability to lead teams,” says Alexi Robichaux, CEO and co-founder of BetterUp. “Our goal with NASA and the FAA is to serve as a tool that will enable employees to better thrive as individuals and inspire others as leaders.”

 Telehealth:

Catapult Health launches new virtual program to improve access to preventive care
As the pandemic has triggered delays in both preventive and elective care, employers are turning to telehealth services to keep their workforce healthy and happy, and prevent the development of chronic disease.

Catapult Health, a provider of onsite and virtual preventive healthcare, has launched a new program called VirtualCheckup, through which employers can offer preventive care to their employees and family members anytime and anywhere.

“Over the past months, people are kicking the can on their chronic conditions,” says David Michel, CEO of Catapult Health. “Individuals that we're seeing now have not been to their doctors in several months. They've been scared to go. So we’re able to reach people where they are in this critical time and offer a solution that's very thorough and very simple for them to do.”

 Recruiting:

Gamifying training, onboarding can help boost engagement for Gen Z
As young workers get more technologically advanced and the workforce continues to embrace remote work, training and onboarding processes are vital for getting employees up to speed. But 38% of HR professionals say that remote onboarding is harder than in-person onboarding, and only 9% say that it is easier, according to a recent survey by the HR Certification Institute and MindEdge Learning.

With remote work here to stay for the foreseeable future, tech will play an increasingly large role, says Matt Fairhurst, CEO of Skedulo, a software and workforce management company.

“It’s about how to come up with and quickly implement really interesting technologies that help encourage the connectedness and engagement of employees,” Fairhurst says. “Not as a method of discipline, but simply as a way to lean into the expectations that remote workforces have — which is an incredible desire for engagement and connectivity across the organization.”

 Virtual mental health care:

With stress, anxiety and burnout on the rise, employers are seeking new ways to support workers struggling with poor mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lyra Health, a mental benefits provider, is adding the Calm app to their benefit offerings to help manage the added stress. Over 1.5 million employees will have access to the popular resiliency training app, as the new partnership expands mental health support to employees who may be resistant to more traditional modes of therapy.

“The urgency has never been greater than it is now to provide holistic mental health services,” says Joe Grasso, clinical director of partnerships at Lyra Health. “It's a way to support people who maybe aren't ready to engage in therapy but want to dip their toe into some kind of wellness support.”

 Workplace safety:

New tool tracks COVID-19 geographical risk to pinpoint when employees can return to work
As new COVID-19 hotspots continue to pop up across the country, employers may be hesitant or unsure of how to proceed with potential reopening plans.

Health Advocate, a provider of health advocacy, navigation, well-being and integrated benefits programs, has launched a return-to-work solution called Return Navigator to help employers understand the critical components of how and when to return.

“For organizations planning the transition back to the workplace, safety and health are top priorities. However, it is challenging to determine the right timing and approach to have employees return,” says Arthur Leibowitz, chief medical officer and founder at Health Advocate. “By combining these valuable tools, employers can make more informed decisions about developing and implementing their return-to-work strategy.”

SOURCE: Webster, K. (23 December 2020) "6 ways technology changed the workplace in 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/6-ways-technology-changed-the-workplace-in-2020


Zoom meeting fatigue: How to maintain productivity in the grind of WFH

Let’s face it: like everything else COVID-19, many leaders, their team members and clients are a little sick of Zoom meetings. What started as a useful tool — with a little bit of novelty — has now become yet another reminder of the grind that is just one part of the coronavirus pandemic.

The somber reality for many is that working-from-home will remain a reality for at least another three-to-six months. The very real challenge for leaders in small and large companies alike is keeping our work teams and clients engaged in what seems like an endless remote working model.

While there are many perks to working remote (no one misses commuting), what is lost is the physical connection needed to foster relationships among team members and clients. We have all come to recognize that those in-person meetings or deskside chats really did bring something important to a productive workplace.

Plus, mental health professionals have found that a lack of physical connection with co-workers can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnectedness. These psychological stressors can negatively impact team performance or a client relationship.

It is critically important that leaders recognize and find creative ways to overcome the not-so-virtual burnout to engage effectively with colleagues and customers, while also remaining productive. Here are just a few ways to foster personal connections and maintain workplace energy that are essential keys to overall business success.

  • Recreate your standing videoconference. Still running off the same meeting agenda and structure that has been in place since last March and April? It’s time to retool the meeting and, literally, flip the agenda. Rotate meeting facilitators among team members. Incorporate some comic-relief like a video of the week or a rotating share of childhood photos or “hair fails.” Changes can bring a fresh mindset when serious work is discussed.
  • Schedule meetings that aren’t strictly about business. When we all worked in the office, we found time for breaks – whether that was the occasional pizza lunch, happy hour or just a conversation in the hall. So, schedule occasional meetings that have nothing to do with work, but instead focus on developing relationships and camaraderie by playing games such as Scattergories. Bring teams and customers together who share interests in movies, music, hobbies, outdoor activities or sports to compete for prizes – this can go a long way toward strengthening connections.
  • Bring back the deskside check-in. Not all meetings are created equal. While many organizations have successfully transitioned to virtual meetings, it has come at the expense of quick conversations in the kitchen or casual stopping by a client’s office. Bring this back with 10-minute one-on-one check-ins on a singular topic at least once a week. And don’t limit it to business matters only – the sky’s the limit on what you and a colleague can chat about!
  • Bring back the phone call. It can be easy to unconsciously power through the day with little-to-no personal contact other than emails or text messages. Engaged managers should set aside time daily and weekly to reach out and connect with teammates and clients with a simple phone call. They don’t have to be long – they should also sincerely ask this question: “how are you and how can I help?” This keeps the lines of communication open and demonstrates to team members and clients that their interests remain top of mind.
  • Set virtual “office hours.” Professors regularly hold office hours where students are able to stop by to ask questions about an upcoming exam or a specific assignment. Why can’t a similar concept apply to the workplace? Hosting regular “office hours,” where clients and team members know they can pop into a Zoom room or chat via phone, eliminates confusion and boosts overall engagement. It also helps brokers continue to build out their business pipeline, especially as open enrollment season comes to a close.

The work-from-home environment isn’t going away any time soon — in fact, it may not be until the second or third quarter of 2021 before a sense of normalcy reenters the corporate world. Until then, it’s important that brokers do everything they can to foster engagement with team members and clients. It is a number-one priority for any top-performing team and broker.

SOURCE: Word, J. (28 December 2020) "Zoom meeting fatigue: How to maintain productivity in the grind of WFH' (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/zoom-meeting-fatigue-how-to-maintain-productivity-in-the-grind-of-wfh


The top tool for retaining your working parent population

When Allison Whalen returned to her job following her first maternity leave in 2017, she felt “completely overwhelmed” by the lack of supportive resources available to guide her through the leave and return-to-work process.

“I ended up getting through that first three months back at work and I realized there were about 50 things that I wish someone had told me before I'd even been on leave,” says Whalen.

Whalen says she felt lost in understanding how much child care she would need before and after returning to the office, and felt left behind on her professional development.

After returning to work for a previous employer, Whalen knew something needed to change for working parents going out and coming back from leave. She started Parentaly a parental leave benefits company, in order to help employers streamline the process of getting new parents back to work.

Parentaly provides companies and workers with tools, coaching and resources that help working parents navigate the before and after of parental leave, without sacrificing their career and helping the organization retain its talent.

These benefits became even more critical during the pandemic. Whalen herself experienced her second maternity leave this summer, and having a plan for how she would navigate this time helped her stay productive. Remote work due to COVID was an added bonus for both her and her spouse, she says.

“My second maternity leave was a way better experience because I had made a plan that around six weeks postpartum, I wanted to start spending about two to four hours a week doing work,” Whalen says. “That was possible because [my husband] wasn’t commuting and he had breaks in between meetings where he could take a walk [with the baby]. We could plan because he was there.”

While the pandemic has been a huge challenge for working parents, more flexible work arrangements have actually been beneficial to their overall productivity. Thirty percent of the working parents reported an increase in productivity during the pandemic, according to research from Rutgers University. Overall, 94% of employers say that even with employees working remotely, productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, according to Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm.

But flexible scheduling is just one part of the puzzle for employers wanting to support working parents. Companies that invest in employees and their families with benefits prioritizing their unique challenges see 5.5 times more revenue growth thanks to greater innovation, higher talent retention and increased productivity, according to research by Great Places to Work and Maven Clinic, a health services provider that supports women and families with their fertility, maternity, and pediatrics needs.

“So much of this comes down to productivity,” Whalen says. “[It’s about] how parents teach themselves to improve their productivity and then how the culture of the organization supports that productivity.”

To keep employees engaged and committed to work while juggling their home responsibilities, paid parental leave is a key place to start when employers look to boost their benefits for working parents. Microsoft offered employee parents 12 weeks of paid time off in order to help them deal with COVID-related school closures. PwC also updated its child care benefits to help parents deal with working from home and virtual school.

While workplaces often focus on maternity leave benefits, it’s critical they provide holistic support for parents at every stage of life, says Kate Ryder, founder and CEO of Maven Clinic.

“The best companies really look at parenthood as a journey. It’s not just about the nine months of pregnancy,” she says. “It’s not just maternity, but it’s fertility, return to work coaching [and] finding backup child care.”

As employers look ahead toward 2021, it’s critical they continue leading with empathy and understanding for working parents.

“The experience of being a working parent during COVID has been intensely difficult and stressful,” Whalen says. “I am hopeful that this experience will result in some major improvements in the longer term for me, namely a reduction in volume and duration of work travel, increased flexibility to work from home, and improved child care benefits.”

Whalen plans to encourage every employer she works with to provide more paid leave and greater flexibility and support when it comes to re-onboarding working parents coming back from leave. These actions now will benefit companies in the long-run.

“COVID has highlighted the importance of focusing on productivity over activity and so we are doing a lot of work focusing on how to work smarter, not harder,” Whalen says. “The companies that will come out on top over the next one to two years are the ones that will continue to invest in developing and retaining top talent during and through this pandemic.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (22 December 2020) "The top tool for retaining your working parent population" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/parental-leave-and-other-family-planning-benefits-will-be-a-key-investment-in-2021


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


5 tips for a work-from-home holiday

Unfortunately, this holiday season will not offer a respite from the pandemic. Vaccination and a return to normalcy are on the horizon, but they won’t arrive before the end of the year. In fact, the cold temperatures and increase in travel during the holidays are forcing experts to urge caution and predict the worst. Under these circumstances, holiday work gatherings are foolish and even keeping the office open feels unwise. That doesn’t mean, though, you have to shut down the holiday spirit.

You already have the tech in place for a remote holiday experience. You’ve gotten used to Zoom, even if you’re not in love with it. When you know how to lead in a work-from-home environment, emceeing a party is no biggie. Is it as fun as a party in the flesh? Probably not, but it can still be fun all the same. Here are a few tips to ensure you do just that.

Prioritize safety

This tip is a no-brainer if there ever was one. The advice from experts is clear: You should not host an in-person gathering for your holiday party. It’s just that simple. As Thanksgiving showed, some people simply cannot resist getting together with their families during this time of year. While you won’t be able to enforce prudence in your team member’s personal lives, you can surely do so when it comes to company parties. No matter how much you love your annual gathering, no matter how much you’ve been looking forward to it, you just can’t have it as you normally would.

Keep mandatory events brief

At this point, we all know how real Zoom fatigue is. It’s one thing when we have to stay in meetings all day for work purposes. However, making people wait on-screen for hours during optional activities is akin to cruel and unusual punishment. To avoid this fate, front-load important games, events, and announcements on the party schedule. Over time, the party should get more formless, allowing people an easy escape if they don’t want to hang out for too long. In other words, don’t make it like a wedding where everyone needs to wait four hours between the ceremony and the food.

Prioritize interactivity

There are a whole host of ways to bring partygoers together across physical space. From games that work well over Zoom to sending cocktail kits to your team, there’s a method of group interaction that will delight your team members. I would recommend not doing anything that’s too onerous on the team members themselves. For example, it’s better for you to send gifts to the team than to try to organize a virtual Yankee Swap. The latter may be a good idea in theory, but it will run into snags if everyone fails to mail their gifts on time. You’ll find more success if you handle that stuff yourself. Also, don’t forget to tell team members to expect a piece of mail, lest they open it before the party and ruin the surprise.

Consider alternative ways to say thanks

One upshot of not having an in-person party is that you’ll save a ton of money. Consider doing something with this to benefit your team and community. Maybe you want to make a charitable donation on behalf of your firm. Perhaps you’d like to offer some precious extra time off to the folks who’ve given their all during an incredibly difficult year. Whatever route you choose, these gestures will surely make a real difference in people’s lives.

Keep the spirit alive

The holidays, we’re often told, are defined by the spirit of generosity and warmth more than by any event or gift. This year will put that maxim to the test unlike any other. Sure, things look a little differently this year, but we can all adapt, overcome, and still partake in the most wonderful time of year.

SOURCE: Vetter, A. (16 December 2020) "5 tips for a work-from-home holiday" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/5-tips-for-a-work-from-home-holiday


5 ways HR can help millennials be smarter than their parents about retirement

Getting younger employees to save for retirement is right up there with getting a finicky child to eat their vegetables. Sure, it's good for them, but it's not always what they want.

Participation rates and average deferral rates in voluntary enrollment plans for workers younger than 35 are well below those of other age groups, indicating that HR teams may need to take extra steps to reach this segment of their employee base, according to data from Vanguard, a leading 401(k) provider.

HR professionals are uniquely positioned to best assist younger workers. The best tack for HR experts to take with millennials in regard to retirement saving is to point out some of the mistakes their parents' generation has made in that area.

Help employees understand the destination
When it comes to saving for retirement, a lot of older workers are clearly lost. Younger workers have an opportunity to do a better job of staying on track.

Vanguard’s data show the average 401(k) participant within 10 years of retirement age (i.e., between ages 55 and 64) has a plan balance of just $69,097.

That may not provide much help over a retirement of 10 or 20 years.

Caution young staff members that one reason older workers are so badly behind in retirement saving is that they haven't checked first to see where they're going.

A MoneyRates retirement plan survey finds that 71% of workers within 20 years of retirement age still have not done a calculation of how well their savings will hold up over their retirement years.

Encourage your workforce to determine what enough savings is. Inform your staff that it only takes a few minutes to use a retirement calculator to see how much to put aside to meet savings goals. That way, your employees will know where their retirement plan is heading.

Educate employees on how to get debt under control
Saving for retirement is undermined when employees are also building up debt at the same time.

Stress that debt costs more than retirement investments are likely to earn, a dollar in debt can more than counteract the benefit of a dollar in savings.

According to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, the typical household still has $69,000 in debt by the time the head of that household is within 10 years of retirement.

Notice that this figure almost exactly matches the previously-mentioned amount that the average 401(k) participant in that age group has. In other words, debt can effectively wipe out a person's 401(k) savings.

So, your team’s first step toward educating workers about building a more secure retirement should be to do something many in their parents' generation failed to do: get debt under control.

Teach employees how to spread savings to make the burden lighter
Retirement saving is a big job, but younger workers have something very important on their side: time. Emphasize that spreading retirement savings out over 25 to 40 years makes the job much easier.

It gets tougher if young workers do what many of their parents' generation have done--wait and then try to catch up in the last ten years or so until retirement.

The golden rule: Don't leave free money on the table
When employers provide a 401(k) match, all staff should understand there's a direct financial incentive to start saving now. Every time employees put money into their 401(k) plan, the employer kicks in some on their behalf.

If employees don't contribute money into the plan, they don't get this money from the employer. There's no going back in future years and reclaiming that extra money the employer would have put in on the worker’s behalf.

The only way not to miss out on this free money is to contribute each and every year— and to contribute enough to get the maximum employer match available.

Show employees the benefits of saving
A dollar saved today can equal $10 at retirement age.

Saving money is hard work, but HR professionals can show their employees that it gets easier when they let their investments do the work for them.

The investment returns earned become much more powerful when compounded over a long period of time. Compounding means earning a return not just on the original money invested, but also on the returns earned in other years.

Younger workers must recognize that a dollar invested today could be worth much more than a dollar invested toward the end of their career.

There are many people of older generations who would be a lot better off today if they absorbed each of these five lessons when they were younger.

SOURCE: Barrington, R. (14 October 2020) "5 ways HR can help millennials be smarter than their parents about retirement" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/ways-hr-can-help-millennials-be-smarter-than-their-parents-about-retirement


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


How benefit advisers can hold healthcare plans accountable for their prices

Brokers and consultants already know that much of the growth in health benefit costs is not driven by insurer and TPA rate increases, but rather by the increase in the price and volume of healthcare services. While some of these costs are due to growing survivability rates for serious diseases and therapeutic improvements, much are avoidable, such as expenses associated with unnecessary care and unnecessarily expensive care. Evidence of variability of costs is found in the fact that unit cost and utilization can vary wildly from health system to health system, even within the same market.

Read more: 4 drivers of healthcare costs — and what advisers should do

Just because macro healthcare economics is the primary driver of overall health costs, doesn’t mean that health plans are powerless to control price increases. Even though health plans can and do negotiate rates directly with health systems in their networks, too often they don’t do everything they can to offer exceptional value to their customers. They don’t ask the right questions of health systems, they don’t practice thorough utilization management, and they don’t contract exclusively with providers who focus on high-value care. In other words, they don’t work hard enough to eliminate unnecessary costs or to bring prices down. Instead, they treat them as a given and pass those costs on to their customers.

Too often, benefit advisers take the whole healthcare market as a given, especially due to the popularity of broad preferred provider organization (PPO) networks, which include almost every system in an area. But the reality is that economics vary dramatically from system to system, so employee benefit advisors need to understand local economics in order to effectively evaluate network differences and find value. They can do this by:

  • Heavily and skeptically questioning carriers and TPAs to understand their networks and participating providers. Examples of questions to ask include: Tell me your opinion about different health systems in your network? How much do negotiated fees vary for outpatient services, professional services, etc.? Why is a specific expensive provider part of your narrow / high-performance network?

It’s also important to ask when a contract with a specific health system is up and if it will be renegotiated soon, since a new contract could include very different rates from the current one. Note that some of the time, carriers will discuss rates as a function of Medicare, but because Medicare DRG rates can vary dramatically from hospital to hospital, an adviser needs to understand Medicare base rates.

  • Analyzing claims. Every adviser has plenty of these available to them, and they should be analyzing those claims to determine which providers are lower cost and which are higher cost. In particular, it’s important to look at outpatient rates, facility rates, and professional rates, by specialty. It’s also important to compare the same diagnosis codes across providers. For example, claims could reveal that a hypothetical Dr. Jones operates on 100 patients out of 100, while a hypothetical Dr. Smith operates on only 50 patients out of 100 with the same condition. To figure out why this discrepancy exists, we would have to dig deeper since some doctors or practices may cater to only high-risk patients. Claim data can help shed light on health plan information that is not typically available to the public as health plan rates are often proprietary but appear on claims.

Taking all of these steps will help benefit advisers achieve something essential: holding health plans accountable for their prices. If a health plan doesn’t aggressively hunt for high value providers and reward them, you should ask why. And if you don’t like their answer, you probably identified a plan that isn’t a good fit for your clients because it doesn’t deliver on what matters most: quality care offered at an affordable price without compromising coverage.

SOURCE: Cohen, A. (04 November 2020) "How benefit advisers can hold healthcare plans accountable for their prices" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-benefit-advisers-can-hold-healthcare-plans-accountable-for-their-prices


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