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


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


4 questions before reopening your office

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, many firms are still up in the air when it comes to office reopenings. As they think about whether (and how) to bring staff back in, there are four major questions to consider.

 What factors are the most important to consider when planning safe returns to the office?

Employers should first familiarize themselves with the CDC recommendations for workplaces and implement those precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As firms are preparing for what safe work will look like on the other side of the pandemic, it will be crucial to go beyond those standard protocols. By thoughtfully reevaluating the configuration of your office space, firms can work to minimize any health risks in shared office environments.

Here are a few ways to do this:
1. Display signage to alert your employees and guests to routinely sanitize their hands, and provide sanitization stations throughout office space.
2. Lower conference and meeting room capacities.
3. Limit the number of chairs in shared spaces and around tables.

In Firmspace’s private offices, we provide daily office cleaning and keep high-touch areas sanitized. This also helps members and staff feel safer at work, and it’s an approach that can be easily replicated.

More importantly, the measures that firms adopt should be part of a normalized routine for the office. By making these practices part of the daily routine, the people at your firm will have the peace of mind they need to focus on work instead of worrying about their safety.

 How can firms gauge what the best work environment is for their employees?

Finding the best work environment for your firm requires ongoing communication to understand what each member of the team needs to be successful.

Executive teams and management need to keep open lines of communication and encourage employees to evaluate what’s working for them and what’s not. When it comes to what workers prefer in their workspace, it’s clear that usually one size doesn’t fit all.

It might seem obvious, but the best way to find out what works best for your employees is through continuous survey and feedback. If you checked in with everyone back in March, it’s time to send out another survey to see how they’re managing.

In each survey it’s important to be direct. Ask each member of the team how they feel about working from home, what challenges they are facing, what they expect from employers if they do decide to return, and whether or not they want to return to the office now or in the future. You should leave room on the survey to write in any specific concerns that the survey didn’t address.

Ultimately, employees need a work environment that helps them get work done, whether that’s remote or in the office. Even if the majority of your team prefers working from home full time, you should still provide flexible options for the workers who prefer operating from an office space, especially if it helps them feel more productive and engaged.

Similarly, you’ll want to make sure that you’re supporting employees who want to work remotely. That might mean reimbursing them for equipment they need. Either way, this will help remote employees feel more comfortable and productive at home.

 How can firms best manage employees in a remote environment to maintain productivity?

Better managing remote teams means taking a holistic look at how your business operates and the kinds of tools your team is using to get work done. While some firms made a smooth transition to remote work, others are scrambling to adapt and find the right ones.

Frequent communication is key. Firms should regularly speak with teams to identify any gaps in business operations, tools, or technology that can’t easily be accessed remotely.

Read more: Best tools to support your remote workforce

Many firms are finding it challenging to work with Zoom and other video conferencing applications in centralized digital workspaces commonly used at accounting firms, like Citrix.

This is partly because compatibility between the systems has never quite been tested and relied upon as it is now. Cloud-based applications like these that allow for communication and collaboration have gone from “nice to have” to “must have” for firms managing remote teams.

Cloud-based services offer enhanced security and allow members of the team to get work done, no matter their physical location. The files on the cloud server are also encrypted and can only be accessed by designated members of the team with a password.

Firms that haven’t implemented remote access and cloud-based technology should strongly consider making the change. Effectively managing remote teams means that leadership needs to provide access to all the resources that support security, privacy, and collaboration for their teams to stay productive.

What factors should firms consider before switching to flexible office space instead of returning to their traditional office to reduce costs?

The decision to remain in your current office or go with flex space depends on the direction of the firm. Even before COVID-19, firms were using flex space as either home base or as a satellite office. COVID has exacerbated this need as firms explore flexible office arrangements, which are much friendlier to unexpected turns in the market.

We are seeing firms take this opportunity to construct a list of office “must-haves” by asking themselves what is the real value of having an office. Some firms will go fully remote or find flex space, some will keep their traditional leased offices, and the rest will wind up somewhere in between.

Firms should strongly consider resisting the urge to give up all real estate, even if their employees prefer working from home. The pendulum will likely swing back in the other direction in the future and some employees may desire an office environment.

That said, for many firms, spending money on an office that may or may not get used in the next year doesn’t seem worth it. Utilizing flex office space allows firms to keep their occupancy costs down and quickly scale up or down based on market factors.

Fortunately, there are flexible rental options available for firms of all sizes that can accommodate those that are looking to become more agile without sacrificing the workplace experience.

SOURCE: Michael, A. (11 December 2020) "4 questions before reopening your office" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/4-questions-before-reopening-your-office


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


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


Employers Consider Child Care Subsidies

Working parents have been put into situations that are causing them to almost choose between their careers and their children due to the coronavirus pandemic bringing families home and requiring work to be done virtually. Employers are now seeking ways to help employees with taking care of their children. Read this blog post to learn more.


Working parents have borne the brunt of the pandemic's impact on employees, as many must juggle their job responsibilities with overseeing their children's remote educations and overall well-being while quarantined. Some have had no choice but to quit their jobs or decided not to seek new employment when their jobs were eliminated due to the downturn, so that they could focus on caring for their kids.

In fact, an August survey by Care@Work of 1,000 working parents with children under the age of 15 showed that 73 percent were considering making major changes at work, such as revising their schedules (44 percent), looking for a different job (21 percent) or leaving the workforce entirely (15 percent).

One approach that is gaining steam among employers seeking to help employees with children is to provide child care subsidies. These typically are employer-provided spending accounts or bonuses designed to help cover the costs, in full or partially, of day care and pandemic-related educational expenses.

"Subsidizing professional child care arrangements for an organization's employees makes sound business sense because it potentially reduces the stress and anxiety that working parents might regularly experience while worrying about their children during their normal work hours," said Timothy Wiedman, a retired associate professor of management and human resources at Doane University in Crete, Neb. "And that stress and anxiety might well divert a parent's full attention from their assigned duties."

Making Sure It's Fair

To be sure, many companies have not considered offering any type of child care subsidy to working parents. A major reason often cited is that single employees, as well as those who are married without children or who have grown children, will feel slighted by an employer that offers a benefit they can't access.

"There is always that fairness doctrine that comes into play when you offer a subsidy to one employee because they have a special need that some other employee may not have or need," said Carol Kardas, SHRM-SCP, founding partner at KardasLarson, an HR consulting firm in Glastonbury, Conn. "Some may consider this a discriminatory practice, and [it] could be a cause for lower morale or productivity."

Some organizations overcome that issue by providing a different benefit instead to offset those perceptions. Wiedman suggested reviewing benefit allotments for such employer-paid offerings as elder care, the deductible required by the company-provided health care plan, the annual contribution to 401(k) retirement plans, health savings accounts, life insurance coverage (or additional disability insurance) and tuition reimbursement. The allotments can vary based on whether the employee also receives a child care subsidy.

Another option is to explain that by providing assistance to their colleagues, the workload will remain balanced and not fall more heavily on employees who don't have child care duties.

"Working parents who have to use paid time off to spend time with their children when no other arrangements can be made may also call out at the last minute, since arrangements can be canceled abruptly," Kardas said.

Alleviating Stress and Costs

Working parents who can't afford child care and don't receive a subsidy "are often interrupted by children wanting to share their toys or get a hug from dad," said Laura Handrick, an HR consultant in Phoenix. "I see the stress on parents' faces in Zoom meetings. It's too much to manage a full-time paid job and a full-time unpaid job [parenting] at the same time. The stress affects the worker's mental health, employee productivity and family relationships."

Offering child care subsidies can increase employee satisfaction and engagement, she said. "[Managers] earn employee loyalty and increased productivity from grateful employees who aren't ridiculously stressed by constant kid interruptions while working," Handrick said.

There is a financial benefit as well: Employers that supply child care subsidies can take advantage of an annual tax credit of up to $150,000 if they use it for qualified child care facilities and services. According to the IRS, "the credit is 25 percent of the qualified child-care facility expenditures, plus 10 percent of the qualified child-care resource and referral expenditures paid or incurred during the tax year." To receive the tax credit, employers must complete Form 8882.

Handrick said a company can start a child care subsidy program with flexible spending accounts (FSAs).

"The benefit of providing a child care subsidy to employees in the form of an FSA is that the employer contributes pretax dollars, reducing its payroll taxes," she said. "The employee can choose how much or how little to contribute. Those who prefer to send their children to a more expensive program can fund and pay for it through the FSA using pretax dollars."

Kardas said if workplaces hire essential workers, they could utilize government-run programs in their states, such as Connecticut's CTCARES for Child Care Program for first responders, grocery workers, state facility employees, and child care and group home workers. They could also tap into an employee assistance program (EAP) to help employees find or pay for child care, she said.

Another idea is to grant every employee a certain amount of personal time that can be used in special circumstances, such as when child care is closed or a child is sick or unable to attend a child care program on a given day.

"This type of personal time could also be given to and used by those who do not have children for attending appointments or other obligations that can't be done after work," Kardas said. "This time may not solve the issue of employees being absent, but the fact that all would share equally may help."

As workplaces reopen physical locations, HR can look for child care facilities in the immediate area and work with them to offer a discount to employees, Kardas recommended.

"Single moms and working parents rarely have an extra room at home to carve out a home office," Handrick said. "That means they're likely working from the kitchen or dining room with children at home demanding attention. Toddlers want to play, [and] school-age kids need help with online classes."

Larger employers and those with deeper resources may even consider establishing an onsite child care facility for employees and charging less than a typical child care facility, which experts agree would dramatically boost appreciation among working parents who could then visit their children during each workday.

SOURCE: Lobell, K. (22 September 2020) "Employers Consider Child Care Subsidies" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/many-workplaces-consider-child-care-subsidies.aspx


A step-by-step guide to helping your employees combat financial stress

Finances are often one of those lingering thoughts that can be detrimental to an employee's productivity, during these times of the coronavirus pandemic, those thoughts may not just be lingering anymore. Read this blog post to learn more.


With the virus dominating everyone’s thinking and many employers concentrating on keeping their businesses afloat, it may be hard to focus on your employees’ financial future. Even before COVID-19, employers saw the link between financial stress and decreased workforce productivity. With COVID-19 creating business pressures, it’s imperative that your workforce meet the needs of your customers, and they can’t do that effectively if they are worried about their own or their family’s finances.

Millions of Americans are struggling due to the economic backslide stemming from the pandemic. The first months of the COVID-19 pandemic largely wiped out three years of financial gains in the United States, with more than half of Americans reporting their financial health has been compromised, according to Prudential’s 2020 Financial Wellness Census. While some are focused on making it day-to-day, the economy has also shaken others who considered their finances stable for the future. Although your employees still have a job, you must not lose sight of the fact that their spouse or partner may have lost their job or been furloughed, reducing their incomes by half, which can set any family back.

No matter how bleak things may look right now, you can still help your employees plot a path back to being financially well. Here are four steps to help restore your employees’ financial confidence.

1. Help them build a strong foundation

Employees must take stock of the money that is still coming in and create a budget. Many employers offer budgeting tools as part of their financial wellness program, so consider ramping up your email communications to remind employees of these tools, which can help them categorize expenses as essential or discretionary. If you offer any form of debt management support you can remind them to take advantage of that too. You may also want to provide them with education on how to create a will, something many people overlook. Finally, encourage employees to designate beneficiaries on insurance and financial accounts.

2. Use open enrollment season to protect them against income and expense shocks

Open enrollment season, which is underway for many companies right now, is the perfect time to reinforce non-health workplace benefits, like life insurance, long-term disability insurance, hospital indemnity insurance, critical illness insurance and accident insurance. Emphasize your paid family leave policy too, if you have one. This is especially timely right now for workers who are without childcare options, but must return to the office after months of remote working.

3. Assist them in planning for their future and retirement

Some employers who have implemented financial wellness programs have partnered with providers to create financial wellness assessments so they can understand how their employees are faring. If you have this tool and notice that your employees have the basics down, they should be comfortable expanding their financial safety net. Consider encouraging them to increase their retirement contributions and use email campaigns to empower them to take advantage of the company match, if you offer one. If your employees have access to Health Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending accounts and Dependent Care Accounts to help manage healthcare and childcare expenses, be sure to emphasize their importance in your open enrollment email communication campaigns and virtual open enrollment education sessions.

4. Educate your employees on how to secure their financial future

Once employees have rebuilt their financial base, it’s time to help them strengthen the protections they’ve created. Consider hosting virtual webinars to educate them on how to protect themselves from market volatility by maximizing the options in their retirement savings plans. Common options include target date funds or other asset allocation tools as well as in-plan retirement income options and other retirement draw-down strategies. If your financial wellness program includes financial advising or counselling, encourage them to leverage an advisor or financial planner to minimize their non-mortgage debts and calibrate their life insurance coverage to create lifetime income for their surviving dependents.

SOURCE: Schmitt, S. (02 November 2020) " A step-by-step guide to helping your employees combat financial stress" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/a-step-by-step-guide-to-helping-your-employees-combat-financial-stress


4 key reasons employers must offer financial security benefits

During the continuous trials of the coronavirus pandemic, it's important for employers to contribute to their employee's financial wellness. Read this blog post to learn more.


A financial security benefit that helps employees pay for and manage their out of pocket healthcare expenses allows an employer to keep healthcare costs down, while providing a much-needed benefit to their employees, one that pays dividends for years to come.

With the uncertainty of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is more vital than ever that employers contribute to employees’ overall financial wellness.

There are four key reasons why employers need to provide a financial security benefit to their employees.

First, restore the "benefit" in your health benefit offerings. The standard employer-sponsored health plan comes with nearly an $8,000 out-of-pocket expense.

Considering that the vast majority of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck and 40% struggle to cover a $400 emergency expense, it’s no wonder why so many individuals consider themselves functionally uninsured despite being covered by an employer’s health plan. When an employer’s price tag to purchase that insurance for a family now exceeds $20,000 a year, it is painful for employers to witness their employee benefit suddenly become an employee liability.

Providing employees with guaranteed access to credit for medical expenses on consumer-friendly terms that they may not have access to on their own is of tremendous benefit. A benefit like this gives employees something their health plan alone can’t – financial security.

Second, remove the barriers to care. More than ever, employees with high deductible health plans are skipping care, which has costly consequences. Employees who skip care stay sick for a longer period of time and as a result, employers lose worker productivity. When outcomes erode and care is delayed, employers will see an increase in health plan expenses. By providing a financial security benefit from the start, employees can seek care with confidence, and prevent this unhealthy ripple effect from happening.

Third, increase participation in Health Savings Accounts. HSAs are great additions to an employer’s benefit line-up. In some cases, they are also the only plan design that an employer can afford to offer. Employees who are presented the choice of an HSA often bemoan that while the program should work well for them, and that the price-tag for the premium is right, the specter of a one-time deductible exposure makes them hesitant to enroll.

While lower premiums paired with some employer HSA contributions can often cover that exposure, employees worry about the timing of these expenses, particularly if they arrive early in the plan year. Providing an affordable way for employees to pay for their healthcare expenses whenever they are incurred, removes a major barrier to HSA plan election. Further, adding a financial security benefit is much more cost effective for the employer than front-loading the HSA with hard dollars at the beginning of the plan year.

Finally, they are great recruitment and retention tools. According to a recent Gallup poll, the availability and affordability of healthcare tops the list of concerns in America. As employers grapple with objectives, such as attracting, and retaining talent and balancing costs, a financial security benefit not only addresses a major employee concern, but also can help organizations differentiate themselves from their competitors.

With COVID-19 changing the landscape of healthcare and open enrollment around the corner, employers need to rethink their benefit strategy while keeping costs down. Attracting and retaining employees remains a high priority for employers and providing a financial security benefit will not only attract top talent but will also save on an employer’s overall bottom line.

SOURCE: Chambers, O'Meara A. (03 November 2020) "4 key reasons employers must offer financial security benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/4-key-reasons-employers-must-offer-financial-security-benefits


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