How to Help Your Small Workplace Team Succeed

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


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

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

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

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

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

Why Small Teams Can Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Results with Smaller Teams: Top Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Strategies for maintaining employee trust during executive turnovers

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bad managers are costing employers their workforce

Although poor management can create a difficult work environment, there ways that organizations can create a more effective manager as well as a more engaged and productive workforce. Read this blog post to learn more.


Most employees have had an encounter with someone they would describe as a “bad boss,” a manager who makes things more difficult through bullying and incompetence. These ineffective leaders can cause employees significant stress on top of the pressures they are already facing.

At some point in their careers one in two employees has left a job to get away from a toxic manager, according to a Gallup study. Poor managers aren’t just an issue for employees; a bad boss can have a powerful impact on company cost. Indeed, companies lose about $7.29 per day for each poorly communicating manager in their organization, according to Vital Learning, a management and leadership training program provider.

“Managers have a profound impact on the well-being of employees,” says Laura Hamill, chief people officer at Limeade, an employee engagement company. “That just makes sense — how could you feel good and have a sense of purpose if your manager works against you? We know that our feelings about work can play a huge role in our overall quality of life — it can be a main source of stress or something that brings purpose to our lives.”

A good manager can be identified by three qualities, says Alexander Alonso, chief knowledge officer at the Society for Human Resource Management. First, they are someone who is in constant contact with employees, providing engaging, open and transparent communication. Second, a good manager is focused on performance management, meaning that supervisors need to prioritize evaluating each employee's personal growth, and their role within the team, so there is consistent productivity.

“The third thing is not making a mess and not falling into a hornet's nest of a mess associated with people management,” Alonso says. “There are some basic things that are just absolutely critical. Don't be the person who tells an inappropriate joke or who tells somebody that you don't like them.”

A team leader with all of these qualities can have a significantly positive impact on employee mental health and well-being.

A good manager can empower, challenge, educate, enable employees to feel part of a team, and find opportunities for professional and personal development, says Patricia Elias the chief legal and people officer at ServiceSource, an outsourced go-to-market services provider that delivers digital sales, customer success and renewal solutions to B2B enterprises.

“Of course, a bad manager does the opposite — at best, creating a disengaged team, and at worst, destroying confidence and potential,” Elias says.

While a poor manager can create a difficult work environment for employees, there are steps organizations can take to create a more effective manager and a more engaged and productive workforce.

There are five skills employees say people managers could improve to create a more positive work environment, according to the SHRM survey: communicating effectively (41%), developing and training the team (38%), managing time and delegating (37%), cultivating a positive and inclusive team culture (35%) and managing team performance (35%).

“There is no relationship in the workplace more powerful than the one between people managers and employees," says SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor. "As working Americans challenge organizations to manage and lead differently, those that don't will find themselves left behind. By skilling up managers, HR can spend more time strategizing, cultivating culture and delivering bottom line results.”

Bad managers tend not to recognize that quality in themselves and employees typically don’t report these incompetencies to upper management out of fear of retaliation or of losing their jobs. So it is up to HR to identify and fix these issues.

“Where HR really comes in is their one-on-one interactions with the managers,” Alonso says. “Bad managers tend not to be self reflective, and one of the things that stands out is, they will not hear the things that they say. And HR plays an important role in sort of parroting back what it is that they need to do.”

Another tactic HR can utilize to deal with this issue is interviewing the staff beyond the onboarding and exiting processes, Alonso says.

About 84% of American workers say poorly trained people managers create a lot of unnecessary work and stress, according to the SHRM survey. A further 57% of American workers say managers in their workplace could benefit from training on how to be a better people manager. Half of those surveyed feel their own performance would improve if their direct supervisor received additional training in people management.

“Unfortunately, many of us have had bad managers and have learned how we don’t want to manage others — so we’ve rejected those approaches and embraced a more human management style,” Limeade’s Hamill says. “But it’s hard to be effective without also having positive manager role models and the psychological safety in our organizations to stand up to traditional command-and-control models.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (20 August 2020) "Bad managers are costing employers their workforce" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/bad-managers-are-costing-employers-their-workforce


Personalization helps meet the needs of multiple generations in the workplace

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Viewpoint: 3 Steps to Make Learning Part of Company Culture

Workplaces are constantly changing, and so is the world of work. Where things are constantly changing, culture is changing as well. Read this blog post to learn helpful tips for learning company culture.


As technology transforms the world of work, learning is moving from the periphery to the core of corporate strategy. Upskilling is quickly becoming a business imperative, and hiring managers are teaming up with talent developers to ensure that business leaders have the talent they need to thrive.

With good reason, LinkedIn Learning's 2020 Workplace Learning Report shows that nearly all of today's talent developers have no problem securing executive buy-in, and CEOs now spend 20 percent more time learning soft skills than their employees spend. But in a workplace where the pace of change continues to accelerate, it takes more than just buy-in to build a learning culture that companies need today. As we work through the pandemic, an agile learning culture is needed now more than ever—one that enables employees to demonstrate their ability to quickly adapt to new environments, new protocol and shifting market demands.

Over the last year, Kraft Heinz's embrace of ownership—a principle that is core to our DNA as a company—has helped us to spark a learning transformation at Kraft Heinz. Here are three practices that can help you do the same.

1. Own your learning.

It's no secret that great leaders lead by example, and it's no different with learning initiatives. Learning champions must inspire and encourage others throughout their organization to pursue learning. That's difficult to do without first fully embracing learning themselves.

As chief learning officer, I needed to put myself in my learners' shoes. I couldn't tell them it was possible to carve out time in their busy lives for learning without first doing so myself. So, in February 2019, I made a commitment to learning something new every day. As part of that daily learning commitment, I completed a variety of learning experiences through our company's corporate learning platform, Ownerversity, and began sharing what I learned through our internal messaging app, the KetchApp.

Using the hashtags #LearnLikeAnOwner and #MakeTimeForLearning, my colleagues were able to follow along on my daily learning journey, picking up work-relevant lessons, tips and insight and—most importantly—seeing just how much I personally valued learning. They saw what was possible. A year later, learning has become a cultural conversation topic across the organization.

2. Build and keep building.

Taking a grassroots approach to building excitement for learning has helped inspire a movement among our employees. But we also knew that movement had to actually lead our workers somewhere worthwhile. For us, it was not a matter of "if you build it, they will come." It was the inverse: The employees were already on their way, and we had to ensure we continued to build and enhance a learning ecosystem that could truly support their aspirations and learning goals.

It started with making a commitment to learning at every level and ensuring that the learning was ongoing and democratic. Anyone who wants to learn can have that opportunity, every day. Requiring more than a one-and-done approach, this initiative needed a team dedicated to developing the tools to make sure that can happen.

Our learning offerings allow for active learning, encourage continuous reflection and help employees see the impact learning can have on their careers. Those offerings include custom courses, as well as access to thousands of LinkedIn Learning courses and other digital resources focused on business, technology and creative subjects to help employees build the skills they need throughout their careers.

3. Activate ambassadors.

One person alone cannot champion learning across an entire company. Learning champions must create a network of like-minded ambassadors at every level who can inspire and encourage their co-workers. Building a learning culture cannot simply be a top-down mandate; it must be a ground-up movement.

We expect all of our employees to seek out high-impact learning experiences, commit to learning—even if for just a few minutes—every day, and encourage others to do the same. On some days, that could be dedicating time to an e-learning course, but on others, it could be listening to a podcast, attending a live learning event or reading a magazine article. Last year, to help promote this goal, we created learning-commitment categories to help guide employees in setting aside time to learn from September through the end of the year. The goals included 15 minutes per month, 15 minutes every other week and 15 minutes per week. Even our CEO and chief people officer pledged to make one of these commitments.

Some employees have become especially invested in this new culture of learning. We recently invited 20 dedicated learners to a #LearnLikeAnOwner retreat, rewarding their commitment to learning, and also providing them with tools and resources they need to inspire others. They returned to their roles within the organization with the knowledge and confidence of being official learning ambassadors. Other employees know they can turn to these learning ambassadors for the inspiration, encouragement and guidance they need to pursue learning every day.

What I've learned over the past year as chief learning officer at Kraft Heinz is that leading by example paired with creating an environment of excitement and inspiration can truly fuel a cultural change.

SOURCE: Bassey, P. (21 May 2020) "Viewpoint: 3 Steps to Make Learning Part of Company Culture" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/pages/viewpoint-3-steps-to-make-learning-part-of-company-culture.aspx


COVID-19 at-home testing kits can make returning to work safer

As many begin to return to the workplace, both employers and employees are fearful of bringing the COVID-19 virus into the workplace. A company has produced an at-home testing kit for those returning to work. Read this blog post to learn more.


While access to wide-spread coronavirus testing is still a barrier for millions of Americans, computer software company Appian is partnering with Everlywell, a digital health company, to offer COVID-19 at-home testing kits for employees returning to the workplace.

“Everlywell was founded to give people access to high-quality lab tests that can be taken at home,” said Julia Cheek, founder and CEO of Everlywell. “We are proud to support Appian’s customers in providing FDA-authorized COVID-19 testing to help keep them safe.”

Since March, more than 50 million coronavirus tests have been reported to the CDC, of which 5 million were positive. But as states reopen their economies and infection rates increase, there are growing concerns about supply chain problems, according to Politico. Reopening has increased demand for testing, causing samples to pile up faster than labs can analyze them, which is lengthening turnaround times for results — complicating efforts to contain the virus.

Everlywell’s at-home lab tests seek to streamline the process of testing for their employer clients. The COVID-19 test will be integrated within the Appian Workforce Safety solution. Through the partnership, people using Appian’s return-to-site solutions will be able to request home delivery of Everlywell’s COVID-19 testing kit by taking a screening questionnaire based on CDC guidelines. Each test request will be reviewed by an independent physician from Everlywell’s third-party telehealth partner. Test results can be delivered to the test-taker’s mobile device in 24-48 hours after the sample arrives at an authorized lab.

The lab tests have received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. The testing used by the company and its lab partners meet the FDA’s performance criteria for COVID-19 test accuracy, and telehealth consultations are included for those who test positive.

“How much you know as an organization is how much you can protect the members of your organization,” says Matt Calkins, CEO of Appian. “This is the fastest way to get information on infection. We've seen that high amounts of testing can help minimize COVID-19. Knowledge is power, so we're trying to get [employers] as much knowledge as possible, as quickly as possible, and provide them with another tool to keep their employees safe.”

As employers make their strategies for returning to work, workplace safety is of top concern. Antibody screening, thermal cameras and on-site nurses are all methods being considered to help employees stay safe. Digital health is playing a major role in helping employees self-report their risks, whether that be the employee taking the subway, or living with someone who’s immunosuppressed. It can also help employers scalably monitor and assess people's symptoms on a daily basis, ensuring that sick employees stay at home and quarantine. Workplace changes may also include desks and workstations being spread further apart, and stricter limitations on large meetings and gatherings in the office.

Appian’s platform helps employers centralize and automate all the key components needed for safe returns to work. Through the platform, employers can process health screenings, return-to-site authorizations, contact tracing, isolation processing, and now, COVID-19 testing.

“A lot of people would rather work with an employer who goes the extra mile, who’s willing to offer and pay for tests if necessary for their own employees, and to quickly deploy it, where there’s even a suspicion of transmission,” Calkins says. “It’s a responsible gesture and a serious signal that the employer cares about the health of their workforce, and employees are reassured that their colleagues are more likely to be healthy.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (30 July 2020) "COVID-19 at-home testing kits can make returning to work safer" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/covid-19-at-home-testing-kits-can-make-returning-to-work-safer


Why continuous listening is the key to a smooth transition back to work

Returning to the workplace during this time can be difficult for many, especially with employers who are being faced with the question of how to create and keep a safe and comfortable workplace scene. Read this blog post to learn more.


As states and businesses reopen in the U.S., many employers are faced with a difficult decision: Should their employees go back to the workplace? And if so, when? Amazon told their workers they likely wouldn’t return until October, while Google announced that their employees wouldn’t go back to the office until 2021. Twitter and Facebook decided most employees could work from home forever.

But once employers do make that decision, they’re then confronted with a more formidable one: How do they get their employees back in a way that is both safe and comfortable for everyone? In short, how do they successfully manage employee experience?

Most companies have coordinated COVID-19 task forces charged with making those decisions and helping their employees navigate the global pandemic. And whether they realize it or not, those task forces are broken down into two different functions: operational and experiential.

When COVID-19 first hit, the task forces had to deal with the operational challenge of moving massive workforces home overnight, and they worked to ensure employees had the equipment and software needed to function remotely. And soon after, many realized they also had another responsibility on their plate: employee mental wellbeing.

Leaders recognized they’d have to find new ways to keep their people sharp, productive, and happy. In fact, their employees’ experience with remote work was a central component in making that big operational move successful.

The same will happen as task forces bring people back to the workplace. In fact, managing employee experience will become a task force’s most critical responsibility. To ensure employees feel comfortable returning to the workplace, company leadership needs to know how they feel about coming back and what safety concerns they may have. Then leadership must act on that information.

But the current situation (and their employees’ feelings) can change rapidly. That’s why a method called “continuous listening” is essential to managing employee experience. At least once a day (if not more), employees should be able to respond to a few questions about how they’re feeling, and leaders can use that real-time information to successfully take care of their teams.

A large retail bank in North America has set up an always-on feedback channel for retail branch employees to identify safety concerns in different branches. The bank recognized that, when it came to health and safety concerns, employees might need to offer feedback immediately rather than waiting for a survey that came around once a day. Other organizations have used pre-screening tools that allow employees to self-report each day so company leadership can decide whether they should come into the workplace.

Continuous listening helps leadership communicate with employees, and vice versa. If there’s ever been a time to listen to your people and manage their employee experience, it’s now.

A Qualtrics study conducted at the beginning of May found that two out of three workers in the United States didn’t feel comfortable returning to the workplace. In fact, nearly half of all workers said they didn’t expect to go back to work until August or later.

Most respondents said they want assurance from public officials like the Centers for Disease Control or state and local governments before returning, while about half said they’d feel more comfortable once a treatment or vaccine is available. Nearly 70%, though, said they trust their company leadership to make the right decision on when to come back.

Once leadership makes that decision, however, employees expect them to enact policies and procedures that will protect workers’ safety. Almost 75% said they want their work facility to be thoroughly and regularly cleaned and disinfected, while 62% said they want strict policies about who cannot come to the office, including those who are sick and have recently traveled. Nearly 60% said they want masks available to everyone who wants one, while the same amount said they want all employees to be required to wear a mask at all times.

A majority expect their company to require those who travel to self-quarantine for 14 days, prohibit handshakes and hugs, and set safety measures around communal food. Almost 40% said they want employees to be brought back in phases instead of all at once.

Employees also want the freedom to take action themselves. Over 60% said they want to be able to wear a mask and maintain social distancing at work, and half said they want more flexible sick-leave policies that employees are encouraged to use, even with minor symptoms. Nearly the same amount said they want to be able to limit the number of people they’re exposed to in workplace meetings, and almost 40% said they want to be able to skip work without penalty or continue working from home if they feel unsafe.

These findings provide companies with a general idea of what their employees want to see before coming back to work, but gathering data specific to each organization is even more helpful. Before and after companies begin their initial return, they’ll need to listen closely and continuously to their employees and should increase emphasis on employee feedback.

After all, employees are an organization’s best ambassadors. Invest in them, and they’ll invest in you.

SOURCE: Choi, J. (27 July 2020) "Why continuous listening is the key to a smooth transition back to work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/why-continuous-listening-is-the-key-to-a-smooth-transition-back-to-work


Benefits fair cancelled? 6 strategies for remote benefits communication

Even as states begin to reopen from COVID-19-related closures and many employees return to their places of work, employers can’t rely on past approaches to communicate benefits information during open enrollment and to educate employees about their benefits. It’s unlikely that employers will be hosting large events like benefits fairs, a staple of open enrollment in past years, soon. In addition, some employees may continue to work remotely for an extended period, which means in-person benefits communication can’t be the only strategy.

Employers can consider several alternatives to craft an open enrollment and benefits education and engagement strategy that addresses these issues. For many employers, the solution will be to combine several of these approaches to ensure they are effectively communicating important benefits information and providing employees with more than one way to learn about their benefits and get answers to any questions that may arise.

Before developing a strategy, consider surveying employees to find out how they would prefer to receive information about benefits. Some people find email or printed materials effective, others prefer videos or interactive webinars, while others may be more responsive to receiving information via text message. Once you know your employees’ preferences, you can tailor your approach to increase the likelihood that your employees will use the tools you provide and have a positive experience.

  • Recast your benefits fair as a virtual event. If you want to gather employees together and explain benefit options, how the open enrollment process will work this year and provide them with the opportunity to interact with benefit vendors, you could create a virtual event modelled on the in-person benefits fair. Depending on your organization’s size, the number of employees you need to reach, and where they are located (for example office employees, warehouse or field employees, and remote employees), your approach to hosting a virtual benefits fair will vary. A growing number of IT service vendors offer virtual event planning and execution services that include setting up the technology needed to conduct the event, handling invitations and registrations of participants, working with benefits vendors to set up virtual booths and arranging educational webinars as part of the event.
  • Use your employee intranet, portal, or app. Regardless of whether you host a virtual event, you can use your employee website, portal or app and upload all the informational and educational material employees will need to make benefit choices. This approach can also include a secure portal that employees use to complete benefits forms. Another good feature to include is a chat, which can be either live chat or a chatbot, where employees can get answers to frequently asked questions and assistance with completing open enrollment forms.
  • Host webinars. Webinars not only give you the ability to communicate information about benefits, they also give employees the chance to directly ask the HR and Benefits team questions. In addition to the live webinar, you can record the event and post it on your organization’s employee site or send a link via email so that employees who were not able to attend can still hear your message firsthand.
  • Mail printed materials home. Some employees still prefer to receive benefits and enrollment information and forms in a printed format. It can provide a resource that they can easily refer back to when making their benefits sign up decision. Mailing these materials to employees’ home addresses rather than using your business address ensures that all employees, those who have returned onsite and those who are working remotely, have access to the information they need.
  • Use texts and calendar reminders. To help employees stay on top of enrollment deadlines, send text messages and add reminders to their work calendars. Text messages can also be used to send links to more in depth information resources so employees can access information when required.
  • One-on-one support is key. Employees are bound to have more complicated or confidential questions about their benefits choices, e.g. the need for information about coverage for cancer treatment or labor and delivery. Providing one-on-one phone and chat support from the HR and Benefits team gives employees a way to get answers to questions they don’t want to ask in a more public forum such as a webinar.

A benefits plan is only valuable if employees are knowledgeable about what benefits they have and how to access them. Many of these approaches can also be used on an ongoing basis to provide education on and drive engagement with benefits so employees and employers both get the most out of their plans.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (27 July 2020) "Benefits fair cancelled? 6 strategies for remote benefits communication" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/benefits-fair-cancelled-6-strategies-for-remote-benefits-communication


Health Care Nondiscrimination Notice Requirement Is Going Away

The Department of Health and Human Services' has removed requirements that employers issue non-discrimination statements to employees that will go into effect on August 18, 2020. Read this blog post to learn more.


On Aug. 18, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS's) finalized changes to the Affordable Care Act's Section 1557 nondiscrimination rules will take effect, removing requirements that employers issue health care nondiscrimination statements to employees and add health care nondiscrimination taglines to employee communications.

Prior to the changes under a final rule HHS published on June 19, employers had to ensure that they, along with their insurers (for fully insured plans) or third-party administrators (for self-insured plans), abided by a 2016 HHS rule requiring employer-sponsored plans to:

  • Create and maintain a notice of health care nondiscrimination.
  • Include it in "significant communications" along with taglines in 15 different languages advising individuals of the availability of language assistance.
  • Include similar taglines for other communications but only in three different languages.

These notices are still required until Aug. 18.

"Now more than ever, Americans do not want billions of dollars in ineffective regulatory burdens raising the costs of their health care," said Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS.

Less Paperwork and Lower Costs

"The final rule eliminated the requirement to post the discrimination notice and add taglines," said John Kirk, an attorney at law firm Graydon in Cincinnati. "The final rule also eliminated the requirement that the discrimination notice and taglines be included with all significant publications sent by the organization. This change will be a significant cost and administrative timesaver for most entities."

Employers offering employee benefit plans that were subject to the prior 2016 rule "should review any notice and disclosure obligations and may begin revising their disclosures to remove the nondiscrimination statement and required taglines," Kirk advised.

"This is welcome news for employers that were required to create and maintain these complicated notices," according to compliance firm HUB International. "In the preamble to the new final rules, HHS stated that the notices were costing employers and other entities hundreds of millions to billions of dollars, but were not, in HHS's view, providing meaningful additional help to individuals."

HUB noted that "the onerous notice requirement is gone, but nondiscrimination rules still generally apply," prohibiting discrimination in health care on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability.

Overshadowed by Transgender Controversy

Most coverage of the HHS final rule focused on its controversial rollback of anti-discrimination protections based on gender identity, which overshadowed the rule's repeal of the notice and tagline provisions under the 2016 regulation.

A coalition of LGBTQ groups and health care providers are suing the Trump administration, alleging the new HHS rule conflicts with the Supreme Court's June 15 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., which found that the prohibition against sex discrimination in the workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act covers sexual orientation and gender identity.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (16 July 2020) "Health Care Nondiscrimination Notice Requirement Is Going Away" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/health-care-nondiscrimination-notice-requirement-is-going-away.aspx


Virtual walks and free chocolate? What workplace pros say the new office will look like

Working remotely has become a new workplace normal and may continue to be so. Although it may be difficult for younger generations to acclimate to this working situation, there may be some benefits to it as well. Read this blog post to learn more.


The traditional office’s days are numbered; the office of the future will be a “collaboration center” with a mix of skeleton staff and remote workers meeting through virtual team walks and group meals via home-delivered Zoom lunches.

Millennials and Generation Z will have problems networking in the new remote work world with fewer face-to-face meetings; and mental health and well-being benefits will become more important than ever before.

Those were some of the predictions of compensation and benefits professionals at the first virtual gathering of the WorldatWork 2020 Total Resilience conference — a digital substitute for an annual conference that was supposed to be held in Minneapolis this year, but was postponed in response to the global coronavirus crisis.

"The office environment will change,” said panelist Steve Pennacchio, senior vice president of total rewards at Pfizer, during an online session on resilience on Wednesday. “Remote work is here to stay.”

Pennacchio said a number of companies will shut down their office space, which will have serious ramifications for commercial real estate and new entrants into the workforce, who will be at a particular disadvantage because of the limits of networking and source building through remote technology.

He suggested more virtual engagement tactics, including virtual walks or group activities, including having teams eat together with coordinated deliveries of lunches or chocolate. “Nothing hurts with chocolate,” he said. During the conference, which will continue with weekly panels through Sept. 2, organizers also hosted social events, including virtual trivia games and online networking.

Pfizer is investing $1 billion on development of vaccines and treatments for coronavirus, he noted. “Hopefully ours and others will work. The world needs more than one,” he said.

Likewise, Susan Brown, senior director of compensation at Siemens, said her company has focused on four key areas of building a team, culture, management team and employees who can adjust to the new environment through virtual meet-and-greet sessions and lunches where all team members must be present visually.

“The relationship builds with seeing each other,” she said. “The camera on changes the dynamic more than a phone call.”

Brown also noted tremendous innovation around talent management happening during the coronavirus crisis. She said that progressive companies have made a quick shift to focus first on the mental health and well-being of staff as a priority, rather than having an emphasis on business metrics.

“The whole conversation changed to focus on people’s health and safely, how they were feeling and empathetic messaging rather than a focus on business results,” she said.

WorldatWork CEO Scott Cawood, who served as moderator, noted that employers’ responses are being closely watched by staff, and other companies.

“COVID-19 doesn’t define who you are; it actually reveals who you are,” said Cawood, sitting alone on a stage with a white chair and house plant, as panelists called in from around the country.

Kumar Kymal, global head of compensation and benefits at BNY Mellon, said the global financial services firm has 95 percent of staff working remotely.

"Times of crisis and change give us permission to rethink the way we do things, and it's an opportunity to decide what really matters to your organization," Kymal said, noting that the company announced that there will be no layoffs in 2020 to put staff at ease.

Management response should focus on “speed, speed, speed,” he said about responding to challenges under the coronavirus crisis, with special attention to empathetic corporate messaging.

Kymal said at his company, management focused on a new framework to address healthcare concerns globally, with a broad overview of their healthcare plans. Second, management focused on addressing stress and anxiety, particularly with attention to messaging and staff feedback. They also put an increased focus on well-being and resilience strategies, and accelerated a mental health program to allow employees to assess their ability to deal with stress. Finally, BNY Mellon improved social connections for managers to lead better on connecting with various teams.

Looking ahead to the return-to-work phase of the crisis, Kymal said the stakes are high. Challenges include dealing with temperature scans, wearing masks, closed cafeterias and social distancing.

“As we're starting to plan what the return to office looks like, it's clear to us it has the potential to become an awful, awful employee experience,” he said. “We really need to rethink and redesign. What does an office experience look like? That's front and center in my mind.”

SOURCE: Siew, W. (08 July 2020) "Virtual walks and free chocolate? What workplace pros say the new office will look like" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/what-workplace-pros-say-the-new-office-will-look-like