How to create a strong communication plan for open enrollment

Do you have a communication plan for open enrollment? Once businesses have their plan changes locked in, it’s time to focus on communicating those changes to their employees. Continue reading to learn how to create a strong communication plan for open enrollment.


Ready or not… the Benefits Super Bowl is here! Whether you are a broker, benefits manager or anywhere in between, you have been knee-deep on plan updates, rate reviews and benefit changes for months. Now that the plan changes are locked, it’s go-time! The focus is now on communicating and educating employees about their benefit options.

It takes an enormous amount of planning and execution to provide a productive open enrollment experience for employees. But, it is well worth it as this is often the only time during the year that employees stop to consider their benefit options.

Learn from past wins and misses

Consider previous years’ open enrollment communications and ask yourself the following:

  • What is the feedback you received from employees (the good, the bad and the ugly)?
  • What were the most common questions?
  • Were there key pieces of information employees had difficulty finding?

Learn from the answers to these questions and then craft your content in a clear and concise manner that is easier for employees to digest.

The communication medium is key to your success

Now that you’ve developed the content to communicate, the next equally important step is determining how, when and where you deliver this information. Is there a centralized location where employees can find information for both core and voluntary benefits? Is the information in a format that the employee can easily share with his or her significant other?

It is critical to have multi-channel communications to reach your audience. Some employees may naturally gravitate to a company-wide email and the company intranet, while others lean on more interactive mediums like E-books, text messages, webinars or lunch and learns. Providing a variety of communication avenues ensures you are reaching employees where they want to receive information.

Make sure your communications campaign provides educational materials at each of the key milestones during the open enrollment journey–such as prior to enrollment, midway through enrollment, and right before enrollment closes. Wherever possible, always support employees through the process and give them options to reach out for help.

How to communicate the same benefits to a diverse workforce

You are likely communicating to a group of employees with diverse needs and wants. What may be appealing to an entry-level recent grad may not resonate with a senior-level employee nearing retirement. For example, employees with young children may be especially interested in accident insurance or pet owners might look to pet insurance to help offset the costs of well-visits and routine care. If possible, tailor your communications to different segments of the employee population.

Communicating voluntary health-related benefits

Core medical benefits are what employees gravitate to during the enrollment period. Are you offering voluntary benefits to employees? The most successful voluntary benefit programs are positioned next to core medical plans on the enrollment platform. This shows employees how those voluntary benefits (critical illness, accident insurance and hospital indemnity) complement the core offerings with extended protection.

When voluntary benefit programs are positioned as an integral part of the employee benefits experience, employees are more likely to understand the value and appreciate the support provided by their employer. For example, a critical illness program can help to bridge the gap of a high-deductible health plan in the case of a covered critical condition. Communicate that voluntary benefits can be an integral part of a “Total Rewards Package” and can contribute to overall financial wellness.

Review and refine

Finally, don’t miss your opportunity at the end of enrollment to review how your communication campaign performed. Pull stats and analyze your communication campaign for next year’s open enrollment… it is never too early to start! HR managers can glean valuable information and metrics from the employee experience.

SOURCE: Marcia, P. (1 November 2018) "How to create a strong communication plan for open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/01/how-to-create-a-strong-communication-plan-for-open/


8 scary benefits behaviors employees should avoid

Are your employees mishandling their employee benefits? When employees fail to review open enrollment materials, they could be making decisions based on little to no knowledge. Read this blog post to for eight of the scariest benefit mistakes.


Halloween is already frightening enough, but what really scares benefits professionals are the ways employees can mishandle their benefits. Here are eight of the biggest mistakes, with tips on correcting them.

Participants don’t review any annual enrollment materials

Why it’s scary: Employees are making or not making decisions based on little or no knowledge.

Potential actions: Employers can implement a strategic communications campaign to educate and engage employees in the media and format appropriate for that employee class, or consider engaging an enrollment counselor to work with participants in a more personalized manner.

Employees don’t enroll in the 401(k) or don’t know what investment options to choose

Why it’s scary: U.S. employees are responsible for much of their own retirement planning and often leave money on the table if there is an employer match.

Potential actions: Employers can offer auto-enrollment up to the matching amount/percent; consider partnering with a financial wellness partner, and provide regular and ongoing communications of the 401(k)’s benefits to all employees.

Employees don’t engage in the wellness program

Why it’s scary: The employee is potentially missing out on the financial and personal benefits of participating in a well-being program.

Potential actions: Employers need to continuously communicate the wellness program throughout the year through various media, including home media. Employers also should ensure the program is meeting the needs of the employees and their families.

Employees don’t update ineligible dependents on the plan

Why it’s scary: Due to ambiguity where the liability would reside, either the employee or the plan could have unexpected liability.

Potential action: Employers can require ongoing documentation of dependents and periodically conduct a dependent audit.

Employees don’t review their beneficiary information regularly

Why it’s scary: Life insurance policy proceeds may not be awarded according to the employee’s wishes.

Potential action: Employers can require beneficiary confirmation or updates during open enrollment.

Employees do not evaluate the options for disability — whether to elect a higher benefit or have the benefit paid post-tax

Why it’s scary: Disability, especially a short-term episode, is very common during one’s working life; maximizing the benefit costs very little in terms of pay deductions, but can reap significant value when someone is unable to work.

Potential action: Employers can provide webinars/educational sessions on non-medical benefits to address those needs.

Employees do not take the opportunity to contribute to the health savings account

Why it’s scary: The HSA offers triple tax benefits for long-term financial security, while providing a safety net for near-term medical expenses.

Potential actions: Employers can select the most administratively simple process to enroll participants in the HSA and allow for longer enrollment periods for this coverage.

Employees do not use all of their vacation time

Why it’s scary: Vacation allows an employee an opportunity to recharge for the job.

Potential actions: Employers can encourage employees to use their vacation and suggest when the workload might be more accommodating to time off for those employees who worry about workloads.

SOURCE: Gill, S. & Manning-Hughes, R. (31 October 2018) "8 Scary Benefits Behaviors Employees Should Avoid" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/slideshow/8-scary-benefits-behaviors-employees-have?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


7 Steps to Running Better Meetings

Are your employees engaged during meetings? According to a recent survey by Accountemps, office workers spend 21 percent of their time in meetings and feel that 25 percent of it is wasted. Continue reading to learn more.


We love to hate meetings. We groan about how annoying they are. We crack jokes about how much time gets wasted, about bureaucracy run amok.

But it’s not really a laughing matter.

Poorly run meetings can sap the lifeblood out of an organization. Not only are they mentally draining, but they can leave staff disengaged and demoralized, experts say.

On average, office workers spend 21 percent of their time in meetings and feel 25 percent of it is wasted, according to the results of a recent survey of 1,000 employees by Accountemps. One of the top complaints was that meetings are called to relay information that could have been communicated via e-mail.

Managers are also dissatisfied. In a Harvard Business School study last year, researchers found that 71 percent of the 182 senior managers interviewed said meetings were unproductive and inefficient, and 65 percent said meetings kept them from completing their work.

Fortunately, leaders can help improve how meetings are run. Indeed, their behavior is critical to achieving better results and a more positive outlook and engagement from employees, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies. In an earlier University of North Carolina study, researchers found a link between how workers feel about the effectiveness of meetings and their job satisfaction.

Other studies have found that dysfunctional communication in team meetings can have a negative impact on team productivity and the organization’s success.

What happens in these gatherings is a reflection of the workplace culture, experts say.

“It gets down to identity and performance,” says J. Elise Keith, co-founder of Lucid Meetings in Portland, Ore., and author of Where the Action Is (Second Rise, 2018). “The way in which an organization runs its meetings determines how it views itself.”

“Bad meetings are almost always a symptom of deeper issues,” Keith notes in her book.

Unfortunately, many business leaders don’t receive adequate training on how to manage or facilitate meetings, she says. “I believe that a lot of leaders have bought into the idea that poor meetings are inevitable.”

Here are 7 steps to making the time employees spend together more meaningful:

1. Prepare. Are you clear on the meeting’s purpose? What is your desired outcome? How will you achieve that?

More prep time is typically devoted to senior-level meetings compared to those held for individuals in lower-level positions, says Paul Axtell, a corporate trainer and author of Meetings Matter (Jackson Creek, 2015). He says that executive get-togethers are more effective “because people take them seriously.”

2. Limit the number of participants. The most productive meetings have fewer than eight participants, Axtell says. A larger group will leave some disengaged or resentful that their time is being wasted.

3. Send an agenda and background material in advance. If you want a thoughtful discussion, give your team members time to think about the problem or proposal that the meeting will focus on, he says.

4. Start and end on time. Don’t punish people for being punctual by waiting on late stragglers to get started. At the same time, it’s best not to jump right to the heart of the discussion in the first few minutes, Keith says. Provide a soft transition that will help those coming from other meetings to refocus.

5. Make sure all attendees can participate. One common complaint about meetings is that a few people tend to dominate the conversation. Call on other individuals to share what they think, Axtell says. Who is most likely to hold a different view? Who will be most affected by the outcome? Who has institutional knowledge that might be useful? Think about who to draw out on specific topics as you prepare. You’ll collect more ideas and leave participants with a more positive experience.

To feel good about work, people need to feel included and valued. “That means you have a voice and are allowed to express your opinions,” Axtell says.

Because you’re a leader, your views already hold more weight. If you share them too early, you may discourage others from presenting alternate perspectives. Focus on listening, and stay out of the discussion as long as you can, he says. You might learn something.

Avoid PowerPoint slides or other technology if it’s not required for an agenda item. They tend to shut down dialogue, Axtell says.

A surefire way for leaders to alienate participants is to use up most of the meeting time presenting a proposal and leave only a few minutes for questions and comments, Keith says. When people do speak up, thank them for their contributions. And use their ideas, she says.

6. Keep a written record. Posting the meeting agenda and taking notes that everyone can access will help keep participants on track. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to do so, Keith says. The written record ensures that faulty memories or differing interpretations don’t lead people down the wrong path. Are the notes detailed enough to allow you to tackle the action items days later? Are the deadlines reasonable? Be realistic. It doesn’t help the team to accept a giant list of action items that it likely can’t complete, she says.

7. Follow up. What percentage of the action items get completed by the deadlines? If you don’t achieve 85 percent, participants’ sense of effectiveness breaks down and they may disengage, Axtell says. Most groups complete just 50 percent to 60 percent.

“Whether you pay attention to them or not, meetings are in fact where your teams and your people are learning how they should behave and what they should be doing,” Keith says. “So identify the specific types of meetings your organization needs to run. Find great examples of how to run those meetings. You shouldn’t have to invent it. And set up a system that people can use successfully to become the organization that you want to become.”

SOURCE: Meinert, D. (30 October 2018). "7 Steps to Running Better Meetings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1118/pages/7-steps-to-running-better-meetings.aspx/


8 keys to developing a successful return to work program

At some point organizations will deal with employees going on leave for various reasons. Successful return to work programs help injured or disabled employees maintain their productivity while they are recovering. Read on to learn more.


No matter the size of your organization, there’s about a 99% chance at some point dealing with employees going on leave. Most HR professionals are well-versed on the logistics of what to do when an employee is on short- or long-term disability — but what sort of culture do you have in place that encourages and supports them with a return to work (RTW)? Developing a positive and open RTW culture benefits not only the organization but the employee and their teams as well.

An effective RTW program helps an injured or disabled employee maintain productivity while recuperating, protecting their earning power and boosting an organization’s output. There also are more intangible benefits including the mental health of the employee (helping them feel valued), and the perception by other team members that the organization values everyone’s work.

See also: Center Stage…Do You Have an Employer Return to Work Program?

Some other benefits of an RTW program can include improvement of short-term disability claims, improvement of compliance and reduction of employer costs (replacing a team member can cost anywhere from half to twice that employee’s salary, so doing everything you can to keep them is a wise investment).

Some of these may seem like common sense, but I’m continually surprised how many (even large) organizations don’t have an established RTW program. Here are eight critical elements of a successful program.

1. Support from company leadership.

No change will occur if you don’t have buy-in and support at the top. Make the case for a defined RTW program and explain the key benefits to leadership. Know what’s driving your existing absences: Is it musculoskeletal or circulatory? What’s the average length of absence? How many transition from STD to LTD? Come in with some of this baseline data and make the case for an RTW program. Having a return to work champion on the senior leadership team is essential to the program’s success.

2. Have a written policy and process.

There are many considerations when developing an RTW program including how it’s being administered, how employees learn more and engage with HR once out, and when they need to notify the company. Unless you have these policies in place, nobody will be held accountable. This also is an important time to bring in your legal consultation to assure you’re compliant with current company policies and municipal, state and federal laws.

3. Establish a return to work culture.

Once you have leadership support, make your RTW program just like any other championed within the organization. Develop clear messaging about what it means to employees, how they can get more information when they need it, steps for engaging with an RTW specialist and other key advantages. Then, disseminate this information through all appropriate channels including e-newsletters, intranet, brochures, posters and meetings.

4. Train your team members.

Educate managers on why an RTW program is important, why they should get behind it, how it impacts the organization, and what it means for both them and the returning employee. This training can be built into your onboarding process so that all new employees are made aware at day one. Having core messaging about the program and clear policies and procedures will assure everyone is singing from the same hymnbook.

5. Establish an RTW coordinator.

Depending on the size of your organization, this may be a part-time or full-time role. It’s essentially establishing someone as the day-to-day owner of work and could be a nurse, benefits coordinator or someone from your HR team. This person will need to work with various department managers (some who may at times be difficult) to define RTW roles, track compliance and measure success.

6. Create detailed job descriptions.

It’s important to have functional job descriptions for all employees which include physical requirements and essential duties. Often, when employees have an RTW, there are specific lifting, sitting or standing requirements. These are all compliance issues that the EEOC will pay close attention to.

7. Create modified duty options.

Some of the strongest pushback I get is from managers who claim there’s no way to modify an employee’s duties. However, when asked about back-burner projects they haven’t gotten to, the same manager will quickly come back with 5-10 tasks. Often, it’s a combination of that employee’s existing duties and some of these special projects which make a perfectly modified list of responsibilities.

8. Establish evaluation metrics.

Senior leaders love metrics, so if you can benchmark on the front end how many people are out and what that equates to in lost time/productivity, you can easily begin to evaluate what having an RTW program brings to the organization. Make your RTW coordinator responsible for tracking this information and share it with not only senior leadership but also managers and even team members. This will help reinforce the importance of the program to everyone.
SOURCE: Ledford, M. (2 October 2018) "8 keys to developing a successful return to work program" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/8-keys-to-developing-a-successful-return-to-work-program

Ready for the sounds of office sniffles?

It can take someone up to 10 days to recover from the common cold. According to a new study by a law firm, Farah and Farah, just 18 percent of full-time workers get enough sick days, between 11 to 15 days, to recover from a cold. Read on to learn more.


It’s not just a matter of whether they feel well enough to work, or whether they have sick days. The boss’s attitude about whether workers should take sick days or not can determine whether they actually do stay home when they’re sick, or instead come to work to spread their germs to all and sundry.

A new study from law firm Farah & Farah finds that even though it can take a person some 10 days to fully recover from a cold, approximately 10 percent of full-time workers in the U.S. get no sick days at all (part-timers don’t usually get them either), while more than 1 in 4 have to make do with between 1 and 5 sick days. Just 18 percent get enough sick time to actually recover from that cold—between 11 and 15 days.

The amount (or presence) of sick time varies from industry to industry, with government and public administration providing the most (an average of 12.1) and both hotel, food services and hospitality and manufacturing providing the least (an average of 5.4 for the hospitality industry and 5.1 for manufacturing). Some lucky souls actually get unlimited sick days, although even then they don’t always use them.

Regardless of industry, or quantity, just because workers get sick days it doesn’t mean they use them. Workers often worry that they’ll be discouraged from using them, with employers who may provide them but not encourage employees to stay home when ill. In fact, 38 percent of workers show up to work whether they’re contagious or not. Sadly for the people they encounter at work, the most likely to do so are in hospitality, medical and healthcare and transportation. Plenty of germ-spreading to be done in those professions!

 

And their employers’ attitudes play a role in how satisfied they are with their jobs. Among those who work for the 34 percent of bosses who encourage sick employees to stay home, 43 percent said they’re satisfied with their jobs in general. Among those who work for the 47 percent of bosses who are neutral about the use of sick days, that drops to 21 percent—and among the unfortunate workers who work for the 19 percent of bosses who actually discourage workers from staying home while ill, just 12 percent were satisfied with their jobs.

When it comes to mental health days (no, not that kind; the ones people really need to deal with diagnosed mental health conditions), fewer than 1 in 10 men and women were willing to call in sick. Taking “mental health days” when physically healthy, however, either to play hooky or simply have a vacation from the office, is something that 15 percent of respondents admitted to.

SOURCE: Satter, M (5 October 2018) "Ready for the sounds of office sniffles?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/10/05/ready-for-the-sounds-of-office-sniffles/

Original report retrieved from https://farahandfarah.com/studies/sick-days-in-america


How employers can support employees during cancer treatment

The number of cancer survivors in the United States has grown to 15.5 million and is expected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026. Read on to learn how employers can support their employees during their cancer treatment.


Thanks to more sensitive diagnostic testing, earlier diagnosis and new treatments, the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. has grown to 15.5 million, and that number is projected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026. In addition, about 1.7 million Americans are projected to be diagnosed with cancer this year. A large percentage of these cancer patients and survivors are still active members of the workforce and the numbers have the potential to increase even more as people remain in the workforce beyond age 65.

Some people with cancer choose to continue working during treatment. Reasons for continuing to work can be psychological as well as financial. For some, their job or career is a big part of the foundation of their identity. A survey conducted by the non-profit Cancer and Careers found that 48% of those surveyed said they continued to work during treatment because they wanted to keep their lives as normal as possible, and 38% said they worked so that they felt productive. Being in the workforce also provides a connection to a supportive social system for many people and boosts their self-esteem and quality of life.

There also are financial benefits to the employer when employees continue to work during cancer treatment. Turnover costs, including hiring temporary employees and training replacement employees, are high. The cost of turnover for employees who earn $50,000 per year or less (which is approximately 75% of U.S. workers) average 20% of salary. For senior and executive level employees, that cost can reach 213% of salary. In addition, it can be costly to lose the experience, expertise, contacts and customer relationships employees have built.

This raises the question for employers: How can I support employees who choose to work while undergoing cancer treatment? Providing that support can be complex as employers work to balance their legal responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities and Family and Medical Leave Acts with the privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

When an employee chooses to share his or her diagnosis with a supervisor or HR representative, employers should view this disclosure as the beginning of a conversation with the employee taking the lead. (It’s up to the employee what information he or she wants to disclose about the diagnosis and treatment and with whom the information can be shared within the organization.) Here are four ways employers can support employees who are getting cancer treatment.

Help employees understand what benefits are available

The first step an employer should take is to refer the employee to the organization’s human resources manager (or someone who handles HR matters if the organization is smaller and does not have a human resources department) so that person can share information about all available benefits and pertinent policies. Provide details on:

  • Medical and prescription drug coverages, including deductibles, co-pays, precertification requirements, network healthcare providers and plan and lifetime maximums
  • Leave policies
  • Flexible scheduling and remote work options, if available
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Community resources and support groups

Offer professional guidance

Offering patient navigator or case management services can also be beneficial. Navigators and case managers can provide a range of services including:

  • Connecting employees with healthcare providers
  • Arranging second opinions
  • Providing evidence-based information on the type of cancer the employee has been diagnosed with and options for treatments
  • Help filing health insurance claims, reviewing medical bills and handling medical paperwork
  • Coordinating communication and medical records among members of the treatment team
  • Attending appointments with employees
  • Answering employee questions about treatments and managing side effects

Make accommodations

Workplace accommodations are another key pillar of support for employees working during cancer treatment. In addition to flexible scheduling, to accommodate medical appointments and help employees manage side effects like fatigue and nausea, and the option of working from home, workplace accommodations can include:

  • Temporary assignment to a less physically taxing job
  • Substituting video conferencing or online meetings for travel, which can be difficult for employees dealing with fatigue or a suppressed immune system, and can make it hard to attend needed medical appointments
  • Leave sharing for employees who have used all their paid time off and can’t afford to take unpaid leave. Some organizations offer leave banks or pools where employees can “deposit” or donate some of their vacation days for employees dealing with a serious illness to use.

Employees may continue to need accommodations after treatment ends if they face late side effects such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, numbness caused by nerve damage or heart or lung problems. Continuing job and schedule modifications can help mitigate the situation.

Ask for employee input

An often overlooked part of supporting employees who are working during cancer treatment is asking the employee what types of support he or she needs and prefers. Employees can share any medical restrictions related to their condition, what types of accommodations or equipment will help them do their job, and what schedule changes will allow them to attend needed appointments and recover from treatment. This should be an ongoing conversation because the employee’s needs are likely to change over the course of treatment and recovery.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (21 September 2018) "How employers can support employees during cancer treatment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-support-employees-during-cancer-treatment?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


2017 OSHA's Most Frequently Cited Standards

Manufacturing (NAICS 31)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) keeps records not only of the most frequently cited standards overall, but also within particular industries. The most recent statistics from OSHA reveal the top standards cited in the fiscal year 2017 for the manufacturing industry. This top 10 list comprises establishments engaged in the mechanical, physical or chemical transformation of materials, substances or components into new products.

Description of Violation Cited Standard Number ACV*
1.    Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) – Following minimum performance requirements for controlling energy from the unexpected start-up of machines or equipment. 29 CFR 1910.147 $6,195
2.    General Requirements for All MachinesProviding proper machine guarding to protect the operator and other employees from hazards. 29 CFR 1910.212 $8,396
3.    Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals – Preventing or minimizing the consequences of catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable or explosive chemicals that may result in toxic, fire or explosion hazards. 29 CFR 1910.119

 

$7,395
4.    Hazard CommunicationProperly transmitting information on chemical hazards through a comprehensive program, container labeling, SDS and training. 29 CFR 1910.1200 $1,472
5.    Mechanical Power-transmission Apparatus – Following the general requirements on the use of power-transmission belts and the maintenance of the equipment. 29 CFR 1910.219 $2,926
6.    Powered Industrial TrucksEnsuring safety of employees on powered industrial trucks through fire protection, design, maintenance and proper use. 29 CFR 1910.178 $2,645
7.    Wiring Methods, Components and Equipment for General UseUsing proper wiring techniques and equipment to ensure safe electrical continuity. 29 CFR 1910.305 $1,812
8.    Respiratory Protection – Properly administering a respiratory protection program, selecting correct respirators, completing medical evaluations to determine which employees are required to use respirators and providing tight-fitting equipment. 29 CFR 1910.134

 

$717
9.    General Electrical Requirements – Ensuring electric equipment is free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. 29 CFR 1910.303 $2,761
10. Grain Handling Facilities – Taking proper measures to prevent grain dust fires and explosions by having safety programs in place for quick response and control. 29 CFR 1910.272 $32,603

*ACV (Average Cost per Violation) – The dollar amount represents the average cost per violation that employers in this industry paid in 2017. To understand the full capacity and scope of each standard, click on the standard number to visit www.osha.gov and view the language in its entirety. Source: OSHA.gov  


5 critical conversations to have before retiring

According to the Society of Actuaries' Retirement Section and Committee on Post Retirement Needs and Risks, about 70 percent of Americans are on course to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Read on to learn more.


Reports of Americans’ lack of retirement preparedness roll on. Not all the news is grim, however. A recent study from the Society of Actuaries’ Retirement Section and Committee on Post Retirement Needs and Risks reports that roughly 70% of Americans are on course to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.

What we know from those who report being comfortable in retirement is that they took the steps necessary to properly prepare.

It’s not just what employees and clients have earned and saved that contributes to their quality of life in retirement, it’s also how they approach their assets, expenses, and income. To this end, individuals must speak frankly with those in their lives — partner or spouse, employer, children — who are pivotal to key aspects of retirement living.

Here are the five critical conversations individuals should have well in advance of retirement:

With your spouse or partner

1. Are we on the same page about the lifestyle we expect to have in retirement?

Before you retire, you and your partner need to get on the same page about what this means in day-to-day terms. For example, did you know that your living expenses in retirement will likely be about 80% of your pre-retirement living expenses? This means that your monthly budget will change and it’s important to make the changes thoughtfully. Examine your priorities and assumptions together to avoid misunderstandings that lead to financial missteps.

Do yourselves a favor and take a gradual approach to downsizing your spending well before retirement. This will let you significantly cut your monthly expenses without feeling the shock of adjustment. Take a close look at your monthly expenses together and identify items you can do without. Then, start eliminating a few at a time.

2. Are there parts of our life we should “downsize” before we retire?

Downsizing your home can be a real savings opportunity in retirement. Relocating to a city with a lower cost of living can also cut your monthly expenses considerably. You can even downsize your car, or go car-free altogether. These are big changes, however, that you and your partner need to consider very carefully together. You’ll want to weigh the possible savings against other important but not necessarily financial factors, such as proximity to friends and family and access to good recreational and medical facilities. Take your time weighing the pros and cons. If you can agree on which tradeoffs you are both willing to make, the impact on your security and comfort in retirement can be huge.

3. Are we really ready to retire? If not, what do we need to do to get there?

Compare your “retirement number” to your anticipated monthly expenses. Identify discrepancies so you can make adjustments and plans as needed.

Do we need to delay retirement by a few years? Even one or two extra years of work, during your peak earning years, may have a significant effect on your quality of life in retirement. Consider this question carefully as you plan when to leave work.

What other sources of income will be available to us in retirement? There are many paths to a comfortable retirement and many different ways to patch together the right assets and investments to provide for your retirement. Even if your investment portfolio is not large enough to support your retirement needs, for example, you may find that you have other assets (a business, or real estate) that can contribute. Or one or both of you may choose to work part time — the “sharing economy” is a good place to start. Or, you may decide to sell off assets you no longer need.

With your employer

4. Should I transition to a freelance/consulting relationship?
Even if you’re looking forward to stepping away from your professional career, the smart move may be to maintain a freelance or consulting relationship with your current employer. Chances are, you have experience and skills that will continue to be valuable to your employer, even when you are no longer on staff full-time. A dependable source of extra income will help you cover unexpected expenses in retirement. Or, you can use the extra income to pay for more of the things you always dreamed of doing in retirement, like hobbies and travel.

Before you have the conversation with your boss, research what a fair fee rate is for someone at your experience level, in your industry. This will allow you to negotiate your future contract from a position of strength. Your track record as a reliable employee and the cost savings to your employer of no longer having you as full time staff should also boost the argument in your favor.

With your adult children

5. How will our lifestyle changes in retirement affect the rest of the family?

Changes in your lifestyle in retirement may affect your extended family in various ways. Setting realistic expectations up front may help ease any necessary adjustments.

For example, are your adult children accustomed to receiving financial assistance from you? Let them know that this may no longer be possible after you retire and have less disposable income.

Downsizing your house? If you have been the default host for family holiday celebrations, downsizing to a smaller home may require the family to rethink future holiday arrangements. Don’t wait until the holidays are upon you to spring the change on them: discussing it ahead of time will ensure that everyone’s best ideas are considered and good alternate plans made.

Planning to relocate, or travel frequently after you retire? You will likely no longer be available for babysitting or many other family activities. Giving your kids and grandkids plenty of notice will help them plan ahead.

These conversations may be awkward and possibly painful, but they need to take place. After saving for years, a clear eye will help with your post-work years.

SOURCE: Dearing, C (12 September 2018) "5 critical conversations to have before retiring" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/critical-conversations-to-have-before-retiring


Safety Focused Newsletter: September 2018

Staying Safe When Traveling for Work

Many jobs require employees to travel for work, sometimes even abroad. While this can be a fun experience, staying safe can be much more difficult if you are in an unfamiliar area. To keep yourself safe when traveling for work, remember the following tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with local customs and laws, as you are subject to them while traveling.
  • Avoid hailing taxis on the street when possible. Instead, have your hotel’s concierge service book a reliable driver or car service for you.

Research is essential when it comes to ensuring a successful business trip and maintaining your safety.

  • Keep hotel doors and windows locked at all times. When you arrive, and any time you leave and return to the room, make sure the locks are working.
  • Ensure that your room has a working peephole and use it to verify the identity of anyone visiting your room. If an unexpected visitor claims to be a hotel employee, call the front desk to confirm.
  • Take photos of important documents and information, like your passport and driver’s license, and leave copies at home.

Research is essential when it comes to ensuring a successful business trip. Planning ahead and remaining vigilant can make all the difference.

Ways to Communicate with Peers You Disagree With

In your professional career, you’re bound to have to work alongside people you don’t agree with. For some, this can be a source of stress, particularly if you have to go out of your way to keep the workplace relationship civil.

In these situations, it’s important to know how to interact professionally. Not only will this display a high level of maturity to your co-workers and managers, but it can also help you avoid making a bad situation worse.

To work with peers you disagree with, do the following:

  • Listen more than you speak. Diversity of opinions is important, and allowing yourself the time to process what another person wants can help you understand where they’re coming from.
  • Think before you respond. Choose your words carefully when responding to something you disagree with. Doing so ensures that you can justify your arguments in a sincere, respectful tone.
  • Try to find common ground and avoid dragging others into an argument.
  • Avoid personal insults. Discussions should be civil and focus on workplace issues.
  • Ask questions. Sometimes disagreements come from a lack of understanding. Asking questions in a friendly tone can be a good way to steer a conversation into a more positive direction.

Working with people you disagree with can be difficult, but it’s an important part of most jobs. If you are concerned that you and a peer will never get along, consider speaking to a supervisor.

Newsletter Provided by: Hierl's Property & Casualty Experts

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Checklist: Updating your employee handbook

Preparing or revising employee handbooks can be daunting and confusing. Guarantee you don’t miss any essential information with this simple employee handbook checklist:


When you are preparing or revising an employee handbook, this checklist may be helpful.

Acknowledgment

  • Do employees sign a signature page, confirming they received the handbook?
  • On the signature page, do employees agree to follow the policies in the handbook?
  • Does the signature page state that this handbook replaces any previous versions?
  • On the signature page, do employees agree that they will be “at-will” employees?
  • Do employees agree that the employer may change its policies in the future?

Wage and hour issues

  • Does the employer confirm that it will pay employees for all hours worked?
  • Before employees work overtime, are they required to obtain a supervisor’s approval?
  • During unpaid breaks, are employees completely relieved of all duties? (For example, while a receptionist takes an unpaid lunch break, this person shouldn’t be required to greet visitors or answer phone calls.)
  • Are employees paid when they attend a business meeting during lunch?
  • Are employees paid for attending in-service trainings?
  • Are employees paid while they take short breaks?

Paid Time Off

  • Has the employer considered combining vacation time, sick time, and personal time into one “bucket” of paid time off?
  • Does the paid time off policy line up with the employer’s business objectives? (For example, does it provide incentives for employees to use paid time off during seasons when business is slower?)
  • Does the handbook say what will happen to paid time off when employment ends? (In Pennsylvania, employers are not required to pay terminated employees for the value of their paid time off. Some employers choose to do this, as an incentive for employees to give at least two weeks’ notice.)
  • If the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to the employer, does the handbook inform employees of their rights?
  • Does the handbook list all types of leave that are available? (For example, does the employer offer bereavement leave? How about leave while an employee serves as a juror or witness? What about municipal laws that provide certain types of leave, such as paid sick leave?)

Reasonable accommodations

  • How should employees request a reasonable accommodation?
  • Does the employer permit employees with disabilities to bring service animals to work (Employers should avoid blanket policies that ban all animals.)
  • May employees deviate from grooming and uniform requirements for a religious reason, or a medical reason? (For example, an employee may have a religious reason to wear a headscarf, even if the employer has a blanket policy that would otherwise prohibit this.)

Discrimination and retaliation

  • Does the employer inform employees that they are protected against discrimination and retaliation?
  • Is there an accurate list of protected categories? (Confirm all locations where the employer does business. Some states or municipalities may provide employees with greater protection than federal law. Are there any categories, such as sexual orientation, that the employer should add?)
  • Do employees have a clear way to report discrimination and retaliation?
  • Is there more than one way to report discrimination and retaliation? (In other words, employees shouldn’t be required to make a report to the same person who they believe is committing acts of discrimination.)

Restrictive covenants/trade secrets

  • Are employees required to keep the employer’s information confidential?
  • Do employees confirm they are not subject to any restrictive covenants (such as non-compete agreements) that would limit their ability to work for the employer?
  • Are employees prohibited from giving the employer confidential information that belongs to a previous employer?

Labor law issues

  • If employees belong to a union, does the employer state that it doesn’t intend for the handbook to conflict with any collective bargaining agreement?
  • Does the employer have a content-neutral policy on soliciting and distributing materials in the workplace? (In general, if an employer wants to limit union-related communications, the employer must apply the same rules to solicitations which don’t involve a union.)
  • Does the handbook accurately reflect whether employees may wear union-related apparel, such as hats, buttons, T-shirts and lanyards?
  • Are employees permitted to discuss their wages with each other? (Some employers try to prohibit this, but the National Labor Relations Act entitles employees to discuss their wages with each other. This rule applies to all employers—whether or not they have a union.)

Other

  • If the employer has a progressive discipline policy, does the employer reserve the right to deviate from this policy?
  • Does the employer reserve the right to inspect company computers and email accounts?
  • Does the employer have a social media policy, or a medical marijuana policy?
  • If the employer has other policies, how do they fit together with the handbook? (Does it make sense to incorporate the policies into the handbook? Or, should the handbook clarify which other policies will remain in effect?)
  • Does the handbook contain any provisions that the employer is unlikely to enforce? (For example, does the handbook prohibit employees from using all social media? Does it prohibit employees from talking on the phone while driving?)

SOURCE: Lipkin, B (20 August 2018) "Checklist: Updating your employee handbook" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/08/20/is-your-employee-handbook-up-to-date-compare-it-wi/