The talent textbook: 4 ideas for giving better feedback

How can reviewers take the sting out of negative feedback or even constructive criticism? Coaching employees who need improvement, aren’t quite ready for higher pay, more responsibility, or leadership opportunities can be difficult. Read this blog post from HR Drive for four ideas on giving better feedback.


"You got a promotion! You get a raise!" It's almost as fun for managers to say it as it is for employees to hear. Giving good news during a review is easy, but how can reviewers take the sting out of constructive — or negative — feedback?

Coaching an employee who needs to improve or who isn't quite ready for more responsibility, higher pay or leadership opportunities is perhaps the most difficult aspect of performance management, so in this installment of the Talent Textbook, we'll offer four guiding principles from experts for giving better feedback.

#1: Meet more often

Many talent experts today recommend retiring the annual performance review and replacing it with frequent feedback instead. Unlike annual reviews, continuous feedback sessions can lessen anxiety for managers and workers both, making the conversations less formal and more focused. They can help send the message that the company culture is one of listening and responding to workers' needs — and they help talent pros and managers minimize the risk that workers will be dissatisfied with or surprised by the discussion.

"That feedback should be coming constantly," said Jim Flynn, CHRO at Sitel Group. "Everyone should know where they stand constantly."

Flynn believes that frequency transforms the feedback session into a chance to reflect and recalibrate on priorities and goals. It can also ensure that workers are aware of their progress toward a pay increase, promotion or increased responsibility because their manager has reminded them more recently.

For Jodi Chavez, group president professional staffing group at Randstad Professionals, Randstad Life Sciences, focusing up frequently keeps managers better informed about workers' desires and expectations, potentially preventing turnover and keeping the feedback session from devolving into a bidding war.

"If an employee has a desire and a belief that they want this promotion or to be in that role, there can be instances where you won't be able to undo their desire to leave," she said.

"It can be easier if you catch that earlier on in the process — so constant communication, so they know what you're looking for and you can keep coaching them, is important. It only becomes an issue when no one knows that it's a desire until later in the process."

Just as you wouldn't assess business goals and objectives only once a year, talent pros should expect to assess people often to curb employee disappointment, Flynn said, and this is especially true for employees early on in their careers.

#2: Give a heads up and an open ear

There's still stress for talent pros and managers even when preparing to deliver feedback in a more casual session: Will they feel insulted? Will they disengage afterwards? The fears are relevant, so that's why the way reviewers deliver feedback matters as much as the frequency.

Chavez and Flynn agree that managers and talent pros should begin conversations with what they're going to cover in the session. They can continue to be transparent with workers by providing the reasoning behind the feedback and their expectations for the future, Flynn said.

"I think the old sandwich approach, employees see through that," Flynn said, referring to the tactic of "sandwiching" a criticism between two compliments. "I would rather be more upfront and honest, and that should be the manager's approach to everything."

In that same realm, honest feedback should never come with bias or malice attached. Jeannie Donovan, VP of HR at Velocity Global, wrote in an email to HR Dive that "clear is kind" when it comes to constructive feedback. Whether the manager is discussing goal setting or areas that need improvement, the employee's pay grade or their potential for a future promotion, Chavez said the same principle applies: stick to the facts and strive for objectivity.

"For new talent managers, I think it's important to stay very factual and to hear the employee," she said. "Don't lead with false promises, just very cut and dried — 'The role that you're in and the experience that you have puts you at this level [of pay.]'"

That's not to say that a manager should shut down further discussion, Chavez said. Discussing an employee's strengths and listening to their desires can help them visualize a realistic and reachable future for themselves within the organization.

"It's really important to sit down and talk about the positive things that the employee brings to the table — it's a non-defensive position to put the employee in," Chavez said. "Try to understand what is important to them, and let them tell you. 'I may not be able to be a supervisor, but I'd still like to learn more about how to manage people' — once you know that as a manager, giving them pieces that help fulfill that helps them stay engaged."

#3: Support your managers

Talent pros should focus on workers when they consider their feedback best practices — but managers need their attention and expertise, too. As Flynn put it, "sometimes you have to carry cold water warmly" when delivering feedback, and managers need encouragement, support and guidance from talent pros to pull it off.

"A good HR business partner should understand when those difficult conversations could be occurring," he said, noting that this partnership goes both ways. "If a manager is aware that it might be a tough conversation, it's always a good idea to give your HR business partner a heads up so they can be attuned."

Providing tools or suggestions for approaching reviews can help managers to execute conversations with employees with clarity and mutual understanding. For example, Donovan coaches her managers on the "stoplight exercise," which can be helpful when an employee is making a case for a promotion. She said that managers can take a pen to the job description for the role their charge would like to be promoted into — highlighting current responsibilities in green, responsibilities they have a slight grasp of in yellow and tasks they've never touched in red.

"This is a straightforward way to identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps to assess readiness for that promotion. Further, if this exercise yields gaps, the results indicate where exactly to focus on growth," she wrote.

Donovan echoed Flynn's belief that managers and talent pros should partner in the feedback process, and that debriefing afterwards is as critical for retention as it is for employee satisfaction.

"Have that second set of eyes to be aware and look for signs of disengagement or other harmful behavior," said Flynn. "Some managers are hands off, so if they've had that difficult conversation make sure you're maintaining that personal connection and increasing your frequency of touch."

#4. Shift the focus forward

The last thing constructive feedback should sound like is a lecture. Reviewers should reiterate that the feedback is in service of plan to get that employee a promotion, salary bump, conference excursion, a chance to lead an internal workshop or whatever the goal is in the future, Chavez said.

"They should feel positive about what they have contributed and what they can continue to contribute," she said. "[It's about] what you can do to help foster that growth for them."

Flynn's approach is similar, keeping the conversation productive and goal-oriented: "I probably spend 25% of the time talking about past performance, and goals reached and past behavior, but I like to focus more on what are the strengths, what are weaknesses and where the potential is."

With the future in mind, Chavez points out that a transparent, frequent and collaborative review process could prevent promising talent from leaving down the road. It can even have ripple effects across an organization, according to Donovan, who saw that workers had a clearer vision of their goals when she transitioned to more continuous feedback.

"As a result of our laser-focus on more frequent performance conversations, our employees have a roadmap of what needs to be done and when, and this approach lends itself to higher productivity and a general sense of purpose across the board," Donovan wrote.

SOURCE: Fecto, M. (10 April 2019) "The talent textbook: 4 ideas for giving better feedback" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/the-talent-textbook-4-ideas-for-giving-better-feedback/552276/


Why your company needs a culture deck

Many HR professionals often recommend that employers create strong, positive company cultures as a way to best attract and retain talent. Read this blog post to learn why your company needs a culture deck.


Ask any HR professional how an employer should best attract and retain talent, and they’ll likely tell you that they need to create a strong, positive company culture.

But they’re also likely to say it’s easier said than done.

Sure, you can help attract employees with salary and benefits — but any other employers with the right data or a good broker can match those enticements. However, the culture at an organization is something that is not so easy to replicate.

Building a culture isn’t done by issuing a memo. The C-suite has a clear role in building the culture of an organization, but it can’t dictate it. Instead, most corporate cultures take hold based upon the behavior of employees. No matter how much the CEO wants “empathy” to be a company value, it’ll never happen if you hire a bunch of people who aren’t empathetic. The example the C-suite sets will have a far greater impact on culture than what they say.

To shape and influence the culture, one of employers’ best tools is a culture deck — which breaks down your company’s culture, core values and mission into clear, easy-to-absorb pieces.

It’s been 10 years since Netflix published the first culture deck to the internet. In 125 slides, the company outlined its values, expected behaviors and core operating philosophy. In the decade since, it’s been viewed more than 18 million times. Many other companies have followed suit with their own versions of a culture deck.

Done well, a culture deck is a promise made among the people at a company, regardless of what role they’re in or what level they’re at. A culture deck unifies thinking around how everyone is going to behave, and what matters most to them. A culture deck can galvanize what’s already happening inside the organization, and help you chart a course into the future. It can serve as an important filter in the hiring process, as prospective employees either get excited about working in a culture like yours’ or self-select out. A culture deck can infuse your mission, vision and values throughout the company, making your culture top of mind for everyone and part of their everyday conversation, and serve as a terrific introduction during new employee orientation.

If you think a culture deck could help your company, here are five keys to ensuring the deck has a positive impact for your company.

It needs to ring true. While a culture deck must be aspirational, it also must be rooted in truth. If it’s wishful thinking, employees are going to roll their eyes and you’re not going to create much cohesion.

You need to give it high visibility. Consider that research shows people need to hear something seven times before it starts to sink in — if you communicate the culture deck once a quarter, it’ll take almost two years for people to begin to get on board. The culture deck needs to be talked about in meetings. It needs to be shown on video screens throughout your offices. This can’t be a PPT that’s posted to the intranet and forgotten.

The CEO needs to be a champion. While the CEO can’t simply dictate culture from on high, if they aren’t actively on board people will notice; the tone at the top needs to be pro-culture deck. How seriously the CEO takes the culture deck determines how important it is to employees. If the CEO brings it up in all-hands meetings, that shows how committed they are to building a positive culture.

You need other champions, too. It’s good to identify a number of ambassadors throughout the company. These folks can be counted on to talk about parts of the culture deck with their colleagues. When business discussions are happening, these are the people that will say, “There’s that section of the culture deck that we should consider in this discussion.” When people start using the culture deck as a decision-making tool, that’s when you know you’re on the right track.

Remember that your culture is about more than just the deck. The culture deck is just one tool of many. It needs to be a centerpiece of your culture conversations, but simply creating the deck does not automatically mean you’ve created a culture.

Your company is a living, breathing organism — it will grow and change over time. And that means your culture must also adapt. The culture deck is not written in stone, but is a guide that can enhance communication, help team members live the corporate values and become better employees, assist you in hiring people that fit better and thereby reduce employee churn, and ultimately to help your company thrive.

SOURCE: Miller, J. (3 April 2019) "Why your company needs a culture deck" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/why-employers-need-a-culture-deck?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Ready to Spark Joy in Your Office?

Spring has sprung, setting off a wave of spring cleaning. Often, messy or cluttered spaces can make employees feel more stressed and anxious, less able to focus, and more likely to procrastinate. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more.


The hit Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” has set off a wave of house organization, purging, and general tidying. Many thrift stores and donation centers report being overwhelmed with bags and boxes of items recently filling American’s homes. What, though, of the workplace? Should a similar wave of de-cluttering and cleaning be happening at desks and in cubicles across the country?

Messy or cluttered spaces can make people feel more anxious and stressed, less able to focus, and more likely to procrastinate. It makes sense, then, that workers can boost both productivity and mood with some spring cleaning.

Start with easy things like bringing all those coffee cups back to the office kitchen and then move on to larger tasks like sorting and recycling or shredding irrelevant paper. Once a state of tidiness is achieved, then it’s time to get organized, says AZ Big Media. Managers can help by making sure employees have access to file folders, labels, markers and other tools to aid the process of going from chaos to compartmentalized.

The Muse reminds workers to also actually clean. Dusting, including your screens and using compressed air on your keyboard, and wiping down surfaces with a disinfectant might keep employees healthier and will definitely help them feel good about their space. Then, take a moment to spruce up, not just clean up. Adding photos or art, getting a few new desk accessories, and other small touches not only help personalize a space, they may just inspire great ideas too.

Think too, about shared and communal spaces. Often, one person winds up as the default fridge cleaner. Create expectations for tidiness but also ensure resentment doesn’t grow. A gift card to a coffee shop for the person everyone knows tackles the task after the fact, or a small compensation in exchange for agreeing to do it ahead of time, can keep things tidy and emotions in check.

Don’t neglect digital spaces, either, according to the Harvard Business Review. Having a logical system for online file storage will set team members up for success. If your workplace doesn’t have one, invest time in creating one. Make time for team members to clean out email and files. Why? Beyond lost time searching for files, responses, or photos, it helps keep systems ship shape when they aren’t burdened with duplicates or gigabytes of unused flies. Everyone knows the employee who reaches Inbox Zero on the regular, and the one who has 18,000 unread messages! There are more and more technologies available to help, from streamlining communications to centralizing workplace applications, says HR Technologist, and those tools are smart investments.

The Nav suggests these times of spring cleaning are also a chance to audit a company’s online presence. Update personnel on the website, refresh social media accounts, and check that plugins and apps are up to date.

To empower your company to find a place for everything, consider having dedicated time for spring cleaning. Better yet, make it a more frequent activity and do it quarterly or monthly. Workers may balk at having requirements but no time to complete the task, so don’t just expect people to stay late or make the time. Why not make it fun, too, and order lunch for the team! Once things are in good shape, it should be easier for your team members to keep it that way. Stock disinfecting wipes and other tools in a place employees can access to encourage ongoing efforts.

Keep in mind, tidying may not be magical for everyone. There are studies that suggest clutter makes us more creative. And, conversely, that too tidy a space makes people less willing to take a risk or propose a bold idea. Find what works for your teams and champion their spring cleaning efforts.

Read more:

Spring Clean Your Cubicle!

How to Tidy Up Your Business for Spring Cleaning

10 Tips for Better Spring Cleaning in Your Workplace

The Case for Finally Cleaning Your Desk

The Marie Kondo Effect: Tidying Up Your Workspace

SOURCE: Olson, B. (18 April 2019) "Ready to Spark Joy in Your Office?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/ready-to-spark-joy-in-your-office


Changing marijuana laws impact HR

Are you reassessing your company policies? With more and more states legalizing or awaiting the legalization of cannabis, many HR teams are having to assess, and potentially continually reassess, their company policies. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn more.


In more and more states, the legalization or impending legalization of cannabis requires HR teams to assess, and potentially continually reassess, company policies. In some states, legalization has been limited to medical use but, in others, it has extended to recreational use. Workforce magazine has had several recent articles focused on helping HR professionals understand how new and existing laws impact their work and workplace. In nearly every state, every employer will need to consider current and future policies around possession, use, and what constitutes impairment.

Here are some things to guide your conversation around cannabis policies.

  1. Consider your industry. Safety rules will differ for use and possession based on the industry and perhaps the specific job duties.
  2. Consult your legal team and outside experts to understand testing and screening options. Few states have legal limits in place, and compliance with laws around sanctioned medical use complicates things further.
  3. Crosscheck where you employ people. While some state laws have changed, federal law still classifies marijuana as a controlled substance. For employers with employees in multiple states, that means understanding the different laws and regulations in place and crafting policies that align to them.
  4. Collaborate with your community. Now would be a great time to reach out to other business owners, the local medical, or recreational cannabis stakeholders. Share resources, ideas, and best practices.
  5. Consider offering counseling. While legal use may be expanding, substance abuse is still a very real challenge. As an HR team, be sure you have resources and information available for anyone who is concerned about their marijuana use. Make sure any policies about substance abuse treatment are updated to reflect any legal changes.

Read more:

Does Marijuana Work at Work?

Legalized Cannabis Remains a Burning Topic for Employers

SOURCE: Olson, B. (9 April 2019) "Changing marijuana laws impact HR" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/changing-marijuana-laws-impact-hr


Adulting’ benefits: Employers’ new solution to burned-out employees

According to this article from Employee Benefit News, "adulting" benefits could be the next big trend. Generation Z and Millennials are expected to make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020. Continue reading to learn more.


In a time when globetrotting Gen Z and Postmates-loving millennials are expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020, could benefits that help with “adulting” be the next big trend?

Adulting is defined as “the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.” Although millennials and Gen Z are well into adulthood, the struggle for them to accomplish day-to-day life management tasks is very real.

Many bemoan feeling busy all the time, tired and even burned out. In her Buzzfeed post, “How millennials became the burnout generation,” author Anne Helen Peterson strikes a chord with her “errand paralysis” reference. Pants going unhemmed for over a year, packages sitting in the corner waiting to be mailed for months, a car that desperately needs vacuuming — all part of a long list of never-ending low-priority, mundane tasks that get chronically avoided, yet still add to mental stress and anxiety.

Peterson blames underlying burnout as the culprit, even calls burnout the “millennial condition” affecting everyone, from the “people patching together a retail job with unpredictable scheduling while driving Uber and arranging child care to the startup workers with fancy catered lunches, free laundry service, and 70-minute commutes.”

So can convenience benefits — such as onsite errand runners — help with this problem?

There’s no denying those benefits might take aim at a big problem: employee stress. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report, members of Gen Z report the worst mental health of any generation. Only 45% of those in Gen Z reported “excellent” or “very good” mental health, compared to 56% of millennials, 51% of Gen X individuals, 70% of baby boomers and 74% of adults older than 73. Additionally, 27% of Gen Z respondents called their mental health “fair” or “poor,” and 91% said they had felt physical or emotional symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, associated with stress.

While employers cannot solve all employee problems, they can go beyond the basics of competitive pay, comprehensive health insurance and career advancement opportunities. Forward-thinking employers can look to new convenience benefits to help simplify the mundane and incessant responsibilities of life, alleviate errand paralysis and give their employees back valuable time to actually live.

For instance, a number of companies—including a major law firm in Atlanta has an onsite errand runner who helps employees do everything from plan exotic vacation getaways, shop for Christmas presents and go on weekly Costco runs. The onsite errand runner is on call all day to take care of employees’ personal tasks so they can focus on work and clients. The reaction has been very positive, with employees saying the service helps them stay focused and physically present at work knowing that other things in their life are being handled capably. An added bonus: It helps employees better achieve work-life balance because errands are not cutting into their home life like it did before.

As more and more companies look to prioritize the employee experience and get creative with nontraditional benefits, it makes sense to consider growing trends in convenience and lifestyle benefits. For instance, providing an errand running benefit to pick up groceries for an employee or drop off that mailing package saves the employee countless hours, not to mention stress, and speaks to the challenges of the modern world.

SOURCE: Clark, A. (8 April 2019) "Adulting’ benefits: Employers’ new solution to burned-out employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/employers-address-burnout-through-adulting-employee-benefits


8 Ways to Better Manage Your Time

Ever feel like there are just not enough hours in the day? When we try to operate at a faster pace, we often tend to make even more mistakes and feel more stressed. Read this blog post for tips on how to make the most of your time.


Feel like there aren't enough hours in the day? It might sound strange, but you might want to slow your pace. When we try to operate at warp speed, we sometimes make more mistakes and often feel more stress. Check out these tips to make the most of your time without pushing yourself too hard.

  1. Log your Take a week to track how you spend most of your time at home and at work. In particular, pay attention to time spent on social media and recreational screen time such as video games, TV and web video. The average Facebook user spends 20 minutes per day on the site. That can add up. At work, look at how much of your time is focused on dealing with email vs. getting things done.
  2. Set limits. Once you know where you're spending your time, set limits for yourself. Look for apps that can let you set time limits for certain online activities. Or just use a timer to limit time writing emails or using social
  3. Make clear Give yourself an easy way to set and track goals and tasks. Whether you have an online planner or just a written to-do list, update it every day.
  4. Use your Whenever you take on a new project, try to think right away about how long it will take and when you can spend that time. If you use a calendar like Outlook, schedule time to work on projects in advance.
  5. Be Practicing mindfulness can help you become more aware of how you are spending your time. And some research shows mindfulness can actually extend your perception of time as it passes.
  6. Learn to say no. For some of us, this can be really hard. If you care about your job, you want to please your co-workers and So pushing back about a task can be difficult. But if a project or task is going to really overextend you, it's worth having a conversation with your manager about your time. Likewise, in your personal life consider your time before committing to projects.
  1. Find your focus. Interruptions can disrupt your concentration. When you really need to concentrate on something, try to get yourself away from distractions, turn off any notifications and put away your
  2. Ask for This can be another hard one for certain people. But sometimes a task or project might be easier for someone else at a given time. If you're asking for help, be respectful and if possible offer to reciprocate if you can.

Sources:

NIH, The effect of mindfulness meditation on time perception https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23778017 (Accessed 2/14/2018)

“Where do the hours go?” by Amy Novotny, American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/03/hours.aspx (Accessed 12/12/2017)

Social Networking Sites and Addiction: Ten Lessons Learned, by Daria J. Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths;
National Institutes of Health (NIH) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5369147/ (Accessed 12/12/2017)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (12 April 2019) "8 Ways to Better Manage Your Time" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/8-ways-to-better-manage-your-time


A guide to managing employee website usage

Remote work is on the rise. Employers need to be mindful of the types of websites their employees are accessing on company-issued technology. Read this blog post for key considerations and best practices to review when properly managing employee website usage.


Whether employees are working from home, the coffee shop or the office, employers need to be mindful of the types of websites workers are accessing on their company-issued technology.

New accessibility creates greater flexibility, but employers need to be vigilant to ensure workers maintain the expectation of productivity and workplace privacy. Now more than ever, the workplace heavily relies on technology and companies must understand how to manage it to avoid risk.

Nowhere is the tension between technology and privacy rights more prevalent than in today’s workplace. At the forefront of this discussion is whether employers should block access to certain websites on company-issued technology. Here are key considerations and best practices to review when properly managing employee website usage.

Creating boundaries between work and personal affairs, without invading privacy. Employees typically emphasize that their private affairs should not be accessed by their employer. But the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) states an employer-provided computer system is the property of the employer, so when an employee visits certain websites during typical office hours using company-issued technology, what is accessed by the employee becomes the employer’s business as well.

There is no denying that placing blocks on certain websites is an effective way to separate work and personal matters, maintain professionalism, protect the company’s security, respect company property and utilize work time appropriately. However, employers should beware of potential legality issues regarding privacy. For example, employees are given some protection from computer and other forms of electronic monitoring under certain circumstances.

Productivity distractions. Blocking certain websites will not prevent an employee from utilizing company time for personal reasons, but doing so reminds employees to have integrity, focus and discipline when it comes to using technology in the workplace. Some employees will use company-issued technology to visit a plethora of websites such as social media platforms, personal email accounts, instant messengers, financial institutions, sports, entertainment and music sites, as well as inappropriate websites. It is easy to become distracted with an overabundance of virtual activity at our fingertips, and blocking sites sends a serious message to workers that business technology and time is for business-purposes only.

Security of confidential company data and information. In today’s interconnected world, employers recognize the importance of protecting confidential company information. Employers often choose to block certain websites because of the risk of a security breach. Employers are concerned with the exposure of any release of its data, work products, ideas and information not otherwise disclosed to the public or its competitors. Blocking certain websites gives an organization an opportunity to decrease the risk of its confidential information being accessed by external influences.

What employers can do to be more transparent with staff

There are no foolproof methods to preventing an employee from using their work time for personal reasons or inadvertently exposing the company to security breaches.

Employees can still access many websites of their choosing through their personal technology. However, the aforementioned reasons are convincing enough for employees to take more accountability in using company-issued technology for business purposes only. An employer that endorses a policy and practice of business technology for business reasons sets a clear expectation for employees to remember and follow.

  • Enforce a written policy that sets clear expectations for in-house and remote employees about not using company-issued technology to visit certain websites and explain the reason for such policies. Policies and procedures should be well-defined, widely communicated and reviewed at least annually.
  • Inform new employees that certain websites are not accessible via company technology. Highlight the written policy for both new and existing employees. Again, explain the reason for this policy.
  • Offer training and other educational opportunities that motivate productivity during times when work focus suffers.
  • Work with the company’s internal IT department to ensure that websites are properly blocked.

Usually, when employers remain transparent with staff regarding why a policy exists, employees are more receptive. In general, employers are encouraged to consult with an experienced HR professional or employment lawyer to avoid any potential legality pitfalls in the workplace.

SOURCE: Banks, S. (11 March 2019) "A guide to managing employee website usage" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/a-guide-to-managing-employee-website-usage?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Compliance Recap - March 2019

Compliance Recap - March 2019

March was a busy month in the employee benefits world.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it will not defend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the court case challenging the ACA’s constitutionality. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated two Q&As regarding ACA reporting for 2018.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published its 2020 Actuarial Value Methodology and 2020 AV Calculator. HHS also released a bulletin that allows grandmothered plans to be extended through 2020. A U.S. District Court vacated the bona fide associations and working owner provisions contained in the Department of Labor’s association health plans final rule.

The Department of Labor (DOL) released two information letters. One information letter clarifies when an authorized representative may receive claim-related notices on behalf of an ERISA plan participant. The other information letter addresses whether employees may delay taking FMLA leave and whether the statutory 12-week period may be extended.

The IRS updated its Publication 969 for taxpayers to use in preparing 2018 returns. The IRS also announced tax relief for individuals and businesses affected by recent storms in Alabama, Nebraska, and Iowa.

UBA Updates

UBA released one new advisor: 2019 Compliance Calendar

UBA updated or revised existing guidance:

 

Status of Court Case Challenging ACA Constitutionality

As background, in February 2018, twenty states filed a lawsuit asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Court) to strike down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) entirely. The lawsuit came after the U.S. Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017 that reduced the individual mandate penalty to $0, starting in 2019.

On December 14, 2018, the Court issued a declaratory order that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of the ACA is unconstitutional. The Court granted a stay of its December 2018 order, which prohibits the order from taking effect while it is being appealed in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (appeals court).

On March 25, 2019, the DOJ submitted a letter to the appeals court clerk stating the Court’s ruling should be affirmed and that the entire ACA should be struck down as unconstitutional. The DOJ intends to file an appellate brief to defend the Court’s ruling.

IRS Updates Q&As on ACA Reporting

On March 26, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated the Extended Due Dates and Transitional Relief section of the Questions and Answers on Information Reporting by Health Coverage Providers (Section 6055) to include two additional Q&As at Q29 and Q30. Q29 addresses the extended 2019 due date, provided under IRS Notice 2018-94, for furnishing Forms 1095-B to individuals. Q30 states that Notice 2018-94 did not affect the penalty amounts for failing to furnish and file Forms 1094 and 1095.

The IRS updated the Extended Due Dates and Transition Relief for 2015 and 2016 Reporting section of the Questions and Answers on Reporting of Offers of Health Coverage by Employers (Section 6056) to include an additional Q&A at Q35. Q35 addresses the extended 2019 due date provided under IRS Notice 2018-94 for furnishing Forms 1095-C to individuals.

HHS Publishes Final 2020 Actuarial Value Calculator and Methodology

On March 19, 2019, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published the Final 2020 Actuarial Value (AV) Calculator Methodology. The Final 2020 AV Calculator Methodology also contains the 2020 AV Calculator. HHS issues this guidance annually to help issuers of non-grandfathered health insurance plans, offered in the individual and small group markets, to determine the levels of coverage of their plans (for example, AV of 60 percent for bronze level, AV of 70 percent for silver level, AV of 80 percent for gold level, and AV of 90 percent for platinum level).

A few changes were made to the 2020 AV Calculator compared to the 2019 AV Calculator. For the 2020 AV Calculator, HHS added a one-year projection factor of 6.1 percent for medical costs and 9.8 percent for drugs costs to the calculator claims data. Also, the AV Calculator estimate for the annual limit on cost-sharing has been increased to $8,250 for 2020. Finally, HHS removed the column labeled “Number of Enrollees” in its AV Calculator to limit user confusion.

HHS Releases Bulletin that Extends Grandmothered Plans Through 2020

As background, in the fall of 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a transitional relief program that allowed state insurance departments to permit early renewal at the end of 2013 of individual and small group policies that do not meet the “market reform” requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and for the policies to remain in force until their new renewal date in late 2014.

Since 2013, HHS has re-extended transitional relief each year. Most recently, on March 25, 2019, HHS released a Bulletin in which it re-extended its transitional relief policy to permit renewals with a termination date no later than December 31, 2020, provided that all such coverage comes into compliance with the specified requirements by January 1, 2021.

Read more about the transitional relief.

District Court Vacates Portions of the Association Health Plans Final Rule

As background, on June 19, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a Final Rule that broadened the definition of “employer” and the provisions under which an employer group or association may be treated as an “employer” sponsor of a single multiple-employer employee welfare benefit plan and group health plan under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

On March 28, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Court) found that the DOL’s final rule exceeded the statutory authority delegated by Congress under ERISA and that the final rule unlawfully expands ERISA’s scope. In particular, the Court found the final rule’s provisions – defining “employer” to include associations of disparate employers and expanding membership in these associations to include working owners without employees – are unlawful and must be set aside.

The Court’s order vacates the specific provisions of the DOL’s final rule regarding “bona fide group or association of employers,” “commonality of interest,” and “dual treatment of working owners as employers and employees.” The Court order sends the final rule back to the DOL to consider how the final rule’s severability provision affects the final rule’s remaining portions.

Although the DOL issued Questions and Answers after the Court’s decision, the DOL has not indicated how it will proceed. The DOL could revise its final rule or could appeal the decision and request that the Court stay its decision pending the appeal. Employers in association health plans should keep apprised of future developments in this case.

Read more about the court decision.

DOL Releases Information Letter on ERISA Claim-Related Notices to Representatives

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently released an information letter (Letter) that clarifies an authorized representative’s ability to receive notices regarding claims under ERISA. The Letter notes that a plan may communicate with both the individual and the individual’s authorized representative. However, for purposes of the claims procedures rules, when a person clearly designates an authorized representative to act and receive notices on the person’s behalf with respect to a claim, the plan should direct all information and notifications to the authorized representative, unless the person indicates otherwise.

DOL Releases Opinion Letter on When an Employee Must Take FMLA Leave

On March 14, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) released Opinion Letter FMLA2019-1-A (Letter) to address whether an employer may delay designating paid leave as Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave or permit employees to extend FMLA leave beyond the 12-week period (26 weeks for military or caregiver leave) provided under the FMLA.

The Letter states that once an eligible employee communicates a need to take leave for an FMLA-qualifying reason, neither the employee nor the employer may delay designating the FMLA-qualifying leave as FMLA leave. The employer may not delay designating leave as FMLA-qualifying leave even if the employee would prefer that the employer delay the designation. Further, an employer may not designate more than 12 weeks of leave as FMLA leave. If an employee substitutes paid leave for unpaid FMLA, the paid leave counts toward the 12-week FMLA period and does not extend such period.

IRS Releases Publication 969 Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its Publication 969 for taxpayers to use in preparing 2018 returns. The publication explains Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Medical Savings Accounts (Archer MSAs and Medicare Advantage MSAs), Health Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs), and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs).

Tax Relief for Victims of Storms in Alabama, Nebraska, and Iowa

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced that individuals who reside or have businesses in certain counties of Alabama, Nebraska, and Iowa may qualify for tax relief, including postponed deadlines, because of the President’s declaration that a major disaster occurred in these states due to severe storms. The IRS automatically identifies taxpayers located in the covered disaster area and applies automatic filing and payment relief. But affected taxpayers who reside or have a business located outside the covered disaster area must call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 to request this tax relief.

The Department of Labor (DOL) released a Fact Sheet that recognizes that the recent natural disasters may impede efforts to comply with ERISA for the next few months. The Fact Sheet provides guidance on relief that is available for certain ERISA requirements for employee benefit plans. The DOL also released an FAQ directed toward participants and beneficiaries of employee benefit plans that have been impacted by the recent natural disasters. The FAQ addresses health benefit questions and retirement benefit questions.

Question of the Month

  1. How does a person who is 65 years old or older maintain HSA eligibility and continue working? Also, when the person plans to retire, what should the person do about HSA contributions to avoid IRS penalties?
  2. To maintain health savings account (HSA) eligibility, an individual who is working and age 65 or older must:
  • Not apply for or waive Medicare Part A, and
  • Not apply for Medicare Part B, and
  • Waive or delay Social Security benefits.

For example, if a person delays Social Security benefits and delays Medicare Part A and B, retires at the end of April at an age over 65, and applies for Social Security benefits and Medicare on May 1, 2019, then the general rule is that the person’s Social Security entitlement and Medicare Part A coverage will be retroactive for six months, but no earlier than the person’s first month of eligibility. In this example, if the person retired and applied for Medicare at age 67, then Medicare benefits would be retroactively effective as of November 2018.

IRS regulations state that a person can’t contribute to an HSA when the person has Medicare, so a person would need to stop contributing six months in advance of applying for Social Security benefits and Medicare. If a person contributes to an HSA after Medicare coverage begins, then the person may be subject to IRS penalties.

4/10/2019


How to Develop an Attitude of Gratitude Towards Employees

Employees are more likely to trust their employers who recognize their value. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn how you can develop an attitude of gratitude towards your employees.


Many companies plan to boost employee engagement in 2019. With benefits for both employees and employers, the strategy is easy to understand. What’s more, a strong employee recognition program can set your company apart in a tight job market.

Indeed, we find that demonstrating pride in our employees leads them to take pride in our company. A human-centric approach creates a company culture that puts workers first. Employees are more likely to trust (and feel trusted by) companies that recognize their value.

Putting employees first can also pay big dividends to the bottom line– a strong connection exists between employee trust and company performance. Companies with high degrees of worker trust consistently outperform in terms of productivity, innovation and retention. Happier employees also contribute to a positive company culture.

That positive culture can stretch far beyond the office walls. When job seekers research your company on social media and third-party review sites – something nearly everyone does these days – they will see positive feedback from your employees. This sets your company apart from the crowd and can help attract top talent to your organization.

Creative ways to show you care

When you recognize the value your employees bring, you demonstrate the company’s values of gratitude and appreciation. Don’t just assume employees already know you think they are amazing, show them. Here are some ideas to help you acknowledge employee contributions:

  • Reserve a designated “thank you” time during staff meetings – This provides a chance for managers and team members to express gratitude towards each other.
  • Implement a weekly email “shout-out” campaign – Spread recognition of top performers to the entire firm on a weekly basis.
  • Recognize individual successes with quarterly awards – Prizes for notable achievements and employees who consistently give 110 percent cannot be overvalued.
  • Provide special well-being perks to all – Ideas include reimbursing employees for fitness classes, books or purchases of apps that promote healthy living. Provide periodic yoga classes, chair massages or meditation sessions.
  • Plan special team celebrations after wrapping up a big project – Consider generational differences and crowdsource ideas so employees get something they really want.
  • Arrange annual team retreats packed with fun activities.

When companies celebrate their employees, everyone wins. Employees are happier. There is less burnout and turnover. We have seen a myriad of bottom-line benefits from on-going employee appreciation programs at Indeed. Recognition truly transforms workers, teams and companies.

SOURCE: Wolfe, P. (4 April 2019) "How to Develop an Attitude of Gratitude Towards Employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/how-to-develop-an-attitude-of-gratitude-towards-employees


HR’s newest mission: Building a culture of trust

Fifty-eight percent of people report that they trust strangers more than their own bosses, according to a Harvard Business Review survey. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about building a culture of trust.


NEW YORK -- In an environment of workplace uncertainty and change, building or even just maintaining trust can be a herculean task for employers.

Indeed, 58% of people say they trust strangers more than their own bosses, according to a Harvard Business Review survey. Trust is a critical component to creating a happy and effective workplace, Andrew Ross Sorkin, co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” said Tuesday at CNBC’s @Work Talent and HR event in New York City.

So how can HR professionals build employee trust? It begins with getting them to believe they have their employees’ best interests at heart.

“I don’t think we’d ever be satisfied until everyone felt that way,” said Jayne Parker, senior executive vice president and CHRO at the Walt Disney Company. “We do a lot of research to look at this because we know how important trust is.”

About 30% of workers aren’t happy with their jobs, according to a recent CNBC/SurveyMonkey survey. Factors contributing to an employee’s sense of work satisfaction are pay, opportunity, autonomy, recognition and meaning, Jon Cohen, SurveyMonkey’s chief research officer, said during another session at the event.

“Workers want to trust their managers and believe they want them to succeed,” Cohen said. “Of the employees who don’t trust their boss, two-thirds said they’d consider quitting.”

With a company the size of Disney, developing teams and building trust within those individual units can translate to overall company trust. Disney has worked hard, Parker said, to make sure employees can say, “I trust the person I work for. I trust they’ll treat me with sincerity.”

Indeed, 65% of employees who don't trust their direct supervisors to provide them opportunities to advance their careers have considered quitting their jobs in the last three months, according to the survey, which was discussed at the event. Conversely, just 17% of people who trust their supervisors "a lot" to advance their career have considered quitting.

SurveyMonkey asked 9,000 U.S. workers whether they were satisfied with their jobs; 85% of respondents said they were “somewhat satisfied” with their work. However, these results shouldn’t give employers comfort, says Cohen. Those employees still have plenty of reasons to look for new jobs — uncertainty being one of them.

“The happiness people report at work is real, but the anxiety is real too,” Cohen says.

Disney recently closed its $71.3 billion deal to acquire large swaths of Fox’s entertainment segment. As such, there is insecurity within the offices of both entertainment giants, Parker explained.

As the closing date approached, reports started circulating that employees of both companies were expecting layoffs. In a situation like this distrust starts to emerge and people begin to ask “backstabbing questions,” Parker said. Employees want to know who will have their back. It’s up to the employer to be as transparent as possible and be honest that there will be changes made.

The employee may not happily skip off after this conversation, but they can have a better understanding of what is going on, easing the tension of the situation.

“We spent the past year focusing on sincerity and authenticity,” Parker said of the merger. “We have to be honest that there is going to be change in the company.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A.; Webster, K. (3 April 2019) "HR’s newest mission: Building a culture of trust" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/hr-mission-to-build-a-workplace-culture-of-trust?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000