Work-life balance study offers model for success

Originally posted May 16, 2014 by Dan Cook on

Work-life balance is out of balance in the United States, and it extracts a toll both on the job and at home. An oft-referenced 2010 survey starkly revealed how out of whack work-life balance is. Since, there’s been no evidence that it’s improved, despite the amount of discussion the subject generates.

But a recent controlled study that examined the effect of giving employees more say in their work schedule indicates that such an approach to addressing the issue could provide quantitative and qualitative benefits to employers.

The study involved 700 employees of a Fortune 500 IT corporation. Designed and conducted by two University of Minnesota researchers, the study offered half the participants considerable control over their work schedules. The other half put shoulder to the wheel in the “normal” fashion, the researchers said — meaning they let the boss set their schedule and simply followed through.

The upshot, according to the study: “Workplaces can change to increase flexibility, provide more support from supervisors, and reduce work-family conflict.”

The study revealed “significant improvements” in how the schedule-controllers reported feeling about life on the job and at home during the six-month study period.

“Not only did they have a decrease in work-family conflict, but they also experienced an improvement in perceived time adequacy (a feeling that they had enough time to be with their families) and in their sense of schedule control,” the study said.

Those who benefited the most from the additional schedule control were working parents and employees who said their bosses didn’t support work-life balance prior to the study. On average, the schedule controllers worked about an hour less a week than their counterparts, and they continued to be as productive as they had been prior to the study.

“There was no evidence that this intervention increased work hours or perceived job demands,” the researchers said.

In a news release, the researchers, Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Erin Kelly, claimed that their work offered corporations a path toward enhancing employees’ lives without risking lost productivity. Too, they said, it would be important to establish a formal work-life balance program as opposed to the types of informal, case-by-case work-life balance experiments many companies have dabbled in.

“Work-family conflict can wreak havoc with employees’ family lives and also affect their health,” said Rosalind King, of the Population Dynamics Branch at the National Institutes of Health. “The researchers have shown that by restructuring work practice to focus on results achieved and providing supervisors with an instructional program to improve their sensitivity to employees’ after-work demands, they can reduce that stress and improve employees’ family time.”

Health plan costs moderate, but larger increases ahead

Originally posted May 15, 2014 by Dan Cook on

The rate of employer-provided health care plan costs is either going up or down this year, depending on who you talk to.

Either way, the difference won’t be much. And overall, the news is good: cost hikes are fairly stable.

Towers Watson and Buck Consultants this week each released their own projections for employer health care spending for 2014. Towers Watson surveyed 173 medical carriers from around the globe; Buck got input from 126 carriers and administrators.

Want good news? Look to the Buck survey. It says the rate of increases in all types of health plans will be less in 2014 than in either of the two prior years.

Costs for PPO plans, it said, rose 8.7 percent this year, lower than last year’s 9 percent growth and the 9.2 percent seen in 2012. HDHPs show the biggest decline in cost increases, rising 8.6 percent this year compared to 9.1 percent in 2014. HMO and POS plans fell as well. For plans that supplement Medicare, though, the health-cost hike spiked to 5.5 percent from 4.1 percent last year.

The average prescription-drug cost increase for this year is 9.2 percent, down from 9.9 percent a year ago.

Buck said reduced utilization was cited by some as the primary reason for the decreases.

“This may be a result of the economic slowdown and its impact on consumers’ willingness to seek medical treatment,” said Harvey Sobel, a Buck principal and consulting actuary who co-authored the survey. “Even though the decline is good news, most plan sponsors still find 8-9 percent cost increases unsustainable.”

Meanwhile, if you’re a pessimist, Towers Watson is for you.

After two years of 9.1 percent increases, non-U.S. American plans (North American plans outside of the U.S.) are projected to rise in cost by 9.7 percent this year, its respondent said.

Globally, Towers Watson’s survey indicated that employee health benefits costs will increase 8.3 percent this year, compared to 7.9 percent last year and 7.7 percent in 2012.

Further, its respondents expect costs to start to edge up again in the future.

“More than half (55 percent) of insurers in all regions anticipate higher or significantly higher medical trend over the next three years. Asia Pacific insurers are particularly pessimistic, with more than two-thirds (69%) saying they expect medical trend in the next three years to be higher or significantly higher than current rates,” the study said.

“While the cost of providing health care benefits to employees has stabilized over the past few years, controlling rising costs remains a significant concern for employers worldwide,” said Francis Coleman, director, International Consulting, at Towers Watson. “In fact, in all regions, health costs continue to rise at twice the rate of inflation. That’s a major concern for employers, with many insurers projecting costs to again escalate in the coming years.”

15 ways to make employees happy

Originally posted May 2, 2014 by Dan Cook on

You can offer employees a lavish buffet lunch onsite every day, bring in a masseuse on Fridays and hold the company picnic at Disney World. But at the end of the day, if you have the wrong people in the wrong jobs, you will still not have a happy workforce.

That is the message from social-recognition software provider Globoforce in a white paper titled “The Science of Happiness.” Most of the material cited in the paper comes from sources other than Globoforce. However, the company teases out tips for creating a culture of happiness based on its research of others’ research. And therein one can find tasty tidbits of advice that may begin to transform your workplace into a happy one.

“HR leaders encounter a lot of advice about how to manage culture — to increase engagement, decrease turnover, and drive recruitment. But when it comes to creating a culture employees love and don’t want to leave, employee happiness is the metric that really matters,” Globoforce says in a preamble to its data and advice. “Happy employees are what make a culture great.”

The paper says happy employees:

• stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues;

• believe they are achieving their potential twice as much;

• spend 65 percent more time feeling energized;

• are 58 percent more likely to go out of the way to help their colleagues;

• identify 98 percent more strongly with the values of their organization;

• are 186 percent more likely to recommend their organization to a friend.

“Unlike culture itself, we have hard numbers on the science of employee happiness and how to directly increase it. It all leads to one conclusion: concentrating your efforts on making employees happy is the most direct and powerful way to impact your organizational culture,” Globoforce says.

Now, to the tips for putting a smile on your workers’ face.

5 ways to build alignment

1. Pay closer attention to job-person fit.

2. Fire people who don’t fit your culture.

3. Help employees find greater meaning in your values.

4. Show workers how your company fits into a bigger picture.

5. Cultivate more trust and flexibility into your policies.

5 ways to build positivity

1. Broadcast personal and team successes.

2. Offer fast, positive feedback.

3. Open up multidirectional communication lines.

4. Offer resources and emotional support.

5. Encourage employees to express gratitude.

5 ways to build progress

1. Set clear, measurable and achievable organizational goals.

2. Show employees how they fit into the bigger picture.

3. Offer training for mastery of new and existing skills.

4. Respect individualism.

5. Reward excellence and effort.

Deloitte: Study Shows Global Talent Squeeze Continues to Affect Employers

Originally posted April 29, 2014 on

Even as the economy slowly improves, human resources (HR) professionals around the globe struggle to find the right people for technical and skilled jobs.  This talent shortage makes employee retention and engagement strategies even more critical.

The 2014 "Global Top Five Total Rewards Priorities Survey" from Deloitte, the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists (ISCEBS), and the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans shows that HR leaders globally are acutely focused on talent as the top challenge and priority over the next three years.  With the added challenge of managing the dynamics of four distinct generations in the global workforce, the survey results point to the need for more effective and adaptable talent strategies and rewards programs.

"With global economies continuing their slow rebound amid persistent skills gap issues, it comes as no surprise among over a third  (35 percent) of those surveyed that attracting, motivating and retaining talent is the primary concern of employers around the world," said Jason Flynn, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP and co-author of the report. "While the alignment of rewards with overall talent management was the top challenge across all geographies, the approaches to achieve this goal truly reflected the economic, cultural and political nuances of the local regions."

Top five priorities

The "Global Top Five Total Rewards Priorities Survey" series serves as an annual barometer of talent and rewards management challenges. Conducted globally for the second time this year, 22 different countries ranked these the top five priorities for 2014:  Aligning total rewards with business strategy by attracting, motivating, and retaining employees Reducing the costs of providing healthcare and other non-cash benefits to employees Motivating staff when pay increases are flat or non-existent Demonstrating appropriate return on investment for reward expenditures Creating a rewards program that reflects the culture and goals of the organization

Evolving rewards programs and strategies

The study indicates that employers should continue to modify and adjust their total rewards programs in today's dynamic economic environment. Forty-three percent of those surveyed identified an increase in health and well-being initiatives as an action that their organization has undertaken within their overall total rewards strategy. There has been more focus on these initiatives in the Americas (50 percent) than in EMEA (26 percent) and Asia Pacific (33 percent).

Forty percent of employers also responded that they have or plan to change the definition or mix of components within their overall rewards strategy. This remixing was more prevalent in responses from EMEA (45 percent), but still high in the Americas (38 percent) and Asia Pacific (33 percent).

"Employers recognize the critical nature of total rewards as a primary way to recruit and engage employees. Equally important is for employees to understand the value of their total rewards," said Michael Wilson, CEO of the International Foundation and ISCEBS. "Employer-provided education and communication is imperative for employees to better understand and make use of their rewards. Additionally, employers are educating beyond basic benefits literacy to include topics such as personal finance, health and wellness."

 Skills gap paradox and employee consumerism

In an era of limited economic growth compressing job opportunities, it would seem that there should be enough talent to go around, but the reality is quite different.

"There is a talent paradox that we are seeing around the world. Employers are having difficulty finding the right skills and talent to fit their workforce, despite persistent unemployment numbers," said Yon-Loon Chen, senior manager, Deloitte Consulting, LLP and co-author of the report. "This leads to increased competition for the fewer highly-skilled employees; so it's no wonder that the focus comes down to enticing talent away from the competition and keeping the talent you have. And you accomplish all this through your Total Rewards program."

 Global generational considerations: Varied rewards focus

While the workforce populations in the U.S. and most of Europe are aging, India and Brazil are experiencing a high influx of young employees. The report indicates that 60 percent of employers somewhat agree or strongly agree that their organization's leadership team understands the total rewards perspectives and values of the different generations in their workforce, but only 37 percent of employers globally would consider a menu-driven reward mix that allows employees from different generations to build a total rewards package to fit their particular needs.

"Organizations have come to face the reality that their workforces are intergenerational and what may work for one generation in the Total Rewards program doesn't necessarily work for the others," added Chen.  "It will be imperative for organizations to have a flexible Total Rewards program that will support all its employees as they progress through their careers."