One-Third of Workers Say ACA Will Delay Their Retirement

Originally posted May 27, 2014 on

Although the Congressional Budget Office projects a smaller U.S. workforce in coming years as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the majority of American workers don't believe that the ACA will allow them to retire any sooner, according to a new survey from On the contrary, the Op4G-conducted survey indicates that one-third of workers expect that the ACA – also known as Obamacare – will raise their health care costs and thereby force them to retire later than they previously anticipated.

One-quarter of respondents felt that Obamacare would have no impact on their retirement date, and another one-quarter weren't sure how it would impact their retirement. Those who felt Obamacare would allow them to retire earlier were the smallest segment of respondents at 17 percent.

Many of the workers who indicated that Obamacare would delay their retirement said that the delay would be lengthy. Seventy percent of those respondents said they expected the delay to be at least three years, including the 39 percent who said it would be at least five years. The respondents who said they expected an earlier retirement were more moderate in their projections, with 71 percent indicating it would hasten their retirement by three years or less.

Richard Barrington, CFA, senior financial analyst for and author of the study, says that the purpose of the survey wasn't to determine whether Obamacare would truly delay or hasten anyone's retirement, but rather to gauge the fear and uncertainty that surround the program today.

"It's too early to tell whether Obamacare will actually delay people's retirements," says Barrington. "But what's clear at this point is that the program has created a lot of concern about health care costs as a burden on workers and retirees."

Barrington adds that whether or not these concerns are warranted, there are steps workers can take to better manage their health care costs in retirement, including budgeting for health insurance within their retirement plans, shopping regularly for better deals on insurance and using a health savings account as a way of handling out-of-pocket medical expenses.

"The poll reflects a high degree of uncertainty over the impact of Obamacare on retirement," says Barrington. "One way to reduce the uncertainty is to take active steps to manage how health care will affect your retirement."

How to make wellness work

Originally posted May 29, 2014 by Andy Stonehouse on

For all the talk of the benefits of onsite wellness programs – in both the healthier, more productive lives of workers, as well as the presumed employer cost savings as sickness, injury and absenteeism are reduced – are American companies really getting the most out of their wellness dollars?

A new EBN survey, which drew responses from 245 benefits managers, administrators and human resources professionals, finds that wellness programs work best when employee incentives – be they cash or decreases to insurance premiums (or penalties for not achieving goals) – are clearly established. But meeting wellness objectives, be they cutting costs, increasing employee productivity or lowering on-the-job absences, remains a struggle, and companies who’ve implemented wellness programs say they sometimes find it difficult to justify the investment in those costly ventures.

Wellness programs, as a result, are still on the “to do” list of many respondents; only 44% are currently running a wellness initiative, with more than a third either thinking about or almost ready to roll out a program of their own. A lack of benefits/HR managerial resources and the challenging nature of showing the financial justification for wellness’s costs are the biggest factors holding them back, according to the survey.

Among those who’ve actively adopted a wellness program at their workplace, the results are largely positive, but not breathtaking. Just 5% of respondents say they’ve completely met their top objectives – cost savings and cost avoidance – though 53% say they’ve “somewhat” met those goals and a third say they’ve achieved “a little” of that goal. The same goes for other top goals – improving employee health and longevity, and enhancing employee engagement and participation – with respondents reporting only mid-level success, at best.

Respondents said they personally had far less interest in using wellness to increase employee retention and satisfaction, reduce absences or increase overall productivity. “Turnover is an issue in our industry; spending money on wellness for people that leave hurts the ROI on wellness,” one respondent added.

What works

In order to make wellness successful, those who’ve set up and retained a program say that it’s critically important to offer easy-to-use wellness educational tools for employees. This is a much easier task to accomplish, they say, than objectives such as transforming their workplace culture into one centered on wellness, or getting employees engaged in wellness offerings.

But there are still plenty of success stories, and examples of what helps to get workers fully engaged. “A culture of wellness and associate programs requires a long-term commitment,” one respondent noted. “We are beginning to see results after only two years in effect.” Most of those with positive wellness outcomes say they’ve used incentives to help push participation in their programs, with almost half offering cash or gift cards and 40% offering health insurance premium discounts … or penalties, on the other side of the coin, for employees who do not take part.

Survey participants offered their opinions on the vendors that they work with; according to the results, the top five wellness partners include Cigna Behavioral Health, WebMD Health Services, HumanaVitality, OptumHealth Care Solutions and Alere Health Improvement. The various units of Blue Cross/Blue Shield are also important strategic partners for many companies. Interestingly enough, 19% of those respondents with wellness plans in place admitted they did not work with a specific wellness vendor at all, opting to do the heavy lifting of implementing and running a wellness program on their own.

Wellness’ saturation also appears to be directly connected both to the type and the size of business respondents are engaged in. While office-based workplaces such as banking and financial services, plus health care – rife with potential health issues among sedentary workers – make up the largest percentage of those taking the survey, manufacturing and industrial worksites are also important settings for wellness programs. More than 65% of our respondents work with employee populations of 1,000 or fewer, almost a third in companies less than 100.

The survey’s results echo the experiences of benefits managers such as Katie Sens, director of human resources for Chemprene, a small manufacturing firm in New York’s Hudson Valley. Sens oversees the wellbeing of about 115 employees, and says that like many workplaces across the country, those involved in daily physical labor out on the manufacturing floor tend to be in better shape than the company’s desk-bound workers.

“We’ve tried to create interest by offering gym memberships, but we had problems with our health insurance providing coverage,” she says. “But we’ve been inspired by our boss, who walks every day and has lost about 75 pounds in the process, so we worked out another arrangement with Gold’s Gym – we’ll pay if they go eight times a month.” In addition to standard wellness pushes such as smoking cessation and flu shots, Sens says her company has partnered with online weight loss and nutrition and lifestyle coaching provider Retrofit, paying half of employees’ costs up front and hosting group programs.

“Our boss is aboard, I’m in it, as are several other managers and their sponsors, hoping to lead by example,” she says. “Now I’m getting a lot more questions about the program, and certainly raising awareness.” As for ROI on Chemprene’s wellness efforts, Sens says the company is hoping to achieve a better bottom line for its health insurance costs, which she and management will be keeping a close eye on as the wellness programs develop; their efforts are too early to tell, she admits.

Offerings matter

Employee participation in our survey respondents’ wellness efforts also greatly varies by the complexity of the programs they offered. Overall, the highest participation was experienced in safety and injury prevention programs – more than half of respondents said the majority of their workers took part, followed by health screenings (including biometric tests, flu shots, health risk assessments and on-site health clinics), with at least 50% of employees taking part. Significantly less participation was noted in awareness, education and support programs, stress relief efforts and disease management programs; in workplaces where direct physical activities were offered, the majority of respondents said that less than 50% of their workers took part.

Teisha Haynes, global benefits supervisor for international oilfield service company Halliburton, continues to work to find productive and cost-efficient wellness options for her 35,000 U.S. employees and 75,000 dependents, spread out at 104 worksites across the country. Haynes says that the teamwork atmosphere among the company’s largely laboring workforce can actually be beneficial, when it comes to getting workers more actively engaged in physical activity.

“We realize that our employees like to work in teams and compete, so we have implemented a number of physical activity challenges that allow them to work together and compete against other business units for not only bragging rights, but a donation to the charity their select,” she says. “We have had participation from the executives, all the way down.”

For Halliburton, many larger worksites now include an on-location physical activity coordinator (“wellness champions”) to help provide compatible, healthy exercise, even for those employees not necessarily dragging pipes on an oil rig. Those coordinators are tasked with figuring out what works best in their local environment – and what vendors can provide the best services at annual wellness fairs, be they biometric screenings, heart health clinics, mammograms, or exercise programs (Red Wing Shoes, for instance, has helped with foot health assessments at various locations).

Do the efforts pay off? Haynes says measuring the investment in wellness can be a challenge, though the company is moving to quantify things more clearly by comparing claims numbers and data from health risk assessments. “We get some positive signs, like ‘employees are feeling better,’ but that produces pretty fuzzy numbers, so we’re thinking of working with Truven’s health analytics database to get more solid results,” she says.

Among those companies that are reluctant to implement a wellness program, common impediments emerge: 46% say that wellness is simply not a priority for them now, while 20% of others say that they lack the staff resources and time to help establish a wellness system. More often than not, they admit they are “still questioning whether we need one or not,” as well. As a result, a quarter of those still on the fence about wellness say it will be at least a year, if not two, before they’re able to get underway with a full wellness push.

Those who have yet to start up their own wellness program say they are primarily frustrated by a lack of time and resources to do so, as well as the financial costs involved in both start-up and administration of a wellness offering. “Our company is just a year old so it takes time to find out what employees want and will participate in,” one respondent wrote. Others said that their upper management has yet to be convinced of the merits of a wellness program; quantifiying the potential savings, whether they be direct cost reductions or overall decreases in sick leave, remains the biggest stumbling block.

Those cost-related fears may not be unfounded: 40% of survey participants who formerly had a wellness program but have abandoned those efforts say they did so primarily for financial reasons, as well as out of concerns of issues of employee privacy or anti-discrimination laws. Some changed health care providers or lost a partnership with their wellness vendor, as well.

As a more successful alternative, some survey respondents say they have worked to establish very specific objectives for their wellness programs, working with wellness vendors to find the right fit. Dale Johnson, employee benefits manager for the city of Cary, N.C., says that involved developing an innovative functional movement screening – not unlike those used in professional sports – to better understand the musculoskeletal strains of an aging workforce engaged in medium to heavy physical work, and use exercise and better day-to-day techniques to reduce strain and injuries. Johnson says the holistic program, developed with the input of research from nearby Duke University and initially implemented with the city’s public safety employees, resulted in a tangible negative trend in health care utilization and costs.

“The jury’s still out on the long-term impacts of the program, but we’re now considering expanding it to our employees in public works and utilities,” Johnson says. If this variation of a wellness program can significantly cut costs, Johnson says it could be a very positive sign that focused wellness efforts pay off.

Employers want workers to be accountable for their own health: Survey

Originally posted May 19, 2014 by Stephanie Goldberg on

DALLAS — Employers are implementing healthy lifestyle programs and activities for workers and developing workplace cultures in which employees are responsible for their own health, Julie Stone, leader of business process benefits, health and group benefits at Towers Watson & Co., said of the new health care landscape.

“The commitment to workforce health is clear, and that translates in many different ways in organizations — from building a culture … in your worksite, onsite health care, to just how you design your plans and what you incent people to do or not do,” Ms. Stone said Monday during a session on navigating health care reform at WorldatWork's 2014 Total Rewards Conference in Dallas.

Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health asked employers what their top priorities were via the 2014 “Employer Survey on Purchasing Value in Health Care,” released in March. Ms. Stone, who is based in Parsippany, New Jersey, said developing a workplace culture where employees feel personally accountable for their health was at the top of employers' list.

Healthy workers tend to be more productive, present and fully functioning, which has a direct link to the employer's bottom line, Ms. Stone said.

“The healthier your workforce, the lower your cost,” she said. “It's another way of reducing your spend before the excise tax without having to take away from a benefit design perspective.”

She said it's important for employers to build a strategy around the health care reform law's 40% excise tax on high-cost health coverage that takes effect in 2018.

“About 60% of the organizations that we've surveyed and work with are likely to hit the excise tax if there aren't changes made to the costs of benefits,” Ms. Stone said, adding that 71% of employers surveyed expect to change their health plans in preparation for the excise tax.

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."