Why using a 401(k) to pay for emergencies is hurting employers and employees

Are your employees financially stressed? According to HR leaders, more and more employees are withdrawing $1,000 or less from their 401(k) retirement accounts to help pay for emergency expenses. Read this blog post from Employee Benefit News for more.


More than ever, HR leaders at Fortune 500 companies are reporting that employees are withdrawing $1,000 or less from their hard-earned 401(k) retirement accounts to pay for emergency expenses. These employees — often living at the brink of being financially unstable — are using the funds for unexpected emergency expenses like car repairs, medical bills or even to purchase books for their college-age children.

Corporate leaders are now, more than ever, concerned that many of their employees live under a high degree of financial stress that can affect their productivity, creativity and even their health, resulting in absenteeism and drops in productivity that ultimately impact the bottom line. HR managers are especially feeling the pain as they are called upon to handle the excessive paperwork needed for the 401(k) plan withdrawals, causing extra work that could be spent more productively on other projects that benefit all employees.

The fact that more Americans than ever are dipping into their 401(k) accounts for emergency funds reveals that many are living above their means or working below their needs financially. While it’s important to have an emergency fund, for many people savings is a luxury they simply can’t afford. According to a Federal Reserve survey, nearly 40 percent of Americans said they don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 expense. The quick fix for many is to use credit cards or ask family or friends for a loan when an emergency arises, but when those are not options, tapping into the 401(k) accounts is becoming increasingly common.

Some companies are partnering with payday loan companies so employees will refrain from tapping into their retirement funds. This is actually a worse idea because they’re setting their employees up to fail by enabling a vicious cycle of debt employees may never be free of.

Financial education could be the key to helping employees gain control of their financial lives. Companies that promote financial literacy courses and attendance at financial seminars or conferences offer the first step toward a better path for future financial stability. Offering or subsidizing the cost of continuing education courses help inspire employees to begin a lifelong journey of education for higher salaries and career advancement. Companies that promote education and career advancement attract, engage and retain employees longer than companies that don’t.

Flexible benefits can help

Companies can help their employees refrain from using their 401(k) retirement accounts as a bank if they offer flexible benefits. Employees get to choose how to use their earned benefits, like utilizing the monetary value of their unused paid time off (PTO) for other priorities such as paying for an emergency expense, paying down student loan debt or funding a vacation, among other things. Companies that offer flexible benefits are giving workers the ability to finally be in the driver’s seat of their careers and lives. When companies empower employees in this way, job satisfaction, productivity and creativity go way up.

Flexible benefits are a no brainer to organizations that want to attract, recruit, engage and retain top talent. Salary isn’t the only factor in determining a good career move, and companies that want to win the talent war will offer some type of flexible benefits. Every employee should have the ability to choose benefits based on their individual needs, avoiding the damaging financial practice of using 401(k) accounts for emergency expenses.

SOURCE: Whalen, R. (25 November 2019) "Why using a 401(k) to pay for emergencies is hurting employers and employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/employees-are-using-401k-funds-for-emergencies


District Court Vacates Parts of ACA Section 1557 Nondiscrimination Rule

Any programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or any health program or activity administered by an entity established under Title I of the ACA falls under Section 1557 of the ACA. Recently, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (District Court) vacated portions of the current rule implementing Section 1557. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more about this compliance update.


As background, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) Section 1557 provides that individuals shall not be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any health program or activity which receives federal financial assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. The current rule applies to any program administered by HHS or any health program or activity administered by an entity established under Title I of the ACA. These applicable entities are “covered entities” and include a broad array of providers, employers, and facilities. On May 13, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final rule (current rule) implementing Section 1557, which took effect on July 18, 2016.

On October 15, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (District Court) vacated portions of the current rule implementing Section 1557 that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and pregnancy termination. The District Court remanded the vacated portions of the current rule to HHS for revision. While those portions of the current rule have been vacated, covered entities subject to Section 1557 may still face private lawsuits for discrimination based on gender identity and pregnancy termination.

Employers who are subject to Section 1557 should stay informed on this litigation because it is anticipated that the District Court’s ruling will be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (21 November 2019) "District Court Vacates Parts of ACA Section 1557 Nondiscrimination Rule" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/district-court-vacates-parts-of-aca-section-1557-nondiscrimination-rule


Key factors in choosing your benefits during open enrollment

Even if your employees are veterans when it comes to open enrollment, the employer-sponsored benefits landscape is shifting. With the number of benefits that are now available to employees, how do employees select the right benefits for them? Read this blog post from Employee Benefit News for a few key factors to consider when choosing your benefits during open enrollment.


Even if you are a veteran in choosing employer-sponsored benefits, the landscape is shifting. Over the past years, we’ve seen changes to mental health counseling stipends, extended maternity/paternity leave and family building. Companies across industries are realizing that in order to attract and retain talent, they need to provide best in class benefits that save employers unforeseen costs in the long run, and shows employees that their employers are invested in their well-being — in and out of the office.

With all these available options and only a short window to select what’s right for you, here’s what should you look out for during open enrollment.

Which benefits matter to me?

The beauty of a diverse workforce is that employees may represent various walks of life. However, this means that not all benefits make sense for every person. Perhaps your boss is prioritizing childcare for his toddler while your colleague is looking to refinance student loans. Whatever your life circumstance, ask yourself, “Which benefits are most pertinent to my life and life goals in the coming year?”

For instance, fertility benefits may not be immediately attractive at first glance, even if you’re actively thinking about starting a family. But 1 in 8 couples will be impacted by infertility and treatment without coverage can be wildly expensive. It’s important to make sure you’re thinking critically and getting all the necessary information when browsing for your benefits. Rule of thumb: if this could impact you in the coming year, even if you’re not 100% sure, opt-in for coverage.

What’s actually covered?

During open enrollment, be sure to ask your benefits team about how robust each offering is and what’s included. A particular benefit may look like it has a lot to offer, but after further investigation, you may uncover restrictions, unforeseen out of pocket costs and other obstacles that may make it harder for you to utilize the benefit.

With fertility benefits, many conventional carriers offer coverage with a dollar maximum, meaning you’d max out on coverage before completing a full IVF cycle. Plus, there are additional costs outside of the basic IVF procedure, like diagnostic testing, medications, and genetic testing which may come with a hefty price tag you’d have to pay for. Without adequate coverage, many people have to make cost-based decisions, forgoing the technology they need to reach a successful outcome.

As an alternative, Progyny’s coverage is bundled, meaning your entire treatment event is covered and you do not have to worry about what is or is not included, or fear running out of coverage mid-way through. Many vendors have similar disruptive solutions to ensure they’re not leaving their members high and dry during difficult times.

When sifting through options, be sure you’re asking what’s covered and not covered under your plan. A lot of benefits may seem expansive, but make sure you’re getting the most out of the coverage that’s available to you. Ask: Are the best clinics in your area included in your plan as “in-network”? Do you have to meet medical necessity requirements before being allowed to access your benefits?

Which benefits are supported?

Once you’ve opted in for benefits during open enrollment, how do you access your benefit? How do you move forward with treatment? Does your benefit provide access to the doctors in your area? Since many of these offerings are complex and without proper onboarding, how can you be expected to understand the next steps?

With the growing emphasis on mental health and concierge member experience, companies like Progyny try to eliminate some of the member’s burden and create an easy to use benefit model that provides member support. For example, our dedicated Patient Care Advocates — a concierge-style fertility coach — helps members navigate the clinical and emotional aspects of your fertility treatment, making a difficult process a bit easier.

Another important factor to consider when shopping for benefits is access to care where you live — are the doctors that your insurance covers close by and easy to get to? When choosing your benefits, look out for any information about access to support. The goal of a benefit is to make your life easier, not leave you feeling confused and stressed in times of need.

What do I do if I’m unhappy with the benefits offered during open enrollment?

Often times, employers are unaware of what an employee wants until it’s brought to their attention. If you are unhappy with the benefits offered, raise the issue with your HR team! You are your own best advocate and change begins with you.

Not sure where to start? If you are comfortable, speak with your colleagues. Seek out a company resource group to see if others have similar needs. This way you can help form a plan or a way to approach HR. Once you have an idea of what you need, talk to HR to explain why the proposed benefit would be pertinent to you and your colleagues. Employers understand that the key to keeping good talent is making sure they’re happy.

Open enrollment can be overwhelming but take advantage of the resources you have. Ask questions, do your research, and discuss the options with experts in your office. With an arsenal of helpful information at your disposal, open enrollment should be stress-free and get you excited for all of the incredible employer-sponsored benefits in your future.

SOURCE: Ajmani, K. (25 November 2019) "Key factors in choosing your benefits during open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-choose-benefits-during-open-enrollment


DOL’s new fluctuating workweek rule may pave road for worker bonuses

The new fluctuating workweek rule proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL) could give employers additional flexibility when calculating employee overtime pay and could potentially make it easier for workers to get bonuses. Read this blog post from Employee Benefit News to learn more about this newly proposed rule.


The Department of Labor’s new proposal would give employers additional flexibility when calculating overtime pay for salaried, non-exempt employees who work irregular hours — and may make it easier for some workers to get bonuses.

The new proposal, released this week, clarifies for employers that bonuses paid on top of fixed salaries are compatible with the so-called “fluctuating workweek” method of compensation, or a way of calculating overtime pay for workers whose hours vary week-to-week. Supplemental payments, such as bonuses or overtime pay, must be included when calculating the regular rate of pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to the DOL.

"For far too long, job creators have faced uncertainty regarding their ability to provide bonus pay for workers with fluctuating workweeks," says Cheryl Stanton, wage and hour division administrator, at the DOL in a statement. "This proposed rule will provide much-needed clarity for job creators who are looking for new ways to better compensate their workers."

Paul DeCamp, an attorney with the law firm Epstein Becker Green’s labor and workforce management practice, says the DOL rule clears up ambiguity surrounding when employers can use the fluctuating workweek rule. A preamble in a 2011 Obama-era regulation suggested that bonuses were contrary to a flexible workweek, DeCamp says.

“The department’s past rulemakings have created ambiguity — paying employees a bonus makes the fluctuating workweek calculation unavailable,” DeCamp says. “During the last administration, some people with DOL took the position that the fluctuating workweek was only available when the compensation the employee received was in the form of salary.”

This new update may make it easier for employers to pay out bonuses or other kinds of compensation to a specific group of workers. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia says the proposal will remove burdens on American workers and make it easier for them to get extra pay.

"At a time when there are more job openings than job seekers, this proposal would allow America's workers to reap even more benefits from the competitive labor market,” Scalia says.

DeCamp adds that the update will make it easier for employers to provide bonuses to these workers, without being concerned they are going to impact their overtime calculation.

“What this does is it makes it possible for employers who have salaried non-exempt employees to pay other types of compensation too — without worrying that in paying that bonus or other type of compensation they’re going to screw up their overtime calculation,” DeCamp says.

But DeCamp warns that employers should not confuse this regulation with the overtime rule that the DOL finalized in September, which raised the minimum salary threshold for overtime eligibility to $35,568 per year.

“These two regulations are not interlocking. They don’t really deal with the same subject,” he says. “They’re both talking about very different employee groups.”

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (6 November 2019) "DOL’s new fluctuating workweek rule may pave road for worker bonuses" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/dols-fluctuating-workweek-rule-helps-with-worker-bonuses


Know your people, know your data: Keys to measuring employee engagement

Does your organization offer a total compensation and benefits package that appeals to employees? According to research, over half of employees believe that health insurance is important in terms of their job satisfaction. Read this post for ways to measure employee engagement.


Offering a total compensation and benefits package that fits employee needs drives morale, motivation and performance in the workplace.

Simply put, people who are happy and healthy are more productive. When an organization offers benefits that appeal to employees (and workers know how to use these benefits) employers should see an increase in total productivity.

On the other hand, if a company is off the mark with the total compensation package, or simply hasn’t communicated the benefits to people correctly, it will either see unchanged productivity or a decline. Organizations struggling to find improvement in productivity should look at their employee benefits offerings for answers.

Providing effective group health insurance and well-being programs is a good way to reduce the amount of sick leave worker's take. If employees promptly get healthcare when they’re ill, they’re more likely to be healthier overall. If an organization doesn’t offer appropriate health benefits, the result can be presenteeism.

Additionally, the cost of presenteeism multiplies when sick staff are contagious. One sick person refusing to take a day off can snowball into multiple people arriving ill to work on subsequent days. When illnesses reach critical mass and it’s harder for people to recover from things like the flu or a cold, organizations may find themselves short-staffed when employees finally pay to see a doctor.

Job satisfaction and morale are also linked to employee benefits. Research shows more than half of employees believe that health insurance is important in terms of their job satisfaction — even more crucial if staff live in an area where medical services are expensive.

Strategies to measure benefits engagement. HR staff have multiple ways of measuring how certain workplace functions are performing. Here are some effective methods organizations can use to measure benefits engagement.

Staff surveys. Questionnaires that seek to understand what benefits your staff know they have, and how they’ll use them.

Pulse surveys. Asking staff short, frequent questions about a benefits platform.

Focus groups. Gathering cross-functional groups of staff members together to have a facilitated discussion about benefits.

Exit surveys. Include questions about benefits and satisfaction levels during exit surveys, and then investigate what their next employer might be offering to have lured them away.

If organizations are not regularly questioning how well their benefits plan is performing, they may be missing an opportunity to get key insights into how employees feel about their packages.

Offering employee benefits isn’t just to support an organization’s staff, it should also support an organization’s long-term sustainability. Employee engagement is one key measure. The challenge for organizations is ensuring not only that they include benefits that will be relevant to staff, but also that they properly educate them in what those benefits are.

The less staff are educated on what benefits exist and how they can use them, the less likely they are to engage with them. Not having an appropriate communication strategy can often set benefits plan performance behind.

Working with analytics and claims data can indicate when specific benefits aren’t being used. Knowing what causes the lack of engagement requires a bit of discussion and investigation, but finding sustainable solutions is completely dependent on understanding whether the issue is the benefits themselves, or the communication to staff.

SOURCE: Rider, S. (1 November 2019) "Know your people, know your data: Keys to measuring employee engagement" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/using-data-to-measure-employee-engagement


IRS increases retirement contributions for 2020

Workers who contribute to 401(k), 403(b), 457 and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans will be able to contribute up to $19,500 in 2020, according to a recent announcement from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Read the following to learn more about this increase in retirement contributions.


The IRS said this week that workers contributing to 401(k), 403(b), 457 and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans plans can add $19,500 next year, an increase from $19,000 in 2019.

The move could help workers save more for retirement, but it may be inconvenient for employers who’ve already started open enrollment, experts say. Employees are now able to set aside $500 more for retirement.

“Every penny counts when you’re saving for retirement, and the higher contribution limit is definitely going to help,” says Jacob Mattinson, partner at McDermott, Will & Emery, a Chicago-based law firm. “But since companies are in the midst of open enrollment, employers may have to go back in and change the entries for employees who want to contribute the max.”

There are about 27.1 million 401(k) plan participants using roughly 110,794 employer-sponsored 401(k) plans, the Employee Benefit Research Institute says. Ninety-three percent of employers offer a 401(k) plan, and around 74% of companies match workers’ contributions, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management.

While the vast majority of employers do offer retirement savings plans, employees may still be struggling to sock away money. Around 70% of workers say debt has negatively impacted their ability to save for retirement, EBRI says.

“Thirty-two percent of workers with a major debt problem are not at all confident about their prospects for a financially secure retirement, compared with 5% of workers without a debt problem,” says Craig Copeland, EBRI senior research associate.

The IRS also upped contribution limits on Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees plans, or SIMPLE retirement accounts, to $13,500 from $13,000. The agency did not change the contribution limits to IRAs, which remain at $6,000 annually.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (7 November 2019) "IRS increases retirement contributions for 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/irs-increases-retirement-contributions-for-2020


A benefits wishlist for millennial employees

Only six percent of millennials feel like they make enough to cover their basic needs, according to an Economic Innovation Group study. Many employers are now tailoring their job postings, descriptions and benefits to correspond with the millennial wish list. Read this blog post to learn more.


Millennials are the new core workforce. Their concept of work is different than the standards set by previous generations. They bring bold, new approaches of what work should be, how and where it should be performed, and what the rewards for work should be.

While this has made some employers uncomfortable, millennials are not likely to change their ways. Employers must reassess their concepts to bring out the best of the unique millennial personality.

When I look at the U.S. workforce, I see a dramatic shift in the attitudes, personalities and attributes of millennials, which makes up the majority of the workforce. Millennials bring many positive attributes to the table, including a preference for flat management structures, multiple degrees, technological skills, energy and self-confidence. They also have high expectations for themselves, prefer to work in teams, are able to multitask and seek out challenges.

However, millennials have the highest levels of stress and depression of any generation. About 20% of millennial workers have suffered work-related depression. Millennials want their own living space, but they’re less likely to become homeowners because of student loan debt. Only 6% of millennials feel they're making enough to cover basic needs, according to an Economic Innovation Group national survey of millennials. As a result, 63% of millennials would struggle to cover an unexpected $500 expense. This generation wants to live within their means, but they’ve never been taught how — they need and want to be educated on how to achieve financial independence.

Think about your corporate strategy for attracting millennials. Here are just a few of the ways companies are tailoring their job postings, descriptions and benefits to correspond with the millennial wish list.

Working with meaning. Millennials want to have meaning in their work. Past generations may have worked simply because they needed to pay the bills. Millennials want to get paid too, but they also want to know that their employer is doing more than making and selling products or services. They aspire to social causes and want to know why the organization exists and how they can personally participate and contribute in that culture.

Continued personal growth and career advancement. Millennials want to be coached and have work-life balance. They want management feedback, even if it’s negative. Regular pay increases and promotions are important to them too. It shows that you’re invested in their career path and value their contributions.

Flexible hours and the ability to work remotely. They want flexible hours and the option to work from a location of their choice. This flexibility also contributes to their desire for no added workplace stress. Technology has made it possible to connect 24/7 from anywhere on any device. If you have yet to adapt your culture to accept this new norm, you’ll likely be missing out on this generation of candidates.

Technology. Millennials are smart-device people. Who better to move your organization forward than the individuals who grew up knowing how to download and use an app, or create a widget that solves a problem? They think technology-first and is required for any organization looking to remain competitive.

Financial wellness. A robust financial wellness program that includes self-directed education, competitions, games and rewards will pique millennial interest. Products and services like financial coaching, cashflow tracking, early wage access and credit resources that address their financial challenges will keep them engaged. Above all, a financial wellness program must be tailored to each individual employee to achieve maximum participation and behavioral change.

Employers must be vigilant in order to keep the best and brightest talent. They should also be proactive in managing their employees on a personal level, especially millennials. Otherwise, they are likely to be disengaged and move on — and that will cost money.

As managers and leaders of the organization, it is your responsibility to ensure that millennials understand their future in the company and to communicate that they don’t have to go somewhere else to advance. Employers and leaders have a responsibility to provide millennials with a desirable place to land, and a culture that encourages them to thrive. Don’t give millennials reasons to leave your organization. We need to support them, engage them, reward them and give them reasons to stay.

SOURCE: Kilby, D. (6 November 2019) "A benefits wishlist for millennial employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-employee-benefits-do-millennials-want


4 Steps to a Pet-Friendly Workplace

According to research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, employees who bring their dogs to work experience lower stress levels. Read this blog post from UBA for four steps to creating a pet-friendly workplace.


If your team is waving goodbye to doggy day-care and the days of leaving furry friends at home, congratulations! The trend of bringing dogs to work started soon after what is widely considered the most influential research on dog-friendly offices, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Among the many benefits, research uncovered that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced lower stress levels, as well as facilitated conversation and better socializing during their 9-to-5 schedules. Dogs are a great conversation starter, acting as somewhat of a “social lubricant” that allows natural discussion to flow between colleagues who otherwise wouldn’t interact. Dogs can also help enhance trust and collaboration between coworkers, according to a study from Central Michigan University.

Allowing four-legged friends into your office might have unintended positive consequences for employers as well as employees. Science shows us that dog lovers experience higher levels of oxytocin, the “feel-good” hormone, and that even spending brief periods of time with dogs can increase a sense of well-being for the owners and their pet-loving coworkers. These feel-good hormones can lead to higher levels of neurological productivity, meaning better work for less time spent.

If you haven’t already adopted a dog-friendly office policy, try these steps below and get smiling! Watch your recruiting, retention, and overall office mood skyrocket.

Steps to becoming a dog-friendly office:

  1. Make sure your building approves. Some office buildings have restrictions that prevent pets from visiting if they aren’t a registered emotional support animal. Building management should be able to answer this question for you, as well as help with any red tape or paperwork for getting a pet-friendly workplace approved.
  2. Take a quick survey of the team. It’s important to make sure everyone on your team is comfortable with dogs in the office. Sending out a quick survey via Google Forms or SurveyMonkey can help you gauge whether there are allergies, fears, or just general apprehensions about pets in the office.
  3. Make sure the guidelines are clear. To ease any stress, make sure the expectation is clear that, in order to bring a furry friend, they must be friendly (to other dogs and humans) and have all their vaccinations. To ensure that all dogs are suited for the work environment, you can get your dog certified with the AKC Canine Good Citizen CertificationIt’s not a bad idea to additionally request dog owners to bring their own baby gate or crate, so that their dog can be contained in one area if needed.
  4. Start small. If you aren’t ready to adopt a dogs-anytime policy, try rolling out just one day a week, maybe on Fridays. If things are going well, you can expand to a greater amount of time and less restrictions.

SOURCE: Olson, B. (24 October 2019) "4 Steps to a Pet-Friendly Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/4-steps-to-a-pet-friendly-workplace


Strategies to promote emotional well-being in the workplace

Fifty-eight percent of employers are offering wellness programs, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in five adults experiences some form of mental illness during the year. Read this blog post to learn more about how to promote emotional well-being at work.


Employers are taking a greater interest in their employees’ well-being by promoting emotional wellness at work.

Wellness programs are offered by 58% of employers, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management. There are mutual benefits to be reaped by the employer and employees when an organization looks to support its workers’ emotional wellness.

About 90% of employees perform better when they address mental health, but only 41% feel comfortable bringing it up during a check-in, according to data from 15Five, a software company that specializes in gathering employee feedback.

One in five American adults experience some form of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. Additionally, one in every 25 adults is living with a serious mental health condition such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or long-term recurrent major depression.

Employees are demanding better mental health benefits from their employers and some of them are listening. In September, coffee giant Starbucks announced that it is taking steps to improve its employees’ mental health with a new long-term initiative that includes an enhanced employee assistance program and mental health training for store managers.

See Also: 5 reasons employers should offer student loan repayment benefits

Only 25% of U.S.-based managers, across a variety of industries, have been trained to refer employees to mental health resources, according to SHRM. Employers including PNC and Ocean Spray are also investing in benefits to address mental health.

By investing in emotional and mental wellness benefits, employers are creating a human-centric workforce that drives retention, productivity and engagement, says Heidi Collins, vice president of people operations at 15Five. A key part in achieving this to create a culture that normalizes conversations about mental health.

Collins spoke with Employee Benefit News about how organizations can provide management with stronger training and more open check-ins that enable them to build trusting relationships with their employees to promote productivity.

How is 15Five creating a culture that is more understanding of employees’ mental health needs?

In so many different practices with our employees, both in our manager and direct report programs, but also as a company as a whole. We are normalizing emotions and emotional wellness in the workplace. What it all has, to begin with, is the strategy behind it and your company’s values. It can’t just be a program that HR is sponsoring and promoting but that’s not really attached to the overall company values.

How can an employer create a more mental-health and wellness-focused workplace?

We do automated weekly check-ins between managers and their direct reports. We have a recognition feature called High5, so that people throughout the organization can highlight their peers, express gratitude and also highlight someone for how they may have impacted their day or a project that went really well. There’s a recognition feature, there’s a review feature, there’s a weekly check-in feature. In the weekly check in we have a poll rating and every week we ask our employees: on a scale of one to five, how did you feel at work this week? So we build into our product the practice of managers checking in with their employees about their feelings and about their emotional and mental well-being. We attempt to create enough psychological safety, trust and openness to vulnerability that employees feel comfortable that if they are having a two out of five weeks, it can be okay to share that with a manager and be able to back it up with the reason why. So for example, an employee might say: This week was a two out of five for me because three projects blew up in our faces and at home my kid is sick and I didn’t get any sleep. The employee can just lay it all out there.

How can employers and employees become more comfortable normalizing the conversation around mental health?

It has to be very intentional, deliberate and explicit. It’s the kind of stuff employers may talk about or advertise or promote on their employer branding website...it should be very clear that promoting emotional well-being and mental wellness is part of the employer’s culture and something they value. The executive team and all of the leadership needs to be totally brought into that and that’s challenging because there are many people out there in the world who aren’t comfortable yet with talking about or bringing up those kinds of things at work. That’s the big challenge we’re facing right now, yet so many employees are coming to expect [support for mental health issues].

Is there a generational disconnect when it comes to promoting emotional wellness in the workplace?

I would say that those of us who don’t have our heads stuck in the sand, we get it. We realize that there’s a reason this mindset of addressing employees’ mental health is so popular. It’s because it’s way more effective. This is how we want to work. I’m generation X and I have a lot of friends who work in big corporate environments who still think you leave your emotions at the door. But I would say those of us who want to have a more progressive approach are so on board with it. HR professionals and potential employees who follow those old school ways, they won’t even get hired at a company like ours and I bet a lot of our customer’s companies. That’s because we know that doesn’t work anymore.

See Also: What is Perfectionism, and Is It Affecting Your Work Life?

What specifically has 15Five done to promote this initiative among its employees?

It all starts from our hiring process and what we communicate about our values and what it’s like to work at 15Five. Not only are we assessing candidates on their skills, but we’re also assessing them on their willingness to go to that very vulnerable place in their day to day with their manager or direct report. We have question in our interviews that ask “would you be comfortable talking about emotions at work?” and “if you were a two out of five on the emotion poll for the week, would you be able to share that with your manager and how would you go about doing that?” We will ask questions to make sure candidates we are bringing in are okay with this way of doing things. If somebody is going into a manager position internally, we have just implemented a manager assessment interview to make sure this person really has the skills to be a 15Five manager. A manager in our eyes is not just a taskmaster or somebody who approves your time off. They need to be employees’ coach, cheerleader and champion and they need to be comfortable supporting employees when things aren’t going well. It’s almost like having the skill set of a therapist.

SOURCE: Shiavo, A. (23 October 2019) "Strategies to promote emotional well-being in the workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/strategies-to-promote-emotional-well-being-in-the-workplace


IRS Releases Information Letter on Employer Shared Responsibility Penalties under the ACA

An informational letter was just released by the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) in response to an inquiry of whether employer shared responsibility penalties (ESRPs) may be waived or reduced based on hardship or other factors. Read this blog post to learn more.


The Internal Revenue Services (IRS) released an information letter responding to an inquiry of whether employer shared responsibility penalties (ESRPs) may be waived or reduced based on hardship or other factors and whether the IRS will extend the transition relief for employers with fewer than 100 employees.

The letter notes that the law does not provide for waiver of ESRPs. While the IRS provided several forms of transition relief in 2015 and 2016, no transition relief is available for 2017 and future years. Although the January 20, 2017, executive order Minimizing the Economic Burden of the ACA Pending Repeal directs federal agencies to exercise authority and discretion to waive, defer, and grant exemptions from the ACA provisions, the ACA’s legislative provisions are still in force until Congress changes them.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (7 November 2019) "IRS Releases Information Letter on Employer Shared Responsibility Penalties under the ACA" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/irs-releases-information-letter-on-employer-shared-responsibility-penalties-under-the-aca