Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2019

The importance of looking forward three to six months or even a few years for new and emerging trends was discussed during this year's SHRM's Annual Conference & Exposition. Factors such as technological developments, economic changes, globalization and automation, all affect how companies do business and attract top talent. Read this blog post to learn more.


LAS VEGAS — HR professionals and organization leaders have a lot to keep up with: technological developments, economic changes, globalization and automation. All of these factors affect how companies do business and attract and retain talented workers.

"If we don't keep up with all the changes going on around us in terms of the tasks we do every day, we become obsolete," said Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at New York City-based Future Workplace, an executive development firm dedicated to rethinking and reimagining the workplace.

It's more important now than ever for business professionals to look forward three or six months or even a few years, he said during a mega session at the Society for Human Resource Management 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition.

Conference attendee Jessica Whitney said she hoped to learn about any new trends for the workplace so she could compare what's discussed to what her company is currently doing—to see what it's doing right and if there are any new ideas she can take back to the office. Whitney is a people partner at Unum Therapeutics in Massachusetts.

These are the top 10 trends that will impact HR departments in 2019, according to Schawbel's research.

1. Fostering the relationship between workers and robots.

One of the biggest trends of 2019 is the partnership between robots and humans. "The human element will never go away," Schawbel said. HR will continue to manage the human workforce, and information technology (IT) teams will manage the robots. "The big opportunity moving forward is for HR to partner with IT and even other departments … in order to collaborate and manage the human experience," he said.

2. Creating flexible work schedules.

"Flexibility is something that we want because we're working more hours than ever before," he said. Regardless of age or generation, employees want to have a life outside of work.

3. Taking a stand on social issues.

Younger workers, especially, want to work for companies that are making a positive difference in the world, Schawbel said. Companies that take a stand on social issues will be unpopular with some people, he noted, but if they want to attract the right talent, they have almost no choice.

4. Improving gender diversity.

Compared to men, few women hold executive positions. The New York Times reported that "fewer women run big companies than men named John." That's the bad news. "The great news," Schawbel said, "is that countries are getting involved, companies are getting involved, and it looks like changes are on the horizon."

5. Investing in mental health.

Many people either have mental disorders or interact with someone who does, and mental health is becoming less stigmatized as more people speak publicly on the topic. Britain's Prince Harry, for example, is partnering with Oprah Winfrey and Apple on a series about mental health and has also asked employers in the United Kingdom to sign a pledge to take a stand on this issue. Schawbel noted that employers who sign the pledge signal to employees that they take mental health seriously.

6. Addressing the loneliness of remote workers.

Many employees today can work from wherever they want. Remote work is great—and employers need to promote flexibility—but there is a cost, Schawbel said. The isolation employees feel when they don't interact enough with co-workers may cause them to check out. Investing in offsite and team-building events can help. Connecting with remote workers in person even once a year can make a huge difference and build trust, he noted.

7. Upskilling the workforce.

There are 7.4 million open jobs in the U.S., and the unemployment rate is 3.6 percent. So employers need to find creative ways to close the skills gap. Companies are starting to hire more older workers, workers with disabilities, workers who were formerly incarcerated and veterans. "The [talent] pool is getting wider and wider, which is great," Schawbel said. "It's great because talent can come from anywhere." Companies are less focused on age, gender and other factors and more concerned with whether the person can do the joband work well with others, he added.

8. Focusing on soft skills.

"Soft skills are the new hard skills," Schawbel said. Ninety-one percent of HR professionals surveyed by LinkedIn believe soft skills are very important for the future of recruiting. "You can train for hard skills, but soft skills take a long time to learn," Schawbel noted. "If you hire someone who has a positive attitude, good organizational skills, is able to delegate work … they're going to be incredibly valuable in today's world."

9. Preparing for Generation Z.

Employers need to understand Generation Z, the demographic born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. Many in this cohort identify anxiety as a major issue that gets in the way of their workplace success, which relates to addressing mental health, Schawbel said. And even though Generation Z workers self-identify as the digital generation, they say they want more face-to-face interaction at work. Additionally, they tend to expect quick promotions, so employers should set realistic expectations, he noted.

10. Preventing burnout.

Employees must grapple with an "always on" work culture, and many employees leave their companies as a result of being overworked. Employers should recognize what causes burnout and aim to fix it, because it may cost them more over time if they don't, Schawbel said.

"We have to think about work differently," he added. "The future is uncertain … but we can make changes today that will give us a better tomorrow."

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L., J.D., SHRM-SCP (27 June 2019) "Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/Top-10-Workplace-Trends-for-2019.aspx


The Occupational Phenomenon Called Employee Burnout

Workplace culture and work expectations at an organization often can foster employee burnout, defined as “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” by the World Health Organization. Continue reading to learn more.


Employee burnout is fast becoming prevalent in many workplaces and is also a recurring theme in my day-to-day conversations with people. Unfortunately, many workplaces dismiss the subject and make it more of the employee’s issue than a workplace issue.

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.”

— World Health Organization

An organization’s culture and the work expectations in those organizations can foster employee burnout. Below are examples of situations that make employees prone to burnout:

  • Digital Culture: A digital workplace, according to Deloitte, is one where many operational activities are performed over technology devices. These days, you can access your work emails, phone and video conferencing applications, instant messaging tools, and work documents through a single device. It is even more tempting to resist the notifications that continuously nudge you to respond to work-related matters. While I appreciate the digital workplace and understand that it is here to stay, it often implies that we need to be available around-the-clock, even during weekends. You have managers or coworkers sending work requests during early or late hours of the day, leading to a work-life imbalance for the employee. When work begins to encroach into an employee’s personal life, then they are at risk of burnout.
  • Excessive Meetings: Collaboration is a skill required in many workplaces, and there’s no doubt that it is essential. However, some organizations tend to go overboard with their expectations from employees. Study shows that the average employee spends approximately six hours in meetings per week, while senior managers spend about 23 hours in meetings per week, and this increases by the size of the organization. Meetings, whether in-person or virtual, provide excellent opportunities for collaboration. When meetings become excessive and leave employees with little to no time to decompress, this can cause stress for employees and eventually lead to burnout.
  • Dysfunctional Work Environments: In these work environments, employees face issues such as bullying, micromanagement, gossip, favoritism, or microaggression from coworkers or managers. A workplace that encourages such undermining behaviors can cause undue stress, which can eventually lead to burnout.
  • Overworking Top Performers: It is quite easy for managers to overwork the best-performing employees. While the managers have the assurance of quality work, such employees become the victims of burnout because it seems like the reward for top performance is more work. Worse still, burnout is likely to occur when these employees do not receive fair compensation for the work they do.

What are the Signs of Employee Burnout?

The following are some signs of burnout in your employees:

  • Reduced drive and work performance
  • Increased absences from work
  • Frequent tardiness
  • Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression
  • Poor concentration at work
  • Increased sick days
  • Visible frustration
  • Lack of trust in the company and its leaders

If you or your colleagues are exhibiting any of these signs, you might be burned out.

Some Data

  • A 2018 Gallup report states that “two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.”
  • A Harvard Business School article reports that “the estimated cost of workplace stress is anywhere from $125 to $190 billion a year.”
  • An article by The World Economic Forum states that “the annual cost of burnout to the global economy has been estimated to be £255 billion.”
  • Research by Stanford Graduate School of Business states that “workplace stress—such as long hours, job insecurity and lack of work-life balance—contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year and accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs.”

The data shows that employee burnout is now a workplace epidemic. To prove the seriousness of this issue, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” in its latest revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

Ways to Reduce Employee Burnout

  • Create and Maintain a Positive Work Environment: You can do this by being aware of your actions and how they impact those around you. Do not bully or micromanage your employees, or gossip about them to other employees you manage. When making decisions about your employees, be fair and consistent to avoid feelings of favoritism. Also, empower your employees to apply their skills by giving them autonomy. These help to increase satisfaction and create trust in the workplace.
  • Set Realistic Goals: Plan projects ahead of time with your employees, set realistic deadlines or meetings, and be mindful of their personal commitments when assigning projects with tight deadlines.
  • Show Support: Create communication channels for your employees to share their concerns or frustrations with you. Having an open-door policy or weekly check-in meetings where they can share their concerns with you can make your employees feel supported. Listen to them and help to address their issues.
  • Show Appreciation: Recognize your employees for their contributions to your team. Recognition makes your employees, especially your top performers, feel like their work is impactful. When employees feel appreciated, they are more likely and willing to do great work.
  • Promote Self-Care: Encourage your employees to practice self-care by permitting their requests for personal time off or vacation when they need it. You can also encourage them to fully unplug while they are out of the office by not sending urgent requests. Another way to promote self-care is to remove all expectations that employees need to be reachable around-the-clock. Also, do not encourage employees to stay long hours at work.

Originally published on Osasu Arigbe blog.

SOURCE: Arigbe, O. (13 June 2019) "The Occupational Phenomenon Called Employee Burnout" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/the-occupational-phenomenon-called-employee-burnout


PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans

Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) annual fees are due by July 31, 2019. Plans with terms ending after September 30, 2012, and before October 1, 2019, are required to pay an annual PCORI fee. Read this article from SHRM to learn more.


An earlier version of this article was posted on November 6, 2018

The next annual fee that sponsors of self-insured health plans must pay to fund the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019.

The Affordable Care Act mandated payment of an annual PCORI fee by plans with terms ending after Sept. 30, 2012, and before Oct. 1, 2019, to provide initial funding for the Washington, D.C.-based institute, which funds research on the comparative effectiveness of medical treatments. Self-insured plans pay the fee themselves, while insurance companies pay the fee for fully insured plans but may pass the cost along to employers through higher premiums.

The IRS treats the fee like an excise tax.

The PCORI fee is due by the July 31 following the last day of the plan year. The final PCORI payment for sponsors of 2018 calendar-year plans is due by July 31, 2019. The final PCORI fee for plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2019, will be due by July 31, 2020.

In Notice 2018-85, the IRS set the amount used to calculate the PCORI fee at $2.45 per person covered by plan years ending Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019.

The chart below shows the fees to be paid in 2019, which are slightly higher than the fees owed in 2018. The per-enrollee amount depends on when the plan year ended, as in previous years.

Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2019
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019. $2.45
Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2018
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2017, including calendar-year plans. $2.39
Plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2017 $2.26
Source: IRS.

Nearing the End

The PCORI fee will not be assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2019, "which means that for a calendar-year plan, the last year for assessment is the 2018 calendar year," wrote Richard Stover, a New York City-based principal at HR consultancy Buck Global, and Amy Dunn, a principal in Buck's Knowledge Resource Center.

For noncalendar-year plans that end between Jan. 1, 2019 and Sept. 30, 3019, however, there will be one last PCORI payment due by July 31, 2020.

"There will not be any PCORI fee for plan years that end on October 1, 2019 or later," according to 360 Corporate Benefit Advisors.

The PCORI fee was first assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2012. The fee for the first plan year was $1 per plan enrollee, which increased to $2 per enrollee in the second year and was then indexed in subsequent years based on the increase in national health expenditures.

FSAs and HRAs

In addition to self-insured medical plans, health flexible spending accounts (health FSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that fail to qualify as “excepted benefits” would be required to pay the per-enrollee fee, wrote Gary Kushner, president and CEO of Kushner & Co., a benefits advisory firm based in Portage, Mich.

As set forth in the Department of Labor's Technical Release 2013-03:

  • health FSA is an excepted benefit if the employer does not contribute more than $500 a year to any employee accounts and also offers a group health plan with nonexcepted benefits.
  • An HRA is an excepted benefit if it only reimburses for limited-scope dental and vision expenses or long-term care coverage and is not integrated with a group health plan.

Kushner explained that:

  • If the employer sponsors a fully insured group health plan for which the insurance carrier is filing and paying the PCORI fee and the same employer sponsors an employer-funded health care FSA or an HRA not exempted from the fee, employers should only count the employees participating in the FSA or HRA, and not spouses or dependents, when paying the fee.
  • If the employer sponsors a self-funded group health plan, then the employer needs to file the form and pay the PCORI fee only on the number of individuals enrolled in the group health plan, and not in the employer-funded health care FSA or HRA.

An employer that sponsors a self-insured HRA along with a fully insured medical plan "must pay PCORI fees based on the number of employees (dependents are not included in this count) participating in the HRA, while the insurer pays the PCORI fee on the individuals (including dependents) covered under the insured plan," wrote Mark Holloway, senior vice president and director of compliance services at Lockton Companies, a benefits broker and services firm based in Kansas City, Mo. Where an employer maintains an HRA along with a self-funded medical plan and both have the same plan year, "the employer pays a single PCORI fee based on the number of covered lives in the self-funded medical plan (the HRA is disregarded)."

Paying PCORI Fees

Self-insured employers are responsible for submitting the fee and accompanying paperwork to the IRS, as "third-party reporting and payment of the fee is not permitted for self-funded plans," Holloway noted.

For the coming year, self-insured health plan sponsors should use Form 720 for the second calendar quarter to report and pay the PCORI fee by July 31, 2019.

"On p. 2 of Form 720, under Part II, the employer needs to designate the average number of covered lives under its applicable self-insured plan," Holloway explained. The number of covered lives will be multiplied by $2.45 for plan years ending on or after Oct. 1, 2018, to determine the total fee owed to the IRS next July.

To calculate "the average number of lives covered" or plan enrollees, employers should use one of three methods listed on pages 8 and 9 of the Instructions for Form 720. A white paper by Keller Benefit Services describes these methods in greater detail.

Although the fee is paid annually, employers should indicate on the Payment Voucher (720-V), located at the end of Form 720, that the tax period for the fee is the second quarter of the year. "Failure to properly designate 'second quarter' on the voucher will result in the IRS's software generating a tardy filing notice, with all the incumbent aggravation on the employer to correct the matter with the IRS," Holloway warned.

A few other points to keep in mind: "The U.S. Department of Labor believes the fee cannot be paid from plan assets," he said. In other words, for self-insured health plans, "the PCORI fee must be paid by the plan sponsor. It is not a permissible expense of a self-funded plan and cannot be paid in whole or part by participant contributions."

In addition, PCORI fees "should not be included in the plan's cost when computing the plan's COBRA premium," Holloway noted. But "the IRS has indicated the fee is, however, a tax-deductible business expense for employers with self-funded plans," he added, citing a May 2013 IRS memorandum.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (2 July 2019) "PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/2019-pcori-fees.aspx


Engaging employees in healthcare — even while traveling

What happens when an employee gets sick or injured while traveling? In 2018, Americans took 463.6 million trips for business, leaving employees unsure of what to do when they get sick or injured while away. Continue reading for how employers can engage employees who are traveling in healthcare.


Business travel is booming. Americans took 463.6 million trips for business last year. But what happens when a business traveler gets sick or injured while away from home and how can employers help their employees in this situation?

It starts with a simple solution: Make sure you’re providing employees with a health insurance plan that includes coverage outside the state or region where the business is located. While the majority of plans provide coverage for illnesses and injuries that meet the insurer’s definition of an emergency, some plans don’t cover care for common serious, but non-emergency health problems like strep throat, migraine headaches, a sprained ankle or back pain. Employers should ensure they offer at least one plan option that includes either an extended physician and hospital network or coverage for out-of-network care.

If employees need to travel out of the country for business, employers may want to consider offering travel medical insurance, which provides coverage during the period of time while the employee is outside the U.S. and medical evacuation if needed. To ensure employees have all the immunizations they need and are aware of any health risks at their destinations, employers can offer access to or reimbursement for pre-trip visits with a travel medicine specialist.

Even when employees have health insurance that gives them access to care while they’re away from home, connecting with experienced healthcare providers can still be difficult. Some insurers offer phone support for plan members seeking care providers, although often these providers are not heavily vetted for the experience or providing the highest quality care. Health advisory services can also help employees find and connect with healthcare providers in the U.S. and overseas.

When considering health advisory firms, employers should ask how the firm vets the healthcare providers it connects employees with and whether the firm uses a set network of providers or whether it connects employees with the most appropriate providers regardless of their health system affiliation.

Make sure employees know how to find the right type of care

When an employee falls ill or gets injured while traveling for business, her or his first instinct may be to seek care at a local emergency room, but that’s not always the best option. In addition to long wait times, the cost of care delivered in the emergency room is significantly higher than other care settings.

  • Employers can help employees make better choices by providing information about the options available and how to choose the right care setting:
  • The emergency room for serious, life-threatening illnesses and injuries such as chest pain, symptoms of a stroke, serious burns, head injury or loss of consciousness, eye injuries, severe allergic reactions, broken bones and heavy bleeding
  • An urgent care center for conditions you’d usually make a doctor’s appointment for such as vomiting or diarrhea, fever, sprains, moderate flu symptoms, small cuts, wheezing and dehydration
  • A walk-in or retail clinic for minor problems such as a rash with no fever, mild flu-like symptoms, sore throat, cough and congestion, ear pain and eye itchiness or redness
  • Telemedicine or virtual physician visits for minor illnesses and injuries and advice on whether additional care is needed

The key to helping employees know which care setting is the most appropriate is ongoing communication and education, which can take the form of in-person meetings with the benefits team, newsletter articles and email blasts, and video content shared through the company’s intranet channels.

Employees who are living with chronic health conditions should take special steps when traveling for business, including ensuring they have enough of any prescription medication they take and bringing an extra prescription with them for essential medications in case they’re lost in transit.

Ensure employees can quickly share their medical records with providers

Another important part of the healthcare equation for business travelers is ensuring that when they need care while they’re on the road, the healthcare providers who treat them can get quick, secure access to their medical records. Access to these records is important for several reasons:

  • It gives a provider who’s not familiar with the employee’s medical history a comprehensive look at past and current health problems and chronic conditions, medications, allergies or adverse reactions, and treatments and surgeries. Having this information can lower the risk of misdiagnosis, inappropriate care and duplicate care or testing, which not only adds unneeded costs but can also cause harm.
  • This information can be especially important when employees are seriously ill or injured and can’t speak for themselves to share medical history and their wishes about issues like the use of a ventilator or feeding tube.

There are several online services and apps that allow users to upload medical records so they can share them with healthcare providers. Another option is to work with a health adviser who can make sure employees’ records are carefully reviewed to ensure accuracy and stored in a secure universal medical record that can be accessed in minutes by treating physicians anywhere in the world.

Giving employees who travel for business the right resources and guidance can not only increase their peace of mind, it can help make sure they have access to the care they need wherever work takes them.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (18 June 2019) "Engaging employees in healthcare — even while traveling" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/engage-employees-in-healthcare-when-traveling


One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health

How is your company promoting well-being? Research shows an association between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease. Continue reading for how employers can promote well-being by targeting oral health.


With the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare benefits approaching $15,000 a year per employee, according to the National Business Group on Health, innovative companies are looking for new and creative ways to get maximum value from their benefits dollars.

By embracing benefits strategies focused on overall health, companies can help their current employees be healthier and more productive and attract and retain the workers they need to succeed in today’s competitive labor markets.

And although wellness programs or health apps might first spring to mind, there’s an overlooked way to promote employees’ health: oral care.

Guided by research that shows associations between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease, forward-thinking dental insurers are developing products that emphasize the importance of regular oral care, particularly for workers with those conditions — and smart companies are jumping on board.

Products that emphasize the importance of maintaining oral health are an important step in integrating care. Over the next several years, leading-edge insurers will create new ways to engage patients in conversations about their dental and overall health, as they seek to encourage behavior changes and improve health outcomes. To help improve oral and overall well-being, insurers will need to share oral care information with their members through targeted emails, text messages and phone calls.

Additionally, because individuals dealing with a complex treatment plan may put off receiving oral care while they address their medical issues, they could benefit from plans featuring a case manager, or a “dental champion.” Working in conjunction with medical case managers, a dental champion can help employees understand how receiving regular oral care can influence their overall health. They also can ensure a company’s workforce is getting the oral care they need, helping them find providers and arrange appointments.

Savvy employers recognize that any realistic effort to limit the increase in healthcare costs begins by addressing chronic ailments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease, like heart disease, cancer, stroke or diabetes.

By promoting overall health — including regular oral care — employers can encourage positive lifestyle changes that help their employees reduce the likelihood of many chronic problems. Those who brush and floss their teeth regularly, receive frequent cleanings and checkups and deal with oral issues at early stages are taking steps to improve their overall health.

Because everyone’s individual situation is different, insurers and employers will need to include a more personalized approach, engaging members in conversations about their dental health and how it contributes to attaining their overall health goals.

SOURCE: Palmer, T. (13 June 2019) "One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/promoting-wellbeing-through-dental-health


Mentorship Matters

Research shows that having a trusted mentoring relationship can help bolster emotional well-being for mentees. Continue reading this blog post from UBA for more on why mentorship programs matter.


Imagine highly tailored, expert advice for both professional and personal life goals and transitions being readily available. That’s what a skilled mentor can provide. Having an engaged, intentional, and present mentor helps support and build talent. Beyond talent and skill building, research points to a trusted mentoring relationship serving to bolster emotional wellbeing for mentees as well. No wonder people seek out mentors, and that people who seek out mentors are promoted more frequently.

There are benefits to the mentors, too. In some studies, mentors report feeling like their jobs are more meaningful. Mentors also report lower levels of anxiety as well, according to the HarvardBusiness Review. This relationship can be one that both parties learn from and creates a mentor pipeline with current mentees becoming future mentors.

Fortune 500 companies are keyed into the benefits of mentorship, with 70 percent of these large corporations having a program. Such programs can help boost a business' ability to attract and retain talent. This can be for all candidates but also for diversity and inclusion, since women and people of color report having a mentor as a valuable component of their success. This is particularly true for hiring Millennials, who want career direction and work that is meaningful and may benefit from strong mentoring programs.

With an ever-more-mobile workforce, mentorship can ensure your top performers share their knowledge in case they leave, per an article in Feedstuffs. Likewise, newer employees onboard more successfully when they have a strong mentor. Beyond sharing how processes and systems work at a particular company, mentors can also share culture tips that can help a newer employee integrate into an office community more seamlessly.

Whether a formal program or a more informal relationship, mentorship is something employees want but may not know how to get, says HR Dive. More than 75 percent say mentorship matters, but only 56 percent have ever had a mentor. Individuals currently being mentored falls to only 37 percent. HR departments of companies of all sizes should be prepared to answer questions about programs during interviews and hiring.

A few keys to building a successful mentorship program include:

Provide opportunities for feedback. For mentors looking to improve and open to constructive criticism, one of the best resources may just be anonymous feedback. It would only be truly anonymous, but also likely most valuable, after mentoring enough people to find trends or notice areas from improvement. Science reports that, while face-to-face conversations are important for mentoring relationships, anonymous feedback is equally important for individuals to improve.

Look beyond direct managers/supervisors for mentors. An article in Forbes points to a manager’s role as one of ensuring projects are successful and business goals met. That can get in the way of working on an individual’s development. Look outside of direct management for an employee’s mentor so the mentor can focus on the individual.

Invest in your mentoring program, and the mentors themselves. Creating a program is exciting and full of potential but taking time to train mentors is essential. Success happens after the launch of the program after all. Be sure you’re spending as much time developing your mentors, says the Association for Talent Development. If they feel like they are expected to just know what to do, they may struggle. Creating guides, training, and direction to mentors helps them feel successful from the start.

Make time for connection and conversation. Nearly half of mentees report that getting time with the mentors proves challenging. As an organization, consider how you can support a successful connection by carving out regular time for both individuals to be available. Trust building, boundary and expectation setting, and more all take time.

Read more:

Mentoring Can Supercharge Your Staff

Most Employees Say a Mentor Is Important, but Few Have One

Want to Become a Better Mentor? Ask for Anonymous Feedback

5 Reasons Mentors Need Help

Stressed at Work? Mentoring a Colleague Could Help

Why You Need A Mentor Who Isn't Your Boss

SOURCE: Olson, B. (18 June 2019) "Mentorship Matters" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/mentorship-matters


Tri-Agency Final Rules on Health Reimbursement Arrangements

Final rules regarding health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and other account-based group health plans were recently released by the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Read this compliance update to learn more.


The Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (collectively, the Departments) released their final rules regarding health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and other account-based group health plans. The DOL also issued a news releasefrequently asked questionsmodel notice, and model attestations.

The final rules’ goal is to expand the flexibility and use of HRAs to provide individuals with additional options to obtain quality, affordable healthcare. According to the Departments, these changes will facilitate a more efficient healthcare system by increasing employees’ consumer choice and promoting healthcare market competition by adding employer options.

To do so, the final rules expand the use of HRAs by:

  • Removing the prohibition against integrating an HRA with individual health insurance coverage (individual coverage HRA)
  • Expanding the definition of limited excepted benefits to recognize certain HRAs as limited excepted benefits if certain conditions are met (excepted benefit HRA)
  • Providing premium tax credit (PTC) eligibility rules for people who are offered an HRA integrated with individual coverage
  • Assuring HRA and Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) plan sponsors that reimbursement of individual coverage by the HRA or QSEHRA does not become part of an ERISA plan when certain conditions are met
  • Changing individual market special enrollment periods for individuals who gain access to HRAs integrated with individual coverage or who are provided QSEHRAs

The final rules will be published in the Federal Register on June 20, 2019, be effective on August 19, 2019, and generally apply for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.

However, the final rules under Section 36B (regarding PTCs) apply for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2020, and the final rules providing a new special enrollment period in the individual market apply January 1, 2020.

An HRA is a type of account-based group health plan funded solely by employer contributions that reimburses an employee for Section 213(d) medical care expenses incurred by the employee, or the employee’s spouse, dependents, and children who are not age 27 as of the end of the taxable year, up to a maximum fixed-dollar amount during a coverage period.

These reimbursements are excludable from the employee’s income and wages for federal income tax and employment tax purposes. An HRA can allow amounts that remain at the end of the year to be available to reimburse medical care expenses incurred in later years.


5 myths about returning to work after a disability

How is your return-to-work program? Many employers, human resources professionals and benefits experts have misperceptions about return-to-work and the accommodations that are used to make programs successful. Continue on for five myths about returning to work after a disability.


Carl was 58 when he found out he needed a hip replacement, and the environmental services worker was told he’d be out of work for three months to recover.

But less than eight weeks after his surgery, Carl was back on the job. It wasn’t because he couldn’t pay his bills without a paycheck — his short-term disability insurance through his employer helped with that. Instead, it was for two reasons: One, he was eager to get back to his normal life, and two, his employer was willing to support a plan for a gradual transition back to his usual duties. With his doctor’s approval, he worked half-days for two weeks as he built back his endurance and work stamina, and soon was working full-time again.

The result: Carl’s transition back to work over a 14-day period got him back on the job 40 days earlier than expected, based on initial estimated date. The transition plan also allowed him to return to work without needing to tap into his long-term coverage. At the same time, his employer was saved the cost of hiring and training replacement staff or paying overtime to other workers.

With a win-win like this — and it’s just one of thousands of examples I could share — you’d think all employers would be on board with return-to-work strategies. Instead we’ve found a surprising number of employers, human resources professionals and even benefits experts have misperceptions about return-to-work and the accommodations that can make it successful. And it’s hitting them and their employees hard on the bottom line.

Here are five of the most common myths about returning to work after a disability. See how many you mistakenly believe.

1. It’ll create a workers’ compensation claim. Some employers are afraid an employee who’s had a disabling injury will be a safety risk, getting reinjured on the job and creating a costly workers’ comp claim. The reality is a gradual transition back to full-time work makes employees safer as they regain strength and rebuild skills.

2. We don’t have to provide accommodations unless the injury happened at work.
This one’s not true, either, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Council. Employers legally can’t differentiate between employees who suffer a disabling injury at work and those who’re injured at home or elsewhere. Smart employers focus on getting a valuable employee back to work, not the injury or illness and where it happened.

3. Employees must be 100% or they can’t perform productive work.Employers willing to be creative often find there are many tasks a skilled, knowledgeable employee can perform during a transition period. True, some jobs have more rigid requirements than others. For example, a nurse might not be physically able to go straight back to patient care. But if you’re like most of us, you have a stockpile of back-burner projects that would benefit your business. A transitioning employee could have the perfect skills to take those on. In other cases, simple, inexpensive accommodations can help an employee perform better: An assembly line worker who can’t stand for an eight-hour shift could use a leaning stool for support and be just as productive.

4. Customer care or service will be negatively impacted. This one might seem logically true, but it really isn’t when you crunch the numbers. Accommodating a returning employee with part-time hours or different duties for a period of time has less impact on service and productivity than hiring, training and ramping up replacement staff. Routinely cross-training employees in other jobs also gives employers the flexibility to move resources where they’re needed at any time.

5. Other employees will also want “light duty.” This may not exactly qualify as a myth, as some employees really might want what they perceive as easier work. The issue is the term light duty itself, which is both loaded and vague. Effective communication is essential here: Consistently refer to new, alternate or modified job tasks, be transparent, and make sure employees understand return-to-work options. Having a return-to-work program where employees feel valued impacts the morale of the whole team, boosting productivity.

How to make return-to-work work well

Helping your valued employees rejoin your team doesn’t have to be costly or difficult. Here are a few tips to make it successful.

Communicate early and often. Meet or talk with the employee before the leave and stay in touch while on leave. Talk before the return to work to set expectations.

Be flexible. Consider a graduated return-to-work plan to allow the employee to ramp up to full time. Allow work at home for part of the day or week, if possible. Make hours flexible to allow for medical appointments.

Be welcoming. Meet with the employee upon return, and ensure the manager conducts regular one-to-one meetings with the employee. Allow the employee time to reintegrate, perhaps with the aid of a mentor.

Focus on the job, not the illness or injury. Instead of asking the employee how he or she is feeling, ask how the company can better assist him or her in performing the essential functions of the job.

Be creative. Avoid making assumptions about what the returning employee can do. Flexible work arrangements, accessible technology or inexpensive adaptations can often help the employee do the job in alternate ways.

SOURCE: Ledford, M (5 June 2019) "5 myths about returning to work after a disability" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/myths-about-returning-to-work-after-a-disability


Taking the first steps to a long-term benefits strategy

Many companies are struggling in the search to find cost-effective, successful employee benefits strategies that HR professionals and finance professionals agree on. Read this blog post to learn more.


The quest for a cost-effective and successful employee benefits program can feel like a search for the Holy Grail. To most, it’s an elusive goal within the context of rising and unsustainable costs.

Unlike “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” in which a comedy of errors made for a hilarious movie, nonsensical benefits strategies can have serious consequences.

One major challenge is that many HR and finance professionals have conflicting objectives. HR’s mission is to design a program that is competitive in the marketplace for human capital needs while supporting the organization’s culture. Finance, on the other hand, is charged with managing to a budget by controlling expenses to mitigate year-over-year increases. The result, in spite of best intentions, leaves organizations unable to commit to a multi-year plan and opt in favor of living year-to-year.

So, how do you overcome this challenge?

Step 1Key HR and finance stakeholders need to align on goals and objectives. They also need to remain engaged in the process throughout the year (not just at renewal). Once you achieve alignment, these objectives should be memorialized into a benefits philosophy. Why? So the collective team has guiding principles for future decisions.

Step 2: Identify the cost drivers of the program. Many employers have little line of sight into how their plan is performing until it’s too late. Once you are staring down the barrel of a 25% increase, an organization may be forced to make swift changes to soften the blow to their bottom line rather than follow a strategic approach that comes with preparation. Unfortunately, this type of knee-jerk reaction only temporarily relieves the pressure and may create unintended consequences to the employee value proposition.

Step 3Understand where you were, where you are and where you want to be. After 25 years in the consulting industry, one thing I know for certain is there are only so many levers you can pull to rein in escalating benefit costs. Identify the levers and how far you want to pull them.

Step 4: Determine success metrics. I’ve seen many organizations implement new tactics, such as a health savings account. When I ask them if it was successful, they can’t answer because they didn’t set an internal bar for success. That barometer will help you gauge success and determine what changes need to be made to your approach to achieve your goal.

Step 5Commit the plan to writing and review it periodically. Just like your company’s overall business plan, you will need to make adjustments along the way as your business changes.

Regardless of strategy, I recommend employers take steps toward a self-funding benefits model. Historically, self-funding was for groups with 1,000 lives and above. But that’s no longer the case. Self-funding provides that all-important line of sight into cost drivers because of access to claims data. Having a deeper understanding of the “why” behind costs allows an organization to implement a data-driven approach to the overarching benefits strategy. Self-funding also provides more plan design flexibility and eliminates the internal costs that an insurance carrier builds into a plan for profit.

It’s more effective to create a benefits strategy that is sustainable over time, so when you inevitably endure a higher-than-normal renewal cycle, typically every three to five years, you are prepared to stay the course.

Consider timing. When you make changes to a benefit plan is just as important as what changes you make. Evaluate the timing of benefit changes, how they are implemented and how adjustments will impact your workforce now and in the future.

For example, if you plan to add new voluntary benefits, such as indemnity plans, it may make sense to run them “off cycle” from the core medical benefits open enrollment season. This gives employees more time to conduct research about the new product option and make an educated decision.

Strive for simplicity. I can’t stress this enough. The Affordable Care Act, an increase in voluntary benefit options, new funding models and benefit trends have created an enormous amount of noise in the insurance industry. Tune it out and simplify your process as much as you can. Your HR and Finance teams are overwhelmed and so are your employees. Instead of throwing new benefits at them each year, focus on educating them and making choices simple. In fact, any long-term benefits plan worth its weight always includes an education and communications component.

Benefit illiteracy is rampant, and confusion over options at open enrollment can have consequences for the employee throughout the plan year. If your employees choose their benefits online, spend the open enrollment meeting educating them on how to buy and consume insurance, rather than just what the benefit choices are for the plan year, or how to use the online enrollment tool. You should also communicate throughout the year, rather than just at open enrollment to support employees’ understanding of their benefits program.

Identify other areas where employees might struggle. One trend is to offer transparency tools to help them choose a doctor or specialist. But be aware that the sheer number of doctors in a given list can be overwhelming. Rather than offering employees a choice of 50 doctors, narrow it down to five providers with the best healthcare outcomes.

Making it simpler for employees to be better consumers of healthcare will help you cut costs and get on the right path to a long-term benefit strategy. Of course, you’ll have to check in each year and consider making small adjustments to the program, and data will help guide these changes. Adjustments should all be in service of a long-term plan. If you begin your long-term plan by asking the question, “Where were we, where are we now and where do we want to be in the future?” you’re halfway there. You may eventually find that your Holy Grail is within reach.

SOURCE: Bloom, A. (14 May 2019) "Taking the first steps to a long-term benefits strategy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/taking-the-first-steps-to-a-long-term-benefits-strategy


Are you offering the right benefits? Look to benchmarking, surveys for answers

With unemployment at historic lows, benefits have become a big differentiator for employers. Continue reading this blog post for more on benchmarking your employee benefits plan.


With unemployment at a 50-year low, benefits have become a big differentiator for employers, which means they need to be competitive to attract and retain employees. What are competitive benefits? Ask 100 employers and you’ll get 100 answers.

It’s no longer affordable to offer Cadillac plans with low employee contributions. How do employers offer attractive yet affordable benefits that will draw potential employees in? They turn to benchmarking and employee surveys to build and validate benefit plans.

“High cost” has become so synonymous with “healthcare benefits” that it’s hard to separate one from the other. As benefits become more costly, they also become more complicated to manage. Add today’s shift to the need for competitive programs and the whole thing begins to look like a slog through quicksand.

Here’s the thing: The employer must strike a balance between what employees want and what they’ll use. That means zeroing in on what they find valuable. While it may be tempting to follow benefit trends by offering pet insurance or creating in-office perks like beer and pizza, research suggests that most employees value more traditional coverages and benefits. What gets them in the door — and keeps them engaged — is likely going to be paid leave, flexible/remote work options and professional development.

To determine what your employees want and what peer employers are offering in your industry, look to benchmarking and employee surveys as two of the sharpest arrows in your plan design quiver.

Benchmarking tells you what you’re competing against. While certain employee benefits are more popular in some industries than others, it’s vital to know who you’re competing against to attract and retain employees. For example, nonprofit organizations historically provide modest employee salaries but rich benefits. While that benefits model may work for most of your workforce, it’s important not to overlook other industry standards. A large nonprofit hiring employees for its IT department is not only competing against other nonprofits for talent, but they’re also competing against tech-industry talent, which may put more of a focus on salary and bonuses than rich benefits.

The best way to identify who you’re competing against and what types of benefits they’re offering is to undertake a benchmarking study. Benchmarking your benefits package can provide insight into what your competition offers across industries, regions and company size so you can ensure your plan design stands up against the competition. Benchmarking studies yield details like:

  • Medical plan type
  • Employee premium cost
  • Employee premium contribution
  • Medical copay
  • Prescription drug copay
  • Office visit copay
  • Emergency room copay
  • Voluntary benefits offerings
  • Salary ranges
  • Paid sick leave

Armed with that data, you can decide where you should aim your focus and whether you’re offering a competitive benefits package.

Surveys tell you what employees value. The best way to understand what your employees value is to ask them. Employee surveys can help you find out which benefits your employees love, which ones they don’t like and where you can make improvements.

When developing an employee benefits survey, pay close attention to how questions are written in order to elicit the best responses from employees. It might make sense to reach out to a survey organization to ensure it’s done right. Benefit brokers often have experience with surveys, too.

When the survey is complete, put together a communications plan so you can get the highest number of responses about what your employees love and what needs improvement. It’s a best practice to survey employees every plan year to stay on top of changes across the workforce. (Just not at open enrollment time).

It’s an inexpensive undertaking that could lead to serious cost savings from changes to the plan and increased employee retention. So basically, a survey is worth the time and effort.

Benchmarking and surveys are important components of a benefits strategy. They can put you on a more direct path to a plan design with options that are right for your culture and workforce.

SOURCE: Newman, H. (17 May 2019) "Are you offering the right benefits? Look to benchmarking, surveys for answers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/hr-review-surveys-for-employee-benefits-trends