4 benefits messages to send employees in May

With tax season over, and summer right around the corner, now is a great time to beef up communications about certain employee benefits. Read on for four benefits messages employers should send their employees this May.


With tax season behind us, summer right around the corner and the second half of the year coming up, now is a great time of year for employers to beef up communications about certain benefits.

That’s because there are a number of important messages that are specific to this time of year, including saving money for summer vacations and putting more money into a health savings account so employees can plan for healthcare expenses for the remainder of the year.

Here are four messages employers should share with their employers this month.

1. Think about putting more money in your HSA.

May is a great time for your employees to take stock of their healthcare costs from January to April, and plan ahead for the second half of the year. Here’s a breakdown you can send to help them save money and have more cash available through December to pay their bills.

  1. Add up this year’s out-of-pocket health care costs thus far.
  2. Make a new estimate of your upcoming expenses (padding that estimate for unexpected expenses that may pop up.).
  3. Add your estimated costs to what you’ve already spent.
  4. Compare that total with how much you’ll have in your HSA account at the end of the year as it is now.
  5. If there’s a gap, you can increase your contribution rate now to make up the difference.

2. Adjust your W-4s.

Tax season has passed, which means it’s an excellent time to…think a little more about taxes.

The tax law changes that went into effect at the start of 2018 might have made your employees’ existing W-4s less accurate. If they didn’t update their withholding amount last year, they might have been surprised by a smaller refund, a balance due, or even by a penalty owed — and chances are, they don’t feel too happy about it.

Let your employees know that they can prevent unexpected surprises like this next tax season with a visit to this IRS tax withholding calculator. There, they can estimate their 2019 taxes and get instructions on how to update their W-4 withholdings to try and avoid any surprises next year. If they can update their W-4 online, send them the link along with clear step-by-step instructions. And if they need to fill out a paper form, explain where to find it and how to submit it.

3. Revisit your budgeting tools.

Summer is almost here, and your employees are likely starting to think about hitting the beach, road-tripping across the country or eating their weight in ice cream. Since having fun costs money, May is a good time to serve up some ideas on how to squirrel away a little extra cash in the next few months.

Employers should share tips for saving money on benefits-related expenses, like encouraging high-deductible health plan employees to use sites like GoodRx.com for cheaper prescription costs, or visiting urgent care instead of the emergency room for non-life-threatening issues. Also, consider making employees aware of apps like Acorns, Robinhood, Stash, Digits and Tally, which round up credit or bank card expenses to the next dollar, and automatically deposit the extra money into different types of savings accounts.

4. Double-check out-of-network coverage.

While you’re on the subject of summer fun, remind your employees to take a quick peek at their health plan’s out-of-network care policies before they head out of town. If they need a doctor (or ice cream headache cure) while they’re away, they’ll know where to go, how to pay, and how to get reimbursed.

Employers should remind employees that their HSA funds never expire, and they’re theirs for life. So if they put in more than they need this year, it will be there for them next year.

SOURCE: Calvin, H. (1 May 2019) "4 benefits messages to send employees in May" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/4-benefits-messages-to-send-employees-in-may


What to consider before adding a genetic testing benefit

Did you know: Eighteen percent of employers provide health-related genetic testing benefits, according to new statistics from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). Read on for what employers should consider before adding a genetic testing benefit to their benefits package.


As employers look for new voluntary benefits to help attract and retain employees, a growing number are turning to direct-to-consumer genetic testing for all employees to their benefits plans. According to the latest statistics from the Society for Human Resource Management, 18% of employers provide a health-related genetic testing benefit, an increase of 6% over the previous year.

For the most part, it can be a smart move: Not only can the benefit differentiate one employer from others vying to hire from the same employee pool, genetic testing providers market the benefit as a way to potentially lower healthcare costs and increase employee wellness.

This type of testing can be valuable for employees at an increased risk for certain types of cancer, such as breast and ovarian cancer related to mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, those considering having a child who have risk factors for genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis and Tay Sachs disease, those who have a family history of conditions like high cholesterol, and those who take medications such as blood thinners and anti-depressants. There also are tests that look for genes associated with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and celiac disease.

But employers also have to realize that genetic testing for all employees, regardless of family history and risk factors, comes with potential downsides. In fact, some physicians believe that widespread genetic testing of this type may even present a risk of harm. There’s also the issue of regulation and oversight of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. The industry is not currently regulated, which, some researchers have found, can lead to inaccurate or varying results. One study found that when the same genetic variant was provided to nine different labs for analysis, the answers provided were different 22% of the time, highlighting the risk of false positive and false negative results.

So for employers who offer — or are considering adding — a genetic benefit, make sure to think about the potential outcomes that can occur by doing so.

The potential for lower costs as well as unnecessary healthcare spending

If an employee’s genetic test is positive for a mutation that’s associated with cancer or another disease, he or she may be more proactive about screening for the disease and may make lifestyle changes that may lower the risk of developing the disease. There are potential healthcare cost savings to early detection of some conditions. For example, by some estimates, the cost for treating early-stage breast cancer is more than 50% less than the cost to treat the same cancer at an advanced stage.

For employees who undergo testing related to how effective a blood thinner or antidepressant will be, there can be better health outcomes as well as cost savings. One study found that when physicians prescribed the blood thinner Warfarin based on pharmacogenomic testing, adverse events decreased by 27%. Avoiding adverse events and making sure employees are taking the medications that can most effectively treat their conditions can help keep them healthy, out of the hospital and productively on the job, all of which has a positive financial impact.

But when you’re screening people who don’t have risk factors or a family history of these conditions, a positive test result can lead to unnecessary testing and medical procedures, potential complications from those procedures and the costs associated with that testing and care.

Before and after testing, education

Employers who offer genetic testing without a physician referral need to take steps to ensure that employees understand the risks and benefits of these tests upfront and that they know what a genetic test can and cannot tell them about their health now and in the future. The first step is for any employer offering genetic testing to provide education for employees.

Many employees don’t realize that having a gene mutation that’s associated with a disease does not mean that he or she will ever develop that disease. The risk associated with most genetic variations is, in fact, relatively small. Because of that misunderstanding, employees may experience needless worry or, if the test is negative for mutations related to a disease, may forgo screenings like mammograms, colonoscopies and cholesterol tests that can help detect health problems earlier when they are often more treatable. In the case of genetic testing for mutations associated with cancer, employees may not be aware that most cancers are not caused by a mutation in the single gene that the test screens for.

For some of the conditions that genetic tests screen for, like Alzheimer’s disease, there are currently no treatments. This can again cause anxiety for employees and their families. Genetic tests also have implications that reach beyond the specific employee who is tested. A positive test can affect siblings and children as well, opening the question of whether the employee wants or feels compelled to share the results with other family members who may also be at risk.

Employers who offer employees genetic testing should ensure that all employees who choose to undergo testing are guided by experienced genetic counselors who can help them interpret and understand the results of their test and can connect them with other healthcare providers for additional testing or treatment as needed.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (3 May 2019) "What to consider before adding a genetic testing benefit" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-to-consider-before-adding-a-genetic-testing-benefit


7 tips for keeping shift workers healthy

Is your employer open for more than 10 hours a day? Most companies that are open for more than 10 hours a day have some sort of shift work or work pattern. Read this blog post for seven tips on keeping shift workers healthy.


For companies open for more than 10 hours a day, it’s likely that you have some sort of shift work, or a pattern of work involving rotation through different fixed periods across a working week or month. Employees who work in healthcare, call centers, manufacturing and in a warehouse all regularly work round-the-clock shifts, and these are some of the most common industries utilizing this type of model.

While shift work can have numerous positives for the company and even the workers, it also can have many negative impacts on health — both physical and mental. Beyond the most common health impact — sleep disruption — there are numerous other ways shift work can negatively impact a worker’s health including: mood disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, injuries and accidents, metabolic disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disorders, interference on family live and limited social life.

Shift workers also experience high levels of annual leave requests and short-term disability claims.

For employers in one of these industries, or any industry with non-regular shift hours, there are a few best practices that will help improve worker productivity and minimize leave.

Provide schedules that are as predictable at possible. Allowing an employee to settle into a regular schedule will allow them to establish a routine both at work and at home. Interference with home and social life can be a key trigger for a variety of negative health habits.

Limit the number of nights worked consecutively. Just like a traditional Monday-Friday, 9-5 worker, those working night hours need a weekend of their own, too. While this may not always be Saturday-Sunday, allowing them a couple of consecutive days off will give them time to disconnect and recharge.

Designate areas and times for employees to rest in the workplace. Whether a nurse in a busy ER department or a warehouse worker stocking shelves, everyone needs a break during their workday. Work with the shift manager to map out regular breaks and a calm and quiet place for employees to take a break.

Provide health and wellness programs that are accessible at night and on weekends. Since most HR professionals work office day jobs, they often forget about accessibility of services to employees working different hours. Assure your EAP provider is accessible 24/7 and if you have on-campus programs, be sure to offer them at different times for your shift workers. A factory employee working third shift should have the same level of access as a first-shift office worker.

Give employees more control over their schedules with shift-based hiring. This is an approach of hiring people for individual shifts rather than hiring employees, then scheduling them into shifts. Employees come to companies with a range of responsibilities outside of the workplace. Allowing them to match with the shift that best works with their personal lives will result in greater productivity and fewer health impacts.

For those returning to work following a leave, keep the schedule as close to their normal schedule as possible. While it’s not always possible to perfectly align with their previous schedule, you’ll want to get those returning from a leave back into the routine of their previous shift work. While on leave, many will have transitioned into a different sleep routine, so getting them back to the previous patterns will help with the transition back to work.

Provide resources on good sleep health. For shift workers, a healthy sleep routine can be challenging. However, there are simple and well-proven approaches to establishing sleep patterns regardless of the time of day. Be sure to regularly promote resources in the workplace and through regular communications. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is a good place to start.

SOURCE: Willett, S. (26 April 2019) "7 tips for keeping shift workers healthy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/tips-for-keeping-hourly-employees-healthy?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds

Workplace wellness programs do not cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers' health, according to a recent study from JAMA. Continue reading this blog post to learn about this recent study and workplace wellness programs.


Workplace wellness programs have become an $8 billion industry in the U.S. But a study published Tuesday in JAMA found they don’t cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers’ health.

Most large employers offer some type of wellness program — with growth fueled by incentives in the federal Affordable Care Act.

A host of studies over the years have provided conflicting results about how well they work, with some showing savings and health improvements while others say the efforts fall short.

Many studies, however, faced a number of limitations, such as failing to have a comparison group, or figuring out whether people who sign up for such wellness programs are somehow healthier or more motivated than those who do not.

Now researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard may have overcome these obstacles with one of the first large-scale studies that is peer-reviewed and employs a more sophisticated trial design.

They randomly assigned 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all employees, then compared results with 140 stores that did not.

The big-box retailer employed nearly 33,000 workers across all 160 clubs during the test.

After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled.

But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

“The optimistic interpretation is there is no way we can get improvements in health or more efficient spending if we don’t’ first have changes in health behavior,” said one study author, Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. (Dr. Zirui Song, an assistant professor of health policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, was its co-author.)

“But if employers are offering these programs in hopes that health spending and absenteeism will go down, this study should give them pause,” Baicker said.

The study comes amid widespread interest in wellness programs.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey of employers found that 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle change. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Some programs are simple, offering gift cards or other small incentives to fill out a health risk assessment, take a lunch-and-learn class or join a gym or walking group. Others are far more invasive, asking employees to report on a variety of health-related questions and roll up their sleeves for blood tests.

A few employers tie financial incentives to workers actually lowering risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol — or making concerted efforts to participate in programs that might help them do so over time.

The Affordable Care Act allowed employers to offer financial incentives worth up to 30% of the cost of health insurance, leading some employers to offer what could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars off workers’ deductibles or premiums to get them to participate. That led to court challenges about whether those programs are truly voluntary.

In the study reported in JAMA, the incentives were modest. Participants got small-dollar gift cards for taking wellness courses on topics such as nutrition, exercise, disease management and stress control. Total potential incentives averaged $250. About 35% of eligible employees at the 20 participating sites completed at least one module.

Results from those workers — including attendance and tenure data, their self-reported health assessment and results from lab blood tests — were specifically compared with similar reports from 20 primary comparison sites where workers were not offered the wellness gift cards and classes. Overall employment and health spending data from all worksites were included in the study.

Wellness program vendors said details matter when considering whether efforts will be successful.

Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes.

Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.

An accompanying editorial in JAMA noted that “traditional, broad-based programs like the one analyzed by Song and Baicker may lack the necessary intensity, duration, and focus on particular employee segments to generate significant effects over a short time horizon.”

In other words, don’t give up entirely on wellness efforts, but consider “more targeted approaches” that focus on specific workers with higher risks or on “health behaviors [that] may yield larger health and economic benefits,” the editorial suggested.

It could be, the study acknowledges, that 18 months isn’t enough time to track such savings. So, Baicker and Song also plan to publish three-year results once they are finalized.

Still, similar findings were recently reported in another randomized control trial conducted at the University of Illinois, where individuals were randomly selected to be offered wellness programs.

In one interesting point, that study found that wellness-program participants were likely already healthier and more motivated, “thus a primary benefit of these programs to employers may be their potential to attract and retain healthy workers with low medical spending.”

Everyone involved in studying or conducting wellness agrees on one thing: Changing behavior — and getting people motivated to participate at all — can be difficult.

Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps, a wellness program vendor, said that for the efforts to be successful they must cut across many areas, from the food served in company cafeterias to including spouses or significant others to help people quit smoking, eat better or exercise more.

“Behavior is more complicated than simply taking a few wellness modules,” said Aldana. “It’s a lifestyle matrix or pattern you have to adopt.”

SOURCE: Appleby, J. (16 April 2019) "Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/workplace-wellness-programs-barely-move-the-needle-study-finds/


A better place to work: How well-being impacts the bottom line

One in 10 employers is skeptical about the value of well-being programs. Health challenges, near stagnant wages, financial stress and more can take a personal toll on your employees, causing their stress levels to rise.  Continue reading to learn more.


Logically, employees bring their “whole selves” to work. Unfortunately, health challenges, relatively stagnant wages, heightened financial pressures, always-on technology and contentious geo-political climates around the world all take a personal toll on employees in the form of rising stress.

Employers recognize that the health and well-being of their workers is vital to engagement, performance and productivity, yet one in ten are skeptical about the value of well-being programs. But by learning from peers’ experiences, employers can take steps to help employees improve their well-being through access to related programs and services. And that contributes strongly to the overall success of the organization.

Survey says

According to the 252 global employers polled in the Working Well: A Global Survey of Workforce Wellbeing Strategies, building a culture of well-being is a higher priority than ever. Fully 40 percent of organizations believe they’ve actually achieved it, up from 33 percent in our 2016 survey. Of those who have not, another 81 percent are making plans to get there.

Top priorities for wellness programs in North America were to reduce stress and boost physical activity. Stress is a bottom-line issue for employers: 96 percent identified employee stress as the biggest challenge to a productive workforce.

Closely related priorities were improving nutrition and work-life issues, addressing depression and anxiety, and getting better access to health care services. On the latter, discussion with many employers confirms this includes sufficient access to mental and behavioral health providers—directly related to the top challenge of stress and its more serious potential debilitative consequences that can include anxiety, depression, addiction and more.

Health

The most frequently offered employee health benefits which respondents also assessed as most effective included the following:

  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs): By far the most frequent program, offered by 86 percent of global employers and 96 percent of US respondents. About 7 in 10 of those who offer an EAP said it’s effective in achieving their objectives, although actual experience reveals a wish that many more employees would take full advantage of EAP services. Know your numbers assessments, including health screenings and health risk appraisals, rose in prevalence globally and were considered effective by 86 percent of respondents.
  • On-site care: While smaller numbers of employers offer on-site immunizations, delivery of medical care, or fitness centers, they were still rated at just over 80 percent effective – demonstrating that convenience and access can remove barriers and enhance results.
  • Flexible working policies: These rose in prevalence over our last survey, consistent with other research demonstrating that multiple generations prize work flexibility to enable balance and help manage life’s stressors.
  • Wearables: Sensors and trackers also rose in prevalence. Globally, two-thirds of respondents credited them with effectiveness in monitoring and perhaps motivating healthy activities.

The survey also found health literacy is required to engage and drive behavioral change, and employers need targeted solutions to build it.

Finances

Validated by other research, a majority of employees live paycheck to paycheck today. Of US respondents, 87 percent reported financial distress among employees (the global average was 83 percent). Employers cited negative bottom-line results from financial stress, such as lower morale and engagement, delayed retirement and lower productivity, among other detrimental impacts. Other studies show financially stressed employees spend three hours or more each week distracted by it.

In prior years, this survey showed a top focus on saving for retirement; now, non-retirement-related objectives are rapidly catching up as priorities. It’s hard to focus on retirement when current needs are pressing. As a result, well over 7 in 10 employers also seek ways to ensure adequate insurance protection, help in saving for other future needs, better handling day-to-day expenses, reducing debt, and having emergency savings.

ROI vs. VOI

Just under half of respondents have specific, measurable goals or targets and outcomes for their well-being programs overall. But measurement is tricky, and 45 percent of respondents noted a lack of resources to support measurement as the top barrier to metrics. Nevertheless, only 8 percent perceived “no measurable return.”

Of those measuring the health care cost impact, 54 percent reported their programs were reducing trend by 2 to 5 percentage points per year. Financial well-being ratings were more challenging, with only 4 percent globally saying they have objective data to demonstrate their financial well-being program effectiveness.

Concurrently, many placed their bets on technology tools to inform program design and outreach: 84 percent rated predictive analytics as effective in helping to support well-being, even if just over a quarter offer it today—another half plan to do so in the next 2 to 3 years.

A value-of-investment priority emerges from the data. Employers intuitively pursue programs that build goodwill by providing helpful resources. The top four objectives globally focused on engagement and morale, performance and productivity, attraction and retention, and overall, enhancing the total rewards offering while managing spend. While reducing health care costs was the top objective for the US, it was fifth globally. Other objectives linked the organization’s image or brand and values and mission—if the company has a message to external customers, it needs to “walk the talk” internally with employees.

Holistic strategy

Compared to prior surveys, employers continue to explore new ways to support well-being, in response to employee and business needs. The historically stronger emphasis on health-related well-being continues, but financial well-being efforts are on the rise. For the US/Canada, the recent fast-rising program elements have been spiritual well-being (67 percent), retirement financial security and preparedness (57 percent), social connectedness (57 percent), and financial literacy/skills (63 percent).

In total, survey responses suggest employers understand that these well-being issues are interconnected and cannot be effectively addressed in isolation without a more holistic strategy and delivery solutions.

That’s where value of investment comes in, acknowledging that enhancing physical and emotional, financial, social, and other aspects of employee well-being can help make the organization a better place to work.

SOURCE: Hunt, R. (11 April 2019) "A better place to work: How well-being impacts the bottom line" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/04/11/a-better-place-to-work-how-well-being-impacts-the-bottom-line/


Why your company needs a culture deck

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Compliance Recap - March 2019

Compliance Recap - March 2019

March was a busy month in the employee benefits world.

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

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

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

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

UBA Updates

UBA released one new advisor: 2019 Compliance Calendar

UBA updated or revised existing guidance:

 

Status of Court Case Challenging ACA Constitutionality

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

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

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

IRS Updates Q&As on ACA Reporting

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

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

HHS Publishes Final 2020 Actuarial Value Calculator and Methodology

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

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

HHS Releases Bulletin that Extends Grandmothered Plans Through 2020

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

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

Read more about the transitional relief.

District Court Vacates Portions of the Association Health Plans Final Rule

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

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

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

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

Read more about the court decision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question of the Month

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

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

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

4/10/2019


Half of older Americans have nothing in retirement savings

A U.S. Government Accountability Office estimate for 2016 revealed that of those Americans 55 and older, 48 percent had nothing saved in a 401(k) or an individual retirement account. Continue reading to learn more.


The bad news is that almost half of Americans approaching retirement have nothing saved in a 401(k) or other individual account. The good news is that the new estimate, from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, is slightly better than a few years earlier.

Of those 55 and older, 48% had nothing put away in a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan or an individual retirement account, according to a GAO estimate for 2016 that was released Tuesday. That’s an improvement from the 52% without retirement money in 2013.

Two in five of such households did have access to a traditional pension, also known as a defined benefit plan. However, 29% of older Americans had neither a pension nor any assets in a 401(k) or IRA account.

The estimate from the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, is a brief update to a more comprehensive 2015 report on retirement savings in the U.S. Both are based on the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

The previous report found the median household of those age 65 to 74 had about $148,000 saved, the equivalent of an inflation-protected annuity of $649 a month.

“Social Security provides most of the income for about half of households age 65 and older,” the GAO said.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated earlier this month that 41% of U.S. households headed by someone age 35 to 64 are likely to run out of money in retirement. That’s down 1.7 percentage points since 2014.

EBRI found these Americans face a combined retirement deficit of $3.83 trillion.

SOURCE: Steverman, B.; Bloomberg News (27 March 2019) "Half of older Americans have nothing in retirement savings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/half-of-older-americans-have-no-retirement-savings


Making the Case for Pay Transparency

Are you making the case for increasing pay transparency? Pay transparency is a strategic move that delivers measurable business benefits, according to this article from SHRM. Continue reading to learn more.


Recommending to senior leadership that your organization increase pay transparency can be a difficult sell for HR professionals. However, pay transparency is a strategic move that delivers measurable business benefits – and it’s an issue on which HR should lead.

It is important to understand that most executives in America today rose through organizational ranks that viewed compensation as a private matter. Few within organizations had access to salary information, and even fewer talked about it. As a result, many leaders still believe it is appropriate to dissuade or prohibit employees from discussing their own compensation with other employees.

Yet we now understand these outdated cultural norms have contributed to the wage gap for women and minorities, among other negative outcomes. Pay transparency can help close those gaps and produce benefits for both employers and employees.

For example, providing employees with pay ranges for their current position and those positions in their career path sets realistic expectations. This is crucial, as many employees hold unrealistic expectations based on internet salary searches for job titles that often do not account for or accurately reflect important factors such as experience level, geography, company size, actual tasks and responsibilities, or other types of compensation. These unrealistic salary expectations create serious challenges, including employee disengagement, low morale and retention problems.

Clearly communicating your company’s pay ranges facilitates an open dialogue about how those ranges are set, when and why they change, and how employees can move up within them. These discussions in turn increase mutual trust and engagement and foster productive compensation communication — all of which help retain employees, which is especially important in today’s tight labor market.

Increasing pay transparency also helps businesses attract and retain a more diverse workforce, which numerous studies have demonstrated translates into better business results. Sharing compensation data advances this effort by ensuring women and minorities have a clearer picture of the going rate for their skill sets, education, experience and performance. While many factors contribute to pay gaps, women and minority groups may have accepted lower compensation in the past because they could not access the information necessary to determine what they should be making based on what they bring to the table.

While recommending greater pay transparency to senior leadership in your organization may seem daunting, it is an important discussion to have and a compelling case for HR professionals to make. In a highly competitive labor market, businesses that make the right strategic move of increasing pay transparency will ultimately attract and retain the best talent and come out ahead of those that do not.

SOURCE: Ponder, L. (4 April 2019) "Making the Case for Pay Transparency" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/making-the-case-for-pay-transparency-0