Sabbaticals Can Benefit Employees and Employers

Have your employees taken a sabbatical before? Sabbaticals are extended breaks from work without an employee actually leaving their position, allowing employees to take time to travel, spend time with family, volunteer, etc. Continue reading this blog post from UBA for how sabbaticals can actually benefit employees and employers.


While many employees may be dreaming of a short summer vacation, others could have a longer block of time off in mind. Sabbaticals, whether paid or unpaid, are extended breaks from work without leaving a position. A sabbatical gives an employee the opportunity to take time to travel, spend time with family, do something meaningful or volunteer, pursue a long-held goal, learn something new, or simply recharge.

Many employers would agree that a recharged employee is a more engaged and productive employee. In fact, some firms require newly promoted senior employees to take a sabbatical before beginning their next role. And one noted example, designer Stefan Sagmeister, closes his studio for a full year every seven years. It might be the most direct modern use of the origin of the word sabbatical, which come from the Hebrew word forrest and relates to the practice of letting land lie fallow for a year every seven years so it can remain productive.

Beyond fallow time for land, the idea of a sabbatical has been around for years, particularly in academia says Fast Company. Still, Workforce reports that in 2017 less than 20 percent of companies offered a sabbatical program. Most offer them to certain employees, like those getting a promotion to senior level, or management who’ve served over five years. It’s interesting to note, though, that the number jumps to a quarter of employers on a list of 100 best companies to work for compiled by Fortune.

A company without an explicit sabbatical policy may want to consider developing one, or can expect to be asked about it, says the Harvard Business Review. For an employee who presents a well-considered proposal and is able to show their value to the company, it may be a wise investment. When weighing the value of the sabbatical for the employee, consider what may be in it for the employer, like the acquisition of new skills or perspectives, that can be brought back to the workplace. Employees who have successfully taken a sabbatical report feeling more resilient, focused, ambitious innovative, and engaged. They’re also more appreciative of their workplace and employer, which can lead to improved employee loyalty and retention.

A sabbatical program would be appealing to new hires, especially in a tight job market or when recruiting Millennials, who value meaning over making money. In order to not miss out on a qualified candidates, consider a gap in a work history with curiosity about a potential sabbatical they’ve taken, says The Muse. If your company is ready to support a sabbatical, just be sure the recipients have a plan for limiting impact on other employees so burnout isn’t simply transferred or resentment created. Be mindful, too, that the employee is aware of whether an extended leave would impact promotion or raise timing.

Not ready to offer a longer-term paid sabbatical? An employee may be open to an unpaid sabbatical. If that’s not an option, encourage employees to take their vacation time since more than half of workers finished 2018 with unused time off. Or, create one day a month or even an hour a week that’s dedicated to non-required tasks or meeting expectations. See what your employees can do with time delegated to freedom to explore.

Read more:

Thinking About Taking a Sabbatical? Here’s What You Need to Know

Should You Take a Sabbatical? 3 Women Weigh In

How to Ask Your Boss for an Unpaid Leave to Travel, Study, or Spend Time with Family

Sabbaticals Help Fight Employee Burnout

SOURCE: Olson, B. (9 July 2019) "Sabbaticals Can Benefit Employees and Employers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/sabbaticals-can-benefit-employees-and-employers


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


Here’s how to ensure employees know how to pick the right benefits

Open enrollment is often a stressful time for employees, as well as an important one. Recent research shows that the average employee spends less than 30 minutes selecting their benefits. Continue reading for more on communicating benefit options to employees.


Annual enrollment is an important time for employees — but it’s also a stressful one. The choices they make can affect their financial health, yet the average employee spends less than 30 minutes selecting their benefits, according to research from benefits provider Unum.

With annual enrollment planning underway, now is the time for employers to ask themselves, “How can we help employees make the right benefits decisions?” The answers may be more valuable than they think.

See Also: Avoiding Communication Overload During Open Enrollment

Today’s workforce is the most diverse in history, with four generations actively working, and a fifth connected through benefits and pensions. A robust benefits package is increasingly important for recruitment and retention, challenging employers to provide choices and options that support diverse needs.

About 80% of employees prefer a job with benefits over one with a higher salary but no benefits, according to the American Institute of CPAs. As such it’s vital that employers ensure their workforce is engaged with their benefits and taking full advantage of what is available. Here are five ways employers can make sure that happens.

See Also: Incorporating Incentives to Create Educated Benefit Consumers

1. Acknowledge that decision support addresses personalized needs. Tools that demystify the benefits selection process can help employees make choices that align with their risk tolerance, financial circumstances and unique needs. The best tools lead employees to a recommended suite of benefits options that fit their individual physical, emotional and financial health.

2. Know that year-round engagement improves benefits literacy. While employees appreciate benefits, they aren’t experts. Indeed, roughly one-third of employees are outright confused about their benefits, according to recent data from Businessolver. Keeping up a cadence of communication about benefits throughout the year can help address this challenge.

3. Recognize the power of a total rewards statement. It empowers employees to maximize the benefits available to them, and these tools can be accessed at any time, not just during enrollment. The most impactful solutions aggregate all employee benefits options in one integrated offering that demonstrates the full value of compensation and benefits investments made by them and their employer.

See Also: Communicating the Value of Employee Benefits

4. Think about different generations. Customizable benefits options are a crucial step in meeting the needs of today’s workforce. For example, our latest data shows that nearly two-thirds of millennials are concerned with managing their monthly budget, while over 50% of boomers are most worried about a large, unexpected cost. Having core medical plan offerings along with complementary voluntary options helps employees address varying financial needs. Likewise, paid parental leave and different health plan options assist families at any stage, and they make it likelier that your employees will engage with their benefits and remain with your organization.

5. Be sure employees know that savings vehicles contribute to financial well-being. Employees of all ages and income levels are facing financial stressors — but they may not be the same ones. Offering different financial benefits, such as student loan assistance and emergency savings accounts, in addition to retirement benefits, enables your employees to address both their immediate and long-term financial needs.

See Also: Ideas for Effectively Demonstrating Plan Choices

More than ever, employers have a responsibility to help employees make informed decisions when it comes to selecting the right benefits. Otherwise, they risk losing top talent to organizations that are better implementing benefits strategies and technologies.

By meeting the needs of a diverse workforce with an array of benefits options supported by appropriate decision support resources, employers can ensure they’re meeting their workforce’s needs and retaining valuable employees.

See Also: Ideas to Help Employees Find their "Best Fit" Plan

SOURCE: Shanahan, R. (26 June 2019) "Here’s how to ensure employees know how to pick the right benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/educating-employees-to-pick-the-right-benefits


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


Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

Within the past five years, employers have more aggressively worked to inform employees about what resources are available to them in regards to mental health. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn more about supporting mental health in the workplace.


Mental Health Month in May each year is a campaign to raise overall awareness about mental health in America that started in 1949. The effort to bring mental health to the forefront of employee wellness conversations is relatively new. According to Employee Benefit News, it’s only been in the last five years that employers have more aggressively worked to inform employees about what help is available and also encourage employees to get help, putting mental health treatment in the same space as any health concern.

Work-related stress, ranging from pressure of our always-connected culture to burnout, impacts absenteeism and performance. So, too, does non-work-related stress, like personal and financial worries, health challenges, and even the current political climate, says HR Executive. Anxiety and depression diagnoses are up by double-digit percentages, per another article in HR Executive. Additionally, the link between mental health and physical health is clear. Anxiety and depression are risk factors for health concerns like heart disease and stroke. With more than three in four employees saying they’ve struggled with a mental health challenge, this is not an issue concerning only a small minority of employees.

For many, fear about discrimination from peers, managers, or leadership, the stigma surrounding mental health in general, as well as specific concerns about job protection make sharing a diagnosis or seeking help unappealing. This is an organizational challenge and requires an organizational response. Since culture starts at the top, this must include an accessible plan visibly championed by leadership, who help create a workplace culture that supports mental health, offers comprehensive programs and benefits, recommends resources engages employees at all level in decision-making and more.

HR departments need to promote and share the services that are available via health insurance plans or employee assistance programs. Additionally, HR teams, or perhaps all employees, need training on how to recognize symptoms of a mental health challenge and respond by offering resources. Even simple steps like encouraging mindfulness about language or jokes that call out mental health can also help create a climate that encourages openness and support.

As we learn more about the spectrum of mental health, and how often and fluidly individuals move between fully functional and a crisis, the more important empathic, proactive support will be. Many companies have worked to bolster mental health offerings and de-stigmatize seeking help when a crisis strikes. The next step, according to HR experts, is to offer preventative or proactive resources to help employees build resiliency and learn stress management techniques, says Harvard Business Review.

Beyond traditional components like talk therapy and medical interventions as part of health plans or employee-assistance programs, many companies are turning to tech resources, like apps for meditation or tools that gamify or encourage exercise and sleep as well as content on demand, like webinars on parenting, stress reduction, and other relevant topics.

Higher employee assistance plan utilization leads to lower short-term and long-term disability claims, according to HR Executive. Leaders concerned about employees seeking treatment and taking time away from work can look to data like this that shows returns on an investment in employee mental health. Beyond being the right thing to do for employees, it’s often the right thing to do for the bottom line.

Read more:

7 Ways to (Effectively) Address Mental Health in the Workplace

5 Ways Bosses Can Reduce the Stigma of Mental Health at Work

The Case for Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

Use these Innovative Strategies to Improve Mental Health

It’s Time to Remove the Barriers, Stigma Around Mental Healthcare

SOURCE: Olson, B. (2 July 2019) "Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/supporting-mental-health-in-the-workplace


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


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.


CMS Publishes 2020 Benefit Payment and Parameters Final Rule

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has released its final rule and fact sheet regarding benefit payment and parameters for 2020. Read this blog post from UBA to find out which topics this final rule addresses.


The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published its final rule and fact sheet for benefit payment and parameters for 2020. Although the final rule primarily affects the individual market and the Exchanges, the final rule addresses the following topics that may impact employer-sponsored group health plans:

  • The 2020 maximum annual limitation on cost sharing is $8,150 for self-only coverage and $16,300 for other-than-self-only coverage.
  • For fully-insured plans, any indication of a reduction in the generosity of a benefit for individuals that is not based on clinically indicated, reasonable medical management practices is potentially discriminatory.
  • Amounts paid toward cost sharing using direct support by drug manufacturers (for example, coupons) to insured patients to reduce or eliminate immediate out-of-pocket costs for specific prescription brand drugs that have a generic equivalent are not required to be counted toward the annual limitation on cost sharing.
  • Federally Facilitated Small Business Health Options Programs (FF-SHOPs) may operate a toll-free hotline rather than a more robust call center.

The final rule is effective on June 24, 2019. The final rule generally applies to plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (13 June 2019) "CMS Publishes 2020 Benefit Payment and Parameters Final Rule" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/cms-publishes-2020-benefit-payment-and-parameters-final-rule


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