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


District Court Vacates Portions of the Association Health Plans Final Rule

Recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Department of Labor's final ruling on the definition of "employer" exceeded the statutory authority delegated by Congress under ERISA. Read this blog post from UBA for more on this compliance update.


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.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (2 May 2019) "District Court Vacates Portions of the Association Health Plans Final Rule" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/district-court-vacates-portions-of-the-association-health-plans-final-rule


HHS Releases Bulletin that Extends Grandmothered Plans Through 2020

Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) re-extended its transitional relief policy to permit renewals with a termination date no later than December 31, 2020. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more.


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.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (25 April 2019) "HHS Releases Bulletin that Extends Grandmothered Plans Through 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/hhs-releases-bulletin-that-extends-grandmothered-plans-through-2020


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


Playing in the workplace

Gamification helps motivate employees to stick with otherwise mundane tasks by engaging them in fun ways. According to an article from SHRM, gamification can help employees with skill development and education. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn more.


Have you heard of gamification? To gamify an everyday activity, you add the best fun or competitive elements associated with games to help boost engagement, according to G2 Crowd. Why bother and not just slog through your paperwork? The idea behind gamification is that feeling accomplished or engaged in fun ways, whether by earning points, badges, or accolades, can help people stay motivated to stick with tasks they might otherwise abandon.

At the workplace, gamification can boost productivity — such as boosting sales calls or conversions — or help employees commit to a wellness plan through a bit of healthy competition. The approach can also be used before an individual ever joins your company or organization, according to Workforce. Recruiters say using tools with simulations or gamified components can provide insight into how a candidate might perform in new or challenging situations. For current employees, gamification can help with learning or improving skills, according to an article in Society for Human Resource Management. Gamified activities where winning is an all-team effort instead of a competition can help build cohesiveness, camaraderie and improve collaboration within business units or departments.

This all sounds great, right? Be mindful that jumping on any new trend without a plan is rarely a good idea. Gamification has its critics and requires thoughtfully designed programs. When gamification works, it works. When it doesn’t, it can actually decrease productivity and diminish engagement and morale, according to a second article in Society for Human Resource Management.

If the competition is too fierce or the game too difficult, you risk unintentionally demotivating people. Be mindful, too, of individual circumstances, like an employee who is disabled, pregnant, dealing with stress at home, or tackling a new challenging role. In those cases, what may seem like a fun competition may feel like a task now made impossible. The added stress of even the friendliest competition can negatively impact some workers.

To make gamification work, tailor the program to your team and their work. Remind everyone it’s about better overall performance measure through small goals, not about one person winning and “beating” everyone else. Include potential participants in the design process to ensure your gamified activity hits its mark. Offering more than one winner, avoiding publicly shaming an employee for participation or results, and regularly changing what winning is (improvement in an area to closing sales to skill gains). Bear in mind no game can fix a systemic problem or company culture failure. You can expect small gains in some areas, but a game won’t radically or magically rewire your company.

If the caveats have you concerned, it may be a good idea to also bring in experts on learning and behavior to ensure the design will elicit the goals you seek and motivate in the ways you want. And while we may be a more and more online, app-driven culture, not every game has to be a digital experience, according to CEOWorld Magazine. Consider analog activities, as well, that can give individuals opportunities to shine or teams a chance to cooperate in new ways.

While you may be eager to attract Millennial and even Gen Z workers, most of whom are digital natives raised on apps that track and reward, game systems in their pockets, and gamification at school even including university, gut check that you are moving forward with an authentic and well-considered plan. Better to be a bit behind on a trend than dive in and do more harm than good!

Read more:

What is Gamification?

Reskilling: The New Trend in Recruiting

Be Careful: Gamification at Work Can Go Very Wrong

Viewpoint: Is Gamification Good for HR?

Gamification: 5 Surefire Ways to Skyrocket Your Team Productivity

SOURCE: Olson, B. (28 March 2019) "Playing in the workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/playing-in-the-workplace


More companies flirt with the idea of the four-day work week

How does a four-day work week sound? While many companies have embraced summer hours for years, some companies are now experimenting with "Winter Fridays," according to The New York Times. Read this blog post to learn more. 


Many white-collar jobs, particularly those in creative industries like PR, publishing, and design, have embraced summer hours for years, with shortened workdays on Fridays. Now, some companies are experimenting with “Winter Fridays,” says The New York Times. While clearly seasonal-specific options, both these trends are part of ongoing explorations on the impact of reduced workweeks. Though hardly ubiquitous in either summer or winter, research points to a year-round, four-day workweek gaining some popularity across industries and across the globe.

The reasons for pursuing a reduced work week are usually rooted in improving work/life balance. Longer commutes, an always-on work culture because of email, the cost of childcare and other challenges for families, and general worker burnout are often cited as reasons for adding an extra day off to the week. For companies that have pursued a shorter week, employees report reduced stress and enjoying spending more time with family, exercising, volunteering, or pursuing a passion.

Those may be good enough reasons to pilot a similar program for some companies. If you need more reasons, consider what less time at work might mean for upskilling or reskilling. Employees could use less work time to pursue training or certifications for further education in areas critical to your company as well as their professional development. Giving employees a chance to take courses and improve their skills benefits both employees and companies.

Still not convinced? You could also factor in even loftier goals like improving gender equity and battling climate change. An article in Quartz shows how normalizing shorter work weeks helps women combat career lag and lower pay from taking time off after having babies or are dealing with part-time work for childcare and family reasons. If everyone worked less, the argument goes, there’d be less stigma and financial repercussions for women. It could also empower more men to take a more active role in parenting. In the U.S., where there is no national paid leave policy, enacting a shorter work week could be a game changer for some families.

While these are all desirable outcomes, the concerns around a four-day week are generally related to lost productivity or revenue – legitimate issues for businesses.

Concerns surrounding productivity and performance may be put to rest, if current research holds up. In one trial run in a New Zealand-based company that was widely reported in the news, productivity, in fact, went up 20 percent! Managers also cite improved creativity and problem solving as well as better customer service, according to The Guardian.

If you’re ready to propose or enact a shortened work week, companies that have pioneered the approach have wisdom to offer. To make it work best, experts suggest framing the opportunity as one rooted in productivity with goals and accountability set together. As long as the accountability doesn’t resort to outright policing, this collective social contract, says Thrive Global, is more impactful than highlighting more time with family or to pursue personal projects.

Start that accountability by having your team engaged in deciding how to do it (what schedule works, what metrics of success look like, how to ensure someone is always available for customers) so you benefit from their strategies and they have more agency in the program. Experts also suggest making it a flexible policy, giving employees the option to choose if a reduced work week is right for them.

Is there a social, political, or cultural trend at work in the four-day work week? An article in Salon considers whether it is just a next step in workers’ rights. While the eight-hour day and the two-day weekend were union victories of the past that now seem commonplace, a four-day work week may be the next big political thing. While Americans use and get fewer vacation hours and are perpetuators of hustle culture, the British Labour Party has members advocating that the amount of time people work should go down as technology improves.

As America prepares for the 2020 presidential election in the U.S., the national minimum wage and paid parental and sick leaves are on the minds of campaign advisors. Will any candidate take up the four-day work week? One thing they’d need to consider – citizens would have more free time to engage with politics!

Read More:

How to Make the 4-day Work Week Possible, According to Someone Who’s Done It

Secrets of a Four-day Week, From an Owner Who Wants Every Company to Try It

The Case for a 4-day Workweek

Four-day Week: Trial Finds Lower Stress and Increased Productivity

The “Winter Friday” Off Is Now a Thing

SOURCE: Olson, B. (21 March 2019) "More companies flirt with the idea of the four-day work week" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/more-companies-flirt-with-the-idea-of-the-four-day-work-week


What HR pros should know about clinical guidelines

Clinical guidelines are designed to optimize patient care in areas such as screening and testing, diagnosis and treatment. Read this blog post for what HR professionals should know about these guidelines.


Your employees and their family members frequently face tough questions about their healthcare: How do I know when it’s time to get a mammogram? When does my child need a vision screening? Should I get a thyroid screening? If I have high blood pressure or diabetes, what is the best treatment for me?

For the providers who care for them, the key question is: How do we implement appropriate, science-backed treatments for our patients, testing where needed, but avoiding potentially harmful or unnecessary (and expensive) care? The answer is to seek guidance from and use clinical guidelines —along with existing clinical skills — wisely.

Clinical guidelines are sets of science-based recommendations, designed to optimize care for patients in areas such as screening and testing, diagnosis and treatment. They are developed after a critical review by experts of current scientific data and additional evidence to help inform clinical decisions across a spectrum of specialties.

Based upon this process, guidelines are then released by a number of sources and collaborations, including academic and non-profit healthcare entities, government organizations and medical specialty organizations.

From preventive care to treatment protocols for chronic conditions, guidelines provide a framework healthcare providers use with patients to help guide care. However, it’s important to note that clinical guidelines are not rigid substitutes for professional judgment, and not all patient care can be encompassed within guidelines.

The impact on healthcare and benefits

Clinical guidelines are used in myriad ways across the healthcare spectrum, and providers are not the only ones who utilize them. Insurers also may use guidelines to develop coverage policies for specific procedures, services and treatment, which can affect the care your covered population receives.

To illustrate a key example of an intended impact of guidelines on health plan coverage, consider those issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, whose A and B level recommendations comprise the preventive services now covered at no cost under the mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

As another example, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, which accredits health plans and improves the quality of care through its evidence-based measures, uses the American Heart Association guidelines when creating its quality rules for treating high cholesterol with statin drugs.

Other examples exist among commercial coverage policies. For example, some cancer drug reimbursement policies use components from nationally recognized guidelines for cancer care.

Because science is rapidly changing, guidelines are often updated, leading insurers to revisit their policies to decide if they will change how services and medications are covered for their members. Providers and health systems may modify processes of patient care in response to major changes in guidelines and/or resultant changes in payer reimbursement.

Not all guidelines are updated on a set schedule, making it even more important for providers and organizations that rely on guidelines to stay on top of changing information, as it can have a direct impact on how they work. Attending conferences, visiting the recently established ECRI Guidelines Trust, and regularly reviewing relevant professional association websites and journals can help ensure needed guidelines are current. Lack of current information can affect care decisions and potential outcomes for patients. Those who have access to the most up-to-date, evidence-based information are able to work together to make well-informed healthcare decisions.

Why it matters for employers

As employers or benefits consultants, it’s critical to ensure that your health plan, advocacy or decision support providers, and other partners that depend on this information to guide their practices and decisions understand and follow current, relevant guidelines.

Further, by combining information from relevant guidelines and data from biometric screenings, health risk assessments, claims and other sources, it’s possible for clinical advocacy and other decision support providers to identify employees with gaps in care and generate targeted communications (through a member website and/or mobile app) to help them take action to improve their health.

Clinical guidelines are science distilled into practical recommendations meant to be applied to most patients for quality healthcare. By maintaining current, relevant guidelines, organizations and providers who work with your covered population can ensure that all parties have the key information they need to make the best decisions for their health.

SOURCE: Sivalingam, J. (18 March 2019) "What HR pros should know about clinical guidelines" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-hr-managers-should-know-about-clinical-guidelines?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


Do paycheck advance apps improve financial health?

Many employers now allow workers to have early access to their paycheck via paycheck advance apps. Continue reading this blog post to find out more about paycheck advance apps and how these may improve financial health.


Fintechs that let workers draw money from their paycheck before payday through an app are having a moment.

Such apps, including Even.com, PayActiv, EarnIn, DailyPay and FlexWage, are designed for consumers who live paycheck to paycheck — roughly 78% of the U.S. workforce according to one study.

More than 300,000 Walmart employees, for example, use this feature, called Instapay, provided by Even and PayActiv. PayActiv, which is available to 2 million people, announced a deal with Visa on Thursday that will let people put their pay advances on a feeless prepaid Visa card.

Earnin, which lets consumers retrieve up to $100 a day from upcoming paychecks, received $125 million in Series C funding from DST Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, Matrix Partners, March Capital Partners, Coatue Management and Ribbit Capital in December. The Earnin app has been downloaded more than a million times.

In theory, such apps are useful to those who run into timing problems due to large bills, like mortgage and rent, which come due a few days before their paycheck clears. Getting a payday advance from an employer through an app can be less expensive and less problematic than taking out a payday loan or paying overdraft fees.

But do these programs lead to financial health? Or are they a temporary Band-Aid or worse, something on which cash-strapped people can become overdependent?

Volatile incomes, gig economy jobs

One thing is clear — many working poor are living paycheck to paycheck. Pay levels have not kept up with the cost of living, even adjusted for government subsidy programs, said Todd Baker, senior fellow at the Richman Center for Business, Law and Public Policy at Columbia University.

“That’s particularly evident when you think of things like home prices and rental costs. A large portion of the population is living on the edge financially,” he said. “You see it in folks making $40,000 a year, teachers and others who are living in a world where they can’t handle any significant bump in their financial life."

A bump might be an unexpected expense like medical treatment or a change in income level, for instance by companies shifting to a bonus program. And about 75 million Americans work hourly, with unstable pay.

“Over the last several decades, we’ve changed the equation for many workers,” said John Thompson, chief program officer at the Center for Financial Services Innovation. “It’s harder to have predictable scheduling or even income flow from your job or jobs. But we haven’t changed the way we pay, nor have we changed the way bills are paid. Those are still due every month on a certain date. This income volatility problem that many people experience hasn’t been offset by giving the employee control of when they do have access to these funds.”

Where on-demand pay comes in

Safwan Shah, PayActiv's CEO, says he has been working on the problems for consumers like this for 11 years. The way he sees it, there are three possible ways to help: by paying these workers more, by changing their taxes, or by changing the timing of when they’re paid.

The first two seem out of reach. “I can’t give more money to people; that’s not what a Fintech guy does,” Shah said. “I can’t invent money. And I can’t change the tax laws.”

But he felt he could change the timing of pay.

“I can go to employers and say, your employees are living paycheck to paycheck,” Shah said. “They’re bringing that stress to work every day. And you are suffering too, because they are distracted — a Mercer study shows employers lose 15 hours a month in work from these distracted employees.”

Shah persuades employers to let their employees access a portion of the wages they have already earned. His early wins were at companies whose employees frequently request paycheck advances, which generates a lot of paperwork. Employees can access no more than 50% of what they have already earned — a worker who has earned $300 so far in a month could at most get $150.

Employees pay $5 for each two-week period in which they use PayActiv. (About 25% of the time, the employer pays this fee, Shah said.)

PayActiv also gives users unlimited free bill pay and use of a Visa prepaid card. In July, PayActiv became part of the ADP marketplace, so companies that use ADP can use its service.

PayActiv's largest employer is Walmart, which started offering it via the Even app in December 2017. In October, Walmart began allowing employees to pick up cash through the app in Walmart stores, so users who were unbanked could avoid ATM fees.

Shah said the service helps employers reduce employee turnover, improve retention and recruit employees who prefer real-time pay. He also has a guilt pitch.

“I was first in the market to this, in 2013,” Shah said. “People looked at me and said, ‘What? I’m not going to pay my employees in advance. Let them go to a payday lender.’ Then I’d show them pictures of their offices surrounded by payday loan shops. I’d say, ‘They’re here because of you.’ ”

Does early access to wages lead to financial health?

When Todd Baker was a Harvard University fellow last year, he studied the financial impact of PayActiv’s earned wage access program. He compared PayActiv’s $5 fee to payday loans and bank overdraft fees.

Baker found that a $200 salary advance from PayActiv is 16.7% of the cost of a payday loan. Payday lenders typically charge $15 per $100 borrowed, so $30 for a two-week, $200 loan. If the borrower can’t pay back the amount borrowed in two weeks, the loan gets rolled over at the original amount plus the 15% interest, so the loan amount gets compounded over time.

With PayActiv, "there is always a full repayment and then a delay before there is enough income in the employee’s payroll account for another advance," Baker said. "It never rolls over.”

Baker also calculated that the PayActiv fee was only 14.3%, or one-seventh, of the typical $35 overdraft fee banks charge.

So for people who are struggling to manage the costs of short-term timing problems and unexpected expenses, Fintech tools like PayActiv’s are a lot cheaper than alternatives, Baker said.

“Does it create extra income? No. What it does is help you with timing issues,” he said.

Aaron Klein, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said workers should have access to money they’ve already earned, whether that’s through real-time payments or through apps that provide pay advances.

“I also am on board with the idea that by saving your $35 overdraft and saving your payday loan rate, you’ll be better off,” Klein said.

But he’s not willing to say these tools solve the problems of low-income people.

“If the core problem is I used to make $35,000 a year, now I make $30,000, and because of that shock I’m going to end up accruing $600 of payday loan and overdraft fees, eliminating that $600 makes you a lot better off,” Klein said. “But it doesn’t negate the overall income shock.”

Thompson at CFSI says it’s too soon to tell whether earned wage access brings about financial well-being.

“We’re just beginning to explore the potential for these tools,” he said. “Right now they feel very promising. They could give people the ability to act quickly in an emergency and have access to and use funds in lieu of a payday loan or some other high-cost credit or consequence they would rather avoid, like an overdraft fee.”

What could go wrong

Thompson also sees a potential downside to giving employees payday advances.

“The every-other-week paycheck is one of the few normal structures we have for people around planning, budgeting and managing their money,” he said.

Without that structure, which is a form of savings, “we’re going to have to work hard to make sure we don’t just turn people loose on their own with even less structure or guidance or advice on their financial life.”

Another common concern about payday advance tools is that if you give people access to their money ahead of time, they’ll just spend it, and then when their paycheck arrives, they will come up short.

But Klein, for one, doesn’t see this as an issue.

“I trust people more to manage their money,” he said. “The people who work paycheck to paycheck spend more time budgeting and planning than the wealthy, because it’s a necessity.”

A related fear is that people could become addicted to payday advance tools, and dig themselves into a deeper hole.

Jon Schlossberg, CEO of Even.com, somewhat surprisingly acknowledges this could happen.

“Getting access to your pay on demand is a tool you can use the right way or the wrong way,” he said. “If you offer only on-demand pay, that could cause the problem to get worse, because getting access to that money all the time triggers dopamine; it makes you want to do it more and more. If you are struggling with a very low margin and you’re constantly up against it, getting more money all the time accelerates that problem."

Quantitative and qualitative analyses have borne this out, he said.

Even has granted users $700 million worth of Instapays; they typically use Instapay 1.4 times a month. Schlossberg doesn't see high use of the feature as success.

“You shouldn’t need to be using Instapay,” he said. “You should be becoming financially stable so you don’t have to.”

Baker said addiction to payday advances isn't a danger because they don't roll over the way payday loans do. With a salary advance, “It’s conceivable you could get $200 behind permanently, but it’s not a growing obligation and it’s not damaging,” he said.

Shah at PayActiv said users tend to withdraw less than they're allowed to — about 75%.

“When it comes to usage of their own salary, instead of asking for more, people behaviorally ask for less,” he said.

They see PayActiv more as a headache reliever like Tylenol, rather than an addictive candy or drug, Shah said.

Pay advances are just one of many tools that can help the working poor. They also need help understanding their finances and saving for goals like an emergency fund and retirement.

“This conversation about on-demand pay is a double-edged sword because people are paying attention to it now, which is good, but they’re viewing it as this magic tool to solve all problems,” Schlossberg said. “It isn’t that. It is a piece of the puzzle that solves a liquidity problem. But it is by no means going to help people turn their financial lives around.”

SOURCE: Crosman, P. (14 March 2019) "Do paycheck advance apps improve financial health?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/do-paycheck-advance-apps-improve-financial-health?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000

Editor at Large Penny Crosman welcomes feedback at penny.crosman@sourcemedia.com.