Employer-sponsored savings programs could be the future of financial wellness

Do you have money set aside for emergencies or unexpected expenses? Forty-three percent of hourly workers report having less than $400 in savings set aside for emergencies. For these workers, an accident or unexpected expense can be financially devastating. Read this blog post to learn more.


For 43% of hourly workers who report having less than $400 in savings set aside for emergencies, an accident or unexpected expense can be financially devastating.

But employer-sponsored savings programs could be a viable solution. Low- and middle-income employees who are more financially secure have been shown to be less stressed and more productive when they have an employer-sponsored savings program, which may lead to lower healthcare costs, better customer service and stronger attendance, a new survey from nonprofit organization Commonwealth finds.

The national survey of 1,309 employees earning less than $60,000 a year found that employers offering workers savings interventions at the time of raise, can positively impact their employees’ personal finances. Three-quarters of hourly employees surveyed believe that if their employer offered savings options at the time of a raise, they would be less stressed and more confident about their finances.

“There's a lot of talk about financial stress, but when you're really living paycheck-to-paycheck, that stress is about being able to pay your bills on time,” says Commonwealth’s executive director Timothy Flacke. “It's about cash flow, and that's a particularly acute form of anxiety.”

The report analyzes the potential effects of savings programs including split direct-deposit paychecks, low-interest loans and savings accounts — and compares how those programs alleviate employees’ financial stress. Workers surveyed believe if their employer-provided savings tools they would be happier and more productive. Moreover, the survey found individuals with more in savings were less likely to have financial worries than those with little savings.

One of the companies partnered with Commonwealth to link raises with savings is Minnesota-based education company New Horizon Academy. In the beginning of the year, the company piloted a new savings program that gives its employees the option to have the raise diverted through the payroll system to a savings account each pay period, instead of having it go into their normal checking account.

“Through this, our employees are beginning to build up some financial reserves in case of an emergency, or life circumstances that requires them to dip into a savings account,” says Chad Dunkley, CEO of New Horizon Academy. Although it’s too early to state results from the pilot program, the company hopes it will have a positive long-term impact on the financial health of its employees, Dunkley says.

“This is just one of those additional ways [to] stabilize our employees, so they can come into the classroom without the financial stress that certain situations cause when you're not prepared for an emergency, whether it's new tires on your car or health issues,” he says.

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (19 August 2019) "Employer-sponsored savings programs could be the future of financial wellness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/reduce-stress-increase-productivity-with-financial-wellness


Compliance Recap - July 2019

July was a busy month in the employee benefits world.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a notice that expands the list of preventive care benefits a high deductible health plan can provide without a deductible or with a deductible below the annual minimum deductible. The IRS also released the indexed affordability percentage for plan years beginning in 2020.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) published an “A” rating final recommendation. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released an update to the notice requirements for plans using the HHS-administered federal external review process.

A U.S. District Court upheld the 2018 short-term, limited-duration insurance final rule. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal district court’s preliminary injunction regarding contraceptive coverage exemptions.

The Department of Labor (DOL) released an advisory opinion regarding association health plans (AHPs) and multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs). The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held oral arguments for the case challenging the ACA’s constitutionality.

HHS and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a Safe Importation Action Plan regarding potential drug importation from other countries.

UBA Updates

UBA released one new advisor: New HDHP Preventive Care Benefits

UBA updated or revised existing guidance:

IRS Expands Benefits That Can Be Provided Before HDHP Annual Minimum Deductible Is Met

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a notice, effective on July 17, 2019, that expanded the list of preventive care benefits that a high deductible health plan (HDHP) can provide without a deductible or with a deductible below the annual minimum deductible.

Preventive Care for Specified Conditions For Individuals Diagnosed with
Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) inhibitors Congestive heart failure, diabetes, and/or coronary artery disease
Anti-resorptive therapy Osteoporosis and/or osteopenia
Beta-blockers Congestive heart failure and/or coronary artery disease
Blood pressure monitor Hypertension
Inhaled corticosteroids Asthma
Insulin and other glucose lowering agents Diabetes
Retinopathy screening Diabetes
Peak flow meter Asthma
Glucometer Diabetes
Hemoglobin A1c testing Diabetes
International Normalized Ratio (INR) testing Liver disease and/or bleeding disorders
Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL) testing Heart disease
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) Depression
Statins Heart disease and/or diabetes

The services and items listed above are treated as preventive care:

  • only when prescribed to treat a person diagnosed with the associated chronic condition listed in the table’s second column, and
  • only when prescribed for the purpose of preventing the chronic condition’s exacerbation or a secondary condition’s development.

Read more about the expanded list of preventive care benefits.

IRS Releases the Indexed 2020 Affordability Percentage

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released the indexed affordability percentage of 9.78% for plan years beginning in 2020. An employer uses the affordability percentage to determine whether it has offered affordable coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s employer shared responsibility provisions to avoid Penalty B.

Read more about the affordability percentage.

USPSTF Issues a Final Recommendation Giving PrEP an “A” Rating

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) published a final recommendation that gives an “A” rating to preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment. This means that the USPSTF recommends offering PrEP with effective antiretroviral therapy to people at high risk of HIV acquisition.

Group health plans and insurers subject to the preventive services coverage mandate must provide coverage for evidence-based items or services with an A or B rating recommended by the USPSTF without imposing copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, or other cost-sharing requirements when delivered by in-network providers. Group health plans and insurers subject to the preventive services coverage mandate generally must cover preventive services that are recommended by the USPSTF one year after the recommendation is issued.

HHS Releases Updated Notice Requirements for the HHS Federal External Review Process

On July 12, 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released updated requirements for notices that self-insured non-federal governmental health plans and health insurance issuers – using the HHS-administered federal external review process – must provide to their plan participants and beneficiaries.

District Court Upholds Short-Term Limited Duration Insurance Final Rule

As background, on August 1, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Labor (DOL) (collectively, the Departments) released a final rule that amended the definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI). HHS also released a fact sheet on the final rule. The final rule allows consumers to purchase STLDI policies that are less than 12 months in length and may be renewed for up to 36 months.

On July 18, 2019 the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (court) upheld the STLDI final rule. The court found that the final rule did not exceed the regulatory authority that Congress delegated to the Departments to define STDLI as a category of insurance that is exempt from individual insurance regulations. Employers should keep apprised of potential future developments as the case may be appealed.

Read more about the STDLI final rule.

Recent Litigation on the Contraceptive Coverage Exemption Rules

As background, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (collectively, the Departments) published two final rules on November 15, 2018, regarding contraceptive coverage exemptions, to be effective on January 14, 2019. On January 14, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Court) granted a nationwide preliminary injunction that prohibits the implementation of the two final rules.

On July 12, 2019, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (appeals court) affirmed the Pennsylvania Court’s preliminary injunction that prohibits the two final rules’ enforcement nationwide. The appeals court found that, until the final rules’ legality is decided, the injunction will allow states to avoid the imminent financial burden of subsidizing contraceptive services, providing funds for medical care associated with unintended pregnancies, and absorbing medical expenses that arise from decreased use of contraceptive medications for other health conditions.

The appeals court decision means that the Departments are prohibited from implementing and enforcing both final rules nationwide.

Read more about the status of the ACA contraceptive coverage mandate and exemption.

DOL Releases Advisory Opinion on AHPs and MEWAs

The Department of Labor (DOL) released an advisory opinion that analyzed a large retailer’s proposed group health plan to determine that the plan would be an association health plan (AHP) and a multiple employer welfare arrangement (MEWA) under ERISA. Although the advisory opinion can only be relied on by the retailer who requested it, the opinion gives employers an overview of the criteria that the DOL reviews when determining whether a plan fits the AHP definition that existed before the DOL’s 2018 AHP final rule. The opinion also provides a summary of the criteria that the DOL reviews when determining whether an arrangement is a MEWA.

Read more about AHPs.

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 July 3, 2019, the Department of Justice filed its supplemental brief to assert that the court decision striking down the ACA should not apply beyond the 18 plaintiff states. On July 9, 2019, the appeals court held oral arguments.

HHS and FDA Release Safe Importation Action Plan

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Safe Importation Action Plan that overviews two pathways that could permit drug importation from foreign countries. HHS also issued a press release.

Under the first pathway, HHS would propose rules to allow states, wholesalers, and pharmacists to submit demonstration project plans designed to: import Canadian-approved drugs that are versions of FDA-approved drugs; meet certain conditions such as drug quality, record keeping, testing, and protections against counterfeiting; and significantly reduce consumer drug cost.

Under the second pathway, manufacturers of FDA-approved drugs could import versions of FDA-approved drugs that they sell in foreign countries, if they establish with the FDA that the foreign version is the same as the U.S. version.

Question of the Month

Q: What if a plan sponsor fails to file or pay the PCORI fee?

A: Although the PCORI statute and its regulations do not include a specific penalty for failure to report or pay the PCORI fee, the plan sponsor may be subject to penalties for failure to file a tax return because the PCORI fee is an excise tax.

A plan sponsor should consult with its attorney on how to proceed with a late filing or late payment of the PCORI fee. The PCORI regulations note that the penalties related to late filing of Form 720 or late payment of the fee may be waived or abated if the plan sponsor had reasonable cause and the failure was not due to willful neglect.

If a plan sponsor already filed Form 720 (for example, for a different excise tax), then the plan sponsor can make a correction to a previously filed Form 720 by using Form 720X.

8/1/2019


USPSTF Issues a Final Recommendation Giving PrEP an “A” Rating

Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) published a final recommendation, giving an "A" rating to preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment. Read this blog post from UBA to learn what this final recommendation means.


The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) published a final recommendation that gives an “A” rating to preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment. This means that the USPSTF recommends offering PrEP with effective antiretroviral therapy to people at high risk of HIV acquisition.

Group health plans and insurers subject to the preventive services coverage mandate must provide coverage for evidence-based items or services with an A or B rating recommended by the USPSTF without imposing copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, or other cost-sharing requirements when delivered by in-network providers. Group health plans and insurers subject to the preventive services coverage mandate generally must cover preventive services that are recommended by the USPSTF one year after the recommendation is issued.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (14 August 2019). "USPSTF Issues a Final Recommendation Giving PrEp an 'A' Rating" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: http://blog.ubabenefits.com/uspstf-issues-a-final-recommendation-giving-prep-an-a-rating


Commercial Risk Advisor - August 2019

Dress Code Policy Considerations

Clothing and fashion choices can be a fun way for your employees to express themselves while also helping them feel comfortable. But, not all types of expression and comfort are appropriate for the workplace.

The reasons for establishing a dress code can vary, whether maintaining professionalism or guaranteeing safety. Regardless of why your company might need one, it’s important to put thought into crafting your dress code.

Think about these five considerations when putting together a fair and appropriate dress code:

  • Safety—Keep the work environment free of any unnecessary hazards. For example, do not allow employees working with machinery to wear loose jewelry. Also, require appropriate footwear when necessary, such as steel-toed boots or non-slip shoes.
  • Equality—Your employees may come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Make sure that your dress code does not discriminate when it comes to race, religious beliefs and employees with disabilities. Apply the same standards for men and women.
  • Culture—When drafting your dress code, be consistent with the culture and image that your company projects. An organization that claims to be casual and relaxed should think twice before implementing a formal dress code.
  • Balance—You want your workplace to be professional, but you also want your employees to be comfortable. It makes sense to ask employees to wear a suit if meeting with a big client, but otherwise, consider letting them dress down.
  • Current social norms—Understanding current social norms are important. For example, in today’s society, many candidates may have tattoos or piercings. Talk about what is acceptable for your company. A dress code that is too strict can have a negative effect on your organization recruiting top talent.

Four of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history have occurred in the past decade.

Preparing for Hurricane Season

Hurricane season runs from June through November and brings plenty of risks. Threats relating to hurricanes don’t only apply to homeowners and aren’t limited simply to physical damage either.

There are plenty of ways that a storm can blow away your business. According to FEMA, over 40% of small businesses never reopen after a disaster, and 90% close within a year if they aren’t able to reopen within five days.

An organization that claims to be casual and relaxed should think twice before implementing a formal dress code.

Protect your company and your employees by taking these steps to be as prepared as possible:

  • Reinforce your workplace from weather hazards with things like window shutters to block flying debris, and sandbags to absorb floodwater.

  • Have an emergency response plan in place and make sure that your employees are trained to follow it. Emergency response plans can include steps such as establishing warning and evacuation procedures, ensuring reliable means of communication, and having supplies such as food, water, flashlights and batteries on hand.
  • Beyond protecting your employees and your physical workplace, it is also important to ensure that your business can function following a hurricane. Back up your data off-site regularly, and test the recovery process to make sure that everything is working properly.
  • Make sure that you are prepared to contact the correct people to get back on your feet. Try to connect with a contractor or restoration company before a hurricane strikes.
  • Even if your business is prepared for a hurricane, others might not be. Companies that you partner with or rely upon could be damaged and hinder your own ability to function. Talk to other businesses that you work with and make sure that they have contingency plans.

An organization that claims to be casual and relaxed should think twice before implementing a formal dress code.

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Trucking Risk Advisor - August 2019

CVSA Brake Safety Week: Sept 15-20

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s (CVSA) Brake Safety Week is scheduled for Sept. 15-21. Roadside safety inspections on commercial motor vehicles will be conducted throughout North America by law enforcement officials. Brake Safety Week is an initiative by the CVSA in an effort to lessen the severity and number of crashes caused by faulty brake systems.

Although all components of a motor vehicle’s brake system are crucial to overall safety and function, the inspectors will be paying close attention to a vehicle’s brake hoses and tubing this year. The result of last year’s three-day International Roadcheck enforcement campaign showed that brake system violations made up 45% of all out-of-service violations.

If your commercial vehicle fails to meet the CVSA braking standards or any other inspection item, your vehicle may receive a violation that will result in traveling restrictions until the violation has been corrected.

Inspectors will be looking at four main factors when checking the hoses and tubing of a commercial motor vehicle’s brake system, checking to make sure they are:

  • Undamaged
  • Properly attached
  • Leak-free
  • Appropriately flexible

In order to pass the inspection, all commercial trucks and combination vehicles over a gross weight of 10,000 pounds must have a braking efficiency of at least 43.5%. In 14 jurisdictions, this calculation will be determined by using performance-based brake testers (PBBT), which calculate overall brake efficiency and force over the total gross weight.

Avoid violations during this year’s inspection by conducting regular maintenance on all vehicle operational systems.

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Creating an ‘urgent care first’ mindset for employee benefits

Urgent cares are popping up everywhere, making getting quick healthcare easier and more convenient for patients. Read this blog post to learn why it's important to guide employees to adopt an "urgent care first" mentality.


Urgent care centers are popping up everywhere, which means getting quick healthcare is easier and more convenient for patients. But these centers could also help employers minimize expensive emergency room claims. That’s why it’s important to guide employees to adopt an “urgent care first” mentality.

The concept of urgent care has been around since the 1970s, but rising healthcare costs, especially for ER care, have spurred an increase in centers across the U.S. over the last decade. In fact, from 2014 through June 2017, the number of urgent care centers rose by nearly 20%.

Urgent care centers provide care for health problems that aren’t life-threatening, but can’t wait for an appointment with a primary care provider. No one wants to suffer with a sore throat all weekend. Many urgent care centers are staffed with doctors and nurses, and provide more advanced capabilities than what’s typically available at a primary care doctor’s office. For example, some urgent care centers give stitches, provide X-rays and even MRIs.

Patients can also get treatment at urgent care for conditions they’d typically see a primary care doctor for, such as the flu or a fever, mild to moderate asthma, skin rashes, sprains and strains, and a severe sore throat or cough — illnesses that produce unnecessary high claims if treated in an ER.

Still, when a severe sore throat and high fever strike on a weekend and the doctor’s office is closed, employees may gravitate to the ER because they’re sick and need help right now. That’s where the urgent care first mindset becomes good medicine. It typically costs the employer (and often the employee) far less if that sore throat is treated in an urgent care facility.

The high cost of ER care is enough to make anyone run a high temp. From 2009 to 2016 (the most recent data available), the average amount that hospitals billed insurance carriers for an emergency room visit more than doubled, from $600 to $1,322. By contrast, urgent care typically costs about $150 per visit. Members often pay a lower copay for urgent care visits, too.

The urgent care first mindset is starting to take hold. New data analysis from Aetna shows that as urgent care centers began to proliferate, ER visits for minor health issues dropped 36%, while the use of urgent care and other non-emergency health settings increased 140%.

However, the same study shows that plans only saw a decrease in ER visits if there were several urgent care centers in the geographic region where their employees lived. Awareness is key.

Fostering an urgent care first mentality

Employers can’t just include urgent care in a benefits plan and expect employees to use it. They need to design the plan to encourage use and follow up with plenty of education.

Education about the benefits of primary care versus urgent care versus the ER should take place during open enrollment and throughout the plan year so members understand the medical necessity and financial implications of each option. Including the closest urgent care centers to employees, as well as a list of services they provide, can help encourage them to adopt an urgent care first mentality.

A word of caution: not every nearby urgent care center is actually in-network. It literally pays for employees to keep a list of nearby in-network centers handy when that inevitable weekend sore throat strikes.

Reminders about urgent care before spring allergies, summer vacations, fall school physicals and flu season can also help encourage their use.

The too-low ER copay

Plan design is another important piece of the puzzle to help steer employees to the right level of care for their needs. It’s not that unusual to see a $100 copay for an emergency department visit. While no one wants to discourage ER visits for true emergencies, it makes sense to adjust the plan design to encourage primary and urgent care visits instead. That may mean a $20 copay for primary care, a $40 copay for urgent care and a $200 to $250 copay for ER visits — which is waived if the plan participant is admitted to the hospital.

For high-deductible health plans paired with a health savings account, the savings can be even more drastic; patients may pay $200 for an urgent care visit versus $1,200 for an ER visit.

The combination of education and plan design can help curb unnecessary ER visits, which could help employers control healthcare increases from plan year to plan year. For health issues that crop up during off hours, the urgent care first mindset is good for both employers and employees, who will ultimately save time and money.

SOURCE: O'Conner, P. (5 July 2019) "Creating an ‘urgent care first’ mindset for employee benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/creating-an-urgent-care-first-mindset-for-employees


How to Sweeten Your Healthcare Offerings to Attract + Retain Employees

Employees are the heart of any great business, and key employees and leaders are essential to long-term success. Once acquiring what you feel like is a complete team, some employees may be exploring other options and walking away. You may also find yourself struggling to attract younger generational employees.

But why is this?

For any employee, benefits are no longer a perk in business; they’re an expected part of compensation.  For any employer looking for ideas on how to ensure their business meets the wants and needs of their employees, Tonya Bahr, one of our expert Benefits Advisors, has outlined three benefits sure to help.

Benefit #1: Gym Memberships

As the old saying goes, “healthy employees are happy employees.” More companies are encouraging healthy habits in and out of the office. The typical employee would like to have the ability to join a gym and work out. This helps negate a general sense of feeling too consumed by work and life, while putting action to their desires. Joining a gym of their liking through the use of a company stipend or expense is a huge plus for many employees and will aid in long-term employee retention.

Benefit #2: Focus on Family

Nobody is without a life away from work. The considerate employer is no stranger to the normal work-life balance and is flexible to offer employees time off when their attention is needed elsewhere – typically family matters. Parents who need to attend a child’s event, a mother who requires maternal leave or those tending to the needs of their elderly loved ones desire a company that doesn’t have a fixed focus on strictly work itself.

Benefit #3: Community Involvement

Numerous studies have found employees increasingly value brands that emphasize doing good around them. From encouraging employees to volunteer on their days off and promising rewards or hosting in-house events, the ways in which your organization can spread a good name into the community is nearly limitless, not to mention, a fun and active way to market your business to prospective employees.

Better Benefits Strategies with Hierl Insurance…

When it comes to Employee Benefits, the experts at Hierl bring an element of strategic innovation to the conversation that others simply are not.  We take pride in the experience we provide our customers focusing in on a clear, defined, proven process and diligent communication to deliver real results that are meaningful to your unique vision and goals as an organization.

The industry has gotten complicated. With an ever shifting landscape, keeping up can be exhausting and trying to plan ahead can seem daunting.When you partner with Hierl, you gain a team of innovative, kind-hearted, strategically focused, big picture experts that work diligently to ensure your outcomes are meaningful where it matters most to you.

For more information, contact Tonya Bahr at 920.921.5921 or tbahr@hierl.com. You can also visit our website for more information on our collective services.

Employee Benefits


At Hierl, we know you are more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. You are a unique, diverse population of real people with real needs and real objectives.

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Summertime—and Working Ain’t Easy

Summertime is often a season when work takes a back seat to barbecues and beach vacations. Providing flexibility during the summer months is often appreciated by employees and can help boost engagement. Read this blog post from SHRM for best practices on managing staff during the summer months.


Summertime is that season when "the livin' is easy," as the famous tune by George Gershwin goes—a season when work often takes a back seat to pool parties, barbecues and beach vacations.

How do employers keep workers' heads in the game when their toes are itching for the sand? Or how do they plan for the disruption that summer holidays and vacation schedules inevitably bring? What are their best practices for keeping productivity high?

In the health care industry, patients' needs mean productivity can't fluctuate with the seasons. At Maine Medical Center in Portland, nurse manager Michele Higgins oversees a staff of 70 on an adult general medical unit.

"Summer is busy in health care, especially at a level-one trauma hospital such as Maine Med, but we continue to care effectively for patients, and we remain patient-centered," she said.

Anticipating higher patient traffic in the summer months, the hospital pushes out its June, July and August schedules as early as March. Staff view the schedules, are reminded of guidelines for taking vacation time, and plan time off around shifts or swap shifts with co-workers.

But what happens when an employee unexpectedly calls out "sick" over the Fourth of July weekend? A pool of floating in-house nurses responds to shortages. When the pool of nurses cannot meet the demand, managers ask staff to cover shifts for incentive pay. According to Higgins, a 10-year Maine Med veteran, the numbers typically work out and the medical center maintains favorable nurse-to-patient ratios. But she's always prepared to show up in scrubs and jump in as needed. "Being present is important to me," she said. "I make myself accessible and stay positive, supporting the staff and recognizing their efforts."

Higgins rewards her staff with hospital-sponsored special events throughout the summer. These include "nurses' week" at the beginning of May, when employees win gift cards and goody bags in daily raffles, participate in a book swap, and play games like cornhole. Later in the summer, senior leaders host staff appreciation lunches, smoothie breaks on the patio and an ice cream bar. The hospital also reserves box seats for each of its 23 units at minor league baseball games at Hadlock Field in downtown Portland.

"Maine Med is a great place to work," Higgins said. "But busy is the norm."

Workers Appreciate Flexibility

For employees who are parents, juggling work and school-age children who are either home for the summer, at camps or in day care can be challenging—and expensive.

Recognizing this, some employers observe summer hours so parents can start and end the workday earlier. Employees at Princeton University call it quits at 4:30 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day.

River City Dental, a dental office in Williamsport, Md., operates on an 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedule in June, July and August. Office manager Lori Robine reports that the employees, many of whom are parents, appreciate the flexibility of the shortened workday and increased free time.

Workplace flexibility is another benefit that can boost spirits—and productivity—during the summer months. Maine Medical Center can't tweak its summer hours, but fewer meetings are held, and they're even put on hold in July.

When summer arrives, workplace productivity doesn't have to suffer. Employers can look for opportunities to be flexible with scheduling and dress codes, find ways to recognize and reward employees, and host events that celebrate the warm months.

Michele Poacelli is a freelancer based in Mercersburg, Pa. 

SOURCE: Poacelli, M. (12 July 2019) "Summertime—and Working Ain’t Easy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/employee-engagement-in-the-summer.aspx


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