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

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


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

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

See Also: Avoiding Communication Overload During Open Enrollment

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

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

See Also: Incorporating Incentives to Create Educated Benefit Consumers

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

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

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

See Also: Communicating the Value of Employee Benefits

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

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

See Also: Ideas for Effectively Demonstrating Plan Choices

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

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

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

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


Commercial Risk Advisor - July 2019

Lightning Safety for Outdoor Workers

Although about 90 percent of people struck by lightning survive, these strikes can cause serious and permanent disabilities. And, even if employees aren’t hurt by lightning, they may be at risk from any fires, explosions or other hazards that result from a strike. Together, these facts outline the importance of protecting employees who work outdoors from lightning hazards.

There are a number of ways to do this, including taking steps to reduce lightning hazards, creating an emergency action plan and training your workforce.

All of your managers, supervisors and outdoor workers should collaborate on your plan to ensure it accounts for your business’s unique operations.

Consider these tips when you’re drafting your plan:

  • Train all employees on lightning safety, including early warning systems for severe weather and the best locations to take shelter when working outdoors.
  • Post information on lightning safety around all of your outdoor work areas. These postings should indicate the location of safe shelters, when to stop and resume work after hearing thunder, and any other guidance that applies to your business or work sites.
  • Make sure employees check weather reports before working outside. Employees should also check the weather at each work site they’ll be visiting each day, as weather patterns can vary widely—even over short distances.
  • Require employees and supervisors to monitor weather reports regularly once they’re at an outdoor work site. Have employees stop work and seek shelter immediately if they hear any thunder.

For more resources to help keep your outdoor workers safe, contact Hierl Insurance Inc. today.

Direct costs of MSDs can be as high as $20 billion a year, with indirect costs (e.g. lost productivity and absenteeism) costing employers five times more.

The Importance of Ergonomics in the Workplace

Ergonomics is a catch-all term that often comes up in discussions about workplace health, safety and design—and for good reason. Employers who fail to implement ergonomic solutions at their place of business put their employees at risk of serious injuries.

When your employees perform tasks under the stress of an awkward posture, extreme temperature or repeated movement, their entire musculoskeletal system can be affected. This can lead to adverse symptoms like fatigue, discomfort and pain, which are the first signs of a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).

MSDs are conditions that affect muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves. These conditions can develop over time or occur immediately when workers overload themselves. Direct costs of MSDs can be as high as $20 billion a year, with indirect costs (e.g., lost productivity and absenteeism) costing employers five times more.

Ensuring workstations and tasks are designed with ergonomics in mind does more than promote productivity. When employers invest in ergonomic workplaces, it:

  • Saves organizations money by reducing absenteeism, injuries and workers’ compensation claims
  • Creates happier employees, as workers feel valued when employers take steps to create a safe workplace
  • Contributes to employees’ long-term health and quality of life

While ergonomics can mean different things depending on the industry you operate in, the goal is the same: identify the ergonomics-related risks in your workplace and take steps to protect employees. This can be accomplished by establishing an ergonomics program.

An ergonomics program is systematic process for identifying, analyzing and controlling workplace risk factors, often created with the goal of reducing MSDs. In order to address ergonomics-related concerns, your program needs to identify the most common risk factors present in your workplace.

Although about 90 percent of people struck by lightning survive, these discharges can cause serious and permanent disabilities.

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DOL Offers Wage and Hour Compliance Tips in Three Opinion Letters

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently released three new opinion letters providing tips on how to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when it comes to wage and hour issues. Continue reading this blog post to learn how the agency would enforce statutes and regulations specific to these situations.


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued three new opinion letters addressing how to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when rounding employee work hours and other wage and hour issues.

Opinion letters describe how the agency would enforce statutes and regulations in specific circumstances presented by an employer, worker or other party who requests the opinion. Opinion letters are not binding, but there may be a safe harbor for employers that show they relied on one.

The DOL Wage and Hour Division's July 1 letters covered:

Here are the key takeaways for employers.

Rounding Practices

One letter reviewed whether an organization's rounding practices are permissible under the Service Contract Act (SCA), which requires government contractors and subcontractors to pay prevailing wages and benefits and applies FLSA principles to calculate hours worked.

The employer's payroll software extended employees' clocked time to six decimal points and then rounded that number to two decimal points. When the third decimal was less than .005, the second decimal was not adjusted, but when the third decimal was .005 or greater, the second decimal was rounded up by 0.01. Then the software calculated daily pay by multiplying the rounded daily hours by the SCA's prevailing wage.

Employers may round workers' time if doing so "will not result, over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked," according to the FLSA.

"It has been our policy to accept rounding to the nearest five minutes, one-tenth of an hour, one-quarter of an hour, or one-half hour as long as the rounding averages out so that the employees are compensated for all the time they actually work," the opinion letter said.

Based on the facts provided, the DOL concluded that the employer's rounding practice complied with the FLSA and the SCA. The rounding practice was "neutral on its face" and appeared to average out so that employees were paid for all the hours they actually worked.

For employers, the letter provides two significant details, said Marty Heller, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta. First, it confirms that the DOL applies the FLSA's rounding practices to the SCA. Second, it confirms the DOL's position that computer rounding is permissible, at least when the rounding involves a practice that appears to be neutral and does not result in the failure to compensate employees fully over a period of time, he said.

Patrick Hulla, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Kansas City, Mo., noted that the employer's rounding practice in this case differed from many employers' application of the principle. Specifically, the employer was rounding time entries to six decimal places. Most employers round using larger periods of time—in as many as 15-minute increments, he said.

"Employers taking advantage of permissible rounding should periodically confirm that their practices are neutral, which can be a costly and time-consuming exercise," he suggested.

Exempt Paralegals

Another letter analyzed whether a trade organization's paralegals were exempt from the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime requirements. Under the FLSA's white-collar exemptions, employees must earn at least $23,660 and perform certain duties. However, employees whose total compensation is at least $100,000 a year are considered highly compensated employees and are eligible for exempt status if they meet a reduced duties test, as follows:

  • The employee's primary duty must be office or nonmanual work.
  • The employee must "customarily and regularly" perform at least one of the bona fide exempt duties of an executive, administrative or professional employee.

Employers should note that the DOL's proposed changes to the overtime rule would raise the regular salary threshold to $35,308 and the highly compensated salary threshold to $147,414.

Because "a high level of compensation is a strong indicator of an employee's exempt status," the highly compensated employee exemption "eliminates the need for a detailed analysis of the employee's job duties," the opinion letter explained.

The paralegals described in the letter appeared to qualify for the highly compensated employee exemption because all their duties were nonmanual, they were paid at least $100,000 a year, and they "customarily and regularly" perform at least one duty under the administrative exemption.

The letter cited "a litany of the paralegals' job duties and responsibilities—including keeping and maintaining corporate and official records, assisting the finance department with bank account matters, and budgeting—that are directly related to management or general business operations," the DOL said.

The DOL noted that some paralegals don't qualify for the administrative exemption because their primary duties don't include exercising discretion and independent judgment on significant matters. But the "discretion and independent judgment" factor doesn't have to be satisfied under the highly compensated employee exception.

Calculating Bonuses

The third letter discussed whether the FLSA requires an employer to include a nondiscretionary bonus that is a fixed percentage of an employee's straight-time wages received over multiple workweeks in the calculation of the employee's regular rate of pay at the end of each workweek.

Under the FLSA, nonexempt employees must be paid at least 1 1/2 times their regular rate of pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek, unless they are covered by an exemption—but the regular rate is based on more than just the employee's hourly wage. It includes all remuneration for employment unless the compensation falls within one of eight statutory exclusions. Nondiscretionary bonuses count as remuneration and must be included in the calculation.

"An employer may base a nondiscretionary bonus on work performed during multiple workweeks and pay the bonus at the end of the bonus period," according to the opinion letter. "An employer, however, is not required to retrospectively recalculate the regular rate if the employer pays a fixed percentage bonus that simultaneously pays overtime compensation due on the bonus."

The annual bonus, in this case, was not tied to straight-time or overtime hours. Based on the facts provided by an employee, the DOL said that after the employer pays the annual bonus, it must recalculate the regular rate for each workweek in the bonus period and pay any overtime compensation that is due on the annual bonus.

For the quarterly bonuses, the employee received 15 percent of his straight-time and overtime wages so they "simultaneously include all overtime compensation due on the bonus as an arithmetic fact," the DOL said.

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L.(2 July 2019) "DOL Offers Wage and Hour Compliance Tips in Three Opinion Letters" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/DOL-Offers-Wage-and-Hour-Compliance-Tips-in-Three-Opinion-Letters.aspx


Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more:

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

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

The Case for Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

Use these Innovative Strategies to Improve Mental Health

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

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


Engaging employees in healthcare — even while traveling

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ensure employees can quickly share their medical records with providers

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

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

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

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

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


Culture is what employers ‘do when no one is looking’

Culture is one of the primary reasons employees choose to leave a current position or accept a job offer. According to a recent survey, 30 percent of job seekers left new positions after 90 days because of company culture. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


Employers advertise their values to attract like-minded talent, but if organizations don’t practice what they preach, they risk watching that talent walk right out the door.

Second to compensation, company culture is one of the primary reasons employees leave a company, according to the 2018 Jobvite Job Seeker Insights Survey. A good fit is so important that 30% of job seekers left brand-new positions after just 90 days because they didn’t like the company’s culture, the study said.

“It’s interesting that people think about culture in terms of what they want it to be, not what it actually is,” Mita Mallick, head of diversity and cross-cultural marketing at Unilever, said Wednesday at the Greenhouse Open Conference. “Culture is defined by what you do when no one’s looking.”

Mallick and Jennifer Turner — an HR strategy consultant at Alphabet, Google’s parent company — engaged in a panel discussion on creating an inclusive company culture during the conference. As HR professionals managing large teams, they agreed employers need to take initiative to establish healthy work environments.

“Creating an environment where women and people of color feel comfortable needs to be a priority,” Turner said. “Including their voices is how you make that happen.”

Turner recognized that some marginalized employees won’t feel comfortable speaking up about problems with company culture — especially if they have less job experience. Mallick and Turner said it’s helpful for these employees to find allies in senior level coworkers who can advocate for them.

“Early in my career, I know I didn’t feel comfortable raising my hand and saying, ‘That’s not OK,’” Mellick said. “I’m much more confident now.”

Mallick spoke about a time when she felt she needed to step up for employees who are mothers. Unilever was in the middle of planning a new campus in New Jersey, complete with a mother’s room for nursing. After viewing the plans, Mallick said it was clear the designers didn’t ask any of their female employees what they’d like to get out of the room. From her own experience as a mother, she said it would be most helpful if the room also functioned as a co-working space; the plan she was presented with didn’t have those elements.

“I asked [the men], ‘Have you ever nursed before?’ And, of course, they said no,” Mallick said. “Some of the men were getting grouchy, saying they were just trying to do the right thing. But that’s just an example of failure in not trying to connect who you were trying to serve.”

“If you don’t, it happens organically,” Mallick said. “There are people who will try to fill the culture.”

Turner spoke briefly about Google’s transition from startup to global enterprise, a change that required the company to redesign its culture. She said Google was able to bridge traditional office hierarchies with Google’s original culture by training managers to act like coaches. The founders hoped this management structure would perpetuate their original value — teamwork.

“Our founders felt uncomfortable with the word ‘management,’” Turner said. “But you need it at larger companies to organize jobs.”

Both women emphasized the importance of conducting regular employee surveys to determine engagement levels. Mellick said lower-level employees often feel more comfortable providing honest feedback in surveys. She believes this is the best way to “hold leadership accountable.”

“Sometimes there are some bad actors who continue to slip by without living by your company’s values because they produce results,” Mellick said. “It’s important to listen to employee feedback because these productive jerks can be an overpowering force that creates fear in your workforce.”

Turner said employers who are serious about their company’s core values need to conduct regular performance reviews for managers and take their lower-level employees’ feedback seriously.

“We want our leadership to stand up for us and believe what comes from their mouth,” Turner said. “If leaders don’t live by [the company’s] values, how can the culture be that way?”

SOURCE: Webster, K. (14 June 2019) "Culture is what employers ‘do when no one is looking’" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/alphabet-unilever-discuss-workplace-culture


Move over, financial wellness. It’s time for financial flexibility

Despite the fact that Americans have recovered from the Great Recession, most employees today live paycheck-to-paycheck, leaving many employees stressed out about their finances. Read this blog post to learn more about financial flexibility.


It’s somewhat hard to believe that most employees today continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck. Despite the fact that Americans have recovered from the Great Recession a decade ago and that the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in many years, employees are essentially making the same amount of money they did during the pre-recession “good days” many years ago. Of course, living costs have gone up in this same period.

That means employees are stressed about their finances. They don’t have enough emergency savings for unexpected expenses and struggle to make minimum monthly payments on credit cards and loans. And the problem is bigger than that because their financial stress also distracts them at work. Whether it’s student loans, car payments, mortgage/rent payments, credit card debt, an unexpected expense or some other financial matter that they are worried about, the bottom line is they are spending time at work on these issues rather than doing the job employers are paying them to do.

Thus, employees’ personal financial stress affects employers as well. When employees bring that financial stress to work, it results in low productivity, absenteeism and, in many cases, higher healthcare costs.

Today’s employees want to make their money to do more. Financial flexibility can help them get there.

So what is financial flexibility? It’s the ability to manage expenses and make everyday life affordable. It’s the financial stage beyond living paycheck-to-paycheck. It means being smart about how we use our monthly income and finding ways to make our money do more so that we are able to pay bills on time, take a vacation, have an emergency fund for unexpected expenses and perhaps splurge on something small occasionally. Financial flexibility is the stage between living paycheck-to-paycheck and financial security (a level few employees ever achieve).

Being financially flexible means finding ways to make our money do more by following a monthly budget, being wise shoppers and taking advantage of employer-offered financial wellness tools and voluntary benefits such as financial counseling, student loan refinancing programs, employee purchase programs and payroll-deducted savings programs.

Providing financial flexibility at work

Financial education benefits can help employees with budgeting and debt reduction needs, and over the past several years, growing numbers of employees have begun using the services their employer provides to assist them with their personal finances.

But it takes more to have financial flexibility. While financial education benefits can help employees with budgeting and debt reduction needs, employers should adopt additional voluntary benefits that provide employees the opportunity to have some financial flexibility.

Among these are:

  • Low-interest installment loans and credit that help employees avoid payday loans and cash advances from credit cards when they have emergency needs such as unexpected out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • Student loan repayment benefit programs in which employers are making contributions to loan balances or providing methods for employees to refinance their debt.
  • Automated savings programs that encourage employees to start taking control of their financial future by saving money each month from their paycheck. Many employees don’t have $1,000 or more in savings to use for emergencies and saving a little each month can help build that emergency fund.
  • Employee purchase programs that allow workers to purchase consumer products and services through payroll deduction when they are unable or prefer not to use cash or credit. The program is an alternative to high-interest credit cards and other sub-prime financing options for customers desiring to pay for a purchase over time.
  • Bill payment programs that empower employees with debt paydown strategies and the ability to make recurring bill payments on-time each month through payroll deduction

Today’s employees want — and need — their money to do more so they aren’t living paycheck-to-paycheck. Employees who are less financially stressed are happier. That results in more engaged, productive workers and an increased bottom line for employers. The new normal is financial flexibility. And there’s a role for voluntary benefits in helping employees get there.

SOURCE: Halkos, E. (23 April 2019) "Move over, financial wellness. It’s time for financial flexibility" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/use-voluntary-benefits-to-help-employee-financial-wellness


5 Strategies to Motivate Burned-Out Workers

An optimal way to motivate and engage burned-out workers is by rewarding team members for their achievements. Continue reading this post from SHRM for five strategies used to motivate burned-out workers.


Robert is a human resources director in a local community hospital who feels the heaviness of low staff morale. Employees are clearly tired, they feel like they're working at their maximum, and they're having a hard time keeping up with the patient load. In fact, due to leaves of absence from co-workers' disabilities and workers' comp, more employees have been working double shifts over extended periods of time. They are showing the classic signs of burnout. Unfortunately, Robert can't simply backfill positions because employees are on protected leaves of absence, and temp agencies and registries have few candidates to offer due to the tight labor market. In short, Robert doesn't know how to stop this apparently endless cycle of staffing shortages, excessive shift coverage, employee leaves and limited position replacements.

"Unless you've got some kind of magic wand to make these all-too-common challenges disappear, you won't have much success in terms of addressing these issues directly and head on," said Terry Hollingsworth, vice president of education and human resources services for the Hospital Association of Southern California in the greater Los Angeles area. "Yes, tightening up your recruitment cycle and opening your network to more temp agencies and registries may help, but those are Band-Aids. The real value lies in looking at the other side of the equation: employee engagement and self-motivation."

Rewarding people for their achievements, it turns out, is an optimal way to motivate and engage a team that feels like it's treading water. Allowing people to assume greater responsibilities and focus on their career development is better for them and for the organization—even when they may be feeling overwhelmed or burned out at the time you initiate the programs that follow.

1. Create a Career Development Pipeline

If your organization isn't already doing so, look for opportunities to build a succession planning program, especially among your hourly workers where career escalation is relatively easy to accomplish.

In Robert's case, the hospital's key challenge lies in finding certified nursing assistants (CNAs) due to market shortages.

"Hospital food service workers, janitors and others might want to pursue their CNA certification as a first step to formally launch their health care careers," Hollingsworth said. "Setting up onsite training classes and allowing on-the-job shadowing can be a game changer in terms of your culture and creating an environment where workers feel motivated and re-engaged. Ditto for developing a training program where CNAs can apply for their licensure to become licensed vocational nurses, the next rung on the nursing career ladder."

2. Develop a High-Po Program

"High-potential (high-po) programs focus on identifying the top 10 or 20 percent of workers in a given classification and awarding and recognizing them for their achievements, while helping them build out their resumes," said Rita Van Vranken, chief human resources officer at the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans in Studio City, Calif.

"High-pos may not be ready to promote just yet, but they set themselves apart as top performers, brand ambassadors, and potential leaders who deserve special levels of acknowledgment and development from departmental and senior management. A structured high-po program serves as an effective recognition and development tool and dovetails nicely into formal succession planning."

Identifying one person from each department or unit gives these individuals more than an opportunity to feel special. They also may, for example, attend advanced classes on leadership, communication and teambuilding; enjoy a once-a-quarter lunch with their regional manager; and benefit from individual development plans that, created in tandem with their manager and department head, will single them out for promotion when the opportunity arises.

3. Develop an Active Employee Recognition Program

"Many organizations fail to realize the importance of both formal and informal recognition programs," Van Vranken said. "More important, though, is that companies that have them in place fail to promote and publicize them. If you have [an] Employee of the Month and Employee of the Year award program that barely gets attention, scrap it temporarily." Instead, try a Shining Star or Employee Spotlight program that recognizes employees who go above and beyond their job's expectations.

"[Pilot] a three- or six-month program that generates a buzz and makes the rewards something to brag about," she added.

Just remember that these types of programs are meant to spark up the troops, and, if you're not rewarding the most-needed behaviors (e.g., accepting double shifts or coming in on weekends), you're missing the main benefit of the exercise.

"Make it real; make it pop; and make sure your messages, values, and activities are all aligned," Van Vranken said.

Don't be surprised to learn that the most dramatic and immediate change in your organizational culture stems from praising employees and recognizing their achievements. And that recognition need not be monetary. In fact, many consulting firms that specialize in reward and recognition programs will tell you that research shows public praise and recognition can be more meaningful to workers than a cash card or check in a sealed envelope.

There are plenty of simple and effective ways for leaders to recognize their employees, from employee photos in the lobby to prestigious parking spots. Whatever you decide, make sure to communicate both expectations and celebrations clearly. Encourage your team members to follow your lead in recognizing others for a job well done. Share praise openly, and consider organizing recognition events to honor bigger accomplishments, especially those reached by teams working closely together.

4. Help Employees Fulfill Their Personal Career Goals

Career development is a key driver of employee satisfaction. Your strongest performers will always be resume builders. Providing opportunities for talented individuals to do their best work every day, combined with training and educational opportunities, will go a long way in helping people achieve their career advancement goals.

Become an organization known for its commitment to professional development. Provide networking opportunities for your staffers to meet leaders from other parts of the organization over team lunch meetings. Serve as a mentor and coach to your direct reports by asking them about their longer-term goals and how you could help them get there.

"Show that you're interested in the whole person, not just the one who shows up at work," Van Vranken said. "You'll likely find that people will respond in kind to the heightened dose of positive attention they're garnering,"

More specifically, Hollingsworth said, "Ask your employees to schedule 30 minutes with you once per quarter to review their progress toward their career goals. Invite them to share their resume with you to help them make the best presentation possible and [add] their work-related achievements to their LinkedIn profiles as well. Remember that when you develop an achievement mentality where employees are adding accomplishment bullets to their resume, you'll create a high-performance culture where high-performers are far less inclined to leave."

5. Plan Ahead

All employees want some sense of job security regarding their future with the company. They likewise want to understand how their efforts contribute to the organization's larger goals, mission and vision.

Share information generously. Ensure that people understand the goals and challenges so they can tie their recommended solutions to the broader picture. Help them learn about your organization and build on their knowledge by collecting information in scorecards, dashboards and other forms of data intelligence.

Likewise, honor the annual performance review process—the one hour per year dedicated to each individual worker as the culmination of the previous 12 months (i.e., the 2,080 hours typically worked). Yes, managers and employees at times express frustration with the annual performance review process, but you'd be surprised how many employees complain about not getting formal feedback—sometimes for years at a time.

Finally, turn your team into corporate futurists: Have them research your organization, industry and competitors. Have them scour the Internet for current trends and patterns in your business, especially those that can impact their careers for the better. As an example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes its Occupational Outlook Handbook at www.bls.gov/ooh. Send your employees on research missions to the BLS website to determine what the growth trajectory for their particular position is (currently measured in terms of job growth from 2016-26).

If Robert's employees take on this task, they will find career projections for medical assistants, dietitians, home health aides, nurses, massage therapists, phlebotomists and pharmacy technicians, among others. The BLS site outlines national median pay, educational requirements and the all-important "job outlook."

On the job outlook page, the hospital's workers will find a bar chart showing, for example, medical assistant jobs will grow at a rate of 29 percent per year between 2016 and 2026, relative to average job growth in the U.S. of 7 percent (all job classifications).

That's pretty motivating, but there's also an Excel spreadsheet embedded in the page that maps out job growth in particular medical areas relative to the 24 percent overall growth for the entire classification. Robert's medical assistant employees will learn that 10-year job growth projections line up as follows by specialty area:

Outpatient care centers                       +53 percent

Specialty hospitals                              +38 percent

Nursing/residential care facilities       +32 percent

General hospitals                                +16 percent

Wow! How's that for motivating employees to focus on their career development and construct a longer-term career plan to help them isolate the areas where their skills will be needed most? And who knows—Robert may be helping his front-line operational leaders realize that the ones who shine at extracurricular exercises like these just might distinguish themselves as high-pos ready to build the hospital's leadership bench.

SOURCE: Falcone, P. (12 June 2019) "5 Strategies to Motivate Burned-Out Workers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/5-Strategies-to-Motivate-Burned-Out-Workers.aspx


Essential safety tips for warm-weather work

According to OSHA, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill every year while working in extreme heat or humid conditions. Read this blog post for essential safety tips for employees who work in warm weather.


Dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill every year while working in extreme heat or humid conditions, according to OSHA. As June marks both the official start of summer and National Safety Month, now is a perfect time for employers to review emergency plans with outdoor workers and provide tips on how to beat the heat and stay safe during lightning storms.

Beating the heat

With temperatures quickly rising, employers should first understand the factors that can lead to heat susceptibility.

Heat susceptibility can be caused by:

  • A combination of high temperature, direct sun and humidity;
  • Intense physical labor during peak hours; or
  • Sudden hot days after cool weather conditions or workers who have not yet acclimated to the heat.

To prevent these factors from causing illness, employees must stay hydrated, drinking plenty of water to ensure fluids are replenished. Ideally, workers should drink water before beginning a job and re-hydrate often. Any caffeinated beverages should be avoided as they increase heat sensitivity.

Workers also should avoid waterproof or tight clothing that doesn’t breathe. To dress for the heat, workers should wear a wide-brimmed hat, light-colored clothes and sunscreen. Fabrics that pull moisture away from the body and provide a cooling effect also are recommended.

Proper attire and hydration can be a big help, but it’s still important to recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion. Headache, dizziness, weakness, wet skin and fainting are indications that workers must get out of the heat immediately — or at least move to the shade. If an employee experiences confusion, slurred speech, excessive thirst, nausea or vomiting, it’s very possible he/she may be experiencing more severe heat stroke. Immediate medical attention should be sought in these cases.

Employers can also do their part in preventing heat-related illness with smart planning for outdoor work. This includes setting earlier schedules to avoid the hottest part of the day and arranging frequent rest periods and water breaks in shady, cooler areas. Project managers should also increase the number of workers for strenuous tasks on hot days and acclimate employees who haven’t worked in hot conditions lately by gradually increasing workloads and allowing more frequent breaks.

Staying safe when lightning strikes

The chance of being struck by lightning is only about 1 in 500,000, according to the CDC, but the risk increases in states that have frequent storm activity, like Florida, Alabama, North Carolina and Texas. Wherever employees may be doing outdoor work, encourage them not to tempt fate. They should be smart by following these CDC safety guidelines:

  • Look to the skies. If dark clouds form and the winds pick up, do not begin any task that cannot be stopped quickly. If lightning can be seen, follow the 30-30 rule. First, count to 30. If thunder sounds before 30, get inside. Suspend outdoor work or activities for at least 30 minutes after thunder ends.
  • Shelter indoors. Although the best place to be during a lightning storm is inside, indoor spaces aren’t lightning-proof. Avoid sinks and showers since lightning can travel through the building’s plumbing system. Do not use electronic equipment and corded phones. And, of course, stay away from windows and doors, even concrete as lightning can travel through metal bars in concrete walls or floors.
  • Go low. If caught out in the open, find a low spot — like a ditch — and crouch or squat down low so as little of the body is touching the ground as possible. Electrical currents from lightning can travel along the top of the ground.
  • Find refuge in a car. If a hard-topped truck or car is available, hop inside. Although most people think rubber tires are the grounding force, it’s the metal shell that dissipates the electricity and keeps you safe.

Thunderstorms may be thrilling, but lightning can kill. Remind employees to respect the power of nature and observe storms from a safe vantage point inside.

Each season comes with a new set of liabilities. Now that the risks of cold and icy conditions have passed, reeducate employees on how to protect their safety during summer months. It’s far easier to act now than in the heat of the moment.

SOURCE: Arrison, J. (24 June 2019) "Essential safety tips for warm-weather work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.propertycasualty360.com/2019/06/24/essential-safety-tips-for-warm-weather-work/


A 55-year-old intern? Why older apprentices may be the answer to the talent gap

Internships and apprenticeship programs may not just be for young professionals. The DOL’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion recently called for a process that would establish industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs). Read this blog post for how older apprentices may be the answer to today's talent gap.


LAS VEGAS — Want to revitalize your workforce? Try hiring a baby boomer as your new intern.

Apprentice programs may not be just for young talents fresh out of college. Employers should study such programs for older workers, said the leader of the world’s largest HR professional society.

“We oftentimes think about apprenticeships for young people, but what about the 55-year-old who needs to work or wants to work an additional 20 years and needs to learn the new coding language?” Johnny Taylor Jr., CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, said Tuesday during a media event at the annual SHRM conference. “So apprenticeship writ large ... it’s a broader idea than just what we all think about young people getting an opportunity.”

The comments come after the DOL’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion on Monday called for a process to establish industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs).

IRAPs will be customizable apprenticeship models that the DOL calls "a new pathway for the expansion of apprenticeships."

In addition, the proposed rule outlined the process to become a standards recognition entity (SRE), which would set standards for training, structure and curriculum for the IRAPs.

DOL would ensure that SREs have the capacity and quality-assurance processes and procedures needed to monitor IRAPs and recognize that IRAPs are high quality. The department's criteria for high-quality IRAPs include: paid work, work-based learning, mentorship, education and instruction, industry-recognized credentials, safety and supervision and adhering to equal employment opportunity obligations.

"The apprenticeship model of earning while learning has worked well in many American industries, and today we open opportunities for apprenticeships to flourish in new sectors of our economy," Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said in a statement.

Taylor has addressed expanding apprenticeships before, noting the association has recently renewed its support by studying ways to make programs more inclusive and broaden them beyond high school or college students, he said.

“I was at a meeting the other day and they referred to restoring the dignity of the first job,” Taylor said. “That’s a real aspirational thing.”

Employers also need to do more to tap hidden pools of skilled labor from the disabled to the formerly incarcerated to bridge the workplace talent gap in the United States, he said.

“How do we do that? For example, instead of a four-year college experience, maybe it’s a six-year average college experience because you go knock out your first two years,” and break up subsequent educational experiences between semesters of work, school or a mix of both combined with work internships.

The former labor employment lawyer also said key themes that SHRM is focused on this year include workplace culture, age discrimination, diversity and reskilling the U.S. workforce for the jobs of the future.

“Everyone is talking about work,” Taylor said. “It’s a great time to be in HR.”

Additional reporting by Nick Otto.

SOURCE: Siew, W. (26 June 2019) "A 55-year-old intern? Why older apprentices may be the answer to the talent gap" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/shrm-calls-on-expanding-workforce-apprenticeships