Why using a 401(k) to pay for emergencies is hurting employers and employees

Are your employees financially stressed? According to HR leaders, more and more employees are withdrawing $1,000 or less from their 401(k) retirement accounts to help pay for emergency expenses. Read this blog post from Employee Benefit News for more.


More than ever, HR leaders at Fortune 500 companies are reporting that employees are withdrawing $1,000 or less from their hard-earned 401(k) retirement accounts to pay for emergency expenses. These employees — often living at the brink of being financially unstable — are using the funds for unexpected emergency expenses like car repairs, medical bills or even to purchase books for their college-age children.

Corporate leaders are now, more than ever, concerned that many of their employees live under a high degree of financial stress that can affect their productivity, creativity and even their health, resulting in absenteeism and drops in productivity that ultimately impact the bottom line. HR managers are especially feeling the pain as they are called upon to handle the excessive paperwork needed for the 401(k) plan withdrawals, causing extra work that could be spent more productively on other projects that benefit all employees.

The fact that more Americans than ever are dipping into their 401(k) accounts for emergency funds reveals that many are living above their means or working below their needs financially. While it’s important to have an emergency fund, for many people savings is a luxury they simply can’t afford. According to a Federal Reserve survey, nearly 40 percent of Americans said they don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 expense. The quick fix for many is to use credit cards or ask family or friends for a loan when an emergency arises, but when those are not options, tapping into the 401(k) accounts is becoming increasingly common.

Some companies are partnering with payday loan companies so employees will refrain from tapping into their retirement funds. This is actually a worse idea because they’re setting their employees up to fail by enabling a vicious cycle of debt employees may never be free of.

Financial education could be the key to helping employees gain control of their financial lives. Companies that promote financial literacy courses and attendance at financial seminars or conferences offer the first step toward a better path for future financial stability. Offering or subsidizing the cost of continuing education courses help inspire employees to begin a lifelong journey of education for higher salaries and career advancement. Companies that promote education and career advancement attract, engage and retain employees longer than companies that don’t.

Flexible benefits can help

Companies can help their employees refrain from using their 401(k) retirement accounts as a bank if they offer flexible benefits. Employees get to choose how to use their earned benefits, like utilizing the monetary value of their unused paid time off (PTO) for other priorities such as paying for an emergency expense, paying down student loan debt or funding a vacation, among other things. Companies that offer flexible benefits are giving workers the ability to finally be in the driver’s seat of their careers and lives. When companies empower employees in this way, job satisfaction, productivity and creativity go way up.

Flexible benefits are a no brainer to organizations that want to attract, recruit, engage and retain top talent. Salary isn’t the only factor in determining a good career move, and companies that want to win the talent war will offer some type of flexible benefits. Every employee should have the ability to choose benefits based on their individual needs, avoiding the damaging financial practice of using 401(k) accounts for emergency expenses.

SOURCE: Whalen, R. (25 November 2019) "Why using a 401(k) to pay for emergencies is hurting employers and employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/employees-are-using-401k-funds-for-emergencies


DOL, HHS, and Treasury Release Final FAQs on Mental Health / Substance Use Disorder Parity

The DOL, HHS and Treasury have released final FAQs regarding mental health and substance use disorder parity implementation and the 21st Century Cures Act Part 39. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more about these FAQs.


The U.S. Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) released final FAQs About Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Implementation and the 21st Century Cures Act Part 39. The Departments respond to FAQs as part of implementing the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA), as amended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act). The FAQs contain a model disclosure form that employees can use to request information from their group health plan or individual market plan regarding treatment limitations that may affect access to mental health or substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits.

The DOL also released an enforcement fact sheet summarizing the DOL’s closed investigations and public inquiries regarding mental health and substance use disorder during the 2018 fiscal year.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (14 November 2019) "DOL, HHS, and Treasury Release Final FAQs on Mental Health / Substance Use Disorder Parity" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/dol-hhs-and-treasury-release-final-faqs-on-mental-health-/-substance-use-disorder-parity


4 Steps to a Pet-Friendly Workplace

According to research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, employees who bring their dogs to work experience lower stress levels. Read this blog post from UBA for four steps to creating a pet-friendly workplace.


If your team is waving goodbye to doggy day-care and the days of leaving furry friends at home, congratulations! The trend of bringing dogs to work started soon after what is widely considered the most influential research on dog-friendly offices, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Among the many benefits, research uncovered that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced lower stress levels, as well as facilitated conversation and better socializing during their 9-to-5 schedules. Dogs are a great conversation starter, acting as somewhat of a “social lubricant” that allows natural discussion to flow between colleagues who otherwise wouldn’t interact. Dogs can also help enhance trust and collaboration between coworkers, according to a study from Central Michigan University.

Allowing four-legged friends into your office might have unintended positive consequences for employers as well as employees. Science shows us that dog lovers experience higher levels of oxytocin, the “feel-good” hormone, and that even spending brief periods of time with dogs can increase a sense of well-being for the owners and their pet-loving coworkers. These feel-good hormones can lead to higher levels of neurological productivity, meaning better work for less time spent.

If you haven’t already adopted a dog-friendly office policy, try these steps below and get smiling! Watch your recruiting, retention, and overall office mood skyrocket.

Steps to becoming a dog-friendly office:

  1. Make sure your building approves. Some office buildings have restrictions that prevent pets from visiting if they aren’t a registered emotional support animal. Building management should be able to answer this question for you, as well as help with any red tape or paperwork for getting a pet-friendly workplace approved.
  2. Take a quick survey of the team. It’s important to make sure everyone on your team is comfortable with dogs in the office. Sending out a quick survey via Google Forms or SurveyMonkey can help you gauge whether there are allergies, fears, or just general apprehensions about pets in the office.
  3. Make sure the guidelines are clear. To ease any stress, make sure the expectation is clear that, in order to bring a furry friend, they must be friendly (to other dogs and humans) and have all their vaccinations. To ensure that all dogs are suited for the work environment, you can get your dog certified with the AKC Canine Good Citizen CertificationIt’s not a bad idea to additionally request dog owners to bring their own baby gate or crate, so that their dog can be contained in one area if needed.
  4. Start small. If you aren’t ready to adopt a dogs-anytime policy, try rolling out just one day a week, maybe on Fridays. If things are going well, you can expand to a greater amount of time and less restrictions.

SOURCE: Olson, B. (24 October 2019) "4 Steps to a Pet-Friendly Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/4-steps-to-a-pet-friendly-workplace


What is Emotional Agility, and How Can You Manage Your Emotions in the Workplace?

What is emotional agility? Emotional agility is defined as one's ability to deal with stressors and discomfort at work and in life. Read this blog post to learn more about being emotionally agile and how to manage your emotions in the workplace.


It’s a buzzword we hear all the time: emotional agility. So you may be asking, what exactly IS emotional agility? It’s defined as one’s ability to deal with stressors and discomfort in work and life. People are preprogrammed to deal with situations in certain ways, but these types of reactions don’t always allow room for emotional growth.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space,” explains Dr. Susan David, an award-winning Harvard Medical School psychologist. “This space is born out of emotional agility. In that space is our power to choose. And it’s in that choice that lies our growth and freedom.”

When people are emotionally agile, that space gives them the opportunity to deal with difficult and stressful situations and become resilient. Dr. David elaborates: “Emotional agility is being sensitive to the context and responding to the world right now—and that allows us to move into a space where we are managing our lives more in accord with our values.”

Stop Managing Emotions at Work, and Start Experiencing Them

“Firstly, it’s normal, healthy and good to experience the full range of emotions,” Dr. David continued. It’s unrealistic to try to focus on being happy and positive all the time. This hyper-focus lessens one’s adaptability and agility.

The workplace demands a lot of employees. No matter how stressful or taxing, employees are expected to hide their emotions at work and only portray positive emotions. However, research shows that experiencing difficult emotions helps people successfully navigate complex situations at work and at home.

Dr. David believes all emotions are necessary for employees to succeed in their careers: “There is no collaboration … without potential conflict. There is no innovation … without the potential of failure. And if there’s no openness to the emotions, the disappointment and the loss that comes with failure, well then you’re not going to get real innovation.”

Becoming Emotionally Agile

Even with the best intentions, things don’t always pan out like we plan. Unexpected or non-ideal outcomes in the workplace can elicit rigid or preprogrammed reactions to emotions, like ignoring them, bottling them up, placing blame, or replaying situations over and over in one’s head.

“Rigidity in the face of complexity is toxic,” Dr. David said. In order to become emotionally agile, people need to acknowledge and understand their emotional responses but not take them as fact. For example, if a person is feeling a stress response, it doesn’t mean everything about their life has to be stressful. By understanding these emotions, one can learn from them and ultimately move forward.

Dr. David elaborates: “The radical acceptance of our emotions — even the difficult ones, even the messy ones — is the cornerstone to resilience, to effectiveness, to success, to relationships, and to truly thriving.”

Bonus: Tips & Tricks to Cope With Stressful Workdays

  1. Compartmentalization (when negative emotions from home affect your work). Try your best to leave personal matters and issues at home. When you commute to work, use that time to tell your mind to let go. You can also compartmentalize work-related stressors so that your emotions at work don’t spill over into your personal life too.
  2. Deep breathing & relaxation techniques. This will help with emotions like anxiety, worry, frustration, and anger. Take deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly until you calm down. Slowly count to 10. You can take a walk to cool down and listen to some relaxing music. Talk to someone who can help you calm down.
  3. The 10-second rule. This is especially helpful if you are feeling angry, frustrated or even irate. If you feel your temper rising, try and count to 10 to recompose yourself. If possible, excuse yourself from the situation to get some distance, but remember to reassure the other party that you will return to deal with the matter.

Sources:

SOURCE: Olson, B. (5 November 2019) "What is Emotional Agility, and How Can You Manage Your Emotions in the Workplace?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/what-is-emotional-agility


What will Workplace Wellness Look Like in 2020?

The U.S. workplace wellness industry is expected to rapidly evolve in 2020. Targeted wellness and wellness exchanges are just two of the expected changes for 2020. Read this blog post to learn more about what wellness will look like in 2020.


As we look toward 2020, all indicators point towards a rapid evolution of the U.S. workplace wellness industry characterized by innovative solutions for managing health care costs that serve the increasing need for proactive ownership of well-being. However, are advances in related disciplines being leveraged optimally, cohesively and creatively to provide for maximum benefit to both the employee and employer?

The corporate model of wellness programs ranges from education programs, to a more evolved model of on-site fitness facilities, incentive programs and HR driven wellness initiatives as part of an overall health and benefits offering. The 2014 SHRM Survey of Strategic Benefits - Wellness Initiatives shows that 76 percent of all surveyed companies had some form of wellness programs/resources. Among those companies two-thirds offered some form of incentive or reward program.

The results of these types of programs have already demonstrated the positive impact of a collaborative responsibility partnership between employer and employee in implementing a wellness approach and the reduction of medical costs.

Several key performance indicators have been used for evaluation, including reductions in monthly medical cost spend, hospital admissions and employee absenteeism. According to SHRM, of the 30 percent who conducted a cost analysis of their wellness programs, 93 percent noted their programs were somewhat or very effective in cutting costs.

This certainly demonstrates a return on investment (ROI) to the employer. In addition, the positive qualitative effect on the organizational culture cannot be understated, with direct impact on talent and team spirit as well as other variables that are incremental to the quantitative benefits measured.

This is particularly important given that variables such as an increasingly aging workforce (by 2020, the number of Americans in the 55 to 64 age group will have grown by 73 percent since 2000), an increase in predominant disease states (by 2030, 40.5 percent of the US population is expected to have some form of cardiovascular disease) and rapidly changing regulations added to the equation, employers are evaluating best and "next" practices to determine if these programs are truly optimized to realize their full potential of impact.

For the next iteration of workplace wellness, the lessons learned can be leveraged from the evolution of the traditional health benefit offering to a health exchange model or to the advances and learnings in personalized therapeutic medicine. The current opportunity requires a creative and innovative approach to health and wellness ownership. Coupling a predictive, proactive and fact-based wellness management approach with employee-owned and led wellness decisions can provide a powerful and personalized platform.

By maintaining this initiative in a structured and sustainable manner, employers are able to provide a more targeted approach of spending proactive wellness dollars for maximum ROI and decreasing the reactive spend on medical costs.

These personalized programs will enable companies to better track and monitor costs and ROI with the goal to have more than 30 percent of the companies properly monitoring cost efficiencies. This is further supported by the fact that 90 percent said they would increase their investment in wellness programs if they could quantify the ROI.

Targeted Wellness

Traditional medical treatment has evolved significantly from standard diagnostic evaluations to increased utilization of scientific advances, specifically in terms of personalized medicine. Medical decisions and treatments are tailored to an individual patient through a data-based approach to drive the efficiency and effectiveness of patient treatment.

Similarly, there is an opportunity for the employee - within the framework of privacy regulations - to leverage this fact-based approach to optimize the value derived from a wellness offering. Two-thirds of employers involved in wellness initiatives typically provide some type of defined contribution or incentive towards wellness (e.g., fitness rebate); however, an opportunity exists to focus this spend on the desired health outcomes. This would provide the maximum benefit to the employee from a well-being standpoint, as well as to the employer for its investment.

While the powerful combination of data analytics and segmentation analysis allows a human resources team to facilitate a fact-based decision-making approach to right-fit an organization with the right individual in the right role at the right time, an organization can effectively manage the time and money dedicated to workplace wellness by creating a tailored program based on the individual employee's current needs and critical influencing factors.

Wellness Exchanges

Employers have made the journey from self-funded managed health care to the growing trend of providing employees with a "shopping mall" of health insurance options, and on to formal health exchanges - gradually increasing the patient-centric involvement of employees in managing their own health care choices.

The value drivers for this organizational transition include increased price competition based on the marketplace model as well as cost savings influenced by employers not overbuying health care coverage for their employees. This is exemplified by the vast majority of participants switching to cheaper plans in their first year of choice coverage.

This undertaking by an organization is by no means a small effort, and it requires a good amount of diligence and change management - not only in creating the road map for the transformation journey, but also in properly structuring, executing and sustaining this approach. In a well-planned and structured implementation journey, the return on investment can be well recognized.

Similarly, a workplace wellness exchange can offer a suite of proactive health program choices designed to give the employee the responsibility to make an informed and impactful decision that is tailored to drive specific health outcomes.

A marketplace approach can also drive competitive offerings from wellness solution providers and encourage a spirit of innovative and cost-conscious platform options - further maximizing use of wellness dollars. This model will encourage individuals to leverage their own personal health ecosystem information (e.g., current state baseline, lifestyle, environmental factors and disease state predisposition) to choose a solution that may help reduce reactive health care dollars spent based on disease state prevention and risk factor reduction.

According to SHRM, year-over-year employee participation has remained flat. An innovative and personalized approach could help motivate and boost participation and would also continue to ensure that the individual employee's wellness responsibility is shared in partnership with the employer. This would require an independent review of the process, structure and plan design, specifically as it relates to patient privacy and the impact to the holistic benefits offering.

Regardless of a company's ability to track ROI, an overwhelming majority (72 percent) think their wellness initiatives are very or somewhat effective in reducing health care costs and 78 percent thought they improved the overall physical health of their employees.

As the impact of reactive medical claim costs on employers continues to increase due to a variety of influencers, proactive workplace wellness will likely evolve and become an inherent component of an organization's benefits offering.

This presents an opportunity to leverage recent learnings from other initiatives in the life sciences vertical to create an effective and efficient workplace wellness platform that is data-driven and tailored to the needs of the employee - providing a marketplace for choice and competition, and reinforcing the shared partnership responsibility between the employer and employee.

SOURCE: Pervaaz, V. (Accessed 01 November 2019) "What will Workplace Wellness Look Like in 2020?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/workplace-wellness-in-2020


Employers can help employees catch some Z's with new wellness benefit

According to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research, about 45 percent of the world's population has chronic sleep issues. Employers are starting to offer employee benefits that are focused on a long-ignored but crucial aspect of employee health - sleep. Read this blog post to learn more about this new wellness benefit.


Employers are taking a greater interest in employees’ emotional and physical well-being by offering specialized programs focused on mental health, weight loss, financial health, and now one long-ignored yet crucial aspect of health — sleep.

Beddr, a sleep health technology company, has launched a comprehensive, personalized solution to identify and treat the root causes of chronic sleep issues, though a voluntary benefits platform. The program leverages clinical data captured from Beddr’s app that uses an optical sensor and accelerometer to measure blood oxygen levels, stopped breathing events, heart rate, sleep position and time in bed.

About 45% of the world’s population has chronic sleep issues, according to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research. Poor sleep costs U.S. employers an estimated $411 billion each year, according to a report from Rand.

Employees using the Beddr benefit will have access to an expert-led sleep coaching program and a nationwide network of sleep physicians to provide targeted treatment options to help employees improve their sleep health. The program has the potential to save an employer up to $5,700 per employee, per year in productivity improvements, lower healthcare costs and decrease accident rates, Beddr says.

“Sleep is the foundation to every employee’s mental and physical health. High quality sleep has been shown to both reduce healthcare costs as well as improve productivity, but most employers haven’t found a comprehensive program that addresses the primary root causes of sleep issues and that benefits their entire workforce,” says Michael Kisch, CEO of Beddr. “We have seen a dramatic increase among our users relative to the overall population in their understanding of their sleep health and how their choices impact their overall sleep quality.”

Beddr partners with benefits teams to design a customized program specific to each employer and their employees. The company developed a screening process that makes it easy for an employer to engage their employee base, while providing Beddr the ability to identify employees who are a good match for the program.

In some cases, the company heavily subsidizes the cost of the benefit to employees, while in others it is the full responsibility of the employee. In the latter instance, the company negotiates a discount that is passed on to all participating employees. That discounted price is less than what an employee would pay to purchase the program directly from Beddr.

“Beddr was founded on the belief that the most important thing a person can do to improve their physical and mental health is to get consistent, high-quality sleep,” Kisch says. “We see employers as natural partners in fulfilling this mission because the goals of a company and its management are highly aligned with the goals of our program — to improve the health and productivity of employees. ”

SOURCE: Shiavo, A. (23 October 2019) "Employers can help employees catch some Z's with new wellness benefit" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/beddr-app-helps-employees-get-more-sleep


What is Perfectionism, and Is It Affecting Your Work Life?

You might be surprised to learn that perfectionism has a dark side. Often perfectionism is associated with high performance and higher success rates but it can be difficult to work diligently with high standards. Read this blog post to learn how perfectionism may be affecting your work life.


If you feel that perfectionism is associated with high performance and higher success rates, you might be surprised to learn that it has a dark side as well. It might seem that trying to work diligently with extremely high standards is good for productivity and success, but that’s not always the case.

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionists hold themselves to incredibly high, often unattainable standards and engage in harsh self-criticism when they fall short. Research from psychologists Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett found younger generations — specifically Gen Z and millennials — are showing higher tendencies of perfectionism than previous generations. Not only that, those tendencies are increasing, or becoming more prevalent, as time goes on.

The dark side? Constantly striving for the unattainable can have devastating effects on the psyche. “Perfectionism is a virtue to be extolled definitely,” said Prem Fry, a psychology professor at Trinity Western University in Canada. “But beyond a certain threshold, it backfires and becomes an impediment,” she said.

The link between perfectionism and mental health

Perfectionism in the workplace is problematic for many reasons. Those who lean toward perfectionism exhibit harsh self-criticism when they don’t receive the highest scores or forms of approval. This can create high levels of stress and psychological turmoil that negatively affects their health and wellbeing.

The World Economic Forum reports there is “substantial evidence indicating that perfectionism is associated with (among other things) depression, anorexia nervosa, suicide ideation, and early death.” Considering how stressed out today’s workers are already, it’s easy to understand how any increase in pressure or stress could lead to poor mental health down the road.

Tips to ease stress and combat the negative effects of perfectionism

Learning to recognize the sources of pressure to be perfect, both real and perceived, is an excellent first step. Here are a few initiatives you can work to implement in your office to help everyone, not just the perfectionists, have a happier, healthier work life.

Healthy culture. Helping build a workplace wellbeing program is an excellent place to start, as it supports all aspects of employee health. It can help cultivate a healthy workplace culture, one where you and your coworkers feel happy, valued, included, accepted, appreciated, respected and supported.

Health coaching. Asking your employer to bring on a workplace health coach can be an incredible resource for you and your coworkers. Through a person-first, wholistic approach, coaches address the full spectrum of your health, including mental wellbeing. Connecting with a person, even if it’s just a short call, can kickstart your path to better health and wellbeing.

Peer relationships. Fostering positive social interactions and re-affirming team-building exercises between you and your co-workers leads to a more productive, happier work environment for everyone.

Sources:

The Cut. Study on perfectionism and millennials. https://www.thecut.com/2018/01/new-study-on-perfectionism-and-millennials.html
(Accessed 10/10/19)

American Psychological Association. Perfectionism increasing over time.
https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-bul0000138.pdf (Accessed 10/10/19)

Virgin Pulse blog. Is perfectionism negatively impacting your organization? https://www.virginpulse.com/blog/ (Accessed 10/10/19)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (17 October 2019) "What is Perfectionism, and Is It Affecting Your Work Life?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/what-is-perfectionism-and-is-it-affecting-your-work-life


Key elements to consider when researching financial wellness programs

Have you implemented a financial wellness program? With financial wellness programs becoming a staple employee benefit, organizations find themselves implementing programs that only offer a few tools or resources. Read the following blog post for key elements to consider when researching financial wellness programs.


Financial wellness programs are becoming a staple in the employee benefit universe. But what should a successful financial wellness program encompass? As a rapidly growing industry, we often lack a consistent definition for financial wellness. This leads to organizations believing they have implemented a financial wellness program, when they may only be offering a few tools like education or counseling.

I define financial wellness as the process by which an individual can efficiently and accurately assess their financial posture, identify personal goals, and be motivated to gain the necessary knowledge and resources to create behavioral change. Behavioral change will result in improved emotional and mental well-being, along with short- and long-term financial stability.

As the administrator of your company’s benefits, you are responsible for bringing the best possible solution to your employees. That’s a tough ask, given the growing number of service providers. So, what is the most efficient and effective way to assess financial wellness services to determine which solution best fits your organizational needs? Ask yourself these questions:

Does the platform offer a personal assessment of each employee’s current financial situation and help them identify their financial goals? If the answer is yes: Does the assessment return quantifiable and qualifiable data unique to each individual employee?

Does the platform address 100% of your employee base, including the least sophisticated employees at various levels of employment? Much of your ROI from a financial wellness program does not come from your top performers. It comes from creating behavioral changes within your employees who need the most financial guidance.

Does the platform integrate the various components to provide a personalized roadmap for each employee? It should connect program elements like personal assessments, educational resources, tools, feedback and solutions to ensure the employee is presented with a cohesive, comprehensive plan to attack and improve their financial situation.

Does the platform offer solutions for short-term financial challenges like cash flow issues, as well as long-term financial challenges associated with saving and planning? A major return on your investment comes from reduced employee stress, which is substantially driven by short-term needs versus long-term objectives. The program must help employees deal with current financial challenges before they can focus on their longer-term vision.

About 78% of U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, according to data from CareerBuilder.com. The need for financial wellness is clear, but there are consistent pillars that must be addressed in any successful financial wellness program to affect change: spend, save, borrow and plan. When evaluating financial wellness programs, it’s important that these dots all connect if you are truly going to motivate behavioral change and recognize the ROI of a comprehensive financial wellness program.

SOURCE: Kilby, D. (13 September 2019) "Key elements to consider when researching financial wellness programs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/key-considerations-for-employee-financial-wellness-programs


Survey: What Employees Want Most from Their Workspaces

In 2019, employers across the country are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on employer-sponsored benefits such as onsite gyms, standing desks, meditation rooms and nursing hotlines. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about what employees want most out of their workspaces.


In an effort to support a healthier and more productive workforce, employers across the country are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on wellness programs in 2019. Think onsite gyms. Standing desks. Meditation rooms. Nursing hotlines. These are just some of the benefits companies are investing in.

But is any of it paying off?

The results of a recent Harvard study suggest that wellness programs, offered by 80% of large U.S. companies, yield unimpressive results — and our findings mirror this. Future Workplace and View recently surveyed 1,601 workers across North America to figure out which wellness perks matter to them most and how these perks impact productivity.

Surprisingly, we found employees want the basics first: better air quality, access to natural light, and the ability to personalize their workspace. Half of the employees we surveyed said poor air quality makes them sleepier during the day, and more than a third reported up to an hour in lost productivity as a result. In fact, air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness, and wellbeing, while fitness facilities and technology-based health tools were the most trivial.

Organizations have the power to make improvements in these areas, and they need to, both for their workers and themselves. A high-quality workplace — one with natural light, good ventilation, and comfortable temperatures — can reduce absenteeism up to four days a year.  With unscheduled absenteeism costing companies an estimated $3,600 annually per hourly worker and $2,650 each year for salaried workers, this can have a major impact on your bottom line.

Other research finds that employees who are satisfied with their work environments are 16% more productive, 18% more likely to stay, and 30% more attracted to their company over competitors. Two-thirds of our survey respondents said that a workplace focused on their health and wellbeing would make them more likely to accept a new job or keep the job they have. This means that companies willing to adapt to an employee-centric view of workplace wellness will not only increase their productivity, they will also improve their ability to attract and retain talent.

To get started, here are three steps you can take to improve your work environments and the wellbeing of your employees:

1.  Stop spending money on pointless office perks. A good rule of thumb is to never assume that you know what your employees want — but instead, find ways to ask them. If more employers did, they might put less emphasis on office perks that only a minority of employees will take advantage of (like an onsite gym), and more on changes in the workplace environment that impact all employees (like air quality and access to light).

The number one environmental factor cited in our survey was better air quality. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that fresh, allergen-free air would improve their wellness. Fifty percent said they would work and feel better with some view of the outdoors, while one third said they would want the ability to adjust the temperature in their workspace. Only one in three survey respondents characterized their office temperature as ideal.

Noise distractions bothered more than a third of those surveyed, impacting their ability to concentrate. Employees said sounds like phones ringing, typing on keyboards, and distractions from coworkers all impacted their concentration.

Almost half of our respondents wanted to see their companies improve these environmental factors, and in many instances, more than they wanted to be offered office perks. The first step, then, is to take a look at where you are spending your money, and consider cutting expenses that aren’t worth the cost.

2. Personalize when possible. We’ve all gotten used to personalizing our outside-of-work lives. We binge the shows we want to watch and listen to the music we like to hear, even if our partners or friends have different preferences. We adjust our thermostats without having to get up off our couches, and dim our lights to our level of satisfaction.

Employees are beginning to expect these same privileges in the workplace. Our survey revealed that employees, by a margin of 42% to 28%, would rather be able to personalize their work environment than opt for unlimited vacation. Specifically, what employees want to personalize:

  • Workspace temperature: Nearly half want an app that will let them set the temperature in their workspace.
  • Overhead and desk lighting: One-third wants to control their overhead and desk lighting, as well as the levels of natural light streaming in.
  • Noise levels: One-third would like to “soundscape” their workspace.

While these asks may sound exclusive to the personal offices of higher-ups — they’re not. Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters is just one example of a company that has managed to help employees control the noise level in an open floor plan. Their building was actually designed to manage ambient sound in order to reduce worker distractions. Some companies like Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, have gone a step further, allowing employees to control the amount of natural light streaming in through the glass of their office windows with a cell phone app.

But for organizations that don’t want to invest in a completely new building, there is a more organic route. Cisco, for example, has managed the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighborhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone.

This same strategy applies to light or temperature. You can position employees who want a higher temperature and more light around the edge of your floor plan, and those who like it quieter and cooler in the core.

3. Create a holistic view of workplace wellness. When deciding what changes to make to your organization, remember that workplace wellness is not just about the physical health of your employees. It includes physical wellness, emotional wellness, and environmental wellness. To create a truly healthy work environment, you must take all three of these areas into consideration:

  • Emotional wellness: Give employees access to natural light, and quiet rooms where they can comfortably focus on their work.
  • Physical wellness: Provide people with healthy food options, and ergonomically designed work stations.
  • Environmental wellness: Make sure your workspaces have adequate air quality, light, temperature, and proper acoustics.

Companies that adapt to a more holistic view of workplace wellness will soon realize no one department alone can solve the puzzle. Our study results, along with the results from the World Green Building Council report, push organizations to take a closer look at what changes they can make that will actually matter. My suggestion: consider how you can get back to the basics employees want, and invest in the core areas that will have the most impact.

SOURCE: Meister, J. (27 August 19) "Survey: What Employees Want Most from Their Workspaces"(Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/08/survey-what-employees-want-most-from-their-workspaces


The case for expanding wellness beyond the physical

New data from Optum and the National Business Group on Health is revealing how wellness programs affect job performance. Will addressing mental health, financial wellness and substance abuse in the workplace help employees feel fulfilled both personally and professionally? Read this blog post from Employee Benefits Advisor to learn more about expanding wellness programs.


Client's wellness programs that only focus on physical fitness may need to rethink their approach.

By expanding wellness offerings to include programs that support workers’ mental and financial wellness, employer clients can increase the overall wellbeing of their workforce. Newly released data from Optum and the National Business Group on Health shows that employees who are offered programs that address most or all of the five aspects of wellbeing — physical, mental, financial, social and community — are significantly more likely to say their job performance is excellent, have a positive impression of their employer, and recommend their company as a place to work.

Over the last decade, workplace wellness initiatives have evolved beyond health risk assessments, physical fitness and nutrition programs. Many programs now include resources to address mental health, financial wellness and substance abuse.

“[Employers] must commit to looking beyond clinical health outcomes,” says Chuck Gillespie, CEO of the National Wellness Institute, speaking at a webcast from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. “You want employees to be fulfilled both personally and professionally.”

Even though some clients address financial, social and community health, most still focus on physical and mental health.

However, there are benefit trends that address wellness beyond physical fitness. The emergence of financial wellness benefits — such as early pay access, student loan assistance and retirement saving plans — may help employees feel less stressed and more financially secure, which has shown to improve overall health.

But having a good wellness program in place isn’t enough — employers also have to make sure that the offerings are inclusive and personalized, and that the programs have successful participation and engagement rates.

“These programs need to be adapted to who you are,” Gillespie says. “Customization has to be a key factor of what you’re looking at, because everybody is not going to fit inside your box.”

Effective wellness programs use both health and wellness data points and best practices, while keeping an eye on developing trends. Multi-dimensional wellness — looking at aspects such as social and community — can help companies understand the needs of their employees better.

“Employers need to better recognize personal choices, and if the employees are in an environment where they are functioning optimally,” Gillespie says. “Smokers hang out with smokers; the cultural foods that you eat with family may not be nutritious; is there social isolation; do you contribute to your community. [Most benefits] are work-oriented, but for most people, their life is their home life. It’s important to look at the degrees of which you feel positive and enthusiastic about your work and life.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (15 August, 2019) "The case for expanding wellness beyond the physical" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/the-case-for-expanding-wellness-beyond-the-physical