Category Archives: benefits

Pawternity, Could it Happen Here?

A good bit of attention has been paid recently to a phenomenon taking shape across the pond.

521075238 -- petsIt seems a growing number of companies in the United Kingdom — mostly smaller start-ups — are beginning to offer their employees what’s being called pawternity leave; i.e., paid-time-off to bond with their new four-legged furry friends or tend to their old ones.

This piece that appeared on the appropriately-named website, “The Bark: Dog is My Co-Pilot,” mentions several employers that have gone this route — Mars Petcare, BitSol Solutions and Now What.

At Manchester-based IT company BitSol, company owner Greg Buchanan says pawternity is actually good for the bottom line, according to this piece in USA Today.

“You know, we are quite sympathetic to pets in the U.K.; we’re a pet-loving country,” he tells the paper. “Obviously we take it on a case-by-case [basis]. If somebody’s asking for time off for a goldfish, no, no — then it’s not quite what we set out for.”

He also cautions that “[i]f you do give time off for pawternity leave, you are limiting the number of people available to you.” However, he adds, “I believe morale of staff definitely improves and they actually want to work harder for you.”

The Bark piece puts the number of pet owners in the U.K. who have been offered time off to care for Fido or Fluffy at nearly one in 20. It also mentions that Mars Petcare, a pet-care company, was one of the first employers to institute a formal pawternity policy, now allowing its employees 10 hours of paid leave when adding a new pet to the family.

Based on his recent column on the U.K trend toward better treatment of its workers, I reached out to HRE‘s talent management columnist, Peter Cappelli (George W. Taylor professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia), to see if this four-legged phenomenon could happen here.

“I’d say the U.S. model of just giving people personal time for whatever is important to them makes more sense than trying to define legitimate reasons for leave,” he told me. But he did seem impressed with how far the Brits will go in their efforts to accommodate pet owners.

Personally, I have been thinking about getting a dog lately. And being single, I’m concerned about what will get chewed or stained while I’m at work. Not even sure the effort would be worth it without a benefit like this.

But …… moving to London seems like a pretty drastic solution.

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A Wake-Up Call for the Sleep Deprived

Several familiar themes emerged at Virgin Pulses’ 2016 Thrive Summit in Boston this week, including some we heard at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference earlier this spring.

Arianna Huffington’s humorous and engaging keynote Tuesday afternoon on the topic of sleep deprivation was one that personally resonated with me. Maybe it had something do with the fact I was still struggling with jet lag, having just returned from a trip from Japan the weekend before?

Of course, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to grasp the detrimental impact sleep deprivation can have on effectiveness and productivity. Studies have repeatedly shown the huge toll it can take on businesses, including one titled “Insomnia and the Performance of U.S. Workers: Results from the American Insomnia Survey” that put lost workplace productivity at around 11 days per employee—or the equivalent of $2,280 per employee. If you’re a business leader, figures like these, you would think, could lead to a few sleepless nights of your own.

Huffington, founder, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, touched on the problem of sleep deprivation in Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. Most likely in the hopes of drawing more attention to this ever-important issue, she also came out with a new book last month dedicated to the subject titled The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. (As an attendee at the Thrive Summit, I received a complimentary copy, which I’m looking forward to giving a more thorough read.)

In her Thrive Summit talk, Huffington shared her own personal awakening, which involved pushing herself so hard nine years earlier that she collapsed and, in the process, broke her cheekbone. She noted that “you’re not successful when you find yourself in a pool of blood.”

After a series of doctor visits and testing, she said it was determined the cause of the fall wasn’t a brain tumor or heart condition, but was due to her not getting enough sleep.

“Sleep deprivation is the new smoking,” she said.

Despite noting that her talk would be apolitical, Huffington, a political commentary who regularly takes aim at the Republican Party, couldn’t refrain from taking a jab at the Republican Party’s “presumptive” nominee, who has, on occasion, boasted about the limited sleep he needs to get. That candidate, she said, seems to display all of the symptoms of a person who is sleep deprived: mood swings, bad judgement, etc.

Huffington said the science shows that people need seven to nine hours of sleep, not the three, four or five many are settling on—and employers and HR leaders need to do more to enable that to happen.

For starters, she said, business leaders need to end the practice of praising and rewarding those who never disconnect from their jobs. “When you congratulate people who work 24/7, it’s like congratulating them for coming to work drunk,” she said.

Huffington specifically praised the efforts of business leaders such as Amazon’s CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who have been ahead of the curve in talking about the value of getting eight hours of sleep a night. Other so-called “sleep evangelists” mentioned in The Sleep Revolution include Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

There are a number of steps people can take to get “rekindle our romance with sleep,” Huffington said. She specifically emphasized the value of creating a ritual before going to bed. For her, that ritual includes disconnecting from all electronic devices roughly 30 minutes ahead of time and taking a hot bath in Epsom salts.

Whether it’s 30 minutes or something less, she said, “we need to wind down and put the day behind us.”

Of course, for those of us who aren’t getting enough sleep, changing our behavior is often easier said than done. So it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the program kicked off the following morning with a workshop titled “Behavior Change is a Skill,” conducted by BJ Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.

The premise of his workshop was that people can learn to change their behaviors—that people can acquire skills for changing just as they can learn how to play a musical instrument or swim.

Or, I suppose for that matter, learn how to get a better night’s sleep.

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HR’s Role in Aiding Ailing Employees

We all know this standard bit of wisdom: When you’re told you have a major disease — like cancer — one of the first things you should do is get a second opinion from another doctor. However, employees at some organizations may have an easier time getting that second opinion than their counterparts at other companies, according to a recent survey from the Northeast Business Group on Health.

86507521The NEBGH conducted a benchmarking survey on employers and cancer care with self-insured companies representing 1.2 million covered employees, along with interviews with cancer experts and benefits professionals and two workshops held last year. The resulting report, Employers and Cancer Care Quality: A Closer Look, finds that nearly half the employers do not offer third-party second opinion services — a finding the NEBGH says is important not only because data shows that second opinions can often reveal an initial misdiagnosis or point to a different treatment path, but because health plan-directed second opinions are sometimes mistrusted by employees.

Less than half the survey respondents say they have a network of high-performing oncology providers in place, and results also show there are “variations and gaps” in the non-clinical support services they offer, such as treatment navigation, emotional counseling and financial-planning services.

“Another major gap highlighted in our work is the lack of accessible, organized and systematic communication efforts directed to employees [diagnosed with cancer],” says Dr. Jeremy Nobel, executive director of NEBGH’s Solutions Center, which oversaw the report.

Most employees diagnosed with cancer choose to continue working during treatment, partly because doing so “helps them cope,” according to a survey conducted last year by Harris Interactive on behalf of the group Cancer and Careers. More employees are choosing to share their cancer diagnosis with their supervisors, according to Brenna Haviland Shebel, director of the National Business Group on Health’s Institute on Healthcare Costs and Solutions. It’s incumbent upon HR, these experts say, to ensure that employees who are waging battle against cancer are equipped with the knowledge and support necessary to get what they need while fighting to regain their health.

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When Peers Speak, Employees Listen

Who has the most sway over the financial decisions your employees make?

The answer seems to be “everyone but their employers,” according to a recent International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans poll.

At a recent meeting for its board and committee members, the Brookfield, Wis.-based non-profit organization asked 150 benefit industry leaders to name the single-biggest influencer on their workers’ financial decisions. In response, 74 percent of those on hand said their employees’ money moves are most affected by the input of family members, friends, co-workers and peers.

While financial education has become a larger part of many companies’ broader employee wellness initiatives, IFEBP finds more employers expanding their efforts in an attempt to also reach those who have the ear of their workers when it comes to financial matters.

The foundation’s Financial Education for Today’s Workforce: 2016 Survey Results report, for example, saw two-thirds of employers offering financial education to their employees. The same report found 40 percent of employers saying they provide financial education to spouses and partners of employees, while 41 percent offer financial education opportunities outside of normal business hours and 20 percent make financial education available on the weekends, so spouses and partners can attend.

Meanwhile, another IFEBP report suggests that a majority of organizations are turning to employees’ peer groups to spread the word, with 63 percent of employers saying they are relying on word-of-mouth communication via workplace “champions” to increase employees’ awareness of benefits such as financial education.

Such employee advocates can play an invaluable role in the effort to increase financial education throughout the organization, said Julie Stich, research director at IFEBP, in a recent statement.

“In our focus groups, surveys and case study work, we’ve seen the importance of workplace champions,” said Stich. “Champions are passionate about the benefit in question—in this case, financial education.”

These “champions” often embrace the education they receive from their employer and pursue more information on their own, she added, noting that 75 percent of employers who indicated in the aforementioned report that their organizations use a “champion approach” report success with this strategy.

“They’ll adopt the benefit in their own life and eagerly talk with their co-workers about it as well,” said Stich. “Their enthusiasm, knowledge and ‘peer’ status grabs their co-workers’ attention and trust.”

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What Winning at Wellness Looks Like

Curious to see what makes for a top-notch wellness program?

I’ll assume you said yes, which means you might want to take a peek at the new U.S. Chamber of Commerce Winning with Wellness report.

Released earlier this month, the new publication is designed to “demystify” health promotion initiatives, looking at some of the “fundamentals of workplace wellness programs,” including evidence-based critical components such as developing a plan and applying behavior change methodologies, for example.

The report also lays out “10 Essential Steps in Designing a Workplace Wellness Program,” urging employers to “rely on evidence-based best practice strategies and tailor interventions to their populations” when plotting out wellness initiatives.

To begin planning, for instance, the report suggests that employers assess the organization’s readiness to adopt a workplace wellness strategy, asking “crucial questions” such as: Are there business plans in place that support or impede behavior change? Is there a history of workplace wellness programs? If so, what are some lessons learned? Can the organization specify how health changes can improve the work environment?

In addition, the report cites case studies demonstrating “employee satisfaction and social or financial ROI” from wellness programs at companies such as PepsiCo Inc. and Johnson & Johnson.

An evaluation of PepsiCo’s Healthy Living wellness program, for example, studied the initiative over the course of seven years in an effort to determine the cost impact of its lifestyle and disease management programs.

As the Chamber report notes, the study revealed that Pepsi saw an average reduction of $30 in healthcare costs per member per month, after seven years of continuous participation in either the lifestyle or disease management program.

A 2011 evaluation of Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, compared a matched cohort sample of its 31,823 employees to similar organizations with a comparable number of employees. According to the U.S. Chamber, the findings demonstrated that, from the years 2002 to 2008, “Johnson & Johnson experienced a 3.7 percent lower average annual growth in medical costs compared to the comparison group,” and J & J wellness programs produced an ROI of $3.92 for every dollar spent.

Finally, the Chamber points to a 2013 RAND Inc. report that determined “there is solid evidence to be optimistic” that healthier employee behavior will correlate directly to lower healthcare costs. More than 60 percent of respondents in that survey indicated that workplace wellness programs reduced their organizations’ healthcare costs, while also reporting an overall decrease in healthcare service utilization, which, in turn, reduced the healthcare cost burden.

While pointing out that each of these studies had limitations, “the majority show that well-designed wellness programs lead to an ROI ranging from $1.50 [for each dollar spent] to more than $3 invested over a timeframe of two to nine years,” the report notes.

Cost savings aside, the report’s authors tout the non-financial advantages of developing a winning wellness program.

“Even if one assumes for the sake of argument that any limitation of each particular study leads to an ROI of less than $1.50 to $3,” they write, “there are other benefits to these programs, such as increased job performance, overall well-being, and happy and thriving employees who contribute to business and community success.”

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Survey: Employees Only ‘Moderately’ Engaged

The good news, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s latest Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, is that employee satisfaction is at its highest level in 10 years, with 88 percent of respondents saying they’re satisfied with their jobs. The bad news? The number of employees who say they plan to look outside their current company for a new job is also up, at 45 percent. SHRM announced the survey results at its Talent Management Conference in Orlando earlier this week.

The keyword for holding on to employees is spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T: 67 percent of the 600 employees surveyed ranked “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” as “very important” to job satisfaction, followed by overall compensation/pay and benefits, job security and “opportunities to use skills and abilities,” which tied for fifth place with “trust between employees and senior management.”

As for employee engagement, actual engagement levels are little-changed from last year’s survey, said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs, coming in at 3.8 out of 5 with 5 being the highest, showing that employees are “moderately engaged.” Satisfaction and engagement aren’t always aligned, with engagement typically tied to employees’ connection and commitment to their work and organization, she said.

One of the top factors affecting employee engagement are the engagement level of their coworkers, said Esen. “If employees don’t see those around them as being engaged, this will impact the overall level of engagement in the organization,” she said.

Being engaged means feeling that you’re an important part of the organization’s mission, she said.

“The opportunity to use their skills and competencies is of continuing importance to employees – it gives them a sense of engagement and pride,” said Esen. HR should develop a “skills matrix” for employees to get a better sense of “what they do well, not just what they do” in their everyday jobs, she said. This will make it easier to determine if there are other ways employees could be contributing and – by extension – feel a tighter connection with the organization.

“Nobody is going to feel sustained doing the same job over and over,” she said.

Dissatisfaction with their compensation and benefits was a top reason why employees plan to look for new jobs, the survey finds. Sixty three percent of employees chose overall compensation as “very important” to them, yet only 23 percent described themselves as “very satisfied” with their own compensation. Similarly, 60 percent chose overall benefits as very important, but only 27 percent said they were very satisfied with their benefits.

“Companies have only reinstated some of the cuts to benefits they made during the Great Recession,” said Esen. “Organizations really need to focus on what benefits their employees really want, and offer the ones that appeal to all demographics of their employee base.”

HR must also keep in mind the needs of a multigenerational workforce, she said.

“Millennials want their ideas to be valued and not dismissed just because they’re younger and less-experienced,” said Esen. “Boomers want to be valued for their experience, but often feel they’re not sufficiently valued for it. It’s important to keep both groups satisfied.”

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Americans’ Financial Wellness (Or Lack Thereof)

“Financial wellness” is a buzzword that’s really taken off during the last few years as companies attempt to figure out how to help their employees be better prepared for retirement in an era of longer lifespans, disappearing traditional pensions and uncertainty over the long-term future of Social Security.

financial worriesThe findings from the latest Workplace Benefits Report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch should add some urgency to the subject of financial wellness, with six in 10 Americans saying they feel stressed about their current financial situation — up from 50 percent in 2013.

The report, based on a survey of 1,200 employees with 401(k) plans, finds that feelings of financial uncertainty are widespread across all generations in the workplace, with only 24 percent of millennials, 18 percent of Gen Xers and 22 percent of baby boomers saying they feel “in total control” of their financial situations. Meanwhile, although 83 percent say their workplace financial benefit plans are critical to their financial security, more than half (59 percent) say they need help understanding how the financial benefits can work for them.

Americans appear to have only a vague understanding of how much they’ll need to have saved to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, despite the fact that 70 percent of respondents say they have a “pretty good idea” of what they’ll need to have saved. Forty percent say they’ll need less than $500,000, while 61 percent say they’ll need less than $1 million. For context, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, a healthy couple retiring at age 65 with $1 million in accumulated savings could expect to receive $40,000 annually at a draw-down rate of 4 percent.

That same couple could expect to spend, on average, $400,000 on healthcare during the course of their retirement years, the report states. Nearly half the employees surveyed (46 percent) have started contributing, or increased their contributions to, health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts offered by their employer. Although the report finds that the percentage of employees participating in an HSA has grown by 50 percent since 2013, 53 percent of employees with an HSA view it as a “short-term vehicle” to cover near-term health expenses rather than as a long-term savings vehicle. Additionally, 55 percent usually spend their entire HSA balance within a given year.

The combination of trying to save for the future while paying for current expenses is a tough burden for most employees. “Given how many are struggling with today’s financial demands while planning for their future, employers are in a critical position to help their employees secure their financial future,” says Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Lorna Sabbia.

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The DOL’s New Fiduciary Rule

The new fiduciary rule issued yesterday by the Dept. of Labor, which is designed to address conflicts of interest among financial advisers, will require HR departments to review their arrangements with vendors that provide retirement-plan services, say experts.

“The definition of ‘fiduciary’ is being expanded, and HR will need to determine if they have vendors that will now fall under this category,” says Robert Kaplan, associate attorney in Ballard Spahr’s employee benefits and executive compensation group.

The rule is designed to protect the best interests of retirement-plan participants and sponsors by applying the “fiduciary standard” to all those who provide investment advice in order to prevent conflicts-of-interest, which the White House Council of Economic Advisers says costs retirement savers $17 billion a year.

In many cases, vendors that provide services for employer-sponsored retirement plans that hadn’t been fiduciaries before the new rule – such as broker-dealers, mutual-fund representatives, etc. – will be considered fiduciaries once the new rule takes effect (it goes into final effect on April 1, 2018, with a “transition period” starting April 1, 2017). HR will need to carefully evaluate all advisers that provide services to their organization’s retirement plans to determine whether they’ll now be considered fiduciaries, says Kaplan.

For example, many 401(k) record-keepers offer “reach out” campaigns targeted at plan participants (including former employees who still have accounts in the company plan) who may be considering whether to rollover funds from a 401(k) plan into an individual retirement account. Today these services only need to meet a “suitability” standard, says Kaplan; under the new rule, they must meet the fiduciary standard.

Much of the compliance duties for the new rule will be handled by vendors and record keepers, says Kaplan. However, in a few instances HR may encounter vendors that refuse to recognize that they will now be considered fiduciaries – in such cases, HR will need to terminate the relationship, he says.

“There are some less-than-reputable vendors that don’t want to be held to the fiduciary standard, and they will probably be driven out of the business,” says Kaplan.

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HR at Humana Learns by Listening

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon a press release summarizing a recent Employee Benefit Research Institute report.

In the 2015 Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey, the Washington-based organization found the percentage of workers reporting they are satisfied with the health benefits they currently receive has fallen from 74 percent to 66 percent between the years 2012 and 2015.

This is just a guess, but I have a hunch Humana Inc. employees were not among the 1,500 workers who EBRI polled for its study.

Last week, I attended a session at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, led by Humana’s Tim State, who serves as the Louisville, Ky.-based Medicare provider and health insurer’s vice president of human resources. Over the course of that informative hour, State discussed how HR leaders at Humana have embraced the “experience group” research methodology both to gain insight into the unmet health needs of its roughly 52,000 employees and to design a benefits program that helps them better meet those needs.

“It’s only from the associates’ point[s] of view that we can understand their health challenges,” he said. “It’s not about just having a Q&A session. It’s about having a real conversation around employees’ experience[s] with health benefits.”

Humana’s experience groups, according to State, typically consist of five to eight employees, who, along with a facilitator from the Humana HR function, convene for 60 to 90 minutes in an effort “to get across the idea that [our employees are] the experts [on their lives and health needs]. The facilitator really just kind of gets out of the way.”

Topics include obstacles that employees face on the path to better health, and, together, these experience groups and the HR team brainstorm ways to clear these hurdles.

What State and his colleagues in HR have heard from these experience groups has certainly been instructive, he said.

One employee, for instance, mentioned in a group session that work is actually “one of the biggest challenges to my health,” citing the combination of daily job-related stress and the often-sedentary lifestyle of the office employee.

Meanwhile, another female employee pointed out that the office dress code deterred her from walking more while at work, noting that going up a few flights of stairs isn’t always so easy in a pencil skirt.

State and his colleagues in HR have taken action in response to such comments, changing dress codes and introducing benefits that encourage prevention and provide more chronic-condition support, for instance.

Such adjustments—even small ones—have reaped almost immediate rewards, said State, adding that Humana’s experience groups have only been meeting for approximately 12 months.

For example, the organization has seen a 21-percent jump in employees’ use of preventive services offered by the company and has seen medication adherence increase by more than 10 percent. In addition, four out of 10 Humana employees report that they’ve improved their health by cutting down on physically risky behaviors, said State.

Making such changes has given employee engagement a boost as well, with Humana ranking in the top 10th percentile of the IBM Kenexa WorldNorms database for “world-class associate engagement” for the past four years, he added.

Such results—which have been realized in the space of one year— should be heartening for HR leaders at other large companies as well, said State.

“[Humana] is a Fortune 100, 50,000-plus employee organization,” he said. “Change can happen in an organization that size.”

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Using Data to Drive Health Outcomes

Given the hour (8 a.m.) and the setting (the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas), Ronald Leopold, M.D., wasn’t so sure that the time was ideal this morning for a talk centered on getting the most out of employee-healthcare data.

Nevertheless, Leopold—the national practice leader of health outcomes at Willis Towers Watson—soldiered on in the opening session of Human Resource Executive’s Health and Benefits Leadership Conference’s second day, delivering a lively presentation that focused on harnessing healthcare-claims data to better control coverage costs.

In “Doing the Math: Data-Driven Health Outcome Strategies for Employers,” Leopold first asked attendees to rate, by a show of hands, their comfort with data analytics on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest.

While a scattering of audience members indicated the highest level of comfort with data analytics, and a few ranked themselves as “4s,” the clear majority considered themselves to be “3”s—“not bad, but leaving some room to improve,” noted Leopold.

His goal at that moment, he said, was to help attendees better understand available data “to make the best [benefits] decisions on behalf of their employees.”

In 2016, “we are poised for a new era,” said Leopold, “where we see healthcare costs starting to trend slightly upward.”

For employers, being ready for this uptick entails making efforts to lower employee health risks—implementing effective wellness programs and making plan-design changes that encourage employees to become more responsible for their healthcare, for example—and, in turn, lower healthcare costs.

Leopold urged attendees to “demand the story” beyond typical metrics such as average employee hospital stays and number of employees with a given disease or condition, for instance.

This type of descriptive data “doesn’t always give us a lot,” said Leopold.

“Go deeper, and get diagnostic data to find out why” these numbers are what they are, “and do predictive analysis as well.

“Look at data and use algorithms—which you in HR may not have, but carriers will have, and some consultants will have, and data aggregators will have—to determine [your population’s] health risks,” he continued.

“This,” said Leopold, “is practicing predictive analytics. Then we can see what’s likely to happen in the future … and we’ll get better results.”

 

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