Category Archives: benefits

Not So Fast on the Netflix Good News, Says Group

Invariably, any large company — especially one that’s in the news — attracts its detractors as well as its fans. Just try “Googling” “anti-494368457 -- mother and infantWalmart websites” and see what comes up on the nation’s largest employer.

So no surprise, really, that Netflix’s recent announcement — that it would offer unlimited leave to new moms and dads, allowing them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption — has yielded an “anti-stir.”

A women’s group calling itself UltraViolet just rolled out an ad campaign last week against what it claims are Netflix’s discriminatory practices in not opening its new leave program to the poorest among its ranks instead of just the wealthiest. (Here’s the actual petition for those who want to join the fight.)

According to an emailed announcement about this new uprising, “more than 47,700 UV members have demanded Netflix give its hourly workers the same ‘unlimited’ parental-leave benefits that workers who make $300,000 receive.” As Nita Chaudhary, UV’s co-founder, puts it:

“People are taking notice that Netflix is expecting praise for extending parental leave to its higher-paid employees, yet it doesn’t extend those benefits to the hourly employees who need it most.

“It’s important that Netflix set an example for the rest of employers and companies nationwide: With one in four moms going back to work less than two weeks after giving birth, Netflix can turn the tide by giving ALL employees equal benefits — not just reserve those benefits [for the wealthiest ones].”

The women’s group contends this exemption was somehow left out of the company’s announcement, the latter of which has certainly been reverberating positively throughout the business community, as this feature about the move in Fortune indicates. And this, from BuzzFeed News, indicating other big Silicon Valley companies have been following suit — including Microsoft and Adobe — in announcing similar unlimited paternity leave programs since Netflix’s announcement.

Indeed, I saw no mention of any exemption in the announcement. Nor was it mentioned in Andrew R. McIlvanie’s blog post that included news of the announcement. (Though that post does examine the problem of unlimited leave policies being launched in corporate cultures that don’t support them … which may or may not be the case at Netflix.)

I did reach out to the company about all this, and got the following back from a company spokesperson:

“Across Netflix, we compare salary and benefits to those of employees at businesses performing similar work. Those comparisons show we provide all of our employees with comparable or better pay and benefits than at other companies. For example, medical and life insurance for DVD workers exceeds market standards. All DVD employees including hourly are also eligible for a minimum of 12 weeks off for maternity or paternity leave. We are regularly reviewing policies across our business to ensure they are competitive and help us attract and keep the best employees.”

Nothing on the UV ad campaign. Nothing on any exemption in its new policy. Like so many other big-splash initiatives and subsequent fallout, I guess we’ll just have to let this one play out.

 

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How Wellness Programs Must Evolve

Last month a diverse group of experts gathered in New York for a roundtable discussion on “redefining workplace wellness.” The group spanned academia, the health professions and corporate America and while their conclusions weren’t necessarily groundbreaking, they were nonetheless insightful and thought-provoking. The Global Wellness Institute organized the meeting and they’ve just released a report summarizing the discussion — I’ve included some of the highlights below:

1. It’s Time to Get Past “Unscientific Mud-Slinging on ROI.”

The argument over return-on-investment is one of the great bugaboos bedeviling wellness. But the roundtable participants agreed that in the future companies will shift their focus on ROI to a “wider ‘return on value': not just lower healthcare costs, but important gains in retention and productivity.” “Critics are misusing this ‘ROI science’ to castigate critical, fledgling workplace health efforts,” said participant Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, clinical professor of medicine at UC-San Francisco and the University of Arizona. “These critics are also imposing a ‘standard of evidence’ that doesn’t exist for any other workplace investment — like a software upgrade. Successful companies — Google is a shining example — have moved well beyond ROI, to embrace total value on investment, and workplaces where a culture of health is the norm.”

2. Take Seriously That Technology-Enabling 24/7 Work Is “Killing Us.”

Those midnight calls to discuss project updates with the team in Dubai or Singapore? No good, conclude the experts: “Technology has suddenly spawned new, global work realities: imprisonment by screens, and a powerful erosion of the line between now always-on ‘work’ and ‘life.'”

James Brewer, workplace consultant at Steelcase, said large companies could learn a thing or two from their much-smaller counterparts: “Start-ups appear to be more proactive in implementing policies that help their employees define when it is OK to ‘turn it off’ and disconnect … these types of policies are largely absent in larger companies.”

Paul Terry, president and CEO of Staywell, said so-called “resilience” and “high-performance cultures” may just be colloquialisms for “high endurance cultures.” In the future, the experts agreed, tackling this 24/7 version of work will become a focus of wellness programs, possibly including a redefinition of “productivity.”

3. Embrace the Tech

Innovations like telemedicine let workers connect with doctors in ways that don’t involve a disruption to their work schedules, the experts noted. And wearables may look very different in the future, according to Dr. Pelletier: “invisible, ingestible nanotechnology, wireless Bluetooth, and the next generations of the Apple Watch will capture a broad spectrum of employees’ biometric data effortlessly and around the clock.”

4. Don’t Forget the Remote Workers

Employees working remotely may suffer more loneliness and a lack of peer support in their work and their health, the experts note. Smart wellness programs will shift from “workplace programs” to “total workforce solutions.”

“Sustaining a culture of health across the increasingly remote workforce will be utterly key in the future,” said Dr. Fikry Isaac, chief medical officer at Johnson & Johnson. “And in order to impact these remote and at-home workers, smart companies will touch on, and include, the family, significant others and the communities where they live.”

5. Mental Health Must Be a Greater Priority

Most global wellness programs have focused on physical health, the experts noted. However, the rampant “do more with less” approach to work along with the aforementioned 24/7 nature of many jobs means “we have a once-silent, but now getting louder mental health, stress and ‘burnout’ epidemic on our hands.”

“More stressful jobs and lives mean emotional well-being is taking a toll from East to West. Twenty percent of the U.S. population (at any given time) has a diagnosable mental health issue, and the research on the state of employee mental health/stress in places like Asia is sobering.”

This has led to more addictions — sleeping and anti-anxiety pill use keeps climbing, the experts noted.

There’s hope on the horizon, they also noted: research around neuroplasticity, and studies on the effectiveness of approaches like positive psychology, meditation and mindfulness is “exciting,” and the near future will bring more innovative strategies for addressing mental health and stress, and “not just for Silicon Valley and Wall Street executives.”

There’s plenty more in the report, and it’s a worthwhile read.

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The Paradox of Unlimited Paid Leave

Paid leave is in the news lots these days: President Obama has just drafted an executive order requiring federal contractors to provide paid leave for medical or health reasons or to care for a sick relative. Employers who fall under the order’s purview would be expected to provide a minimum of about seven days of paid leave per year and to allow the leave to accrue year after year. The executive order — which is expected to go into effect within a couple of months – would not only affect hundreds of thousands of employees, but may have an effect that extends beyond federal contractors: “You can build an expectation that paid sick leave comes with a job,” Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, told the New York Times. “Changes in cultural norms matter.”

rbrs_0240Over in Silicon Valley, meanwhile, the cultural norm is plush benefits for the employees of the area’s tech behemoths – and now Netflix has raised the bar: Earlier this week it announced it would offer unlimited paid maternity and paternity leave. Employees can stay out as long as they like to care for their newborn or newly adopted children while still receiving full pay and benefits, said Netflix Chief Talent Officer Tawni Cranz.

Netflix’s announcement makes the generous leave policies offered by Facebook, Google, Accenture and Johnson & Johnson – which offer paid leave for up to four or five months – pale in comparison. However, the longstanding question about unlimited time-off policies – whether they’re for vacation, health reasons or the birth or adoption of a child – is that if you leave it to the discretion of employees as to how much time to take, won’t they actually end up taking less time (or none at all) than if they were given a set amount?

“An unlimited policy sounds great in theory,” writes Jena McGregor, the On Leadership columnist for the Washington Post. “Unless the culture really supports it, however, employees won’t know how to react and may even end up taking off less time than they otherwise would.”

When tech firm Evernote began offering unlimited vacation time to its employees back in 2011, it noticed some employees were actually taking less vacation in order to look better to their bosses, writes MarketWatch’s Catey Hill. The company then actually began paying people $1,000 to actually take a vacation, she writes.

The culprit may be “work martyr syndrome,” Hill writes: Employees – especially those in highly competitive workplaces – are looking for any advantage they can, and by deciding to take less (or even no) time off, they believe they’re looking better in the eyes of their bosses. “You’re trying to show you’re a harder worker,” executive coach Marc Dorio told Hill.

In other words, unless Netflix and other companies offering unlimited time off actually build support for extensive parental or medical leave time into their culture (with leaders setting the example), it will probably be a perk in name only.

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The Incredibly Shrinking Carrier Market

It’s official: Anthem announced this morning plans to purchase Cigna for more than $48 billion.

Word Cloud Merger & Acquisitions

Word Cloud Merger & Acquisitions

Coming on the heels of Aetna’s $37 billion proposed deal to acquire Humana, the Anthem-Cigna proposed merger, were it to be given the green light by regulators, would inevitably reshape the health-insurance landscape and provide employers with one less option to consider. But according to experts I spoke to earlier today, deals like the one announced this morning also have the potential of being a boon to employers and employees.

If the Anthem-Cigna transaction goes through, Anthem will have more than $115 billion in pro forma annual revenues, based on the most recent 2015 outlooks publicly reported by both companies. Anthem President and CEO Joseph Swedish would serve as chairman and CEO of the combined company and Cigna’s President and CEO David Cordani would take on the titles of president and COO.

Here’s Swedish’s take on the proposed merger …

“We believe that this transaction will allow us to enhance our competitive position and be better positioned to apply the insights and access of a broad network and dedicated local presence to the health care challenges of the increasingly diverse markets, membership, and communities we serve. The Cigna team has built a set of capabilities that greatly complement our own offerings and the combined company will have a competitive presence across commercial, government, international and specialty segments. These expanded capabilities will enable us to better serve our customers as their health care needs evolve.”

And Cordani’s take …

“The complementary nature of our businesses will allow us to leverage the deep global health care knowledge, local market talent, and expertise of both organizations to ensure that consumers have access to affordable and personalized solutions across diverse life and health stages and position us for sustained success.”

There’s been three national players for a while, with all three of them trying strengthen their portfolios through mergers, explained Tucker Sharp, global chief broking officer at Aon Hewitt in Somerset, N.J. “Someone can put out a headline that says, ‘Five carriers become three.’ But there really have been three national players and what’s happening here is really about building scale … .”

Sharp also noted that lately there’s a bit of merger one-upmanship going on between the carriers and providers. For some time now, he said, the hospitals and physician groups have quietly been merging to get the upper-hand in negotiating with the carriers. Now, much like “an arms race,” you’re seeing the insurer carriers trying to improve their leverage.

At the end of the day, he said, the operational efficiencies and greater scale gained from these mergers could lead to better deals with health providers and benefit employers.

When I asked Sharp if there’s anything HR leaders should be doing differently in light of the Anthem-Cigna news, he said nothing at the moment, noting it’s going to take time for things to work their way through the regulators. If you’re an HR executive, he added, there’s probably nothing you need to worry about for the rest 2015 and 2016.

I also asked Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy at National Business Group on Health in Washington, for his assessment of the announcement.

His response: “There are some potential upsides and some potential downsides. In the end, we’re looking for some of the cost savings and pricing to trickle down to the employers and employees. But there also are obviously some concerns, because there are only a few players left standing—so employers that want to put their plan administration out to bid are going to have fewer bidders … .”

Wojcik predicts that the Aetna-Humana deal will probably meet less resistance from regulators than the Anthem-Cigna deal because Humana is a smaller player in the employer market, though a much bigger player in the Medicare market.

In evaluating these deals, he said, regulators need to factor in that the health insurance market is dynamic, not static. They’re going to need to weigh into their thinking, he explained, some of the new entities, such as accountable care organizations, that have emerged in recent years and the impact they’re having on the overall market.

 

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CDHPs Are Closing the Satisfaction Gap

employee health 1Traditional health insurance plans may still be the most popular option among employees, but consumer-driven plans are beginning to catch on with the workforce.

That seems to be the biggest takeaway from new data coming out of the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Along with Greenwald & Associates, the Washington-based non-profit research institute recently conducted a survey of nearly 2,000 adults between the ages of 21 and 64, who had health insurance through an employer or purchased health insurance on their own, either directly from a carrier or through a government exchange. According to EBRI’s report on the findings, employees enrolled in traditional health plans are expressing greater satisfaction with their coverage than those in consumer-driven health plans, “but the ‘satisfaction gap’ appears to be narrowing.”

Generally speaking, 61 percent of traditional-plan enrollees described themselves as “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their health plans, compared to 46 percent of those in CDHPs, and 37 percent of employees enrolled in high-deductible health plans.

According to EBRI’s Paul Fronstin, however, overall satisfaction rates have been on the upswing among CDHP enrollees in recent years, while the opposite is true for those participating in traditional health plans.

Cost differences may help explain the emergence of this trend, notes Fronstin, the director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and author of the aforementioned report.

Forty-eight percent of traditional-plan participants said they were “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their out-of-pocket costs when EBRI conducted this same poll in 2014. At that time, 19 percent of high-deductible health plan enrollees said the same, as did 26 percent of CDHP participants. In terms of contentment with what they’re paying out of their own pockets, satisfaction rates for all three groups have been trending upward since 2011, according to EBRI.

In addition, employees in CDHPs or HDHPs were less likely than those in traditional plans to recommend their health plans to friends or co-workers, and were less apt to stay with their current plans if given the option to switch plans—as was the case in past years, according to EBRI.

But, as the survey found on a broader scale, “the percentage of HDHP and CDHP enrollees reporting they would be extremely or very likely to recommend their plan to friends or co-workers has been trending upward,” the report notes, “while it has been flat among individuals with traditional coverage.”

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Saying Goodbye to Same-Sex Benefits?

ThinkstockPhotos-533697873In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s recent Obergefell v. Hodges decision—which guaranteed same-sex couples throughout the U.S. the right to marry—HRE’s Maura Ciccarelli pondered what this landmark decision would mean for employers and HR leaders.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans was apparently wondering the same when it recently surveyed 258 companies in an effort to gauge how the ruling would influence employers’ approach to offering benefits.

Overall, 53 percent of responding employers said they believe the ruling will have an effect on their organizations. (In total, 57 percent of the companies surveyed reported offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners at the time of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision.)

Take a closer look, however, and the impact figures to be negligible.

For example, just 4 percent of those surveyed by the IFEBP said they anticipate the Supreme Court’s same-sex ruling would be “extremely” impactful, while 6 percent said the ruling would be “very” impactful, and 43 percent indicated the ruling would have “somewhat” of an effect.

Among the companies currently providing same-sex benefits, more than 70 percent said they are likely to continue offering them. Of the remaining respondents who said their organizations are unlikely to continue making benefits available to same-sex domestic partners, nearly all (93 percent) said they only provided such benefits in the past because same-sex couples couldn’t legally marry; which is no longer the case. Forty-four percent of these companies pointed to administrative complexities—documentation, tax and payroll issues, for instance—as the main reason why they plan to discontinue same-sex domestic partner benefits, with 19 percent citing cost as the biggest factor in their decision.

Likewise, the Brookfield, Wisc.-based provider of employee benefits education, research and information asked those who said they plan to continue providing same-sex domestic partner benefits why they have chosen to do so. Fifty-three percent of these employers said they “provide benefits to opposite-sex domestic partners, and want to be equitable,” and 53 percent reported a desire to attract and retain quality employees as the No. 1 driver. Forty-two percent indicated their organizations “recognize all kinds of families,” with another 36 percent saying they feel offering benefits to employees in same-sex domestic partnerships is simply “the right thing to do.”

It seems the majority of employers are in agreement with this group, at least according to this IFEBP poll. Julie Stich, the organization’s director of research, noted as much in a recent statement.

“Despite the Supreme Court’s decision to make same-sex marriage legal, many employers are deciding to continue offering benefits to unmarried domestic partners,” said Stich.

“They see providing benefits—to both same- and opposite-sex domestic partners—as a way to ensure employees and their loved ones are happy and healthy.”

 

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A Case for Sleeping on the Job

Workplace nap rooms continue to be extremely rare. Indeed, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s just released 2015 Employee Benefits study, about 2 percent of employers report having nap rooms. (And that seems high to me.) But that doesn’t necessarily mean the idea doesn’t have merit, right?

ThinkstockPhotos-483838351Admittedly, nap rooms are never going to gain significant traction in the workplace. Probably not in my lifetime, anyway. Most companies simply aren’t going to buy into the concept. But recent research coming out of the University of Michigan and posted on the online version of the journal Personality and Individual Differences—titled “Napping to Modulate Frustration and Impulsivity: A Pilot Study”could, at the very least, open the eyes of a handful of HR professionals.

Researchers at U-M recently found that napping can be a “cost-effective and easy strategy” that can boost employee productivity and workplace safety.

To arrive at its findings, the study’s authorsJennifer Goldschmied (lead author), Philip Cheng, Kathryn Kemp, Lauren Caccamo, Julia Roberts and Patricia Deldinrecruited 40 individuals, ages 18 to 50, to take part in the research. In a laboratory, the participantswho maintained a consistent sleep schedule for three days leading up to the testcompleted tasks on computers and answered questions about sleepiness, mood and impulsivity.

All were randomly assigned to a 60-minute nap opportunity or no-nap period that involved watching a nature video. Research assistants monitored the participants, who later completed the questionnaires and tasks again.

The researchers found …

“Those who napped spent more time trying to solve a task than the non-nappers who were less willing to endure frustration in order to complete it. In addition, nappers reported feeling less impulsive.

Combined with previous research demonstrating the negative effects of sleep deprivation, results from this latest study indicate that staying awake for an extended period of time hinders people from controlling negative emotional responses … .”

Commenting on the findings, Goldschmied, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology, said …

“Our results suggest that napping may be a beneficial intervention for individuals who may be required to remain awake for long periods of time by enhancing the ability to persevere through difficult or frustrating tasks.”

None of this, of course, comes as a huge surprise. I’m sure we all feel a whole lot more functional after a nice nap. Right? But despite this fact, the U-M study and other research that has arrived at similar conclusionsI’ll stick with my earlier prediction that nap rooms and nap times, as a practice, aren’t going to see the light of day anytime soon.

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SHRM ’15: Global Shift, High Performers and More

Blistering temperatures hovering around 115 degrees apparently didn’t keep folks away from this week’s SHRM 2015 Annual Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas. Under the theme “It’s Time to Thrive,” the event attracted a record 15,500 attendees from around the globe. (Vegas seems to be a draw, no matter what the time of the year.)

SHRM photoCrowds and the heat index aside, I did notice at least one refreshing change at this year’s event: a lot more practitioner speakers.

Though I didn’t do a thorough analysis, a quick scan of the program book suggested there were definitely more HR leaders on the program than in prior years—a development I would certainly put under the category of a good thing.

Case in point: a Monday morning session by Steve Fussell, executive vice president of human resources for Abbott Laboratories in Abbott Park, Ill.  Titled “Managing a Global Workforce During Times of Change: M&A, Organic Growth and Spin Offs,” Fussell’s talk recounted Abbott’s dramatic and impressive transformation in the aftermath of spinning off its research-based pharma arm, AbbVie, in 2012. (Fussell, BTW, was named to HRE’s Honor Roll in 2010.)

As Fussell explained to the packed room, the spin off left Abbott with a much more global business and workforce. (Today, he said, less than one-third of the firms’ revenue now comes from the United States and 70 percent of employees are outside of the country.)

On top of that, he added, Abbott became, almost overnight, a much more customer-facing business.

These changes, Fussell said, will inevitably lead a very different leadership mix in the coming years.

“Three to five years out,” he said, “I can tell you that we will probably double the number of people in senior leadership roles … who do not carry a U.S. passport.”

As a part of the transformation, HR focused on three specific buckets: core, critical and unique.

“Core,” he explained, is having people who feel and behave like owners and are able to make hard decisions. “We don’t want GMs saying this doesn’t matter in this market,” he said. To that end, he continued, Abbott built business advisory committees in every one of its markets around the globe and requires leaders in those markets to talk about those areas they consider to be core.

“Critical,” he said, “are the [issues] we have to get right together to build the market presence that allows us to [successfully] compete.”

And then there are those issues that are “unique”:

Don’t call me up and ask me about the summer bonus somewhere … . If I’m getting those calls … I need to question the people we have in those jobs.

Fussell also shared what he looks for in leaders. First and foremost, he said, leaders need to be able to analyze a situation. “Do they have an analytical ability to notice the things that are happening in the markets in which they serve?” he asked. “Can they see things our competitors can’t see?”

Second, he continued, are they leaders who can diagnose the things that ultimately will determine outcomes?

Third, are they able to describe a direct course of action? “Do they have a sustainable record of taking what they’ve seen and diagnosed, and then put together an outcomes-based approach … ?”

And fourth, can they execute? With a tone of sarcasm, he said “I’m sure none of you have seen a business that noticeably missed its plan for the year, perhaps by a mile, and then, after looking at all your performance ratings, found that 36 percent [of the employees]exceeded performance.”

Performance—and rewarding those employees who excel at it—was certainly at the heart of a presentation delivered Tuesday afternoon by Michelle DiTondo, senior vice president of human resources for MGM Resorts in Las Vegas.

In the session title “MGM Resorts: What is it Worth to You to Keep Your Top Performers?” DiTondo shared the talent-retention challenges facing the gaming giant and detailed an approach currently being piloted to help address them.

Envision having 50,000 of your 62,000 workers all located on a single street—and then having the vast majority of biggest competitors located on that same street as well. (In this case, the street is the “Las Vegas Strip.”)

That’s the reality facing MGM Resorts, DiTondo said.

To tackle this challenge, DiTondo said she put a unique twist on question business leaders at MGM Resorts were more than familiar with: What are your very best customers worth to you?  She asked them to think about what their very best-performing employees were worth to them?

“It’s an easy analogy for us,” she said. “As business leaders, we understand the value of treating our best customers [known as ‘whales’] differently from all of our other customers. We understand why an airline has a first-class lounge for customers who pay more …  .”

By making sure all of this is done in a very public way, she said, you’re able to drive “aspirational behavior.”

Every industry has “whales,” not just gaming,  she added.

At MGM Resorts, DiTondo said, the highest level of its loyalty program is called “NOIR.”

These “whales” represent less than 1 percent of the company’s total customers and are treated very differently, she explained. “They get exclusive awards such as being picked up in a private plane [or] staying in “The Mansion,” [exclusive quarters] just behind the MGM Grand. Why are they treated differently? Because while they represent just 1 percent of MGM Resorts’ database, they drive 600x more revenue compared to the average customer.”

Building off of this model, DiTondo, with her CEO’s blessing, began to rethink the way MGM Resorts’ approached its top talent. “If we have high-performing employee, do we apply the same sort of things to them that we give to our high-performing customers?” she asked. “Do we give them access to the chairman? Are they given access to senior leaders? Are they given exclusive benefits that are only for high performers? Do we have personal relationships with them? Do we know about their family, their interests, their personal milestones? Do we understand the impact on the business were they to leave? Do we treat them like VIPs? From my standpoint … the answer is no.”

In the pilot, DiTondo said, MGM Resorts partly copied an approach taken by Chipotle Mexican Grill to groom more restaurant managers internally. Under the initiative, she said, general managers at the chain were given a $10,000 bonus for each individual who was promoted into Chipotle’s management program.

To hold onto and incent its top talent, DiTondo said, MGM created, as a part of the pilot, a tiered bonus program for general managers and executive chefs who met certain benchmarks that included a “super incentive” of 1 percent of both the restaurant’s top and bottom lines.  (At one of the highest performing buffets, she said, these high-performing individuals could now receive a $30,000 bonus, compared to $3,000 under the prior arrangement.)

On top of that, she said, they also now have the potential of reaping a bonus of 10 percent of a person’s base pay if that individual is promoted to a GM and executive chef job. (To receive the bonus, the individual needs to put in a place a plan, as well as coach and mentor the candidate.)

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In other news: SHRM continued its tradition of releasing its latest Employee Benefits Survey at the annual conference.

According to Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey programs, the big headline this year was employers’ continuing commitment to wellness. Of the 463 respondents, employers with wellness programs jumped between 2011 and 2015 by 10 percent, from 60 percent to 70 percent.

Esen suggested that employers were investing in wellness as a way to counter the financial strain resulting from healthcare.

In line with this increase, the study revealed significant increases over the past five years in the use of healthcare premium discounts for participating in wellness programs (from 11 percent to 20 percent) and healthcare premium discounts for those not using tobacco products (from 12 percent to 19 percent).

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Here’s a New Gen Y Adjective: Conservative

Gen Yers apparently don’t need to “get real” when it comes to retirement—a survey released earlier this week suggests many may already be “real,” at least when compared to their elders.

ThinkstockPhotos-494091025A study of 1,000 American adults released Wednesday by TIAA-CREF, titled the 2015 Lifetime Income Survey, found that, when it comes to retirement planning, Gen Yers (those between age 18 and 34) seemingly are more conservative than older generations in their retirement outlook, with only 56 percent saying they are counting on Social Security to provide income in their retirement. In contrast, 76 percent of those between ages 35 and 44 and 73 percent of those between ages 45 and 54 indicated that was the case.

According to the study, 34 percent of the respondents said if they could choose one primary goal for their retirement plan, it would be to ensure that their savings are safe, no matter what happens in the market—a marked increase from older generations. Only 16 percent of Americans ages 35 to 44 and 22 percent of Americans ages 45 to 54 reported the same.

The survey also found that Gen Yers tend to take a pragmatic view about the length of time their retirement may last: 34 percent say they plan to accrue retirement savings to allow them to live comfortably for more than 25 years, compared to only 26 percent of respondents overall. However—and here’s the particularly disturbing, though not necessarily surprising data point—31 percent aren’t currently saving any money for retirement, due in part to financial challenges such as student loans or jobs that don’t offer retirement plans.

Here’s one take on the findings, this from Teresa Hassara, executive vice president and head of Institutional Business at TIAA-CREF …

“Many in Gen Y came of age during the Great Recession, which helped shape their attitudes and outlook[s] on their own finances. They face higher student-loan debt and fewer prospects for full-time employment with benefits than previous generations, making it harder to save enough for a comfortable retirement. The gap between the need for financial security and having the will and the means to achieve it may well impact this generation for decades to come.”

All points well worth considering the next time you re-evaluate your benefits-communication strategy.

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Are We On the Path to Paid Sick Leave?

sick employeePaid sick leave seems to be on everyone’s mind lately, from Hillary Clinton and Thomas Perez to the leadership at Chipotle and McDonald’s.

For example, you may remember Secretary of Labor Perez recently embarking on the Lead on Leave—Empowering Working Families Across America tour, during which he sought to “promote best practices and discuss how paid leave and other flexible workplace policies can help support working families and business,” according to a Department of Labor statement.

One of Perez’s stops on that roughly month-long jaunt was Oregon, where lawmakers recently passed a measure that would require employers with at least 10 workers to offer up to 40 hours of paid sick time annually. If Oregon Governor Kate Brown signs the bill—which she is expected to do—the Beaver State would join California, Connecticut and Massachusetts as the only states to have enacted paid sick leave requirements.

President Obama has urged Congress to pass federal legislation giving U.S. workers seven days of paid sick leave. But the consensus remains that such a bill would be unlikely to gain the necessary Congressional support in the near future.

Some companies, of course, aren’t waiting for a federal paid sick leave law to become reality. Microsoft, for example, made headlines in March by requiring many of its 2,000 contractors and vendors to offer 15 paid days off for sick days and vacation to their employees who perform work for Microsoft.

At the time, many scoffed at the notion of other large companies doing the same, but two of the biggest names in the fast-food universe were quick to follow the Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant’s lead.

Just days after Microsoft went public with its bold move, for instance, McDonald’s announced it would add paid time off to its roster of benefits, even for part-time workers, at the 10 percent of McDonald’s franchises that are company-owned.

And, effective July 1, Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. will provide paid sick leave to hourly workers—a benefit previously enjoyed exclusively by the restaurant chain’s salaried workers.

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination would no doubt like to see more employers go a similar route.

Hillary Clinton has made paid sick leave a centerpiece of her platform, commending cities such as Philadelphia for signing paid sick leave bills into law, and expressing her support for such legislation in public forums.

This week, the New York Times made mention of Clinton’s assertion that no one should “have to choose between keeping a paycheck and caring for a new baby or a sick relative,” in a piece noting the momentum gathering behind paid sick leave in the business sector as well as the political sphere.

“With pay for most workers still growing sluggishly—as it has been for most of the last 15 years—political leaders are searching for policies that can lift middle-class living standards,” according to the Times. “Companies, for their part, are becoming more aggressive in trying to retain workers as the unemployment rate has fallen below 6 percent.”

Still, the fact remains that federal legislation seems unlikely to materialize any time soon, as the Times acknowledges.

“With most Republicans in Congress opposed to new leave laws, the biggest changes will probably occur at the state and local level, including in some Republican-led states.”

True enough. But with no federal movement on the horizon, it will be interesting to see if states or individual companies make significant changes in the coming months, or if Microsoft, Chipotle, McDonald’s and the like will remain outliers on paid sick leave.

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