Category Archives: health

Army Reserve’s Employer Partnership Program Off and Running

I’m not a big fan of clichés, but I just attended a Tuesday morning session at the SHRM Conference in Las Vegas that seems like such a perfect example of “win-win,” I had to share.

By now, many of you have heard about the U.S. Army Reserve’s Employer Partnership Program that launched in 2008 — joining the efforts of employers and the reserves to benefit both by coordinating military training with civilian-skills needs. But you might not be aware of how fast it’s growing and how well it’s working.

Brig. Gen. Tim Williams, deputy commanding general for the Washington-based U.S. Army Reserve spelled it out for those who came to hear “An Innovative Approach to Workforce Development: Increasing Employment Trends Within the U.S. Army Reserve.”

Basically a brainstorm led by Lt. Gen. Jack C. Schultz, the program links employers with veterans and reservists looking to rejoin the U.S. civilian workforce by setting up the right lines of communication so the military organization can train and certify soldiers to be able to step into jobs or return to jobs that have changed and grown, and be productive and successful.

“It’s our job to ensure our soldiers make as easy a transition as possible back into civilian life,” said Williams. But employers no longer have to exercise sheer benevolence by taking in a returning veteran in need of additonal training and transition support. The program “actually saves them the expense” of employee-support services often spent on all employees.

For instance, all field medics are now getting emergency-medical-technician training and certification. In transportation-type duties, reservists are now getting commercial drivers’ licenses and certifications. X-ray technicians are now leaving the reserves certified. Medics are getting the additional training they’ll need for specific posts in medical and pharmaceutical organizations.

The reserves are even conducting the health screening and drug screening tests for employers they’ve contracted with. Religious counseling, family support, health services for disabled and brain-injured veterans, mental-health counseling … all are provided by the military, free of charge to the employer they’ve contracted with.

“We’re using best practices in a business sense now, and this includes implementing an enterprise approach that ensures more predictable deployments” so employers are no longer caught unawares, Williams said.

The cost to employers? Cut. The cost to the military? Actually and surprisingly, no change. Williams said it was simply a matter of “figuring it out … and learning how to run our organization more efficiently” by cutting unnecessary programs or personnel, and adding the trainers and counselors in far-more strategically productive capacities.

The first employer contracted was Inova Health Systems in Fairfax, Va., which — in two years — has gone from one to 275 reservist soldiers hired. The program now includes 1,300 contracted employers.

“This has grown so big,” Williams said. “There’s such a need for soldiers coming off the field to find productive life and work. This is on the verge of becoming a really big deal.” In fact, to help younger returning infantry find meaningful work, the entire Army (what Williams called the “big Army”) will soon be included in the program that, so far, services the reserve’s 206,000 “employees, most of them part-time, and most of them equipped with the Army’s engineering and medical expertise.”

Hopefully, by the time you read this, the program’s new website,, will be up and running. Wasn’t working when I was posting this, for some reason. But if you’re interested, you know you can find what you need, fellow Googler.

Your Workers May Be in Worse Shape than You Think

HR and benefits professionals might be surprised to find out — if they asked — just how on the edge financially their employees are … and how many of them in these dire straits there really are. They also might raise an eyebrow or two to learn how many on-the-edge workers actually don’t think a debilitating or catastrophic event could impact them or their family.

Such was the warning from Audrey Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services at the Columbus, Ga.-based supplemental and guaranteed-renewable insurance provider, in an interview Monday. She was referring to the results of a study released earlier this month, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Aflac.

The 2011 Aflac WorkForces Report shows 51 percent of American workers say they are not very, or not at all, prepared to pay for out-of-pocket expenses not covered by major-medical insurance. What’s more, six out of 10 workers do not have a financial plan in place to deal with an unexpected and costly life event, such as a medical emergency. And 31 percent have less than $500 in savings for emergency expenses.

“Remember, these are people who are working!” Tillman says. “These are the people one would assume have some sort of financial stability. We found these statistics startling.”

The study also finds that only 19 percent of employees think it’s likely that they or a family member will ever be diagnosed with a chronic illness, such as heart disease or diabetes, and only 13 percent say they think a serious illness, such as cancer, will ever occur or that there will be a need for long-term care.

Yet, according to the National Safety Council, more than 25 million people in the United States suffered accident-related disabling injuries in 2008 and the American Heart Association reports nearly one in three deaths in 2006 was caused by a form of cardiovascular disease. “So, clearly, these things are happening,” says Tillman.

Worse still, “about half of the workers we surveyed said they’re already struggling with financial stress, and again, remember, these are the people who are working,” she says. “These surveyed employees are real people in the workforce.”

When asked how they would pay for out-of-pocket expenses due to an unexpected illness, 44 percent said they would have to borrow from family or friends, tap retirement savings or use a credit card.

And, for the clincher, 19 percent — one out of five people — have no idea how they would cover the costs.

Aflac products and services aside, says Tillman, this should sound a reverberating wake-up call to employers to take a fresh account of the benefits they’re providing and, in this economy, with so many Americans living on the edge, “make sure the benefits they are providing really make a difference and are really providing that safety net” so desperately needed right now.

“What this says to me as an HR executive is that it’s time many of us survey our employees to find out where the real needs are,” she says. “We should be taking a new look with a critical eye, through our own research and workforce analysis, to become fully aware of what really impacts people.”

Supplemental insurance, for instance, which could mean the difference between financial ruin and recovery in the event of a catastrophe, and which a significant number of employers still don’t offer, “may have to be added in place of something else that may not seem so critical in this economy,” says Tillman.

“The pressure has been on HR to hold the line and cut back on costs,” she says. “This may not feel to an HR executive like a good time to revolutionize the system.”

But workers whose employers provide for them when catastrophe strikes, she adds, will not only stay on as productive workers in the long run, “they’ll become champions for that company.”


Partnership Moves the Cash-for-Healthy-Behavior Trend Forward

The emerging trend of paying workers cash for healthy behavior got a boost today in the announcement by InteliSpend Prepaid Solutions that it is now partnering with Virgin HealthMiles to provide its clients with the latter’s wellness expertise, program design and program delivery.

Rewarding cash through prepaid cards strictly as a reward for achieving a wellness goal — as opposed to discounting premiums or awarding other health-based services — is “just now starting to catch on,” Deanna Baker, InteliSpend’s vice president of employee development and human resources, told me moments after making the partnership announcement the second day of the SHRM conference in Las Vegas.

“With healthcare reform moving forward,” she said, “we’re seeing more employers who weren’t focusing on wellness before now seeing they need to. And more and more are catching on to the fact that incentives will be the big mover of this trend.”

Earlier this year, Fenton, Mo.-based InteliSpend, an employee recognition and prepaid-incentive provider, announced its exclusive MasterCard wellness prepaid card, its “venture into the incenting-wellness arena,” where the future lies, Baker said. London-based Virgin HealthMiles “already gets this,” she added, as a provider of employee health programs that pay people to get active.

What’s Working in Wellness

Monday’s Benefits Panel at the Human Resource Executive Forum® — “Is Wellness Worth It? Pursuing a Real ROI for Wellness” — went well beyond questions of investment returns and lower healthcare costs. The heart of that session’s message was more about the people: making them better, and making wellness work, by recognizing their needs.

Panelist William D. Katz, vice president of human resources for AmeriGas Propane Inc., shared his experience of coming to grips with the nature of his workforce — and getting top managers’ attentions about that too — before a real commitment could be made and real results could come in.

“Understanding wellness means understanding human nature,” said Katz. “In our workforce, there are a lot of truck drivers, and a lot of them are heavy smokers. We also have lots of obesity. We’ve had lots of results pointing to what we need to do.”

But it wasn’t until Katz took that data and compared it to his company’s life insurance data over three years that the population statistics could really made a statement — to him and the C-suite as well.

“We saw three times as many [AmeriGas employees] were dying compared to the general population,” Katz said.

Now in the company’s third year of the wellness program he was able to convincingly argue for, “our premature death rate has improved by 40 percent,” he said.

Panelist Mark Bukowski, senior health and clinical consultant for Aon Hewitt, agreed it “all comes down to letting the data help you make your wellness decisions,” not just seeking the data to prove wellness’ worth.

At Aon Hewitt, he said, “we custom-design wellness programs for each company, each location … that’s where all this is going.”

Even securing buy-in from a CEO is sometimes more effective and successful, panelists agreed, when applying a human touch.

“We find CEOs are actually more enthused by the anecdotal proof [of a wellness program’s success] from employees who’ve been through it than the hard data,” said panelist Jennifer Benz, chief strategist and founder of Benz Communications.

The group — led by moderator Michael Miele, president of healthcare analytics group for Gallagher Business Services — seemed to agree that the data going in can be more effective than the data coming out.

“We’re all seeing the power of trend data,” said Benz, “how your workforce data compares to all the other workforce data [in specific regions and otherwise].”

Score Tied at 2-2

The decision yesterday by a federal judge in Florida that invalidated the healthcare-reform law gives opponents their second victory, tying the two victories scored by proponents.

Obviously, the issue won’t be resolved until it reaches the Supreme Court.

Here are some legal analyses. This one by Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy blog thinks the decision is stronger than the previous one striking down the law, but that Judge Roger Vinson didn’t properly follow Supreme Court precedent.

His co-blogger, Ilya Somin disagrees, and says this decision is even more important than the other one striking down the law (which he says was poorly reasoned) because the plaintiffs are 26 state governments and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Kerr is a law professor at George Washington University School of Law. Somin is an associate professor of law at George Mason University School of Law.

Over at Reason magazine’s Hit & Run blog, Peter Suderman, who has been voraciously covering the issue, writes that law as written contains no contingency clause that would allow the law to be upheld even if one part of it was found unconstititutional. Thus, when Vinson found one part of the law invalid, he invalidated the entire law.

There are conflicting reports as to whether Vinson stayed implementation of the law until appeals are concluded.

Legislation to repeal the law continue to move ahead as well. The House has already voted that way, and in the Senate, 46 GOP Senators (the entire Republican contingent) have co-sponsored a bill to repeal the law.

Conventional wisdom now has it that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., won’t allow the proposed legislation to come up for a vote. Thus, it will all come to naught.

For HR leaders, the path forward remains cloudy — but maybe not as treacherous as the sleet-slickened roads that we in the Philadelphia area are facing today and tomorrow as frozen rain and ice continue to fall for hours to come.

Since most of the law’s requirements don’t go into effect for several years, there’s probably time to allow the courts to make a final determination.

Here’s the Washington Post’s story on the decision.

The Down Side of Wellness

You know those cautionary asides you see in stories — especially now that the web and newspapers are filled with articles on diet and excercise — about how individuals should check with their physicians before increasing physical activity?

Most people probably skim right over that warning. But, unfortunately, those things are written for a reason — as one HR executive in Singapore recently found out.

According to this New Zealand news site, 54-year-old Ong Joo Aun, an HR leader who was appearing on a reality show, Lose to Win, lost consciousness after the daily brisk walk of two kilometers (1.2 miles).

“Lose To Win” encourages participants to lose weight, up to 5Kg (about 11 pounds) per month through numerous nutrition workshops, physical exercises and fitness assessments. The cash prize for the winner is reportedly $5,000.

This is probably something HR leaders should keep in mind as their organizations roll out their wellness initiatives and incentives.

On Workaholics and the New Year

I thought it a bit ironic that I chose to take a moment to work from home while on vacation today only to come across this Career Builder survey on signs of being a workaholic. Although the findings appear alarming at first, the only truly significant number I can see is the 51 percent of 3,100 employees polled who’ve had more work piled on them this year. Significant, but not surprising.

Still, 24 percent of people at home or out socially are still thinking about work. That means about one in every four people I’ve seen in the mall, post office, traffic (with trees tied to their roofs), on ladders hanging lights from windows and gutters, etc., etc., isn’t really connected to the holiday he or she appears to be enjoying. That’s kind of sad. Then again, that leaves 76 percent who must have perfected the art of leaving everything at the office. So, there’s a hopeful sign that our society is that maladjusted.

The release isn’t directed at HR professionals, but it might offer some insight into the dangers of letting workers obsess over work without stepping in and addressing it. It also lists some tips for establishing and maintaining a better balance between life and work that you might share with them when the new year begins.

As Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, puts it: “While a strong work ethic is valued, a lack of balance with … personal life can ultimately work against [employees] in the long run.” She recommends that, as the year wraps up, workers take inventory of their personal time and figure out where they “need to make adjustments in 2011.”

Maybe employers can lend a bigger hand with that going forward.

Most Read Stories on HREOnline™ Last Week

Here’s what our readers found most interesting on HREOnline™ last week:

 Time to Re-Engage: Top businesses for HR practices — according to an exclusive recalibration of Fortune‘s “Most Admired Companies” list — are taking employee engagement very seriously in this economy.

Pinpointing Leadership Qualities: Susan Meisinger’s latest column on the way social networking is changing the way HR leaders think of legal risks or recruiting opportunities. It also should make them think about the way they select high-potential candidates for leadership-development programs.

Modifying Preconceived Notions: A study suggests millennials are happier with their bosses than many workplace observers thought; happier than baby boomers or Gen Xers. There could be many reasons for the phenomenon, experts say.

Ensuring Parity: The most significant points about complying with the Mental Health Parity Act and an update on the COBRA benefits — as modified by the economic-stimulus act — are summarized in this month’s Legal Clinic.

HR Costs Rebounding? A new report on human-capital effectiveness finds HR costs for organizations are rebounding to pre-recession levels. But does that mean the war for talent is back on? 

Pay Scales and Weight Scales

Thanks to the good folks at, who ran a very interesting story today about some new research from the University of Florida that finds skinny women and overweight men earn more, on average, than their average-sized colleagues:

According to the study, women who weighed 25 pounds less than the group norm earned about $16,000 more per year. A woman 25 pounds above the group norm earned about $14,000 less. Thinner men, on the other hand, made almost $9,000 less than their average male co-worker. 

Now, I get the idea that women who weigh less than their counterparts would make more than their average-size or overweight colleagues. After all, we all live in a society that praises puny and castigates corpulence.

But I admit I was shocked to learn that men who weighed less than the group norm actually made less money than their average-sized colleagues.

And, as a man who has always weighed in on the lighter side of the scale, I’m now wondering if, instead of working harder, I should just start eating more if I want to get a raise.

Read the University of Florida researchers’ paper, which was published in the journal for the American Psychological Association, here.