Posts belonging to Category SHRM



HR Is NOT Getting the Benefits Message Out

I know we’ve pounded the benefits-communication drum already in our magazine, website and blog, but Audrey Boone Tillman’s plea, if you 125728721-exec with bullhornwill, to HR leaders to pound that drum harder left me with some compelling new truths.

Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services for Columbus, Ga.-based Aflac Inc., presented findings of the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report at her session — “Marketing Your Benefits: Developing a More Effective Strategy to Educate and Engage Employees About Benefits Options” — Monday at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Annual Conference in Chicago.

That’s a mouthful. I’ll cut to the chase. According to the report, 59 percent of employees would likely switch employers for lower salaries but more comprehensive benefits, and 79 percent agree a well-communicated benefits package would make them less likely to leave.

At the same time, 93 percent of employers believe they effectively communicate benefits, yet nearly half of employees say HR doesn’t communicate benefits enough. And here’s the kicker: Only 10 percent of employees feel their HR department is extremely effective at communicating benefits.

When you’re thinking about the overall cost of providing benefits, “think about the cost to the company if someone leaves for better benefits,” Tillman said, such as turnover, recruiting, lost productivity, training, the list goes on.

When it comes to the confusing labyrinth that is the Affordable Care Act, 75 percent of employees think their employer will and should be explaining how healthcare reform will impact them and their healthcare, yet only 13 percent of employers are actually planning to explain that.

For a complete rundown on who all was questioned for the survey, how many and from what industries, go to the company report’s website. In the meantime, I think it’s safe to say HR professionals are not marketing the benefits their companies are offering nearly enough.

“Too many HR leaders still think if they offer it and explain it at open enrollment and put out an email, that’s enough,” said Tillman. “The days of explaining what’s inside a glossy brochure once a year are over.”

Tillman urges employers and their HR and benefits teams to utilize “all the new touch points” available today that “far too few are taking advantage of,” including creating Facebook pages, mailing annual benefits statements to homes where spouses can see them, putting table tents in break and conference rooms, dedicating online email accounts to benefits questions, holding frequent town halls and lunch and learns, and putting videos on company portals featuring testimonials by employees who’ve been helped by the program in some way.

She even suggests pumping up the message with free shirts and free food. “You should be marketing benefits like the big vendors are marketing their goods and services on the expo floor below us,” she told attendees.

And when it comes to healthcare reform, “even to tell them, ‘We still don’t know enough’ is better than telling them nothing. Even ‘We have no news’ is fine,” she said.

Bottom line, employers aren’t finding ways to ask employees what they know and don’t know, need and don’t need, and employees aren’t asking about their options and how their companies can help them become better stewards of their health, finances and benefits.

And if you don’t think most employees need help, consider these two stats from the study: Nearly half (46 percent) of employees have less than 1,000 saved for unexpected health or life emergencies and 25 percent have less than $500 saved. And these are employees! These are the people who are working!

The good news, said Tillman, is that “employees want to hear from HR about employee benefits.” They want the ACA explained to them. They want to understand the “alphabet soup” of acronyms and terminology associated with it.

“This is a space where HR can really take the lead,” she said, “determining and explaining where the company will go in light of healthcare reform. This is where HR can really create value — for the company, for the employee and for HR.”

Future World College-Graduate Shortage Looms Large

college grad-122486537More bad news on the skills-shortage front since my last post on the subject. This time, the shocker comes in the form of a number, part of the McKinsey Global Institute’s recent World at Work report: By 2020, according to the report, the world could have 40 million too few college-educated workers.

Youch. That’s a huge shortage — as the late George Carlin might have said in his infamous oxymoron routine.

As Tracy McCarthy, senior vice president of human resources at Chicago-based SilkRoad technology, told the Society for Human Resource Management in it’s report (subscription required) on this matter,

This skills shortage, particularly for high-tech skills, has existed in the United States for some time now. If you look at the number of H-1B visa holders, you’ll find the majority are for high-tech skilled workers such as engineers.”

Yes, I’ve been aware of the skills shortage for some time now; I know about the scarcity of math-and-science-proficient engineers (something I keep telling my engineer son to bear in mind and use to his advantage as he plots his future); I just hadn’t seen a 40-million-shortage headcount by 2020 until now.

Ravin Jesuthasan, Chicago-based global-talent-management-practice leader for Towers Watson, says the future gap will come with some friction points too. As he puts it,

While there will be an overall shortage of college-educated talent, there will be dramatic differences across countries. Developed markets like the United States, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom will experience huge shortages, while countries like India and Indonesia will generate significant surpluses as the key drivers of education, demographics and immigration play out differentially. The challenge for employers will be how they tap into these surpluses; making the mobility of work essential.”

What the McKinsey report does not cover, Jesuthasan adds, are the specific skills that businesses will demand and the gaps relative to those within the current workforce. As noted in Towers Watson’s Global Talent 2021 report, he points out, employers expect to place increasing emphasis on four skill areas: digital skills, agile thinking, interpersonal and communication skills, and global operating skills.

I guess you can look at all this as more fodder for the battle cry to bring the best thinkers of the world together now – from employment, academic, even governmental sectors – to try and solve this thing before the global marketplace closes up shop.

Time to Start Talking About Healthcare Exchanges

No harm in reminding one and all that you have until March 1 — according to the recently enacted Affordable Care Act — to notify your employees about state-specific healthcare exchanges to be set up before 2014.

This alert from the Society for Human Resource Mangement lays out what you need to be doing next, according to the new law, after you’ve satisfied your January 2013 healthcare-benefit cost-reporting requirement for 2012 W-2s, that is. (Appropriate informational links are included in the SHRM piece; note, though, that the SHRM site is a subscription-based one.)

In the piece, Jennifer Benz, CEO of Benz Communications, lists three specific communication requirements employers must satisfy by March 1:

State exchange basics. This is a description of the state exchange, the services provided by the exchange and how to contact the exchange (website and customer service number). One wrinkle: not all states have decided how they’re going to comply (the National Conference of State Legislatures provides an up-to-date chart of state implementation efforts). Employers in multi-plan states will have an even more challenging time.

Individual plan value. This explains whether employees will receive at least 60 percent coverage of essential health benefits through employer-provided coverage, and whether employees may be eligible for a premium tax credit if they purchase a plan on the state exchange.

Tax implications. Because health-insurance premiums under employer-sponsored coverage may be paid with pre-tax dollars, buying coverage through a state exchange may change an employee’s tax obligations. Employees using an exchange to purchase coverage may lose their employer’s tax-free contribution (if any) to their health coverage, also.

Although many benefits and HR experts are predicting the March deadline will be extended, considering the U.S. Department of Labor has yet to release proposed regulations or samples of a model notice, Benz suggests integrating the three-part notice into your overall health-benefits-communication strategy regardless.

“No matter what deadline the DOL ultimately sets,” says Benz, “employers need to be prepared to include [these three points] in their communication plans for 2013.”

Communicate your 2014 position before the legalese does,” she adds. “Be sure to use language that fits the notice into your big-picture approach to healthcare-reform compliance. For many employers, this strategy is going to include high-deductible health plans and incentive-heavy wellness programs, two benefit strategies that require robust, thoughtful communications in their own right.”

Employee Health Takes on New Meaning

Two different studies came to my attention at SHRM’s 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition — both underscoring a growing awareness that keeping workers working, and healthy and productive, is probably the best way to cut healthcare costs.

In essence — though as important cost-cutting factors — focusing on plan design and doctors’ and drug costs may be taking a back seat to keeping workers healthy and happy, at work.

One, a just-released report from The Standard Insurance Co.’s Workplace Possibilities program, titled Health-Related Lost Productivity: Causes and Solutions, kind of turns on its ear the notion that medical care and drug costs should be employers’ biggest worries.

It cites recent studies (one in the Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine, “Health and Productivity as a Business Strategy: A Multi-Employer Study,” and two others by Mercer and Kronos on the Total Financial Impact of Employee Absences) showing that medical and pharmaceutical costs make up only 30 percent of the total cost of poor employee health.

The other 70 percent can be attributed to what The Standard calls health-related lost productivity costs. Those accrue through presenteeism (workers showing up but not producing at full capacity due to illness) and absenteeism. And the latter costs accrue through all kinds of demons: overtime for the workers left to pick up the pieces, turnover should patients never return, temporary staffing, working slow, late deliveries (because, let’s face it, replacements just don’t know the ropes like the employees themselves), replacement training, customer and variable product quality.

Michael Klachefsky, national practice leader of The Standard’s Workplace Possibilities program and author of the report, calls it the “iceberg concept.”

“These are the hidden costs, like the part of the iceberg under the water’s surface,” he tells me. “Our findings show the people left to pick up the slack are, on average, 15 percent to 44 percent more expensive, and 21 percent to 29 percent less productive.”

His research shows that, for every $1 employers spend on worker medical or pharmacy costs, they absorb at least $2.30 of HRLP costs.

“It’s intuitive,” says Klachefsky, “but no one ever measured it before.”

His company actually bases its services on this concept through numerous proactive fixes, such as on-site wellness and return-to-work consultants, ergonomic advice, products and services, and a blog — workplacepossibilities.com — devoted solely to educating employers and employees about ways to avoid medical leave and keep short-term disability from becoming long-term disability.

“We’re doing the 70 percent,” Klachefsky says. “Most others are addressing the 30 percent.”

Also at the conference, SHRM released its 2012 Employee Benefits Survey, showing more employers are offering benefits now that encourage employees to improve their health. Of the 550 randomly selected HR professionals surveyed by SHRM, 45 percent are now offering health and lifestyle coaching, up from 33 percent in 2008, and 35 percent are rewarding — through lower premiums or bonuses — workers who complete health and wellness programs, up from 23 percent in 2008.

“Employers recognize that providing employees with the opportunity to improve their health can increase morale, confidence and productivity,” says Mark J. Schmit, vice president or research at SHRM.

“Organizations continue to look for ways to manage costs as the economy slowly improves,” he says, “[recognizing that] healthier employees … help decrease healthcare costs to employers and employees.”

 

 

Varied Perceptions of SHRM Conference’s Opening Day

Hank Jackson, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, took to the stage at the opening session of SHRM’s 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition in Atlanta Sunday with a positive message about HR moving as a profession into the driver’s seat of growth and change.

Against a backdrop of business successes such as Intel and Apple, and casualties such as Twinkies’ bankruptcy and Blockbuster’s inability to withstand what he called the “disruptive innovation” of Netflix, Jackson warned that “businesses that don’t see change coming will be gobbled up and taken over.”

The speed and growth of change in the business world, said Jackson, “has changed the way we live and work,” and HR, and SHRM, “will help drive that growth and new direction.”

After listing many of SHRM’s recently launched and ambitious initiatives — including its introduction of HR competencies and standards, established in partnership with the American National Standards Institute, and its even-more-recently announced commitment to immigration as a future-workforce promise — Jackson called on the thousands of HR professionals in the audience to join with his group and help lead the nation’s businesses to a new age.

“We as HR professionals now own our seat at the table,” he said. “Now we have to take that next step and take our place at the head of the table.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was also positive in her opening keynote. Despite the nation’s crisis in education threatening to become “our No. 1 national-security threat,” she said, “I’m still optimistic — like our country [which has endured powerful hardships in its past] and like me, a girl from a black neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama, who goes on to become the country’s secretary of state.

“We will emerge,” said Rice, “this exceptional country called the United States of America.”

Earlier that day, however, in a press conference called by the SHRM Members for Transparency, a different kind of change was being called for — one intended to right a SHRM ship that the group’s members say has drifted far off course.

Some of the SMFT’s key concerns about the current SHRM leaders center around what it considers non-transparent decision-making, salaries adopted for SHRM board members that fly in the face of today’s still-sputtering economy (and SHRM traditions) and board members being appointed without being certified by the Human Resource Certification Institute (a practice that has been in place since the HRCI was established in 1976).

At the press briefing, the SMFT released results of two surveys it conducted in May — one of 3,607 SHRM volunteer state, regional and chapter leaders, and another of 350 grassroots members — showing definitive support for what the SMFT is trying to address.

Highlights of the survey results include a 98-percent agreement that the SHRM board should follow the Center for Association Leadership and BoardSource recommendation of establishing an independent compensation committee, which the current SHRM Board has chosen not to do. Additionally, 91 percent agree that the board’s compensation is too high; 94 percent agree that the current perks, such as domestic premium-class air travel, are not necessary to recruit and retain good board members; and 87 percent believe it is unacceptable that only 38 percent of SHRM board members possess HRCI certification.

The group also announced Sunday that it was launching a massive write-in campaign to elect four of its members to the SHRM board to correct these flaws.

This February 2011 HREOnline news analysis says that, “among other issues, the Transparency group is actively encouraging SHRM members to request outside reviews of board compensation and travel-reimbursement policies; to have the job specifications for the CEO revised to require HR experience and education [which Jackson does not have]; and to discontinue future use of the consumer-price index as a factor in dues increases.

“Reasonable people can disagree on how you attract the best board members,” Jackson said in that story, “and I think the group’s fundamental concerns are that we’re breaking SHRM traditions. But SHRM is growing in size and complexity and that means some of the more traditional things may go away because of that.”

 

 

Made in America

“Remember when they used to actually make things in this country?” How many of you have heard that from older relatives, or your parents? How many of you have actually said it yourselves? So now it’s time to talk about a nascent trend: The rebirth of manufacturing in the United States.

The auto industry, aided by its controversial bailout from the federal government, continues to add workers as sales stay strong despite the uncertain economy. Then there’s the (also controversial) “fracking” industry in states like Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania: As oil-and-gas companies drill through shale rock to reach rich deposits of oil and gas, they’ve generated a big demand for steel piping and other equipment that’s helping to revitalize the steel industry in places like Ohio. And then there’s “re-insourcing,” touted by President Obama earlier this year, with companies like Master Lock and General Electric moving jobs that they outsourced to places like China back to the U.S. to save on shipping costs–and to take advantage of the fact that with rising labor costs overseas, it can make more sense to have goods made here instead of over there.

But there’s a risk that this trend may stall if one crucial problem isn’t solved: Finding the skilled talent necessary to actually do the work. This ain’t your grandfather’s assembly line: Today’s manufacturing jobs often require advanced skills in math and robotics that can be hard to find, especially given the fact that in our society, high-achieving students are pushed to enroll in four-year colleges and jobs that require working with your hands are not held in the highest esteem, shall we say, in many of today’s households. A SHRM poll from last year found that more than half the participating companies were having trouble finding skilled talent, with the manufacturing industry having a particularly tough time. Highly skilled technicians, engineers and tradespeople (electricians, carpenters) were among the most difficult-to-fill positions, according to SHRM.

The organization plans to address this topic during an upcoming half-day summit at its annual conference, to be held this year in Atlanta. Representatives from SHRM, the U.S. Dept of Labor and manufacturers will discuss potential solutions for filling the skills gap. The event will be held on Sunday, June 24, at the Georgia World Conference Center.

In the meantime, you can read about how some manufacturers are trying to grow their own talent through apprenticeship programs–in which students actually get paid to learn, rather than going into debt.

The Painful End of Maternity Leave

Found a nice reminder today on the Society for Human Resource Management website about just how hard it is for most moms to return to work after maternity leave.

The top video in SHRM’s archive features Cathy Carothers, president of the International Lactation Consultant Association, describing just what returning young mothers go through.

So often, what employers – and employees — focus on are the numbers of weeks and days allowed for maternity leave under state and federal laws (which just so happens to be the focus of the second video, following Carothers’).

What Carothers does is make it very personal and specific — the physical stress of post-birth and lactation, the loss of sleep, the emotional stress around leaving your baby in the arms of someone else … .

I so rarely hear those specific hardships talked about when reporting or writing about young moms returning to work. Hearing Carothers took me right back to my own painful pangs some 30 years ago. And to the much-more-recent experiences of young women in my life and circle of friends.

As Carothers stresses, every employer would do well to consider the special needs — beyond time-and-attendance — that these women come back to work with. (Suggestions might include extra counseling, support or affinity groups, and lactation and rest areas, to name just a few.)

Indeed, the transition from maternity to work would be so much easier for all involved, employers and employees, if organizations catered more to the whole returning new parent, not just the returning employee.

 

 

Deadline Approaching for Disability Hiring Help

Wanted to alert you all to a deadline fast approaching to get applications in for funding designed to encourage disability hiring.

The deadline came to my attention through this piece on the Society for Human Resource Management site (subscription required) about the U.S. Department of Labor making $1.6 million available in a second round of funding aimed at increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The money is being made available through the Add Us In program, launched in 2010 by the DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. The deadline to get applications in is Sept. 2.

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, in announcing this second round of funding at the National Disability Forum on Aug. 4, said her department “is committed to ensuring that every American who wants a job can find one, including people with disabilities.”

Employers’ failures to hire disabled workers was only one of the concerns raised in a recent story by Jared Shelly on HREOnline™ about the skyrocketing number of disability discrimination claims filed in 2010.

One reason for the increase, according to experts quoted in his story, was the expanded definition of “disabled” under the revised Americans with Disabilities Act. But also onerous is the hesitation on the part of employers to hire people with disabilities because of the perceived difficulties in ensuring the required accommodations are provided.

Sollis stressed during her announcement, however, that “if we [simply] make modest accommodations, we can see [disabled workers'] talent[s] unleashed.”

Examining Congress as a Workplace

They’re some of the most powerful people in the United States, yet they routinely get accused of not working hard and not working together. But at the same time, most would think they have a bad work/life balance.

With people who would rather read pages of a phone book during a fillibuster than work together to find solutions, Congress is a wacky workplace indeed.

But then, under intense pressure, they can come together to compromise and create solutions. Just yesterday, for example, they put partisan differences aside to end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, putting lots of people back to work and allowing the government to once again collect airline taxes. Days earlier, they found common ground on the debt ceiling.

Next, they’ll probably go back to vehemently disagreeing with one another.

Now, the Society of Human Resource Management and the Congressional Management Foundation has launched a new research project that will attempt to examine Congress as a workplace. How do they juggle work/life balance? Are Congressional staff members satisfied with their workplace?

Lisa Horn, senior government relations advisor at SHRM, says the research will provide a clearer picture of what its like to work in Congress, especially for people unfamiliar with day-to-day working life inside Washington.

“This research can help the public better understand the congressional workplace experience and the impact flexible work options might have on this workplace environment,” says Horn.

“The project will also help us better understand what strategies and practices congressional offices are currently offering to support staff work-life needs, what impact these programs have, and, ultimately, how these offerings compare with the private sector.”

Changes to FLSA Urged Before Congress

The notion of modifying the Fair Labor Standards Act to bring it up-to-date with today’s more mobile, flexible and technology-driven workforce took a step forward last Thursday in a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

The hearing was chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and included statements by J. Randall MacDonald, senior vice-president of HR for Armonk-N.Y.-based IBM Corp.; Nobumichi Hara, senior vice president of human capital for Phoenix-based Goodwill Industries of Central Arizona (speaking on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management); Richard L. Alfred, partner at Seyfarth Shaw in Boston; and Judith M. Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project in Washington. Here’s a link to the hearing’s agenda, plus full testimonies of all who participated.

Almost everyone in attendance urged for revisions to the law’s exempt and nonexempt definitions, overtime regulations and other wage-and-hour stipulations that they say prevent employers from competing in today’s marketplace.

Hara cited an example in which his company would have to pay overtime to a group of employees in the first week of their proposed biweekly schedule even though the second week (a lighter schedule) would have satisfied the two-week hourly requirement. “SHRM believes the FLSA hinders employers’ abilities to provide the flexibility that millions of nonexempt employees want,” Hara said.

MacDonald, who also chairs the HR Policy Association (representing more than 300 CHROs of the nation’s largest companies) testified that “there are areas of major disconnect between this 70-year-old labor law and today’s rapidly changing workplace environment.” (Here’s a link to his testimony.)

“The business world of 2011 barely resembles that of the 1930s and 1940s, while our primary labor law is becoming ever more outdated, having barely changed in all that time,” he said. “Simply put, this law is now a job killer. It yields advantages to global competitors without commensurate payback to U.S. workers.

“If nothing is done to make necessary reforms,” MacDonald said, “we sustain a disincentive for job growth in America, hampering employees’ opportunities and giving U.S. employers another reason to invest elsewhere. … The disconnect between the FLSA and the modern workplace will continue to grow, increasing tensions between employers, employees and regulators, with the only true beneficiary being the plaintiff’s bar.”

MacDonald urged Congress to make six specific changes to the law, including updating the definition of computer employees to include more duties, expanding exemptions to include “well-compensated, commissioned inside salespeople” and allowing a broad pre-emption of state and local wage and hour laws.

“Why is it,” MacDonald asked, “that a 70-year-old law, enacted in a different century, which was based on a different model of the U.S. economy, and at a time that pre-dates global competition and nearly all technology we use today, should not be modernized, clarified and made relevant for today’s economic realities?”