When it comes to wellness programs, it could be tough to get past all the hype. Here’s how to avoid the three most common traps businesss fall into.
Trap #1. the “one-size-fits-all” approach
For good reason, your organization doesn’t simply copy other firms’ 401(k) plans or compensation designs. Yet, all too often, firms adopt ill-fitting wellness programs based on things that have worked elsewhere.
Your CFO might have seen data on the cost savings other employers have achieved via certain wellness incentives. Or an old coworker of your Chief Executive Officer (CEO) swears by the program at his or her own firm.
In response, the top brass pushes for a copycat program – for instance, offering use of tobacco cessation incentives.
That might be a good idea, if tobacco-related illnesses are a key driver of your company’s health care costs. But how can you be sure? is it good enough to have your staff members undergo a health risk (assessment|appraisal}?
Normally, the answer is no.
Health risk (assessment|appraisal}s are a great starting place, but it’s often a mistake to stop there. the assessments help you get a feel for what your employees’ baseline physical problems are before you try to design a program around them.
This creates rough outlines of what your program goals must be and where to target employee initiatives. If you want the maximum bang for your wellness buck, you’ll have to dig a little deeper for information. Key places to look –
your organization’s medical-claims breakdown for the last three years
staff member absence information
employee assistance program use
disability claims, and
employee demographics (workers’ ethnic, gender, age and dependent coverage status points to greater – and lesser – health risks associated with each category).
Trap #2. Leaving the program on autopilot
A lot of wellness programs often get off to a good begin and then fizzle out. Corporations are left wondering what went wrong. Their mistake – They failed to revisit the program on an ongoing basis – at least every other year.
Why it’s vital – Your cost-drivers can easily shift as staff members come and go from the business.
Example – This year, emphysema and other tobacco use diseases could be your biggest cost driver. But two years from now, it could be obesity and diabetes.
Unless you continuously track the program and adjust your goals as necessary, you may not be prepared to meet those new challenges.
Trap #3. Unrealistic expectations
Typically, it takes at least a year and a half for companys to break even on the cost of a wellness program. as a rule of thumb, the average program cost per worker per month to the company is about $3 to $5.
If, after three years, you still aren’t seeing results, something went wrong. Currently, the benchmark ROI after the third year of a wellness program is $4 to $5 saved for every dollar spent.
How can you manage the cost in the short-term? In many cases, companys pass the cost of the wellness program on to the employees. for instance, let’s say you want to roll out a wellness program effective January 1 (or no matter what your first day is of the new plan year).
You can roll that $3 to $5 per staff member per month cost directly into the employee’s monthly share of their healthcare premium. That makes the wellness program a budget-neutral expense for your organization.
But remember – You get what you pay for – both in time and money invested. the less guesswork that’s involved in the planning and execution, the better the chance for success.
August 31, 2010 No Comments
Variable compensation can be a excellent way to satisfy demand for higher pay while addressing upper-level management’s need to boost productivity and keep base salaries under control.
But there are some major pitfalls. Here are two proven ways to avoid the most common legal and return on investment risks.
Beware when you use variable comp as a pay-for-performance strategy for hourly workers. Reason – It’s easy to inadvertently run afoul of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime rules.
Under FLSA, you must recalculate employees’ hourly wages to include all variable pay (like individual or departmental bonuses) when figuring overtime compensation.
Failure to do so could cost your organization more in penalties and back-wage payments than the variable comp plan saved on the front end.
So it’s a good idea to double-check with Payroll to make certain the department knows to make OT adjustments after hourly staff members receive bonuses.
Reward the right things
In order to make the criteria for bonuses easier for staff members to understand and management to measure, many firms prefer using strictly objective measurements. Example – the plan may pay out based on how much money staff members save their department in a year.
But what happens if employees cut corners – on safety, service, quality, etc. – to reach the goal?
At some firms, employees are still rewarded with extra pay, even though their actions potentially did more harm than good to the bottom line. for best results –
set behavioral criteria for bonuses in addition to economic ones, and
consider using a mix of firm-wide, departmental and individual economic performance measures.
August 30, 2010 No Comments
Shopping for health plans through a broker is a fact of life for the vast majority of businesses. But how well is your broker meeting your needs?
And how can you work together better to minimize costs while getting maximum bang for your organization’s benefits buck?
What’s New in Benefits and Compensation conducted an exclusive survey of 195 subscribers to find out how they view their company’s relationship with their brokers. Here’s what they said –
Half see room for improvement
The good news – Nearly half of your colleagues rate their relationship with their current broker as “excellent.” But that means the other half see some room for improvement.
Thirty-nine% of respondents rated their broker relationship as satisfactory and said they were at least “reasonably happy.” the remaining 11% noted “unpleasant surprises” while 4% are actively considering a switch.
Tools for making buying decisions
Of course, the No. 1 reason any organization works through a broker is to find the best deals on health benefits. But many of your colleagues pointed to a few areas where their brokers could help make their lives a little easier.
First and foremost, your coworkers say they’d love for their brokers to provide user-friendly – but thorough – return on investment data they can use to benchmark different plans.
It’s worth discussing with your broker how much arm-twisting the broker can do with medical plan carriers to get key data in your hands. Two specific areas of data benefits pros say they’d like help from brokers –
obtaining and sharing claims cost data to compare to premiums, and
benchmarking your typical plan costs against those of similar-sized firms in the region.
Regrettably, claims cost data is often hard to pry loose from insurers, at least for smaller companys’ plans.
Reason – Without this data, it’s tougher to judge if your premium rate adjustment at renewal time is fair. Fewer than half of respondents (46.3%) say they’ve ever discussed such information with their brokers.
Obtaining benchmarking data on similar-sized plans assists you see how comparably your costs and plan designs stack up in your area. Roughly 43% of respondents say they’re armed with at least some of this info when it comes time to decide whether to stay with the existing plan.
It’s worth talking with your broker about ways to push for the earliest possible renewals – and strategies for making sure your carrier doesn’t hit you with any unpleasant surprises.
One notorious game insurance corporations play with businesss’ plans is to wait until the last moment to reveal the new premiums at renewal. That way, there’s less time for negotiation – or to shop around with the insurer’s competitors.
About 28% of respondents report getting their renewals about 30 days before the rate kicks in. Different brokers use different benchmarks for securing renewals. A minority of respondents (19.5%) have seen them as early as 90 days ahead.
Taking work off HR/Benefits’ plate
The benefits brokerage marketplace is highly competitive. Some brokers try to set themselves apart by offering patrons so-called value-added services.
Among your coworkers, the most well-liked services are those which relieve the company’s HR/ benefits manager of time-consuming tasks. Some examples –
assessing plan documents
auditing (and, when needed, reconciling) carrier bills for errors
monitoring plans for compliance (HIPAA, COBRA, etc.)
offering tech support for a benefits intranet and/or staff member self-service software, and/or
assisting with worker education.
August 29, 2010 No Comments
Which costs your organization more – staff members who miss work or ones who show up physically but take a mental PTO day?
For most corporations, it’s the latter. So why do even savvy senior managers and finance directors (we’re not just talking about the bean-counters) worry about absenteeism while downplaying so-called presenteeism as a drain on business productivity, not to mention the compensation and benefits budget?
In some cases, C-levels and supervisors seem to think that admitting that presenteeism even exists at the firm is akin to saying, “We’re a poorly run organization.” In reality, presenteeism exists in every workplace.
Virtually every employee, manager, supervisor and executive who has ever tried to “tough it out” at work when he or she has been sick has been a presentee on those days.
So has anybody who’s ever been distracted at work by non-work issues – whether it’s spending the day attempting to resolve a personal financial matter, checking on a sick child at home or constantly checking for scoring updates from a sporting event.
In short, unless we’re to believe that every worker is productive every single day, no corporation in the world is immune from presenteeism.
Some organizations that don’t bury their heads in the sand about presenteeism still don’t track it. Why? Usually, there’s a belief that chronic presentees eventually get rooted out of the business.
And short of watching over every other employee’s shoulder throughout the workday, it’s too difficult (and even counterproductive) to attempt to estimate the cost to the organization.
Here are some strategies that firms have used to not only measure the cost but also reduce the problem.
Creating a cost estimate
If your organization is like most, upper management worries endlessly about health benefit costs without realizing undetected presenteeism is just as expensive, but easier to control.
Consider these facts from a recent CSG study – Nearly 10% of the typical annually pay and benefits
budget is spent on non-productive (but treatable) employees.
Add in workers who call out at the last second and the percentage rises to 17%, as reported by SHRM.
But how do you estimate the actual dollars-and-cents cost to your firm?
Let’s assume you’ve 50 employees, who make an average $40,000 a year. Over the while the year, the average worker is non-productive 2.5 percent of the time, due to assorted personal issues or minor illnesses that serve as distractions.
In this instance, presenteeism costs your organization $50,000 a year. When you have a 5% presenteeism rate, the figure shoots up to $100,000.
While it’s impossible to entirely stamp out presenteeism, even small reductions in presenteeism add up to big bucks in controlling compensation and benefit costs.
The next step, of course, is doing something about the issue. Broadly speaking, the process generally works in three phases –
review current policies and procedures for things that accidentally increase presenteeism
get supervisors and employees involved on the front end, and
stress the importance of work-life programs to senior level management and supervisors.
Let’s look at each area to see how they work in real-life practice.
Three common ways many firms attempt to cut absenteeism often increase presenteeism –
1. Over-stressing attendance in employee’s annual reviews
2. Having supervisors check up on workers who take sick days to verify they’re really ill, and/or
3. Disciplining staff members for last-moment sick callouts.
From a practical and cost standpoint, the best solution could be to switch from separate vacation and sick-day benefits to a single paid time off (PTO) bank.
When folks have no-questions-asked control over their off days, they’re sometimes more likely to use a PTO day when they’re sick. Of course, you know that PTO carries some risks of its own.
Fewer than one organization in 10 gets both managers and employees involved in the process of spotting and eliminating presenteeism.
That’s too bad, says advisor Mary Beth Chalk, because it can been done pretty easily.
Ask a sampling of staff members to rate how energetic and productive they generally feel at work, on a percentage scale. Have supervisors estimate their staff as well. Then split the difference.
The result is a pretty good barometer of your organization’s current and future presenteeism risk.
Anything you can do to promote work-life programs at your firm can have a positive effect on the bottom line. Proven ideas include –
rewarding supervisors who support flexible work arrangements
sending sick staff members home
cover onsite flu shots, and
actively promote your existing Employee Assistance Program.
August 28, 2010 No Comments
Any benefits HR/manager can adopt these ways to make workers feel more appreciated.
The common thread – using your own communication skills as a powerful tool for boosting morale.
1. Put in face time
When time permits, managers may want to put in some “face time” with employees. This in and of itself is a type of employee recognition. Example – There’s a lot of value in simply walking around the building, chatting with employees. Ask employees about the personal items they display at their workstations.
In the short-term, folks will notice and appreciate your interest. Long-term, this may inspire ideas for rewards and incentive programs. the same technique works at firms with multiple locations. Make a site visit to get a feel for the morale. This is much cheaper – and often more effective – than designing a formal benefits survey.
2. Send ‘em customized stuff
Looking for a simple way to show employees that HR/Benefits cares? Create a template from which you can send personalized “Welcome” letters to new hires or “Happy Anniversary” notes for employees’ company anniversaries.
3. Target overlooked employees
Most firms have employees (e.g. part-timers) who aren’t eligible for the 401(k), health plan and other company-sponsored benefits. Small gifts help firms connect with these often-overlooked employees.
Example – on the first day of spring, send them a packet of flower seeds and attached a note from Benefits. Burston-Marsteller Worldwide has used this simple, low-cost idea and gotten good results.
August 27, 2010 No Comments
Looking for recognition ideas that get results? Here are two keys to success –
The most common characteristics of high-ROI recognition programs – regardless of their monentary value – are their spontaneity and perceived value by employees themselves.
In reality, the cost of some of most effective spot awards and bonuses often amount to less than 1 percent of base pay – and the awards don’t even have to be given in cash.
Less sense of entitlement
Part of the problem with traditional end-of-year or quarterly bonuses (apart from the fact that they cost employers an typical of 10% of base pay) is that employees expect to receive them for reaching certain goals.
Sometimes employees simply expect it no matter what. for instance, at many firms, an annual holiday bonus is viewed as an entitlement and individuals inevitably grumble that it’s not high enough. on the flip side, with spontaneous awards and bonuses, employees are often pleasantly surprised.
Benefits consultant Ken Stahlmann spells out four keys to making the latter kind of awards work, even if they’re lower in cost –
1. Creativity is crucial
The most effective programs typically give out awards weekly or monthly. to avoid over-stretching the budget – and avoid a ho-hum attitude establishing in – creativity is a must.
One way that never gets old – combining time off with a second, non-cash award. Example – One firm gives a half-day off in combo with movie passes once a month.
Another, at weekly staff meetings, holds a random drawing for a dinner gift certificate, plus permission to leave work early once.
2. Make it personal
Rewards have more lasting impact when they’re geared to people ‘s personal needs or interests. Two examples –
one firm with many foreign-born, low-wage workers awards a $20 pre-paid phone card after 90 days of service, and a $100 card for outstanding work, and
another business with a lot of sports nuts took several top-performers to a ball game. Managers said it was the best $200 they’ve ever spent as for creating ongoing enthusiasm.
3. Add structure
The awards might seem spur of the moment, but top programs have a fixed budget and structure set before anything is handed out. Example – One retail firm awards “points” for good work. Folks can then trade in their points for store merchandise.
By letting people bank points for more valuable rewards, the company saw a solid jump in retention.
Other organizations prefer to let employees reward each other. for instance, a small healthcare provider keeps a “goodies box” on-site – paid for in petty cash and stocked by employees themselves.
When someone spots a peer going the extra mile, he or she pulls out a prize and awards it.
The program is a enormous hit – It’s immediate and personal, yet structured.
4. Don’t let good intentions backfire
Most spot awards go over well. But keep these four issues in mind –
for most cash or cash-value awards, there are tax implications (just as with traditional bonuses)
Awards need to be spread around or else resentment can creep in
Be sure honorees don’t mind being the center of attention (some firms have accidentally alienated individuals they tried to reward), and
Make sure the reward is something people actually want. One firm that awarded a VIP parking space next to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) found no one used it. No one wanted the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) knowing what time he or she came and left.
August 26, 2010 No Comments
Looking for ways to boost morale, productivity and retention? Spot awards might be the way to go.
They are the most well-liked recognition incentives among workers, a recent study shows. the best part – the incentives usually amount to less than 1% of base pay. That also can makes this option attractive to C-levels. and the awards don’t even have to be given in cash.
Spontaneity grabs ‘em
Traditional end-of-year or quarterly bonuses cost companys an average of 10% of base pay yet often have a lower payoff in morale and retention.
Reason – Workers appreciate them less because they expect to receive them for reaching certain objectives. By their nature spot awards are spontaneous and compensated out immediately. Honorees are pleasantly surprised and see the organization values their work.
Here are four keys to successful spot bonus programs, according to benefits advisor Ken Stahlmann –
1. Creativity is crucial
The most effective programs generally give out awards weekly or monthly. to avoid over-stretching the budget – and avoid a ho-hum attitude establishing in – creativity is a must.
One way that never gets old – combining time off with a second, non-cash award.
Example – One firm gives a half-day off in combo with movie passes once a month. Another, at weekly staff meetings, holds a random drawing for a dinner gift certificate, plus permission to leave work early once.
2. Make it personal
Rewards have more lasting impact when they’re geared to individuals ‘s personal needs or interests. Two examples –
one firm with many foreign-born, low-wage employees awards a $20 pre-paid phone card after 90 days of service, and a $100 card for outstanding work, and
another firm with a lot of sports nuts took several top-performers to a ball game. Managers said it was the best $200 they’ve ever spent for creating ongoing enthusiasm.
3. Add structure
The awards might seem spur of the moment, but the most effective programs have a fixed budget and structure set before anything is handed out.
Example – One retail firm awards “points” for good work. Folks can then trade in their points for store merchandise. By letting individuals bank points for additional valuable rewards, the corporation saw a solid jump in retention.
Other organizations prefer to let employees reward each other. for instance, a small healthcare provider keeps a “goodies box” onsite – paid for in petty cash and stocked by employees themselves.
When someone spots a colleague going the additional mile, he or she pulls out a prize and awards it.
The program is a gigantic hit – It’s immediate and personal, yet structured.
4. Don’t let good intentions backfire
Most spot awards go over well. But keep these issues in mind –
for most cash or cash-value awards, there are tax implications (just as with traditional bonuses)
Awards need to be spread around or else resentment can creep in
Make certain honorees don’t mind being the center of attention (some firms have accidentally alienated people they tried to reward), and
Make sure the reward is something individuals actually want. One firm that awarded a VIP parking space next to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) found no one used it. No one wanted the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) knowing what time he or she came and left.
August 25, 2010 No Comments
In the last few years, there’s been a lot of publicity about the fast-growing crime of identity theft. More than half happen in the workplace. Benefits and compensation files are the most vulnerable targets.
The scariest part – Victims of benefits-related ID theft often make out worse than those who fall prey to the more common variety. the bad guys are ahead of investigators after such thefts occur, and are often very good at covering their tracks.
Also, because benefits ID-theft is a relatively new type of crime, there’s no well-established system for victims, plan sponsors and providers to set things straight after the fact.
401(k) accounts a prime target
Not surprisingly, employees’ 401(k) accounts have become the primary target for benefits thieves. an alarming MSNBC news report showed just how easy it may be for thieves to tap into an employee’s 401(k) accounts – If an online account gets hacked into or account paperwork falls into the wrong hands, it takes only a few mouse clicks to wipe out the victim’s retirement savings.
With average credit-card or bank account fraud, victims need only call their card issuer or bank, report the crime and refuse to pay for an item. But 401(k) theft is much, much harder to resolve.
Three enormous obstacles –
1. Money in 401(k) accounts is not federally insured, like a bank account.
2. 401(k) accounts rarely – when ever – come with automatic identity theft protection from the provider, like credit cards.
3. Even if the theft is successfully resolved, the situation becomes an ERISA nightmare for plan sponsors, because your corporation also has to account for the way the theft affected the growth of the employee’s account before the money was restored.
August 24, 2010 No Comments
A lot of EAPS fall into a common – and dangerous – category – Management thinks the program is great, but staff members think it’s a waste. But it doesn’t have to be that way when you have an employee assistance program or are considering one.
Seventy-three% of all firms (59% of small employers) have an EAP. But how well does the average employee assistance program work? Not in addition to we’d hope. A Mid America Coalition on Health Care study found –
just 50 percent of 6,400 workers surveyed said they’d use the employee assistance program when they felt overwhelmed by personal issues, and
one-third said they didn’t even know how to access its resources.
The good news – Firms like yours have seen dramatic improvements in three relatively simple steps
1. Worker attitude surveys
The best beginning place – Take the pulse of your workers with a short, confidential attitude survey.
Goals – Ask staff members if they know how to use the EAP’s resources. Then test workers’ knowledge and opinions of depression and other personal issues that may affect their workplace performance and/or safety. In the final section, find out how staff members would handle a serious personal issue.
In other words, find out where your individuals would likely turn for help. Would workers seek out the EAP? Would they prefer to discuss the issue with their family physician? A mental health professional?
The Mid America Coalition’s survey remains an great design model from which to craft a recent survey for your own employees.
2. Promote EAP through education
Your survey data ought to help you pinpoint areas where workers need more education about your EAP. Some awareness-improveing techniques that have gotten results –
Lunch-and-learn sessions. Possible topics include dealing with personal-finance stress, caring for elderly parents, understanding depression or dealing with a dependent who has potential mental health issues.
Worker newsletter. If you have a benefits newsletter, spotlight the EAP from time to time. Some businesses without newsletters have done e-mail campaigns or targeted mailings instead.
Workplace posters spotlighting EAP. the ones that work best are often posters designed around a specific theme (e.g., anxiety about personal debt) rather than a general “need help?” message. In addition to posters, you might want to distribute wallet cards with employee assistance program contact info.
Need help finding educational material? There’s lots of free EAP-related flyers and FAQs here. Don’t forget – When doing EAP education, constantly remind workers that the program is strictly confidential.
3. Make certain to work with supervisors
For legal reasons, supervisors need to tread carefully when they suspect an employee has a mental health issue.
What you don’t want – supervisors taking disciplinary actions without consulting HR or playing amateur psychologist and “diagnosing” the employee’s problems. Here’s a PDF of some proven tips and talking points for doing supervisor-specific employee assistance program (EAP) education.
HIPAA compliance – Beware non-discrimination issues
HIPAA’s non-discrimination rules impact both mental health benefits and general health plans. Under current interpretations, health plans can no longer have benefits exclusions that deny benefits for injuries resulting directly or indirectly from pre-existing mental health issues.
That’s true even if the psychological condition wasn’t diagnosed until after the injury and even if the injury was self-inflicted. Example – Suppose an employee gets hurt in a workplace accident he or she caused. After the fact, the employee is diagnosed with a mood disorder that previously escaped detection by the employee’s doctor.
Under current regs, HIPAA-covered plans can’t deny benefits. This puts employers in a bind. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder are one of the health conditions that’re most likely to go undiagnosed or underdiagnosed.
That’s why, in most organizations, having a strong employee assistance program (EAP) is one of your best compliance tools.
August 23, 2010 No Comments
For many staff members, telecommuting and flex-time are highly desired work-life benefits. But a growing number of organizations are reluctant to offer these programs.
Demand for these benefits remains high. One study found that 87 percent of job applicants are familiar with the idea behind telecommuting and flex-time, and the majority express a desire to have at least periodic access to such programs.
Environmental interest groups have pushed the feds for years to develop incentives for corporations to encourage telecommuting. the pressure has risen as gas prices have continued to soar.
Nonetheless, flex-time programs have leveled off in some sectors, and there’s been a decrease in telecommuting.
Today, about half of all organizations where telecommuting is feasible permit staff members to work from home on a case-by-case basis. But the percentage of corporations offering full-time telecommuting has dropped in recent years. Nowadays, only about 20 percent to 25 percent of corporations offer the benefit year-round.
Even some national corporations that are well-known for their telecommuting programs have scaled back. AT&T, for example, recently asked several thousand home-based staff members to come back into the office.
Hewlett-Packard and Intel have done the same thing. and the federal government lately noted a 7.3 percent drop in telecommuting employees. Why the cutbacks?
Worker Assistance Program – Pros and cons
Offering workers telecommuting or flex-time can be a good recruiting and morale-boosting tool, in addition to a way to retain workers who need to relocate, would otherwise have a need to quit or take leave or commute long distances to work.
But the programs aren’t without their drawbacks. Some of the primary reasons companys give for scaling back or eliminating them –
Company culture – It’s easier to build a sense of organizational stability and a personal connection between workers, colleagues and supervisors when people interact face-to-face on a daily basis.
Security – Among the hidden costs of permitting employees to telecommute (or else come in early or stay late) is keeping sensistive information safe. Some the cutbacks are being driven by companies’ IT departments.
Particularly, managers have raised concerns about stolen laptops, identity theft or other crimes driven by hackers gaining access to information via workers’ home Internet connections.
Productivity – Many supervisors find it easier to ensure high productivity when everybody is working under one roof at the same time. There’s also a widespread view that most workers get things done faster and more accurately when they’re not distracted by things at home.
The bottom line on the bottom line
Work-life programs such as flex-time and telecommuting remain a useful benefit to offer staff members, and a lot of corporations still provide these benefits for economic reasons.
But once the potential hidden costs are weighed, it’s often better for the bottom line to limit the scope of these programs.
Organizations that are thinking about beginning a telecommuting program ought to look closely at job descriptions and telecommuting candidates. Some positions are poorly suited for remote work, and some employees are more up to the challenge than others.
But unless the organization creates objective criteria for authorizing or denying flex/telecommuting requests, such programs can actually damage morale.
The last thing any employer wants is to open supervisors(and the company) up to accustations of favoritism or discrimination because of seemingly random decisions on which workers in their department can and can’t flex their schedules or work from home.
August 22, 2010 No Comments
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