How Summer Vacations Boost Workplace Engagement

Family at the beach.As the summer vacation season kicks off, now is a good time for HR to be reminding employees and managers about the value of time out of the office.

Vacations are critical to the emotional and physical health of your workforce — and new studies show that they build a far more engaged, happy, and productive workforce.

Unlike other developed countries, the United States has no mandated number of days off for employees. A quarter of Americans have no paid vacations at all. This has an impact on wellness. 

A 2017 CareerBuilder survey revealed that 61 percent of workers self-identified as burned out in their current job, with 31 percent reporting high or extremely high levels of stress at work. A third of all workers (33 percent) said they had not taken nor were planning to take a vacation that year.

Why aren’t people taking time off?

A survey from Project Time Off in 2017 reveals a key reason why people are avoiding vacations: they think it makes them look like a less committed worker. Thirty eight percent of employees wanted to be seen as “a work martyr by their boss”. Yet as the report states: “What those nearly four-in-ten employees do not understand is that work martyrdom not only does not help them advance in their careers; it may be hurting them.

“These self-proclaimed work martyrs are less likely (79 to 84 percent) to report receiving a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who do not subscribe to the work martyr myth. When it comes to promotions, they are no more likely to have received a promotion in the last year than the average worker (28 percent), showing that the work martyr attitude is not helping anyone get ahead.”

Melinda Gates addressed this topic in her first LinkedIn post after Microsite acquired the platform in 2017 — pointing out how this workaholic culture can be particularly damaging for women. “The American workweek has soared from less than 40 hours to nearly 50 in the time since that issue of Fortune was published,” she wrote. “Technology has made it harder to pull away from our jobs, and easier to wonder whether a night off or a long weekend is damaging our careers.

The benefits of the summer vacation

New data from a O.C. Tanner survey shows a clear correlation between those who take regular vacations and their overall emotional health and happiness on the job.

Sixty six percent of respondents said they regularly take a vacation that’s at least one week or longer during the summer months, and nearly the same percentage (67 percent) said it is somewhat or extremely important for them to do so. This is what they then found in the regular vacationers:

  • Dedication to the Job: 70 percent of respondents say they are highly motivated to contribute to the success of the organization, as opposed to only 55 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • A Sense of Belonging: 63 percent of respondents say they feel a sense of belonging at the company where they currently work, as opposed to only 43 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • Loyalty: 65 percent of respondents say they have a strong desire to be working for their organization one year from now, as opposed to 51 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • Viewed as a Good Employer: 65 percent of respondents say their organization has a reputation for being a good employer whose people do great work, as opposed to just 46 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.

In another example discussed in Harvard Business Review, one company implemented a mandatory week off once every seven weeks for all staff. The result? “Creativity went up 33 percent, happiness levels rose 25 percent, and productivity increased 13 percent.” The company concluded that once every seven weeks was perhaps excessive, but nonetheless the sheer productivity and creativity that came from having a rested and recharged workforce benefited the entire organization.

So the next time you hear a manager complain about a worker requesting a vacation, show them the data. And if you haven’t already, now is the time to be instituting a positive and proactive vacation policy.




7 Fixes to Make Your Home Easier to Navigate If You Have Arthritis

Kitchen counter with high stools.Arthritis doesn’t just affect the AARP set. In fact, it’s the leading cause of work-related disability, affecting nearly a quarter of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis is actually a “catch all” term for more than 100 joint-related diseases and conditions, including gout, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

If you’re one of those suffering with this disability, you know how challenging even the simplest tasks can be. But while major home renovations might seem daunting, there are some relatively easy hacks that can make a home friendlier for those living with arthritis.

1. Add some kitchen gadgets.

Yes, we all have too many one-use items like garlic crushers and potato ricers. But if you love to cook (or just love to eat) and have arthritis, we can guarantee that some additional tools will never be perceived as clutter in the “gadget” drawer or on the counter. Here are four that are likely to become indispensable:

  • Jar opener: Grip the top better without having to squeeze harder
  • Food chopper: Put down the knife and let this handy helper do the work
  • Appliance knob grips: Make the knobs on your stove, faucet, and other appliances bigger and easier to grasp with these enlarged coverings
  • Grabber: Easily retrieve dropped items without bending or stooping

2. Make two quick fixes for a safer bathroom.

While you might not want to undertake a bathroom overhaul, there are two must-do fixes you can implement:

  • Raised toilet seat: This goes right over the existing one to make it easier to reach without altering your existing fixture.
  • Bars and handrails: Bathing safety should never be taken lightly. Grips will ensure you don’t slip getting out of the shower or tub, and they now come in more decorative-looking choices these days — more like a towel bar — in a variety of finishes to lessen an institutional feel.

3. Purchase items in smaller quantities.

Yes we all love the thrill of saving money with bulk buys, but a huge bottle of soap or laundry detergent can be unwieldy. At the least, make sure you have assistance to put the larger contents into a smaller container for everyday use.

4. Make sure there are no trip hazards.

Check that your flooring is smooth, but not slippery. That might mean replacing worn carpet or covering slick hardwoods with carpet. If you don’t want to cover your lovely floors, you can consider area rugs, but they can be especially dangerous since it’s easy to catch a toe under the corner. Ensure they are stuck to the floor with sticky mats.

5. Climb carefully.

A two-story home can be a challenge if you have to navigate the stairs frequently. The best advice is to make sure that your items for daily living are downstairs, so even if your bedroom is up, you won’t be making multiple trips up and down the stairs. You can even equip a downstairs powder room with a second set of supplies you use frequently, like your toothbrush and toiletries, to eliminate trips.

If you do have to navigate stairs, at least occasionally, make sure that they are covered with a nonstick surface, such as a runner that is anchored down. Then make sure the handrails are easy to grasp – a rail on each side is best, so you might want to install a second one. Another trick is to put colored tape on the edge of each step to make them more visible.

6. Swap out more comfortable seating.

Low chairs and couches can be hard to rise from so make sure that at least your favorite chair is a comfortable height. A dining table that’s counter-height, outfitted with bar stools, can be a smart switch.

7. Declutter and reorganize.

The best overall tip is to take sure that your house is easy to navigate. That means getting rid of excess items that are in your way, from unnecessary furniture and lamps, to closets that are so stuffed you can’t locate the item you are looking for.

Then organize the house to your comfort, such as keeping everyday items within arms’ reach. That might mean moving dishes around in your kitchen, reshelving staples in your pantry to be at eye level and making sure that the most frequently worn items are front and center in your closet or drawers.

These few easy fixes can help you live more easily with an arthritis disability.




Why Disability Insurance Matters

Person with broken arm typing on laptop.This article originally appeared in Human Resource Executive. 

Throughout my career, I have usually been the interviewer, but occasionally I’ve also been the interviewee. Whichever side of the table I have sat on over the past three decades, my least favorite question is always: What keeps you up at night?

I spent the early part of my career in healthcare, first working with Olympic and elite athletes, obese children, pregnant and post-natal women and the apparently well general community; and then running industrial medicine programs. The only thing that keeps me up at night from either a work or personal standpoint is if someone is hurt, suffering or dead on my watch. That’s the gift working in healthcare gives you—lifelong perspective.

So, for me, the sleepless night query is a lazy question. It’s generally code for something along the lines of: “What big problem are you working on?” or “What do you believe is the most challenging issue for employers today?”

Neither of those questions, however, stimulates me to give the interesting answer the person is seeking. But this one does: What distracts you during the day?

When I am trying to solve a problem for which there is no easy solution, almost everything I read or hear causes me to consider how that information might relate to my problem.

Whether working in healthcare, for an insurance company, consulting with employers or running a nonprofit, the basic and vexing problem I’m trying to solve is behavior change and how, ultimately, human beings evaluate and respond to risk.

Here’s what I’ve learned. Essentially, we’re baked and done at approximately 18 years of age. Around that time, your body executes an efficiency review. Any neural pathways your brain hasn’t used are trimmed away. (Note: We have also learned, however, that if you need a pathway back after something traumatic such as a stroke happens, it can regrow with dedicated rehabilitation.)

What is the impact of this spring cleaning of the brain? The person you were as an 18-year-old is, in some ways, your setpoint. If you exercised, ate seven to 10 fruits and vegetables a day, were the right weight for your height, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink more than one alcoholic beverage a day, always wore a seatbelt, saved money for a rainy day, did the healthcare and dental visits recommended for someone your age, etc., you’re set up for a reasonably good physical and fiscal life. Even if you stray from these behaviors due to changing life circumstances, it is easier to get back to these habits because the neural framework is there to support you.

But if your 18-year-old self had some room for improvement, you can undergo changes as you become older and wiser. It will be simply more difficult for you to execute, since you will be working against your neural wiring.

So what does this background have to do with employee benefits?

The longer I work in and around employee benefits, the more I’ve come to appreciate that there are enormous advantages to health- and financial-benefit programs that either a nation or an employer selected and paid for.

Unfortunately, most adults evaluate hazards differently than risk-considering people like me, HR executives or actuaries.

When Texas cattle producers sued Oprah Winfrey for creating “a lynch-mob mentality” among viewers during a 1998 episode on beef safety at the time of the mad-cow-disease scare, a risk-communications consultant named Peter Sandman described a formula for how people evaluate risk: Risk = Hazard + Outrage. Sandman wrote (bracketed words are mine):

“To the experts, risk means expected annual mortality [or financial ruin]. But to the public (and even the experts when they go home at night), risk means much more than that. Let’s redefine terms. Call the death rate (what [many] experts mean by risk) “hazard.” Call all the other factors, collectively, “outrage.” Risk, then, is the sum of hazard and outrage. The public pays too little attention to hazard; the experts pay absolutely no attention to outrage. Not surprisingly, they rank risks differently.”

During and following World War II, when most developed nations chose to provide its residents with healthcare and financial benefits, they unconsciously acknowledged our frailty as humans in evaluating risk.

On Jan. 11, 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt attempted to persuade Congress and the nation of the value of a “second bill of rights” (also known as an economic bill of rights) during his State of the Union address. Included on the list were the right to adequate medical care—and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health—and the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment. Several of FDR’s rights were addressed in programs such as Social Security. But employers continued to bear some of the onus they picked up during World War II by not abandoning employee benefits such as healthcare coverage.

As employee-benefits costs—led by healthcare expenses and poor pension investments—began to incur precipitous financial consequences for businesses during the 20th century, employers began the shift to cost-sharing with employees. (It’s a trend that continues today.) The advent of this change, coupled with the rise of cafeteria plans, put workers in the risk-assessment driver’s seat. They often made selections that make me shudder.

The latest information that has me losing some proverbial sleep at night is this: An analysis of economic research by a New York Times reporter that showed a trip to the hospital can mean a permanent reduction in income for a substantial fraction of Americans. Some people bounce right back, but many never work as much again.

To read the rest of this post, please click here.




8 Creative Ways to Enjoy Summer That Don’t Cost a Fortune

Ferris wheelIs everyone playing while you’re working? We get it: It can feel painful to sit at your desk when the weather warms. But there’s no reason to forfeit fun in the sun.

Here are eight ways to enjoy summer, without going into debt on a pricey vacation.

At work

1. Eat lunch al fresco: There’s nothing like an hour in the sun to recharge your batteries. But don’t waste money on an overpriced salad at the local café. Brown bag it to a park or even just a nearby bench, then take a stroll after you’ve eaten. At least one study has connected a lunchtime walk with increased enthusiasm and less fatigue and stress when workers returned to the office.

2. Ask about flexible hours: Something about a sunny summer morning makes you want to get out of bed with the birds (or the birds might just be waking you!). Some people prefer to get their day started and head straight into the office, then leave earlier to enjoy an extended late afternoon. See if your HR department will allow you to flex your hours at least part of the week and then take advantage of an early departure to enjoy an afternoon hike or a spin on the Ferris wheel at the local carnival when it’s less crowded. You can even finish your work at home later that evening if you need to.

3. Take the meeting outside: Everyone is feeling the same summer fever so be the hero and move from your boring conference room to an outdoor location. Even claiming a far corner of the parking lot can feel like a respite when you feel the sun on your face.

4. Take days off strategically: If you’re not able to plan an extended getaway, see if you can create your own mini trips. The trick is to take Fridays off so that you have three uninterrupted days to play. Plan short getaways to nearby towns, go camping or just be a tourist in your own town on a staycation. (Trust us: There’s nothing like taking in a matinee to really feel indulgent!) Try taking every other Friday off in July and August and see how much summer fun you can cram in without dealing with crowds and overpriced lodging and travel costs.

After work/ on the weekends

5. Find a festival: Art. Music. Food. Doesn’t matter. Nothing says summer like a festival. Beware of some that can be budget busters, especially if rides are involved, but many even allow you to browse for free or a nominal fee. Find samples to graze on or bring your own snacks. But do enjoy that elephant ear if you’ve been craving one!

6. Grow your own produce: A summer vegetable garden will get you outside and also help you eat healthier — while saving a bundle on weekly produce. If you’re not one for a green thumb or don’t have ample space, a farmer’s market is a great alternative to once again — be outside.

7. Streamline your errands: It can be brutal to spend a lovely afternoon running errands, but we all need to grocery shop and get the dry cleaning. Or, do we? Sometimes ordering online can actually save you money, even despite the nominal service or shipping fee, since you won’t be tempted to impulse buy, a habit that costs Americans a whopping $5,400 annually If you must do some errands in person, plan them efficiently, which not only saves time, but gas, as you avoid backtracking.

8. Use “nature’s gym:” Summer mornings are glorious times to go for a walk or bike ride, and even if you work full time, there’s still plenty of light to do the same in the afternoon — maybe even hit a nearby hiking trail or play an active game of tag with the kids. Bonus: You can probably put your health club membership on hold to save some cash. Many gyms allow a “freeze,” until it’s, well, freezing.




5 Qualities of The Most Successful HR Leaders

Team of people, with people at center shaking handsVisionary human resource leaders are in strong demand. 

The Mercer Global Talent Trends 2018 Study argues that as organizations accelerate their transformation efforts, ”putting people at the heart of the change makes HR pivotal.” Gallup meanwhile calls HR leaders the “stewards and keepers of the culture of an organization.”

Gallup shows the numbers behind this claim: “Just four in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that the mission and purpose of their organization makes them feel their job is important. By doubling that ratio to eight in 10 employees, organizations could realize a 41 percent reduction in absenteeism, a 33 percent improvement in quality, or in the case of healthcare, even a 50 percent drop in patient safety incidents.”

So their impact can be change-making. But what makes a HR leader truly great?

Here are five qualities:

They’re coaches.

As an industry, HRs benefit the workforce by acting as coaches and relationship-builders.

In 2015, the professional services firm Zenger Folkman analyzed 360 degree feedback data on 2,187 HR leaders around the world. The findings were published in an article in Harvard Business Review. “One of the most positive areas for HR leaders in general was that they were truly concerned about developing others,” the article explains. “This set them apart from leaders in other functions, who did not score highly on this skill. They were also rated positively on providing coaching, acting as a mentor, and giving feedback in a helpful way.”  

They’re rich in knowledge.

HR leaders need a deep well of knowledge to draw from about everything from labor laws to benefits. This is something we’re particularly aware of at The Council for Disability Awareness. As benefits become important markers of a strong company culture—and voluntary or worksite benefits in particular rise in popularity—HR leaders need to be fluent in explaining the entire range of benefits. This is particularly true when it comes to knowing lesser known benefits like disability insurance.   

They see the forest for the trees.

A sports coach keeps their eye on the upcoming game as well as never losing sight of the championship. The same is true of the best HR leaders—they’re strategic. They have an ability to focus on the immediate problems while continually moving the organization towards long-term goals. This helps them drive business strategy and activate real change.

They know their metrics and analytics.

Metrics are vital to the HR function, from employer turnover rates to calculating the cost/benefit analysis of a financial wellness program. But you also need to know how to use those numbers.

“Most people use data the way drunks use the lamppost: for support rather than for illumination,” says Alexis Fink of Intel in a brilliant article about this by SHRM. Fink explains this further: “HR metrics are operational measures, addressing how efficient, effective and impactful an organization’s HR practices are. Talent analytics, on the other hand, focus on decision points, guiding investment decisions” that impact the workforce and related matters.”

They’re great humans.

Finally, this is human resources after all. Matthew Chapman, CEO and Executive Chairman of ChapmanCG, told Boss Magazine: “It may sound obvious, but fast-rising HR leaders are great humans. They look to make a connection, and because of that, they are respected by the business, their HR colleagues, their direct teams as well as their leaders.”




9 Ways to Save Money on Fruits & Vegetables

Bowl of vegetables on a wooden table.Are you one of those people who buys fruits and vegetables only to let them spoil? Your intentions may be good but your actions waste nutritious food and your hard-earned money.

Here are nine sure-fire ways to save money on fruits and vegetables.

1. Plan a weekly menu

If you go to the grocery store without a plan for how you’ll use your purchases, chances are you’ll buy things you may not need and miss ingredients that could have completed a meal idea. Save time and money by putting together a menu plan, with at least your daily dinners for the week thought through. Plan to use ingredients that ripen quickly early in the week and longer-lived produce later and you’ll avoid a lot of potential waste.

2. Know how to properly store your produce

Tomatoes in the refrigerator? No way. Herbs on the counter? Definitely not. Knowing the proper way to store your fruits and vegetables can make a huge difference in how long they last.

3. Don’t always buy organic

Studies have shown that pesticides used on non-organic produce can build up in the human body. But not all fruits and vegetables have the same amounts of residual pesticides. This list from the Environmental Working Group shows you some of the conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables that are perfectly fine to buy.

4. Buy what’s in season

Seasonal fruits and vegetables are frequently less expensive than those that are out of season and must be shipped from warmer climates. They also typically taste better. Don’t know what’s in season? Ask your grocer or check the Department of Agriculture Seasonal Produce Guide.

5. Buy what’s on sale

Planning your weekly menu around the fruits and vegetables your local market has on sale can result in significant savings over time. Plus, you’re more likely to use those products since you have a plan for them.

6. Stock up on frozen foods …

Of course, the items you need on a regular basis aren’t necessarily going to be on sale when you want them. That’s why it’s good to stock up on the frozen version of these items when they’re on sale. Frozen corn, green beans and other staples last for months in the freezer, and those without any sauces or seasoning are particularly versatile.

7. … & canned goods

The same goes for canned items like crushed tomatoes, pineapple and beans. Buying several cans when they’re on sale means you’ll always have them when you need them.

8. Grow your own

Even if it’s just some herbs in a window box, growing your own produce can save serious money, especially if you cook a lot. You’ll spend pennies on the dollar compared to buying at your local grocer or farmers market.

9. Join a CSA

If you want the freshest vegetables and fruits delivered throughout the growing season, Community Supported Agriculture can be a great and frugal option. CSA groups are all over the country, especially metropolitan areas where access to farms may be limited. A word of caution, though: You may end up with large quantities of fruits and vegetables, so you’ll need a plan for sharing, cooking or preserving them.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius. The Council for Disability Awareness is an affiliate partner of Policygenius. 




Educating Employees About Disability Insurance? Ask Them 5 Questions

HR leader educating a group of employees.Employers are offering more and more voluntary benefits—and workers want these benefits. A 2017 study showed that nearly one third of eligible employees were signing up for voluntary offerings (that’s a higher participation rate than in earlier years). 

Amy Hollis is the national leader of voluntary benefits for HR consultancy Willis Towers Watson. She recently spoke to Workforce about their recent survey. It shows that 70 percent of employers claim voluntary benefits will be an important part of their value proposition in coming years. “Companies are using voluntary benefits to enrich their offerings without additional cost,” she said.

While there is a win-win element to this—it’s a good economic choice for both employers and employees—the story finishes with a stark warning. Rob Shestack, chairman and CEO of the Voluntary Benefits Association in Philadelphia says that HR teams need to be ready to educate. “The most frustrating thing is when HR makes the effort to provide these programs then does passive enrollment,” he says. “It’s like saying you don’t care if people use them or not.”

When it comes to disability insurance, education is that much more important. James Reid of CDA member company MetLife argues something similar in a story in Benefit News:While employees have a general idea of the benefits they use most often (medical, dental or vision), they don’t always grasp the value or need for some of the other benefits which may be available to them (disability or accident insurance, for example).”

Disability insurance is one of the most critical forms of coverage for working Americans—and one of most overlooked. Part of the problem is that people simply don’t understand how relevant it is for modern life

Here are five questions you can ask as a framework for understanding what disability insurance is: 

1. What does disability mean in this context?

Many people hear the word disability and assume it only means catastrophic health issues. In fact, disability can refer to a broken leg from a skiing accident, a pulled back while cleaning out your garage, a cancer diagnosis, or a pregnancy that can put an employee out of work for days, weeks, or months at a time.

Share the five most common reasons that keep people out of work for long periods: Pain in the back and neck, cancer, complications from pregnancy, and mental health issues all rank before accidental injuries, which many assume is the leading cause of disability. You can also share infographics.

2. What are the statistical chances of becoming disabled?

Eighty percent of us live with optimism bias. That’s to say we don’t have a realistic understanding of the risk of becoming ill or injured. This is particularly at work with the younger generations who have grown up with some of the most supportive parents in modern history.

These are the numbers: According to the Social Security Administration, more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will be out of work for a year or more for a variety of reasons before they reach normal retirement age. This includes common health conditions such as knee, shoulder, or back injuries, cancer, heart problems, or depression.

Add to that the fact that nearly six percent of workers every year will experience a short-term disability due to illness, injury, or pregnancy. Three quarters of these claims last up to two and a half months, and the rest can last for up to six months or a year.

3. How would you pay your bills?

Ask rhetorical questions as you educate: Will an employee be able to pay their mortgage, phone bill or contribute to their health insurance or retirement plans should a pregnancy, illness, or injury take them out of work for a few days, weeks, or more? This is about laying the foundations for their long-term financial stability.  

Data from the Federal Reserve shows that 40 percent of Americans do not have enough savings to pay for an unexpected $400 bill. Disability insurance pays a portion of someone’s salary when they need to miss work due to an illness, injury, or having a baby. For those who are single, disability insurance is the second most important insurance they can carry after health insurance. And if employees have a family that depends upon them, this insurance gives them an income stream if they need to leave work.

4. What does Workers’ Comp and SSDI cover?

Employees need a realistic understanding of the various safety nets that are in place should they become ill or injured—so they can make an informed decision:

  • Workers’ Compensation: Workers’ Comp only applies to accidents done on the worksite. Disabling illnesses or injuries are much more likely to be non-occupational in origin, which would rule out that coverage.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): The Social Security Administration provides Social Security disability benefits for eligible individuals who have a disability that lasts for one year or longer. Many applicants are denied due to a lack of work history, lack of medical evidence, the temporary nature of their condition, or the fact that people may still be able to work outside of their profession. There are three important things to bear in mind: 1) workers who become disabled off-the-job won’t always qualify for SSDI, 2) they can face average wait times of 600 days for a hearing (that’s nearly two years), and 3) if they do eventually get benefits, the monthly amount (averaging around $1,200, based on the most recent data) probably isn’t enough to help them keep up with their ongoing expenses.  

5. If you want to start a family—what is your financial plan for maternity leave?

If your company doesn’t offer paid maternity leave, this is an important point to raise with women in the workforce. Disability insurance is a critical benefit for many new mothers in the U.S. Indeed, pregnancy is the most common cause of short-term disability (STD) claims. Plans typically cover two weeks before and six weeks after a routine pregnancy. 

Here’s an important note: One of the major differences between pregnancy and other types of disability claims is predictability. For a healthy woman, purchasing coverage through their workplace in anticipation of a planned pregnancy can be a fairly easy transaction. The key is that they buy coverage before they become pregnant. This way there is little risk of underwriting issues or denial of their claim due to a pre-existing condition limitation. (Read more on this here.)

By asking these questions, you can broaden the minds of your employees and give them the larger context of how disability insurance works in real life. That way, it isn’t just vague words on a list in a company intranet.  

To learn more about disability insurance, or to offer your colleagues further reading, guide them to our new consumer microsite: RealityCheckup.org  




How to Build an Emergency Fund

Life preserver in the ocean.If you had to pay an unexpected $400 bill today, would you be able to without reaching for a credit card or asking for a loan? If your answer is no, you’re not alone. And you need to keep reading this blog.

A large proportion of working Americans are in the same boat, lacking liquidity or cash reserves, amid an overall feeling that they’re drowning in bills.

The fifth edition of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Household Economics & Decision Making (SHED) was released last week. Once again it asked whether people would be able to pay for an unexpected $400 expense in cash or the equivalent of cash. Forty percent said they wouldn’t have enough. This was a slightly improvement from the 49 percent in 2013. 

According to a LendingTree report in 2017, four in five Americans are in the red—and a quarter of those in debt do not have a plan to pay it off.

An emergency fund is your essential starting point. There are many reasons why this is so highly recommended by financial experts: If an unexpected medical bill, car repair, or appliance disaster arises, you’re able to pay for that cost without adding further to your debt. This will help you then shore up even more helpful forms of income protection, such as disability insurance.

Here’s how to build your emergency fund: 

1. Set a goal

Goals are incredibly important in financial planning. A vague wish won’t get you anywhere. You need to make yourself accountable. Finance expert Dave Ramsey advises that people set the goal of saving a $1,000 emergency fund as soon as possible. You can also work out what three to six months of living expenses would be and aim to put that away. 

2. Plan a place for the fund

You don’t want it hanging out murkily in the midst of your active checking account.

A high yield savings account is a great place to store the money. You need to be able to access it should an emergency arise, but not have it mixing in with your regular money. At the very least, put it in a savings account.

3. Build a budget

In order to make this work, you need transparency into your daily habits, and where you may be losing money without realizing it. By building a budget (and there are a whole host of apps to help you do that) you can track your expenses in razor detail. Spend some time with your budget, and study your income and outgoings. 

4. Lower your expenses

  • Cut back on unnecessary items: Do you need to eat out at restaurants? Could you take a packed lunch to work more regularly? Do you really need your cable TV subscription? Go through your budget and identify areas you could cut back on costs. Everything counts. Even if it seems like a tiny action, those will add up over time.
  • Renegotiate your bills: Have you asked your various providers if they can provide you with better rates? It’s definitely worth the time to ask. From your internet bill to credit card interest rates, there are a whole host of items you can try to negotiate, so pick up the phone and have a conversation.
  • Add all of these savings into your emergency fund: Make a regular habit of shifting those extra dollars into your savings account.

5. Increase your income

In addition to cutting things back, how can you expand your income? 

  • Save the raise: If you get a raise, don’t just expand your lifestyle and indulge in more treats for yourself. Act as if nothing happened. Stick to your previous budget and siphon all that extra cash into your fund. By doing this, you’ll really be able to build up that nest egg quickly.
  • Sell something: Do you have a guitar lying in your basement that’s gathering dust? Throw it up on eBay. Do an inventory of your possessions that others may like, and sell off what you don’t need.
  • Use that tax refund: If you get a tax refund or a gift, rather than immediately splurging it, apply your inner-strength and shift it into your savings.
  • Find a side hustle: You may already be working full time, but is there another job you could take on to help bring in some extra resources? Maybe it’s walking dogs, working as a tutor, or even starting a blog that has money-making potential.

6. Automate everything

Make sure all your bills get paid on time by automating everything. If your budget allows you to shift a certain amount of money into your savings each month, automate this too. You can even think about setting up a separate “Bill Pay” account, and automatically move that money over as soon as each paycheck comes in (more on how to do that here.)

Once you put these steps into place, you’ll be moving in the right direction. The wonderful thing about saving money is that once you start to actually do it and see that nest egg start to form, you’ll become inspired and spurred on by your success. This activates a virtuous cycle of change. 




How Can I Get Disability Insurance?

Image of a man with the question: How can I get disability insurance?Disability insurance is one of the most important forms of insurance for working Americans. The financial expert Dave Ramsey calls it “a necessity.” It has been described as a valuable benefit by NPR while NBC News calls it “more important for singles than just about anyone.”

Having a form of income protection for when you’re injured, ill or pregnant is part of a solid financial plan. But how do you go about actually getting a policy? 

Here are your next steps:

1. Talk to your employer

If you have a full-time job, you may already have access to private disability insurance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at least half of U.S. non-government employees have disability insurance. So start by talking to your HR manager. 

Here are a few things you can ask:

  • If they offer disability insurance, is it employer-paid, employee-paid, or a combination of the two? The general rule is, if your employer pays some or all of the premium, then some or all of any benefits you collect will be taxable to you. Your employer may offer a voluntary plan where you will need to pay the entire premium. However, it grants you access to better rates — and any benefits you collect will not be taxed. Ask how much it costs and how you can sign up for it.
  • What is the benefit amount for the policy? It won’t be your full salary, as your employer wants some incentive for you to return to the job. Policies generally range from 40 to 70 percent of your salary.
  • How long will my payments last? A policy will indicate the maximum length of time that benefits will last. Long-term disability insurance may cover anywhere between two years through retirement age.
  • When will payments begin? This will depend on whether it’s short-term or long-term disability insurance. Both types of coverage include waiting periods. A waiting period is the time between when you leave work to have your baby or you are diagnosed with a condition that prevents you from working, and when payments begin.
  • What is the policy’s definition of disability? The definition of disability varies among policies and carriers. Some consider it related to you not being able to perform the duties of your specific job while others take into account your training and experience. You may carry a policy that pays you if you can’t perform your “own job,” “own occupation,” or “any occupation” that reasonably matches your knowledge, training and experience.
  • If you don’t have access to disability insurance at work: Ask why not. You could ask whether they would consider starting a voluntary policy for employees.

2. Talk to your financial advisor

If you aren’t currently offered disability insurance at work, or the amount they are offering won’t cover your basic living costs, consider purchasing individual insurance.

Your financial advisor or insurance agent will be able to help you identify the amount you need, the most suitable amount of time you’d want to receive payments, and which plan makes the most sense for your unique needs.

If you’re self-employed or a business owner, this is definitely something you should consider. (More on that here.)

3. Talk to associations

You can also access more affordable rates for disability insurance through a plan offered to members of a professional society — for example, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants or the Freelancer’s Union — or a college alumni association. If you’re already a member of such an association, ask about their disability insurance offerings. 

4. Visit RealityCheckup.org

In the spring of 2018, The Council for Disability Awareness launched a new consumer microsite that unpacks what disability insurance is, why you need it, and how to get it. Visit the site to learn the language associated with various policies, and find useful links. You can also listen to CDA experts discussing the topic on radio talk shows.

5. Talk to our member companies

The member companies of The Council for Disability Awareness formed this nonprofit organization solely to educate consumers, employers, and financial advisors about working adults’ risk to be out of work for a period of time without a paycheck. View the member organizations here.

6. Lock in your coverage

The thing about accidents, illness and injury, is that you have no idea when they will happen. So this is the sort of policy you’ll want to lock in sooner rather than later. Bear in mind that like life insurance, your rates will also be cheaper the younger you are. By securing a policy now, you can relax knowing that a safety net is in place. 




Cancer and the Healing Power of Community (Video)

Portrait of Lisa Gohra and Dave BurkeIt started with what seemed to be a sinus infection. “But it just wouldn’t go away,” remembers Lisa Gohra. So she went to see her doctor.

He put her through a series of tests: ultrasounds, chest X-rays, CAT scans, needle biopsies. Then the diagnosis arrived: Advanced Papillary Thyroid Cancer with a tall cell variant. The variant made an otherwise treatable cancer very aggressive.

In a moving video that the American Cancer Society created this spring (watch below), Lisa Gohra discusses how she was able to move through her journey into cancer. She was diagnosed with a metastatic form of the disease, which meant it had spread to other parts of her body. And it was stage four.

She says her recovery — and coming to terms with living with an incurable form of cancer — came down to a decision to focus on the kindness of the community supporting her.

Gratitude as an anchor

Lisa underwent two lengthy surgeries to remove a nine centimeter tumor that had invaded her thyroid, as well as more than 70 cervical lymph nodes and tissues within her neck, trachea and vocal cords. She received inpatient care at Brigham Women’s Hospital with outpatient care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. In the video, Lisa explains how she made a conscious decision to focus on gratitude for her team of doctors led by Dr. Tom Thomas — and that became her mental anchor.

Then came the kindness of the Hope Lodge in Boston. Following her surgeries, Lisa had to go through nine weeks of specialized care and radiation treatment, five days a week. Considering her home was 90 miles away in West Springfield, Western Massachusetts, the only way she and her husband Dave could have made it to the treatments would have been to move into a hotel in Boston.

The AstraZeneca Hope Lodge stepped in to help. Hope Lodge is run by the American Cancer Society and provides a free home away from home for cancer patients and caregivers who need to visit Boston area hospitals for their treatment. It’s one of more than 30 centers around the country that provide this remarkable form of support for free.

The key role of the caregiver

As Lisa moved through this disorienting and deeply painful time, her husband Dave Burke was the stable force, the caregiver, and chief cheerleader. He, of course, still needed to work a full time job. Both Lisa and Dave work for MassMutual, a founding and current member company of The Council for Disability Awareness, and this is where the next form of kindness appeared.

“My company was so supportive of us,” explains Dave. “When I told them, they came and sought me out in person and said, ‘Tell us what’s going on. What do you need, and what can we do to make your life easier?’

“I said, you know what? I’m going to need some flexibility with my work arrangement. I may need to work remote for a couple of months so I can be with Lisa and have time for our family,” Dave pauses and adds: “That was such a weight taken off my shoulders.”

The value of disability insurance

Dave spent more than two months working remotely in their room in Hope Lodge. He spends his days working at MassMutual supporting its disability income insurance business, and says he had a profound insight into just how powerful this form of insurance is when he and Lisa actually needed it themselves.

Lisa’s group disability insurance kicked in soon after she left work, and she also had an individual disability income insurance policy that supplemented her income. This meant she received a substantial amount of her income throughout her time off work. “Because we had the insurance in place, all Lisa had to do was focus on getting better,” explains Dave. “The bills got paid.”

According to data from the Integrated Benefits Institute, cancer is the second most common reason for long-term disability claims. Yet while staying at the Hope Lodge, Dave says he became aware of just how many families didn’t have disability income insurance coverage — and how the lack of such a financial safety net was creating considerable amounts of stress.

“About 90 percent of the families I talked to didn’t have it,” he says. “I would talk to people there and the biggest thing that I think hurt them in their recovery was when they had that financial stress. There were so many people saying things like, ‘I need to get better soon because I’m going to lose my house’, or ‘I’m going to lose my job with my health insurance.’”

Giving back

Lisa has now returned to work full time but she and Dave are continuing their practice of gratitude. Every few months, they load up their car with boxes of food and drink, and drive back to Boston’s Hope Lodge to bring donations to the families still living there.

“I don’t ever want to forget what I was given,” says Dave. “I never wanted to forget that there were people there for me in my toughest time.”

To make a donation to Boston’s Hope Lodge, you can click here. To learn more about disability insurance and how it works, visit RealityCheckup.org