Yes, you can make remote workers feel like part of the office – Here’s how

Remote work has exploded over the past decade: The “State of the Remote Job Marketplace” report from FlexJobs finds that roughly 43 percent of U.S. workers performed their roles away from the office at least occasionally in 2017, up from fewer than 10 percent in 2007.

The reasons employees prefer remote work are many, from avoiding a brutal commute to working more comfortably if you have a disability. And even though remote workers are typically highly effective, it can still take a toll on both parties in terms of collaboration.

That’s why companies that commit to making offsite workers feel engaged will reap the benefits in both production and retention. Here are four ways to accomplish it.

  1. Create your own version of “face time.”

Sure “FaceTime” can never really replace real face time, but managers should focus on creating ways employees can seek feedback, whether they are looking for instruction on a project or coaching.

Setting up a weekly or monthly phone or video call is one way to generate regular communication, but it’s wise to offer additional options, such as “office hours” a couple of times a week when managers make it clear they are available for questions. Managers may let their virtual team know that they’ll be available from, say, noon to 1 p.m. three days a week, alerting them that’s a good time to call, text or send a Slack message for immediate feedback.

  1. Make conference calls more inclusive.

If you’ve ever been the sole caller amid a conference room full of team members, you know how isolating that can feel. That’s why managers need to be careful to prevent the offsite worker from feeling like a side note.

First, make sure your tech is up to par so that the sound is clear, and there’s as little lag time as possible. Then set up ground rules where people in the conference room introduce themselves before speaking – unless it’s a small team where there’s no room for confusion. Be fanatical about curtailing side conversations that can happen when colleagues gather together so that the person on the phone doesn’t feel left out.

One genius way to avoid all the meeting miscommunication is to have everyone call in on their own separate line. Often the rhetoric is clearer when you’re not gathered around a squawky speakerphone, and the remote workers won’t feel as though they’re missing out by not being there at the table.

Finally, if you’re working in different time zones, try to find a mutually agreeable time, or at least rotate the calls so that the remote worker isn’t constantly forced to call in during the wee hours of the morning or dinner time.

  1. Build team camaraderie.

Yes, there are times that the team is all going to go to happy hour to celebrate a promotion or have a birthday lunch. But there are ways you can include your offsite employees, too, with a little creativity. For example, you could have the account win celebration in a conference room equipped with video chat. For extra points, surprise a remote employee by sending them their own birthday cake on their special day or have lunch delivered to their home so you can all “eat together.”

Make sure their role in team success is always acknowledged, whether through a company-wide email or newsletter or an announcement at a town hall that’s broadcast to them, too.

In addition, consider whether there are times that you could include them in person. For example, if they live reasonably close, consult their calendar first and schedule the celebratory lunch with ample lead time so they can plan to attend. If they are farther way, consider the value to be had by bringing them in a couple of times a year for team meetings or other events so they can enjoy the in-person dynamic that contributes to success.

  1. Keep the lines of communication open.

Above all, make it clear that remote employees can have your ear just as readily as the onsite team members can. While you don’t have to be constantly “on call,” it’s a good idea to respond to emails or texts as soon as is feasible so your employee doesn’t feel as though they are being ignored because they are not down the hall.

For many teams, a chat app like Slack can take the place of casual in-person conversations. Everyone will feel more cohesive if they are able to trade banter, along with project logistics, via an informal channel.




7 Ways To Save on Commuting Costs – One Will Work For You

The thought of having to pay just to go to work can be annoying, but most of us do. In fact one 2015 survey found that the average American spends $2,600 on their commute.

Certainly all those gas costs, parking fees and tolls can take their toll. If you’re looking to reduce your outlay, check out these seven ways to help reduce your commuting costs.

  1. Figure out the optimum time to commute.

Sometimes we can’t just waltz into work whenever we want, or we might have a daycare schedule to work around, but if you do have a modicum of flexibility, you might be surprised at the difference in your commute that even 30 minutes or so can make. And less time on the road translates into burning less fuel – not to mention patience.

Given the amount of flexibility your personal schedule allows, test the waters by going in at different times or use an app like Waze to scope out various commute times to see what’s best. You might see a significant difference by leaving your house earlier – and many downtown garages even offer you a better rate if you park before a certain time. Use the extra time to get work done in a quiet office or even just grab a relaxing breakfast and catch up on some reading. You also might find that evening commutes dissipate around 6:30 or so; you could use that time to hit your office’s fitness center or run some errands.

  1. Optimize your route.

And speaking of traffic apps, never leave home without one working for you. Even if you are convinced that a certain route is fastest, anything can happen to cause an unexpected traffic jam on a given day. Best to know what streets to avoid before you’re stuck in the crawl.

  1. Take public transportation.

Seems obvious, right? But you might not have realized that in many cities, public options have improved from just the slow city bus. Many areas have spent big bucks on light rail or other choices that can get you where you’re going even faster and more comfortably. And if you’re in one of the many urban areas that offer scooters for public rent, you can cover that “last mile” even quicker.

  1. Check into any benefits for commuting reimbursement.

Many times your onboarding process might have been so hectic that you didn’t take the time to fully understand all the benefits available to you. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2018 Employee Benefits study, about 13 percent of companies offer a transit subsidy and 12 percent offer a parking subsidy so make sure you’re not inadvertently forgoing it.

  1. Get the best price on gas.

With gas prices on the rise, you want to get the best value you can. Some stations seems to adjust depending on the day of the week, so watch your pump to see if there’s any pattern and fill up when it’s cheapest. Also consider using an app like GasBuddy that crowdsources gas prices so you can make sure you’re getting the best deal around you.




Tackling the summer slide: Promote employee productivity with a twist

The lazy days of late summer are great…unless it’s your employees who are feeling a little bit too much summer fever. Because even though it’s the time of year when we want to hit the pool, the beach or the park, the work still has to get done.

However, employees have become more emphatic about “work/life” balance, and offering appealing policies can help fuel retention, an issue on the minds of almost every HR professional these days. That’s why it’s important to do what you can to promote employee-friendly offerings, while not turning the place into a free-for-all.

Here are six ways that companies can help their employees feel like they’re getting a little taste of summer while still getting the work done.

  1. Take meetings outside.

Remember when you were in school, and your teacher let the class take their reading circle to the playground on a sunny day? Heaven! Outside is the only place employees want to be, enjoying a little breath of fresh air. And it might even help them work better: According to the L.L.Bean 2018 Work and the Outdoors Survey, 86 percent of indoor workers would like to spend more time outside during the workday, with nearly three-quarters saying it would improve their mood and lower their stress levels. So see if you can indulge the team by heading out for a meeting in a nearby park or even in a green corner of the parking lot.

  1. Relax the dress code.

There’s something about capris and sandals that make you feel like you’re on vacation even if you’re working. If it’s appropriate for your workplace, consider loosening your dress code, even if it’s only on Fridays.

Make sure to put sensible limitations on the rules, such as no tank tops or athletic wear, or other specifics that are important for your particular office. If needed, remind employees that the relaxed dress code only applies to them when they are not meeting with clients or any other role restrictions you deem necessary – and recommend they keep a back-up outfit in the office in case they need to slip into something more professional for an unexpected meeting.

  1. Offer flexibility when it makes sense.

This can be tricky because not every workplace or department can accommodate flex hours equally. After all, phones still have to be answered, and client needs still must be met. But if there is an opportunity for team members to come in earlier a couple days a week – and thus leave earlier– make that an option.

“Summer Fridays,” where the office closes at noon, have become more common and probably won’t surprise clients. Or, if the phone or floor absolutely must be manned, see if you can at least rotate among the departments so there is still coverage. Of course, you have to emphasize that flexible hours don’t mean the work doesn’t get done – it just means staff has some choice of whenit gets done.

  1. Plan something fun.

Of course everyone has a different definition of “fun,” so take your culture and employees’ personalities into account before you plan an outing or event. Here are some great ideas for activities that are liable to please everyone, no matter their age, interests or abilities.

  1. Surprise them with a treat.

Same as the teacher taking the class outside, nothing says summer and “playing hooky” like the ice cream truck. So some Wednesday afternoon when it’s business as usual, surprise the office with a box of popsicles or ice cream sandwiches – or iced lattes if that’s more your team’s vibe. An unexpected treat can go a surprisingly long way in engendering employee’s goodwill and loyalty.

  1. Ask your team what they want.

And finally, if you’re out of ideas for helping employees enjoy these last few weeks of summer, find out what would make them happy. They might appreciate leaving an hour early to head out on a bike ride with their kids or coming in an hour late so they can enjoy a morning kayak session or an extra-long lunch break to soak up some rays at the park.

The bonus is that by surveying your employees, you’ll have some great intel to use when planning summer 2019.




Seven Ways to Keep Your Vacation Glow Strong

Have you recently returned from vacation, basking in the radiance that comes from relaxing in a tropical destination or enjoying new adventures with family and friends? Of course we know that vacations are fun, but they’re also good for us: In fact, a study from Expedia finds a host of benefits, with an overwhelming 96 percent of respondents saying they returned happier, 94 percent less stressed and 93 percent feeling better rested. Sixty percent even said they had a better attitude at work.

 

Unfortunately another study from the American Psychological Association found that those benefits might linger about as long as your tan…with 40 percent lamenting that vacation benefits only lasted a few days.

But you cansavor the positive effects of vacation. Here are seven ways to help prolong the vacation glow.

 

  1. Keep the evidence handy.

 

Often all it takes is a photo or memory to take us right back to the good times. So change the wallpaper on your computer to a montage of photo memories or re-create your password to be something that reminds you of your destination.

 

  1. Bring back a special souvenir.

 

Going someplace new can unlock a creative side of us or get us out of our comfort zone – new mindsets that can offer lasting benefits. The trick is to remember those wonderful feelings when you get back to the “grind,” so try to think of something you can bring home as a reminder. A special souvenir or nature-related memento such as seashells or rocks from a hiking path can be a talisman to refresh you to that carefree feeling of jumping in the waves or pride in conquering a difficult mountain hike.

 

  1. Transport the culture home.

 

And sometimes what makes a trip special isn’t an item itself but the overall vibe of the location. If you enjoyed a trip to Mexico, play some salsa music that reminds you of a fiesta you attended. Or if native cuisines held an important role in your trip, do an online search to find a recipe for the amazing Greek moussaka you had or a cocktail that you enjoyed al fresco every evening.

 

  1. Tie up loose ends before you go.

 

Coming home to a messy house or a bunch of work fires is a surefire way to completely forget all those wonderful, stress-free moments you just had. While you can’t control everything that happens while you’re gone, you can try to keep disruption to a minimum. That means taking out the kitchen trash so you don’t come back to a stinky house; adding an out-of-office message that hopefully refers callers to someone else so your email and voicemail don’t fill up; and maybe even pre-ordering groceries so your fridge is stocked with healthy fare as soon as you return.

 

  1. Ease back into it.

 

If you can, try to come home on a Friday night so you have the weekend to get your laundry done and your email cleaned out. Or at least try to put a “buffer” day on your out-of-office message to buy yourself a little time to get back in work mode. It’s brutal to have to attend an important meeting the minute you’re back in the office.

 

  1. Pay it forward.

 

Besides a bunch of hassles related to home or work responsibilities, nothing can kill a vacation afterglow faster than a startlingly high credit card bill. You will enjoy your trip much more if you pay for the majority of it before you leave, especially big expenses like the airfare and lodging, and then bring cash to cover the rest of the expenses. (Or set aside a special budget specifically for vacation expenses so the bill can be easily paid.) After all, the only thing you want lingering from your vacation is special memories, not bills.

 

  1. Plan your next outing.

 

Often the best part of vacation is the anticipation, and it can be a letdown to come home and realize you don’t have anything notable on the horizon. Of course, you should fix that with special outings every week or so, even if it’s to a park or outdoor concert, but there’s nothing like thinking of your next vacation destination to get that feeling back. So go ahead, start researching an upcoming adventure. Having something on the calendar will make it easier to jump back into work – after all, you’ve now got a new goal to save for.




Five Best Practices for Onboarding New Employees

For most HR managers today, attracting and retaining employees is at the top of their list of challenges, given the current job market. So once you’ve gone through the hard work of interviewing and hiring, you want to make sure that the employee is as pleased to be working for your company as you are to have them.

And that’s where “onboarding” can come in. While most employees are eager to make a good first impression, it’s a two-way street; in other words, the first few days on the job can set the tone for those to follow and make sure that your coveted employees doesn’t defect.

The possibility is real: One survey found that a whopping one-third of employees quit within the first six months of starting a job. Here are five tips for helping your new employees start off on the right foot, increasing the chance they will stay.

  1. Begin communication even before the first day.

The interim period from when you offered the job to when they start is a key time to continue to communicate your interest. A few emails once you’ve made the offer will assure them you are delighted to have them join you – and ideally prevent them from accepting another offer since you can never be sure who else they have been talking to. You might consider introducing them to various team members or start CCing them on internal documents. Reinforce that you don’t expect them to do anything until they show up; you just want them to know that they are part of the team.

And then allay their first day jitters and the awkwardness they may feel not knowing where or when to show up. The night before they start, send them a message that gives them all the details they need for a smooth first day – from dress code norms to what time to come in to where they should park to who will be waiting to meet them and show them around.

  1. Have them complete their paperwork at home.

Most new employees start the first day sitting in a room by themselves filling out paperwork and reading about benefits. While this is crucial information, it’s smart to send these documents to them before they start. Then they can copy down their Social Security, driver’s license and other numbers in the comfort of their own home. Having their benefits information in advance also gives them ample time to carefully consider their choices. Make sure to include information on health, dental, disability, 401 (k) and any other programs you offer so they can read it at their leisure.

  1. Introduce them to a work buddy.

Being the new kid on the block means you’re often not sure where the copy machine is, how to replace the toner in the printer or how early people typically arrive for a staff meeting. New employees can be hesitant to bug colleagues with what might seem to be “silly” questions, but the sooner they understand the norms of the office, the more at ease they will feel as part of the team. Find a friendly veteran who is willing to answer these questions to help them settle in faster.

  1. Schedule an appointment with the HR team.

Once they’ve had the chance to read over all the benefits information, schedule a short meeting where they can come in and get all their questions answered. New employees might be reticent to reach out and ask details on the disability benefits or the procedure for asking for vacation days or how to get their commuting costs reimbursed. By setting aside time for them to chat with a knowledgeable representative, they will feel more comfortable availing themselves of the benefits you offer.

  1. Look at a robust onboarding program as an investment in better performance.

While training might seem to take time away from your team’s day-to-day output, remember that investing adequate time upfront to thoroughly explain your company’s procedures and answer questions is ultimately going to yield better results.

 

When you successfully onboard an employee, you’ll be sure they understand your policies and procedures and feel confident they are contributing from the start. And a confident employee is one who is going to work harder – and stick around.

 




Team-Building Activities Your Team Will Actually Love

Trust falls. Ropes courses. Bowling or mini golf. Many offices plan a summer team-building activity designed for camaraderie, but forced group fun can cause anxiety in many. Maybe your office mates don’t know each other particularly well, or there are people of so many ages and ability levels that anything too physical can be a non-starter. The great news is that there are still a wide variety of team-building activities you can plan that everyone will love. Here are six to consider.

 

Throw a board game competition.

 

Not everyone’s great at kickball or golf but almost anyone can find the fun in a round of Monopoly or Sorry. Board games are having a resurgence, and it’s easy to see why. Everyone takes turns, works cooperatively and has a blast. Consider classics from everyone’s childhood or find a new one where everyone can learn the rules together. Depending on the size of your office, you can allow people to choose from among several or rotate every 45 minutes or so. Keep the competition level light and the snacks heavy.

 

Host a scavenger hunt.

This is another cooperative game that can be fun for all ages and abilities. Compile a list of offbeat items both inside the office and outside – if you’re close to a city, head downtown for even more fun. Have the gang take photos of the items they find, and gather back at the office after an hour or two to share wild stories and enjoy a snack.

 

Trade jobs.

What does Annette in accounting or Sam in sales do anyway? Sometimes walking a mile in another employee’s shoes can help promote better understanding – and possibly a renewed sense of appreciation and even patience. Work out a schedule where employees visit other departments to experience what others do; have each department offer a brief overview and then let the group loose to do a sample project — for example, working up a new client sales presentation or troubleshooting cybersecurity threats, just for fun, of course. After a couple of rotations, meet back and have the group share some observations or surprising insights about what they learned about other teams’ roles and challenges.

 

Plan a family day.

Often work activities fail because your employees may not want to give up precious free time to socialize with colleagues. That’s where a family fun day can serve triple duty –allowing them to be with their family, but also showing their family their workplace AND allowing coworkers to get to know each other better through their families.

Make sure there are suitable activities for all ages, from a bouncy house for the younger set, to games for older kids and a photo booth and plenty of food for everyone. If your budget allows, splurge on some sort of entertainment, maybe a music group or a family-friendly comedian. Make sure you have name tags on hand so everyone knows who belongs to who and plenty of action to encourage mingling.

 

Have a reading club.

If you don’t want to devote an entire afternoon or day to the team-building activity, or sense that this type of mixing wouldn’t be well-received by your staff, consider having a Book Club instead. Ask everyone to read the same book (you might provide copies so they don’t have to finance it) and give the team ample time to read the book and then hold a discussion to get everyone’s thoughts on it.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of recent business books that have gotten attention, or you might consider something by Malcolm Gladwell, who writes books full of engaging stories that have applications both for business and personal growth. Another option might be a book written by someone in your industry, such as “Shoe Dog” if you’re in retail or a creative field.

 

Volunteer together.

Believe it or not, almost half of respondents to one survey said their employer’s volunteer policies played a role in accepting an offer. While an ongoing volunteer program can be a powerful perk, even a one-day stint working as a group at a food bank, cooking a meal at a homeless shelter or assisting another non-profit that’s important to your team can help increase their bonds – and also give them the “helper’s high” that accompanies volunteering.

Not sure what project might resonate? Just ask! Maybe offer a couple of choices and either split up or let the group vote on which one might receive your collective power this time. Volunteering can be a huge win-win for your team and everyone whose lives they touch. And who knows…you might just spark an ongoing commitment for several of your team members.

 




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.




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.




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.”




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