The basics of the Social Security Disability Income Program

By Ted Norwood, General Counsel and Director of Representation, Integrated Benefits, Inc.

The United States Social Security Administration offers two programs—confusingly named Social Security Disability Income and Supplemental Security Income—aimed at providing or supplementing the income of people who are unable to work.

SSDI (also called Title II benefits) provides disability coverage for individuals who have paid enough Social Security taxes. The second program, SSI or Title XVI, provides a smaller benefit for people who haven’t worked long enough to qualify for Title II benefits and established a financial need.

SSDI and SSI require the same medical requirements to receive benefits. However, SSI also requires claimants to pass a stringent means, or income, test that establishes the applicant’s need.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the SSDI program. This benefit has greater relevance than SSI to the majority of employers and workers. In addition, this program frequently interacts with employee benefits, especially long-term disability policies.

But before I proceed, it’s important to remind you that I’m presenting basic information. If you have specific legal questions about SSDI, you should reach out to a lawyer. SSDI is a huge program with many regulations and significant administrative entities. My goal in this article is to focus on a few key elements that are important to employers and employees.

I find that most people know something about the SSDI program and many hold opinions on it already, but there is an abundance of misinformation. Before you can understand SSDI’s role in workplace absences, you must understand the program’s basics.

In many ways SSDI is like a private long-term disability policy that you have through the government. Like any insurance policy, the terms are important.

You must have worked to qualify

To receive SSDI benefits, you must have worked and paid the SSA’s taxes. If you are an independent contractor and don’t pay FICA taxes, you may not be covered. There are boring rules that you can access here if you want more information.

If you want to know if you are covered, you can simply contact SSA and they can tell you if you are insured and when your insured status would end if you stopped working.

You must qualify medically and vocationally

If you are covered, you may qualify medically for SSDI if you are:

  1. Not working
  2. Have limitations caused by medical conditions expected to last at least a year, and
  3. You are unable to sustain substantial gainful activity due to your limitations.

The SSA will deny benefits if they believe you can still perform a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy or if you can perform past work (from the last 15 years).

Many Issues are surprisingly irrelevant to the SSA

Social Security does not consider income in its evaluation of disability. If a person who made a high salary can still perform lower income work, they are not disabled under SSDI. Likewise, a person who worked in labor, such as construction or manufacturing, may not be disabled if they are still capable of performing less demanding jobs.

SSDI also does not consider whether jobs are available or if an individual may or may not be hired for a job. The SSA only evaluates whether an individual could perform the functions of a job that exists.

The SSA considers problems finding employment to be addressed by unemployment insurance. But, to that end, applying for both unemployment and SSDI will usually have detrimental effects on the SSDI application. The SSA sees the receipt of both benefits as generally incompatible (with exceptions).

The SSDI Application Process

Individuals may apply for SSDI on the SSA’s website or at a Social Security office. A state agency will evaluate the application, review medical records and determine if the claimant is disabled under SSA’s rules. This usually takes three to six months with a 34 percent award rate.

If denied, a claimant can request reconsideration by the state agency. This essentially repeats the process, with a 13 percent approval rate.

If denied again, the claimant may request a hearing before an administrative law judge. There is a nine- to 27-month wait from hearing request to hearing with a national average wait of 17.3 months. The ALJ’s decision takes about another 60-90 days and ALJs awarded 47 percent of cases last year.

There is one more level of appeal within SSA – the Appeals Council – but the success rate is only 10 percent. After that, a claimant must file a civil case in federal court.

Obviously, it is a long process. This wait has a huge impact on the claimants. Waiting 30 months to get a payment is not uncommon. The SSA makes retroactive payments in a lump sum, but that is often cold comfort for claimants. The average wait time for all claimants is about 15 months before they receive a payment.

When Awarded SSDI

Disabled claimants receive an average monthly benefit of about $1300. There is a five-to-six month elimination period at the beginning of the period of disability.[The SSA provides annul adjustments for cost of living.

Two years after the end of the claimant’s elimination period, they will begin receiving Medicare.

There are some programs in place to support attempts to return to work, with mixed results. The SSA generally schedules continuing disability reviews (CDRs) every three to five years.

SSDI certainly has some warts, but overall American workers benefit tremendously from this program.

 




How to upgrade your workplace on-boarding for Gen Z employees

A smooth on-boarding process is a must for today’s employees; after all, you want their first days to be inviting, and you want them to understand the ins and outs of your workplace. That’s because you have to make sure your employees are engaged right from the start, given today’s often fickle workforce.

Although most on-boarding best practices work for all generations, there are some specific actions you might want to take to reach your newest Gen Z employees that will capture their attention and underscore the importance of your programs, from benefits to corporate best practices.

Start wooing them from the day you extend the offer.

There’s an unfortunate new trend going on in workplaces, and that’s candidates “ghosting” their new employer. In other words, they’ve gone through all the trouble of interviewing and being hired, and then they just don’t show up on the first day…leaving you with a void and that sinking feeling you have to go back to the drawing board. One way to avoid this is to stay in close touch from the minute you extend the offer, even if there’s a brief lag until their start day. Send them emails with some details on the company culture or to introduce them to team members – anything that will help ensure they feel the love right up until they show up for the first day.

Create “snackable content.”

Gen Z is much maligned for their short attention span, but it’s not entirely their fault. After all the world has sped up, and they have always been used to a quicker pace – their TV shows have even been faster-paced. But the truth is, they are less likely to read through lengthy, fact-packed documents. If you truly want to retain their interest, make the content short and sweet so that they can digest it in short sessions as their time allows.

Focus on culture and transparency.

Gen Z cares about the culture of the workplace they are joining; but it’s not just about Ping-Pong tables and the other trappings that many “cool” workplaces try to assume. They want to be sure that their employer is walking the talk in regards to corporate social responsibility. Companies can help cultivate their loyalty through letting Gen Z employees know from the start what your company does to embrace a culture that is good for the environment, both the working environment they encounter every day and the larger global environment that they care about.

As consulting firm Deloitte explains in its report “Generation Z Enters the Workforce,” “Major consumer brands have found they are better able to build customer loyalty through transparency. For example, Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, has made its supply chain more transparent via the Footprint Chronicles to demonstrate alignment with its core values of sustainability and environmental stewardship. As employees begin to expect similar norms for their employment brands, the need for transparency will likely only increase.”

Cater to their information on-demand expectation.

Remember that this is the generation that has always had a “computer” in their pocket where they can immediately get the answer to any question. Make sure your intranet is intuitive so that new employees can easily find the answers to questions they have about benefits like disability insurance or retirement plans via a simple search that they can access from any device.

Use images to explain more involved concepts.

Gen Z is very visually oriented, so a picture can be worth even more than 1,000 words. Redeploy your employee training manuals into more visual options, from short videos to infographics that Gen Z workers can understand at a glance. If there is a more involved step in a process, such as how to sign up for benefits, create a short video tutorial. This is the YouTube generation after all.

Try gamification as a strategy.

Turning employee onboarding into a game isn’t just a smart strategy to keep them entertained – it helps with retention, too. And while it works for every generation – most of us tend to zone out when faced with too many words on a page — it’s especially important for Gen Z, who were raised on video games and appreciate being rewarded when they master something. Create quizzes that unlock fun secret games or allow them to level up by answering questions correctly.

As you incorporate multiple generations into the workplace, it’s smart to consider how all your communications strategies can be upgraded. Reaching Gen Z through engaging onboarding is one of the best ways to start off on the right foot.

 




What makes a millennial-friendly workplace?

Move over, foosball table and bean bag chairs. If your organization’s goal is to attract the next generation of workers – and it better be, given the fact that millennials are the largest generation in the workforce today, reports the Pew Research Center – you want to make sure you’ve designed a workplace that features the attributes they covet.

Of course, the good news is that the elements that make a workplace friendly to millennials actually will attract all generations; after all at our core most of us want the same things.

But the millennial generation isn’t shy about expressing their preferences, so here are some research-backed suggestions for creating the ultimate millennial-friendly workplace.

Millennials want: Training and development

The skills shortage is real, and millennials want to make sure that their abilities are keeping pace with today’s new workplace and its focus on ever-evolving expectations. In fact, nearly 90 percent of millennials say that “professional or career growth and development opportunities” is a key factor in their job satisfaction, finds a Gallup poll – and that’s surely one reason why more than three-quarters of companies are offering professional development opportunities as a way to retain employees, finds a survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Millennials want: Feedback

Forget the annual review. “Why look in the rear-view mirror when you can be looking toward the future?” millennials wonder. In fact, nearly three-quarters of those under age 30 said they that would prefer feedback either weekly or monthly, finds a PwC survey. And that’s a bonus for everyone because it allows employees to make small tweaks to their performance on an ongoing basis, rather than waiting for a deluge of information, many of which refers to incidents or behaviors that may have happened a long time ago.

Millennials want: Top-notch technology

You better ditch those balky workstations and outdated pagers: Close to half (42 percent) of millennials say they would quit a job if they had to work with substandard tech, and an overwhelming 81 percent said that the available workplace technology was a consideration when contemplating a job offer, finds “The Future Workforce” study.

Millennial want: A workplace that lives its values

In one study reported by Glassdoor, employees named “culture and values” as the No. 1 workplace factor that matters to them most. Today’s younger generations are finely tuned into corporate social responsibility (CSR), and how companies behave, but the important thing to remember anymore is that they won’t just take your word for it: They are going to rely on their own research to find the facts. In fact, the Cone Communications CSR study finds that more than three-quarters of millennials do research to make sure a company is authentic in what it claims about environmental or social issues. While the study primarily pertained to consumers’ purchasing behavior, it stands to reason they will be equally diligent about sussing out the facts before taking a job.

Millennials want: Work/life balance

It’s almost become a cliché, but millennials crave their free time. In fact, flexibility is incredibly important to them as they create a balance that works for them. And while that mean ducking out for a spin class at noon or leaving early to take advantage of great weather for a hike, it also probably means they are answering emails on the weekend. Offering them the flexibility to make their own hours (within reason, of course, if it fits with your industry) can make a huge difference in their happiness in the workplace: An environment of flexibility encourages a positive impact on overall wellbeing, health and happiness, say 82 percent, and 81 percent also said it made them more productive, finds the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey.

Millennials want: A cool workplace

Ah, yes, back to those foosball tables and beanbags. Because, as it happens, millennials do care about their work environment. Turns out that 70 percent of millennials choose their jobs based on the office space, finds the Capital One’s Work Environment Survey. The good news? The most-desired workplace design element is natural light. So let the sunshine in.




Study shows LGBTQ Americans in need of retirement strategy guidance

A recent study from Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual) revealed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) Americans say they want to preserve their retirement savings but tend to take bigger risks when it comes to investing.

Forty-two percent of LGBTQ retirees and pre-retirees said the should become more conservative with their money as they come closer to retirement, as opposed to 28 percent who said they prefer a more aggressive investment approach.

However, 65 percent of those respondents say their investment strategy is actually more mixed, rather than conservative, compared to 52 percent of the general population — 31 percent of respondents admitted they could be taking more risks than they should be, compared to 22 percent of other retirees and pre-retirees.

“MassMutual’s study shows that many LGBTQ retirees and pre-retirees may benefit from consulting a financial advisor about their retirement investment goals, something less than half currently do, and may benefit from help leading into retirement and securing their finances through retirement,” said Catherine Cannon, Head of Personal Markets at MassMutual.

“Of those respondents in our study who do work with a financial advisor, six in 10 say their advisor has encouraged them to change their investment mix and 87 percent of those folks were advised to become more conservative as they enter retirement.”

Both the general population and LGBTQ retirees expect their retirement savings to last 25 years, however overall, LGBTQ retirees plan to retire later than the general population. In addition, the same respondents said they expect their retirement income will last as long as they need, which is two years fewer than the general population.

LGBTQ retirees also expressed more confidence than the general population that they will be financially prepared for retirement. However, despite this confidence, stock market volatility and downturn in the stick market are worrisome for the community as they approach retirement. About 75 percent of respondents expressed this concern, with 27 percent say they are “very concerned.”

72 percent of the general population expressed concern with regard to market volatility, while 21 percent said they are “very concerned.”

According to the study, LGBTQ respondents show greater comfort in taking investment risk, with just 20 percent willing to accept “below average” or “low investment returns” in exchange for greater safety. Overall, respondents seem to seek a balance between growth and preservation.

“One strategy that may help some LGBTQ retirement savers balance investment goals such as growth and safety is the use of target date funds (TDFs) when available through their employer’s 401(k) or other retirement savings plan,” Cannon said.

“TDFs automatically reallocate retirement savings between equities and fixed-income, gradually growing more conservative as the investor approaches and enters retirement. Some newer TDFs also are more personalized to investor’s individual needs, including a greater focus on managing assets in accordance with an investor’s individual risk tolerance.”




Want to hire Gen Z? Here’s how to find them…and impress them

Just when you thought you finally had this millennial thing down, a new generation is joining the workplace. Yes, welcome to Gen Z, soon coming to a workplace near you, if they’re not already there.

Gen Z (typically described as those born in 1995 and later) is the first generation to grow up as “digital natives,” that is, they don’t remember a time when they couldn’t access everything they need to know on their computer or device. Therefore the way you recruit Gen Z might be very different from other generations.

That’s why companies today are finding success with new modes of communication, reaching out to Gen Z in the language they speak. For example:

  • McDonald’s takes “Snaplications”: Gen Z spends a lot of time on social media, so why not reach them there? in 2017 McDonald’s launched a program that allowed teens to apply via Snapchat. According to Fortune magazine, “Snapchat users may see a 10-second video ad from McDonald’s employees discussing their experience working there. Then users can then swipe up on the app to be redirected to McDonald’s career webpage in the app to apply for openings.”
  • Advertising agency Havas asked intern candidates to text: Corralling Gen Z’s interest in texting and social justice, a global advertising firm asked prospective interns to text ideas about how to change the world for the better.
  • Investment bank Goldman Sachs uses Snapchat geo-filters: Using a feature called “Campus Story,” Goldman Sachs promoted careers at the investment bank with sponsored segments that would show only to users whose phone had been on a specific campus in the past 24 hours.

If you’re still recruiting the “old-fashioned” way, don’t worry: You’re hardly in the minority. But to appeal to Gen Z, you’ll have to make sure that you are communicating the right messages.

  1. Showcase your creative side.

Whereas employers used to implore employees to spend less time on social media, savvy companies realize that it can actually be a recruiting tool. That’s why some companies design their offices with “Instagrammability” in mind.” For example, a Wall Street Journal article reported that several new hires at LinkedIn were impressed with the pictures they saw on Google Images and Instagram, many of which featured interactive wall art as they sought to learn more about the company’s culture.

One of the images is a “Wheel of Dream Jobs” where employees can spin a huge wheel; another is a mural that has a nearby jacket employees can wear that makes them blend in with the wall. “The art the company has installed…is a major help as far as talent retention and getting people excited,” says Cherish Rosas, an environmental graphic design project manager at LinkedIn.

  1. Offer them variety.

You may have heard that fewer teens are taking summer jobs (or, depending on your business may have struggled to hire them yourself). That’s because today, about 70 percent of teens are self-employed, reports Harvard Business Review.

Because of that, Gen Z are used to autonomy and variety and will be attracted to a workplace that offers diversity in job functions. Consider hiring Gen Z with the promise of a job rotation or cross-training opportunities so they feel confident that they will get the mix of activities that will keep the job fresh.

  1. Never forget they are doing their own research.

Employers have to remember the power of social sharing sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn, where Gen Z employees are going to find out more about the vibe of the company. Whereas companies used to be able to control their online presence through a sparkling website, now they need to do far more to guard their reputation and ensure that the message they are saying about themselves matches what employees believe.

The only way to create that positive image that will attract Gen Z? You have to practice what you preach. The new transparency means that companies have to make sure their actions match their words, in order to gain the best talent.




Gen Z attitudes more accepting of risk and failure in the workplace

Failure is not only accepted by Generation Z but also welcome, according to a study released this week. In fact, Gen Z attitudes reveal 80 percent think embracing failure on a particular project will lead to innovation, while 17 percent think failure leads to more comfort when taking on risk.

The study, which was done at the 22nd EY annual International Intern Leadership conference this summer, asked 1,400 Gen Z folks about the future of work as they enter the workforce. According to the results, the Gen Z generation is more eager for innovation and accepts that failure is often part of the process.

“With the next generation of our workforce not afraid to fail in order to grow and innovate, organizations should create an environment that allows them to bring their ideas forward, fail fast, and then learn from that failure,” said Natasha Stough, EY Americas Campus Recruiting Leader.

“At EY, this means embracing values like inclusiveness, collaboration, openness and flexibility that best attract these candidates and encourage them to be fearless innovators once they join us.”

Motivation and goals in the workplace

Workplace perceptions and goals were also touched on in the study. More than two-thirds of participants believe that having a curious and open mindset is more important than a specific skill or expertise. In addition, this generation isn’t afraid to look outside of their comfort zone when presented with a challenge. In fact, 24 percent answered they would be excited and honored to do so.

Gen Z is also open to feedback and learning from their mistakes. Ninety seven percent of those questioned said they’d be receptive to feedback on an ongoing basis, while 63 percent said they’d prefer timely, constructive feedback throughout the year.

Gen Z individuals do differ, though, based on gender when it comes to workplace preferences and priorities. Potential for progression and growth was important for 39 percent of respondents when looking for an employer. Competitive salary, however, was a key priority for men, while women prioritized flexible work opportunities.

Technology and teamwork

Even though tech is becoming increasingly prevalent in the workplace, more than 90 percent of those surveyed said they prefer to have a “human element” to their teams, working either with just innovative coworkers or with co-workers and technology paired together. More than twice as many males though prefer to work with tech that allows them to do their job faster and take on higher levels of work, compared to just five percent of females who agree.

Seventy-three percent of females would be more apt to ask a coworker for help with a problem to which they don’t have the answer to however, while only 63 percent of males agree. In addition, more females like to work with coworkers who can challenge and motivate them compared to their male peers.

Diverse education and skills are also critical elements to a successful team environment, according to those surveyed. Having a millennial manager also remains the preference over Gen X or Baby Boomer for 77 percent of respondents – an interesting increase over 67 percent who agreed last year.

Lastly, Gen Z thinks the future looks bright, with 65 percent saying they feel confident that financially, they’ll be better off at work than their parents – the same is said for their overall happiness.

 




When millennials become the bosses: Helping generations work together

Today’s workplace is a historic mash-up, as it’s the first time we’ve had five generations in the workplace at the same time.

Of course, it’s true that the oldest cohort, the “traditionalists,” are aging out, but most generation watchers include them since their influence can still be felt in many workplace structures that continue today. And while Baby Boomers are also nearing retirement age, more workers are participating in the workforce, at least part time, for longer. And as they cling on to their former roles, Gen Z is fast approaching.

But the group that most HR professionals are attuned to are the millennials, and with good reason. Today, millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, according to the Pew Research Center. And that means that even though there are older generations still in the average office, more and more millennials are going to be “the boss,” even for these workers who are older than them.

Here are some tips that can help ease the path for generations working together.

Explain style differences.

The reality is that many of the elements that we typically think of as “millennial” in nature, such as wanting feedback and coaching, are actually prized by all generations. However, if older generations are used to an ‘”annual review,” they might worry that they are being micromanaged if they get more frequent one-on-ones. Millennial managers might consider talking to colleagues about how and when they prefer to receive feedback to make sure that the team realizes it’s for their benefit, and not to nag.

Focus on the benefits of a diverse team.

Often we think of “diversity” in terms of gender and culture, but age is a factor as well. Research shows that diverse teams produce better outcomes, and that includes having members of various ages on teams. In fact, the Randstad Workmonitor report found that 90 percent believed it was a benefit to have co-workers of different ages working together. By helping your millennial managers and their teams see the why behind diverse teams, they may be more liable to embrace them.

Beware of stereotypes.

Millennials are entitled. Baby Boomers are old fuddy duddies. It’s very easy to group every member of a generation together, but we all know that it’s rarely the case that all individuals follow a similar mold. Encourage teams to talk about what drives them and share past experiences, and avoid jumping to conclusions and assumptions about what another team member from another generation might be like. For every Gen Xer who wants a face-to-face meeting, there’s another one who’d just assume take care of all conversations on Slack. Millennial managers need to be open to finding out these individual preferences instead of assuming.

Share knowledge for a better overall product.

Older workers might have institutional knowledge that can help younger managers make better decisions and fast track projects. While no one wants to resort to a “This is how it’s always been done” mentality, it can be helpful to know what’s been tried before and learn from past lessons about why something might not have been effective. Similarly, older workers shouldn’t feel shy about asking for help with areas where they might not be as up-to-date, like lead management systems.

All generations have plenty to offer one another, so HR personnel should encourage a collaborative, rather than competitive, environment, no matter who is leading the team. Whether you institute a formal “reverse mentoring” program or just encourage colleagues to reach out to one another, teams that recognize each member can offer value are going to succeed.

The key to integrating mutigenerational work teams successfully — especially when one that is led by a younger manager — is realizing that different generations have as many similarities as they do differences. Working together can make the entire organization stronger.

 




US employers doubt employees’ ability to achieve a financially secure retirement

Only 16 percent of employers are “very confident” their employees will be able to achieve a financially secure retirement. This statistic was brought to light thanks to a recently completed survey titled Striking Similarities and Disconcerting Disconnects: Employers, Workers, and Retirement Security, by nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS).

Given the large role employers play in this field, the statistic is alarming, yet it does correspond with the 18 percent of employees who are “very confident” they’ll be able to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle.

The TCRS 18th Annual Retirement Survey, released August 21, 2018, looked at 1,825 employers for for-profit companies with five or more employees. The goal? To learn how these companies are helping employees prepare for retirement. The study also provided some context by comparing employer findings with TCRS’ survey of 6,372 workers.

Getting into specifics, the survey outlined a number of ways employers are out-of-sync with workers in both their perceptions and business practices. For example, many workers plan to work past age 65, but employers and employees in the like are unsure if the employer will support them.

In addition, just 20 percent of employers offer a formal phased retirement program, although 47 percent of workers surveyed envision a phased transition that includes reducing work hours or working in a different capacity that’s less demanding.

The survey also took a closer look at the current state of 401(k)s and opportunities to enhance retirement security. Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of TCRS, reiterated that 401k opportunities continue to be an effective way to facilitate long-term savings among workers.

However, “not all workers have equal access,” Collinson said. “For example, large companies typically provide more robust benefit offerings than their small business counterparts.”

The study examined the current state of 401(k)s and other benefit offerings by small (5 to 99 employees), medium (100 to 499 employees), and large companies (500+ employees).

Other key findings included that retirement plan sponsorship rates increase with company size, most non-sponsors are not planning to offer a plan, and few part-time employees are eligible to participate in these plans.

Additionally, adoption of automatic enrollment, surprisingly, is low. Although 81 percent of workers find automatic enrollment appealing, only 22 percent of plan sponsors have adopted automatic enrollment, including 28 percent of both large and medium companies.

 

 

 




7 ways to keep employee benefits top of mind

HR works hard to find the best benefits program for employees and then communicate the “benefits of the benefits,” so to speak. But sometimes, even with the best of intentions, the information falls on deaf ears – or blind eyes. In fact, one recent study found that less than half of employees know what benefits are available to them, and yet nearly the same percentage said they would consider leaving their current job because the benefits are inadequate.

That means that HR has a job to do to keep their benefit offerings fresh in employees’ minds.

Follow up shortly after onboarding.

The first day can be a whirlwind for employees who are meeting new faces and receiving a barrage of information from everyone from their manager to, yes, the HR team. But think about it – new people who don’t even yet know where the copy machine is probably aren’t paying as much attention as they should to the benefits package, especially lesser-known programs like disability insurance. Naturally there is some paperwork they have to sign right away, but after that, give them a couple of weeks to settle in and then resume the benefits discussion. They might be much more tuned in once they’ve figured out the basics of their job.

Upgrade your website.

No longer do you have to depend on explaining your benefits program via a sheaf of papers that employees stow in their desks, never to see again. Chances are good your website probably already has the information, but is it easy to access and intuitive? The interface should be easy to read so that employees can visit and find what they need without endless scrolling or clicking. Consider talking to a web designer – either in-house or a contractor – who can help you design your website with marketing best practices in mind. After all, marketing your benefits (and by extension, your company) is exactly what you’re doing.

Present information in different ways.

Some of us love to read. Some of us love in-person presentations. Younger generations like millennials are all about the visuals. So even though it might entail a little extra work, commit to creating your materials in several different formats so you are bound to reach employees in the way that works for them. This strategy even has a great name – COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere).

Use multi-channel options.

In addition to different formats, you’ll want to distribute the information using different channels. A short text might remind employees that open enrollment is coming up. An email can provide detailed links to a wide variety of benefits. Your social media platforms can show some of your more “fun” benefits being used, such as employees taking a noontime walk as part of your wellness initiative or a group enjoying a team-building activity. Not only will social media remind employees of what’s available, but it also paints your company positively to others who are following your channels.

Ask for feedback.

Wondering what employees think of your benefits? A survey is an ideal way to get feedback with suggestions that can help you fine-tune your offerings, and it can identify what benefits employees don’t know about yet so you can determine where more communication is needed. It also allows you to raise awareness of some lesser-known programs; employees might not even realize how many programs you offer until they read about them on the survey.

Set up a hotline.

Have a dedicated number that employees can call if they have questions (and make sure someone returns the calls diligently if they leave a message). Call attention to the number by playing a game and awarding a $5 coffee card to any employee who knows the number when you ask them.

Pay them to learn more.

What? Why would you do that? Well, because it works, found Pierre-Renaud Tremblay, director of human resources for steam cleaning products company Dupray. Dismayed by a dismal 12 percent open rate on his emails, he upped the ante by developing online quizzes covering the material from the emails, offering gift certificates for employees who scored well, Forbes reports. He found his email open rate skyrocket to up to 95 percent.

And if more information about benefits helps satisfy employees, which contributes to retention, it will be money well spent.




Employee retention: 6 low-cost perks your employees will love

Looking to compete with the firms that can offer on-site chefs and massages? The truth is that most companies can’t afford to offer the perks common among the buzziest names in high tech, and yet while you might already have the basic covered—from health and disability insurance to retirement savings—many employees today are looking for a little “sizzle” in their perk program. In fact, a recent study by recruiting site Glassdoor found that 63 percent of applicants focus on available benefits nearly as much as salary.

The good news is that not every shiny perk has to break the bank. Here are six low- or no-cost perks that your employees will totally love at a price tag that will make you happy, too.

  1. Offer flexible hours. (Cost: Free)

This is frequently the No. 1 perk that employees covet, and the good news is that it is totally free to implement. The key is to make sure that you have an environment that allows for flexible hours to work; i.e. you won’t be sacrificing customer service or inhibiting team meetings. Once you’re figured out if flexible work is appropriate for your team, set some parameters about what’s acceptable and fine tune as needed.

  1. Let your employees bring their pet to work. (Cost: Free to nominal for cleaning fees)

This “pet project” has gained prominence in Corporate America, moving past something that’s critical for those with certain disabilities to a benefit for the entire team. In fact, with more than 80 percent of dog owners claiming their pet provides companionship, love, company and affection, that can translate into more productive workplaces. One survey finds that 88 percent of employees and a corresponding 91 percent of HR directors agree that a pet-friendly workplace leads to improved morale.

Of course you’ll need to make sure no one in your office is allergic, and then set guidelines about only bringing healthy, trained, friendly pets into the office.

  1. Set up a volunteering program (Cost: Free to a small investment in program materials and marketing)

The opportunity to volunteer is important to employees: A Deloitte survey found that nearly 90 percent of employees think that companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better working environment. It can help more than the outside community, too; another study found that 64 percent of respondents agreed that volunteering together strengthens relationships among colleagues.

Talk to your team about a cause that interests them or settle on a few. Maybe you collect mittens during the next cold snap and help landscape a school when spring arrives. The choices are endless.

  1. Create a walking club or other health activity.

Wellness programs have been shown to reduce absenteeism—up to one additional productive day per month per employee, finds one study. But while professional onsite classes or underwriting a fancy gym membership might be out of your budget, any workplace can help facilitate group activities like a walking or hiking club. Check around; you might have someone on staff who would love to lead a lunchtime Cross Fit group or can teach yoga fundamentals.

  1. Brew up better coffee (Cost: Low-cost)

Employees boycotting your coffee in favor of pricey lattes down the street? These side trips add up—not just for your team’s wallet but in lost work time as they continually leave to get their caffeine fix outside your four walls. Rather than offering a watery subpar beverage, invest in a good system that will make café-quality coffee and then stock up on the add-ins your employees prefer, from oat milk to flavored creamer. If you really want to score bonus points, consider ordering in lunch or dinner for teams that are working late now and then. Sometimes the unexpectedness of a perk like that can make it seem even more noteworthy.

  1. Give them their birthday day off. (Cost: No cost – sort of; employees aren’t all that productive on their birthdays anyway!)

Birthdays just aren’t as much fun as when we were kids, when everyone made a big deal over our big day. While you probably do a small staff celebration (and if you don’t, you should!), giving employees their special day as a day off can build incredible goodwill. Naturally you’ll want to put some common-sense rules around it—for example your accounting team lead can’t have April 13 off. But in most cases you can let employees know to make a wise choice on a day that’s around their birthday and use it as they see fit, whether it’s binging on Netflix or riding the Ferris wheel and eating all the ice cream like back in the day.