What the Candidate Driven Marketplace Means for HR

Candidate Driven Workplace Puts Pressure on HR to provide best in class benefits

With a candidate driven marketplace, HR professionals are realizing more and more that finding the right candidate is a two-way street; you are interviewing them of course, but in return, they are also assessing your company’s culture and offerings for the right fit. In fact, often it can seem as though there are more open positons than qualified candidates, which can lead you to wonder who is interviewing who?  

Here are five suggestions for putting your best foot forward in your quest to attract top talent.

Create a Positive Social Media Presence

Candidates today are looking for a great “fit,” and they will often turn to social media to find out if you walk the talk—just like you’re probably mining their social media to find out about them. Especially in a candidate driven job market, it is critical to maintain a robust presence, even inviting employees to post fun shots of their workdays, provided they follow any existing social media policy.

Many companies find they have success starting a social media account devoted exclusively to recruiting; while others fold it into their general platform that also includes news and other company details. Either way, it can paint a powerful picture of your company and the fun and challenging work you do collaboratively.

While websites like Glassdoor.com promote transparency, it also means that candidates are seeking behind-the-scenes intel on what it’s really like to work at your company. Especially in a candidate driven market, it is important as an employer that you know what’s being said about your company online. While you can’t take down reviews you don’t agree with, you can take the opportunity to respond to the poster to state your case.

Be Positive, Candid and Open

No matter how appealing a candidate looks, you don’t want to make promises you can’t keep in the interview process as it will only come back to bite you. Remember that not all policies might be as lenient as you would prefer—for example, some companies just aren’t set up to accommodate flexible schedules or virtual work. Instead, let candidates know what you can do to make sure you are addressing their needs the best way you can. And if you promise to follow up on a certain point, make sure you do.

Be prepared with insightful answers to questions they might ask about the position, their trajectory and the qualities you seek in a candidate; along with more specific questions about the company and its competitive differentiators and growth plans.

And note how you feel if candidates are routinely asking questions that have answers you don’t like, such as a culture that could use some work. You might need to rally other C-level employees and rethink your company vibe so you can create a culture that you are proud of and that will make your workplace stand out.

Offer Top-Tier Benefits

While a competitive salary is important, especially in a tight labor market, today’s candidates will also be pushing for the best options in benefits. Throughout the interview process, showcase the many exceptional offerings you have, from medical and wellness offerings to disability insurance and retirement choices.

Keep Candidates Informed Every Step of the Way

Job seekers frequently complain that human resources managers don’t keep them in the loop or communicate often enough. It would be a shame to see a good candidate slip away just because you didn’t get back to them in a timely manner, and they mistook it for indifference. While we hope candidates are thanking you and your team for your time, it’s smart to do the same for candidates—and all part of the wooing process.  When there are more jobs than candidates, as an employer, response time could be dealbreaker in landing that dream hire.

Don’t Wait Too Long to Hire

It’s tempting to wonder if the grass is greener and dip back into the candidate pool, but delaying means you could risk losing a top-notch interviewee. In fact one study found that top-tier candidates were off the market in just 10 days.  Another study found that nearly a quarter of candidates declined an offer because the employer took too long to extend it.

Once you’ve made an offer, don’t leave anything else to chance. Start your onboarding immediately to keep the new recruit engaged and ready to show up on the first day.

The candidate-driven market can be challenging to adjust to, but can yield excellent results if you focus on why you are an employer of choice.


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The Path to Financial Literacy

path to financial literacy

Financial literacy is not something that just happens to you.  In fact, it is a skill that involves education and practice.  And while you might believe you are financially literate because you make and stick to a budget, in reality, it is so much more than that. On the path to financial literacy, having a budget is but one of the many steps in the right direction toward being financially responsible. But being financially literate involves practicing and building on the skills you need to make sound decisions with your finances over a long period of time.

If you are a young or newly independent adult just starting out in the world, you will likely feel daunted by the trend in today’s high cost of living, especially if you are entering the workforce and learning what it means to balance new income with your new expenses. In fact, a recent survey from Merrill Lynch/Age Wave finds that 70 percent of adults aged 18 to 34 depend on their parents financially—whether for everyday expenses, like cell phones and groceries, or even rent or mortgage.  Despite this help, the survey found three-quarters of millennials define adulthood as being on their own financially.  So if this is the case for you, certainly you’re not alone.  

How Can You Build Financial Literacy? 

The topic of financial literacy is a timely one – April is National Financial Literacy Month – and here we provide some concepts for you to think about on your journey to a more financially literate future.

Create a Budget Consider Disability + Life Insurance
Start an Emergency Fund Plan for a Home Purchase
Check Your Credit Protect Your Apartment or Home
Maximize Retirement Options

Understand Your Health Insurance

Learn to Invest

Create a Budget

A personal monthly budget allows you to plan for how you’ll spend and/or save your money each month and also keep track of your spending patterns. Creating a budget may not sound exciting, it’s an important exercise in keeping your finances in order.

With a budget, you can begin to prioritize your spending and better manage your money and financial future.

Start an Emergency Fund

Charging an unexpected expense on a credit card can be financially devastating as high interest charges accrue. And yet, only 40 percent of Americans say they could cover an unexpected $1,000 bill with savings. While that sounds high, you could easily be hit with a staggering bill in one visit to the emergency room, the vet or the car repair shop. Building an emergency fund cushions the blow so you don’t have to rely on your credit card—or your parents.

Check Your Credit

What you don’t know can hurt you…and your financial future. We’re talking about your credit score…and if you’re like half of Americans, you haven’t checked your credit score recently.

A credit score ranges from 300 to 850, and anything over 700 is considered pretty good. A high credit score is a great advantage when you want to take out any kind of loan, including a mortgage. On the path to financial literacy, you’ll have lower interest rates, which saves you money in the long run.

It takes time and effort to build good credit by consistently paying your bills, but you can decimate your credit fairly quickly by defaulting on loans or filing for bankruptcy.

A study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that about 20 percent of consumers discovered an error when checking their reports, and that number could be even higher considering the recent spate of data breaches. A strong credit score ensures you are offered the best possible rates for credit cards and mortgage and auto loans. Not sure how you measure up? See if your credit card offers a free credit report as one of its perks, or visit Annualcreditreport.com to take a look at yours.

Maximize Retirement Options

Even if you don’t plan on retiring for decades, it’s important to start saving now. If your employer offers a retirement plan, don’t wait to sign up.  Many companies even offer a match up to a certain percentage, and if you don’t contribute at least that much, you are literally leaving money on the table.

If your employer doesn’t have a 401k plan, you can look into a Roth IRA. Whatever route you take, make sure you’re putting away enough money so you’ll be comfortable in your retirement years.

While saving for retirement can seem futile when you have so many needs now, we promise that your future self will thank you—a lot—for saving early when you have the longest potential time to take advantage of compounding interest. Need some saving inspiration on your journey to financial literacy? Check out this chart that shows what happens to your money if you start saving early, compared to later. 

Learn to Invest

Once you have your emergency savings set aside and you’ve signed up for a 401k or Roth IRA, it’s time to start thinking about investments. Investments include mutual funds, stocks, bonds, and real estate—but be sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This means you should diversify your investments. That way if some parts of your portfolio aren’t very profitable for a few years, your other investments will help make up the difference.

Consider Disability and Life Insurance

Think you’re invincible? Think again—the scary truth is that more than one-quarter of today’s 20-year-olds can expect to be out of work for at least a year due to a disabling condition before they reach retirement age. While on your path to financial literacy, consider getting disability insurance; it can help you pay your bills until you are back to work.

And while you especially need life insurance if anyone depends on you financially, it’s a smart benefit for anyone to have, since the policy can cover funeral and burial expenses. The next step on the path to financial literacy is to make sure to check with your HR department to see what your company offers in terms of disability and life insurance—and make sure you take advantage of this important benefit.

Plan for a Home Purchase

Along the path to financial literacy, you might find yourself considering the purchase of your first home. And while it is easy these days to be priced out of homeownership in many markets, in other places, a monthly mortgage payment can be close to the same amount as rent. (This calculator will help you determine the viability of buying vs. renting.) And if the common down payment of 20 percent sounds daunting, there are a wide array of programs that can get you into a home for substantially less. If you are relatively settled in your locale, it’s worth talking to a real estate agent and mortgage broker to find out the true cost of home ownership, as it’s still a tried-and-true avenue to long-term wealth.

Protect Your Apartment or Home

If you are not ready to buy, and you plan to rent, you might not think you need insurance, but you’ll regret skimping on it if your apartment gets broken into or your dog bites a visitor. Renter’s insurance will cover your belongings in the case of theft, fire, water damage, etc., and also can cover liability for a variety of scenarios—and it’s typically surprisingly affordable, averaging less than $200 a year.

If you own a home, chances are good that you probably have homeowners insurance as a requirement from your mortgage provider, but double-check your policy to ensure it covers as much as you think it should—such as the actual “replacement value” of your items, rather than just cash value, and short-term lodging in the even you are displaced.

Understand Your Health Insurance

PPOs, HMOs, HSAs…the alphabet soup of health insurance is enough to give anyone a headache. But if you don’t know what your insurance covers, you could be on the hook for an unexpected high bill…or you might be delaying services that would be covered. Some plans even offer free telemedicine services or other perks that you could take advantage of if you only knew.  Log in to your health insurance portal and click around a little to find out what’s covered and where…certain insurance only works at specific hospitals, for example. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to seek out your HR department. They are there to help make sure you understand your coverage and limits inside and out.

As life changes occur,  you naturally grow, learn, and build upon your experiences. In this way, it is important to understand that getting on the path to financial literacy is an ever-evolving journey; it takes time and perseverance. And while you may find one concept relevant now, you might find another one more relevant to your life situation later.  Each part of the process is not wasted, only propelling you to a more secure financial future.


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Helping Your Team with Financial Literacy (Without Overstepping Your Bounds)

As Financial Literacy Month winds down, it’s the perfect time to talk with your employees about financial wellness, which is every bit as important as physical wellness.

In fact, the stress caused by financial issues is pervasive. The 2018 PwC Employee Financial Wellness Survey found that financial stress isn’t limited to one generation–Millennials, GenX and Baby Boomers alike report stress created by financial challenges and money matters. Nearly half (47 percent) report stress related to their financial situation, and 41 percent say their stress level as it pertains to financial issues has increased over the past 12 months.

It’s tempting to say “Well, their financial life isn’t our problem…we pay them well, and what they do with their money is their business.” But you might be surprised to find that assistance with financial matters was named as the top desired employee benefit they don’t already have.

Here are some ways that you can help your employees feel more financially secure—and help them increase their financial literacy.

Survey and Learn What Employees Need

While the issues might vary among different employees and demographics, it’s helpful to know what’s keeping them awake at night—whether it’s paying off their student loans, helping save for their child’s education or scraping together a down payment on a home. Knowing what issues are most worrisome can help you determine where you might want to provide extra support, and perhaps even look into new benefit offerings that help ease their burden. For example, some forward-thinking companies have started offering a wide array of potential benefits, such as disability insurance, student loan reimbursement, pet health insurance or childcare assistance.

Boost Financial Literacy with a Game

You might be surprised to find that employees don’t know as much about financial terms as you think, and it’s hard for them to make a wise choice between a PPO and HMO, for instance, if they don’t understand the relative merits of each one. Some employees might benefit from an adjustable rate mortgage if they are only living in a house temporarily, but they’ve only ever heard of a conventional loan. Employees are much more likely to pay attention to dry financial terms when you present them in a fun way…from a TV-style game show quiz or a team trivia game (with snacks and prizes of course!).

Incentivize Them to Save More

Want to increase your employees’ savings? Try some of the more creative new programs that HR departments are using, such as automatically opting “in” to a savings program (rather than having them decide) and auto-increasing their rate of savings. Or have a financial wellness game where each employee chooses a goal and aims to save $5 a day toward their vision. Have them report on how they are achieving the savings, from brown bagging their lunch to walking right past that sale at the shoe store.

Bring in an Expert

From retirement savings to mortgages, employees often don’t understand a wide variety of financial concepts—the very backbone of “financial literacy.” Brainstorm types of professionals you know who might be willing to come in and share their expertise. These could include:

Having an expert provide a “lunch and learn” can up employees’ confidence on financial issues and introduce them to an avenue to turn to when they have questions.

Offer Additional Resources

Inviting a professional to share expertise is engaging, but often employees need even more information. Compile a list of resources you can offer, such as

Secure Healthy Lifelong Financial Wellness

Finally, realize that not every employee understands the many benefit options that are available to them—and therefore aren’t taking advantage of them. During Financial Literacy Month, set up one-on-ones or small groups to review available coverage and answer questions about what programs might be right for them. Cover such topics as disability insurance, the various health plans you offer and any other financially related benefit your company provides.  The Council on Economic Education also offers state by state education groups.

After all, you care about your employees’ well-being, and you also want to make sure their work is not affected by financial stress. Helping them with financial literacy can ensure they are equipped with the money smarts they need.


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Earth Day | What Does It Mean to Go Green?

tips for how to go green this Earth Day

‘Going Green’ means to live life, as an individual as well as a community, in a way that is friendly to the natural environment and is sustainable for the earth, and Earth Day is the annual day of awareness that celebrates the green lifestyle.  

It is an opportunity for individuals and communities to come together to adopt new behaviors and share knowledge and practices that can lead to more environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible decisions and lifestyles.  As a result, Earth Day reminds us that small changes in how we live our daily lives today can help protect the environment and sustain its natural resources for future generations.

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. – Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

To meet today’s environmental challenges, it’s important for everyone to consider the effects of their actions at home and in the workplace. Here are a few tips and resources for environmental stewardship provided by experts at the World Watch Institute:

Recycle

Recycling programs exist in cities and towns across the United States, and as a result, helps save energy and protect the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for each pound of aluminum recovered, Americans save the energy resources necessary to generate roughly 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is enough to power a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years!

What you can do:

  • Put a separate container next to your trash can or printer, making it easier to recycle your bottles, cans, and paper.

Turn Off the Lights

On the last Saturday in March hundreds of people, businesses, and governments around the world turn off their lights for an hour as part of Earth Hour, a movement to address climate change.

What you can do:

  • Although Earth Hour happens once a year, you can make an impact every day by turning off lights during bright daylight, or whenever you will be away for an extended period of time.

Make the Switch

Compared to traditional incandescents, energy-efficient lightbulbs such as halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light emitting diodes (LEDs) have the following advantages:

  • Typically use about 25%-80% less energy than traditional incandescents, saving you money
  • Can last 3-25 times longer.

What you can do:

  • Plan to switch out your traditional incandescents with energy saving bulbs the next time your old bulbs die out.

Turn ON the Tap

It is known that plastic water bottles create huge environmental problems, and therefore the energy required to transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year. The kicker here? About 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled, rather, they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans. 

What you can do:

  • Fill up your glasses and reusable water bottles with water from the sink. The United States has more than 160,000 public water systems, and by eliminating bottled water you can help to keep nearly 1 million tons of bottles out of the landfill, as well as save money on water costs.

Turn DOWN the Heat

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can result in savings of 5–15 percent on your home heating bill.

What you can do:

  • Turn down your thermostat when you leave for work, or use a programmable thermostat to control your heating settings.

Support Food Recovery Programs

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption—approximately 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted, including 34 million tons in the United States annually.

What you can do:

  • Encourage your local restaurants and grocery stores to partner with food rescue organizations.
  • Go through your cabinets and shelves and donate any non-perishable canned and dried foods that you won’t be using to your nearest food bank or shelter.

Buy Local

Local and small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions—providing models for others to learn from.

What you can do:

  • Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers.

Get Out and Ride

Carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as gas bills. Cities across the country are investing in new mobility options like bike sharing programs, and people are renting for short-term use. As a result, there’s been a significant reduction in emissions.

What you can do:

  • If available, use your city’s bike share program to run short errands or commute to work. Memberships are generally inexpensive (only $75 for the year in Washington, D.C.), and by eliminating transportation costs, as well as a gym membership, you can save quite a bit of money!
  • Even if without bike share programs, many cities and towns are incorporating bike lanes and trails, making it easier and safer to use your bike for transportation and recreation.

Share a Car

Car sharing programs spread from Europe to the United States nearly 13 years ago and are increasingly popular, with U.S. membership jumping 117 percent between 2007 and 2009.  Consequently, in 2009 car-sharing was credited with reducing U.S. carbon emissions by more than 482,000 tons. 

What you can do:

  • Join a car share program! As of July 2011, there were 26 such programs in the U.S., with more than 560,000 people sharing over 10,000 vehicles.
  • Of course, if you don’t want to get rid of your own car, using a shared car when traveling in a city can greatly reduce the challenges of finding parking (car share programs have their own designated spots), as well as your environmental impact as you run errands or commute to work.

Plant a Garden

Whether you live in a studio loft or a house in the suburbs, growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep with minimal impact. 

What you can do:

  • Plant some lettuce in a window box. Lettuce seeds are cheap and easy to find, and when planted in full sun, one window box can provide enough to make several salads worth throughout a season.

Compost

What better way to fertilize a personal garden than using your own composted organic waste. Likely, you will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you will also help to cut down on food and other organic waste.

What you can do:

Reduce Your Meat Consumption

Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but by simply cutting down on the amount of meat you consume can go a long way.

What you can do:

  • Consider substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option. And if you are unable to think of how to substitute your meat-heavy diet, websites such as Meatless Monday and Eating Well offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment.

Making small changes and adopting sustainable practices, for instance, ride sharing, buying local,  turning off the lights, or recycling can make an enormous impact on the environment over the long term. 

Click here for more on Earth Day 2019 and ideas for change.




All In Together: Engaging Employees on Sustainability

recycling at the workplace can boost employee morale

Why is a Sustainable Workplace Important?

In a lifetime, it is said working Americans spend more time at their place of work than at their own homes, and over the years, this has put the onus on employers to create healthy and sustainable work environments, along with compiling competitive benefits to attract and retain workers. A healthy and sustainable work environment makes a long workday more enjoyable and correlates to happier, more engaged employees. Studies have shown this helps boost employee productivity and morale, and results in fewer work-related illnesses, injuries, and accidents. Ultimately it has a positive effect on a company’s bottom line.

Nearly 40% of millennials have chosen a job because of company sustainability. Less than a quarter of gen X respondents said the same, and 17% of baby boomers.

Swytch Survey: the result of conversations with 1,000 employees at large U.S. companies

With the rise of the millennial workforce and its demand for socially conscious workplaces, it is no wonder that employers are taking notice. While it might seem frivolous to some business owners, that fact is integrating social causes into business operations, like building a sustainable workplace, is a good investment for the future. And according to a January 2008 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 61% of employees were more likely to stay at a company because of the organization’s sustainability program. As a result, a sustainable workplace helps companies save thousands of dollars in hiring, training, compensation, benefits, etc.

Recycling as a Way to Begin

One common and low barrier to entry into the sustainable workplace movement is that of a recycling program.  Because workers generate the most waste in an office environment, the sustainability effort starts with them.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the average workplace, about 80 – 90 percent of solid waste is actually recyclable.  More and more businesses and employees are realizing the importance of recycling and the difference it can make.

  • Cost and Time Savings
  • Help with universal participation and compliance
  • Effective way to track overall green progress
  • Reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills
  • Reduces company’s carbon footprint
  • Builds Morale Among Staff

Before pushing a conservation program like recycling forward, it is vital for companies to keep track of the amount of waste that they produce every year. Above all, with this information, employers can make real sense of the meaningful impact it can have.  While at first, it might seem like an insurmountable task, when broken down it really is manageable. Certainly, engaging employees in the form of Green Teams to help out can easily make a program up and running in a few weeks. There are many resources out there to help support these efforts, but here is a summary of an action plan to get you and your employees thinking and motivated to take the first step in a more sustainable workplace.

Recycling 101

Make the Commitment

Assemble a (Green) Team

Conduct a (Waste) Audit

Develop a Plan

Make It Easy

Launch Your Program

Monitor Progress

Publicize Program Success

Purchase Recycled Content

Encourage and Engage Others

It’s easy to update your sustainability goals on your company website, but changes in the office can be difficult. Make sure to recognize your Green Team colleagues and reward positive change. A small present like a reusable water bottle, coffee cup or canvas bag could also help kickstart your efforts. When it comes to sustainability, leaders’ actions speak louder than words and play a vital role in reaffirming company values to employees.

“From my perspective, it’s a competitive advantage for large enterprises to really align themselves with employees’ ideas about creating more environmentally sustainable choices.”

Evan Caron, co-founder of Swytch, the blockchain-based clean energy platform




Windfall or Investment? How to Make the Most of that Tax Refund


Are you on track to receive a tax refund? If so, it can feel like a windfall or even like winning the lottery. The natural desire to spend “found money” can easily spiral into ideas of grandeur. While jetting off on vacation, or buying that new gas grille, are worthy causes, take a pause. There are a few financial strategies you might consider first.


In response to a new NerdWallet.com survey, 54% of folks who expect to get a refund said they plan to save or invest the money….And some of them actually will!


Pay Down Credit Card Debt

If you have run up your credit cards over the year, paying off the balance should be your first step. That’s because unpaid charges come with a hefty interest rate that can mean you wind up paying even more for everything you’ve purchased. Whittling down debt should top your financial “to-do” list. Applying a tax refund can take care of a large amount of this in one fell swoop. This gives you a highly motivating head start.

Set Up An Emergency Fund

Are you one of the 60 percent of Americans who can’t cover an unexpected $1,000 expense? Building up your emergency fund can be a smart move to help you with those unexpected realities of life—from faulty car brakes to a leaky roof to a sick pet. Just remember that the money should only be used for true “emergencies” (and no, a sale at your favorite department store doesn’t count).

Time for Home Improvements

While saving for a rainy day might be fiscally responsible, it also might strike you as a little boring. Tackling important home improvements can give you the benefit of improving the value of your home—while giving you something you can enjoy today. According to Remodeling magazine’s 2019 Cost Vs. Value report, the top home improvement that brings the most value is a garage door replacement, while other top projects that will simultaneously boost your satisfaction include minor kitchen remodels and deck additions.

Another smart choice—although, admittedly, less exciting than a sparkling new kitchen—is to make energy upgrades. Believe it or not, when Remodeling Magazine used to include insulation on its list of home improvement projects, attic insulation had an astonishing 117 percent ROI. Adding insulation and other energy-efficient features may also allow you to keep more money in your wallet all year long in the form of reduced energy bills.

Share Some Goodwill – Make a Donation

Spending money on yourself is fun—but spending it on someone else can feel even better. If there’s a cause you’ve been wanting to support, allocating part of your refund to a local school or women’s shelter can put a spring in your step that no new sandals ever could.

Reward Yourself

Of course, we don’t want to be spoilsports. Sometimes getting a tax refund is a fun way to reward yourself for the hard work you’ve done all year. So by all means, earmark it for a whim. Use it for a long weekend at a nearby resort or a wardrobe refresh. Just make sure that any choices you make today won’t impact your financial future. Perhaps consider allocating the majority of the refund to one of the financial goals above. Then, use a small percentage for a planned splurge. Ensure that you identify exactly what you’re spending it for. Letting the money absorb back into your account, or spending it something forgettable won’t have the same emotional impact as putting it toward something specific and enjoyable, even if it means delaying the gratification.

Review and Adjust Your Withholding

Remember, as exciting as it is to get what feels like a windfall as a tax return, that money actually is yours. It could have been in your paycheck all year long. Having that extra bump throughout the year can allow you to keep your emergency fund strong. It also can be the difference in paying off your credit card bills in full. This offers ongoing financial rewards. You could also use it for a weekly date night or support the nearby senior center regularly.

If you’d like to revisit your withholding to potentially make changes, talk to your HR department. They can help review your current status and the paperwork required to change it. Of course, it’s always wise to talk with a tax professional if you have any questions. But letting Uncle Sam keep your money all year—interest free!—is rarely the best use for it.





What Every Employee Should Know About Their Tax Refund

 

Based on early 2019 returns, the average tax refund is $2,640, down by more than 16 percent compared with the same period for 2018. What gives, your employees might ask? This will be hard for them to swallow, but it’s actually good news.  Basically, instead of a bigger refund at the end, they have been getting more in their paycheck each week throughout the year, but not even realizing it.

As an HR professional, it can sometimes be challenging to help employees make wise choices with their money. However, tax refund time is a fantastic opportunity to approach some financial wellness issues.

First, remember that it’s important to share with your colleagues that tax refunds aren’t “free money.” While it’s exciting to receive a “windfall” in the form of a tax refund in April, that money has been held interest-free by Uncle Sam all year long.

So the first step might be to invite them to review their withholding to see if they want to make any changes. If so, they can fill out Form W-4 to make any changes—potentially having even more money in their paycheck each month.

If they’re on board, you can share some ideas of what they can then do with that money on a regular basis.

Invest in Their Retirement

If your company offers a retirement plan, like a 401(k), remind each employee to consider checking that they are making use of it—especially if you offer a company match. That’s essentially free money that your employee might be forgoing in their quest to amass a large refund.

Keep Credit Card Debt at Bay

Another byproduct of forgoing extra monthly money to try to nab that big return is that they might be accruing unnecessary interest on their credit cards. While it’s important to discuss the wise use of credit, it can be hard for employees to get out of the mindset that they can rack up their credit card bills, expecting to use that April windfall to pay them off. In the meantime, the interest they are paying means that they are really just paying their own money out of pocket to the credit card company, while (as we said!) Uncle Sam is keeping their money interest free. Explaining the dichotomy might help them see that they would be far better off adjusting their withholding rather than waiting to pay the balance off in a lump sum.

Elect to Take Extra Benefits

Many companies offer employees the opportunity to buy additional policies, such as long-term disability or life insurance. While no one likes to confront the fact that they may need them, the reality is that no one can ever know what might happen. In fact, statistics show that more than a quarter of today’s young adults aged 20 can expect to be out of work for at least one year at some point in their career. Applying that extra in their paycheck to these extra benefits can mean the world to them—and their family—should they need it.

Establish an HSA

Many companies offer high-deductible health plans, that often come with a Health Savings Account, or HSA. Employees can make tax-deductible contributions and then use the money to pay for any eventual care—effectively making their healthcare dollars go farther.

Make an Extra Payment on a Mortgage

If an employee holds a mortgage, they may be surprised how much they can save over the life of the loan just by making an extra payment each month—or even each year—in the form of reduced interest. Some mortgages may not allow pre-payment.  You might suggest they speak with their lender to find out if they can make an extra payment penalty-free. If so, ask the lender to share the math about the difference that might make over the long term. The results can be eye-opening.

While you should always make sure your employees seek tax advice from a professional, providing general financial wellness information can help them make better financial decisions. Challenge them to think about whether changing their withholding might help them make smarter financial decisions all year long, rather than relying on a windfall that might come too late.


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An Employer’s Guide to Understanding Social Security Disability Insurance



Introduction

Carol Harnett: [00:00:00] Hello, this is Carol Harnett. I’m the president of The Council for Disability Awareness. Welcome to our podcast, which is called The Financial Health and Income Network. Today we are going to talk specifically to employers about how Social Security Disability Insurance works and how it can help protect employees who can no longer work due to an illness or an injury.

What is important for employers to know in a grounding basis, around disability insurance products is that in the group insurance market, there is a product that most employers are probably familiar with called long term disability insurance. About one third of employees — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — in the United States have what’s called an LTD policy — a long term disability insurance policy — that’s either fully paid by the employer, or partially paid by the employer.

In addition to that, about half of Americans have some form of disability coverage, most of which makes up the difference. It is either a group policy that the employee pays all of the premium for instead of getting assistance from their employer, or they may be doing something called an individual disability insurance policy that they secure working directly with an agent or an advisor and an individual disability carrier.

Today we are going to focus on this very specific type of coverage that is provided by the federal government but has a very well-defined process, including a very well-defined approval process, application process, and review process. This is Social Security Disability Insurance.


You can hear the full podcast or if you’d rather read than listen, we captured the transcript from the conversation below.


Introducing Ted Norwood from IBI, Inc.

I’m really pleased to have a subject matter expert with us on the show today. My guest is Ted Norwood. He’s the general counsel and director of representation at Integrated Benefits, Inc. We are very pleased that IBI, which is their acronym, is a member of The Council for Disability Awareness and supports us. So we thank them for that. Welcome Ted. We’re so pleased to have you here with us today.

Ted Norwood: [00:02:21] Thanks Carol. It is a pleasure to be here. I’m really excited to let people know about how all this works because it is a frequently misunderstood system.

Carol Harnett: [00:02:36] If you don’t mind, I’m going to kick you off in the most basic of all things, which is: we assume that everybody understands what SSDI is, and with them we use the acronym all the time, and A, nobody even understands what the acronym means and B, really doesn’t understand what the coverage is. Can you go right to the basics and ground our employer listeners in that?

What is SSDI?

Ted Norwood: [00:03:08] Sure. SSDI– commonly just referred to as Social Security Disability– is a disability program through the federal government’s social security system that you pay into from your paycheck through your taxes.

It covers anyone that pays in. It doesn’t cover lots of federal employees, people that don’t pay those taxes. For instance, lots of teachers aren’t covered– they’re covered by different things. Railroad workers are covered by a separate policy, but they must pay in, and that differentiates it from the other social security disability program that people often combine with it or get confused by, which is SSI, or supplemental security income. This is a disability program for people that don’t have the work history or haven’t paid in. It’s a much smaller benefit.

SSDI is a better benefit; it’s a pretty strong benefit with an average payout of $1,600 a month. After being disabled for twenty-nine months, you become Medicare-eligible, and it will last until Social Security finds that you are no longer disabled or until you hit full retirement age. And they do reviews every two to five years of your case to see if you’re still disabled.

Although social security policy can bore some people– the big takeaway is that Social Security Disability is designed to work with long term disability to provide the best policies. A combination is the most important thing.

Carol Harnett: [00:05:08] That’s really well said and it’s a great basic summary. One thing I’d like to ask is– and I think some of our listeners are not familiar with — is I’ve often heard that you have to pay quote-unquote a certain amount of quarters into Social Security before you would become eligible for SSDI. What does that mean when people say that?

What is Elligibility for SSDI?

Ted Norwood: [00:05:35] It means you have to work a certain amount. You know, if you just go out and get a job and then claim disability right away, you haven’t really paid in enough to qualify. The rule is about 40 quarters, which is about 10 years of work. If you’re younger than that, there are formulas for adjusting that. When people are applying for Social Security disability, they usually have a significant amount of work history, and if they don’t have the work history, then they have to apply for the SSI. So most of your applicants are people that have a strong work record, but they’re not able to do the job that they’ve been doing anymore.

Carol Harnett: [00:06:32] Those are good points. When you say a strong work record, is that a nice way of saying that these are people who are older, who have worked for a period of time? If so, do you happen to know what the average age might be for a typical applicant?

Applicant Profile

Ted Norwood: [00:06:51] Uh-oh, I think I’m busted here because I don’t know what the average age of the typical applicant would be, but I would say it would skew older. Young people are covered. If you’re working at a salary job, odds are you’re probably covered if you’re going through, or if you have a steady job, or even steady seasonal work, but the average applicant is older. That’s probably mostly a factor of the wear and tear that goes on to your body after years of working. You know in your 20s and 30s you’re going to be stronger and more flexible, with better recovery and stuff, and less likely to have those over time injuries. So I would say that average applicant is probably around 50 if I had to guess.

Carol Harnett: [00:07:52] Okay, that seems fair. When I think about what I know about long term disability claims, we do know when people are younger that is often when we’ll see more accident related reasons for being out of work, while illness is usually the major reason why people are out on long term disability. Accidents will play a larger role the younger you are and then the older you are obviously illness tends to play the biggest role.

Now you just made a point that I think is really important for employers to understand, which is a big differentiator between long term disability insurance and SSDI, and that is this idea of what type of work are you disabled from? Are you disabled from your ability to do your own occupation, or your own job, or are you disabled from being able to do any kind of work? And can you shed some light for listeners on the requirements around your inability to work when you apply for SSDI?

Clarify the Inability to Work

Ted Norwood: [00:09:05] Absolutely. This is a critical difference between the private disability and this public disability. When people think that they’re disabled, and they can’t work as an engineer anymore, or they can’t work in their factory anymore, or as a teacher, they think: well, “I’m disabled.” If you have a private policy, then that’ll mean you will be disabled, probably for a couple of years at least.

Social Security is different. Social Security I call a “catastrophic” disability policy– that’s an unofficial term– but it only covers you if you’re disabled from any work. The language of the Act says from being able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers. Once upon a time they liberally interpreted that and they’d cut you some slack, but over the last 15 or more years, they’ve really cracked down, and when they say significant numbers, I mean almost any job.

So, if you are, let’s say you’re 49 and and you had a really good job at a Ford plant, and you have some back problems. Maybe you had some cancer, something going on, something severe, you no longer can do that job. But if Social Security thinks that you can be a ticket taker at the movie theater on a full-time basis– which I don’t even know what movie theaters employ those people– they’re going to deny your case.  They use a lot of outdated information, which isn’t necessarily their fault, but it’s difficult and they’re very tough.

An important thing to understand is that if you’re relying on Social Security, you have to be really, really limited.  If you can’t do hard physical work, but you could do a sit-down job, there’s a really good chance you won’t get your Social Security. The terrible thing about that is that if you’re used to doing hard work, and then you want to transition to a sit-down job, it might be really hard, especially if you’re older, to transition to that. So you end up in this gap where Social Security says, “you’re not disabled, you’re capable of performing some jobs. You’re just unemployed.”  Meanwhile, unemployment says yeah, you’re unemployed; but you know, our insurance only lasts for so long, and it’s really tough for people to find the resources to be able to make those transitions and get those jobs.

Job Function Differentiation

Carol Harnett: [00:12:00] That’s a really fair point. In long term disability insurance– provided, both by an employer and bought individually by the consumer, does somebody quote-unquote meet the definition of disability? We don’t expect someone who’s done a job like a physician, for example, or a senior executive in a company, to do a job that goes outside of their knowledge, skills, and abilities. We don’t expect them to be that ticket taker at a movie theater. It’s a much closer alliance to work, that either is exactly like what they used to do, or similar to what they used to do, using transferable skills.

Sometimes, a surgeon may no longer be able to do surgery because she has a hand tremor, but she could do medical reviews for an insurance company. She could also see patients and screen them for whether they’re a candidate for surgery. That is big difference between a private disability insurance policy and a public one like SSDI, is that correct?

Accommodations for Work: Private vs. SSDI

Ted Norwood: [00:13:28] Yes, and I would add that lots of private policies that I’ve seen factor in income. For instance, you are a successful surgeon who develops a hand tremor. Although you might make several hundred thousand dollars a year, you will go to an insurance review physician position, and you are probably not going to come close to that salary.

The policies on the private side will lots of times accommodate that. They might say: “Hey, this is an offset– because you’re capable of doing this or we expect you to try to find this,” but they make up the difference. Social Security says that if you have a really solid job making $60,000 a year, but they think that you might still be able to do this job, which is minimum wage,  they expect you to go do it.

Carol Harnett: [00:14:34] Yes, I think that’s that is probably not on their radar.

Ted Norwood: [00:14:42] No. When I’ve talked to employers and when I talk to claimants and people in general, they really don’t know anything about it, I always tell them that that’s fine. Hopefully you don’t have to really ever know about the details of Social Security Disability. You find if you have to go through it, that’s really unfortunate, but once you become an employer, and you’re making decisions about whether or not to offer policies to your employees, it’s then it becomes important to understand what they’re really facing. If you think that someone will, they can just get on Social Security, you know, if they can’t work here– that’s not as easy as it may sound. Unfortunately. I wish it were.

Carol Harnett: [00:15:36] You mentioned an average benefit, but because we’re talking about the monetary side of Social Security now, can you help listeners understand the range of payments? And can you also clarify, is there a cap or a maximum that somebody might receive on Social Security Disability?

Payments

Ted Norwood: [00:16:02] Well sure. Once you go on Social Security Disability, your payment depends on your work history and your payment history. When I say your work history, that means what you’ve paid in. You don’t pay into Social Security if you make over a certain salary or income per year; you only pay up to a cap. The max benefit, what does it end up being? I think I want to say it’s about three thousand dollars, and it can go up if you have dependents because it gives you extra benefits if you have minor dependents during the same time you’re out. But you know, you can’t replace a large salary just on Social Security disability.

Carol Harnett: [00:17:00] And if there were a minimum payment?

Ted Norwood: [00:17:05] Well, the minimum payment would be about eight hundred dollars. The SSI benefit, which varies– and that’s for people that don’t have any SSDI coverage at all– usually is somewhere between five and eight hundred depending on all the factors that go into that. So SSDI is always going to be better than that.

And I say “always.” You know, whenever as a lawyer I say “always” that really just means “almost always.” Sure enough, some lawyer’s listening saying “no, that’s not true; here is the example where it’s different.” And yes, but speaking generally, for someone to take away,I would say, $800, but that’s very low.

Carol Harnett: [00:17:56] It’s not a lot of money; this is a monthly payment, just to clarify for our listeners.

Ted Norwood: [00:18:03] Yes. It’s a monthly payment.

Attorney Required

One of the things I should mention — talking about lawyers– another difference between private insurance and Social Security is you almost need to have a lawyer to get on Social Security [Disability]. If you have a terminal illness, you probably don’t, but you’re taking a risk doing it yourself. To use the Social Security’s Disability program, it’s strongly encouraged that you use an attorney– even by Social Security.

Private insurance, you don’t need an attorney to get on. Sometimes there are disputes between insurers and claimants, and you might need a specific type of attorney when that comes up. But for the most part, you don’t get an attorney to activate your private disability policy; that’s a big advantage, too.

Carol Harnett: [00:19:04] Yes. You’re leading right into the next question, which is: What is the process? How do you apply and when do you apply for Social Security disability? How does the process work and how quickly might you receive a decision?

The Application Process

Ted Norwood: [00:19:22] Social Security only covers disabilities that arise from a medically identified problem that will last for 12 months or more.

If you break both your legs, but you’re probably going to be better in six to eight months, then you won’t qualify. If there are complications with that and it ends up taking 12 months before you can go back to work, then you could qualify. However, Social Security’s going to look at that very suspiciously.

Once you are out, or once you know you’re probably going to be out for a year and facing a kind of a grim diagnosis — there’s a lot of really grim stuff we deal with in disability, obviously– then you should apply. Once you’re sure you’re not going to be able to do this for a long time, then you want to apply.

You can file online. Everyone should be online creating their My SSA Account, even if they’re not about to apply.  It’s good that Social Security’s trying to expand their online presence and getting that set up helps them out.  You can go online and apply. You can also go up to your district office; the same place where you get your Social Security card, and file an application. Social Security will take it, make sure you have coverage for SSDI. Then, they send it out to the state agency, which is a federally-funded state agency.

Evaluation

They will evaluate you. The first step takes somewhere between two and six months, and this depends on how quickly they get your doctor’s records, how backed up they are, how difficult your case is, and if they have to send you to an exam.

After the initial evaluation, there’s about a 35% chance of being awarded– which means a 65% chance of being denied. The next step is to then file a reconsideration, which is just a review by that same state agency. There are certain regions in the country currently where you don’t have to file for reconsideration, but Social Security just changed that and they’re moving to everyone going back to reconsideration.


Annual Chart for SSDI’s Overall Award/Denials at Each Level


Reconsideration

Reconsideration. It’s the exact same process again, but they have someone else at the agency look at it. Obviously since it’s the same agency, they’re not going to have the same award rate of their own denial, so it’s about a 15% chance they’ll pay that case. So an 85% chance you’re going to be denied.

Now you are 6 to 12 months into your application and you still don’t have benefits. Now you request a hearing with an administrative law judge. Your case gets back to the federal Social Security program. They’ll assign your case to a hearing office, which is different than your district office, and there’s a long wait for that. It’s somewhere between 12 and 20 months. Depending on where you are, there are a few offices that are under 12 months, and there are some offices that are getting close to 30 months of waiting time.

Building a Case

Now you wait and you build your case. Hopefully you keep going to the doctor. You don’t get any benefits, or any insurance, and you wait until you get in front of a judge. You explain your case to the judge, and you’ll give him all of you medical records that you can get a hold of, and he’ll make a decision. Hopefully you have a good attorney.

At that point you have about a 45 percent chance to be awarded. If you’re denied by an ALJ you do have an appeal within Social Security to their Appeals Council. It’s another year usually and they don’t send many cases back because they’re really trying to not add to that backlog they already have and they basically dare you to take your case to Federal Court.

Appeals in Federal Court

If you talk to your attorney and they want to take your case to Federal Court, you can do that. The courts love this because courts are ALWAYS looking to have lots of cases– that’s a lawyer joke!  Social Security floods the courts with these cases. At that point, your case is no longer actually in the agency, it’s in federal court, and you’re actually suing Social Security and saying, “hey, you guys didn’t follow your own rules, and you wrongfully denied my disability.”


Click to get average wait time for a hearing in your area.


The odss are 50/50 in the federal courts, but it’s important to remember that most attorneys will only take very strong cases to federal court. It’s a really long, difficult process and you can’t just take your chances up there. You’ve got to have a really good case now. I will say this: most attorneys only take really good cases to begin with.

One thing that’s important is there’s a myth of disability fraud, It doesn’t really exist, because you have to work so long to get coverage to even qualify. If you haven’t worked enough, your scam isn’t going to work, because you just can’t get benefits. You get awarded, only after a long, difficult process. That is, if you work long enough to qualify. You go two years without income, and then all you get is $1,800 a month, which is certainly less than you were making before. So it’s a really, really bad scam. But people continue to think there’s a lot of fraud, when most of the rot is actually on the inside.

Carol Harnett: [00:26:00] I would ask a clarifying question: you’ve mentioned having an attorney help you with your case. Is there a charge for people when they have an attorney help?

Associated Attorney Fees

Ted Norwood: [00:26:11] Social Security has really set some strict rules on on fees, and your fee always has to be approved by Social Security. You cannot charge a fee up front. All fees are– if the claimant is paying it– your fee has to be contingent, and the max you can get is 25 percent. If you use Social Security’s fee agreement, the cap is $6,000. An attorney can charge their fees and expenses to a claimant. Most do, but some don’t though, and some attorneys will ask for money up front to hold to cover expenses and stuff, but most don’t. It’s pretty much free for you to get the attorney to do their work, but they’ll only take your case if they think they can win. If they don’t think you have a case then it’s not a sound business decision for them.

Carol Harnett: [00:27:08] Great. Well, I can’t believe how fast this time is going. We have a little less than three minutes.

Ted Norwood: [00:27:14] I saw that.

Carol Harnett: [00:27:16] I had to look at my list of questions and I think the best one to choose at this point is: in your experience what final closing words of advice would you give to employers when you think about disability in general and Social Security disability insurance on top of that?

Final Word to Employers

Ted Norwood: [00:27:35] Group private disability insurance is a pretty affordable benefit, and it is a lifesaver for your employees if they go out of work. Fighting with Social Security is so hard. Everyone we represent that has LTD says, “that $10 a month was the best decision I ever made.” They get their benefits quicker. They still have to go through the Social Security process, because there’s an offset to that LTD, but they have money, they’re getting something. They’re not scrambling.

Social Security– if you have to wait for Social Security, it doesn’t just decimate your spirit and your income; it decimates your insurance coverage; your ability to pay for the doctors, who eventually stop seeing you. It ruins marriages and relationships and strains your family because people lose their houses. And it is long and difficult and tragic. It’s so affordable and such a good benefit to give to your employees. When they go out sick, or they get cancer, they wear down– and they’re better-taken care of. I believe in it,  and it was not even on my radar when I came out of law school; I hope employers at least look into it.

Carol Harnett: [00:29:08] Well said. I’ve known a gentleman by the name of Dick Mucci who currently runs the group insurance operation at Lincoln Financial. He has worked in and around individual disability and group disability, the private industry, his whole career. He has always said he couldn’t imagine why employers wouldn’t provide long-term disability coverage. It’s difficult for an employer to lay someone off after three or six months and leave them without some form of an income to help them get through long term disability.

So with that, Ted, I’m going to say, thank you so much for the information you shared. It’s been a privilege to have you on this show.

Ted Norwood: [00:29:54] Thanks for having me; I appreciate it. Good luck, everyone.

Carol Harnett: [00:29:57] Thank you, everyone. Bye-bye.


Click below for more articles from Ted Norwood about Social Security Disability Insurance.




How Employer-Provided Disability Insurance Can Help When SSDI Falls Short

Important details about employer paid insurance to help fill the gap when social security income is delayed or falls short

Half of American workers have some sort of disability coverage: either employer-paid long term disability insurance, one they pay for through an agent, and/ or one funded by the federal government called Social Security Disability Insurance (or SSDI). Below are facts regarding SSDI and LTD. It is important for employers to know that SSDI is designed to work with long term disability to provide the best policies for employees.

The following content has been provided to the CDA by Ted Norwood, the General Counsel and Director of Representation, at Integrated Benefits, Inc.

The Relationship Between SSDI and Private Group Insurance


  • According to the Council for Disability Awareness, half of those who don’t work for the government have some form of employer-paid disability insurance. This could be short-term disability only, long-term disability only, or both STD and LTD. These benefits are important because 25 percent of today’s 20-year-olds will at some point miss a year or more of work due to medical problems.
  • As companies become leaner, employees become even more vital to the organization’s success and more difficult and expensive to replace. In the long term, losing employees is difficult. Certainly, an increasing number of employers recognize the value of employee well-being. In fact, many companies now recognize the value of caring for employees as people, not just assets.  Therefore, private disability insurance benefits in the workplace is an important way for employers to care for employee financial health.
  • About half of workers in the private sector do not have income-replacement benefits. If they’re unable to work for an extended period of time, they must rely on the Social Security Administration’s Disability Income (SSDI) program – if they qualify – to partially replace their salaries.


Facts About SSDI


  • You must have worked to qualify and made Social Security contributions. (Teachers often do not make Social Security contributions.)
  • You must qualify medically and vocationally.
  • SSA does not consider income in its evaluation of disability.
  • The SSA only evaluates whether an individual could perform the function of a job that exists.
  • SSDI Application Process – The wait is long (15 months or more). It can be challenging to get approved, and it lacks good recovery resources.


Group Long Term Disability Policies Protect Employees from the Disadvantages of SSDI


  • These LTD policies usually start with an own-occupation period of two years. As a result, the employee receive benefits immediately on completion of the elimination period (3 or 6 months).
  • Group LTD policies usually pay higher benefits than SSDI does. They typically treat SSDI benefits as an “offset” which means the additional coverage is available at an affordable price.
  • Group insurers typically require claimants to apply for SSDI benefits, but most of them will also provide a lawyer to assist with the applications.
  • Group LTD policies have better opportunities to provide vocational rehabilitation and return to work services.


For more from Ted Norwood on SSDI check out the following articles: