How HR Can Make the Most of “Dead Week”

Is your office quiet that last week between Christmas and New Year’s? Chances are good it is; one survey found that 1/3 of U.S. workers planned to take the entire week as vacation, with nearly 70% expecting to take at least part of it.

 

But while the rest of your office might be relaxing by a fire or sliding across an ice rink, the HR department is usually still hard at work, wrapping up year-end needs. And in a counterintuitive fashion, that might mean that it’s even harder to focus on what you need to do. Here are some tips for identifying the important tasks to take on and advice for staying focused while others are out to help you prepare for a smooth start to the New Year.

 

Identify What Needs to Be Done

That quiet week can be a gift in itself, provided you use it responsibly. If you anticipate it will be hard to dive right in when you come back to the office, do your planning before you leave your desk for the Dec. 24 festivities by taking 10 minutes to create a list of the tasks you hope to accomplish before everyone else heads back to the office on Jan. 2 (or 6!). Here are some thought starters:

  1. Wrap up year-end reviews. Many offices have turned to more frequent feedback in lieu of annual reviews, but if your office still conducts them, you might be dealing with an onslaught of paperwork. Now is the time to sift through the reports thoughtfully, making notes on items where you might need to follow up, and highlighting areas where training and professional development might be in order as you notice patterns among the reviews.
  2. Write thank you notes. Definitely acknowledge the secret Santa present, as well as the elves who put together the holiday party, if appropriate. But the end of the year is also a great time to consider all the employees who help make your job easier—or who challenge you to improve. Think of your team members and department heads, but also acknowledge the other people who maybe don’t get thanked as often—from the administrative professionals who ensure your communications go out in a timely fashion to the new employees who helped you rethink your interviewing or onboarding processes.
  3. Clean out your desk and files. Out with the old and in with the new! It’s easy to make a New Year’s resolution to stop hoarding papers or emails, but much harder to put it into practice—particularly when you hit the ground running Jan. 6, already feeling behind. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the ideal time to get a jump start on the task; your future self will thank you when you put in one to two hours a day tackling this chore that always gets put on the back burner.
  4. Set goals. Everyone is in a reflective mood, and, as mentioned above, it’s easy to get a little too ambitious with your goal setting in late December. So consider staggering your goals—instead of picking four behaviors at once, choose one per quarter. Feeling successful at one thing will make it more likely you’ll tackle something else, and it’s much easier to manage one new habit or goal than try to foster four at once.

 

Stay on Task When You’re the Only One in the Office

With a calendar largely devoid of calls, meetings and deadlines, it might be hard to know how to allocate your time—and that makes it surprisingly easy to squander. Here are some ways to help stay on task.

  1. Take your to-do list and make it into a schedule. One long to-do list is easy to ignore until the last day when you realize you haven’t done all the tasks you’d hoped to. Avoid that by consulting your list and estimating how much time you believe each task will take—be realistic, too. Then divide them up over the days you have. Most work is best accomplished in chunks, so instead of trying to power through 20 thank you notes in one day, allocate four to each day. Do the same with other large tasks so that your time in the office have a predictable flow where you are knocking out small goals each day.
  2. Set a timer. Once you’ve divided tasks among the days, make yourself sick to a schedule. It’s all too easy to be lured into living vicariously through other people’s holidays on social media, or watching YouTube videos. Once you have picked a task…say, deleting old emails…set a timer for 30 minutes and commit to not being sidetracked until the time is up.
  3. Find an accountability partner. “Misery” loves company, they say, and even though being in the office catching up on work hardly qualifies as “misery,” you know what we mean. The good news is that when fewer people are in the office, it offers a chance to get to know someone with whom your path might not typically cross. Seek out another hard-working coworker and touch base to see if they want to goal set together; for example, vow to knock out x number of tasks or spend x number of minutes on a larger project. Then meet for coffee or lunch to celebrate your success.
  4. Take some time for you. Yes, you’re setting a good example by being in the office and yes, you’re feeling accomplished through taking care of tasks you’ve been putting off. The only way to celebrate a win like that? With a little reward. Take satisfaction in how much you got done—and then take an hour or so to do something just for you.



I’m A Diet Skeptic, And This Is How I Lost 20 Pounds

I am not a doctor. I didn’t even like science in school. What I am is a sixty-something guy who works in an office and has been highly skeptical of all diets – I think they’re fads – for my entire adult life. Diets all typically have a gimmick, may work for a while, but then leave you right back where you started. To me (and many medical professionals) that’s worse than never losing weight in the first place.

On the other hand, there’s January 1st. A day when people often make resolutions. And for many of us, that involves a healthier lifestyle in general and losing a few pounds in particular.

January 1, 2019 was one of those days for me. I set a goal to drop my weight from 209 to 189 entirely for my health. 20 pounds. (The CDC says normal weight for someone my height is 184 max, but I wanted to start with something aggressive and challenging – but also reachable.)

If I had to change how I ate, I needed something simple, because if the rules were too complex, I knew I wouldn’t stick with it. I also wanted something that didn’t require deprivation because going hungry is a sure recipe for losing discipline, not weight. And, finally, I wanted a healthy regime I could stick with over a long time, quite possibly a lifetime.

Based on a friend’s recommendation, I settled on a “slow carb” diet.

What is it? And, how did it work?

First, the simple: six days a week, all meals consist of a protein, a vegetable, and a legume (beans or lentils, mostly.) One day – cheat day – you as as much as you want of whatever you want.

That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. No calorie counting. No food measuring. No deprivation. You can even have up to two glasses of red wine every evening without affecting weight loss.

The book I read does lay out a set of five pretty easy rules to help:

  1. Avoid any carbohydrate that is – or can be – white.
  2. Keep it simple and eat the same meals over and over. (You don’t have to. it just makes shopping and cooking easier.)
  3. Don’t drink calories. (Red wine is the one exception here.)
  4. Don’t eat fruit.
  5. Take one day off every week.

The author goes into voluminous detail about the science behind it all, his and others’ experience, and the specifics (like, what exactly is a white carb?). There are even strategies for eating out.

The simple version of the science (remember me and science?) seems to be that what happens in the body when it processes any sugar, including fructose, or processed carbohydrate increases fat retention. Cheat day science is questionable, but if it helps me stick to my diet in general, that’s all that matters.

As far as deprivation goes, I honestly never feel hungry, and I haven’t missed eating or drinking anything enough to leave me wanting. I’ve got a wicked sweet tooth, so I was especially worried about sugar withdrawal, but any urges were easily deflected by the knowledge that Saturday – my cheat day – was coming up soon.

But is it healthy to eat this way long term? All I can say is that I feel great physically, I look younger, my blood work looks good (a real doctor says so), and the weight? I hit 189 by March, got to a low – so far – of 186 in August, and I’ve stayed right around 190 ever since.

Now, I’m gearing up for 2020 with a goal of 180!

A few side notes…

  • Breakfast is the easiest for me. I used to have coffee and a bagel, muffin, or toast with jam. Maybe a banana. Now, every day, I eat a huge bowl of scrambled eggs (2 eggs plus some organic egg whites) with black beans and chopped spinach. Easy to make, delicious, and so satisfying I sometimes don’t even notice when lunchtime rolls around.
  • If I’m really feeling motivated, sometimes I mix in a little IF – Intermittent Fasting. That’s a subject for another post.
  • Some people aren’t crazy about beans, think they’re boring, or just plain don’t like them. Those are people who haven’t experienced real beans. Try some heirloom beans. You really can’t believe how big a difference there is compared to supermarket beans.
  • Canned beans are fine if you don’t like to cook or don’t have time.
  • The slow carb approach has been around for a long time, and there are plenty of resources and testimonials on the internet available if you want support or answers to questions. A quick google search opens the door to a very deep rabbit hole. I’ve found the most helpful and objective advice, recipes and ideas here.
  • Having reached my goal, I still eat a slow carb diet… mostly. I like it, and it’s easy. I do cheat more often than just cheat day. I don’t worry about holidays or social events. I still weigh myself every morning, and if I start pushing toward 195 I go back to being strict.

So, with January 1 coming right up, now’s the time to do a little thinking, a little investigating, and a little committing yourself to a healthier life in the new year.




Five Employee-Focused Programs to Enhance in 2020

The start of a New Year—and decade!—is the perfect time to kick off or refresh HR-related programs. As company culture becomes more important than ever for employees, the payoff that comes from programs that meet their needs can be huge in terms of retention. Don’t forget that with the New Year comes resolutions—and for some employees that might include looking for a new job if they aren’t satisfied with their current situation. Here are five programs to consider offering to help keep employee loyalty high.

  1. Diversity and inclusion efforts

Why it’s important: Maintaining a diverse workforce remains a priority for companies, who find it leads to more innovation and better financial performance, as well as for employees; in one survey more than 80% of respondents said they preferred a diverse workplace.

What you can do: The first step is to examine your recruiting efforts to make sure that you’re building a diversity pipeline from the start. Then, take a look at your teams to see if they are integrated. Does your workplace foster inclusion by creating teams of different genders, cultures, abilities and ages? Are there policies you could implement, such as more flexibility, that would make it easier for all employees to be part of the team? Consider convening a task force to offer insight into what they think could contribute to a more inclusive environment.

  1. Mentoring

Why it’s important: More than 90% of workers who have a mentor say they are satisfied with their jobs, which is crucial for retention. In addition, mentors can help newer employees build their skills, which benefits the entire organization.

What you can do: Whether you choose a formal or informal mentor program, creating ways for employees to work together and learn from each other is positive for everyone. If you have a wide variety of ages, encourage a “reverse mentoring” dynamic, where older employees learn from younger employees, as well, as one more way to support your inclusion efforts.

  1. Professional development

Why it’s important: It’s no secret that today’s workers need to be focused on upskilling to stay competitive. According to MetLife’s 2019 U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, more than 90% of respondents find career development and training to be key considerations when deciding whether to accept a job or stay at the one they have. And helping workers develop new skills doesn’t just benefit them—their new talents will help your organization as a whole.

What you can do: Find out what skills your employees need that will also make them more effective to the company and then help them get the appropriate training, whether it’s attending an industry conference or completing an online program. You can also encourage more informal educational opportunities, such as inviting the team to read a pertinent book and then have a discussion group around it.

  1. Employee appreciation

Why it’s important: Do your employees know how important they are to the success of the company and how much you value them? It’s vital to create a program that acknowledges everything from day-to-day hard work to someone who goes above and beyond on a specific project.

What you can do: The easiest way to foster a dynamic of appreciation is by encouraging team leaders to just say “thank you;” a Deloitte survey found that 85% of workers valued a simple acknowledgment of their hard work. Written notes are a nice touch as a tangible reminder that employees can look back on. And there are many low-cost ways to acknowledge efforts, from a small gift card to a special parking space for a month. A more involved recognition program might include an awards program where team members submit nominations and an executive team chooses the winners.

  1. New benefits offerings

Why it’s important: Offering competitive compensation is vital to attract and retain top talent, but don’t overlook your benefits program as another way to convey your commitment to your employees. Believe it or not, one survey even found that many employees would prefer more benefits over more pay.

What you can do: Offering solid healthcare and retirement plans are important places to start. But then look beyond those to additional ways you can offer your employees peace of mind, such as with life insurance and disability insurance. Other popular choices include programs that promote financial wellness, improved health and flexible work options. Talk to your team about what’s important to them and then do what you can to bolster your menu of benefit choices to include those that are most important and therefore most inclined to spur loyalty.

According to Glassdoor’s Chief Economist, Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, company culture will come first in 2020, he says in a list of HR predictions. Now is the time to review the programs you already offer and see where you can strengthen existing efforts or introduce new ones to help create the workplace environment that your employees demand.

 




Healthy Holiday Eating – Go Ahead, Indulge a Little

The holidays are here. The season of giving, spending, celebration, and for many, the season of high calorie overeating. According to a 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average American gains about a pound between Thanksgiving and the beginning of January. Even though the weight gain isn’t as high as many might expect, the problem is most people don’t loose it after the holidays…so over the years, it all starts to add up. It’s great to be jolly for the season, but if we’re not careful, our bellies may be bowls full of jelly long after the holidays have past.

But there is good news. Not all holiday treats are unhealthy!

 

Sweet Potato

It’a an official superfood! They’re loaded with antioxidants, which can help protect your cells against pesky free radicals. They’re anti-inflammatory, helping reduce the impacts of arthritis and other painful conditions. And they have a full day’s worth of vitamin A, as well as significant amounts of several other vitamins, including C, B6, and manganese! So go ahead and dive into the yearly sweet potato casserole!

 

Pumpkin

As we’ve discussed before, pumpkin isn’t just for jack o’ lanterns at Halloween. This winter squash, like it’s sweet potato buddy, is packed with vitamins and antioxidants. This nutrient-dense food is low in calories, while also a good source of fiber, so it helps suppress appetite. A slice of pumpkin pie is nothing to feel too guilty about.

 

Peppermint

Nothing says holidays quite like peppermint. Peppermint cookies, peppermint tea, peppermint bark, and, of course, candy canes. While it’s important to consider how much sugar is mixed in, the peppermint itself may provide several benefits. Many believe it has calming effects and is often used to relieve anxiety. It’s also a popular natural remedy for nausea, muscle pain, and indigestion. Plus, those little individually wrapped candy canes are great for sharing around the office!

 

Ginger

Like peppermint, ginger is also synonymous with the holidays. And also like peppermint, it’s a popular natural remedy for indigestion, muscle pain, and nausea, especially morning sickness. Studies have even shown it may help lower cholesterol!

 

Red Wine

It’d be hard to make an argument for the health benefits of alcohol consumption. But if your holiday celebrations already include red wine, in moderation, you might be giving your heart a healthy little boost. Polyphenols and resveratrol in red wine are believed to help protect blood vessels in the heart, lower cholesterol, and prevent blood clots.

 

Chocolate

Would it even be the holidays without chocolate? Though it contains lots of fat and sugar, it’s also long been associated with countering stress, heart disease, and hypertension. One 2014 study found that a cocoa extract shows promise in slowing cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients. Another study found that chocolate could even lower the risk of stroke by as much as 22%.

 

So if you have visions of sugarplums dancing in your head, go head, have a little treat. Not all calories are bad. Besides, New Year’s is right around the corner, and you can always resolve to loose that extra holiday pound.




Dos and Don’ts For Handling Office Holiday Gift Anxiety

Office gift giving can be a source of holiday stress; in fact a recent study found that nearly 20% of millennials were worried they’d be judged by the gift they chose for an office gift exchange.

 

How do you decide what sort of holiday gifts are appropriate at the office? Here are some tips for workplace gifting dos and don’ts.

 

Do find out the office norms.

If your office always does a “secret Santa” gift exchange, it’s probably wise to participate, for the camaraderie and fun that goes along with it. But if there’s no organized gift-giving opportunity like this, see if you can find out what is normal for your office culture. Maybe everyone brings something small for the staff that supports the team or chips in a small amount for a group gift. While you certainly are not obligated to, it might be wise to participate in what is considered workplace etiquette. You can ask around your department and/or talk to HR to find out what’s typical.

 

Don’t assume you need to give a gift at all—especially to your boss.

Of course, we want to reiterate that you never need to feel that you have to give a gift. Most people find the holidays budget-busting when there are too many “obligatory” gift giving occasions, and it’s perfectly fine to focus on your own financial wellness.

Often one of the most stressful holiday-giving etiquette situations involves your manager. In most office places, gift-giving goes “down” line; in other words most employees don’t give a gift to their boss. (In fact, in some workplaces it might even be frowned upon so be sure to ask HR if there are any rules in place.)  As with any office situation, much depends on your relationship with your boss as to what feels comfortable.

 

Do become the “team leader” and suggest an outing or small event in lieu of giving gifts.

If you feel comfortable spearheading the gift-giving norms, ask around and see if the team might want to go out for lunch or for a fun activity like bowling or even volunteering all together. You may consider doing a potluck of your favorite holiday side dishes or a cookie exchange. Celebrating the season certainly doesn’t have to mean giving gifts, and everyone might feel relieved if you suggest alternatives.

If you find that giving to your supervisor is customary, suggest going in on a group gift so that everyone needs to just chip in a small amount. A group gift might make your manager feel less awkward, as well.

 

Don’t mix drinks with the workplace.

If you do decide to hold an activity, try to stay away from happy hour or other drinking situations that could make members of the team uncomfortable. And avoid giving wine or liquor as a gift. In general, alcohol and work don’t always mix well and are therefore best avoided.

 

Don’t feel obligated to reciprocate if you receive a gift.

 There’s usually one in every office—the Santa who gives everyone an unexpected gift. Remember that they are doing this because they want to, and not to make you feel awkward or as though they expect something in return. If you receive a gift, don’t immediately run out and buy something for them—that’s a one-way ticket to unexpected bills come January. Instead, respond with a sincere thank you and best wishes for their season.

 

Do remember it’s the thought that counts.

It sounds trite, but it’s true. If you do feel that gift giving is expected or something you want to do, avoid anything that will break the bank and/or can look like you’re trying to curry favor. And remember a beautiful package can elevate any gift! Here are some ideas for affordable, thoughtful gifts that anyone can enjoy:

  • A plant for your coworkers’ desk
  • A small donation to a charity, especially one you know your coworker supports
  • A small denomination gift card to the favorite local coffee or sandwich place
  • A holiday decoration (stick with snowmen or other “winter” themes unless you are absolutely certain the person celebrates with a tree)
  • A funny desk accessory or notepad
  • Food, snacks or other “consumables”
  • A reusable water bottle or coffee mug
  • Heartfelt thank you notes—everyone appreciates being thanked, especially at this time of year.

 

The holidays are indeed the “most wonderful time of the year,” but they also can be stressful when you mix work, finances and relationships. Just remember that employees are judged by the quality of their work and their interpersonal interactions on a day-to-day basis, not how they handle the once-a-year holiday gift-giving situation. Do what makes you feel comfortable, without compromising your beliefs or budget.

 




Five Tips for First Time Disability Insurance Shoppers

Long-term disability insurance. It’s not as immediate a need as health insurance, and you probably don’t think it works into your long-term financial plan as much as life insurance does.

But it’s still really, really important.

Long-term disability insurance is, at its core, income replacement. It can help you make ends meet when you’re unable to work without needing to completely drain your emergency fund or other savings. So why isn’t it as popular as other insurance types?

If you’re a first-time long-term disability shopper, it can be easy to find yourself overwhelmed or confused with this unfamiliar topic. But if you get to the core of what a long-term disability insurance policy can do for you, and cut through the noise of agents trying to upsell you on things you don’t need, it’s pretty easy to see the benefits.

Here are five questions every first-time long-term disability insurance shopper should know the answer to before they start hunting for a policy.

Do you need long-term disability insurance coverage?

In short, yes. You should have some sort of income protection; one in four workers will become disabled at some point in their careers, usually from an illness like cancer. But the bills won’t stop, even if your paycheck does. The last thing you want is to worry about unpaid bills, on top of recovery.

The good news is that you might already have it. Disability insurance was provided by over 200,000 employers in 2014, so there’s a chance that you are either enrolled in some sort of disability insurance plan, or have the option to enroll. It’s important to know this before you start your shopping journey: If you already have an employer-sponsored disability plan, the supplemental long-term disability insurance you can buy on your own may be limiting.

The point of this guide is to give you the basics of what you need to know about long-term disability insurance.

Some coverage is better than no coverage, so the most important thing is to make sure you have protection. A licensed broker can walk you through the confusing parts and help you make the right decision for your financial situation, but you should at least know where to start.

What are the basics of long-term disability insurance?

Long-term disability insurance covers just that – long-term disabilities. This is generally defined as a period of longer than 90 days of being unable to work due to an injury or illness. It’s only available for people who work over 30 hours a week (the accepted definition of working full time).

  • Elimination period – This is how long it’ll be before your long-term disability coverage kicks in. Also called the waiting period, you’ll usually see it in periods of 60, 90, 180, or 365 days. The longer your elimination period, the lower your premiums, but policies are usually very cost-effective with 90-day elimination periods.
  • Benefit period – How long your benefits will last. You usually have the option to choose between 2, 5, and 10-year periods, or until retirement age, or until you return to work. The longer the benefit period, the higher your premiums.
  • Replacement rate – The amount of your monthly pre-tax income that you’ll be able to cover. You can choose a monthly benefit up to the maximum allowed, usually 60% of your gross pay for most policies. The higher the replacement rate, the more expensive your policy.
  • Own occupation – Generally, your disability should be “own occupation” – that is, you’re considered disabled if you can’t do your own job, as opposed to being considered disabled only if you can’t do any job (known as “any occupation” which, obviously, is a very different definition). For more information on occupation definitions when it comes to long-term disability insurance, check out our full primer here.

How do you know how much coverage you need?

When you’re trying to decide how much long-term disability coverage you need, you need to consider two things: How much money you need coming in, and how long you need it to last.

The amount of income replacement you need depends on your individual circumstances. Your lifestyle, and the amount of money you need to cover your everyday expenses, will be the biggest driver. It will also depend on how well you’re able to self-insure. For most people this comes in the form of an emergency fund. While this can help in the short-term, most emergency funds are only meant to last around six months, up to a year at the most. Many people won’t have an emergency fund that can last multiple years, and dipping into other savings, such as an IRA, comes with a penalty.

Remember those benefit period lengths we talked about in the last section? While you can get coverage that lasts all the way to retirement, the average disability claim is around three years. That means a long-term disability policy with a benefit period of five years will cover most instances of disability.

What affects the price of your long-term disability policy?

As mentioned, the elimination period, benefit period, and replacement rate will all affect your premium. However, there are some things about yourself that will also determine how much you’ll pay for a long-term disability insurance policy. Some of them will be familiar if you’ve shopped for other types of insurance products, they include:

  • Your occupation. Some jobs inherently put people more at risk of a disability than others. A landscaper will likely face higher rates than a writer.
  • Your age. Since older people are more at risk of becoming disabled than younger people, rates will increase the longer you wait to apply for long-term disability insurance. In the next section, we’ll talk about how you can lock in rates if you apply when you’re younger.
  • Your gender. Long-term disability policies for women typically end up being more expensive than for men.
  • Your health. The insurance carrier will want to know your current health and health history to predict your chances of becoming disabled. They do this through underwriting and a basic medical exam. Essentially, a short, free physical with a blood test. Pre-existing conditions may cause the insurer to shorten the benefit period. Or the insurer may include exclusions for certain conditions that won’t be covered.

What riders are available?

An insurance policy isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. Every situation is different, and policies need to reflect this fact. That’s where riders come in.

Riders are a way for you to customize a standard policy so that it better fits your needs. There are two main caveats when it comes to riders. First, features that are riders with some insurers might be standard fare with other insurers. You might be paying more for the same features depending on the carrier.

Second, riders can increase the cost of a policy. Your choice of riders depend on your individual needs and what your budget can support. Know your options, but talk to a licensed agent about what each rider will do to your policy’s cost.

Common riders for long-term disability insurance policies include:

  • Non-cancelable rider – Looking to lock in your rates for as long as you pay your premiums? A non-cancelable rider will let you do that. That means your policy stays affordable for as long as you need it – a great incentive for getting protection early!
  • Future increase rider – We already talked about how your health affects your premiums. But what if you decide down the line that you need additional coverage? If it’s been 10 years since you first applied and your health has gotten worse. What does that mean for your options? With a future increase rider, your medical insurability is locked in. Therefore, in the future, when you need coverage that corresponds to your new earnings, you can increase it regardless of changes to your health.
  • True own occupation rider – Remember at the beginning of this guide when we talked about “own occupation” being part of the definition of disability? Well, there are actually a few different levels of own occupation (we go into them in-depth here). A true own occupation rider means that if you can’t work in your own occupation – even if you start working elsewhere – your benefit will be paid.
  • Residual disability coverage rider – Let’s say you’re still able to work but your disability has reduced your capacity to do so and you’re making less money than you were pre-disability (for example, you’re only able to work part-time now). A residual disability coverage rider will allow you to receive partial benefits. That way you can make up the difference in income amounts.

Remember, getting some long-term disability insurance coverage is better than having none at all. This guide is your introduction to the world of long-term disability insurance, and now you’re ready to get some free long-term disability insurance quotes in minutes. But there’s always a helpful Policygenius expert a call (or email, or chat) away to answer any questions you have once you start on your journey.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius.




What is the Impact of High Student College Debt?

Student loans and the increasing size of their associated debt continue to grab headlines. The ongoing political environment and upcoming presidential election is significantly increasing the discussion of various proposals and ideas.

From a historical perspective student loans are certainly not new. The debt levels, however, are even more evident when you look at the debt loads of those who continue their education beyond the traditional four-year degree. And the problems created by student debt (either from the pursuit of secondary or advanced degrees) continue to be a concern after former students enter their first full-time jobs.

In addition to all the necessary purchases you need as you embark on your life journey, carrying a large debt load hampers you the most. And if you have any type of accident or illness that takes you out of work, this debt is exacerbated. You must deal with the extra costs associated with disability and medical costs – without an income – and still repay your loan. For the vast majority of people in this situation, the loan payments still due (unless you become permanently and completely disabled), and the risk of loan default is high. This can be very detrimental to you, your families, and your financial future.

 

Several insurance carriers studied the significant growth in college and post-graduate debt and responded by adding riders to their traditional disability insurance policies to address the continued loan repayment requirement. These outstanding student loans, in addition to the other financial stresses a disability can create, can be mitigated by the purchase of this rider. While certainly not a panacea, having such a program might help you focus on recovery if you need to leave work if you had an accident or a health issue.

I designed the remainder of this article to ensure you have a clear understanding of the breadth of the student loan debt issue.

 

Quick Student Loan Statistics1
• $1.56 trillion in total U.S. student debt
• Average student loan debt per borrower: $32,731
• 11.5% of student loans are 90 days or more delinquent or are in default
• Number of student loan borrowers: 44.7 million
• Student loan debt for borrowers 60 and over has increased by 1,256% since 2004

People use student loans to meet the cost of higher education when you or your family’s personal resources, grants and scholarships are insufficient to cover the cost of attendance. For low-income students, loans are a huge factor that enable them to go to school. These loans typically cover tuition, room and board, meal plans, textbooks, and miscellaneous necessities.

During repayment of student loans, renegotiation and bankruptcy are strictly regulated.2 As with most types of debt, student debt defaults are turned over to a collection agency, which can impact your financial well-being for years.

In 1992, the federal government began directly funding student loans and also established unsubsidized Stafford loans for students whose financial needs were not fully met by the subsidized loan program. The financial turmoil of the Great Recession caused most private lenders to stop making subsidized loans, and the federal government became the main issuer of student loans. Then, in 2010, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 required all federal loans to be direct loans.

 

It’s important to note that private lenders offer student loans, but these are generally more expensive than federal loans.3

One factor that contributes to the amount of money you have to repay is the interest rate you pay on any loans you carry. Another factor is the new guideline developed by the federal government, which now determines who qualifies for a loan and how much they can borrow.

A third factor to keep in mind when applying for student loans is that colleges and universities continue to increase the tuition and housing costs, which subsequently increases the debt you will take on. According to the American Center for Progress’ report on the Student Debt Crisis, within the past three decades the cost of attaining a college degree drastically increased by more than 1,000 percent.4

 

Distribution of student loan debt in the U.S. 6

To place student debt in perspective, the average undergraduate student from the class of 2016 graduated with $37,172 in debt. This amount of debt can be a major burden. Monthly loan payments average $351, limit your ability to save money, and can lessen your quality of life.

In fact, 62 percent of college graduates reported that their monthly payments on debt were affecting their ability to pay their rent or buy groceries. Those with such debt report turning down luxury expenses such as concerts, and express concern over the ability to pay an electric bill. More than half of graduates say they put off major purchases, such as buying a car or a house, due to their debt.

The above factors influence the return of new graduates to their parents’ homes. Twenty-one percent of college graduates report still living with their parents a full year after graduation. Moving out of your parents’ house – and certainly buying a home – requires savings. Again, the need to repay your student loans reduces your ability to save money. This means, in turn, that graduates don’t put money away for emergencies; and they are certainly not putting money away for retirement.

 

On top of all of this, studies show that student debt is a problem long after you leave college. Just two decades ago, only four percent of people aged 55 to 64 still had student loan debt. That number is rapidly growing. In 2013, 30 percent of people in the same age group reported having debt from college.7

 

Another interesting thing to consider is how student debt varies when you consider race and gender. While most recent graduates have a high debt load compared to their first- year income, women and blacks are disproportionately carrying debt in comparison to their paychecks after leaving college.8

 

The issue of student loan debt is even more pronounced when you undertake post-graduate studies and specialized training programs. Graduate level debt statistics are frightening:

  • Dental School: $260,000
  • Medical School: $180,000
  • Pharmacy School: $160,000
  • Veterinary School: $140,000
  • Law School: $140,0008

 

Given the breadth and depth of student loan statistics, let me leave you with the key takeaways:

  • Student loans have lifelong effects. These effects can be seen throughout a person’s life and can continue into retirement.
  • These lasting effects of student loans are important for students to be aware of and prepared for.
  • Several insurance companies have added riders to certain disability insurance policies to help pay some of your ongoing loan payments while you deal with recovering from an accident or injury and being out of work.
  • Some employers are sponsoring benefits to help their employees either fund the college costs of their offspring, or help the employee help their children pay these loans.
  • While we should applaud people for their goal of attending college, careful consideration of the debt associated with attaining a degree and ways to deal with that debt should be considered.
  • People who go on with graduate studies or continue specialized training will most likely have even greater debt burdens as they enter the workforce.

 

 

 

1 Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Research and Statistics Group, 2018.

2 Forbes, Student Loan Debt Statistics In 2019: A $ 1.5 Trillion Crisis, February 25, 2019.

3 Forbes, Student Loan Debt in 2017: A $ 1.3 Trillion Crisis, February 21, 2017.

4 Fortune, America’s Student Loan Debt Crisis Is About to Get Much Worse, October 17, 2018.

5 Forbes, Student Loan Debt Statistics In 2019: A $ 1.5 Trillion Crisis, February 25, 2019

6 Student Loan Hero, A Look at the Shocking Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2019, February 4 , 2019 .

7 Magnify Money, Student Loan Debt’s Effect on the U. S. Economy, February 5, 2019.

8 Value Penguin, Average Student Loan Debt in America: 2019 Facts and Figures.

9 Make Lemonade, Student Loan Dept Statistics for 2019.




Scheduling Tips for the Holidays

As we head into the busy holiday season, two forces converge—one, some workplaces get extra busy, and two, everyone is craving time off for their own personal celebrations. Here are some suggestions for helping manage employee time off so that everyone feels that they have been treated fairly—or as fairly as possible. (Remember that these rules won’t apply to every type of business; for example, a company in the retail field likely has an “all hands on deck” policy.)

  1. Decide whether you will create a first-come/first-served or priority schedule.

There are two basic ways to figure out how you allocate scarce days off—the first person who asked or the person with the most seniority. There are pros and cons to each one; after all, the person who’s been there the longest or has the highest position might rightly feel they deserve the days off they request, while newer people might feel they deserve the perk because they planned ahead. While there’s no right answer, it’s crucial to ensure that the policy is clearly communicated and executed fairly—and that the priority requests have to adhere to a specific deadline. That means not making exceptions to the rule and letting someone slip in extra days if they didn’t request them by the deadline.

  1. Give extra days to people who work days no one wants to work.

Another option is to offer a “two-for-one” type of scenario; for example, for someone who works the day after Thanksgiving when most people want the extra day to continue their family time. In order to incent people to come in if that’s a day you need to cover, offer them an extra day in the future for covering this day.

  1. Schedule more, shorter shifts.

If certain days absolutely have to be covered, consider scheduling morning and afternoon shifts, rather than a full day. Or, give half your staff one full day on and the next day off and then switch. The goal is to make everyone feel like they’re giving a little, so no one feels they are bearing the brunt of unpopular days or undesirable shifts.

  1. Encourage work-from-home if feasible.

Sometimes you don’t need employees in the office, but you also can’t have them completely taking multiple days off. If your type of work still allows employees to be productive, encourage them to pick a few hours where they can stay up-to-date on whatever project they are working on by putting in some time at home. At the least, they will avoid the commute. And, if needed, you can hold staff or project meetings via conference call or video call to keep everyone in the loop even if you aren’t all together.

  1. Hire part-time employees.

Sometimes it might be necessary to staff up in order to cover vacation shifts and/or avoid burning out your own team. If you feel that they would benefit from time off to come back refreshed, and yet, the show must go on, put together a team of part-time employees to lighten the load while keeping the workplace moving ahead.

  1. Offer a bonus to those who work.

Offering a little extra money is another way to give a perk to those who are working and help them feel appreciated, rather than put-upon that they have to work while their coworkers are enjoying down time. It could be extra pay per hour, or just a bonus check at the end of the holiday season to say “thank you.” Anything you can do to help keep morale high will pay dividends.

  1. Remember who worked to ease the strain the following year.

While most places are bound to have some turnover, likely many of your employees will stick with you from year to year. If you had to give disappointing news to some team members who wanted specific days off, see if you can rotate the “pain” the following year so that one person doesn’t think they always have the most undesirable days.

  1. Be lenient with staff.

Remember that everyone is stretched throughout the holidays, so give a little breathing room to an employee who comes in late because they were shopping over their lunch hour, or let someone go home early if work is slow. While you never want to encourage anyone to take advantage, it’s also important that your team feels supported as you minimize their stress however possible.

  1. Close for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

While only about 8% of offices report closing this week, it’s a perk to consider depending on your industry’s workload; not only does it allow you to reward employees for a year of hard work, but it can also save some money by not having your operation running—and most certainly build goodwill heading into the new year. Furthermore, nearly 30% of employees say this week is wasted, anyway, with too many clients or co-workers out of the office to get any real work done.




Benefits of Water (Other than Being the First Ingredient in Beer)

Dictionary.com defines water as a “colorless, transparent, odorless liquid that forms the seas, lakes, rivers, and rain and is the basis of the fluids of living organisms.” Sounds a little boring, huh? Have you ever wondered why we really need it? Let’s dive in!

It’s more than just a thirst quencher. It makes up 60% of your body weight. Your brain and heart are 73% water. Your skin is 64% water. Muscles are 83% water. Even your bones are 31% water. Without it, you’d be a creaky dry, mess. To maintain proper hydration and keep your body from turning to dust, you need a regular intake of water. How much? According to The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the average woman should aim for 2.7 liters of fluids per day; 3.7 liters for men.

Water is Crucial to Many functions:

  • It helps regulate your body temperature. Sweat helps to cool you off when you’re hot or when you exert yourself, but if you don’t replenish the water you loose, you become dehydrated and your temperature will rise, like a car with a leaky radiator. And extreme dehydration can lead to serious problems, like low blood pressure and hypothermia.
  • It lubricates and cushions. In addition to cooling you when we exercise, it also makes all movements more comfortable, as it helps to lubricate and cushion joints, the spinal cord, and tissues throughout the body.
  • It helps clean out the junk. Your kidneys and intestines need water to flush out waste and keep food moving through the intestinal tract.
  • It protects babies in the womb. Amniotic fluid starts with water and, among other things, provides a protective cushion for those little whippersnappers as they prepare to enter the world.
  • It helps with digestion. Drinking water before, during, and after a meal helps your body break down food and make use of valuable nutrients. It also helps dissolve vitamins and minerals and deliver them to where they’re needed.
  • It helps prevent medical conditions, such as constipation, kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and hypertension.
  • It helps you look fantastic! In addition to hydrating, it also helps to remove toxins, contributing healthy skin, hair, and nails. (Protecting yourself from the sun also helps.)

 

Does Anything Else Hydrate?

There’s water in beer, right? It’s the first ingredient! True. But unfortunately, the alcohol content of most beers has at least a slightly negative impact on hydration. (It can still contribute to your need for water, but not as well as the pure stuff.) But coffee and tea count! While caffeine does have a slight diuretic effect (makes you want to pee), it’s so minimal that the hydrating properties of these beverages are positive. Unfortunately, caffeinated beverages can cause headaches and insomnia. But if you can get past those problems, feel free to count that morning latte or pot of Oolong toward your total daily need.

 

What’s Even Better than Water?

Milk. Studies have found that drinks with a little bit of sugar, fat, or protein actually do a better job of hydrating. Milk, even skim, has all of those, and they help to keep the fluids in the stomach longer so that hydration continues over a longer period of time. Too much sugar, however, can be a problem. Sports drinks are only for times when exercising intensely for more than an hour, as they do more than hydrate. They also replace electrolytes lost through perspiration and sugar to help boost energy. But when you’re not exercising, sugar just contributes to weight gain.

 

Tired of all that drinking, but still want to hydrate? There are lots of foods that can satisfy the need almost as well as a cool glass of agua. Watermelon, tomatoes, celery, zucchini, and lettuce are all more than 90% water! They not only help hydrate, but also contain fiber and several vitamins. The average person gets about 20% of their daily fluid intake from food.

 

In the end, it’s hard to beat water. No calories, no alcohol, no caffeine…and it’s free! So raise a pint of H2O. Cheers to your health!




Eight Ways to Find Part-Time Elves

As the holiday season rolls around, many companies find they need all hands on deck to handle an increased work load—just when many employees are requesting time off to celebrate with their family and friends. While the current low unemployment rate might make you wonder if you can find extra help, the good news is that plenty of people would appreciate a few extra hours to help pay off upcoming holiday debts.

Whether you run a retail establishment that needs extra workers or an office looking to cover end-of-year vacation absences or an increased December crunch, here are eight ideas for finding and attracting part-time workers in a tight hiring environment.

  1. Look inside first.

Your own employees might be your best source. While some are undoubtedly looking for days off, others might be willing to take on a few additional hours for the chance to earn extra money. Offering a nice pay bump is often worth it—instead of having to go through the paperwork and training involved in hiring a new person, you can instead dedicate that money to paying your own loyal employees more, knowing that they are going to be more efficient than someone just learning the ropes. You also could offer a referral bonus to employees who recommend a part-time candidate as it will save you the time and money involved in looking outside for employees—and will likely result in a great hire.

  1. Pay competitive wages.

This should go without saying, but it’s crucial to remember: Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish when trying to hire part-time help. This group you are trying to attract wants to make a few bucks, fast, and are liable to turn to the highest wage available…even if it’s only a quarter or so more an hour. Remember that most of these temporary employees are not looking to build a career with your company—they just want to make some extra spending money, and thus every dollar counts.

  1. Make quick decisions.

Someone who wants to work part-time wants to work part-time now. If you delay making offers, they are likely to accept a competing position. It’s imperative to shorten your hiring cycle—the average length is currently 42 days, although of course that metric also includes full-time positions. But the fact remains that waiting to see “what else is out there” could result in losing a viable candidate, especially if you are hiring for high-turnover positions.

  1. Provide just the right amount of training—not too much, not too little.

Training can be tricky with part-time positions; after all, they don’t need to know everything about the ins and outs of your company, but they need to know enough to feel successful in the position. Too many times part-time employees quit because they felt as though they were “thrown to the wolves” by being expected to come immediately up to speed on a new skill and interact with coworkers or the general public before they are comfortable. Promise your applicants that you’ll give them adequate training so that they won’t feel out of their element. And, of course, make sure it’s paid.

  1. Offer flexibility.

While full flexibility is probably not possible, since you are trying to hire to fill specific shifts, anything you can offer that gives them some choices—such as allowing potential employees to offer days and times they prefer, giving them the chance to switch shifts if both parties are amenable, etc. will help make your position more appealing.

  1. Promote discounts.

Not every company has a product that’s amenable to discounts, but if you’ve got it…flaunt it! Many potential employees might be attracted to the opportunity to not only make money through a paycheck, but save on their gift giving. You also should see if there are any benefits you offer full-time employees—such as discounts on movie tickets or transit passes—that you can relatively affordably also offer to these fill-in employees. It might make the difference between someone accepting your offer or that of a competitor.

  1. Look to non-traditional groups.

Holiday periods are the perfect time to look beyond your traditional hiring pool. Consider reaching out to local high schools to see if you can hire students for the few weeks of the holiday season; with sports, drama, schoolwork and other regular pressing needs on hold, even those who wouldn’t normally be able to hold down a regular position might want to make some quick spending money. Ditto kids home on college break—which often stretches a month or more. They likely would love the chance to bolster their bank account before they head back for second semester. To reach this group, advertise in the local community paper and on social media sites and post notices in local coffee shops or other local gathering places. Reaching their parents might be the best avenue to get to the returning college student. Finally, in addition to thinking young, think a bit older. Retirees might love the chance to get involved in the holiday hustle and bustle and make a few bucks.

  1. Advertise everywhere.

You never know where your next temporary employee might come from. Make sure you have listed your position on your social media websites and with notices in other places that your potential target part-time worker might be looking. It can pay to get really creative, like going door to door—seriously! One HR exec recently told a business gathering about an enterprising organization that “hired” a youth group to blanket a nearby neighborhood with cards advertising open part-time positions. The company gave a flat donation to the group, as well as an additional bonus for each person that was hired from the effort. She reported that the organization was able to fill nearly 85% of its positions, proving that creativity can pay.

With a little ingenuity, you’ll have all your part-time elves lined up in no time.