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.


The Flu and The Common Cold Demystified: What You Need to Know This Fall

When we say “Hello, autumn,” we often are also saying “Hello, germs.” Whether it’s the change in the weather or the many (many!) germs your kids bring home if you have school-aged children, this is when we tend to get the first cold or flu bug of the season.

The problem is that most of us are often not sure if we have a cold or the flu—and what we should do about it. And that’s important because while both are respiratory illness, the treatment can be different, even if the symptoms seem similar—and it’s vital to realize that flu can be far more serious.

Here’s a brief guide to the cold versus the flu, and what to do about each one, as well as how (ideally!) to prevent them.

Flu Symptoms

Often assumed to be associated with stomach distress, that is actually only one of the symptoms and not always the most persistent one. Instead, a flu often presents itself with fever, fatigue and muscle or body and headaches, along with common cold symptoms, which include cough, sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose. With the flu, you’ll also find that the symptoms come on abruptly…you might feel fine in the morning and by the afternoon feel as though you’ve been hit by a truck.

Cold Symptoms

A cold usually comes on a lot more gradually—you start feeling a tickle in your throat or your nose starts to run a bit. Then over the course of a few days, you’ll experience all the normal cold symptoms—sore throat, coughing, stuffy nose, sneezing and some mild chest pain. However, it’s rare to have a fever or overall aches or pains.

Diagnosing the Difference

The only way to know for sure if you have the flu is to get a test—the rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDT). But often your healthcare provider will diagnose you just based on the symptoms you describe and their own judgement. With a cold, there is no test to know for sure.

And while it’s hard to know if a visit to the doctor is in order, it can be best to err on the side of caution if your “cold” symptoms persist, as it might indicate something more acute, such as a sinus or ear infection, bronchitis or strep throat. And you should always call your doctor if you have a fever that lasts more than three days.

Treating the Flu

If you do have the flu, your provider may prescribe an antiviral drug—particularly if you are at higher risk for the flu based on your age (especially adults 65 or older or if you have young children) as well as pregnant women and those with conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

These drugs can help lessen the symptoms and hopefully help you fight off the flu without needing to go the hospital—that’s right, flu is no joke and serious complications can ensue. Otherwise, the best treatment is plenty of rest—don’t be a hero and try to do too much. Not only do you run the risk of infecting others, but it will prolong your symptoms and could make them worse. You can also treat cold-like symptoms as described below.

Treating a Cold

Often when we are sick, we go to the doctor in hopes of receiving a “magic pill” that will alleviate our symptoms. Unfortunately, there is no such wonderful elixir for a cold; antibiotics have no effect on a cold. But they can cause side effects and can make them less effective when you do need them, so there’s no need to ask for them. However, antibiotics are necessary if you have a bacterial infection, such as an ear or sinus infection.

The best treatment for a cold is over-the-counter products, such as saline drops to clear your nose, decongestants, gargling with salt water and pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin.

And if you must go out, practice good hygiene by covering your nose and mouth with a tissue (not your hand!) when you cough or sneeze.

Preventing a Cold or Flu

The best prevention is good hand-washing habits so you don’t unwittingly pass on a virus you pick up on a doorknob or elevator button to your nose or eyes. You’ll also want to steer clear of those exhibiting symptoms, and pay special attention to using disinfectant wipes in your house or around the office if a family member or colleague is suffering.

It’s also wise to build up a healthy immune system by making sure you’re eating well, exercising and getting plenty of sleep.

And, the best treatment for flu is to get a flu shot. Whether you think you need one or not—you do. It’s easier than ever to get one these days—they are often offered in local stores and at your healthcare provider’s office. Make sure to talk to your HR department or find out special options they might know of. It’s in everyone’s best interest to try to avoid being sick this fall and winter.

Make fall foolproof — Save money by tackling winter house maintenance now

winter home maintenance

As we soak up the last warmth of summer, there are subtle reminders that the change of seasons is around the corner – from the school supplies clogging the shelves of big box stores to that one tree whose leaves are reddening prematurely.

Before the first pumpkin spice latte hits the neighborhood coffee shop, take a weekend afternoon to knock out these cold weather household chores while it’s still nice out. You’ll save time – and money – when fall rolls around.

Clean your gutters

Yes, they will likely soon fill up with fall leaves, but now’s the time to remove any debris that may have built up over the past season. Clogged gutters can cause long-lasting, expensive issues around your property – water spilling over can damage your foundation, and heavy gutters can sag and break.

Inspect your roof

Even if you don’t want to climb up on your roof (and if you do, be very careful, as falls are a leading cause of disability), now is the time to do a visual check before the roof becomes hidden by leaves or snow. Use binoculars to get a closer look and note any missing, damage or slipped shingles that should be further investigated by a roofing professional before the rain and wind arrive.

Check your trees

Loose limbs can become hazardous in storms; they can knock out windows – or people passing underneath them, in the worst-case scenario. Cut back branches that are listing or that are too close to power lines or the roof.

Tidy up your landscaping

You might still be enjoying your summer flowers and by all means, continue to. But while you’re in your garden, pull weeds and rake up needles and leaves before the chore gets bigger in the fall.

Organize your garage

Late summer is the perfect time to try out those bikes and see if they are still the right size, or determine that no one is ever going to play ladder ball. It’s much easier to make a decision on what to get rid of when you know for a fact that no one has touched it all season. And there’s still time to hold a garage sale and make a little back-to-school cash.

Have your heating system checked

Need to service your furnace or heat pump? Now’s the time…before everyone else realizes they need to, too. Ditto your fireplace and chimney. You’re guaranteed to get faster – and probably cheaper – service from a repair person who’s not being pulled in a dozen different directions as other homeowners realize their heating element isn’t working up to par.

Get your back-to-school system in place

The night before school starts is not the time to remember that you never cleaned out last year’s backpack. Before the stress of September rolls around, take the time to fill out the paperwork that came in the mail earlier in the summer, sign up for music lessons, create a paper filing system – all those organizational chores that will make your fall less harried.

Coordinate your emergency supplies

What better time to establish your emergency kit than as you’re stowing your camping gear from summer getaways? Rather than relegating it to the attic or a hidden shelf, make an organized plan to have it ready should you need it if the power goes out or there is another weather emergency. Change the batteries in your flashlights and lanterns; wash and store the sleeping bags; replenish the waterproof matches and first aid supplies. While you’re at it, add a stash of non-perishable foods and an extra deck of cards – just in case.

Hang your holiday lights

Seriously…your future self will thank you – the one that’s not standing on a ladder as the wind gusts and the rain pelts. Of course you don’t have to turn them on – in fact, please don’t – but it’s nice to know they are ready and waiting for when the holiday spirit strikes.

And now that your house is ready for fall, enjoy that warm summer evening in your newly prepped yard. You deserve it!


Open Enrollment Cheat Sheet: Important Terms To Share With your Employees

As “open enrollment” season looms, HR personnel are getting ready to help their employees make a smart choice regarding their health plan. But often even those employees who are nodding their heads like they know all about the insurance plans you’re discussing are really thinking, “Huh?” Often they’re not sure exactly what the terms mean for them—and their pocketbook.


So even though you might be fluent in “medical plan speak,” we thought it might be helpful to take a layperson’s perspective and share some of the confusing terms that your team might be curious about.


Health Plan Costs


It’s important that employees understand the interaction between these different potential costs they will pay. For example, a low premium might bring with it a high-deductible and vice versa. Help them run some scenarios based on their estimate of how much healthcare they typically consume to figure out which of your different plan options might be best for them.


Premium: This is the amount that you pay to your health insurance company for coverage. Often employees have this amount automatically withdrawn from each paycheck.


Co-Pay: This is the part of the bill you are responsible for as the consumer. Often you will need to pay the entire portion until your deductible is met.

Deductible: This is the out-of-pocket amount you will pay for your healthcare costs before your insurance starts to cover it. Your plan will tell you what your deductible is—usually there is an amount for each insured (as in member of the family) and a total for all family members. It typically resets each year.


Health Plan Limits


Covered services: This one seems pretty clear-cut, but not everyone understands that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ushered in a new standard where certain preventative services are covered free of charge—that is, without a co-pay or deductible payment. A list of those services can be found here. Aside from those, health plans can decide what sorts of services to offer so read your plan carefully if there’s something that’s particularly important to you.

Excluded services: These are services that the health plan specifically says it won’t cover. Examples of typical excluded services might be cosmetic procedures and weight-related offerings.


Annual limits on services: Again, pretty self-explanatory; this is how much you can use each service per year. For example, you might be offered 20 chiropractic visits a year and then have to cover the others yourself. Thanks to the ACA, this category can’t cover any “essential benefits,” that include important care like emergency services, prescription drugs and more.


Health Plan Types


This is not exhaustive, but here are some of the main types of coverage you might offer. If your employees understand the differences between them, they can make the choice that is right for their finances and specific health situations.


Health Maintenance Organization (HMO): With an HMO, you will pick a primary physician who is the person who coordinates your care, including providing referrals to specialists. Typically out-of-network care will not be covered in an HMO.


Preferred Provider Organization (PPO): With a PPO, you can see any provider who is part of your “network,” usually including specialists, without a referral. Typically you will want to use a provider within the PPO to get the best rates.


High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHP): These plans require you to pay for all your services before your coverage kicks in (except the preventative care mandated by the ACA). After you have hit your deductible, then the insurance will pay the benefits as specified by your plan.


Most HDHPs are paired with a Health Savings Account (HSA), which allows you to save money tax-free to be used for any medical expenses not covered by your plan. (You will pay taxes and a penalty if you use the money for other purposes before you are 65.) That money is yours…it travels from job to job. For 2019 you can contribute a maximum $3,500 for individual coverage and $7,000 for family coverage to your HSA.


Extra Coverage


Also, take the time to talk through the benefits of other coverage your company offers, such as long-term disability and short-term disability.


And finally, it’s wise to discuss how and when they can change their health plans if they choose, via open enrollment—as you are currently planning for—or, alternately, due to a qualifying event. These include:


  • Marriage (and in some cases, divorce)
  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • A permanent move to an area where your current health plan is unavailable
  • A new job (in most cases)


So since they can’t switch plans on a whim, it’s more important than ever that they have a clear idea of what their coverage will include before they sign up.


Note: These definitions were adapted from the ACA site. Visit here for more terms you might want to add to your own cheat sheet.

Seven Things Even The Smartest College Grad Might Not Know About The Workplace

It’s hard to remember back to your first job, but the learning curve can be steep—even for young adults who did very well in college. In fact, today’s newest professionals, Gen Z, tend to feel hesitant about the work environment, with a quarter believing that they will not meet employers’ expectations.


Of course, sometimes they just need a clearer picture of what those expectations look like—and often they center on soft skills and other information not taught in class. Remember, none of these suggestions are designed to insinuate that this generation is less tuned into reality—many of them have just never faced these types of situations.


Here are some tips you can share (gently) with new employees as they onboard to help make their transition smooth.


  1. They’ll need to master various forms of communication.

A little tutorial on communications methods and etiquette can be a smart idea. You should start by going over your social media and email security policies, and then talk about what types of communications are work-appropriate. Does your company encourage texting? Slack? Emojis? It’s not uncommon for this age group not to have used a landline much—house phones seem to be a thing of the past. So spending some time acquainting them with transferring calls or other tasks like that they need to be aware of is important.


  1. Work hours are standard.

Although many workplaces are embracing flexibility, it doesn’t meant that new employees can come and go as they please. They might be used to a bit more of a lax standard with their professors, and while many Gen Zers have been budding entrepreneurs, they might not have held a traditional “job.” It’s important to set expectations straight by covering the absence and tardiness policy—whatever yours happens to be—with them.


  1. They won’t be graded on every assignment, and they might have to ask for input.

Many students crave the reinforcement that came with receiving a grade on every paper they turned in and report they made. But the workplace isn’t always like that; although good managers give frequent feedback, often it’s not constantly top of mind, so it’s up to an employee to speak up and ask for advice or pointers.


  1. Their benefits are an important part of their compensation.

Most recent college grads have been on their parents’ benefit plans until now and might not realize how important it is to understand what benefits are offered and how they should take advantage of them. Many might be bewildered by the many options for healthcare plans, co-pays and the like so be sure to give them plenty of information to answer their questions.

It’s also wise to remind them that benefits account for roughly 30 percent of their compensation, so they don’t want to squander that.


  1. Gently remind them that their parents aren’t part of workplace decisions.

It seems hard to believe, but “helicopter parents” are definitely a thing, and some HR folks report that they don’t necessarily “land their aircraft” when their child reaches the work world. Some companies are embracing it with a “Take Your Parent To Work Day,” but in general your new employee’s parents shouldn’t be providing input. There’s hopefully no reason to have to bring this up, but it’s something to keep in mind if a new team member seems openly involved in speaking with their parents throughout the recruiting process.


  1. Let them know there are resources for different issues.

Explain why they want to take advantage of all benefits; for example few can expect to need disability insurance, and yet statistics show that more than a quarter of 20 year-olds will one day be out of work for more than a year due to a disability. Many of this generation are also facing mental health concerns—a growing problem on college campuses. The good news is that treatment and diagnosis is increasing; that means more students are seeking help and will need support in the workplace as well.


  1. Stress the importance of financial wellness.

Now is the time that Gen Z can set themselves up for a lifetime of positive financial decisions. Talk to them about the importance of saving for retirement—using the illustration of compounding interest. One scenario that’s sure to grab their attention explains that you can reach a $1 million retirement account with far less of your own savings the earlier you start. For example, if you start at age 20, you need only save $319 per month, an amount that roughly doubles to $613 if you wait until age 30 and then skyrockets to $2,831 per month if you wait until age 50. Financial author Ron Lieber calls a similar chart the one that “changed his life.”

Talking to them about making smart financial choices now as part of their benefits package can be a gift that keeps on giving.



As the workplace continues to evolve with several generations integrating, HR can play a role in helping the new kids on the block feel supported.

Ready for Open Enrollment Season? Three Steps To Getting In Shape for a Great Season

For HR folks, the fall is sort of like their own version of the retail holiday season or the big football final…that’s because it’s open enrollment, the time when employees are able to make major changes to their benefits plans without penalties.

And just like retailers start planning their holiday promotions early, so should the HR team begin planning how they will communicate both the existence of open enrollment and what it means to their team.

Here’s how to make the open enrollment period smooth for you and beneficial for your employees.


  1. Finalize your options.

Chances are good that you have already been working on determining what benefits you will be offering and the rate at which you will cover them. For example, maybe this is the year you add a wellness benefit or pet insurance. You also want to make sure you have a robust slate of health choices that might include dental, vision, and alternative medicine; as well as insurance, such as life and short-term and long-term disability.

With employment rates continuing to be high, benefits are just one additional way that you can strengthen your position in attracting and retaining employees.


  1. Create your communications material.

Even if you have the most admirable benefits plan in the world, it won’t help if your employees don’t know or understand what’s available to them—and one survey found that one-third of them do not!

From co-pays to premiums, the insurance world can be full of unfamiliar terms. Take health insurance—many employees can’t explain how a high-deductible plan might improve their financial situation. And many employees might never take the time to recognize what benefits are available to them. That’s why communication is vital during this time. Here are some pieces you should create:

  • A cheat sheet for common insurance terms: This would be an at-a-glance explanation of what all the terms mean, with examples of how they work in the real world. So, you could give a couple of explanations of how a high-deductible plan would play out for someone who uses little healthcare, compared to someone who has an ongoing health condition.


  • A summary of new insurance offerings: Finally offering massage therapy or financial wellness counseling? This is the time to tout the new benefits you’ll be offering to get employees excited about the package your workplace provides.


  • An explanation of existing offerings: During onboarding, most HR teams make a point to cover the benefit packages. But when employees are being bombarded with so much new information, they might not take the time to really dig in and find out what’s being offered and how they can take advantage of it. Open enrollment is the ideal time to refresh their memory on specifics. They might just end up with a renewed sense of satisfaction, just because you’re more thoroughly communicating what already exists.


  • A summary of total compensation (benefits + salary): Many employees don’t realize the value of their benefits package—estimated at 30% as most HR professionals know—but that disconnect means that they might feel underpaid if they don’t include these perks in their total compensation scenario. So depending on your bandwidth, it can be incredibly powerful to show exactly how much the company is kicking in, in terms of premium cost sharing, retirement program matches, disability insurance, and other programs you offer.


  1. Use multiple communication vehicles.

Gone are the days when HR could send out a big fat packet and hope/expect that everyone would read it. Today’s employees are used to getting their information in multiple ways. But the good news is that it doesn’t necessarily mean a ton more work for you; it just means thinking of creative ways to repackage the existing elements. The best way to make sure your communications vehicles hit their target market is through a strategy you can call COPE: Create once, publish everywhere. Some suggestions for broadcasting the materials you’ve created include:

  • Emails that drive them to your intranet, where materials reside online
  • A video campaign where you cover one type of benefit at a time and send the links to employees to watch at their leisure
  • A webinar where you present the information and they can send in real-time questions, with the option to replay later
  • A town hall style meeting where you can present and answer questions (done virtually if needed, depending on if you have a distributed workforce)
  • A drip campaign that supplements each of these by “teasing” what’s coming and meeting the need for “snackable” content that employees can consume quickly, then come back for more


As open enrollment season approaches, now is the time to prepare for your busy period. The great news is that it will wrap up just in time for you to enjoy the holidays.

“New Year’s Resolutions” for September

Happy New Year! Wait…aren’t we a little early (or a lot late) for that greeting? The truth is that for many people, September is the “real” new year, despite what the calendar says. And it’s easy to see why—after all that was traditionally the time we came back to school in a new outfit, maybe a new haircut, waiting to meet our new teacher and classmates, with all our fresh new school supplies.

If your new year’s resolutions have waned, September is the perfect time for a reboot. And, chances are you probably have let them go—one survey found that only a quarter of people believe that “new year’s resolutions” still stick by September. So given that September is actually “Self Improvement Month” and many of us are starting a new routine, this is the perfect time to choose a few resolutions that can carry you through the calendar-designated new year.


  1. This September I resolve to: implement smart strategies for handling paperwork.


If you have school-aged kids, September is the month that paperwork is thicker than the falling leaves. From classroom rules to snack schedules, field trip forms to volunteer sign-ups, backpacks are bulging. This September vow to create a system for handling the paperwork proactively. Here are some tips:


  • Touch it once. That means signing the form immediately and returning it to your child’s backpack, or putting the dates on the calendar and recycling the form.
  • Create a binder for the papers you need to save. Organize it by month, child, or activity—whatever works for you. Then you have a go-to spot to find that early release calendar when you’re looking for it.
  • Save it electronically. Get rid of the paper clutter once and for all by saving it to the cloud or on your phone.


  1. This September I resolve to: start an exercise routine.


January can be a bummer time to start your exercise plan, given that it’s dark and cold out. But fall, with its crisp evenings and still decently long days, is perfect. And once you start the routine, you’ll find it’s far easier to keep it. Try these ideas:


  • Kids starting activities? Get off your phone while you wait and use that time to walk the track or do some yoga poses in the hallway.
  • Incorporate an after-dinner walk into your family’s routine. It’s a great way to catch up on everyone’s day, then return back, refreshed and ready for homework.
  • Record your favorite show—but commit to only watching it if you’re exercising (and that can be as simple as some pushups, dips, and jumping jacks.) With the new TV season starting, it’s the perfect time.


  1. This September I resolve to: pack healthy lunches.


Whether or not you have kids, September reminds us of sack lunches, and if you’re not brown bagging (or cooler-ing) it to work, you’re missing out on a calorie- and money-saving bonanza. Here’s how to incorporate lunch packing into your busy routine.


  • Make use of the weekend. After your weekly shop, spend 10 extra minutes prepping the food before you put it away. Cut fruit and vegetables; portion out snacks into smaller bags; slice cheese or meats. You’ll be more likely to grab and go when the hard part is done.
  • Pack lunches at night after dinner. Your kitchen is already a bit of a mess, so just get it done at the same time. Make extra protein and veggies (think of them as “planned overs,” rather than “leftovers”) and put them into small storage containers as you clean the dishes. Or, make that sandwich while the pasta is boiling. In the morning, you’ll just have to add a couple of items, and lunch is packed in no time.
  • Swap with a family member. Packing lunches works better when it doesn’t all fall on one person. Work with your mate or your kids to determine what constitutes a “lunch” (so you don’t end up with a granola bar and some crackers) and create a schedule for lunch-packing duties.


  1. This September I resolve to: save money for the upcoming holidays.


While we’re reveling in pumpkin spice and football, we also know what’s right around the corner…the holidays and their accompanying expenses. Give yourself a gift this holiday season and save money now so you’re not saddled with big bills come January. Talk about a happy new year! Here’s how:


  • Make a holiday budget, before you get sucked into the buying itself. It’s easy to forget adjacent expense like travel, stamps for the holiday cards, and gift wrap, so having a clear vision of how much you want to (and can) spend now makes it easier to make choices when the holidays roll around.
  • Start shopping. Take advantage of back-to-school sales to get a jump on your holiday gifting. Not only will you get some great deals, but spreading out the buying means you’re also spreading out the expense.
  • Set up automatic deposit. Talk to HR now about diverting some of your paycheck to a special savings account. You might not even notice that it never hit your bank account, and you’ll have a nice little nest egg saved up for when you need it.


And with that, you will have started four great new routines that will make fall spectacular…and, yes, give you a little satisfaction that you’re ahead of the new year’s resolution game.

What Employees Need to Know About Disability Insurance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. What Does Disability Mean in This Context?

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

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

2. Statistically Speaking, What are the Chances of Becoming Disabled?

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

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

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

3. How Would You Pay Your Bills?

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

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

4. Workers’ Comp and SSDI: What Do They Cover?

Employees need a realistic understanding of the various safety nets that are in place should they become ill or injured. With this knowledge, they can make an informed decision.

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

5. Starting a Family? What is Your Plan for Maternity Leave?

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

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

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

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Get on Track With a Back to School Sleep Schedule

It’s almost that season—time for school buses and alarm clocks. And if you’re like most families, you’ve probably been letting your sleep schedule slide in favor of late evenings spent enjoying the extra hours of daylight with a bike ride or the glow of a backyard fire pit in the warm night air.

We don’t want to cut into any of your much-deserved summer fun, but that early morning alarm will come as a huge shock if you don’t start preparing for it as summer winds down. And it seems like every day we are learning more about the health benefits of sleep—from improving our memory and creativity to helping us maintain a healthy weight.

But getting back on a regular sleep schedule might be easier than you think with these tweaks to your routine.

Start Gradually

No, your kids are not just going to all of a sudden fall into bed at 7:30 p.m. if they’ve been used to hitting the hay at 10. For a normal sleep schedule, it is better to ease into it.  If the change is minimal, say an hour, or you should allow ample time before the first school day.  You can start by moving up the bedtime in 15-minute increments each night. But if you’re trying to make a drastic change and school start in five days, you might want to speed that up to 30-minute increments.


Power Down

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) finds that the blue light emitting from our devices can interfere with the release of melatonin, which helps us sleep. So skip the tablet and try a printed book for kids who like to decompress by reading in bed. And, it’s also smart to start a habit of leaving devices in a central “charging area” rather than in room so that kids (and adults!) aren’t lured into checking their snaps or messages when they’re supposed to be sleeping.


Light Up Right

Turns out that your lightbulb can actually interfere with your sleep, too, finds the NSF. The worst kinds? Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFBs) and light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs), which also give off that dreaded blue light. Of course, they are also among the most energy efficient, so you still may want to use them elsewhere in the house, but for best sleep quality, your choice should be—you’re never going to guess this—a red bulb (pink works too). So get out that holiday “mood lighting” you use and stick a red bulb in bedroom lamps or night lights.


Create a Restful Bedtime Routine

Having an evening routine can signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. In the summer, your kid might just be crashing because of a day spent swimming and running around, but they might not be totally zonked yet if you’re aiming for an earlier bedtime. The start of the school year is the ideal time to start new habits, so consider creating a routine that will carry you through the year. Depending on your patience it can be elaborate as your child chooses, or you can scale it back to a few simple yoga stretches, a book and a round of goodnight kisses.


Eat for Sleep

Big meals right before bed can be hard to digest so if your child needs a before-bedtime snack, choose something light, such as yogurt, fruit, applesauce or toast. Coincidentally, those foods also won’t require you making a mess in the kitchen to prepare them.

And of course limit caffeine afternoon—and likely before noon, too.


Set a Good Example

If you’re out roasting marshmallows (or just hanging out around the fire pit which might make your child think you’re making treats), it’s going to be hard for them to settle down. And, let’s be honest, it likely wouldn’t hurt you to get a little more sleep, too. So take this as your cue to curtail your evening activities…curl up in bed with a magazine or book and see how much better you feel in the morning yourself. After all, back-to-school can be stressful for parents too, so easing into the routine well-rested yourself can only help.

How Businesses Can Create Better Access

Every year, thousands of businesses face lawsuits for not taking the proper steps to ensure their establishment is accessible to people with disabilities. Below are some tips to create better access for all – so that as many people as possible can patronize your business — while also avoiding legal trouble.


Identify Alternate Entrances

Any place of public accommodation (restaurants, hotels, hospitals, retail stores, etc.) must make their building accessible to people with disabilities. This includes installing ramps for wheelchairs and widening doorways so that they can easily fit through. If the main entrance for a business is not wheelchair accessible, the business must offer an alternative entrance. Many business owners comply with this rule, but they don’t make it immediately clear to their customers. In order to let people know immediately how they can enter the building, businesses should post a clear sign providing directions to the alternate entrance and label it with the International Symbol of Accessibility.


Keep Aisles and Walkways Clear

When it comes to accessibility, it’s not enough to have a ramp available at one of your building’s entrances. You also need to make sure your aisles and walkways are clear at all times.

During busy times of the year, many stores end up cluttering their aisles with extra stock. This makes life incredibly difficult for people in wheelchairs, though. Make sure there is a clear, 32-inch wide path available throughout your store at all times. You should also keep your walkways and parking lots clear. This includes removing snow and spreading ice melt during the winter months, and trimming bushes and flower arrangements so they aren’t hazardous to people who have low vision or are blind.


Educate Your Employees

Employers should also take time to regularly educate their employees on the proper way to treat people with disabilities. Employees should know to treat all customers with the same level of respect and courtesy. But, they should also be prepared to handle interactions with customers who may require extra assistance. For example, they need to be prepared to read written documents to customers who are blind or exchange notes back and forth with a customer who is hard of hearing, deaf, or has difficulty speaking.

Customers with hearing, sight, or speech-related disabilities may also need extra time to communicate with your staff. Make sure your employees know to be patient and understanding with such individuals.


Offer Wheelchair-Accessible Seating and Counters

If you run a restaurant, bar, or other business that offers seating for customers, you should make sure you also offer seating specifically for wheelchair users. A wheelchair-accessible table should have a space underneath that is 30 inches wide, 17 inches deep, and 27 inches high. The top should also be 28-34 inches from the ground. If your store has a lowered counter for wheelchair users, make sure it’s always clear. Don’t display items on it or store stock there.


Make Sure Your Website is Accessible

Finally, make all aspects of your business accessible, including your website. Some tips for making your website accessible include:

  • Find a content management system that offers accessible themes and plugins for services like video captioning.
  • Organize your content with headers that can easily be interpreted by screen readers.
  • Use alt text for images, especially infographics, so that screen readers can describe them.
  • Evaluate color contrast so that your text and images are visible to as many people as possible (including those with red-green color deficiency).
  • Clearly label the fields in your forms
  • Make sure content can be accessed using just the keyboard for people who aren’t to use a mouse or trackpad.
Apply these tips today so you can make your business an open and inviting place for people of all abilities.