How Disability Benefits Can Support You

More than 155 million U.S. workers are insured for a disability through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. They receive this insurance coverage through their payroll taxes, or FICA taxes, as a part of the Social Security program.

When those who experience a chronic health condition, injury or sudden medical crisis need support – SSDI is there to help. It’s estimated that fewer than one in three U.S. workers have private disability insurance, which means their primary means of assistance, if they experience a work-disrupting disability, is SSDI.

Health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke and Type 2 diabetes are among the chronic illnesses that can interrupt someone’s time on the job. Sudden severe health issues include heart attack, aneurysm, traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury.

These dire circumstances are when the SSDI program is most vital for former workers. The average SSDI recipient is 54 years old and has worked 22 years before a disability occurs and they apply.

The following are the top reasons men and women apply for disability insurance benefits:

1. Income to support yourself and your family. Men and women apply for disability benefits because if they’re approved, they’ll receive important income to sustain their households while they deal with stabilization of, and possible recovery from, their health issue. For some individuals, a health crisis may require 2, 3 or 4 years of treatment and rehabilitation to reach stability before returning to work. Without the ability to earn income, the SSDI program becomes a vital financial support. In 2019, the average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $1,234, which is about $14,800 annually. For a disabled worker with a family, it increases to $2,130 per month, or $25,560 per year.

2. Health insurance for your medical needs. Another crucial benefit for people who apply for Social Security disability benefits is healthcare coverage through Medicare. Individuals approved for benefits will become eligible for Medicare 24 months after their cash SSDI benefits begin. For some, the wait to receive approval may last 24 months or longer, as they wait for the Social Security Administration to review their claim through appeals. This means many people are immediately able to access Medicare once the SSA approves benefits. Access to healthcare is especially vital for individuals with disabilities dealing with chronic health conditions and degenerative diseases, since ongoing, expensive treatment often can be required.

3. Protect your retirement benefits. Many individuals can discover an important protection by applying for disability benefits, called the “retirement freeze.” You may be aware that the SSA tracks your reported earning over the course of your working career to calculate your Social Security retirement benefits. This includes the years that you don’t work because of a disability: Those years are counted as $0 in earnings. However, if you apply for SSDI and are approved, this means those years with $0 earnings are not factored into your retirement benefit, with the potential to receive more in retirement as a result.

4. Protect your long-term disability income. For workers who have purchased long-term disability insurance benefits, they also receive an important protection. Most LTD insurance plans are designed to integrate with SSDI, so participating workers benefit from lower LTD premiums. Individuals can also benefit from immediate access to income following a disability with their LTD coverage, and then turn to SSDI as another source of support, including income, Medicare and other program benefits. Applying for SSDI provides a protection that can help ensure LTD benefits also continue for former workers.

5. Support for going back to work again. Another advantage when applying for disability benefits is the ability to receive return-to-work protections. Individuals can access important incentives when approved for SSDI benefits. These protections include a trial work period, 9 months over the course of 60 months (5 years), to try working and earning as much as you can and still receive SSDI benefits. Following this period, you have an extended period of eligibility of 36 months to be able to work, earn money and receive SSDI benefits whenever your earnings fall below a certain level. Many other incentives are available to help those who don’t want to give up on returning to work.




How Paid Family and Medical Leave Policies Can Impact How You Choose Your Benefits

Annual enrollment will soon be underway for many employees. During this time, workers choose benefits they feel are most important to protect their health and financial well-being. Understanding the benefits your employer offers and their associated costs are most likely key considerations for you.

 

In this post, I am going to focus on one type of benefit – disability insurance – that insures your income if you can’t work for a period of time. I’ll also explain how this type of coverage interacts with a variety of paid-leave policies and programs. I hope to unravel some of the mystery and confusing terminology associated with both paid leave and income protection insurance.

 

Income sources if you can’t work

There are different ways to sustain an income when you can’t work due to an injury, illness or pregnancy. Personal savings, state and employer-paid medical and family leave, Social Security disability benefits, and private insurance are all sources that may be available. How do these sources help, and do they provide enough income to help you live the type of life you want to live?

 

Do the Research and Weigh the Facts

Disability happens! Even minor illnesses, injuries and pregnancies with a short duration of recovery (such as a knee surgery) can interfere with your ability to work and earn an income. In fact:

  • If you were to keep track of the 20 -year-olds in today’s workforce, you’d find nearly 25 percent of them will be out of work for at least one year due to heath conditions before they reach retirement. (1)
  • Almost half of American adults indicate they can’t pay an unexpected $400 bill without having to take out a loan or sell something. (2)
  • 6 percent of working Americans will experience a short-term disability (six months or less) due to illness, injury or pregnancy on average every year. (3)  

 

Make the Time to Increase your Knowledge

Where will you find the money to live if you lose your ability to work? Understanding the different income sources available can help you make choices during annual enrollment that fit your needs.

 

Employer-paid leave benefits can provide you with some kind of a paycheck when you can’t work, however, this income may not last long enough to meet your needs. And it’s up to your employer to (a) provide these benefits, (b) determine how long you can receive them, and (c) decide how much you get paid. Some paid leave programs only pay a percentage of your income – and this income is taxable. Sick leave and salary continuation benefits are examples of these benefits.

 

State- and/or federal-provided leave programs can give you an income while you’re unable to work. These programs include worker’s compensation, Social Security Disability Income, and paid family and medical leave benefits. Worker’s compensation benefits pay a percentage of your income if you have an on-the-job accident or work-related illness that cause you to leave work. Social Security provides long-term benefits if you’re disabled for at least five months, are qualified to apply, and are unable to work at any type of job. If you are approved, you may receive benefits up to the normal Social Security retirement.

 

State-mandated paid family and medical leave is emerging in a growing number of states. This short-term benefit provides you with an income while you’re out of work for medical conditions, for the birth or adoption of a child, or caring for a family member. Benefits are typically provided from 12 weeks up to 1 year and can cover from 50 percent to 90 percent of your income.

Oregon is the first state in the United States to offer 100 percent income replacement for low-wage workers taking leave for family, medical or safety reasons. Oregon (and New Jersey) includes victims of domestic violence in its paid family leave law, and defines family broadly to include “any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with a covered individual is the equivalent of a family relationship” – in other words, you get to take time off to care for someone who is like a family member to you.

 

It’s important for you to check whether you live and/or work in a state where paid family and medical leave is available.

 

State-mandated disability insurance

State-mandated disability coverage is another source of income available to residents in a limited number of states and territories, including Hawaii, California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico. These statutory plans generally provide benefits for six months up to one year. They pay you 50 percent to 70 percent of your income with a weekly cap on the maximum amount you can be paid (for example, $1,216 per week in California and $113 per week in Puerto Rico).

 

Statutory disability plans supplement your income for a short period of time, so you may want to consider adding other insurance products if you want to receive a larger sum while you can’t work, or in case you are out of work for a longer period of time

 

Voluntary, worksite or supplementary benefits. Many employers provide options for you to participate in short-term and/or long-term disability insurance. These options are offered by insurance carriers and supplement benefits you may receive from your employer, state and/or federal government programs. You pay the premiums for these optional benefits, although you usually pay less than you would if you bought this insurance on your own.

 

Short-term disability plans provide benefits for three months up to one year (after you satisfy a waiting or “elimination” period).

 

It may take a long period of time to recover from certain health conditions and complicated surgeries. In order to protect yourself from this risk, you can carry long-term disability coverage. Long-term disability insurance pays you benefits after you’ve been out of work for three months up to Social Security retirement age (again, after satisfying a waiting period).

 

Make the Choice to Protect Yourself

It’s important to understand the benefits available to you and how they work together to provide you with an income stream when you can’t work. These benefits help you live your life the way you planned to live it should you become pregnant, ill or have an injury. Making decisions about these benefits during annual enrollment is not always easy, but it is important.

 

Talk with your human resources area, read the materials available to you before annual enrollment begins, ask questions to clarify your benefits and the cost to you, and learn how all benefits may work together.

 

Most employers provide online access to information prior to annual enrollment that you can read on your own time schedule. Many employers also offer videos prior to enrollment. And meetings with human resources and insurance professionals as well as online chat may be available to help you navigate your benefit choices.

 

Remember, what you decide today could affect the rest of your life. Protect yourself and plan for unexpected events. This will help you take control of your financial well-being and help you live a happier life.

 

 

1. Social Security Administration, Disability and Death Probability Tables for Insured Workers Born in 1997, Table A.
2. Ibid
3. Integrated Benefits Institute, Health and Productivity Benchmarking 2016 (released November 2017), Short-Term Disability, All Employers, Condition-specific results.

 




Over 100 Companies Have Used This Open Enrollment Communication Plan

This post originally appeared on The Engagement Hub, from Airbo.com.

Creating a communication plan for Open Enrollment is a daunting task. It can seem impossible to cram all the information employees need into just a few short weeks. In this post, we’ll review the communication strategy we use to help our customers have a successful Open Enrollment. Though every company is different, we’ve developed this template while working with hundreds of organizations across the country.

Think of your plan in 3 phases:

  1. Pre-Open Enrollment1 to 2 months before the start of OE. Use this time to prepare employees so that you don’t have to take on the impossible task of cramming everything employees need to know into just a few weeks of communications.
  2. During Open EnrollmentYour OE period, usually 2 – 4 weeks. During this time, only focus on what employees need to know to enroll in benefits. Any other information, like wellness and healthcare consumerism, needs to be put on hold until after Open Enrollment. There’s just no way for employees to absorb that much information at once.
  3. Post-Open Enrollment2 – 4 weeks following Open Enrollment. This is the time to survey employees for feedback, drive home the value of their benefits, and reinforce key information that will help them have a successful plan year.

Below are our recommendations on what topics to communicate during these three phases. As you think about your communication plan, treat it as a checklist. Ask yourself, “have we covered this?” If not, add it to your plan.

Pre-Open Enrollment

Timeline: 1 – 2 months before Open Enrollment
Pre-OE-Image
Use this time to prepare employees for Open Enrollment. Sending information to employees in advance of OE’s official start makes people better-equipped to make decisions when the big deadlines actually roll around. That means less confusion and fewer questions. It also frees up your content plan to only focus on communicating essential information during the enrollment period. Here are the 5 topics we suggest communicating during Pre-Open Enrollment:

  • Announce that Open Enrollment is coming – Sample Content
  • Preview upcoming plan changes so that employees start to comprehend what it means for them – Sample Content
  • Remind employees who is eligible to enroll in benefits – Sample Content
  • Announce any webinars and on-site benefit meetings so they’re better attended – Sample Content
  • Educate employees on basic insurance terms so they can better understand the plan designs you’re presenting them – Sample Content

During Open Enrollment

Timeline: OE period, typically 2 – 4 weeks
Clock-Image
Only focus on what employees need to know to enroll in benefits. Any other information like wellness should be put on hold until after Open Enrollment, or it should have been integrated into your Pre-Open Enrollment period. We recommend communicating these 8 topics:

  • Announce that Open Enrollment has started, and state the enrollment deadline – Sample Content
  • Provide a basic checklist of actions employees need to take – Sample Content
  • Instruct employees how to enroll – don’t be scared to be detailed, and don’t skip steps in the name of brevity – Sample Content
  • Explain what will happen if they don’t enroll – Sample Content
  • Inform them who to contact with questions – Sample Content
  • If one employee has a question, there’s a good chance others do too – listen for consistent questions, and communicate the answers to all employees – Sample Content
  • Highlight any plan changes – Sample Content
  • Remind employees to attend webinars and on-site benefit meetings – reminders are a research-backed strategy to drive behavior – Sample Content
  • Remind employees of the enrollment deadline multiple times, and at least 2 days before the enrollment window closes – Sample Content

Post-Open Enrollment

Timeline: 2 – 4 weeks following Open Enrollment
Feedback-Image
For many HR teams, the Open Enrollment hangover usually starts now, but that doesn’t mean the communications should stop. There is still important information to cover that will ensure a smooth transition to the new plan year. We recommend covering these 4 topics:

  • Collect employee feedback on Open Enrollment – Sample Content
  • Tell employees when they can expect to receive new ID cards – Sample Content
  • Remind employees when new benefit plans begin and ask them to verify that their premium deductions are accurate on their pay stubs – Sample Content
  • If there were major changes to any benefits, educate employees on how to use these new plan features – Sample Content

The Rest of the Year
After Post-Open Enrollment, we recommend spending the rest of the year continuing to educate employees on how to use their benefits, the value of what they have, and driving engagement in wellness. A simple way to do this is by adding benefit spotlights and healthcare consumerism tips to your HR communications throughout the year.

We hope this strategy helps you feel more prepared to take on Open Enrollment communications. We wish you all the best this OE season!




Beyond Your Benefits Package: Why Open Enrollment is a Great Time to Focus on Your Financial Wellness

By Rachel Barrow, Second VP Marketing, Individual Markets, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

If you’re like many Americans, your employer offers key benefits that provide valuable protection for you and your family. And you’re probably familiar with open enrollment season – that time each year when you may be able to choose your health insurance provider, explore tax-advantaged accounts like Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts, review and update retirement plan contributions, and elect employer-offered protection products, like disability and life insurance.

 

These “worksite benefits” are offered by your employer typically at a discounted group cost, with the option to further supplement those benefits with voluntary benefits (usually paid by you) that provide additional coverage for health and income. What many employees don’t realize, however, is that Open Enrollment season also offers them the perfect opportunity to look beyond their employer-sponsored benefits — to consider their entire protection strategy and financial picture.

 

Your financial wellness depends on a strong holistic plan that covers all aspects of your financial picture. While employer-provided benefits are a great start, it’s important to keep in mind that those benefit options are not ordinarily designed to protect all aspects of your financial well-being. Fortunately, you can also purchase individual products, such as disability insurance, life insurance and annuities, typically sold through a financial professional, that complement the benefits available through your workplace. Doing so can help to give you more complete financial protection and reduce the risks you or your loved ones could face without them.

 

Some risks to look out for

It’s important to concentrate on at least three risks to your financial well-being:

  • The risk of losing your income
  • The risk of losing your life
  • The risk of outliving your retirement savings

 

There are steps you can take to address each of these three risks. Doing so can help to protect both you and those you care the most about.

 

Protecting your income during your working years

The ability to earn a living is one of the most important things in life. Income is essential to your livelihood and closely linked to your overall financial well-being. But when it comes to protecting your income, many working Americans may not realize the need to make it a priority.

 

It’s easy to underestimate the potential effects of a disability. Yet, here’s a sobering fact: “The perfect storm of medical bills, loss of income, illness and injury — all consequences of a disability — are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States.”[i]

 

According to The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), roughly 50 percent of people who leave work because of an illness or injury have trouble paying their bills. Not surprisingly, workers who struggled financially during and after a leave from work had lower financial wellness scores and were more likely to report that the experience had a major or devastating effect on their household.[ii]

 

Even if your employer offers disability income insurance, there may be an income gap. One in 5 workers who made a disability insurance claim were surprised to learn that their employer-sponsored disability plans replaced only a portion of their salary, not 100 percent, based on Guardian’s research. Higher-income employees were also dismayed to learn that bonuses and/or commissions were not included in the calculation of their disability income benefit payments.

 

While no disability insurance plan will ever replace 100 percent of your income, purchasing individual disability income insurance from a financial professional will boost the amount of your money you will receive if you can’t work. If this is important to you, you’ll be able to “weather the storm” a little better if you become ill or are injured.

 

Protecting your loved ones if something should happen to you

If you have family or others who depend on you for financial support, purchasing life insurance from a life insurance professional is among the most important steps you can take for the financial wellness of your loved ones. Even if your employer provides you with this important coverage, it may not provide enough to financially protect those you care most about. And, in many instances, you will lose that coverage when you leave your employer. That’s why purchasing your own individual life insurance policy to supplement any workplace coverage you may have is a smart move, depending on the type of policy you buy.

 

Keep in mind the valuable protection role that life insurance plays: If something should happen to you, your policy’s death benefit will help ensure that your survivors can maintain their lifestyle, avoid financial hardship or bankruptcy, and continue to pay essential bills such as their rent or mortgage, health insurance, college tuition and car loans. Simply put, life insurance is one of easiest and most affordable ways to protect your loved ones should they lose your salary.

 

Protecting your income in retirement

The risk of outliving your retirement savings is a real one. While people who qualify for Social Security benefits in retirement can expect to receive a monthly benefit for the rest of their life, 80 percent of those participating in the 2019 Retirement Confidence Survey reported they would also rely on money from an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k), for income in retirement.[iii]

 

One problem with that approach is these individuals risk running out of money in retirement, since the retirement income generated from a retirement savings account depends entirely on the individual’s account balance, the performance of the account’s investments and the withdrawal strategy used.

 

Eighty percent of survey respondents plan to work during retirement to supplement their income, yet only 28 percent are ultimately able to do this.

 

As with disability income and life insurance, there are steps you can take to help protect your income in retirement. In addition to contributing as much as possible to your employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, you may wish to consider purchasing other products from a financial professional, such as bonds and CDs, which can provide somewhat predictable returns, with possible tax advantages, and can help round out your investment portfolio.

 

Another option to consider is an annuity. By paying an insurance company a specified amount of money, you receive regular payments for a set amount of time, or for life. There are many different types of annuities that can provide you with cash flow right away (immediate annuities) or at some point in the future (deferred annuities).

 

Make the right moves for your financial future today

During open enrollment, it’s a good idea to consider your overall financial wellness, and address not only the benefits your employer provides, but protection products that can supplement those valuable benefits. Doing so will help you to address the risks to your financial well-being head-on. You have the power to make the decision to go with what you truly need based on your goals or concerns. Go through your options and be sure you can explain what you are buying. It all has to be clear and valuable for you.

 

If you need assistance in addressing any of these risks, a qualified financial professional can help you understand your options — and put you on the path to enhanced financial wellness.

 

 

Rachel Barrow leads the Product Marketing team for Individual Markets at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America®. She has been with Guardian Life since 2009 and in the insurance business for over 20 years. Rachel and her team produce educational tools and resources focused on strategies to help individuals, families and small business owners achieve financial security. Check out her previous post: Time to Invest in You: Ways to Make Your Retirement a Reality

 

Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. Consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional regarding your individual situation.

Guardian® is a registered trademark of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America©. Copyright 2019 The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

 

 

2019-86981 (exp: 9/2021)

[i] Medical Debt as a Cause of Consumer Bankruptcy, 2014 Maine Law Review (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2515321), Posted Oct. 27, 2014; last revised Nov. 11, 2015

 

[ii] Source: Income Protection: The Role of Disability Insurance in Financial Wellness, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, NY, May 2019 https://www.guardiananytime.com/gafd/wps/portal/fdhome/insights-perspectives/emerging-trends/income-protection

 

[iii] 2019 Retirement Confidence Survey Report conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald & Associates, April 23, 2019 https://www.ebri.org/docs/default-source/rcs/2019-rcs/2019-rcs-short-report.pdf




What You Should Know for Your First Open Enrollment

By Jenn Kischell, Vice President, Group Benefits, MetLife.

 

Open enrollment is taking place across the United States, and like millions of workers, you must submit your choices by a certain deadline. Many younger employees, however, are unsure about what types of coverage to select and how much and are tempted to wait until the last minute. This can lead you to decisions you may regret and financial setbacks.

 

Instead, take a minute to explore why benefits deserve your full attention and how to make the right choices.

 

Why Benefits Are Worth Your Attention

 

It’s tempting to procrastinate about benefits enrollment and you’re not alone. According to a recent MetLife survey, among young respondents (ages 21-38), about one in five spend only a few minutes reviewing benefits choices before making selections. And nearly half said they dread making annual benefit enrollment decisions equally as much as asking for a raise.

 

There are many reasons why you should think carefully about your benefits, including:

 

Benefits are part of your total compensation package. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for every $2 employers spend in wages and salaries, they spend an additional $1 in benefits.

  • . Many employers are investing in their employees through generous benefits programs in order to attract the best employees, so you should take advantage of all they offer you.
  • Unexpected illness and accidents CAN happen. Per the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA), more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds can expect to be out of work at least a year before they reach retirement age. This underscores why benefits like disability insurance are critical.
  • Benefits protect your savings. Most experts say people should have enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses if you’re unable to work, yet according to The CDA, only about half of adults in the U.S. have enough to cover just three months. In the MetLife survey, more than a quarter of young respondents said they could barely cover two weeks. Benefits help reduce financial burdens and anxiety, keeping money in your pocket.

 

How To Make the Right Choices

 

Especially for employees early in their career, being thoughtful about open enrollment can make the difference between achieving short- and long-term financial goals and pushing them off.

 

  • Assess your personal situation. Take an honest look at your lifestyle, health, family history and more before making selections. Consider your financial goals that could be thrown off by unexpected expenses. Many employers offer legal services, for example, that help reduce the cost of hiring a lawyer for speeding tickets, wills or landlord disputes.
  • Have meaningful conversations. Talk to trusted friends, colleagues or family for advice. MetLife’s survey found that just one-quarter of young people asked for advice from a friend before making benefit decisions. Conversations with people you trust can help you understand the personal value of benefits and provide insights you haven’t considered on how they relate to your life.
  • Do the research. Carefully read the full benefits package, as well as any additional material your employer may have available, such as videos and online guidance tools. You might be surprised about new offerings, or what existing options cover. For example, disability insurance might support mental and emotional illnesses, and some companies may offer auto and home insurance, or tuition reimbursement.

 

The bottom line is that employers offer benefits to stay competitive and help employees thrive. It’s up to employees, however, to make the most of the package to achieve their goals. By paying attention to your package, you can select the right “sweet spot” of benefits to build a better life.




Helping New Employees Find a Mentor

Every HR professional aspires to create a happy and engaged workforce. You might be surprised to find that one of the top ways to do so is to encourage a strong mentorship program.

An overwhelming 91% of workers who have a mentor say they are satisfied with their jobs, and more than 40% who didn’t have a mentor said they had considered quitting theirs. These numbers indicate that encouraging mentorship can have a clear positive effect on your workforce retention efforts—not to mention starting your newer employees on a positive path. Here are some ways to create a program that’s beneficial for all.

  1. Decide whether your program will be formal or informal.

A lot of this will depend on the size and demographics of your company. While everyone can benefit from inter-office networking via employee resource groups, a true mentoring effort requires a more involved, committed group. Companies that have a formal mentoring program create a process to explore the interests and experience of both protégé and mentor candidates to determine the best fit. (This sample questionnaire can help you start the matching process.)

While this is an ideal scenario, you need a critical mass of participants to make it work. If you only have a few new people each year, it might be best to hand pick a few executives who could be a good fit and ask them if they’d be willing to meet informally with these new employees as they begin their journey.

  1. Address privacy and confidentiality concerns.

HR is in an ideal position to handle a mentor program because of your ability to handle these very real concerns. To avoid any sexual harassment accusations in today’s environment, require that mentoring activities take place in a public setting, such as a conference room with an open door or a restaurant. Encourage all parties to immediately come forward with any concerns. Also, remind mentors that they need to create an environment of trust so that the newer employee feels confident asking them for advice with certain skills, without fear of repercussions that the mentor may relay private information to a supervisor.

  1. Hold some organized functions to help facilitate connections.

One-on-one relationships can be difficult to maintain, either because of people’s busy schedules or if there isn’t a personality fit. That’s why a successful mentoring program should also include some group activities that can create a more comfortable environment that removes the pressure of exclusively having one-on-one meetings. Consider bringing in speakers for a lunch-and-learn or moderating a panel Q&A.

  1. Share some best practices for successful mentor relationships.

    Many busy professionals might worry they don’t have adequate time to devote to a mentoring relationship. Help ease the burden by sharing some ground rules that will help keep the time commitment reasonable:
  • Have each party discuss times that work for them and remind the mentee to work around the mentor.
  • Suggest ways that they can interact if face-to-face meetings are challenging to schedule. For example, they might have a phone call or Skype session if the mentor travels frequently or telecommutes.
  • Urge mentees to create an agenda before each meeting with key topics they most want to discuss. That helps give each party time to prepare and directs the conversation so that both will feel that the interaction was worthwhile.
  • Remind the mentees to share their progress with the mentors, both to help nurture the relationship and to help the mentor feel their advice is being used.
  • Suggest alternative learning experiences, such as a mentor taking the new employee to industry functions or client meetings, as appropriate. These organic development opportunities can be extremely valuable and help make the most of the mentor’s time.
  1. Help them get off on the right foot.

Any new relationship can feel a bit forced or awkward at the outset, which is to be expected. That’s why the pairs might feel more natural if they start off with a prescribed format and agenda. For example, you might have a kick-off event, then suggest that the pair meet for coffee or lunch within the next two weeks. Supply a list of “get-to-know-you” questions about interests, experience, education and career path and goals to help provide a framework for future discussions. Encourage the mentor to share some personal insights about both successes and failures to help put the mentee at ease.

Then every other week or so, send out some suggestions for questions that can help guide the conversation.

  1. Include a “reverse mentorship” element.

Most workplaces today have multiple generations, and it’s clear that everyone has a lot to learn from each other. While more seasoned employees can impart hard-learned best practices and company history, younger employees typically have their pulse on technology in a way that only a digital native can.

When General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch famously introduced one of the most well-known “reverse mentoring” efforts in 1999, the internet and social media were in a fledgling state. Now, even older generations have embraced the power of tech, and yet, those just entering the workforce still have a grasp on new ways to use technology to increase productivity. They can share ideas for apps and other techniques that can make many entrenched processes more agile or give best practices for more polished presentation tools.

  1. Create some loose parameters but allow relationships to grow organically.

You might encourage the mentor pairs to meet every couple of weeks or so in order to grow the relationship, but remember that not every pair will be a fit—and that’s ok. Some might decide to take it the next level and meet more often, while others might only meet a few times. HR’s goal should be to create the opportunity for relationships to grow and then sit back and let each pair create what’s meaningful to them.

  1. Seek ongoing feedback.

As with any program, there are always opportunities for improvement. Seek candid feedback from both sides on what was valuable and any shortcomings, so you can tweak the program design over time.




What HR Should Know About Gen Z

Move over, Millennials. Today organizations are thinking about Gen Z, the newest cohort joining the workplace. While millennials remain the largest group in the workforce today, they are increasingly being joined by their “younger sibs,” a generation that the Pew Research Center defines as being born from 1997 on.

New college grads fit the bill, as do the high schoolers who will soon be coming on board. Here are five traits to know about this generation and how to create a workplace that appeals to them. (The great news is that most generations will appreciate the new dynamics as well!)

The Trait: Gen Z isn’t afraid to jump ship.

While this can seem like a downside, it’s wise to know this about the generation—and work to keep them happy. There’s a reason they’re more prone to move around, and that’s because they saw the damage done to their parents and neighbors who might have worked long hours at a job, only to see their company fail to offer that same loyalty in return. In addition, they’ve seen their millennial counterparts who presumably did the right thing by graduating from college being inundated with student loans and sometimes unable to find a job commensurate with their education. “The traditional power dynamic that views corporate overlords as holding the keys to job stability, benefits, and great pay isn’t shared by Gen Z. That spells potential disaster for employers that believe they hold all the cards,” explains an article on Quartz.com.

What HR Should Do: Cultivate a work culture that puts them first. Invest in them through proper onboarding, then training and interesting work that will keep them satisfied. Make sure that a full slate of benefits meets their needs. And then realize that they might not intend to be lifers, and that’s ok. When one leaves, hopefully another one will be there to take their place, bringing all the enthusiasm and creativity that comes with a new hire.

 

The Trait: Gen Z is truly digital first.

While millennials came of age during the digital revolution, most Gen Zers have never known a world without answers at their fingertips or social media impacting their life view.

What HR Should Do: Embrace the fact that they are going to post on social media by offering Instagrammable-events and inviting them to share company content. Make sure you have developed and share a solid social media policy; as in, highlighting confidentiality best practices and letting them know if they need to tag photos with your company name. And, make sure that your own social media and online presence reflects a place this group would be happy to join.

 

The Trait: Gen Z is eager for leadership and development opportunities.

Gen Z has spoken: The members of the graduating class of 2019 ranked ongoing continuing education as a top priority in their job search. That’s likely because of all the rapid technological change they have seen so far in their lives, coupled with the ongoing discussions of AI and automation potentially changing the dynamics of many workplaces.

What HR Should Do: Make sure that a robust culture of learning and development is prominent in your organization. Whether you offer options for online or in-person classes or focus more on cross-training and apprenticeships, show your newer employees that you are eager to have them grow with you—or you risk having them grow away from you.

 

The Trait: Gen Z craves flexibility.

Work/life balance has given way to a new concept of work/life blend. That’s because Gen Z has never known an environment where their personal and “other” lives weren’t completely intertwined. While they probably won’t balk at answering an email after hours, they also expect that sometimes they can take a longer lunch for an eye doctor appointment or come in late if they’ve been crunching on a project. That’s why flexible hours are consistently cited as one of the top draws for a job, finds online job site Glassdoor.

What HR Should Do: Of course, sometimes it’s not possible to accommodate all the flexibility an employee might want, but try to find ways that they can have some control over their work hours.

 

The Trait: Gen Z welcomes feedback.

Forget “annual” reviews. One study found that nearly 60% of the Gen Z cohort want check-ins from their managers at least weekly, and many would prefer daily. That allows them to course correct in the now, rather than taking a “rear-view” mirror perspective about what they could have done. Giving them tangible, actionable insights allows this “video game” generation to measure how well they are doing in “leveling up” to new skills and behaviors.

What HR Should Do: Offering constant feedback can seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be. While HR might have a more formal process in place, equip your managers with best practices on how they can help create a culture of continuous feedback, such as having short weekly check-ins with each employee, giving a five-minute debrief after meetings or presentations and starting each week with a concise team meeting to align on goals and also share quick performance updates in a group setting.




Are You Attracting the Right Candidates? How to Make Your Job Descriptions More Inclusive

With unemployment continuing to hover at record lows, HR is often in a bind—how do they attract not only qualified candidates, but also an inclusive slate of candidates? The answer might lie in your job descriptions. If you are just recycling existing boilerplate copy—a common practice in today’s busy world—you might want to rethink your postings to make them more dynamic in order to bolster your applications. Here are some tips.

  1. Use words that are more inclusive.

Studies show that more diverse workplaces lead to better outcomes, but all too often companies have trouble attracting a diverse slate of candidates. Your job descriptions could be to blame. Here is how to foster inclusivity for:

  • Gender: A LinkedIn report found stark differences in how men and women responded to words in job descriptions. For example, the word “aggressive” turned off 44% of women, but only one-third of men. Other words that women tended to shy away from are “demanding” and “powerful.”
  • Age: The “Ageism and Hiring” report from the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals warns that phrases such as “digital native” and “passionate about social media” can scare off older applicants.
  • People with disabilities: Some job descriptions contain a laundry list of requirements like “must be able to lift 25 pounds” and “must be able to climb stairs.” Sure, some jobs might require that, but often it’s just boilerplate language that can deter candidates. Just for fun, search Indeed.com for “25 pounds” and see the wide range of jobs that include that caveat. Surely, someone else could be called on to lift heavy boxes of office supplies in an administrative position. Take a minute to read through your job posting and see if there is any language that might turn off employees with disabilities.

And for all candidates, consider the words you use to describe your environment. The LinkedIn report offers some replacements that are softer and thus more inviting, such as “fast-paced,” rather than “pressured.” Other words to add to describe your workplace include “supportive,” and “flexible,” which appeals to 60% of women, but also half of men.

  1. Include the salary.

Many companies don’t want to tip their hand regarding salary, but it actually can save a lot of time. After all, if you’re thinking $50,000, and a specific candidate is looking for double that, it’s going to be hard to find a way to meet in the middle. In the long run, it would be better to save your time and energy for sifting through the qualifications of the applicants who are more likely to eventually accept the role if offered.

This is also an important way to show that your company is committed to fair pay practices. Another LinkedIn survey found that nearly 70% of women find the salary and benefits information to be the most important component of a job description.

  1. Don’t worry about longer job descriptions.

One job description that was recently lauded in a story in the Wall Street Journal comes from Basecamp. The lengthy posting gives information about what projects the team has recently undertaken, as well as ideal candidate qualities. For example: “You can expect a mindful onboarding process with ramp-up and time to learn. You can expect a team that listens, and to be heard. You can expect to give and provide direct feedback. You can expect to be counted on. …  A strong track record of conscientious, thoughtful work speaks volumes.”

As you can see, the posting makes the workplace sound engaging, but it also indicates that slackers need not apply to be successful in this environment.

Take the time to give all the information that potential candidates might want in order to save everyone time and frustration.

  1. Don’t rely on job postings to be your only outlet for recruiting.

Today’s candidates have more information at their fingertips than ever before, so it can be challenging to try to erase a poor work environment that’s being discussed online. As an HR executive, it’s wise to pay attention to what is being said about your company at sites like Glassdoor.com. While you can’t delete the postings, you can read them as you would a negative customer review, and determine if you should respond and/or if the problem they are airing deserves addressing. Seeking frequent feedback from your existing team can help make sure that you are handling issues as they arise.

Also spend time actually creating the workplace that candidates will flock to, and use your company website and social media accounts to share the message. Post photos of teams volunteering and make sure your diversity is reflected in the images you choose to post.

And include a spot for information on your alternative benefits from wellness offerings to disability insurance as a way to highlight what you offer.

After all, there is no substitute for the truth in today’s transparent environment.




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.