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




Why Gen Z Will Receive Social Security Retirement Benefits

By Melissa Thomas, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships at Citizens Disability INTEGRATION.

Many people who are part of Generation Z (individuals born between 1995 and 2010) believe Social Security retirement benefits won’t exist when they’re ready to leave the workforce. And, they’re wrong. Chances are high that Social Security will survive for future generations — and that’s in large part thanks to the individuals who make up this generation and are contributing payroll taxes to the program.

A 2018 report from Morgan Stanley says it is more optimistic about the impact of Gen Z than the Congressional Budget Office. Its positive assessment of labor-force participation translates into a rosier view of the potential gross domestic product by 2040 (2.4 percent to 4.3 percent above the CBO). Morgan Stanley says the CBO is understating potential labor force growth by 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent per year between now and 2040.

If this analysis is accurate, the Social Security Trust Fund may not become depleted until 2062. It likely will delay the date of depletion for Medicare funds as well.

However, the most obvious benefit from millennials and Gen Z is their impact on corporate sales growth and earnings. “To the extent the rise of Gens Y and Z in the labor force supports a higher potential GDP growth rate in the U.S., this relationship would indicate a modestly higher potential longer-run growth rate for corporate sales and earnings,” the report said.

Sean Williams of The Motley Fool, like Morgan Stanley, believes Social Security Retirement is in no danger of going bankrupt, but that it’s highly likely that what Generation Z will receive each month will be less than what their parents or grandparents received on an inflation-adjusted basis.

Williams also cautions that there’s a pretty good chance that Gen Z will have to wait longer to collect their full retirement benefit than their parents or grandparents did. Since 1960, the average life expectancy in the U.S. increased by about nine years. Meanwhile, the full retirement age – the age where you become eligible to receive 100 percent of retirement benefit, as determined by your birth year – will have increased by just two years, to age 67, between 1983 and 2022. With the American public living longer, it’s only logical to expect the full retirement age to increase over time.

Concerns about Social Security’s solvency goes well beyond Gen Z. More than three-quarters of Americans are concerned Social Security will not be there for them when they are ready to retire, according to a June 2018 Transamerica survey. Another 41 percent of workers are planning to work in retirement or past age 65 because they are concerned their Social Security benefits will be less than expected.

But, in recent months, lawmakers introduced numerous bills to fix Social Security, including Connecticut Democratic Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act. The 2100 Act would ensure Gen Z’s receipt of Social Security retirement benefits and increase Social Security benefits across the board by switching to a more accurate measure of inflation. Not surprisingly, this bill would be funded by increasing related payroll taxes.

Kathleen Romig, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, believes allowing Social Security’s trust funds to fall short would create massive chaos, and affect all retirees, as well as widows, children whose parents have died, and those with disabilities. “Even if it comes down to the eleventh hour, they’d fix it at the eleventh hour,” Romig said.

Gen Z workers can get an idea of how much they should expect to receive in Social Security by creating an account with the Social Security Administration.

Keep in mind that Social Security benefits are only expected to replace about 40 percent of working wages. This means Social Security should be nothing more than a Plan B in your retirement strategy, and that saving and investing should become one of your top goals during your working years.




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.




Seven Things you need to Know about Pets and Mental Health

Many people often talk about the benefits that they feel from keeping pets, but are there actually any direct links between our animal friends and mental health? The bond between animals and people has always been strong, and no matter how old we are, people of all age can feel the perks of spending time around animals. Pets can reduce mental health problems, alleviate stress and provide companionship for lonely people. Here are seven things to know about pets and mental health.

1: They Reduce Stress

A recent study carried out by Washington University has shown that petting a cat or a dog for just 10 minutes can reduce stress levels. And it’s not just cats and dogs which can help to lower stress levels. Watching an aquarium has also been proven to reduce people’s heart rates and anxiety levels. Studies carried out in the 80’s showed that watching an aquarium helped to reduce anxiety levels by up to 12%. Another studied carried out more recently by Plymouth University and the University of Exeter found that watching fish swimming around in aquariums “led to noticeable reductions in participants blood pressure and heart rate.”

2: Pets Help to Build Habits

Having a pet forces you to get into good routines, which make a great difference for people who have mental health problems. Often people who are struggling with mental health won’t have a routine and can become quite reclusive. Unfortunately this is a self-perpetuating cycle because the less you do the less energy you’ll have. Routines can help to battle depression. Having a certain time which you need to wake up and take your dog for a walk, feed them and take them to classes will help people develop their own routines.

3: Pets Reduce Childhood Anxiety

Prevention is much better than cure, so if we can find a way to raise healthy and happy children, they’ll be less likely to develop mental health illnesses as they reach adulthood. Keeping a pet reduces anxiety in children, as well as giving them other physical benefits, such as being more active through playing with and walking a dog. Children who grow up with pets stand a much better chance at developing into happy and healthy young adults.

4: Pets Increase Self-Esteem

A study carried out by Miami University found than people who owned a pet had higher levels of self-esteem than those who don’t own a pet. While low self-esteem isn’t a mental illness in itself, there are links between people’s confidence and how they think about themselves, and mental health. Building self-esteem is crucial for a positive and happier life. A great way to build self-esteem is to feel loved and accepted, and pets can certainly offer that to their owners.

5: Pet’s Help People to Practice Mindfulness

When you’re spending time with your pet, they seem to have the ability to get rid of all your worries and make it seem like nothing else matters. This is most likely because we are able to be so present and in the moment when we’re talking to and interacting with our pets. When you’re spending time living right in the moment, you don’t have the time to worry about the past or the future. Mindfulness allows people to manage their thoughts and feelings, and therefore helps people to look after their mental health.

6: Pets Support Mental Health Recovery

Researchers have found that keeping a pet can help people to recover from mental health conditions. These pets aren’t limited to fluffy animals which we can stroke, but also birds and fish. Pets help to distract people from their mental health conditions, which allows them to live a more normal life and get on the right path to recovery. Having a pet helps to give people a sense of purpose, a routine, and a sense of being in control. Pets can provide people with unconditional love which is priceless.

7: The Provide Companionship for Lonely People

People feel more needed and wanted when they have a pet that is relying on them for care. When someone who is depressed or has another mental health disability is given the responsibility of caring or another living being, it gives them a sense of purpose and meaning. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a cat or a dog, or even a tank full of fish. Whether the pet can actually interact with their owner is irrelevant. A study in which people suffering with depression were given some crickets, found that after eight weeks, the controlled group who were caring for the crickets were actually less depressed.

Final Thoughts

The links between keeping a pet and mental health are evident. Pets can help to reduce stress levels and encourage independence and self-esteem. If you are suffering with a mental health illness, or know of someone who is, perhaps you should consider a pet!




Ten Ways to Make your First Day Awesome

New on the job? As they say, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Here are 10 ways you can rock your first day, setting yourself up for success from the start.

  1. Do your homework beforehand.

The last thing you want to do is start the day frazzled because you were late. So do everything you can to prepare the night before: Choose your outfit; confirm where you’re meeting your manager and where to park; finish all your onboarding paperwork; and check the traffic or the bus schedule in case you’ve not visited the office during the busy commute hours.

You’ll also want to prepare a little 10-second summary of who you are and what you’ll be doing for everyone who asks.

  1. Be enthusiastic.

Even if you feel overwhelmed, fake it ‘til you make it, as they say. That means putting a smile on your face and showing you’re happy to be there. Gladly answer questions about your background, even if 20 people have asked the same question as you made your rounds. You want everyone to know that you’re delighted to be part of the team and are going to jump in with both feet.

  1. But don’t be toooo eager.

Yes, there is a happy medium. There’s a difference between wanting to be an asset to the department and immediately offering a bunch of suggestions before you even know how things have been done. It’s too easy for those ideas to be perceived as criticism, and you to be perceived as a newbie who doesn’t know their place. You want to come on strong, but not too strong.

  1. Take notes.

As you’re introduced around, you never know when you might meet someone who shares a gem you should write down to refer to later. Carry a notebook and pen to show you’re interested in gathering all the intel you can. And if it’s awkward to write down someone’s name or other information while you’re standing in front of them, try to jot down what you can remember when you get back to your desk.

  1. Get to know the office “ropes.”

This is a good time to sit down with the HR team to find out what you should know about hours and other workplace expectations, such as whether you can be on the floor by yourself, stay late to work extra hours, etc. This is also a good time to highlight any questions you have about benefits and how to take advantage of those that might be unfamiliar to you.

  1. Say “yes.”

If you’re asked out to lunch, say yes. Ditto a quick after-work powwow. And if someone asks you to be on a committee to plan the next office team building activity, yep…say yes. You want to meet as many people as you can right away.

  1. But don’t get too friendly.

Again with the happy medium. Yes, go out to lunch with someone, but the next day try to go out to lunch with someone different. That’s because until you know who’s who in the zoo, you don’t want to form a fast friendship with someone who might end up being the office gossip. So, keep all your options open as you navigate these first few days of work.

  1. Find out about tech-related office policies.

From your company’s social media rules to their preference that you do work on company-provided devices only, it’s vital to know how your boss expects you to adhere to cybersecurity. For example, you might want to enthusiastically post a selfie on your first day, and they might require that you use a certain hashtag to show you’re an employee. Nail down the specifics before you inadvertently commit a digital-related faux pas.

  1. Embrace your newness.

The good news is that everyone knows you’re new so there’s no reason to pretend to know more than you do. Take advantage of this buffer time to ask all the questions you want; before long, it gets more complicated as coworkers assume you might or should know something, so use this time to ask away. Conventional wisdom says there are no dumb questions, but there are really no dumb questions on the first day! And if you do forget someone’s name, make a joke…”Sorry I forgot your name; I’ve met about 100 people today!”

  1. And, embrace your nervousness.

Wondering if you’ll say or do the wrong thing? You might and that’s ok…this advice isn’t designed to make you feel that you must be perfect! First-day jitters are to be expected, so just take a deep breath, put on a big smile and do the best you can.




Bye, Bye Berry Season…Hello Fab Fall Produce

Many of us relish the summer’s bounty of produce—from juicy berries to succulent tomatoes. But as prime produce season winds down you might be wondering what’s next. Don’t worry! Fall has more to offer than just gorgeous leaves. Here are a few seasonal produce faves and the health benefits they offer.

 

Super Fall Produce 1: Pumpkin

We don’t have to tell anyone that pumpkin is all the rage—pumpkin spice at least, that is. But if the extent of your pumpkin experience is drinking it in a latte or enjoying pumpkin-flavored everything, you’re missing out. (And, not to diss everyone’s favorite drink, but it’s important to consider that a PSL has a scary 50 grams of sugar, along with its nearly 400 calories.)

There are better ways to get the benefits of this health star.

  • How to eat it: Canned pumpkin has all the nutrients of fresh so it’s a great option to use for healthy soups, stews and chili. If you use fresh pumpkin, don’t forget to save and roast the seeds with a little oil and salt for a satisfying treat that can help reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
  • Health benefit: Pumpkin is packed with vitamin A and beta carotene, which means it can help keep your eyesight sharp and ward off colds, among other benefits.

 

Super Fall Produce 2: Squash

Feeling bored with broccoli or listless with lettuce? Try butternut squash for a change of pace.

  • How to eat it: This is another veggie that’s quick and easy to make as a great side dish: Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and toss in a little sugar and butter, then roast it in the oven for 30 minutes. You’ll want to make extra to toss in your salad or pasta for the next day.
  • Health benefits: Butternut squash is packed with the A, B Cs (vitamins that is), as well as healthy doses of fiber and potassium.

 

Super Fall Produce 3: Radishes

You might think of these as a summer veggie, but they’re readily available in fall, too, and come in a variety of colors, sizes and flavors so you can experiment to find the one that best suits your taste buds and recipes.

  • How to eat them: Roast radishes with butter for a stand-alone side dish, or add them to salads for a little zing or burgers for some crunch. This versatile veggie can be a nice accompaniment to ramen and also plays nicely with that millennial fave, the avotoast.
  • Health benefits: Radishes are a Vitamin C superstar, and also contain a virtual laundry list of vitamins and minerals – potassium, folate, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, zinc and manganese among them.

 

Super Fall Produce 4: Pears

Apples get most of the love in the fall, but pears are a fantastic fall choice. One of their main benefits is that they’re easy to eat just as they are, making them a healthy, delicious and portable snack.

  • How to eat them: Right out of your hand is one way, but there are also many ways you can use pears in recipes. They add delicious sweetness and crunch to salads and sandwiches, and yes, of course, they make fantastic desserts. But one fun way you might try them is in a pear and cheese ravioli. Salut!
  • Health benefits: The high fiber content in pears can be helpful for controlling appetite, potentially contributing to weight loss, and they can also guard against cancer, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

 

Super Fall Produce 5: Brussel Sprouts

We started with a veggie that’s having a moment and we’re going to finish with one too, as Brussel sprouts have attracted widespread attention and now frequently appear on the menus of on-trend restaurants.

  • How to eat them: Usually these days we see them roasted with some olive oil and garlic, and maybe tossed with a little Parmesan cheese. But you can take them up a notch by layering them with cheese in a gratin, a bit like you might do with roasted potatoes.
  • Health benefits: Another fiber standout, Brussel sprouts also have high amounts of antioxidants, which can help protect against cancer. They also contain Vitamin K, which can help protect against osteoporosis and are one of the best plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, an important nutrient which can be hard to get if you don’t care for seafood.

 

Whatever your choice for fall produce, remember that the more produce of any type you eat, the better. And if you want a fun fall outing, consider going to a farmer’s market to pick up your produce straight from the source. Try this map as a place to start to find a local farmer’s market in your area.




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.




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.