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Employee Benefit Perks That Make The Holidays Merry

David Rook

Employee Benefit Perks That Make The Holidays Merry


It’s that time of year again: the time when employers ponder ways to express their appreciation to staff for a job well done. 
 
This year-end recognition almost always coincides with holiday festivities. How can you ensure that the holiday perks and year-end recognition you have in mind are the ones that will really resonate with your employees?

Give the Gift of Time

Around the holidays, one of the scarcest commodities anyone has is time. Savvy employers discern that employees highly prize generous holiday leave policies.

Some small, locally-owned industries manage to arrange their production schedules in such a way that they can close their doors between Christmas and New Year’s every year. While juggling the production schedule requires forethought and fine planning skills, companies that manage this perk reap the rewards of high employee morale as the holidays near.

For most companies, however, business processes must continue throughout the holiday season. Larger companies are often unable to make a grand gesture such as closing down for a whole holiday week. The good news is that a little creative thinking often yields positive results.
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Topics: Company Culture

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2019 IRS Limits for Commonly Offered Employee Benefits

Jeff Griffin
The IRS recently finalized adjustments to 2019 limits on various tax-advantaged medical and dependent care spending accounts, retirement plans, and other inflation-adjusted employee benefits such as adoption assistance and qualified transportation benefits.
 
The 2.2 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index (PCI) for the 12 months ending this September was just enough to meet the thresholds required to extend these rate adjustments.
 
Despite some of these updates being issued nearly a month later than normal, these new financial caps still go into effect January 1, 2019. While some of the limits are unchanged, many have increased for 2019, affording employees the opportunity to contribute more money into their Health Spending Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), and retirement plans, just to name a few.
 
In preparation for these 2019 plan year changes, employers should update their benefit plan designs for the new limits, ensure that their plan administration will be consistent with the new 2019 limits, and communicate the new benefit plan limits to their employees. 
 
Here is a convenient set of side-by-side comparison tables outlining the changes:
 
Tax-Advantaged Employee Benefits
HSA & HDHP Contribution Limits
The IRS has increased the 2019 annual HSA contribution limit for self-only HDHP coverage by $50, to $3,500, and by $100, to $7,000, for family HDHP coverage. HSA contributions can be made by the HSA account holder or any other person on their behalf, including an employer or family member.
 
 
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Topics: Education, Savings Plans, Retirement Planning, FSAs, HDHPs, QSEHRA, HSAs, Compliance

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Cyber Monday Slowdown; Four Ways To Maintain Some Semblance of Worker Productivity

David Rook
Long holiday weekends are typically an excellent opportunity for employees to relax and recharge their batteries. While the first day back is admittedly a bit crazy, the backlog of calls and emails eventually subsidies, with one dreaded exception...Cyber Monday. 
 
According to the research firm Robert Haft Technology , nearly a quarter of your workforce will shop online during their work-hours on Cyber Monday. And while 46 percent will browse during their lunch breaks, almost a third of employees will shop all day long.
 

So what can be done about this employee productivity killer? In a nutshell, not much. Resistance is futile, as they say. So here are four ways that you, as an employer, can embrace Cyber Monday in ways designed to minimize workplace disruption and maintain employee productivity.

Sanction Shopping Time
 
Rather than prohibiting or admonishing online shopping throughout the day (it’s going to happen anyway), bring it out from the shadows. In doing so, you might turn this covert experience into something far more social - an activity which can even perhaps foster some group camradery.
 
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Topics: Employee Benefits, Company Culture, Education, Employee Productivity

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Black Friday Revolt Continues; Employers Put Family Time First

David Rook
Black Friday has become an enormous "tent pole event" for both retailers and consumers. The day after Thanksgiving has become synonymous with outrageous deals – but also outrageous lines, all-night camp outs, poorly-staffed stores, and sometimes violent confrontations between shoppers vying to be the first to hit the shelves. 
 
For a long time, Black Friday was seen as simply a good day to get a head start on Christmas shopping and save some money. However, in recent years, store openings have crept earlier and earlier, even into Thanksgiving itself, and viral videos of stampeding shoppers, brawls, and even some deaths have contributed to a growing sense that the infamous “holiday” has gone too far. Add to this the numerous complaints from employees on social media and the rise in popularly of online/mobile shopping,  and one gets the sense that the importance of Black Friday is finally waning.
 
As demonstrated by REI for the fourth consecutive year, retailers who take the brave stance of sticking to normal business hours, can not only engender goodwill from their employees by adhering to tenets of their corporate culture, but also, in certain situations, can endear themselves to loyal customers - a true win / win if ever there was one. This year, not only will REI close their physical locations during Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but they also plan to take it a step further by not processing online orders during this time either. Though REI is one retailer willing to push the limits by completely closing up shop on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, countless other retailers have curtailed the practice of opening their doors Thanksgiving evening. In fact, according to BestBlackFriday.com, a record number of stores will remain closed that day.
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Topics: Employee Benefits, Company Culture, Education

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Millennials vs. Baby Boomers: Managing Across Generations

Jeff Griffin

As new generations enter the workforce, managers must learn how to lead diverse groups with various backgrounds, values, work ethics, expectations and motivations.  

Consider that our current workforce is comprised primarily of three generations: Baby Boomers, Gen-xers and Millennials (not counting the bookend demographic groups of Generation Z and The Silent Generation). Managing these different generational groups requires getting into their mindsets to understand what makes them tick — and what makes them more productive and satisfied at work.

Battle of the Boomers and Millennials

Each generational group in the workplace today has been influenced by a combination of profound societal events, demographic trends and cultural phenomena unique to the time in which they came of age.

Because these differences are most pronounced between the oldest and youngest in our workforce, we’ll focus on baby boomers and millennials — even though Gen-Xers are a unique demographic all to themselves.

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Topics: Multi-Generational, millennials, Employee Retention

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Debunking The Myth: The ACA Isn’t Increasing Your Group Health Insurance Rates

David Rook

Author's note: This post is not intended to defend nor criticize the merits of the Affordable Care Act (a political lightening rod if ever there was one). Rather, this post is merely intended to dispel a few myths as it relates to the ACA's spill-over impact on the group insurance market. 

While its effects on the individual insurance market can be debated (though most agree the ACA did very little to contain healthcare costs but did a terrific job of making healthcare more accessible), it’s a common misconception that the Affordable Care Act (also known as the ACA, or Obamacare) is causing group health insurance rates to dramatically increase. This myth, along with others that play into it, have been perpetuated frequently since the law’s passage in 2010 — especially since the individual and small business health insurance marketplaces opened in 2014.

The truth is health insurance rates were increasing long before Barack Obama ever got close to the White House. According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average cost of premiums for individual coverage increased about 32.5 percent between 2010 and 2017. But compared to the 8-year period prior (when premiums increased about 56 percent) that amount seems low. For family coverage, the numbers are even worse, showing a 36 percent increase since 2010, compared to 67 percent in the 8 years prior. 

In addition, it would appear the ACA is actually helping to slow our national health expenditures (NHE) as a percentage of GDP. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has been tracking this data since 1960. CMS defines NHE as “health care goods and services, public health activities, government administration, the net cost of health insurance, and investment related to health care.” In other words, NHE is what we collectively spend on healthcare each year between health insurance rates, out-of-pocket expenses, and any health programs we take part in.

Between 2010 and 2016 (the latest year for which data is available), NHE increased from 17.4 percent to 17.9 — a mere half a percent (although one could also argue this could be due in part to effects of the recession). By contrast, in the 7-year period beforehand, NHE increased nearly two percent, going from 15.4 percent of GDP to 17.3. 

In order to figure out how we could actually fix this system, we have to understand the differences between what’s really broken about it and the myths out there. Here are three myths we can easily bust.

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Topics: PPACA, ACA, Affordable Care Act

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Three Ways for Employees & Employers to Save Money on Healthcare

David Rook

Recent news that the rising cost of healthcare in America may actually be slowing is being met with resounding elation by those looking for ways to save money on their medical insurance. For those with high deductible health plans (HDHPs) and other forms of consumer-driven healthcare, this comes as especially welcome news.

If sustained, this tempering of rising medical care costs will hopefully begin to curb an alarming trend, that being dangerous cost-avoidance practices by some covered individuals, which sometimes includes such dangerous practices as skipping medications and postponing necessary medical procedures. (Many have also skipped out on preventative care, despite the fact that most all of it is covered at 100%.)  While in the short-term such actions will indeed bring down healthcare expenses, they are likely to trigger larger problems later on, which cost far more money.

There are much safer and more effective ways to curb healthcare expenses, but it takes a bit of effort and education to capitalize on them. Here are just a few we’ve found. Please feel free to use these money saving strategies with your workforce — and better yet — try them out yourself.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Consumer Driven Healthcare, cost management, CHRO, CFO, employers, HSAs, FSAs

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How Incorporating Ergonomics in the Workplace Can Save Employers Money

Dr. Christine Maxwell

Hemingway and Jefferson were both "stand-up" fellows—literally and figuratively. These two famous writers preferred to work at stand-up desks because of the positive effects it had on their productivity. And though they were way ahead of their time, the benefits are clearer than ever before.

Long before the word ergonomics became a common term in the American vernacular, science has referenced the correlation between workplace design and human biomechanics and health. Derived from the Greek words ergo (work) and nomos (law), the word ergonomics has become a buzzword among health-conscious thinkers in recent years. Followers of this discipline focus on developing a workplace environment that is generally healthier for all employees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2015, American workers missed 1,153,490 days due to work-related injuries. Ergonomic improvements have numerous workplace benefits and can be a useful healthcare strategy that can save employers money.

It's no wonder that once implemented businesses often see an increase in productivity, a noticeable change in attitudes, and a decrease in absenteeism. After all, when workers feel more comfortable and notice employers injecting healthy changes into their workday, both morale and productivity increases. This makes it a win-win scenario for everyone involved.

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Topics: ergonomics, employee health

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6 Reasons Every CFO Needs to Engage In Employee Benefits Decisions

Jeff Griffin

As one of the largest line items on the P&L these days, employee benefit discussions in many organizations have transitioned from the breakroom to the boardroom, with increased scrutiny from several in the C-Suite and beyond.

If your organization's finance department isn't already deeply involved in the discussion, it's time for them to engage. 

Going into these meetings with little employee benefits experience can seem overwhelming, but it's important for your finance team to be involved and in alignment with human resourcesThere are several reasons it's worth your while to take a more active role in the process. 

1. Employee benefits are consuming a larger portion of your company's budget

Healthcare is a crucial part of any company’s employee benefits package. In order to recruit and retain the best and brightest employees, your healthcare offerings need to be competitive, yet not excessive. Annual year-over-year increases in the cost of healthcare, no doubt outpacing your revenue and profit growth, have made this extremely challenging. 

As the leader of the finance team, you can't afford to ignore an expense that big, and often times that out-of-control. You need to understand what's driving these increases, be they external factors, internal factors, or both. Understanding what's controllable and what's not can also help bring focus to an already complex conversation. 

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Topics: CFO, Employee Benefits

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10 Pitfalls to Avoid This Open Enrollment Season

David Rook

For many who work in human resources and employee benefits, open enrollment can be a stressful time of year. Focused on meeting tight deadlines and pleasing multiple stakeholders, many HR professionals often repeat sins of the past and fail to make annual, incremental improvements in their open enrollment processes.

Optimizing your open enrollment is critical to ensuring its ongoing success. After all, over time you learn more about how best to communicate with your organization, particularly as the employee benefits space evolves i.e. new benefit products and services, and new technologies.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, whether you're working off of a well-established checklist or with your employee benefits broker, be sure to avoid these common pitfalls during your next open enrollment.  

1. Ending Open Enrollment Outside of Normal Office Hours

Procrastinating employees will inevitably have last minute questions and may experience technology troubles. Make sure your deadline for open enrollment falls during the workweek and during normal office hours when your HR staff is still on duty to help them through those final steps in the process.

2. Ignoring Other Household Decision Makers

Often times your employee is not the only one weighing-in on benefit decisions. Make sure the communication materials and media channels you're using reach other heads of household and key decision makers such as spouses. Consider extending invitations to open enrollment meetings to the entire family.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, HSAs, HDHPs, open enrollment

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