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How to Make the Most of Your Employee Handbook

Jeff Griffin

Many employers understand that an employee handbook can be an invaluable resource for codifying important information. Despite this, a fair number of small businesses choose to forgo this critical training, compliance and communication tool.

Some view an employee handbook as too time-consuming to prepare. Others just don’t see it as a priority. For companies with a lot of tasks on their plate (and who doesn't fit that bill) an employee handbook just never seems to make it to the top of the to-do list.

Be forewarned, however, that failing to put your company policies in writing could cause headaches down the road. Any time you save now by not documenting and circulating policies and procedures is likely to be spent later on the phone answering the same question over and over, or sitting in a crisis management meeting because someone on staff mishandled an situation.

Not only do employee handbooks ultimately save you time, but a well-crafted handbook could help you avoid litigation, thus providing you with invaluable peace of mind. Whether it’s policies, benefit details, or payroll and time off schedules, your employee handbook should be a go-to resource for your workforce. Here’s how to get the most value out of yours.   

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Communications, Employee Communications, Corporate Communication

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Shopping For A New Employee Benefits Broker: The RFP Process

Jeff Griffin

It’s certainly up for debate whether or not an RFP (Request for Proposal) is really the best method of finding a new employee benefits broker for your business. Nevertheless, if you’re planning on issuing an RFP for a new employee benefits advisor, it’s important to do it right. 

After all, a relationship between you and your employee benefits broker can span 10 years or more. Shouldn’t you strive for the best partnership imaginable? The RFP process is a time-consuming one, but when it’s done well, it creates a fruitful relationship with a trusted and highly valued business partner for years (and hopefully decades) to come.

Here’s a complete guide to issuing an RFP for employee benefits — and don’t forget to download our RFP template for additional help with getting started!

Writing an Employee Benefits RFP

First Things First: What is an RFP?

A request for proposal is “a type of bidding solicitation in which a company or organization announces that funding is available for a particular project or program, and companies can place bids for the project's completion.” In the case of employee benefits, a company is saying that they’re interested in hiring an employee benefits broker and that they’re open to new advisors.

In a way, an RFP is a little bit like a job description, stating exactly what the issuing company needs, from resources to reporting to cost-saving initiatives, and will ultimately help them codify the evaluation criteria on which the vendors’ proposals will be assessed. Essentially, the RFP should ensure all parties are on the same page in terms of requirements.

Additionally, RFPs should include background on the issuing organization, such as its lines of business, needs and expectations, as well as a set of specifications that describe the ideal solution.

Why an RFP?

It’s important to ask yourself why you’re issuing an RFP in the first place. Do you have performance issues with your current employee benefits broker? Is it a required diligence obligation? Are you simply canvassing the marketplace to see if there are better options available than your current benefits broker? Or are you looking to hire an employee benefits advisor for the first time?

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Topics: Employee Benefits, employee benefits broker, employers, rfp

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The Role of Social Media In Employee Benefits Communication

David Rook

Today’s workforce spans four different generations and reaching all of them can be a challenge. Employers can no longer solely rely on traditional employee benefits communication materials like email, printed brochures, break room posters, table tents, and payroll stuffers. While those may be effective with certain members of your workforce, younger employees are far more difficult to reach through these traditional forms of communication.

Rather, savvy employers are embracing today’s social media platforms to reach their most elusive workers — millennials and generation Z. Social media was created by millennials and gen Z are digital natives who aren’t likely to remember a time before computers. They spend quite a bit of time online, making social media one of the best avenues to connect with them in a contemporary, timely, and non-intrusive way.

Keep reading to find suggestions on how to integrate social media in your employee benefits communications, and download our free guide on this topic here.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Employee Communications, employee communication

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Practical Issues to Consider in Expanding Benefits Coverage to Transgender Employees

David Rook

Best-in-class employee benefits evolve with the times and our changing values. We saw marriage equality granted to all people in this country after Obergefell v. Hodges, opening employee benefits to many additional spouses and families. Now, we’re seeing more and more employers (including Fortune 100 and 500 companies) embrace transgender-inclusive health insurance plans as gender identity awareness improves. However, medical professionals have been stressing the importance of transgender health for years.

In 2008, the American Medical Association (AMA) first voiced its concerns for the discrimination of transgender individuals when it published a guidance supporting “public and private health insurance coverage for treatment of gender dysphoria as recommended by the patient's physician.” (This policy was updated in 2016).

In order to truly be an equal opportunity employer, you should have at least one transgender-inclusive health insurance plan in your employee benefits package. It’s not as complicated or expensive as it may sound. In fact, right here in our home state of Arizona, there are quite a few employers already offering such benefits.

Here are some practical issues you should consider when expanding your employee benefits to make sure they include transgender employees and how doing so could help you recruit and retain the workforce of the future — namely, millennials and generation Z, who see inclusivity as an important attribute of prospective employers.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Affordable Care Act, Company Culture, ACA, Recruiting, Retention, Plan Design, employee culture, Arizona, employers, PPACA, Culture, LGBTQ

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What Does the Average Employer Spend on Employee Benefits?

Jeff Griffin

When we’re helping employers cultivate employee benefits packages for their workforce, we’re often asked to benchmark what their peers are spending on them. The answers vary widely based on multiple factors, including geography, industry, size of the workforce, health plans offered, and the overall health of the workforce population, just to name a few.

Employee benefits benchmarking is one of the best ways to figure this out. The best answer for each employer is determined through public and proprietary information, the latter of which can be quite costly, but it’s also quite necessary. Some of our favorite sources for benchmarking include Truven, Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), Mercer, Windsor, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the International Foundation for Employee Benefits (IFEB), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, who tracks this information and shares it quarterly).

The BLS report breaks data down into multiple categories, including various components of compensation by sector (public, civilian, government). Let’s take a moment to look at the most recent data from the BLS so you can compare how your employee benefits costs stack up.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Audits, CFO, employers, CHRO, Voluntary Benefits, Ancillary Benefits, Worksite Benefits

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The Digital Divide – How to Communicate with Disconnected Employees

David Rook

Employers oftentimes worry about how to tailor employee communication for those who are digitally disconnected — meaning they don’t have access to email or the internet — but this concern is largely blown out of proportion.

According to Pew Research, only 11 percent of Americans aren’t using the internet. Research also suggests that “non-adoption [of the internet] is correlated to a number of demographic variables, including age, educational attainment, household income and community type.”

As the numbers suggest, internet adoption is picking up steam, leaving fewer and fewer people disconnected every day — especially among older Americans and those with less education. The research center points out that 86 percent of senior citizens didn’t use the internet in the year 2000, but that the current data shows a dramatic increase in older adults’ online activity (only 34 percent don’t use the internet now). Among those who didn’t finish high school, non-adopters dropped a similar amount during the same time period, going from 81 percent to 35 percent.

Regardless, it’s wise for employers who want to ensure no one in the workforce is overlooked to deploy both digital and more traditional methods of employee communication. In addition, because digital access spans multiple device types (computers, smartphones, tablets) and various ways to attain connectivity (home internet, public internet, cellular data), it’s important to take the following into account when connecting to these audiences:

Employee Communication for the Connection-Challenged

Some employees may be connected, but face some challenges in doing so. They aren’t totally cut off from the internet because they have library access or use the web browser on their smartphone, but they’re not particularly internet-savvy either. Here are some suggestions for making sure these employees can read the communications you’re sending:

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Communications, Multi-Generational, Employee Communications, employee communication, Corporate Communication

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Best Practices For Optimizing Online Benefits Enrollment Systems

David Rook

There are countless online employee benefits enrollment systems out there today. While each is designed to make everyone’s lives easier — employees, employers, insurance carriers, payroll providers and benefits advisors alike, some don't quite live up to the hype.

While the initial transition from paper enrollment to any one of these online enrollment systems typically yields tremendous upside from an efficiency, speed and data integrity perspective, it's highly unusual for an enrollment system to be fully optimized for peak performance at first launch.

Tweaking and perfecting the system in the quest to maximize performance and outcomes should be an ongoing activity within your organization. Most agree that the goal of optimizing these systems is to make them as easy and intuitive as possible for your employees to use, while also guiding educated, informed and appropriate employee benefit decisions for your workforce.

Much of what’s considered “best practice” in online benefits enrollment has been adopted from best practices in eCommerce. After all, enrolling in benefits these days isn't that far off from purchasing something off Amazon, comparing cars at AutoTrader, or configuring a laptop at Dell.

While this list is by no means complete, here are some best practices you should consider adopting to optimize the configuration of your online benefits enrollment system for peak performance.

Capitalize on Nudge Theory 

While "nudge theory" won Richard Thaler a Nobel prize in economics, the concept is quite simple. It’s a subtle policy shift that encourages people to make decisions that are in their broad self-interest.

Put into practice, it simply means using "opt-out" as the default option for certain benefit selections. This requires someone to actively deselect an option. Failure to do so results in auto-enrollment in that benefit. A great example of nudging is pre-selecting a 3% contribution into an employee's 401(k) vs. leaving the field blank. This simple change will have a massive impact on 401(k) participation.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Automation, open enrollment, Strategy, Decision Tools

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Why Your Business Needs an Employee Benefits Insurance Broker

David Rook

Like all business owners, you’re trying to navigate the murky waters of health insurance and other employee benefits. It’s time-consuming, frustrating, and ultimately not a subject you're well- versed in.

In an effort to help, someone recently suggested you use an employee benefits broker. You’re not even sure what they do and you don’t want to spend extra money on them. You've also heard of other options, such as PEOs, payroll vendors, HR software platforms and the SHOP exchange. How do you sort through all of these options and confidently make the right decision?

We're admittedly a little bias on the topic, but we highly recommend you start this process by simply talking to a benefits broker. If you don't know any (and even if you do), gather a few recommendations from your peers within other organizations. Just make sure you initiate your consultation with a trusted broker who is well regarded in the industry and your market. A broker with a solid reputation will help you quickly assess all of your options and will, in all likelihood, be completely upfront with you in the event they aren't your best option.

Once you decide to move forward with an employee benefits broker, they'll guide you through sound analytical and strategic reasoning for the benefit decisions you are making for your workforce.  Employee benefit brokers are far more affordable than you might think and good ones can be invaluable to a business, paying for themselves many times over in the savings they generate for you. Brokers are especially helpful to small businesses with skeleton HR departments but are equally as useful to well-staffed operations. 

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Topics: Employee Benefits, employee benefits broker

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Employee Benefits Designed To Improve Employee Retention

David Rook

Maintaining a competitive edge often comes down to retaining a talented workforce. The growing popularity of so-called “portable” employee benefits, such as Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), certainly hasn't made this any easier. Employers trying to entice workers to remain loyal may want to focus their efforts on providing benefits which are simply too good to surrender. Offering benefits that accrue significant value over time, or improve with tenure, will help keep employees from abandoning that progress for greener pastures, lest they have to start over someplace else.

How the ACA Impacted Employee Retention

Prior to the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) there was considerably less job mobility for many Americans with pre-existing health conditions. The moment insurance carriers were barred from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, the need for individuals to stay with a company for insurance reasons essentially vanished. Many employees who were previously stuck in their jobs for fear of losing benefits were now free to explore other opportunities.

Similarly, many budding entrepreneurs set off to start their own businesses while acquiring individual health insurance via the ObamaCare exchange or through other means. One could argue that this new freedom was a benefit to both employers and employees  after all, who really wants an employee who is sticking around just because of benefits? Nevertheless, this new found “employee mobility” has made the search for "sticky" benefits all the more important.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Employee Retention

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What Makes For A Good Health Insurance Renewal?

Jeff Griffin

Group health insurance renewals, a critical part of the employee benefits planning process, are time consuming and stressful for everyone involved — employers, employee benefits brokers, and insurance carriers alike.

We’ve yet to meet an employer who enjoys hearing about how their rates are likely increasing...yet again. And no employee likes to find out their premiums, deductibles, and copays are going up, let alone that they have to choose a new medical plan and a new set of healthcare providers because you’re changing carriers — again.

As an employer, it’s also hard to know if you’re getting a good deal on your health insurance renewal as the components of pricing are complex and seemingly nebulous. It’s not all cloak and dagger though, and with knowledge comes understanding. Therefore, it’s important to understand what goes into a health insurance renewal so you and your employee benefits advisor can negotiate better rates for your business.

The Three Major Purposes of Annual Health Insurance Renewals 

While the process can be tedious, annual health insurance renewals serve three major purposes:

  • First, they provide employers with the opportunity to switch insurance carriers or health plans, as well as adjust contribution levels, prescription drug formularies, eligibility rules, and coverage decisions (just to name a few of the many plan design options which can be modified).
  • Second, they allow insurance carriers the opportunity to update plan options, rules and regulations, and most importantly, reassess the estimated risk of covering your group for the upcoming year.
  • Third, they allow both insurance carriers and employers to renegotiate pricing for the upcoming year.

Health insurance renewals don’t have to mean a change in carriers — in fact, there’s a lot to be said for sticking with the same providers year-after-year. But that being said, there’s nothing wrong with trying to get a better deal, especially if circumstances have changed and most especially if you can make a fact-based case for your appeals. This is much easier to achieve if you work with an employee benefits broker with underwriters on staff who can negotiate on a peer-to-peer basis with carrier underwriters (more on that later.)

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, CFO, CHRO

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