May 30, 2014

Survey says: 39% don't think they are paid fairly

In a February survey on income conducted online among 1,000 employees and job seekers, Glassdoor learned that 39% of the respondents do not believe their current rate of pay is fair. This is true of a higher percentage of women (42%) than men (34%). Most of those surveyed (57%) think that it their employer who is in the best position to change this rather than Congress (30%) or the President (14%). According to the survey:

"If employees do not receive a pay increase within one year of starting a job, 62% say they would consider looking for a new job opportunity. However, employees report they would be satisfied with other perks and benefits if a pay raise or cost-of-living increase is not possible from their employer."
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ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

September 30, 2013

Affordable Care Implementation Toolkit

Information for employers
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Deadline Looms: Here’s What Employers Need to Do

Health Insurance Exchanges: The Facts Behind the Debate

HealthCare.gov The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP)

HealthCare.gov What if my business has 50 or more employees?

Prior posts
Reminder - Important ACA Deadline October 1

Understanding the Affordable Care Act

Information for your employees
Health Care Coverage for you & your family

The Kaiser Family Foundation Subsidy Calculator

State Health Insurance Marketplace Profiles

Already have insurance? Learn how the health care law protects you

How the Health Care Law Benefits You in Your State

Timeline of the health care law

Get Ready for Obamacare


September 7, 2013

Reminder - Important ACA Deadline October 1

If you have at least one employee and generate at least $500,000 in annual revenue, you have a requirement under the Affordable Care Act. Kelly Spors at Open Forum explains: "Most U.S. employers—even those with just one employee—are required to send a notice to all employees via first-class mail by Oct. 1 informing them about the new public health insurance exchanges. The notification requirement applies to any business regulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which covers all companies with at least one employee and $500,000 in annual revenue. The letters must be sent to all employees, full-time and part-time and regardless of their benefits plan status." Click the link above for more details.

A post on Practical Law Company adds more detail about employer ACA obligations related to notifications per the FAQs issued by the Department of Labor. In the FAQs, the DOL says that "...another entity besides the employer (such as a third-party administrator (TPA), insurer or multiemployer plan) may send exchange notices on an employer's behalf if the notices are timely and complete."

Additional Resources

End-of-Year Employer Checklist from Haynes and Boone, LLP.

Health Care Reform Resource Page – Resources from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)

Affordable Care Act - Information for Employers and Self-Employed
Small businesses - Learn about small employer tax credits, as well as small employers’ rights and responsibilities under the law. Small employers are usually defined at those having fewer than 50 employees.
Large businesses - Information for businesses with 50 or more employees, including information about tax policy and employer responsibility parts of the law.
Self-Employed - Self-employed people have some new options and protections, both now and beginning in 2014. In some states, self-employed people can apply for small business policies.

Health Insurance Marketplace from HealthCare.gov
Find state-specific market information.

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ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

August 19, 2012

Are you taking advantage of everything your EAP has to offer?

If you are like most HR professionals, you are always working to maximize your employee benefit package while minimizing your costs. Ed Bray, the director of Employee Benefits for Hawaiian Airlines, has a suggestion for you: Show your EAP some love. Bray says that one theme has been consistent across companies in his decade of HR experience: organizations are not making full use of their EAP, a benefit they already have that can offer employees significant value. He offers his top 5 reasons why you might want to promote its use, which we summarize here:

1. Everyone loves free.
2. Your EAP probably offers elder care resource and referral services.
3. Particularly in the current tough economy, employees could use any financial and legal consultation services available through an EAP.
4. It is likely that your EAP provides referral services for reputable childcare facilities in your local area.
5. There is an excellent chance that your EAP has a website with a plethora of information available to your employees, including a list of all covered services and resources.

We couldn't have said it better! We can add to Ed's list. Here are 20 more benefits that your EAP should provide:

  • Access 24/7 counseling services for virtually any problem
  • Address family conflicts
  • Prepare for retirement
  • Decrease stress
  • Kick the smoking habit
  • Get help for depression
  • Lose weight and keep it off with exercise programs and fitness benefits
  • Adopt a child
  • Get discounts and savings
  • Create a will
  • Deal with substance abuse issues
  • Cope with grief and loss
  • Develop professionally through courses and training
  • Get help for consumer problems
  • Deal with mental and behavioral health issues
  • Balance work, life and job
  • Plan for college and tuition assistance
  • Access caregiver support and resources
  • Deal with debt and get help with debt restructuring
  • Get help for cancer, diabetes, and other health challenges

Benefits for HR practitioners and managers, too
Your EAP should provide resources and benefits to you, as an HR manager, and to your managers and supervisors. Your EAP is a critical tool to help you retain employees, reduce absenteeism, and improve productivity. Are you making full use of all the benefits and services available to you?

  • HR Consultation with SPHR professionals for difficult issues
  • Administrative referrals to address unacceptable performance issues
  • Pre-employment screening and background checks
  • Mediation services
  • Trauma Response services
  • Professional development and management training
  • Drug Free Workplace Programs
  • HR tools and resources for policies and compliance issues

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ESI-Logo.jpg Does your EAP measure up? If you'd like to learn more about turbocharging your employee benefit package, reducing absenteeism, and enhancing productivity, call us today: 800-535-4841.

August 11, 2012

Google's death benefit: financial support for families

When it comes to employee benefits, Google pretty much leads the pack. The tech behemoth's remarkable portfolio of perks earns the company a spot at the top of Best Companies to Work For lists year after year. Life in the Googleplex is indeed special.

Now we learn that life after the Googleplex is pretty special too. In an interview with Forbes Meghan Casserly, Googles's Chief People Officer recently announced that it now offers death benefits to its employees:

"Should a U.S. Googler pass away while under the employ of the 14-year old search giant, their surviving spouse or domestic partner will receive a check for 50% of their salary every year for the next decade. Even more surprising, a Google spokesperson confirms that there’s “no tenure requirement” for this benefit, meaning most of their 34 thousand Google employees qualify."

In addition to these benefits, "surviving spouses will see all stocks vested immediately and any children will receive a $1,000 monthly payment from the company until they reach the age of 19 (or 23 if the child is a full-time student)."

Casserly talks about this benefit and how it came about in greater detail, as well as offering more insight into the company's strong commitment to family-friendly benefits, such as generous paid maternity and paternity leaves. While these benefits are helpful in retention. the company says the real reason is that it's "... simply because it’s the right thing to do."

Related
7 companies with unique employee health benefits - from autism therapy to an on-premise bowling alley

14 Companies with Incredible Employee Perks

Heartache leave - and 8 other unusual benefits

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ESI-Logo.jpg If you are looking for ways to sweeten your employee benefit package but feel stymied but tight budgets, ESI EAP offers the most comprehensive employee assistance benefit package, with nearly twice the benefits of the average EAP. To learn about the many benefits that ESI Employee Assistance Program can offer your employees, give us a call: 800-535-4841.

June 29, 2012

Affordable Care Act - Information Toolkit

Affordable Care Act - Information for Employers and Self-Employed - Small businesses - Learn about small employer tax credits, as well as small employers’ rights and responsibilities under the law. Small employers are usually defined at those having fewer than 50 employees. Large businesses - Information for businesses with 50 or more employees, including information about tax policy and employer responsibility parts of the law. Self-Employed - Self-employed people have some new options and protections, both now and beginning in 2014. In some states, self-employed people can apply for small business policies.

Resources for Consumers and Employers - from Kaiser Family Foundation

After the Ruling: A Consumer Guide - an FAQ from Kaiser Health News about some of the law's provisions that are already up and running as well as major features of what's to come.

What’s Changing and When - an interactive timeline, or see all timeline items on one page in printable format.

Health Reform Implementation Timeline - provisions by year.

The Affordable Care Act by State - See what implementation means for your state. From grants to new services and programs, find out how the Affordable Care Act is helping you where you live.

Prevention and Wellness - insurers are required to cover certain preventive services at no cost to the insured. Beginning as early as August 2012, this list will expand to include additional services for women.

Health Reform Glossary

Full text of the Affordable Care Act - Read the Affordable Care Act in full or browse it section by section.

September 28, 2010

Health care reform explained, animation style

As a follow-up to our last post, we found this great 9 minute animated video - Health Reform Hits Main Street - which was written and produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation to help explain the basics of healthcare reform. (Video transcript)


May 26, 2010

Flex time and work life benefits: very important to Generation Y

There was a day in the not too distant past when flex time and work life programs were viewed primarily as benefits integral to attracting working Moms. Today, such programs are no longer just important for Moms: research shows that flexible work benefits are also vital to attracting and retaining the kids that all those working Moms nurtured, the so-called Generation Y workers. A new study on cross-generational work values points to this and other differences spanning Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y respondents.

Michael O'Brien reports on this study in his Battle of the Generations article in Human Resource Executive. The research is part of the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future project, an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students, college students, and young adults.

In the study, "Generational Difference in Work Values: Leisure and Extrinsic Values Increasing, Social and Intrinsic Values Decreasing," the authors analyzed data from samples of 16,507 U.S. high-school seniors in 1976, 1991 and 2006, representing baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Each generation responded to the same questions at the same age (18), allowing a good comparison of how work values and the view of the workplace have changed over time. Questions covered extrinsic values, such as pay, benefits and status; intrinsic values, such as meaningful work; social values; altruistic values; and leisure values.

Among some of the central findings as reported by O'Brien:

  • The value placed on leisure has increased steadily over the generations, while the centrality of work declined.
  • Extrinsic values, such as the value placed on status or money, peaked with Generation X, but it is still higher among Generation Y than it was among boomers.
  • The value placed on the social aspect of work, as well as intrinsic values (e.g., interesting, results-oriented jobs), decreased over the generations.
  • Generation Yers place high value on work/life benefits such as flexible scheduling.
In New generation brings its values to work, Laura Raines offers her take on the study in the Atlanta Journal Constitutions, quoting professor Stacy M. Campbell, one of the study authors, as saying, "Up until now, the differences seen in the younger generation have been largely anecdotal, but now we have data to support the stories."

Among other generational differences, Raines also highlights the importance of leisure time to Gen Y:

"Perhaps most significantly, the younger generations placed a much higher value on leisure time," Campbell said. "Almost twice as many young people in 2006 rated having a job with more than two weeks of vacation as ‘very important’ than did in 1976." At the same time the youngest generation’s interest in salary and status — did not decrease.

"While Generation X valued money highly, they were willing to work hard for it. Gen Y has the high expectations of getting paid well and having more leisure time. They want [to have] their cake and eat it, too."


April 16, 2010

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act & the workplace

Now that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is law, how are employers reacting? When it comes to offering workers healthcare benefits, will droves of employers be running for the exits? The answer is no, according to a recent health care benefits survey of about 3,700 employers by Crain Communications, publisher of both Workforce Management and Business Insurance. The survey found that 52.5% strongly disagreed with the statement that it would be better for their organizations to stop offering health care benefits and pay a fine under the new law, and another 15.3% somewhat disagreed. Only 14.1% felt strongly that it would be better for their organizations to drop benefits. The larger the employer, the greater the percentage that disagreed with the idea that it would be better to drop benefits. Many of those surveyed said that health care benefits are critical to employee recruiting and retention (65.7% strongly agreed; 25.6% somewhat agreed).

However, when asked whether they understand the impact of the law on benefits, only 17.7% strongly agreed that they understand, while 38% responded disagreed somewhat or strongly that they understand the impact. \

Focus on prevention and wellness
We'll all be learning more about the law and its implications for employers. In addition to the way that it will effect benefit offerings, the law will also have many implications for prevention and wellness, both on and off the job. The law calls for substantial annual allocations for prevention and public health awareness campaigns - some of which may assist in changing behaviors, much the way that the past anti-littering and no-smoking public awareness initiatives changed behaviors over time. In addition to the general public awareness campaigns, there are numerous programs that will be targeted specifically to the workplace and to workplace wellness initiatives.

At the NIOSH Science Blog, Director of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health John Howard summarizes many of the prevention provisions in new law. He cites the following specific employer-based initiatives:

  • Provide employers with technical assistance, consultation, tools, and other resources to evaluate employer-based wellness programs including evaluating such programs as they relate to changes in employees' health status, absenteeism, productivity, medical costs, and the rate of workplace injury.
  • Build evaluation capacity among workplace staff by training employers on how to evaluate employer-based wellness programs utilizing mechanisms such as web portals, call centers, etc.
  • Within two years, conduct a national worksite health policies and programs survey to assess employer-based health policies and programs followed by a report to Congress with recommendations for the implementation of effective employer-based health policies and programs.

In a reply to questions and comments that follow his blog posting, Howard notes that the NIOSH role in such programs is still unclear. He is asked if the new provisions will include any change in the current system that separates medical care for people injured on the job vs off the job. He notes that he is unaware of any efforts to unite the non-occupational and occupational healthcare systems, citing the obstacle that workers' compensation insurance is regulated by the 50 states.

August 27, 2007

New Employee Benefit Survey released

The Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics has recently released the National Compensation Survey, Employee Benefits in Private Industry in the United States, March 2007 (PDF). This 39-page report provides data from the 2007 survey on incidence and provisions of all private establishments. It is the first release of data on employee benefits under new industry and occupational classifications. National data is offered, as well as breakdowns by broad occupational groups, full- and part-time status, union and nonunion status, workers with average wages under and over $15 per hour, goods-producing and service-providing industries, employers with fewer than 100 workers and more than 100 workers, and geographical breakdowns by areas and by metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. Some of the major national findings include:


  • 77% of employees have paid holidays and vacations
  • 49% of the workers had paid military leave
  • 60% or private employers offer health insurance. Most plans require employee contributions
  • Employee contributions for medical care premiums averaged $81.37 per month for single coverage, and $312.78 per month for family coverage
  • Employer premiums for medical care plans averaged $293.25 a month per participant for single coverage and $664.04 for family coverage
  • Health Savings Accounts (HSA) were available to 8% of workers
  • 58% of workers had access to life insurance, and of those, 56% participated
  • Short- and long-term disability benefits were available to 39% and 31% percent of workers, respectively. When available, most workers participate
  • One-third of all establishments with 100 workers or more offered a defined benefit plan to their employees, compared to only one out of every 10 establishments with fewer than 100 workers.

Hat tip to Brent Hunsberger of At Work for alerting us to this release.

August 10, 2007

Templated "excuse from work" letters abound on the web

According to a recent story in the Chicago Sun-Times on doctored notes, there is a profusion of web-based sites that sell templated "excuse" letters ranging from jury duty, funerals, doctor notes and emergency room visits. Most offer disclaimers stating that the letters are "for entertainment purposes only." The Sun-Times article advises readers that supplying fake documentation rather than just calling with an excuse serves to escalate the deception by actually providing a paper trail. The article also states that false documentation may be grounds for firing.

We bemoan the lack of imagination is such a cookie-cutter approach - it would be a shame to lose some of the highly creative work excuses that HR managers enjoy sharing. Nevertheless, if your organization requires documented absences, you may want to familiarize yourself with these sites. You may also want to look at your vacation and sick time policies and see if they unwittingly foster such deceit by extreme rigidity. We've found that employers with an "earned time" bank or some flexibility of sick, vacation and personal days have fewer problems with "creative excuses."

Thanks to Michael Fox of Jottings By an Employer's Lawyer pointed us to this story. He supplies live links to some of the excuse mills cited in the story should you want to explore further.

July 27, 2007

Caregiver employees are at heightened risk: how employers can help

We recently came upon a great LA Times article by Melissa Healy on the topic of caregivers
and the high toll they pay for the role they play
in supporting family members. This is a topic that interests us greatly—our EAP deals with an increasing number of workers who are dealing with the stress or strain of caring for an ill, elderly, or special needs family member. According to the article, about one in every six people is a caregiver and as the Baby Boomers advance in age, that number is expected to increase. Add to that the numbers who will be caring for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many profoundly injured either physically or mentally. The scope of the caregiving issue is significant enough that it prompted the EEOC to recently issue new caregiver guidelines for employers. Many caregivers are elderly themselves—about 30% fall in this category. Many others are sandwiched between caring for elderly relatives and providing child care, a double burden. Most caregivers are employed and the weight of their responsibilities takes a high toll on many aspects of their lives, including their work. Caregiving is an issue employers need to tackle head-on—according to a survey by The MetLife Mature Market Institute, which tracks aging, retirement and elder-care issues for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., the cost of caregivers in the workplace may be as high as $33.6 billion a year in missed days, early departures, and on-the-job distractions. The heavy responsibilities of caring for ill or elderly family members also increases the chances that the caregivers themselves will experience financial, physical, and emotional problems. Many are forced to put their own career goals on hold or work reduced hours, and the health risks associated with caregiving are high:

"A 2003 study found that family members caring for those with dementia suffered suppressed levels of immunity for three years following their stint of caregiving, raising their risk of developing a chronic disease themselves. Other surveys have found that compared with the general population, caregivers—especially those with intensive caregiving demands and those already in fair or poor health—are less likely than their noncaregiving peers to attend to their own healthcare needs, less likely to exercise or see their doctor regularly and more likely to eat poorly and drink alcohol excessively."

How employers can help
Many companies are experimenting with innovative approaches to supporting caregivers. Many large organizations, such as IBM and Raytheon, are offering caregiver wellness programs focused on teaching caregivers how to effectively cope with their responsibilities and maintain their own physical and mental health. Here are some of our suggestion for things that employers can do to support the caregivers in their workplace:

  • Assess the issue in your work force. Take a survey to learn the extent of the caregiving responsibilities in your workplace so that you understand the pressure points and can plan the most appropriate response for your employees.
  • Train managers and supervisors to be sensitive to and alert for workers with caregiving responsibilities and to direct these employees to appropriate support resources, such as an EAP.
  • Learn about and publicize local caregiving resources that can provide practical assistance, such as meals on wheels, transportation services and and adult day care. Publicize these resources in your organization's newsletter or intranet.
  • Examine your organization's policies on flexible work hours and work-at-home options. Consider offering your employees more options on when, where, and how they accomplish their work responsibilities.
  • Consider expanding work/life benefits. If you don't have an EAP that offers work/life and caregiving resources, consider adding one. Research benefit options, such as access to temporary emergency dependent care or paid leave for caregivers that goes beyond FMLA standards, or voluntary time banks where other workers can donate unused sick or vacation time to to caregiving or ill co-workers.

June 22, 2007

Has your organization gone to the dogs?

Sorry to be bringing you this news so late, but we've just learned that today is the official Take Your Dog to Work Day. This annual event is sponsored by Pet Sitters International and scheduled for the first Friday after Father's Day. The underlying purpose is to extol the benefits of bringing people and pets together and to remind people that dogs make great companions—so great that maybe all you non-owners might be moved to adopt one.

According to a 2006 survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, nearly one in five companies already allow pets in the workplace. Pets-at-work proponents cite an increase in employee morale and a decrease in stress.

Mercedes Medical, a medical supply distributor in Sarasota, Fla., thinks that allowing pets at work increases loyalty and may even bolster employee retention because workers might no be able to bring a pet to work at a new job. The company has 35 employees, and about 6 to 10 visiting canines at any given time.

At Replacements Ltd., a 500-employee china and silverware retailer, it was owner Bob Page's idea to allow dogs at work, and he thinks it is a perk that pays off in productivity and enhanced employee satisfaction. According to the previously cited survey, 46 million Americans said they would work longer hours if they were allowed to bring their pets to work.

The types of establishments that allow pets can run the gamut from colleges and IT shops to tire shops and design/build firms.

If you are wondering whether a pets-at-work policy might be beneficial to your workplace, Partnership for Animal Welfare (PAW) offers some guidelines for taking pets to work, which includes some sample policies. The San Francisco SPCA offers additional pets-at-work benefits, guidelines and policies. Since dogs at work are part of the Web behemoth's work-life program, you can also read Google's Dog Policy. But not everyone thinks that the idea is problem-free. Naysayer Ethan Winning lays out some of the HR issues that should be considered.

If you plan to bring your pets to work today, be sure to have them read these 5 rules for doggy etiquette at work. First and foremost, don't bite the boss—a good rule for pets and humans alike.

The cuteness factor: Pictures of working pets
What pet story would be complete without some winsome pet pics? We don't want to disappoint so we've found some photos of working pets to share.

Animal Hubub has some sweet pics of pets at work. But they don't show you the potential downside.

Shop Cat profiles cats that work in stores, libraries, hotels and many more places - you can even search by state to find working cats near you.

Dogs at work are often more than just pets. There's a long tradition of working dogs and some of these hard-working creatures perform a wide range of very important services.

And OK, because it's Friday we hope you will forgive us for including a link to our favorite animal site, even though most of the animals depicted have nothing to do with work. Cute Overload delivers what are arguably the most adorable pictures of puppies, kitties, bunnies and assorted animals on the Web. If you can't have pets at work, a daily visit to this site can be a real stress reducer. But be warned—it's addictive!

February 16, 2007

Wintertime stress, struggles and the EAP

Here at ESI we just completed our January statistics and, I noticed a big jump in utilization. That means that more people called us for help in January than most other months. So I did a bit of research to see if this is unique to our EAP or if it happens elsewhere. Everyone thinks of the holiday season as the most stressful time of the year but checking around, I found something different.

Dr. Cliff Arnall a psychologist from London devised a formula that calculates misery and found that in the UK, January 24th is the most depressing day of the year. Could this be the same in the US? He proposes that it's a combination of seven variables: weather, debt, monthly salary, time since Christmas, time since failed quit attempt (as in an attempt to quit smoking, drinking, eating poorly), low motivational levels and the need to take action. He states that the stress and struggle of all these variables culminate in the middle of January.

And how does that relate to the EAP? Depression and financial worries are two of the most common reasons employees call us. A Canadian based research firm recently conducted a study about the use of EAPs after the holiday season and found the following:

Post Holidays and the Broken Promise Effect—an EAP's Perspective, indicated that reports of mental health problems increased in January. Suicidal thoughts increased by twenty seven percent, feelings of anger augmented to fourteen percent, and depression increased by seven percent this January.

This research project examined Employee Assistance Program (EAP) access patterns for the month of January of 138,933 employees in 806 organizations.
The key findings of the report show that:

  • There are 15% more EAP contacts in January compared to the rest of the year (51% more than December alone).
  • January is associated with more reports of domestic violence (55% more) and other social health issues involving care giving (42% to 50% more), marriage and relationships (10% to 42% more), and family (14% to 37% more).
  • Reports of mental health problems also rise in January, including suicidal thoughts and feelings (27% more) anger (12% more) and depression (7% more).
  • Reports of physical health problems such as medical stressors (13% more) and weight management (10% more) rise in January.
  • Other January increases were found for reports of debt and credit (39% more), career (28% more), and life transition issues (15% more)

So I guess the message here is pretty clear. All these personal concerns are influencing the ability of your employees to do their work and this affects co-workers and the organization as a whole. If you don't have an EAP, consider contracting with one now, and choose one that offers the most comprehensive benefits to your employees.

If you do have an EAP, it's time to make sure you are promoting it to all your employees. Many organizations make the mistake of promoting the benefit only at open enrollment time or only to new employees at orientation. Unless promotional material such as posters, newsletters and brochures are readily available, employees forget they have this option when times get tough. Include your EAP resource in an ongoing conversation with employees and managers and help solve these problems today.

December 12, 2006

Tis the season...coming to work sick

How do you feel when you see a coworker coming toward you hacking and sneezing and wanting approval for coming to work in spite of an illness? I get angry. Not only do I not want to get sick, but I know this employee is going to be pretty useless for the day.

What makes people come to work when common sense tells them to stay home? The lack of sick time is an answer often given. In an effort to save money, many companies have reduced or eliminated sick time so employees face time-off with no pay when they get sick. The number two reason employees are absent is because of parental responsibilities. Often parents hoard sick time to use if a child gets sick so they come to work themselves when staying home is a better option.

But more often employees are afraid that work will pile up or they will miss a deadline. They don't want to be "left out of things" or "passed over" if they take time off. They want to appear dedicated, "see how sick I am...and I still came to work".

Changing this paradigm should be an objective of every manager and HR Director. Not only will a sick employee make others sick, but if a sick employee pushes himself to come to work, an illness that could have easily been treated with a day of rest can turn into a five day leave. HR organizations have begun to recognize and measure the cost of presenteeism. That's when employees come to work but are unable to function fully. They are present and absent at the same time.

In a recent national survey by CCH part of the firm Wolters Kluwer Law and Business; a human resources and employment law information provider, steps to address the problem were noted.

Employers are taking numerous steps to remedy the problem of presenteeism. Over three-fifths (62 percent) of companies that think presenteeism is a problem combat the issue by sending sick employees home; 41 percent educate employees on the importance of staying home when they are sick; 36 percent foster a culture that discourages workers from coming in sick; 22 percent permit employees to telecommute when they are sick; and 5 percent report they give employees an unlimited number of sick days.

While unlimited sick days may seem a radical approach, many companies are implementing earned time-off banks where employees can decide when and for what reasons they will take a day off.

Paid Leave Banks are one type of program that more companies are turning to for help in curbing last-minute no-shows. Paid Leave Banks, also called Paid Time Off (PTO) programs, provide employees with a bank of hours to be used for various purposes instead of traditional separate leave programs for sick, vacation and personal time. These programs were used by just 16 percent of companies back in 1991. By 2005, two-thirds (67 percent) of companies reported using Paid Leave Banks.

One type of absenteeism control technique that doesn't seem to help keep sick employees home is the traditional punishment techniques. If an employee has too many absences for any reason, they are reprimanded or disciplined. Employees will come to work sick to avoid this. Unfortunately 90% or the employers surveyed by CCH had some sort of absence disciplinary program. The first step in addressing this may be simply to send someone home. But a comprehensive assessment of HR practices related to leave will tell you if you are creating the right culture and sending the right message to keep employees healthy and responsible for their time.

September 19, 2006

Survey: employees are not prepared for retirement

The 2005-2006 Annual 401(k) Benchmarking Survey (PDF) jointly sponsored by the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, the International Foundation, and the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists, offers an interesting snapshot of the struggle employers are facing with financial benefit programs post-Enron. On the one hand, we see increasing participation rates—24% of the responding firms reported participation rates in excess of 90% of eligible employees. There have also been increases in automatic enrollment and an increase in investment options. A new breed of investment options called time-based lifestyle funds automatically shift a participant's asset allocation based on target retirement dates.

On the other hand, fewer employers are matching contributions with employee stock, and more are now allowing employees to reallocate those assets immediately should they so choose. Most telling is the pessimism that employers expressed about the status of their employees' retirement planning. Only 13% of respondents agreed with the statement that "most employees are/will be financially prepared for retirement."

It would seem that employers are having difficulty establishing the right balance between encouraging their employees in the right direction to ensure their financial security and protecting the corporation from liability, which could result from being viewed as a financial advisor. Most of us know little about investing and rely heavily on the advice of professionals. Of the companies participating in the survey, 40% offer financial counseling and advice to help employees with financial decisions.

Helping employees understand the options
Employers are focusing many of their efforts on developing communication programs to help employees understand their retirement plan options. There are many resources available to both employers and employees. Some include:

  • Group meetings with 401(k) providers or similar vendors

  • Internet access to financial informational sites

  • Information from benefits or human resources departments

  • Books, tapes, worksheets, and other generic information

  • Financial counseling through an EAP

  • Periodic in-house seminars with non-401(k) financial planners

Vetting the vendors
Employers must take great care to select qualified vendors that will help employees with these critical decisions. Some important steps to take include:

Verify licenses. In most jurisdictions, investment advisers must be licensed. Check with your state's appropriate regulatory body to ensure that your vendor's license is up to date.

Get references. Contact the prospective vendor's current clients to verify satisfaction. Understand the compensation system. Make sure you understand exactly how the vendor is compensated. Those vendors that receive commissions for sales of certain investments might not be completely unbiased.

Review communication plans. Ask for samples of employee communication pieces and a plan for employee education to ensure adequate understanding of the plan.

Get recommendations from trusted advisors. Be sure to check with your EAP to learn what individual and group financial services might be available.

In the end, the responsibility for any financial decisions rests with the employee. All an employer can do is help the employee to understand alternatives and encourage participation in available benefit plans.

August 1, 2006

The cost of NOT taking a summer vacation

Summertime, my bags are packed, the passport's on the counter and in a few days I'll be off on vacation. Today I look to my desk, I see files of projects, to-do lists still undone, phone calls to make and I wonder...does it make sense to leave for ten days right now? Will I let down my co-workers, my clients? Can they get by without me?

Then my mind slips to a sidewalk café and I'm nibbling gelato in the warm breezes off the Amalfi coast, and I think this makes so much sense.

Vacation from work allows the brain to rest, it rejuvenates energy and creativity, and it soothes the nerves. It is one of the healthiest things we can do to take care of ourselves. We come back to work with increased commitment and productivity. Yet, in the U.S., we are experiencing the phenomena of the incredible shrinking vacation. Many employees get no paid vacation and, for those that do, the average is 13 days, accrued only after two years of employment. And according to a 2001 study by Oxford Health Plans in New York, 18 percent of all workers say they are unable to use their annual vacation time due to job demands. In fact, in a recent study, 32 percent of the workers surveyed admitted they did not use all their allotted vacation. The downside of new technology is that we often take our work with us on vacation through cell phones and wireless connections worldwide thus remaining "on-call" even while we are at rest.

The fact that US employees get too little or no vacation compared to the rest of the western world is worry enough, but that our workers believe they cannot take the vacation they earn should be of grave concern to HR Directors.

Check out this article on how more vacation can foster better employees—and, conversely, how too little vacation time can backfire for the employee and the company. As we all embrace workplace wellness and encourage employees to take better care of themselves, we often overlook a health benefit we already have. "Take your vacation" should be the banner and campaign at every company health and wellness day. It a simple act that will have profound affects.

That said, I think I'll go check the train schedule to Florence, Ciao!

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