ACA Outlook: What Will 2015 Hold for Employers?

For many employers, the effective date of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) “play-or-pay” mandate is Jan. 1, 2015. The impending deadline comes amid questions about the future—and perhaps viability—of the law itself.

For many employers, the effective date of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) “play-or-pay” mandate is Jan. 1, 2015. The impending deadline comes amid questions about the future—and perhaps viability—of the law itself.

As 2015 begins and the effective date of the employer play-or-pay mandate commences, many employers are wondering what’s next for them in the health care arena. New obligations, challenges, uncertainty, and perhaps opportunities await them in the year ahead.

For many employers, the effective date of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) “play-or-pay” mandate is Jan. 1, 2015. The impending deadline comes amid questions about the future—and perhaps viability—of the law itself. Entering 2015, the ACA faces challenges both in a new Republican-controlled Congress and in the Supreme Court. Yet, the political and legal uncertainty surrounding the ACA should not deter employers from ensuring they are prepared for the “play-or-pay” mandate and other upcoming requirements.

Section 4980H—Employer ‘Play-or-Pay’ Mandate

Section 4980H of the Internal Revenue Code, as added by the ACA, requires “applicable large employers” with 50 or more full-time employees (including full-time equivalent employees) to offer health coverage to full-time employees and their children or pay a penalty. Even employers that offer coverage may incur a penalty if that coverage does not provide “minimum value” to plan participants or if it is not “affordable.” Although the effective date of the employer shared responsibility or play-or-pay mandate was scheduled by statute to become effective in 2014, the IRS delayed this requirement until Jan. 1, 2015. (Employers with fiscal year plan years may not have to meet the requirements of 4980H until the first day of the 2015 plan year if certain requirements are met.) For employers with between 50 and 99 full-time employees, the mandate is delayed an additional year until 2016.

Specifically, under Section 4980H(a) and the IRS final rule, “applicable large employers” must offer “minimum essential coverage” to at least 95 percent (70 percent in 2015) of their full-time employees (and their children) or pay a penalty if any full-time employee receives a federal subsidy to purchase insurance through a health exchange. The 4980H (a) penalty is $2,000 for each full-time employee in excess of 30 employees, indexed to inflation.

For 2015 only, the penalty will exempt the first 80 full-time employees instead of 30. Employers will pay a penalty under Section 4980H(b) if a full-time employee receives a premium tax credit to purchase health insurance on an exchange because:

1. The employer health coverage offered did not provide “minimum value,” that is the plan’s share of the total allowed costs of benefits provided under the plan is not at least 60 percent of those costs;

2. The employer health coverage offered was “unaffordable,” or

3. The employee was not among the 95 percent (70 percent in 2015) of full-time employees offered coverage.

The penalty under Section 4980H(b) is the lesser of $2,000 for each full-time employee in excess of 30 (80 in 2015) or $3,000 for each full-time employee who receives a premium tax credit to enable him or her to purchase coverage through the health insurance exchanges. Individuals must have household incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level to be potentially eligible for a federal subsidy.

Many employers spent this past year exploring options to avoid or minimize penalties, while at the same time containing health coverage costs. Because the penalty under 4980H(a) (the “A” penalty) is likely to be much greater than under 4980H(b)(the “B” penalty), some employers have been considering strategies to avoid paying the former, but still pay the latter penalty only with respect to those employees actually receiving federal subsidies because the coverage was unaffordable or did not provide minimum value.

The IRS final rule allows employers to use of one of three safe harbors to determine whether the health plan they offer is affordable. A plan will be deemed affordable with respect to a full-time employee if any one of the safe harbors is satisfied. Health coverage is deemed affordable if that employee’s required contribution for the calendar year for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides “minimum value” during the year does not exceed 9.5 percent of:

1. That employee’s Form W-2 wages from the employer for the calendar year;

2. An amount equal to 130 multiplied by the employee’s hourly rate of pay as of the first day of the coverage period or the lowest hourly rate during the calendar month or 9.5 percent of the employee’s monthly salary for salaried employees; or

3. The federal poverty level for a single individual. Because a plan’s affordability is based on self-only coverage, some employers may have shifted costs to family coverage, while keeping employee-only coverage “affordable.”

Another strategy some employers may have considered to avoid paying the “A” penalty was to offer so-called “skinny” plans to full-time employees. Such plans usually provide basic preventive services required by the market reforms of the ACA, doctor visits, and the like, but exclude hospitalization and other major medical expenses.

Although “skinny” plans could still subject an employer to a “B” penalty if they failed to provide minimum value, the employer would avoid paying the “A” penalty. The viability of this strategy depends on how many employees actually elect to purchase coverage through an exchange and receive a tax credit. According to regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, whether a plan provides minimum value can be determined using a minimum value calculator, a plan design safe harbor or certification by an actuary for certain plans.

The calculator developed by HHS was found to deem some plans that failed to cover in-patient hospitalization or physician services as providing minimum value. The IRS recently issued guidance to target the use of certain low-cost plans to avoid paying either an “A” or “B” penalty. IRS Notice 2014-69 would prohibit employers from using the minimum value calculator to make plans that fail to provide in-patient hospitalization or physician services satisfy the minimum value standard. According to the Notice, plans that fail to provide substantial coverage for in-patient hospitalization services or for physician services (or for both) do not provide the minimum value intended by the minimum value requirement, and HHS and the IRS will shortly propose regulations to this effect.

Although employer-sponsored group health plans other than insured plans in the small group market are not required to offer a package of “essential health benefits,” the “minimum value” component of the play-or-pay penalty is effectively being used a back door to impose similar requirements.

Because the penalty under 4980H only applies with respect to full-time employees, the determination of full-time employee status is critical to compliance with the employer play-or-pay mandate. The ACA defines a full-time employee as one working 30 or more hours a week, calculated on a monthly basis. Note that the IRS “common law” definition of employee is used for this purpose. The IRS final rule specifies that the monthly equivalency of 30 hours per week is 130 hours. An employee’s hours of service include the following:

1. Each hour for which an employee is paid, or entitled to payment, for the performance of duties for the employer; and

2. Each hour for which an employee is paid, or entitled to payment by the employer on account of a period of time during which no duties are performed due to vacation, holiday, illness, incapacity (including disability), layoff, jury duty, military duty or leave of absence.

The IRS final rule allows employers to use the “lookback” measurement method as an alternative to a strict monthly measurement of hours of service. Employers can use the look-back method for determining the full-time status of ongoing as well new employees as an alternative to a monthly calculation. Under the lookback approach for ongoing employees, an employer would determine each employee’s full-time status by looking back at a defined measurement period of three to 12 months to determine full-time status for a subsequent “standard stability period.”

If an employee worked an average of 30 hours per week during the measurement period, the employer would treat the employee as full-time during the subsequent stability period, the duration of which would be at least the greater of six consecutive calendar months or the length of the measurement period. If an employee did not work an average of 30 hours per week during the standard measurement period, the employer would treat the employee as not full-time during the subsequent stability period, which may be no longer than the associated measurement period.

Employers may also use the lookback measurement method for new variable hour, part-time or seasonal workers. The effect of using the lookback method for such new employees is that the employer can wait until the beginning of the subsequent initial stability period to offer coverage to such employees who worked an average of 30 hours a week during the initial measurement period. By contrast, the lookback method is not available for new employees who are reasonably expected to work full time. New employees who are hired to work a full-time scheduled must be offered coverage by the first day of the fourth calendar month after the date of hire to avoid a potential penalty. Therefore, it is critical that employers accurately categorize new employees as full-time versus part-time, variable or seasonal.

Despite the detailed discussion of the lookback measurement and method in the final rule, a number of questions and ambiguities remain. Many employers have already devoted a great deal of time preparing to implement the lookback measurement method. Although the use of the lookback approach is complicated and administratively burdensome, it does afford more flexibility and certainty than a strict monthly calculation. Looking ahead to 2015, the questions and challenges regarding determination of full-time employee status are likely to grow. Although additional guidance from the IRS may be forthcoming, employers will enter the new year with compliance challenges ahead. As questions about implementing the play-or-pay mandate and the final rule move from theoretical to real-time, even more questions and challenges are likely to present themselves.

Recordkeeping Requirements

The ACA requires employers and/or health insurance issuers to report to the IRS information about employer-sponsored health coverage.  These reporting requirements were delayed until the 2015 tax year to coincide with the delay in the employer play-or-pay mandate.  Specifically, Section 6056 of the Internal Revenue Code, as added by the ACA, requires applicable large employers (ALEs), those subject to the play-or-pay mandate, to provide information to the IRS about the type of health coverage offered to their full-time employees. ALEs must also provide this information to employees. Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage, is to be used to report the information required under Section 6056 with respect to each covered employee, and Form 1094-C is to be used to transmit the 1095-C return to the IRS. The IRS will use these forms to determine whether the employer owes a penalty under Section 4980H, and whether employees are eligible for premium tax credits.

Section 6055 of the ACA requires health insurance issuers and employers that sponsor self-insured health plans that provide individuals with “minimum essential coverage” to report to the IRS information concerning the type and period of coverage offered for the purposes of enforcing the ACA’s individual mandate. Form 1095-B is to be used to report the information required under Section 6055, and Form 1094-B is to be used to transmit the 1095-B return to the IRS. Self-insured ALEs report the information required under both Sections 6055 and 6056 on a single combined Form 1095-C.

The draft instructions for Forms 1094-C and 1095-C provide direction on how to complete the forms. ALEs must file a Form 1095-C for each employee who was a full-time employee of the employer for any month of the calendar year. An ALE that provides health coverage through an employer-sponsored self-insured health plan must also complete Form 1095-C, Part III, for any individual (including any full-time employee, non-full-time employee, employee’s family members, and others) who enrolled in the self-insured health plan.

If an employer is providing health coverage in another manner, such as through an insured health plan or a multiemployer health plan, the issuer of the insurance or the sponsor of the plan providing the coverage will provide the information about their health coverage to any enrolled employees, and the employer will not complete Form 1095-C, Part III, for such employees. The Forms use a series of codes to describe whether offers of coverage were made to full-time employees and their dependents, and whether such coverage provided minimum value and was affordable.

An employer can use the “qualifying offer method” to report information on employees who received a “qualifying offer” of health coverage for all 12 months. Employers that made a Qualifying Offer for one or more months of calendar year 2015 to at least 95 percent of its full-time employees can use a code rather than inserting the dollar amount of the employee contribution for lowest-cost employee-only coverage providing minimum value. If an employer certifies that it offered affordable, minimum value coverage to at least 98 percent of the employees on whom it reports using Form 1095-C, then the employer is not required to identify which of the employees for whom it is filing were full-time employees, and is not required to provide the full-time employee count.

An ALE must file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C by February 28 if filing on paper (or March 31 if filing electronically) of the year following the calendar year to which the return relates. An employer must furnish a Form 1095-C to each of its full-time employees by January 31 of the year following the year to which the Form 1095-C relates. The first Forms 1095-C are due to individuals by Feb. 1, 2016. Although employers with between 50 and 100 full-time employees (including full-time equivalents) do not have to comply with the play-or-pay mandate until 2016, they are still required to submit Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for the 2015 tax year.

Although some efforts were made to simplify the reporting requirements for employers, the reporting obligations remain complex, burdensome and, in some respects, unclear. ALEs will need to ensure they have the systems in place beginning in January 2015 to track the information necessary to complete the forms. This may not be an easy task.

Employer Reimbursement for Individual Health Policies

Although employers may be tempted to reimburse employees for purchasing their own individual health insurance policies as an alternative to offering an employer plan, employers face significant excise taxes for doing so. On Sept. 13, 2013, the Departments of Treasury, Labor and HHS published guidance on the application of the ACA market reforms to health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), certain health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs) and certain other employer health care arrangements. On May 13, 2014, two FAQs were made available on the IRS website addressing employer health care arrangements. This guidance explained that employer health care arrangements, such as HRAs and employer payment plans, are group health plans and, as such, subject to the ACA’s prohibition on annual limits and the requirement to provide certain preventive services without cost sharing (the ACA “market reform” requirements).

This prior guidance provided that these employer health care arrangements will not violate these ACA market reform provisions when integrated with a group health plan that complies with the market reform requirements. The guidance also stated that an employer health care arrangement—such as a stand-alone HRA—cannot be integrated with individual market policies to satisfy the ACA market reforms and therefore would be subject to excise taxes under Section 4980D of the Internal Revenue Code of $100/day per applicable employee.

In FAQs released on Nov. 6, 2014, the Departments clarified that the payment or reimbursement by the employer of individual market health policies on an after-tax basis does not cure the problem. Regardless of whether the employer treats the money on a pre-tax or post-tax basis, the arrangement is group health plan coverage subject to the ACA market reform applicable to group health plans. Employer health care arrangements cannot be integrated with individual market policies and will violate the ACA’s annual limit and preventive services requirements.

This prohibition appears to apply to reimbursement for individual policies purchased through an ACA exchange as well as in the individual market outside of the exchange. In effect, an employer is left with only one option if it does not want to offer a health plan to its employees, but wants to help its employees buy individual coverage. Employers can increase employees’ taxable wages to help their employees purchase individual policies. However, the employer cannot condition the receipt of the addition wages on the purchase of an individual health insurance policy. The employees must remain free to use the “no strings attached” additional wages however they want.

What’s Next for Health Care Reform?

During November 2014, the future of the Affordable Care Act was cast into doubt in both the Congress and courts. With Republicans taking control of the Senate and increasing their control of the House, the law will be under assault in both chambers during the 114th Congress. With the GOP short of a 60-seat majority in the Senate next Congress, legislation to repeal the ACA will still run into a Democratic road block. However, Republicans may turn to the “reconciliation” process to pass ACA legislation with a simple majority vote.

Even if legislation repealing the ACA were to pass Congress, it still faces a certain presidential veto. Opponents of the ACA have changed their messaging from “repeal” the ACA to “repeal and replace” the ACA. The contents of the replacement bill remains in flux. Piecemeal changes to the ACA are much more likely. Changing the definition of full-time employee under the ACA from 30 hours to 40 hours per week appears to be among the priorities for both employers and GOP leadership. The “Forty Hours is Full-Time” legislation passed the House, but was not considered in the Senate. This may well change next Congress.

At issue in the King v. Burwell case is whether the IRS has authority to expend premium tax credits to those buying their health insurance in the federal ACA exchange, also known as the “Marketplace.” The viability of the ACA may hinge on how the Supreme Court answers this question. The ACA provides tax credits to help subsidize the cost of purchasing health insurance through an exchange for those with household incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. Under the ACA, states have the right to decide whether they will establish and manage their own exchanges or have the federal government do so. In 36 states, the federal government runs the exchange.

The litigants in King v. Burwell challenged the ability of the IRS to issue ACA tax credits to consumers in those states declining to set up their own exchanges. The challengers contend that language in the ACA conferring subsidies for the purchase of insurance through an “exchange established by the State” precludes subsides in those 36 states that have decided not to establish their own exchange. The Fourth Circuit rejected these claims and ruled that the subsidies are available for federal as well as state exchanges. On the same day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Halbig v. Burwell reached the opposite conclusion, although the decision was vacated pending review by the full panel.

The Supreme Court’s decision to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision in King sets the stage for yet another opportunity for the Court to either extend the life of the ACA or effectively kill it. If the Supreme Court rules against the Administration, the tax credits will not be available to millions of consumers in states where there is no state-established exchange and insurance may become unaffordable for consumers in these states, and unattractive for insurers to offer.

Also, a decision against the ACA in King would mean that an employer with employees only in states that did not establish an exchange would not be subject to the employer mandate, because none of its employees would be eligible for a federal subsidy for exchange coverage.

A decision is expected before the end of the Supreme Court’s current term in July 2015.

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Executives Switching Jobs Expect a Pay Bump of at Least 15%

Executives on the prowl for a new job might just end up better off than they were before!

Executives on the prowl for a new job might just end up better off than they were before!

For the fifth consecutive year, senior executives in the U.S. who went forward with switching jobs last year received compensation increases that topped 15 percent over their prior positions, reports executive search firm Salveson Stetson Group. That increase applied to every wentindustry and every functional area, the firm said, and sets a target that job-changing executives will hope to match or exceed in 2015.

The firm analyzed compensation data from a representative sample of senior executives who were recruited into new jobs in 2014. It found that the average compensation increase for a senior-level candidate accepting a new job last year was 15.7 percent. Compensation packages refer to base salary and bonuses, and sometimes include a separate signing bonus.

HR Execs Beat the Pack

Job-changing executives working in human resources, as well as those in the manufacturing sector, were offered compensation by their new employers that outpaced other job functions and industries:

 HR executives commanded a 20 percent compensation increase.

 Executives recruited by manufacturing companies averaged a 25 percent pay increase.

And for the first time, out-of-work executives who found new positions were offered packages that matched those being offered to currently employed executives, underscoring the looming talent shortage.

“The premium that companies are placing on hiring top-quality executives to run human resources reflects the importance that these organizations are putting on improving their overall talent practices,” said Sally Stetson, co-founding principal at Salveson Stetson Group and leader of its HR practice, in a news release. “Being able to successfully manage across cultures, develop a Millennial workforce and adapt to rapid change are all areas where a strong human resources leader can make a tremendous impact on a company, and pay packages are reflecting the importance of the function.”

“The common theme in the data is the importance of being able to lead in a global business environment,” added John Salveson, co-founding principal at the firm. “Managing a truly global business is a skill set that is in high demand but short supply. The fight among global manufacturers for executives with these experiences can be seen by the surge in pay.”

Among other executive compensation trends highlighted by the firm:

 Executives who switched jobs before the recession—from 2006 to 2007—received an average compensation increase of nearly 25 percent. Increases in the early 2000s were in the 20-25 percent range.

 The average compensation increase offered to new executive hires during the height of the recession—2008 to 2009—dropped to 11 percent.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Read original article here.  

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Is Job Rotation the Answer to Reducing Injury Risk?

Job rotation is the structured interchange of workers between different jobs, requiring workers to rotate between different workstations or jobs at certain time intervals. It increases the variety of tasks required as the worker takes on more duties, enlarging the physical demands and adding variety to the job.

Job rotation is the structured interchange of workers between different jobs, requiring workers to rotate between different workstations or jobs at certain time intervals. It increases the variety of tasks required as the worker takes on more duties, enlarging the physical demands and adding variety to the job.

Have you been considering job rotation as part of your musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) prevention strategy?

Maybe you’ve pushed for it and gotten some pushback. Or maybe you’re just doing your research and learning more.

Either way, the question remains: is job rotation an effective way to reduce injury risk?

What Is Job Rotation?

Job rotation is the structured interchange of workers between different jobs, requiring workers to rotate between different workstations or jobs at certain time intervals. It increases the variety of tasks required as the worker takes on more duties, enlarging the physical demands and adding variety to the job.

Job rotation should consider different muscle groups and functional roles, and evaluate job exertion levels for each group. The rotation sequence or schedule should be based on job rotation evaluator tool results to ensure that the different jobs in the rotation do not present the same ergonomic stressors to the same parts of the body (muscle-tendon groups).

OSHA’s Take

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guidelines for job rotation: “Job rotation should be used with caution and as a preventive measure, not as a response to symptoms. The principle of job rotation is to alleviate physical fatigue and stress of a particular set of muscles and tendons by rotating employees among other jobs that use different muscle-tendon groups. If rotation is utilized, the job analyses must be reviewed by a qualified person to ensure that the same muscle-tendon groups are not used.

“A ‘qualified person’ is one who has thorough training and experience sufficient to identify ergonomic hazards in the workplace and recommend an effective means of correction; for example, a plant engineer fully trained in ergonomics, not necessarily an ergonomist. In analyzing jobs for rotation, the qualified person must have sufficient expertise to identify the ergonomic stresses each job presents and which muscles and tendons are used.

“Job rotation can mean that a worker performs two or more different tasks in different parts of the day (i.e., switching between task “A” and task “B” at 2-hour or 4-hour intervals). The important consideration is to ensure that the different tasks do not present the same ergonomic stressors to the same parts of the body. There is no single work-rest regimen that OSHA recommends; it must be determined by the nature of the task.”

The benefits of job rotation include:

  • Reduced exposure to focused physical demands of one job.
  • Reduced physiological stress, strain and fatigue to muscle groups used for one job.
  • Reduced employee exposure to high-risk job demands.
  • Reduced MSD incidents and severity.
  • Increased innovation and improved work process efficiency.
  • Improved employee skill base and increased job assignment flexibility over time.
  • Reduced boredom and complacency.
  • Increased productivity and quality.
  • Reduced absenteeism and turnover.

Drawbacks of Job Rotation

It’s important to remember that job rotation alone does not change the risk factors present in the workplace, it only distributes the risk factors more evenly across a larger group of people. While the risk for some individuals will be reduced, the risk for other employees may be increased due to the new exposure to different and sometimes higher-risk job demands.

While job rotation is an effective control measure for jobs that have been identified as “problem” or “high-risk” jobs, it is not desirable that MSD risk factors are “hidden” by administrative controls.

The bottom line is that job rotation should be used as part of a comprehensive MSD prevention strategy that includes ergonomics, education and early intervention.

Consult management, supervisors, group leaders, safety and ergonomics team members and employees to determine which departments and jobs are suitable for a job rotation program.

Job rotation can be used reactively and proactively. Reactive job rotation reduces employee exposure to jobs that have been identified as “high-risk” based on an objective ergonomic assessment. Rotation can be used until engineering controls are implemented. Proactive job rotation can be implemented to prevent muscle fatigue due to exposure to job tasks that focus the work load on single muscle groups, and for additional benefits as outlined above.

See original article here. 

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Millennials Most Receptive to Wellness Outreach

Millennials are the most likely generation to be interested in “friendly competitions.”

Millennials are the most likely generation to be interested in “friendly competitions.”

Millennials, more than other generations in the workforce, are the most likely to want employers to play an active role in supporting their overall health and wellbeing, according to a new analysis.

The findings are based on data from the 2014 Consumer Health Mindset report, a joint survey of more than 2,700 U.S. employees and their dependents conducted by consultancy Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company, a research firm.

More than half (52 percent) of Millennials said “living or working in a healthy environment” is influential to their personal health, compared with 42 percent of respondents from Generation X and 35 percent of Baby Boomers.

Millennials also said they are more open to having their direct manager play an active role in encouraging them to get and stay healthy (53 percent), compared with 47 percent of Generation X respondents and 41 percent of Baby Boomers, and are more likely to participate in an employee assistance program (16 percent) than  Generation Xers (10 percent) and Baby Boomers (8 percent).

“Employees are increasingly defining well-being to include physical, emotional, financial and social health, and they will expect their employers to support them in their efforts to be healthy,” said Karen Marlo, vice president, National Business Group on Health, in a news release. “Employers have a unique opportunity to engage and motivate the Millennial generation and they are likely to get the strongest results by demonstrating the benefits of establishing healthy habits and behaviors.”

Reaching Millennials

To effectively reach Millennials, Aon Hewitt experts suggest employers consider taking the following steps:

 Understand what motivates. More than half of Millennials (55 percent) report their motivation is “to look good,” and not as much to “avoid illness.” Employers should tailor their strategy and communications to show how poor health can impact an individual’s energy and/or appearance.

 Know how to reach your audience. Employers should take advantage of apps and mobile-friendly websites to help engage employees in health and wellness campaigns. This might include resources that coordinate an individual’s fitness, food and stress management programs, resources and activities.

 Make it easy and convenient. Forty percent of Millennials say they are more likely to participate in health and wellness programs that are “easy or convenient to do.” Employers should remove barriers to helping this generation create good health choices and habits by focusing on programs that meet their work/life balance needs. For example, employers should consider implementing walking meetings or group fitness events or offering onsite health and fitness programs like yoga or Zumba.

 Add an element of competition. Millennials are the most likely generation to be interested in “friendly competitions.” Employers may want to explore adding game mechanics and player-centric design, as well as competitions to motivate and engage Millennials. Companywide well-being or fitness challenges, or providing access to a social web platform where individuals can buddy up, build teams and initiate their own mini-challenges, may also be effective.

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Millenial’s Desire To Do Good Defines Workplace Culture

Want to seal the deal with Millennials looking to join your workforce? Give some thought to your organization’s community service program and how it shapes your overall workplace culture. More than half of 1,514 Millennials employed in the U.S. said a company’s charitable work influenced them to accept a job offer.

That’s among the findings of the Millennial Impact Report, released June 2014 by Achieve Consulting Inc., a provider of HR solutions and project management consulting. The data is from a survey of Millennials from 300 companies that was conducted from Feb. 15, 2014, to May 15, 2014, and from a generic survey among employees of its research partners across the U.S.

While a company’s volunteerism program ranks third in importance to Millennials—behind an organization’s primary purpose and its workplace culture—it does carry weight, the report found.

“We know that a lot of the cause initiatives influence [Millennials] during the hiring process,” said Derrick Feldmann, president of Achieve and the study’s lead researcher. “Companies need to be much more forthcoming” about those initiatives, he pointed out, by using social networks as well as the company website.

Only 39 percent of Millennials said a company discussed its charitable work during their interview. Among organizations were this was discussed, more than half of the candidates were influenced to accept the job, and women were more likely than men to be swayed by an organization’s volunteerism.

Give some thought to your organization’s community service program and how it shapes your overall work culture.

Give some thought to your organization’s community service program and how it shapes your overall work culture.

The Millennial Influence on Culture

There were approximately 14 million 20- to 24-year-olds and almost 32 million 25- to 34-year-olds employed in the U.S. as of April 2014, the report said, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

As this generation, born between 1980 and the early 2000s, takes an increasingly influential role in the workplace, their preferences and attitudes “begin subtly to shape the [organization’s] culture,” the report noted.

Leveraging Millennials’ passions, it said, “is crucial” for organizations that want “to build a culture that resonates with this growing demographic of current and future employees.”

“We don’t study Millennials because they’re a part of the culture,” Feldmann wrote in the report’s introduction. “We study them because they’re defining the culture.”

Doing Good: What Millennials Want

In its latest report, Achieve primarily concentrates on how Millennials engage with the companies they work for and what this generation looks for in a corporation’s initiatives—such as performing pro bono work and company-branded volunteering to help people and communities.

It found:

*94 percent like using their skills to benefit a cause.

*63 percent said a company’s involvement with a cause or community initiatives did not factor into their initial job search and only 39 percent researched a company’s community involvement prior to a job interview.

*77 percent prefer working with groups of fellow employees rather than performing independent service projects; 62 percent prefer to volunteer with people in their department.

*57 percent want more companywide service days.

*47 percent had volunteered on their own for a cause or nonprofit in the past month; 47 percent had performed a volunteer project with their team or department and 44 percent had participated in a companywide service day.

Millennial employees want to be able, through their workplace, to make a tangible difference outside the workplace. But while 87 percent who had ever participated in a companywide service day enjoyed the experience, that enjoyment fell as their time with the company increased. Conversely, their individual financial contributions to causes rose as time with a company increased.

Feldmann explained this decline by noting that when Millennials first join a company, they want to participate in everything and become immersed in its culture. However, that newness fades.

He suggested that companies help employees create their own opportunities to work on good causes, or find opportunities within their departments. This can be done by HR by considering, “How can we build a strong team by using outreach efforts in the community, and work in teams throughout the company and as individuals to bring employees around to a common purpose?”

The report also suggests that peer influence could be useful in motivating longer-tenured Millennial employees to participate in volunteer work. That raises the question, Feldmann said, of how the company is equipping its employees to talk about its initiatives.

He added that sustained involvement is best achieved by companies that:

*Incorporate volunteerism during onboarding or orientation, and provide employees with opportunities to work in groups or on a team during their first days.

*Provide three specific types of service opportunities: companywide volunteer days, department/team projects, and opportunities for paid time off or sabbaticals to devote to a cause. The latter gives remote employees an opportunity to feel involved, according to one teleworker quoted in the report.

*Tell stories and demonstrate the charitable work’s impact, showing employees who benefitted and highlighting individuals at the company who made a difference.

It’s not enough to throw a couple of pictures of a volunteer project onto the company website, Feldmann advised.

“This is a generation,” he said, “that gets moved by experience and context and imagery.”

Achieve is following up its study, which it conducted in partnership with the Case Foundation, with two other research projects; one is to be released in fall 2014 and the other in spring 2015.
Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.

See original article here.

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Telecommuting on the Chopping Block

Is axing the telecommuting perk a new workplace trend?

Reddit, the member-based entertainment, social networking and news website, is the latest company to end its telecommuting program, announcing in October 2014 that employees who work remotely or at offices in Salt Lake City and New York City must relocate to the company’s San Francisco headquarters.

In 2013, Yahoo, Best Buy and Hewlett-Packard either ended or altered their teleworking policies, and in each case, company leaders argued that having workers in the office fostered better communication and collaboration.

Matt Brosseau, chief technology officer and head recruiter at Instant Alliance, an HR staffing and consulting firm, said he believes work-at-home policies at other companies may be in jeopardy, especially for companies that are struggling to compete or turn a profit.

“I think you’re going to see more companies trying to centralize … as opposed to having [employees] scattered to the four winds,” he said. “There’s starting to be a pattern and it seems to be in organizations that … are looking for ways to regain market share. Any organization that needs to increase productivity and push out new products rapidly is going to start looking for solutions to bolster its numbers, and one of the first things they’ll think is, ‘How can you collaborate and get things done if half your team isn’t even in the office?’ ”

Is telecommuting a productivity drag?

Is telecommuting a productivity drag?


Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, says that if anything, the trend is moving in the opposite direction. In 2008, 50 percent of employers said they allowed some employees to work at home occasionally, compared with 67 percent today, according to the 2014 National Study of Employers, which is published by Galinsky’s institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2008, 23 percent of employers said they let some employees work at home on a regular basis, compared with 38 percent today.

“The reason I think telecommuting is increasing is real estate,” Galinsky said. “Space is expensive. It’s a controllable cost.”

Popular Perk

Telecommuting is a popular workplace perk across several industries. Companies that back teleworking say it helps them cut costs, produces rested and content workers, and gives companies an edge when luring talented applicants.

As for employees, they’re increasingly demanding flexible work arrangements for a few reasons: There’s been a significant rise in dual-earner couples, with men and women reporting an increase in work-family conflicts; the number of employees providing care to children or aging parents is growing dramatically; and as the workforce ages, senior employees with valuable institutional knowledge want flexible options.

Ending telecommuting programs has risks, Brosseau said—the two biggest being an employee exodus and lowered morale.

“Any time a company makes an ultimatum with employees … you could see a significant uptick in attrition,” he said. “And any time you strip benefits away from a worker, that employee is going to have a hit to their morale.”

One of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s reasons for ending telecommuting was that remote employees weren’t checking in frequently enough through Yahoo’s virtual private network, which allows employees to securely log into the company’s network to do work. A Yahoo memo to employees insisted that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

There may be support for that reasoning. The Washington Post reported that an internal probe of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s award-winning telecommuting program found that employees lied about the hours they worked. And a 2012 Citrix survey found that 43 percent of workers said they’d watched TV or a movie while teleworking, 35 percent had done household chores, and 28 percent had cooked dinner.

Galinsky, however, said that companies that believe work-at-home employees aren’t productive don’t have a location problem, they have a “management problem.” Even if employees perform household chores while working at home, she said, that’s not much different from taking workplace breaks to eat lunch, chat with a co-worker or take an energizing walk.

Performance systems can’t be “time-based, because some people can work very fast,” she said. “The quality of someone’s work is what we should look at and manage to.”

Hence, she said, a telecommuter’s productivity shouldn’t be measured by how much time they’re on the computer, but by whether they’re producing results. Managers need to set clear expectations for results, support teleworkers in achieving those results, and hold workers accountable for the results.

“By asking people to come in, [Yahoo’s] Mayer changed the expectation toward more productivity, but she could have also managed the people working remotely by demanding measurable results or telling them they’d lose their jobs,” Galinsky said.

As for the argument that face-to-face interactions with co-workers are necessary for collaboration, Galinsky pointed out that “you can have everyone in the office and have no collaboration … just people bumping into each other.”

“You need to create a culture of collaboration, which means that teams work together to solve their problems,” whether working at headquarters or at home.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

See original article here.


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Less Effective Flu Shot Calls for More Workplace Diligence

Because this year’s flu vaccine is not as effective against a current, mutated strain of the influenza virus, employers may be wondering if they should take extra precautions to keep their workers healthy.

“The flu is unpredictable, but it looks like it could be a rough season,” said Alan Kohll, founder and CEO of TotalWellness, a national wellness services provider.

In early December, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent an advisory to doctors noting that more than half of the 85 influenza virus samples it had analyzed were different than the virus strains included in this year’s vaccine, signaling that there has been a mutation, or a drift, of the strain.

This season’s most commonly reported strain of the virus is influenza A (H3N2). In the past, influenza A has been associated with higher rates of hospitalization and death than other strains, especially for people at high risk for complications, such as the very young, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions.


There are several things employers can do to help prepare for the potential impact of this year’s flu season:

• Encourage vaccinations. During the 2012-13 flu season, 12,337 people were hospitalized with flu-related illness and 149 children died, according to CDC surveillance dataNinety percent of those children were unvaccinated. While the flu vaccine is not as protective against a mutated strain, it can still decrease the severity of illness caused by such a strain. Employers can make it easy to get vaccinated by hosting onsite flu shot clinics or offering flu shot voucher programs. “Even this year, protection against half the flu strains is far better than protection against none, which is what you get with no vaccine,” said Dr. Derek van Amerongen, chief wellness officer at HumanaVitality, a Chicago-based wellness program sponsored by health insurance company Humana. “It may not be as highly effective as we usually see, but it is still the best preventive step we can take.”

• Educate employees about flu symptoms and how influenza is spread. “Remind your staff about the symptoms and seriousness of the flu so they understand that if they come in sick, they may infect the whole” workplace, Kohll said. Preventive measures include healthy eating, plenty of sleep, regular washing of hands, covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing, and drinking lots of fluids.

• Review paid time off and sick leave policies with employees so they feel they can take time off if they get the flu. Ensure remote technology is up to date and can support those who work from home. “Creating a culture of wellness where employees know that they can take a sick day, work from home when they are ill, or that there’s a contingency plan to help maintain normal business operations in the event they’re out sick can all help mitigate that feeling of ‘I have to go into work,’ ” Kohll said.

• Encourage antiviral medications
 for people who are just starting to experience flu symptoms. Such medications can make the flu milder and shorter.

• Insist that sick employees stay home
 or work from home. “Try to put it in context for them,” Kohll said. “The more people who go to work sick, the more it spreads, resulting in a bigger drain on the company. Sure, you might miss that one individual for a few days, but it’s better than dealing with a flu outbreak around the entire [workplace].” Said van Amerongen: “Reminding people that they can and should work from home can help break down the outdated notion that good employees ‘work through it.’ ”

• Set an example. If you’re a manager, don’t come to work sick. This tells subordinates that if they are committed to their work, they should come in no matter how ill they feel. “Senior leaders need to stay home when they’re sick so employees feel comfortable to do the same,” van Amerongen said. “Senior leaders can make it a regular point to midlevel managers that staying home when sick is an organizational expectation.” Said Kohll: “I can only think of a few circumstances where a person absolutely must come into work, but then you have to ask—how productive is that sick employee? They won’t be as sharp or efficient when suffering from the flu.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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Take proper precautions in the workplace to reduce spread of illness.

Take proper precautions in the workplace to reduce spread of illness.

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Will U.S. Job Market Improvements Continue into 2015?

Recent labor market sentiments have frequently mirrored observers’ opinions of the U.S. economy as a whole. Every good report seems to come with a caveat:

We are in the midst of a stretch of job growth not seen since the 1930s, according to federal data. Yet millions of people remain out of work.

The nation’s gross domestic product has rebounded strongly since a poor first quarter of 2014. Yet despite the resulting profit gains, employers generally aren’t raising wages and many Americans are still struggling to get ahead.

Economists and other labor market observers report that employers still aren’t under enough pressure to boost compensation, since there are plenty of people seeking work and hiring managers can afford to be selective with whom they bring on board and how much they choose to pay.

There’s no question that the unemployment rate has declined. But experts contend this is largely attributed to the fact that millions of job seekers have “checked out” and aren’t looking for work anymore; as such, they aren’t included in the monthly federal unemployment surveys.

The reality is, the drop in the jobless rate is not only because many Americans have stopped looking for work, but also because thousands more are retiring every day, effectively taking themselves out of the labor market.

Still, several reports from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and others indicate that hiring activity is showing no signs of slowing down. December marked the ninth straight month that hiring in the manufacturing sector rose, compared with the same months a year ago, according to SHRM’s Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) report. It also marked the seventh time in eight months that the service-sector hiring rate rose, compared with the previous year, according to LINE.

Many employers surveyed for LINE report that they are struggling to fill vacancies, however. In November 2014, the reported recruiting difficulty for manufacturers was the highest it had been since May 2006. In the service sector, it reached a record high since data collection began for that sector in October 2005, according to LINE historical data.

The SHRM 2014 Economic Conditions Survey series released in October also revealed that 50 percent of employers had difficulty recruiting during the previous 12 months. And while many of those surveyed HR professionals said that this was due to candidates’ “lack of experience” or “insufficient skill sets” (50 percent each), there are signs that employers are still keeping a tight grip (perhaps too tight) on compensation.

Fifty percent of HR professionals responding to that survey said they were hindered by “competition from other employers,” which could very well mean the office across the street has bigger pockets. Another telling statistic: 37 percent of those respondents said they couldn’t fill the jobs because “qualified candidates rejected the compensation package.”

Moving ahead to 2015, perhaps employers will begin to shell out the money expected by the people they need to fill particular jobs, or job seekers may grow more willing to acquire new skills and accept a lower pay grade in order to get back to work.

The following are some other predictions for 2015:

  • The unemployment rate projections cited by the Federal Reserve’s board of governors and bank presidents during its September 2014 meeting ranged from an annual rate of 5.2 percent to 5.7 percent for 2015, 4.9 percent to 5.6 percent in 2016, and 4.7 percent to 5.8 percent in 2017. While those projections were optimistic, they are subject to change at subsequent meetings.
  • A panel from the National Association for Business Economics (NABE), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit trade group, reports that it expects nonfarm payrolls to post an average gain of 211,000 jobs per month in 2015. NABE also projects the unemployment rate to drop to 5.7 percent in 2015.
  • In its October 2014 World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted the U.S. unemployment rate to average 5.9 percent in 2015. Improving housing activity and “steady payroll gains” suggest that the U.S. economic rebound is becoming more sustainable, the IMF has said.
  • U.S. employers expect to hire 8.3 percent more college graduates from the class of 2015 compared with 2014, according to the nonprofit trade group National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Employers participating in NACE’s Job Outlook 2015 survey conducted from Aug. 11 through Oct. 7, 2014, cited company growth and attrition caused by retirements as the main drivers for the increase in hiring.

Joseph Coombs is a senior analyst for workforce trends at SHRM.

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The nation’s gross domestic product has rebounded strongly since a poor first quarter of 2014.

The nation’s gross domestic product has rebounded strongly since a poor first quarter of 2014.

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OSHA announces new requirements for reporting severe injuries and updates list of industries exempt from record-keeping requirements

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today announced a final rule requiring employers to notify OSHA when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a work-related hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye. The rule, which also updates the list of employers partially exempt from OSHA record-keeping requirements, will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, for workplaces under federal OSHA jurisdiction.

The announcement follows preliminary results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2013 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries*.

“Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4,405 workers were killed on the job in 2013. We can and must do more to keep America’s workers safe and healthy,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “Workplace injuries and fatalities are absolutely preventable, and these new requirements will help OSHA focus its resources and hold employers accountable for preventing them.”

Under the revised rule, employers will be required to notify OSHA of work-related fatalities within eight hours, and work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations or losses of an eye within 24 hours. Previously, OSHA’s regulations required an employer to report only work-related fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations of three or more employees. Reporting single hospitalizations, amputations or loss of an eye was not required under the previous rule.

All employers covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, even those who are exempt from maintaining injury and illness records, are required to comply with OSHA’s new severe injury and illness reporting requirements. To assist employers in fulfilling these requirements, OSHA is developing a Web portal for employers to report incidents electronically, in addition to the phone reporting options.

“Hospitalizations and amputations are sentinel events, indicating that serious hazards are likely to be present at a workplace and that an intervention is warranted to protect the other workers at the establishment,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

In addition to the new reporting requirements, OSHA has also updated the list of industries that, due to relatively low occupational injury and illness rates, are exempt from the requirement to routinely keep injury and illness records. The previous list of exempt industries was based on the old Standard Industrial Classification system and the new rule uses the North American Industry Classification System to classify establishments by industry. The new list is based on updated injury and illness data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The new rule maintains the exemption for any employer with 10 or fewer employees, regardless of their industry classification, from the requirement to routinely keep records of worker injuries and illnesses.

For more information about the new rule, visit OSHA’s website at

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IRS Announces 2015 Pension Plan Limitations; Taxpayers May Contribute up to $18,000 to their 401(k) plans in 2015

The Internal Revenue Service today announced cost‑of‑living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2015. Many of the pension plan limitations will change for 2015 because the increase in the cost-of-living index met the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. However, other limitations will remain unchanged because the increase in the index did not meet the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. Highlights include the following:

  • The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $17,500 to $18,000.
  • The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $5,500 to $6,000.
  • The limit on annual contributions to an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) remains unchanged at $5,500. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000.
  • The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by a workplace retirement plan and have modified adjusted gross incomes (AGI) between $61,000 and $71,000, up from $60,000 and $70,000 in 2014. For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the income phase-out range is $98,000 to $118,000, up from $96,000 to $116,000. For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s income is between $183,000 and $193,000, up from $181,000 and $191,000. For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.
  • The AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $183,000 to $193,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $181,000 to $191,000 in 2014. For singles and heads of household, the income phase-out range is $116,000 to $131,000, up from $114,000 to $129,000. For a married individual filing a separate return, the phase-out range is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.
  • The AGI limit for the saver’s credit (also known as the retirement savings contribution credit) for low- and moderate-income workers is $61,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $60,000 in 2014; $45,750 for heads of household, up from $45,000; and $30,500 for married individuals filing separately and for singles, up from $30,000.

Below are details on both the adjusted and unchanged limitations.

Section 415 of the Internal Revenue Code provides for dollar limitations on benefits and contributions under qualified retirement plans. Section 415(d) requires that the Secretary of the Treasury annually adjust these limits for cost‑of‑living increases. Other limitations applicable to deferred compensation plans are also affected by these adjustments under Section 415. Under Section 415(d), the adjustments are to be made under adjustment procedures similar to those used to adjust benefit amounts under Section 215(i)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act.

Effective Jan. 1, 2015, the limitation on the annual benefit under a defined benefit plan under Section 415(b)(1)(A) remains unchanged at $210,000. For a participant who separated from service before January 1, 2015, the limitation for defined benefit plans under Section 415(b)(1)(B) is computed by multiplying the participant’s compensation limitation, as adjusted through 2014, by 1.0178.

The limitation for defined contribution plans under Section 415(c)(1)(A) is increased in 2015 from $52,000 to $53,000.

The Code provides that various other dollar amounts are to be adjusted at the same time and in the same manner as the dollar limitation of Section 415(b)(1)(A). After taking into account the applicable rounding rules, the amounts for 2015 are as follows:

The limitation under Section 402(g)(1) on the exclusion for elective deferrals described in Section 402(g)(3) is increased from $17,500 to $18,000.

The annual compensation limit under Sections 401(a)(17), 404(l), 408(k)(3)(C) and 408(k)(6)(D)(ii) is increased from $260,000 to $265,000.

The dollar limitation under Section 416(i)(1)(A)(i) concerning the definition of key employee in a top-heavy plan remains unchanged at $170,000.

The dollar amount under Section 409(o)(1)(C)(ii) for determining the maximum account balance in an employee stock ownership plan subject to a 5‑year distribution period is increased from $1,050,000 to $1,070,000, while the dollar amount used to determine the lengthening of the 5‑year distribution period remains unchanged at $210,000.

The limitation used in the definition of highly compensated employee under Section 414(q)(1)(B) is increased from $115,000 to $120,000.

The dollar limitation under Section 414(v)(2)(B)(i) for catch-up contributions to an applicable employer plan other than a plan described in Section 401(k)(11) or Section 408(p) for individuals aged 50 or over is increased from $5,500 to $6,000. The dollar limitation under Section 414(v)(2)(B)(ii) for catch-up contributions to an applicable employer plan described in Section 401(k)(11) or Section 408(p) for individuals aged 50 or over is increased from $2,500 to $3,000.

The annual compensation limitation under Section 401(a)(17) for eligible participants in certain governmental plans that, under the plan as in effect on July 1, 1993, allowed cost‑of‑living adjustments to the compensation limitation under the plan under Section 401(a)(17) to be taken into account, is increased from $385,000 to $395,000.

The compensation amount under Section 408(k)(2)(C) regarding simplified employee pensions (SEPs) is increased from $550 to $600.

The limitation under Section 408(p)(2)(E) regarding SIMPLE retirement accounts is increased from $12,000 to $12,500.

The limitation on deferrals under Section 457(e)(15) concerning deferred compensation plans of state and local governments and tax-exempt organizations is increased from $17,500 to $18,000.

The compensation amount under Section 1.61‑21(f)(5)(i) of the Income Tax Regulations concerning the definition of “control employee” for fringe benefit valuation remains unchanged at $105,000. The compensation amount under Section 1.61‑21(f)(5)(iii) is increased from $210,000 to $215,000.

The Code also provides that several retirement-related amounts are to be adjusted using the cost-of-living adjustment under Section 1(f)(3). After taking the applicable rounding rules into account, the amounts for 2015 are as follows:

The adjusted gross income limitation under Section 25B(b)(1)(A) for determining the retirement savings contribution credit for married taxpayers filing a joint return is increased from $36,000 to $36,500; the limitation under Section 25B(b)(1)(B) is increased from $39,000 to $39,500; and the limitation under Sections 25B(b)(1)(C) and 25B(b)(1)(D) is increased from $60,000 to $61,000.

The adjusted gross income limitation under Section 25B(b)(1)(A) for determining the retirement savings contribution credit for taxpayers filing as head of household is increased from $27,000 to $27,375; the limitation under Section 25B(b)(1)(B) is increased from $29,250 to $29,625; and the limitation under Sections 25B(b)(1)(C) and 25B(b)(1)(D) is increased from $45,000 to $45,750.

The adjusted gross income limitation under Section 25B(b)(1)(A) for determining the retirement savings contribution credit for all other taxpayers is increased from $18,000 to $18,250; the limitation under Section 25B(b)(1)(B) is increased from $19,500 to $19,750; and the limitation under Sections 25B(b)(1)(C) and 25B(b)(1)(D) is increased from $30,000 to $30,500.

The deductible amount under Section 219(b)(5)(A) for an individual making qualified retirement contributions remains unchanged at $5,500.

The applicable dollar amount under Section 219(g)(3)(B)(i) for determining the deductible amount of an IRA contribution for taxpayers who are active participants filing a joint return or as a qualifying widow(er) is increased from $96,000 to $98,000. The applicable dollar amount under Section 219(g)(3)(B)(ii) for all other taxpayers (other than married taxpayers filing separate returns) is increased from $60,000 to $61,000. The applicable dollar amount under Section 219(g)(3)(B)(iii) for a married individual filing a separate return is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0. The applicable dollar amount under Section 219(g)(7)(A) for a taxpayer who is not an active participant but whose spouse is an active participant is increased from $181,000 to $183,000.

The adjusted gross income limitation under Section 408A(c)(3)(B)(ii)(I) for determining the maximum Roth IRA contribution for married taxpayers filing a joint return or for taxpayers filing as a qualifying widow(er) is increased from $181,000 to $183,000. The adjusted gross income limitation under Section 408A(c)(3)(B)(ii)(II) for all other taxpayers (other than married taxpayers filing separate returns) is increased from $114,000 to $116,000. The applicable dollar amount under Section 408A(c)(3)(B)(ii)(III) for a married individual filing a separate return is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0.

The dollar amount under Section 430(c)(7)(D)(i)(II) used to determine excess employee compensation with respect to a single-employer defined benefit pension plan for which the special election under Section 430(c)(2)(D) has been made is increased from $1,084,000 to $1,101,000.

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IRS Clarifies Calculation for Determining Applicable Large Employer Status

In informal guidance released in May 2014, the IRS provided additional clarification on how to count full-time employees for purposes of determining who is an applicable large employer. This is important because the employer shared responsibility mandate only applies to “applicable large employers,” which are defined as employers with 50 or more full-time and full-time equivalent (“FTE”) employees.

Prior Understanding of Calculation for Applicable Large Employer Determination

Previously, it was assumed that for this calculation a full-time employee is an employee who is employed an average of 30 or more hours per week and that employers may use 130 hours of service in a calendar month as the equivalent of 30 hours per week.
As indicated above, the calculation for applicable large employer also takes FTE employees into account. In order to determine the number of FTEs for each month during the previous calendar year, the employer must look at all employees (including seasonal employees) who were not full-time employees during each month. The number of FTE employees for a given month is then determined by:
1. Calculating the aggregate number of hours of service (but no more than 120 hours of service for any employee) for all non-full-time employees for that month, and
2. Dividing the total hours of service calculated above by 120.
The resulting number, which may be rounded off to the nearest hundredth, is the number of FTE employees for that calendar month. The prior understanding was that only employees working 130 or more hours per month were full-time employees, and all employees working 129 hours per month or less were included as part of the FTE determination.

IRS Clarification on who is a Full-Time Employee for Applicable Large Employer Determination

However, during the Q&A session of the American Bar Association’s Tax Section’s Employee Benefits Committee meeting on May 9, 2014, IRS officials stated that the IRS disagrees with the notion of using either the 130-hour monthly equivalency or 30 hours per week for the applicable large employer determination. The IRS officials noted that the statute requires employers to use 120 hours. So, to count employees for purposes of determining whether an employer is an applicable large employer, each employee who works at least 120 hours counts as one full-time employee. It does not matter if the employee worked 121 hours or 250 hours that month, the employee counts as one full-time employee. While the statute uses 30 hours per week when it addresses who is a full-time employee for purposes of deciding who must be offered coverage to avoid penalties under the employer mandate, for purposes of the applicable large employee determination, neither 130 hours nor 30 hours per week is a relevant concept according to the IRS. For a copy of the May 9th American Bar Association Q&As, please on click here.

For employees who did not work at least 120 hours in a month, the IRS officials reiterated that an employer counts those employees as a fraction, where the numerator is each employee’s actual hours for the month and the denominator is 120.

Example: Assume that Acme employed 25 employees who each worked 120+ hours a month in 2016. In our example, the 25 employees are classified as full-time employees. In addition to these full-time employees, Acme employed 60 part-time employees who worked 60 hours each month in 2016. To determine the number of FTE employees that Acme employed in 2016, Acme aggregates all the hours of service for all part-time employees (3,600) for each month and divides by 120. The resulting number, which is 30, represents Acme’s FTE employees for each month, since in our example we assume that every part-time employee worked the same hours in each month of 2016. In this example, Acme would be considered an applicable large employer for 2017 because Acme’s average monthly full-time and FTE employees in 2016 is greater than 50. To be specific, for 2016 Acme’s average full-time (25) and full-time equivalent employees (30) for each month is equal to 55.


In all practical terms, the change in how applicable large employer status is calculated should not affect whether any employer is or is not an applicable large employer. This is because regardless of whether an employer identifies its full-time employees based on 120 hrs/month or 130 hrs/month, once the employer adds in the calculation of full-time equivalents based on hours of non-full-time employees, employers will reach the same result. It may, however, be inconvenient for administrative purposes if an organization is
identifying full-time employees for coverage purposes based on 130 hours per month but also has to track full-time employees for purposes of identifying applicable large employer status based on the 120 hours per month standard.

Gallagher Benefit Services, through its compliance experts and consultants, will continue to monitor developments on healthcare reform legislation and regulation and will provide you with relevant updated information as it becomes available. In the interim, please contact your Gallagher Benefit Services Representative with any questions that you may have.

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Courts Split on Whether IRS Can Provide Premium Tax Credits Through Federally-Facilitated Marketplaces

On July 22, 2014, two federal appellate courts issued opposing decisions on whether the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has authority to provide premium tax credits through Marketplaces established by the federal government. In Halbig v. Burwell, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in a 2-1 ruling, decided that the language of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) does not give the IRS authority to provide premium tax credits through federally-facilitated Marketplaces. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in King v. Burwell, however, decided unanimously that the IRS does have the ability to provide premium tax credits through federally-facilitated Marketplaces. Both cases have already been appealed. The central issue of these cases, whether the IRS can provide premium tax credits through federally-facilitated Marketplaces, is significant and necessary for the attainment of one of PPACA’s major goals – to assist low income individuals with purchasing health insurance. Without premium tax credits, low income individuals in states with federally-facilitated Marketplaces must pay for health coverage at full cost. This split appears likely to be resolved by the Supreme Court, which is fresh off of another PPACA-related case with the Hobby Lobby decision.
The decisions will not have an immediate effect as the IRS has said that it will continue to provide premium tax credits to individuals who purchase coverage through the federally-facilitated Marketplaces until appeals have been exhausted. The ultimate resolution to this matter appears headed to the Supreme Court. June 2015 may see yet another end to the Supreme Court’s session spent awaiting a PPACA-related Supreme Court decision.
PPACA requires all nonexempt individuals to maintain health insurance. In order to assist certain low income individuals (i.e., those with household incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty line), PPACA empowers the IRS to provide premium assistance in the form of tax credits. Under PPACA, each state is required to run its own Marketplace, although the state may defer establishing and running the Marketplace to the federal government. These federally-run Marketplaces are referred to as federally-facilitated Marketplaces.
Although PPACA establishes that Marketplaces may be setup and run by both the states and the federal government, PPACA does not provide clear guidance regarding the provision of premium tax credits. Specifically, PPACA provides that determining the amount of the premium tax credit depends on the months in which the individual is enrolled in coverage “through [a Marketplace] established by the State.” Plaintiffs argue that a literal reading of PPACA only allows the IRS to provide premium tax credits through state-run Marketplaces, not federally-facilitated Marketplaces. More than half the states have federally-facilitated Marketplaces.


If PPACA were said to have only one goal, it would be to bring health insurance to all Americans, whether through employer-sponsored coverage or individual coverage through the Marketplaces. However, if the IRS were unable to provide premium tax credits through the federally-facilitated Marketplaces, it would undermine the method through which PPACA would achieve its goals in the states that have federally-facilitated Marketplaces.
The premium tax credits are also critical to the administration of the employer mandate that was created by PPACA. The employer mandate requires large employers to offer affordable health insurance that meets minimum value standards to all full-time employees or face a penalty. An employer will face a penalty depending in part on whether an employee purchases coverage through a Marketplace and receives a premium tax credit. If the IRS can no longer provide premium tax credits through federally-facilitated Marketplaces, then employees that purchase coverage through the federally-facilitated Marketplace will not trigger penalties for the employer. The effect of the employer mandate would be undermined. Coupled with the effect this would have on providing access to low income individuals, the effect on PPACA – its goals and the means to achieve those goals – will be critical, particularly in those states that have federally-facilitated Marketplaces. Although this is a serious issue regarding the future of PPACA, the impact is not immediate. The decisions are being appealed and an ultimate resolution from the Supreme Court is not expected for some time.
Halbig v. Burwell
The D.C. Circuit Court majority relied on the statutory language of PPACA in its decision to deny the IRS the authority to provide premium tax credits through the federally-facilitated Marketplaces. The opinion looks to whether a federally-facilitated Marketplace could be construed as a state Marketplace and ultimately decides that the language of the statute restricts the IRS to providing premium tax credits through state-run Marketplaces. The decision notes that no legislative history exists to indicate that Congress intended differently and that it was therefore bound by the plain language of the statute.
The Obama administration has already appealed Halbig to the full D.C. appellate court panel of 11 judges. The recent opinion was decided by a three judge panel. Most federal appellate cases are heard by a three judge panel, but a hearing or rehearing may be heard before the full court if it is ordered by the majority of judges.
King v. Burwell
Issued only hours after the D.C. Circuit released its opinion, the Fourth Circuit opinion came to the opposite conclusion. In its unanimous opinion, the Fourth Circuit examined the definition of a state-run Marketplace. The statutory language in PPACA states that the premium tax credits can be provided to individuals who purchase coverage “through [a Marketplace] established by the State under 1311.” Section 1311 of PPACA defines the Marketplaces that states are required to establish. The Fourth Circuit notes that section 1311 requires each state to establish a Marketplace and if not, the federal government would establish one in their place. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit argues, according to section 1311, Congress intended for a federally-facilitated Marketplace to step into the position of a state-run Marketplace and that this interpretation should extend to the provision of premium tax credits as well. The Fourth Circuit opinion states that nothing in the Congressional record or in the statute points to a different interpretation. The plaintiffs in King have already appealed to the United States Supreme Court to hear the case.


Although the D.C. Circuit opinion poses a potentially critical threat to PPACA, this issue is far from being resolved. Halbig is currently being appealed by the Obama administration to the entire D.C. Appellate Court, and King has been appealed to the United States Supreme Court. This potentially significant split in the courts is likely to be resolved by the Supreme Court. However, if the D.C. Circuit reverses itself, there would be no split, but the Supreme Court could take up the issue on a direct appeal from the losing plaintiffs to provide closure on the matter. Regardless of which direction the cases take, nothing will change in the near term. The IRS has stated its intent of continuing to provide premium tax credits to qualifying individuals who purchase coverage through a Marketplace, whether state or federally run. Please stay tuned to Healthcare Reform Update for any new developments.
Gallagher Benefit Services, through its compliance experts and consultants, will continue to monitor developments on healthcare reform legislation and regulation and will provide you with relevant updated information as it becomes available. In the interim, please contact your Gallagher Benefit Services Representative with any questions that you may have.
The intent of this analysis is to provide general information regarding the provisions of current healthcare reform legislation and regulation. It does not necessarily fully address all your organization’s specific issues. It should not be construed as, nor is it intended to provide, legal advice. Your organization’s general counsel or an attorney who specializes in this practice area should address questions regarding specific issues.

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Courts Split on Whether IRS Can Provide Premium Tax Credits Through Federally-Facilitated Marketplaces

by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

On July 22, 2014, two federal appellate courts issued opposing decisions on whether the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has authority to provide premium tax credits through Marketplaces established by the federal government. In Halbig v. Burwell, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in a 2-1 ruling, decided that the language of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) does not give the IRS authority to provide premium tax credits through federally-facilitated Marketplaces. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in King v. Burwell, however, decided unanimously that the IRS does have the ability to provide premium tax credits through federally-facilitated Marketplaces. Both cases have already been appealed. The central issue of these cases, whether the IRS can provide premium tax credits through federally-facilitated Marketplaces, is significant and necessary for the attainment of one of PPACA’s major goals – to assist low income individuals with purchasing health insurance. Without premium tax credits, low income individuals in states with federally-facilitated Marketplaces must pay for health coverage at full cost. This split appears likely to be resolved by the Supreme Court, which is fresh off of another PPACA-related case with the Hobby Lobby decision.

The decisions will not have an immediate effect as the IRS has said that it will continue to provide premium tax credits to individuals who purchase coverage through the federally-facilitated Marketplaces until appeals have been exhausted. The ultimate resolution to this matter appears headed to the Supreme Court. June 2015 may see yet another end to the Supreme Court’s session spent awaiting a PPACA- related Supreme Court decision.


PPACA requires all nonexempt individuals to maintain health insurance. In order to assist certain low income individuals (i.e., those with household incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty line), PPACA empowers the IRS to provide premium assistance in the form of tax credits. Under PPACA, each state is required to run its own Marketplace, although the state may defer establishing and running the Marketplace to the federal government. These federally-run Marketplaces are referred to as federally- facilitated Marketplaces.

Although PPACA establishes that Marketplaces may be setup and run by both the states and the federal government, PPACA does not provide clear guidance regarding the provision of premium tax credits. Specifically, PPACA provides that determining the amount of the premium tax credit depends on the months in which the individual is enrolled in coverage “through [a Marketplace] established by the State.” Plaintiffs argue that a literal reading of PPACA only allows the IRS to provide premium tax credits through state-run Marketplaces, not federally-facilitated Marketplaces. More than half the states have federally-facilitated Marketplaces.

If PPACA were said to have only one goal, it would be to bring health insurance to all Americans, whether through employer-sponsored coverage or individual coverage through the Marketplaces. However, if the IRS were unable to provide premium tax credits through the federally-facilitated Marketplaces, it would undermine the method through which PPACA would achieve its goals in the states that have federally- facilitated Marketplaces.

The premium tax credits are also critical to the administration of the employer mandate that was created by PPACA. The employer mandate requires large employers to offer affordable health insurance that meets minimum value standards to all full-time employees or face a penalty. An employer will face a penalty depending in part on whether an employee purchases coverage through a Marketplace and receives a premium tax credit. If the IRS can no longer provide premium tax credits through federally-facilitated Marketplaces, then employees that purchase coverage through the federally-facilitated Marketplace will not trigger penalties for the employer. The effect of the employer mandate would be undermined.

Coupled with the effect this would have on providing access to low income individuals, the effect on PPACA – its goals and the means to achieve those goals – will be critical, particularly in those states that have federally-facilitated Marketplaces. Although this is a serious issue regarding the future of PPACA, the impact is not immediate. The decisions are being appealed and an ultimate resolution from the Supreme Court is not expected for some time.

Halbig v. Burwell

The D.C. Circuit Court majority relied on the statutory language of PPACA in its decision to deny the IRS the authority to provide premium tax credits through the federally-facilitated Marketplaces. The opinion looks to whether a federally-facilitated Marketplace could be construed as a state Marketplace and ultimately decides that the language of the statute restricts the IRS to providing premium tax credits through state-run Marketplaces. The decision notes that no legislative history exists to indicate that Congress intended differently and that it was therefore bound by the plain language of the statute.

The Obama administration has already appealed Halbig to the full D.C. appellate court panel of 11 judges. The recent opinion was decided by a three judge panel. Most federal appellate cases are heard by a three judge panel, but a hearing or rehearing may be heard before the full court if it is ordered by the majority of judges.

King v. Burwell

Issued only hours after the D.C. Circuit released its opinion, the Fourth Circuit opinion came to the opposite conclusion. In its unanimous opinion, the Fourth Circuit examined the definition of a state-run Marketplace. The statutory language in PPACA states that the premium tax credits can be provided to individuals who purchase coverage “through [a Marketplace] established by the State under 1311.” Section 1311 of PPACA defines the Marketplaces that states are required to establish. The Fourth Circuit notes that section 1311 requires each state to establish a Marketplace and if not, the federal government would establish one in their place. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit argues, according to section 1311, Congress intended for a federally-facilitated Marketplace to step into the position of a state-run Marketplace and that this interpretation should extend to the provision of premium tax credits as well. The Fourth Circuit opinion states that nothing in the Congressional record or in the statute points to a different interpretation. The plaintiffs in King have already appealed to the United States Supreme Court to hear the case.


Although the D.C. Circuit opinion poses a potentially critical threat to PPACA, this issue is far from being resolved. Halbig is currently being appealed by the Obama administration to the entire D.C. Appellate Court, and King has been appealed to the United States Supreme Court. This potentially significant split in the courts is likely to be resolved by the Supreme Court. However, if the D.C. Circuit reverses itself, there would be no split, but the Supreme Court could take up the issue on a direct appeal from the losing plaintiffs to provide closure on the matter. Regardless of which direction the cases take, nothing will change in the near term. The IRS has stated its intent of continuing to provide premium tax credits to qualifying individuals who purchase coverage through a Marketplace, whether state or federally run. Please stay tuned to Healthcare Reform Update for any new developments.

The intent of this analysis is to provide general information regarding the provisions of current healthcare reform legislation and regulation. It does not necessarily fully address all your organization’s specific issues. It should not be construed as, nor is it intended to provide, legal advice. Your organization’s general counsel or an attorney who specializes in this practice area should address questions regarding specific issues.

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Agencies Release New Accommodations from Contraceptive Mandate for Nonprofit Organizations and for Closely-Held, For-Profit Corporations

from the Arthur J. Gallagher Co.

On August 22, 2014, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury (the “Agencies”) released an interim final regulation amending prior guidance on accommodations for nonprofit eligible organizations with religious objections to compliance with the requirement that non- grandfathered health plans provide coverage for contraceptive services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) (often called “the contraceptive mandate”). In addition, the Agencies released a proposed regulation seeking comments on a means for for-profit, closely-held corporations with religious objections to providing coverage for some or all contraceptive services to obtain an accommodation in a manner similar to the accommodation currently available for nonprofit eligible organizations with religious objections. A fact sheet on the rules and a notice of the revision of EBSA Form 700 (which can be used to obtain the accommodation) were also released.

The Alternate Accommodation under the Interim Final Regulation


The interim final regulation responds to the United States Supreme Court’s interim ruling in Wheaton College v. Burwell, which granted an injunction permitting Wheaton College to refrain from compliance with the contraceptive mandate. Wheaton College challenged the requirement in the July 2013 contraceptive coverage regulations that an eligible organization desiring an accommodation from the contraceptive mandate must send EBSA Form 700 to its insurance carrier or third party administrator (“TPA”). Under the Court’s order, the Agencies could not enforce certain PPACA provisions and related regulations under the contraceptive mandate against Wheaton College if it informed the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) in writing that: (1) it is a nonprofit organization that holds itself out as religious and that it has religious objections to providing contraceptive services. Thus, Wheaton College was not required to use EBSA Form 700 or send a copy of the completed form to its health insurance carriers or TPAs to be eligible for injunctive relief. The interim final regulation provides an alternative means to obtain the accommodation in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Wheaton College.

Interim Final Regulation

Under prior guidance, nonprofit religious employers objecting to some or all contraceptives required to be covered under PPACA could obtain an accommodation by providing a self-certification using EBSA Form 700. The interim final regulation provides an alternative accommodation for such employers, which would not require those organizations to provide a copy of the self-certification to their TPAs or their insurance carriers, as applicable. Instead, under the alternative accommodation, an “eligible organization” may simply inform HHS in writing of its religious objection. HHS released a form that can be used for this purpose, but the form is not mandatory. However, the notice must include the following information: (1) the name of the eligible organization; (2) the basis on which it qualifies for an accommodation; (3) a statement that the eligible organization objects based upon religious beliefs to providing some or all contraceptive services required under PPACA; (4) a list of the contraceptive services to which the organization objects, if not all contraceptive services are objectionable; (5) the plan name and type (e.g., student, church); and (6) contact information for the eligible employer’s TPA(s) or health insurance carrier(s), as applicable. If HHS receives the notice for a fully insured plan, it will inform the insurer named in the notice that the insurer now has the obligation to provide coverage for contraceptive services. If HHS receives the notice on behalf of a self-insured plan, HHS will notify the Department of Labor (“DOL”), which will then designate the TPA as the ERISA plan administrator for providing contraceptive services. Previously, eligible employers objected to using EBSA Form 700 based upon the concept that they were themselves authorizing their TPAs to provide contraceptives by forwarding EBSA Form 700, but the DOL notification to the TPA is intended to become the plan document under which the TPA is authorized to cover contraceptives in order to avoid this issue. The DOL asserts that it has broad authority to designate the TPA as the plan administrator for these purposes under ERISA. Unfortunately, the interim regulation does not clarify how this designation impacts TPAs for non-ERISA plans. The Accommodation for Closely-Held, For-Profit Corporations under the Proposed Regulation


The proposed regulation (which is actually a Notice of Proposed Rule Making) responds to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, which held that the contraceptive mandate violates the rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of closely-held, for-profit corporations with religious objections to providing some or all contraceptives. The proposed regulation provides a possible accommodation for for-profit, closely-held corporations and would be similar to the accommodation noted above for nonprofit eligible organizations.

Proposed Regulation

The proposed regulation would expand the definition of “eligible organization” to include a closely-held, for-profit entity with owners who object to providing some or all contraceptive services required under PPACA based upon sincerely held religious beliefs. The proposed regulation does not attempt to define “closely-held” entity, but instead asks for comments on a possible definition. One possible definition outlined in the proposed regulation would define a qualifying closely-held entity as “an entity where none of the ownership interests in the entity is publically traded and where the entity has fewer than a specified number of shareholders or owners.” Another possible definition would include a reference to a maximum number of owners or a minimum concentration of ownership. That second definition would also include a requirement that the entity not be publically traded. The Agencies seek additional comments on two other notable potential changes, which involve the structure of payments for coverage and possible proof of for-profit owners’ sincere religious beliefs. Specifically, the Agencies seek comments on the proposal for TPAs to either provide coverage or arrange for an insurance carrier to provide coverage for contraceptives in a manner similar to the accommodation in place for nonprofit entities. Also, the Agencies seek comments on whether the Agencies should require documentation of the decision-making process involved when determining whether providing coverage for some or all contraceptive services violates sincerely held religious beliefs to determine if that process is in accordance with the organization’s governing structure. The comment period closes on October 21, 2014. Comments should be sent to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Attention: Desk Officer for the Employee Benefits Security Administration either by Fax to (202) 395-5806 or by email to

The intent of this analysis is to provide general information regarding the provisions of current healthcare reform legislation and regulation. It does not necessarily fully address all your organization’s specific issues. It should not be construed as, nor is it intended to provide, legal advice. Your organization’s general counsel or an attorney who specializes in this practice area should address questions regarding specific issues.

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Affordability Percentages Increased

By Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

On August 5, 2014, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) released Revenue Procedure 2014-37 which increased the threshold percentage for determining whether health coverage offered by an employer to an employee is considered affordable from 9.5% to 9.56%. As a result of the increase, coverage offered to an employee for 2015 will be considered affordable if the employee’s contribution for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.56 percent of the employee’s household income for the taxable year. The Patient  Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) provides that this statutory definition of affordability will be indexed beginning with plan years starting in 2015; therefore, the increase put forth by the IRS was expected.

Because employers do not know their employees’ household incomes, previously released regulatory guidance allows them to use one of three affordability safe harbors: one based on the employee’s Form W-2; a second based on the employee’s rate of pay; and the last based on the federal poverty guidelines for a single individual. Under the Form W-2 safe harbor, the employee contribution toward self-only coverage for the employer’s lowest cost coverage providing minimum value cannot exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s Form W-2 Box 1 wages for that calendar year. An employer satisfies the rate of pay safe harbor with respect to an hourly employee for a calendar month if the employee’s contribution for the
lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.5 percent of an amount equal to 130 hours multiplied by the lower of the employee’s hourly rate of pay as of the first day of the coverage period (generally the first day of the plan year) or the employee’s lowest hourly rate of pay during the calendar month. With respect to a non-hourly employee, an employer satisfies the rate of pay safe harbor if the employee’s contribution for the calendar month for lowest cost self-only coverage that
provides minimum value does not exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s monthly salary, as of the first day of the coverage period. Lastly, an employer satisfies the federal poverty line safe harbor if the employee’s required contribution for the lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.5 percent of the federal poverty line for a single individual for the applicable calendar year, divided by 12.

Although the affordability percentage defined by PPACA was increased, the IRS did not increase the percentages associated with the safe harbors. The distinction between the statutory definition of affordable and the regulatory safe harbor definition is that the statutory definition allows for the percentage to be indexed, whereas, the regulatory safe harbor rate used by the safe harbors does not get indexed and remains at 9.5%. As such, although the affordability threshold is being increased to 9.56%, the percentage used by the safe harbors will not change and remains at 9.5%. This is important to note because it is expected that most employers will opt to use one of the safe harbors available by regulation to meet the affordability standard. However, as the affordability percentage in the statute is indexed and increases every year, the disparity between the two percentages will continue to grow. Therefore, it is expected that some clarification or amendment is forthcoming.

The intent of this analysis is to provide general information regarding the provisions of current healthcare reform legislation and regulation. It does not necessarily fully address all your organization’s specific issues. It should not be construed as, nor is it intended to provide, legal advice. Your organization’s general counsel or an attorney who specializes in this practice area should address questions regarding specific issues.

Original Article:

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Millennials more likely to share private information

There is no question that millennials are changing the workplace, but a new study conducted by LinkedIn shows that the 18-34 year old age group is more likely to share intimate, private information with their coworkers than their older, baby boomer counterparts are.

LinkedIn recently conducted the ‘Relationships @Work’ study which looks at different workplace behaviors and it shows that millennials and baby boomers have quite different reactions to relationships in the workplace. “Workplace relationships are ever-changing and an important factor in shaping both office dynamics and individual job development,” said Nicole Williams, LinkedIn career expert. “This means that creating an office culture that resonates across generations, roles and personalities is a critical factor in building a successful working environment.”

One area this study looked at was career advancement, most millennial participants felt that being happy was an important part of their job, but climbing the proverbial career ladder was far more important than their work friendships.

The generational divide shows the 68 percent of millennials would throw their coworkers under the bus if it meant getting ahead in their own careers. One in five say that having coworkers as friends makes them more competitive on the job. While the younger generation is quick to stab friends in the back, many of them feel that work friendships are a positive aspect in the work environment.

Having friends at work is important to millennials because it impacts their working environment in a positive way. According to the study, 57 percent of millennials say that having friends at work makes them happy, while 50 percent say it helps them feel motivated to come to work and be productive. For the baby boomer generation, 45 percent say having friends at work has no bearing on their work performance.

Communication is also a very important aspect for millennials. More than half of millennials reported being more open to sharing relationship advice with coworkers, compared to 23 percent of baby boomers. Millennials are also more comfortable discussing salaries with their coworkers, as opposed to the baby boomer generation who feel that it is taboo to discuss personal earnings.

For more information on the study, visit the LinkedIn website.

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Don’t even think about lying on your resume

by CBS Interactive

You would think people seeking work would be more careful about making sure their resumes are as accurate and transparent as possible, especially because a growing number of companies now conduct extensive background checks on potential employees.

Plus, many of us have made our lives a virtual open book, posting all sorts of readily available, private information on social media and the Internet.

But a new study says close to 60 percent of company hiring managers have found lies in the resumes they’ve perused, while one-third of employers have noticed an increase in resume “embellishments” in the post-recession job market.

The national survey, conducted online by Harris Poll for CareerBuilder, questioned nearly 2,200 hiring managers and human resource officials from a wide variety of companies and industries.

Here are some of the more common lies the survey respondents said job candidates tried to sneak past them:

  • Embellished skill set — 57 percent
  • Embellished responsibilities — 55 percent
  • Dates of employment — 42 percent
  • Job title — 34 percent
  • Academic degree — 33 percent
  • Companies worked for — 26 percent
  • Accolades/awards — 18 percent

“Trust is very important in professional relationships, and by lying on your resume, you breach that trust from the very outset,” Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s vice president of human resources, said in a statement.

“If you want to enhance your resume, it’s better to focus on playing up tangible examples from your actual experience,” she added. “Your resume doesn’t necessarily have to be the perfect fit for an organization, but it needs to be relevant and accurate.”

Some industries and job sectors also seem to be more prone to having job-seekers lie about their pasts and qualifications. The survey found 73 percent of employers in financial services said they found fabrications on resumes they’ve examined, followed by 71 percent in leisure and hospitality, 63 percent in information technology, 63 percent in health care (looking at companies with more than 50 employees) and 59 percent in retail.

Most would-be employers take any fabrications discovered on a job-seeker’s resume very seriously. According to the survey, 51 percent said they would immediately dismiss a candidate caught lying on his or her resume. Forty percent said any dismissal would depend on what the candidate lied about, but only seven percent said they were willing to overlook falsehoods or embellishments on a resume if they liked the job candidate.

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.


For Workers, There Are Lots of Distractions

by Luke Siuty

Seldom does a day pass in an office worker’s life without a secretive glance at something that’s “NSFW” — not suitable for work.

Whether it’s something inappropriate or just another BuzzFeed listicle, it’s easier than ever to stay connected to Facebook feeds, instant messages with friends or other distractions that sneak up in a work day.

New research from online employment site CareerBuilder confirms personal technology as the No. 1 culprit behind work distraction. One in four workers from a representative sample of 3,022 full-time employees admits to spending at least one hour each work day on personal phone calls, texts or emails. Some 50 percent of those polled point to cellphones and texting as the biggest productivity killers. Other sources leading to concentration disruption include gossip (42 percent), the Internet (39 percent), social media (38 percent) and snack or smoke breaks (27 percent). Noisy co-workers was next on the list at 24 percent.

“While many managers feel their teams perform at a desirable level, they also warn that little distractions can add up to bigger gaps in productivity,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Minimize interruptions and save personal communications for your lunch hour or break.”

Three out of four employers have some measures in place to ease work distractions. About 36 percent of the companies polled block specific websites, and 1 in 4 prohibits use of personal phones.

The study also shared some unusual occurrences that employees were engaged in. Managers caught their employees caring for a pet bird that was smuggled into work, taking selfies in the bathroom, printing a book off the Internet and wrestling.

Luke Siuty is a Workforce editorial intern. Comment below or email Follow Siuty on Twitter at @LukeShooty.

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ACA update: Different courts weigh in on healthcare insurance reform

By Jessica Webb-Ayer, JD, Legal Editor

The Hobby Lobby case

Although healthcare insurance reform passed its first big hurdle in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law’s individual mandate, the Court took another look at the law this year. However, this time it reviewed another one of the ACA’s controversial mandates—the contraceptive mandate.

At the end of June, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Court held that the ACA’s contraceptive mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as it is applied to “closely held corporations.” According to the Court, in a divisive 5-4 opinion, the mandate “substantially burdens the exercise of religion.”

The Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby is not a broad employer exemption from ACA requirements. It only relates to the contraceptive mandate and only applies to closely held companies whose owners can show they have sincere religious objections to the mandate. The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury have taken the first step in providing guidance to address this ruling by issuing a href=”” target=”blank”>Frequently Asked Question (FAQ).

The FAQ makes clear that if the health plan of a closely held for-profit corporation stops providing coverage for some or all contraceptive services mid-plan year, such action triggers notice requirements to plan participants and beneficiaries under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and possibly state laws.

Federal courts review exchange subsidies

The Supreme Court isn’t the only court to review the ACA recently. Last week, there was a flurry of court activity on another aspect of healthcare insurance reform—exchange subsidies. More specifically, within hours on the same day, two federal appeals courts issued conflicting rulings regarding subsidies.

In Halbig v. Burwell, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit addressed Section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code (enacted as part of healthcare insurance reform), which makes tax credits available as a form of subsidy to individuals who purchase health insurance through exchanges.

In its decision, the court stated that on its face, the provision authorizes such credits for insurance purchased on an exchange established by one of the fifty states or the District of Columbia. However, the IRS has interpreted the provision to also authorize the subsidy for insurance purchased on exchanges established by the federal government (federal exchanges). The appeals court disagreed with the IRS and concluded that the “ACA unambiguously restricts the section 36B subsidy to insurance purchased on Exchanges ’established by the State.’”

However, hours later, in King v. Burwell, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the subsidies. It found that the applicable statutory language was ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Thus, it applied deference to the IRS’ determination and upheld it as “a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.”

These court decisions are not the end of the challenges to the subsidies. More courts are expected to address the issue, the Obama administration is expected to fight the appeals court’s decision in Halbig, and many anticipate the issue could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although the tax credits are still available right now, if the ruling in Halbig is upheld, it could cause a lot of damage to the ACA since its provisions are so interconnected and the subsidies come into play in many of the law’s mandates, including the individual mandate and the employer shared responsibility mandate (also known as the “play or pay” provision).

Jessica Webb-Ayer, J.D., is an attorney editor for BLR’s human resources and employment law publications. She has written and edited countless publications on labor and employment law and is the editor of the Benefits Compliance Advisor online newsletter and the benefits manual, Benefits Compliance: Strategies for Plans, Programs & Policies. Ms. Webb-Ayer has also worked on various Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and workers’ compensation/safety products. She graduated summa cum laudewith a B.A. in Psychology from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated cum laude with a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, Tennessee. Ms. Webb-Ayer is licensed to practice law in Tennessee.

Questions? Comments? Contact Jessica at for more information on this topic

Contact Syndeo today to speak with us about how these changes affect your company.

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The 10 mistakes employees make when trying to save for retirement

by Rick Pendykoski

It’s understood that nobody is responsible for retirement planning strategy of every employee in the company. However, in cases where there is a company sponsored plan already in place, an employee is entitled to knock on HR’s door for guidance.

Being human, it is quite natural to make mistakes, especially when it comes to managing personal finances. However, if a mistake costs somebody their lifelong savings, it’s definitely a matter of concern.

When it comes to retirement savings, the common mistakes employees make are:

  1. Not saving at the right time: It has been seen in many companies that employees do not start saving earlier in life, in their twenties and thirties, and tend to begin much later. If such a trend is followed, it will not only hamper the investment plans of an employee, but will also result in shorter and lesser gains.
  2. Missing out on Annuities: Loosing out on a guaranteed source of income at the later part of life is one of the biggest mistakes committed by an employee. It is better to insure the income with some form of annuity that will help in the future.
  3. Forgetting the 401k account with the previous employer: In today’s era, an individual usually does not work in one organization all of his/her life (other than federal employees) as changing jobs is necessary for their growth in the industry. However, when employees join a new firm, they tend to forget about the 401K account left with the previous employer, which results in loss of savings. Hence, it is highly important for employees to keep amalgamating these accounts together so that the funds can be used for different retirement investments.
  4. Less contribution to the employer’s plan: Employees generally make the mistake of contributing ‘just enough’ to the employer’s plan, which is not a good idea if there’s a probability of contributing more. By doing so, they will be able to save more at the end of the day.
  5. Low debt clearance: Not clearing your credit card bills and home loans on time can also eat your retirement investments. So, start working on debt clearance before you retire in order to have a sustainable income.
  6. Not conducting a financial rain check: There are many employees who are not able to plan their monthly expenses and have no clue where they are spending their money. Consequently, they imbibe poor saving habits as at the end of the month, there’s nothing left to be kept aside. Therefore, in order to ensure a better saving pattern, it is necessary to do a rain check every now and then.
  7. Overspending Habit: If you are a spendthrift, you will have a hard time saving. Eventually, your limited income will run short and nothing will be left for your retirement. Hence, reduction in expenses is the best way of reserving your finances and saving for your golden years.
  8. Living paycheck to paycheck: Every company has employees who live from paycheck to paycheck and do not have any saving or investment plans. Consequently, at the time of retirement, these people face a lot of trouble initiating funds.
  9. Relying on leftover savings: On the other hand, there are employees who tend to put whatever is left with them at the end of the month into savings. However, if there is no leftover at the end of a month, there are no savings as well. Therefore, it is important to plan prudently and keep an amount specially designated for retirement savings.
  10. Overlooking economic conditions: The economic condition of the country would not remain the same by the time an employee retires. Inflation, trades, stocks and securities change according to the economic condition. Keeping an eye on the economic condition is very important when investing in any retirement plan as the cost of everything will multiply over the years. To ensure that your golden years are financially comfortable, you need to plan your finances, according to the expected market condition at that time.

Retirement is the time to relax after all the years of hard work and labor you put in. And, you can guarantee that with a better and safer investment plan for your retirement. Therefore, it’s best to plan now to have a secured later.

Rick Pendykoski is the owner of Self Directed Retirement Plans LLC, a retirement planning firm based in Goodyear, AZ. He regularly blogs at Biggerpocket, SocialMediaToday, NewWireInvetor, MoneyForLunch and his own blog at his company’s website.

Compensation and benefits are only two of the many services that Syndeo offers our clients.  Contact us here for more information.

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Independent contractor misclassification costs Colorado employer $2 million

by Sarah R. Wisor

A federal judge in Colorado recently approved an agreement to settle a collective action in which oil and gas workers alleged they were misclassified as independent contractors and unlawfully denied overtime pay. Under the settlement, J&A Services, LLC, and related entities agreed to pay a total of $2 million, with the net recovery to each member of the class averaging more than $16,000.

Employee vs. independent contractor

J&A Services provides oil and gas well monitoring and maintenance services to energy companies throughout the United States. Two flow testers sued the company, alleging they were paid straight-time rates instead of overtime rates when they worked more than 40 hours per week because J&A misclassified them as independent contractors. They brought their lawsuit as a collective action on behalf of all current and former flow testers who were classified as independent contractors and denied overtime pay.

According to their complaint, the flow testers were paid on an hourly basis and instructed by J&A when, where, and how to perform their work. They also allege that J&A “hired/fired, issued pay, supervised, directed, disciplined, [and] scheduled [flow testers] and performed all other duties generally associated with that of an employer.” The flow testers were required to submit internal billing “eTickets” at the start of every shift and turn in their hours worked once a week.

J&A allegedly provided safety training to the flow testers and assigned them upwards of 70 hours per week, which prevented them from working for any other companies. Their duties were integrated into J& A’s operations, and many of the flow testers worked for the company for years at a time. They were required to follow the company’s work rules and attend company meetings. According to the flow testers, all of those factors support a finding that they were employees, not independent contractors.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado conditionally certified the case as a collective action, resulting in more than 70 workers filing consents to join the lawsuit. The workers sought to recover their unpaid overtime compensation, liquidated damages in an amount equal to their unpaid wages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Settlement approved as a fair and reasonable resolution

After the company and the flow testers who filed the claims conducted discovery (pretrial fact-finding), they engaged in mediation and agreed to settle all claims. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the settlement had to be approved by the court to ensure that it reflected a fair and reasonable resolution of the dispute.

Although J&A denied misclassifying the flow testers as independent contractors, it agreed to pay a total settlement of $2 million. The class members will receive $1,162,500, distributed according to a formula based on their invoiced hours. The remaining $837,500 will be paid to the employees’ lawyer as attorneys’ fees and reimbursement of costs. The court approved the settlement, noting that the case threatened to be complex, expensive, and lengthy and the settlement offered substantial and immediate relief. Howard v. J&A Servs., LLC, No. 1:12-cv-02987 (D.Colo., April 8, 2014).

Lessons for employers

This case illustrates the risks involved in classifying workers as independent contractors when you treat them like employees. The evidence alleged by the flow testers, including the company’s control and direction over the time, manner, and location of their work, their hourly pay, required adherence to company work rules, mandatory attendance at company meetings, company-provided training, and the company’s right to hire, fire, and discipline them, suggests an employment relationship rather than an independent contractor relationship.

You must examine the working relationship closely when you’re determining whether a worker could be classified as an independent contractor. Getting it wrong can result in liability not only for unpaid overtime and the associated penalties but also for unpaid employment taxes, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, and possibly other employee benefits.

Sarah R. Wisor is an editor of Colorado Employment Law Letter and can be reached at

Syndeo can help you avoid costly mistakes in all areas of human resources.  Contact us today for more information.


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Healthcare insurance reform update: What should employers be concerned about now?

By Jessica Webb-Ayer, JD, Legal Editor

It’s been another busy year for healthcare insurance reform so far, and there are several things that employers need to make sure they are aware of when entering into the second half of the year.

‘Play or pay’ provision

In February, the Obama administration released more healthcare insurance reform final regulations. These regulations made further changes to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) employer responsibility section (also commonly referred to as the “play or pay” provision).

Under this particular part of healthcare insurance reform, employers with 50 or more employees face penalties if they do not offer health insurance coverage or if the coverage they offer is insufficient. The play or pay provision was originally supposed to become effective January 1, 2014, but last summer the administration delayed its implementation until 2015.

Although the final regulations provided extensive guidance on many aspects of the play or pay provision, a few of the most important changes included:

  • More delays. Employers with 50 to 99 employees will not face any potential penalties under the provision until 2016 if they meet certain requirements and provide appropriate certification.
  • Relief for large employers. Larger employers with 100 or more employees will still have to contend with possible penalties under the play or pay provision in 2015, but the regulations phase in the percentage of full-time employees to which such employers need to offer coverage in order to avoid penalties (from 70 percent in 2015 to 95 percent in 2016 and beyond).
  • Transitional rules. The final regulations also extended to 2015 a few transitional rules that originally were to apply to 2014 in the proposed regulations.

Reporting requirements

In March, the IRS released final regulations clarifying another healthcare insurance reform component—the employer and insurer reporting requirements found in Internal Revenue Code Sections 6055 and 6056.

Section 6056 concerns information reporting by applicable large employers (generally, employers with 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees) on health insurance coverage offered under employer-sponsored plans, while Section 6055 concerns information reporting requirements for providers of minimum essential health coverage, including self-insured employers.

The new final Section 6056 regulations provide employers with a general reporting method (along with some alternative reporting methods). Applicable employers must report certain information to the IRS, including details about the healthcare coverage (if any) they offered to full-time employees. Such employers also must provide related statements to employees.

Entities subject to the new 6055 final regulations must file an information return and transmittal with the IRS and also furnish statements to applicable employees on forms prescribed by the IRS.

Another Supreme Court case

Finally, in another development this year, the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing the ACA again this term, and a decision is expected before the end of June. The Court has reviewed the ACA before when it upheld the individual mandate, but this time it is looking at another one of the law’s controversial mandates—the contraceptive mandate. Under the ACA, many health insurance plans must cover certain preventive services for women without cost sharing (e.g., coinsurance, copayments, and deductibles).

The contraceptive mandate has been the subject of quite a few lawsuits across the country since the ACA became law. The Supreme Court will be reviewing two cases challenging it—Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius. These cases are interesting and relevant to a larger base of employers because they both concern whether corporations may decline to provide contraceptive coverage to employees based on the religious beliefs of the owners of the corporations.

Do you need help with employee benefits?  Contact Syndeo here for more information.

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The 3 top causes of DOL audits, and you can control just 2 of them

by Tim Gould

Few things strike fear in employers’ hearts like a DOL audit. After all, most of the feds’ investigations result in firms shelling out serious cash in fines or settlements or both.  

But understanding the major reasons the feds come knocking in the first place — and working diligently to avoid making mistakes in those areas — is one of the best ways to avoid an audit.

According to Mark Bailey, Jr. of benefits provider and adviser The Bailey Group, these are the top three audit-generators that lead the DOL to investigate employers’ plans.

Employee complaints

Here’s one more reason for HR pros to ensure employees are happy and satisfied: Content workers generally don’t complain to a federal agency about perceived or actual unfairness in the workplace. Of course, dissatisfied workers are a different story altogether.

To give you an idea of just how often DOL audits are spurred by employees, consider these figures: In 2013 alone, 775 new DOL investigations were opened as a direct result of benefit plan participants’ complaints.

Some of the more common complaints the DOL gets from frustrated workers:

  • Job descriptions not accurately reflecting the work employees are actually doing, and
  • Non-exempt employees not being paid for all of the work they actually perform.

What HR can do: Take each employee complaint seriously and respond in a timely manner — and be sure all managers and supervisors are trained to do the same. In the vast majority of cases, employees go to someone in their own company before making an official complaint with the DOL.

Form 5500 issues

Increasingly, employers are being audited by the DOL for Form 5500 errors. What’s worse, the most common mistakes made by employers that trigger an audit are very minor, such as:

  • Failing to follow EFAST 2 Electronic Filing Guidance and incorrectly entering the DOL user ID and PIN when signing the return
  • Not attaching all required schedules and attachments to the return before filing, and
  • Failing to completely answer multiple part questions.

What HR can do: Double and triple check all completed Form 5500s, keeping a sharp eye out for these common mistakes. If you can, have two different HR staffers look over the documents.

Note: 5500PrepPro offers a comprehensive listing of common Form 5500 mistakes.

Plain old bad luck

In many cases, the feds’ audits are completely random. That means there’s nothing HR pros can do to guarantee their company won’t get audited. The DOL has the authority to show up at your doorstep whenever it wants. And if your firm isn’t being audited because of an employees complaint or a Form 5500 error, then chances are you’re just the victim of the DOL’s random auditing authority.

What HR can do: On top of mitigating any chances of worker complaints or Form 5500 errors, it’s always a good idea for HR to conduct regular self-audits of all of their ERISA-covered benefit plans. That way, even if the feds do show up, there isn’t anything amiss.

In addition — as HR Benefits Alert has reported previously — if you do wind up being audited, there are three main things HR should do to make the audit process as painless as possible:

  1. Work with the DOL
  2. Understand a response isn’t optional; it’s imperative, and
  3. Have all relevant individuals (trustees, fiduciaries, etc.) ready and available.

Tim Gould, Editor of HRMorning, has served as Editor-in-Chief of the biweekly newsletter What’s Working in Human Resources for the past five years. He’s also been Managing Editor of another newsletter, What’s Working in Benefits and Compensation, and is a regular contributor to


The Pros and Cons of Ignoring Your 401(k)

by Allison Linn

Here’s how most Americans manage their mix of 401(k) investments: They ignore it.

“One of the dominant behaviors is inertia,” said Jean Young, senior research analyst in the Vanguard Center for Retirement Research.

The vast majority of retirement plan participants are too busy, overwhelmed or just plain bored to make any changes to how their retirement money is being invested, experts say. That can be a bad thing for a 60-something careening toward retirement with a portfolio more appropriate for a 20-something. But researchers say it also can be a good thing if a total lack of motivation keeps less savvy investors from trying to predict which parts of the market will crash, or flourish.

“The idea that we want every 401(k) participant in America to become a day trader is not an appealing option,” said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “On the other hand, it would be nice if people sort of rebalanced as they aged.”

For many Americans, however, just figuring out how much of your nest egg should be in stocks, bonds and other investments can be overwhelming. That’s probably one reason both Vanguard and Fidelity Investments say they are seeing growing popularity of funds that are based on what year you expect to retire, and reallocate accordingly.

The issue of whether people are managing their 401(k) investments appropriately has become increasingly critical as more Americans head into retirement expecting to rely on these investments for their day-to-day expenses.

Munnell said she’s a fan of the so-called target date funds, as long as the fees are reasonable.

“I think it’s good financially and I think it’s good emotionally, because this feeling that you have to be making the right investment decision every month or year or whatever is a big burden on people,” Munnell said.

The issue of whether people are managing their 401(k) investments appropriately has become increasingly critical as more Americans head into retirement expecting to rely on these investments for their day-to-day expenses. That’s a switch from the early years of the 401(k) plan, when it was seen as more of a supplement to pension plans.

“For many people, it’s all they have,” said Jeanne Thompson, a vice president with Fidelity Investments.

Many Americans also appear to be worried it’s not going to be enough. An annual survey of more than 4,000 full-time workers participating in retirement plans, released Wednesday by human resources consulting firm Towers Watson, found that less than one-fourth of respondents are very confident they’ll have enough money for the first 15 years of retirement.

About half of the respondents to the Towers Watson survey had reviewed their retirement savings in detail in the past year.

Thompson, of Fidelity, said that for many participants, a retirement plan is also their only exposure to the stock market. And over the years, investment experts have come to realize that most people don’t have the will to figure out how to invest their money correctly – and may not have the skill, either.

“If you look at the do-it-yourself investor, it’s like they’re all over the place,” said Young, of Vanguard. “It looks like some people appear to be getting it right, but we wonder if that’s really skill, or is it luck?”

Most people are just leaving well enough alone.

At Vanguard, Young said about 10 percent of participants initiated at least one trade or exchange in 2013. At Fidelity, Thompson also said that about one in 10 investors makes a change in a given year.

Consulting firm Aon Hewitts’ 401(k) Index, which has tracked investment activity at large U.S. companies since 1997, shows that in a typical year, less than two in 10 retirement plan participants move money from one fund to another.

The share of people transferring money didn’t even increase that much in 2008, when the markets tumbled sharply, said Winfield Evens, a partner with Aon Hewitt.

“It’s rare for people to make a transfer,” Evens said.

There’s definitely a risk to moving money around at the wrong time. Thompson, at Fidelity, said her firm’s analysis showed that the people who panicked and moved their money to cash when the market tanked during the financial crisis often didn’t get back into the market in time. That means they lost out compared to those who had stayed the course once the markets started to improve.

Experts say the one area you can – and should – easily pay attention to is how much of your income is going toward retirement. One key worry is that many Americans just won’t have enough money in those accounts once they retire to maintain their standard of living.

“People aren’t saving enough,” Munnell said.

Allison Linn is a senior business and economics writer for NBC News. Linn started in this role in November of 2006. She is responsible for reporting on the economy, consumer issues and personal finance for, and

5 adjectives you want to hear job candidates say


It’s difficult to tell what kind of person someone is just by their resume. Heck, it can even be difficult to tell when face to face with the person. But there are some approaches that will do the trick. 

Chances are you want a hire who’s self-motivated, honest and trustworthy — in addition to having the background you’re looking for, of course.

While candidates will likely tell you they’re all those things if asked, it’s also likely they’re doing so because they know that’s what you want to hear (whether it’s true or not).

As a result, Dave Porter, managing partner at Baystate Financial in Boston, a company that holds its recruiters and managers accountable for the results of those they bring on board, says companies should ask candidates to describe their character.

Five words Porter says you want to hear candidates say that indicate they’re made of the right stuff:

  1. Honest
  2. Respectful
  3. Punctual
  4. Curious, and
  5. Accountable.

Whether or not you hear adjectives like these will tell you “how much the candidate cares about others and about doing the right thing,” Porter says in his book Where Winners Live: Sell More, Earn More, Achieve More Through Personal Accountability.

‘When nobody was looking’

Porter has another suggestion as well. Ask candidates this question: When in your life have you made a decision that you’re proud of — when nobody was looking?

If candidates take a while to answer, they’re likely not good fits for Baystate Financial. Porter says, candidates with integrity should have little trouble recalling situations — and the decisions they made in them — that reveal their true character.

In his book, Porter said one candidate, Leonard, told a story about finding a camera in the back seat of a Boston taxi. When the driver told Leonard he was going to keep the camera, Leonard refused to give it to the driver and instead took it to the taxi company’s lost and found. Leonard got the job.

Those are the kinds of stories you want to hear — along with adjectives like those described above.

Bad indicators

What you don’t want to hear, Porter says, are indicators the candidate has what he describes as an “all-about-me” attitude.

Some of those indicators could be dropping adjectives like:

  • Carefree
  • Fun
  • Laid back.

However, describing themselves in those ways aren’t necessarily deal breakers. Those qualities can actually be good things, Porter says, when balanced out by professional attributes. But finding out whether that’s the case requires deeper probing.

Contact Syndeo here for all of your hiring needs.

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Getting HR Data Right Is Key to Leveraging Latest HR Technologies

by Julia Mench

Human resources executives have never seen more diverse, innovative technologies that support all aspects of an HR department.

The cloud is helping app developers push the innovative envelope and rapidly bring new HR solutions to market. But the biggest challenge isn’t which technology to adopt; it’s the quality and relevancy of the data that powers these solutions.

Organizations can put the coolest, easy-to-use, agile HR app in place, but if bad, irrelevant or out-of-date data supplies that technology, then they fail on both fronts. Ultimately this translates into little to no return on investment on the new technology, and the HR executive receives inconsistent, inaccurate results to drive their corporate strategy.

While other industries have long relied on the knowledge and skills of data scientists, the world of HR has only recently begun leveraging their talents.

Whether HR executives decide to stay the course with an older HR management system or rip and replace entirely, they have a rare chance to get their data right and provide long-term strategic worth for their department and the overall business.

How do they accomplish this? Through the establishment of accurate data sets and proper governance processes, senior HR professionals can ensure data accuracy as the paramount outcome for informed decision-making.

Establish One Source of ‘Truth’

Whether HR systems have been in place for more than a decade, ever-changing because of an acquisition or because a company is introducing the newest app into its technology mix, different systems inevitably need to share and synchronize data with each other. One system may deal with recruiting while another holds enterprise resource planning information; these systems may be housed in differing geographic locations so information is updated at different times.

HR executives must establish one global source of HR “truth” to get an accurate and complete picture of the organization’s human assets. As data latency issues often occur with multiple systems, it is best to set up a universal information layer that captures the data at the same point in time on a regular basis — ideally on a nightly basis. This practice optimizes recruiting and workforce decisions by ensuring that executives have access to consolidated, current HR data every day.

While other industries have long relied on the knowledge and skills of data scientists, the world of HR has only recently begun leveraging their talents. Not only do they have access to hundreds of the latest analytics tools, but they understand the HR marketplace and can return meaningful reporting data on the most pivotal issues driving HR success.

Data scientists can quickly produce sophisticated reports ranging from head count analysis to sales performance statistics and companywide benefits comparisons. They can also support recruiting efforts by helping to build profiles based on the most successful people at the organization who are currently in roles that need to be expanded. This type of exercise can provide valuable visibility into existing resources as well as potentially help HR executives identify opportunities for promotion from within their organization. HR data scientists can also help organizations examine and improve the quality of their baseline HR data.

Get Going With Governance

The responsibility of managing changing HR data can be overwhelming without a proper governance structure in place. Well-defined data-ownership roles, responsibilities for managing the data and workflows are vital.

This includes designating data stewards who are well-versed in the organization’s data environment and who understand the implemented technologies that can help identify and resolve issues quickly. HR leaders should also set up and automate a proper data error routing process so the right people automatically receive an email when errors pop up and can quickly correct them. Ideally, organizations should arrange for all HR data to synch up on a nightly basis to ensure that errors can be corrected immediately before affecting other areas downstream, e.g., payroll.

New technology offerings often promise significant cost reduction and operational efficiencies, but HR executives must ensure the long-term integrity of their HR data to harness the power of these tools. Getting a proper data governance strategy and resources in place can substantially help HR teams get a leg up in leveraging technology to make sound business decisions for their overall organizations.

Julia Mench is senior vice president of human capital management solutions at BackOffice Associates. She has been a risk partner at the company since 2002 and founded the HR data migration practice. Comment below or email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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Wouldn’t it be great to rehire departed stars? Here is a plan.

by Tim Gould

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.23.55 AM

Dr. John Sullivan, writing on the recruiting website, defines “boomerang rehires” as former star performers that return to their former employers after an absence of a few years. And, Sullivan says, they often turn out to be some of the best hires a company can make.

Some of the advantages of rekindling these old relationships:

  • They’re proven performers
  • They’re likely to stay — they’ve already tested the waters and realize the upside of working for your organization
  • They understand your culture
  • They can hit the ground running — you may have changed a few processes since they left, but they’re still light years ahead of an outside hire in terms of understanding how your company works
  • You can probably get them on the job quickly — you already know what they’re capable of and how they fit in with your workforce, so there’s no need to go through a long, drawn-out vetting process, and
  • They may bring new customers with them.

The boomerang bonus doesn’t stop there. Dr. Sullivan points out, among other things, that these rehires also:

  • Help with retention. They’re in a position to tell co-workers why so-and-so company isn’t as great a place to work as co-workers think. And just the fact that the boomerangs came back is a pretty strong statement about your company as an employer of choice.
  • They bring competitive intelligence. They may well have some crucial market information management isn’t yet aware of – and what may be even more important, they may know what other companies are saying about you.
  • They could draw in more boomerangs. If other former employees get wind of star performers re-upping with you, that could plant the seed in various organizations. And the news of top performers returning home certainly is good PR for you.

Launching the boomerang program

Dr. Sullivan points out that companies have been trying to rehire lost top talent for years, but it was a pain to keep track of where people went and what they were doing.

Not so today. With the explosion of LinkedIn, HR pros can easily find out who’s doing what where. And more and more companies are creating an “alumni” database — just reaching out periodically to former employees to let them know your door’s still open.

So what steps can HR take to set up a connection with these coveted candidates. Here’s a sampling from Dr. Sullivan’s checklist:

  • Consider offering a “no-fault” return policy. Consider offering top individuals who left the option to return within two years without losing their seniority. This incentive can serve to further convince alumni to return if they are unhappy at their new company.
  • Create an alumni group. You can use Facebook or operate separately as a talent community would. Keep those who are invited to join interested by including boomerang-related features covering forums, FAQs, blogs, learning wikis, podcasts, videos, and an alumni directory that can be sorted by name, location, and interests, Dr. Sullivan says.
  • Make a strong business case. If you can point to a substantial increase in revenue or productivity caused by these boomerang hires, getting solid management backing is a slam dunk.
  • Tag them when they leave. Dr. Sullivan suggests keeping a list to identify those top performers you’d like to eventually hire back, and use post-exit (delayed) interviews to find out any negative factors that drove them away.
  • Be alert to possible opportunities. Has someone you’ve wanted to bring back recently updated their LinkedIn profile? Could mean they’re thinking about making a change. And if you receive a reference call on a former employee, it’s a pretty clear sign that employee is seeking greener pastures.

Contact Syndeo for more information on how to bring back top performers.

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Succession Planning with an Older Workforce

Succession Planning with an Older Workforce

Your question is one many organizations are facing as the baby boomer generation begins a mass exodus from the workforce. According to a poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 40 percent of the workforce falls into the boomer category. As this generation continues to age and begins to retire, a large majority of organizations will face the challenge of succession planning.

Here are a few key steps for succession planning. When you have one or more of the following in place, you should feel comfortable that you have the resources necessary to fill vacant positions when they occur, rather than scrambling at the last minute to fill open slots.

Discuss development opportunities regularly: Opportunities for advancement and job development should be a part of regular conversations (such as during performance reviews). Regular discussions will allow managers to better understand employees’ goals and aspirations for advancement. Leaders are then better prepared to develop their staff and find the right fit for the job. Additionally, these conversations will ensure managers are aware of employees who would be a good fit for various job openings, allowing you to make a list of “go-to” workers for various jobs when there is an opening.

Employees who are leaving the company also should be included in discussions about development. Given these employees’ knowledge of the job requirements, they may be best prepared to offer suggestions on necessary qualities or specific employees who would be a good fit to replace them.

Offer mentorship opportunities: To aid succession planning,organizations should have a mentorship program whereby older employees mentor younger employees. This type of interaction prepares younger workers to assume some responsibilities as more established workers near retirement. Additionally, formal mentorship programs help prepare employees, rather than rushing to train and develop them after someone leaves. Our research has found that formal mentoring programs in the workplace work especially well between boomers and so-called millennials.

Offer flexible work arrangements: Flexible work arrangements enable older employees to transition gradually out of their jobs. These arrangements ease the succession and transition process, as the older employee can train the new employee and ensure knowledge transfer is complete before leaving permanently. Flexible work arrangements help employees balance their work and personal lives.

It is also important to have metrics in place to measure your success in succession planning. Determine ways to assess the outcomes and types of experience necessary for the position. As a new employee takes over, monitor whether he or she is achieving the required job goals. If not, it may be time to have an additional conversation about job fit. If it is necessary to re-evaluate this individual’s fit, however, you will be prepared; the career development discussions will have allowed you to develop a list of other workers who may serve as replacements, as well as find a better fit for the individual.

SOURCE: Murat Philippe, director of workforce consulting services, Avatar Solutions, Chicago, April 22, 2014

Contact Syndeo for your succession planning questions.



E-recruiting Dead and Alive: Part 3 of 3

Before you read this, read Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Ultimately, experts explained, job candidates — passive or active — will more than likely have an opinion about a potential employer long before they ever think about applying for a position or engaging in a conversation about a job with a recruiter. A trend that’s emerged in recent years is that job seekers are waiting for a job they think they’re qualified for, rather than applying to multiple similar positions.

E-Recruiting Data Bank 3 May 2014

“They’re following, reading, joining the talent community, sometimes connecting with employees, but they’re not applying to a position that they get hired into on average six months later,” Harty said.

Lending strength to Harty’s claim is a recent survey released in March by Software Advice Inc., a software consulting firm, which shows 48 percent of all job seekers research top prospective employers on Glassdoor before they apply for a job. The survey also shows job seekers look for positive reviews of a company’s benefits and compensation, as well as work-life balance.

This provides a new opportunity for recruiters and the employers they service. By using the immense supply of data generated by the wide range of technologies, an organization can hone the human element of its recruiting strategy to create a deep talent pool.

E-Recruiting Data Bank 4 May 2014

“Every RPO company and recruiter has access to LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter — all those tools,” Owen said. “It’s more about how you use them and partner with your client and hiring manager. Recruiters are expected to be more consultants, more strategic than they were in the past.”

The Future

The recruiting industry continues to integrate technology into its talent acquisition strategies. Industry experts, though, admitted there are some organizations that are lagging in this respect — not because they’re unaware that social media, mobile technologies or CRMs exist, but because many companies still aren’t convinced those tools will add value to their recruiting process.

“What they’re all struggling with is if it’s all really worth it. How do you measure the effectiveness of all those sources?” Harty said.

As the e-recruiting tools continue to advance in speed and become easier to use, experts predict they will become widely adopted.

There are two things that will not change though: the importance of a strong overall employer brand and candidate experience, and the need for highly skilled recruiters who can start a conversation to lure the top talent their clients need.

“Companies that have really strong recruiters who take a consultative approach with their clients’ hiring managers are going to offer a value above and beyond a fantastic slate of candidates,” Owen said.

Max Mihelich is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @WorkforceMax. You can also follow him on Google Plus.

Syndeo uses for e-recruiting.  Contact us today to discuss how you can leverage new technologies to meet our recruiting needs.

E-Recruiting Dead and Alive: Part 2 of 3

Before you read this, read Part 1 first.

This article is the second part in a series by Max Mihelich from on E-Recruiting.  Read Part 1 of this series on E-recruiting here.

A presence on social media is typically viewed as one aspect of a strong employer brand. The extent to which a company’s social recruiting strategy involves two-way communication with job candidates depends on the particular industry, Harty said. Law firms, for example, tend to be more conservative and often have Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts that are more one-directional. A firm will post jobs, charity events or other pieces of information to its followers, but the communication is usually one-directional.

Startup technology companies, on the other hand, tend to have an open social media presence.

“Tech companies engage with that candidate directly and answer those responses and are prepared for the ramifications of keeping that open,” Harty said. “They know that they need to be on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and using tools like Yammer to get the word out and attract talent. If a technology company isn’t in the forefront of using social tools to attract talent, it is viewed negatively.”

Mobile technology is a relatively new facet of recruiting that goes hand-in-hand with a social media recruitment strategy. According to PeopleScout’s research, 70 percent of job seekers use mobile devices in their job hunt.

E-Recruiting Data Bank 1 May 2014


E-Recruiting Data Bank 2 May 2014

A common mode of mobile recruiting comes in the form of QR codes, which are similar to barcodes in that, when scanned by a smartphone, the scanner receives information about a product. Oftentimes a company seeking to fill many positions will advertise for employment opportunities on public transportation. A job seeker can scan a QR code and be taken to the employer’s job site or to a mobile recruiting app for download.

Mobile technology works best when candidate spend a short amount of time on their devices; otherwise they’ll become disinterested in the position, experts say. What’s more, mobile recruiting strategies work best for entry- and lower-level positions. Similar to a poorly curated employer brand projected through lackluster social media accounts, a poorly conducted mobile recruiting campaign can lead to a negative image among perspective job seekers.

“I don’t think you find your VP of finance in that manner,” Harty said. “QR codes at career fairs make a ton of sense. You have to think about location, skill set and then probably your overall years of experience when deciding which technology you want to employ.”

Mobile technology and social media aren’t the only areas a prospective job candidate will form a poor opinion of an organization. In Owen’s opinion, the career page on a company’s website is as important in the recruiting process as an engaging LinkedIn or Twitter conversation.

“A company can go out and deploy all the tools possible to drive candidates to an organization and, at the end of the day, if they don’t have a strong presence through social media, their career site, they are much less likely to be able to engage with those job seekers, particularly the passive ones,” Owen said.

Click here to read part 3 of this article.

Max Mihelich is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @WorkforceMax. You can also follow him on Google Plus.

E-Recruiting Dead & Alive: Part 1 of 3

by Mark Mihelich

Face it: E-recruiting is recruiting in 2014. When you hear the word recruiting, it is fair to assume that at least some aspect of the process will be done electronically. Technology is ubiquitous in everyday recruiting.

“Anything that happens right now in recruiting is done electronically. Anything you do has an electronic aspect,” said Paul Harty, president of Boston-based recruitment process outsourcing firm SevenStep RPO.

The widespread adoption of the Internet and other technologies has played a large role in shaping the current state of the recruiting industry. Contrary to the initial expectations of some, the integration of electronic recruiting tools didn’t reduce the need for human involvement in the process. Rather, it increased it.

Harty said that when debuted in the mid-1990s, founder Jeff Taylor believed the job board site would eliminate the need for recruiting agencies. In reality, the opposite happened. Some 20 years after its launch, Monster Worldwide Inc.’s Internet job board ultimately proved to be another tool people use to connect with one another.

In other words, sourcing job candidates has become easier for recruiters because of Internet job boards, social media and applicant tracking systems — and the job of recruiters has changed because of it.

“I think recruitment has evolved in the last several years from a focus that was primarily on filling positions and achieving key recruiting metrics such as quality of hire, time to fill, cost per hire,” said Taryn Owen, president of PeopleScout, a Chicago-based RPO provider. “That has moved to playing more of a critical role of driving increased value and achieving key business results for the client.”

Hot, Hot, Hot

As evidenced by the widespread growth of the RPO industry in recent years, employers are turning more to recruiting agencies to give themselves an edge in the war for talent. And that war has led to a veritable human resources software arms race.

One of the hottest trends in recruiting is the development of tools that help companies measure the effectiveness of all the technological avenues that source candidates. Companies like Avature and TalentWise create candidate relationship management systems that allow an organization to use big data to track where their top candidates are coming from, for example; or even how many interviews are conducted per hire.

Other HR software companies, such as TalentBin Inc., which was acquired by Monster in February, are creating customer relationship management, or CRM, programs similar to those made by Avature or TalentWise that allow employers to search passive job candidates — those who are presumably content in their current jobs — Owen said.

The emphasis on passive job seekers has essentially forced employers to be constantly on the lookout for top talent. It has also led to organizations revamping their retention strategies. One of the ways companies set out to meet these goals is by adopting state-of-the-art CRM systems, which provide the data essential to a recruitment strategy overhaul.

“Positions are more accessible to the individuals that would typically be fine and happy in their current jobs,” Owen said. “All employees are certainly more exposed to opportunities available to them, which really means an organization needs to have a strong succession plan because their own employees have access to many, many opportunities.”

Although new technologies do and will continue to make it easier to source job applicants and find talent that isn’t actively seeking new opportunities, merely using that kind of software does not translate into an improved recruitment process. Having a strong company brand and recruiters that can effectively engage in a conversation with untapped talent is what determines the success of a recruitment strategy.

Max Mihelich is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @WorkforceMax. You can also follow him on Google Plus.

Read Part 2 of this article about the role of social media in E-Recruiting.

Consumer-Driven Plans Increased Health Management

by Stephen Miller, CEBS

Consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) are helping American workers and their employers reduce their health care expenses by changing behaviors, according to a study of health claims by Cigna, one of the nation’s largest health insurers.

CDHPs, which are coupled with either a health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement arrangement, are intended to provide participants with a financial incentive to reduce out-of-pocket health care spending—although whether that’s being accomplished by promoting healthier habits and cost-savvy comparison shopping for services, or by forgoing necessary medical care, has been the subject of debate. To shed some light on the matter, the Eighth Annual Cigna Choice Fund Experience Study compares the claims experiences of more than 3.6 million Cigna customers enrolled in a CDHP with the experiences of those enrolled in a Cigna traditional preferred-provider organization (PPO) health plan or a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan.

The study indicates that individuals covered by CDHPs are more likely to use health improvement programs, comply with evidence-based medical best practices and lower their health risks, resulting in lower annual medical spending compared with those in traditional plans.

“Constraining health care costs doesn’t have to mean shifting costs from one area to another,” said Cigna President, Regional and Operations, Matt Manders in a media release announcing the findings. “Over the past eight years, we have seen that by improving health care quality and transparency, and by incentivizing healthy behaviors, we reduce the total cost by shifting behaviors, rather than shifting costs.”

According to the study, when compared to participants in traditional PPO and HMO plans, those enrolled in a CDHP were:

  • More engaged. CDHP plan enrollees were nearly 50 percent more likely to complete a health risk assessment, and those with a chronic illness were up to 41 percent more likely to participate in a disease management program, than enrollees in traditional plans.
  • More savvy consumers. Participants in HSA plans were more likely than those in traditional plans to choose generic medications. In addition, CDHP enrollees used the emergency room at a 5 percent lower rate than enrollees in HMO and PPO plans.
  • More likely to actively manage their health benefits. Seventy-five percent of CDHP enrollees were registered with the insurer’s personal health portal or mobile app, and they were 82 percent more likely than those in traditional plans to log in and use these online tools to access information about the most highly rated and most cost-efficient care providers.
  • Receiving recommended care. First-year CDHP enrollees had the same or higher compliance with roughly 500 evidence-based medical best practices compared to their counterparts in traditional plans. Their compliance increased in the second year, indicating that they were not forgoing necessary medical treatment.
  • Reducing total medical costs. The rate of increased health care spending among CDHP enrollees during their first year in the plan was 12 percent lower than the cost trend for enrollees in traditional plans.


Pediatricians Warn of Care AvoidanceSounding a contrary view, a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatricians raises concerns that high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) linked to HSAs or HRAs “promote adverse selection because healthier and wealthier patients tend to opt out of conventional plans in favor of HDHPs. Because the ill pay more than the healthy under HDHPs, families with children with special health care needs bear an increased cost burden in this model.” Moreover, “HDHPs discourage use of nonpreventive primary care and thus are at odds with most recommendations for improving the organization of health care, which focus on strengthening primary care.”However, the report also notes:

It is important to understand that if the HRA or HSA is funded by the employer at a sufficiently high level (“fully funded”), patients will not actually suffer financial harm, compared with conventional policies (i.e, preferred provider organization, health maintenance organization, point of service, and indemnity plans). Instead, these features will simply induce patients to make a market calculation in seeking care because the need to tap into the savings account resource will be a much more palpable event as compared with the invisible use of resources with conventional policies.


Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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2 small 401k oversights could cost your company big


The latest figures on the DOL’s 401k enforcement efforts give employers some compelling reasons to take a closer look at their retirement administration practices, as well as some clues on the types of issues that generally set the feds off.

In 2013 alone, the DOL closed 3,677 total 401k investigations. What’s worse, nearly three-fourths (73%) of these investigations resulted in fines or other corrective action for the employers that were involved.

DOL investigations also resulted in litigation like civil lawsuits in 111 cases. With the increased funding and an enforcement focus on 401k administration, employers can expect to see even more results like this moving forward.

2 common errors

For the most part, the employers the DOL looks into aren’t being fined for egregious errors.

In fact, Assistant Secretary of Labor Phyllis Borzi said:

“Most fiduciaries — people who have key responsibilities and obligations to an employees benefit plan — and employers want to do the right thing. However, inadvertent mistakes can create significant problems for fiduciaries and participants.”

The most common situations the DOL investigated involved employer errors when administering 401k plans. Specifically, the errors that triggered the majority of 401k investigations were:

  • failing to make a timely remittance to the 401k plan, and
  • not getting employee their 401k statements in a timely manner.

One proven way employers can safeguard themselves DOL investigation: self-auditing their 401k administration practices. Employee Benefits Legal Blog offers an excellent checklist on all of the documents plan sponsors should have regarding their 401k plan.

Need assistance with your company benefits? Contact Syndeo today.

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‘Big Data’ Offers Golden Opportunity to HR, Expert Says

By Kathy Gurchiek

LA JOLLA, CALIF.—HR professionals need to apply “big data” to talent acquisition, analytics expert David Bernstein told attendees at the 2014 HRPS Global Conference, because “if you’re not bringing in the right people, then what are you coaching? Are you trying to make do with the best you’ve got?”

Data can drive strategic recruitment marketing and give organizations a competitive advantage, said Bernstein, vice president of the “Big Data for HR” division at job posting provider eQuest. The author of Big Data: HR’s Golden Opportunity Arrives (eQuest, 2013) presented the concurrent session “Moving Beyond Metrics—Using Small, Large and Big Data to Create a Strategic Talent Acquisition Function” at the annual conference for HR People & Strategy, an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Typically, if HR uses data, it collects business intelligence on something that has already occurred. Through predictive analysis, however, big data can tell HR professionals why something happened and allows them to “make some incredible forecasts.”

But to make this work, HR has to make the link among the data about the organization’s needs and use that information to implement a predictive analytic strategy.

“Linkage is the key,” Bernstein said. HR has to “be able to answer the ‘so-what’ questions … and be able to tie [the data] to some business situation” in a way that helps the organization.

Talent acquisition and talent management need to dovetail, and hiring should be tied to business results. HR professionals must know the profile of the positions they are hiring for and which employee embodies those attributes so they can point to a current employee as an example—telling the recruiter, for example, to look for another ‘Joe’ or two more ‘Jills.’ ”

And when an organization is more precise in finding the people with the skills it needs, it can reduce its cost-per-applicant and cost-per-hire, Bernstein said.

The sources for acquiring talent have exploded in number. HR can use big data to learn what talent sources have worked best for their organization, he pointed out, citing as an example figures from a 2013 report titled High-Impact Talent Acquisition:

  • 18 percent come from both job boards and internal candidates.
  • 14 percent come via the company’s website and employee referrals.
  • 9 percent come from both professional recruiters and networking sites.
  • 8 percent come from search aggregators.
  • 7 percent come from university recruiting.
  • 3 percent come from print/newspaper advertisements and billboards.

“If you use data to plot your course … [you can] constantly measure the effectiveness of what you’re doing” so you can change course if needed, Bernstein said.

Big data also can be used in ways other than talent acquisition, such as for retention.

Bernstein cited as an example a manufacturer that achieved “fully staffed” status for its hourly workers for the first time ever by determining attrition patterns and adjusting its sourcing strategy accordingly.

Bernstein said big data allows him to “see things happen in motion” instead of six months later.

“It’s all about targeting and results.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.

Contact Syndeo for more information on how recruiting data can help with strategic HR decisions.


Recruiters Turn to Niche Social Sites to Find Talent

By Dave Zielinski

LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus have become familiar hunting grounds for most recruiters. But today, more-enterprising talent professionals are going beyond the “big four” to unearth talented passive candidates who demonstrate their abilities on lesser-known industry niche sites.

Recruiters are using candidates’ social footprints to find information that supplements or even replaces traditional skill assessment techniques. The information may come in the form of work samples posted in online repositories, responses to peers’ questions on industry-specific forums, blogs, tweets and more.

The goal is to use social data to better gauge who’s considered an expert by their peers, to see evidence of candidates’ actual work and to identify people with a passion for their jobs.

Beyond the Mainstream

Recruiters often miss opportunities when they use only mainstream social sites, said Katrina Collier of Winning Impression, a London-based social media recruiting company. “The question people should ask is, ‘Where are my top passive candidates likely to spend most of their time online?’ rather than just going to one of the big networks and expecting them to be there,” Collier said.

For example, despite the popularity of LinkedIn, passive candidates in some professions either don’t use the site or create only bare-bones personal profiles there.

“Most great software developers don’t spend much time marketing themselves; they’re far more interested in their technology,” said Jason Pistulka, director of recruiting for Asurion, a technology protection services company in Nashville, Tenn. “We’ve hired a number of developers who either didn’t have a LinkedIn profile or, if they had a profile, it wouldn’t have warranted a follow-up. These were passive candidates who were very much underground.”

But those software developers do spend time on industry-specific sites like GithubStackoverflow or Bitbucket, where they create and store open-source code and respond to questions from their peers. To find promising candidates frequenting the sites, Pistulka uses the services of Gild, a San Francisco-based company that aggregates social data scattered across the Web.

Gild identifies candidates and sends them to Pistulka in ranked order of potential by requested geography. The ranking is based on the quality of publicly shared, open-source code they store in repositories like Github; how these passive candidates answer peers’ questions on industry-specific sites; their past job roles; and more.

“They use many of the same tools our own quality assurance group does to test the quality of open-source code,” Pistulka said. “Our hiring managers also can look at the actual code to rate it for elegance or efficiency. It helps us unearth hard-to-find developer candidates and match them to needs of the organization.” The process also increases the odds that the candidates he brings in for interviews will pass crucial technical tests, Pistulka said, boosting his interview-to-hire ratio.

Industry experts believe new sourcing strategies can provide a valuable supplement to traditional skill assessment approaches.

“New technologies are allowing companies to index passive candidates that are best-in-class in their respective fields and then find creative ways to connect with them,” said Elaine Orler, president of Talent Function, a recruiting consulting company in San Diego. “Where the social data is peer-to-peer or product-related, and when it’s clear that a candidate’s answers to peer questions in online forums regularly solve challenging problems, that becomes a valid marker on their ability to do the work.

“But, of course,” she cautions, “it’s not a marker on whether they’ll be a good cultural fit.”

Not Just Technical Jobs

Tech jobs aren’t the only ones for which recruiters can use social data to find passive candidates. Experts believe people working in many other professions regularly share their work online, blog or post answers to peers’ questions—and leave valuable evidence of their skill and motivation levels.

Collier said the graphic design field is one example; professionals in that field post their work portfolios online on sites like Behance. “If you are recruiting those types of candidates, they typically won’t be on some of the bigger sites because they’re restricted in the type of the work they can post and how long they can post it,” Collier said. “But on these niche sites, you can review their best work and then try to engage with them.” can be a good starting point for identifying where passive candidates spend their time online. “What industry forums might they frequent, and what’s the proper way to engage them there?” she said.

Candidates in fields like accounting typically aren’t big on self-promotion, but they might share their knowledge on industry-specific sites, Orler said. “They usually don’t create detailed LinkedIn profiles that highlight all of their successes,” she said. “Because they deal with compliance, there often is more confidentiality involved.”

Predicting Passion

Some recruiters also believe social data can be a good predictor of candidates’ motivation levels. Pistulka said it helps him separate software developers who “will do” the work from those who “can do” jobs, a distinction he uses that measures people’s passion for the work.

“Because of where our social data is pulled from, such as repositories where developers actually create code for fun in their free time, you tend to find people with more passion about development than you might find in your typical developer,” Pistulka said.

Drew Koloski, director of talent acquisition for XO Group Inc., a life stage media and technology company in New York, has used social data aggregator TalentBin as a source for hiring three software engineers in recent months. He used the data to discover information such as how much time candidates invest in the open-source coding community.

“It allows us to get a contextual relevance for engineers via information available across all the social networks they use,” Koloski said. “It also means we don’t have to blanket-message candidates or risk sending a Ruby on Rails engineering job to someone who is a Python language developer.”

The biggest challenge for recruiting leaders can be getting their staffs to buy into these new sourcing strategies. “Recruiters are creatures of habit, and this requires a strategy different than many are used to,” Pistulka said. “You have to be enterprising, since it can mean pulling together information from many different sources on the social Web.”

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business journalist in Minneapolis.

Contact Syndeo today for all your staffing needs.

5 onboarding tactics that get long-term results

by Robert Cordray

Congratulations! You’ve hired the right person for the right job. Now all you have to do is make sure your new hire makes a smooth transition to valued employee. How hard can that be? Actually, this transformative process, called onboarding, is more difficult — and more important — than it may seem, according to guest post author Robert Cordray. According to recent statistics furnished by, 30% of external new hires turn over within the first two years of employment. Other organizations, such as the Society for Human Resources Management, report that turnover during the first 18 months of employment can be as much as 50%. As more and more Millennials, who are known to change jobs frequently, enter the workforce, the trend toward shorter employee retention is likely to continue — making the onboarding process more critical than ever. For those organizations looking to boost employee retention through more effective onboarding, here’s a look at some successful and innovative tactics that have long-term results.

Get co-workers involved in the hiring process

Existing employees may see new hires as outsiders who pose potential threats to their own jobs. This can result in new employees feeling alienated and unwelcomed, which is the last thing they should be feeling when starting a new job. A smart way to avoid this scenario is for managers to involve other employees in the hiring process. This not only shows existing employees that management values their opinions and expertise — which in itself is important for boosting engagement and retention — it also helps current employees get better acquainted with candidates who, in the event they are hired, will receive a warmer welcome as new members of the existing team.

Set realistic expectations

New employees constitute a considerable investment for a company and most managers would hope to start seeing results from that investment sooner than later. These expectations, if voiced too early, can cause undue pressure on new employees, who are already pressuring themselves to start delivering right away. A better strategy for managers is to relax expectations, letting new employees know that the first order of business is for them to listen to, observe and learn from existing employees. This tactic allows new hires to build relationships of trust with co-workers that will not only lead to better individual and team results, but higher employee retention rates.

Seek two-way feedback from the get-go

New employees welcome suggestions and feedback to help them do their jobs better. But unsolicited feedback can be viewed as being critical, which can put new hires on the defensive. A smart approach for managers is to ask new employees for permission to provide honest feedback regarding how they’re doing, at the same time soliciting honest feedback from the employee as to how they feel that they—the managers—are doing. This type of two-way feedback, along with helping new employees learn to be more effective sooner, also goes a long way in making new employees feel that they have a voice and that their ideas and opinions are valued and appreciated.

Be the example

When all is said and done, new employees need managers to show them that the traits and virtues the company preaches in the handbook are actually practiced in the workplace. In recognizing that management and co-workers are dedicated to abiding by the company’s high standards, new employees will be much more motivated to model the same behavior.

Leaders need coaching, too

Implementing a successful onboarding process can be challenging for any organization. Enlisting the aid of a qualified leadership coach can be very beneficial in helping management to recognize and effectively utilize onboarding strategies. These kinds of strategies get lasting results — and lead to greater employee retention.

Robert Cordray is a freelance writer and expert in business and finance.

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Attitudes about Watching NCAA Tourney on company time are changing

By Bill Leonard

Technology has fundamentally changed how we work and completely transformed how we goof off. High-profile sporting events, like the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament, illustrate this transformation as millions of workers use their employers’ computer networks to participate in office pools and watch games online—all on company time.

The 2014 NCAA basketball tournament will tip off on March 18, and Turner Sports, CBS Sports and the NCAA’s website will stream more than 160 hours of games and sports commentary. These live video streams of tournament games have been known to eat up a vast amount of Internet bandwidth and sometimes slow online connections to a crawl.

Technology analysts estimate that more than 50 percent of the entire bandwidth capacity in the United States is used for video streaming during peak hours of usage—weekends and evenings, when people watch videos streamed through online providers like HuluPlus, Netflix and Apple TV. The NCAA tournament will most likely increase demand for video streaming, and during the tournament’s most hotly contested games, experts predict, video streams could eat up close to 70 percent of U.S. Internet bandwidth capacity.

In past years many employers fretted about the strain on their IT systems and lost productivity from all the basketball fans who would be watching their favorite teams compete, checking game results or chatting online about the event. Some businesses blocked access to certain websites and limited Internet bandwidth, which can make video streaming slow and unresponsive. Employer attitudes are shifting, though, and a growing number of companies are embracing their employees’ passion for sports.

Attitudes Changing

“More of my clients are definitely considering ways to leverage sporting events like March Madness as a way to engage their employees,” said Jonathan Yarbrough, a partner in the Asheville, N.C., law office of Constangy Brooks & Smith LLC. “One of my clients is planning a basketball-and-barbecue day on a Friday during the tournament. It’s fun for everybody, and it brings employees together and strengthens their ties to the organization.”

Although some businesses may choose to prohibit employees from watching games at work, experts say complete bans are virtually impossible to enforce and, in the long run, may end up costing employers more as IT support and supervisors police their online connections.

Chicago-based consulting group Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated that workers’ interest in the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament could cost U.S. employers up to $1.2 billion for one hour of lost productivity. This figure was based on a Microsoft survey conducted in 2009, which estimated that 50 million U.S. workers participate in NCAA tournament office pools every year. If all those workers spend one hour on the job filling out or updating their pool brackets, then the loss of productivity is 50 million multiplied by $24.31 (the average hourly wage of U.S. workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), or $1.22 billion.

The consulting group concluded that the productivity lost from workers’ video streaming could total $660 million. This estimate is based on the demand for video streaming during normal work hours for the 2013 NCAA tournament.

Even so, Challenger Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger  admitted that these losses will have a negligible effect on most businesses’ profits. “Taking a hard line on office pools and online streaming could have a dramatic impact on the bottom line if it leads to increased turnover and leads employees to become disengaged,” he explained.

Productivity is at Risk

“Of course, as any corporate IT manager will attest, increased Internet traffic resulting from just a handful of employees streaming games will dramatically slow Internet speeds for the entire office,” Challenger noted. “So this means that productivity could be hindered even for those workers not caught up in March Madness.”

Despite all of the potential lost productivity, Challenger and other sources recommended that employers refrain from clamping down too hard on March Madness.

“Some of my clients actually set up TVs in break rooms where employees can watch the action, while others might have something like ‘School Spirit Day,’ when employees are encouraged to wear their favorite team colors, jerseys or sweatshirts,” said Yarbrough.

Although many business leaders now realize that sporting events like March Madness offer employee engagement opportunities, improved technology and faster online connections are also among the reasons employers’ attitudes are shifting. Increased broadband capacities, faster processing speeds and the proliferation of hand-held electronic devices have made video streaming pervasive in the workplace and, thus, more widely accepted.

“It’s no longer a novel concept, and access just keeps growing and improving,” Yarbrough observed. “Employers that don’t acknowledge this and aren’t looking to manage it to their advantage are behind the times.”

Software, too, has improved, so companies can prioritize online traffic and ensure that video streaming doesn’t hamper essential business Internet services.

“This same sort of prioritizing can also be used to make it so that streaming won’t kill a company’s bandwidth,” said Marty Smith, manager of support services at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “In other words, we can set parameters so that streaming protocol x can’t exceed more than 40 percent of the bandwidth capacity.”

Wireless Internet connections (aka Wi-Fi) have become much more popular and prevalent in U.S. workplaces. Most organizations develop their wireless infrastructure to support their business needs, and video streaming typically isn’t considered a critical need. According to sources familiar with the issue, when usage begins to tax the fastest Wi-Fi, network response times can slow significantly and the quality of live video streams will suffer as images freeze while the system buffers the online feed.

Instead of worrying too much about video streaming and broadband capacities, the bigger concern, during events like March Madness, should be communicating the proper use of your organization’s IT infrastructure, said Todd Oosterveen, network and systems operations manager at SHRM.

“If a company wants to allow their staff to stream video on the Internet and have built the infrastructure to do so, that’s great, and they should communicate that policy,” he said. “However, if a company can’t afford the bandwidth or infrastructure to support much more than their day-to-day operations, then that must be communicated, as well.”

He added that arbitrarily using technology to block access to websites and dictate to employees what they can and can’t do is never a good idea.

“Those directives should come from the leaders and not from the technology behind the scenes,” Oosterveen said.

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.


Employee happiness is essential to your business

by Susan Heathfield

Think being happy at work is a nice thing? You’d be very wrong. Happy employees are essential to the well being of your business.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has been polling over 1,000 adults every day since January 2008, shows that Americans now feel worse about their jobs — and work environments — than ever before. People of all ages, and across income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and detached from what they do.

Additionally, Gallup estimates that because workers are not engaged, American businesses lose $300 billion in productivity each year.

What Employees Want

Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Steven Kramer, an independent researcher, authors of The Progress Principle (compare prices), studied 12,000 electronic diary entries from 238 professionals in seven companies. They discovered that the most important factor in happiness at work was “making progress in meaningful work.”

The same authors studied managers to determine what managers thought was motivational for employees. 95% of the managers put making progress last. So there is a basic disconnect between what managers think is meaningful for employees and what employees believe creates their happiness at work.

How Managers Can Motivate

The authors conclude that managers who listen to the problems that employees experience, help solve problems, and remove barriers so that the employees feel like they are making meaningful progress, are more likely to have happy employees. And, if Gallup’s studies are to be believed, having happy employees will magnify the success of your business – beyond calculation.

The writings on this website, too, make these points repeatedly. It’s affirming to have these authors saying the same thing. When will managers get it?


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March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month

Time to refocus on eye health and safety


March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month—a good time to refocus attention on your company’s eye protection program. As the National Safety Council points out, “All it takes is a tiny sliver of metal, particle of dust, or splash of chemical to cause significant and permanent eye damage.”’

OSHA’s eye and face protection standard requires employers to “ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids, or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.”

Share these injury-prevention tips with managers and supervisors:

    • Regularly review and revise your policies, and set a goal of zero eye injuries.
    • Communicate the policy to employees and display a copy of your policy where employees can see it.
    • Make eye safety part of your employee training and new hire orientation.
    • Make sure managers and executives set an example by wearing protective eyewear wherever it’s worn by other employees.
    • Look carefully at plant operations, work areas, access routes, and equipment. Study injury patterns to see where accidents are occurring.
    • Select protective eyewear based on specific duties or hazards.
    • Establish a mandatory eye protection program in all operation areas.
    • Have eyewear fitted by a professional.
    • Establish first-aid procedures for eye injuries, and make eyewash stations available, especially where chemicals are in use.

Conduct regular vision testing, as uncorrected vision can cause accidents.

It’s also a good time to remind employees of off-the-job eye hazards such as cooking accidents, yard work, chemical splashes from cleaners and fertilizers, do-it-yourself work on cars and homes, and sports injuries.

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Sure your 401k would pass an audit? Last year, most did not

by Tim Gould

Employers are well aware that the feds are aggressively looking into company-sponsored 401k plans for compliance issues. So it’s alarming to find out that the vast majority of plans the DOL looked at last year ran afoul of ERISA in some way.

Specifically, 75% of the 401k plans audited by the DOL last year resulted in plan sponsors being fined, penalized or forced to make reimbursements for plan errors.

And those fines and penalties weren’t cheap. In fact, the average fine last year was $600,000 per plan. That’s a jump of nearly $150K from four years ago.

On top on that, 88 individuals — from plan officials to corporate officers to service providers — were criminally indicted for 401k offenses, according to the DOL.

DOL adds nearly 1,000 new enforcers

Firms that aren’t too worried because they believe their chances of being audited are slim may want to rethink that stance. This year, the DOL added nearly 1,000 new enforcement officers and has every intention of doing even more 401k compliance audits.

So that means it’s in every employer’s best interest to take a closer look at their ERISA-covered plans to make sure they’d pass muster in the event of a DOL audit.

To help, here are some of common errors the feds find when looking at 401k plans:

  • Excluding certain compensation. By far, the most common error plan sponsors make is excluding certain types of compensation when determining employee deferrals and employer matches for a certain pay period. The most common comp payments that are improperly excluded are bonus payments, overtime and vacation pay.
  • Giving incorrect asset valuation. Plan sponsors often get in trouble when the total value of the assets in the 401k plan aren’t accurately stated. Having the plan audited by an outside source and getting clear documentation that the plan’s valuation is safe and accurate should help keep you in compliance here.
  • Making prohibited transactions. The DOL’s always on alert for plan sponsor actions that essentially constitute a conflict of interest or misuse of plan assets and often finds “prohibited transactions” when it takes a closer look at a company’s 401k. To make sure you’re firm doesn’t fall victim to this error, the IRS offers this overview on prohibited transactions.

Note: The majority of employers should be having their 401ks audited by an outside source on a yearly basis. The DOL expects the majority of businesses with 100 or more active participants in a 401k to have the plan audited annually by an independent qualified public accountant as part of their Form 5500 filing.

This post originally ran on


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We All Pay For Bad Weather (Part 3): How do you decide if it’s safe?

Travelers Insurance sponsored a survey, conducted in person at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – America’s Small Business Summit, which revealed that 44 percent of small businesses did not have a written continuity plan, or any other type of document that explains what will happen to the business in the event of serious weather.

No matter where your business is located bad weather is inevitable. Advanced planning will help you avoid the last minute uncertainties of managing absences and pay issues when the weather turns sour.

Further developed businesses should be aware of local weather and its seasonal affects on their company and surrounding community. Whether a hurricane, blizzard, tornado or a torrential downpour, employers must have a written policy in place that clearly defines what constitutes bad weather. This will help you manage losses in the event of nasty weather and lessen the risk of your employees developing negative attitudes towards the business.

Younger businesses may consider developing a Learn As You Go approach. This allows the employers and employees to work through the different weather scenarios and address them as they arise. By addressing these issues WITH your employees, employers can build trusted relationships with their employees, where everyone feels safe and accommodated. This often leads to greater productivity among your staff and a more relaxed work environment.

We All Pay For Bad Weather (Part 2): Exempt vs. Nonexempt Employees

In part 1, we discussed how everyone pays for bad weather. Today, we discuss exempt vs. non-exempt employees.

As an employer it is your responsibility to clearly outline what is expected of your employees in the case of inclement weather. As such, the inclement weather policy your business develops must set expectations, present a balanced approach to compensation, and minimize risks for both employers and employees.

Overseen by the Department of Labor (DOL), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay nonexempt (hourly) employees for actual hours worked. Thus, an employer is not required to pay a nonexempt employee, even if the employee was scheduled to work, or sent home early. Simply put, if a nonexempt employee only works for an hour before the decision is made to close, according to federal law that employee is only required to be paid for the single hour worked.

Exempt (salary) employees, on the other hand, are almost always paid for time off due to inclement weather, though employers can require employees to use paid-time-off for such situations. An employer cannot however penalize an employee who has exhausted all paid time off, for time taken during inclement weather. In any case, employees should reference their company handbook for company specific policies and regulations predesigned to guide each company through unforeseen situations like inclement weather.

Come back next week when we discuss decisions on whether or not it weather conditions are safe based on research.

We all pay for bad weather

We All Pay For Bad Weather

During the course of the winter snow season, different types of storms occur, often times disrupting our daily lives in various negative ways. When this inclement weather spawns, students & employees alike turn to the media to determine whether or not transportation is safe.

More often than not, when this weather surfaces schools end up shutting down, while businesses/organizations remain open. But what’s the procedure when this weather occurs? Who is responsible for notifying employees to stay home or come in? Are the employees responsible for contacting their employers? And what happens to parents that are required to be at work, but have no one to tend for their children?

Employees often expect Employers to cover all of the costs in the event of inclement weather (i.e. “I should still get paid because I would have been in today, but could not due to the weather”). This however is impossible. Business owners cannot afford to pay non-working employees, and still have a job available for those employees when the business reopens if paying customers aren’t also walking through the door; which is often the case with consumers during bad weather situations, as roads are typically unsafe for driving.

Employers need to consider in advance the possible emergency events that could affect their ability to open. They need to develop policies, specific to their company, detailing what employees can expect when inclement weather makes it impossible to get to work. More importantly however, employers need to ensure their employees clearly understand these policies and how to react when these situations arise. The policy needs to clearly spell out who is responsible for announcing any closures, and where they will be able to find that information.

Next, we discuss exempt vs. non-exempt employees, and how inclement weather impacts these groups.


What is a Succession Plan for an Aging Workforce?

The average age of our workforce is 48 years. We’d like to develop a strategy to prepare for the aging of our workforce, but what’s really the most effective thing we should do? Who should be involved or giving input? We know we need to do something, but we aren’t sure what’s going to be effective. And we don’t think we can “hire” our way out of it.
Not Getting Any Younger, manager human resources, financial services, Amsterdam, New York

Dear Not Getting Any Younger:

For the first time in U.S. history, four generations are working together side by side. Many companies in the US have employees and managers in every age category from millennials (18-30+), Gen X (age 33-45+) and boomers (age 50-60+) to traditionalists (age 65-75+). The values, interests, skills, experiences and attitudes among these broadly diverse age groups create challenges for teams and managers. Internal competition, real or imagined, between younger workers building careers and older workers attempting to retain theirs is exacerbated by a tough economy in which “retirement” often is not financially feasible. With the explosion of medical, cosmetic and fitness resources, age truly is just a number, not necessarily an indicator of physical or mental impairments typically associated with aging. Legally, age-discrimination complaints continue to be on the rise, along with disability charges often related to health issues.

Boomers and traditionalists contribute proven expertise and decades of experience millennials and some Gen Xers don’t yet have. Companies have real concerns about the knowledge and leadership gaps they face with boomer and traditionalist turnover particularly where older workers hold positions of power, authority and strong customer relationships.

Below are 10 actions to take or consider as you approach this important and challenging work.

· Remove the age factor from your thinking and any internal messages. Focus solely on the talent you need (knowledge, skills, experience) and performance criteria you require (competencies, behaviors, values) today and in the future.

· Refresh job descriptions and create performance profiles that include defined competencies and behaviors required for success… today.

· Engage all employees and managers in“strong>”success planning” – creating work plans and development goals that support individual work-related interests and ambitions.

· Engage managers and employees in supportive career discussions to understand the needs and motivations of older and younger workers at your company. Create transition strategies based on what you learn.

· Make succession planning a requirement for all managers, executives and key contributors. This process will identify your internal “bench strength” and will force discussions about sustainability and pro-active workforce planning.

· Introduce legacy-building, a concept that respects the contributions of long-term employees and engages creative thinking about what they leave behind.

· Create affinity groups (employee resource groups) for all generational groups. Leverage the diverse perspectives of these groups for business objectives, particularly marketing and/or customer experience.

· Identify roles for workers (any age) who may want to reduce their schedules and hours and still contribute.

· Integrate collaboration and knowledge transfer as a fundamental requirement of every job, at every level.

· Develop internal mentoring and coaching roles that team older and younger workers in activities for knowledge sharing, collaboration and relationship building.

These actions will strengthen the engagement of all workers, provide insight for workforce strategies and may change the way you think about and value your “aging workforce”.

SOURCE:Patricia Duarte, founder and principal consultant, Decision Insight, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts, Dec. 16, 2013

Call us at Syndeo for help on the succession plan that your company needs for the next generation.

The most-clicked on HR stories in 2013 – Part 1 of 2

Time to look back on the stories HR pros clicked on most during 2013. Here’s a look at the HR Morning Top Ten.

Docking pay for exempt employees: What’s allowed?
Don’t feel bad if you have trouble understanding the pay-docking rules laid out by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The regs are pretty murky. Read more

You suspect an employee is using drugs: What now?
You can’t prove it, but the signs are there. So how do you deal with suspected drug abuse without violating privacy rights or making false accusations? Read more

A ban on hiring smokers? It’s not that simple
More companies than ever are announcing they won’t hire people who smoke. But is that actually legal — and is it worth it for employers? Read more

FMLA: 13 ways to stop intermittent-leave abuse
Intermittent FMLA leave has rapidly become the No. 1 nightmare for supervisors everywhere. A top employment lawyer offers a multi-step approach that’ll help companies legally discourage abuse. Read more

Health reform employer mandate postponed: What does it mean for you?
Employers can breathe a massive sigh of relief. Perhaps the biggest, and most confusing, requirement under President Obama’s healthcare reform law has been delayed until after the midterm elections. Read more

Come back to Syndeo tomorrow for Part 2!

Employers Should Reevaluate Approach to Workplace Stress

Posted by WeComply on December 6, 2013

Workplace stress is the number one risk to employee health, according to a survey conducted by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health. Stress can significantly affect an individual’s physical health and emotional well-being, harm workplace performance and hamper overall business performance. Yet even though employers understand the connection between stress and productivity, only 15% make improving the emotional/mental health of employees a top priority of their health and productivity programs.

The survey also found that the factors that cause workplace stress are different for employers and employees. Employers reported that the top three causes of workplace stress are negative work/life balance (86%), inadequate staffing (70%) and contact with employees during non-working hours via technology (63%). Employees, in contrast, identified inadequate staffing — insufficient support or uneven workloads and performance within groups — as the top workplace stress factor, followed by low pay or low pay increases and unclear or conflicting job expectations.

While employers viewed work/life balance as the most significant stress factor, employees ranked it fifth. And whereas employees ranked low pay or low pay increases as second among workplace stressors, employers placed it ninth on the list.

The survey suggests that many employers do little more than pay lip service to efforts to help employees cope with workplace stress. The strongest evidence of this is the misplaced reliance employers place on employee assistance programs (EAPs). Most employers (85%) rely on EAPs as the primary way to address stress — even though only 5% of employees take advantage of EAP resources.

The survey recommends that employers respond to these findings with a more holistic approach to employee stress — for example, by expanding EAPs to include employer-sponsored physical activities and stress-management programs.

Employers’ failure to respond in meaningful ways to employee emotional and physical problems wastes resources and alienates employees. WeComply’s course on Managing Workplace Stress addresses this number one risk factor by helping employees recognize the outer and inner sources of job stress and providing strategies to prevent job burnout.

WeComply is a leading provider of customizable online ethics and compliance training solutions, offering more than 100 courses on such topics as anti-corruption, antitrust, Code of Conduct, preventing discrimination and harassment, data privacy and security, insider trading and whistleblowing.

Looking Ahead to the 2014 Job Market

by Joseph Coombs

Even the most skeptical economic forecasters have to agree that the U.S. labor market has made strides, albeit small ones, in putting more people back to work in 2013.

Preliminary numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that, on average, through October, 186,300 jobs were created each month of this year. That’s up from 172,700 during the January-October time frame in 2012 and an increase from an average of 169,900 during that same period in 2011.

Data from the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) report also reveal that 2013 has been a solid year for job creation. In 11 of 12 months of 2013 service-sector hiring was reported to have surpassed the rate of hiring from the previous year, while the manufacturing sector saw year-over-year hiring gains in eight of the past 12 months, according to the LINE report.

So what can we expect in 2014? Here are a few projections.

The National Association of Business Economics’ (NABE) October 2013 Industry Survey report said a net of 27 percent of surveyed U.S. organizations will add jobs in the next six months (37 percent said payrolls will expand; 10 percent said payrolls will shrink, either through attrition or significant layoffs).

The service sector is forecast to have the highest rate of job growth, with a net of 40 percent of respondents expecting to add jobs and have no layoffs. The goods-producing sector is expected to have the lowest job-creation rate, at a net of 5 percent (35 percent adding jobs, 30 percent eliminating them, through attrition or layoffs), according to NABE survey results.

The organization reported that the average U.S. unemployment rate for this year was 7.5 percent. It projects that the annual average rate for 2014 will drop to 7 percent, though this is an improvement from 2012’s 8.1 percent.

September 2013 projections by the U.S. Federal Reserve’s board of governors and bank presidents were slightly more optimistic, with both groups reporting that the average annual unemployment rate varied between 6.9 percent and 7.3 percent in 2013. As for 2014, members of those groups estimated that the average jobless rate would be between 6.2 percent and 6.9 percent.

However, next year may be better for college graduates entering the workforce. Employers will hire approximately 8 percent more new college graduates for U.S. operations in 2013-14 than they did in 2012-13, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ NACE 2014 Job Outlook Survey, conducted Aug. 5 through Sept. 13, 2013, among its college-recruiting professional members. The results from the 208 returned surveys revealed that companies overall will hire 12 percent more new college graduates for U.S. and international locations combined.

Mobile applications and software developers will have plenty of job opportunities in 2014, according to an annual salary guides published by staffing services company Robert Half International (RHI). Overall, base compensation for information-technology professionals in the United States is expected to increase 5.6 percent in 2014, primarily because of the higher demand for workers who can fill IT positions, RHI reported in an Oct. 14, 2013, press statement.

The next highest average starting salaries in the U.S. are forecast to rise approximately 3 percent in 2014 for newly hired accounting and finance professionals as well as for creative and marketing professionals, according to RHI.

Perhaps buoyed by improving conditions in the labor market, many workers will be looking for other opportunities in the new year, according to a survey by Right Management, a subsidiary of staffing management firm Manpower. Of the 871 U.S. and Canadian employees polled online from Oct. 16 to Nov. 15, 2013, 83 percent admitted they will look for a job in 2014. In addition, 12 percent were unsure but admitted to networking and updating their resume; only 5 percent plan to stay in their current position.

“These numbers should signal a wake-up call for top management, when four out of five employees say they intend to look for employment elsewhere,” said Right Management’s Global Practice Leader for Employee Engagement Scott Ahlstrand. “Employers must act now to engage top talent and prevent them from leaving for the competition.”

For more information, visit SHRM’s Labor Market and Economic Data page.

Joseph Coombs is a senior analyst for workforce trends at SHRM.

‘Diamonds in the rough’: Offbeat and effective approach to hiring the best people

By Tim Gould

Every company’s looking to make that perfect hire — and that seems to be getting harder and harder to do these days. So here’s an idea — why not start considering candidates on the basis of personality, smarts and enthusiasm instead of past experience?

After all, you can teach smart people what they need to know. But there’s no guarantee that the applicant with the perfect experience is going to be a great fit in your culture.

One company that’s taken the “diamond in the rough” search approach is Software Advice, an Austin, TX firm that helps businesses find software to fit specific business needs. We recently sat down with SA’s HR director, Bethany Perkins — herself a “diamond in the rough” — to explore how this innovative procedure works.

How did you get hired at SA?

I was working as a bartender and running my own theatre production company. To be honest, working in my passion wasn’t keeping the lights on, so I knew it was time to start looking for a “real job” — a professional job that offered great benefits and pay.

Coming from the service-industry, it was a challenge deciding what kind of job I would both enjoy and excel at. I knew I had the ability to be good in several career fields, but I also knew my resume didn’t exactly tell my whole story.

I saw that Software Advice was hiring a Client Success Coordinator, and thought customer service was right up my alley. I went through the entire interview process, but they ended up offering the job to another candidate. Later that day, I got a call from our CEO, Don Fornes, who said they liked me and would work to find me a home at Software Advice.

A couple of weeks later, I got another call saying they were now looking for a new in-house HR manager, and would like me to join their team. That’s how I went from being a “diamond in the rough” to hunting for them.

How did SA come up with the ‘diamond in the rough’ strategy?

It didn’t begin until several years after the company was founded. When the Client Success Coordinator position was created, it occurred to management that hiring someone with a service-industry background for a client support position wasn’t a big stretch. We ended up hiring a former restaurant manager for the new role.

The first “diamonds in the rough” worked out well, so we started considering other positions we could use this hiring strategy to find quality talent. After evaluating our open positions, we noticed that several of our sales and client success positions were a great fit for people who don’t have previous work experience but demonstrate intelligence, passion, a desire to work hard and an ability to embrace challenges. Because of the early success we had with DITR, we worked to refine the tactic and formalize it into one of our hiring strategies. We haven’t looked back since.

What kind of characteristics do you look for in a candidate?

I look for a history of hard work and achievement. I hunt for candidates who understand that success is the result of hard work. I also look for candidates that demonstrate a passion in some area of their life, whether personal or professional.

We think that the ambition and drive required to pursue your life’s passions are qualities that transfer nicely to our workplace. Another key characteristic I look for is if the candidate takes pride in their work. We don’t care whether they were a bartender or barista, what piques our interest is if they see the value of a job well done.

We also keep an eye out for candidates that are optimistic, have a positive attitude and are looking for a job that is both challenging and rewarding. These natural talents and personality traits can’t be taught.

What role does past experience play?

It’s not always about having specific past work experience. I’ve trained myself to look beyond the resume and read between the lines. I focus less on what company they’re currently working for and instead look for signs of achievement. When we are looking to hire a diamond in the rough, we care more about the skills that can’t be taught — we can always teach the role-specific skills.

OK. So just where do you mine these ‘diamonds’?

It’s difficult to proactively source DITRs in the traditional ways. Resume databases and applicant tracking systems are designed to make it easier to find candidates with specific skills and experience.

One thing we’ve begun to do at Software Advice is hand out referral cards. It’s basically a small card that advertises the fact that we’re hiring. It has a space to write your email and name so that when the person applies they can let us know who sent them. We also pay out a $500 referral bonus to anyone who sends us a candidate we end up hiring.

The referral cards are meant to be given out to strangers who impress you while you’re out and about. Does the barista at your local coffee shop remember your special order and your name every morning? Hand her a card and encourage her to apply. While you can’t search for this kind of talent online, it’s all around you every time you leave the house. You just have to pay attention.

What have you learned?

While looking for DITRs, I’ve learned that there is great talent everywhere — you just have to know how to recognize it. Also, these hires are called diamonds in the rough for a reason. They’re very rare and you’ll miss them every time if you don’t train your eyes to look for them.

Using Social Media to Boost Ethics and Compliance

By Pamela Babcock

Even though employees may misuse social media—and need to be trained on what is and is not acceptable—it is a powerful tool that companies can use to promote ethical practices and culture, a recent study found.

To more effectively engage employees, enhance ethics and compliance programs, and positively affect workplace culture, businesses should tap their employees’ expertise and encourage workers to use social media, according to a July 17, 2103, report from the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) in Arlington, Va. The key is seizing the opportunity of having tech-savvy employees who are invested in the company while mitigating the risk of inappropriate postings.

“If you can’t beat them, leverage them,” quipped ERC President Patricia J. Harned, Ph.D., adding that active social networkers “have a really strong interest in the culture of the workplace. They are more likely to be responsive if you’re making use of social networks to address company culture and employee concerns.”

The report, National Business Ethics Survey of Social Networkers: New Risks and Opportunities at Work, is based on responses to a September 2012 online poll from 2,089 workers at U.S.-based companies. Respondents to the survey, sponsored by PwC and NAVEX Global, said they were active on at least one social networking site.

Andrea Falcione, J.D., PwC’s managing director of risk assurance in Boston, said companies are missing a tremendous opportunity “to show that their organizations take this stuff seriously and that it’s in the blood of the organization.”

Social networkers can help business leaders, HR and ethics professionals improve workplace culture. But companies first need a policy that’s “very clear about what’s acceptable and not acceptable behavior,” Harned stressed.

Not Just Younger Workers

Perhaps not surprisingly, active social networkers (those spending 30 percent or more of their day online) air company linen in public. Six out of 10 said they’d comment on their personal sites about their company if it were in the news; 53 percent share information about work projects at least once a week; and more than a third often comment on personal sites about managers, co-workers and even clients, the study found.

But some findings may come as a surprise. Among them:

  • Almost three out of four (72 percent) social networkers spend at least some of their workday on social networking sites, and 28 percent said it’s an hour or more. One-third of the 28 percent also admit that none of the activity is work-related.
  • Social networking isn’t just for the young. Forty-seven percent of active social networkers are under 30, but 40 percent are between the ages of 30 and 44.
  • More active social networkers (those who spend 30 percent or more of their day online) are more likely to see and report misconduct (77 percent) than other U.S. workers (66 percent) and are more likely to experience retaliation when reporting it. The study did not indicate why, but Falcione said it’s something compliance and ethics professionals “should consider and continue to monitor.”
  • Training Is Key

    Having a solid social media policy and training employees can change behaviors while improving compliance and reducing risk.

    CPR (communicate, prepare and respond) is essential, according to Steve Miranda, SPHR, GPHR, managing director of Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies and the Society for Human Resource Management’s former chief HR and content integration officer.

    Communicate: Have a clearly documented policy. Employees need to know if it’s OK to post the company logo on Facebook or whether they’re authorized to post something online about the company’s downsizing.

    Prepare: Train and educate staff. If a contractor offers tickets to a major sporting event, can you accept? Raytheon depicts such scenarios using humorous videos so that “it’s not like you’re slapping employees on the back of the wrist with a ruler and saying ‘Obey!’” Miranda explained.

    Review: Use surveys or Internet/security monitoring to gauge whether the policy is working. Is inappropriate or sensitive client information being posted online? Consider highlighting examples of employees (names can be removed) who were dismissed for breaching social media protocol.

    Zappos offers Twitter training during new-hire orientation and has hundreds of employees on Twitter, noted Sharlyn Lauby, SPHR, president of ITM Group Inc., a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based HR training consulting firm, and a member of SHRM’s Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility special expertise panel.

    Even if a company decides not to be active on social media, employees should be trained to use the tools—especially privacy settings, she added.

    “Training is an effective way to engage employees and demonstrate commitment to the ethical use of the tool,” Lauby said in an e-mail to SHRM Online.

    Steps Companies Can Take

    Generally, Falcione said, companies in the United Kingdom and Europe use social media to communicate compliance and ethics issues more than their U.S. counterparts.

    Some organizations offer texting for employees to report actual or potential misconduct. Ultimately, the text might go to the company hotline or a third-party administrator. Others provide Web-based platforms where workers can report misconduct.

    Ingrid Fredeen, vice president of NAVEX’s ethical leadership group, said companies should think broadly about social media. Setting up a “full-blown” Facebook or LinkedIn page for ethics isn’t necessary. She said companies should consider doing the following:

  • Hosting moderated intranet conversation groups. Compliance professionals can post content, questions and stories in a format that allows employees to comment.
  • Providing video podcasting to share positive stories. Organizations can invite employees and even business partners to nominate people whose behaviors and actions demonstrate high levels of integrity.
  • Creating a company blog. The blog can contain commentary about organizational values and ethical performance, like Best Buy’s featuring Chief Ethics Officer Kathleen Edmond.
  • Hosting internal webinars. Through these employees can ask senior leaders ethics compliance questions. It’s also good to have an intranet site where managers can download materials to help talk about ethics and compliance with staff, Fredeen said.
    Using sites like Facebook and YouTube to share positive stories externally. Many large organizations regularly promote good deeds and their commitment to ethics and compliance.
  • How Much Is Too Much?

    What about the ethics of employees using social media for personal benefit while on the company dime?

    Fredeen said many organizations allow “reasonable use” of social media and have found that permitting employees some personal use of networking sites helps keep them engaged and is more realistic from a policy-enforcement perspective.

    “Having a policy that bans personal use is really untenable today,” and fair and consistent enforcement is virtually impossible, Fredeen wrote in an e-mail to SHRM Online. Although the report study said monitoring can help, it’s “a thorny legal area,” and companies should get legal advice before implementing such a program, she suggested.

    “Personal use of social media should not interfere with employees’ jobs nor hinder productivity,” added Falcione. “As with anything, there is a fine line, and it behooves companies to stay ahead of any negative trends.”

    Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.

    Having HR ‘at the table’ improves profitability: Study

    by Tim Gould

    A recent Fortune 500 research study by SuccessFactors took a look at the role of Chief HR Officers (CHROs) on companies’ executive boards. The conclusion: An effective CHRO — with a strong overall plan for talent management — has a measurable positive effect on the organization’s bottom line.

    Here’s what SuccessFactors had to say about the research in a recent press release:

    [SuccessFactors'] audit of Fortune 500 companies identifies companies with an HR executive in their C-suite as high performers. In fact, these companies are on average 105 percent more profitable than their industry peers, who don’t have HR representation in the executive board. By exploring how CHROs impact an organization’s bottom line, this study uncovers the value of HR in strategic decision making. The research also presents the need for businesses to create robust HR functions and invest in effective technology solutions.

    According to SuccessFactors’ customer analysis, proactive talent management is one of the best practices embraced by CHROs. Notable tactics that correlated to superior performance included exposing HR risks, such as the need to retain key talent in annual reports and instituting ongoing reviews of goals and performance throughout the year. Specifically:

  • Companies that identify HR risks in their annual reports outperform their industry peers without risk identified in key financial and market metrics, such as return on assets (by 55%), operating profit (by 95%) and earnings per share (by 54%).
  • Companies that review employee performance throughout the year more consistently meet quarterly financial estimates and experience a better average compound annual growth rate (CAGR) compared to their industry peers that only review performance on an annual basis.
  • Companies with a higher percentage of goals aligned and completed do better than their industry peers in key financial metrics – including quarterly financial estimates, operating profit, earnings per share, and price-earnings ratio.
  • “We found having a CHRO is correlated to a company’s bottom line, demonstrating the important connection between effective talent management and business performance. But simply having a CHRO is not enough,” said SuccessFactors president Shawn Price. “Today companies equally benefit from leveraging the insights that only come from advanced, connected HCM solutions that manage the entire employee lifecycle – from recruit to retire – taking the role from transactional to strategic and even predictive. The true value of our applications is in how they support HR in understanding tomorrow’s needs before it’s too late to proactively address them.”

    Traditionally, human resource professionals were aligned with administration and finance – bogged down in paperwork and removed from C-level leaders. Today, organizations are acknowledging the value of employees as their key resource and are calling on HR to become a strategic partner with the leaders of the business.

    This shift in HR’s role is driving a need for companies to invest in advanced technologies that enable them to effectively manage the workforce while allowing HR to spend more time focusing on making valuable contributions.

    Employers Boost 401(k) Match Contributions, Relax Eligibility Rules

    by Stephen Miller, CEBS

    Employers are increasingly taking bolder actions to help ensure that participants achieve greater financial security through 401(k) and other defined contribution retirement plans, according to a 2013 survey by consultancy Aon Hewitt. The survey report, 2013 Trends & Experience in Defined Contribution Plans, reveals that organizations are doing the following:

  • Boosting the employer match. For the first time in the study’s 20-year history, the most common 401(k) match by employers increased. The most common match is now $1 per $1 on the first 6 percent of employee deferrals, with 19 percent of employers reporting this formula, up from 10 percent in 2011. Previously, a match of $0.50 per $1 on the first 6 percent was the most popular.
  • Overall, nearly all businesses (98 percent) provide some sort of employer contribution to the plan. Almost three-quarters of employees save at a level equal to or above the company-match threshold. “Increasing the amount employers are willing to contribute may help encourage those employees to save at more robust rates,” according to the report’s analysis.

  • Relaxing eligibility rules. Employers have drastically relaxed their eligibility requirements for 401(k)s and similar plans over the past decade. Seventy-six percent of defined contribution plans now allow workers to begin making pretax contributions immediately after being hired, up from 71 percent in 2011. Just 45 percent of organizations allowed for day-one contributions in 2001.
  • In addition, 53 percent of plans have corresponding immediate eligibility for employer-matching contributions, while 50 percent of plans that offer a nonmatching employer contribution allow immediate eligibility.

  • Broadening Roth availability. Over the past six years the percentage of employers that allow Roth contributions has increased from 11 percent to 50 percent, recognizing that individuals have different tax situations. When a Roth option is available, 27 percent of plans also permit in-plan Roth rollovers/conversions. Another 16 percent of companies are planning to add the feature within the next 12 months.
  • Simplifying investment choices. Two-thirds of all plans use a tiered structure to communicate investment options to their participants. The number of investment options offered has leveled out, with relatively few sponsors expressing interest in further expanding the fund lineup.
  • Target-date funds, which automatically shift assets toward more conservative holdings as the specified retirement year nears, are now offered by 86 percent of plan sponsors.

  • Improving plan default elections. Solutions that automate the savings process for participants continue to be broadly adopted, but there remains opportunity for improvement. For example, 59 percent of plans use automatic enrollment—however, more than half of these plan sponsors set the default savings rate below the plan’s match threshold. Such an approach tends to result in higher participation levels, but lower overall savings levels.
  • Offering savings education and advice. More employers are offering outside investment help to employees. Three out of four plan sponsors now offer access to one or more of the following: one-on-one financial counseling (59 percent of respondents), online guidance and tools (55 percent), and/or professionally managed accounts (52 percent).
  • The largest increase came in the number of employers providing professionally managed accounts; just 29 percent did so in 2011.

    “Different segments of the workforce prefer various forms of help,” said Rob Austin, director of retirement research at Aon Hewitt, in media release. “Some prefer to simply hand over the keys to their retirement savings to someone else—hence, the growing popularity of managed accounts—but a large percentage of employees prefer to take a more hands-on approach to directing their investments.”

    The consultancy surveyed more than 400 U.S. plan sponsors, representing 10 million-plus employees, in plans that total $500 billion in retirement assets. For 77 percent of employers surveyed, defined contribution plans are the primary source of retirement income for their employees. When asked how they measure the success of their plans, employers’ top responses were “facilitates adequate retirement income” (18 percent) and “high participation rate” (17 percent).

    Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

    Does your employee review process actually improve performance?

    by Tim Gould

    Performance reviews: The most-dreaded procedure in every workplace, painful for workers and managers alike. Here are some thoughts about why they’re often not effective, and how HR can help managers understand just how reviews should be useful to both employer and employee.

    First, some thoughts about why they don’t work.

    The main reason performance reviews fail is because the manager fails to properly prepare.

    Often, it’s because the manager has failed to engage the employee, day to day, throughout the time leading up the review.

    Then, the manager fails to think through how a review can be created that sets attainable goals for the employee and makes the job meaningful.

    That leaves the manager to fumble through the review, creating confusion and sending the message that the review isn’t that important to the manager, either.

    There are other reasons reviews fail. They include:

  • The manager and employee are friends and cannot separate friendship outside of work with manager/employee relationship.
  • The employee is hearing negative feedback for the first time during the review. Employees should never be “surprised” by the information they’re given during the review process.
  • Reviews are scheduled only when employees are struggling and facing possible firing. The employee already sees the review as the “enemy.”
  • The review is sugar-coated for whatever reasons and doesn’t truly reflect the employees work/position/abilities.
  • Some employees get reviews and others never do.
  • Goals and expectations are not clear, or not realistic.
  • Managers try to measure performance in abstract terms, such as attitude, motivation or dependability, and ignore concrete measures.
  • Lack of ongoing feedback

    Performance reviews should not be seen as a substitute for ongoing and productive verbal feedback that managers and supervisors should engage in with subordinates on a daily basis.

    It is more effective if managers do not “save up” criticism during the year to hit an employee with at performance review time. Otherwise, employees will feel “ambushed.”

    Performance reviews are not PIPs

    Common manager mistake: Blurring the lines between a performance review and a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).
    The PIP is a tool used in many organizations to address specific performance problems if they are serious enough and seem to be recurring in a such a way that the employee’s job may be in jeopardy unless the problem starts showing significant signs of being remedied in short order.

    A review’s a tool for helping employees overcome difficulties and continue to improve job performance.

    What an effective review actually accomplishes

    Two important things to hammer home to managers concerning performance reviews:

  • they focus on a single individual’s role and performance of that role, and
  • they look toward the future.
  • The first rule of thumb: Avoid comparisons to other people.

    Instead, the review should laser in on the individual, giving an honest assessment of what went right for that person, and what you think were the most important areas that could have been done better during the period being reviewed.

    For instance, managers should avoid such statements as: “You only do six of these a day, and Beth does 10.”

    Instead: “You do six of these a day. I’d like to find a way to build you up to 8, or even 10! What would you think of that? How do you think we could help you get to that?”

    Give thought to focusing on what should happen for the employee to have success and for that success to make a significant contribution to the growth of the individual and the organization.

    Granted, it’s always challenging for managers and supervisors to find the time and energy to conduct such individualized reviews.

    Just remember: The payoff comes in terms of employee motivation, retention, better communication and attainment of personal and company goals throughout the year.

    Establishes accountability and responsibility

    This section of the review should cover the area(s) where the employee did not do so well.

    But how these points are put forward is extremely important.

    Properly phrasing shortcomings can mean the difference between an employee accepting responsibility and accountability for his or her work, and agreeing to embark on a campaign to improve, or an employee becoming defensive.

    Remember: There is little to be gained from a mere enumeration of failures. This will depress the employee, may provoke defensiveness and hostility and may even engender further failures.Focus on outcomes

    A good review is always focused on what the manager wants the employee to take away from it.

    The review should make employees feel good about their service to the organization. An employee should also believe he or she has a good possibility of achieving success – even when that includes the correction of past problems.

    The written review should lay out a clear career path and let people know that their work is appreciated by their colleagues, their manager(s) and the organization.

    Managers may want to use some of these exact words (when they are true) to make employees feel good about themselves, their work and their employer.

    It’s good to characterize the review by saying something like “This is a mostly positive review …” or “You’ve had a very good year … .”

    Remember: Be careful with superlatives – since managers want people to have an even better year next year. For instance, it can never be the “the best ever …” since that’s always yet to come.

    Fosters a ‘can-do’ attitude

    Managers should focus on specific actions that are the most likely to correct a past situation, whether it involves behavior or performance.

    The aim is to have the employee walking away from the review with a sense of responsibility for past shortcomings, but at the same time with a newly energized feeling that he or she can and will do better in the future. They should also see clearly that help will be available.

    For example, managers shouldn’t write (or say), “Your production fell 10% last year and you need to raise that this year.”

    This will merely put the employee in touch with the negative feelings he or she is no doubt feeling already.

    Further, this kind of general criticism gives people no ideas on how to improve.

    Instead, managers can try something like: “We all agree that raising production 10% will be the main priority for the coming year. At times like this, it’s best to fall back on all tried-and-true quality control methods, including” (then list those methods specific to your organization and that particular task or area.)

    Establishing accountability in a positive way is the difference between creating hope or despair.

    It is important that the effort to insert positive language into the review not be confused with sugarcoating the review.

    Good managers do not gloss over deficiencies. Instead, deficiencies must be faced head-on, as long as the manager can help point to the way for the employee to get out of the situation.

    What to Tell Workers During Open Enrollment for 2014

    By Stephen Miller, CEBS

    Workers will be confronting a changed benefit landscape in 2014. For one thing, all Americans will be required to have health care coverage or face a penalty. By Oct. 1, 2013, employees should have received a required notice about their options under federal- or state-run health care exchanges (marketplaces), notices that many will find more confusing than enlightening. Employers also may be making changes to rules that determine which employees are eligible for health coverage, perhaps excluding part-time workers who previously received coverage. But the recent Supreme Court decision that resulted in federal recognition of same-sex marriages may mean more spouses and dependents are eligible for benefits.

    “Employees typically spend very little time choosing their health benefits each year,” Craig Rosenberg, leader of consultancy Aon Hewitt’s health and welfare benefits administration practice, said in a news release. “This year that can be a risky, and potentially costly, strategy. In some cases, not making an active decision during enrollment means employees could get defaulted into a health care plan that doesn’t meet their needs.”

    To ensure workers make the best benefits choices for themselves and their families, organizations should send or post the following tips during enrollment season, Rosenberg suggests.

    Participate in the enrollment process. Make sure you understand what’s changing, when you need to make your choices and what your employer is requiring of you. Use the information and tools provided to get educated about your options and to make your decisions.

    Review coverage that your employer offers before making a decision about purchasing health insurance through a state marketplace. You will hear a lot about these new marketplaces, including the availability of federal subsidies based on your income. In most cases, if your employer offers coverage that meets certain minimum coverage and cost levels, you will not be eligible for a subsidy in the marketplace. Make sure you take the time to understand the health plans your employer offers before declining coverage to purchase insurance through the marketplace. It is important to note that most employers subsidize coverage they offer and allow you to pay for it on a pretax basis, which saves you money by lowering your taxable income. Coverage purchased through the marketplace, however, is not pretax. You can visit to learn more about the marketplaces.

    Reassess your and your dependents’ health care needs. Reserve time before open enrollment begins to take a fresh look at your health care needs for the year ahead and how you and your family have used health care in the past year. Consider how much you’ve spent out of pocket (e.g., deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance), the number of doctor visits you typically make and the cost of regular prescription drugs. Online tools can help you calculate your past expenses and estimate your future health care needs.

    If you are enrolled in a health care flexible spending account (FSA), evaluate whether your contribution is right based on your actual and expected expenses. Remember: You must use any money in an FSA within the current year (sometimes with an extra grace period through mid-February) or you’ll lose it.

    Evaluate whether a CDHP is right for you. Consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) often have lower premiums but higher deductibles, coupled with employer-funded health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) or health savings accounts (HSAs) that can be used to pay for eligible out-of-pocket costs. You can save money with an HSA by contributing dollars on a pretax basis—up to $3,300 in 2014 or $6,550 if you have family coverage, with no use-it-or-lose-it rule.

    When evaluating CDHPs, you should figure out how much you are likely to spend out of pocket before you meet your deductible. Also factor in how much your employer will put into your HRA or whether your company will make contributions to your HSA. If you plan to enroll in a CDHP with an HSA, make sure you understand that any additional FSA would be limited to dental and vision care coverage. (For more about these accounts, see the SHRM Online article “Consumer-Driven Decision: Weighing HSAs vs. HRAs.”)

    Take advantage of wellness program opportunities. Most employers offer wellness-promoting tools and programs, such as health-risk questionnaires and biometric screenings (e.g., blood pressure and cholesterol testing). And you may even receive a financial incentive from your employer for participating in these programs. By learning more about your health risks, you can take action earlier.

    Understand supplemental benefits and their costs. As you assess your health plan options for 2014, look holistically at your health and financial well-being, including health care, life and disability insurance, and retirement planning. Many employers include voluntary supplemental coverage, such as income-replacement insurance or extra critical-illness coverage, as part of their annual enrollment process. Be sure to carefully review the available options and their costs, and then determine if certain voluntary coverage meets your needs.

    Your Health Plans vs. the Marketplace ‘Metals’

    Health care reform’s individual mandate under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) takes effect in 2014, and starting Oct. 1, government-run health care exchanges (marketplaces) will be beckoning your employees, according to Jennifer Benz, founder and CEO of Benz Communications, an HR and benefits communication strategy firm.

    “The high-visibility advertising and marketing efforts insurance exchanges are using to attract enrollees give employers a terrific opportunity to show workers the real value of the plans they offer,” said Benz. “Based on the ACA plan levels—Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum—plans offered by the majority of large employers are equivalent to the Platinum and Gold plans being offered by the exchanges.”

    Moreover, “While the ACA and the health insurance marketplaces are throwing up a lot of hurdles for you to scale, they also offer you a chance to back up the value statements you’ve broadcasted for years about your generous benefits plans,” Benz noted.

    The Allure of Exchange Subsidies

    Employees may be tempted by publicity about government subsidies for exchange-based plans. Benz advises employers to directly address the issue and inform workers they most probably aren’t eligible for them.

    “Without a subsidy, employees will be paying more for less coverage. Let them know that the coverage they are getting from your company is fuller and provides better value than anything they will get on an exchange. Show them—using detailed comparisons of your plan vs. exchange plans—that they are getting a Gold or Platinum plan for the price of a Bronze plan,” she recommends.

    Employers considering this tactic should be aware that there isn’t a national example of a Platinum plan—nor one for a Bronze, Silver or Gold plan—since the Department of Health and Human Services is allowing states choose their own benchmark plans and what services will be included in addition to those deemed essential. With so many states defaulting to the federal exchange, however, there may be a de facto national standard for the majority of Americans.

    Still, “It will be very difficult for employees to make a pure apples-to-apples comparison of an employer’s plan and an exchange-offered Platinum plan—even with a new Summary of Benefits and Coverage,” Benz observed. She recommends including the following to help employees navigate the exchanges.

  • Define your plan in marketplace terms. Talk to your actuaries about the value of your plans in terms of the four plan levels. Do you offer all Platinum-plus plans? Or a mix of Gold and Platinum?
  • Do the math. Once you’ve categorized your plans, compare the price tags. You’ll get employees on board much more quickly if they know exactly how the employer contribution offsets their total costs. And you can show them what a similar plan would cost if they purchased it on their own.
  • Draw a picture. This isn’t a message that’s easily delivered with words alone. Using infographics, simple charts and videos will help make your message stick.
  • Address What the ACA Does, and Doesn’t, Change

    Along similar lines, the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans has posted online “Explaining the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to Your Workers: A How-To Guide,” with tips for educating employees, a glossary of ACA-specific terms, a timeline detailing the implementation of the law and a fact sheet about what the ACA means for employees. Here is a sample from the Top-10 list:

  • Explain ACA simply and concisely. The law and its regulatory guidance are far-reaching, complicated and lengthy. Stick to the basics when communicating with your participants.
  • Focus on the most immediate changes. Cover what is happening during open enrollment and what changes are coming in 2014.
  • Clarify that your workers do NOT need to purchase health insurance through the public exchanges. Most employers are maintaining their coverage. If you are dropping coverage for some or all of your employees, be explicit in the steps they need to take.
  • Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

    The nuts and bolts of how the government shutdown affects you

    By Tim Gould

    You may have heard: The federal government’s in shutdown mode. Does this mean employers won’t have to worry about being hounded by EEOC and DOL investigators for awhile?

    The answer, as usual: It depends. First off, it’s possible Congress will get its act together within a couple of days. Secondly, if your firm is already deep into a complaint investigation with a federal agency, that process will likely continue — although things may unfold more slowly due to the EEOC, DOL and NLRB staff shortages.

    Our friends at Littler Mendelson were kind enough to provide an overview of all three agencies’ shutdown contingency plans. Here’s a rundown of what attorneys Michael J. Lotito and Ilyse Wolens Schuman had to say.

    Department of Labor

    According to the DOL’s 63-page contingency plan, of the agency’s 16,304 employees, only 2,954 will stay on the job:

  • Only one of the Office of Labor Management Standards’ (OLMS) 216 employees will remain working during the shutdown
  • 230 of the 2,235 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) employees will remain active
  • Six of the 1,829 Wage and Hour Division (WHD) employees will continue working
  • none of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) employees will remain
  • 28 of the 1,107 Employment and Training Administration (ETA) personnel won’t be furloughed, and
  • 46 of the 986 members of the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) will stay on the job.
  • And what will — and won’t — these folks be doing? Lotito and Schuman run it down:

  • No foreign labor certifications will be processed, and no Trade Adjustment Assistance determinations will be made by the ETA.
  • The OLMS will suspend all activities, except for “conducting investigations in criminal cases under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act that have statutory deadlines; carrying out election investigations under the LMRDA where the 60-day statutory limit for filing a complaint cannot be waived or extended; and supervising elections where postponement of the election would cause a violation of labor law or a court-ordered deadline.”
  • OSHA will suspend all operations except for the functions relating to “emergencies involving the safety of human life or protection of property.” According to the agency, “OSHA employees should be able to respond to safety and health complaints or other information when employees are potentially exposed to hazardous conditions that present a high risk of death or serious physical harm.”
  • The WHD will keep enough staff on board to be able to “conduct an immediate investigation of any incidents involving serious injury or death of a minor while employed or any transportation accident or any housing safety violation involving serious injury or death of a farm worker.”
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

    Just over 100 of the EEOC’s 2,164 staffers remain on the job, according to the agency’s contingency plan. The EEOC will continue to take in new discrimination charges and federal sector appeals, as well as litigate lawsuits where a continuance hasn’t been granted. The agency will also file motions to seek injunctive relief if doing so is necessary “to protect life or property,” or to “maintain the integrity and viability of EEOC’s information systems; maintain the security of our offices and property; and perform necessary administrative support to carry out those excepted functions.”

    Here’s what EEOC’s skeleton crew won’t do during the shutdown, according to Lotito and Schuman:

  • Answer questions from the public, or respond to correspondence from the public
  • investigate charges of discrimination
  • litigate in federal courts if granted an extension of time
  • conduct mediations
  • conduct federal sector hearings, or rule on federal employees’ appeals of discrimination complaints
  • conduct outreach and education, or
  • process Freedom of Information Act requests.

    Littler Mendelson Article

    Department of Labor Contingency Plan

    EEOC Contingency PLan

    Defining the two most important challenges HR faces today

    by Tim Gould

    Onboarding and engagement. What do those words really mean?

    Here’s the long view of both concepts:

    Onboarding is the buzzword used to describe what should naturally happen with new hires at all companies – a planned, integrated process that not only gets the newbie familiar with his or her specific duties, but gives the person an understanding of the company’s overall culture and goals.
    It’s not orientation. That’s the mechanical process of showing new hires where their cubicle is, meeting the employees seated near them and completing the required HR paperwork. It involves a couple of days of training, perhaps, on how an organization works, its structure and policies, and its mission.

    Onboarding’s a lot more extensive than that.

    After a successful onboarding experience, new employees should:
    Experience a strong feeling of being welcomed to the company
    Feel like they made the right job choice
    Feel comfortable with where they fit into the organization, and
    Be ready for long-term relationship building – a key factor in engagement.

    So what should an onboarding program look like?

    It should offer a structure in which new employees can gather information about the organization, and become familiar with its culture, mission and goals.

    It should provide a mentor for the new person – a veteran employee who can help steer the new employee through the ins and outs of joining a new workplace.

    And it should offer a set schedule of face-to-face conversations with co-workers, managers and business leaders/executives during the first few months.

    There are all sorts of ways you can go to get your new people on board. And onboarding can start before the employee arrives on her first day of work.

    Here are just two examples we’ve heard of:

    An electronics company sent a new hire a packet of information about the company – which included a “family tree” of the firm’s personnel – along with staff photos and a map of the office.

    A new hire at a PR firm got a phone call from her new boss and a package of information – including a book written by the company’s chief executive officer.

    Other companies bolster their onboarding efforts through the use of social media.

    No matter what form it takes, onboarding has one overriding objective: To make sure the employee feels welcome and supported, and is poised to be successful.


    Pretty much everybody agrees — engaged employees are the key to every organization’s success. But engaging today’s employees is no easy task.

    Just how bad has employees’ lack of engagement become? In a Towers Watson Global Workforce study last year, 63% of U.S. employees said they weren’t engaged in their jobs. That means that less than four in 10 U.S. workers were highly engaged.

    A word about the term “engaged”– Gallup defines the categories like this:
    Engaged employees are passionate about their work. They’ve got a genuine connection with their employers and their co-workers. They’re the engine that pulls the company train.
    Non-engaged employees show up – but that’s about all. They go through the motions, but they really have no investment in what they do or what it means to the company. The job’s just a paycheck to them.
    Actively disengaged employees haven’t simply checked out of their jobs – they’re actively working to undermine company success.

    A commonly accepted Top 10 list of things that make people want to stay with their current employer:
    1. Interesting, challenging work
    2. Opportunities for advancement and learning
    3. Collegial workforce
    4. Fair compensation
    5. A respected manager
    6. Recognition for accomplishment
    7. Feeling like a valued member of a team
    8. A substantial benefits package
    9. The feeling their work “makes a difference,” and
    10. Overall pride in the company’s mission and its products.

    So what can HR and company managers do to help foster a greater level of engagement among workers?

    Here’s a rundown of the things the experts say resonate most with employees – and make them want to stick around:

    Clear expectations. Pretty simple: Workers want to know exactly what they’re responsible for and what they’ll be judged on.
    A sense of control. Employees aren’t robots. They need to feel they have the power to decide how their jobs can be completed – and the freedom to suggest how tasks can be simplified or streamlined.
    Feeling they’re “in the loop.” Employees not only wish to know – and have input on – what’s going on in their department, but what’s happening in the business as a whole. And they want to be secure in their understanding of how what they do on a day-to-day basis fits into the overall operation – today and in the future.
    Room to grow. These include potential promotions, extra training, learning new skills and the possibility of using those new skills in a different area of the company.
    Recognition. Everyone wants to believe their extra effort won’t go unnoticed – or unrewarded.
    Leadership. Employees want to be led by people they trust. And the people they trust are those who value workers’ contributions, recognize and accept differences in people, and act with employees’ best interests in mind.

    Personality Does Not Determine Leadership Ability


    I’ve learned a lot about leadership lately. Back in my heyday as a middle manager in corporate America, and before that as a manager for a small start-up, I found my introverted personality worked against me most of the time.

    Back then, I’d rather sit and read a book in a coffeeshop than kick back with employees after work. I shunned the spotlight and chose introspection instead.

    Introversion as the Enemy

    I once had a pivotal meeting with an employee. She was a project manager on my team (I had somehow worked up to a director position). Long story short: she told me I was the worst boss ever and she hated my guts. She asked how I ever got into this role. She wanted to quit, but I talked her off the ledge–mostly by apologizing to her.

    At the time, I viewed this exchange as mostly my fault. I was just not social enough; I didn’t check in with her often enough to see how things were going. Sure, I had budgets to manage and meetings to attend. But my introverted personality got the best of me.

    I’m not alone. After writing my story about carving out a management career as an introvert, I received dozens and dozens of supportive messages. It was in influx of people who have felt my pain. In most cases, the message was–”I’m also an introvert who struggles with managing people.”

    The good news is, your personality may not dictate how well you manage people as much as you think. Both extroverts and introverts can do it. The skills can be learned, adjusted, tweaked, and augmented.

    A Learned Skill

    This study is a useful tool for understanding how your specific personality can help you lead in a small business, and that leadership is a skill, not a talent. To get a summary, I spoke with Jim Kouzes, the co-author of the report. Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote “The Leadership Challenge” book and conduct the Leadership Practices Inventory.

    “Leadership is a set of skills and abilities that are learnable by anyone who has the desire to improve and the willingness to practice,” Kouzes says. “That’s true for extroverts and introverts alike. They each have particular preferences for how they energize themselves, take in information, make decisions, and organize themselves, but both are equally capable of providing exemplary leadership.”

    Kouzes told me every personality type has to lead by example. This hit home for me: I used to think I had to be big and blustery with team members when talking about my vision. In reality, I could have accomplished the same goal in my own way. I didn’t need to try and be animated or social–I needed to improve my skills. The reason that employee thought I was a terrible boss was mostly due to my lack of communication, which didn’t have to be blustery at all–it just had to be consistent.

    “Extroverts tend to express their passion about principles with great vigor, while introverts would be more likely to engage in quiet conversation about expectations,” explained Kouzes. For me, that would have meant more in-person mentoring with employees, learning about their needs and desires–something I’ve become very good at subsequently as a journalist over the past 12 years interviewing people.

    Interestingly, I was exceptionally good at “visioneering” in the workplace. When I started in one corporate job with three people, it grew to almost 50 in only five years. We took on projects in every part of the organization, and I was good at selling our services. Many of these meetings involved one-on-ones with higher-level executives.

    Kouzes says any personality type can learn the skill of communicating vision.

    “Extroverts tend to demonstrate this practice by brainstorming opportunities or directly appealing to the desires of others,” he says. “Introverts, on the other hand, are more inclined to imagine what could be in their minds or exchanging ideas in one-on-one conversations. Extroverts have to work a bit harder at giving space to others to share their hopes, dreams and aspirations, while introverts are very mindful of the need to be inclusive,” he says.

    It’s still a journey for me.

    JOHN BRANDON is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for

    3 Simple Ways to Hire Better

    By Suzanne Lucas

    It’s a great American tradition: people dress up in their best clothing, parade in front of a judge and answer questions, hoping to sound intelligent yet totally inoffensive. A beauty pageant? No, I’m talking about a job interview.

    But it shouldn’t be that way. A pageant judge never sees the contestants again, but a hiring manager has to work with the new employee every day. So stop treating the hiring process like a pageant and, instead, act like it’s a date.

    Yes, a date. What’s the goal in dating? To find someone to spend the rest of your life with. What’s the goal in an interview? To find someone to spend 40 to 60 hours a week with. Here’s how you can bring the dating process into your office with fabulous (and completely platonic) results.

    Don’t talk (entirely) about the past.

    Of course, you want to know something about a person’s history. That’s called the resume. But many interviews spend too much time on the past when they should be focusing on the organization’s needs.

    Headhunter Nick Corcodilos gives an example of how ridiculous focusing on the past can be. Imagine, he says, if you went out on a date and your date said, “So, the last three women I dated really liked me, and I bought them flowers now and then, and took them out for dinner, and listened to them tell me their problems. I’m a great guy. You can ask them. So, will you marry me?” You’d run long before the check even arrived.

    So instead of saying, “Tell me about a time where…,” give candidates a real task to complete or ask them to prepare a presentation. Throw them problems and see how they solve them. It will give you a better idea of what they really will bring to your organization.

    Introduce the family.

    When hiring, it’s not uncommon for the boss to do all the interviewing and decision-making, then drop the new employee into everyone’s lap. She’ll announce, “Here’s Bob!,” then walk out and expect everyone else to love and cherish Bob the way she does.

    Mimecast founder Peter Bauer learned this lesson. “During high growth phases, I’d hire lots of new people and somehow mistakenly imagine that they all knew each other as well as I got to know them during the interview process,” he says. “It took me a while before realizing how important it was to help employees integrate and get to know each other in order to develop a positive team culture.”

    Just like you wouldn’t drop your new boyfriend off to spend the weekend solo at your mom’s house, when you bring someone new on board, it’s your responsibility to integrate. And if you can involve your current staff in the hiring process, even better. That way, you’re more likely to find an employee that benefits the whole “family.”

    Let opposites attract.

    The ideal employee loves your business the way you do, so naturally the person most likely to do that is one who is just like you. Right? Unfortunatelly, that doesn’t work in your business’s best interests. EZ-PR founder Ed Zitron started out looking for employees who could do exactly what he could do. “I thought I needed to clone myself. I thought I needed to just do more of what I do, getting results to make up for less-than-passionate press releases or slowly-delivered blogs.”

    When he finally realized that he needed assistants who had strengths where he had weaknesses, he got results. Perfect ones, actually, because these hires had skills that Zitron didn’t have. When you stop looking for mini-me and instead look for someone who completes you (or your department), you’ll get a perfect match.

    Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. Follow her at Twitter, connect with her at LinkedIn, read her blog, or send her an email.

    5 Secrets for Rewarding Employees

    by Peter Economy

    According to recognition expert Dr. Bob Nelson, the most effective employee rewards are also the least expensive. You don’t need to send employees on pricey vacations to Hawaii or present elaborate trophies. In the vast majority of cases, a simple and heartfelt verbal or written thank-you will ensure your people feel appreciated. And you can shake things up by handing out inexpensive rewards such as gift cards for, discount restaurant coupons, gas cards or a paid afternoon away from the office.

    The trick to giving your people rewards that make a real difference is to personalize them — this is a case where one size definitely does not fit all. Find out what kinds of rewards are most motivating to your employees, and then tailor your recognition accordingly. In addition, keep the following secrets in mind when you’re recognizing and rewarding good work:

    1. Be Quick

    For recognition to be effective, it needs to be closely linked to the behavior being rewarded. This means rewarding an employee immediately when, for example, she goes above and beyond the call of duty on a customer service initiative. Don’t wait a month or two after the fact. By that time, the employee may have already forgotten what it was that she did to earn the recognition.

    2. Be Specific

    Generalities have no place when you’re rewarding your employees. Point out the specific behavior that you are recognizing, and explain to the employee why you appreciate it: “You did a remarkable job pulling together the data for that marketing survey. Because of your excellent work, we were able to deliver our report to a key client ahead of schedule!”

    3. Be Personal

    Effective management is all about building relationships and trust with your people. It’s always best to convey your praise in person and publicly, in front of the employee’s peers, whenever possible. If you can’t arrange for a personal, face-to-face praising in a timely way, then use the telephone or Skype, or send an email, text message or handwritten note.

    4. Be Sincere

    Be sure your thanks are sincere and from your heart. The easiest way to do this is to offer thanks when you really are appreciative. Don’t fake it when it comes to recognizing employees. Your people will see right through your lukewarm praise, and they will discount the recognition that you give them.

    5. Be Positive

    We’ve all experienced what it feels like to be thanked by a boss for doing something right … and then immediately cut down a notch for doing something wrong. When you thank someone and then immediately follow it with a “but,” everything before the “but” is discounted by the employee and everything after is amplified. Focus on the positives, and save the negative feedback for another occasion.

    Recognizing and rewarding employees can be a remarkably powerful part of any manager’s toolbox. Take time to do it the right way, and you will be rewarded in kind.

    Peter Economy is the bestselling author of Managing For Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty, and more than 60 other books. He has also served as Associate Editor for Leader to Leader for more than 10 years.

    Yet Another White House Obamacare Delay: Out-Of-Pocket Caps Waived Until 2015

    By Avik Roy

    First, there was the delay of Obamacare’s Medicare cuts until after the election. Then there was the delay of the law’s employer mandate. Then there was the announcement, buried in the Federal Register, that the administration would delay enforcement of a number of key eligibility requirements for the law’s health insurance subsidies, relying on the “honor system” instead. Now comes word that another costly provision of the health law—its caps on out-of-pocket insurance costs—will be delayed for one more year.

    According to the Congressional Research Service, as of November 2011, the Obama administration had missed as many as one-third of the deadlines, specified by law, under the Affordable Care Act. Here are the details on the latest one.

    Obamacare contains a blizzard of mandates and regulations that will make health insurance more costly. One of the most significant is its caps on out-of-pocket insurance costs, such as co-pays and deductibles. Section 2707(b) of the Public Health Service Act, as added by Obamacare, requires that “a group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage may not establish lifetime limits on the dollar value of benefits for the any participant or beneficiary.” Annual limits on cost-sharing are specified by Section 1302(c) of the Affordable Care Act; in addition, starting in 2014, deductibles are limited to $2,000 per year for individual plans, and $4,000 per year for family plans.
    Out-of-pocket caps drive premiums upward

    There’s no such thing as a free lunch. If you ban lifetime limits, and mandate lower deductibles, and cap out-of-pocket costs, premiums have to go up to reflect these changes. And unlike a lot of the “rate shock” problems we’ve been discussing, these limits apply not only to individually-purchased health insurance, but also to employer-sponsored coverage. (Self-insured employers are exempted.)

    These mandates have already had drastic effects on a number of colleges and universities, which offer inexpensive, defined-cap plans to their healthy, youthful students. Premiums at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C., for example, rose from $245 per student in 2011-2012 to between $2,507 in 2012-2013, forcing the school to drop its coverage requirements. The University of Puget Sound paid $165 per student in 2011-2012; their rates rose to between $1,500 and $2,000 for 2012-2013.

    According to the law, the limits on out-of-pocket costs for 2014 were $6,350 for individual policies and $12,700 for family ones. But in February, the Department of Labor published a little-noticed rule delaying the cap until 2015. The delay was described yesterday by Robert Pear in the New York Times.

    Delay needed to align ‘separate computer systems’

    Notes Pear, “Under the [one-year delay], many group health plans will be able to maintain separate out-of-pocket limits for benefits in 2014. As a result, a consumer may be required to pay $6,350 for doctors’ services and hospital care, and an additional $6,350 for prescription drugs under a plan administered by a pharmacy benefit manager.”

    The reason for the delay? “Federal officials said that many insurers and employers needed more time to comply because they used separate companies to help administer major medical coverage and drug benefits, with separate limits on out-of-pocket costs. In many cases, the companies have separate computer systems that cannot communicate with one another.”

    The best part in Pear’s story is when a “senior administration official” said that “we had to balance the interests of consumers with the concerns of health plan sponsors and carriers…They asked for more time to comply.” Exactly how is it in consumers’ interests to pay far more for health insurance than they do already?

    It’s not. Unless you have a serious, chronic condition, in which case you may benefit from the fact that law forces healthy people to subsidize your care. To progressives, this is the holy grail. But for economically rational individuals, it’s yet another reason to drop out of the insurance market altogether. For economically rational businesses, it’s a reason to self-insure, in order to get out from under these costly mandates.

    Patient groups upset

    While insurers and premium-payers will be happy with the delay—whose legal justification is dubious once again—there are groups that grumbled. Specifically, groups representing those with chronic diseases, and the pharmaceutical companies whose costly drugs they will use. “The American Cancer Society shares the concern” about the delay, says Pear, “and noted that some new cancer drugs cost $100,000 a year or more.” But a big part of the reason those drugs cost so much is because manufacturers know that government-run insurers will pay up.

    “The promise of out-of-pocket limits was one of the main reasons we supported health reform,” says Theodore M. Thompson of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society . “We have wonderful new drugs, the biologics, to treat rheumatoid arthritis,” said Patience H. White of the Arthritis Foundation. “But they are extremely expensive.”

    The progressive solution to expensive problems? More subsidies. But subsidies don’t reduce the underlying cost of care. They only excuse the high prices that manufacturers and service providers already charge.

    It’s one of the many aspects of Obamacare that should be repealed, if we are to combat the rate shock that the health law imposes on tens of millions of Americans. But that will require Republicans to come up with a smarter strategy than shutting down the government.

    The Future of Work

    By Gary Swart

    In the last decade, we’ve seen massive disruption in the world of work — in fact, I would argue that we haven’t seen changes of this scale since the Industrial Revolution. This has generated lots of discussion, with everyone from economists and futurists to university deans and thought leaders and of course professional themselves weighing in.

    What’s more, our discussions are threaded with emotion. Change can be anxiety-provoking, especially when we’re still in the midst of it. But this is not a solitary concern — we are all in this together as we figure out how to adapt.

    As a result, there are three main discussions that need to happen. We need to better understand:

    What the future of work will look like

    How companies should respond

    How professionals should respond as well

    The last question — how professionals can position themselves to be successful in the future — warrants a post of its own (coming up soon).

    But I’d like to dive into the first two questions here. In fact, last week I had the honor of really digging into what this future will look like, along with Maynard Webb, R Ray Wang, Gene Zaino and Devin Fidler, while on a panel, “The Future of Work: Evolve or Go Extinct,” at SXSW V2V.

    What does the future of work look like?

    Combining our perspectives, we identified 3 changes that are reshaping work:

    1. The organization now serves a different purpose

    When Ronald Coase wrote “The Nature of the Firm” in 1937, the business landscape looked very different. It made sense to organize operations into a company structure, to maximize efficiencies and minimize transaction costs by sharing resources across the firm. Today, we no longer need to access resources in an ‘all-or-nothing’ way, with on-demand services quickly becoming the de facto way to access resources. As Devin Fidler of Institute for the Future noted, “traditional organizations can be thought of as a legacy technology for getting things done. Now, we have more and more new alternatives to this way of organizing things.”

    2. The structure of the workforce is shifting due to new career expectations

    Along with the rethinking of what a typical company should look like, we’re also seeing a change in what the workforce — and the typical career — looks like. A growing number of people are not only requesting flexibility, autonomy and impact in their careers, but prioritizing it — leading to a surge in freelancing and entrepreneurship. This is only going to get more pronounced, as freedom-seeking Millennials start to represent more and more of the workforce (75% of the workforce by the year 2025). MBO Partners CEO Gene Zaino pointed out on the panel that four-fifths of the millions of independent professionals in the U.S. right now quit their day jobs to work independently, and 83% say they won’t go back. An oDesk study from this spring found a similar trend — 72% of freelancers surveyed who are still at “regular” jobs want to quit entirely, and 61% said they are likely to quit within two years. These statistics show that independent careers are a choice people are moving towards. For more context on why, this recent post from fellow LinkedIn Influencer Shane Snow provides six reasons why “half of us may soon be freelancers.”

    3. This is only possible because of the transparency the Internet has unlocked

    The monumental shifts in the world of work are largely because points #1 and #2 dovetail so well. But the only way this phenomenon has been made possible is because of advances in Internet technology, and particularly the transparency and trust that Internet-based services have unlocked. Peer ratings, social media profiles, online work portfolios, private feedback systems, etc. are providing more information than ever before to guide our choices — whether it’s deciding to hire a freelancer or feeling confident about an Uber driver.

    As Constellation Research CEO R. Ray Wang noted on the panel:

    How should companies respond?

    Given these changes, companies need to evolve in order to thrive in this new environment. In particular, the panel discussed two areas in which companies need to evolve:

    1. Rethink how to create effective organizations

    With the shifting structure of the workforce and even of companies, it’s more important than ever to think about engagement, company culture and retention of the many resources being pulled in from beyond traditional corporate offices (including not only remote employees, but also agency teams, freelancers, partner organizations, etc.). Culture and motivation become more difficult to manage when team members aren’t in one location, and considering that many of these resources have multiple different work relationships at once, the stakes are high for keeping your star players happy and on board. So how do you replicate the water-cooler culture and positive impact of spontaneous collaboration when you have virtual team members? That will be one of the biggest questions of the next few years.

    2. Reinvent what it means to be a great manager

    Similarly, effective management of tomorrow’s teams will require a different skill set than we’ve seen before. Managers will need to be adept at integrating team members — whether they’re in the office or across the world, full time or freelancing, serving as a niche consultant or in a more general role. In many ways the new management style will just amplify existing skills (most notably, clear and frequent communication and expectation-setting), but in some cases there will be new skills — like building camaraderie among people who have never met face to face and effectively assembling teams of specialized experts.

    What changes have you seen in the world of work?

    Gary Swart is the CEO of oDesk, the world’s largest online workplace.

    Why you need to put ‘age bias’ on your list of critical concerns

    By Tim Gould

    Two recent reports indicate that it’s time to be increasingly sensitive to the issue of age discrimination in the workplace.

    A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates that employers may have been somewhat shielded from age bias suits during the recession.

    Professor David Neumark and Ph.D candidate Patrick Button from the University of California–Irvine recently published a working paper entitled, Did Age Discrimination Protections Help Older Workers Weather the Great Recession?

    And the answer appears to be: No.

    Here’s the money paragraph in Neumark’s and Button’s paper:
    ” … We find very little evidence that stronger age discrimination protections helped older workers weather the Great Recession, relative to younger workers. Indeed when there is evidence that stronger state age discrimination protections mediated the effects of the Great Recession, they appear to have made things relatively worse for older workers. We suggest that this may be because stronger age discrimination laws protect older workers in normal times – of which we find some evidence – but during an experience like the Great Recession severe labor market disruptions make it difficult to discern discrimination.”

    In other words, the general unsettled economic atmosphere — with its resulting downsizing — made it tougher for employees to make the case that they were let go on account of age.

    The study looked at 30 jurisdictions (29 states and the District of Columbia) that have tougher anti-age bias laws than the federal regs.
    “There is rather clear evidence that relative unemployment rates for older workers were higher in states with the stronger age discrimination protection – especially the first 18 months or so after the Great Recession ended,” the paper said. “For women this negative conclusion is even stronger.”

    Age bias is likely more difficult to prove during periods when employers are laying off a significant number of people, Neumark and Button said. “It is even possible that because stronger state age discrimination laws impose constraints on employers,” they said, “there could be ‘pent-up demand for age discrimination’ that firms act on during a sharp downturn – with more of this occurring in states with stronger age discrimination laws.”

    ‘Microaggressions’ in your workplace?

    So what’s that mean for HR now?
    Dan Kadlec, writing on the Time magazine website, says older workers are increasingly experiencing classic age discrimination. He cites a recent AARP study that says one in five workers between 45 and 74 say they have been turned down for a job because of age. About one in 10 say they were passed up for a promotion, laid off or denied access to career development because of their age.
    The subtlest — and perhaps most damaging — phenomenon affecting older workers, Kadlec says, is a pattern of “microaggressions,” which are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group,” according to research out of Columbia University.
    It’s pretty clear that if this sort of thing is happening in your workplace, the situation could turn into a truly ugly legal problem. Might be time to do a little refresher training on workplace diversity.

    Strong August Hiring Expected; Recruiting Difficulty Rising, Too

    By Theresa Minton-Eversole

    Half of manufacturers and more than one-third of service-sector companies surveyed reported they will be hiring in August, according to the latest Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) survey, released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Aug. 1, 2013.
    The LINE report examines four areas: employers’ hiring expectations, job vacancies, difficulty in recruiting top-level talent, and new-hire compensation. It is based on a monthly survey of private-sector human resource professionals at more than 500 manufacturing and 500 service-sector companies.

    Employment Expectations

    Hiring will rise moderately in the manufacturing sector. A net of 49.9 percent of manufacturers will add jobs in August (56.2 percent will hire; 6.3 percent will cut jobs)—a four-year high for the month of August. The sector’s hiring index will rise by 9.3 points from a year ago.

    A net of 35.1 percent of service-sector companies will expand payrolls in August (41.2 percent will hire; 6.1 percent will cut jobs), representing a three-year high for sector hiring in August, and the index will rise by 6.5 points from a year ago. August also marks the 13th consecutive month that the hiring rate rose in the service sector.

    The LINE employment-expectations index compares favorably with reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For example, several service industries have posted sizable job gains as of late, according to the BLS. LINE also provides an early indication of the BLS Employment Situation report, which covers the same monthly period but is released approximately one month after each LINE.

    Exempt, Nonexempt Vacancies

    Salaried-job openings fell slightly in both sectors in July compared with a year ago, while hourly vacancies increased in both sectors for the month.

    In the manufacturing sector a net total of 18.9 percent of respondents reported increases in exempt vacancies in July (31.3 percent reported increases; 12.4 percent reported decreases), representing a 4.2-point decrease from July 2012. However, a net total of 19.2 percent of responding manufacturers said nonexempt vacancies increased in July (34.6 percent increased; 15.4 percent decreased), a 4.1-point jump from July 2012.

    In the service sector a net total of 8.8 percent of respondents reported increases in exempt vacancies in July (25.4 percent reported increases; 16.6 percent reported decreases), marking a 1.8-point decrease from July 2012. For nonexempt service positions, a net total of 15.9 percent of respondents reported more vacancies for the month (32.6 percent increased; 16.7 percent decreased), resulting in a 1.5-point increase from July 2012.

    Monthly nonexempt openings have not followed a specific trend lately when compared with the previous year. For every month since September 2009 (shortly after the end of the Great Recession), the manufacturing and service sectors have reported a net increase in nonexempt vacancies.

    Recruiting Difficulty

    LINE’s recruiting-difficulty index measures how hard it is for firms to recruit candidates to fill the positions of greatest strategic importance to their companies.

    A net of 20.2 percent of responding manufacturers found it more challenging to recruit in July, an increase of 4.3 points from July 2012. A net of 17.3 percent of service-sector HR professionals also had more difficulty recruiting during that month, representing an increase of 12.2 points from a year ago.

    “With employment expectations following a solid trend in both sectors, it follows that recruiting difficulty also increased in July,” said Jennifer Schramm, GPHR, SHRM’s manager of workplace trends and forecasting. “In fact, difficulty in recruiting candidates for key jobs was at a four-year high for the month of July in both sectors.”

    Other recent SHRM findings show that many HR professionals are having a tough time with talent management and recruitment. A March 2013 SHRM survey revealed that two-thirds (66 percent) of organizations that are currently hiring are having a recruitment challenge, up from 52 percent in 2011. A November 2012 SHRM poll also found that 34 percent of respondents said “remaining competitive in the talent marketplace” would be a top challenge during the next 10 years.

    New-Hire Compensation

    New-hire compensation for July, however, was relatively unchanged in both sectors from a year ago. In manufacturing a net total of 6.1 percent of respondents reported increasing new-hire compensation in July—down 0.4 points from July 2012. In the service sector a net total of 8.3 percent of companies increased new-hire compensation in July, representing a 2.1-point increase from a year ago.

    Overall, the index’s data show that most organizations are still keeping new-hire compensation rates flat. This is consistent with recent BLS findings on real average hourly earnings, which rose just 0.4 percent in June 2013, compared with June 2012.

    It is also consistent with the current economic conditions reported July 17, 2013, by the Federal Reserve in what is widely known as the beige book. All 12 federal districts surveyed reported that “overall economic activity continued to increase at a modest to moderate pace since the previous survey.” And while hiring held steady or increased at a measured pace in most districts, “wage pressures generally remained contained, although some Districts reported modest or moderate wage growth in some sectors.”

    Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM. She can be reached at

    6 ways (besides health savings) wellness plans benefit employers

    Most employers start a wellness program for the potential healthcare cost savings. But new research has shown they’re great for more than just padding the bottom line.

    In addition to the healthcare cost savings employer-sponsored wellness programs can generate (anywhere from $2.71 for every dollar spent to $3.27), the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report revealed that employers also benefit from wellness plans via increases in these six areas:

    1. Employee knowledge about health care

    Employees enrolled in wellness programs are much more likely to be in-the-know about health care in general.

    Example: The study found that 34% of employees not offered access to a wellness program understood the total cost of an injury or illness at least “very well” compared to 44% of those enrolled in a wellness program. In addition, 54% of those not offered access to a wellness plan understood their employer’s contribution to their health benefits compared to 66% of those in a wellness program.

    2. Benefits engagement

    Those engaged in a wellness program are more likely to be engaged in their benefits plans and prepared for changes to their coverage, found Aflac, which polled 1,884 benefits decision-makers and 5,299 employees to detect benefits trends for its report.

    Example: Only 35% of those not offered access to a wellness program agreed they’re taking full advantage of their benefits plan, compared to 54% of those who are active in a wellness program. Plus, 57% of those not offered wellness activities said they’re not prepared for changes to their coverage, while 48% of those in a wellness plan aren’t prepared.

    3. Satisfaction with benefits

    Those enrolled in a wellness program are more likely to be “very” or “extremely” satisfied with their employer-sponsored benefits program overall (66% versus just 44% of those not offered access to a wellness program).

    4. Satisfaction with jobs

    Two-thirds (66%) of employees enrolled in a wellness program were “very” or “extremely satisfied” with their job compared to 53% of employees in jobs that don’t offer a wellness program.

    In addition, wellness participants were less likely to look for a new job than non-participants (19% versus 30%, respectively).

    5. Confidence in company

    Employees in a wellness program were much more likely to label their employer as being one that takes care of its employees (56%) compared to those not offered access to a wellness program (42%).

    In addition, more wellness program participants (67%) believe their HR department is knowledgeable about benefits than those not offered access to wellness activities (48%).

    6. Employee financial well-being

    Lastly, Aflac discovered that wellness plan participants are also much more likely to feel financially secure.

    The stats:

    • 40% of those enrolled in a wellness plan agreed they’re fully protected by their current insurance coverage (compared to 25% of non-wellness participants)
    • 40% of wellness participants felt confident in their financial future (compared to 26% of non-participants), and
    • 54% of wellness participants have a financial plan designed to achieve financial goals and prepare them for unexpected challenges (compared to 37% of non-participants).

    Article by: Christian Schappel

    A Break For More Work

    As the economy struggles to regain its strength, employers continue to squeeze as many hours as they can out of their employees. Sometimes this includes double, or even triple-hatting people. While this may seem like a good idea, you may have just made the same costly mistake as Henry Ford did in his early days.

    Ford discovered that by increasing his employees’ schedules to 60 hours a week, he could suck more productivity out of them. But that burst of productivity lasted only about four weeks. Before long, the workers putting in 60 hours a week began producing less than their counterparts who worked 40 hours.

    Tony Schwartz, a recognized expert on the subject says, “Many of us are so busy and so barraged by information that we’re reaching a point of saturation. There’s just not much room left in our working memories to deeply absorb anything truly new or complex.”

    So what can we draw from all of this? It’s simple. Don’t overwhelm your employees, and sometimes maybe help protect them from themselves. We understand tight deadlines and frantic schedules are required from time to time if not frequently. The challenge is to not let this become the norm. This may mean an occasional intervention and perhaps a cultural mindset reset.

    5 things to know about the delayed PPACA mandate

    1.  The law is still on the books; it’s just that the penalties associated with that part of the legislation that impacts employers with 50 or more employees won’t be enforced until 2015 – unless there’s another delay, of course. Technically, though, employers with 50 employers or more are still supposed to provide coverage for full-time workers beginning Jan 1, 2014.

    2.  Many observers believe the delay was largely political, not technical as the government claims. There was considerable pushback from employers over the penalty clause and, with mid-term elections next year, the thinking is that Obama wanted to postpone the implementation until after the elections. So, benefits managers, it would be prudent to stay up-to-date on the politics around the reform measure in order to be prepared to respond.

    3.  If you manage benefits programs for a company with 50 or more employees, you’ll want to use the extra time to get in step with other large employers in their planning. Assume that the penalty portions will be implemented following the 2014 elections, and take steps to minimize the impact of those sanctions for your employer. Your company culture will guide your planning. Develop a strategy that serves your employer well whether this portion of the reform act is implemented or discarded.

    4.  One clear consequence of the delay will be to push more individuals into the insurance exchanges. The exchanges are still scheduled to go online Oct. 1. Small businesses can use the exchanges to find coverage for themselves and their employees. Large businesses can be seen as helpful to employees by offering workers information about obtaining coverage through the exchanges. Businesses that do this now stand to benefit in the long run by a) being viewed as employee-friendly and b) off-loading people they may need to cover later to exchanges now.

    5. Conservative critics of the law assert that moving most Americans to the insurance exchanges is the long-term goal of health care reform. That could be nonsense … or not. So, while companies need to continue to have Plan A for compliance, they might also consider a Plan B, on the off chance the administration decides to do away with the employer coverage requirement altogether.


    To Comply with PPACA, Employers Must Identify Full-Time Workers (Part 2)

    Who Is Considered a Full-Time Employee?

    As an employer, the determination of who is a full-time employee will be crucial in evaluating your options for complying with the employer shared responsibility rules, and equally important, designing your group health plan’s eligibility and participation requirements.

    Because there can be various ways of assessing what constitutes a full-time employee eligible for coverage under the PPACA, the IRS has issued guidance in the form of several notices, as well as temporary regulations. These guidelines set out criteria and standards that can help employers make accurate determinations when hiring new employees, including:

    *Initial measurement period – A designated period of not less than three months or more than 12 months used in determining whether a newly hired variable or seasonal employee is full-time.

    *Standard measurement period – An annual designated period of not less than three months or more than 12 months used to determine whether an ongoing variable or seasonal employee is full-time.

    *Administrative period – A period of up to 90 days for making full-time determinations and offering/implementing full-time employee coverage.

    *Stability period – An annual designated period of not less than six months (and not less than the corresponding measurement period) during which the employer must offer affordable minimum essential health coverage to all full-time employees, or face financial penalties for not doing so.

    *Full-time employees – If a new employee is reasonably expected to average at least 30 hours per week at the time of hire, the employee must automatically be treated as full-time and offered group health coverage within three months of hire.

    *Variable hour and seasonal employees – A variable hour employee is someone whom the employer cannot reasonably determine will average at least 30 hours per week at the time of hire. No definition is provided for a seasonal employee, but presumably it would include anyone who works on a seasonal basis. Employers may use the initial measurement period to determine whether a newly hired variable or seasonal employee actually averages at least 30 hours per week, and the standard measurement period to determine whether an ongoing variable or seasonable employee actually averages at least 30 hours per week.  If the employee does average at least 30 hours per week during the initial measurement period or standard measurement period, the employer must offer affordable minimum essential health coverage during the stability period, or face financial penalties for not doing so.

    *Transition from new to ongoing employee status – Once a new employee has completed an initial measurement period and has been employed for a full standard measurement period, the employee must be tested for full-time status under the ongoing employee rules for that standard measurement period, regardless of whether the employee was full-time during the initial measurement period.

    L. Scott Austin is a partner with Hunton & Williams in Atlanta, and David Mustone is a partner with Hunton & Williams in McLean, Va.  Both specialize in employee benefits, executive compensation and ERISA issues, and lead Hunton & Williams’ health care reform initiative.

    By L. Scott Austin and David Mustone


    Avoid Common Pension Oversight Mistakes

    By Richard Todd and Martin Walsh

    Sponsors of defined benefit pension plans face an increasingly difficult task: honoring their fiduciary duties in an era of record-low interest rates and record-high regulations. Adding to this complexity is that most corporate boards and their investment committees, which are charged with overseeing the pension plan, tend to consist of noninvestment professionals. A new committee member confronts significant challenges in learning both the investment details of a pension portfolio and their own fiduciary obligations.

    Pension plan sponsors make mistakes in two areas: managing investments and exercising fiduciary responsibilities. Identifying the most common errors investment committees commit can help prevent potential damage—and instill best practices.

    Investment Mistakes

    The single most important investment decision that investment committees make is the asset allocation of a portfolio. An asset class is a group of securities or investments that have similar characteristics and behave similarly in the marketplace. The three most common asset classes are equities (stocks), fixed income (bonds) and cash equivalents (money market and stable value funds). Another class, often referred to as alternative investments, includes a broad range of nontraditional products such as private equity in companies that are not publically traded, natural resource holdings and even hedge funds.

    The asset-allocation mix, not the underlying fund managers selected within each asset class, drives the majority of the risk and return in the portfolio. According to some well-known studies, more than 90 percent of the variability of a typical plan sponsor’s performance over time is attributable to asset allocation.

    A good process for constructing a pension plan’s portfolio follows these steps:

    • Determine the time horizon.
    • Evaluate which asset classes to include.
    • Choose the percentage of each asset class based on risk and reward.
    • Select fund managers within each asset class.

    Many plan sponsors start at the end of the process by asking, “Which managers should we hire?” Based on historical research, asset allocation is literally 18 times more important than fund manager selection.

    Here are other common portfolio construction errors:

    Not focusing on plan liabilities. Plan sponsors often create an investment policy without considering their outstanding pension liabilities. To the extent possible, sponsors need to clearly understand their future liabilities and match these to an investment portfolio that is reasonably projected to meet these returns. For instance, a typical 60/40 stock/bond portfolio constructed without regard to a company’s estimated future distributions can be a fatal long-term mistake if the organization’s pension liabilities are higher than the portfolio can reasonably deliver.

    A diversified investment portfolio could include a healthy allocation to growth-oriented stock funds and alternative investments. Although short-term results will be more volatile when riskier asset classes are included, these assets help deliver superior long-term results in an era of historically low bond yields.

    Backward-looking bias. Unfortunately, investment committees are subject to the same biases as retail investors, such as a tendency to look in the rear-view mirror when making decisions, which causes them to increase their investments in asset classes that have performed well recently. This backward-looking approach is dangerous. Instead, plan sponsors need to be forward-looking by asking, “Based on current valuations, what can each asset class (and the whole portfolio) reasonably expect to return on a forward basis?”

    The classic investment mantra is “Buy low and sell high.” To that end, it is a prudent discipline for fiduciaries to rebalance the portfolio’s asset classes to a targeted percentage when the portfolio receives contributions or makes distributions. Moreover, value is added when the asset classes are rebalanced after market fluctuations cause them to stray from their targeted allocations by 3 percent to 5 percent. But often, plans lack an automatic rebalancing process.

    By periodically trimming investments that have appreciated and buying investments that have depreciated, rebalancing encourages a value approach to investing. Meanwhile, rebalancing allows a plan to keep the portfolio’s risk/reward within its targeted limits.

    Fiduciary Mistakes

    Fiduciary errors are common because of the extent and complexity of retirement plan regulations. Below are some causes of fiduciary missteps.

    Lack of an investment policy statement (IPS). An IPS defines an investment committee’s duties in clear and actionable language. It outlines the process and guidelines around the investment process by addressing the question, “How should the board evaluate the existing investment portfolio, and what are the guiding risk and return principles of the defined benefit plan?” Creating an IPS and following it are a best practice that plan sponsors ignore at their peril.

    Dysfunctional investment committees. Although committees of this type are all too common, the reasons for dysfunction vary. However, there are a few common themes among bad investment committees. For instance:

    • A “bully” member may exert an inordinate amount of influence on a committee’s investment decisions. The role of the committee’s chair is to build consensus from the group, not drive a specific agenda.
    • The committee should have members from a variety of backgrounds and corporate positions. Nondiverse committees typically fall victim to groupthink and do not properly evaluate their decisions.
    • Committees require some experience. A totally inexperienced committee often has difficulty evaluating investment decisions.

    Failure to exercise the duty of loyalty. As fiduciaries, board and investment committee members have a duty of loyalty that applies solely to the plan and its participants; therefore, any conflicts of interest must be disclosed. Committee members sometimes ignore these conflicts by failing to address the question, “As a result of the committee’s decisions, are there economic benefits to any person on the board/committee or an indirect benefit to a board/committee member’s family, friends or employer?”

    Conflicted advisor. Using a conflicted investment advisor is another common pitfall. Committees must have policies in place to address advisor conflicts of interest and ensure that all investment decisions are made in the plan’s best interest. An advisor who gets commissions from an investment recommendation certainly has a conflict.

    Richard Todd is CEO, and Martin Walsh is vice president, of Innovest Portfolio Solutions LLC, a Denver-based investment management consultancy.

    To Comply with PPACA, Employers Must Identify Full-Time Workers (Part 1)

    With a substantial portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) set to go into effect in 2014, employers are working to determine how the law will impact them, their business and their employees. Because the law will require most employers to provide affordable minimum essential health insurance coverage to full-time employees or face financial penalties, employers must understand how the law defines full-time workers, as well as the penalties that businesses can face for failing to comply or choosing not to provide coverage.

    Under provisions called the employer shared responsibility rules, the PPACA requires large employers (generally those with 50 or more full-time employees) to provide affordable group health coverage with sufficient value to full-time employees and their dependents. Full-time employees are generally defined as those who work on average at least 30 hours per week. Employers that fail to comply with these rules can face penalties.

    What Are the Potential Penalties?

    The failure to offer coverage penalty applies if at least one full-time employee obtains subsidized coverage on an exchange where the employer does not offer coverage to at least 95 percent of its full-time employees and their dependents. This penalty – which can be up to $2,000 per year for each full-time employee (in excess of 30) – will be based on the total number of full-time employees an employer has, regardless of how many employees have government-subsidized exchange coverage.

    The insufficient coverage penalty applies if the employer offers full-time employees coverage, but the coverage is either unaffordable (individual premium cost exceeds 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income) or does not provide minimum value (pays less than 60 percent of the covered costs). Proposed regulations released by the IRS provide guidance and alternative safe harbors for calculating whether health coverage is unaffordable, including use of an employee’s W-2 earnings. The potential penalty for insufficient coverage is $3,000 per year for each employee who obtains government-subsidized coverage on an exchange.

    Employers should also note that in determining whether an employer is subject to these provisions (i.e. is a “large employer”), the IRS controlled group rules are applied – meaning that all affiliated employers for which there is 80 percent or greater common ownership will be treated as a single employer.  However, compliance with the employer shared responsibility rules – and any associated penalties- will generally be assessed on an employer-by-employer basis.

    By L. Scott Austin and David Mustone

    Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this article.


    What your employees need to know about health reform. (Part 3)

    Keep it simple

    Although health care reform represents considerable changes to the way employees have come to understand their benefits, you don’t need to write a book on the subject.

    In fact, issuing longer communications is a sure-fire way to ensure confusion. Besides, nothing turns people off like long, dense passages about insurance rules and legal requirements.

    Instead of getting bogged down in details, present what you have to say in digestible bites. There’s nothing wrong with a message that’s a paragraph or so in length. In fact, there’s everything right about that.

    And if your company’s plan details are going to stay mostly the same for now, say so for goodness’ sake! If a plan or plans might change because of cost considerations or other reasons, be sure to explain why — again, in simple terms — so everyone grasps the details.

    Don’t worry about exceptions, what-if scenarios, or fine print right off the bat. Focus on what will actually affect the greatest number of employees. As long as you address the top things that your employees care about, you should be fine.

    Justyn Harkin is a communications specialist for ALEX®, a virtual counselor that helps employees better understand and appreciate their benefits.


    What your employees need to know about health reform. (Part 2)

    Public healthcare exchanges

    Any health care reform information you share with employees should include a simple-to-understand explanation about public health care exchanges.

    For one thing, the United States Department of Labor requires all employers to do so, so you’re definitely on the hook for that. For another, some of your employees might be eligible for subsidies, and they’d probably appreciate you letting them know how they might qualify.

    First, explain what the health exchanges are—a place where individuals can easily purchase health insurance coverage for themselves and their families—and be sure to include information about where employees can go to get additional assistance.

    Finally, be prepared to include information on health care exchanges when you have COBRA discussions with employees who might be leaving the company. Although COBRA will allow departing employees to keep their medical plans for 18 months, they might find the offerings of a health exchange better suited to their needs.

    Check this page tomorrow for the final part of what your employees need to know about health reform.


    A quick guide to telling your people what they need to know about health reform. (Part 1)

    It’s not easy to explain the ins-and-outs of healthcare reform to confused employees. Here’s a clearly written, usable guide to key parts of the Affordable Care Act, courtesy of benefits expert Justyn Harkin.

    As an HR professional, you want to make sure employees are prepared for the changing benefits landscape. It’s a challenging task, no doubt about it.

    New Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) concepts and jargon can sound especially exotic and confusing to folks who aren’t all that familiar with benefits plans, and if you’re not careful, your communication about the topic can result in even more confusion.

    In order to avoid employee freak-outs, tantrums, gnashing of teeth, or just plain confusion in general, you should focus health care reform education or communication on the things that are most likely to affect employees and their families.

    Here’s a quick rundown:

    ‘Cadillac’ plans

    If none of your current health plans will trigger the 40% excise tax when it goes into effect in 2018, then you simply need to assure employees that the “Cadillac Tax” won’t apply to any of the benefits your company offers.
    If any of your plans will trigger the tax, however, you should use simple, jargon-free language to describe what that will mean for employees.
    If your company plans to adjust the structure of its “Cadillac” plans to avoid the tax (and save them money in the long run), then say so. Identify the plans by name and provide a timeline for when these changes will occur.

    Grandfathered plans

    Like with “Cadillac” plans, start your communication about grandfathered plans by identifying these plans by name. Don’t have any grandfathered health plans? Then skip ahead to a different topic. There’s no need to talk about things that won’t affect your employees, or at least not in any great detail.
    If you do have grandfathered plans, however, know that the word “grandfathered” can be terribly misleading. The key message: Grandfathered plans aren’t exempt from the requirements of health care reform. Explain in simple language what will be some of the things about these plans that will change.
    You don’t need to get into the finer details of these changes, though. Avoid getting into the weeds by explaining whether your company plans to keep these plans beyond 2013 and reminding employees that such plans aren’t closed to future enrollment. Help employees understand that they can add additional members to grandfathered plans in the future, and new hires can select plans with grandfathered status if they desire.

    Minimum Essential Coverage

    “Minimum essential coverage” is exactly what it sounds like—the minimum amount of medical insurance an individual needs in accordance to the law. Starting in 2014, the law requires most people without health insurance to pay a penalty. The good news is that the law also makes health insurance more accessible than ever before.

    Start the minimum essential coverage discussion by letting eligible employees know that enrolling in one of the company’s plans (or in a plan offered through a spouse’s employer) automatically satisfies the requirement.

    You can then arrange interest-specific meetings or communications for employees who want to learn more about adding new family members to their plans, or what to do in case the employee decides to separate from the company.

    Also, if your workforce includes employees who aren’t eligible for your medical insurance benefits or whose income levels would qualify them for tax subsidies, you’ll definitely want to arrange targeted communications that emphasize the importance and availability of public health care exchanges.

    Check back tomorrow for part 2: Public Healthcare Exchanges


    Seven Ways to Reduce Workplace Stress

    According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, employees experiencing high stress levels have nearly 50 percent higher healthcare costs than employees able to manage stress better. A recent World Labor Report by the United Nation’s International Organization even refers to workplace stress as “an epidemic.” The American Psychological Association estimates that workplace stress costs businesses approximately $300 billion a year in lost productivity due to stressed out employees. These are just some of the reasons why reducing stress in the workplace should be a human resourcing priority.

    Seven Ways to Reduce Workplace Stress

    1. Get Active

    While you may not be able to jog in place at your workspace, you should be able to get in some type of activity either on your lunch break or after work. Some companies even had a fitness center on site or offer gym memberships to employees. If you don’t get those work perks, consider taking a brisk walk instead.

    2. Personalize Your Workspace

    Not every workplace allows employees to customize their workplace. If you have an employer that does allow some personalization, however, consider a few potted plants along side photos of your family. Studies show plants actually do help reduce stress. The same isn’t always true for your family, so gauge that one accordingly.

    3. Yoga at Your Desk

    You may not be able to bend yourself into a pretzel shape and still get that report done by noon, but there are some simple yoga moves you can do right at your desk. You’ll easily find a handful of yoga moves you can do with minimal disruption to anybody around you.

    4. Meditate

    After you get done responding to those emails, take a few minutes to close your eyes and go to a happy place. You can do this as a quick escape during an especially stressful period and easily snap back to reality and get your work done. If you’re not well versed in meditation, you can find some basic info online or even sign up for a course in your community.

    5. Keep a Journal

    Writing down your frustrations can be a good way to safely vent your frustrations. Plus, there is something to be said for getting all your feelings out. It’s probably a Freud thing. Regardless, it is an easy way get those pent up frustrations out. You can take a few minutes on your break or before you go to bed to jot down your thoughts. Just avoid the temptation to post your journal online as a blog or on your Facebook page.

    6. Have a Laugh

    Take a moment to share a joke with your co-workers – just make sure its workplace appropriate if you’re not at the bar – or watch a few funny YouTube clips. Laughing is a great way to lighten the mood and instantly take away some of your stress.

    7. Plan Something with Co-workers

    Sometimes, just the fact that the weekend is coming isn’t enough. Consider planning something with co-workers for after work. Even just a gathering of a few friends to get something to eat or hang out at the local bar can take away the stress of a hectic day or week. This also gives you a chance to vent away from the prying eyes and ears of the office.

    Sign up online for our newsletter and a free consultation, where you can learn more helpful tips!

    3 Steps for Dealing with Difficult Employees

    As a small business owner in Kansas, problem employees can cause low morale for your team, absolute dysfunction and worse-yet, cause you to lose customers. All these problems certainly lead to lost profits. Not good in this economy.

    The first step is crucial to dealing with problem employees; you need to handle this NOW. Waiting for any amount of time creates more dysfunction among your other employees and can cause you to lose customers faster than you know.

    Step two is a no-brainer, but remember to document everything. Each performance review should be in writing, with specific changes and steps that need to be taken to ensure continued performance. If the issue is a cause for immediate termination, you’ll need to be able to back up your reasoning to avoid any wrongful termination lawsuits.

    Provide a specific policy when it comes to employee problems. Do you write employees up? How many times? What could a person be fired for doing? All these questions being answered in an employee orientation period or in an employee manual could be important and give you a leg to stand on when dealing with a troubled employee.

    If you think the problems that the employee is creating are solvable (by them) take these steps to right the course.

    Step 1: Clearly explain their expectations and where their performance is lacking. Clear communication may help you actually build rapport with the employee. Maybe they really want to succeed, they may just not know how.

    Step 2: Ask the employee to participate in finding a solution. How can both of you work together to solve the problem. Maybe there are external factors (like family or health) that are contributing to the problem. Can you get them help? Maybe it’s the work environment (lack to resources, a problem with a co-worker) that you can discuss. What other changes could you make to help them. Finally, maybe the problem is simply with them. Lay out a plan to fix the problem and how they are going to fix it.

    Step 3: Communicate a turnaround strategy and timeline. Tell them their expected timeline for turning around the problem. If they can’t fix the problem in a certain time, maybe this isn’t the place for them. Be fair but firm in your decision. Check in with them to make sure you are helping them through this time. Again, track everything.

    Problem employees can actually help you manage your entire team better. Who knows, maybe the problem isn’t them, but a system that you put into place to help profitability but crushes morale. Only you can decide if it works for them.

    Organizations and employment laws

    Employment laws are constantly changing with the times and it is no surprise that often businesses can fall behind the current trends and, without knowing it, organizations can often abuse employment laws. Take a look at the Fair Labor Standards Act, just to give you an idea of what you’re up against.

    The Fair Labor Standards Act – The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which prescribes standards for the basic minimum wage and overtime pay, affects most private and public employment. It requires employers to pay employees the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of one-and-one-half-times the regular rate of pay when they exceed 40 hours a week. It also restricts the hours that children under age 16 can work and forbids the employment of children under age 18 in certain jobs deemed too dangerous. It prohibits the employment of children under age 16 during school hours and in certain jobs deemed too dangerous. The Act is administered by the Employment Standards Administration’s Wage and Hour Division within the U.S. Department of Labor. Every employer covered by FLSA must keep certain records for each worker. There is no required form for the records, but the records must include accurate information about the employee and data about the hours worked and the wages earned.

    At Syndeo we specialize in things just like this. Our experts are knowledgeable in employment regulations and manage all new laws and regulations facing business owners. Our employees are up to date on dealing with the implications of theses laws and how they affect your company. And, for a small business it can be very economical to outsource your HR needs to specialists like us.

    We offer a variety of HR outsourcing solutions, including payroll services, staffing services, worker’s compensation, and much more. Beyond that, we’re always interested in finding the next “great idea.” So let’s talk.

    Source: United States Department of Labor

    Expertise and service are main reasons to outsource

    To John Q. Public, outsourcing is generally considered a dirty word. Many laymen believe that the only reason that companies outsource is to save money…to the detriment of their employees. But in the world of small businesses, human resources outsourcing is a lifeline and an increasingly common tactic.

    Contrary to popular belief, about half of companies that outsource their human resources do so for reasons other than the “Almighty Dollar.” In fact, the top three reasons employers give for HR outsourcing are:

    1) Gaining expertise from outside their company- This is a no-brainer. It is much easier, less time consuming and more efficient (and, coincidentally, less costly) to outsource a job to a qualified professional than having to search for, hire and train a new-hire to do the job. Outsourcing also affords companies the opportunity to benefit from the perspective of an outsider who also happens to be an expert.

    2) Improving the quality of service- Companies outsource their human resources in order to give their employees the best service possible. In many cases, small businesses don’t have the ability to perform human resources duties effectively. Outsourcing allows them to bring in professionals that know exactly how to take care of the companies HR needs.

    3) The ability to focus on the core of their business-
    When small business owners must take on many facets of their business at once, more often than not they stretch themselves too thin and their business suffers. HR Outsourcing allows some of the weight to be lifted off their shoulders so they can focus on the reason they started the business in the first place.

    At Syndeo, we offer HR outsourcing solutions, including payroll services, staffing services, worker’s compensation, and much more. But beyond that, we’re always interested in finding the next “great idea.” It’s become our mantra. So let’s talk.

    Top 5 reasons why companies choose to outsource HR

    Show us a successful businessperson, and we’ll show you an independent thinker. Knowing the value of hard work, they’re not afraid to take on every aspect of their organization.

    Most people that have founded a successful business pride themselves on being independent. They know the value of hard work and they aren’t afraid to take on every aspect to make their organization thrive. But, truth be told, they can’t possibly handle everything. When they become willing to accept this fact, many turn to outsourcing certain aspects of their business, from basic labor to human resources.

    So, why do they outsource? What are the top reasons they did (and that you’re thinking about)? Here’s the top five:

    1. Reducing Cost (a penny saved is a penny that falls right to the bottom line) – Outsourcing has the potential to save you money without sacrificing the integrity of your operations.
    This can sometimes be hard to swallow, or even believe, especially for the entrepreneurial business owner. But it’s true, and it happens – often. The savings can be rolled into the bottom line, or a process that can only be performed internally. It makes sense (and that adds up to dollars).

    2. Improve Business Focus (more time to do what you came here to do) – One of the biggest obstacles that entrepreneurs face is handling the essential aspects of running a business. Counterintuitive? Maybe, but having to do these things takes them away from the work that will help their business grow (and what led them into the business in the first place: their passion). Outsourcing lets others handle the block-and-tackle stuff, while you grow the business.

    3. Unfulfilled Needs (getting what you need without spending a fortune) – You can’t always find what you need in your local market. If you can find a supplier or service elsewhere that allows you to save money, why not take advantage of the opportunity? For many, outsourcing is the simple answer.

    4. Risk Management (take the pressure off yourself; let someone else handle it) – If you do your own paperwork, it’s your responsibility if anything goes wrong. For instance, if you handle your own payroll, you’ll be hearing from the IRS if anything goes awry. (Syndeo not only understands accountability, but lives it, so you can sleep at night.)

    5. Better Employees (a qualified employee that you don’t have to train) – It’s frustrating to search for qualified applicants for critical positions, especially when no one seems to be a truly qualified. Outsourcing allows you to get the job done without the time and expense of finding, and training, a new employee (let alone sustaining them with employment benefits services). Companies who outsource human resources and other important areas employ highly skilled and qualified people ready to do the job quickly and efficiently.

    Syndeo Human Resources offers the highest caliber outsourcing you’ll find in the state of Kansas and the Midwest. We’re locally-based professionals (yes, our corporate office is in Wichita, Kansas) in HR outsourcing, employee benefits, payroll, workers’ compensation and staffing.

    There are “unknowns” in your business. At Syndeo, we are in the business of removing them. We mitigate risk, alleviate fear of change, and help our clients sleep better. We’re always on the lookout for new and better ways to help our clients. If that sounds like what you’re looking for, let’s talk.

    Bring Your HR Services to Syndeo

    We are the ones who actually like this stuff

    Remember career day when all the firefighters, helicopter pilots, marketing professionals and even accountants spoke about why they were passionate about their jobs?

    Did you ever hear one of them brag about how neat it is to be an employer or human resources (HR) services provider?

    At Syndeo, the human resources services, staffing and payroll services leader in Kansas, our job is to handle all the 10,000+ rules and regulations, and tiny little details that come with being an employer so you can focus on the real important issues, like making money. Since 2002, we’ve been handling Human Resources Services, Payroll Services, Benefits Administration, Workmens’ Compensation and Staffing Services (including outsourcing) for our clients in Wichita, Kansas City and the surrounding region. If your eyes have already glazed over because of those big, scary words, then we definitely need to talk.

    “I remember walking into a company once and seeing this really large helicopter in the lobby,” recalls Syndeo CEO Bill Maness. “The caption underneath read ‘We rent helicopters.’ As legend would have it, a man on a mountain needed a part and a shipping company employee rented a helicopter to get it there. A true testament to incredible service and taking care of the client’s need.”

    At Syndeo, we’re not above renting a helicopter from time to time. We’d even teleport your needs if we had the technology figured out (we’re working on it). Our commitment to a culture of service while solving your employer needs makes us your business ally.

    As a matter of fact, it’s our name. Syndeo (sin-dee-oh) Greek; verb; to ally, link to, attach, or connect with.

    We’re an “all of the above” kind of company.

    Feel free to visit our Services page to see how we can help you get a better night sleep. If you wish to contact us, please do so. We also blog quite a bit, so find out what makes us tick. Finally, Like us on Facebook to see how we operate day-to-day.

    Syndeo, Your Business Ally for Success

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