As an employee benefit pro you should get use to answering a lot of questions. Everyday your knowledge of your organization’s benefits program as well as health, life, and disability insurance and retirement plans in general is tested. Your ability to answer questions correctly and quickly will determine your reputation with employees and management.
The Difference Between Employee and Employer Questions
In general, employee questions are more “me-centric and top management questions are more global or “we-centric.” An employee may ask if the plan covers a particular medical service. Top management may ask about the cost to cover a specific benefit.
But one question that comes up from time to time by both groups is the, “have you heard about…” question. Sometimes this question is accompanied by a copy of a newspaper or magazine article or a link to a website. At other times, there is no particular reference, just a question. And the more you can answer “yes” to the “have you heard about” questions, the better your credibility and vice versa.
The U.S. federal government administers two of the largest retirement plans in the country, Social Security (SS) and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). Social Security is available to all eligible workers and the TSP is available to federal workers and those in the uniformed services. Social Security is similar to a non-government defined benefit pension plan. Eligibility is based on years worked and wages earned, and benefits last a lifetime. The TSP plan is similar to 401(k)-style retirement plans where the employee contributes part of their pay to the plan and chooses a fund or funds to contribute to, and benefits are not guaranteed.
Given the federal government’s experience with large, complex retirement plans and the significant benefits they provide, benefit professionals may want to listen when the government suggests changes in this area. And it is not just the federal government proposing changes to workplace retirement plans, at least ten states are looking to expand access to a retirement savings account to workers without one. Unfortunately, these proposals rarely receive support or endorsement by benefit professionals.
This is odd. Benefit professionals are dedicated to helping employees minimize financial risk through insurance and savings accounts. So why are they not in support of efforts to expand access to these products?
Reasons Benefit Professionals Do Not Support Changes to Workplace Retirement Plans
At some point in our work lives many of us will need to take an extended medical or personal leave of absence. Medical leaves of absence include taking time off to give birth and to receive treatment for or recover from an illness or injury. Personal leave may entail taking time off to care for or support a family member who is ill or injured.
There are federal and state laws and employer policies and programs that allow employees to take time off from work for these types of absences. Benefits professionals must be aware of these laws to administer their leave programs properly. In addition, they need to stay apprised of related case law decisions to understand how the courts interpret them. And, of course, benefits pros need to communicate these laws, policies and programs to employees and supervisors in putting them to use.
Top Challenges of Leave Management
All of this sounds pretty straightforward but it is not. In fact, leave administration was always my least favorite function to perform for several reasons.
- The laws are complex, interconnected and overlapping. For example, an employee may have a leave situation that involves the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Workers’ Compensation (WC) or FMLA, ADA and a short- or long-term disability policy
I was a champion of workplace wellness programs long before they went mainstream. It was a time when getting management approval to purchase a $.50 per employee monthly healthy eating newsletter was an uphill battle. It was a time when CFOs and CEOs routinely dismissed workplace wellness programs as financially unproven. (If I recall correctly the terminology used was that there was no data to support the programs return on investment (ROI)). And it was a time when health insurance companies did not offer their own or any other workplace wellness program. A time before employer health plan privacy (HIPAA) and genetic discrimination (GINA) laws. A time when meeting individual wellness goals was not linked to health insurance premiums.
It was also a time when employees looked upon workplace wellness initiatives favorably. They enjoyed the colorful wellness newsletters placed in their payroll envelopes. They valued the gym membership discounts, no matter how small. They looked forward to the lunch-n-learn and lunchtime Weight Watchers meetings. This was fun stuff and anyone and everyone could participate or not.
Workplace Wellness Becomes a Program
But then things started to change. Employers upped the ante. HR department heads finally convinced CEOs that despite the lack of ROI data, a workplace wellness program was the best way to lower health insurance costs for the company. Continue Reading...
Who doesn't like to attend a good fair? There is always great food, prizes, and a variety of activities to engage in. Unfortunately, this is how too many employee benefits offices approach the annual health and wellness fair. It is an opportunity to put on a good show and entertain employees. This exercise of style versus substance is not always intentional, sometimes it just happens. I should know because it happened to me
Giveways, Food, and Activities
My first experience leading a workplace health and wellness fair was in the late 1990s. With a committee of employee volunteers, we hosted a fall wellness fair that was textbook perfect. Committee members arranged for food, prizes, and facility decorations. Local businesses donated prizes like athletic sneakers and apparel, gym membership discounts, free massages and more. We collected enough free prizes to give every employee at least one. And I am not talking about those insurance company giveaways like chip clips and toothbrushes, but we had those too.
Committee members cooked the food, which included healthy fall soups, a ton of vegetable lasagna, baked chicken curry egg rolls, roast turkey and cheese sandwiches and a few other items. The fall theme decorations met you at the door of the facility and continued throughout--a "welcome to wellness" banner, bales of hay, fall flowers, pumpkins and other squash sitting on fall colored blankets. Continue Reading...