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 It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

No, it’s not Christmas—it’s Open Enrollment!!

When the autumn leaves fall and the weather turns cooler, we know it’s time to start thinking of open enrollment hype and meetings and meetings and meetings. So how do you change normal and ordinary communication about employee benefits and change them into rockstar communication? We have some tips that may help!

 

COMMUNICATE EARLY

People need time to process all the information you share about their employee benefits. Once they have received the info, they typically need to ask questions, compare/contrast plans, and weigh decisions. By communicating with your employees early, you give them plenty of time to make their choices without feeling rushed by a short deadline.

 

COMMUNICATE CLEARLY

HSA, FSA, PPO, HMO, LTD? What? You can see how your employees can get confused with all the terms and plan names that get presented to them during open enrollment. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) suggests creating a glossary of common terms for enrollment meetings. Another way to clearly communicate benefits is to think ahead to the common questions asked each year and make a FAQ sheet with the answers.

 

COMMUNICATE FREQUENTLY

Did you know that it takes 8 times to read something before you retain that information? Think of all the material that gets shared at open enrollment meetings. There is no way that an employee would be able to retain that info in one sitting. So, communicate about your benefit plans all year long. Do trivia contests with prizes in your company newsletter about different benefits topics. Use multiple channels to frequently communicate such as print, digital, and animated videos!

 

COMMUNICATE PERSONALLY

Share “real life” examples of a sample employee with specific health issues and how they can utilize their benefits. This helps your audience think of additional situations in which they could see themselves needing some of the insurance products offered in your meetings. Host small Q & A sessions after larger meetings to allow for more personalized attention. When you communicate personally, you are able to explain the value of the benefits to your employees better.

 

By focusing on these communication techniques, you will reap the rewards of a well-informed and connected employee when they are choosing benefits. Plan ahead, speak with a clear message, personalize example situations, and repeat, repeat, repeat. Here’s to a great open enrollment season!

As 2019 is nearing an end, many people are looking at this year’s medical expenses to plan for how much they should set back for next year. In investigating these expenditures, you may notice that you still have money in your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for 2019. FSAs are unique in that any unused money from this plan year is forfeited once the new year begins. You definitely do not want to leave money in your FSA once 2020 rolls around. To help, we’ve compiled a list of some ways to use up your hard-earned FSA money that you may not have thought possible!

  • Acupuncture
  • Acne treatment
  • Breast pump and supplies
  • Chiropractic treatments
  • Dental treatments—orthodontia, medically necessary water fluoride treatments, caps, fillings, x-rays
  • Eyes—glasses, surgery, contact lenses
  • First aid kit
  • Genetic testing—including BRCA gene testing
  • Motion sickness medicine
  • Nutritionist consultations
  • Sunscreen
  • Smoking cessation program
  • Vaporizer
  • Vasectomy
  • Weight loss programs/surgery

There are even some high-tech gadgets that may fall into the medically qualified expenses category:

  • Acne light therapy
  • Electronic stimulation instruments for pain
  • Medically necessary mattresses
  • Smart thermometers

Don’t leave your FSA money on the table in 2019! You have earned this money so make sure you use it to its full potential.

This list is not an exhaustive list of ways to spend your FSA money nor does it guarantee your insurance program considers these to be qualified expenses. Check with your HR department and insurance agent if you have questions about qualified expenses.

 

The typical family in the US looks quite different today than it did 30 years ago. School, sports, church, clubs and activities, and longer work hours have changed the way we allocate our time as well as how we eat.  With families getting busier and busier, how do you make healthy eating a priority? It’s actually pretty easy!

New Look/Old Concept

Do you remember the food pyramid that your health teacher showed you in elementary school? It looked a little something like this:

Grains were depicted as the largest food group, taking up the most room on the pyramid. We were encouraged to eat 6-11 servings a day! Dairy and meats comprised less than ¼ of the recommended foods. Today, the food pyramid has been completely reworked to now look like this:

Gone is the illustration that suggested one food group was more important than another. New guidelines encourage a balanced plate of food and help users visualize what their actual plate should look like. Here are some simple tips for busy families to follow to achieve balanced nutrition.


Make a Meal Plan

Sit down with your family and brainstorm some meals that everyone likes. After you have a good-sized list of family favorites, make a menu of what you are going to make for dinner this week. When you go grocery shopping, buy only the items you need to make these dinners and stick to it. Not only will this cut down on making multiple trips to the grocery store each week (who has time for that?) but it also allows you to plan a balanced meal and ensures you have the ingredients to keep it balanced. Fewer trips to the store also means less money spent on impulse items!


5 Food Groups & Being Sneaky

Instead of placing a greater emphasis on one type of food, like in the old food pyramid, the United States Department of Agriculture now encourages an almost even distribution of food groups. Fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy should be nearly equally represented on your plate. Have a picky eater who just will not eat veggies? Sneak them in! Grate carrots to include in your lasagna sauce or throw a handful of spinach leaves in your child’s breakfast smoothie. Be creative to keep that plate a balanced one.


Meal Prep = Saved Minutes

The number one excuse busy families make for not eating healthy is that it takes too much time to cook at home when they need to be on the go.  It’s just easier and faster to grab a meal in the drive-thru versus making one in the kitchen. That doesn’t have to be so! When you make your week-long meal plan, you can choose the amount of time you can allot to meal prep. Don’t choose labor-intensive meals when you have a short window of time to cook and eat. Also, set aside a couple hours on the weekend and prep as much of the meals as you can for the week. Grill all the chicken you need at one time. Chop all the vegetables for the week and measure them out into baggies for each recipe. Portion out healthy snacks for the week so they are quick to grab on the way to the next activity. By spending a small amount of time planning ahead for the week, you will save yourself from bad food choices when you are at your busiest (and hungriest).


Creativity is Key

Food boredom is real. We are all guilty of saying “nothing looks good to eat” when we stare mindlessly into the pantry or refrigerator while searching for a snack or trying to figure out a meal.  To keep a busy family from getting bored of eating the same old stuff, be creative with your meals! And being creative doesn’t have to mean making flower shaped sandwiches or taking extra time to cook. Creativity is as simple as a Google search for “Grab and Go Breakfasts” or “Quick Healthy Meals.”

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be out of reach for a busy family. By following these very basic and very simple tips, you can cook up a balanced plate of food for your loved ones each week. Your waistband and your wallet will both thank you for adopting some new nutrition habits. Your friends at your favorite fast food drive-thru may miss seeing you everyday, but you can always stop by and drop off a healthy snack to share.

Right now our national unemployment rate is 3.7%–edging towards a 50-year low. With this low rate, companies are actually finding it increasingly harder to hire and retain great talent. One way to combat this issue is by increasing employee engagement through volunteering.

In survey after survey, employees state that they want to work for companies who care for others.  In fact, “71% of employees surveyed say it’s very important to work where culture supports volunteering,” according to America’s Charities Snapshot. There are different types of volunteer options when looking to begin a volunteer program at a company. For example, entire companies can come together for a big “Day of Service” event.  Or perhaps there is an ongoing need in the community, like Meals on Wheels, and employees sign up to help when needed by the charity. Offering pro bono services to non-profit community groups or donating skills for specific projects are other ways to assist charities in your area.

The issue of time worked and pay typically comes up when talking about employer sponsored/encouraged volunteering. There are a couple different ways that companies structure this. One way is to simply pay employees for their usual time at the workplace even though they are not actually working on company business at the time of the volunteer project. This is typical of big “Day of Service” campaigns during the workweek. Another way is to encourage employees to donate their break or lunch time to complete volunteer service projects. Finally, and this is the emerging trend in employee benefits, is to give each employee Volunteer Time Off (VTO) hours as part of their benefits package.

The benefits of VTO are numerous. One of the biggest values of VTO is that of employee recruitment and retention.  PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a survey and the results were that “59% of Millennials gravitated towards companies with pronounced Corporate Social Responsibility programs.”  For retention, the value is even higher, “74% of employees say their job is more fulfilling when given the opportunity to make a positive impact at work.” Companies also see a benefit in camaraderie across departments and company hierarchy. Working together towards a common goal builds these interdepartmental relationships. Also, by playing towards strengths unseen in a regular office setting, employers have a chance to discover untapped leadership skills and completely unknown skill sets of employees. Finally, your company’s brand image is boosted by the view of its involvement in the community.

Whatever the benefit that your company assigns to a healthy VTO program, be it retention, image, or team building, the fact remains that there WILL BE a benefit. If you are looking to begin the search for the right fitting program, there are great resources available for you. Check out this quick read on Charities.org and also the great tips on SalesForce.com. Start the conversation today with your leadership and start making an impact in your community!

Let’s say you are getting ready to make your favorite breakfast—avocado toast. You’ve toasted the bread, cut the avocado in half, and are ready to remove the dreaded pit. Of course, your knife slips and you end up slicing your hand—making you the latest victim of “avocado hand.” It seems you cannot stop the bleeding with a simple bandage so now you need to make the decision on where to go to seek help. Do you choose an urgent care facility or the emergency room? What’s the difference?

Urgent care centers and emergency rooms are both great options for times when you are unable to see your primary care physician (PCP). The reasons for choosing these facilities can be because the injury or sickness has occurred outside normal office hours for your doctor or that you are out of town when an emergency hits. As you know, the first choice for non-life or limb-threatening conditions should be your regular doctor—they will have your medical history on file and your medication list at the ready. When this is not an option, you will need to make the choice on what level of care you need.

Urgent Care Centers

Urgent care centers fill the gap between when you are sick or minorly injured but cannot see your PCP and when you are in need of hospital emergency care. Most urgent care locations are staffed by doctors or physician’s assistants. These centers can get you in and out quickly and some even take appointments. Since you will not see your PCP at these clinics, it’s always best to bring a copy of all the medications and dosages of meds you take. If you have a special condition, like epilepsy, make sure you disclose that to the urgent care provider you see. In the case of your avocado hand, your urgent care physician may be able to do minor stitches and bandaging at the facility. Most have access to x-ray machines and basic diagnostic tests. The typical range of costs for care at these centers is between $50-$150.

Here are some conditions that typically can be seen at urgent care centers:

  • Fevers, flu or cold symptoms
  • Ear infections
  • Bronchitis
  • Cuts and bleeding that may require stitches
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Minor back pain

Emergency Room Care

Hospital emergency rooms provide care for life and limb-threatening situations ranging from heart attack and stroke to car accident injuries. Staffed by physicians, nurses, and specialists, emergency rooms have access to highly knowledgeable and diverse medical teams.  In emergency rooms, care is given to the most serious injury/illness first—not on a first-come, first-served basis. Because of this, wait times in emergency rooms are widely varied and may be into a several hours-long wait. Again, it is wise to bring a list of any medications, both prescribed and over-the-counter, with you when seeking care since the ER will not have this information from your PCP. Costs for emergency services can be anywhere from $50 to more than $10,000 depending on the severity of the injury or illness.

Symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room include:

  • Chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Weakness/numbness on one side
  • Slurred speech
  • Fainting/change in mental state
  • Serious burns
  • Head or eye injury
  • Concussion/confusion
  • Broken bones and dislocated joints
  • Fever with a rash
  • Seizures
  • Severe cuts that may require stitches
  • Facial lacerations
  • Severe cold or flu symptoms
  • Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy

When faced with the decision to visit an urgent care center or emergency room, you have to first evaluate your symptoms. Once you have done this, ask yourself this question, “Does this condition have the possibility of permanently impairing or endangering your life?” If the answer is “yes,” then you have an emergency and should proceed to the nearest hospital ER. If the answer is “no,” then take your towel-wrapped avocado hand to your local urgent care center for stitches or whatever care they recommend. You will save yourself time and money by making a good choice on your care.

There’s no denying that summer has arrived. In fact, the news has been abuzz with Alaska’s heat wave in July that sent temperatures soaring between 20 and 30 degrees above average. When you are caught in the middle of a heat wave, it may seem like there’s nothing you can do to keep cool. But, there are ways for you to beat the heat this summer and stay safe from heat related illnesses.

Avoid the Heat

It may seem like a no-brainer to avoid the heat to prevent a heat related illness but some professions work solely outdoors. In those cases, there aren’t many options for avoiding the heat.  Be aware of the hottest time of day and limit physical activity outside during that time.

Reduce Activity Levels

Plan the most active job of the day to be in the morning when the sun and heat aren’t as intense. Heatstroke can occur when a person engages in strenuous activity for long periods of time in the heat. If possible, arrange workflows to include times of rest and times to visit a cooling station.

Drink Fluids Regularly

The underlying factor in most heat related illness is the inadequate supply of fluids for your body, in other words, drink more water! Heavy sweating depletes a person’s body of fluid and salt and this in turn can cause heat cramps and heat exhaustion. If this occurs, drink cool water or an electrolyte-replacement beverage like Gatorade. To prevent these two illnesses, drink plenty of water before you know you will be outside in the heat so that your body has sufficient fluids in reserve.

Have a Buddy System

When you know you will working outside or even playing outside in the heat of the day, make sure you have someone with you. If you should experience a heat related illness while alone, there would be no one available to offer first aid or call for help. As in the case of heatstroke, confusion and weakness along with fainting and possibly convulsions could occur. These are all series symptoms and require immediate action for treatment. The buddy system gives you a safety net of someone else who can recognize these symptoms and can act to save them.

Take a Dip!

The best way to beat the heat is by cooling off your body. Not everyone has access to a pool when spending time outside in the heat so if that’s the case, use cold compresses or ice and ice packs to lower body temperature. You can also remove excess clothing and spray your body with cool water. If you do have someone with you and you are experiencing a heat related illness, make sure they are watching you if you jump into a pool.

By following these easy tips to beat the heat you can safely be outside when temperatures are at their peak. Enjoy your summer and stay cool!

Volunteering Time Off, or VTO, has become a buzz topic for many companies as of late. It involves encouraging employees to take time off from their job to plug in to their community and the nonprofits that support it. Let’s delve in deeper to understand what VTO looks like.

  • Typical VTO policies allot for 8 hours of paid time off to volunteer each year.
  • Just like Paid Time Off (PTO), VTO usually requires advance notice to the employer and approval for time away from the business.
  • Studies have shown that VTO boosts employee engagement and retention.
  • Millennials state they are attracted to companies who offer VTO.
  • VTO builds loyalty and pride for a company with its employees.
  • A recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study states 20% of its respondents now offer volunteering benefits as part of their employee benefits package.

As you look for ways to engage with your employees through VTO, take a look at these resources:

  • VolunteerMatch.org—This website makes the business-to-nonprofit connection possible. Nonprofits post projects and jobs they need assistance with and then the company builds its team to help.
  • Volunteering Is CSR—An arm of Volunteer Match, this blog is for business leaders to educate themselves on best practices and case studies.
  • CatchAFire.org—This site connects professionals with nonprofits using their specific skill sets.
  • PointsofLight.org—Founded by President George H.W. Bush, this group offers toolkits to businesses and nonprofits to maximize volunteering efforts as well as offers products to maximize those efforts.

By now you’ve heard of the term “gig economy” but you may not know what it means. Is it describing the economy of musicians as they work gigs? Does it mean something about computers and the measurement of space allotted for their programs? Does it have something to do with fishing? Well, not exactly. But, have no fear! We will break this term down into easy bites and you’ll be an expert on the gig economy in no time.

What IS the Gig Economy?

The term “gig economy” refers to the new landscape of employment in the world where workers are hired for temporary, flexible jobs instead of full-time permanent positions. Think of it this way: workers in a gig economy are paid for completing a job in a predetermined timeframe—like musicians are paid for a night of music (a gig) at a venue. In a gig economy, you see that independent contractors and freelancers tend to be hired over the more traditional, full-time job seekers. Examples of jobs that thrive in this economy are technology-based positions, creative jobs, and the new tide of service-based positions in companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Instacart.

 

Gig Economy Numbers

Forbes magazine reports that according to the 2018 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 55 million people in the US classified as gig workers. This is a huge number! In fact, that translates to more than 35% of the current US workforce. Projected to rise to 42% in 2020, over 40% of these workers are estimated to be millennials.  As those numbers increase, the proportion of male to female workers shifts. Once right at 50/50, the new ratio is 60/40. This is attributed to larger numbers of women returning to school for postsecondary education. In fact, many leave the workforce completely to return to school versus taking courses and working at the same time.

 

Pros of Gig Economy Jobs

There are many pros to a job in this category. Job seekers who are looking for gig economy positions name flexible workplaces and flexible hours as their top priorities. The shift to remote offices as well as the freedom to work at whatever hours are most convenient definitely supports this new economy. Employees who have the discipline to manage their workflow and complete tasks on time are ones that will thrive in a gig job. The positives are not limited to just the employees, though. Employers like being able to choose new hires from a much larger pool of candidates because they are not tied down to job seekers in their immediate vicinity. Employers are also able to save money as they do not have to invest in work equipment, health benefits, or on-going training for these independent workers.

 

Cons of Gig Economy Jobs

The cons of gig work are some of the flip sides to the pros of gig work. These drawbacks include the absence of health benefits and 401k benefits. Freelancers have to buy their own healthcare and figure out their own savings schedule for retirement—both of which aren’t impossible, but they do take up time and tend to be at a greater expense than the benefits offered in a traditional work environment. Gig workers also face the reality of no paid sick days or vacation days. If a freelancer has the flu, he isn’t paid for the time he misses from work and his deadline isn’t adjusted in this task-based economy. On the employer side of the equation, companies report that the pool of qualified candidates for higher level management positions continues to get smaller as the trend for gig workers who freelance from job-to-job increases.

The workplace continues to evolve from a traditional 9-5 workday in a traditional office environment to one that is a flexible work cycle in an ever-changing location. Employees place high priority on setting their own rhythm for work flow and prize independence. Employers are encouraged to stay in-tune with the gig economy and to seek ways to marry their company’s needs with the needs of this new workforce population. Both employer and employee can benefit from this new work landscape.

The winter doldrums have left most of the country and we are witnessing the arrival of spring. Just like the budding trees and baby animals signify a new start, so does a fresh cleaning of your home. But don’t let the spring cleaning stop with the physical place where you live—extend it to all corners of your life. Give your life a good spring cleaning by organizing, decluttering, and setting goals.

 

ORGANIZE

By now everyone knows who Marie Kondo is—the master of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”  What began a worldwide phenomenon of “sparking joy” in your home can be applied to your work life as well. Start by organizing your thoughts. Write down the tasks you want to accomplish whether it be daily, monthly, or yearly. Calendar the tasks so you know when you want them completed and prioritize them so you know what importance you assign to each item. Prioritizing tasks helps you accept a request or confidently say “no” when someone asks you to do something knowing it doesn’t fit in with your priorities.  Organizing tasks works for both your personal and work life.

 

DECLUTTER

A good decluttering session is good for the soul! Step back and look at your workspace—are there piles of paper stacked on your desk? What about that mound of things you keep saying you’ll take upstairs in your house? Do you have relationships that are cluttering up your life? Take an hour each week to sort through your workspace piles. Choose to save only the papers/magazines/notes that you need to complete your job or that you want to save for sentimental reasons. Toss the rest of those papers in the recycle bin! After you are able to pare down the piles, begin asking yourself if the next paper that comes across your desk needs to be saved, trashed, or recycled so that those mounds don’t grow into mountains again. The same goes for stuff around your house. Start that garage sale box, begin a keepsake box, and trash the rest. Finally, kick those toxic relationships to the curb. You know the ones—the relationships that suck the life out of you. If you have someone whose values and priorities don’t align with yours, choose to keep them at arm’s length so you can spend more time with the people who hold priority in your life.

 

SET GOALS     

Goals are unlike resolutions.  Resolutions are a firm decision to do or not to do something. “I resolve not to eat dessert after every meal.” Goals give direction to follow to achieve a desired outcome. For instance, a career goal may be to finish your college degree or obtain a special certification. A relationship goal could be to have weekly date night or to start a family. Financial goals may include paying down debt, setting aside money from each check for a summer vacation, or to begin regularly giving to a non-profit dear to your heart. Set goals as you spring clean your life to give yourself direction in how you spend your time and effort this year.

As you begin spring cleaning your life, you will be surprised what good things are able to flow into those corners that were previously inhabited by disorganization, clutter, or lack of focus. By giving yourself a chance to have a fresh start in your life, you are encouraging new growth. And new growth is always exciting!

2019 has ushered in many new trends such as retro cartoon character timepieces, meatless hamburgers, and 5G networks to name a few. Not surprisingly, trend-watching doesn’t stop with pop culture, fashion, and technology. Your company’s human resources department should also take notice of the top changes in the marketplace, so they are poised to attract and retain the best talent. These top trends include a greater emphasis on soft skills, increased workforce flexibility, and salary transparency.

SOFT SKILLS

Gone are the days of hiring a candidate solely based on their hard skills—their education and technical background. While the proper education and training are important factors in getting the job completed, a well-rounded employee must have the soft skills needed to work with a team, problem solve, and communicate ideas and processes. According to Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP and president of HRU Technical Resources in Michigan, “Employers should be looking for soft skills more and training for hard skills, but we struggle with that.” While hard skills can be measured, soft skills are harder to quantify. However, soft skills facilitate human connections and are the one thing that machines cannot replace.  They are invaluable to the success of a company.

WORKFORCE FLEXIBILITY

As millennials begin to flood the workplace, the traditional view of the workweek has changed. Job seekers report they place a high importance on having the flexibility of when and where to work. The typical work day has evolved from a 9am – 5pm day to a flexible 24-hour work cycle that adjusts to the needs of the employee. Employers are able to offer greater flexibility about when the work is completed and where it takes place. This flexibility has so much importance that job seekers say remote work options and the freedom of an adaptable schedule have a higher priority to them over pay.

SALARY TRANSPARENCY

In the wake of the very public outing of the gender and race pay gaps, companies are opening up conversations about wages in the workplace. Once a hushed subject punishable by termination, salary information is now often being shared in the office. Employers have found that the more transparent and open that they are about the compensation levels in their organization, the more trustworthy they appear to their workforce. One way to stay educated on the welcome trend of pay equality is to visit the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’s website to review wage ranges across the nation. Another great resource is the Department of Labor’s free publication called “Employer’s Guide on Equal Pay.”

By watching the trends in the marketplace, employers can focus on what is important to their staff. Honest discussions about salary and compensation, when and where to work, and developing the employee as a whole, including soft skills, sets your company up for success. When you listen to what the market is saying, you show you are sensitive to what their priorities are—and this is always on trend.

Thank you for putting the Plan Document together for us!  It is a big accomplishment knowing that we are in compliance!   Once again we are grateful and thankful for your continuing support and enjoy the relationship that we share.

- Office Manager, Food Distribution Company

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