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Aristotle was right when he said, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Companies and politicians like to say that they’re transparent, when in fact, they’re often the opposite. And, as in nature, in the absence of facts, people will often fill their minds with what is perceived.

If you’re working at a company, rather than being one of its customers, and you’ve been told by senior management that they’re transparent about what goes on, then make sure you take a close look at what they’re willing to share.

In the article titled “The Price of Secrecy” in Human Resource Executive Online, employers are quick to cite company policy, yet are reticent to share if and how those policies are being enforced. This has a huge impact on employee trust and can quickly have the opposite effect on employees following said policy.

Basically, employees want to know that if they follow the rules, others will also follow them, or there will be consequences for not doing so. Companies can hide behind the mantra of “it’s being handled,” or “it’s an employee issue,” but what the employer may forget is that gossip will sometimes fill in the unknown. Compounding matters is that employees want to know that if a colleague violates company policy, the appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

Employers seldom reveal any disciplinary process or policy enforcement simply because it may violate privacy, or it might embarrass either the employee or employer. For example, an employee has been stealing company property for months. Eventually, the employee is caught, but it may reflect poorly on the employer that it took a long time to realize this was happening, or that safeguards were not in place to prevent the theft in the first place. So, while the employer wants to inform its employees about this violation and how it was handled, they also don’t want to expose vulnerabilities that could undermine the employee’s trust in the company.

Another benefit of policy transparency is that it keeps the enforcers honest. That is, if a company employee is responsible for doling out punishment, then that person is more likely to do it fairly and impartially if they know everyone is watching.

 

by Bill Olson
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

 

Understandably, some employers (and employees) have mixed feelings about the gig economy. While many enjoy the freedom gained and overhead saved, others miss office camaraderie and routine. No matter your position, research shows that the trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. By 2021, 9.2 million Americans will work on-demand jobs, and so employers need to start asking themselves how they plan to keep employees of all stripes engaged in office work and culture.

As HR Technologist cautions, employee engagement goes both ways.While employers should be concerned about the reliability and loyalty of their freelance pool, they must also maintain strong relationships with their current full-time employees. Best practices for addressing this include providing similar perks to all workers, using in-depth onboarding services and training, and maintaining meticulously open lines of communication.

It is also important to remember that integration like this can’t happen overnight. Building a strong and diverse team, whether fully remote or mixed, takes time. Many companies are engaging “future ready” practices, so that hybrid workforces can be available whenever a particular company is ready to consider open options. Such practices are rooted primarily in savvy digital platforms, allowing for collaboration and innovation, as well as clear conversations about benefits and salaries. Not only do such techniques strengthen the current team, but they also position organizations as solid competitors for rising digital talent. Finally, remember that talent management isn’t merely an agenda item. It’s also a driving tool for strategic decisions about innovation, growth, and performance ability.

While there is no one established way forward, it’s clear that employers who are cognizant of the growing gig economy trend are able to both deepen and strengthen their current talent pool while looking toward the future.

by Bill Olson
Originally posted on UBAbenefits.com

On August 1, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Labor (collectively, the Departments) released a final rule that amends the definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance. HHS also released a fact sheet on the final rule.

According to the Departments, the final rule will provide consumers with more affordable options for health coverage because they may buy short-term, limited-duration insurance policies that are less than 12 months in length and may be renewed for up to 36 months.

The final rule will apply to insurance policies sold on or after October 2, 2018.

 

By Karen Hsu
Originally Published By United Benefits Advisors

 

Since the ACA was enacted eight years ago, many employers are re-examining employee benefits in an effort to manage costs, navigate changing regulations, and expand their plan options. Self-funded plans are one way that’s happening.

In 2017, the UBA Health Plan survey revealed that self-funded plans have increased by 12.8% in the past year overall, and just less than two-thirds of all large employers’ plans are self-funded.

Here are six of the reasons why employers are opting for self-funded plans:

1. Lower operating costs frequently save employers money over time.

2. Employers paying their own claims are more likely to incentivize employee health maintenance, and these practices have clear, immediate benefits for everyone.

3. Increased control over plan dynamics often results in better individual fits, and more needs met effectively overall.

4. More flexibility means designing a plan that can ideally empower employees around their own health issues and priorities.

5. Customization allows employers to incorporate wellness programs in the workplace, which often means increased overall health.

6. Risks that might otherwise make self-funded plans less attractive can be managed through quality stop loss contracts.

If you want to know more about why self-funding can keep employers nimble, how risk can be minimized, and how to incorporate wellness programs, contact us for a copy of the full white paper, “Self-Funded Plans: A Solid Option for Small Businesses.”

by Bill Olson
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

“Design thinking” is a fairly common term. Even if the phrase is new to you, it’s reasonably easy to intuit how it works: design thinking is a process for creative problem solving, utilizing creative tools like empathy and experimentation, often with a strong visual component. The term dates from 1968 and was first used in The Sciences of The Artificial, a text written by Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon.

For Simon, design thinking involved seven components, but today it’s usually distilled to five: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test. In this way, creative tools are employed to serve individuals in a group, with a solution-driven focus. It’s important to note that these components are not necessarily sequential. Rather, they are specific modes, each with specific tools that contribute equally to solving an issue.

Most significantly, as Steve Boese of HR Executive noted in a recent column, design thinking is a rising trend in HR leadership. “Those using this strategy,” he says, “challenge existing assumptions and approaches to solving a problem, and ask questions to identify alternative solutions that might not be readily apparent.”Design thinking helps teams make decisions that include employees in meaningful ways, personalize target metrics, work outside the box, and produce concrete solutions. Even teams with established, productive structures use design thinking in the review process, or to test out expanded options.

Boese says that the key shift design thinking offers any team is the opportunity to troubleshoot solutions before they’re put into real-time practice. The main goal of design thinking is not process completion, low error rates, or output reports, as with other forms of HR technology, but employee satisfaction and engagement. More often than not, this leads to increased morale and even more opportunities for success.

 

by Bill Olson
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

 

More and more, we are learning that scientists, marketers, programmers, and other kinds of knowledge workers lead office lives very similar to famous innovators like Watson, Crick, and Franklin, who discovered the structure of DNA. How so? All of these people live work lives structured around progress in meaningful work. And when this progress occurs, it boosts emotions, perceptions, and productivity.

This could be an important key to supporting your employees at their desks, wherever those may be. While recognition, tangible incentives, and goals are important, leading managers must also consider nourishing progress through attention to inner work life, minor milestones, and appropriate modeling.

When progress is effectively monitored and encouraged, it can lead to a self-sustaining progress loop, which often results in increased success and productivity, especially toward larger, group-based goals. In other words, when managers support inner work life and recognize minor progress, it leads to major accomplishments.

Seeing employees as growing, positive individuals with a drive to experiment and learn, as opposed to mere means to an end goal, can make all the difference in an office, and over the yearsOne way to do this effectively is to incorporate humility into your leadership style. This doesn’t imply that you have low self-confidence or are yourself servile. Rather, it says you prioritize the autonomy of your office and support your employees to think responsibly for themselves. Ask them what their daily work lives are like, and how you can help them maximize effectiveness. Create low-risk opportunities for growth, and most importantly: follow through.

Read More:
“Leading through emotions”
“Leading with emotional intelligence”

by Bill Olson, VP, Marketing & Communications at United Benefit Advisors

Originally posted on blog.ubabenefits.com

According to recent studies disability income is a rising star in the employee benefits market. This is due to a variety of factors. Most poignantly insurance company attempts to court and educate employee benefit advisers about the product, historically low national unemployment and financial impact of the recent tax reforms.

In discussions with successful financial and employee benefits professionals across the country, one of the common traits observed is their ability to adapt their business in the midst of market change.  To accomplish this, professionals must not only pay attention to industry trends, but also anticipate how to shift an organizational process to maximize positive outcomes.  Of equal importance is optimizing the client experience.  Executed successfully, this type of innovation will result in phenomenal business rewards.

Is this disability income protection trend an opportunity wave you should ride?

When reviewed more closely, Disability Income Protection placements within the context of employee benefits programs is a triple-win scenario for today’s economic environment.

The employer wins because it enhances the ability to attract, retain and recruit employees.

The employee wins as they are provided easy and efficient access to more adequately protect their most valuable asset, the ability to earn income.

The advisor wins because these new product placements drive new revenue and deepen the engagement with the customer.

If your clients believe in providing traditional group long term disability coverage to their employees, they will likely engage in a discussion pertaining to enhanced disability income protection for executives and key contributors.

In an April 2018 article featured in Think Advisor titled, “Maybe Employers Are Ready to Be Aware of Disability Insurance”, Allison Bell cites comments on two major disability insurance companies’ recent earnings calls that securities analysts see increased employer interest in adding to disability benefits. This is thought to be attributed to the current state of the U.S. economy where near full employment levels have convinced employers that they have to do more to attract and retain good workers.

How can you position this opportunity?

  1. Focus On Incentive-Based Compensation – Most group long term disability insurance programs insure only base salary. However, most executives, sales professionals and other key contributors within an organization are compensated beyond base salary alone. Bonus, ownership distributions, stock bonus plans, and other fringe benefits add up to a significant portion of income uninsured by the group disability insurance program. When disability occurs without any other form of planning beyond a group program, these valuable employees are left in a devastating financial state, drastically disrupting their lifestyles.
  2. C-Suite Engagement. Although disability income programs are often implemented by an HR Team, they may not always have influence to make company decisions or recommendations for benefit programs. These programs are most successful when the executive team is engaged in the initial discussions for development. Focus on your clients where you have a strong relationship with the C-Suite to gauge their interest. After all, they are the most likely to benefit from this type of disability income protection program.

A Life Happensr ecent study called “What Do You Know About Disability Insurance?” concluded 7 in 10 employed Americans would have trouble in a month or less if they couldn’t earn a paycheck. This statistic emphasizes the importance of disability income protection insurance and why advisers need to be talking to clients about their options.

By Nicole Blodgett

Originally published by www.UBABenefits.com

New technologies are poised to fundamentally change the HR industry as we know it. Just as the smartphone revolutionized the way we communicate, artificial intelligence will reshape all areas of HR, from employee onboarding to learning management to developing top talent. And, similar to smartphones, these changes will take place at lightning speed.

But what exactly is artificial intelligence? And what implications might this evolving tech have on the future of health care? Buckle up, because we’re going to take a glimpse into the current AI projects, as well as what the future of health care could look like with AI advancements.

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

In its most basic form, artificial intelligence uses computer programming to develop systems that are able to perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence. These tasks could include speech recognition, decision-making, language translation, and much more.

Have you ever wondered how ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft are able to predict ETAs for rides? Artificial intelligence. Or, how email platforms know how to filter out spam and nicely categorize your emails into categories? Yep, artificial intelligence.  Or, how your banking app is able to process a check deposit via a simple image? You guessed it, artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence has become an integral part of many of the technologies and services that we use in our everyday life without us even knowing or really thinking about it.

In addition to its many convenient applications, AI also offers a promising and impactful future in the field of health care.

Examples of Artificial Intelligence in Health Care

The use of artificial intelligence is completely altering the front door of health care as we know it. From specific programs that aid in medical diagnostics to intelligent apps that triage remote patients, AI is making health care more efficient and accessible than ever.

Medical Data Mining

One of the primary areas in which AI shines versus manual human processes in the field of data analysis. Not only can artificial intelligence process complex sets of data at lightning speed, it can also provide meaningful and actionable insight and recommendations based on data sets. DeepMind(acquired by Google in 2014) is an AI-based technology that works to expedite the process in which patients are moved from ‘test’ to ‘treatment’. IBM’s Watsonproduct provides solutions for interpreting, organizing, and easily accessing clinical and patient data, in addition to providing technology for recognizing patient similarity and medical insights. According to IBM, medical data is expected to double every 73 days by 2020. And, each person will generate enough health-related data in their lifetime to fill 300 million physical books. Utilizing AI will not only expedite the process in which health care providers access patient info but also better-organize and analyze data available and even provide predictions on future health concerns and recommendations for treatment plans.

Powering Diagnostics

The FDA recently approved the use of artificial intelligence powered software for the use of medical diagnostics, marking the first use of AI in this application. The program is designed to detect signs of diabetic retinopathy, a condition that can cause long-term vision loss and that impacts more than 30 million people in the United States alone. The technology uses an AI algorithm to scan and analyze multiple images of an eye and then delivers a positive or negative test result. This is the first FDA approved solution that does not require a doctor to interpret test results, and more AI-based diagnostic solutions are expected to get the green light in the next several years.

Drug Development

It’s no secret that testing pharmaceuticals through clinical trials is an expensive and time-consuming process. The full development, testing, and approval process can literally take decades and cost billions. Though pharmaceutical players of all sizes are currently experimenting with AI applications in the drug discovery and development process, GSK is considered a leader in the space. GSK has fully embraced AI research and applications with their dedicated in-house team, ‘In silico Drug Discovery Unit’. The ultimate goal of the GSK project is to leverage artificial intelligence to shorten the drug research, testing, and launch window to under a year, a bold vision. Making the pharmaceutical process more efficient could drastically reduce the cost of medical treatments and the cost of health care in general.

Solving Doctor Shortages

China is facing one of the most alarming doctor shortagesin history, with only 1.5 doctors for every 1,000 residents (compared to 2.5 doctors per person in the United States). The need is dire, and the government is calling for action and loosening restrictions on the use of data and new technology. Currently, more than 100 companies are working to develop AI solutions to address urgent health care needs. A recent reportpredicted that China’s market for AI-powered health care services will reach almost $6B yuan ($930 Million) by 2022. Current projects include diagnostic tools to assist with CT scans, x-rays, ultrasound scans and prosthetic design and manufacturing.

Improving Telemedicine

Which would you prefer – an hour-long wait in a doctor’s office plus the time to actually see the doctor, or a quick 15-minute consultation and diagnosis via your smartphone? Though many assume telemedicine is a modern iteration of health care, this practice has actually been around since the 1950’s. Now, telemedicine is a common alternative to traditional doctor’s visits for simple diagnostics and treatment. A new app, 98point6, is taking this remote-experience to the next level with artificial intelligence. The technology interacts with subscribers to help better understand medical needs and then channels requests to the appropriate doctor for evaluation. The AI-bot essentially serves as a personalized triage service, saving manual time and labor.

The Bottom Line?

The adoption and utilization of artificial intelligence in the health care space will make health care more accessible, efficient, and affordable for everyone.

by Meisha Bochicchio, Content Marketing Manager at PlanSource
Originally posted on blog.ubabenefits.com

Workplace rules are back, baby!

Peter Robb, General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (and my new hero), issued a memorandum on Wednesday that employers should love. Mr. Robb has declared that nine standard employer policies will now be presumed lawful under the National Labor Relations Act.

The memorandum was based on the Board’s decision in The Boeing Company, issued in December 2017. Before Boeingthe NLRB under the Obama Administration had taken the position that these policies were unlawful because they could have a “chilling effect” on employees’ exercise of their rights to engage in “protected concerted activity” under Section 7 of the NLRA.

So, without further ado, here are nine standard employment policies that the Board says are legal again, absent evidence that they’re being applied to protected concerted activity. (Welcome back!) I’ll also go over workplace rules that continue to violate the NLRA, and workplace rules that will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Workplace rules that are presumed lawful

No. 1: Civility rules. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must be happy about this one because their proposed guidance on workplace harassment recommended civility training for employees as a harassment-prevention measure. The EEOC had to include a footnote that its recommendation could be problematic from an NLRA standpoint. (I’d been recommending to clients that they restrict civility training to management until this conflict between the EEOC and the NLRB was resolved.)

Conflict hereby resolved! According to the General Counsel, an expectation of civility does not interfere with employees’ right to engage in protected concerted activity because they can almost always criticize the employer, or individual supervisors, in a civil manner.

No. 2: No photography, no recording. Although there are occasions when employees may want to photograph or record working conditions or labor protests, the General Counsel says, for the most part rules prohibiting unauthorized recordings have no impact on Section 7 rights and therefore are lawful. However, “a ban on mere possession of cell phones at work may be unlawful where the employees’ main method of communication during the work day is by cell phone.” In other words, the ban should be on unauthorized recording, not on possession of a device that can record.

No. 3: Bans on insubordination, non-cooperation, adversely affecting operations. “An employer has a legitimate and substantial interest in preventing insubordination or non-cooperation at work. Furthermore, during working time an employer has every right to expect employees to perform their work and follow directives.”

Duh. It’s sad that this even had to be said, but thank you, General Counsel Robb, for saying it.

(Of course, if the “insubordination” is engaging in protected concerted activity, then the application of the rule would violate the NLRA.)

No. 4: Bans on disruptive behavior. Employers again have the right to prohibit “fighting, roughhousing, horseplay, tomfoolery, and other shenanigans.” Also, “yelling, profanity, hostile or angry tones, throwing things, slamming doors, waving arms or fists, verbal abuse, destruction of property, threats, or outright violence.”

There may, however, be instances when some of this activity is associated with a strike or walkout and may be protected. And you can’t ban strikes or walkouts.

No. 5: Protecting confidential and proprietary information, and customer information. Yes, employers, it is again legal for you to prohibit employees from disclosing your confidential and proprietary information. “In addition, employees do not have a right under the Act to disclose employee information obtained from unauthorized access/use of confidential records, or to remove records from the employer’s premises.” (Emphasis added.) To be lawful under the new standard, the employer should ban the unauthorized access or disclosure of confidential employee information rather than flatly banning disclosure of any employee information.

No. 6: Bans on defamation or misrepresentation. According to the General Counsel, because “defamatory” statements or “misrepresentations” imply some level of deliberate falsehood or misleading, “Employees will generally understand that these types of rules do not apply to subjectively honest protected concerted speech.”

No. 7: Bans on unauthorized use of company logo or intellectual property. “Most activity covered by this [type of] rule is unprotected, including use of employer intellectual property for unprotected personal gain or using it to give the impression one’s activities are condoned by the employer,” the memorandum says. And I love this:

“Employers have a significant interest in protecting their intellectual property, including logos, trademarks, and service marks. Such property can be worth millions of dollars and be central to a company’s business model. Failure to police the use of such property can result in its loss, which can be a crippling blow to a company. Employers also have an interest in ensuring that employee social media posts and other publications do not appear to be official via the presence of the employer’s logo.”

No. 8: Requiring authorization to speak for the employer. Yet another “duh” moment: “Employers have a significant interest in ensuring that only authorized employees speak for the company.”

No. 9: Bans on disloyalty, nepotism, or self-enrichment. Even the Obama Board didn’t have much of a problem with employer rules that banned (or required disclosure of) conflicts of interest, or employees who had financial interests in competitors of the employer. The Trump Board agrees.

Workplace rules that are presumed unlawful

The memorandum lists two types of employer rules that will continue to be found unlawful, and I believe most employers are already aware of these:

  • Prohibiting employees from discussing or disclosing information about wages, benefits, or other conditions of employment.
  • Prohibiting employees from joining outside organizations or “voting on matters concerning” the employer. 

These rules are directly related to activity protected by Section 7 of the NLRA. Therefore, they are presumed unlawful, and NLRB Regional Offices are instructed to issue complaints “absent settlement.” (The Regional Offices do have the option of asking for advice from the Office of the General Counsel if they think special circumstances apply.)

Workplace rules that require case-by-case assessment

The memorandum also discusses some “gray area” rules, which may or may not violate the NLRA depending on the circumstances. The following types of rules will be submitted to the Office of the General Counsel and evaluated on a case-by-case basis:

  • “Broad conflict-of-interest rules that do not specifically target fraud and self-enrichment . . . and do not restrict membership in, or voting for, a union.”
  • Broad or vague “employer confidentiality” rules that don’t focus on confidential and proprietary, or customer, information and that don’t specifically restrict Section 7 activity (discussion of wages, benefits, or other terms and conditions of employment).
  • Rules prohibiting disparagement of the employer, as opposed to disparagement of employees.
  • Rules restricting use of the employer’s name, rather than just its logo or trademarks.
  • Rules that prohibit employees from speaking to the media or third parties at all (as opposed to communications to third parties where the employee purports to represent the employer).
  • “Rules banning off-duty conduct that might harm the employer.” A little vague.
  • “Rules against making false or inaccurate statements (as opposed to rules against making defamatory statements) . . ..”

For the past several years, employers have been struggling to comply with the Board’s interpretations while retaining the right to maintain some semblance of order in their workplaces. The General Counsel’s memorandum is a giant step in the right direction.

Article written by: Robin Shea, partner with leading national labor and employment law firm (and ThinkHR strategic employment law partner) Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

While there’s plenty of talk about work/life balance, many employees want to feel human while at work, too. Being able to bring their whole selves, according to “3 Ways to Create a More Human Workplace,” from Workforce, is an essential piece of a welcoming, inclusive workplace environment.

Putting employees first as a defined company value means helping team members feel connected, valued, and like their work is having an impact. Supporting employee well-being improves everything from engagement to loyalty.

Small changes, like building breaks into the day, as well as larger wellness initiatives are some of the best investments in resources, time, and money a company can make in both its people and its bottom line.

As companies think about the customer experience more and more, it’s also a smart idea to think about the employee experience. One-off opportunities or programs to check the wellness box, for example, are less powerful than a holistic experience. Employers should consider whether their employees would enthusiastically recommend a friend apply for a job, and craft a workplace experience that makes that a reality.

That whole person, whole experience approach also applies when building a diverse and inclusive workplace. Recruitment and hiring are often the talked about steps, but it’s as critical to think about the employee experience after the job starts.

Beyond the overall workplace environment, employers can strive to make the workplace a more inclusive space, according to “6 Steps for Building an Inclusive Workplace,” from the Society for Human Resource Management. After successfully hiring a diverse workforce, employers need to support and retain talented individuals.

It starts at the top, with education for leadership on topics ranging from inclusion to unconscious bias to training on how to best accommodate an employee with a disability. Creating a dedicated council or committee to act as intermediaries between executives and employees, clear employee goal setting, and regular reviews are just a few next steps.

Giving dedicated time, space, and opportunities (both organic and organized) to share about individuals’ background and opinions can help employees feel connected and seen in their workplace. Ensuring diversity is supported in both action and physical space—whether a meditation or prayer room or a space for nursing mothers—is essential. Likewise, celebrating culture and identity can also be a powerful connective tool.

Even the way day-to-day work happens showcases how inclusive a company is. Employers can learn what employees need and want by making time to listen part of the day. Rotating meeting times and checking on technology needs for remote workers are small choices a company can make to show it cares about its individuals.

And, ultimately, keeping inclusivity top-of-mind and visible for everyone helps foster a culture of expectations. Having leadership and management communicate goals and measure progress for an inclusive workplace ensures everyone knows inclusion is valued.

By Bill Olson, VP, Marketing & Communications at United Benefit Advisors
Originally posted on www.ubabenefits.com

Dear Ron, Thank you so much for generously supporting [us] and our AIDS walk team this year. It was a lovely foggy Sunday morning in Golden Gate Park, with thousands of folks walking to fight AIDS. It has been a pleasure working with you over the years. You have saved us LOTS of money! I want you to know how much we appreciate all that you do!

- San Francisco, Non-profit organization

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