When happy workers become complacent, work suffers. Simultaneously, demotivated workers are a substantial threat to business viability. A blueprint of empowerment exists.
Not long ago, many C-Suite leaders displayed skepticism when advised that ‘happy workers are productive workers.” To a limited extent, this skepticism served them well.
Per definition, motivation is a reason for behavior. The most widely accepted longstanding theories, such as Maslow and ERG, force us to question if “happy” is in fact the absence of motivation. If “happy” equates to Maslow’s self-actualization stage, why would happy workers be motivated to excel? Furthermore, is “happy” an effective measurement and business criterion?
Decades of studies have validated the pragmatic human capital approach to talent management, yet certain extremists are still peddling a “puppies and sunshine” approach to business. While “happy” workers are not necessarily a meaningful target, and are certainly not a lawful target, let’s explore a more prudent target.
Is “Happy” a Meaningful Criteria?
No astute business leader will ignore today’s five to seven-figure risk of incorporating terms like “happy” and “attitude” into performance criteria. Mood disorders are specifically protected by the EEOC, especially via the Americans with Disabilities Act and its subsequent amendments. Therefore, evaluating happiness can be discriminatory per both statutory and case law. All performance appraisal toolsets that previously carried this language are no longer safe to deploy and require recrafting. With expert guidance, updated terminology equally protective of workplace outcomes is available.
Highbrow thinkers often characterize “happy” in the same realm of “utopia,” where “happy” exists as a non-sustainable target rather than a constant state of being. That being true, optimum productivity exists in the individual who can achieve fleeting happiness in the workplace and finds that work excellence is the path to attainment. That worker, in the proper performance management system, then repeatedly pursues the fleeting sense of “happy” through positive work behaviors, well-aligned with the organization’s goals. This assumes the worker is at socio-economic level beyond basic safety and security needs. An employee whose food and shelter are threatened may throw “happy” out the window quickly for extra money or job security.
Today’s expert business leader recognizes that motivation cannot happen without hope and incentive. Demotivation occurs when employees are not properly rewarded for positive performance. An employee who exceeds expectations may not repeat the excellence if behavioral reinforcement is absent. Rewards, however, must be commensurate with the performance. Both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards collaborate together in a well-aligned system, refraining from impinging upon the other’s efficacy. A bonus for only adequate performance, for example, strips intrinsic motivation and creates a derailing reward system. A bonus for no performance, as today’s federal government often promotes, most certainly strips motivation and threatens productivity.
A Relaxed Mind is a Productive Mind.
More meaningful than the elusive “happy” is cognitive ability. Productivity and creative problem solving are increased when negative noise is averted. The noise of fear, anxiety and negative emotion shut down the capabilities of most, while a few might benefit from a brief adrenaline rush through sympathetic nervous system response before crashing. Where a team member believes he or she can succeed and shall receive betterment as a result, and where the negative noise is quiet, the team member is exponentially more likely to demonstrate positive work behavior.
Quality of work life deliverables which facilitate problem solving are frequently deployed by companies who depend upon invention and creativity. Work campuses and work days designed to unlock mental energy flourish. Wellness is a powerful human asset which translates into positive corporate output.
And the Answer Is…
The discussion of “happy” workers is not only an irritant to many business pragmatists but also lacks legal risk management and, quite frankly, lacks tangible meaning. The real discussion is about workplace productivity as defined by motivation, environment and leadership. Again, motivation is a reason, and complacency will not do. Failure to deliver proper incentive will also not do. We advocate and deliver lifelong learning for leaders, accompanied by proper crafting and delivery of performance management systems. New leaders do not instinctively know how to lead and require solid formal training, often in a kinesthetic learning environment. In any talent-intensive organization, getting the right people doing the right things is the heartbeat of success. Keeping talent management at C-level authority is critical.
Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 14, 2015
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Make no mistake. HRS has been a substantial supporter of worthy nonprofits since our inception, and our Angel Wings
and HRS Gives Back
programs are fabulous examples. In the face of that, certain nonprofit associations, not specifically tied to greater good, are abusing tax-exempt status, betraying taxpayers and delivering dangerous advice. We warn to be wary.
A disreputable few nonprofits are beginning to cross the line and betray their status. In the world of HR, employer membership associations done well can be great places to swap case studies, find research, attain broad-based information and acquire non-custom tools. Those that promise to give advice, however, are in direct conflict with IRS tax code and their rights to the tax breaks they demand. Specifically, IRS tax exempt status prohibits a nonprofit from serving, addressing or advocating specific interests of individuals or individual members. This IRS covenant stands to prove that any nonprofit addressing the unique interest or custom need of an individual member is likely practicing tax fraud and is specifically ill-equipped to provide meaningful adaptive solutions of quality caliber. Some are delivering dangerously poor advice, resulting in six or seven-figure disaster for constituents. One such criminal was recently found distributing an employment application template unlawfully bearing a social security number field.
HRS continues to support, contribute to and partner with a wealth of professional associations relevant to our fields of study. You will find our logos and sponsorships proudly displayed. The best of them provide complimentary benefit to tax paying consulting firms and internal employer expertise. Similarly, IRS code also requests nonprofits to refrain from providing service available in the private sector market from tax paying employers. Any nonprofit that dramatically changes its service line in recent decades does not find itself exempt from responsibility to tax exemption covenants. Criminal behavior remains the outcome.
We at HRS embrace additional opinions on any topic of consequence. Our own boardroom approach to client problem solving demonstrates our ideology. Our multi-rater approach to assessment scoring further validates. With HRS, you already find holistic approach and several experts represented in any single proposed solution. As far as competition, we welcome competition. Today, seven critical disciplines fall under the HR umbrella, and the generalist needs specialist partners to get it done right. Having opened our doors before widespread HR demand at executive level, we welcome those who help us promote the critically expanded role of HR and those who keep us on our toes.
However, in a world where worthy nonprofits that save lives, advocate human rights and protect our kids are starving for government support and are suffering government cutbacks, we demand the non-legit nonprofits back away from the table. When nonprofits compete with tax paying firms, by definition and tax code, the nonprofit is not a legitimate nonprofit… in the wrong and abusing greater good. Tax breaks, grants and donations are sadly misguided when nonprofits dishonor their status. Buyers and taxpayers are called to use their voice and their buying power to encourage reform for greater good.
Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, April 07, 2015
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Let’s take a trip down memory lane, and recount the mindset of our society:
The year is 2009. The economy is in a massive struggle, and it is still trending downward. We see several busts, crashes, and every conceivable angle at which our financial sector could fail. Most Americans are either about to lose or have already lost a significant chunk of their life savings. Things look grim. Remember what that felt like? I’m sure you do…all too well.
It is at this time that a decree is handed out to corporate America, “Every business shall either adapt…or fail.” In order to survive during these crumbling economic times, a company had to scale back and had to become lean. Unnecessary waste and, more harshly, “unnecessary” jobs, had to be cut in order for the majority to survive and maintain their livelihoods. We all remember these times, and, chances are, most of us are still feeling the effects of these changes just a few years later.
As businesses were faced with these decisions, the ones who survived all seemed to make a common decision: just as the company had to become agile and adaptable, so did the workforce. What followed then was a decision to hire young, developable talent (a.k.a., adaptable talent). It was a smart decision; hire the young guns and develop them to be the people you will need in the future. This was not only smart because of the adaptability factor, but also because of the cost factor. Hiring a YP could be much cheaper than hiring a senior level employee.
This was such a smart decision that, as mentioned previously, numerous employers jumped on the bandwagon and made this a national trend. We saw this out of the majority of our clients here at HRS: many wanted to hire the younger, more developable, cheaper talent; it made too much sense to ignore.
Of course, the adverse effect of this was that the senior, higher trained employees became less in demand. At every turn, older workers seemed to be passed over for the younger talent. Employers no longer wanted to pay for the more experienced, more expensive talent. It wasn’t of the same value anymore, and it wasn’t as affordable (side note: this also likely explains the beginning of the YP boom, and also the analysis of the generational gap).
Our country, in unison, made the statement to a segment of our working population that all of their training, and all of their experience, was no longer valued and was no longer part of the equation to better our broken economy. Out of nowhere, U.S. workers who spent their entire career learning specific skillsets were told that they had, essentially, wasted their time. I’m sure you can understand how this would feel – or maybe this even happened to you directly.
Now, let’s fast forward to the present day: it’s 2015 and we have been in the midst of a multi-year discussion about how to fix the lack of talent and appropriate, usable knowledge base in our talent pool.
What happened to those workers we passed over that had that training? What happened to hiring younger talent, and developing them ourselves? What happened to our plan?
Short answer: the knowledgeable workers have become discouraged…pun intended.
Long answer: Our economy, almost instantaneously, went from a place of choosing not to hire the senior employees, and identifying advanced skill sets as “less than preferred,” to a place where suddenly those skills don’t exist, and haven’t existed for a long time.
We went from a place of telling the experienced worker that their skills were no longer valued, to a place of telling them that they never had the skills to begin with. Talk about being discouraged…
One of either two things is happening here, Corporate America: 1) We have forgotten about the discouraged worker, and we are wondering why the young professionals don’t have the hard (or soft) skills of a seasoned professional after only a couple years, or 2) Our demand for workers’ skills is rapidly changing and outpacing our supply. We have become too ethereal and ever-changing with our ideology of the “perfect worker,” and the common population just can’t keep up with the changing trends.
Either way, Corporate America, we have grown impatient. I’m sorry to say it. We signed up for the inexperienced, developable work force. We can’t be upset now that they don’t have the skills we are looking for…when we are the ones who haven’t given it to them. Our economy spent decades’ worth of time, energy, and resources training the workers of pre-2009 to have the skills we needed. Let’s either not let that work go to waste, or acknowledge the fact that we may need a few decades (not months or single years) to embrace the change.
Let’s give our workers a break. They’re not incapable; they’re just trying to keep up.
Matthew Bare - Friday, January 30, 2015
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I’ve long been a fan of Apple. Close to every piece of tech I’ve bought since 2007 has been manufactured and pioneered by the industry giant. I loved the design and ease of use of each product, and I loved how seamlessly they all worked together (The ability for me to stream my music library through my AppleTV, and subsequently through my surround sound system, and control said music by virtue of an iPhone/iPad app? Simply amazing). I believed strongly in what Apple was doing, and I would glue myself to my newsfeed every September to read about the next developments to come out of the WWDC. All of this is true; however, what would be more accurate is to say that I loved Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs was, and still is, one of my premiere business idols. But now that Steve is gone, it doesn’t seem that Apple is going to maintain. Apple is trending down.
We all know how hard it is to replace a visionary like Jobs (and yes, I feel that I can safely use the term visionary to describe him). It appears, however, that Apple didn’t even try. Apple didn’t try to find the next innovative mind to lead them, but rather brought in fiscal-minded Tim Cook to eat up the profits. Tim Cook may deliver exactly what he’s supposed to, but Apple will lose its identity in the process. The only way for Apple to save itself from what I’m about to describe is if they view Cook as a stepping stone – an intermediary until they find that next innovator.
The statements made in this advertisement were ones that had been circulating for months surrounding the new iPhone release – all Samsung had to do was compile them into a 30-second spot and showcase it to the world. The work was done for them, but Samsung was brilliant to take it right to Apple.
How do we know that Samsung has hit Apple right in the gut? We have yet to see any response from Apple.
Sure, we can argue that the numbers speak for themselves (over 4 million iPhones preordered at last report), but the truth is that these statements made in the Samsung commercial are RIGHT: There is nothing innovative about the new iPhone. There is nothing exciting about it other than that it is new. The best thing Apple has to say about the new model is that it’s bigger and better than the old model. Apple has completely missed the innovation train for the first time since Jobs’ return in the late 1990s. It has lost its competitive edge.
Apple is trending down. Apple positioned itself to focus primarily on the phone and tablet market, and all they did was copy their biggest competitor. Apple was once in position to lead and “front run” this market for eternity – they could have always been the first mover and leave everyone else playing catch up, and it’s completely unflattering for them to now simply copy someone else.
I fear that Apple is losing focus of who they are (see the recent discontinuation of the iPod classic for reasoning of that opinion, which is a completely different diatribe). Apple’s innovation was certainly tied to that of Steve Jobs, but they don’t need to repeat the innovation of Jobs. They can be innovative in new ways. There are always ways to take a shot at something new and creative – even if you swing and miss – but, right now, Apple isn’t even picking up the bat.
If they don’t move on from Cook in the long run and get back to their innovative ways… Apple is going down.
Will Apple Rebrand and Re-posture?
Apple can do this! While this giant clearly appears to be floundering, having abandoned the original identity without clearly defining a new identity, record-breaking sales validate that consumers are buying tickets to see what happens next… even if it’s a train wreck. Inasmuch as every point Matt makes needs to be noted, second or third-mover status often wins, and this could be Apple’s “next big thing” or alter-ego. They have time and resources to turn this into a “win,” but will they?
First-mover status put Apple on the map, but second-mover status can posture for improved market share. HRS and other visionary companies are typically the inventors of the next great thing, but giant companies successfully thrive upon monitoring competition and knocking off ideas on larger volume scale. Likely, the absence of Steve Jobs is felt and the former brand is no longer viable. Is Apple changing its model by design or disaster?
The Apple brand is blurry now, but record-breaking sales are a great platform from which to fix it. Will they re-posture successfully? If enough of us point out the pending disaster, will they react? Time will tell. In the meantime, I love my new iPhone 6, and I have to say… it’s not for the lack of invention it offers, but rather the sleek “shiny new thing” feeling that Apple is so great at delivering.
They key team at HRS always delivers multi-perspective thought leadership. Diverse knowledge bases of critical information and the six hats of thinking come together for big picture understanding and adaptability to unique employer case studies.
The Team At HRS - Monday, September 29, 2014
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No matter the organizational headcount, C-suite executives must focus due diligence upon talent management, workforce ROI and legal compliance. For any labor intensive organization, the keys to success rely upon increased workforce productivity, astute risk management and surgically cut talent dollars. In doing so, idle time, legal costs, under-utilization and any such wasteful spending must be avoided. Expert solutions exist and are catching on quickly. Those not paying attention will be left behind.
Employment law is ever-changing and requires daily research. Beyond pure legal advice, legal compliance experts need to deploy business acumen, organizational psychology and aligned mission commitment to deliver best decision tools and implementations. Top executives are earning spectacular ROI and competitive edge by finding their own perfect internal-external partnership balance. Some are outsourcing it all, but better options exist.
The options promoted here do not involve the outsourcing of the employment relationship. For many, outsourcing employees can be counterproductive to ROI. Employees want to feel part of a team, and in today’s world of “pay without play” where some label work a “choice,” employees often deliver commitment only with reciprocity and incentive. In many environments, outsourcing employees can be an expedient method of deteriorating engagement and productivity. Keeping workforce on the payroll and outsourcing certain or all HR management, however, can be a collaborative win for the entire organization.
Third party expert operations have long been enjoyed by employers of all sizes and cultures. Employers under 200 are eligible to partner for all HR operations. Employers of limitless size find third party partnership extremely beneficial for talent assessment, education, compliance certification and change leadership. Most employers will attain betterment through a stable, highly competent and dedicated HR team, rather than revolving part-time talent with limited versatility. Employers who embrace external experts enjoy competitive edge and visionary foresight. Top quality is accessed with keen cost control, unbiased expertise, widespread case study and flexible utilization.
As we re-evaluate the HR team, workforce headcount only matters so much. For the average employer, the optimal team is comprised of functional management plus specialists and support under the direction of a Chief HR Operating Officer (CHRO), a right hand to the CEO. CHROs can be internal or external partners. An established CHRO already succeeding is always to be treasured and protected, as premier talent is undoubtedly rare and worthy of appreciation.
When selecting a professional consultant as CHRO, employers should seek quick adaptability, C-suite proven excellence, vast third party expertise and, of course, flexible utilization for cost control. HR practitioners for top partner firms never stop learning, growing, embracing and delivering new value. Among many other deliverables, they bridge gaps and engage workforce into the company’s mission. CHROs should facilitate a highly effective and well-aligned supporting team.
Delivering fiscal due diligence, the average cost of third party partnership is less than the average cost of internalized operations. Done well, spectacular ROI is expected year one and builds substantially in consecutive years. Through selection of the right partner organization, the HR team stays in place, benefiting from learning curve balanced with constantly emerging fresh ideas and case studies. Access to dedicated expert talent on demand without idle time is a steadfast cost reduction and quality optimization technique. Impartial third party experts avoid bias and deliver information with enhanced credibility. Everyone wins.
In some organizations, CHRO and CFO responsibilities are merged. This yields mixed results. Merging CHRO and CFO roles can produce conflict of interest or limited perspective; however, both CHRO and CFO need a clear grasp of fiscal prudence, organizational psychology and legal compliance. Ideally, each of these practitioners is ready to deploy as needed but never underutilized. Neither role should be subservient to the other.
Some fabulous internal HR leaders exist in today’s companies, and many of them are existing or future HRS clients. They call upon preferred partners for compliance, talent assessment, education, decision tools, case studies, affirmative defense and third party expertise. Astute business leaders recognize these top performers and keep them engaged with incentive and growth. Partner organizations deliver the tools and opportunities for such growth.
Cookie cutter solutions are abused, overused and rarely appropriate in HR. Every employer is unique across widespread criteria, including but not limited to company brand, culture, history, demographics, business model and keys to success. Accredited consultants deliver the ability to assess and tailor programs which plug into these unique paradigms. Those who devote only to a single employer at a time and/or “job hop” do not necessarily deliver the third party expertise necessary to capture success opportunities.
While the essentials are somewhat universal, today’s business leaders enjoy a healthy range of HR options. Whether enjoying premier internal talent, premier external talent or a custom blend of the two, HR is never a remedial function. The HR function should be in the hands of those who deliver extraordinary legal knowledge, fiscal due diligence, talent management, lifelong learning for leaders, policy establishment, organizational communications, conflict reduction, operational efficiency and forward thinking, to name a few. HR is an executive function which, done poorly, can decimate an organization… and when done well, delivers impactful ROI, business sustainability and critical risk management. Today’s top executives keep it eye-level and empower extraordinary partners.
Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS Chief Empowerment Officer. Summary Bio.
Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, May 05, 2014
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For any labor intensive employer, the study and practice of employee engagement is critical to business success, and as engagement success is relative to alignment of individual motivators, employee engagement must begin with the selection process. Without such commitment and proper toolsets, even the best engagement practices will erode, and demotivation shall ensue. Many instances of employee demotivation are entirely avoidable.
The study and acceptance of employee engagement practice is longstanding. Motivation remains an inherent component, if not synonym, to engagement. Motivation drives behavior in all workplace aspects including invention, performance, time-to-learning, collaboration, litigious behavior and attrition. Where employers successfully optimize motivation, organizational success is simultaneously optimized.
Maslow’s popular “Theory of Human Motivation” emerged in 1943. ERG and other theories quickly followed in support and expansion of common principle. Behavior modification experts continue to study motivation and demotivation as keys to engagement.
As we study engagement, the essential differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation must be keenly understood. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and represents a belief system shaped over lifelong experiences and culture. Extrinsic motivation is shaped and manipulated within a specific situation, such as the employer workplace. Extrinsic motivation is that which we focus upon in workplace engagement practices.
Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators each significantly impact workplace performance and retention. Research validates that manipulation of extrinsic motivation creates only temporary impact when intrinsic motivation is unaligned. So, what then occurs when we apply extrinsic motivation bandages to intrinsic motivation damages? We create only a temporary cure and a smokescreen unless we quickly change the employee’s core beliefs.
Whereas short term motivation is better than no motivation, a false sense of security can lead to disaster. Disaster is averted by better understanding intrinsic motivation of employees at the onset. Once we have concealed without addressing the problem cause, problem recurrence is likely.
In best talent management models, an employer’s pre-hire behavioral assessment exercises will archetype intrinsic motivators. Where we hire people who are already intrinsically motivated to succeed in our environment, we mitigate loss of motivation along the way. We then deploy our best employee engagement practices to earn a win. To succeed, engagement techniques must be supported by credibility of promise and sustainability of cause and effect.
Employee engagement cannot be successful without a well-aligned employee selection model. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, ERG and later studies each discuss “needs” as motivators and the reversion principle to explain demotivation. According to these well-accepted findings, motivation is defined by stages of needs fulfillment. As needs are fulfilled, new goals are pursued. Motivation regresses when a need suddenly becomes unfulfilled. Employers can safeguard against such threats only by both assessing and addressing engagement needs. Failure to do so forsakes substantial business opportunity.
Behavioral assessment is a talent acquisition tool that can identify intrinsic motivation pre-hire. Specifically, by investigating the unique intrinsic motivators of pre-hire candidates and then ensuring new hires properly align with company mission and future vision, we ensure the sustainable effectiveness of our engagement practices. By deploying lifecycle talent assessments, employers are empowered to optimize engagement by hiring appropriately intrinsically motivated people. Employers are then further empowered to benchmark motivation throughout the journey, reliably measuring success of engagement practices and adeptly predicting outcomes with sufficient advance time to insert behavioral modification toward optimized success. HRS highly recommends assessment tools which deliver lawfully compliant, valid and actionable data. Assessment tools must earn employee buy-in to successfully kick off the employee engagement journey.
Please contact HRS for validation studies and discussion of specific models.
Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, January 30, 2014
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Update: Shortly after this article's publication, the US Federal Government announced a one-year delay of certain ACA mandates including the "pay or play" component. Visit our January 2014 update. As of February 2014, the component has been pushed back again. Stay tuned for more info.
As employers sift through immediate and forward moving impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, PPACA or “ObamaCare”), we consulted with nationwide ACA experts to provide a quick blueprint of action items, FAQs and debunked myths. In respect to our expert unbiased objectivity, HRS employer clients have been asking us for credible and clear answers on this topic.
Preparation & Timeline
While some employers still believe they have until 2014 to make decisions, a more practical deadline is October 1, 2013, when health exchange notices need distribution to employees. Once these notices hit, employee questions will abound, and the risk of providing inaccurate or unsavory answers will impact employee retention, engagement, productivity and legal compliance. With employee access to health exchange, employer programs will find heightened scrutiny and explanations must be ready. In addition to impact upon talent resources, employer failure to meet ACA guidelines will result in substantial fine. While employers initially pledged to “pay” are shifting to “play,” due diligence is essential to “play.”
With minimum coverage covenants higher than ever before, minimum premiums are expected to increase as well. Employers are encouraged to anticipate this perception gap and to strategically educate employees as to the comparison between employer-sponsored and health exchange coverage. Summaries of benefits and coverage (SBCs) will not be enough to address this topic.
Matthew Weimer, Director of Employee Benefits Operations for Diversified Insurance Solutions, advises employers to prepare for employee surprise once the exchange opens. Weimer advises that many individuals are expecting exchange premiums to be lower than they actually will be, and an opportunity for an employer “win” is present.
Karen McLeese, JD, Vice President of Employee Benefit Regulatory Affairs for CBIZ Employee Services, Inc., advises employers of all sizes to “work with insurers, TPAs, benefit consultants, brokers and other advisors to ensure compliance with all ACA market reforms.” McLeese further advises to be prepared to deliver notices to all employees, not just those covered by the health plan, by October 1, 2013; to be familiar with single source market place applications; to ensure summaries of benefits and coverage (SBCs) are properly distributed; and to properly classify and count workers. HRS, Diversified and CBIZ are addressing these mandates by providing guidance as to crafting exchange notices, counting employees, educating team members and selecting plans to meet affordability standards.
Criticism, Fact Versus Fiction & Recent Developments
The relentless politicizing and profit taking on this topic have created mistrust and frustration among employers, so HRS has stepped in. We have no vested interest in insurance program sales. Our interest and reputation are tied only to accurate top shelf information and legal compliance standards. We have additionally invited adjacent field experts who have responded with transparency and integrity to our news campaign.
While arguments abound, opponents of the Act assert that the “Patient Protection” provisions can be mutually exclusive to the “Affordable” provisions, and employers need to address this concern. Some employees will undoubtedly be forced to buy more coverage than perceived necessary. Whereas the counter-argument is that these forced coverage levels will ultimately decrease overall health care costs, we cannot ignore and must address the initial sticker shock. Along that same line of thinking, Weimer addresses that many of his insured clients are already electively providing coverage levels that exceed ACA standards, and therefore, when employee premiums exceed health exchange premiums, the gap must be addressed to safeguard employee trust and engagement. Under affordability standards the employer must absorb the majority of premium costs, and therefore, while employees may pay higher premiums through the employer, it is imperative that they fully understand the value received and that the employer is absorbing the majority of excess benefits costs.
Employers were justifiably concerned by the initial ACA language which required employer review of “household income” in determining affordability. Not only did this pose an infeasible burden of costly administration but also a grave concern over privacy rights and employee discomfort. Affordability measurements have been thankfully addressed by updated calculation methods to include the W-2, rate of pay and federal poverty line (FPL) methods. These investigations are simpler, less invasive and consider only employee income rather than household income. As the federal ACA regulations shift substantial administrative burden to individual states, HRS urges employers to research state regulations and not just the federal. As the federal regulations do not protect spousal coverage, look to states for spouse and domestic partner rights.
Strategies & Caveats
Employers will choose plans based upon overall compensation scheme, labor intensity and workforce demographics. Benefits should be tailored to unique team attributes and perceived needs. Several HRS clients are employing primarily young, entry level, and therefore typically healthier teams who prioritize basic health but would rather receive other forms of compensation over benefits plan upgrades. For these employers we suggest consideration of a Minimum Value (MV) plan offering optional buy-ups. By deploying this strategy, the employees see premiums competitive to the exchange but also see their employers willing to absorb costs toward employee-elected upgrades. Employers who determine to trade plans down without proper employee education will likely find disaster rather than reward by this practice. “Design your health plan in such a way as to facilitate attracting and retaining your employees. Design the program to maximize personal engagement.” advises McLeese.
Some of the most common pitfalls will likely be linked to employer size, affordability and minimum value coverage. Small businesses (less than 25 FTEs) are offered conditional tax credits but not for business owners. Large businesses (50+ FTEs) will be fined for offering inadequate coverage. Minimum Value (MV) and Actuarial Value (AV) are impractical to calculate for most employers, and therefore working with insurance brokers and carriers you trust becomes more important than ever before. Safe harbor rules allow employers a small margin of error. Weimer advises employers to look to carriers for proper disclosure of MV and AV data. He tells us Diversified is overseeing these calculations for insured clients. McLeese adds that employers should properly classify employees as a new hire routine and to “work closely with a payroll provider who can assist in these recordkeeping requirements.”
Matt Weimer, Karen McLeese and HRS are all addressing proper FTE calculation methods. Weimer and Diversified have released a webinar rich with affordability calculators and employee counting rules. McLeese adds to these metrics a few cautions, including proper classification of employees versus independent contractors. HRS advises that improper 1099 classification is suffering more scrutiny and penalty than ever before, and not just with regard to ACA guidelines but also overall taxation and FLSA compliance impact. McLeese summarizes “Determine which employees are full-time, part-time, variable or seasonal. Decide whether to take advantage of a look-back (measurement) and stability period, and if you're not using a measurement/stability period, analyze status each month.” “Know your shared responsibility risk. How many full-time employees are offered minimum essential coverage? Is it affordable? To avoid a penalty risk, offer adequate coverage at an affordable rate. It is the offer, not the take-up rate, that matters,” continues McLeese.
McLeese recommends to “Establish a wellness program that promotes health and well-being; and ensure it is compliant with new ACA rules. If a wellness program currently exists, review it to ensure compliance with new ACA rules.” The ACA addresses wellness programs, and Weimer adds that wellness, HRA and HSA programs are under current review for their rightful position in coverage ratio calculations.
ACA guidelines will continue to address access and will require annual open enrollment for employer-sponsored plans. Employees will need to be offered health exchange notice within 14 days of new hire following group notification by October 1, 2013. Many employees will not be eligible to purchase insurance on the exchange but must be advised by employers as to availability for application.
HRS is addressing the Affordable Care Act with three new dedicated initiatives: 1) PPACA News Campaign, 2) Individualized Employer Workshops, and 3) Employee Education Tools. We remind that much of law is based upon case precedents rather than statutory language. Look for PPACA to be taking shape for years to come. Please consider us a resource, and stay tuned for more information.
Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS Senior Executive Consultant & CEO. Summary bio.
Matthew Weimer is Director of Employee Benefits Operations for Diversified Insurance Solutions. Matt’s extensive insurance industry knowledge and leadership helps to keep the entire benefits department abreast of legislation. He is Diversified’s Health Care Reform onsite expert and sits on the Board of Directors for the Independent Insurance Agents of Wisconsin (IIAW) along with several other industry and legislative committees. Matt has served on a number of advisory councils for the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and still meets regularly to discuss state and federal insurance regulations. Matt holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and Marketing from Carthage College.
Karen R. McLeese, J.D., is Vice President of Employee Benefit Regulatory Affairs for CBIZ Employee Services, Inc., a division of CBIZ, Inc. McLeese serves as in-house counsel with particular emphasis on monitoring and interpreting state and federal employee benefits law. She follows and analyzes trends and provides information and technical support in response to technical questions regarding employee benefits. McLeese is a member of the Employee Benefits Committee for both the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association and the Missouri Bar Association. She is also a member of the Health Law Forum and the Labor and Employment Law Section of the American Bar Association. She has spoken professionally on wide variety of topics related to employee benefits, including HIPAA, COBRA, Welfare, Medicare, FMLA benefits. McLeese serves as an editorial board member for the publication Benefits Law Journal and is a graduate of Notre Dame and Duke Universities.
Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, June 26, 2013
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Whereas it took decades to carefully pioneer and wait for technology to catch up, HRS became a fully mobile business in 2009 with new triumphs in 2013, and we are likely not going back! We enjoy a blend of fixed and flex offices, and we travel by appointment in between sites. We enjoy entirely web-hosted work tools. As we began pioneering this new wave of organizational development thirty years ago, we have managed the risks and replaced challenge with reward. We endured the pitfalls so that our clients need not follow. We now have a turnkey solution and blueprint for client use. We could not be more pleased with our success.
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, advises “Many employees who work from home are extremely diligent, get their job done, and get to spend more time with their families. They waste less time commuting and get a better work/life balance. To force everybody to work in offices is old school thinking.”
To be truly mobile, work from home is somewhat inevitable, and HRS offers consulting to employers seeking this transformation. We have endured the work from home challenges, and we have conquered. We have learned that we (at HRS) really never stop working anyway, so boundaries are impractical. That being said, we at HRS do take “power breaks” to recharge for the next great thing, and we strongly promote wellness routines. We advocate certain “home hygiene” when establishing in home offices.
Not all businesses can break down the brick and mortar, but as we are in the information business, we can. Our manufacturing and distribution clients are learning the efficiencies of mobile solutions where possible.
Our greatest challenge in creating a mobile workforce has been employee supervision. We have developed a number of custom and proprietary trade secrets which have addressed this concern. Mostly, we have changed how we hire, whom we hire, and how we measure work. We at HRS are entirely pleased with outcomes, and we have adapted our business model to capture these new opportunities.
Hidden benefits include improved documentation and better communication habits. Work from home policies must achieve balance between personal privacy and company risk management. Accepting in person visits only by appointment allows improved focus upon the customer and spontaneous client needs. Our clients deserve our immediate attention and top priority. A mobile workforce allows us improved client access. We offer more satellites with nationwide and global reach, and we can be where the clients want us as needed through flex offices.
Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 23, 2013
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Culture of entitlement, questions regarding capitalism, redefining “success” and Gen Y characteristics are some of the many gamechangers affecting today’s organizational outcomes. While we do not advocate creating a leadership culture that entertains repetitive and burdensome employee questions, we do advocate an employer-driven commitment to education which enhances engagement and motivation toward shared employee-employer success. This article discusses considerations and blueprints toward that success.
Today’s Gen Y career entrant speaks in terms of “I feel,” phraseology we Baby Boomers were taught to be unacceptable. America’s leadership postures for votes by touting principles of entitlement, birth right, refusal to work and socialized benefits. These characteristics feed a de-motivation to work harder or smarter than the next person. In an era where state government leaders can organize an initiative to refuse work which arguably outweighs their initiatives to demonstrate work, how can we expect impressionable youth to grasp real work ethic? When we are willing to question our constitution, why shouldn’t employees question workplace rules?
Collective bargaining was created in an era where employees worked hard and employers often lacked principle and know-how to properly keep checks and balances toward mutual economic success. Today we find employers committed to lifelong learning while many employees cannot construct a meaningful sentence. Checks and balances are once again off while the best workers in America are held back by concepts of seniority and union dues, at least until employers have as much power as self-serving, dues collecting unions who are among the biggest businesses of all… next to government. Nonetheless, we recommend employers do not entangle with the NLRB unless willing to wage a costly war. Except for some successful adjustments by Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, employers need to recognize that unions have more “solicitation” leverage than that allowed of employers. The general population continues to listen to the loudest voice in the room.
Financial success is being undermined, capitalism and its complexities are in question, and profiteers take advantage of conflict, sensationalizing every issue. Employees are more uncertain than ever before as to their own goals and how to attain them.
Amidst this chaos we have worked hard to simplify the steps for employer response. The blueprint for workplace best practices is a 6-step program:
1) Problem Recognition: Accept and understand the larger de-motivation of the community at large. Accept reasons behind de-motivation where it exists.
2) Apply Appreciative Inquiry: Assess and create focus upon what the organization does best.
3) Evaluate Unique Organizational Demographics & Motivation Trends: Assess the motivation culture of your company’s own workforce and evaluate trends. Consider the power of workplace outcomes and how they are affecting the overall mindset of employees. Each organization is unique and is affected uniquely by the impact of the community at large. Local success can overpower widespread deficiencies. If it is not broken, do not attempt to fix it.
4) Tap Into 3rd Party Solutions: Reach out to field experts as means to deploy proven toolsets, to optimize credibility and to avoid appearance of bias. Refuse to experiment in this risky area offering noteworthy ROI for success. Consider HRS as an expert resource here.
5) De-Politicize the Company Stance and Comply with NLRA Regulations: Work ethic, wealth and big business versus small business topics all evoke personal politics. Today’s politics are quite polarized. Avoid biases and stick with the facts. Discussion of unions and collective bargaining risks NLRB repercussions or heightened collective bargaining activity. Stress merit-based outcomes without indicting union methodology. Derive merit-based incentives that work well and are easily communicated.
6) Be Consistent, Build Trust and Deliver on Promises: False promises will create long term damage, but failure to inspire will cause such short term damage that the long term becomes jeopardized. Apply practices consistently and within policy. Create and troubleshoot an action plan before broaching this highly essential topic.
Democracy is complicated, and motivation remains fragile. HRS recommends a keen eye on changes and a quick and accurate response to keep engagement on track. Case studies and specific solutions are available upon request.
Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, February 11, 2013
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Social media. It’s different and unique. We’ve never seen anything like it. We’re fascinated by it, yet we’re not sure how it can help most businesses, especially ours. A totally new, modern paradigm, right? Maybe not.
In the mid-1990s, nearly every business leader had some degree of fascination with the “Worldwide Web.” They suspected it was important to have a “page” on the “Information Superhighway.” But for what? Well, most weren’t sure, but everyone was doing it and the Internet seemed to have mysterious potential, so everyone jumped in. Thousands and sometimes millions of dollars were spent, often times with very little ROI or alignment to business goals. And some got burned. Yet we learned and the Web proved to be an integral part of the way we do business.
Fast forward to today. For many, the feeling about social media is similar. A vague, uneasy, queasy feeling. “Social media might be good,” you say, “but what if it’s too early for my business to embrace it?” Or “What, if anything, can it do for a business like mine?” Or “I want to do something with social media, but I don’t want to look stupid or waste money!”
It’s a brave new world, so it’s understandable that the business benefits from social media might seem nebulous. Sure, consumer goods companies and entertainment entities have been embracing social media for several years, but the rest of the B2B and B2C herds are still trying to figure out how to use it, and many are even avoiding it altogether. Sure, you might have personal accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or even Pinterest, and you might even use blogs or mixed content strategies at work, but that doesn’t translate into having a clue about how social media can work for your business, right?
Of course, you might delay or hide, but you know social media, like the Internet, is not going away. In fact, depending on your business goals it might already be a necessity for your business—regardless of what your business is or whether it’s B2B or B2C—in the same way the Internet became a necessity in the late 1990s. Don’t believe it? According to an industry survey done in early 2012, 93 percent of B2B companies and over 95 percent of B2C companies use social media to market their businesses. Moreover, over 56 percent of B2B marketers and 45 percent of B2C marketers acquired new business partnerships via social media.
While the methods and tools might vary depending on your business, you should at the very least be seriously considering how social media can be an effective part of your strategy. Here are a few tips to help you get up to speed and make your social media efforts successful:
• Social media will be an evolution for you, but you should already be using it. Social media itself is evolving daily. It will also be an evolutionary tool for your business, just as the Internet was “back in the day.” That said, it is imperative you take it seriously now, else you’ll be well behind your competitors who are already learning and growing with it. And they are learning and growing with it, right now!
• Social media will be a continuum for you. Perhaps you are already using Facebook and Twitter as simple announcement forums to post press releases, product or event announcements, or even job openings? Not good enough. Social media is not a PR megaphone—it is first and foremost a listening post! Even if you are savvy enough to post questions in an attempt to elicit a response—“Hey, what do you think of our new product?” —your audience smells when they are being told rather than being asked. You’ll see that in the few responses you get. Once customers are doing the talking, then you should evolve that into using strategy. Strategy then leads to the ultimate goal: client and community engagement. Depending where you are on the listening/strategy/engagement continuum, you will have different social media needs.
• It’s not about the number of followers you have. The number of followers you have is merely an outcome of your efforts. What you’re ultimately looking for is highly-engaged customers who actively embrace your social media efforts, help you improve your business, and increase the bottom line, so quality trumps quantity. Social media allows you to engage with your customers at moments when they’re not normally thinking about you. Moreover, the viral nature of social media is the equivalent to an old-school concept every businessperson understands: referrals. Each time a visitor shares your Facebook post, re-tweets a link you posted on Twitter, or re-pins an infographic you posted to a Pinterest board, they are creating new relationships for you.
• Your social media messaging needs to align and integrate with your other brand messaging. A business-to-business software company I know, one whose audience is mostly male and over 40, recently posted a link to a positive quarterly earnings announcement. Innocuous enough, except below it they also posted a meme, a picture of a puppy with the caption “Who’s awesome?!” Not so good. Social media can indeed provide a unique way to humanize and personalize your brand, and can give it a softer, friendlier tone. But any humanization must be in sync with your other messaging. Unless you’re targeting a youthful consumer audience, avoid being too cute. In your effort to appear personable and likeable, you erode respect for your business and credibility for your brand.
• Don’t believe the smoke and mirrors. There are many firms that claim to be social media experts. Because the genre is evolving so quickly, few are. They are just trying to capitalize on a new service that businesspeople are only now embracing. Find a communications firm that talks first about your business, then about the methods to reach your goals. The firm should talk about aligning your social media efforts to your business goals and desired results. If a firm uses daunting language you don’t understand, they are not the right firm for you. You don’t need a specialty firm or Madison Avenue agency that tries to dazzle you with social media gobbledygook and expertise—you need one that takes a “business-first” approach to your marketing. Social media is a marketing tool, and it needs to work well with all the other tools in your toolbox. Use a firm that understands your overall communications needs and has experience integrating social media as part of your larger goals.
Social media for use in everyday marketing communications is still new and evolving, but it needn’t be scary, and you needn’t have perfect knowledge to use it effectively today. Just make certain to focus on your business goals, define the long-term business results you’re looking for—Building brand or product awareness? Stronger lead generation? Better prospect conversion rate? Being seen as a thought leader?—and use people who are holistically focused on your business and brand rather than just the social part of social media. Because as the Internet era taught us, it’s all about the business.
- By Dar Hackbarth
Dar Hackbarth serves the HRS Education Council as Senior Brand Strategist. Summary Bio.
The Team At HRS - Thursday, November 15, 2012
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