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Employee Benefits Open Enrollment Secrets

It’s benefits season, and that means employees are making mistakes that will cost them in headaches and dollars. “You really have to sit down and pay attention to your benefits like you never had to before,” says Judith Wethall, an employee benefits lawyer with McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago. It’s complicated enough if you’re single. But if you’re married, or have kids who can get insurance on their own or on your plan, it’s even more so. “It’s a coordinated effort,” Wethall says.

Here are 5 insider tips for acing open enrollment. Forbes’ Kelly Anne Smith has more on open enrollment angles for single Millennials here.

Tip #1: Print your online enrollment confirmation page. More employers are moving benefits enrollment online. That has advantages. The online systems walk you through benefits enrollment like TurboTax walks you through filing your tax return. But online enrollment isn’t foolproof. “We started seeing mistakes this year—‘Oh, I know I logged on; I know I added my husband!’” Wethall says an employee insisted in February. Print out and double check your online enrollment submission. And then, check your first paystub in January.

Today In: Money

Secret: Made a mistake or had a change in circumstance? You probably clicked a button that says that your choices are set in stone once you submit your enrollment. But employers can let you change choices (how much money you put in your flexible healthcare spending account, for example) until before the second paystub of the first month of the new plan year. “That’s a little dirty secret,” Wethall says.

Tip #2: Pay attention to wellness programs. Employers are increasingly offering rewards for good behavior like getting an annual physical and penalties for bad behavior like smoking). Employers must be very clear on what it takes to get a cash reward, such as an employer payment into a health savings account. The rules are strict for penalties too. “People are duped into thinking, ‘Oh, I smoke; guess I have to pay the 50% [healthcare premium] surcharge,’” Wethall says.

Secret: DOL rules say that employers must remove smoking-related surcharges for an employee who attends and completes a free smoking cessation class. You don’t have to necessarily give up smoking, just try. Wethall says she helped one employer through a DOL audit that mandated the employer refund employees $2.5 million in surcharges.

Tip #3: Be a comparison shopper. If you have multiple adults eligible for multiple healthcare plans, it pays to compare them. That’s not always easy, as the open enrollment periods might overlap just a few days, but get a head start when the first plan’s enrollment period begins. Wethall says she plans to move her family off her husband’s health insurance plan onto her employer’s plan this year because her plan started offering new premium subsidies. Their 22-year-old daughter has a new job with coverage, so they’re deciding whether to add her to the new family plan—or to have her opt for cheap single coverage on her own. One factor to consider when you’re plan shopping: Do any of the plans offer tiered premiums that are lower for lower-paid employees and higher for higher-paid workers? Another thing to watch out for is high spousal surcharges—when companies increase your premium by up to $100 a month if your spouse is offered coverage at work.

Secret: Children can stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until they turn 26, even if they’re offered employer coverage of their own. But just because they can, that doesn’t mean it’s the best option.

Tip #4: Learn the alphabet soup of special tax-advantaged accounts. If you’re offered a health care savings account, sign up, and you get triple tax-advantaged savings. Use it today for immediate savings or invest the money and use it as a retirement healthcare kitty. (Check out the details, including the 2020 HSA limits: $7,100 for family coverage). Don’t confuse an HSA with a healthcare flexible spending arrangement. The FSA limit is $2,750 for 2020, and you must spend it or forfeit it during the plan year (some employers let you carry over $500).

If you have kids under 13, fund a dependent care FSA, which is used to help pay for child care expenses, including day camp. There’s a $5,000 limit per family (some employers have lower limits), and there’s no carry over provision. It’s safer to underestimate expenses for a dependent care FSA because you can always take the dependent care tax credit on your income tax return (note: the credit is generally less valuable than the dependent care account).

Secret: Watch out for picky rules that might cost you. For the dependent care FSA, day camp counts but overnight camp doesn’t. And it’s not the year your kid turns 13, but the day he turns 13, that he becomes ineligible. If you have an HSA, your FSA must be a limited purpose FSA for dental and vision expenses only, and if you have family coverage, your spouse can’t separately sign up for an FSA at their employer. If you’re 55 or older, you and your spouse can each make $1,000-a-year extra contributions to the HSA.

Tip #5: When in doubt, call HR. “Employees aren’t advocating enough for themselves,” Wethall says. In one case, a woman who was paying for family coverage tried to add her newborn third child through an online system by the 30-days-after-birth deadline but it wouldn’t take without a Social Security number which hadn’t been issued yet. The baby ended up in the hospital after a car accident without coverage. The employer did retroactively pay for the baby’s care, but it would have saved a good deal of stress and anxiety if the employee had spoken up, as HR would have overridden the system, Wethall says.

Secret: HR can send you the plan description for details beyond what’s in open enrollment materials. And remember HR can get their benefits lawyer on the line to help. Be persistent. It’s your family’s money after all.

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I’m an associate editor on the Money team at Forbes based in Fairfield County, Connecticut, leading Forbes’ retirement coverage. I manage contributors who cover retirement and wealth management. Since I joined Forbes in 1997, my favorite stories have been on how people fuel their passions (historic preservation, open space, art, for example) by exploiting the tax code. I also get into the nitty-gritty of retirement account rules, estate planning and strategic charitable giving. My favorite Forbes business trip: to Plano, Ill. to report on the restoration of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, then owned by a British baron. Live well. Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ashleaebeling Send me an email: aebeling@forbes.com

Source: Shhh! Employee Benefits Open Enrollment Secrets

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Most companies provide benefits to workers as part of a total rewards package that ideally enhances their satisfaction with work. A benefit is a tangible indirect reward provided to an employee or group of employees for organizational membership. Benefits can influence employees’ decisions about which employer to work for, whether to stay with or leave an organization, and when to retire. What benefits are offered, the competitive level of benefits, and how those benefits are viewed by individuals all affect employee attraction and retention efforts. A benefit is a tangible indirect reward provided to an employee or group of employees for organizational membership. Organizations design benefit plans with a goal of providing value for employees while remaining cost-effective for the company. Many key decisions must be made as part of benefits design. The Social Security Act of 1935 and its later amendments established a system to provide old-age, survivor’s, disability, and retirement benefits. Medicare is a government-operated health insurance program for older Americans (age 65 and above) and for some citizens with disabilities. Workers’ compensation are security benefits provided to workers who are injured on the job. Unemployment compensation is money that substitutes for wages or salary, paid to recently unemployed workers under a program administered by a government or labor union. Unemployment compensation is meant to provide a source of income for jobless workers until they can find employment. Offering retirement plans are a staple of the total rewards mix in any organization, critical to attracting, retaining and motivating talent. Employees often consider health plans to be one of the most important benefits that companies offer. Some companies have started to offer a variety of innovative health care programs that provide better services to employees. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a United States labor law requiring covered employers to provide employees with job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Since the enactment of the FMLA, a significant percentage of employees have taken family and medical leave. Many employers have found PTO plans to be more effective than other means of reducing absenteeism, scheduling time off, increasing employee understanding of leave policies, and assisting with recruiting and retention.

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8 Fears That Prevent Honest Employees From Telling Managers the Truth

Do you ever secretly feel like your team is withholding information? That you’re only getting half of the story? Or that employees are just telling you what you want to hear?

You’re not alone. According to a SimplyHired survey, more employees fib to their supervisors than to their co-workers or subordinates. Combine this stat with those employees who don’t say anything at all, and you’re looking at a wide-spread lack of reliable information.

So why do employees feel like they have to lie?

The truth? They’re afraid of repercussions. They’re scared of the exposure that comes from being open and honest, especially with managers.

Little white-lies about staying home sick are one thing, but when employees consistently withhold the truth from their managers and teams, engagement suffers, and productivity is stifled.

Root Inc., a management consulting firm that’s worked with many Fortune 50 companies, sees this issue surface most frequently during times of organizational change. As companies go through cultural, procedural, or structural shifts, employees are afraid of what telling the truth might do to the status of their jobs.

The issue is that as truth-telling declines, cost, bureaucracy, redundancies, and a lack of confidence in the future all rise, warns Root.

They specifically called out eight common fears that drive employees to guard their words.

  1. The fear of indictment for past performance
  2. The fear of being branded and punished for not being on board
  3. The fear of offending a teammate or colleague
  4. The fear of not being accepted by the team
  5. The fear that speaking the truth will zap valuable time and energy and never be resolved anyway (don’t open a can of worms)
  6. The fear of not being valued if I say what I really think
  7. The fear that it is just not safe to talk about the truth
  8. The fear of letting them know you don’t have it all figured out

Managers: Provide air cover and encourage employees to be authentic.

Regardless of how hard you try, organizational change cannot be morphed into an industrial process. It’s not a mechanical nor formulaic system where you’re guaranteed a positive outcome by sticking to a script. Change is a very human experience; it’s organic.

To encourage employees to open up and be honest, and to support change momentum, managers have to provide the right conditions. In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, British author, speaker, and advisor, managers have to shift their mindset from “command and control” to that of “climate control.”

Regarding honesty, we’ve all been in meetings and, due to the fear of seeming incompetent, have held back questions or ideas. It’s unnerving to feel like you’re in an environment where everything you do or say is under a microscope. Understandably, it keeps you from disclosing information and feelings.

But imagine a different setting. A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions; a culture where managers go first, provide air cover, and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard and speak up.

That’s the goal.

Michael Schneider Human capital specialist, Welltower

Source: 8 Fears That Prevent Honest Employees From Telling Managers the Truth

2.5K subscribers
** Please Like the Video and Subscribe, Thanks ** So what’s the right strategy to dramatically increase employee engagement in your organization? Well let’s first talk about the wrong strategy… Usually, someone from HR has to convince the CEO to spend money on an employee survey. And when the results come back, the data is hoarded by the senior leadership and a committee is formed to brainstorm ways to improve engagement. The committee implements things like an employee appreciation day, an awards program and perhaps even a tweak to the benefits. But the problem with this approach is that over seventy percent of the variance in engagement correlates to the manager. In other words, who your boss is. Front line leaders are the regulators of engagement. So all those top down ideas don’t matter if you’ve still got the same boss, and if your boss hasn’t changed his behaviors. The right employee engagement strategy instead of being top down, is from the bottom up. First, if you want to improve something, measure it. So you do need to conduct an employee engagement survey. Second, make sure each manager gets her own score report. What is the engagement score for her team, and how does it compare with the average score throughout the company. Finally, third step…have managers shares their results with their own teams. It’s not an HR meeting, nothing fancy or formal. Grab a pizza, get in a conference room and do it over a long lunch. The manager is the facilitator, not the problem solver. What areas did we do well in? What should we focus on for improvement? Because the front line workers are the ones who completed the survey, THEY are the only ones who can tell you what needs to change. The answers can’t come from above. -~-~~-~~~-~~-~- Most Recent Video: “How To Talk ANYONE Into ANYTHING | Negotiation Tips From Former FBI Negotiator Chris Voss ” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jqj3…

Want More Productive Employees? Research Reveals that Managers Matter Most

Gallup has released compelling evidence that the most important factor for employee engagement and productivity can be summed up in one simple word: managers.

In fact, writes Sam Walker in The Wall Street Journal, after a decade of data from nearly 2 million employees, Gallup has proven that managers don’t just have a small influence on productivity; “they explained a full 70% of the variance. In other words, if it’s a superior team you’re after, hiring the right manager is nearly three-fourths of the battle.”

Good news, maybe, unless your organization has spent the last decade or so making it more difficult for managers to succeed–eliminating managers’ positions, making managers responsible for producing more work (instead of just leading people), cutting back on learning and/or promoting based on people’s expertise instead of their ability to lead team members.

There is so much you can do to address these issues; for example, read Justin Bariso’s piece on how Google identified core people-leading behaviors and then trained managers on how to develop those behaviors.

But I suggest you start by helping managers develop one core competency: the ability to communicate effectively with team members. In fact, out of the 10 attributes Google targets, seven are based on communication skills: is a good coach, empowers people, creates an inclusive team environment, listens and shares information, supports career development by discussing performance, has a clear/vision strategy for the team and collaborates across the company.

Despite the importance of communication, managers are often poorly prepared for their role as key communicator. They may not have the skills, the knowledge or the confidence to communicate effectively. And many managers think of communication as “something else I have to do” rather than an integral part of their job.

What should companies do to set managers up for success? Take these 5 steps:

1. Make sure you clearly articulate communication roles. Be specific about what and how leaders communicate–and what you expect managers to share. Ask your HR manager to include communication into managers’ job descriptions so the expectation is baked into their role.

Of all the skills managers need, effective communication is perhaps the hardest to improve. This is because communication isn’t a single skill. It’s actually a complex set of skills that build upon one another. Through my firm’s work with managers, we’ve identified these skills–25 in total–and organized them into a hierarchy of skill groups, starting with foundational skills and building to more advanced skills.

2. Hold managers accountable for engaging their team members by providing reinforcement in performance management and pay.  You know the problem: Unless communication is part of the formula to give managers raises or bonuses, it won’t be a priority. So make communicating essential to managers’ success.

3. Invest time in making sure managers understand content. Especially if the topic is complex, a 20-minute presentation is not enough to make managers comfortable. To design sessions that give managers the confidence they need to present, try the following:

  • When planning to brief managers, allocate at least 90 minutes for the meeting.
  • If possible, get everyone together face to face. If your office is too distracting, consider taking managers off site.
  • Of course you’ll present content, but presentations should be the shortest part of the meeting. Allow at least 50 percent of the time for questions and dialogue.

4. Create tools to help managers share information. You might consider:

  • A very short PowerPoint presentation. Managers won’t give a detailed presentation, but they will use a short (5-8 slides) PPT to share highlights at staff meetings and during one-on-one discussions.
  • A one-page guide that makes it easy for managers to have everything they need. This guide that contains all essential information: what is changing, when, why and how.
  • FAQs. Compile Frequently Asked Questions in a document that provides the questions employees are likely to ask, along with the answers managers need. The key is to include the toughest questions so managers are ready any time team members approach them with a question.

5. Develop a microsite or a social network group
It’s the perfect place to house resources and build skills. Make it social by including discussion threads, so colleagues can share challenges and solutions. Provide access to on-demand learning that can be accessed quickly when faced with a challenge.

Once you start providing managers with support, ask for feedback to determine which methods have the greatest impact.

By: Alison Davis

Source: Want More Productive Employees? Research Reveals that Managers Matter Most

Why Investing In Your Employees Is The Future of Work – Drew Holler

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As we look toward the future of work, it’s becoming more important than ever for companies to understand the needs of their teams, and to build solutions and products to help serve them—whether that’s through training, healthcare, or other investments. At Walmart, we’ve been very deliberate about investing in our associates, particularly over the past three years as we’ve thought about new ways to improve their lives and careers. Education is the latest iteration of that commitment. Between historically low unemployment rates in the US and innovative technologies reshaping jobs, all businesses have a lot of work to do—both in terms of recruiting and upskilling  ……..

Read more: https://qz.com/1410509/why-investing-in-your-employees-is-the-future-of-work/?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=firefox_placement

 

 

 

 

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How to Classify Your Employees Right from the Start – Dottie Chong

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Herd mentality is almost never a good thing. As social creatures, perhaps it’s only human to want to be included and be part of something bigger. When applied to business, the herd mentality often leads to less stellar decisions, against better judgment, because “everyone else is doing it,” so why not? For many startups, the hiring model to follow would appear obvious, with gig economy powerhouses like Uber, Handy and TaskRabbit hiring tens of thousands of independent contractors. Classifying employees as independent contractors delivers a cheaper workforce for employers, while touting freedom and flexibility for workers. But we all know what’s happened to their story since.

If your startup is looking to hire, even if it’s just one new person, then employee classification should be on your radar. It can be a smooth or a bumpy ride, depending on how you proceed.

Read on to find out what one startup did, why it matters, and how your business can stay on the right side of the law.

Freelancers now make up 35 percent of the U.S. workforce. When Dan Teran was starting his business in 2014, the gig economy’s independent contractor model was all the rage. That pitch centered on having a company with no inventory and no employees.

 But Teran had just finished Zeynep Ton’s book, “The Good Jobs Strategy.” A professor at MIT Sloan School and retail industry researcher, Ton wrote about companies like Zappos and Trader Joe’s investing in their workforce, and how this has boosted their bottom line in the long run. This really resonated with Teran, having grown up in middle-class America where benefits were invaluable.

So when Teran launched Managed by Q, a technology platform that connects clients to facilities service providers, he decided to do something most startups would consider unthinkable: he offered health insurance, a 401K program with matching contributions, and paid family leave to full-time employees. These benefits were also applied to employees of Q Services, Q’s profitable, in-house network of cleaners, office managers, and handymen. Two years later, Q announced a stock option for all employees, regardless of their role.

Intent is everything

As an entrepreneur, you know best what your business needs and what you can afford. Scalability is the power to change in size. In a perfect world, businesses want a workforce that is scaled for growth, yet dependent on demand. But we don’t live a perfect world.

According to Maria O. Hart, an attorney specializing in employment law and business litigation, employee misclassification is not a new problem, and savvy business owners have always been aware of its existence. While it’s perfectly reasonable to hire independent contractors because the business is seasonal, it’s illegal to deliberately misclassify employees to free oneself of administrative and financial burdens, while depriving the workers of the legal protections they deserve.

Differentiating an employee and a contractor

According to Hart, the ultimate test in determining whether you have an employee or an independent contractor boils down to one primary factor: control. If the worker is dependent on the employer financially, has no say their schedule, and uses only employer-provided software, tools, or equipment, they are most likely a full-time employee.

An independent contractor is free to come and go once the job is done, can have multiple clients at the same time, can perform the work remotely in some cases, and can hire subcontractors or additional help to complete the task. Independent contractors with access to proprietary information can be required to sign confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements, but not non-compete contracts.

But sometimes, roles change. The independent contractor you hired during the early days of your startup may evolve into something more over time. This is not illegal. What is illegal, however, is a lack of self-auditing processes. The intentional failure to initiate the conversation to convert the contract worker into a full-time employee ultimately denies this employee the benefits and compensation he or she is owed.

$3 billion less to go around

The IRS estimated that about 15 percent of employers misclassified their employees as independent contractors, costing nearly $3 billion each year in income, payroll and federal unemployment taxes, with 10 to 20 percent of employers classifying at least one worker incorrectly.

States are reporting equally staggering figures in lost revenue annually due to misclassified employees. That revenue would otherwise go into education, transportation, or health coverage for low-income families, to build strong communities and contribute to the nation’s economic vitality, of which startups are part of.

Running a business is a balancing act

There’s no denying that business owners are between a rock and hard place. They need to be profitable and competitive and keep employees and investors happy — and these factors aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. However, having to juggle these factors is not an excuse to flout the law.

Classifying your next hire correctly is essential for both the business and the entrepreneur. Building a profitable organization may start with the entrepreneur, but its success is ensured by its employees; so start by taking care of yours.

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