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As Health Reform Continues – Five Strategies for Employers to Consider Now
Please welcome our guest blogger , Carolyn Lewis, CEO of the Lewis Group. Carolyn has been recognized as an industry leader whose deep insights in the healthcare marketplace and broker channels mark her as a sought-out speaker and consultant.
- Self-Funding for Smaller Companies. Beginning in 2016, the Affordable Care Act or ACA will re-define companies with 51-99 employees as “small groups.” This will essentially eliminate a key risk to self-funding health insurance for mid-sized organizations. Self-funding a company group plan works by taking the medical premiums paid to a fully-insured medical plan carrier and breaking them into 3 parts: stop loss insurance, administration, and direct payment of medical claims. The problem hasn’t been finding stop loss policies for “healthy” self-funded plans; it’s been how to manage exposure when a few claims push the financial limits of the medical plan. The ACA in 2016 will allow mid-sized companies to move into the fully-insured guaranteed-issue small group market. That means a self-funded plan with high claims experience will no longer be “stuck” with significantly increased reinsurance premiums. Some advantages of self-funding for employers are:
- Avoidance of ACA premium taxes that range from 1.5% to 3%.
- Companies can create their own medical plan design and avoid some ACA requirements that apply only to fully-insured plans.
- Access to group medical claims leads to cost savings and better wellness program impact.
- Many employers save on annual plan cost compared to fully-insured plan premiums.
- Avoiding the ACA Cadillac Tax. In Mercer’s 2013 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, nearly a third of large employers say that concern over the excise tax influenced health plan decisions for 2014. In 2018, the cost of ACA’s Cadillac tax, a 40% tax on the value of medical benefits over a set threshold amount, will vary depending on the number of enrollees and the plan’s costs. Companies likely to hit the tax threshold have time to plan for a “soft landing” by phasing in changes that will reset benefit cost a a level below the threshold. The most common strategies from the Mercer survey are adding, or building enrollment in lower-cost consumer-driven health plans and eliminating the highest-cost plan offered today.
- Re-Thinking Dependent Coverage Strategies. New rules have relaxed the requirement for large companies to offer dependent coverage until 2016, but the ACA definition of “dependent” affects both large and small companies. Since a “spouse” is not included in the ACA definition of dependent, the law does not require that spouses be offered subsidized affordable coverage by large or small companies. Unfortunately, if any employee has access to coverage that could include their spouse, that spouse is prevented from receiving subsidized coverage through a state or federal healthcare exchange marketplace. This is known as the ACA “dependent glitch.” Plan sponsorship strategy should now include analysis of the pros and cons of allowing spouses and/or children for small group, to “peel off” and purchase coverage on an exchange.
- Next-Generation Company Wellness Strategies. The best way to stabilize premiums and reduce plan costs is to improve employee health and wellness. Most large companies have some sort of wellness program in place, and implementation for smaller firms is becoming more accessible and even integrated into small-group fully-insured plan designs. The ACA allows employers to increase the value of incentives from 20% to 30% of total plan costs, so many companies are planning to expand their programs in 2014. The Mercer Survey indicates a shift from participatory plans to those that focus on rewarding employees for improvements on measurable health standards. This means that wellness, as a key way to engage employees, will become more integrated with company culture and will require more structured year-round communications tied to benefits education.
- Growth in Defined-Contribution Approach & Year-Round Benefits Communication. Traditionally, companies pay a certain percent or dollar amount towards the cost of a narrow range of medical, dental, vision, and any other ancillary plans. In a defined contribution approach, the employer provides each employee a set amount of dollars to spend on a much-expanded variety of benefit plans. This allows employees to essentially “go shopping” to design a custom package based on their own needs. Because the ACA has significantly increased employee interest in learning more about their benefits, many employers are shifting to the new defined benefit strategy that capitalizes on this trend to consumerism. The ACA rules governing plan designs have also driven benefits to become more commoditized. One way to keep a group benefit plan attractive and competitive is to expand choice and allow employees to have more control on how they put together their annual elections. Investing in improved communication is supported by the latest annual Met Life Employee Benefit Trends Study that reports that 54% of Gen Y and 38% of Gen X employees say they need more help understanding how their benefits work and how they help meet their personal and family needs. Responding to these trends with a defined benefit approach can offer these advantages:
- A more predictable, stable benefits budget.
- Better engaged, happier employees.
- A more competitive benefits package to recruit and keep top talent.
The Lewis Group is an award-winning team of employee benefit, HR, technology, and compensation specialists committed to delivering unique solutions that are specifically tailored to an organization’s goals. They analyze and match businesses to exceptional brokers recruited from top agencies in California to boost in ROI on benefits spend and align with company goals for growth and profit. CEO, Carolyn Lewis, has been recognized as an industry leader whose deep insights in the healthcare marketplace and broker channels mark her as a sought-out speaker and consultant. She began her career as a senior executive at the innovative Sacramento non-profit now known as WellSpace Health in Sacramento. She then worked for 10 years at a senior level for a national insurance carrier and spent 8 years as a broker/consultant both at her own company and with the highly-regarded Benefits Done Right Insurance Agency. Carolyn earned her BS from the College of William & Mary in Virginia and her MBA from the Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business.
Employee Empowerment: Tips for Keeping Retail Employees Engaged
The holiday season for retail workers mean one thing: busy, busy, busy. With stores starting their Black Friday sale on Thanksgiving, more employees are needed to man the store. In fact, CareerBuilder’s Annual Survey concluded that 39% of hiring managers plan to hire workers this year, compared to 36% last year, and 29% in 2011.
Sure, when Black Friday comes along, fashionistas, technology gurus, and anyone who simply wants a good deal will be participating in this shopping spree day. But what about the employees who have to work during these ghastly hours, especially on Thanksgiving? Although store hours are opening in the evening to ensure retail employees have time to spend with their family and friends, it may be tough for any retail manager to motivate their staff (especially if copious amounts of food was consumed just hours before). How will retail leaders prepare their staff for the infamous Black Friday sale in terms of customer service, team morale, and overall employee well-being?
Working in retail, customer service is essential. As a store associate, necessary steps are taken to achieve top quality service to customers—ask them how their day is going, ask them if they need any assistance finding items, provide insight when asked, be personable and approachable. Yes, folding clothes after what looked like a blizzard hit the section may be frustrating, but remember: providing superior customer service is a pivotal function of the job; not only does it reflect the company, it also reflects the employee.
Staying motivated during the busy season may be challenging, and customer complaints can make it tougher. When team morale seems to be lacking, it is both noticeable for both other staff members and customers. Remember to keep the staff engaged in their work and with their fellow customers by providing incentives such as these:
1) Provide healthy snacks throughout the day in the break room to ensure employees are being well-nourished. Offering snacks, such as nuts, will reward employees with natural health benefits including long-lasting energy, brain health, and even reduce stress.
2) Employee holiday appreciation party. During or after the holiday season, plan a party for the employees to show them they are more than just bodies in the store. Thank them for all the hard work they have done for the company. Gather each employees’ insight (i.e., theme, food, activities) to ensure their voice and ideas are being heard by upper management.
3) Appreciation in-store discounts or gift cards. Offer employees a generous discount, such as 60% off of sale items and 40% off of regular priced items. Another incentive may involve having a raffle drawing of gift cards to other places.
4) Shorter shifts to alleviate stress. Dealing with customers amongst the constant hustle and bustle of the season may be demanding. Provide shorter shifts to ensure employees are not feeling burnt-out.
5) Allow employees to change roles and/or departments during their shift. Employees may feel unmotivated (and most likely bored) repeating one tedious task for the entire shift. Change up the scenery by moving them around the store and allowing them to engage in other roles. This tactic may make the shifts more bearable and the hours go by quicker.
As managers and leaders, it is management’s job to ensure their employees’ needs are being met and frustrations alleviated. Empowering employees in turn empowers management which empowers the overall company.
*e-Ventexe is a full service human resource company dedicated to providing services catered to clients’ needs.
Retail HR 101: How to Survive the Holidays
Crowds of people zooming past one another, baby strollers rested along racks of clothes as mothers and fathers shop, lines zigzagging throughout the store—the holiday season has crept up once again. The National Retail Federation’s 2012 survey confirmed more than 88 million consumers shopped in-stores and online on Black Friday. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, how are top retail leaders and managers planning to beat the “holiday burnout” in terms of keeping employee morale and productivity up during the holiday season? Long hours, employees calling in sick last minute, gift returns, etc., calls for copious amounts of stress. Although the feeling of being burnt-out can not be completely eliminated, here are some tips to help avoid becoming an overworked, overstressed Grinch at the workplace.
1) Plan early! Plan months, weeks, or even days in advance. This can include plans for keeping the staff engaged with customer service, the number of store associates working for each shift, the number of hours for each shift, the number of employees stationed at each department, etcetera. By planning in advance, chaotic situations may be minimal which in turn alleviates stress levels for all parties.
2) Always develop a strategy in case incidences happen unexpectedly. For example, if a customer spilled coffee all over the tiled floor in front of the Women’s clothing department, what actions would be taken? Who will take the initiative? Would it be the shift leader who was upstairs in the Men’s department when the spill happened? Or the sales associates who was standing 10 feet away from the spill? In simple incidences such as this, delegate a plan such as, whichever employee saw the spill first is responsible for cleaning the mess. If a customer notices the spill and informs an associate, have that associate take the initiative to ensure other holiday shoppers are not harmed. Take the appropriate measures to develop strategies (even if they are on the spot) to ensure a pleasant shopping experience for all customers and staff. In this incident, a lawsuit may have been avoided.
3) Have a plan for employee absence and call-ins. It is inevitable; employees will call in or not show up for their shift. If an employee calls-in last minute because s/he can not work a shift, what would happen? Extend an employee’s shift who is currently working? Go through the call schedule? If you are unexpectedly short of staff, always begin recruiting within the store, and then reach out to employees’ who are not scheduled to work. The last minute call may make any shift leader want to pull his/her hair out, but there’s always someone looking to make more money. And better yet, if your store holds your employees to the highest degree, then they may willingly want to help the store when short-staff problems arise.
4) Communicate with the entire team daily. Set up regular short meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page. This will make sure all staff (in all departments) is in sync with the latest news, changes, etc., which ultimately eliminates confusion. This may also increase an employee’s sense of self-worth; it promotes productivity and gives the employee a sense of belonging and importance in the company because the supervisor(s) allotted time to check up on him/her.
5) When on the sales floor, always pay attention to surroundings. Step in when needed to ensure the store runs smoothly. After all, the more chaotic the store, the more stressed managers feel. For example, if a cashier is having difficulty with ringing up an item, don’t feel pressured to “hurry up the line” and push the employee out of the way—this will show the employee management does not care, or worst, think s/he is a nuisance or a useless body. Instead managers should greet their cashier first then solve the issue collectively; this will show the employee that store leaders regard them as a human-being and it also promotes team work and problem solving strategies.
Follow these 5 tips and celebrate the holidays with ease.
*e-VentExe is a full service human resource consulting company in Northern California specializing in training & development, recruitment & retention, and outsourcing & compliance. Our consultants collectively have over 60 years of professional experience in HR, 30 years specializing in retail. e-VentExe is dedicated to meeting and exceeding clients’ needs.