HR Elements December 2014
Ideas and Information for Human Resources Professionals

Decoding Dress Codes

Most places of business have some sort of dress code, but what if a large company doesn't and then decides it wants to implement one? Such was the case with Wal-Mart and the backlash its new policy triggered. This can provide useful information for employers that may be thinking twice about instituting new rules.

Regardless of where one works, there are always certain rules to follow. If a business does have a dress code, in an office setting it's usually to keep people from wearing unprofessional attire. In an industrial setting, this ensures that people are wearing safety-related gear.

In the Wal-Mart example, they decided to implement a dress code that mimicked a uniform policy. The difference, according to an article in Human Resource Executive Online titled What to Wear, is that most uniforms require an employer to pay for, maintain, and clean the items. If safety gear is required for compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, then a business must pay for them.  But Wal-Mart found a loophole in that they simply stated a dress code of khaki pants and a collared shirt, defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as "street clothes." Furthermore, the senior-level staff at Wal-Mart probably reasoned that most people already have these articles of clothing in their wardrobe.

While that may be true, the backlash came when employees who were already making a low salary now had to add the expense of these clothes.  This dress code requirement quickly ballooned into a public relations nightmare for Wal-Mart and highlights the fine line that a business must walk to keep its costs in check, while maintaining good morale among its employees and the public.

If a business decides to introduce a new, or modify an existing, dress code policy, it should consider all ramifications before implementation. Plus, the decision makers need to figuratively put themselves into the shoes of the employees being affected by the policy. Will the added cost be too much of a burden? Will the public look at this as a good thing in terms of an improved, professional appearance, or will they look at it as just another way the company is shifting costs to its already weary workforce? And finally, can such a requirement spur the heavy burden of a class action lawsuit?

It's clearly important for a company to have its employees looking their best, but at the same time it should tread carefully when enforcing a new and unpopular dress code policy.


The "No Phones" No-No

Saying that most people are addicted to their smartphones is nothing new, and most of us would deny that we have that addiction. Yet, according to an article in Workforce titled Keep Your (Mobile) Enemies Close, mobile analytics firm Flurry reported in April that the number of mobile addicts -- people who check their phones more than 60 times a day -- had increased 123% to 179 million.

That's why saying "no phones" during a meeting, presentation, or other group activity is not going to make someone, no matter what their age, turn off their phone. Some people divert their attention in order to play the latest game or check the most recent stock price. Others just have to text their romantic interest at least 10 times an hour lest they think the other person won't love them. And then there are just some people who refuse to let a call go to voice mail, regardless of its importance. We can argue that this is disrespectful, but in reality we've all done it at some point and meant no disrespect even though it caused us to stop paying attention.

The worst part about these distractions is that it also distracts the person next to you. Can anyone honestly say that if they see someone texting or playing a game that they are able to ignore it? In that same article, Ken Graetz, director of teaching, learning, and tech services at Winona State University in Minnesota, said, "Attention is very much like a flashlight -- you focus it on certain things." Very few of us can truly multitask, and when we focus our attention on one thing, we're taking it away from another.

So what's a person to do? If you're hosting a meeting, or are presenting during a conference, how can you get people to give you their full, undivided attention?  Conversely, if you're attending a meeting or presentation, how can the speaker engage you enough so that you ignore your smartphone or tablet? The answer is not to ban these devices, but to incorporate them.

Why do this? In Psychology Today, articles as far back as July 2013 and as recent as September 2014 talk about "nomophobia" -- the fear of being without, or beyond reach of a mobile device. A full 66% of all adults suffer from this and it's worse for high school and college students. That's why incorporating mobile devices in order to increase attendee engagement is so crucial.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to use an app (mobile application) that allows attendees to download and view their own copy of the presenter's slides or meeting organizer's agenda. You can also send out polling questions if you really want to up your game. You can set up an online forum and tell people to add their thoughts or comments during the presentation so that the entire group can benefit. A great example of this is what the AMC network has done with its hit TV show, The Walking Dead. Their "Story Sync" online feature (also an app) provides viewers with trivia, polls, exclusive pictures and video.

While you may think this would keep people from paying attention to what's going on, it actually increases their attention as well as retention of what was being presented.  Furthermore, it still allows people to get their mobile "fix" without any feelings of guilt.


Don't be a Craveman

It's the holidays. It's the perfect storm of indulging in food that you may not normally eat.  Whether you get gift baskets in the office, or are just tempted by all the holiday goodies in the supermarket, your mind is constantly being coerced into wanting the deliciousness that's mere feet away. Don't give into the craving!

Of course, we've all faced an overwhelming hunger for a particular unhealthy food item -- pizza, chocolate, donuts, ice cream, french fries, etc. -- but when the holidays come around, we get a whole new treasure trove of delicacies. To help "sweeten" the pot, many of these are only seasonally available. Pumpkin spiced latte, anyone? The holidays are like walking through the mall food court, or the main thoroughfare at the State Fair in that even the most devoted, health-conscious person among us can resist only so long before giving in. Can't you just taste that deep-fried goodness right now?

An article on CNN titled, 7 ways to stop unhealthy food cravings, provides tips on how to beat those cravings along with many healthy alternatives to the unhealthy foods we want. To avoid what the author calls "mindless munching," you need to analyze the cause of your cravings in order to counter them with effective strategies.

First, ask yourself if you're really hungry. It's so simple, yet we often eat just to eat. Take a moment to stop and think. Now that you're thinking, think about what your body needs. Even if it's time to eat, your brain may override your body and demand that slice of chocolate cake rather than have something more appropriate such as a sandwich or salad. Next, pay attention to what you crave. Sometimes the desire for certain types of foods can actually be a warning sign for a health issue. If you've eaten a full meal, yet you still want something that's sweet, salty, high in protein, etc. and this is more of a physical response and not emotional, then consider seeing a medical professional. If it is a purely emotional craving, try to derail that train of thought. Once you see the food you want, it's often impossible to stop imagining the texture, richness, and all the other attributes of what it would be like to taste it. That's why it's important to take a time out. Instead of racing to be the first to cut into that pan of brownies, take a few minutes to drink a glass of water or hot beverage, get up and walk around, or chew some gum. If you absolutely can't resist, then go ahead and satisfy your craving, but do so in small doses. Try having just one-fourth the normal portion size. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and preventing your cravings is the best way to eliminate them altogether. By finding healthier alternatives to sugary, fatty, or salty snacks, you can bypass the desire to eat the bad stuff and maybe, just maybe, this holiday won't be so rough on your waistline.


Rate Trends and Delay Strategies

There was a nearly 322% increase in the number of plans utilizing an early renewal strategy on December 1, 2013, which delayed many effects of PPACA until December 1, 2014. Of the employers who postponed their renewal date, 94% were small businesses that employ fewer than 100 employees.




These early renewal strategies did keep rates in check, and rate increases were delayed even further in states, such as Nebraska, Michigan, North Carolina, and Florida, that allowed "grandmothering." Grandmothering refers to existing plans that do not meet the 2014 PPACA requirements, but which have been allowed by the federal government and state insurance department to be renewed through October 1, 2016. Some states that did not permit grandmothering include Virginia and California. Even though grandmothering was permitted at the federal level, each state had the ultimate power to determine whether or not it would allow the extension. Adding yet another layer of complexity, carriers were not required to allow this extension. In other words, even though the states may have permitted grandmothering, some carriers required employers to transition to PPACA-compliant plans. The grandmothering extension is permitted for policy years beginning on or before October 1, 2016. Expect to see further delays into 2017.

Future rate trends remain unknown due to renewal delays and grandmothering, but an early indicator of rate trends can be seen in states that did not permit grandmothering and among large employers who moved to PPACA plans. These employers are coping with record renewal price increases. Based on current renewal rates coming in from carriers, in the states that did not allow renewal of pre-PPACA plans, many small employers are facing rate increases of 30% to 160%. In the category of employers with 50 or fewer employees, the results are staggering: in 2012, there were 507 employers with a December 1 renewal date; in 2013, that number escalated 412.4% to 2,598 employers. These changes will have a ripple effect for years to come in the small group market.

We hope you found this infomration useful. For the complete 2014 UBA Health Plan Survey Executive Summary, or for more detailed information, please contact us.

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 In This Edition


Washington Outlook

Tuesday, January 13, 2015
2:00 p.m. ET / 11:00 a.m. PT

The elections are over and the balance of power has shifted in Washington, D.C. Will there be significant changes, or will things just continue as usual? Significant parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA ) have been implemented, but major additional requirements are scheduled to take effect over the next few years. The Republicans have vowed to repeal all or part of the law, and have even filed their own lawsuit over it, but what parts of the law have the greatest possibility of actually changing?

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear another case that could significantly affect applicability of the law.  At issue is whether premium tax credits are only permitted in states that are running their own exchange - a significant issue since only one-third of the states are running their own exchanges. While no one knows what the Supreme Court will decide, how could this affect businesses and individuals?

Join us for this 75-minute webinar as Jessica Waltman, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs  of the National Association of Health Underwriters, discusses what is happening in Washington, D.C., the possibility of changes, some of the reasons behind the legislative and regulatory agendas, and what employers can expect over the coming months. As a result of her position, Jessica Waltman has a unique perspective on what is happening, and may happen, in Congress, with the regulatory agencies and at the Supreme Court.

Register here for the webinar. The presentation slides will be posted on the UBA website the day before the webinar.

About the Presenter:
Jessica Waltman
is Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU). In her current position, Jessica coordinates all of NAHU's legislative and regulatory efforts to advance the interests of professional health insurance producers. This includes NAHU's lobbying efforts before Congress and the Executive branch, the association's monitoring of the activities of all state legislatures, insurance departments and intergovernmental organizations and management of the association's government affairs department. Jessica oversees NAHU's analysis of state and federal policy proposals and coordinates the association's internal policy working groups and task forces. She serves as the primary drafter of NAHU's position statements and white papers. She is a frequently speaker on state and federal-level legislative and regulatory issues that affect health insurance.

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