HR Elements May 2014
Ideas and Information for Human Resources Professionals

The Drive To Be Unproductive:
How Long Commutes Affect Workplace Efficiency

According to an article in Yahoo! News, there is one thing that all employees have in common: a burning dislike for their morning commute. Let's face it, it's not the actual commute that most people dislike, it's the hassle of dealing with traffic, long lines, and rude people that make the trip so despised.

It doesn't matter how an employee gets to work -- whether it's by car, train, plane, boat, or just walking, there's always one or more aspects of the commute that person would like to change. How an employee starts the day is an important indicator of his or her attitude for the rest of that day.

Managers need to determine what an employee needs to be the most productive while at work. Some things are within their control, such as having the best equipment, providing the most up-to-date training, or even a supplying a kick-start of coffee or a snack. However, there are a plethora of items outside their control that can disrupt productivity, such as the need for eight hours of sleep, family issues, or even a particularly grueling commute. Research from the Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom found that employees with a 45-minute or longer commute are less satisfied with their lives, rated their daily activities as less worthwhile, and reported higher anxiety than employees who don't have a long commute each morning.

If a manager doesn't have to endure the horrors of a long and demanding commute, it might be difficult for that person to understand the impact it has on an employee's productivity and overall morale. Considering that the average worker spends five weeks a year commuting, it's easy to see how someone might not feel motivated when he or she reaches the workplace.

Fortunately, restoring motivation in an employee with a lengthy commuting is relatively easy. That being said, it takes a manager who is willing to make compromises, have a fair amount of trust in his or her employees, and the necessary equipment -- or the ability to lay the groundwork -- to let them telecommute if the situation arises.

There is no doubt that a manager assumes a small amount of risk when letting an employee work from home, but if that manager is confident in the employee's work ethic, then there should not be a reason to worry. In fact, most employees who telecommute report that they actually work harder from home than they do in the office because they felt like they had to "prove themselves" to their colleagues and show that they were pulling their weight.

When telecommuting is not an option, there are plenty of small changes in the workplace that can be made to help ease the pressure on workers who commute long distances:

  • Allow commuting employees to work one day a week from home. The break from the commute will ease their stress and show them that you understand their situation.
  • If employees primarily take public transportation as a way to get to work, then count one hour toward their time in the office as long as they use a laptop or other device to do job-related functions.
  • Have flexible office hours so that employees can arrive, work an appropriate amount of time, then leave so as to avoid both morning and evening rush hours.
  • Offer support (such as moving expenses, paid time off, etc.) to workers who are willing to relocate closer to the office.

Finally, be sympathetic. An employee may not have a choice when it comes to their commute and a little understanding can go a long way in making that person feel as though someone understands their morning struggle.


Is Facebook "Liked" For Job Searching?

"I haven't had an orthodox career, and I've wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!" -- Sally Field, Academy Award acceptance speech for Best Actress in 1984's Places in the Heart.

It's nice to be liked and it seems as though everyone is on Facebook these days, but is that the best social media website when it comes to finding a job?  The answer depends on whom you ask, but based on an article in Human Resource Executive Online it appears that LinkedIn is still king when it comes to job seekers as well as recruiters.

As social media becomes more popular, the line between personal life and professional life is starting to fade. However, at least for now, people still use various websites for specific objectives. Facebook, which is arguably the dominant social media site, is almost never used as the primary method for finding a job. According to the article, there are 1.3 billion users on Facebook and only 277 million users on LinkedIn, yet the latter is preferred with 94% of recruiters citing it as their go-to social network for finding talent, according to a Jobvite poll.

Furthermore, according to a recent Link Humans poll, nearly 70% of employees surveyed say they have never turned to Facebook in search of employment opportunities, with almost 95% indicating they've never found an opening and subsequently been hired via Facebook.

That doesn't mean that Facebook is completely useless when it comes to the job search, especially if the job is specific to marketing, social media, or relevant technology. Facebook has several advantages when it comes to building a corporate brand in which top talent would want to work, and also for potential job candidates to do research and familiarize themselves with an organization before their interview.  Many Human Resource professionals already use social media to research potential job prospects, so it's only natural that these prospects use social media to examine companies and their C-level executives.

It could be only a matter of time before all those people who grew up using Facebook as a way to connect will become senior executives who will then use Facebook to expand the corporate culture. The bottom line is that both job seekers and recruiters need to be aware of all social media avenues as their online personal and professional lives may soon converge into one.


Risky Business

Of all the temporary jobs out there, none probably carries more risk than being the President of the United States. However, for most people, having a temporary job requires a fast learning curve, especially when it comes to safety. Sure, an office job sounds fairly safe, but what about general contractors, factory workers, and construction workers? These positions are far more hazardous and both the employee and employer need to step up their game to ensure the task can be completed with minimal risk.

An article in Human Resource Executive Online says that reducing injuries among temporary workers continues to be a major priority for OSHA, which recently boosted its communications efforts around the agency's Temporary Worker Initiative.

According to a new report from CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists, a record three million Americans are employed as temporary workers. This is up by 28% between 2010 and 2013. If a temporary employee works in California, Florida, Massachusetts, Oregon, or Minnesota, he or she has a much higher risk of getting injured on the job than a permanent employee based on a recent analysis of workers' compensation data by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica. That same analysis concluded that temps in Minnesota have the highest risk potential, with 72% having a greater chance of being injured on the job than permanent workers.

While some people might consider their dream job one that's "to die for," nobody really wants a job so badly that they're willing to sacrifice their life. This is why HR needs to work closely with their company's safety department. The two, in fact, should be inseparable for ensuring an employee's well-being.

As is often the case, HR departments may mistakenly assume that temporary employees either already have sufficient safety training from a previous job, or that they received safety training from a staffing firm. This couldn't be further from the truth as most safety training is learned on a specific jobsite and not in a classroom. Once temps get to a brand new job location, they are ill-prepared for the dangers they may face. For example, a manager in a factory needs additional help with a particular task. That manager takes a temporary worker who's been assigned to a low-hazard duty and places him or her into a potentially catastrophic situation with dangerous equipment, harmful chemicals, or an environment that requires protective gear, which the employee doesn't have.

Temporary workers are a necessary part of doing business and they can be just as qualified as their permanent counterparts. While it may be tempting to restrict what they should be allowed to do, all companies would be better served if they observed best safety practices in the workplace. HR departments should ensure that all temps have the necessary technical and safety training for any potential task they may undertake while working at that organization. If necessary, they should be included in routine safety classes and daily briefings and company-supplied protective equipment should always be provided regardless of whether the temporary employee brings their own.


What Makes Wellness Work?

Lisa Weston, CWC, CWPC
Director of Employee Wellness Promotion
the bagnall company, a UBA Partner Firm

More than 75 cents of every health care dollar spent in the United States goes toward treating chronic diseases such as arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because these conditions are the number one cause of death and disability, and consequently the primary factor in rising health care costs, moving toward prevention-based care will be the key that helps both employers and employees pull health care costs back from the edge of crisis over the long term.

According to the 2013 UBA Health Plan Survey of nearly 11,000 employers, 19.2% of all insurance plans offer some sort of wellness program. Health risk assessments remain the most popular offering, with 81% of plans participating, 62.3% of plans offering incentive awards (a 3.1% decrease), and 61.3% offering a physical exam (a 1.1% decrease). The programs that saw the biggest increase were coaching at 56.2% (a 4.9% increase) and online wellness portals at 54.7% (a 4.7% increase).

The questions are whether comprehensive wellness programs are effective and how are results measured?

Whether or not a wellness program is effective depends on many factors, and most importantly, on the organization's goals. Typically, a wellness program is trying to increase employee engagement and productivity, while lowering long-term costs.

For all employers with wellness programs, the goal is to meet the needs of the employees to change their overall health. In order to measure effectiveness, keep track of everything. Track participation in all events, onsite education, and challenges. Track cost per person, and most importantly, total population participation. Track progress and participation from year to year to see the overall impact of the program. Also, develop the wellness program around the medical claims trends. If available, use health risk assessment data and biometric data, as well.

How wellness programs influence productivity is difficult to measure, but not impossible. Return on investment of wellness programs related to worker productivity can be determined primarily with the utilization of an employee health risk assessment that addresses the following four areas:

  1. Absenteeism (work time missed): Percentage of work time missed due to health problems or a specific condition.
  2. Presenteeism (reduced on-the-job effectiveness): Percentage of impairment while working due to health problems or a specific condition.
  3. Work productivity loss (absenteeism plus presenteeism): Percentage of overall work impairment due to health problems or a specific condition.
  4. Activity impairment (other than work): Percentage of activity impairment due to health problems or a specific condition.

Implementing a health risk assessment and having employees self-report how their health problems or specific conditions affect these four areas will provide employers with a method to determine the impact wellness has on productivity. Furthermore, the utilization of the health risk assessment allows for employers to obtain aggregate reporting specific to productivity and participation.

Unfortunately, not all employers wish to implement a health risk assessment campaign. Without having health risk assessment data available, determining the impact wellness has on productivity is very difficult.

As previously mentioned, the key to finding value in developing a wellness program is ensuring the program has offerings and programs in which employees actually want to participate. Careful planning is essential.  Employers must assess employee's needs with a health risk assessment or biometric data and also assess their wants with interest and incentive surveys. The question each employer should ask themselves is "What target am I trying to hit?" Then they should plan their program accordingly.

For further information about wellness trends, download a copy of the 2013 UBA Health Plan Survey Executive Summary.

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 In This Edition


Employer Webinar Series

ERISA: Basics And In Context

We thought we'd take a break from PPACA, and get back to basics -- ERISA basics, that is. Health care reform has created a number of critical issues for group health plans, but employers typically sponsor other benefits for their employees - dental, vision, life, long term disability, severance, and others. ERISA may apply to all of these programs, including health benefits. So, because the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 is so fundamental to a company's overall employee benefits strategy and implementation, all plan sponsors need to be aware of certain key provisions of ERISA that affect plan design, administration, and compliance. In this 90-minute program, we will touch on the following:

  • Overview of ERISA's regulatory environment
  • Reporting and disclosure provisions, including basic rules for SPDs and wrap documents
  • Which plans are covered by ERISA, including voluntary benefits
  • ERISA preemption

We also will cover what can sometimes be vexing questions for plan sponsors, such as:

  • Are these "voluntary" benefits subject to ERISA?
  • When do we have to file an annual report/Form 5500?
  • Do we need a fidelity bond?
  • How do we handle benefits while an employee is on leave?

Ignorance of ERISA can create significant legal risk, even if you meet PPACA coverage mandates. This program will provide an introduction to ERISA and address some of the key concepts that all employers and other plan sponsors should know.

Registration for the webinar will soon be available. The presentation slides will be posted on the UBA website the day before the webinar.

WisdomWorkplace Webinar

Breaking Through The Barriers To Create Retirement Plans That Work -- For Everyone

Thursday, June 19, 2014
2:00 p.m. EDT / 11:00 a.m. PDT

Sponsored by The Principal, in this webinar we'll discuss how simple plan design changes can help your participants better prepare for retirement -- and positively impact your organization's bottom line. Get tips on how to:

  • Evaluate your plan to determine the income replacement ratio
  • Determine if you have effective plan design features in place
  • Implement plan design changes to help your employees retire on time

Register here for the webinar.

About The Presenter:
Brian Walker is the VP - national director, business development at The Principal Financial Group. He is responsible for leading and directing the national business development team, consisting of 14 directors of business development. The business development team provides marketing, business development and business growth tools and ideas to financial professionals within Principal's key distribution partner. Additionally, Brian also oversees nine channel specialists that focus specifically on Principal's defined benefit, tax exempt, and TPA markets; as well as investment platform distribution.


Workplace Happiness

At the recent SXSW (South by Southwest) entertainment and technology conference, one of the seminars that seemed out of place among the usual presentations of innovative ideas, thought leadership, and ways to get noticed by venture capitalists was one titled, "Make Yourself the Happiest Person on Earth." The article in Employee Benefit News mentioned that this seminar was led by Chade-Meng Tan, a former Google engineer who devoted 20% of his time to projects he was passionate about -- a company policy of which he took full advantage.

So why is this important to note? The fact that over-worked, technology-minded individuals who basically live off caffeine and energy bars are starting to recognize the value of happiness, well-being, and overall life balance. The article focused on how business professionals were noticing that their best and brightest recruits wanted more out of life than just money and clout.

Today, it seems that youthful entrepreneurs aren't just looking to sacrifice everything for the ultimate job; they simply want a good job where they can make a decent amount of money, while at the same time making the world a better place and having some free time to pursue their dreams. This new work-life priority appears to follow the "pay it forward" maxim that if someone makes others happy, then they will in turn be happy.

Benefits Plans For The Young And Cool

The 80 million "Millennials" or "Generation Y," those people who were born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, now make up a major portion of the work force and actually care deeply about their health insurance. In an article in Forbes, it turns out that young professionals are determining where they work based on the benefits provided by that company. Even more amazing is that some of them who left their full-time jobs to freelance are genuinely interested in the variety of benefit options available to them.

The significance of this shift toward the importance of benefits can be seen in Metlife's annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study. In 2012, only 28% of respondents said that benefits were an important reason they came to work for their current company. In 2013 the number was up to 43%. While studying this trend, the American Psychological Association came to the conclusion that employees who are satisfied with their work benefits are also happier and more productive.

After being offered a job, Millennials are asking about benefits immediately after salary negotiations. It used to be that companies had only one plan -- if any -- and it was a "take it or leave it" proposition. However, forward-thinking companies that learned to adapt to these Millennials are getting the best and brightest talent by offering benefits packages with plenty of choices, real-time information that can be accessed 24/7 and from any location in the world, and face-to-face mentoring. These companies were quick to realize that Millennials are savvy consumers who demand flexibility, information, and the freedom to decide what's best for them, and it is these same companies that are getting the cream of this new crop.

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