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Overwhelmed by Overtime? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Depending on what kind of business you’re running and the kind of work your employees are doing, it can be difficult to manage the various kinds of time your employees are clocking. Or not clocking. Or should be clocking.

The bottom line is this: When employees put in extra hours, employers need to be extra careful when calculating overtime and extra vigilant about paying it out.

Overtime rules

According to the standard Fair Labor Standards Act, overtime refers to time worked over and above 40 hours in any one-week pay period. Sounds simple, right? But there is more to it than that, including some very specific requirements regarding how that work week is defined and which workers are entitled to and exempt from overtime pay.

Here are the basic overtime rules you need to know:

  • FLSA overtime rules apply to all nonexempt employees.
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act applies on a workweek basis.
  • Employee work weeks must be defined as a fixed and recurring time period consisting of 168 hours, or 7 consecutive days.
  • Work weeks can begin on any day and at any hour as long as they meet the above guidelines.
  • Different work weeks may be established for different employees or groups.
  • Averaging hours over multiple work weeks is not allowed.
  • Overtime pay earned in a particular week should be paid on the regular pay day for that specific pay period.
  • The overtime pay rate is equal to 1.5 times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in one consecutive time period.
    • The first 40 hours are at the standard rate of pay with anything over occurring at time and a half.
  • Most exempt employees are exempt from overtime pay— if they are classified correctly.
  • Exempt employees who make under a certain salary threshold ARE eligible for overtime pay. Again, it’s important to classify employees correctly.
  • Some states and local jurisdictions have their own overtime requirements, which may provide greater protection for employees than what is provided under the FLSA. It’s important to know your local laws.
  • When federal, state, and local laws conflict, the rule that is most beneficial to the employee should prevail.
  • FLSA requires employers to keep records of payments to employees, including overtime.
    • In the case of an audit, an employer must be able to prove payment of overtime that meets FLSA requirements.

Understanding the definition of overtime and how to properly calculate overtime wages is critical to running your business, staying in compliance, and limiting your exposure to liability and risk.

Staying in compliance

If the fear of wage and hour claims keeps you up at night, you’re not alone. And your worries are not unfounded.

Many companies have found themselves suddenly wrapped up in costly, time consuming, and exhausting battles over wage and hour issues. There are many ways for businesses to end up in these situations, including misclassification of employees, inefficient time and attendance tracking, and payroll mistakes.

The good news is that many of these problems can be avoided with some relatively simple strategies:

  • Paying careful attention to individual job descriptions and duties will help make sure your employees are classified correctly.
  • Investing in time tracking and payroll systems that are easy, efficient, and accurate will ensure that your staff is paid correctly and on time.
  • Consulting with outside experts will keep you on the right side of wage and hour compliance.

If you don’t have an in-house expert on staff, consider working with an outside company who specializes in things like time tracking, payroll, and overtime.

Not only will finding the right compliance partner take work off your HR team’s plate, it will help reduce your business risk and keep things running smoothly. And that is time well spent.

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Photo by cunaplus

When Remote Work Doesn’t Work

Remote work has become more popular than ever, with both businesses and employees embracing its many benefits: increased flexibility and productivity, reduced commute times and operational costs, and happier workers.

But with remote work becoming more widespread, these same employees and businesses may also be discovering the potential downsides of remote work.

The truth is, remote work isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. If you’re wondering if it’s right for you, here are some things to consider.

Remote work isn’t for every business

Offering remote work isn’t always possible. There are plenty of companies who simply can’t function without having their people onsite. Examples include restaurants, retail outlets, and other service-oriented businesses. From production facilities to shipping companies to construction firms, many organizations need their employees to be physically present. 

Other companies have the capacity to offer remote work in a limited capacity for certain kinds of employees or under particular circumstances. These businesses will need to determine where telecommuting will and won’t work and then strive to make it available where, when, and how it makes sense.

Some organizations place a very high value on the connection that comes with sharing ideas, successes, failures, and yes— space— on a day to day basis. While these companies may be well-suited to providing remote work options, if there is a strong commitment to building a culture of in-person collaboration and teamwork, they may not want to.

Business owners will want to carefully evaluate their situation to determine whether or not remote working is a good fit.

Remote work concerns for employers include:

  • Employee accountability
  • Performance management
  • Creating/enforcing remote work policy
  • Logistics (training, technology, etc.)
  • Data and device security
  • Low engagement
  • High turnover

These are all valid concerns. In order for a remote work program to be successful, each of these things will need to be addressed through the following.

1.) A well-thought-out policy 

Dealing with remote work in general terms or on a case by case basis may work for a while, but this will eventually lead to more questions than answers. A policy that has set parameters is much easier to execute, enforce, and promote. If you do decide to offer remote options, make sure you’ve designed a plan that is in line with your company values and doubles as an effective recruiting and retention tool.

2.) Plenty of manager and employee training

Managing a team can be difficult no matter where you are, but supervising remote employees brings additional challenges. Make sure anyone who has direct reports receives training on how to effectively support, mentor and evaluate remote employees. You’ll also want to establish clear guidelines for holding remote staff accountable. Your remote employees will need to have expectations spelled out for them. Are they expected to have set hours? How will they track their time and accomplishments? What metrics will they be measured on? Make sure they get full tutorials on all of the technology required to do their jobs. If they are struggling remotely, it will affect performance and morale. And you may never even know about it.

3.) Enhanced communication and technology strategies

Remote teams aren’t just in different offices or departments. They can also be in different cities, countries, and time zones. This makes communication more complex. Make sure you have a variety of ways for your team to reach out and stay connected. Project management, video conference, and instant messaging platforms can all be very helpful additions to your technology toolbox— as long as people are trained and committed to using them.

4.) Finding ways to create and maintain a sense of team cohesion

Depending on just how remote your team is, this may require a significant amount of imagination, creativity, and investment. If your employees are close enough, consider requiring regular meet-ups either at your office or offsite. If your team is more spread out, try getting them together for annual or semi-annual team meetings, retreats, or planning sessions. You may also want to try:

  • Hosting local team events that encourage nearby employees to meet in person.
  • Sending small groups of employees to relevant industry conferences together
  • Assigning internal mentors to new employees or those who have recently joined a new team, project, or department.
  • Having regular video chats and calls. Video can also be a great tool to introduce new employees, send messages from leadership, announce company news, recognize team members, or just have a little fun.

If your leadership isn’t ready to tackle these four areas, remote work may not be a good fit for your business. At least not right now, anyway.

A telecommuting strategy isn’t something you can throw together in a haphazard way. Doing so is sure to get you haphazard results. If that’s what you’ve done and it’s not working for you, perhaps it’s time to get a bit more serious about your plan.

When it makes sense and is executed well, remote work can be a great option for many employees and businesses. Why not take the time to find out if you’re one of them?

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners 

Photo by belchonock 

Got Overtime? Make Sure You’re Handling It Correctly.

When it comes to payroll mishaps, there’s a lot at stake. Costly fines, penalties, and litigation can do serious damage to your company.  

Even if your payroll mistake is accidental and relatively small, it can quickly balloon into a large financial burden. One company’s $608 overtime mistake ended up costing them nearly $45,000 when it was all said and done.

And if that’s not enough to worry about, payroll mistakes can also lead to unhappy employees, low workplace morale, class action lawsuits, and negative press. All of which are bad for business.

Where are businesses going wrong?

Payroll can be a nuanced and complicated processes, changing with every new law, regulation, and employee that comes along. If you’re not on top of it constantly, things can go bad quickly.

Here are some common payroll mistakes companies make:

  • Misclassifying employees
  • Using inaccurate time tracking methods
  • Keeping poor records
  • Missing deadlines
  • Being uniformed

Often, the problem is as simple as poor communication. Deadlines get missed. Hours are worked but not reported. Employees and managers have different expectations about what is and isn’t acceptable.

It’s all about the details

Even employees with the best intentions can put their employers at risk. Motivated staff may actually want to skip breaks and/or put in extra hours without expectations of pay. But even if these employees don’t expect to get paid for those extra hours, employers are still on the hook for following and enforcing all wage and hour laws.

Some companies will take advantage of employees like this by looking the other way and hoping they don’t get caught, but many companies are truly unaware that their employees are working off hours.

Technology plays a role here as well. Cell phones, laptops, and remote work options make it very easy for employees to log additional time off the clock without anyone knowing. Often, these employees themselves don’t realize they are doing anything wrong. But small overtime mistakes can add up to big trouble.

Keys to effective overtime management

1. Make compliance a priority

It all starts with knowing your responsibilities as an employer— and staying in compliance. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can do one time and trust that it will take you into the future. Compliance is an ongoing process that requires constant attention.

2. Invest in your HR and payroll systems

If your payroll person is also your HR person, your accountant, and your receptionist, you’re just asking for a wage and hour violation. Invest in strengthening your internal HR team or consider partnering with an outside payroll company to help. Whoever is in charge of these things needs to have the bandwidth, knowledge, and experience to get them done correctly.  

3. Classify employees correctly

Misclassification of employees is one of the most common causes of labor lawsuits. Pay close attention to the rules for classifying contractors, exempt, and non-exempt employees— and follow them to the letter. If you’re feeling uncertain, this is another area you can ask a payroll expert for help.

4. Communicate with your team

You’ve gone through the trouble to learn the ins and outs of wage and hour law, but do your employees know what they need to do? Spell out the details of what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to overtime and hours worked and let them know what will happen if they don’t follow the rules.

5. Keep accurate time

If your time tracking system isn’t accurate, your payroll system won’t be either. It’s as simple as that. Find a system that is consistent, precise, secure, and easy to use. Then, make sure you get your money’s worth by clearly explaining how it works and requiring everyone to use it. 

Play it safe

Effectively managing overtime will help protect your company from payroll and compliance violations, wage and hour fines, and class action lawsuits. This alone should be more than enough motivation to keep you on the right side of wage and hour compliance, but it doesn’t end there.

Avoiding payroll mistakes will save you time, money, and headaches. It will also keep your employees happier— which means they’ll keep clocking in for years to come.

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners 

Photo by ViDi Studio

Your Employee Handbook: Beyond Rules and Regulations

 

You know it’s important for businesses to have an employee handbook, but you may be wondering how having one in place can benefit both you and your employees.

Beyond spelling out company policies and rules, a well-written employee handbook can be a very useful workplace tool for both employers and employees. Some of the things it can do may even surprise you!

Here are a couple of unexpected ways this document can facilitate business growth and help you recruit and retain employees. 

A tool to manage growth

When companies are very small or just starting out, it’s easier to set and manage expectations, self-police behavior, and maintain a cohesive company culture.

As businesses grow and evolve, these things become exponentially more difficult and the need to formalize organizational policies, systems, and expectations becomes much more critical.

An effective employee handbook will clearly outline essential business processes such as behavior standards, safety information, leave policies, anti-discrimination policies, compensation, and employee benefits.

Clarifying HR processes can significantly reduce the amount of time spent going back and forth to resolve employee issues and misunderstandings. This can be especially important for small businesses, where both time and resources are scarce. Your employee handbook will also promote consistency in how employees are treated, helping to keep your business in compliance and out of court.

A culture enhancer

In addition to serving these very practical purposes, your employee manual can be a great way to reinforce your company culture and values.

The employee handbook is one of the first documents your new hires will receive. Keep in mind, they’ve just gone through a hiring process that portrays your company in a certain light. Now is the time to keep that light shining bright by reinforcing all the things you talked about during your recruiting and interview phases.

If your recruitment process is based on a “We care about our employees” message, your employee handbook is a great way to reinforce that notion immediately after. On the other hand, if it reads like a clinical set of procedures, rules, and discipline polices, your new hires are going to notice that these things don’t match up. This could put your new team members on the defensive and cause them to question the decision to jump onboard.

Here’s how you can use your employee manual as another way to make your employees feel good about joining your organization:

  • Include information on your company mission and vision
  • Talk about how you demonstrate your organizational values
  • Outline your employee benefits and compensation packages
  • Promote your employee wellbeing programs and/or initiatives
  • Offer information on where employees can go if they have questions and complaints
  • Let employees know what resources are available if they need professional and/or personal help

If you view your employee handbook as a formality, an afterthought, or a formal list of company rules, you’re wasting an opportunity to showcase who you are as an organization.

Folding an employee-first message into your manual will not only strengthen your company brand and message, it will remind your happy new hires why they chose you.

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Photo by Africa Studio

 

Are You Working Remotely or Remotely Working?

Remote work is getting a lot of attention right now. So is oat milk. But that doesn’t mean it’s for everybody. Every business is different, and so is every employee.

If you mention working remotely to a group of people, you’ll likely get two distinct reactions:

  • A dreamy look crossing the face of those imagining days of peaceful productivity with no commute, no interruptions, and total freedom over their schedules.
  • A visible shudder from those trying to picture getting any work done in a home office with no structure, no coworkers, and an endless swirl of constant distraction.

Some people love the freedom of managing their own time. Others crave routine, structure, and guidance. Some employees thrive in environments full of people and noise and chaos. Others crave chunks of uninterrupted quiet time and working independently.

The remote work trend

It’s no secret that today’s employees and job candidates are looking for flexibility and work-life balance. When employees say they value remote working options, they mean it. But they may not have actually done it. Which means they may not be prepared for the reality of it.

Here are some common things remote employees struggle with:

  • Isolation
  • Anonymity
  • Disengagement
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Lack of leadership/guidance/communication
  • No clear line between work and home
  • Distractions (too many or not enough)

Sometimes these challenges are temporary and disappear once a healthy and effective remote work routine is established.

Other times, these issues are more about the person than the structure.

If you’re the kind of person who hates leaving things unfinished and your office is right down the hall, this can quickly lead to overworking and burnout.

If you’re the kind of person who gets easily distracted and has a hard time reining yourself back in after an interruption, your home office could be a recipe for disaster.

Despite all the shiny promises and benefits of remote work, the truth is it isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Remote employees may find themselves craving more quality face time or office time, and some businesses may be wondering if they should continue to offer telecommuting options or try to shove their remote work program back into the magic bottle it came out of.

In either scenario, there are some good lessons to be learned here.

Whether you’re a business owner trying to figure out how to offer remote options or an employee trying to work remotely, sometimes it just isn’t a good fit. Admitting this is the first step to finding a solution that is.

What works for you? 

Having a solid remote work policy can reduce business operation costs and open up a whole new candidate pool for employers. It can also be a big differentiator when it comes to employee recruitment and retention.

Employees say they want to work from home, but what they really want is the flexibility to balance the many demands of work, family, and life. Sometimes this means remote work, but it could also mean something else. A flexible schedule, paid time off, employer sponsored healthcare, or some other workplace benefit.

If remote isn’t working for you or your organization, don’t try to force that square peg into a round hole. Work on finding something that fits.

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Three Ways to Think About Workplace Safety

According to an analysis by Liberty Mutual, the two most expensive causes of workplace injury are overexertion and falls. These two things alone cost employers nearly 23 and a half BILLION dollars last year. But that’s not the only reason to think about raising your workplace safety game.

Workplace safety is a concern for many people on a variety of levels. Employees expect to be provided with a safe place to work. Customers expect to have a safe experience in the places they frequent. Banks and insurance companies want to work with companies that aren’t being unnecessarily risky. And business owners have a whole other set of worries:

  • What happens if an employee gets hurt?
  • Who will cover shifts if an injury causes someone to be out for an extended time?
  • How will an accident affect our operating costs? Healthcare? Business insurance?
  • What about expensive fines, penalties and litigation?
  • Are we even in compliance?
  • How can we protect our employees and ourselves?

These are all very valid questions and concerns. Let’s talk about how to keep your company and everyone in it as safe as possible.

1. Think big

Safety is about more than just checking the boxes required to comply with Federal and local regulations. If your company is doing the bare minimum to meet workplace safety requirements, you’re going to get the bare minimum when it comes to results.

If you really want to put safety to work for you and your business, you need to think bigger. Create a culture of workplaces safety. Don’t just make it a priority, commit to making it one of your core values. Weave it into your infrastructure, your operations, and your daily reality.

Here are a few quick ways to get started:

  • Make time for it. Move safety to the top of your to do list and keep it top of mind.
  • Include workplace safety as a critical part of all business decision-making processes.
  • Train staff and leadership thoroughly from a safety-first perspective.
  • Communicate about safety openly and often.
  • Put your money where your mouth is. Invest in a safer workplace.

There’s a big difference between talking about safety and actively working to create a safe environment. Employees can tell the difference between an employer who says they care about safety and one who truly does. Be on the right side of that equation.

2. Think small

While you’re building your strong foundation for safe practices, don’t be tempted to let the little things slide. When it comes to workplace safety, little things matter. Workplace safety often lies in the details, where little things can become big things in an instant.

A loose cord, a slippery floor, or a cracked pair of safety glasses may not seem like a big deal, but in the wrong set of circumstances, it could be.

If an employee comes to you with a safety concern, no matter how large or small, take it seriously. Better yet, be proactive about finding potential unsafe areas, equipment, and practices. Do a safety audit to determine what tools and processes need to be fixed, replaced, or thrown out entirely.

Not only will this keep your workplace safe and your business protected, it will show your employees that you care enough to invest in their wellbeing.

3. Think smart

Everyone wants to work in a safe environment. That’s a no-brainer. So how come so many businesses don’t do what it takes to actually get there?

Perhaps they think that fully committing to workplace safety sounds way too:

  • expensive
  • complicated
  • time consuming
  • unnecessary
  • paranoid

If you’ve run into some or all of these objections at your company, now is the time to refer back to the Liberty Mutual study, which found that disabling workplace injuries cost employers over $55 BILLION dollars last year. That’s right. Billion. With a B. Now which strategy sounds more expensive?

Focusing on workplace safety is smart business. It’s not just good for the health of your employees. It’s good for the health of your organization. And that’s good for everyone.

 

 Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

 Photo by Michael Simons 

The How and What of Employee Handbooks

An effectively written employee handbook protects the both the employee and the employer by providing clear, concise terms and expectations on both sides. When done right, this useful HR tool can serve several important functions.

Here are some key things a well-written employee handbook can do for your business:

  • Clarify organizational policy
  • Answer common employee questions
  • Save your HR staff time and headaches
  • Highlight your employee benefits and perks
  • Address legal obligations and employee rights
  • Help make sure your company is in compliance
  • Reinforce company values, mission, and culture
  • Properly set employer and employee expectations
  • Provide a common set of rules and accountability for everyone
  • Make new team members feel good about joining your organization

Who wouldn’t want to put together a document that can do all this?

Plenty of people, actually. It’s not that they don’t want to do it. It’s just that many people aren’t sure how to make it happen, so they get stuck.

How to get started

Putting together a top-notch employee manual may sound overwhelming, but it might not be as hard as you think.

If you have a current handbook, start there. Revisit the content to see what information is outdated and what parts are still a good fit with your current processes, systems, culture, and vision. As you evaluate your existing content, keep an eye out for anything that is missing or needs to be added.

If you don’t have a current handbook, there are resources to help. Employee handbook builders can be a great way to get started. If you don’t know where to find these kinds of tools, talk with your employee benefits broker, commercial insurance agent, or employment law attorney. Anyone in your circle of trusted business advisors should be able to point you in the right direction.

What should be included

What kinds of things should you be looking out for? Here’s a list of common things to include in an employee handbook:

  • Code of conduct and behavior expectations
  • Compensation, timekeeping, and payroll
  • Attendance and remote work
  • Employee benefits and perks
  • Paid holidays, vacation, and time off
  • FMLA and employee leave
  • EEO and anti-discrimination
  • Anti-harassment and anti-retaliation
  • Workplace safety and security
  • Technology
  • Social media
  • Data privacy
  • Employee wellbeing and/or assistance
  • Dress code and appearance standards
  • At-will disclaimers (as applicable)
  • Acknowledgement of receipt (signature page)

Because every organization is different, you will want to base your exact content on your own unique business model and situation. To make sure all of your bases are covered, have an attorney review your manual before you consider it complete. 

Keys to employee handbook success

Your employee handbook can be a powerful document in your business tool box. To maximize its effectiveness, you’ll want to follow a few basic guidelines.

Stay true to your brand – Your employee manual should be consistent with your company voice and values.

Stay away from industry jargon – Use language that is clear and easy to understand.

Pay attention to spelling, punctuation and grammar – Don’t leave any room for confusion.

Format your handbook for easy reading – Use plenty of section headers, bullet points, and paragraph breaks.

Keep it simple – Your employees don’t want to read a novel, and you don’t want them skimming over important information.

Keep it up to date – Set aside time each year to review and update your employee handbook.

Ask an expert – Have your attorney look over the final draft to make sure it has everything that needs to be included and nothing that shouldn’t be.

Once you’ve put together an employee handbook you are proud of, don’t just admire your work of art. Make sure it gets in the hands of everyone on your team so it can fulfill its many missions. Your organizational leaders, your HR department, and your happy employees will all appreciate it.

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Photo by OoddySmile Studio

 

Why Getting Rid of Your Annual Reviews Won’t Work

You want to get rid of your annual performance reviews— and rightfully so. Nobody looks forward to those stressful, once-a-year meetings.

But simply getting rid of annual reviews isn’t a good idea. You’ve got to replace them with something better.

The “good” old days

The annual review process is clunky and antiquated, harkening back to the days when job security was the norm, employers and employees were happy sticking together for the long haul, and regular raises were pretty much a given. (Two martini lunches may have also been a thing.)

In this Mad Men environment, stability and consistency were the names of the game. Getting together once per year to review standard processes in a standard format was standard fare. Meeting annually to document last year’s performance and this year’s raise was generally seen as good enough.

But times have changed.

The workforce is much more dynamic and diverse. Business and technology are rapidly evolving and changing. Processes change. Consumer expectations change. Employer/employee expectations change. Technology and markets change. And, perhaps most importantly, employees are more mobile than ever.

If you wait an entire year to discuss employee performance, processes, metrics, needs and expectations, you will be having two completely different conversations. If that person is still on staff.

In the current business environment, stability and consistency can lead to a slow and painful death.

An inefficient model

Let’s think about things we do once a year, shall we?

  • File taxes
  • Cook a turkey
  • Try not to forget Valentine’s Day

Sure, you may be pretty good at some of these things. But imagine how much better you’d be at them if you did them more regularly. Chances are these skills would begin to come naturally and these occasions would be much more pleasant for everyone.

Let’s face it. You’re not going to be great at something you only do once a year, which is all the more reason to ditch the annual review process, right? But simply getting rid of it isn’t a good answer. Moving from awkward, inefficient feedback to no feedback won’t solve your two basic problems.

1. Both you and your employees need to talk about what’s working and what isn’t.

Employers need a workforce that can deliver results, and employees need to be clear about what those results are and how to best achieve them.

You can replace the annual review with a system for delivering timely, relevant feedback on a regular basis. Doing so will make performance management much more effective and much less stressful and intimidating. This is definitely a step in the right direction. It may even be the magic fix on the employer end of the equation.

But there’s a second piece to the performance puzzle that can’t be ignored.

2. Employees don’t just want feedback and kudos. They need to feel valued and appreciated.

Which means you need a plan to address career paths and, more importantly, compensation.

If you want your employees to stick around, they have to be able to see a future for themselves in your organization. Having weekly or monthly check in meetings with employees is great! And it would make sense not to talk about compensation during each of these sessions, because that would be serious overkill. But if you take compensation out of your feedback loop and just never bring it up, you’re asking for trouble.  

Like it or not, your employees expect to be recognized, not just with praise and accolades, but with raises. Sure, they may also want new titles, responsibilities, and promotions. But without an increase in compensation, all you’re doing is rewarding high performers with more work. Even if that’s truly not your intent, it’s how your staff will feel.  

Talking about compensation and pay increases is a natural part of the annual review process. So if you want to ditch the annual review, you’ll need to find a way to work those compensation conversations back into the rotation.

Feedback is great, but it isn’t everything

Creating a culture that doesn’t value employees is a surefire way to kick them out the door. But positive feedback, praise, and heartfelt appreciation won’t necessarily convince them to stay.

Employees associate high performance with increased pay. And many of them think the only way to get a significant bump in compensation is to change jobs and/or companies.

Don’t let this be the accidental message you’re sending your team. As you let go of annual performance reviews, make darn sure to put processes in place that address employee development, career paths, and compensation.

If you don’t, your employees will go looking for these things somewhere else.

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Photo by  Antonio Guillem

Healthcare predictions: What’s in Store for This Year and Beyond?

Guest blog content provided to Q4iNetwork consultants by freshbenies freshbenies-Logo-CMYK 2018

Love it or hate it, healthcare changes over time— as do the consequences for employers, employees, providers, and patients.

Each year, freshbenies attends dozens of conferences, speaks with thousands of benefits consultants, and reads hundreds of thousands of words about this industry. After all, we’re in this thing together.

Based on what we’ve learned, here are ten predictions for the coming year.

1. Costs will rise. Again.

This seems so obvious to those of us within the industry. So why even list it? Let alone as number one? Because it can’t be ignored, and it continues to rise. Last year, the annual healthcare costs for a family of four were over $28,000. Bottom line: families will continue to carry higher portions of healthcare increases, and it shouldn’t be overlooked or forgotten.

2. Low unemployment will drive creativity.

While rate increases are a constant, the biggest shift this year is to a 3.7% unemployment rate. Fear of loss is always a better motivator than the desire for gain. A tight labor market will drive employers to try innovative solutions more readily. This includes creative benefit plan designs, perk programs and programs for non-benefitted employees.

3. Innovative benefit plans will gain momentum. 

The pendulum will begin to swing toward less traditional plans, including:

  • Value-Based Insurance Design (VBID)
  • Reference-based pricing models
  • Association health plans
  • Captive medical plans 
  • Direct Primary Care (DPC) 
  • High-performance centers of excellence

When suggested in the recent past, many companies have declined to install these ideas amid complaints of complexity, employee confusion or skepticism of savings. But given the low unemployment rate and the fact that consultants are getting better at explaining these solutions and pulling them together – these types of benefit plans will increase. 

4. Perks will pop.

Perks will continue to gain interest and traction. Services like gym memberships, healthcare navigation experts, telehealth, consumerism savings networks, pet care, identity theft protection, flexible hours, remote work, student loan repayment, car wash services, free snack programs, etc. are often the things people list when they brag about their workplace culture. They’ve become differentiators even among the big expense of health insurance. An employer can lose an employee to another company from the draw of perks that scratch an itch employees didn’t even know they had.

5. “Caring” support for workers will grow.

Every employer says they care about their people. But how do they actively show it? Smart employers are getting significant PR power by touting two specific sets of services…

  • Behavioral Health – The US Department of Health & Human Services estimates that 96.5M Americans live in areas with shortages of mental health providers. Effective tools that offer video visits with counselors and psychiatrists or even text-based guidance with specialists provide employees with new methods of care.
  • Caregiver Support – It’s estimated that 1 in 5 employees care for an adult family member or friend. This significantly affects an employee’s work life by adding stress and taking 15 to 20 hours of their time each week. New solutions are capturing employer interests, such as services that pair employees with a licensed coach whose expertise best matches their specific caregiving situation, as well as secure portals for documentation and collaboration. These benefits bring much-needed help, increase productivity and build tremendous loyalty. 

6. Engagement will drive more decisions. 

Continued rate increases coupled with poorly-implemented cost containment tools will draw employers to focus on achieving employee engagement. Stats revealing low utilization will bring cancelation of past programs. A shift will take place from checking the box of offering a service to moving the needle on ROI via higher utilization. 

Employers will be driving employees to programs that:

  • reduce in-patient, urgent care or emergency room visits
  • include Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM), Centers of Excellence, and wearables
  • help employees effectively navigate the healthcare system, from selecting top-tier physicians, and providing price transparency to medical bill review and negotiation

7. AI growth will not be artificial.

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning in the healthcare app space will surpass $1.7 billion this year, while health data analytics will reach $68 billion. The strongest advancements will be with machine learning in diagnostic imaging, drug research, and risk analytics. On the benefits side, we’ll see AI functions being touted throughout websites and apps.

8. Little help will come from DC (Republicans)

With a divided Congress, we can’t expect significant changes in federal health laws over the next couple years. Rather, most changes to the “flavor” of ACA will come from the thousands of issues inside the law that were at the discretion of the various departments like Health & Human Services. 

Hopefully, we’ll see bipartisan agreement with updates to Health Savings Account (HSA) laws. What’s controversial about that, right? Right. Be hopeful, but don’t hold your breath.

9. Lots of single-payer talk will come from DC (Democrats)

Remember when Republicans had one consistent chant of “repeal and replace?” Turns out it was a great slogan, but there was no actual plan to implement it. That’s exactly what “single-payer” is among Democrats this year. 

Lawmakers have many different ideas about what these two words mean, but that won’t slow them down. Single-payer was one of the top subjects during the 2018 mid-term elections and it will gain traction throughout 2019, right into the 2020 election. But it’s unlikely that a workable plan will be developed.

10. True employee benefit consultants will be in demand.

Brokers who aren’t consistently improving their knowledge will fall by the wayside. Consolidation will continue and true consultants will be in demand more than ever before. 

What does this look like? True employee benefits consultants will stop talking about how many decades they’ve been in business and start talking about how they can deliver results to the businesses they help.

They will separate themselves from the broker crowd by coming up with new ideas and new solutions that deliver better healthcare while keeping costs in check.

And when it comes down to it, isn’t that the future we all want to see?

 

Photo credit Andriy Popov 

Compliance: It’s Not Just About Avoiding Risk

Some businesses think staying in compliance is all about reducing risk and staying out of trouble. But companies that approach compliance as a way to help achieve their overall business objectives will do far more than avoid fines. They’ll build organizations that produce happy and productive employees, loyal customers, and a healthy bottom line.

The relationship between compliance and culture

For business owners, industry rules and regulations are a fact of life, and they can be used in several different ways:

  • As a threat to keep employers in check
  • As a set of rules to keep employees in check
  • As a helpful tool to make your workplace better, safer, and more pleasant for everyone

Now, which one of these three tactics do you think is going to make your business a more enjoyable place to work? Entice new employees to jump on board? Result in a more engaged and productive team?

Yes, you can control your team with threats and rules, micromanage behaviors with fear-based incentives, and rule with a culture of discipline. Or you can use compliance as a way to help you take care of your people and your business.

What’s your motivation?

Let’s think about some of the various aspects of compliance and approaches you may have taken or witnessed in the past.

Harassment

Is your main goal to avoid expensive litigation? Or is it to create a healthy workplace where everyone feels comfortable and respected?

Discrimination

Are you following EEO practices because you’re afraid of being sued? Or are you committed to fostering a diverse workforce with a variety of talents, viewpoints, and experiences?

Payroll

Are you paranoid about compliance because a screw up will cost you back pay plus any added fines and penalties? Or do you value your employees and want to make sure they feel appreciated and get paid correctly?

Benefits

Are you offering health insurance, sick time, and leave options because the law says you have to? Or do you want to invest in keeping your employees happy, healthy, and productive?

Privacy

Do you worry about data security because breaches are expensive and there are fines for releasing confidential information? Or do you truly care about your employees as people and want to protect them and their families?

Licensing

Do you require your staff to have proper qualifications because you don’t want to pay fines or be shut down? Or is it because you want to give your employees the tools they need to succeed and your customers the best service possible?

Safety

Are you checking the OSHA boxes because you’re terrified of the cost of a fine or accident? Or are you genuinely committed to making sure everyone on staff makes it home safely after their shift?

How you view compliance matters

The approach you take to compliance says a lot about the approach you take to running your business and taking care of your employees. If you’ve been looking at compliance as nothing more than a rigid set of rules you have to follow, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.

Short-sighted businesses view compliance as a necessary tool to control staff and protect the organization. But merely wanting to avoid claims isn’t an inspiring motivator.

Innovative, big-picture organizations see compliance as a natural extension of their business philosophy and strategy.

  • They will find opportunities to align their compliance practices with their purpose, values, and vision.
  • They will look beyond the rules to see why they are important and how they can support the things that matter to their employees.
  • They will associate good compliance practices with good business.

These kinds of organizations will also involve their employees in their compliance processes, giving them a sense of ownership and accountability. Engaged staff members can then become happy advocates and active participants in the creation and implementation of policies that create inclusive, safe, and healthy workplaces.

Some companies will continue to look at compliance as a set of boxes to be checked off, and they will technically be meeting their obligations. On the other hand, businesses that choose to embrace compliance as an opportunity to live out their people-focused values are those that will build the best cultures and attract the best talent.

Why not be one of them?

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Photo by Shopping King Louie