Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tip of the Day

Addressing mental health problems among chronic illness sufferers can potentially save employers money and employees' lives. EBN recently covered a high-risk medical intervention program by United Behavioral Health that selects plan members with a chronic illness and signs of comorbid depression, anxiety, substance abuse or psychosocial stress. Nurses reach out to this population by phone and guide them into the appropriate treatment plan. Four large employers offering the program showed a 7% savings on overall medical costs.

In addition to health care savings, such programs perhaps can offer compassion and relief to patients like Danny Vredenburg, a Nevada man who committed suicide after dealing with unrelenting back pain due to a fall at work. (Nevada’s supreme court ruled this week that Vredenburg’s wife could receive death benefits, as his death was related to a work injury.)

News You Can Use: PTO gaining strength

Despite the lagging economy, results from the new Culpepper’s Benefits Survey indicate that U.S. and Canadian employers are making their PTO plans more robust.

Stats include:
  • 41% of companies have a PTO bank model with a pool of days.
  • 18% of companies allow employees to cash out unused vacation and PTO days.
  • 52% of companies allow new full-time employees to take PTO immediately upon hire.
  • A third of companies require new employees to wait over 30 days before they can take PTO.
  • The most common schedule for accruing PTO for existing full-time employees is bi-weekly.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

News You Can't Use: Fired employee tries to cut boss's power

A Portland, Conn., woman -- distraught from being let go from her job at a Glastonbury, Conn., insurance agency -- recently sought revenge against her former boss by trying to have the power to his home shut off. Connecticut Light & Power refused the request.

On a more serious note, Bernard Jacques, a partner at Pepe & Hazard LLP, offers help to employers in handling cases of employee retaliation.

Scone: Online degrees ostracized

Although our culture is increasingly hyper-connected and tech-savvy, it appears that when it comes to education, employers still prefer Ivies to the Internet.

A new survey from finds that while 49% of those who make hiring decisions have encountered applicants with online degrees -- up 15 percentage point increase from the same survey three years ago -- only 19% have actually hired a candidate who only possessed an online degree, a one point decrease.

Further, when asked if they would give equal consideration to job candidates with online degrees and those with degrees from traditional colleges and universities, 63% of respondents say they would favor candidates with traditional degrees. Only 35% would give them equal consideration.

“A candidate with an online degree would have to be truly extraordinary otherwise to merit serious consideration,” one hiring manager told Vault. “I don't think online degrees reflect a serious commitment to education on the part of the degree-holder.”


While I understand employers’ reluctance to fully embrace online degrees because of the lack of uniformity in accreditation, standards and curricula, it sounds pretty unfair to say online degree-holders don’t have a serious commitment to education.

On the contrary, many online students already are working full-time and even juggling family responsibilities, but still want to pursue higher education. Such job candidates might be more committed to lifelong learning than other applicants, but an online program is the only type that matches their lifestyle and time constraints.

Plus, in the face of the rising cost of college (and everything else), online degree programs offer a more cost-efficient way to continue education.

Finally, there are now many accredited universities -- housed on traditional campuses -- that have an online degree program, including (ahem) Harvard.

As talent becomes an even greater issue for employers, they should take qualified applicants wherever they can find them – even if it is from online degree programs.

Tip of the Day

The July Issue Brief from EBRI offers an inside look on the attitudes of recent retirees, and offers employers tips on how to keep older employees in the workforce longer. Although health benefits obviously rank highly, "feeling truly needed" also is frequently cited as a reason to keep working.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

News You Can Use: Turn on the Tube

We're don't normally advocate being a couch potato, but Sunday, we'll make an exception. Tune in to the new PBS documentary, "THE FORGETTING: A Portrait of Alzheimer's," an encore broadcast of the Emmy-Award-Winning program. The program features a panel of medical experts and scientists who discuss the latest developments in research as well as first-person stories of families experiencing the disease. It's well worth a view for anyone who has personal experience with the disease as well as recommended viewing for your employees who may also be affected.

Also, don't forget to view our own article on the subject, available in this month's issue of
Employee Benefit News. Click here to read, "Future Alzheimer's epidemic puts spotlight on caregivers."

Tip of the Day

Form 5500 compliance just got a little easier, thanks to new guidance from DOL. Groom Law Group offers assistance in breaking down the fed-speak.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Scone: You're good enough, you're smart enough. Now get to work!

Here’s something to chew on with your morning coffee:

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but a new survey from Boston-based Novations Group reveals that when it comes to Gen Y workers, your window of opportunity to make a lasting impact is pretty small.

After polling more than 2,500 senior HR execs, Novations finds more than half (51%) believe employers have less than six months to “prove” to Gen Y employees that the company is the best place for them. Even more startling, one-quarter of respondents say they have less than a month.

Good grief! A month? Seriously? Okay, we all know Gen Yers want to walk across the stage straight into a corner office with a view. They want a boss that will mentor them and tell them daily how great they are, all so they can turn around and take said mentor’s job in under a year. And they want a high salary and flexible hours as they save the world one blog, Twitter and text message at a time. Kinda hard to lay the groundwork for all that in 30 days, dontcha think?

Novations Executive Consultant Tim Vigue feels employers’ pain. Noting that Gen Yers “tend to be impatient when told they have to wait and pay their dues, HR departments are seeing unusually rapid turnover among Gen Ys and they’re not sure what to do about it.”

He offers some tips for Gen Y retention, among them explaining how the work they’re doing makes a difference and outlining early on opportunities for them to learn and grow. It’s certainly legitimate advice, and in Gen Yers' defense, no one should stay at a job that truly isn't right for them.
But at what point, if ever, should employers hit these youngsters with a cold dose of reality? That it's not the company that has to "prove" itself to you, it's the other way around? That in this life, you have to work hard to get ahead, and it just might take a little longer than six months?

Vigue blames Gen Yers’ parents for the life affirming messages that have spawned their children’s entitlement attitude. “Gen Y parents taught them they’re special, that they can do anything, and as such should not settle for less than what they deserve.”

I know it’s hard to find polished talent out there, particularly in this economy. But I’m of the mindset that an employer is an employer, not a life coach. I say let the deprogramming begin.

News You Can Use: Employees feel responsible for health, not health care

Most employees cop to being responsible for their own health (82%), according to new survey results from the Vitality Group. However, many (44%) say they are not responsible for paying for their own health care. In addition, more than 95% only would participate in a wellness program if they “got something out of it” – lower health care costs, incentives or employer subsidies. But, Americans don't want to pay to get healthy – only four in ten would participate in a wellness program if they had to pay for the program themselves.

Tip of the Day

Learn from some of the biggest employer names in how to craft an effective work-life benefits program. Companies like RSM McGladrey, KPMG and Ernst & Young offer their insight on how to help employees bring work and life into balance.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wish You Were Here: Central Nebraska Public Power

Today's "Wish You Were Here" comes from Central Nebraska Public Power in Holdrege, NE. In 2006, CNPP implemented a consumer-driven health plan with assistance from Meritain Health, successfully reducing their drug costs by 42%, their medical and dental claims by 34%, and their cost trend by 12%. Out of 98 employees, 70% selected the CDH plan.

Employees working at CNPP also receive full retirement health benefits, a benefit they were on the verge of losing prior to the switch to a CDHP.

"Implementing a CDHP was the most effective solution for reducing our company's health care costs and the perfect match to meet the needs of our employees and their families," says Rochelle Jurgens, assistant controller at CNPP. "With patience, extensive education and a dedicated benefits partner, any company can successfully implement this type of plan. "

Look for a full story on CNPP in a soon-to-be-published article on the Small to Medium Business Human Resources Web site.

Scone: Lack of diversity feeding workplace discrimination

Here’s something to chew on with your morning coffee:

Interesting that, in a year where an African American and a woman both had a legitimate shot at becoming president, the upper echelons of corporate America still are dominated by white men. And that recent research shows that although most workers and executives believe that diversity improves companies, there is little being done to actually make the workplace more diverse and nearly half of workers say they’ve been discriminated against at work.

According to staffing company Adecco USA, 60% of workers say a diverse workplace is a top priority for their employer. Seventy-eight percent of respondents in a separate survey by Epsen Fuller/IMD agree diversity is an important strategy. (Read the Sept. 15 EBN for expanded coverage on the Epsen Fuller/IMD survey.)

However, Epsen Fuller/IMD also finds that nearly half of respondents reported no women were among executive management at their company, that the number of ethnic minorities has increased just 9.8% in the last three years and that most don’t expect those numbers to change at all over the next three years. Further, the majority of HR execs polled say they have no plans in place to increase C-suite diversity within their companies.

Such apathy indicates that the C-suite is all talk and no action when it comes to pursuing a diverse workforce. And their indifference may be coming back to bite them, as Adecco reports that 47% of employees say they’ve experienced discrimination at work (discrimination based on: age, 52%; gender, 43%; race, 32%; religion, 9%; and disability, 7%).

It’s sad and just unacceptable that such low diversity and high discrimination numbers persist in our workplaces and culture at large. I challenge benefit managers to truly walk the talk on diversity – not just policies on paper, but true and tangible action. It’s one area where you cannot hide the lack of results.

News You Can Use: Where's the surge?

No, not that surge – the one that was supposed to revolutionize retirement savings. Even though auto-enrollment was projected to spike 401(k) enrollment, a new 401(k) benchmarking survey from Deloitte shows that has not been the case. In fact, 401(k) enrollment is about the same as it’s been for the last couple years – hovering around 76% -- although 42% of the plan sponsors polled have an automatic enrollment feature now, compared with only 23% two years ago.

Click below for more EBN coverage on auto-enrollment.
- Auto features escalate savings
- This is your captain speaking: Auto-pilot retirement plans increasingly popular, but an adviser's counsel still worthwhile

Tip of the Day

New 403(b) regulations will take effect on Jan. 1, 2009, requiring organizations to review their current retirement plans, and in many cases, dedicate resources to making changes to meet compliance standards. To aid plan sponsors' preparations, Lincoln Financial has prepared a 403(b) questionnaire to gauge your readiness to comply with the new rules.

Click below for additional EBN coverage on the coming changes to 403(b)s.
- New 403(b) assistance tool may clear up compliance confusion
- New regs impact 403(b)s
- Schoolhouse rocked: Significant changes to 403(b) regulations mean more homework for school systems, nonprofit employers

News You Can Use: Brinker Decision Affects Employers in California

On July 22, the Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 1, California unanimously reversed a decision by a lower court in Brinker Restaurant v The Superior Court of San Diego County, ruling that employers are only required to provide meal and rest breaks for their workers, not ensure that breaks

The important decision classifies that employers couldn't be held liable for employees working off the clock unless they knew they were doing so.The court ruled that none of the above issues could be certified as class actions, because they involve individual claims that must be handled separately in possibly thousands of "mini-trials."

Mark Wilbur, President and Chief Executive Officer of Employers Group, an employers human resources expert and advocate, stated that an amicus brief was written and filed on behalf of Brinker by attorney Richard Simmons, a partner in Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP and a member of Employers Group's Legal Committee.

"This is a big victory for employers that culminates a 6-year battle, during which several class actions were filed daily. Had the court ruled differently, the cost to employers would have been devastating," Wilbur said.

Thanks to Employers Group for this helpful piece of news.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

News You Can Use: Intermittent FMLA leave is benefit managers' biggest headache

Employees abusing FMLA through intermittent leave is employers' top complaint, CCH reports, with 42% of HR/benefits pros citing this as their biggest problem. And while just one-quarter favor eliminating intermittent leave entirely, most respondents support the Labor Department's proposals to curb FMLA abuses:
- Allowing employers to require medical recertification requests of a continuing condition at least every six months of absence (88%).
- Requiring employees to give advance notice of nonemergency, foreseeable leaves and providing definitions of those terms (95%).
- Changing the definition of continued treatment for a serious health condition by requiring at least two visits to a medical provider within 30 days (73%).

Stay tuned for coverage in the November EBN on ways to reduce FMLA abuse.

News You Can Use: Healthiest Places to Live and Retire

AARP The Magazine has announced the top ten healthiest cities to live and retire in with Ann Arbor, Michigan, Honolulu, Hawaii, Madison, Wisconsin, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Fargo, North Dakota taking the top five rankings. Featured in the September/October issue, the magazine also named five additional cities that received high marks for vitality and great living conditions including Boulder, Colorado, Charlottesville, Virginia, San Francisco Bay Area, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, and Naples-Marco Island, Florida.

Are you on the list?

Tip of the Day

Trying to decide if self-funding your health plan is right for your organization? EBN's current issue debunks the seven most common misperceptions about self-funding to help you make an informed decision.

Scone: DOL fee disclosure proposal step in right direction

Here's something to chew on with your morning coffee:

The Department of Labor announced Tuesday its proposal to require 401(k) plan sponsors to provide investors with summary information that includes plan fee and expenses in explicit dollar terms.

"Our proposal is consistent with public consensus that workers need clear and concise information, not dozens of pages of 'legalese,' about the investment options available under their plans, and that they would benefit greatly from having that information in a comparative format," Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said.

I wholeheartedly agree, with 'clear and concise' being the key terms. Anyone who's received a cellphone or other utility bill is familiar with the mysterious surcharges and taxes that are tacked on to what they owe. The last thing plan participants need is another line item in what can be an already confusing (and in this economy, depressing) 401(k) statement that contains vague fees -- particulary with their future economic security riding on it.

Instead, I'm hopeful that the rule -- if approved -- will yield statments more similar to the total rewards statements employers are offering in greater numbers. Where the cost of benefits are clearly communicated so that workers can see their value dollar for dollar.

Anything less is of no service to plan participants, and sponsors and plan providers may as well keep the fees hidden.

DOL currently is taking comment on the proposal. E-mail your thoughts (subject line Participant Fee Disclosure Project).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tip of the Day

If your company uses independent contractors, this is for you. There are several pitfalls that stem from worker misclassification -- regarding taxes, benefits and more. Click here for coverage in the current issue of EBN on sidestepping such issues.

News You Can't Use: NYT, LinkedIn form new partnership

The New York Times has announced a new venture with social/professional networking site LinkedIn that will allow online Times readers to read headlines tailored to their LinkedIn profile.

News You Can Use: HHS reaches first-ever monetary HIPAA settlement

On July 17, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a $100,000 settlement with Seattle-based Providence Health & Services for violations of the HIPAA privacy rules -- a first-ever move for the agency. The violations involved lost and stolen computers containing patients' health information. In addition to the monetary settlment, Providentce promised to “ensure that it will appropriately safeguard identifiable electronic patient information against theft and loss.”

News You Can Use: Even cashed-out participants can sue, court rules

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that even employees who have cashed out of their retirement plans have the right to sue to recoup lost retirement assets due to a fiduciary breach. The case involves two former workers at W.R. Grace & Co., who alleged the company breached its fiduciary duty by continuing to offer company stock even when it became a risky investment, and investing plan assets in mutual funds that permitted market timing.

The ruling stands on the shoulders of a recent Supreme Court decision, LaRue v. DeWolff, in which justices held that retirement plan participants have the right to sue to recover lost assets.

For EBN analysis on the LaRue ruling, click below:
- Bad facts make bad law.
- LaRue decision may juice participant lawsuits.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Overheard At: Flexible Executives

Achieving work/life balance has always been a struggle, especially for talented executives in demanding positions. Listen in as Jamie Pennington, founder and president of Flexible Executives (, describes how her company helps blue-chippers attain balance, while providing smaller businesses with expert help on the cheap.

Listen to our exclusive podcast with Jamie Pennington, here.

News You Can Use: SSA creates Social Security estimator

The Social Security Administration has created a calculator that will estimate employees' future Social Security benefits in retirement. Even if they don't like the number they see, such a calculator could be a valuable tool in effective retirement planning, as Americans for a Secure Retirement reports that a couple earning $75,000 with retirement income other than Social Security still has a 31% chance of outliving their savings.

For related EBN coverage, click below:
- Virtual classroom educates DC participants.
- Retirement confidence dropping dramatically.
- The 'Revolution' will be televised: PBS documentary explores financial challenges facing boomers.

Tip of the Day

It's not getting any easier for employees to make ends meet -- with high gas prices, low home values and soft job market. If you're looking for ways to give employees some help at the pump through commuter benefits, click here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Scone: Social networking -- Knowing when to say when

Here’s something to chew on with your morning coffee:

Yes, all the cool kids are doing it, but when does social networking go too far? Right about now, according to MSNBC columnist Eve Tahmincioglu, who compares the current networking craze to Marcia Brady signing up for every club in high school, and says there certainly can be too much of a good thing if professionals aren’t careful.

And while I’m teetering on Marcia territory myself (you can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter), I agree with Tahmincioglu’s main point that while social networking sites can help you form and re-establish professional connections, that the best way to network is – wonder of wonders! – face to face.

It seems in our hyper-connected culture where Blackberry thumb is a true medical condition, we seem to have literally lost sight of one another. And while I’ll never hearken back for the days of the old boys club where men networked on the golf course, at least it was in person (and they were getting some exercise!).

That said, social networks do have a valuable place in communicating effectively 21st-century style. Let’s all just beware we don’t cast our net too wide. But if you’re already too far gone, here’s some guidance on how to rein yourself in.

News You Can't Use: Healthy people cost more?

A columnist for the Detroit News posits that wellness initiatives may be doing more harm than good, since healthy people live longer, thus costing the system more money over time than sick folks who die prematurely. Not necessarily newsworthy, but food for thought nonetheless.

News You Can Use: Wal-Mart calls suit 'myopic,' AHIP seeking fans

The bigger they are, the bigger the class-action suit. Participants in Wal-Mart's 401(k) plan have filed a $9.9 billion class action suit against the retail giant, asserting the plan's fees were too costly. However, execs have issued a slap in return, saying the allegations are "mere speculation" and have a "myopic focus." I have no idea if the plaintiffs have a case, but just want to note that this lawsuit is a drop in the bucket compared to the company's FY08 profits, and execs perhaps have some PR making up to do after this debacle earlier this year.

Also, if you're satisfied with your health plan, AHIP wants you! America's Health Insurance Plans is launching an expensive initiative to start a "fan club" to stem the anti-health insurance industry backlash that's swelled in recent years. The outreach should be coming to a town near you as early as this week. I could be wrong, but I think they might have trouble drumming up membership for this one.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Research indicates main reasons [that employees leave an organization] are lack of communication with supervisors and lack of any hopy in future and money." On the flip side, workers stay for "vision for the future, their involvement in that future, understanding of corporate mission and strong workplace relationships." --Tom Miller, president of Recognition Professionals International

Overheard At ... : Dressing for success

In the dog days of summer, it can be a tricky exercise to keep employees' apparel on the business side of business-casual. Hear what Mary Lou Andre, founder, president and CEO of Organization by Design has for employers in enforcing a proper summer dress code.

News You Can Use: A sampling of health, retirement headlines

The National Center for Policy Analysis creates a calculator that shows 401(k) participants the savings lost from taking a plan loan, revealing that a 35-year-old that borrows $30,000 over five years actually loses more than $190,000 in the process. (Could the new tool be a shout out?)

The Internal Revenue Service has issued a proposal that would give an exception to the comparability rules that allows, but does not require, employers to make larger HSA contributions to non-highly compensated workers than highly compensated workers. The full text of the proposal is here. Read it and let the IRS know what you think; the public comment period ends Oct. 13.

Take this to your next meeting with your CFO. A nonprofit health advocacy group offers hard numbers that wellness programs work, estimating that a $10 per person per year investment in wellness could yield a $2.8 billion (yes, with a ‘B’) savings in health care costs over two years.

Less invasive, less costly? As minimally invasive alternatives for gastric bypass, hysterectomy and other surgeries emerge, employers consider promoting them to cut costs surrounding hospitalization and lost work days.

Baby boomers won’t necessarily retire with a boom. Despite projections that the nation’s 78 million boomers will begin to retire in droves any day now, a new report from The Coyne Partnership says that predictions of a retirement tsunami will in reality be more like a trickle. Specifically, researchers suggest the growth of the retirement market will be about 3% every year for the next 25, and that the number of retirees in 2017 could be as little as 36 million – about the same as today.

Tip of the Day

Want to implement a telework policy and not sure where to start? Click here for EBN coverage from experts on how to be lean and green with telework.

Scone: Schumer, Kohl say down with debit cards

Here’s something to chew on with your morning coffee:

It’s not often you can cheer the actions of Congress, so I’ll leap at the opportunity that fell in my lap this morning: Reuters reports that two senators have introduced legislation that would ban 401(k) debit cards. Covered in the Dec. ‘07 EBN, these cards essentially allow 401(k) participants to use their retirement accounts to buy shoes, their morning bagel, get their oil changed, whatever. (Our coverage also reveals that 401(k) loans and withdrawals are rising) Although some of the experts we spoke to at the time weren’t fazed, EBN staff and other sources for the story were appropriately aghast.

Every time my 401(k) statement arrives each quarter and I see my account balance, I immediately think of how nice it would be to use that money to get a new car, new curtains for my living room, remodel our den. If I had a card that allowed me to do all of those things – holy moly! We’re talking online shopping of the likes you’ve probably never seen before. I’m just being honest. The fact that my 401(k) funds are sufficiently far enough out of reach is what keeps my nest egg growing.

And I’m someone who’s more than fully aware of and well versed in the negative consequences those actions would wreak on my retirement security. Imagine the potential havoc for less informed plan members. So I applaud Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) for their efforts to force “companies to abandon this reckless practice. This time, we want to push this bill all the way to becoming law."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sites We Love: The Gig

As the Benefits Group's resident Gen Y staffer, I also seem to be the one most interested in learning about what's being written on the Millenials. In addition to some recent coverage (podcasts, articles, and even a Web seminar), I'm absolutely in love with Nadira A. Hira's blog from Fortune Magazine entitled "The Gig."

The Gig covers Gen Y news, geared towards a Gen Y audience. It's an interesting read for those who are members of the Millenial generation, but also for managers and professionals who fit into the X and Baby Boomer categories.

After all, knowledge is one of the first keys to understanding.

FYI: Do you know what buzzword Gen Yers love? Social Networking. Check out our Friday Fray on the subject, tomorrow, July 18, at 1 PM.

News You Can't Use: EBN honors '08 Benny winners

Who needs Brangelina news when you have the Benny winners? EBN is proud to announce the recipients of the 2008 Benny Awards, given by EBN and corporate sponsor VSP. But for people who want the Brangelina news, click here.

Tip of the Day

Have you tried to engage your Gen Y workers in retirement planning and education only to be told they'll TTYL? If trying to create effective retirement messages to reach this generation of texters doesn't have you LOL, click here for help.

News You Can Use: U.S. slides on global ranking of health care systems

Here’s some news that’ll hurt your heart: The Commonwealth Fund’s latest ranking of global health care systems finds that although the United States spends twice as much per capita on health care, the nation ranks well below other industrialized nations in many areas of health care delivery, including efficiency, access to care and preventable deaths. In fact, the overall U.S. score is two points lower than 2006, the first year of the study. If you can stomach it, the full results are available here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

News You Can Use: Retiree medical, 401(k) matches, pay raises fall victim to economy

It’s an unbelievably difficult day to be a retiree at GM, as the automaker made news once again for cutting benefits. This time, the company says it will eliminate retiree medical coverage for salaried workers age 65 and older. Although GM isn’t the first – nor the last – employer to eliminate retiree health benefits, the company’s size and sway caused a bit of a gasp this week.

Will the skidding economy rob employees of 401(k) matches? Maybe, especially if Hewitt is right and HMO premiums rise by double-digits again in ’09 (but still less than ’08).

Most workers too timid to ask for a pay raise, new survey finds. It’s a good thing, because a separate survey shows they wouldn’t be likely to receive much of one anyway.

No matter how tempting, reading employees’ text messages is a no-no, the 9th Circuit rules.

Tip of the Day

Changes to federal HEART legislation will affect how employers structure retirement plans for veterans. Click here for information on the amendments and how to plan for implementing them in 2009.

Big employers bearish on medtour

New research from the National Business Group on Health says big employers aren't all that excited or optimistic about medical tourism. There are too many "ifs" and the employers surveyed are just too savvy to be buffeted by the hype is how Helen Darling (pictured at right above), president of the NBGH, describes it. Listen in as she talks about how worker psychology is one of the reasons why her members are skeptical about just how much cost can be cut by sending workers around the globe for invasive surgery.

And while it is difficult to argue with actual experience, it is also hard to reconcile continued complaints from employers that health costs are just too high with a reluctance to turn over every rock -- even those in Thailand -- for savings.

News You Can Use: How long do employees consider retirement decisions?

Despite all of your benefits communications about retirement, the time when workers begin thinking seriously about retirement and actually doing so is pretty short, shows new data from EBRI.

    • Twenty-two percent of the surveyed retirees report they first began thinking seriously about retiring only six months before they left the company, while another
    • 22 % began serious consideration about one year beforehand.
    • Twenty-eight percent started thinking about it 18 months (10% ) or two years (18 %) before.

Scone: Was 'opting out' ever in?

Here’s something to chew on with your morning coffee:

For all the brouhaha about women exiting the workforce in droves to be on the “mommy track,” a new study poo-poos the exodus and concludes that women are just as fervently running the rat race as ever.

A new study in the latest American Sociological Review finds that fewer than 8% of women born since 1956 left the workforce for a year or more during their childbearing years. In fact, the number who work more than 50 hours per week increased from less than 10% among women born before 1935 to 15% among those born after 1956. Finally, mothers with young children working full time has risen to 38% for women born from 1966 to 1975, up from 6% of women born from 1926 to 1935.

So then where did the whole “opt-out revolution” come from? If women are not only not leaving the workforce in large numbers but actually are working more, was it all in our minds? Just wishful thinking among working mothers who wish they could choose more easily between family and work? I doubt it.

For one thing, of the generation born before 1935, of course hardly any women worked. This study doesn’t exactly break ground there. Nor is it shedding bright light on the fact that in the post-World War II era, significantly more women worked than during the previous generation, and that more women in Gen X and Y work full-time than their mother’s generation.

However, three generations of women (those born after 1956) are taken as one group for the purposes of this research. Clearly, workforce patterns have changed over the course of a generation, let alone three. Among those changes has been more women who have decided to leave the workforce to be at home with their children. For my part, I’m on the young end of Gen X or the old end of Gen Y (however you’d like to slice it) and I actually know as many, if not more, women who left the workforce to stay home with their kids than I do working mothers like me.

So I know that the opt-out phenomenon isn’t all hype, but perhaps it has been overblown. Although there are some women who have concluded that trying to decide between work and family is no choice at all, many of us still are working both outside the home and inside. It’s important for benefit managers and senior execs to remember that we need our paychecks just as much as the men do, so equal pay is vital. And we want to succeed just as much, so don’t be afraid to promote us because you’re worried we’re going to run off to tend to our babies. But at the same time, we miss our babies terribly when we’re in the office, so flexible scheduling is paramount as well. I didn’t say working mothers were easy to please, but we work hard at two full-time jobs, so it’s important for employers to try.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tip of the Day

What are the five employee benefits that must be protected at all costs during an economic downturn? Find out , and get tips on how to even add benefits in tough fiscal times at

Wish You Were Here: Utah adopts four-day work week

In addition to great skiing, Utah now has a new attraction: a four-day workweek. Known as the “Working 4 Utah” initiative, about 17,000 of state’s 24,000 government workers will work only Monday through Thursday, effective the first week in August. Although government hours will be extended from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., offices will be closed Fridays, saving the state an estimated $3 million a year from turning off the lights heat and air conditioning in government buildings. State police officers, prison guards, court employees and workers at Utah’s public universities are not eligible for the four-day work week.

Is something special happening at your company that you want to shout about? Send a “Wish You Were Here” posting to EBN Editor-in-Chief Kelley Butler at

News You Can't Use: Citigroup lays off thousands, begins HR exec search

It won’t affect your day-to-day business, but it’s interesting nonetheless to note that despite layoffs numbering in the thousands, Citigroup plans to hire a new HR executive to focus on training for the company’s 38,000 workers in its North American consumer banking division. In an economy that clearly is struggling mightily, this investment not only in HR but in training has to make HR/benefit managers feel pretty good about the work they are doing, and that their skills are marketable and valued. In case you’re looking to apply, the company is seeking an executive-level practitioner with 20 years of experience.

News You Can Use: Public pensions sound, boosted by oil profits

Are pensions going like gangbusters or headed down the drain? It seems every day brings different news. Today, apparently it’s somewhere in the middle, at least for public plans. A new report from the Government Accountability Office finds that overall the nation’s state and local DB plans are “reasonably sound.”

The plans “have enough invested resources set aside to pay for the benefits they are scheduled to pay over the next several decades,” the report reads. Sounds pretty good.

But (there’s always a but), the feds also say that “although public sector workers have thus far been relatively shielded from many of the changes that have occurred in private sector defined benefit commitments, these protections could undergo revision under the pressure of overall future fiscal commitments.”

In other pension news, it turns out one worker’s pain is another worker’s pension. A recent Washington Post report finds that the same high gas prices that are emptying Americans’ household coffers may also be padding others’ retirement funds. Since DB bellwether CalPERS began investing in oil last year (to the tune of $1.1 billion) its returns shot up 68%. The same goes for the Fairfax County, Va., pension at 61% returns after investing in the high-flying price of oil. Perhaps a silver lining to the gloomy cloud cast by pain at the pump.

Read more EBN coverage about pensions here and here, and more about rising gas prices here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

News You Can Use: SMBs unhappy with Washington

News You Can Use:
Small business owners are dissatisfied with the current state of the federal government, finds a poll released this morning by American Management Services.
  • 81% feel we are in an economic recession
  • 78% feel economic stimulus checks are useless
  • 86% say the federal government is doing “nothing” or “little” to help small businesses
  • Labor costs and inflation considered much larger problems than healthcare
  • 72% believe that the federal government bailing out Wall Street and big business
  • 80% have no idea what McCain’s and Obama’s platforms are on small business
  • Romney and Clinton are overwhelming choice of VP candidates for small business owners
  • 90% of small businesses did not participate in the administration’s small business week
  • 77% feel that the U.S. needs to open up the restricted oil reserves in Alaska, and off-shore in Florida and California
Read the full article, "SMBs favor economic reform," here.

Wellness: Where's the ROI?

I just returned from Blue Cross Blue Shield's press briefing "How America's Employers are Promoting Health and Wellness Programs in the Workplace," and it's really sparked some thinking.

Read the "Reporter's Notebook" post here.

Benefit managers are talking big about how they are putting programs in place to control chronic disease and how they're trying to actively engage their employee population, but very few have data to back it up -- at least not initially. So in today's cash-pressed economy, how are they able to convince their CFO's and CEO's that such programs will be effective, particularly if said programs are going to cost big bucks?

It's common sense that controlling disease through prevention is more effective than point-of-care treatment ... or at least it is in our office. But very little is ever said about how benefit managers are actually making the case to the c-suite that wellness is necessary. I know we're all hoping that benevolent executives will realize the soft-dollar benefits of such programs and see that they'll outweigh hard-dollar costs in the short term, but it surely seems logical not every executive will feel comfortable with the possibility of a return five years down the road.

So here's my question for this morning: how are the benefit managers out there making the argument that short term cost equals long term gain? Where are you searching for your data, and what sorts of time frames are you setting? What research is going into evaluating your population before programs begin, and what sorts of budgets are you asking for?

Share your thoughts. After all, beginning the conversation is the first key to finding a solution.
-McLean Robbins

Friday, July 11, 2008

How can social networking tech and attitudes help you?

You can get a job via your social network and you can lose a job because of it. But can social networking really drive benefits participation, better health and retirement understanding or any of the rest of the "to do" items benefit brokers and employers are struggling to accomplish.

We're trying to find some real world examples of how employers and advisers are using social networking tools, technology or just the mindset to do their job better. One thing we're learning is that the Facebook and Myspace route may be just a bit too fast and loose for sensible business-folk. Then again maybe not.

After all, Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser both have Facebook pages.

Of course if you don't go the free route, you'll have to pay for it. Dotster is just one of the multitude of companies that'll help businesses do just that. The company's biz development guru (Ross Johnston, above left) says a custom business application of social networking tech doesn't have to cost a mint, but of course it can if you want to spend some cash. Listen in as he makes his case.

Also, we're putting on another "Friday Fray" discussion on this topic next week. Register and join us if you've got a question or an experience to share.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Are employers leading with the wrong suit on wellness?

PricewaterhouseCoopers has come out with some research on larger employer wellness programs. The study shows that just about half of the folks surveyed think the programs aren't doing what they're supposed to -- driving down costs and boosting productivity. Putting that aside, another half of those surveyed say they're going to step up the wellness activity over the next two years.

I got on the horn with some of the researchers -- including Holly Bialek, pictured above -- and batted some of the concepts around. One thing keeps bugging me. It seems employers are leading with the wellness as health cost cutter, which I think may be what is keeping workers at arm's length -- just 30% or so of employees use the programs when offered according to PWC.

It seems to me that the employer's stronger line is on productivity, no? I mean a company is in the business of making sure Johnny Employee is productive, churning out a lot of good widgets. I think Johnny's likely to be much more receptive to that than the company fat cats taking away dependent health care to make sure executive comp doesn't feel the pinch. And why not position wellness as the savior of rich group medical. Tell the employees that they need to grow their way to a healthier workforce, a healthier bottom line, which will ensure Johnny a job and good benefits for years to come.
--Robert L. Whiddon