Friday, August 29, 2008

News You Can’t Use: Workers would prefer to spend day off with Obama than McCain

This Labor Day, employees would prefer to spend the extra day off with a variety of celebrities and political figures, according to a new survey from The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.

When asked about a dream day off, employees say they’d like to spend the day:
* Working on home improvement with Ty Pennington, 17%
* Cooking with Rachael Ray, 13%
* Playing golf with Tiger Woods, 12%
* Having lunch with Sen. Barack Obama, 12%

In the dream day off vote, Democratic presidential candidate Obama beat out Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain by a three-to-one margin.

The survey also found Americans have spent fewer than half of their days off this year (42%) on vacation away from home and just 9% on hobbies or enjoyable activities.

Tip of the Day

The Department of Labor rolled out a new online resource to help employers in their employment of veterans with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, two common battlefield-related conditions.

The new America's Heroes at Work Web site offers information about TBI and PTSD, as well as tools and guidance on how to implement workplace accommodations and other services that benefit affected individuals.

Click here for related EBN coverage on how employers can aid veteran employees.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tip of the Day

The U.S. Department of Labor recently issued two proposed rules to make investment advice more flexible for participants of 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts.

Scone: At least an iPod comes with instructions

The American Savings Education Council (the nonprofit arm of EBRI) and AARP have released a new report examining the retirement readiness of Gen X and Gen Y workers. The report makes all of the usual observations about these two groups -- among them, that they aren’t saving as much as they know they should, yet remain confident that they will ultimately achieve a secure retirement.

However, the report goes off the rails a bit when it not-so-subtly observes that the younger generations know more about operating an iPod than about saving for retirement. According to the report, 40% of workers age 19 to 39 say they are “very knowledgeable” about how to use an iPod, while just 15% say the same about both saving for retirement and how to invest outside of a workplace plan.

Okay, I admit I’m biased -- as a member of the demographic being studied, I feel the need to defend myself and my generation -- but let’s compare apples to apples here. Putting the complex considerations of investing effectively over the course of decades to prepare for an unfixed date in the future on the same plane as operating a gadget that -- in its tiniest model -- is slightly larger than a postage stamp is unfair and ridiculous.

First, as employees of all ages will tell you, saving for retirement doesn’t come with explicit written instructions, 24-7 tech support and a user-friendly interface like the iPod does.

Second, you only need to learn how to operate an iPod once, and then never again. The instructions never change, unlike the laws, plan designs and investment options surrounding retirement plans.

And third, if you’re using an iPod wrong, you’ll know -- it won’t work. Unfortunately, if employees save ineffectively for retirement, the consequences may not be known until it’s too late.

Perhaps, ASEC and AARP should help employers and lawmakers increase the ease of use and understanding of retirement plans for employees, rather than give the impression they’re shaking their heads, thinking, “Silly youngsters -- can't even navigate saving for retirement.”

Because in truth, no one of any age is saving for retirement well, made plain by paltry overall savings rates as well as a nugget in the survey that says younger workers learned their financial know-how from guess who? Their parents.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tip of the Day

Here’s a counterintuitive tip, but a tip nonetheless: Employers might do better targeting wellness and disease management programs toward younger workers, based on new survey results from EAP provider ComPsych. More than one-half of workers in their 60s have healthy diets, compared to only 17.7% of employees in their 30s. Employees in their 50s and 60s also fared better in level of exercise, outlook on life, social support and stress levels, ComPsych finds.

News You Can Use: Another court rules in favor of cash balance plans

Making it the fifth appeals court to find that cash balance plans do not violate age discrimination law, a San Francisco court joined four others to rule in favor of the plans.

All five courts rejected the argument that the plans unfairly helped younger workers because the annuities they received ultimately would be worth more than the benefits of older workers. Many legal experts believe this is the end of litigation on this issue, with one actuary telling Workforce Management, “There is little doubt that the issue finally has been settled.”

News You Can Use: Pet care a valued benefit

Nearly half (43%) of employees say they would use employer-sponsored services to find pet care if offered, states a new survey from Workplace Options. Three in five American workers own pets.

"Offering pet care resources and other convenience services is a great way for companies to reduce workers' stress about everyday demands and make them feel good about their workplace," said Dean Debnam, chief executive officer for WPO. "Convenience services are a smart investment that pays off for employers in the long run."

Okay, so it's not a hardcore benefit like LTC or life insurance. But who says Rover and Princess don't deserve benefits too? After all, they're members of your family. If you want more information, see this recent article in Employee Benefit News: Trends in veterinary care secure the staying power of pet insurance.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tip of the Day

Under what circumstances employers can recoup HSA contributions? Wolters Kluwer breaks it down.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tip of the Day

Here's a problem every defined benefit plan sponsor would love to have: plan surpluses. However, as the Pension Protection Act forces sponsors toward higher funding targets, it promises to become a bona fide issue, according to Towers Perrin. The consulting firm offers tips on managing surpluses.

News You Can Use: Benefits of a recession

Is there a 'hidden benefit' to the recently slumping economy? More than 300 respondents of a recent Omnia Group survey certainly think so.

When asked "What is your staff reaction to economic changes," 27% of respondents rated employees "exceptional," while 26% said better than expected. Only eight percent stated responses as "less than positive."

"The majority of employees, when actively partnered with a company, will respond to tough times with resolve and determination," said John B. Caswell, Omnia CEO.

In order to keep up morale, check out these helpful articles (from EBN, naturally) about how to provide low-cost benefits that work in any economic state.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Tip of the Day

Not all target-date funds are alike, so make sure you select one that ensures your specific workforce can hit the retirement bullseye. This checklist from the National Association of Government Defined Contribution Administrators (just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) can help you make the best choice.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tip of the Day

Everyone makes mistakes, and the IRS understands. The agency is enhancing its voluntary correction program for qualified retirement plans, effective Jan. 1, 2009, although plan sponsors can begin applying the new program guidelines as early as Sept. 2.

Scone: Parental leave legislation freshens debate

The House’s recent approval of parental leave legislation has revived the debate on the issue with fresh vigor among lawmakers, employers, employees and family advocacy groups.

This time the tug of war focuses on the measures in the Paid Parental Leave Act, which would afford every federal employees entitled to FMLA four weeks of paid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child. As mentioned above, the bill has passed the House and a companion bill is before the Senate. However, the bill likely will hit a wall, as the president already has threatened to veto it.

Each time legislation like this makes a step forward, we are reminded that the United States is the largest industrialized country – among Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland – that lacks a national paid leave program. Every time I hear that statistic, I cringe.

For a country that places such high value on family, we don’t do so well in making sure new families have an adequate time to spend bonding and settling in together. And why? Because our country places an even higher value on money. And paying people to cuddle their newborns rather than doing their jobs runs counter to that value.

Further, in the current economic environment – where employees feel they are just one missed deadline away from the unemployment line – parents may be less inclined to take parental leave even when its available to them.

Both issues may lead employers to believe that paid parental leave is unnecessary. They would be wrong. I encourage benefit managers to lobby for parental leave at their individual organizations as well as on the national stage. What you may lose in employee productivity, I predict you’ll gain in employee satisfaction and loyalty.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Overheard At: 401(k)s still vital to retirement, CFOs say

According to a new report by Schwab, 401(k)s are still the way to go. We wrote about this issue in a recent edition of EBN Industry inBrief.

Today, Associate Editor McLean Robbins picked the brain of Jim McCool, executive vice president of Schwab, the company that commissioned the survey. Hear his thoughts in a special Web-exclusive podcast, found only on the DailyDiversion.

News You Can't Use (or can you?): Counting down the 'sweetest' HR jobs

Layoffs, rising costs, stagnant wages -- here's a ray of light in what has become an increasingly gloomy employment environment. Check out the five 'sweetest' HR jobs, as listed by Workforce Management. Nope, none as CHRO at Hershey -- I checked.

Tip of the Day

Whether your workforce is mostly Gen Y, baby boomers or somewhere in between, all employees want to feel financially secure -- now and as they prepare for retirement. As you work to help them achieve such security, take cues from this year's list of Principal's 10 Best Companies for Employee Financial Security.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

News You Can Use: When searching for (most) workers, head online.

Online job boards are the most commonly used recruiting tool at small to medium sized organizations, suggests new research from the Inavero Institute’s report, “2008 study of recruiting practices – Insight from the Nation’s Hiring Managers.”

More than 50% of respondents used online job boards in the past year. But print has not gone by the wayside, particularly for blue collar jobs and lower income workers. While 47% of recruiters report using so-called “traditional mediums” like radio, tv, and newspaper for job ads in the past year, 75% admit to doing so when searching for hourly employees.

The report finds newspapers the most effective medium when searching for hourly workers at a range of $30,000 annually or less.

In contrast, 72% of salaried employee positions were placed online. However, in recruiting for certain blue collar positions, particularly general and skilled labor or manufacturing, online job boards were used in 40% of cases.

Cost per hire

On average, print media costs 500% more than online searching. The average cost of an online hire is $291, the report found.


Almost half (46%) of all white collar jobs are filled through referrals.


The higher the salary, the longer the interview process, the survey found. At a salary higher than $60,000, it often takes eight weeks or longer to fill a position.

Online job boards are also found to generate more applicants per position, with an average of 19 per job. Referrals yielded only 3.3 applicants, but fill 22% of open positions. generates the highest number of applications, with 22 per open position.

Career fairs were rated significantly less effective, resulting in only 4% of hires, as 12% from online job boards.

The survey was conducted amongst 408 hiring managers in June 2008. Company size ranged between 20 and 5,000 employees.

Tip of the Day

When the limping economy has employees making tough financial choices, it can be even harder to make the case that they should consider purchasing long-term care insurance. A new tool from Prudential aims to help benefit managers provide indepth LTC cost information by state and even city so employees can make the most informed decision. They will need the information more than ever, as Prudential finds LTC costs are poised to more than double.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tip of the Day

U.S. News offers small-biz owners the quick and dirty rundown of what they need to know about implementing a 401(k) plan. The first is: Yes, you really can afford one. But don't just take U.S. News' word for it. EBN sister pub SMB Human Resources has plenty of information for small and mid-size employers on offering big retirement benefits on a small scale.

Quote of the Week

"Now that I have been re-educated and have more knowledge about health and wellness, it seems like a natural fit for me to join the company's health and wellness management team." --Bill Germanakos, former contestant on "The Biggest Loser," and wellness director for Quest Diagnostics.

Overheard At: The high cost of pharmacy benefits

PBMI's Dana Felthouse is our guest today. Download her podcast to hear Dana chat about Buck Consultant's new survey, discussed in-depth in an EBN Web Exclusive, "Employers look internally to manage rising drug costs."

Friday, August 15, 2008

News You Can Use: New Web site for older workers launched by AARP

The nation's largest trade organization, AARP, announced yesterday that they are partnering with, an online career portal for workers aged 50+. Workers can search for full time, part-time, and flexible work through

“Given that nearly half of AARP’s members are currently working, our new collaboration with will add great breadth to AARP’s career site by providing our members opportunities to find job openings and transition into new jobs,” said Deborah Russell, AARP’s Director of Workforce Programs.

In our September issue, we'll be covering this very topic by talking about a new Hewitt report suggesting workers hope to continue working long beyond traditional retirement age.

It seems as if this new resource seems like it can only be a good thing. What's your opinion? If you've used the site, or recommended it to your workers, how do you rate it over CareerBuilder's new site for mature workers,

Thursday, August 14, 2008

News You Can Use: BLS releases benefits stats

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released numbers on employee benefits for March 2008. Among the bullet points, 61% of private industry employees had access to paid retirement benefits, compared with 89% of state and local government employees, and 71% of private industry workers had medical benefits, versus 87% of government workers.

Tip of the Day

Everyone knows that finding top talent is a surefire way to increase company success, but new research from the Aberdeen Group puts a number on the impact of sound talent management. A recent study finds best-in-class organizations in managing a talent acquisition program increased employee retention on average by 21%. The group offers tips on how to make your company part of that best-in-class echelon.

Scone: SHRM welcomes new CEO

Following the departure of longtime CEO Susan Meisinger, the Society for Human Resource Management has named Laurence "Lon" O’Neil as its new president and CEO, effective Oct. 1.

SHRM took six months to find O'Neil after Meisinger announced her resignation in January. It looks like the long search was worth it, as the association seems to have hit the mother lode for what it will need from a leader in the current HR/benefits atmosphere.

First, O'Neil most recent stint was five years as senior vice president and CHRO at Kaiser Permanente. As the rising cost of benefits -- most acutely, health benefits -- remains the Achilles heel of even the best and brightest in the HR/benefits profession, O'Neil's experience and insider knowledge of the inner workings at a multibillion-dollar health care organization can only aid and inspire practitioners.

Second, O'Neil also took a turn in the banking world as CHRO for global corporate and investment banking at Bank of America and oversaw HR in Asia. As the struggling economy and expanding globalization both take greater prominence in HR/benefits pros' everyday work, O'Neil should be a valuable leader.

Although EBN competes with SHRM's HR magazine for readers and ad dollars, I'm happy to say among the organization's 245,000 members are loyal EBN readers. I congratulate them on finding a new leader I believe is well positioned to lead them in facing the unique challenges of today's HR/benefits world.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

News You Can't Use: Congratulations Mary Power

Congratulations to Mary Power, executive director of the HR Certification Institute.

She has been chosen by by American Society of Association Executives to receive the 2008 Women Who Advance Excellence in Associations Award.

The award recognizes female executives in the Washington, D.C., region who have “set the standard of excellence in their professional lives through their leadership, mentoring, and career advancement,” and who have made a defining impact on the local association community.

“Receiving this award will mark a triple honor for me, coming on the heels of our global rebranding campaign launched in late June, and achieving 100,000 certified HR professionals by year’s end,” said Power.

Power joined the HR Certification Institute last August and is responsible for strategic planning and global expansion of certification programs. Her career includes more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry and in association volunteer leadership.

The ceremony takes place November 19 in Arlington, Va.

Have a promotion or awards submission? Send information to for a possible blog feature!

News You Can Use: Friday Fray gets on top of Paid Leave

If you've got a job, (an uncertain thing in today's topsy-turvy economy) chances are you're well aware of your company's leave policy. Are you on a traditional time off plan or has your organization made the switch to PTO leave blocks?

Whether you're simply wondering how the other side lives or searching for ways to modify your company's policies, tune in to this week's Friday Fray.

Ophelia Galindo, a principal at Buck Consulting, and Alison Avalos, a practice leader at WorldatWork, will answer your questions.

Register today because there are only a limited number of slots available for the online discussion, which will be held at 1:00 p.m. EST on Friday, Aug. 15, 2008.

If you would like to submit some questions in advance, e-mail EBN Managing Editor Leah Carlson Shepherd at

Also check out related coverage on this topic:

Tip of the Day

There really is no such thing as a free lunch, as the Department of Labor's Fair Labor Standards Team recently ruled employers "must compensate the employee for all hours worked, including the time worked during the missed meal period." The ruling follows an inquiry from an employer asking how to interpret the Fair Labor Standards Act if an employee works through a designated lunch period if doing so violates company policy. If your company mandates meal breaks, be sure to read the DOL's opinion letter on the topic.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tip of the Day

A new survey from the Institute for Corporate Productivity reveals that while most employers (81%) have tuition reimbursement plans, a paltry 5% track the ROI on the programs. Read EBN coverage that offer tips on how to offer rich, yet still effective, tuition reimbursement benefits.

News You Can Use: Treasury, IRS rule pension buyouts are illegal

Although past coverage in EBN offered proposals otherwise, pension plan buyouts have been deemed illegal by the Treasury Department and IRS. Under such arrangements, companies with imperiled or frozen defined benefit plans could sell them to a financially secure company to administer. Yet, while the agencies put the kibosh on plan buyouts under current law, they did lay out guidelines for legislation that would make the transfers legal.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tip of the Day

If you're taking your employee communications high-tech, check out what other methods employers are using to reach workers. According to Robert Half Technology, video conferencing and online training are most popular.

Scone: HSAs not working, time to let go

I know it’s hard to admit when something just isn’t working the way you’d hoped, despite your best efforts. It can be easy to try to force the issue or put blinders on and simply tell yourself things are fine. However, it takes true strength to acknowledge something has failed and move on.

I think we’ve reached that point with health savings accounts. Progressive employers have implemented the plans with workers and yes, some have achieved savings. But I think we all know that HSAs have not had the revolutionary effect on health care that many of us believed they would.

In addition to consistent single-digit adoption among individuals who have a choice in health plans and high levels of dissatisfaction among active workers, new research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute shows contribution limits make HSAs minimally beneficial to retirees as well.

As contributions are limited ($2,900 for individuals and $5,800 for families), and because HSAs are linked to high-deductible health plans, it is likely HSA owners will tap their accounts to pay for medical expenses during their working years, EBRI finds. Further, distributions cannot be used for employment-based retiree health insurance until an individual has reached age 65. Thus, early retirees do not have immediate access to HSA accounts for retiree health premiums.

“The maximum savings that can be accumulated in an HSA will be far from sufficient to fully cover the savings needed in retirement for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses,” researchers bluntly conclude in this month’s EBRI Notes.

Further, a sneak at the Sept. 1 EBN reveals that experts say allowing participants to fund HSAs with IRA funds won’t help spur use either.

So are we ready to say CDHPs or at least HSAs aren’t the health-care savior we’d hoped for? Not to sound clairvoyant, but EBN made this call last year. There’s even more evidence now. Enough already.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tip of the Day

Make your vision benefits match today's high-definition world. The August EBN gives you a crystal clear look into what eyeglass products are hot with HD consumers.

Scone: Bush attempting to pave over glass ceiling?

The Paycheck Fairness Act, recently approved by the House (247-178) aims to help end pay discrimination against women and close the pay gap that has persisted for decades between the sexes.

Despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women still earn only 76 cents to every dollar earned by a man (a lifetime income loss ranging from $400,000 to $2 million, according to one estimate). This, in spite of the fact that women are receiving degrees at rates higher than men and the number of dual-earner households in the United States is higher now than any other point in history.

Aside from the issue of simple fairness, the legislation may help strengthen middle-class families depending on two incomes to make ends meet. Sadly, President Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

The veto threat isn’t too surprising, I suppose, given this president’s affection for the business industry that – God forbid – would have to spend more to meet the legislation’s requirements. And if he couldn’t get behind health insurance for poor children, women probably shouldn’t expect any better.

Still, it’s disappointing when the person elected to do what’s best for all Americans, maintains the standard of what’s best for only half.

News You Can Use: Kick in that glass celing

More than one-third (34%) of female workers feel they are paid less than their male counterparts for the same skills and qualifications, states new data from a survey.

While 40% of surveyed men make $50,000 or more, only 21% of women do. Conversely, 47% of women earn $35,000 or less, compared with just 28% of men.

Forty-eight percent of surveyed women say that bosses show favoritism towards male employees when it comes to career advancement.

"The number of women reporting that they receive less pay than their male counterparts has changed little over the last two years," While companies have taken great strides to address equality in the workplace, there is still a lot of work ahead. Companies understand the value of having a diverse workforce and many are scrutinizing and improving their recruitment, compensation and promotion practices," said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at "

The 2008 study included 4,328 males and 3,632 female full-time employees.

Looks like women have some talking to do. What's your thought on sexual discrimination and the glass ceiling in the workplace? Leave your comments below the article.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Tip of the Day

Fellow bloggers at Pension Pulse offer defined benefit sponsors useful tips for avoiding fraud in public plans.

News You Can Use: Telework becoming even more popular

For more than two-thirds of employees, off-site work is common, states new research from Office Team. Within the next five years, 82% of managers polled think telework percentages will increase.

Twenty-two percent of those surveyed think that remote work will increase "greatly," while 60% see the percentage increasing "somewhat" and 18% see the percentage staying constant. No respondents predict a decrease in telework numbers.
"Rising fuel prices are causing people to look for alternatives to lengthy commutes, and working from home or at locations closer to home
are attractive options," said Dave Willmer, executive director of OfficeTeam. "Technology has also made it easier for employees to work
remotely when traveling for business."

The survey is based on telephone interviews with 150 senior executives from the largest companies in the United States.

In cases where employees request telecommuting or work-from-home arrangements, Willmer cautions that not every position is a fit. "For professionals whose jobs require a great deal of face time with colleagues or customers, working remotely might not be practical."

OfficeTeam suggests those who want to work off-site ask themselves the following questions before making the request:

-- Does my company already have a remote work policy? Review your employee manual or contact your human resources department to find out. If no policy exists, research how other companies like yours have established successful remote work arrangements for their staff.

-- What's in it for them? Managers will respond more favorably to your request if they know the arrangement will benefit the company and not just you personally. Will the arrangement save your firm money or increase productivity?

-- Have I thought through the details? Your supervisor will want to know key information, like why you are a good telework candidate, technology tools and upgrades you will need, and security measures you have in place at home or at your proposed remote work location to protect company information.

-- How self-motivated am I? If you are easily distracted or lack self- discipline, working off-site could be challenging.

-- How will I stay in touch? Think about how you intend to interact with colleagues to ensure projects stay on track. Also, offer to provide regular status updates so your manager knows your progress on assignments.

-- How will I stay visible? To avoid being overlooked for plum projects or promotions, maintain plenty of face time with your managers and colleagues. Schedule important meetings for your on-site work days.

-- How can I show the arrangement will work? Ask your supervisor if you can try telecommuting on a trial period, working remotely one or two days a week. Propose several meetings with your boss throughout the test period so you both can evaluate how the arrangement is working.

Survey Methodology

The national survey was conducted by an independent research firm and developed by OfficeTeam, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of highly skilled administrative professionals. The survey is based on telephone interviews with 150 randomly selected senior executives at the nation's 1,000 largest companies.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Scone: Actually, being fat does pay

In the “I-don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry” files, an Oregon man has successfully sued his employer to foot the bill for his gastric bypass surgery, using the state’s workers’ compensation law.

After injuring his knee on the job in 1976 and reinjuring it in 1999, his physicians told him that his obesity -- he’s 350 pounds – would prevent effective treatment for the injury. He’s elected to undergo gastric bypass surgery and sued his employer to pay for it with workers’ compensation benefits. The state workers’ comp board and an appeals court gave the greenlight.

I admit I don’t know all the facts of this case, but it seems a pretty big leap to suggest an employer caused a worker’s obesity, particularly to the point where the company would be on the hook to pay for a procedure to reverse said obesity.

Personally, I think employers are doing all they can and then some to help employees get healthy – and perhaps this case is a sign that truly no good deed goes unpunished. Wellness programs, disease management, walking trails and onsite fitness facilities, healthy vending/cafeteria options, free health risk assessments and on and on cost employers millions of dollars each year.

Not out of complete altruism, certainly, but the bottom line is that employees can benefit from the programs at no cost to them. This is the kind of case that might make employers wonder whether the effort is worth it.

News You Can (and Can't) Use: Encourage employees to 'go green' with vehicle, did you go to a green college?

We've heard ad nauseum rising gas prices, and quite frankly, we're sick of it. But enVista, an Indianapolis, In.-based company, isn't taking the situation lying down. They've introduced "enVista green," a program aimed at improving and protecting the environment.

As part of the program, employees who purchase a vehicle with an EPA fuel rating of 35 mpg or higher receive $2,000. Hybrids with a 35 mpg or lower EPA rating receive $1,000.

"The hybrid rebate program reflects enVista's continued commitment to the environment and offers our team members a way to make a difference while cutting down on their transportation costs," said Jim Barnes, President and CEO of enVista. "Just as our company helps clients eliminate waste and improve efficiencies across their enterprise, we value the importance of doing the same for our environment."

As part of the corporate-wide initiative, started earlier this year, the company also reimburses for using energy-efficient light bulbs and planting trees. Teleworking is a widely-used benefit, and break rooms are free of disposable products.

And in (semi) related News You Can't (or maybe can) Use:

Where did enVista get the idea for such programs? We're not 100% positive, but perhaps they went to one of the top-ranked "green" schools in Kaplan's 2009 guide. They are (listed alphabetically):
  • Arizona State University
  • Bates College
  • Berea College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Carleton College
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • College of the Atlantic
  • Dartmouth College
  • Dickinson College
  • Duke University
  • Grand Valley State University
  • Harvard University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Middlebury College
  • Oberlin College
  • Oregon State University
  • Penn State University
  • Santa Clara University
  • Tufts University
  • University of California
  • University of New Hampshire
  • University of North Carolina
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Washington
  • Yale University, New Haven, CT
Along the same lines, if you're wondering if your career is eco-friendly, here are their top choices:
  • Environmental conservation
  • Environmental design
  • Environmental engineering
  • Environmental science
  • Geothermal development
  • Green interior design
  • Hydrology
  • Organic agriculture
  • Solar energy engineering
  Transportation systems planning

Tip of the Day: Fashion Dos and Don'ts for the workplace

If you're having trouble enforcing office dress and behavior codes, consider seeking online assistance from The Protocol School of Washington. Their recently launched Business Image Coaching(TM) (BIC) uses a scientific, in-class and web-platform combination to analyze individuals from head-to-toe to provide each individual with a comprehensive, customized action plan to specifically improve one's business appearance.

Pamela Eyring, director of PSOW said, "Business owners know their employees are an extension of their brand and want them to exemplify their companies' brand whether their business is on Wall Street or Main Street."

Consider this: 55% of a first impression is based on what clothes you're wearing. Only 38% is based on presentation, body language and tone of voice.

The BIC training (which includes a dining tutorial and field trips) covers all the business basics: common mistakes, building a travel wardrobe, appropriate attire for the company picnic, what's in the stores (now) and details like hair style, fragrance and choosing a collar style.

The company suggests some business do's and don'ts that work in any office environment.

  • Match belt color to shoes
  • Wear belts with simple, classic designs -- no big buckles
  • Keep accessories like belts and shoes in mint condition
  • Avoid too shiny, wrinkly, or clingy fabrics
  • Pay attention to grooming issues like clean hair and nails
  • Check clothing for wear, tear, spots and stains
  • Keep an 'emergency grooming bag' in your desk with deodorant, brush, nail file, needle and thread
  • Dress for the highest dress requirement of the day
  • Keep a spare business outfit in the office, just in case
  • Women: Remember to wear necklines 2" above cleavage and pull hair back if it falls below the shoulders.
  • Men: Remember to trim hair in the nose and ears and keep shoes highly polished.
  • Use heavy fragrances
  • Extend casual business attire (such as open-toed shoes) into the formal business attire arena
  • Show too much skin; anywhere
  • Wear wrinkled clothing
  • View monotone dressing as drab -- it actually looks the most professional
  • Wear extreme fashion trends to the office -- when in doubt go classic
  • Women: Remember not to wear too large or dangly jewelry or show dark lingerie under light clothing
  • Men: Remember not to sport bracelets, chains or flashy rings

"Business leaders constantly talk about the importance of 'soft skills' which account for 85% of why a person gets hired and why a person advances at work. We birthed BIC because corporate America kept asking for it and in today's work environment everyone is looking for an edge," adds Eyring.

Through August, the Protocol School of Washington is offering a complimentary online business wardrobe assessment. Click here to take part in the survey.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tip of the Day

Second in importance only to your relationship with employees is your relationship with your broker. The August EBN features tips on finding the right broker match and strengthening the bond.

News You Can Use:

The Center for State and Local Government Excellence has made available two sets of 2006 pension data on its Web site, covering defined DC data for 20 primary plans operated by state governments as well as DB data for 126 state-administered plans. Curious about the health of your pension plan? Compare it to the data, available here. The Public Fund Survey, which coordinated with the CSLG, also provides data, available here.

News You Can't Use: Employee sues for the right to pee

So very sad that this had to come to litigation, but here you have it. A female crane operator has won the right to pursue a discrimination lawsuit against her employer for telling her that she would have to urinate off the back of the crane like her male colleagues when she needed to go to the bathroom. Citing the "obvious anatomical and biological differences between men and women, and the unique hygienic needs of women," (I can't make this stuff up), a U.S. District Court allowed the woman's suit to proceed.

Overheard At: New Issue Time

It's a new month, and you know what that means! A new issue of Employee Benefit News. Listen to this month's issue highlights podcast as Editor in Chief Kelley Butler shares her tips for navigating through all of the great content we have available. Don't forget to download your copy today.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tip of the Day

Is your look a bit outdated, professionally speaking? Learn from your benefits industry peers how to give yourself a career makeover in a report in the August EBN.

Scone: Blues move toward retail clinics could present catch 22

Creating a good news/bad news scenario for employers offering Blues health insurance plans in Minnesota, BCBS Minnesota has announced it will waive copays for members who use retail clinics to receive medical care.

Certainly good news for employers and employees, as both groups will save. Care received at retail clinics is significantly less expensive than the traditional office visit, and can provide some much-needed breathing room for cost-squeezed employers -- even if it's only half a breath. And certainly, employees will save both time and money, as retail clinics generally have extended hours, minimal wait times, and the waived copay gives members the trifecta.

However, for members with chronic disease, retail clinics may not be the hat trick win they present for other patients. An August EBN report from McLean Robbins shows several medical experts say that, for individuals with complicated chronic illnesses like hypertension and diabetes, retail clinics lack the staff and expertise needed for effective treatment.

And there are more of those patients than ever before. In a sneak peek at the upcoming Sept. 1 EBN, a report from Leah Shepherd will reveal study results from Medco that show that in 2007, 51% of insured Americans were taking prescription drugs to treat at least one chronic health problem, and one-fifth of the population used three or more chronic drug treatments.

Not good news any way you slice it, but if more patients are pushed toward retail clinics, the news could become worse if chronic disease sufferers are not receiving the care they need and ultimately being more costly. There's a catch 22 if I ever saw one.

News You Can Use: Discrimination suit over English ability can proceed

Whoo boy! That sound you just heard was a new can of worms being opened on the employer liability front, as a D.C. appellate court has ruled that a worker who was fired for not speaking English well enough can pursue a discrimination lawsuit. This is one for employers to watch, as such issues likely are to persist as workforce demographics continue to diversify.

Overheard At: Recruit a younger, more mobile workforce

Sadly, our super intern, Dan, has left for the summer, but before he headed back to University of Ohio, he left us this great podcast with Andrea Jackson of IBM. She talks about how to recruit a younger, more mobile workforce.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Wish You Were Here: Workforce Alliance receives DOL Excellence Award

Workforce Alliance recently received the Department of Labor's Recognition of Excellence Award in the "Educating America's Workforce to Serve Emerging Industries" category for its biotech training program that granted certificates and provides opportunities for individuals seeking a career in biotechnology.

Nearly 100 participants participated in the program -- a partnership between Florida Atlantic University, Indian River Community College and biotechnology employers in Palm Beach County -- with 56 earning bioscience certificates, six earning advanced bioscience certificates and three now pursuing master's degrees. Many of the graduates are now employed in bioscience and research positions at such employers as Scripps Florida, the Florida Department of Health and Palm Beach Cancer Institute. The program ended in 2007.

For more information and watch a video on the biotech training program, visit

News You Can Use: Video resumes land on the cutting room floor

Employers advocate that potential new hires develop a Web presence, but video resumes aren't the way to catch their interest, states new research from Robert Half International.

Just under a quarter (24%) of employers surveyed says that their companies accept video resumes. More than half (58%) say that they do not, and 18% were unsure.

"Before submitting a video resume, job candidates should check with the hiring manager to ensure the company does not have a policy against their use in evaluating candidates," said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International and author of Job Hunting For Dummies.

Employers fear discrimination claims that might result from viewing candidate's personal information in video format, Messmer says.

"Writing error-free resumes targeted to each job opening, crafting customized cover letters that succinctly explain why you are the right person for the position and maximizing every opportunity to network with others in your field can often be the most effective strategies for getting hired."

The survey consisted of interviews with 150 senior executives from the nation's 1,000 largest businesses.

What do you think? We covered this topic in an October, 2007 article, and many of those interviewed seemed to think that video resumes were a positive addition to recruiting tools. Check out the article, "Ready for their close up" and let us know your thoughts by commenting on this piece.

Scone: GAO uncovers employers ‘blatant cheating’ on payroll taxes

During a time when employees are struggling with stagnant wages, falling home prices and rising gas and food prices, it’s all the more stomach turning to read news of a new report from the Government Accountability Office that finds thousands U.S. employers appear to have been ducking federal payroll taxes and getting away with it for at least a year, maybe more -- essentially stealing money from employees’ paychecks and putting it to nefarious use.

The companies, GAO finds, bilked workers and the federal government out of more than $40 billion by failing to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes. Even more maddening, violators have been found to own luxury cars and expensive homes on island property.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called the actions “blatant cheating,” but I can think of some more colorful language. I also have a few choice words for Steve Sebastian, GAO director of financial management and assurance, who, Workforce Management reports, said the Justice Department has been “somewhat reluctant” to pursue payroll tax cases because they are labor-intensive.

Not to shoot the messenger, but saying the Justice Department didn’t go after tax cheaters because it’s too much work is inexcusable. I’m sure the employees who were having their payroll tax deductions stolen were working pretty hard; their government needs to work just as hard to make sure the money being deducted for their labor goes to the correct source, and punish employers who divert it elsewhere.

And not pursuing $40 billion missing is not “somewhat reluctant.” It’s complete disregard. And employees -- who hear over and over that they are employers’ No. 1 asset -- deserve better.

News You Can Use: DOL, SEC join forces on retirement plan oversight

In a too-rare display of government collaboration, the Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission have inked an information-sharing agreement that will aid both agencies’ efforts to regulate the nation’s retirement plans.

According to the agreement, staffs from DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration and the SEC will meet regularly to discuss industry trends provide access to nonpublic enforcement information.

DOL and SEC “are committed to coordinating closely on [plan participants’] behalf,” says SEC Chairman Christopher Cox. “This enhanced coordination of the SEC's investor protection efforts and the Department of Labor's regulatory responsibility for pensions and 401(k)s will greatly benefit the millions of hardworking Americans who are saving and investing for their retirement as well as those who have already retired."

Tip of the Day: Create policies regarding use of wireless devices

Employers are being urged to put in practice guidelines for use of company wireless devices like BlackBerries and iPhones, states a new bulletin from Pepper Hamilton LLP.

Amy McAndrew, an attorney with the firm, says that new provisions under the Fair Labor Standards Act may compel employers to pay overtime for employees responding via electronic message in off hours.

Courts have found that “insubstantial or insignificant periods of time” are considered de minimis (minimal), and do not need to be counted as compensable work time. “However, the regulations interpreting the FLSA say that working as little as 10 minutes per day should not be considered de minimis under the law. Therefore, if a nonexempt employee uses technology such as a cell phone, a remote Internet connection, or a BlackBerry outside of regular work hours and, as a result, works more than 40 hours per week, that work may have to be compensated as overtime,” McAndrew said.

McAndrew suggests creating written policies governing off-hours work on wireless devices and laptops. The policies should include:

  • Limiting the amount of time that non-exempt employees can spend using these devices outside of normal work hours.
  • Requiring nonexempt employees to receive permission before using these devices after normal work hours.
  • Requiring nonexempt employees to report all work time outside of normal working hours to ensure payment for work completed.

Furthermore, employers should beware the dangers of employess who use company-issued cellular devices while operating motor vehicles. Employers should consider the potential liabilies that could result from an accident and modify policies accordingly, McAndrew states.

She suggests the following policies be put in place:

  • Requiring the use of hands-free cell phones while driving.
  • Directing employees to comply with applicable state laws governing cell phone use.“If an employer operates in a state that does not have a law forbidding hand-held cell phone use while driving, this action alone may not be sufficient to avoid liability related to accidents involving employees working within that state,” said McAndrew.
  • Requiring employees to pull their cars over to the side of the road before answering cell phone calls.
  • Requiring that employees do not pick up cell phone calls while driving, unless it is an emergency.
  • Limiting the scope of job descriptions to avoid including the use of cell phones while driving.
  • Prohibiting cell phone use while driving in adverse weather or difficult traffic situations.
  • Emphasizing the importance of safety while taking calls on the road.

“It is vital that employers carefully consider the use of technology by their employees and adopt clear, written policies as a means to mitigate potential liability,” McAndrew said.

**This Tip was adapted from a news bulletin