Friday, October 31, 2008

News You Can Use: Final regs on distributions to nonspouses

The Employee Benefits Security Administration recently released final regulations that amend existing distribution requirements for defined contribution plans to allow rollovers into inherited IRAs for missing nonspouse beneficiaries. Effective Nov. 6, the rules clarify certain provisions of the Pension Protection Act.

Tip of the Day

It might be time to amend your dependent eligibility requirements. A new law signed by Pres. Bush this month amends the federal definition of a "qualifying child" for tax purposes, and also is largely used for employers' health and dependent care plans.

Under the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 -- effective for taxable years beginning after Dec. 31 -- a qualifying child:
* Must be younger than the taxpayer (unless the dependent is totally and permanently disabled).
* Cannot be married and file a joint tax return as a dependent.
* Makes an exception for a child who could be considered the qualifying child of both a parent and a nonparent (for example, a grandparent), as long as neither parent claims the child and the nonparent has a higher adjusted gross income than either parent. (Current law stipulates a qualifying child must be the taxpayer's child, stepchild, sibling or stepsibling or a descendent of such a relative.)

News You Can Use: Mass. employers, employees rate year-one of health reform

In the current issue of the journal Health Affairs, a study reports on the response of Massachusetts employers and employees to the first year of the state's controversial health reform law, which largely mandated coverage for Bay State residents.

Although it is commonly feared that such mandates would lead employers to eliminate health benefits, the study finds no such evidence. In fact, over the course of the study, the percentage of Massachusetts workers at companies offering coverage held constant at 90%, and the share of employees working at small firms that offered health benefits actually increased from 72% to 76%.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

News You Can Use: GM scraps 401(k) match, others likely to follow

Although a recent staff discussion at EBN headquarters questioned whether an automaker (with industry profits down more than 30% by some estimates) halting 401(k) contributions was a "big deal" -- since it comes as no surprise to our jaded ears -- here you have it:

General Motors last week announced it will freeze its 401(k) match in the company's ongoing effort to cut costs, and reports this week from Workforce Management show other large firms are likely to go the "monkey see, monkey do" route.

“We are in a very nasty situation that isn’t going to get better for some time and a lot of employers are going to be anxiously looking at how to reduce costs," Ted Benna, father of the 401(k) and knows of what he speaks, told the pub.

Tip of the Day

Prepare now to meet the requirements of "Michelle's Law." Signed on Oct. 9 by Pres. Bush, the act requires health plans to allow college students who take a leave of absence or reduce their class load because of illness to remain dependents under their parents’ health plan. Ill students may keep their dependent status for up to one year.

Effective for plan years beginning on or after Oct. 9, 2009, and Jan. 1, 2010, for calendar-year plans, the law outlines several qualifications for students taking medical leaves:
* Students must be enrolled as a full-time student immediately before the leave of absence or schedule reduction.
* Students must have written certification from a treating physician that the leave or reduced schedule is medically necessary.
* The leave or reduced schedule must spur the loss of student status.

The law is named for Michelle Morse, a New Hampshire student who was diagnosed with colon cancer while in college but stayed in school full-time to retain her parents' health insurance. She died in 2005, six months after graduating.

News you can't use: Will lick boots to prevent getting the boot

People always say they don't know what they'd do in a desperate situation until actually placed into it. Today's economic crisis is no exception. A new survey by Randstad USA shows that almost three in four employees would go to lengths to protect their jobs.

Check it out, below:

How far employees are willing to go to impress their boss in order to create more job security

Gen Y
age 18-34
Gen X
Would do something to impress their boss 80%72%68%62%
Take on additional work/responsibilities65%56%50%53%
Work overtime51% 49%46%35%
Stay late/come in early to show extra face time48%40%29%22%
Socialize with my boss out of the office28%15%6%4%
Do personal favors (run errands) 17%10%5%8%

While employees seem willing to go to great lengths to impress their boss, they draw the line at taking a paycut; only 4% of respondents said they would take a pay cut to ensure job security. Some were willing to take on added responsibilities; 63% of women said they would take on more work while 52% of men said they would.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Overheard At: Beware letting employees wear costumes to work

Be careful when considering allowing employees to wear Halloween costumes to the office. Dennis Donnelly of Brian Cave in St. Louis shares potential legal ramifications during this Web-exclusive podcast.

Although costumes may be off the table, we heartily endorse candy, and lots of it.

Tip of the Day

In a word, duck! A finger of blame may be pointing your way. A recent article in the Las Vegas Business Press reports that employees angry over their 401(k) losses from the stock market freefall will be "looking for someone to blame," and that someone may be employers.

Since we want to leave you with more of a tip today than "duck," read the full LVBP article on how to approach financial education for employees amid the economic downturn, and a recent EBA report on how HR/benefits pros are taking action to shield employees from greater financial pain through benefit programs.

News You Can Use: Voters speak out on work-life

Sens. McCain and Obama, take note: A majority of workers want you to make work-life flexibility a priority during your presidency.

In a survey from Life Meets Work, 70% of employees say the next U.S. president should make flexible work options his greatest work-life priority, followed by equal pay and affordable child care.

In addition:
* 63% of employers and 78% of workers support the Working Families Flexibility Act, which would give every worker the right to request job flexibility and would require employers to respond to the request.
* 58% of workers support making caregivers a protected class from discrimination.

Although voters may be making their preferences known on a national level, work-life expert Ariane Hegewisch, study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, says “There might be a way of trying to use states as pilots” for some paid leave and workplace flexibility initiatives.

See the upcoming December EBN for more of her comments and other trends and case studies in workplace flexibility. Meanwhile, download a podcast on how several companies are succeeding with work-life programs.

Scone: Benefit managers, Rock the Vote!

Okay, so maybe you’re outside the target demographic for MTV’s get out the vote push. But with less than a week to go until election day, it’s time to make your choice and show the power of your industry as a voting bloc.

For those of you still undecided, here’s a reminder of where Sens. McCain and Obama stand on benefits-related issues from EBN coverage, independent analysis and the candidates themselves.
- Parties diverge on health care reform
- Health reform standing front and center: Democratic presidential candidates agree
- McCain’s health platform taxes benefits as income
- Presidential candidates showcase their small business views
- Best of both worlds key to health care reform

Then take our Daily Diversion quickpoll (right) on the issue that is most important to you in this election. I’m looking forward to reading your responses.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

News You Can Use: Guardian partners with Mia Hamm to make benefits cool

In a push to make benefits more relevant to today's employees, Guardian Life has commissioned soccer star Mia Hamm to promote benefits enrollment to employees. She's got a cool video, sure, but does this technique work?

Read a full post on the subject from EBA Editor Robert Whiddon.

Watch and weigh in below with your comments.

News You Can Use: Number of expats doubles

The economy hasn't soured employers on expatriate assignments, as new research from Mercer finds that the number of that the number of employees working abroad has nearly doubled in the last several years -- from 50,000 in 2005-2006 to 94,000 today.

Benefits factored highly in employers' expat plans, as 86% of respondents consider benefits provisions for expatriates as a medium or high priority. However, strategy appears to be lacking, as 26% have no overarching policy for providing expatriate benefits and 64% report no specific procedures in place to measure the success of their expatriate benefit programs.

Among specific benefits for expats:
* 32% of companies offer international plans (a nearly 10% increase from 2005)
* More than 80% do not consider the local social security provision when providing medical benefits for expatriates.
* 86% cover expat death benefits.
* 78% provide long-term disability benefits.

With such significant investments going into expatriate assignments, coupled with the unforgiving economy, selecting the right employees for expat assignments is crucial. Read the current EBN for tips on conducting "expat profiling," and listen to a "Five Minutes With..." podcast with expat expert Steve Watson on what employers should be looking for in expat candidates.

Tip of the Day: How to save an hour

In today's economy, we're all being asked to do "more with less." But since there aren't ever going to be more hours in the day, you need to figure out a way to make those hours more effective.

Donna Rae Smith, founder and chairman of Bright Side, has five simple tips that will allow you to save an hour per day ... or seven hours per week, 30 hours per month, and 365 hours per year. That's a lot of time!!

1. The Chosen Few. Above and beyond setting priorities, Rae recommends starting by focusing on accomplishing those tasks to assure your future happens the way you want. She advises distinguishing tasks between the urgent and the important, and ranking them accordingly. "Obviously the urgent and important go to the top of the list," says Donna Rae. "Next, look at the important, but not urgent. These are tasks, while important, can be done bit by bit, little by little." Tasks that are neither important nor urgent go to the bottom of the list.

2. Death by Meeting. "Brief, regular meetings to update progress, make decisions and commit to next steps are more efficient and effective than grand, comprehensive gatherings," she stated.

Donna Rae added, "Unless they are urgent, save topics and decisions for the regular meetings instead of having additional, time-consuming 'side' meetings. Lastly, leave the technology at your desk. This means no cell phones or other technological assistants."

3. Thrice is nice. One way to free yourself of being tethered to e-mail is to restrict yourself to checking it only three times a day: in the morning, mid-day and near day's end. The time in between can be spent doing what you need to be doing.

4. Chunk it! Establish "chunks" of time where you are cut off and don't respond to others; where you remain totally focused on the task at hand. "This is a great way to complete those urgent and important tasks we discussed earlier," stated Donna Rae.

5. Go off peak. Do ordinary things at "off peak" times. For example, instead of eating lunch between noon and 1:00 p.m., go to lunch at 11:00 a.m. or at 1:30 p.m. First, the lines will be shorter and you'll be served more quickly, and during the relative peace while everyone else is at lunch, you'll be able to focus and get more done.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Overheard At: WARN your employees

Welcome to an exclusive online podcast with Joel Rice of Fisher & Philips, a national labor and employment law firm. In light of the economy, we know employers out there are struggling with difficult decisions regarding layoffs and termination of employees.

Joel is with us today to talk about WARN, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires companies with more than 100 employees to give at least 60 days notice before triggering massive layoffs.

News You Can't Use: E-Mail Addiction

We all know you love your CrackBerry, but there's such a thing as too much contact.

New research from Osterman and the report "Mobile Messaging Market Trends" has revealed people use their mobile devices nearly 24-7.

Consider asking your employees to turn off their phones ... because otherwise, this is what they'll do:
  • 94% send e-mail or text messages on work nights or weekends
  • 96% take their phones on vacation
  • 41% have sent e-mail on a commercial flight while the plane is in the air
  • 77% have sent message while driving a moving car
  • 79% have sent messages in the bathroom
  • 11% have sent messages or answered calls while engaged in "intimate acts"
Um, ew?

Tip of the Day

Is your retirement plan ERISA 404(a) and 404(c) compliant? I couldn’t tell you, but EBN contributor Phil Fogli can.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Overheard At: Concierge benefits for small employers

We've got a great Web-Exclusive podcast on a small employer in Colorado who recently implemented a full-scale concierge benefits program for their employees. Want to take a listen? Click here.

News You Can't Use: "Sick" or "Hooky"

No matter how much you like your job, there are days when huddling under the covers, playing golf, or just watching TV sounds much better than going to work. According to's annual survey on absenteeism, one third of workers have played hooky by calling in sick when they weren't.

The majority of employers don't question worker's sick leave, but at least a third have checked up on workers who called in sick. Eighteen percent have fired a worker over missing without a legitimate excuse.

Why do your employees skip? One out of ten want to miss a meeting, buy time for a late project, or avoid the wrath of a boss or colleague. Others missed work because they just needed to relax and recharge (30%), go to a doctor's appointment (27 %), catch up on sleep (22%), run personal errands (14%t), catch up on housework (11%) or spend time with family and friends (11%). Another 34^ just didn't feel like going to work that day.

Of the 31% of employers who checked up on an employee who called in sick, 71% said they required the employee to show them a doctor's note. Fifty-six percent called the employee at home, 18% had another worker call the employee, and 17% drove by the employee's house or apartment.

Can you say ... stalker?

"It's in your best interest to be up-front with your employer and chances are you'll get the time you need," said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at "More companies today are moving toward a Paid Time Off system, giving employees more flexibility in how they categorize time away from the office. Employers are also expanding the definition of the sick day with 65 stating that they allow their team members to use sick days for mental health days."

When asked to share the most unusual excuses employees gave for missing work, employers offered the following real-life examples:

  -- Employee didn't want to lose the parking space in front of his house.
-- Employee hit a turkey while riding a bike.
-- Employee said he had a heart attack early that morning, but that he was
"all better now."
-- Employee donated too much blood.
-- Employee's dog was stressed out after a family reunion.
-- Employee was kicked by a deer.
-- Employee contracted mono after kissing a mailroom intern at the company
holiday party and suggested the company post some sort of notice to
warn others who may have kissed him.
-- Employee swallowed too much mouthwash.
-- Employee's wife burned all his clothes and he had nothing to wear to
-- Employee's toe was injured when a soda can fell out of the
-- Employee was up all night because the police were investigating the
death of someone discovered behind her house.
-- Employee's psychic told her to stay home.

Tip of the Day

Let the cookie crumble … sort of. EBN contributor Phil Fragasso offers advice on moving beyond cookie cutter retirement messages and helping plan participants create an “individual pension plan.”

News You Can Use: Maternity program yields healthy savings and healthy babies

You can beat a benefit that saves money and brings healthy bouncing babies into the world! Read more in the October EBN about how Nationwide Better Health’s maternity management program did both.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Overheard At: Wellness 101

Did you miss today's Web Discussion on how to implement wellness programs? Never fear, we've got the transcript. Click here for full details.

News You Can Use: Workers concerned about finances, but sticking to their financial strategies

Concerned about financial strains, employees want more information about how to handle their retirement plans and personal debts.

Debt, retirement planning and budgeting are the top concerns of employees calling a financial helpline run by Financial Finesse, a Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based financial education firm.

Most frequently, they are seeking information about how to deal with creditors, strategies to reduce debt, whether they are eligible for a hardship withdrawal in their retirement plan, the pros and cons of taking a loan from their retirement plan, and how much they should be saving for retirement.

Amid the crisis in the national economy, basic budgeting questions are up 6% over the same period last year, with workers seeking information about how create a household budget, make ends meet and manage financial affairs after a divorce.

Liz Davidson, CEO of Financial Finesse, says people are being more proactive about getting control over their finances. “People are getting back to the basics and what can I do today” to get in better financial shape,” she adds. “People are coming to reality, what they can and cannot afford.”

Meanwhile, a new survey from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards reveals that 78% of investors are sticking to their existing financial planning strategies, while 57% are reviewing asset allocation and 48% are reviewing financial goals. Another 45% are moving assets to lower-risk positions, while 37% are rebalancing their portfolio.

Clients of financial planners maintaining their long-term financial goals, with 45% moving their assets to lower-risk investments and 40% taking advantage of the lower stock prices.

Tip of the Day

“I just saved a bunch of money on my company’s health expenditures by switching to a radiology benefit manager!” Okay, doesn’t roll off like “switching to Geico,” but you may save significantly more. A current EBN report tells you how.

News You Can Use: Uninsured population drops, how to continue the trend

Here’s a downward spiral we can all agree we’d like to continue: Census data reveal that the number of uninsured individuals in the United States fell by 1.5 million between 2006 and 2007, driven by growth in Medicare, Medicaid, military programs and Massachusetts health care reform. This report from the Kaiser Family Foundation points to lessons we can take from the decline and how to make it last.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tip of the Day

Like your mom always said, “If Jimmy jumped off a bridge, would you?” The lesson being, consider carefully whose lead you follow. Amid economic peril, that lesson is even more important regarding 401(k) advice. Forbes offers tips on separating the wheat from chaff on retirement advice.

News You Can Use: The difference two years makes

New survey results from Sun Life Financial show that 46% of employees surveyed are “very confident” they will have enough money to take care of their basic living expenses at 67. however, a much smaller number (28%) are just as confident they’ll be able to handle health care expenses at that age. See current EBN coverage about how to help employees improve their overall retirement readiness, including encouraging them to work a couple years longer.

Scone: HR/benefit managers must stand up against benefit cuts in face of economic crisis

Although much of the early response to the economic crisis -- EBN's included -- dealth with the blow to Americans' bank accounts and retirement assets, reports now are surfacing on how the financial slide has affected health care decisions for individuals and families.

And like the rest of the news lately, the results are not good.

According to the Washington Post, the economy’s plunge has forced many individuals to cut back on health care – “split pills, forgo screening tests, delay elective procedures and turn to home remedies as cheaper alternatives.” The paper also reports that hospital bills are languishing and pharmacists see an increased demand for generic medications.

A study this summer from the Rockefeller Foundation shows that even before the floor fell out of the economy, 25% of respondents skipped a doctor’s visit and 10% skipped a visit for their child because of cost.

In a sneak peek at the December EBN, a report from the Segal Co. finds utilization trend rate for hospital services is projected to fall from 3.2% this year to 2.5% next year, while the utilization trend rate for physician services is predicted to drop from 5.5% to 4.3%. The consulting firm points to cost constraints among consumers as one reason for the decline.

Finally, state insurance programs are feeling the squeeze as well, as news came from Hawaii last week that the state will end its universal children’s health insurance program, just seven months after being the first state to implement such an initiative.

Such news is evidence that when it comes to Americans’ health care today and retirement security tomorrow, benefits managers are employees’ first line of defense. The programs you offer, eliminate or enhance are more important than ever. I know your companies are feeling crunched as well, and benefits are top of mind for execs looking for places to aims the fiscal hatchet or scalpel.

But as Segal reports, “the slowdown in utilization may be cause for concern [because] it could also mean that some people are deferring essential medical care because of higher copays and the personal financial effects of the economic downturn.” But “delaying treatment will eventually increase overall health costs as people are forced to seek more aggressive and costly treatment after the condition worsens to a crisis point.”

It’s a classic choice of whether to pay now (in robust benefits, preventive care and wellness programs) or pay later (in higher claims, lost productivity and perhaps even turnover). I believe it’s in your best interest to pay now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tip of the Day

Read up on the new Treasury regulations on executive compensation. It may make for an awkward conversation with your CEO and CFO, but you’ll want to stay on the right side of the law on this one – particularly the limits on golden parachutes (you don’t want to look like another Lehman, do you?). Under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (also known as the $700 billion bailout plan), Treasury outlines exec comp guidelines for the Capital Purchase Program and the other two programs under the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

News You Can Use: 401(k) changes a’comin’

Could be good news, bad news on the 401(k) front, as the IRS announced it’s raised the annual contribution limit from $15,500 to $16,500, but congressional lawmakers want to take the bull in a china shop approach to governing the plans, seeking to eliminate tax breaks for investors and mandating participation.

Overheard At: Got a wellness question? We've got an answer.

We've got a top-notch Web Discussion coming up for you Thursday. Our recent Benefits Forum and Expo showed that wellness programs were one of, if not the top issue on benefit manager's minds.

So at 11 a.m. THIS Thursday, October 23, we're taking an hour to give a short presentation and answer your pressing questions about design, implementation, and compliance.

Our two speakers are Tami Graham of Intel and Mike Carter of the Hay Group. Graham is a 2007 BENNY winner and responsible for the design and implementation of Intel's wellness initiatives. Carter is a top-notch consultant who has worked with a variety of companies to implement healthy living initiatives.

Registration is limited, so sign up now:

Topic: Wellness Know-How: Designing an effective and compliant plan
Date: Thursday, October 23, 2008
Time: 11:00 am, Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -04:00, New York)

To register for this meeting
1. Go to
2. Register for the meeting.

Once the host approves your request, you will receive a confirmation email with instructions for joining the meeting.

Monday, October 20, 2008

News You Can't Use: Say "ahh" and let the economy soothe you

Were you just a bit disgusted when you heard that AIG had sent their head honchos on a resort retreat just weeks after news of their bailout broke? Just think, they were getting rubdowns and enjoying five-course meals while you were sweating away over open enrollment business in your office.

If you live in Alabama or Florida, you can melt that stress away with a new series of economic themed spa treatments at the famed Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail resorts and spas.

"If you can afford $85 BILLION for AIG to go to the spa---You can afford this!!” said Dr. David G. Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama.


If your 401(k) has dwindled down to zero, consider a 401(k) facial to smooth away intended wrinkles. It includes a glycolic resurfacing treatment and complimentary admission to a quiet room, steam room, and whirlpools before and after treatment. The Wall Street Journal newspapers can be removed at your request. $100.

If watching the Nasdaq on it's roller coaster runs has left your body aching with whiplash, smooth away stress with the Economic Freefall Refresher. A mineralizing spa body treatment reduces stress and tension, leaving skin soft and smooth. A facial follows, featuring ingredients that stimulate cellular renewal leaving the skin soft, glowing and refreshed. A money manicure completes your refresher leaving money in your pocket. $200.

If you can't "beat" them, join them. Pound out the stress with the "Banker and Broker Bailout" package - an 80-minute therapeutic massage, deep cleansing facial and penetrating location for hydration. Gentlemen's haircut and nail trim will help finish your escape prior to taking on the wizards on Wall Street. Pin-stripe robes no longer available. $300.

For a quick fix in your office, you can even take home "Stress Relief" for $24. A variety of Sprayable vitamins are available in the spa shops.

We're not kidding … these treatments are actually available until December 1 at the following locations: Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear, AL; Battle House, a Renaissance Hotel, in Mobile, AL; the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center in Montgomery, AL; Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa in Hoover, AL and the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa in Florence, AL. Not available at the FDIC or local lending institutions.

Image courtesy of Battle House spa in Mobile, Alabama

Tip of the Day

BlackBerries and iPhones for all! What employers spend in mobile technology like smartphones they may regain in spades in extra worker productivity, a study of federal employees by Telework Exchange finds. Federal employees who use a smartphone for work purposes report an average time savings/productivity gain of 54 minutes per day. The report finds a clear productivity opportunity for the mobile workforce – the Federal government could save an estimated $37 million in additional productivity each day by equipping mobile employees.

News You Can Use: Save for Retirement Week is Here

Oct. 19-26 is the third annual National Save for Retirement Week. Promote the heck out of it among your employees, as research shows not all employees participate in retirement plans, and the ones that do don’t save enough.

Friday, October 17, 2008

News you can use: CFOs most concerned about benefits

New survey from the folks at Grant Thornton shows that CFOs are eyeing benefits. The firm recently asked about 700 CFOs and other financial executives "which types of pricing pressure are you most concerned about?"

54.97% said employee benefits (e.g., health care, pensions)
40.20% said energy
38.74% said raw materials (e.g., food, metals)
16.81% said insurance
12.43% said other
4.82% said commercial property

And while it might be tempting to read the use of "concerned" in the question as a euphemism for cut, the experts over at GT say not so fast. Check back here on Monday for a podcast of EBA Editor Robert L. Whiddon's recent interview with some of the brains behind the survey.

News You Can Use: DOL says returns trump responsibility in pensions

All you DB plan sponsors out there investing in socially responsible funds to make money and a difference: Quit it! According to EBSA, the benefits arm of the Dept. of Labor, generating big returns are the only consideration plan sponsors may consider – not “political, corporate or other purposes.”

Tip of the Day

To improve productivity and reduce absenteeism, tell your employees you have their back, so to speak. A survey of HR leaders by Work Options Group reveals that 93% of your peers believe backup care helps employees balance work and family responsibilities, 81% say backup care reduces absenteeism; more than 7 in 10 employees surveyed said without backup care they are forced to miss work, 53% of HR leaders believe providing backup care boosts employee productivity; 78% of employees said backup care enhances their productivity.

Among other pluses, most HR pros say backup care reduces employee stress, improves retention and helps position their organization as an employer of choice.

News You Can Use: Employees hopping on the wellness bandwagon

Employees want to become healthier, and they are receptive to wellness programs offered by their employers. That’s the take-home message from the National Business Group on Health’s new survey.

As a result of employer communications about health and wellness, 43% of workers have made an effort to improve their overall health. For this type of communication, e-mail is the preferred format of 77% of employees. “They want more health care communications targeted to their interests,” says Helen Darling, president of NBGH. “Employees do value communications from their employer. ”

Other key findings include:
* 74% of employees are trying to adopt healthier lifestyles today in hopes of reducing future health care costs in retirement.
* 54% of workers say they would take advantage of health-related programs sponsored by their employer, union or health plan.
* 47% of employees say work demands prevent them from leading a healthier life.
* 34% of all employees would be very likely or extremely likely to participate in a stress management program if it was offered at work.

Darling notes, “The financial meltdown will make [wellness initiatives] more important. We know we need to do better.”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Overheard At: Keep Global Employees Engaged

Steve Watson of Staunton Chase International gives tips and suggestions on how to select and prepare employees for expat assignments. Plus, what to do when they return. See "Conducting Expat Profiling" in the October issue for more information.

News You Can't Use: Jealous of a "work spouse"? It's true.

It wasn't until several months into my first job that I heard the term "work spouse." Are you in the dark too? Do you know the co-worker (male or female) to whom you share your day-to-day gripes with? Spend your lunch date with, and discuss your kids? Yep, he or she is your "work spouse."

And it turns out that a new survey finds that one in ten workers feel as if they have one, and among those workers who are married, 20% of spouses and significant others feel jealous. Seventeen percent even said they had to compromise something at the office to protect their work spouse.


Now for some lighthearted info. The same 6,000 people surveyed were asked to identify their favorite platonic TV work couples. Here are their answers:

  1. Regis and Kelly

2. David Letterman and Paul Shaffer

3. Jay Leno and Kevin Eubanks

4. Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer

5. Howard Stern and Robin Quivers

6. Judge Judy and Petri Byrd

7. Conan O'Brien and Max Weinberg

8. The Ladies of The View

9. Diane Sawyer and Chris Cuomo

10. Jimmy Kimmel and Guillermo Diaz

11. Harry Smith and Julie Chen

12. Billy Bush and Nancy O'Dell

Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive(R) on behalf of among 6,194 employees (employed full-time; not self-employed) between August 21 and September 9, 2008. Percentages for some questions are based on a subset of responses to certain questions. With a pure probability sample of 6,194 one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/- 1.25 percentage points. Sampling error for data from sub-samples is higher and varies.

Tip of the Day: (For Employees) How to communicate better with your boss

In honor of National Boss Day (today) we have three tips on effective communication from consulting firm Adecco. In keeping with our larger theme of more frequent communications from HR, distribute these to your employees with a short note about National Boss Day.

  1. Be transparent: Keeping an open and honest line of communication
between you and your manager is one of the best ways to create an
effective working relationship. Discuss potential problems instead of
waiting for actual problems to arise.
2. Bosses are people too: When a personal relationship is non-existent,
it's quite easy to forget that your boss is an employee just as you
are. Many of the same stresses you experience at work are the same they
experience as well. Connecting on a more personal level, like
discussing a similar frustration or discussing the difficulties of
achieving work/life balance, will create a culture of understanding
that will ultimately provide a better working relationship.
3. Respect their position: No matter how close you are with your boss,
always respect their position and the job they have to do. If personal
and professional lines become blurred, it sets the stage for
uncomfortable situations to arise that will negatively affect the

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Overheard At: Battling Brain Drain

Sanjiv Kumar, a principal and managing director at Buck Consultants gives tips about how to retain older workers, address the aging workforce challenges head-on and preserve the knowledge that your company needs before it gets lost when older workers retire.

Tip of the Day

According to a new report by The Vision Council, "Vision Care: Focusing on the Workplace Benefit," two-thirds of Americans say they would be more willing to get an eye exam if they had some coverage, yet only 17% of employers report offering vision insurance. Vision benefits lag behind health and dental benefits, with as many as 44% of employers offering dental coverage.

News You Can Use: Employees need reassurance too

Working Americans are not hearing from senior leaders in their companies about the implications of the global financial crisis, according to new research released today by global public relations firm Weber Shandwick.

The survey of 514 employed Americans shows that 70% expect the current economic and financial problems in the U.S. will have a negative impact on the company they work for over the course of the next year. Of those, 26% believe their company will have to lay off employees and 62% said their company would have trouble meeting its goals.

The research highlights a clear deficit in the workplace between employee appetite for more communication on the impact of the economic crisis and the levels at which company leadership is providing information. The research shows that 71% of people felt that their company's leadership should be communicating more about current economic problems, and 54% have not heard from company leaders at all on the impact of the financial crisis on their company. By comparison, 74% said that they had heard colleagues and co-workers talking about the issue.

Of those who had discussed the financial crisis at work, 86% say that senior executives or management were seen as "believable" and "trustworthy" sources on the topic.

"At a time when working Americans are concerned about their personal finances, their jobs and the overall economy, employees are looking for credible, candid information, and right now too few business leaders are filling the information void that exists," said Harris Diamond, CEO of Weber Shandwick. "Employers have a great opportunity to communicate with their workforce about the impact of the economic situation on their companies as well as on employees."

"By stepping up and communicating more with their employees, company leaders will enhance their company's standing, consolidate their position of trust in challenging times and head off any inaccurate rumors or fears that are all too common in fast-moving crises such as these," added Diamond.

"In an age of greater transparency where employees play a vitally important role in shaping a company's reputation both in good times and in bad, their views have an impact that goes far beyond the office or shop floor," said Micho Spring, chairperson of Weber Shandwick's U.S. corporate practice. "Many companies have highlighted the need to invest in employee communications, and the questions raised by the financial crisis confirm how now, more than ever, employees need to be equipped with information from senior voices in their companies."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Overheard At: Keep those Gen Y Employees

Gen Y employees decide within six months if they want to stay with an employer. Tim Vigue of the Novations group talks about ways to engage employees in a productive manner. For more information, visit "The young are even more restless than imagined" in the October issue.

News You Can't Use: Most workers don't want their boss' job

A new OfficeTeam survey says that more than 3/4 of workers have no desire to walk in their boss or manager's shoes...but 60% say that they could do a better job than their boss.

Tip of the Day: The copay tipping point

Keith Bruhnsen, assistant director of benefits at the University of Michigan, offered advice to employers on strong cost-containment strategies to manage specialty drug costs at EBN’s 21st Benefits Forum and Expo.

“Sometimes there are co-pay challenges to members if the employer has a co-insurance model. I have heard from many specialty pharmacy experts that about $50 is where people start having some difficulties in managing the cost,” Bruhnsen said. Employers need to how their workers are going to respond to co-pays on specialty pharmaceuticals.

News You Can Use: National Boss Day is Thursday

Nobody likes a suck up, but here's one day of the year when it just might be acceptable. Thursday is the 50th anniversary of National Boss Day.

"We find that employees today want to show their appreciation for their superiors who not only take on the challenges of leading a successful team, but also work to mentor employees and assist in their professional growth," said Abby Gibbs, Boss's Day product manager at American Greetings.

While we're not quite sure what you should do to honor this momentous holiday, (flowers or cards are suggested), we have done a bit of research into appropriate gifts under $50.

For the Traditionalist:

Professional and stylish is the name of the game. Show them that your affection won't die (or require lots of care) with this sleek Fern in a silver planter. $29.99 at

Gestures don't have to cost big bucks. Send them a Boss Day e-card. Free with registration on

If your boss is sweet as can be, send them one of these signature seven-layer southern caramel cakes. If you're really lucky, they'll share. $42.50 at

For the Joker:

If your boss is a practical joker, they'll love the sarcastic (and sometimes less-than-appropriate) cards from, like this one that reads: "Have a great Boss' Day even though I have no idea if you're technically my boss." Free at

Your boss once told you "money doesn't grow on trees." Now it does, with this "money tree," $49.99 at

Do you secretly suspect that your boss is playing Scrabulous on company time? Give them a miniature ping pong or golf desk set so that they can play in public. $9.99 at

For the Stylista

Just make sure she's already married, or this gigantic bling paperweight might imply something other than your affection for her skills as a leader. $20 at

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tip of the Day

We've all heard the saying, "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have," but have you heard, "Dress for the corporate image you want, not the corporate image you have"?

How your employees dress can also convey information about your company to outsiders, states a recent survey by Harris Interactive. The survey revealed that two out of three respondents think personalized uniforms look "more professional." While not all companies are going to go the uniform route, consider applying this image to branding or even providing company-logoed clothing that your employees can wear on casual Fridays or out-of-office activities.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wish You Were Here: Operation Life Tranformed

Today's "Wish You Were Here" would like to highlight Operation Life Transformed, a non profit organization supporting military spouses and war-wounded caregivers with education and employment resources. They've recently partnered with CareerStep to provide online medical transcription and medical coding training and placement services for military spouses.

Last month, OLT celebrated their 100th placement after only 18 months in existence.

Tip of the Day

The Department of Labor just made it easier for workers and plan administrators to access actuarial data on pension plans. It created an online feature, "ERISA Public Disclosure System." Read more about what it is and how it works at

News You Can Use: New TV for your Boomer employees

Your Boomer employees may not care about the latest drama on Gossip Girl or The Hills, but that doesn't mean they don't represent much of their own television audience. (And no, we're not talking about the fans of Cloris Leachman on Dancing with the Stars).

Retirement Living TV is launching a partnership with AARP to bring two new TV programs exclusively to the 50+ set. The first, called Inside E Street (a nod to AARP's E Street headquarters in DC), is a half-hour news program, and the second, aptly-titled My Generation, is a lifestyle series.

Inside E Street uses the new season to tackle some of this year's red hot presidential campaign topics including access to affordable health care in America, the state of the economy and other relevant issues such as underfunded pensions and the price of oil. Host Sheilah Kast (ABC News, CNN and NPR) interviews the nation's top political leaders and policy makers in each episode. Inside E Street airs at 3 P.M. ET on Mondays and Fridays.

Co-hosted by Greg Williams (as seen on HBO's critically acclaimed show The Wire) and Emmy-nominated Cynthia Steele Vance, My Generation's second season features an array of celebrities and experts every week who discuss a range of lifestyle issues. From an in-depth interview with award-winning actress Sally Fields to the latest tips from consumer advocate Ron Burley, this series offers something of interest for every viewer. My Generation airs at 3 P.M. ET on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

They will premeire on October 10th and 14th, respectively, and are also available online at

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Overheard At: Premium Cost Control

Are your company’s pharmacy costs and health care premiums too high? Hear some tips on reducing pharmacy costs from Bob Nease, chief scientist at the pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts. This is a standalone podcast.

News You Can Use: Retirement plan participation rose strongly in 2007

Despite the doom and gloom news dominating headlines today, worker's participation in employer-based retirement programs grew steadily in 2007, up for the first time since 1998. Data released by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) states that 41.5% of all workers participate in employer sponsored plans, while the percentage of full-time and full-year salaried earners hovers at 55.5%.

The EBRI study includes these points about retirement plan participation:

· Age: Participation increases with age (63.9 percent for wage and salary workers ages 55–64, compared with 28.0 percent for those ages 21–24).

· Gender: Among all workers, men had a higher participation level than women, but among full-time, full-year workers, women had a higher percentage participating than men (57.0 percent for women, compared with 54.0 percent for men). Female workers’ lower probability of participation in the aggregate results from their overall lower earnings and lower rates of full-time work in comparison with males.

· Race: Hispanic wage and salary workers were significantly less likely than both white and black workers to participate in a retirement plan. The gap between the percentages of black and white plan participants narrows when compared across earnings levels.

· Geography: Wage and salary workers in the South, West, and Southwest had the lowest participation levels in 2007.

· Other factors: Higher-educated, higher-income, and married workers are more likely to participate in a plan than their counterparts.

Tip of the Day

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, they say. In those terms, offering onsite flu shots is a good way to help employees stay healthy and reduce lost productivity and/or presenteeism wraught by flu season.

News You Can Use: Election InfoCentral

The 2008 election is shaping up to be one of the most, if not the most, controversial of our lifetime. Employers will want to know which candidate has the best policy for their business before deciding the for whom they will vote.

Hewitt has an excellent resource in their Election 2008 Web page, which details information about each candidate's proposals and how they will affect employers and employees.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Overheard At: Wellness in any Economy

Experts seem to agree that, despite tough economic times, employers remain committed to their wellness and health management programs, even though some are holding off on adding higher-cost elements.

Brian Passon, wellness consultant and director at Corporate Fitness and Health, explains why wellness programs should not take a back seat during tough economic times. For more information, visit the corresponding article in Employee Benefit News, “Belt tightening: Downward business cycle may influence how employers invest in wellness.”

Overheard At: Election 2008 exclusive coverage

Hewitt Associates expert Frank McArdle talks with associate editor McLean Robbins about what issues will most concern employers in the 2008 election. He also offers exclusive debate analysis.

Tip of the Day

In this fragile economic state, retirement plan participants need all the help they can get to protect their assets. To help you help them, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans have joined forces to educate employers about retirement scams and how to prevent them from harming workers.

News You Can Use: Credit crunch could squeeze benefits

A new national survey by Grant Thornton LLP reveals that 55% of CFOs say they have seen credit costs increase, and 64% have found credit more difficult to come by than one year ago.

As a result, nearly one-quarter (23%) expect their employee rolls to decrease over the next six months, and 55% name benefits costs as their top concern.

While benefit managers can't control the financial crisis, and shrinking availability of credit as a result, you can stand and make the case to their CFOs that trimming benefits may do more harm than good. To help you effectively speak financial-ese, read current coverage in EBN.

Scone: HR/Benefits pros should beware getting too comfortable about succession planning

Even before the long-simmering financial crisis exploded two weeks ago, most research on the subject showed that baby boomers (all 78 million of 'em) largely were delaying retirement. They were doing so for multiple reasons: feeling they still had something to contribute to the workforce, wanting to stay active and of course, financial necessity.

As boomers have seen pensions and retiree health benefits dry up and their 401(k) savings take a beating in the stock market, even more employees in this demographic may put off retiring. In addition to creating a bottleneck in corporate advancement for hungry Gen X and Gen Y workers who are eager to move ahead in their organizations, the retirement delay seems to be lulling employers into a sense of security regarding succession planning.

New survey numbers from Novations Group reveal 36% of HR and training execs don’t expect an unusually large talent loss loss due to boomer retirements. Further, only about one-quarter (26%) are actively taking steps to plan for the talent loss, even though 18% say they expect the loss of talent and institutional knowledge to be "serious." One in five are clueless about how boomer retirements will affect their companies at all.

Yes, employers have bought themselves ($700 billion worth?) time in dealing with boomer retirement as the economy continues to slow and older workers need to maintain employment to keep health coverage and recoup lost 401(k) assets. However, succession planning is not an issue HR/benefit pros can ignore for long.

Because worst case scenario, when the economy recovers, boomers may begin to head for the exits, taking their knowledge with them. And those eager Gen Yers -- surely not known for exercising patience -- may be long gone.

As such, employers need to get busy on cementing their succession plans. For tips, read coverage in EBN, as well as its sister publication SMB Human Resources, which targets issues specific to small and mid-sized businesses.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Overheard At: Call for Commuter Benefits

Being stuck on a train gives a person lots of time to think. Recently, it got EBN Editor Kelley Butler thinking about the importance of commuter benefits. Hear her impassioned plea.

News You Can Use: More Americans choose not to retire

Data recently released by the U.S. division of Sun Life Financial reveals that almost half (48%) of the American workforce believes it will still be working at the traditional retirement age of 67, and four of the five top reasons given were not financial in nature.

Read more in today's issue of Employee Benefit News Canada inBrief.

Dispatch from Canada: Telecommuters embrace "cafe culture"

In this occasional series of dispatches from our Canadian editor Sheryl Smolkin, we explore areas of Canadian HR/Benefits information that would be of use to American readers.

Today's installment details how more and more Canadian teleworkers are making the home base a local coffee shop.

Read, "Café commuters blend coffee culture and telecommuting" here.

Tip of the Day

As a benefit manager, doing your part to support our nation's veterans may include helping them secure comprehensive health benefits. To learn more about what's available and legal for your veteran workforce, read the current EBN.

News You Can Use: IRS Guidances

IRS Issues Guidance on Cafeteria Plan Distributions to Reservists Called to Duty
This past week the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") issued guidance on implementing provisions of the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008 or "HEART," relating to health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) in cafeteria plans. See IRS Notice 2008-82. The HEART legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in late May and signed into law by President Bush in June. This legislation provides tax relief to members of the armed forces, particularly reservists who are called to active duty and those who are killed in the line of duty. See the June 20, 2008, edition of CAB eNEWS for a complete discussion of the HEART Act.

Thanks to SMART for the heads up.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Employees deserve needs-based selling, too

During a recent online discussion of strategies for successful worksite enrollments, it became clear that a broker/adviser will frequently conduct a needs-based sale with the company's C-suite or other benefits decisionmakers but not with individual workers.

Once the venue shifts to the worksite and individual enrollments, the focus switches to product attributes. The consensus coming out of our online discussion was that individual employees need the needs-based pitch as well. Talking product intricacies when the worker doesn't understand the big picture benefits of a critical illness program or other type of voluntary benefit is a recipe for poor participation, according to our experts.

Check out the archive of our recent discussion and let us know your thoughts in the comments section. Do your employees get a detailed explanation of how the benefits offered at the worksite meet their needs? Or, is the presentation more focused on coverage limits and other product attributes?

Overheard At: What's What in the October Issue

In this month for sweets and scares, EBN Editor Kelley Butler brings you the best of the October issue -- including the sweet story of a maternity program that yielded not only a 2:1 ROI but a set of healthy triplets, and they scary tale of employers skimming $58 billion in unpaid payroll taxes. These and much more in EBN October.

Tip of the Day

Don't assume Gen Yers that leave your company are lost forever. They may "boomerang" back, if your company culture is right.

News You Can Use: Retiree medical and ERISA updates

Proskauer Rose LLP has issued two recent client briefings about new legal developments.

Click the links for more information:

Friday, October 3, 2008

News You Can Use: Workers crave financial advice

Troubles in the nation's economy may mean more employers will start to offer a financial advice program as part of their work-life benefits, suggests a survey by Workplace Options, a provider of HR services.

Read more on our Web site.

Tip of the Day: Cost-Cutting measures for benefit plans

Want to know how to trim the fat from your benefit plan? Here are five easy suggestions.
  1. Implement a premium surcharge for smokers or a premium discount for non-smokers.
  2. Offer wellness screenings for employees, employer-subsidized gym memberships or premium discounts or incentives for participation in wellness programs (e.g., weight loss, blood pressure/cholesterol lowering, etc.).
  3. Review vendor fee and service provider fee arrangements (e.g., HMO, claims administration, COBRA and FMLA administration, etc.), including actuarial, investment management and plan administration; and re­bid for vendors if necessary.
  4. Freeze traditional defined benefit plan, and, going forward, offer a 401(k) plan with employer contributions.
  5. Audit your retirement plans for operational compliance (voluntary correction of operational failures is less expensive than correction after discovery by the IRS).
Many thanks to Robert Flanagan, employee benefits and executive compensation partner at Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, for today's tip.

News You Can Use: IRS modifies 409A

The IRS recently issued a ruling to modify and amplify Revenue Procedure 2008-3, 2008-1 I.R.B. 110, regarding which rulings and determination letters will not be issued concerning tax consequences of arrangements in Section 409A.

News You Can Use: Market chaos may affect women's retirement outlook

Women may have to rethink their retirement savings strategies due to the shake up in the U.S. banking system and its affect on the stock market, reports the Web site Women's

While women's participation in retirement plans has risen considerably relative to men in recent years, they traditionally have been conservative investors. Their accounts are smaller, compared to men's. Consequently, a sudden and huge loss to the account is a major setback in building an adequate retirement nest egg, according to the online magazine. Data on 2007 balances in defined contribution plans shows that women on average hold $19,749 in their accounts, while the mean for men is $32,391.

Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, told Women's that recent financial crisis will cause many women to reevaluate their retirement plans and strategies. Some women may have to work longer than they had expected to recoup their losses in the stock market, she added.

Related EBN coverage:

News You Can't Use: Get political ... or not.

Unless you're in DC like we are, it's probably bad form to talk politics at work. But a new survey by Accountemps says that 53% of workers feel as if the level of office politics has increased compared to five years ago. Only 12% reported a decline.

According to 54% of respondents, it's wise to be aware of what's going on without getting involved. Mmmm hmmm ... we really believe that.

But what we do enjoy are the five types of "common political players" and Accountemps' suggestiosn for how best to interact.

  • The Pundit. This person loves to talk office politics and rarely tires of speculating about what's really happening. While the Pundit may provide useful insights on occasion, it's best not to share too much information with this individual, as it could fuel the rumor mill.

  • The Lobbyist. The Lobbyist is a strong advocate for his or her projects and is adept at gaining buy-in for ideas. While some Lobbyists are effective at building cross-departmental support, others may be unreceptive to outside points of view. When interacting with this person, be aware of the agenda being pushed, and be willing to stand up for your ideas.

  • The Covert Operator. The Covert Operator often uses manipulation rather than hard work to get ahead. While this type of person can be charming, keep your guard up when dealing with anyone who criticizes a coworker or takes credit for other people's projects.

  • The Activist. This professional likes to facilitate change within an organization and is quick to take on causes, even those that don't necessarily advance the company's big-picture goals. While the Activist can be a valuable advocate, carefully evaluate the merit of the issues when asked for support.

  • The Advisor. This person often is closely aligned with a company's leadership and serves as their "eyes and ears." For example, the Advisor could be a senior aide or an executive assistant. Because the Advisor wields significant behind-the-scenes influence, develop a good rapport with him or her.

New you can use: Health care quality varies widely by region

While it’s kind of a “no duh” headline, it is also important to remember. The National Committee for Quality Assurance’s new report shows that New England plans perform better than the average and that South Central plans fall short of the average. What’s more the group notes that HMOs generally score better than PPOs. PPOs trail HMOs significantly in several areas, according to the report, like follow-up after hospitalization for mental illness and persistent beta-blocker treatment after a heart attack.

NCQA urges that any health reform proposal include the following to further reduce disparities in care quality by geography:

-Require routine quality measurement and reporting by all health plans and providers.
-Establish benchmarks for improvement in each region of the country.
-Enact reforms that tie payment to the quality of care delivered.

Cost is also known to vary widely by region. That’s caused some to consider medical tourism. At our recent national conference, I was reminded that doesn't have to mean India as Northeastern residents could fly first class across the country to receive comparable care at a much lower cost. So what are you doing to take advantage of quality and cost disparities to serve your employees and improve your bottom line?

News You Can Use: Think long-term when saving for retirement

Most people who have self-directed [retirement] plans need to look at the long term, says Jan Grude, president and executive managing director at Buck Consultants. He speaks about how to educate employees about long term savings.

Read more on Employee Benefit

Thursday, October 2, 2008

News You Can Use: Diversity programs expanding

Diversity strategies are a hot topic, states new research from the Institute for Corporate Productivity. Nearly three quarters of organizations plan to expand their diversity programs, and nearly half already have a diversity strategy in place. For large companies (over 10,000 workers) that number dips to only 11% without a strategy already in place.

“Diversity programs have gone from nice-to-have to must-have for most firms,” said Jay Jamrog, i4cp senior vice president of research. “Strong diversity strategies help in the attraction and retention of top talent as well as customer relations, and companies not paying attention to that are missing the boat.”

News You Can Use: Congress holds hearing to mandate employers maintain retiree benefits

If your company offers retiree health benefits, listen up.

Congress' House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing last week in an attempt to preserve retiree health benefits.

H.R. 1322 would disallow profitable employers from canceling or reducing previously promised retiree health benefits.

Tip of the Day: Eco-Friendly HR

Companies across the U.S. are going green, and that doesn't mean that the HR department needs to be an exception. Consulting firm CheckPoint HR says that the human resources department can easily shape up their eco-awareness with these five simple tips.
  • Sign up for direct deposit and eliminate the printed pay stub and payroll reports.
  • Enroll in an online training course and eliminate lengthy training guides. Online classes also provide flexibility to engage classes at the convenience of the employee.
  • HR executives can provide employees the capability to view and update information electronically such as personal data, licenses and certifications, benefits changes and PTO, eliminating the paper trail.
  • Employers can use a Web-based platform to alert employees of updated corporate policies, vacation schedules, new hires, birthdays and more.
  • Upload all company specific documents, including your company handbook, W4 form, 1-9, and any internal documents for effortless employee accessibility.

News You Can Use: More tips for talking about the financial chaos with workers

Here are some more tips on what to cover when talking about the financial crisis with employees courtesy of Lynn Unsworth and CAI, a Greensboro, N.C.-based employer services group.

1) Don’t give employees financial advice.
2) Educate employees on their options.
3) Bring in investment advisors to meet with employees.
4) Help employees avoid looking at their 401(k) performance every day.
5) Release a benefits statement to all your employees.
6) Reassure employees that their money is safeguarded.

Listen to our conversation with Unsworth to hear her elaborate on each of these suggestions.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

News You Can Use: Open Enrollment Trends

We know that one of two things are probably on your mind at all times (three, if you live in DC like we do) .... open enrollment, the economy and the election.

But since you're likely too busy to see the forest for the trees, we're continually blogging during your busiest times, bringing you short news bites to be easily digested on coffee breaks.

Today, check out what Watson Wyatt predicts will be the hottest trends in Open Enrollment for 2009:

  • Increased emphasis on improving personal health.
  • Value-based prescription drug benefits and a shift to co-insurance.
  • Greater access to onsite clinics, retail clinics and health coaches.
  • Health savings accounts linked to high-deductible health plans.
  • Full coverage or low copayments for preventive screenings and tests.
  • Greater use of new media to communicate benefit information.
  • Spousal surcharges.

Don't miss our NOVEMBER feature on improving your benefit communication know-how.

Tip of the Day

To win at "Survivor: Renewal Season," the ladies from EBN's "Both Sides of the Desk" column offer their advice to help benefit managers outwit, outlast and outplay.

Scone: What about my money?

No matter your opinion on who’s to blame for the current financial crisis, the pending bailout legislation and which of the two presidential candidates can best lead us out of this economic turmoil, there is one issue I believe we all can agree on: We need to protect our retirement savings.

Your employees may have started asking you about the safety of their 401(k) assets, and if they haven’t, they likely soon will. I know that was my first consideration after the rollercoaster that has been the last week. No matter who got what in the bailout deal for Wall St., I wanted to know: What about my money?

I don’t even have a great deal of retirement savings accumulated in my 401(k), and I’m more than 30 years away from retirement. But knowing how important those assets will be to my financial future, my interest in the current stock market crisis was protecting my nest egg.

Your employees are no different, and they need to hear from you – right now – on how to take the appropriate steps to secure their retirement in terms of the new financial reality we’re faced with.

Now, I know the last thing employers want to do is tell someone how to manage their money -- for legal reasons, of course, as well as the fact that benefit managers may have the exact same questions as the people looking to them for guidance.

So, I encourage you to seek the counsel of your company’s 401(k) provider. Tell them it is paramount that they distribute new communications that address plan participants’ concerns, and make financial advisors available – ideally in person – to listen and answer questions.

If you can’t do that, at the very least view and distribute to employees this article and video from ABC News, anchored by the network’s personal finance expert Mellody Hobson. In addition to being contagiously upbeat and calming, Hobson lays out in plain English five key tips 401(k) participants “must know” about their accounts and how to manage them through this crisis. She also wrote a related piece on how people should handle their investments in general. They are both outstanding.

This is a delicate moment in our nation’s financial history. We all know that nationally, about 80% of eligible workers contribute to a 401(k), and those that do generally don’t contribute enough. Less than a majority of small businesses, although they employ a majority of the nation’s workforce, offer a retirement plan at all. And now, workers that do contribute are facing significant losses. Although these are difficult, and somewhat scary, economic times we find ourselves in, we cannot slide further behind in terms of retirement readiness. I urge you to do your part.

While history likely won’t note whether or not executives at the currently troubled firms received enormous golden parachutes, it will judge whether ordinary Americans were allowed to crash to the ground, armed without even the basic parachute of sound advice and guidance.

News You Can Use: Information on the financial crisis

Unless you're living under a rock, you know that Washington and the economy are top on everyone's minds. Employers like yourselves are likely wondering what to tell your employees about the health and safety of their jobs, let alone their 401(k)s and 403(b)s.

Editor-in-Chief Kelley Butler promises to issue a must-read Scone posting on that subject later today. But before you read about what to do, you need to get up-to-date.

So check out these must-see updates from this morning's newscasts.
  • The Senate votes on a bailout plan tonight. See this morning's Today Show coverage live from Washington.
  • The New York Times talks about the bailout. (Updated regularly).
  • What small businesses are doing with the credit crunch, via The Washington Post.
  • Even if it's bad news, you still want to know what the markets are doing. Check it out here, via the NYT stock info page.
  • Want the best and most up-to-date banking news? Our sister publication, American Banker gets the scoop before all other major news outlets.
  • Senator Dodd talks bailouts, via
  • Interactive map showing how the US economic crisis is affecting the global economy, via MSNBC.