Top 5 veteran-friendly benefits

With incredible experience and valuable skills, veteran employees are becoming an increasingly important and growing part of the American workforce. In fact, according to the American Council on Education, an additional 1.5 million U.S. veterans will be transitioning to the civilian workforce over the next three to five years, representing a 30% increase over the normal rate.

While it’s encouraging that more businesses are investing in recruiting and hiring ex-service members, it’s important that they initiate veteran-specific retention and engagement efforts. Through a combination of veteran-friendly benefits and workplace initiatives, benefits managers are perfectly positioned to foster a strong, supportive work experience for vets.

Bloomberg/file photo

What, specifically, should employers be focused on?

Here are the top five veteran-friendly benefits:

1. Emotional wellness
Through your employee assistance program, make sure there are dedicated resources for veteran employees. Offering confidential assistance with emotional, behavioral and mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide prevention, substance abuse and addiction will support veterans in adjusting to civilian life and succeeding at the workplace.

2. Personalized financial consultation
For service members and their families, financial issues are often a top concern. Providing a complimentary resource for personalized financial coaching on money management, dealing with debt, and retirement planning can help veteran employees and their families address specific financial challenges and build a more secure financial future.

3. Career advancement opportunities
Explore reskilling, training and educational programs suited to each employees’ strengths, background and interests, and support veteran employees in pursuing opportunities that match career goals. For advanced education, look into local resources that can provide consultation on understanding and utilizing GI Bill benefits or Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) available.

4. Comprehensive life management referrals
There is no questioning the amount of community-based resources available to veterans, but wading through the vast and diverse range of resources available can be a daunting and overwhelming task. Through an employee assistance program with integrated work-life referrals, dedicated specialists can do all the research and legwork in finding veteran-specific community resources based on employees’ specific needs.

5. Management training and consultation
Training supervisors and managers on veteran-specific issues in the workplace is imperative to providing the best possible resources for service members and their families. Training can cover a variety of issues, from hiring and recruiting veterans, to communication best practices and leadership development. It’s also important for management to be aware of veteran-specific support resources available to employees, and how to refer employees to those program services.

One final tip for providing a veteran-friendly work environment is honoring veteran employees and military families throughout the year. Find creative ways to make veteran employee recognition part of the company culture. Highlight employees’ service on social media, organize community service activities to give back and encourage the workforce to give genuine and sincere acknowledgement and appreciation to veteran coworkers.

  • May 26 2017, 12:41pm EDT

Erin Krehbiel

Krehbiel is president of ACI Specialty Benefits.

Top 4 perks with purpose

From ping pong tables to nap pods, surf breaks to unlimited vacation, it seems every day a new story comes out about a company that provides trendy perks and unique benefits. When some of these same companies, such as Google and Zappos, regularly make it to the top of “Best Place to Work” lists, it can appear that these sorts of popular perks are what matter most to employees.

But is that really the case? At a time when employee stress and burnout are costing employers billions of dollars in absenteeism, low engagement and turnover, is foosball really the answer?

Bloomberg/file photo

Companies generally invest in perks as a way to recruit and retain talent, lower stress and keep employees energized and engaged. The perks that provide the best pay-off for this investment are the ones that address the very real needs of today’s workforce. Fortunately, there are many examples of employee perks that serve a genuine purpose, and make a meaningful impact in employees’ well-being, livelihood and quality of life. Here are four examples of perks with purpose:

1. The gift of time
After spending all day at work, who wants to spend their evenings and weekends doing chores and running errands? For the many dual-income, single parent, and busy families, most personal time is spent scattered, cramming in a long list of to-do items and trying to keep up with overwhelming and constantly demanding life responsibilities.

As a result, more and more companies are investing in concierge and errand running perks to help employees take care of personal tasks, simplify chores and give employees back valuable time. More than just a trendy perk, concierge programs and errand running services give people the priceless gift of time, to be fully present with family and friends, or to pursue personal passions, hobbies and favorite activities.

2. All-inclusive caregiving and family support
Today’s families are more diverse than ever before and all-inclusive caretaking to assist employees in a variety of roles, at a range of life’s touch points, can go a long way toward promoting equity and goodwill at the workplace.

Companies have a wide assortment of ways to meet employees’ needs in these areas, from inclusive parental leave policies — not just for biological mothers but for fathers and adoptive parents — to back-up dependent care to college planning and elder care resource and referral services. A strong employee assistance program with comprehensive life management referrals also offers employees 24/7 access to referrals for all caretaking needs and services.

3. Financial freedom
As many employees, of all ages, face a series of tough financial challenges including mounting student loan debt, increasing college tuition costs, unaffordable housing, rising healthcare costs and uncertain retirement, companies can support employees with financial wellness, education, programs and tools to help individuals and families reach specific goals and create a path to financial freedom.

Many companies have found ways to make a big difference in employees’ financial lives with relatively little investment. Programs like tuition assistance, financial wellness counseling, student loan refinancing (or repayment), legal counseling and employer-assisted mortgages are highly valued and can be great tools for recruitment and retention. Another way to put a little extra in employees’ pockets is through programs that provide discounts on goods and services.

4. The joy of giving back
Today’s employees care deeply about contributing to their communities and the causes that matter to them. Companies can build loyalty and positive morale by matching charitable giving, offering paid time off for volunteering, and organizing on-site fundraising campaigns or events. Many companies get employees involved in choosing targets for corporate philanthropy, or promote group volunteer activities as a form of team-building. Others give employees a chance to use their job skills for pro bono work in the community.

As the demand for talented and skilled employees continues to grow, and the workforce becomes increasingly diverse, companies need to offer the kinds of perks that provide the greatest value. In the end, while trendy perks might get a lot of attention, programs that make a real difference in employees’ lives are what really make a great place to work.

 Ann D. Clark

Ann D. Clark

Clark, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of ACI Specialty Benefits, an employee assistance program and provider of work-life, concierge and student assistance program benefits and perks for customers worldwide.

Pet-friendly policies are an office morale booster

While animal-loving employees appreciate policies that permit pets in the workplace, they actually prefer pet-related paid time off and bereavement leave, notes a survey 1,000 employees and 200 HR decision-makers conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital.

The Pet-Friendly Workplace PAWrometer findings also noted improvements reported in five key areas as a result of implementing pet-friendly policies. They included higher morale (93%), lower stress (93%), better work-life balance (91%), increased company loyalty (91%) and reduced guilt among pet owners about leaving their pets at home (91%).

The past two years of this annual research suggest that “employers are becoming more receptive to the idea of implementing pet-friendly policies at work due to the increasing interest from employees and the positive impacts associated with these policies,” says Stephanie Neuvirth, SVP of people and organization at Banfield Pet Hospital, the world’s largest general-veterinary practice, which was bought earlier in the year by Mars, Inc. “We believe pet-related benefits will continue to rise in popularity among desired workplace benefits.”

Bloomberg/file photo

She says HR professionals and their advisers should be aware that pet-friendly policies positively impact everything from recruiting and hiring to well-being, productivity and retention —particularly among millennials.

For example, Neuvirth says the data suggest they’re more likely to influence a millennial’s job search (42%) than older adults (23%). In addition, she notes that millennials are far more likely to continue employment at a company that implements pet-friendly policies (60%) than their elders (39%).

Potential downsides

A pet-friendly workplace helps build a sense of connectedness with teammates, but there are potential downsides to consider, explains Paul White, a licensed psychologist, consultant and author of “The Vibrant Workplace.”

Since many people want co-workers to know about other parts of their life, including hobbies, he believes “it makes sense that they would like others to know about the pets they have. And I think it’s reasonable to have openness to bringing your pet in to introduce to your colleagues.”

However, White says employees who don’t have pets might feel pet owners have an unfair advantage. Another issue he raises is that allowing pets at work presents “logistical hassles” day in and day out that create a “diminishing return” on any investment made in fostering this environment.

Still, researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Human-Animal Interaction noted the benefits of having such a policy. Employees of a manufacturing services company who were permitted to bring their dogs to work were less stressed, while many pet-free co-workers noticed a positive impact on their productivity as well.

White sees value in other pet-related benefits. “My office administrator had gotten a young dog that she loved, and it had a major medical issue,” he explains. “We worked with her to be able to take time off to be with her pet during the procedure and see the dog either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and people would cover for her. That was meaningful because it was an important part of her life and she was deeply appreciative of it.”

One way that employers can promote this flexibility, he suggests, is if they consider as an alternative use of family and medical leave that extends paid or unpaid leaves of absence to caring for or being with a pet in lieu of a person.

“We value choice and the opportunity to choose,” White explains, “and we resent it when we are essentially commanded to do something and don’t have a choice.”

  • May 23 2017, 4:18pm EDT

Employers struggling to keep up with changing compliance issues

Between efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act to a hodgepodge of federal, state and local laws, most employers are preparing for big changes that will influence their benefits policies going forward.

That’s according to an annual survey from law firm Littler Mendelson, which found that the shifting, fragmented patchwork of state and local labor and employment requirements has created some compliance challenges for the majority of employers.

As a result, companies are taking action to keep up, including updating policies, handbooks and HR procedures (85%); providing additional employee training (54%); and conducting internal audits (50%).

[Image credit: Bloomberg]

[Image credit: Bloomberg]

Of the array of changes at the state and local levels, employers say they have been most impacted by paid leave mandates (59%), background check restrictions (48%) and minimum wage increases (47%), according to Littler Mendelson.

“As states and municipalities continue to propose and enact a dizzying array of rules and regulations, it’s no wonder employers are struggling with the increasingly fragmented landscape,” says Michael Lotito, co-chairman of Littler’s Workplace Policy Institute. “With the Trump administration working to reduce federal regulations, employers can expect a growing patchwork of employment regulations as states and municipalities look to fill a perceived void at the federal level.”

Meanwhile, 89% of employers expect the Trump administration to prioritize reforming healthcare and employee benefits law, as well as immigration policies (85%) throughout 2017.

For most regulatory issues, the percentage of respondents who anticipate an impact on their workplace over the next year remains relatively unchanged from last year’s survey, including:

· The Affordable Care Act (85% in 2016 to 83% in 2017)
· Enforcement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (78% to 76%)
· Enforcement by the National Labor Relations Board (56% to 55%)
· Enforcement by the Department of Labor (82% to 81%).

“With the profound changes in Washington, D.C., it may be initially surprising that respondents do not anticipate more of a near-term impact on their businesses,” Lotito says. “However, given the general climate of uncertainty and delays in appointments to government agencies, employers likely expect it to take time before they start to see how the president’s agenda is carried out and personally feel an impact in their workplaces.”

Immigration reform was the exception as 63% said they expect an impact in 2017, up from 40% in 2016.

Although the survey was conducted before Republicans withdrew the American Health Care Act in late March, the law firm says employers were already feeling a great deal of uncertainty regarding the impact of repealing the ACA’s employer mandate. More than a quarter of employers indicated that they did not anticipate an impact at all, according the survey, and another 27% said they did not know what the impact would be.

As Republicans continue to work to pass a healthcare bill, Littler Mendelson notes, the administration might also take steps to weaken the employer mandate through the administrative process. For instance, President Trump’s Executive Order 13765 was intended to scale back aspects of the ACA that may fiscally burden states, individuals, healthcare providers and insurers, among others.

“Employers face even more questions about the future of the ACA, as well as the extent to which the administrative process can and will be used to change aspects of the law, than when they responded to our survey,” adds Ilyse Schuman co-chair of Littler’s Workplace Policy Institute. “In this environment, employers can continue to expect a certain level of uncertainty surrounding employer-sponsored health coverage in the months ahead.”

Technology headaches

It isn’t just regulatory compliance that employers anticipate future concerns about. As the big-data revolution sweeps through every corner of industry, many employers are coming to the realization that while they may possess large amounts of data, extracting insights that inform and improve decision making requires significant investment.

Although some respondents expressed concern with the legal risks in violating discrimination laws and employee privacy, as the use of big data continues to grow, employers are becoming increasingly comfortable with utilizing data analytics in workforce management in a way that complies with relevant laws.

Data breaches that stem from employees is a concern to 63% of respondents, and has sparked HR and IT departments to work on new security policies. Additionally, more than half said new employees are receiving new training and some (29%) say they are using “cyber-incident response plans and updating employee contracts to cover confidentiality obligations (23%).

Still, Littler Mendelson notes, it’s critical that employers ensure compliance with the myriad of laws that govern workplace data analytics to avoid the risk of costly litigation. Employers can also limit their risk and gain the protection of attorney-client privilege by working with outside law firms that have the substantive expertise and technological capabilities to provide data analytics services.

  • May 18 2017, 1:03pm EDT

How employers can protect workers from identity theft

We’ve all heard of identity theft but rarely connect the victim’s experience with the toll it can take on the workplace.

Identity theft has a big effect on employee productivity. Employees are not only impacted financially, but they also experience considerable distraction and emotional stress which leads to less time focused on work. It can take anywhere from 33 to more than 600 hours to restore an identity. And a lot of this must be done during business hours.

This means when a person has their identity stolen, there’s another innocent victim: the employer. For these reasons, it’s critical in today’s digitized world to protect the personal identities of employees through benefit programs, vigilance, training and continual education.

Identity theft is on the rise. Last year alone, $16 billion was stolen from more than 15 million U.S. consumers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One reason for the rise in identity theft is due to the fact that we are living in a society and business environment that is increasingly connected. Today, we have mobile devices, laptops and even smart home devices that contain a wealth of personal information. Additionally, the prevalence of mobile devices both in the workplace and in our personal live means personal data is everywhere.

The result? Now more than ever, there’s an increased likelihood of identity theft affecting an employee, and in turn, the employer. That’s why HR and benefits managers need to focus on protecting employees (and their firm) with a number of steps.

Explore paid or voluntary benefits. First, nothing can prevent identity theft; it’s about protection and continuous monitoring. Identity theft protection services can be added as a paid or voluntary benefit, in order to show that the company is proactively working to protect employees’ personal information both within and outside the four walls of the office.

Steven Bearak

Steven Bearak

Steven Bearak is the CEO of IdentityForce, a provider of proactive identity, privacy, and credit protection.