Tag: Blog

  • Don’t Leave Your FSA Money on the Table this Year!

    October 15, 2019

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    As 2019 is nearing an end, many people are looking at this year’s medical expenses to plan for how much they should set back for next year. In investigating these expenditures, you may notice that you still have money in your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for 2019. FSAs are unique in that any unused money from this plan year is forfeited once the new year begins. You definitely do not want to leave money in your FSA once 2020 rolls around. To help, we’ve compiled a list of some ways to use up your hard-earned FSA money that you may not have thought possible!

    • Acupuncture
    • Acne treatment
    • Breast pump and supplies
    • Chiropractic treatments
    • Dental treatments—orthodontia, medically necessary water fluoride treatments, caps, fillings, x-rays
    • Eyes—glasses, surgery, contact lenses
    • First aid kit
    • Genetic testing—including BRCA gene testing
    • Motion sickness medicine
    • Nutritionist consultations
    • Sunscreen
    • Smoking cessation program
    • Vaporizer
    • Vasectomy
    • Weight loss programs/surgery

    There are even some high-tech gadgets that may fall into the medically qualified expenses category:

    • Acne light therapy
    • Electronic stimulation instruments for pain
    • Medically necessary mattresses
    • Smart thermometers

    Don’t leave your FSA money on the table in 2019! You have earned this money so make sure you use it to its full potential.

    This list is not an exhaustive list of ways to spend your FSA money nor does it guarantee your insurance program considers these to be qualified expenses. Check with your HR department and insurance agent if you have questions about qualified expenses.

     

  • AI in HR | California Employee Benefits Team

    October 2, 2019

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    Artificial intelligence is pushing humans and machines closer together.  It’s exciting!  AI’s influences are being felt across the HR space… being used to automate business processes, enhance efficiency, and reduce bias among other things.  In fact, McKinsey’s latest forecast of AI’s impact on the global economy is that it will generate $13 trillion in economic activity across the globe by 2030.

    But, there is room for improvement, and top executives want it yesterday.  A recent survey from PricewaterhouseCooper found 72% of executives believe AI will offer sizable business advantages in the near future.  In another survey from IBM, 66% of CEOs believe AI can drive significant value in HR.  Some are already exploring those opportunities.  Uber, for instance, completed the world’s first cargo shipment using a truck controlled by AI!

    State of AI in HR

    AI as a Tool

    The inclusion of artificial intelligence in the HR professional’s toolbox is not surprising.  When looking for answers, look no further than the iPhone, for instance, or the black, cylindrical Echo tower sitting on the counter.  Whether its Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Echo, people are using artificial intelligence at home in their day-to-day lives.  It makes sense, then, that AI has made it into the workplace.

    In most professional settings, AI is not required to do mundane tasks like answer questions about the weather or turn on the lights.  Instead, AI is asked to do much more.

    Reducing Human Bias

    Humans are inherently bias.  Even when striving for inclusiveness, HR professionals may subconsciously lean toward a particular candidate… for instance, someone who is more like the recruiter.  Another potential bias, language bias; people’s subconscious word associations could indicate a particular preference.

    Now, thanks to AI, algorithms can be designed to help employers identify and remove these biases.  That potentially translates to better hiring communications and attracting a more diverse group of candidates.  Those same algorithms can also find candidates who may have been screened out due to human bias.  To put it in context, AI allows managers to go beyond gut feelings and rely on data-driving assessments.

    AI Automation

    AI is being used in HR to automate repetitive, low-value tasks thus increasing the focus on more strategic work.  AI tools automate common HR tasks like benefits management or handling common questions or requests.

    Recruiting through AI

    Custom experiences are expected by applicants.  These are tailored to unique needs as they apply for a new job, choose the right benefits or explore development opportunities.

    Companies have implemented “AI recruiters” to automate scheduling interviews, provide ongoing feedback to candidates and answer their questions in real time.  This allows human recruiters to spend more time converting candidates to hires.

    Retention

    Some companies are using AI platforms to single out employees that may be heading for the exit door.  Those platforms track employee computer activity, emails, keystrokes, internet browsing and so on and store it.  Then AI analyzes the data to determine a baseline of normal activity patterns in the organization. Based on that knowledge, outliers are flagged and reported to the employer.  AI is also being used to detect changes in the overall tone of employees’ communications to predict when employees might be thinking of leaving.

    AI Makes HR More Human

    At some point in the career of an HR professional the question is asked:  how can human resources become more human?  At least one company believes it has the answer.  Best Buy Canada says it’s to add more machines.  Chris Taylor is the chief human resources officer for Best Buy Canada.  He has gone on record saying the embracing of artificial intelligence and machine learning applications in human capital management is a “mandatory investment in the future.”

    So, why add more machines to make HR more human?

    The automation of tasks through AI technology allows for the freeing of HR professionals to focus on uniquely human abilities such as critical thinking, creativity, and empathy.  While they are involved with the more human tasks, technology, at the moment, can handle the more mundane tasks.

    All of that said, in a lot of ways artificial intelligence is still growing and learning itself.

    What does that statement mean? AI is able to search a query based on the words you are using and give you a response, but that response isn’t contextual.

    AI is heading in that direction though.

    Instead of writing responses specifically to specific inputs… you just have a huge database of language around a specific knowledge domain and the AI can go into that knowledge domain and answer the questions from the user.

    HR professionals interested in pursuing AI want it to do much more than answer questions and rummage through applications. They want to use it as a learning platform.

    But it’s not there yet.

    AI can teach itself to do something, but it’s not at the stage it can replace humans beings as the “drivers of education.” In the future, it may be used that way, but it would require a lot of adaptability.

    Taylor says Best Buy Canada is embracing as much technology as they can get their hands on.  For instance, the company has started investing in cloud-based solution that uses artificial intelligence, voice technology and machine learning.  All of these technologies, Best Buy Canada hopes, will better the employee experience.

    Conclusion

    As much as the HR technology landscape continues to be disrupted by AI, HR teams must find ways to balance these advancements with transparency.  It is essential in making sure the implementation of AI technology is successful.  At the end of the day, artificial intelligence is not the end-all-be-all answer to every quandary HR finds itself in.  It is a tool and nothing more.  A tool that can improperly function based on the data it is given in order to work effectively.  Even so, artificial intelligence can be a valuable resource.  Work to embrace it now because it’s likely you’ll be expected to use it in the future.

    By Mason Stevenson

    Originally posted on hrexchangenetwork.com

  • How to Implement an Employee Training Program | California Employee Benefits

    September 18, 2019

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    Employee training programs are beneficial to organizations of varying sizes. Even small companies can improve customer service skills. Large organizations often need training programs specifically targeted to employee development and changing technologies. The Society for Human Resource Management says that offering training programs to employees helps the employee feel more engaged and committed to the organization. Implement an employee training program in your organization to improve job morale and teach new skills.

    Step 1

    Analyze your organizational needs. Interview managers and supervisors and identify employee performance areas that need strengthening. Review employee performance appraisals to locate common performance problems. Call the human resources department of similarly sized and focused organizations and ask what training programs have been valuable to them.

    Step 2

    Present your research findings to the committee or the company’s leadership team. Prepare a detailed presentation and be prepared to answer questions. Outline the benefits of each proposed program, anticipated costs and time requirements. Demonstrate the need for each program by preparing detailed analysis of problem areas and possible solutions. Ask for input, suggestions and changes.

    Step 3

    Finalize your plan and determine your budget for the next fiscal year. Request funds using your company’s budgeting process. When calculating your employee training budget, include materials, travel, speaker fees, computer access charges and food in the budgeted amount. Ask for funds before the fiscal year begins rather than requesting unbudgeted money during the fiscal year.

    Step 4

    Take the total budget and allocate the funds by department, per employee or per training program, recommends the American Society for Training and Development. Consider the benefits you expect from each training program and decide if the cost of the program will give you the desired results. Decide if training programs will be required or optional.

    Step 5

    List the training classes you will offer over the next year. Divide the classes by type and employee attendance. Prepare a schedule and publish it on your company’s intranet. If possible, allow employees to sign up electronically to save valuable personnel time. Be sensitive to departmental schedules and work flow.

    Step 6

    Contract with outside firms or select and internal trainer to provide training. Call the potential trainer’s references and verify that his materials and presentation style fit your needs. Ask him to give you samples of his work, a quote of his complete fees and a list of any needed equipment. Outsourcing training can save money when you consider the administrative and program costs.

    Select an internal trainer for training programs you will handle. Ask an employee with expertise in the field to teach a class or utilize member of your company’s human resources department. Set clear expectations of class content and have a feedback system in place. Consider extra compensation if training is not part of the employee’s job description.

    Step 7

    Evaluate the success of each program immediately after the program’s completion. Ask the participants to fill out prepared evaluation forms. Analyze the comments to plan for further training. Follow-up with supervisors during the year to gauge the continued effectiveness of the training programs.

     

    by Diane Lynn
    Originally posted on Livestrong.com

  • Volunteering Time Off, Part Two

    September 9, 2019

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    Right now our national unemployment rate is 3.7%–edging towards a 50-year low. With this low rate, companies are actually finding it increasingly harder to hire and retain great talent. One way to combat this issue is by increasing employee engagement through volunteering.

     

    In survey after survey, employees state that they want to work for companies who care for others.  In fact, “71% of employees surveyed say it’s very important to work where culture supports volunteering,” according to America’s Charities Snapshot. There are different types of volunteer options when looking to begin a volunteer program at a company. For example, entire companies can come together for a big “Day of Service” event.  Or perhaps there is an ongoing need in the community, like Meals on Wheels, and employees sign up to help when needed by the charity. Offering pro bono services to non-profit community groups or donating skills for specific projects are other ways to assist charities in your area.

     

    The issue of time worked and pay typically comes up when talking about employer sponsored/encouraged volunteering. There are a couple different ways that companies structure this. One way is to simply pay employees for their usual time at the workplace even though they are not actually working on company business at the time of the volunteer project. This is typical of big “Day of Service” campaigns during the workweek. Another way is to encourage employees to donate their break or lunch time to complete volunteer service projects. Finally, and this is the emerging trend in employee benefits, is to give each employee Volunteer Time Off (VTO) hours as part of their benefits package.

     

    The benefits of VTO are numerous. One of the biggest values of VTO is that of employee recruitment and retention.  PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a survey and the results were that “59% of Millennials gravitated towards companies with pronounced Corporate Social Responsibility programs.”  For retention, the value is even higher, “74% of employees say their job is more fulfilling when given the opportunity to make a positive impact at work.” Companies also see a benefit in camaraderie across departments and company hierarchy. Working together towards a common goal builds these interdepartmental relationships. Also, by playing towards strengths unseen in a regular office setting, employers have a chance to discover untapped leadership skills and completely unknown skill sets of employees. Finally, your company’s brand image is boosted by the view of its involvement in the community.

     

    Whatever the benefit that your company assigns to a healthy VTO program, be it retention, image, or team building, the fact remains that there WILL BE a benefit. If you are looking to begin the search for the right fitting program, there are great resources available for you. Check out this quick read on Charities.org and also the great tips on SalesForce.com. Start the conversation today with your leadership and start making an impact in your community!

  • Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room

    September 5, 2019

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    Let’s say you are getting ready to make your favorite breakfast—avocado toast. You’ve toasted the bread, cut the avocado in half, and are ready to remove the dreaded pit. Of course, your knife slips and you end up slicing your hand—making you the latest victim of “avocado hand.” It seems you cannot stop the bleeding with a simple bandage so now you need to make the decision on where to go to seek help. Do you choose an urgent care facility or the emergency room? What’s the difference?

    Urgent care centers and emergency rooms are both great options for times when you are unable to see your primary care physician (PCP). The reasons for choosing these facilities can be because the injury or sickness has occurred outside normal office hours for your doctor or that you are out of town when an emergency hits. As you know, the first choice for non-life or limb-threatening conditions should be your regular doctor—they will have your medical history on file and your medication list at the ready. When this is not an option, you will need to make the choice on what level of care you need.

     

    Urgent Care Centers

    Urgent care centers fill the gap between when you are sick or minorly injured but cannot see your PCP and when you are in need of hospital emergency care. Most urgent care locations are staffed by doctors or physician’s assistants. These centers can get you in and out quickly and some even take appointments. Since you will not see your PCP at these clinics, it’s always best to bring a copy of all the medications and dosages of meds you take. If you have a special condition, like epilepsy, make sure you disclose that to the urgent care provider you see. In the case of your avocado hand, your urgent care physician may be able to do minor stitches and bandaging at the facility. Most have access to x-ray machines and basic diagnostic tests. The typical range of costs for care at these centers is between $50-$150.

    Here are some conditions that typically can be seen at urgent care centers:

    • Fevers, flu or cold symptoms
    • Ear infections
    • Bronchitis
    • Cuts and bleeding that may require stitches
    • Urinary tract infections
    • Vomiting or diarrhea
    • Minor back pain

     

    Emergency Room Care

    Hospital emergency rooms provide care for life and limb-threatening situations ranging from heart attack and stroke to car accident injuries. Staffed by physicians, nurses, and specialists, emergency rooms have access to highly knowledgeable and diverse medical teams.  In emergency rooms, care is given to the most serious injury/illness first—not on a first-come, first-served basis. Because of this, wait times in emergency rooms are widely varied and may be into a several hours-long wait. Again, it is wise to bring a list of any medications, both prescribed and over-the-counter, with you when seeking care since the ER will not have this information from your PCP. Costs for emergency services can be anywhere from $50 to more than $10,000 depending on the severity of the injury or illness.

    Symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room include:

    • Chest pain or difficulty breathing
    • Weakness/numbness on one side
    • Slurred speech
    • Fainting/change in mental state
    • Serious burns
    • Head or eye injury
    • Concussion/confusion
    • Broken bones and dislocated joints
    • Fever with a rash
    • Seizures
    • Severe cuts that may require stitches
    • Facial lacerations
    • Severe cold or flu symptoms
    • Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy

     

    When faced with the decision to visit an urgent care center or emergency room, you have to first evaluate your symptoms. Once you have done this, ask yourself this question, “Does this condition have the possibility of permanently impairing or endangering your life?” If the answer is “yes,” then you have an emergency and should proceed to the nearest hospital ER. If the answer is “no,” then take your towel-wrapped avocado hand to your local urgent care center for stitches or whatever care they recommend. You will save yourself time and money by making a good choice on your care.

  • 5 Tips to Beat the Heat | California Benefits Consultants

    August 19, 2019

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    There’s no denying that summer has arrived. In fact, the news has been abuzz with Alaska’s heat wave in July that sent temperatures soaring between 20 and 30 degrees above average. When you are caught in the middle of a heat wave, it may seem like there’s nothing you can do to keep cool. But, there are ways for you to beat the heat this summer and stay safe from heat related illnesses.

     

    Avoid the Heat

    It may seem like a no-brainer to avoid the heat to prevent a heat related illness but some professions work solely outdoors. In those cases, there aren’t many options for avoiding the heat.  Be aware of the hottest time of day and limit physical activity outside during that time.

    Reduce Activity Levels

    Plan the most active job of the day to be in the morning when the sun and heat aren’t as intense. Heatstroke can occur when a person engages in strenuous activity for long periods of time in the heat. If possible, arrange workflows to include times of rest and times to visit a cooling station.

    Drink Fluids Regularly

    The underlying factor in most heat related illness is the inadequate supply of fluids for your body, in other words, drink more water! Heavy sweating depletes a person’s body of fluid and salt and this in turn can cause heat cramps and heat exhaustion. If this occurs, drink cool water or an electrolyte-replacement beverage like Gatorade. To prevent these two illnesses, drink plenty of water before you know you will be outside in the heat so that your body has sufficient fluids in reserve.

    Have a Buddy System

    When you know you will working outside or even playing outside in the heat of the day, make sure you have someone with you. If you should experience a heat related illness while alone, there would be no one available to offer first aid or call for help. As in the case of heatstroke, confusion and weakness along with fainting and possibly convulsions could occur. These are all series symptoms and require immediate action for treatment. The buddy system gives you a safety net of someone else who can recognize these symptoms and can act to save them.

    Take a Dip!

    The best way to beat the heat is by cooling off your body. Not everyone has access to a pool when spending time outside in the heat so if that’s the case, use cold compresses or ice and ice packs to lower body temperature. You can also remove excess clothing and spray your body with cool water. If you do have someone with you and you are experiencing a heat related illness, make sure they are watching you if you jump into a pool.

     

    By following these easy tips to beat the heat you can safely be outside when temperatures are at their peak. Enjoy your summer and stay cool!

  • Top 5 Learning Metrics to Watch | California Benefits Team

    August 14, 2019

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    How much job training equates to time wasted:  About 20%, according to one LinkedIn study.  That’s the percentage of learners who never apply their training to their job.  That same study says 67% of learners apply the lessons learned, but in the end, revert to previous habits.  Another study found 45% of training content is never applied.

    For HR professionals designing or monitoring the Return on Investment of training programs, those are disturbing statistics, especially when you consider the decrease in productivity this causes and the cost of wasted money.

    So, how do you mitigate or address the issue?

    Learning Metrics

    Gone is the day leaders make learning strategy decisions via gut and intuition.  Arrived is the day leaders look at learning data and statistics to make decisions and provide evidence for an action.

    There was a time when the only metrics requested from learning and development officials were the number of people taking part in the training and the cost involved.  In other words:  basic effectiveness and efficiency.

    As with everything, however, learning and development has evolved.  It’s now a business critical change agent.  It’s not enough, though, to measure inputs, the number of courses, and attendance.  Learning and development must look at the output and outcomes.

    “We’re in the process of trying to become a learning organization, and to become a learning organization you have to be nimble.  You have to have a culture of leaders as teachers.  You have to have a culture of recognizing those things that contribute, and actually those things what lead to success,” Brad Samargya said.  Samargya is the Chief Learning Officer for mobile phone maker Ericsson.

    All of the descriptions Samargya is using refer back to the content, specifically how it is delivered and is it of substance.  When both pieces are in concert, HR professionals should see an increase in quality around the metrics gathered.

    Delivery

    First, let’s focus on delivery.

    Samantha Hammock is the Chief Learning Officer for American Express.  Her company employs a learning management system as part of their learning process.  Hammock says measurement is the company’s biggest need.

    “If we’re going to mandate training, we had better be robust in tracking and reporting. Is the experience getting better, is the knowledge increasing. We have put it thru workforce analytics to slice and dice some of those metrics,” Hammock said.

    Of course, learning management systems are not the only way to deliver learning.  Mobile learning for instance, makes content available on smartphones, tablets, and other devices.  Not only is the content accessible anywhere, but anytime.  Video learning is similar in that the content is available in the ever-popular YouTube format.  Gamification, or education by gaming, again delivers learning in a form much for attractive than your regular classroom format, and microlearning, or the strategy of delivering learning content over a short amount of time.

    None of those work without one specific ingredient, however:  the content.  Providing relevant content is key to a good learning strategy, good metrics, and  to ensure your learners are engaged and continue to come back for more.

    The modern employee is distracted, overwhelmed and has little time to spare. Catering content to their needs is not only important – it’s critical.

    The content presented to employees must be applicable and timely to help them with their daily duties, expand their mind, and provide them with quick takeaways that can immediately be applied.

    Metrics to Watch

    There are a handful of metrics derived for HR professionals to analyze.

    1. Completion rates – This metric is important because it indicates the level of learner engagement, motivation and participation. Low completion rates indicate employees aren’t investing in the material or how it relates to their jobs.  High completion rates show employees are invested.
    2. Performance and Progress – This particular metric is split into two categories: the individual and the group.  For the individual, metrics will give you a detailed look at how the employee is doing with the learning.  For the group, the metric will include the details around specific trends.  For instance, how the group is progressing through the material.  Both individual metrics and group metrics allow for the tracking of course effectiveness and engagement.
    3. Satisfaction and approval – This metric gives HR professionals some indication of how the employee or employees feel about the content. The is a powerful metric because it allows HR or learning managers to adjust current content or, if need be, create better content based on the needs of the employee.
    4. Instructor and manager ratings – This metric may not always be applicable as, in some cases, material is not presented by an instructor or manager but through a technology interface of some sort. If that is not the case, this will indicate how learners feel about the instructor or manager.  It can also be directly linked to the reason an employee or group of employees are not learning at the level expected.
    5. Competency and proficiency – Competency and proficiency metrics show HR professionals if employees have the knowledge and skills to achieve a desired outcome. If not, this metric allows for learning managers to adjust the material accordingly.  It also allows from some insight into an employee or group’s currently proficiency.

    In summation

    The challenges facing HR professionals when using analytics to transform the learning and development program are connected.  Before companies can actually engage with the transformation, data has to be present.  Whether it is realized or not, companies do have learning data available.  What may not exist is the ability to evaluate that data.

    Data provides invaluable insight into the future learning opportunities of a company’s workforce.  Now, more than ever before, HR professionals have a real opportunity to do what all leaders and C-suite members want to do:  predict the future.  By leveraging and understanding the data generated by learning programs, HR professionals can better evaluate the content and their effectiveness.  It can lead to better outcomes both developmentally for the employee and financially for the employer.

    By Mason Stevenson

    Originally posted on hrexchangenetwork.com

  • 5 Things to Think About Before Adding Outside-of-the-Box Benefits

    April 16, 2019

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    According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the North Bay’s unemployment rate for the month of January 2019 was 3.3%. With the unemployment rate being so low, employers are now forced to get creative with how they attract and retain employees. As benefits advisors, we get an up-close view as to what makes a company’s staffing goals successful. We see that the employers who are winning the talent war use outside-of-the box benefits that target the workforce that the employer needs. Here are five things that we advise clients to think about before they look to add and use outside-of-the-box benefits as a way to attract and retain employees:

    SURVEY

    It’s important to engage your workforce and find out what benefits they would value most before investing in a benefit that will have little or no return on investment. We have had several discussions with employers over the past 18 months where the employer thinks of a benefit that they would value and therefore assumes the employees will value it too. You won’t if you’re correct until you ask.

    WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO ATTRACT?

    It’s important to strategically think about the type of employee you are looking to hire and retain. Employers often hire to fill a spot without thinking about the type of person they need and whether the new hire will fit seamlessly into the organization.

    WHAT ARE YOUR VALUES

    The wants and needs of the workforce are changing. For example, younger people tend to see their careers not solely as income, but as a driver of fulfillment and an expression of their values, interests and skills. We like to highlight corporate values because we have found that to be a main driver for a younger employee’s decision on whether or not to work for a company. Company values are the beliefs upon which a business and its behaviors are based. We suggest that employers determine and make their values public. This will help attract employees who align with an employer.

     WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH AND WHY?

    Do you want to create a better employee experience and make employees feel more engaged or are you looking to attract more talent to your organization? Maybe it’s both. Either way, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this puzzle. Our suggestion is to target the demographic you are looking to attract or retain. Understand them and then focus on what brings them value.

    ENGAGE EMPLOYEES ON AN INDIVIDUAL LEVEL

    By understanding deeper motivations, employers can develop strategies that better engage their workforce. Having a benefits program customized to meet individual employees’ increases loyalty to an employer (MetLife Benefit Trends Study).

     

     

    ABOUT US

    Andrew McNeil and Rosario Avila are employee benefit advisors who collaborate with their clients as team, using their different perspectives to deploy one solution. Both have been recognized nationally by Employee Benefit Advisor magazine (Andrew: 2017 Rising Star in Advising. Rosario: 2018 Top Women in Benefit Advising).

  • Don’t Leave Your FSA Money on the Table this Year!

    October 15, 2019

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    As 2019 is nearing an end, many people are looking at this year’s medical expenses to plan for how much they should set back for next year. In investigating these expenditures, you may notice that you still have money in your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for 2019. FSAs are unique in that any unused money from this plan year is forfeited once the new year begins. You definitely do not want to leave money in your FSA once 2020 rolls around. To help, we’ve compiled a list of some ways to use up your hard-earned FSA money that you may not have thought possible!

    • Acupuncture
    • Acne treatment
    • Breast pump and supplies
    • Chiropractic treatments
    • Dental treatments—orthodontia, medically necessary water fluoride treatments, caps, fillings, x-rays
    • Eyes—glasses, surgery, contact lenses
    • First aid kit
    • Genetic testing—including BRCA gene testing
    • Motion sickness medicine
    • Nutritionist consultations
    • Sunscreen
    • Smoking cessation program
    • Vaporizer
    • Vasectomy
    • Weight loss programs/surgery

    There are even some high-tech gadgets that may fall into the medically qualified expenses category:

    • Acne light therapy
    • Electronic stimulation instruments for pain
    • Medically necessary mattresses
    • Smart thermometers

    Don’t leave your FSA money on the table in 2019! You have earned this money so make sure you use it to its full potential.

    This list is not an exhaustive list of ways to spend your FSA money nor does it guarantee your insurance program considers these to be qualified expenses. Check with your HR department and insurance agent if you have questions about qualified expenses.

     

  • AI in HR | California Employee Benefits Team

    October 2, 2019

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    Artificial intelligence is pushing humans and machines closer together.  It’s exciting!  AI’s influences are being felt across the HR space… being used to automate business processes, enhance efficiency, and reduce bias among other things.  In fact, McKinsey’s latest forecast of AI’s impact on the global economy is that it will generate $13 trillion in economic activity across the globe by 2030.

    But, there is room for improvement, and top executives want it yesterday.  A recent survey from PricewaterhouseCooper found 72% of executives believe AI will offer sizable business advantages in the near future.  In another survey from IBM, 66% of CEOs believe AI can drive significant value in HR.  Some are already exploring those opportunities.  Uber, for instance, completed the world’s first cargo shipment using a truck controlled by AI!

    State of AI in HR

    AI as a Tool

    The inclusion of artificial intelligence in the HR professional’s toolbox is not surprising.  When looking for answers, look no further than the iPhone, for instance, or the black, cylindrical Echo tower sitting on the counter.  Whether its Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Echo, people are using artificial intelligence at home in their day-to-day lives.  It makes sense, then, that AI has made it into the workplace.

    In most professional settings, AI is not required to do mundane tasks like answer questions about the weather or turn on the lights.  Instead, AI is asked to do much more.

    Reducing Human Bias

    Humans are inherently bias.  Even when striving for inclusiveness, HR professionals may subconsciously lean toward a particular candidate… for instance, someone who is more like the recruiter.  Another potential bias, language bias; people’s subconscious word associations could indicate a particular preference.

    Now, thanks to AI, algorithms can be designed to help employers identify and remove these biases.  That potentially translates to better hiring communications and attracting a more diverse group of candidates.  Those same algorithms can also find candidates who may have been screened out due to human bias.  To put it in context, AI allows managers to go beyond gut feelings and rely on data-driving assessments.

    AI Automation

    AI is being used in HR to automate repetitive, low-value tasks thus increasing the focus on more strategic work.  AI tools automate common HR tasks like benefits management or handling common questions or requests.

    Recruiting through AI

    Custom experiences are expected by applicants.  These are tailored to unique needs as they apply for a new job, choose the right benefits or explore development opportunities.

    Companies have implemented “AI recruiters” to automate scheduling interviews, provide ongoing feedback to candidates and answer their questions in real time.  This allows human recruiters to spend more time converting candidates to hires.

    Retention

    Some companies are using AI platforms to single out employees that may be heading for the exit door.  Those platforms track employee computer activity, emails, keystrokes, internet browsing and so on and store it.  Then AI analyzes the data to determine a baseline of normal activity patterns in the organization. Based on that knowledge, outliers are flagged and reported to the employer.  AI is also being used to detect changes in the overall tone of employees’ communications to predict when employees might be thinking of leaving.

    AI Makes HR More Human

    At some point in the career of an HR professional the question is asked:  how can human resources become more human?  At least one company believes it has the answer.  Best Buy Canada says it’s to add more machines.  Chris Taylor is the chief human resources officer for Best Buy Canada.  He has gone on record saying the embracing of artificial intelligence and machine learning applications in human capital management is a “mandatory investment in the future.”

    So, why add more machines to make HR more human?

    The automation of tasks through AI technology allows for the freeing of HR professionals to focus on uniquely human abilities such as critical thinking, creativity, and empathy.  While they are involved with the more human tasks, technology, at the moment, can handle the more mundane tasks.

    All of that said, in a lot of ways artificial intelligence is still growing and learning itself.

    What does that statement mean? AI is able to search a query based on the words you are using and give you a response, but that response isn’t contextual.

    AI is heading in that direction though.

    Instead of writing responses specifically to specific inputs… you just have a huge database of language around a specific knowledge domain and the AI can go into that knowledge domain and answer the questions from the user.

    HR professionals interested in pursuing AI want it to do much more than answer questions and rummage through applications. They want to use it as a learning platform.

    But it’s not there yet.

    AI can teach itself to do something, but it’s not at the stage it can replace humans beings as the “drivers of education.” In the future, it may be used that way, but it would require a lot of adaptability.

    Taylor says Best Buy Canada is embracing as much technology as they can get their hands on.  For instance, the company has started investing in cloud-based solution that uses artificial intelligence, voice technology and machine learning.  All of these technologies, Best Buy Canada hopes, will better the employee experience.

    Conclusion

    As much as the HR technology landscape continues to be disrupted by AI, HR teams must find ways to balance these advancements with transparency.  It is essential in making sure the implementation of AI technology is successful.  At the end of the day, artificial intelligence is not the end-all-be-all answer to every quandary HR finds itself in.  It is a tool and nothing more.  A tool that can improperly function based on the data it is given in order to work effectively.  Even so, artificial intelligence can be a valuable resource.  Work to embrace it now because it’s likely you’ll be expected to use it in the future.

    By Mason Stevenson

    Originally posted on hrexchangenetwork.com

  • How to Implement an Employee Training Program | California Employee Benefits

    September 18, 2019

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    Employee training programs are beneficial to organizations of varying sizes. Even small companies can improve customer service skills. Large organizations often need training programs specifically targeted to employee development and changing technologies. The Society for Human Resource Management says that offering training programs to employees helps the employee feel more engaged and committed to the organization. Implement an employee training program in your organization to improve job morale and teach new skills.

    Step 1

    Analyze your organizational needs. Interview managers and supervisors and identify employee performance areas that need strengthening. Review employee performance appraisals to locate common performance problems. Call the human resources department of similarly sized and focused organizations and ask what training programs have been valuable to them.

    Step 2

    Present your research findings to the committee or the company’s leadership team. Prepare a detailed presentation and be prepared to answer questions. Outline the benefits of each proposed program, anticipated costs and time requirements. Demonstrate the need for each program by preparing detailed analysis of problem areas and possible solutions. Ask for input, suggestions and changes.

    Step 3

    Finalize your plan and determine your budget for the next fiscal year. Request funds using your company’s budgeting process. When calculating your employee training budget, include materials, travel, speaker fees, computer access charges and food in the budgeted amount. Ask for funds before the fiscal year begins rather than requesting unbudgeted money during the fiscal year.

    Step 4

    Take the total budget and allocate the funds by department, per employee or per training program, recommends the American Society for Training and Development. Consider the benefits you expect from each training program and decide if the cost of the program will give you the desired results. Decide if training programs will be required or optional.

    Step 5

    List the training classes you will offer over the next year. Divide the classes by type and employee attendance. Prepare a schedule and publish it on your company’s intranet. If possible, allow employees to sign up electronically to save valuable personnel time. Be sensitive to departmental schedules and work flow.

    Step 6

    Contract with outside firms or select and internal trainer to provide training. Call the potential trainer’s references and verify that his materials and presentation style fit your needs. Ask him to give you samples of his work, a quote of his complete fees and a list of any needed equipment. Outsourcing training can save money when you consider the administrative and program costs.

    Select an internal trainer for training programs you will handle. Ask an employee with expertise in the field to teach a class or utilize member of your company’s human resources department. Set clear expectations of class content and have a feedback system in place. Consider extra compensation if training is not part of the employee’s job description.

    Step 7

    Evaluate the success of each program immediately after the program’s completion. Ask the participants to fill out prepared evaluation forms. Analyze the comments to plan for further training. Follow-up with supervisors during the year to gauge the continued effectiveness of the training programs.

     

    by Diane Lynn
    Originally posted on Livestrong.com

  • Volunteering Time Off, Part Two

    September 9, 2019

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    Right now our national unemployment rate is 3.7%–edging towards a 50-year low. With this low rate, companies are actually finding it increasingly harder to hire and retain great talent. One way to combat this issue is by increasing employee engagement through volunteering.

     

    In survey after survey, employees state that they want to work for companies who care for others.  In fact, “71% of employees surveyed say it’s very important to work where culture supports volunteering,” according to America’s Charities Snapshot. There are different types of volunteer options when looking to begin a volunteer program at a company. For example, entire companies can come together for a big “Day of Service” event.  Or perhaps there is an ongoing need in the community, like Meals on Wheels, and employees sign up to help when needed by the charity. Offering pro bono services to non-profit community groups or donating skills for specific projects are other ways to assist charities in your area.

     

    The issue of time worked and pay typically comes up when talking about employer sponsored/encouraged volunteering. There are a couple different ways that companies structure this. One way is to simply pay employees for their usual time at the workplace even though they are not actually working on company business at the time of the volunteer project. This is typical of big “Day of Service” campaigns during the workweek. Another way is to encourage employees to donate their break or lunch time to complete volunteer service projects. Finally, and this is the emerging trend in employee benefits, is to give each employee Volunteer Time Off (VTO) hours as part of their benefits package.

     

    The benefits of VTO are numerous. One of the biggest values of VTO is that of employee recruitment and retention.  PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a survey and the results were that “59% of Millennials gravitated towards companies with pronounced Corporate Social Responsibility programs.”  For retention, the value is even higher, “74% of employees say their job is more fulfilling when given the opportunity to make a positive impact at work.” Companies also see a benefit in camaraderie across departments and company hierarchy. Working together towards a common goal builds these interdepartmental relationships. Also, by playing towards strengths unseen in a regular office setting, employers have a chance to discover untapped leadership skills and completely unknown skill sets of employees. Finally, your company’s brand image is boosted by the view of its involvement in the community.

     

    Whatever the benefit that your company assigns to a healthy VTO program, be it retention, image, or team building, the fact remains that there WILL BE a benefit. If you are looking to begin the search for the right fitting program, there are great resources available for you. Check out this quick read on Charities.org and also the great tips on SalesForce.com. Start the conversation today with your leadership and start making an impact in your community!

  • Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room

    September 5, 2019

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    Let’s say you are getting ready to make your favorite breakfast—avocado toast. You’ve toasted the bread, cut the avocado in half, and are ready to remove the dreaded pit. Of course, your knife slips and you end up slicing your hand—making you the latest victim of “avocado hand.” It seems you cannot stop the bleeding with a simple bandage so now you need to make the decision on where to go to seek help. Do you choose an urgent care facility or the emergency room? What’s the difference?

    Urgent care centers and emergency rooms are both great options for times when you are unable to see your primary care physician (PCP). The reasons for choosing these facilities can be because the injury or sickness has occurred outside normal office hours for your doctor or that you are out of town when an emergency hits. As you know, the first choice for non-life or limb-threatening conditions should be your regular doctor—they will have your medical history on file and your medication list at the ready. When this is not an option, you will need to make the choice on what level of care you need.

     

    Urgent Care Centers

    Urgent care centers fill the gap between when you are sick or minorly injured but cannot see your PCP and when you are in need of hospital emergency care. Most urgent care locations are staffed by doctors or physician’s assistants. These centers can get you in and out quickly and some even take appointments. Since you will not see your PCP at these clinics, it’s always best to bring a copy of all the medications and dosages of meds you take. If you have a special condition, like epilepsy, make sure you disclose that to the urgent care provider you see. In the case of your avocado hand, your urgent care physician may be able to do minor stitches and bandaging at the facility. Most have access to x-ray machines and basic diagnostic tests. The typical range of costs for care at these centers is between $50-$150.

    Here are some conditions that typically can be seen at urgent care centers:

    • Fevers, flu or cold symptoms
    • Ear infections
    • Bronchitis
    • Cuts and bleeding that may require stitches
    • Urinary tract infections
    • Vomiting or diarrhea
    • Minor back pain

     

    Emergency Room Care

    Hospital emergency rooms provide care for life and limb-threatening situations ranging from heart attack and stroke to car accident injuries. Staffed by physicians, nurses, and specialists, emergency rooms have access to highly knowledgeable and diverse medical teams.  In emergency rooms, care is given to the most serious injury/illness first—not on a first-come, first-served basis. Because of this, wait times in emergency rooms are widely varied and may be into a several hours-long wait. Again, it is wise to bring a list of any medications, both prescribed and over-the-counter, with you when seeking care since the ER will not have this information from your PCP. Costs for emergency services can be anywhere from $50 to more than $10,000 depending on the severity of the injury or illness.

    Symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room include:

    • Chest pain or difficulty breathing
    • Weakness/numbness on one side
    • Slurred speech
    • Fainting/change in mental state
    • Serious burns
    • Head or eye injury
    • Concussion/confusion
    • Broken bones and dislocated joints
    • Fever with a rash
    • Seizures
    • Severe cuts that may require stitches
    • Facial lacerations
    • Severe cold or flu symptoms
    • Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy

     

    When faced with the decision to visit an urgent care center or emergency room, you have to first evaluate your symptoms. Once you have done this, ask yourself this question, “Does this condition have the possibility of permanently impairing or endangering your life?” If the answer is “yes,” then you have an emergency and should proceed to the nearest hospital ER. If the answer is “no,” then take your towel-wrapped avocado hand to your local urgent care center for stitches or whatever care they recommend. You will save yourself time and money by making a good choice on your care.

  • 5 Tips to Beat the Heat | California Benefits Consultants

    August 19, 2019

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    There’s no denying that summer has arrived. In fact, the news has been abuzz with Alaska’s heat wave in July that sent temperatures soaring between 20 and 30 degrees above average. When you are caught in the middle of a heat wave, it may seem like there’s nothing you can do to keep cool. But, there are ways for you to beat the heat this summer and stay safe from heat related illnesses.

     

    Avoid the Heat

    It may seem like a no-brainer to avoid the heat to prevent a heat related illness but some professions work solely outdoors. In those cases, there aren’t many options for avoiding the heat.  Be aware of the hottest time of day and limit physical activity outside during that time.

    Reduce Activity Levels

    Plan the most active job of the day to be in the morning when the sun and heat aren’t as intense. Heatstroke can occur when a person engages in strenuous activity for long periods of time in the heat. If possible, arrange workflows to include times of rest and times to visit a cooling station.

    Drink Fluids Regularly

    The underlying factor in most heat related illness is the inadequate supply of fluids for your body, in other words, drink more water! Heavy sweating depletes a person’s body of fluid and salt and this in turn can cause heat cramps and heat exhaustion. If this occurs, drink cool water or an electrolyte-replacement beverage like Gatorade. To prevent these two illnesses, drink plenty of water before you know you will be outside in the heat so that your body has sufficient fluids in reserve.

    Have a Buddy System

    When you know you will working outside or even playing outside in the heat of the day, make sure you have someone with you. If you should experience a heat related illness while alone, there would be no one available to offer first aid or call for help. As in the case of heatstroke, confusion and weakness along with fainting and possibly convulsions could occur. These are all series symptoms and require immediate action for treatment. The buddy system gives you a safety net of someone else who can recognize these symptoms and can act to save them.

    Take a Dip!

    The best way to beat the heat is by cooling off your body. Not everyone has access to a pool when spending time outside in the heat so if that’s the case, use cold compresses or ice and ice packs to lower body temperature. You can also remove excess clothing and spray your body with cool water. If you do have someone with you and you are experiencing a heat related illness, make sure they are watching you if you jump into a pool.

     

    By following these easy tips to beat the heat you can safely be outside when temperatures are at their peak. Enjoy your summer and stay cool!

  • Top 5 Learning Metrics to Watch | California Benefits Team

    August 14, 2019

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    How much job training equates to time wasted:  About 20%, according to one LinkedIn study.  That’s the percentage of learners who never apply their training to their job.  That same study says 67% of learners apply the lessons learned, but in the end, revert to previous habits.  Another study found 45% of training content is never applied.

    For HR professionals designing or monitoring the Return on Investment of training programs, those are disturbing statistics, especially when you consider the decrease in productivity this causes and the cost of wasted money.

    So, how do you mitigate or address the issue?

    Learning Metrics

    Gone is the day leaders make learning strategy decisions via gut and intuition.  Arrived is the day leaders look at learning data and statistics to make decisions and provide evidence for an action.

    There was a time when the only metrics requested from learning and development officials were the number of people taking part in the training and the cost involved.  In other words:  basic effectiveness and efficiency.

    As with everything, however, learning and development has evolved.  It’s now a business critical change agent.  It’s not enough, though, to measure inputs, the number of courses, and attendance.  Learning and development must look at the output and outcomes.

    “We’re in the process of trying to become a learning organization, and to become a learning organization you have to be nimble.  You have to have a culture of leaders as teachers.  You have to have a culture of recognizing those things that contribute, and actually those things what lead to success,” Brad Samargya said.  Samargya is the Chief Learning Officer for mobile phone maker Ericsson.

    All of the descriptions Samargya is using refer back to the content, specifically how it is delivered and is it of substance.  When both pieces are in concert, HR professionals should see an increase in quality around the metrics gathered.

    Delivery

    First, let’s focus on delivery.

    Samantha Hammock is the Chief Learning Officer for American Express.  Her company employs a learning management system as part of their learning process.  Hammock says measurement is the company’s biggest need.

    “If we’re going to mandate training, we had better be robust in tracking and reporting. Is the experience getting better, is the knowledge increasing. We have put it thru workforce analytics to slice and dice some of those metrics,” Hammock said.

    Of course, learning management systems are not the only way to deliver learning.  Mobile learning for instance, makes content available on smartphones, tablets, and other devices.  Not only is the content accessible anywhere, but anytime.  Video learning is similar in that the content is available in the ever-popular YouTube format.  Gamification, or education by gaming, again delivers learning in a form much for attractive than your regular classroom format, and microlearning, or the strategy of delivering learning content over a short amount of time.

    None of those work without one specific ingredient, however:  the content.  Providing relevant content is key to a good learning strategy, good metrics, and  to ensure your learners are engaged and continue to come back for more.

    The modern employee is distracted, overwhelmed and has little time to spare. Catering content to their needs is not only important – it’s critical.

    The content presented to employees must be applicable and timely to help them with their daily duties, expand their mind, and provide them with quick takeaways that can immediately be applied.

    Metrics to Watch

    There are a handful of metrics derived for HR professionals to analyze.

    1. Completion rates – This metric is important because it indicates the level of learner engagement, motivation and participation. Low completion rates indicate employees aren’t investing in the material or how it relates to their jobs.  High completion rates show employees are invested.
    2. Performance and Progress – This particular metric is split into two categories: the individual and the group.  For the individual, metrics will give you a detailed look at how the employee is doing with the learning.  For the group, the metric will include the details around specific trends.  For instance, how the group is progressing through the material.  Both individual metrics and group metrics allow for the tracking of course effectiveness and engagement.
    3. Satisfaction and approval – This metric gives HR professionals some indication of how the employee or employees feel about the content. The is a powerful metric because it allows HR or learning managers to adjust current content or, if need be, create better content based on the needs of the employee.
    4. Instructor and manager ratings – This metric may not always be applicable as, in some cases, material is not presented by an instructor or manager but through a technology interface of some sort. If that is not the case, this will indicate how learners feel about the instructor or manager.  It can also be directly linked to the reason an employee or group of employees are not learning at the level expected.
    5. Competency and proficiency – Competency and proficiency metrics show HR professionals if employees have the knowledge and skills to achieve a desired outcome. If not, this metric allows for learning managers to adjust the material accordingly.  It also allows from some insight into an employee or group’s currently proficiency.

    In summation

    The challenges facing HR professionals when using analytics to transform the learning and development program are connected.  Before companies can actually engage with the transformation, data has to be present.  Whether it is realized or not, companies do have learning data available.  What may not exist is the ability to evaluate that data.

    Data provides invaluable insight into the future learning opportunities of a company’s workforce.  Now, more than ever before, HR professionals have a real opportunity to do what all leaders and C-suite members want to do:  predict the future.  By leveraging and understanding the data generated by learning programs, HR professionals can better evaluate the content and their effectiveness.  It can lead to better outcomes both developmentally for the employee and financially for the employer.

    By Mason Stevenson

    Originally posted on hrexchangenetwork.com

  • 5 Things to Think About Before Adding Outside-of-the-Box Benefits

    April 16, 2019

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    According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the North Bay’s unemployment rate for the month of January 2019 was 3.3%. With the unemployment rate being so low, employers are now forced to get creative with how they attract and retain employees. As benefits advisors, we get an up-close view as to what makes a company’s staffing goals successful. We see that the employers who are winning the talent war use outside-of-the box benefits that target the workforce that the employer needs. Here are five things that we advise clients to think about before they look to add and use outside-of-the-box benefits as a way to attract and retain employees:

    SURVEY

    It’s important to engage your workforce and find out what benefits they would value most before investing in a benefit that will have little or no return on investment. We have had several discussions with employers over the past 18 months where the employer thinks of a benefit that they would value and therefore assumes the employees will value it too. You won’t if you’re correct until you ask.

    WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO ATTRACT?

    It’s important to strategically think about the type of employee you are looking to hire and retain. Employers often hire to fill a spot without thinking about the type of person they need and whether the new hire will fit seamlessly into the organization.

    WHAT ARE YOUR VALUES

    The wants and needs of the workforce are changing. For example, younger people tend to see their careers not solely as income, but as a driver of fulfillment and an expression of their values, interests and skills. We like to highlight corporate values because we have found that to be a main driver for a younger employee’s decision on whether or not to work for a company. Company values are the beliefs upon which a business and its behaviors are based. We suggest that employers determine and make their values public. This will help attract employees who align with an employer.

     WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH AND WHY?

    Do you want to create a better employee experience and make employees feel more engaged or are you looking to attract more talent to your organization? Maybe it’s both. Either way, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this puzzle. Our suggestion is to target the demographic you are looking to attract or retain. Understand them and then focus on what brings them value.

    ENGAGE EMPLOYEES ON AN INDIVIDUAL LEVEL

    By understanding deeper motivations, employers can develop strategies that better engage their workforce. Having a benefits program customized to meet individual employees’ increases loyalty to an employer (MetLife Benefit Trends Study).

     

     

    ABOUT US

    Andrew McNeil and Rosario Avila are employee benefit advisors who collaborate with their clients as team, using their different perspectives to deploy one solution. Both have been recognized nationally by Employee Benefit Advisor magazine (Andrew: 2017 Rising Star in Advising. Rosario: 2018 Top Women in Benefit Advising).

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