Don’t Get Stuck In A Rut

Sometimes we just get comfortable with our routine and the systems we use and the way we work. I have had a dose of reality with some long-time clients. I have a process of review meetings to discuss the trends of the usage of their employee benefit plans and once year we meet to review the proposed rate increase or decrease of their benefit programs. I normally give my clients sufficient notice and optional times we can meet. This has worked relatively well for many years. Recently I have noticed it doesn’t work for all off my clients because some of them of them are project driven and if I catch them at a time they are overwhelmed by project submissions and deadlines they simply don’t have the time or desire to meet with me face to face. I have had to accept that although I have worked hard to both negotiate on their behalf and put together an analysis of what has transpired over the past year with their benefits program at the time I would like to meet with them I am simply not a priority item for them. Although I prefer a face-to-face meeting it does not work for them. I can’t take it personally it is about their business and priorities not mine. I have had to learn to do business in ways that work for my clients. Sometimes you simply have to get out of your comfort zone and learn to adapt. I was caught in a rut and was comfortable doing business in a routine that worked for me. Change is inevitable, embrace it.

Hybrid of core coverage, personalized benefits touted as future of health plans

What’s the future of health benefits in Canada? A hybrid model of core coverage and personalized benefits is a likely scenario, speakers at an event in Toronto said on Wednesday.

“Our vision is really a hybrid model, where you have this traditional benefit program there to support your employee should something happen, something unpredictable that could have a big financial impact on their life, but combined with this broader view and their well-being,” said Julie Duchesne, a partner and leader of Mercer’s health business.

Duchesne made the comment as she and colleague Brian Lindenberg presented their insights at the Toronto instalment of Mercer’s second-annual series of events on the future of health care at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Last year’s event featured seven predictions for the future of health care by 2025. They included an estimated 130 per cent increase in health-care costs and the rise of personalized medicine like pharmacogenetics.

“It was an eight-year prediction window, so we’re year one into our predictions. We actually feel pretty good, generally speaking, about our predictions. We feel we’re kind of on track and as the future unfolds, it will unfold in a way that’s consistent with what we’ve predicted,” said Lindenberg.

One prediction that missed the mark, he noted, was around public health-care reform and pharmacare, which Lindenberg said in 2017 would never happen in Canada.

“Clearly, we might have missed a sign. But in our defence, a lot of people missed that same sign. Clearly there’s an increased enthusiasm for implementing the national pharmacare program,” said Lindenberg.

Speaking to the need for personalized benefits, Lindenberg referenced the issues of rising costs and the war for talent, both in terms of attracting and retaining employees.

“The game is clearly changing. In order to win that war for talent, we strongly believe you need to engage your workforce in a different way. You need to acknowledge the individual preferences of each of your employees and future employees. You need to leverage technology and what’s happening in terms of the vendor landscape to deliver a more personalized approach to your employees within the context of the age of the individual,” he said.

According to Duchesne, gathering data is key to developing a personalized approach and implementing targeted benefit programs. Targeted programs are essential to meeting the needs of multiple generations of workers and setting organizations apart, she said.

According to a global survey by Mercer conducted in 2016, 96 per cent of employers collected data but only 45 per cent used it in support of decision-making processes. Duchesne noted there are many different forms of data in the benefits field, including information about disability, use of wellness and employee assistance programs and demographics.

“The first opportunity we see is making sense of all that data through what we call data analytics. This is really important in order to better understand your workforce, your demographic and where you should invest in order to best control your costs over time,” said Duchesne.

According to Lindenberg, an important data set for plan sponsors and employers is around what employees want, need and feel they’re receiving. He noted a recent survey that suggested employees value health more than wealth or career progression.

“Close to 50 per cent of your employees would like to see you invest more in workplace wellness. That’s what they need. However, your employees are also skeptical. Thirty-seven per cent of your employees don’t expect you to invest a whole lot more within the next two years and only 19 per cent think you’re investing enough,” he said.

Noting the disconnect between what workers need and what employers are offering or able to deliver, Lindenberg said knowing where to invest in wellness goes back to data, understanding cost drivers and risk factors and then putting the information into the context of employee needs and wants.

“Once you know what the strategy is . . . you can figure out how to leverage some of those new vendors and that new technology in terms of making your workplace wellness strategy really sing,” he said.

4 Ways to Make Onboarding Happier for New Hires

There are certain aspects of the onboarding process that every company sticks to: giving new hires a tour of the office space, introducing them to their new coworkers and spending some time training them for the job at hand. There’s no denying onboarding essentials, but the whole process is much more than handbooks and company tours.

Too often, companies resort to quick introductions and impersonal job training (i.e. stacks of paperwork and handbooks), and they hurry back to work thinking the new hire will ask all questions as needed. Onboarding from a distance is flawed.

 1. Workplace emergency preparation.

It’s unlikely that the company kitchen will burst into flames on a new hire’s first week (although judging by some employees’ cooking, you never know). But it’s better to be safe than sorry. Workplace emergencies are unexpected and sudden, and they require preparation.

Unfortunately, a CareerBuilder survey of more than 3,000 employees released last month revealed that one in four workers say they would not know what to do to protect themselves if there was an emergency in the office that posed a physical threat. What’s more, one in five workers report their company does not have an emergency plan in place in case of a fire, flood or other emergency.

Employers owe it to their employees to provide a safe work environment, and that includes ensuring that employees are well-versed in what to do in the event of an emergency. Workplace emergency policies and procedures should be discussed in detail during the early stages of the onboarding process. Better yet, have employees take a work from home “emergency” day so they know their personal backup plan is firmly in place.

2. Prepared employees.

Employers aren’t the only ones that need to prepare for the arrival of a new employee. It’s equally important (if not more so) for current staff to be prepared to welcome new hires. After all, there’s nothing worse than being gawked at or ignored on the first day on the job. Sending out a company-wide email or newsletter with information about the new team member is one way to spread the word quickly. Or, if you have a company news feed, announce the new hire’s arrival so everyone can welcome him or her.

Most importantly, the new hire’s team members need to be trained to train others. The nature of today’s on-boarding process is often impersonal (and boring) and can leave new hires with a bad taste in their mouth. The most effective way to train new employees is to get their colleagues involved. After all, there are some things a handbook just can’t tell you. Employees who have the knowledge and experience to train others can help get new hires off to a great start.

3. Automated benefits enrollment.

One of the most tedious aspects of starting a new job is filling out benefits-related paperwork. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil — but it doesn’t have to take hours or cause papercuts. To simplify the process for both employers and new hires, it’s time to trash the stacks of paperwork and instead implement an automated system for benefits enrollment.

Modern enrollment technology guides new hires throughout the process and enables them to select and manage their benefits anytime, anywhere. Not only does automated benefits enrollment save time (and trees), but it also shows new hires that the company is innovative and receptive to new ideas and technologies.

4. Hyper-local information.

A company’s onboarding process should be unique to the company’s city and office location. It should cover hyper-local information about public transportation, parking, local schools and neighborhoods, nearby childcare services and where to grab lunch or a happy hour drink after work.

This is especially valuable for any new hires who have relocated and may not know the area very well. Rather than leaving employees to their own devices (ahem, the Internet), give employees vetted advice and information on everything they need to know about the office location and nearby community.

The Value of Mentorship

As I continue my work with the non-profit organization that works with our start-up community I was thinking about the impact a strong mentor can have on the development of a relatively inexperienced entrepreneur. I never really reached out for the help of a mentor to later on in my career, that is on me. The value of a great mentor is quite simple they have gained valuable business and life experience during their careers that they can pass on to their students or lesser experienced entrepreneurs. They usually ask great questions to uncover what is going with you and your business. They can help you avoid mistakes they have made along the way, that can save you and your business financial and emotional pain. Mentors generally have developed substantial networks they might be willing to share with you, once they are convinced you are on the right path. So why would a successful business person go out of their way to help some stranger just starting up a new business without financial reward? In one word, “paying it forward”. In addition these are people of high moral character who appreciate the success they have experienced and want to share their knowledge and success with others. To all those mentors out there lending a helping hand, you make this a planet just a little better place to endure.

You’re Not Always A Fit

In a previous blog I talked about putting ego aside for the good of an organization. This time around I might be appear to be contradicting myself, but hear me out. Life in the scheme of the universe is but a blip and if you can’t have some enjoyment and fun in your work environment then what is the point? In life we all go through struggles with life partners, co-workers, customers, volunteers, board members and the list goes on. There are times when we achieve success and other times when fall flat on our face. The question one faces is that are your values constantly being undermined in the environment where you hang your hat. Do you find yourself compromising endlessly with your peers, partner, customers but not receiving any reciprocity? Are you feeling angry and isolated at most encounters with your cohorts because philosophically you are not pulling in the same direction? This is not an isolated incident it doesn’t mean you are flawed. People grow and evolve in different ways. They take different paths and directions and sometimes it is in everyones’ best interest at that juncture to part ways. If you dread being in the same room with some of your peers think long and hard at what the issues are that make it so difficult to deal with them. It is always better to try and resolve the issues at hand, but there are some instances where circumstances are such that things are beyond repair. In reality we are diverse and yes we can overcome many issues and hurdles, but sometimes we are not always the right fit for a certain business or partner, such is life.

Some Businesses Just Can’t Give Up the Past

I had a recent experience as a customer and it wasn’t a great one. I hate pointing fingers at a particular industry, but the car business seems to be holding on to the past with a vengeance. Yes I had an encounter with a car salesperson and it wasn’t pretty. Since I have been studying and to a great extent practising some aspects of sales in my own business I have an appreciation of the best and worst practices. In this particular experience it was much the latter. The sales representative talked continually, used high pressure tactics, switch and bait and argued with me about the terms of my current financial arrangements of the car I was financing with his company. His big spiel was he was going to save me money and put me into a newer and more technologically advanced car. When it came down to the the end of the negotiation it turned out the it was going to cost me more than $100 a month to get into the same car I was driving in the 2019 model. Then the kicker he whispered that I could could counter-offer what I wanted to pay and he would argue with his sales manager. At this point I am not going on with the story, sufficed to say you would think after all these years that this vertical would figure out there is a better way to treat their customers and do business. The problem is the car business is not the only vertical that is still hanging on to old and out-dated ways of selling to their base. Disruptive forces are already undermining their business model and if they don’t start treating their customers with more respect they will be become irrelevant.

The Secret To Employee Engagement Isn’t About Your Employees

If you want a great culture and true employee engagement, provide benefits that positively impact not just your employees but, more importantly, those whom they love.

Here are three tips for creating a benefits package that is most meaningful to employees and their significant others.

  1. Focus on health insurance.

If you want to attract–and keep–qualified employees, offer a robust health insurance package. Based on my ad hoc research of other companies’ reviews, this benefit had the largest impact on employee satisfaction. “Health benefits and retirement funds are consistently the top two employee valued benefits. Employees value working for a stable company and seek security for their family’s well-being.

I know a man who has worked for the same grocery store chain for over fifteen years. Throughout his career, he considered job offers from other companies, but when his son was born with cerebral palsy, his employer’s generous health care package provided the care his infant son needed without financially devastating his family. This employee was engaged and loyal primarily because of the health benefits.

  1. Make sure company parties reflect the work culture.

If your work culture promotes a team-building, “we are family” management process, it doesn’t make sense to offer a black tie formal holiday dinner for employees only. This strategy sends the message that family comes second, if at all. And the aftermath of this mixed message lingers long after the party is over.

  1. Remember: gifts go a long way.

Whether it’s celebrating the birth of a new baby with a fresh bouquet and some time off, encouraging volunteer efforts in the community, or providing a study manual, lunch, and some free time to study for a certification exam, gifts send a strong message that strengthens employee engagement. A simple gesture can go a long way.

Gifts also show appreciation to family members who make sacrifices when an employee has to work late or travel. This was expressed perfectly by a woman on a recent flight whose company sent her son a gift basket when she had to leave for a training seminar. “He was so excited to receive the gift basket, he didn’t even care that I was leaving for work,” she said. “My son just said, ‘See ya later.’” At Simplus, we welcome each new member of the company by paying for a free house cleaning. We have noticed how happy it has made the partners of our employees, and the money we have spent on this gift has given us ten times the benefit from making the partners of our employees happy.

When it comes to employee engagement, one size (and one plan) doesn’t fit every workplace. But by implementing thoughtful, meaningful, and practical benefits for your employees’ significant others, you can make valuable employee connections and create a positive work environment. They may just leave a raving review about your success online.

Taking The High Road

Continuing with the theme of my recent blog leaving your ego out of it. I continue to deal with some individuals in my volunteer working life that for reasons that psychologists could explain seem to derive pleasure in making petty attacks on my character for decisions that I make of moving our organization forward. This has been going on for some time and as much as I have been trying to placate these people I can’t seem to please them. On balance like any volunteer organization there are just a few of us doing the heavy lifting and the remainder of the people show up to meetings and either make suggestions, criticize and if you requested might roll up their sleeves to help with a particular task. At issue are the participants that spend most of their time just critiquing and contributing little else. They say as you get older you mature and I am hoping that axiom holds true for me. My temptation has been to react and defend myself and tell my detractors where to go, but a tiny voice inside me has been telling me to take the high road and avoid the temptation to get into a confrontation. So far I have been listening to my inner-voice and remaining calm and reserved. Internally of course I have had some choice words to say to my negative colleagues. Something interesting has transpired the other day one of the people who has been responsible for some of the negative behaviour has seemingly started behave in a far more collegial way towards me, so perhaps taking the high road was the correct strategy and better course of action than hostility and negativity that we often follow when we are confronted.

Mind-numbing presentations

Yesterday I walked out on a presentation I was invited to about changes in technology. This is not the first time I have done this. I have come to the conclusion that I have only so much time and power in my batteries and I won’t waste it on a boring and lack-lustre presentation. So what drove me out the door? The presenter spent most of his time talking to the screen effectively reading the script of the presentation to his audience. There was little interaction between him and his audience. He spoke in a monotone and just rambled on. The problem is that many workshops and seminars I attend look and sound like this. If you are going to spend financial resources on planning these kinds of events to attract new clients why not put the additional effort to captivate them by building a presentation that disseminates information in a way that uses humour, drama and gets the participants involved in the presentation. When you get in front of an audience and just read the deck it says you really didn’t prepare or you really don’t care that much. That’s a terrible message to send out to you audience. When choosing the member of your staff to give a public presentation pick someone who is confident and speaks well in front of people, not someone who is introverted and uncomfortable in public situations. You only get one opportunity to make a great impression and these kinds of interactions can work to attract to new business or send potential customers running in the opposite direction. I am sorry to say that more often that not I underwhelmed at the seminars and workshops I attend. People start putting more time and effort into your presentations.

Navigating your business and life during challenging times

It happens to everybody your life and business are going along smoothly and then dark clouds and a storm hits and everything goes out of whack. Sometimes it might be as a result of something you failed to do and sometimes it is just a random circumstance, but when it happens it can turn your life upside down. This kind of event is likely to happen more than once in a lifetime, so how do you deal with it when it occurs? If it is just one event then you can take action to deal with the circumstances surrounding that occurrence. What if it is a multitude of things happening at once that is weighing you down. There is no magic bullet, we all go through difficult patches. My first piece of advice is don’t suffer in silence. Look to friends and trusted advisors when things feel like they are spinning out of control. Often the perspective of someone not caught in the web can help paint a picture that is not as bleak as you think or feel it is. They also might have some ideas or solutions on how to move forward from your predicament. Try not dwell on the negative, but rather slowly work your way out of the tangled mess you think you are in. Sometimes you just have to get out of the office and get some fresh air to clear your head. Be realistic, not all situations can be resolved overnight. Some slumps might take longer to resolve than others. Don’t beat yourself up over something that has seemingly failed, it has happened to the best of us. Look back to other trying times and know that you have come out of slumps before and had success. There are no easy fixes or simple solutions. Life can be hard and complex, but experience teaches us that with the right attitude and good people supporting us we can achieve great things.