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Filling in Benefits Gaps with Voluntary Offerings

As the new year approaches you may be looking for ways to enhance your company’s benefits package, but don’t want to take on the cost burden associated with doing so. Consider offering voluntary benefits. These are the benefits that many of your employees will find value in, will be able to access at discounted rates due to your companies partnerships that they won’t find anywhere else, and your employees will be thankful for the additional coverage, all at little or no cost to you.

More-so now than ever, employers are considering voluntary benefits as an important benefits strategy. Offering such benefits is a way to address the complex and differing needs of employee groups without investing money into a program that won’t get full participation. Voluntary benefits afford employees the ability to customize their benefits package to meet their personal needs and unique lifestyles in a more cost-efficient way.  With voluntary benefits employers are able to offer a more robust benefits package at little to no additional cost to themselves, and their employees can secure enhanced coverage at a reduced group rate.

Even if as an employer you provide core insurance offerings, employees can choose to increase their coverage by adding voluntary benefits that act as an additional financial safety net to help with expenses that may not be covered by their core plans. Voluntary benefits can give employees peace of mind when those scary questions arise. For example, many worry about what will happen if they die unexpectedly or are unable to work because of injury or illness. For those worries, Life Insurance or AD&D exist. For those with furry friends, vet bills can be thousands of dollars for procedures and medications, but offering voluntary pet insurance can ease some of the financial hardship.

Offering additional lines of coverage can make employees feel at ease. Another bonus? Voluntary benefits vendors do most of the heavy lifting. They want to drive participation so they work with HR to develop communication strategies and voluntary benefits usually are paid for by the employee (or may be cost a cost-sharing benefit) through payroll deductions.

In a Willis Towers Watson’s 2018 Emerging Trends: Voluntary Benefits and Services Survey, it was found that only 5% of responding employers felt that voluntary benefits would have little to no value if offered to employees. Five years ago, 41% of employers felt this way, which shows that employers are seeing the importance that voluntary benefits play in a benefit strategy. In that same survey, more than two-thirds (69%) of employers reported believing that voluntary benefits will be a very important, or at least a more-important, component of their total rewards strategy in three to five years.

Examples of voluntary benefits our clients are implementing:

  1. Pet Insurance
  2. Home and Auto Insurance
  3. Pre-Paid Legal
  4. Short/Long Term Disability
  5. Life
  6. Accidental Death & Dismemberment
  7. Identity Theft Protection
  8. Financial Counseling
  9. Hospital Indemnity
  10. Critical Illness
  11. Tuition Assistance, and so much more

A competitive voluntary benefits package has many benefits by helping your company save money, compete for top talent, and boost employee engagement.

  • Improve your companies overall benefits package: Voluntary benefits fill the gaps in coverage that primary health insurance or retirement savings plans leave open. They also fill in the gaps where coverage may not exist at all, or where it could be improved.
  • Boost your recruiting: Offering voluntary benefits where employees can pick and choose coverage that is important to them appeals and caters to a more diverse workforce, promotes inclusion and can be a differentiator for your company. It shows candidates that you care about their wellbeing beyond that of the typical core insurance plans like medical, dental and vision.
  • Increase Retention: Employers that offer cost-efficient and flexible coverage are viewed more favorably than employers who do not. As pointed out in our recently published white-paper, Behind the Benefits, when faced with the choice to stay in one position or accept an offer from another company with access to more robust benefits, today’s workforce will happily move on.

Certain insurance coverage can be out of reach for many employees, but when they’re able to buy into it through their employer, it can give them peace of mind. Offering additional coverage through a voluntary benefits package can show employees that you care about their well-being and support their desire to make good decisions for their financial futures.

Launching Investigations in the #MeToo Era

Back in mid October we were fortunate enough to once again be joined by Orrick Partner, Lisa Lupion, who facilitated dialogue on addressing workplace harassment. What began as a social media movement initiated on twitter, #MeToo has sparked conversation, awareness and resulted in the hyper-focus on inappropriate conduct, especially in the workplace, resulting in employers developing polices and procedures that support their courses of action to address harassment.

With the mandated anti-harassment trainings, more and more employees are coming forward with concerns and allegations. While education and awareness is power, and coming forward can effect change, employers need to know what they can do to appropriately address allegations.

Below are ten steps that were covered in our discussion:

  1. Decide who will conduct the investigation: Will HR or in-house counsel conduct the investigation, or will it be handed off to a third party investigator or external counsel?
  2. Develop an investigation plan: Determine who will be interviewed, what questions are to be asked and what documentation will support the investigation. Where will meetings/interviews be held and how far in advance will you schedule them while still ensuring that they are conducted in a timely manner? It’s important to remember that giving too much of a heads up to an employee can cause implications and in some cases it can be beneficial to the investigation not to give too much time between the notice and the actual meeting. Take details notes and make sure writing is legible, if not type them. If you hand write notes and then type them, you may need to keep the original in a safe place. If you copy notes onto the computer verbatim, you’re more safe to throw the originals away but if you summarized your hand written notes on the computer, it’s best to keep a copy of the original notes.
  3. Develop a chronology of events: Keep track of the series of events based on stories given while keeping in mind that this may be discoverable.
  4. Develop your “opening statement”: Before sitting down with an alleged wrongdoer, determine how you will approach them. Have your list of questions ready. Do not accuse, but rather begin by stating you are looking to collect the full story and are committed to a thorough investigation and expect full cooperation in order to do your fact-finding. Remind he/she/they that the company prohibits retaliation and that in the best interest and to maintain integrity of the investigation, it’s encouraged not to speak with anyone else regarding the investigation.
  5. Interview Complainant: When an employee comes to you with a complaint, it is important not to make statements like “that’s so terrible”, “I can’t believe that happened to you”, or any other statements that imply that you are taking sides.  While the individual may feel upset, both parties need to be interviewed and all facts must be taken into consideration before coming to a conclusion. With that said, encourage the employee to share all the information they can, advise of anti-retaliation policies, identify what outcome the complainant desires, and identify your witnesses as well as necessary documents to interview and review.  Some times, complainants want to come forward anonymously or ask claims to be kept confidential but before they share, inform them that you appreciate that they are coming to speak with you, you’re not sure what they are going to say but depending on the nature of the claim, anonymity may not be possible.
  6. Interview alleged wrongdoer: Do not come forth with an accusing tone. Share that there was a complaint and you’d like to get all of the information that you can regarding all allegations. Often times, the alleged wrongdoer asks who made the complaint/ accusation. It’s important to advise employees of the companies anti-retaliation policy. The alleged wrongdoer may ask if they need an attorney or demands an attorney. This can cause some problems and a way to handle this is to say that this process is simply for fact finding and does not involve any legal proceedings at this time. It doesn’t reflect well if a company denies an employee legal counsel if they feel they want or need it. This investigation process is to determine if company policy was violated, not if a law was violated.
  7. Interview witnesses: Disclose the purpose of the interview, the role of the investigator, the role of the witness and the need for truthfulness along with the anti-retaliation policy. Encourage confidentiality.
  8. Conduct Follow up: You may decide to do follow-ups with each person you’ve interviewed. Review appropriate documents that are relevant to the investigation. Clean up notes if necessary and keep the complainant informed of the status of the investigation- do not go radio silent on them! This lets them know you take their complaint seriously.
  9. Reach determinations: After reviewing all facts, notes, documents and thoroughly investigating the claim, draw a conclusion. Remember, you are not determining if a law was violated, you are focusing on if a company policy was violated. You may conclude a) there was a violation of company policy, b) there was no violation of company policy or c) there is insufficient evidence to determine if there is a violation of company policy. Don’t forget to document your conclusion and a summary reflecting the outcome of the investigation.
  10. Inform all parties & follow ups: meet with complainant and explain what conclusion was determined. You do not have to share what action will be taken, but ensure that action taken will align with the inappropriate behavior that was conducted. Document all discipline and remind all parties of anti-retaliation policies.

Some investigations can be quick and swift, others may take some more time to gather and analyze facts. While it’s not possible to know how long an investigation will take, and other things certainly come up, having a plan in place can help. While the investigation plan is important, it’s also important not to lose sight of how the investigation may impact the organization or the litigation risks.

Fostering Deeper Team Connections through Psychological Safety

When you think of the term “psychological safety”, what comes to mind? In a workshop hosted by Post’d featuring guest speaker Katie Stricker, President and Co-founder of Sayge, the words security, vulnerability and candor are a few of the first things that came to mind for attendees. If psychological safety is a term you have not heard before or something you don’t think has a place in your organization, it’s time to get familiar with it as it sits at the top of the list when it comes to understanding what makes effective teams.

Psychological safety is the shared believe that a person, or a team, is safe to take interpersonal risk. It means being able to show one’s self without fear of negative consequences on their self-image, status or career. When someone is psychologically safe, they feel both accepted and respected by their teams.

A two-year study on what makes teams great conducted by HR at Google revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety.  The study showed that when it comes to teams, what matter is not who is on the team, but how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.

It was found that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking one’s mind, creativity, and ‘sticking one’s neck out without fear of having it cut off’. All behaviors that lead to breakthroughs. Building psychological safety and employee trust is one way to help teams feel more connected to each other. When teams don’t feel connected, it can ultimately lead to negative impacts on the organization’s goals, resulting in resentment and low levels of engagement.

Building and supporting the psychological safety of your employees takes practice.  A culture that supports psychological safety is the difference between a company that launches a new and successful product and the company that is still looking for a solution. When there is space for employees to show themselves and openly share their ideas, they feel they are trusted and can trust others, and it is here that innovation and team connectedness flourish.

Think about these 2 scenarios:

  • A manager invites her junior employee into a brainstorming meeting. The employee is enthusiastic and excited to collaborate and give her input. On the day of the meeting the manager pulls the employee aside and says to “sit on the side and just listen”. The manager has given the message that this employees voice is not welcomed, and maybe even not trusted. Not wanting to disobey her manager, the employee sits in silence for the entire meeting, even though she feels she has a great idea to share.
  • A manager calls a brainstorming meeting. You, a mid-level employee have been thinking through solutions to improve a work flow for your company. You share your idea with the group and the department director says “We already tried that a few years ago and it didn’t work. Any other ideas we haven’t already tried?”. At future meetings, this employee chooses not to speak up for fear that her idea will be shot down again.

Can you think of other ways that leadership could have responded to these employees to protect their psychological safety? Whether you could or not, here are three steps from the book The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson that leadership can take to foster an environment where employees feel safe enough to be themselves and share their ideas .

1) Set the stage: Set expectations and identify what is at stake, why it matters and for whom
2) Invite participation: Let your employees knows that their voices are welcomed. Give them the opportunity to join critical conversations. Let them speak and give input. Encourage their participation and allow for failure.
3) Respond productively:  Listen, acknowledge and thank employees for sharing their ideas, then offer to help, discuss or brainstorm next steps.

Creating teams where candor is encouraged is more likely to result in effective teams. When teams feel encouraged by leadership and one another to share their ideas and bring them full selves to work each day, employees become people again, and those people are on the same mission. Allowing room for failure gives the message to employees that it is okay to try and be wrong, because there will be failed ideas, and failed ideas get teams that much closer to success.

How Laughter Can Build Your Business

It’s been said that “laughter is the best medicine”. It not only can improve physical and mental health, it also strengthens relationships and bonds with others and can even enhance creativity. Best of all, this “medicine” is free and can improve business! Plus, who doesn’t love a good laugh?

Laughing is scientifically shown to promote happiness, reduce stress and offer other physical health benefits. Have you ever laughed so hard you nearly cried? How did you feel after that experience? Probably a lot “lighter” mentally. People often find themselves saying “wow, I needed that”, after a full-belly laugh because laughing has been shown to not only relieve tension and stress in that moment, but the benefits can last for an extended period of time. Laughing induces changes to your mental state and  physical changes to your body.

Work, and life in general, can be stressful. Whatever it is that is making your employees tense, clouding their minds or contributing to anxiety, providing opportunities to “laugh it off” for a minute can be powerful. Laughing can help in reducing stress and negative feelings such as anger and anxiety, but it can also can help your employees be more creative, too. Studies have found that laugher can lead to more successful brainstorming, more creative output and improves problem solving, allowing clearer thinking resulting in that “aha!” moment.

We’ve said it before, work doesn’t have to be all work and no play. A healthy balance between having fun and getting work accomplished can help employees lead more satisfied work lives, with lower rates of burnout and turnover, and can contribute to a more light hearted, driven workplace culture.

According to Total Wellness, here are a few reasons to have a good laugh while on the clock:

  • Laughing raises energy levels and increases focus
  • Laughing alleviates stress, especially helpful during high-pressure projects/deadlines
  • Laughing with others builds trust and stronger team relationships
  • A sense of humor encourages thinking “outside of the box”
  • Meetings hat are more “fun” tend to be more effective

Below are a few tips from Total Wellness if you’re looking for ways to add some laughter into the workday:

  • Develop rituals – Start meetings with a joke or humorous video
  • Set up a library – Create a “humor library” with funny books, memes, etc.
  • Send a joke of the day – Forward on a daily email update with a clean, appropriate joke
  • Host “silly days”- Have employees wear silly socks, hats, and glasses

Many people prefer working in a light-hearted and easy-going environment. See how you can inject humor into your workplace as part of your monthly wellness objectives. As a leader, showing your funny side at work every now and then can change the office mood. Since leadership can often be seen as very serious and too business-like during employee interactions, it can cause tension for employees, even if it’s not intended. Being more light-hearted can even increase your employees feelings of trust in their employer and leadership.

The Importance of Workplace Education & Development

Training and development programs offer companies an opportunity to expand the knowledge employees while building commitment to the organization.  There are a multitude of offerings to enhance L&D initiatives including training/coaching programs, mentoring, individual studies and on-the-job learning from managers and leadership.

Learning & Development Survey Results:

In early September of this year we surveyed members of the Post’d Network and collaborated with Seed + Branch on their research on the importance of “Learning & Development” in organizations.  Following are the results and learnings.

The survey respondents were largely HR/People Generalists with 10+ years of experience, with the majority representing growth stage organizations with 100+ employees.

  • Individuals were generally satisfied in their roles and felt there could be improvements with
    increased resources and budgets (majority scoring between 4 & 7 on lack of budget)
  • Majority said the company prioritizes L&D, but felt that L&D would be their top investment if money weren’t an object (money was the top reason for lack of investment)
  • Mid-Level Managers were least supported, but Senior to Upper Management were most critical to success
  • Major challenges were: Retention, L&D, Processes & Specifically Soft Skill Development
  • Most Important Topics: Goal and Role Clarity followed by Communication

Top 5 areas for Manager to Improve:

  • Communication & Feedback
  • Professional Development
  • Goal/Priority Alignment
  • Job / Role Clarity
  • Career Path
Whether your company has a robust budget or none at all there are solutions to fit diverse organizational needs and the benefits are clear:
  • Improved employee performance and productivity
  • Improved employee satisfaction
  • Increased innovation and strategic planning
  • Increased retention
  • Enhanced company reputation
Seed + Branch specializes in helping growth stage companies succeed through strategy and leadership consultancy.  You can reach out to them here for more information on how they can support your L&D initiatives.