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Accounts

Fridays (with Benefits) - Better benefits through data

Data is everywhere. This isn't exactly "news." Mostly about how Big Data is affecting large industries. But we haven't heard much about how localized data can help smaller companies leverage the same types of insights, scaled to their specific needs.

This week, we look at an article that highlights an HR professional who leveraged her own love of data analysis to better craft employee benefit plans at her company. What might be the most interesting is how much of the data she uses is qualitative, addressing the targeted needs of people.

How one HR pro uses data to increase benefit utilization - Nick Otto, Employee Benefit News

Misty Guinn, the director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus, calls herself a "data nerd." Yet, HR hasn't traditionally been a line of work that relied heavily on deeper metrics -- even at a company that provides benefits services to other organizations.

And what struck her the most was how it seemed that her company's employees knew more about other people's benefits than their own. So, she tore down the existing model and built a new internal benefits education plan that treated the company's own workers like the customers they serve.

The result? An Employee Benefit News' 2019 Judges' Choice Benny Award.

Guinn's new approach was people-focused, aiming to ensure an entire wellness strategy -- physical, mental, emotional, financial and purpose-driven needs. These plans and options were crafted by analyzing the data at hand.

We won't get too deep into the specifics, but the data was telling, giving Guinn the insights necessary to rework entire communications plans, increasing engagement before, during and after open enrollment. She knew that employees were often confused by the wealth of benefits options in front of them, never making the most of what was offered.

Even more telling, by analyzing her company's enrollment data, Guinn saw ways to optimize benefits offerings by life accomplishments and milestones -- having children, buying homes, paying for college, etc. Not only did she make it easier for employees to understand their options, but also continued education and communication through these life-changing events.

Even for employees who aren't undergoing these changes, Guinn's data allowed her to create a thematic approach to internal communications, centering her outreach on awareness months, national observances and the like.

With these overhauls, Benefitfocus saw a 72% adoption rate into its high deductible health plans during the 2019 open enrollment period, above the national average of 25 to 30%. Additionally, there was a 27% increase in employee contributions to health savings accounts.

Yeah, this is the type of data we like to hear. Check out the rest of the article to hear more about how Guinn and Benefitfocus leveraged data to transform benefits into a personal journey.

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Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Are employers offering millennials the right benefits?

We live in a society that's all about "bigger," "faster" and "more." But, as we're learning in the workplace benefits arena, "more" doesn't always equal "better." At least that's what we're getting from the new employee research covered in BenefitsPRO, which told us that workers -- specifically millennials -- want more help for all-around wellness. It seems their needs simply aren't being met, even after companies continue to blindly pile on other offerings.

Millennials want more employer support for well-being - Katie Kuehner-Hebert, Benefits PRO

Let's get right to the numbers here. In a recent Welltok report, "Millennials: Raising the Bar for Wellbeing," this much-maligned, often-misunderstood generation isn't asking for the moon. They just want benefits that provide holistic support for physical, mental and financial well-being. Yet, of the 1,000 employees surveyed, 78% think their companies can do more.

In turn, just 23% felt they knew where (and how) to access the well-being resources being offered by their employers. In other words, the answers might actually be there, but employees are having a hard time finding them.

Despite all this automation, millennials have also shown an affinity for personalized experiences. And health and wellness is no exception. More than 60% of surveyed felt that their benefits were uniform across the board, even though employee needs varied widely. And it seems this "one size fits all" approach is preventing them from taking part in company programs, too.

So, how do employers change the story? Well, according to the article, adding incentives that encourage participation would help. These benefits aren't AS surprising, but it makes sense as to why millennials would want them. Here's what respondents seemed to want the most:

  • Extra vacation time (64%)
  • Wellness benefits (56%)
  • Flexible work schedules (53%)

And though it wasn't part of the incentives list, millennials are also (unsurprisingly) very interested in financial stability… and maybe the training to make it happen.

All in all, this was an interesting read that aligns with what we've said about what motivates millennials in the workplace. But it also reintroduces the biggest point -- companies likely need to adapt and evolve their benefits programs to help retain this diverse generation of workers.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Are you planning to take some VTO?

Time off. We all want it. Some have it. And we'd venture a guess that not many people really make the most of it. Sure, the "ideal" way to spend your time off is subjective, to say the least. But based on this week's article, it seems more people are finding value in a new type of time off -- time off that might even be better for the soul.

Here's Why VTO Is the Next Big Thing in Employee Benefits - Lauren Pope, G2

No, that's not a typo -- VTO is the latest thing to hit employee benefits. To sum it up, VTO is when a company offers paid time off for its employees to volunteer with nonprofit organizations. Volunteer time off is usually paid and is tracked separately from sick days or vacation days and are offered with a use it or lose it policy.

Though some companies are a little more structured than others, typically VTO is done during set periods, with approved charities, and is completely voluntary. (Though we wouldn't want to be the one person who chose not to show up at a charity event.)

Is VTO a real thing? Or just a trend?

Oh, it's real. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), roughly 21% of American companies offer VTO. In turn, CECP says more than 60% of enterprise-level companies are making VTO a big part of their plans.

Why the sudden focus on philanthropy? Looking past the obvious "good press" and PR benefits, research shows that dedicated VTO leads to improvements in:

  • Employee engagement
  • Retention
  • Corporate visibility
  • Recruitment of young, socially minded talent

That last part is particularly important. Considering that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of employees quitting their jobs is higher than ever, getting the best young talent to fill (and stay in) those roles is key. These younger employees are more likely to work for a company that is socially active and aware, making VTO a key benefit offering on multiple levels.

The article goes on to explain more statistics about companies that offer VTO as part of a regular benefits package, and even gives some easy ways to manage a VTO program in your own company.

As you read this on a Friday afternoon, possibly getting ready for a few days off, consider how your company allows you to use your time off, and whether or not it can be put to better use. With a dedicated VTO initiative, it might soon be easier to truly make the most of your time away from work.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Real Money: How to make the most of employee wellness programs

Employee wellness benefits and reward programs are on the rise. According to a recent study from the Society of Human Resource Management, 75% of companies offer wellness resources and/or employee wellness programs.

But here's the deal — even though "wellness benefits" might sound like a great perk, a lot of employees don't know what the benefits include or how to use them. Part of that is because these benefits are relatively new. In fact, the same study found that 44% of companies increased their employee wellness offerings in the last twelve months.

Here's some tips to help you make the most of your employee wellness rewards program.

Games, challenges and fitness trackers

Have you ever received an email from human resources with details about fitness games or walking challenges? If so, your company might have a wellness rewards program. Wellness rewards programs vary from company to company, but usually include things like health assessments, fitness challenges, biometrics tracking and wellness education. The details might change depending on your company, but the rewards and incentives are usually similar.

Here's how it works — employees are able to earn rewards for completing health assessments or challenges. The aim of these challenges is to increase employee health, and as a result, lower health care costs for the employer. It's a win-win. In order to incentivize employees to participate, employers usually offer rewards.

Sometimes the rewards are things like discounts for monthly health care expenses, but occasionally, the rewards are points or "dollars" that can be redeemed for health-related items.

Products that can make your workday better

Once you've earned rewards or dollars through your employee wellness programs, and you have a qualified plan, put those dollars to work. The best part about these rewards is that you can use them to buy health-related products that you would have needed anyways. Here are three products you can buy with your wellness rewards. The best part? These products will help improve your health and your workday.

Be prepared with the pain relief bundle

Whether it's a killer headache or bad cramps, it's never fun to experience pain, especially at work. But the worst part about having mild pain is that it's more of a nuisance than an actual health concern. That's why the pain relief bundle is the perfect kit to store in your desk at the office. Next time you feel a headache coming on or experience foot pain from uncomfortable shoes, you'll have exactly what you need to feel better quickly.

Get comfortable with shoe insoles or inserts

For some people, work involves a lot of standing or walking. Even though it might be good for your health to walk around throughout the day, it's hard on your feet. That's why it might be a good idea to invest in foot insoles or inserts. The best part about inserts is that they help even the most uncomfortable shoes become more comfortable.

Get organized with a pill box

Whether you're trying to remember to take prescription medicine or have the goal of creating a vitamin routine, an organizational pill box is a great way to ensure that you stay on track. Get organized for the week and leave the pill box in your desk at work. By creating a routine that incorporates your work day, you're more likely to actually remember and follow through.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it on Tuesdays, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Basics

Fridays (with Benefits) - 4/26/19 - A digital revolution is underway in employee benefits

Employee Benefit News is a publication we reference a lot in this column, because of its ongoing coverage of the benefits industry (and how it might affect FSA and HSA owners). So, when the site's editors highlight the people and companies helping to change the employee benefits landscape, we take notice.

This year's Digital Innovators award recipients shine some light on all the different ways benefits are evolving through connected platforms. From things as simple as online video series and apps aimed at retirement planning, to more complex apps centered on employee accountability, it's clear that the world of benefits is taking a major leap to improve engagement in the workplace.

"Going digital" is hardly a new concept for modern business, but it's still great to see these platforms improve the way we work and live, in and out of the office. Let's take a closer look.

20 digital innovators transforming benefits, HR - Caroline Hroncich, Kathryn Mayer - Employee Benefit News

According to the article, EBN received dozens of nominations from readers, along with some choices from editors and industry experts, to create a comprehensive list of 20 deserving recipients. We obviously can't cover them all here, but let's check out a few of the standouts for 2019.

Rosario Avila and Andrew McNeil, founders of BenefitsTV
Avila and McNeil created BenefitsTV — a series of videos posted to social media —after they couldn't find any benefits content in video form. Since teaming up, the two benefits advisers have posted more than 50 short videos for YouTube and Instagram.

Mike Cardillo, co-founder and president, HandsFree Health
Cardillo's company created the new voice-activated device WellBe, which responds to voice commands like other virtual assistants, but targeted for answering questions based on the owner's individual healthcare and benefits information.

Brian Hamilton, vice president of SmartDollar
SmartDollar is an online and app-based financial program designed to educate employees to proactively take control of their money and get on track for retirement.

These three are really just the tip of the innovation iceberg highlighted in the article, so we strongly recommend taking a few minutes to see the list in full. Even if you're completely happy with your benefits (as an employer or employee) you might just find something to make them even better for everyone involved.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Accounts

Fridays (with Benefits) - 4/19/19 - Benefits education could lead to longer-tenured employees

One of the goals of our Learning Centers is to educate readers about their tax-free health care accounts, so they can make the right decisions about which accounts to open, and what opportunities they'll have for the upcoming year. But education about employee benefits needs to start a lot earlier, to make the choices clearer for workers, and to keep them happy long after they sign on the dotted line.

But, as we see in this article from BenefitsPRO, the level of benefits education plays a bigger role than we thought in employee happiness … and it might even affect retention. Let's see why.

Lack of benefits understanding brings low morale, high turnover - Marlene Satter, BenefitsPRO

According to a new Colonial Life study, employees who don't get a thorough picture of their benefits options during open enrollment don't typically understand their choices, even after they make their selections. This isn't that surprising. What caught our attention is that there seems to be a scary correlation between employee understanding and happiness.

Long story short? Data shows that employees who don't fully understand their benefits are more likely to quit within the coming year.

What's even more concerning is that there doesn't seem to be any urgency by employees to change this. Just look at these stats:

  • 33% of workers spend less than a half hour choosing benefits during enrollment.
  • 36% spend less than an hour even researching their options.

The article goes on to explain how this hastiness leads to lower morale, less confidence in their company, and even complete job dissatisfaction. It also highlights how different demographics had some markedly different approaches to selecting benefits.

Now, we can't speculate that the lack of benefits education is directly responsible for turnover. But having a company properly explain options and help employees select an ideal plan certainly seems like it would improve morale.

We're curious to see how the results of the Colonial Life study pan out, and if it will make a difference when open enrollment starts this fall.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - 4/12/19 - When great companies unite for a greater good

When people talk about "big box stores" or "mega-corporations" the conversation usually isn't held in a positive light. So whenever we hear about them using their size and clout to promote positive change -- for customers and employees -- we take notice.

This week's headline focuses on how several of the nation's largest companies, including names like Apple, Google, Walmart, Goodyear and Target, came together to help pilot cutting-edge benefits solutions, implementing these ideas separately, then reconvening to share some results.

A few years ago, if you told me Apple and Google were going to combine forces for ANY reason, I probably would have laughed… more than once. But now, with the future of employee benefits on the line, it doesn't seem so funny.

How 60 of the nation's biggest employers are uniting to fight the benefits status quo - Kathryn Mayer, Employee Benefit News

This unexpected collaboration all started the same way as so many other disruptive ideas -- by frustration and necessity. New health-tech startups were beginning to pop up, looking to redefine employee benefits solutions, but no one was testing them at scale. So several of these companies' HR leaders decided to join forces.

Together, these benefits leaders united to try these startups, pilot some of the programs and then discuss what worked and what didn't.

That was in 2014. Today, this collection of heavy HR hitters are known as the Employer Health Innovation Roundtable, now comprised of nearly 60 of the country's biggest employers, representing roughly 8 million employees.

What started as a twice-yearly roundtable seeking solutions to workplace health issues like addiction, mental wellness and child care, among others, is now a large consortium of businesses seeking to reclaim control over a flawed health care system

The short-term goal? Obviously, putting an end to unaffordable health care costs. But there's also a focus on shining light on innovative tech startups that propose significant improvements to the ways companies and employees manage health, from data-driven personal insights to wellness tracking and much more.

If the startups prove successful, the potential for partnership with U.S. industry leaders is plenty of motivation to keep innovating and improving benefits options. Companies have better health offerings. Workers are healthier and happier. New businesses get exposure in the world's biggest arena. Wins all around.

The article goes into great detail to explain the programs in play, the companies that are driving this change, and the longer-term goals of the roundtable. It's a worthy read for anyone looking into the decisions that mold their own health care … not to mention for anyone who enjoys a peek "behind the curtain" of the nation's largest companies.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - 3/22/19 - Four centuries of pension plans?

When you reflect on your benefits, you're probably thinking back to the last few plans you had, and leaving it at that. But I highly doubt many of you are looking at employee benefits in a historical context. Because benefit programs just seem like such a "20th century" creation, right?

Well, the people at Fast Company dug a little deeper into history to see just how far back things went. Let's see what a few hours in the books turned up...

Your employee benefits were 400 years in the making - Lydia Dishman, Fast Company

It turns out some of the employee perks and rewards we thought were pretty original, actually date back hundreds of years. Maybe those feudal lords weren't adding gym memberships and free lunches to their workers' plans, but you might be surprised at how forward-thinking employers were, even back then.

Lydia Dishman's article offers a quick and entertaining look at some (very) early benefits offerings, and how they shaped some of the things we still demand in our plans today. Here's a few highlights.

Did you know the very first pension plan was offered in 1636? It seems a little strange, coming from a community that still held actual witch hunts, but the colony of Plymouth, Mass. actually started paying small pensions to colonists disabled during their initial fights for independence.

As the idea evolved over the next 150-200 years, similar offerings were made for all war veterans, and then the concept was adopted by private industry, where it slowly became the pension model we know today.

But what about health care and employee wellness? Well, that didn't turn up until the late 1800s, when the Granite Cutters Union developed the first-ever plan for workers injured on the job. A few (okay 33) years later, retailer Montgomery Ward took the idea to the next level, with the inaugural group wellness policy.

And vacation? Yeah, that started right around the 1940s, when two of the biggest companies in the United States -- Kodak and Dupont -- started rewarding both hourly and salaried employees with well-deserved time off. Some were quicker to adopt than others, but this was a standard-bearer for most modern benefits plans.

After that, things really began to roll, and there were exponential gains in employee wellness. But why spoil it here when Lydia Dishman and Fast Company did it for us? It's a worthwhile read that might shed some light on just how far back employee needs were accommodated.

We imagine a day off in 1640 was probably just as appreciated then as it is now. (Yeah, maybe a little more.)

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - 3/15/19 - The real-world impact of inequity

We know what you're thinking - "isn't this where FSA Friday is supposed to be?" Yes, it's true -- we've decided to change things up a bit. Over the last few months we've noticed that our weekly flex spending coverage has shifted to a broader view of employee benefits.

In other words, the articles we select don't just talk about just tax-free healthcare spending, but also the people affected most by employee benefits trends, policies and changes. Oh, we're still going to talk about flexible spending accounts -- we are FSA Store, after all. But we also see a need to paint the bigger picture, to show how the world is learning to -- as we like to say around here -- benefit better.

Wait, I know what you're thinking again… "Enough of the intro, Brad. Let's get to this week's headlines."

Women Share Harrowing And Heartbreaking Stories About Hiding Their Periods At Work - Jamie Feldman, HuffPost Life

It's rare to sum up the mood of an article in one line, but Jamie Feldman does just that with this all-encompassing gem: "If you're screaming 'that's BS,' you're not alone."

Of course, Feldman is discussing something we've covered once or 10 times around here, menstrual equity and the need for these products, in particular, to be tax-free. But after reading this piece, you'll see the raw emotion about the subject, thanks to quotes and anecdotes from people who struggle with this rule everyday in the workplace.

As a company focused on highlighting the thousands of health products eligible for purchase with an FSA or HSA, we're among the many that wonder why feminine products haven't made the jump to a better classification. But we're still bound by these words:

"A regular menstrual cycle indicates a normal, healthy function of the body…" Because of this, the powers-that-be don't see hygiene products as 'treatment.'" But we're pretty sure millions of people who need these products wouldn't exactly classify them as a "nice to have" luxury.

The article goes on to discuss how Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) has been fighting for years to foster menstrual equity, in hopes that the ruling will finally pass through Congress later this year. But the legislative details are only part of the story -- the emotional power in the article comes from the real-world stories of alienation and discomfort, from the people truly affected.

Can Your Employer Cure Your Money Woes? - Liz Weston, NerdWallet

Onto happier things, NerdWallet reported this week that companies are exploring ways to help employees pay down debts like student loans as part of their benefits packages. The goal? Helping to eliminate the financial worries that can reduce productivity and time away from work.

To put that in perspective, according to a poll by accounting firm PwC in 2017, more than half of the 1,600 surveyed employees polled were stressed about their finances. In related news, human resources company Mercer has estimated financial stress costs U.S. businesses up to $250 billion a year.

To get ahead of this, some companies are trying to empower employees to take bigger steps toward eliminating debt. A few examples from the article:

  • Discounts on medical debt and interest-free loans repaid through payroll deductions.
  • Connecting workers to debt consolidation loans and student loan refinancing.
  • Payday advances or emergency loans so workers can avoid resorting to payday loan services with escalated interest rates.

Another interesting option mentioned in the article was the option to transfer PTO to cash, used to pay down debts directly. It's an interesting option, for sure. But is shifting work/life balance in that direction going to add to stress in different ways?

While these opportunities are making the news, they're not that common. But if companies begin to see happier, healthier, more secure employees -- and increased productivity alongside it -- we'd bet that more of these plan options will start popping up in the very near future.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.