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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.

Accounts

Fridays (with Benefits) - Are you getting full value from your benefits?

It's hard to imagine anyone making benefits "mistakes." When open enrollment comes, you just choose the best possible plan for you and move on with your day, right? If only things were that easy…

As we've discussed several times in this column, choosing the right benefits plan can be more difficult than you think, and can even be costly to employees, especially if they're not properly trained on their options. In this week's headline, Bob Armour from BenefitsPRO gets into some communication problems that could be hurting employee benefits, and suggests concrete ways to fix them.

5 benefits mistakes that cost employees - Bob Armour, BenefitsPRO

It seems like once benefits are chosen, employees are largely left to their own devices from that point forward. One of the things that stood out about this piece is how the author goes beyond benefits selection, and points out ways that companies can expand employee education to include spending advice, retirement planning and even wellness program engagement.

We obviously can't cover all of the article's points (that's why we included the link!). But here are some key takeaways from Armour's piece:

It should be a two-way conversation

When it comes to first choosing benefits, Armour points out how jargon can intimidate employees before they even start the selection process. Instead, he suggests opening the discussion with definitions to level the playing field between the benefits professional and the employee.

After that, he mentions how selection works best when key messaging points are communicated appropriately for different employee groups. Not just by professional tiers, but also by life stages -- recent hires vs. long-tenured employees, single vs. married, etc.

While all employees will have equal opportunities (obviously), different groups will have different needs, and using the same communication strategies might not resonate across the board.

Employees need to learn how to use benefits, not just choose them

Whether it's budgeting strategies for HDHP enrollees, or making regular health care recommendations (e.g. telemedicine vs. office visits, urgent care centers vs. visiting the ER) employees can benefit from ongoing communications with their administrators.

The truth is, many benefits options go largely unused once open enrollment is over. Things like wellness rewards programs, retirement planning training, debt management advice, or other perks need to remain front and center for employees, or they may quickly be forgotten. By making benefits perks seem important -- maybe reminding them that payroll deductions are already paying for them -- employees are more likely to take advantage of things that can improve their overall wellness.

These are just a few of the many takeaways Armour included in the article. And what we appreciated most about the piece was that even though it's from a publication aimed at benefits professionals, employees stand to gain just as much from reading it, maybe taking a few tips into their own open enrollment conversations 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.

Accounts

Fridays (with Benefits) - Communication can make-or-break your open enrollment

Yes it's still the middle of July, but we in the benefits industry run on a different calendar, and this time of year we're in the thick of open enrollment planning. For FSA users, this is a critical time to calculate your yearly contribution and make any necessary changes to your account before re-enrolling. FSA users tend to be benefits pros, but what about everyone else? The key ingredient to a successful open enrollment is communication - early and often!

Employee engagement: Why it matters for workers enrolling in benefits - Evelina Nedlund, Employee Benefit News

This week, we're taking a closer look at an Employee Benefit News interview with Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board, a non-profit business membership and research group organization, on the subject of open enrollment engagement. She had 3 interesting takeaways that every HR rep should stand up and take notice of:

Employees DO care about their benefits

While blank stares are common during most open enrollment presentations, research shows that employee benefits are massively important to workers. Benefits are part and parcel why your employees consider a place a great place to work, and they need to know how they can navigate them to get the maximum return from their hard work. It's not just another event on the calendar - it's pivotal for the entire employee base.

Employers need to take a larger role

Benefits administrators are key in communicating how benefits fit into a worker's overall financial picture, but employers have to do their part to open up these discussions to a larger audience. In addition to traditional benefits presentations, open forums where employees from all backgrounds can ask questions that go beyond the standard "what will my co-pay be?" shows that the company cares not only about work-life balance, but helping them achieve goals that extend outside of the office.

Student debt is a major issue to consider

Millennials make up the largest segment of today's workforce, but many are far more concerned with paying off their student loans than contributing to a retirement account. This is a wholly unique new trend for employers and benefit administrators to tackle, and one that will only become more relevant each year.

Financial wellness programs have become a common trend to help millennials better plan their finances and make the right choices for the future, but it shouldn't stop at one group. Workers at various life stages have all manner of important financial decisions to make, so offering these programs to multiple generations can give workers the tools and know-how they need to make smart financial decisions as they relate to their benefits choices.

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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) - Is holistic wellness the next big thing in benefits?

Wellness has practically become a buzzword in benefits circles. What used to mean "checkups" and "exercise" is now an all-encompassing term that covers virtually every part of a person's health. This means employers need to think bigger with their wellness offerings -- gym memberships and fresh fruit only go so far. The latest wrinkle in the wellness discussion? Holistic viewpoints. Let's dive in...

Investing in holistic wellness leads to more productive employees - Katie Kuehner-Hebert, BenefitsPRO

According to an Optum/National Business Group on Health survey of 2,200 workers from large companies, wellness needs to extend beyond the norm, to cover things as broad as financial health and mental well-being. Because these all add to a better employee experience.

In fact, the survey shows that a renewed, forward-thinking focus on wellness is directly related to employee productivity and loyalty, as well as their overall health. Not only did the surveyed employees indicate boosts in job performance and positive opinions about their employers.

However, it was clear from the results that financial well-being needs to be higher on the priority list. Nearly ⅓ of employees claimed they wanted more options available to them. This, along with improvements in prescription drug costs, are the biggest problem areas that employers could realistically solve, within reason.

But there was some better news -- 71% of employers are now offering mental health support. While these may not be as comprehensive as people want -- 25% claimed they wanted expansion in this area -- it's still a positive sign that employers are stepping up to prevent employee burnout and other long-term effects of stress.

The article makes some interesting finds about the things employees want the most from their benefits plans, and is well-worth the five minute read.

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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 we really ready for a digital health care system?

Not a week goes by where we don't hear about another digital, robotic, AI-enhanced development in health care. Whether it's telehealth chats with a doctor, or new ways to analyze test results, we're all well-aware of the changes happening in our medical routines.

But being aware of the changes doesn't necessarily mean we're happy about them. As we learn in this week's headline, while advancements like telehealth may be inevitable, there are some things that take a little longer to accept… especially when it comes to our health.

Survey: Only 20% of Consumers Would Trust AI-Generated Advice for Healthcare - Fred Pennic, HIT Consultant

As a journalism school survivor, I've come to appreciate honesty in writing. So when a piece opens with a definitive statement like, "Artificial intelligence (AI) has no role in consumer healthcare…" well, we take notice.

Of course, that wasn't just blurted onto the page without context -- according to a recent survey of 2,000 adults, conducted by Invoca and The Harris Poll among over 2,000 U.S. adults, just 20% would trust AI-generated advice for health care information.

That's right, a society that trusts smartphones to pay bills, manage investments and provide accurate heart rate information can't quite come to grips with artificial intelligence handling basic medical analysis. In fact, the same people who usually text their friends rather than call them still want medical information delivered via phone conversations.

Unsurprisingly, younger survey participants were more likely to trust AI-generated information, with 80% responding positively. However, when it came to receiving medical advice, only 22% of the same age group felt comfortable using this technology.

Despite some of the snarky things we wrote earlier, it makes perfect sense that people want to have a human connection when it comes to medical updates. Even if the recommended treatment or diagnosis is minor, these are still decisions that could alter a big part of someone's life, and there needs to be a deeper level of understanding and compassion -- a level that AI isn't quite at just yet.

But one thing is for certain, this change is happening, and health care providers need to act upon surveys like this one to ensure that AI-driven patient interaction is capable of giving clear, concise, but caring information.

While robots may never have human levels of compassion, it's clear we'll need them to be -- or at least capable of sensing when a live person should take over the conversation.

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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) - 6/21/19 - Retirement? What's retirement?

If you're a regular reader of the FSA Store and HSA Store Learning Centers, you know how important retirement planning is to what we do. Whether it's through better budgeting month-to-month, or long-term savings plans, tax-free health accounts can make you wiser with your money on all levels.

The importance of this has never been higher. At least according to a recent article from PlanSponsor, which culled some facts from Northwestern Mutual's 2019 Planning & Progress Study (full report here). The results were eye-opening, to say the least.

Balancing the Need and Desire to Work Past Retirement Age - Rebecca Moore, PlanSponsor

Right from the outset of the report, we learn that 46% of Americans plan on working past the traditional retirement age of 65. And it's not just the Baby Boomers who are approaching retirement -- an equal 18% of Gen X workers plan to work longer. Some even past 74, nearly a decade later than expected.

Of these groups, more than half (53%, across all age groups) are planning to work past 65 by choice -- for various reasons, which usually center on padding retirement income, or simply not being ready to stop working. Can't argue with that logic.

But that means that a near-equal number (47%) are doing it out of necessity… even if they're ready to close the book on their careers.

Why? Because they simply don't have the savings in hand to retire comfortably… and also don't feel prepared to tackle retirement on Social Security alone, especially in the wake of rising health care costs.

And that can be especially concerning for some; perhaps the most notable takeaway of the report is that more than 20% of Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement. Sure, this number accounts for all generations, including those just entering the workforce. But all the same, a lack of proper savings remains a problem for those approaching retirement age

Especially since more employers are turning to younger workers for those same roles, to save money on salaries and company health care costs

Retirement can be a daunting proposition, for sure. But with the right planning (and maybe a little friendly guidance from our Learning Centers) it doesn't have to be. A little smart planning now can quickly turn a small nest egg into a sound financial backbone that should give you some reassurance during your retirement years … whether or not you plan to stop working.

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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) - 6/14/19 - The smart retirement play? Expect the unexpected

Though I'm nowhere near retirement, I imagine it's a magical day. Better than graduating high school. Better than buying your first home. Better than selling that boat you never should have bought in the first place. Retirement is supposed to be the time for you to finally exhale, knowing you made your contribution to the world and letting someone else take the reins.

But, as we're learning, "exhaling" doesn't mean you get to put life on hold. As today's new retirees are learning, all those lazy mornings and relaxing walks need to be tempered with smart health and financial management, so your retirement funds can last.

90% of New Retirees Are Facing This Common (And Expensive) Problem - Katie Brockman, Motley Fool (as featured on NASDAQ.com)

Maybe that intro sounded like a little bit of fear-mongering. But that's not the case. According to a recent survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute, 90% of recent retirees experience significant health issues "sooner than expected."

How soon? Of those respondents, roughly 60% experienced health issues five years earlier than expected.

Of course, health care problems don't come with a schedule or agenda, so a lot of these numbers might be speculative. But it doesn't change the fact that preparation should be first and foremost, front and center of your planning… before and during your retirement years.

One key tip offered up by the author? Knowing exactly what Medicare does (and doesn't) cover for your retirement. In a different NRI survey we learned that nearly 75% of Americans don't fully understand the way Medicare works (with a shocking number believing Medicare coverage is free).

Education first, folks. With Medicare, you'll still be paying premiums, deductibles and copays. Even some routine preventive treatments aren't covered, and you'll need additional coverage for prescription drug discounts. In other words, these are costs you need to be ready for, otherwise that nest egg can deplete pretty quickly.

Also, while you might be nowhere near the typical age for long-term care needs, life isn't a straight line. A need for long-term care can come earlier for some people, and can be a catastrophic hit if you're not ready. (That's right, Medicare doesn't cover this, either.)

The article goes on to highlight health savings accounts (HSAs) as a smart way to bolster your retirement funds -- something we can really get behind. But while it might not be the happiest of topics, the article is an eye-opening read that might have new retirees rethinking that month-long European cruise. It's time to think about the "long game" and whether or not you've really budgeted your funds the right way.

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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) - 5/31/19 - Is Gen X really ready for retirement?

It wasn't THAT long ago that the term "millennials" was only used to describe people panicking about Y2K. Then, Generation X was leading the way toward changing the retirement landscape. They were the "MTV generation." They were the first generation to grow up with two-income families as the norm. And because of that, they were the ones that shifted the focus toward achieving true work-life balance before retiring young.

Well, even the best laid plans can go south if you're not careful. While Gen X is largely known for its desire for independence and autonomy, maybe the group (as a whole) should have considered getting a little help along the way.

As we see in this week's headline from Plansponsor, the generation that brought hip hop to the mainstream isn't quite as prepared for retirement as probably should be.

Generation X Has a Big Need for Retirement Readiness Improvement - Rebecca Moore, Plansponsor

As someone born in the final year of Generation X, I wasn't sure this article really applied to me. That is, until I read the following:

The Protected Lifetime Income Index Study from the Alliance for Lifetime Income (ALI) shows 65% of Americans younger than 55 are concerned that their retirement income will not last through their lifetime.

So, based on this, it looks like the debt:income ratio shifted toward the tail end of the generation, but the older members of Gen X were well-situated for retirement success, right?

...while 45% of those older than 55 are similarly concerned.

Okay, maybe this is a bigger issue than first believed. The report in question focused on people 45 and up, who have not yet retired, comparing variables like asset ownership to help determine where attitudes about retirement security began to shift.

Based on this, it appears that those with $75,000+ in assets (including homes) tended to be better savers and planners than those who hadn't. Hardly surprising, but when you consider nearly half of surveyed participants fell short of this total, the increased concern about retirement becomes more understandable.

Even more alarming is that more than 75% of participants don't see much change on the horizon, expecting to exhaust their retirement savings well before they should.

Another interesting note about Gen X? They are much less likely to have pensions than the Baby Boomers that preceded them, with more of them funding their retirements on their own, while leaning more heavily on Social Security benefits.

The article definitely opened the eyes of this (young-ish) Gen X'er, but offers hope by showing how better debt management can help turn the tide on savings before it's too late. We're not big on scare tactics around here, but any motivation that leads to better saving habits is a good thing in our eyes.

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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) - 5/24/19 - Financial wellness programs are working overtime

Wellness programs have always seemed to focus on the "here and now" when it comes to financial health. Sure, short-term changes can turn into long-term improvements. But even we were surprised at the idea that financial wellness programs -- a relatively new concept -- are already turning people into better financial planners, too.

But that's exactly what happened, according to this week's headline, which highlights a five-year study about personal financial wellness programs, and how they seem to be exceeding expectations right out of the gate.

Let's take a look...

New Financial Finesse Research Finds Key Driver to Retirement Success - PR Newswire

Financial Finesse, a provider of workplace financial wellness programs, recently released its 2018 Financial Wellness Year in Review report highlighting the current state of financial wellness in America. The basis of the report? A multi-year study focusing on 2,458 employees enrolled in (and engaged with) their employers' personal financial wellness programs over the past five years.

It turns out the strategies being employed by these programs are having positive trickle-down effects on people's financial outlook. For example, participants who used financial wellness tactics to improve cash flow and debt management also were likely to increase retirement contributions.

Okay, maybe we're understating it -- financial wellness program participants proved to be 50% better at contributing to retirement plans, and 41% better at contributing to a health savings account (HSA).

More importantly, these numbers represent a huge jump from the totals from 2013, the opening year of this study. By the end of this five-year stretch, 26% more participants felt they were adequately prepared for retirement -- a good result, to say the least.

Additionally, the study found something we probably don't need to highlight -- debt is still the top thing preventing people from properly saving for retirement. And it's a problem that isn't going to be cured from financial wellness programs alone. But the growing slate of online tools, counseling and resources are giving people extra support to make the best possible decisions now, so debt and rising health care costs don't burden them down the line.

We all know that financial wellness is a growing segment of the overall benefits market. But now there are concrete numbers to support their prevalence in today's compensation packages. We fully expect to see more studies like this arise over the next five years, which should be even more telling than this report.

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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) - 5/17/19 - Making wellness programs better

It's safe to say we love employee wellness programs around here. Not only do we cover them extensively in this column, but we even launched an entire retail site around it!

But that doesn't mean these programs don't have room for improvement. In this week's headline, Employee Benefit News dives into some proposed ways employers (and employees) can boost the effectiveness of these programs to make strides in their health and workplace performance.

Making wellness work: 5 ways employers can improve programs - Rebecca Madsen, Employee Benefit News

We knew wellness programs were growing in prominence, but we didn't realize how much. But Madsen opens this article with a (really) encouraging stat -- midsize and large employers are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on well-being programs during 2019, according to a study by the National Business Group on Health (NGBH).

And why wouldn't they? Any investment in happier, more productive workers is a win for all involved. But even we were surprised by how quickly workers were adopting these initiatives into their lives. According to the article, UnitedHealthcare reported 57% of surveyed employees said workplace wellness has positively affected their lives.

So how do employers plan to boost that 57% statistic? By empowering employees to make the most of their wellness opportunities. Here are a few highlights that Madsen felt were important to make this happen.

Modify lifestyle choices

Looking beyond basic dietary advice, employers should consider ways to encourage healthier choices throughout the workday, such as having meetings while walking, offering onsite fitness equipment to use while working, or providing the option for a stand-up desk.

(And for the diet-conscious? Healthy food options and incentives to eat better, even with that awesome burrito place located right down the block.)

Make incentives matter

According to the article, mid-sized and large employers this year will offer an average per-employee well-being incentive of $762, according to the NBGH study. It seems a little high, but it might be the going price. UnitedHealthcare's survey found that, among people who said it would require an incentive for doing health-related activities, 53% said between $1 and $3 per day would motivate them to achieve that goal.

Support socializing

Health isn't just about diet and exercise. People need to like being in the workplace, and socialization plays a big role in making it happen. The article suggests that incorporating social components into your well-being programs will improve adoption and retention. Some of these strategies include walking groups, employee appreciation days and team-building activities such as volunteer events.

It's clear that wellness programs aren't going anywhere but up, in both reach and quality of offerings. But now it's important that employees don't treat these opportunities as "one off" situations, and actually incorporate them into the regular work routines. In other words, those walking meetings need to happen more than once, and in-office snacks shouldn't revert to donuts and chips as soon as the seasons change.

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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) - 5/10/19 - Don't accept a job until you ask these health insurance questions!

With the growth of the so-called "gig economy" and rapid job changes on the rise, accepting a new role can almost be considered an impulsive decision, even if it probably shouldn't be. Because today's workforce is adding bullet points to resumes at a breakneck pace, it's likely that candidates aren't asking many questions about benefits before committing … and even if they are, they might not be asking the right ones.

That's where this week's headline comes in. In a special guest contribution to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on behalf of Monster, we learn some handy tips for job seekers who might not be getting the info they need about health benefits in their future roles.

8 health insurance questions to ask before accepting a job offer - Dawn Papandrea, Monster contributor (for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

We were encouraged by the opening paragraph from author Dawn Papandrea, which indicated that health insurance is "becoming a more and more important factor when choosing a new employer and deciding whether or not to accept a job offer."

Why? Because it seems like we've spent a lot of time discussing how younger workers aren't as focused on their own health care as they could (and probably should) be. So, even in a world shifting toward frequent job change and "gig" employment, it's good to see that people are focusing on longer-term needs.

In this article, Papandrea (who features Monster and a wealth of personal finance clips on her extensive resume) highlights eight key questions candidates should ask about health insurance before signing on the dotted line.

Obviously, we won't detail them all here, but strongly encourage you to check them out. Because, while you might think you're being offered comprehensive insurance, you could realistically be missing some serious gaps amid the excitement of taking on a new role. Here are a few of the questions that stood out to our team:

Is there a waiting period for coverage?

Sure, you started work on the first of the month. But what happens if you sprain your ankle on the second? While more employers are offering full medical coverage out of the gate, a lot of companies still make new hires wait a set amount of time before those benefits kick in -- sometimes as long as 90 days.

Since you might need to stock up on bubble wrap to keep yourself safe before coverage begins, it's a perfect question to ask during the negotiations.

How large is the provider network offered by the plan?

You might be lured into a health plan based on cost or seemingly thorough coverage, only to find out after the fact that your available network is much narrower than expected. This is especially common for remote employees, who have a fraction of the available plans and providers as those working from the office each day.

Bringing this question to the table will help you plan accordingly, or even decline coverage, if your network simply doesn't meet your anticipated medical needs.

Does your company offer tax-advantage reimbursement plans?

Of course we had to include this question -- and kudos to the author for including it! With the growth of FSAs and HSA-qualified HDHPs, tax-free health care is a growing factor in today's benefits discussions.

Since you're reading this, there's a chance you already have these account options in your head before signing up for a new role. But it never hurts to ask about the types of tax-free health options available to you.

Like we mentioned, these are just a few of the questions the author presents, but all of them resonated with us when reading the piece. At first, these questions might seem obvious, but you'll quickly realize that today's workers might still be assuming too much as they sign up for new roles. If you're currently seeking a new job, remember what they say -- the only silly question is the one you don't ask. Thanks to this article, you have eight launch points for much deeper conversations with your potential new employer.

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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) - 5/3/19 - Will deep learning lead to the rise of Dr. Robot?

Mr. Robot is a popular TV show about a group of hackers who are trying to wipe out the world's debt problem through some digital anarchy. A novel idea, but probably not a realistic one. Maybe we won't see an effective Mr. Robot anytime soon, but what if health care providers started diving a little deeper into tech and data solutions?

Is DR. Robot on the way? Maybe not with an Oscar-winner leading the charge, but it looks like the health care world is ready to graduate from artificial intelligence (AI) into even stronger ways to revolutionize the industry. Let's dive in.

Deep learning offers lessons for healthcare - Bruce Shutan, Employee Benefit Adviser

Building off the tenets of AI and machine learning, deep learning tech processes gargantuan amounts of seemingly unrelated data and spots data patterns. Once identified, the platform then creates better prediction models for more proactive solutions.

What does this techno-babble have to do with health care? For starters, if deep learning platforms spot patterns in patient data, it could lead to earlier intervention of chronic diseases, potentially sparing them the physical and financial burden of a longer-term illness.

In other words, earlier treatments, fewer symptoms, lower costs for all involved.

Other potential health care benefits of deep learning include better medical imaging, more personalized treatment plans for specific patients, lowering the costs of drug discovery, and even improving the processing and paperwork routines.

According to the article, the health care industry is a perfect place to put deep learning tech to use. The author cites that a single hospital stay could potentially generate 100 pages of data. Multiply that by thousands of patients, and… well, you can see the need for a platform to make sense of it all to improve service on all levels of the experience.

The article goes on to discuss how data science isn't just going to help with the medical results and bottom lines, but also to make the entire experience, from diagnosis to final payment, more efficient, eliminating a lot of the friction and communication issues that can plague a lot of providers.

Of course, we can't cover the topic here. But if you're interested in doctors bringing a little science fiction into our health care reality, this is a must-read article that shows why Mr. Robot might be a little closer to real than we think.

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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.