Perks: Are They The New Employee Benefit?

Perks: Are They The New Employee Benefit?

Every year I teach a group of graduate human resource students about employee benefits. I begin the first class by asking my students for examples of what they consider to be a “benefit” for employees. I never provide them a definition which allows them to rely on their own experience and background. My students are all adults, having worked for years in many different sectors and sizes of companies. They come from large established corporations, small tech start-ups, and non-profits so, of course, there are varied opinions.

We begin by noting the “benefits” on a wall-size white board. Within a short period of time, the entire board is covered with examples. They range from the more traditional benefits such as medical and life insurance to offerings that we generally think of as perks. Perks such as flexible work weeks, free food, fitness trainers, computer discounts, movie tickets, child care and the list goes on and on. As we continue our discussion, it becomes clear that the differentiating line between benefits and perks has begun to blur. Essentially the board, full of examples, all represent “benefits” that employees would appreciate. The 40 year old married, mother of 3, is thrilled with true flexible time where she can easily leave work mid-day to be with her children. The 25 year old, single guy is excited about the Blue Apron discount so he can improve his cooking skills and eat healthy.

Perks bring ease to our employees’ lives. And ease means, less stressed, healthier, happier, and certainly, more productive employees.Isn’t that the goal of our wellness strategy?Here’s what I found to be the 3 primary usages of perks in organizations that are known as Great Places To Work:

Alignment – The perks are aligned with the population. I’ve found that generally perks become an afterthought in an organization. They have been around for years and often do not align with the existing employee base. Alignment is key in making perks meaningful. Perks such as longer paternity leaves and support for child care will gain a lot of fans within an organization with young parents.

Organization – Generally perks are “all over the place.” They are managed by various groups and frankly, who even knows if most of them still apply. Meaningful perks are managed just like any other program. This allows an organization the ability to keep them fresh, valuable, and take advantage of available upgrades. A valuable by-product is that the perks are better communicated to the employees.

Reporting – I would bet that many of us have perks available and we are completely unsure how often or if the perk is being used. As an example, do we know how many people have taken advantage of that PC discount? Offering perks that allow for reporting and trackingare key. Tracking is a necessary step to ensure that your perks are what your employees care about.

As I’ve worked with organizations and surveyed employees in the design of their wellness strategies, I find that often the things employees remember most are the perks. It’s the “thing” that their employer provided that brought ease and happiness into their lives, often costing the employer very little. So reconsider your perks. They can be meaningful to the success of your organization and a great support to the infrastructure of any wellness program.

Insights from HLTH: Healthcare

Insights from HLTH: Healthcare

Last week I spent 4 days at the inaugural HLTH conference in Las Vegas. The goal of HLTH was to initiate a collaboration to “take the waste out of health care.” Intrigued with the goal, me and 3,499 people from many areas of healthcare, ventured into Las Vegas to focus on the problems with our existing health care system and share potential solutions.

Just to clarify the attendees, those represented were digital health care companies, health plans, health systems, employer health care consultants, employers, and venture capitalists. My primary interest was how all these interesting and innovative solutions can or will impact the employer community. More specifically, how these newer health solutions effectively impact employer health cost and deliver substantial results while bringing ease to employers and their employees. There were 3 specific areas that stood out to me. Areas that will continue to gain attention in the public health space and consequently influence employer offerings.

Genomics!!

The conference kicked off with lots of energy around population health, personalized medicine, big data, and genomics. We heard examples of how the state of Nevada, payer collaborations, and pharma partnerships are coming together to make genetic results relevant to managing our health. The potential impacts in this area are huge! There are employers who now are providing employees access to genetic tests. Tests that inform the employees how they can be healthier. As genomics expands and the opportunities to use the results grows, I see this becoming a much more desired health benefit.

Personalized Nutrition.

I listened to many speakers and panelists who often described the impact of nutrition on health. There is nothing new about this statement. What did surprise me was the lack of innovative nutrition solutions available. Surveys indicate that workplace wellness nutrition programs are on the down trend. That makes sense as there are plenty of options and information available directly to the consumer. However, with growth in the genetic and microbiome fields, personalized nutrition is a hot topic. We will have the ability to know exactly what we should or should not be eating to support our personal health. I still see that people will need personal coaching and support. In the end, it’s still about behavior change.

Clinicians.

Despite all the conversation about changing the health care game, there were few clinicians present. Sure the place was full of doctors who were involved in health care technology or investments but where were the clinicians who work with the patients? I shared lunch one day with a physician and nurse practitioner who attended the conference completely due to their personal interest. They were “blown away” by the energy that is evolving around and impacting their profession. They were also in agreement with many of the solutions and the positive impact that these solutions can make to their work. I would like to have more practicing clinicians a part of this discussion and I’m sure there will be. We certainly need our clinicians and having a true patient centered solution would be great for all of us.

As the year progresses, we’ll be emerged in this digital health care evolution as well as other interesting happenings such as the CVS / Aetna merger and the Amazon/ JP Morgan Chase/Berkshire Hathaway partnerships. The changes will impact all of us and will certainly impact employer health strategy as it relates to their employees. I’m not sure how but, whether or not we’re ready, it’s definitely an exciting time.

What Workplace Wellness Data Doesn’t Tell You

What Workplace Wellness Data Doesn’t Tell You

Many of us in employee benefits have, at some point, found ourselves tasked with developing a workplace wellness program. Unlike a health or dental plan, workplace wellness can be a frustrating and costly program to provide to employees. We start out with an employee population that we think we know.  Actually, we do know a lot about them.

We know how many children they cover on our plans, the length of their daily commute, when they last saw a doctor and if they are struggling with a chronic disease or infertility. With all of this information, it should be easy to construct a wellness program that can yield some positive return on health. Yet we find that on average, only 35% of our employees participate and 50% generally don’t even know the program exists. How can that be possible given that we purchase options that are “tailored” to what we know about our employees and create mounds (yes! mounds!) of communication to announce its availability?

In my 20+ years of designing health and wellness programs, I’ve found that there are generally 2 cultures in an organization. The one that the employer knows about and the one that actually exists. This is why we find that some of the most successful programs employ a grassroots approach to wellness which taps into the culture that actually exists. These wellness programs provide access to what employees truly want and need and speak to them in a way that they can engage and remember. A Harvard Business survey of companies that offer a health, wellness, and fitness program, found that 75% of participants agreed that wellness programs need to incorporate a personalized and customized approach. 

Grassroots programs, in addition to activities that people actually care about, incorporate partnership and shared accountability which ultimately lead to engagement.

Engagement leads to the ultimate goal of healthy workforces that, in addition to lower healthcare costs, have been found to outperform their competition given their ability to be more focused at work, think quicker, have better ideas and pivot in industries where change comes quickly and often.

Sound easy? Admittedly, aligning a program to be completely in line with the employee culture is difficult. Even when we know what people would like, there can be conflicts with organizational business goals, legal requirements, money and time, all of which can derail our best intentions. However, building that one bridge within your wellness program that engages with the core culture of your employees can yield exciting and positive results. Although this may be a small piece of your larger program, the excitement around the program can in itself, grow the type of results that add value to the employees, their families and the organization.

So, do you believe a healthy workforce can impact your company’s bottom line? If so, I share with you one suggestion, Set aside a small amount from your wellness budget, Organize a few employees who really care about their health and others, and Support them in building something phenomenal.

Spring Refresher

Spring Refresher

I was in the 20th year of my career.  My current job required a 2 hour commute each day. I left my home at 6 a.m. and didn’t return until at least 6 p.m. that evening.  That left me only 12 hours each day to have dinner, attend to my family, exercise and sleep.  I was absolutely exhausted at the end of my work day, my eating choices became poor, exercise rarely happened, relaxation was non-existent, and issues with my 50 year old body made sleep almost impossible.  I pushed on.

Maybe I should eat better and exercise during my work day?  So now my lunch hour which previously included working and eating lunch at my desk became running to the gym, rushing through a workout, then eating the same boring salad every day.  I ridiculously was trying to cram 30 hours into a 24 hour day.  Sound familiar?

Well one day my body just said “NO!”  It told me I needed to seriously pay attention to my lifestyle and the unrealistic demands I was requiring of myself. .  Our bodies say “NO!” in a variety of ways including:

  • Illness,
  • Injury
  • Pure Exhaustion

Related to Poor Meal Choices, Too Much Stress, and The Wrong Exercise. When it happened to me, I IMMEDIATELY FELT DEFEATED, OLD, OUT OF SHAPE, and FAT. Yes, many of us take ourselves through this process on a regular basis, but here’s a solution.  I’m sharing some simple anchors for longer term change.

1- Make Coffee a PART of Breakfast, NOT all of Your Breakfast

Shannon’s story:  Having coffee by itself, first thing in the morning contributed to my hormones being out of whack. Incorporating a healthy breakfast, along with my coffee, increased my energy. Focusing on eating first thing in the morning made me care more about what I ate for the rest of the day.

2- Do Absolutely Nothing for 15 Minutes Each Day

Baxter’s story:  I told my family that when I get home, they need to give me time to just relax.  And they actually did it! I wouldn’t plan, I wouldn’t read, no email…I just sat and looked out the window and took a breath. It became my 15 minute vacation.  I felt relaxed and I’m sure I was more fun to be around. Amazing!

3- Only Do Exercise That Makes You Feel Good

April’s story:  I hated going to the gym so I found a dance class.  I now go to my dance class 5 days a week – no matter what. No more hardcore workouts.  I walk.  I enjoy it and my body feels wonderful. The last Saturday of each month, me and a friend check out a workout we never did before.  Last month was anti-gravity yoga.  This month it’s hula hooping.

I invite you to choose an anchor or create one of your own that makes your body feel GREAT!

Is Juicing for Breakfast Another Diet Scam

Is Juicing for Breakfast Another Diet Scam

Several weeks ago I had a stomach bug that latest for two weeks.  During that time, the only “food” I could handle was liquid food.  I had juice, coconut water, tea, water, and often mixed it with my organic green powder which is full of veggies, flax seed, and protein.  When I finally got over my nasty stomach bug, I had a new appreciation for juice, particularly in the morning.  Since then I start my day with a juice that I’ve  made using organic fruits and vegetables and always include my green powder for some extra veggies and protein.

What I’ve found, is that I truly appreciate the energy and lightness that I get from a morning juice.  But it won’t be worth it if we overlook a few critical steps.  If you’re juicing, or thinking about it, here are some healthy steps.

Use organic fruit and vegetables – The quickest way to get something into our body and organs is to make it a liquid.  If we use NON-organic fruits and vegetables, then we absorb all of those pesticides and GMOs into our system, quickly.  I don’t think that’s what  we have in mind.  Buy organic when you’re juicing.  It’s critical!

Pay Attention to the Sugar – Too many fruits, vegetables, or using fruit juice as a base are all ways to blow our daily sugar and calorie limit.  I limit my juice to 1 to 1-1/2 pieces of fruit and a handful of veggies.  Using a base that is low in calories such as water, coconut water, green tea, or unsweetened almond milk gives me lower calories while providing some variety to my routine.  

Add Some Protein – I always recommend you balance your carbohydrate with a fat or protein.  Adding a protein to my morning juice helps balance blood sugar while leaving us filling fuller until it’s time for lunch.  Remember to choose a powder that is organic and low in calories.  

Have fun –  Be creative.  Use fruits, vegetables and spices like ginger, cinnamon and tumeric.

I would really like to hear about about your recipes!  Please be sure to share recipes and pictures in the comments area below.