Conquer the Stresses of Open Enrollment With These Tips for HR Pros

Open enrollment season has arrived for many U.S. companies, and if you are responsible for managing your organization’s benefits program, you already know how stressful this time of year can be. The tasks and responsibilities involved with guiding your colleagues through this process can unfortunately have a major impact on your physical, mental and emotional health. And you know that each year presents its own unique challenges.

To help benefits administrators navigate this challenging period, we have some guidance for promoting your overall wellbeing throughout the open enrollment timeframe.

Recognizing Signs of Stress

If you’re an HR pro, you already recognize the stresses and challenges that come with your role. This time of year, it can feel like a whirlwind of stress and pressure — you’re searching for candidates to fill an open role, dealing with the demands of leadership and trying to build and maintain a great organizational culture, all while juggling the challenges of open enrollment.

A recent survey found 98% of HR professionals have felt burned out at work in the last six months, while a separate survey reported that 43% consider planning or managing benefits to be one of the most stressful parts of their job.

Dealing with stress is impossible if you can’t recognize the differences between routine challenges of the job and feeling truly overwhelmed. Some of the short-term warning signs of excessive work-related stress can include [1]:

If you don’t deal with stress, the long-term impact on the body and mind can be even more significant [2]. Each of the short-term issues listed above can lead to more serious health issues over time. For example, difficulty sleeping for months will greatly impair your body’s ability to heal and recover. High blood pressure could lead to heart attack or stroke. Chronic stress can even impair your immune system, causing you to be more susceptible to illness [3].

It often seems those who help others have the most trouble asking for help themselves. In the next section, we’ll cover some techniques and practices to help manage work-related stresses.

Managing Stress

In the moment, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to solve a problem, even when you may not have an immediate solution. That feeling of being overwhelmed can be a lot to handle. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing stress. Understand that the guidance below can provide benefits, but what works for you may not work for another.

Use Your Support Network
Remember that you are not alone, even when it may feel like it, and that the best solution to dealing with stress is working with others to solve the problems causing tension in the first place. Any problem can seem overwhelming when you don’t see a clear solution. But sometimes, just talking through a challenge with a trusted colleague or even a loved one can provide clarity and give you an opportunity to view a setback with a little more insight.

Practice Self-Care
Self-care takes many different forms, but regardless of how you like to relax and pamper yourself, it’s important all the same. It doesn't have to be a spa day or lighting candles by the bubble bath. Maybe it’s taking a weekend trip to see family or just spending time with friends at a concert or sporting event. Whatever it is that brings you happiness and gives you a break from the stresses of your personal or professional life, make sure you take the time to invest in yourself.

Exercise has been proven to help manage both acute and chronic stress [4]. It has also been shown to cancel out some of the long-term effects of stress, such as a diminished immune system [5]. It also provides a break from stressors and an opportunity to recharge while your mind is focused on your workout or activity.

It’s important to find something you enjoy doing — if you don’t enjoy running, for instance, a 30-minute jog will probably just stress you out even more. Know your strengths and interests, and try many different things to find an activity that suits your preferences.

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully conscious and aware of where you are, what you’re doing and taking the time to process your surroundings instead of being reactive [6].

Think of a time when you’ve experienced a setback or hurdle and reacted with frustration. Mindfulness is when we seek balance in those moments and experience them rationally, not emotionally. When we are mindful, we are able to reduce stress, enhance our performance, gain insight and have awareness of our own wellbeing.

Studies support this practice: reframing your thoughts can help you reduce stress. Next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or reacting strongly to a setback, try to take a moment to process these feelings logically, rather than emotionally.

Box Breathing
This yoga technique is employed by many athletes and is even incorporated into training for Navy SEALs. It could also be considered a form of mindfulness. The practice is simple; do each of the following while slowly counting to four.

Repeat this several times, giving focus and attention to your breathing. Studies show that regulating your breath can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reduce heart rate because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, controlling the body’s ability to relax.

Regulating your breathing can have a calming effect, and directing your mind to focus on the four-count, as well as feeling the air enter and exit your body, can take your mind off external stressors. Practice this skill: working on it can prepare you to experience its benefits in times of hardship. It can even be a great practice to calm down and evict busy thoughts before bed.

Taking Breaks
Knowing your own best practices for productivity at work can present its own unique challenge. No matter your preferences, one thing is certain: taking breaks can not only improve your mood, it can make you more productive in the long run [7].

Being able to detach from a project and return to it later with renewed focus and energy can help you secure wins throughout the day, instead of feeling the burden of responsibilities piling up. In today’s connected world, it’s also likely you’ve felt pressure to be “on” evenings and weekends. You need to be able to detach from work in your down time, your mental health depends on it. Prioritizing breaks, downtime and setting boundaries can have a profound effect on your wellbeing.

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you be more aware of underlying beliefs and behaviors. Taking time to digest events in your life can help you define them more clearly and bring meaning to them. It can also help you resolve feelings lingering in your mind, and sometimes even uncover thoughts or beliefs you weren’t consciously aware of. Take time before bed or after a busy day at work to record thoughts and occurrences. It could even just be as simple as making a list of things you accomplished that day, versus fixating on items left unfinished.

Remember, You're Not Alone

Remember that all across the country, there are HR pros like you feeling the same stresses related to open enrollment. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed from time to time, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. While it’s just about impossible to completely avoid work-related stress in any profession, hopefully these tips can help you now and in the future. You’re not alone — and open communication with your support network, practicing self care and being aware of your emotions can go a long way towards lowering your level of stress.

This content is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice. Gregory & Appel is neither a law firm nor a tax advisor; information in all Gregory & Appel materials is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal or tax advice.

Level Up Your Organization's Cyber Security With These Safety Tips

One cyber attack could derail your organization, costing you not just time and money, but also damaging your reputation. According to the FTC, phishing schemes cost individuals and businesses in the United States over $330 million in 2022 alone, more than double the reported losses from the previous year and a 500% increase over a five-year period.

Unfortunately, businesses and their employees are targeted with advanced email phishing attacks and text message scams every single day. These tactics have become much more common because they are effective ways to exploit personal and corporate security.

There are many factors that have led to the increase in these schemes, but what’s most important is being able to identify these and avoid the consequences of falling victim.

Recognize Phishing Attempts

To start out, here are a few tactics that are commonly used by potential scammers. It’s possible you will already recognize some of them. Being aware of these tactics can help you avoid them.

They Pretend to Be Someone You Know
You receive an email or text claiming to be from a friend, colleague or associate who asks you to click a link or share information.

An Urgent Request
The message you receive claims it’s an emergency situation — for example, a supervisor saying a task needs to be completed immediately. This lowers your defenses and plays on your desire to help them.

It Looks Real
The message comes from an email address that looks legitimate at first sight, but upon closer examination doesn’t match the company website or name. Scammers use familiar names and hope you won’t look at every detail to notice misspelled URLs or false email addresses.

Login Scams
Often, scammers will try to gain access or sensitive information by claiming there has already been a fraudulent login attempt on an existing account. In your haste to secure or recover your account, you may actually be entering sensitive information on a fake website, giving the hackers access.

QR Codes
It's very possible you would recognize a false website URL, but a QR code is much harder to evaluate. Spam filters also have a harder time assessing images included in attachments. Malicious QR codes have been used to steal login credentials.

Avoid Falling Victim

So how do you avoid becoming the latest victim of a phishing scheme? Here are a few things to keep in mind. These attacks are becoming so common that it’s not a matter of if, but when you or your business will be targeted.

When In Doubt, Call
If you receive a suspicious email or text, contact that person through a trusted method that you know isn't compromised. Even the number in the signature line of their email could be fake, as it is possible to invade an ongoing email chain, where impersonators can change contact information to make sure the call comes to them.

Be Aware of Impersonation
Artificial intelligence introduces greater risk to unsuspecting victims. Scammers are now using AI to craft specific and pointed email and text message-based attacks. Additionally, attackers are now able to replicate voices by using past recordings.

Always Use Two-Factor Authentication
Most online services offer two-factor authentication, and many now require it. This system offers additional security by requiring an additional verification after entering your password like a code sent to your phone, a security question or a scan of your face or fingerprint. While we can control and implement two-factor authentication for services that we control (company email, for example), we cannot always control third-party software solutions and websites that may not offer this capability.

Password Best Practices
Never use the same password in more than one location and avoid holding passwords in spreadsheets, documents on your computer or phone, or writing them down on a notepad. Using strong, unique passwords makes it more challenging for a hacker to gain access in the first place and limits the damage they can do if they secure access to one site.

Email Account Access
Keep in mind that cyber attackers can gain access to the accounts of legitimate business contacts. If something feels off about an email from a legitimate contact, pause and report it. An example of this may be a customer or vendor requesting you to send funds to a different bank account.

Keep Software & Systems Updated
Always keep operating systems and applications updated to the most recent version, including patch updates. It's best to institutionalize these updates, either having all software automatically update when a new version is available or by having your IT department deploy these updates.

Firewalls & Antivirus Protection
Prevent attacks before they happen with antivirus software that can detect and mitigate viruses and malware. Firewalls can prevent bad actors from accessing vulnerable parts of your network.

Routine Employee Training
Conducting regular training for all employees will support the entire organization's ability to resist cyber attacks. If employees are able to identify a threat, you significantly lower your risk of a breach. Empower everyone in your organization by at least providing basic training on security best practices.

While many of these tips and recommendations may seem like common sense, these attacks happen every day and even those with experience and training could be susceptible under the right circumstances. Gregory & Appel is CCIC-certified, meaning we can provide the guidance to help organizations prevent and respond to cyber attacks with incident response plans.

If you need guidance, connect with your risk advisor and get up to speed with the latest in cyber risk management.

This content is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice. Gregory & Appel is neither a law firm nor a tax advisor; information in all Gregory & Appel materials is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal or tax advice.

Prevent Cooking Fires With These Best Practices

Today marks the start of the National Fire Protection Association’s annual Fire Prevention Week. This year’s theme is Cooking Safety Starts With You. Pay Attention to Fire Prevention.

To support this national agency’s efforts, we’ve gathered some important cooking tips to remember. While many of these tips may seem like common sense, these helpful reminders can help prevent damage to your home and property and even save lives.

Why It’s Important

According to NFPA, cooking fires accounted for 49% of all home structure fires between 2017 and 2021, by far the biggest cause of both fires and injury.

Additional statistics of note:

And, according to reports by Indianapolis CBS4 and The Washington Post, house fires burn significantly faster today than they did in the past due to higher use of synthetic materials in homebuilding and in items like furniture and carpeting used in the home. That means cooking safety is more important now than ever.

Graph showing leading factors in home cooking fires. Figures below
Top causes of home cooking fires. Additional context provided in next section.

Tips for Fire Safety

With that information in mind, let’s cover some important safety tips that can help reduce risk while cooking.

Other Things to Remember

While the following tips and reminders aren’t directly related to cooking safety, this time of year is a great time to remember and plan for the following:

If you are looking for more cooking & fire safety tips, more information can be found at

[1]: NFPA's Home Structure Fires research, April 2023.
[2]: NFPA's Home Cooking Fires infographic.
[3]: NFPA's Home Cooking Fires research, September 2023.

This content is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice. Gregory & Appel is neither a law firm nor a tax advisor; information in all Gregory & Appel materials is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal or tax advice.