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
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
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.

Journaling
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.

Captives Part 4: Captives as an Employee Benefits Solution

In part four of our captives blog series, we discuss why some businesses are turning to captives as an employee benefits solution.

Group medical captives can also be a creative solution to your employee benefits needs when it comes to contractual protections, stable renewals and access to cost-containment programs.

We advise small- to medium-sized employers who want to move away from a fully-insured arrangement to consider the captive option for the following reasons:

Group medical captives can also benefit self-funded employers who want affordable stop-loss protection against the high cost of ongoing and catastrophic claims.

No New Laser* at Renewal

This eliminates the option for the carrier to carve out an ongoing, catastrophic claimant from the stop-loss policy. An employer can have the peace of mind of knowing they won’t ever be fully financially responsible for an ongoing high-cost claimant.

* Insurance carriers can assign a higher specific deductible, also known as a laser, to an individual with a known condition or an expectation of high claims. This additional risk becomes the employer’s in exchange for a reduced premium load. If the lasered claims do not materialize, the plan can benefit.

Stable Renewals

Average stop-loss renewal increases range from 7-9%, maxing out at +30% for unusually challenging claim years.

Similar to how captive programs function in commercial insurance, your company will have an opportunity to earn back dividends if your group performs well.

Members also have access to several industry-leading cost containment solutions:

To better understand if a group medical captive program would be the right fit for you organization, be sure to discuss these options with a broker or consultant who specializes in employee benefits.

Click here to continue reading in part five, “Is a Captive Right For My Business?”


Or, to view any entry from this six-part series, check out the links below.

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.

How a Flexible Benefits Program Can Supercharge Your Retention Efforts

When it comes to employee benefits, flexibility may not be as easily achieved for every industry. For those in service, healthcare, manufacturing and other industries – it takes more than an internet connection and a good IT department to run your business.

The common theme we have heard from our clients and survey results is that employees (now more than ever) are wanting flexibility in their schedules and fulfillment in their jobs and that many are already struggling with burnout. While some companies have adopted a work-from-home or hybrid office experience to accommodate their workforce, there are plenty of other ways to meet the ever-changing needs of your workforce without overspending.

If you’re unsure of where to start, consider these trending benefits to help secure those impressive candidates you’re competing for:

PTO Exchange
2021 study of 1,000 full-time employees found that 60 percent of the individuals had trouble using all of their PTO. There are now programs available that allow employees to convert their unused PTO for cash, emergency funds, retirement contributions, HSA contributions, student loans or tuition payments and even charitable contributions.

Two weeks’ time off is no longer the standard and even generous programs like unlimited PTO may not be as accommodating as you’d think. It’s time to revamp this traditional benefit with flexible ways for your employees to cash in their earned time how they see fit.

Student Loan Assistance
It’s no secret that student loan debt is becoming a huge concern for many households. The debt is growing at an alarming rate – currently over $1.6 trillion. This doesn’t just impact former students, but also family members who have taken on student loans for their loved ones – meaning you most likely have employees (across all generations) burdened with student loan debt.

Several pieces of recent federal legislation have been issued to help reduce student loan debt, including pausing payments and expanding forgiveness programs. Organizations like Savi are offering programs to help more people take advantage of this legislation and making it easier to understand – increasing the level of forgiveness substantially. The best part? Partnering with programs that assist with forgiveness applications typically involves very little administration and cost.

Professional Development & Mentorship
What some see as freedom and flexibility has left others feeling disconnected from the camaraderie of the workplace. Has it become less clear for your employees what their career path forward should look like? Just as you would intentionally create a business development plan, many employers are now realizing that it is just as important to create a professional development strategy for their team members.

One way you can do this is by providing opportunities to mentor and be mentored. Coaching and development programs can help create excitement and drive engagement. Supporting community involvement is another win-win because it not only benefits the community you serve (potential partners and clients, included), but it also empowers your employees to lead fulfilling lives. Even when these things are peripheral to your core business practices, they can benefit you by bolstering morale and culture.

Grief Support
One America reported a 40% increase in the death rate among working-age people. Sure, COVID-19 has played a large part in this unfortunate rise but we’ve also seen an increase in heart attacks, cancer, depression and even a record number of overdoses.

This has raised the question of whether three-five days for bereavement and a basic Employee Assistance Program (EAP) are sufficient for employees who have lost a loved one. And the answer is clear – it’s not. Offering flexible PTO in the following six months to a year can be very helpful to individuals still healing from great loss. We all grieve in different ways and allowing your employees to take the time they need (when they need it) not only contributes to their overall wellbeing but can also help prevent burnout and unnecessary turnover.

Fertility & Adoption Services
One of the personal issues that you often won’t hear about is the loss felt by those struggling with fertility. Because it is deeply personal, these situations often go on without the employer ever becoming aware. The March of Dimes says that 10-15 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, which can certainly take a toll on the individual’s mental health. Potential new hires who have experienced this loss are more likely to evaluate benefit plan information to choose an employer who does cover some sort of fertility or adoption benefit.

If you have considered the cost of assisting your employees with family planning, fertility and adoption services, there are more resources than ever before. If new benefit programs are not feasible right now for whatever reason, there’s still an opportunity to broaden your current coverage to be more inclusive.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all benefits plan. The workforce is more diverse than ever and companies that want to stay ahead in their recruiting efforts need to meet people where they are in life. So whether it's enhancements to your current plan, a more robust total rewards program or additional lifestyle benefits, make sure to consider all of the available options for your people before your next open enrollment.

 

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.

Combatting the “The Great Resignation” with Creative Employee Benefits

Traditional benefit plans are a thing of the past. People are leaving the workforce in record numbers, and many assume that Baby Boomers deciding to retire early is to blame. However, employees ages 30-45 years old have had the most significant increase in resignation rates, with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. Whether they’re becoming freelancers, starting their own businesses or simply taking a temporary break, this age group has severely impacted organizations’ staffing rates across every industry. Now more than ever, companies have to compete for top talent, meaning employers will have to be more open-minded when designing their benefit plans.

There are so many options available to employers today that it has become a task to familiarize yourself with each one and identify which are right for your organization and your people. Checking the pulse of your organization with communication strategies like employee surveys or listening sessions is the first step to identifying what you need in your benefits program. Once you know what would interest and best serve your people, you can begin to build a tailored and inclusive benefits plan.

Here are some emerging trends that are changing the landscape of benefit packages:

Flexible Payment and PTO
Many companies are now offering on-demand pay instead of the standard one or two-week increments. This empowers employees to manage their finances based on a pay cycle that works for their lives – not the company’s payroll schedule.

Another way to get creative with your payment options is to provide flexible PTO. Unlimited or generous PTO benefits have been around for a few years now, but we’ve noticed a significant shift towards PTO transfer programs. These allow the employees to transfer a limited amount of banked PTO hours to help pay off student loans, invest in 401K options or even donate to charity. The key is to put the decision-making power in their hands to support what best serves their lifestyle.

More Inclusive Benefits
Don’t let FMLA set the precedence for your parental leave options. Employees are now looking for generous programs that provide all parents with the time and space necessary to settle into their new families.

We’re also seeing a higher demand for fertility support and more leave time for adoptive parents. Providing additional resources like these shows that you care about your people and their families and (as a bonus) sets you apart from other employers.

And more inclusive benefits are on the horizon. For example, some of our clients have started researching the process of covering gender transitions and reassignment surgeries. Your benefits broker should be able to provide guidance on which non-traditional benefits would be successful within your organization.

Preventative Care
It never hurts to go back to the basics and amp up your primary health care program. We’ve found that offering incentives for preventative visits and screenings can improve your employees’ health and help lower medical costs. Not to mention that identifying catastrophic diagnoses early and starting any necessary treatments can be the difference between life and death.

Blood markers and genetic screenings can also be great resources for your employees – arming them with the knowledge needed to make appropriate decisions about their health care. These costs can be split between the employer and employee or be offered exclusively as voluntary benefits with little to no cost to the employer.

Advocacy Solutions
Cancer and other rare diseases require an enormous amount of time and resources. By partnering with a care coordination team, you can provide your employees with consistent and dedicated support during the most challenging time of their lives. Specialty pharmacies like Rx Help Centers or Payd Health can ensure that your people and their families can access the medicine they need at lower costs without disrupting their quality of care.

Legal Support & Planning
Estate planning is critical for financial and family well-being but can often be intimidating due to legal jargon and costs. Show your employee’s that you care about their family’s future by providing them with support for wills, trusts and other standard legal documents.

We also recommend offering identity theft solutions to your employees at the very least. This strengthens your recruiting efforts and helps protect your business by creating a culture of cybersecurity.

The sky really is the limit when it comes to getting creative with your benefits plan, but remember, not every option is suitable for your industry or organization. You need to consider your people and their distinctive needs to decide if it would work for your company. Lean on your benefits advisor or connect with someone from the G&A team to help build an inclusive benefits plan that empowers your employees to live their healthiest and best lives.

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.

How to Make Communications Your Benefits Plan Superpower

Creating an employee benefits plan that your people can understand and utilize is challenging enough on its own, but doing so in today’s market – where the jobs are plenty and the people are few and far between – makes it that much more important to step up your communications efforts.

If you really want to see a successful benefits plan strategy through – from start to utilization – you have to harness the power of communication as much as you do the power of dollars. So as you prepare to jump into planning season, there are a few tips you should keep in mind. It’ll make the hours upon hours you spend preparing for open enrollment all the more worthwhile.

Communication starts with your team first

You know that now is the time to start discussing everything from your organizational goals to how to execute changes in your medical plan. An often-overlooked element in planning is not having all your key stakeholders on the same page. So, it’s critical that these initial conversations include your internal stakeholders and your benefits advisor – as they are an extension of your team. These joint conversations ensure efforts are aligned and focused on your main objectives and the sooner you can start them, the better.

It may seem unnecessary to share every detail with your benefits broker, but the industry is ever-evolving and they might have insights on a new technology or program that can help support your goals.

Your various departments and divisions may also have their own goals for the year, so it’s important to consider everyone and how their priorities will fit into your master plan. Understanding your leadership’s objectives is only part of this process. Having a mutually agreed-upon plan for your organizational goals is absolutely critical.

Your advisor should be documenting plan options as well as your organizational objectives with tools like a service calendar or renewal timeline to help keep you on track throughout the year and provide ample time for decision-making. They can also provide recommendations on what needs to be communicated to your team and how often.

Regularly check the pulse of your entire organization

Communication is a two-way street. So hearing from your employees is equally important. Third-party employee surveys or listening sessions can provide invaluable information on what your employees truly need and want. Standard benefit plans are a thing of the past and you can stay competitive by offering robust and flexible options for every employee.

Employee feedback can help you identify opportunities to make your benefits plan as attractive as possible for retaining and attracting talent. For example, an employee survey may reveal a need for fertility/adoptive support or PTO transfer programs. Whatever the discovery may be, your advisor should be able to work with you to build creative solutions. There are also many voluntary options you can offer – like pet insurance or identity theft protection – that come at little or no cost to the employer.

And if you need another cross-check, your advisor may be able to provide benchmarking data your team can review to help understand how your benefits plan stacks up against the competition.

There is no such thing as overcommunication

Remember, communicating your goals and benefit offerings to your people is a year-round effort. If you’re relying solely on the black hole known as the email inbox to reach your employees, you’ll likely have minimal engagement. You really need a multichannel approach to break through all the noise.

Mobile apps like ALEX or Benni allow you to send reminders and notifications to your employees’ smartphones which can help avoid email fatigue. Having a digital repository of resources and necessary documents that employees can access 24/7 is becoming necessary as studies show younger generations of employees prefer digital options over printed materials. Be sure to share everything from employee survey results to new benefit offerings as often as possible.

And just when you think you’ve covered it all, it’s probably time to communicate again to all stakeholders. It’s never too late to make communication your benefits plan superpower.



Special thanks to our subject matter experts Chad Morris and Shawna Johnson for their contributions to this blog.