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Archive for the ‘Down to Business’ Category

How to Leverage America’s Aging Workforce in Your Business

How to Leverage America’s Aging Workforce in Your Business

If you find that a number of the candidates looking for open placements in your organization lack the business expertise, interpersonal abilities, or overall expertise required for getting the work done… you’re not alone.

Many employers are running into a skills gap and it is costly. According to a study conducted for careerbuilder.com, a company loses more than $14,000 for each job that’s open for 3+ months.

As employers struggle to meet the challenge of hiring great talent, several are taking a look at ways to keep existing employees that are nearing retirement. In fact, in 2014 the Human Resource Management Foundation discussed this at their Executive Roundtable on “The Aging Workforce”.

In it, they discussed the fact that many older employees retain institutional knowledge and specific skills that extends their value to the organizations at risk of losing them. The challenge for anyone in a position to handle personnel issues is to find clever ways to retain those tenured employees while also leveraging them to help train and instill the correct corporate values in younger, newer employees.

One thought is to creatively work with older employees to help them change their work-life balance while retaining them as employees…

Phased-in Retirement

One option is to work with employees at or near retirement to create a less intense position by changing work hours and by emphasizing training others in the role. This allows them to ease into retired life while helping to ensure their knowledge and understanding of operations, clients, corporate culture, etc. are passed on.

Mentoring

Somewhat akin to this is creating specific mentorship programs where more seasoned workers can become an advisor to younger, newer employees. This again helps to facilitate transference of knowledge and expertise and affords more time to make sure that information is passed in an environment that maximizes success.

Recruitment

AARP offers a special program called Life Reimagined for Work (http://workreimagined.aarp.org/) that helps companies find knowledgeable employees while also helping those professionals to connect with jobs and roles better suited to a lifestyle that is more aligned with near-retirement goals.

If you have members of your workforce that are over 50, this is the right time to begin thinking creatively about the future struggles you will likely face in recruitment and how you can extend the knowledge and value of existing older skilled employees so that they can continue being a part of your future growth as a company.

Benefits

One key area to explore is to offer benefits that are appealing to older workers. You can offer supplemental policies that cover gabs in Medicare for example. You can do the same with other benefits as well ranging from vision and dental to pet insurance. Often times these other benefit programs can be added in a way that offers affordable premiums to employees with minimal out-of-pocket expenses to the employer.

If you have a larger workforce, you may also want to consider adding a long-term care and / or long-term disability program with guaranteed issue. (This is important because guaranteed issue ensures folks can’t be turned down.) Sometimes it is difficult to pick up these benefits as an individual, so offer them as a company would make remaining as an employee extra attractive.

We highly recommend talking with your insurance professional to explore how a targeted benefits program can be included as a part of your total solution in retaining and leveraging older skilled employees.

All Parties Win

By creating a comprehensive program for eliminating a “skills gap” in younger / newer employees by capturing the knowledge and wisdom of your older employees, you address one of the single greatest problems that plagues most companies that fail to address these issues while benefitting yourself and your staff in the process.

Controlling Overtime Costs

Controlling Overtime Costs

In light of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) recent changes to overtime pay rules—issued on May 18, 2016—more business owners are concerned about controlling overtime costs. The increase in the minimum salary an employee has to earn in order to be exempt from overtime pay (from $23,660 to $47,476) is expected to increase the number of workers eligible for overtime by 4.2 million. Complying with this change will add to companies’ payroll costs and may also impact their administrative and legal expenses as well. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the effects of the new rule on your business bottom line and remain in compliance.

Review your workers’ job classifications. Exemption isn’t just based on earnings; it’s also determined by the type of work the employee does. Workers who earn more than the threshold amount ($47,476) but who do not perform primarily executive, administrative or professional duties(all relatively high-level work), cannot be classified as exempt and are eligible for overtime pay. A summary of exempt job duties can be found here. Carefully examine the job descriptions, roll requirements and hours worked for all positions within your organization. If you have workers performing those duties but earning less than the threshold, you’ll need to reclassify them.

Compare the costs of payment options. Let’s say you have a previously exempt worker who is earning a salary of $46,000 a year and whose position regularly requires him to put in more than 50 hours a week. You’ll probably save money in the long run by raising his salary to $47,500 and continuing to classify him as exempt than by keeping it where it’s at and paying him overtime every week.

On the other hand, maybe you have a previously exempt employee who earns a salary of $23,000 a year and who usually works 50 hours or more a week. Raising the employee’s salary above the new threshold may cost more than reclassifying him as non-exempt and paying overtime. You could also look at hiring a part-time employee to take on some of the work (eliminating the need for him to work overtime altogether) or otherwise redistributing duties to reduce his workload.

Monitor employee hours carefully. In the event of a lawsuit or DOL investigation, you’ll need to be able to document the number of hours your non-exempt employees worked and any overtime hours for which they were paid. Wage and hour claims account for the greatest percentage of litigation in employment law, and many of those lawsuits arise as a result of misclassification issues and wage violations. While the DOL does not require employers to use automated time-management systems, manual time tracking can increase errors and reduce the accuracy of your payroll process. Automated systems not only continuously track time worked but can also help you more closely monitor overtime and creative cost-effective work schedules.

Should you Hire External or Internal Job Candidates?

 

Should you Hire External or Internal Job Candidates?

A 2014 survey of business leaders found that 71 percent prefer to develop their current employees’ skills and then move them into more-senior rolls versus hiring an external candidate for the same position. There are many reasons why this is so, from performance to improving morale and reducing turnover.  However, there are also situations in which an external candidate might be a better option. The trick is determining when; you’ll need to consider the following factors to figure it out.

If you’re worried about hiring costs, you might want to look to internal candidates first. Outside recruiting fees can run as high as 25 percent of a position’s salary. And if you choose to recruit externally yourself, you’ll incur costs for posting job ads as well as promoting them. You’ll also need to spend more time screening and interviewing candidates you’ve never met versus reviewing the skills and performance of an employee who already works for you.

If you want to pay a lower salary, you might want to look to internal candidates first. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, external hires often get paid 18 to 20 percent more than internal hires do. If you have employees within your organization who are capable of the job, it may make more financial sense to promote them—and increase their compensation accordingly—than to hire an external candidate with the same skills and a much higher price tag.

If you want to reduce your onboarding and training costs, you might want to look to internal candidates first. In many cases, an external hire will require more training than an internal hire will. You’ll also have to devote time to communicating your organization’s policies, processing employment paperwork including retirement accounts and health insurance, and introducing them to the existing team.

If you’re interested in tax incentives, you might want to look to external candidates first. Federal and state governments offer many tax credits to help offset the costs of hiring and training new employees. For example, the Department of Labor Work Opportunity Tax Credit is available to organizations that hire workers from certain target groups including unemployed veterans, food stamp recipient and ex-felons.

If you’re expanding or diversifying and adding a brand new role, you might want to look to external candidates first. If you’ve created a new position that is unlike any other in your organization, you may not have any current employees who can successfully fill it without a significant investment in training and/or education. In this case, it likely makes more sense—financially and in terms of productivity—to seek an experienced candidate outside your company.

 

Four Reasons to Let Employees Work from Home

Today’s employees consider schedule flexibility an attractive benefit. According to a survey by FlexJobs, an online job search website, the options these workers are most interested in are telecommuting all of the time (79 percent), alternative/flexible schedules (47 percent), and telecommuting part of the time (44 percent). While working from home full time isn’t possible in many positions, there are more reasons than you may think to allow your employees to work from home one or more days a week.

  1. It will make them more productive.

Among the respondents of the FlexJobs survey, 54 percent reported that their home offers the best environment for working on important assignments. Only 19 percent felt they could get more done at the office during regular working hours. Another survey by ConnectSolutions, a private-cloud solutions provider, found that 77 percent of the respondents who worked off site at least a few times each month reported greater productivity. Additionally, 52 percent were less likely to take time off when sick if they could work remotely instead.

  1. It will reduce their stress levels.

Among the respondents of the FlexJobs survey, 88 percent reported that working remotely reduces their overall stress. Eighty percent said it helps them be healthier all around. Another survey found that this reduction in stress due to the ability to work off site improved morale for 80 percent of the employees.  Sixty-nine percent reported it improved absenteeism as well.

  1. It will make them more loyal.

Employee retention is a big deal at most companies. No one wants to lose a good worker after making significant investments in his or her training and career development. However, allowing these high performers to work from home on occasion may go a long way towards ensuring they remain engaged, happy and loyally employed with you. A Stanford study found that remote work options decreased employee turnover by 50 percent. Among the respondents of the FlexJobs survey, 82 percent said they’d be more loyal to their employer if they had flexible work options.

  1. It could even reduce your costs.

The FlexJobs survey also found that 20 percent of workers would be willing to take a 10 percent pay cut in exchange for flexible work options. Twenty-two percent would give up health benefits, and 18 percent would be willing to work more hours if they were allowed to work from home. Additionally, there is some evidence that allowing your team to work remotely can also reduce your real estate expenses and overhead.

If your employee benefits package does not currently include schedule flexibility or remote work opportunities, you may want to consider adding these popular options. To learn more about how to make off site work a practical benefit at your organization, contact us today.

You Can Become a Better Boss

Do You Need Employment Practices Liability Insurance

According to a 2015 Gallup survey of more than 7,000 U.S. workers, 51 percent of employees have quit a job to get away from a boss. The reasons are many, from lack of communication and appreciation to favoritism and micromanagement. If you’ve noticed that turnover in your department is increasing, you may want to take a look at your management style and consider these simple things you can do to become better liked and respected by your team.

Maintain your boundaries. Boundaries are necessary in the boss/employee relationship, so don’t ask to join your team for lunch or invite them to hang out after work. You are their leader, not their friend or confidant. While this doesn’t mean you don’t need to listen when they approach you with a concern or complaint, it does mean you shouldn’t give in to every demand in effort to placate them or make superficial gestures to show you’re just ‘one of the guys.’

Solicit constructive criticism. Regularly ask your team how you’re doing and if there’s anything they think you can do better. Encouraging them to critique your performance honestly—and accepting that criticism gracefully—is a great way to create a work environment where constructive feedback is welcomed rather than resented. As a result, you’ll have to deal with fewer negative responses from the team when you need to give feedback rather than praise.

Give them space. While you need to be a visible, active part of your department in order to be an effective leader, you don’t have to hover, micromanage or even stay in constant communication. The most engaged employees are often the ones who feel like their bosses trust them to do their jobs correctly even when they’re given greater responsibilities. And engaged employees are generally happier with their relationships with their bosses and less likely to leave.

Watch your tone. Sometimes you’ll have to be the bearer of bad news.  However, it’s important to stay positive and try to find the good as well as the bad. A month that’s shaping up to be slower than normal could be an opportunity to work on projects that have been on the back burner. Losing a client to a competitor could be the inspiration to work harder than ever at improving the company’s products and processes.

Ask your employees for help. Everyone wants to feel like they’re needed at work. Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks your employees can complete quickly and successfully. They’ll feel important and pleased that you trusted them with a special project. You’ll have happier, more engaged employees as a result. Note: Don’t do this if an employee has complained about being overworked or during times when the team is especially busy. In those cases, it’s more likely to do more harm than good.

Apologize for your mistakes.Maybe you gave someone the wrong information and they made their own error as a result. Perhaps you distractedly snapped at a team member after a call with an irate client. Whatever your error, it’s important to own it—and do so publically. You’ll earn the respect of your staff and encourage them to take responsibility for their own shortcomings as well.

Cut Healthcare Costs without Cutting Benefits

 

Five Signs Your Best Employees May Be About to Leave

According to PwC’s Health Research Institute, medical costs in the U.S. will increase 6.5 percent in 2016. Benefit plan changes, such as narrower provider rangers and higher deductibles, will reduce the increase to 4.5 percent, though many consumers and the companies that employ them will continue to struggle to afford healthcare services. What can you do to continue to provide the health insurance coverage your workers need without devastating your budget? The answer is to do what you can to control healthcare costs. Consider the following strategies to help you do so without drastically reducing the benefits you’re able to offer.

Use a level-funded plan. While traditional fully insured plans involve predetermined and fixed payments per employee per month (with the insurer assuming the risk after co-pays and deductibles), and a self-funded plan lays all of the claims on the employer, a level-funded plan is a hybrid of the two. It’s filed as a self-funded plan but the employer is billed a predetermined and fixed premium per employee per month. However, after a certain period, the employer may qualify for a premium refund (if claims are lower than expected) or premium increase (if claims are higher than expected).

Get serious about wellness. Whether you already have an employee wellness program in place or want to establish one, it’s important to tailor it to individual employees if you want to get the most benefit. Offer a program that encourages each worker’s health goals and supports them with comprehensive resources. Some companies have found that they can increase their employees’ wellness engagement even further with incentives and rewards.

Offer a taxed-advantage program in addition to health insurance. These programs are funded with pre-tax dollars, making your employees’ wages or salary go further. They include flexible spending accounts or FSAs, health savings accounts for HSAs, health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and premium offset plans (POPs) and can lighten your company’s rising medical expenses as well as that of your employees.

FSAs are particularly popular, as they allow your workers to save money tax-free to use for the payment of medical expenses. Voluntary and automatic paycheck deductions make FSA deposits convenient for employees. As an employer, you can also make contributions towards your workers’ FSA accounts.

HRAs are also very useful. Funded by the employer, an HRA reimburses employees for their health insurance premiums and qualifying medical expenses. Employer contributions are 100 percent tax deductible when paid out and are also tax-free to the employee. HRAs are a flexible way to supplement the health insurance benefits your company offers and help your team pay for medical expenses that aren’t covered by the insurance plan.

If you’d like to learn more about these strategies for reducing healthcare costs for your business and employees, we’re here to help. Give us a call to review your current benefits plan and explore your options.

Small Business Lawsuit Trends

Small Business Lawsuit Trends

In 2008, U.S. small businesses paid $105.4 billion in tort liability costs according to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.  It’s a number we can assume has continued to grow, with more than 100 million lawsuits filed in our nation’s courts every year. From loss of customers and blemished reputations to devastating financial hardship and bankruptcy, they can cause lasting damage. Fortunately, understanding recent lawsuit trends may help you protect your small business.

Lawsuits by Employees

Employees may file lawsuits when they feel their employer—or a potential employer—has discriminated against them.  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), retaliation was the most common cause in 2015, accounting for more than 44 percent of all cases. This was followed by race (35 percent), sex (30 percent), disability (30 percent), age (23 percent), national origin (11 percent), religion (4 percent) and equal pay (1 percent).

Your employee handbook is one of the best tools you have to protect yourself against employee lawsuits. It should clearly outline how you classify employees, eligibility for overtime pay and benefits, how employees should request time off, your company’s holiday and vacation policies as well as anti-discrimination, harassment and safety policies and avenues for complaint. If you’re in an at-will employment state, the handbook should explain this as well.

While you should give every new employee a hardcopy of the handbook and have them sign a document acknowledging their receipt and understanding of the materials within, you should also maintain a digital copy for easy updating.

Lawsuits for Copyright Infringement

From the music you play in your lobby and the stock photography you use on your website to the things you share in your company’s social media posts, you could be vulnerable to a copyright infringement lawsuit costing tens of thousands of dollars if you haven’t purchased or otherwise properly licensed the use of any creative property.

You can reduce your lawsuit risk by checking the original source of anything you want to publish or repost. If you don’t see a copyright notice, it’s still wise to request the permission of the author/artist. Get written consent or license the work. A simple credit is generally not enough.

Lawsuits by Customers and Vendors

Your employees are not the only parties who can sue you for discrimination; your customers can as well. Fail to provide adequate disabled access and facilities or refuse to serve a customer due to his or her race, religion or sexual orientation and you may quickly find yourself facing a discrimination lawsuit.  Personal injury lawsuits are also a hazard for any small business that welcomes customers or vendor representatives onto its premises.

If you stay abreast of the latest laws and avoid practices that could be classified as discriminatory or put your employees or customers at risk, you reduce your chances of a small business lawsuit. However, investing in general liability insurance is essential for greater peace of mind. To explore your options, give us a call today.

Keeping Your Marketing Emails Out of the SPAM Folder

Keeping Your Marketing Emails Out of the SPAM Folder

Do you use email to advertise your business? If so, those messages are subject to rules established under the CAN-SPAM Act. Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, it applies to all commercial email messages that advertise or otherwise promote a commercial product or service.

Should the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) find you in violation of the CAN-SPAM law, your business could face a penalty of up to $16,000 per email sent. However, the FTC isn’t the only one looking at the emails you send. Many email and internet service providers (ISP) use SPAM filters to keep unwanted messages out of their customers’ inboxes. In fact, according to ReturnPath, an email data services provider, one out of every five legitimate emails never makes it to its destination. It’s either swept up by a SPAM filter or blocked by an ISP.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure you don’t catch the eye of the FTC as well as increase your marketing email deliverability.

  • Require subscribers to opt-in to marketing emails.Blacklists are used by email providers and ISPs to reduce delivery of malicious and SPAM emails. Your email address, IP or domain may end up on one or more blacklists if multiple parties report your emails as SPAM. These reports are most likely when you add customers to your email campaign without asking them to “opt-in” or give their permission. If you suspect you may be blacklisted, you can find out here. Getting yourself removed from a blacklist can be complicated and time consuming.
  • Don’t get clever with your subject lines. Under the CAN-SPAM law, your email subject line must accurately communicate the content of the message. SPAM filters also look for emails that use all caps or lots of exclamation points in their subject lines.
  • Make unsubscribing easy. It’s better to make it simple for your customers to unsubscribe from your marketing emails than to get lots of SPAM reports and wind up on blacklists. The easiest way to do this is to include a clearly labeled opt-out button or link at the bottom of all marketing correspondence.
  • Include a plaintext version. While most people are able to receive HTML emails these days, many SPAM filters will still send your messages directly to the trash if you don’t include a plaintext version. You can learn more about using multipurpose internet mail extensions (MIME) here. Avoid including video, Flash or JavaScript in your marketing emails as well.
  • Don’t use large images or images alone. Images take longer to load than text does. If you fail to balance your images used with text, your customers may get tired of waiting for the message to load and wind up reporting it as SPAM.
  • Avoid common SPAM filter trigger words. These include free, no-obligation, guaranteed, buy, order, limited time and more. HubSpot has put together an excellent, comprehensive list of common trigger words here.

Pros and Cons of Employee Feedback Surveys

Pros and Cons of Employee Feedback Surveys

Every business owner knows it’s important to give his or her employees feedback regularly. In fact, doing so can reduce turnover rates, increase engagement, improve productivity and motivate workers to do a better job. However, not all employers recognize the importance of soliciting feedback from their employees, even though the benefits of doing so are much the same.

Employee feedback surveys are probably the simplest way to get the lowdown on what your workers see as the good, bad and ugly aspects of their jobs and your workplace.  But before you sit down and put one together, consider their pros and cons.

Employee Feedback Survey Pros

A good feedback survey can have a positive impact on your company’s culture. When you give your employees the opportunity to voice their concerns, you may learn about issues of which you were previously unaware. You may also discover that known issues are having a bigger impact than you thought. Regardless, you can now address the situation/s causing the problem/s and find appropriate solutions.

Feedback surveys can increase your workplace’s transparency. Studies have shown that employees are happiest when they have the opportunity to communicate openly and honestly with their managers, supervisors and other company leaders. However, many are hesitant to do so face to face. A feedback survey—especially when submitted anonymously—allows them to speak their mind without worry that their comments will have negative results.

This opportunity to communicate how they feel about their jobs is important for employment engagement. Unhappy workers are less likely to be engaged, so addressing the issues that arise and increasing the general level of satisfaction in your workplace will naturally increase engagement.

Employee Feedback Survey Cons

You have to ask the right questions if you want to get the most from your survey efforts. In addition to the standard questions you’ll find in most survey templates online, you need to include queries tailored to your particular set of employees and their workplace issues. Of course, you also need to keep it short (more on that later), so you may want to focus on one area—from managers and communication to job duties and compensation—at a time.

Depending on how you decided to conduct your survey, it may require a monetary investment. While there are low-cost options available (like SurveyMonkey) it may be worth it to work with a company that specializes in employee feedback surveys—especially if you’ve never asked your workers for feedback before.

Creating a survey takes time. So does responding to it. You don’t want your employees to have to spend too much time away from their duties answering an endless list of questions. That means you need to keep your survey short. But it also means you might have to conduct more than one to cover all the bases.

Whether you decide to use a feedback survey to get your employees’ thoughts on the workplace or use an alternate tool such as casual conversations, a suggestion box, or a group meeting, it’s essential that you show your team you’re serious about their responses. Take action on what you learn as soon as possible and make sure your employees see that you’re making changes. This will encourage them to be even more honest the next time around.

Do You Need Employment Practices Liability Insurance?

Do You Need Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Also known as EPLI, employment practices liability insurance is designed to protect small businesses in the event an employee files a lawsuit claiming harassment, discrimination or another such wrongdoing. It’s a worthwhile investment; employment practice lawsuit settlements can cost businesses millions of dollars. Even cases that are unsuccessful result in expensive legal defense fees—and, more often than not, damage to your company’s reputation. As such, an EPLI policy should be part of every small business risk-management strategy.

Employment Practice Liability Insurance Basics

An EPLI policy will protect your business—including your directors, managers and employees—from lawsuits filed by prospective, current or former workers. This type of policy has fewer limitations than the typical directors’ or officers’ insurance policy. Covered claims generally include sexual harassment, slander and libel, invasion of privacy, emotional distress, discrimination, wrongful discipline or termination, negligent hiring, breach of employment contract, and mismanagement of employee benefit plans. Common exclusions include property damage, bodily injury and intentional/dishonest acts.

Your annual premium for an EPLI policy depends on a number of factors including your company’s size, the industry you’re in, your turnover rates and a risk profile. The insurer you choose may ask to review your written personnel policies before providing you with an EPLI quote.  If your company has been sued over employment practices in the past or has policies deemed to be risky, you will pay a higher premium for coverage.

Your employment practices liability insurance policy will include a deductible that you must pay out of pocket before the remainder of any claim is covered. Once you’ve met the deductible, the policy will reimburse your company for costs incurred defending a lawsuit in court as well as any judgements and settlements—up to the policy limit. EPLI policies generally do not cover punitive damages or civil or criminal fines. Depending on the policy you choose, you may have limited coverage during events such as mass layoffs, mergers or acquisitions.

Coverage will generally be limited to a predetermined amount between $1 million and $25 million depending on the amount of coverage you’ve chosen. Legal defense costs, judgements and settlements all contribute to the limit. Your insurance agent can help you determine how much EPLI coverage you need based on the particulars of your business.

Your policy may require you to allow your insurance company to choose the attorney you use should a claim ever be filed. If you prefer to work with an attorney of your own choosing, you must make sure such a clause is included in your EPLI policy.

Are you confident your current small business insurance package will protect you from employment practice claims? If not, give us a call to review the policies you have in place today.