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The Value of Employee Benefits…
It’s a Passing Parade

Portland Grand Floral Parade 2016

Portland Grand Floral Parade 2016

On the eve of receiving our new 2016 Iowa Employer Benefits Study survey results, I once again have a great deal of anticipation about what this data may reveal. At this point, I only know that 1,014 randomly-selected employers responded to this survey which continues to exceed our annual goal of 1,000. A big ‘thank you’ to all organizations that took the time to participate in this annual work!

Offering workplace employee benefits has been happening for decades. From the employee perspective, receiving various workplace perks is a staple expectation when being interviewed and ultimately hired by most employers. In fact, recent research conducted by staffing and HR service company, Randstad US, shows that jobseekers most value salary, employee benefits, long-term job stability and a pleasant work environment.

Employers, for their part, offer employees and jobseekers a cadre of benefits they believe to be highly-valued by their mainstream targeted ‘audience.’ But it is extremely important for employers to dissect their intended audience by gender, age groups (e.g. generation), location, race and other factors that will help clarify the benefit ‘value’ employees desire. By not doing so, a disconnect will eventually occur, resulting in a large chasm of a wasted investment that is costly, both in terms of money and desired human capital.

Conducting biannual employee engagement surveys may eliminate much of the guesswork that employers have when trying to predict which future strategies to embrace. I suspect that a healthy chunk of employers put their human investment strategies on cruise control assuming that the desires of employees five or ten years ago will still apply in today’s world. Most often, they do not.

Much like a New Year’s Day or Fourth of July parade, a perpetual flow of people (and floats) coming and going will not be replicated again. In a similar fashion, so does the employment pool that organizations continue to encounter.

One example on how employers respond to the ‘new parade’ of employees can be found through three employers: Aetna, Fidelity and PricewaterhouseCoopers. All three have launched their own student loan matching programs for employees who are pursuing undergraduate and/or graduate-level degrees.

Beginning in 2017, Aetna’s full-time employees will qualify for matching loan payments of up to $2,000 per year, totaling $10,000 per student. Part-timers will receive half of this amount by pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees from accredited institutions.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), about 3% to 4% of all U.S. companies contribute to employees’ student debt payments to help soften the financial burden they increasingly face. About 71% of college graduates carry student loan debt, totaling $1.3 trillion of student debt in this country. A need clearly exists to help alleviate financial hardships and new approaches must be pursued.

Our annual study’s purpose is to survey employers about the key benefits they offer at this particular point in time. It allows employers to compare their benefits with the mainstream. However, the juxtaposition of organization culture and employee attributes can allow any organization to stake a claim on having a competitive advantage when attracting and retaining their most prized asset – the employee. To do this, the organization will need to account for what is most important and valued by their employee population.

So enjoy this year’s parade, but be ready for upcoming attractions that may appear in the next one.

To stay abreast of employee benefits and other tangential issues, we invite you to subscribe to this blog.

Even if We Study, We’re Going to Repeat a Grade

Kris Jensen Assistant Vice President and HR Director at Merchants Bonding Company

Kris Jensen
Assistant VP / HR Director
Merchants Bonding Company

Kris Jensen is this week’s guest blogger. Kris is the Assistant Vice President – Human Resource Director at Merchants Bonding Company, located in West Des Moines.

I’m not going to tell you that things will get better because I’m an optimist. I’m going to tell you that things are going to get better because Americans have been through all of this before. You sense that I’m telling you the truth because subconsciously you can hear the references to The Great Depression, the corruption of leadership reminiscent of Boss Tweed, or the modern day carpet bagging that brought the mortgage and credit markets to a halt. We are not just watching history repeat; we are struggling to accept our roles in creating today’s reality. And no one generation knows the way into the future. All our dilemmas and solutions are the result of generations colliding or collaborating for centuries.

Strauss and Howe, consultants turned sociologists, have written prophetically about how society, over the past seven centuries, enters a new era – a turning – every two decades or so. These turnings come in cycles of four, each cycle spanning the length of a long lifetime.

  • The first turning is a HIGH – an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism where a new civic order is established
  • The second turning is an AWAKENING – a passionate era of spiritual upheaval when the civic order comes under attack from a regime with new values
  • The third turning is an UNRAVELING – a downcast era, strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, the new order strengthens as the old order decays
  • The fourth turning is a CRISIS – a decisive era of secular upheaval and inner awakenings as the new order replaces the old order

Sound familiar? Since the 1950’s these eras have been unfolding for us as people changed how they thought about themselves, the country and their future. The last American High occurred after World War II. The Boomers heralded the recent Awakening with the Consciousness Revolution from the 1960s to the early ’80s. The Unraveling Culture Wars debuted with Reagan’s presidency and Generation X, ending with the startling series of events of the last five years. Can you possibly doubt the fourth turning? After all, aren’t we looking to Generation Y as our guide to the next High? Any wonder there is the constant rhetoric of Change – the new order urging the replacement of the old civic order. Fourth turnings are characterized by the decline of social order just when the demand for order is on the rise.

For those that are quickly calculating in their heads, in 2005, we embarked on the decades of the most current Crisis. I can’t grant you a reprieve since history doesn’t move backwards. We can only move forward with the understanding that we can’t have another HIGH without an Awakening, an Unraveling and a Crisis. These patterns are foreseeable. In hindsight, we could have prepared. But with the crisis upon us, be assured that “The Fourth Turning is when the Spirit of America reappears, rousting courage and fortitude from the people.” I urge you to see the world events that are and will continue to unfold with the framework that Strauss and Howe so meticulously documented in their 1997 book, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy. More importantly, I urge us to act with their vision knowing that “the course of our national and personal destinies will depend in large measure by what we do now, as a society, and as individuals.” All of the generations listening to each other and working together.

Motivation Needed to Improve Price Transparency in Iowa

Iowa Report Card on Price TransparencyIn Iowa, we can do better. Indeed, we must, as we really can’t get any worse.

Report cards are important for many different reasons. Whether for students, organizations, institutions, legislators, communities or countries, report cards can summarize overall progress by using comparable benchmarks that use similar metrics. If generated appropriately, report cards can serve as a motivator to improve on less-than-desired results – and behaviors.

While attending parochial school in Fargo, N.D., my third grade report card was…embarrassing. Ok, it was downright atrocious. Most subject matter grades were usually ‘Ds.’ My care-free attitude reflected that school was not a central priority for someone my age. In fact, it seemed that many of my friends were equally unmotivated to elevate their grades. When I did care, I would only compare my grades with my closest peers. In that regard, I was still below average.

Report card comments stated that I ‘needed to improve my attitude.’ Fair enough. But it took me another three years to eventually become tired of having less-than-exemplary grades, especially when I began to compare my grades with a broader audience of classmates who had greater academic aspirations. This delayed ‘epiphany’ pointed me in a new direction of pursuing better results – and, I might add, making my parents happier!

Embracing this new transition required a motivation that would alter my behavior(s) to perform differently. To elicit a positive change, finding the ‘right’ motivation is tricky. It must cause a person, organization or community to repeat certain behaviors and actions over and over before it finally becomes ingrained in who we ultimately wish to become. Whether you’re a student pursuing employment after graduation, becoming the employer of choice, or being the healthiest community, motivation is key. Our attitudes, beliefs, intentions and efforts will ultimately drive the cycle of desired change.

In this vein, I was keenly interested in learning about the newly-released the ‘2016 Report Card on State Price Transparency Laws’ by the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute (HCI3) and Catalyst For Payment Reform (CPR) that graded each state on healthcare price transparency laws. I will refrain from specifics, other than only three states (Colorado, Maine and New Hampshire) earned an “A,” one (Oregon) received a “B,” two (Virginia and Vermont) given a “C,” while one (Arkansas) received a “D.” What about the other 43 states? According to HCI3, they all failed.

The 18-page Report Card provides a good overview on this subject for each state. Each high-scoring state provides a legislated website that shares consumer-friendly resources in formats that are relevant to healthcare prices.

What about Iowa?

Based on this report card, it appears that Iowa must make improvements to:

This report card serves as just one measure – price transparency. The quality of care received by patients is not measured.

APCDs may collect data from all state sources including Medicaid, private health insurers, children’s health insurance and state employee health benefit programs, prescription drug plans, dental insurers, self-insured employer plans (ERISA) and Medicare.

APCDs are often believed to be the best price information resource because they include actual paid amounts, not merely charged amounts. Until we can get real-time ‘settled’ prices by provider for each procedural event, APCDs may be the best option, although somewhat problematic, due to a recent Supreme Court ruling. Some insurers may offer their own ‘transparency’ tools for their customers. However, limitations make it a ‘buyer beware’ proposition when it comes to paying the final price – given the specific medical procedures and services that are eventually delivered.

According to this report card, Iowa has received a failing grade on price transparency tools for the healthcare ‘consumer.’ The question for employers and their employees, along with other payers and consumers of healthcare: Is this grade acceptable? Are we better served clinging to the past and continuing to blindly shoot in the dark while purchasing care?

Iowa can choose to be led by more forward-thinking states that appear to be trendsetters in price and quality transparency initiatives, or we can decide to break from the masses and choose a new mindset to improve a nagging problem that continues to persist for our population.

It’s about having the right motivation and behavior. Most importantly, it is about having the will to break through complacency and self-interests. The word ‘transparency’ is frequently used in healthcare – whether spoken or written – but unfortunately, it is underutilized in the practices and policies in which we live.

Seeking and finding the right motivation and behavior can be done. Take it from a ‘reformed’ third grader!

To stay abreast of employee benefits and other tangential issues, we invite you to subscribe to this blog.