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The Iowa Employer Benefit Study© – An Iowa ‘Natural Resource’?

This week, Data Point Research (DPR), the research organization that I have partnered with for over 20 years, will send out the first invitations to Iowa employers to participate in this years’ Iowa Employer Benefits Study©. I’m looking forward to learning what this year’s findings will reveal to us – especially after taking a one-year sabbatical in 2017.

This study has become a two-decade ‘project’ for DPR and myself. In 1999, the first year of this study, I contacted Andrew Williams, president of DPR, to learn how we could conduct a randomized survey that would provide the necessary methodologies to reflect results of the entire employer community in Iowa. Taking this approach, we felt, was the safest and most efficient method to survey enough Iowa employers WITHOUT having to survey them all. DPR has proven to be a trusted partner to extract the benefits information. And, from this work, Iowa employers have come to depend on our annual results to benchmark their benefits with other similar employers.

Benchmarking our survey results continues to serve as a top tool used by leadership in Iowa organizations. It supports informed decision-making when identifying cost-effective employee benefits. Benchmarking helps:

  • Human Resource and finance leaders make benefit choices with confidence, and track progress over time based on using empirical evidence, rather than ‘gut feel’ or opinion.
  • Provide clear evidence of opportunities for employers to improve on cost-effective employee benefits, given the size and industry in which employers operate.
  • Place employers ahead of the pack on trends that develop in the Iowa marketplace.

The industries we track for employers are varied. Depending on the number of survey responses, the industries may include:

  • Overall – All industries combined
  • Finance, Insurance and Real Estate
  • Government and Public Education
  • Healthcare and Social Services
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail
  • Other Services
  • For-Profit only
  • Not-For-Profit
  • Government Only – Bargained
  • Non-Public – Bargained
  • Public Schools – Bargained
  • Trucking

We also distinguish results by employer-size (based on number of employees), because, after all, size does matter a great deal when it comes to breadth and scope of employee benefits.

The Iowa Study has been particularly relevant to Sue Bennett, compensation and benefits manager at Kirkwood Community College. Sue recently commented:

The Iowa Employer Benefits Study© has been extremely valuable over the years in reviewing the competitiveness of our employee benefits package. Other benefits studies provide data on a nationwide basis, but having data specific to Iowa is more useful. The most beneficial aspect of the survey is the ability to extract data based on industry type and size.

I have always believed in the importance of having empirical evidence to share with benefits consultants and their employer clients. Most recently, I received another ‘testimonial’ from John Monaghan, partner at PDCM Insurance, a Waterloo benefits consulting organization. Over the past decade, John has loyally applied our study results with his clients by using our benchmarking data to successfully guide them through the benefits decision-making strategies he employs.

If you are a benefits consultant or Human Resource professional, the Iowa Employer Benefits Study© should be considered one of Iowa’s best natural resources. For over 10 years, my clients have used the data in the study to develop benefit programs without guesswork. So often, benefit decisions that cost millions of dollars are made with a gut feel. This study provides the data to take the guesswork out and make sure every invested dollar counts. It provides the information to build a True benefits strategy.

John finished his comments with this:

My clients have made the adjustments to better attract and retain employees through the data provided by this study.

I am truly humbled by Sue and John’s comments. To me, ‘natural resources’ are items that people can use which come from the natural environment, such as oil, natural gas, other minerals, soil, forests and timber, etc.

When people, who are unfamiliar with my work, ask what I “do for a living,” I will sometimes jokingly tell them that I am both an “archaeologist and inventor.” They will then quizzically look at me and ask, “How so?” My response is simply, “I’m similar to an archaeologist because I dig for items that are not readily available for the public to find, and I’m like an inventor, because once this treasure has been found and exposed, I convert it into something usable for others.”

A natural resource for Iowa? I’m unsure about that, but my gloves are now back on my hands and I have begun the digging process to unearth the next treasures buried below the surface. Stay tuned as to what we may find!

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Hey Iowa, Nice Job Being a ‘Least-Stressed’ State!

More and more often, other states are catching on to the great things we have going on in the Hawkeye State1! Our state and communities continue to receive many national accolades from various publications, many of which are quite flattering, such as:

A recent national benchmark ranking, coming from WalletHub, suggests that Iowa is the fourth LEAST-stressed state when compared to all other states (including the District of Columbia). Iowa’s placement follows only (in order), Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah. For comparison purposes, Iowa was the third least-stressed state in 2017 (Minnesota and North Dakota were No. #1 and No. #2, respectively). There appears to be something magical about the upper Midwest.

To determine the rankings, WalletHub compared the 50 states (and D.C.) across four dimensions (and 38 relevant metrics). The four dimensions were:

  1. Work-related stress (7 metrics)
  2. Money-related stress (10 metrics)
  3. Family-related stress (6 metrics)
  4. Health- & safety-related stress (15 metrics)

As we know, stress is related to both external and internal factors that affect each of us. Sometimes we are unaware of how stress can impact our health. External factors may include our job, relationships with others, our home, other physical environmental situations, challenges, difficulties, and expectations we are confronted with on a daily basis. How we respond to, and deal with, the external stress-inducing factors affects our nutritional status, emotional well-being, overall health and fitness levels, and the amount of sleep we get. Each of us deal with stress differently, but if we are not careful, it can wreak havoc on our personal (and professional) lives.

For each of the four dimensions mentioned above, the state of Iowa ranked as having the 16th least work-related stress, sixth least money-related stress, fifth least family-related stress, and third least health- & safety-related stress. Metrics that relate to the work-related dimension, the lowest scoring of the four dimensions, include:

  • Average hours worked per week
  • Average commute time
  • Average leisure time spent per day
  • Job security
  • Unemployment rate
  • Underemployment rate
  • Income growth rate

The economy can have a big influence on this particular dimension. Iowa has a very low unemployment rate (2.9% in 2017), a factor that causes employers to struggle with finding qualified workers in jobs difficult to fill. According to the Iowa Workforce Development, the weekly wage increase in 2016 was below two percent (2017 data will be available very soon), showing that wages are depressed.

Iowa Healthiest State Initiative

To help Iowa avoid resting on its’ laurels, a wonderful ‘movement’ occurring in Iowa is the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative (HSI). Executive Director Jami Haberl, and her team are working to make a meaningful difference in how Iowa communities and employers can improve the daily lives of how we live, work and play. One HSI approach attempts to address the stresses we face in our environments, and will annually monitor this stress through our resiliency. Resiliency is an often-used term that describes the ability to overcome challenges of all kinds – such as trauma, tragedy, personal crises, everyday problems – and our ability to bounce back stronger, wiser and healthier. If you are not aware of the HSI resources, please check them out here.

Receiving national accolades are wonderful, but these don’t just happen out of sheer luck. It takes hard (and smart!) work and perseverance, coupled with the belief that implementing new initiatives and approaches to positively impact our communities and those living in it will be best for all of Iowa. 

As the saying goes, “Prepare and prevent, not repair and repent.”

Let’s keep it up, Iowa!

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1Sorry Cyclone fans, but the official state nickname for Iowa is ‘The Hawkeye State.’  Honestly, I’m trying to be as impartial as possible!

Iowa Employer Benefits Study© Returning in 2018

Many of you are aware that I took last year ‘off’ from conducting the annual Iowa Employer Benefits Study©, and instead, focused on how Iowan’s perceive the care they receive from Iowa caregivers – now known as the Iowa Patient Safety Study©. This off-the-road ‘excursion’ allowed me to focus on a subject (patient safety) that I’ve been keenly engaged in since the 1990s.

As a benefits consultant, employers would often ask me about what can be done to keep medical costs more affordable. Avoiding harmful medical errors was certainly one approach to help cross the cost ‘chasm,’ in addition to increasing the quality-of-care we all expect to receive, but often do not. Needless-to-say, we must not take our eyes off this ongoing public health crisis.

This year, we will undertake our 19th annual employer benefits study. Unlike previous surveys, where we have typically alternated years on surveying certain benefits (e.g. including group life, short-term and long-term disability coverages, but excluding paid time off and traditional leave components), we will include ALL key benefits offered by Iowa employers in the 2018 survey, including:

  • Group Life
  • Group Short-Term Disability
  • Group Long-Term Disability
  • Paid Time Off (PTO) and components
  • Traditional Leave components
  • Group Dental Coverage
  • Consumer-Driven Health Care components
  • Group Health Coverage
  • Do Employers Offer:
    • Health insurance for domestic partners
    • Retiree health insurance, pre-65 years
    • Retiree health insurance, 65+ years
    • Vision Coverage
    • Flextime
    • Employee premiums deducted pre-tax
    • Dependent care flexible spending account
    • Medical care flexible spending account
    • Wellness programs

As in the past, we plan to randomly survey at least 1,000 Iowa employers from a variety of sizes and industries. Doing so will allow us to benchmark employers against similar employers. As a side note, I was amazed at just how many employers reached out to me asking about the 2017 study and whether they could participate in the 2018 survey. This study appears to have a lasting presence and value for many Iowa employers!

If you happen to be an employer who was randomly-selected to participate in this year’s survey, we would greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your confidential data with us. Please know that your information will only be used on an aggregate basis and combined with data from other participating employers.

Though I was never really ‘gone’ from performing the benefit study, it is great to be ‘back’ working on a new survey that will provide insight on what changes have taken place since our last study in 2016.

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