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A Messy ‘Upstream’

Most recently, I received an unexpected email from a blog subscriber that stated the following:

We had bad news in the neighborhood. A 3,600 head hog confinement with a 1.2 million gallon “lagoon” is planning on going up [being built]. I’ve done my research and found numerous scientific studies from the University of Iowa – College of Public Health, Duke Medical School and many scholarly articles in medical journals outlining the increased health risk of those within the zone of influence.  My question is – do health insurance companies have (or have they) tried to get compensation for increased claims in the affected areas? For example a 30% increase in childhood asthma is one documented affect. (This can be a significant claim expense when factoring in the number of confinements and number of affected children).
Do you have any contacts that I could ask if it is even possible for health insurance companies to extract damages or if they have already tried or if it just isn’t possible under the law?

I have no specific answer to this inquiry. Yet, I found this to be a particularly interesting question, given the recent developments in Central Iowa. As most Iowans know, the Des Moines Water Works is suing three northwest Iowa counties that manage drainage districts with high nitrate concentrations. High levels of nitrates released upstream is threatening a key source of drinking water – the Raccoon River – for one-half million central Iowans downstream.

The Water Works Fact Sheet explains their perspective as an ongoing health problem for those of us living downstream. The Water Works says it is unfair that their customers are subjected to the health risks and costs of removing this harmful chemical from the drinking water. In short, why should those living downstream have to pay for the pollution occurring upstream?

The specifics of this lawsuit were recently covered by Iowa media, including the Des Moines Business Record (subscription required), who carefully balanced both sides of this important societal issue. As stated in the Business Record, “…(this lawsuit) is going to be as legally intriguing as it is important politically, economically, and environmentally.”

As lines are being drawn regarding who should be held accountable for our societal health issues (and costs), it does allow one to ponder other potential battles that could be brewing in the future, as articulated in the above email. What is common knowledge is that we will ALL eventually pay the cost, both healthwise and monetarily.

In 2013, we developed an infographic, Our Health Care River, that was intended to briefly describe two ‘chemicals’ impacting our health insurance costs downstream – ‘Unhealthy Lifestyles’ and a ‘Fragmented Delivery System.’ As with polluted water, we spend a great deal of time downstream agonizing over the pollution caused (e.g. higher health insurance premiums) from upstream ‘chemicals’ – with seemingly very little progress being made.

At some point, moving upstream to address the source of our problems will help determine just how ‘clean’ our water will be downstream. There are no easy solutions, for sure, but having public discussions, consistent dialogue and ultimately meaningful action(s), are long overdue.

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Making ‘Mentorship’ a New Employee Benefit!

Mentorship - An Employer Benefit StrategyMost of us can name at least one person in our lives that served as a ‘mentor,’ whether it was to help guide our career(s), aid in specific work projects or provided general life advice.

Oftentimes, this mentorship process is informal. It’s derived from the trust we have in the person due to his/her relationship, experience, knowledge, integrity and sense of altruism selflessly demonstrated to guide our own personal or professional development. The mentor simply wishes to share their knowledge or expertise with the mentee with the noble intent of “paying it forward.”

Mentorship is a commitment that requires valuable time and attention to assure the mentee’s goals are progressing as desired.

I have been extremely fortunate and consider both my parents cherished mentors, for many obvious reasons. They each held a ‘positional power’ on an adolescent boy who was very impressionable by their actions, not just by their words. They consistently demonstrated the value of serving others without seeking recognition. What I learned from them goes well beyond this blog.

Another immeasurable mentor was my father-in-law, a gentle and unassuming man who had incalculable wisdom for all who knew him. At times, the world can seem cold, dark and threatening, but his ultra-positive approach would magically lift my spirit with his infectious smile, humor and his approach that one must not take himself/herself too seriously – regardless of the circumstances. He shared applicable (and comedic) stories, using advice, wisdom and know-how, uniquely drawn from his vast business knowledge, both as an inventor and business owner. Invariably, he would end our discussion by saying, “This too will quickly become yesterday’s news – have patience and move forward!”

Finding a trusted mentor outside of personal relationships can be tricky. However, many successful organizations cultivate formal mentor programs internally to serve a variety of specific objectives that include grooming new potential leaders, acclimating new employees, developing skills, enhancing diversity and retaining employees.

The benefits of having a formal mentorship program can include:

  • Career Development – Aligning organizational goals to personal career goals. Feeling engaged and respected, the employee is given the ability to advance professionally within the organization, leading to higher retention rates.
  • High-Potential Mentoring – Retaining top-talent employees who have leadership potential and stay engaged within the organization.
  • Knowledge-Transfer Mentoring – Transferring specific skill-set knowledge to younger employees.
  • Diversity Mentoring – Bringing in new ideas by empowering diverse employees to share ideas, knowledge and experience to expand and innovate cultural awareness within the workplace.
  • Reverse Mentoring – Younger employees mentor older generations about new trends, allowing senior employees to see things from a fresh and different point of view.

Offering a workplace mentorship program is akin to offering another key benefit to employees. This benefit is definitely a win-win for both the organization and its employees.

Evolving technology now allows organizations to effortlessly connect employees with mentors. Past challenges, such as employee location, is no longer a barrier. In fact, smart technology serves to disrupt the ‘path of least resistance’ mentality of simply doing nothing.

MentorString™, a cloud-based software platform developed by Urbandale-based Prositions, Inc., is doing some very clever (and intuitive) things within the employment mentorship world. The usability features found within MentorString are straightforward and quite simple to use. Some of the features include visualizing how people are connected with one another by using a revolutionary tool called String Diagrams. In addition to many other carefully-designed accoutrements, users have access to individual action/development plans, discussion groups, media and file sharing. Prositions CEO Frank Russell and his team are constantly finding valuable approaches to mask the complexities organizations face in the ever-evolving employment world.

As the unemployment rate continues to move downward, a greater need develops for organizations to embrace mentorship programs. As I write this, I realize that offering a formal mentorship program should be yet another benefit to monitor in our annual Iowa Employer Benefits Study©.

A powerful benefit, no doubt!

To stay abreast of employee benefits and healthcare issues, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Iowa Lindex© Score
Maybe Tied to Organizational Culture?

Lindex Online BenchmarkingDo you have a good sense of your organization’s culture? What sets your employer apart from other employers within your community? Are you consciously (and sub-consciously) making behavioral choices that reflect the essence of what your employer represents to its employees, customers, community and to the general public?

In its purest form, an organization’s ‘culture’ represents the collective values, beliefs and principals of its members – a product of many factors that include history, market, product, technology, type of employees, management style and environmental impacts from the community in which it operates. In other words, an organization’s culture represents the ‘DNA’ or identity that is unique to each employer.

Why is this important? Because it’s fascinating stuff!

Allow me to explain. Our Lindex Online Benchmarking® program allows Iowa employers to compare their benefits package to employers of similar size, industry and location. Upon completing an online questionnaire on a vast array of benefits and insurance options an employer offers at their workplace, the employer receives a report comparing their benefit offerings to those who responded in the most current Iowa Employer Benefits Study©.

This report produces a great deal of comparative information about many key benefits that are highly-desired by employees – including health and dental insurance, group life and disability coverages, retirement plans, sick leave and vacation, among others.

So with all of this benchmark information being compared and shared with the employer, how does an organization know if their plan offering is competitive? Easy! All information is distilled into one simple number – the Iowa Lindex score®.

The Lindex score is a complex algorithm that distills voluminous and complicated data into one relevant number between 0 and 100, providing clarity on just how competitive an employer’s benefits package is to other employers within Iowa. Lindex measures the availability, costs and use of many key benefits. This score is compared to the overall average Lindex score calculated for those who responded to the most recent survey.

For 2014, the statewide average Lindex score was 74. The Lindex gauge below displays the quartiles of scores, with the lowest quartile ranging from 0 to 64, the second quartile being 65 to 76, third quartile being 77 to 85, and the highest quartile at 86 to 100. An employer with an average Lindex score will be around 74.

2014 Lindex Gauge

As with an organization’s culture, not all employers are alike when offering employee benefits. With this in mind, once an employer learns their Lindex score, things can get quite interesting.

For example, when employers score in the highest quartile (green range), their reaction can vary wildly. One employer may wish to tout their strong score to their employees, attributing the results to a non-biased third-party tool (Lindex). After all, employee benefits constitute about one-third of total employee compensation.

But with this same high score, another employer may wish to keep this score under lock and key and strategically use this number to re-position their competitiveness at the desired mix of pay and benefits. Fundamentally, it is all about strategy – and, ultimately, their culture. There is no ‘right’ response – only the response that is ‘right’ for each organization.

The culture of an organization might determine how just one number will be used when deciding important benefit issues. From my perspective, this is quite enjoyable to watch!

To stay abreast of employee benefits and healthcare issues, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.