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Iowa Employer Benefits Study© – An Annual Tradition to take a 1-year Sabbatical

All of us have established traditions in our lives, whether it be family or friend-related holiday plans, vacation travels to a favorite destination, attending or watching sporting events, and so on. Yet, due to circumstances beyond our control, such as time constraints, finances, death and adverse health problems, traditions are made to be altered, or possibly discontinued. After performing the annual Iowa Employer Benefits Study© for the past 18 years, I have decided to give the survey a ‘rest’ for one year. Believe me, this was not an easy decision. But after a great deal of personal and professional reflection, it is the right decision. My ‘tradition’ has now officially been altered.

In today’s world of perpetual political turmoil, healthcare – more specifically – health insurance, has become a political football. Hasty decisions are being made to benefit political promises, usually at the expense of pursuing sound policy practices. What has occurred in our nation’s capital in 2017 is akin to watching a surgeon perform knee surgery with a butter knife. The process has been extremely agonizing to witness and I find myself wincing as this grotesque process evolves.

Now more than ever, it is important to monitor employer-sponsored health insurance costs and components. After all, health insurance costs continue to outpace the Consumer Price Index (CPI) every year. Rising insurance costs have triggered a host of other health plan changes – forcing employers to offer the most competitive health insurance package that they can. I certainly don’t take this fact lightly.

But another fact is very important to me – the ‘value’ of care received. I firmly believe it should ALSO be on the radar screen for employers, their employees and the general public. Similar to how politician’s view our healthcare ‘system,’ employers appear to be mesmerized, rightfully so, by the insurance cost problems. Recently, Warren Buffett described medical costs as “the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness.”

This cost concern, however, tends to suck the necessary oxygen out of the room, crowding out badly-needed, laser-like attention and focus on key cost drivers that impact costs in the first place. This is ‘downstream’ thinking, the actions we take about fixing the symptoms of problems rather than concentrating on the issues that actually CAUSE the cost ‘pollution’ we find so objectionable. Being distracted with downstream symptoms has lulled us into believing that we simply need to fix the “insurance problem” and the ‘upstream’ pollution will miraculously go away. Inflated health costs are actually more harmful to us because we refuse to look beyond the insurance component to help address the cost conundrum.

This serves as the backdrop on why I decided to place the Iowa Employer Benefits Study© on a one-year sabbatical. It’s time to move ‘upstream‘ and disregard the naysayers who believe the status quo is much too difficult to confront. It is just too easy and expedient to continue the work downstream – making the appearance that something is being done to confront the cost issue. But if ‘optics’ matter, I’m in the wrong business.

In the next few weeks, I will reveal research I’ve wanted to conduct for the last number of years, but did not have the opportunity to pursue – until now. This work will be found under my companion organization, Heartland Health Research Institute. If you haven’t signed up to receive my HHRI posts, you may do so here.

Poet Robert Frost famously wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

This road may be lonely, but well worth the effort.

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Time to Really ‘Check Out!’

VacationNow that we are well into summer, many of us are lounging at the swimming pool, barbecuing, golfing, enjoying activities at the lake, attending garage sales, and numerous other outdoor activities.

But have you thought about really taking a vacation?

I know this question may sound a bit unusual, especially at the height of summertime. But below the surface, this question might have some validity. EVERYBODY takes a vacation from work, right? Well, apparently not.

According to a recent study by Accountemps, a staffing firm, who surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. workers, about one-third of surveyed professionals report they don’t have enough vacation time. Another 41 percent say they are not taking advantage of the paid time off that they have available at work – partly due to fear of the workload they will have when returning from vacation. Finally, 35 percent said they took fewer or no days off because others would need to handle their workload – maybe due to peer pressure or guilt.

For those who did get away on vacation, 41 percent admitted they checked in with the office at least once a week. Smartphones and other convenient electronic devices are wonderful tools to have, but they also serve as a reminder to access work emails and documents while on vacation. The Eagles rock band put it quite succinctly in their 1976 hit ‘Hotel California’: “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!” Forty years later, we seem to be caught in the same quandary when we try to ‘check out’ and really ‘leave’ (relax).

Another report indicates that Americans forfeit over $61 billion annually to unused vacation time. In 2015 alone, 55 percent of Americans did not use their vacation allowance, which is the first time the majority of workers ignored time away from work. Americans left 658 million vacation days on the table, with about a third of this number (222 million days) not allowed to be rolled into the following year, or paid out or banked. This inactivity adversely affects the economy due to the ripple-effect of people not traveling, etc.

In our 2014 Iowa Employer Benefits Study©, 80 percent of Iowa employers with traditional leave programs offer paid vacation, while 88 percent of employers who offer Paid Time Off (PTO) programs include vacation as a paid benefit. Clearly, a vast majority of Iowa employers believe that vacation is important for employees to relax and return to work with renewed energy. Iowa employees we surveyed in 2007 reported that vacation is the second most important benefit to have at the workplace (only after Retirement).

To help avoid employee burnout, managers can demonstrate to others by actually taking vacations and checking in with the office less frequently. This can serve as a model to other employees, managers and colleagues to do the same and not feel guilty when taking time away from work. When doing this, employees will know that they can truly ‘check out’ from their professional responsibilities and temporarily ‘leave’ that work behind them.

Vacation is all about giving employees that “Peaceful Easy Feeling!”

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2016 Iowa Employer Benefits Study has Begun!

18th Annual StudyAnd, we’re off…

The 18th annual Iowa Employer Benefits Study© survey process has begun!

Our research partner, Data Point Research, recently began the process of contacting randomly-selected Iowa employers to become survey participants. Our desired goal this year is to survey 1,000 employers, which means that we will have surveyed over 13,000 Iowa organizations since 1999!

If your organization has been invited to participate in this year’s survey, I highly encourage and appreciate your involvement. By completing this survey and once our stats are tallied and released in early fall, you will receive a unique link via email allowing you to download a complementary electronic summary of the survey results – a $300 value!

Each year at this time, Iowa employers look forward to being selected to participate in this trustworthy and credible resource on employee benefits offered within our state. Many thanks in advance to those organizations who participate in our annual survey. Without your assistance, our survey would not be possible.

Please know that our firm is Rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau. Should you have any questions about the 2016 survey, or are unsure whether or not your organization has been selected to participate, please contact me directly.

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