CategoryHealthcare & Wellness

Your Employees Are In Pain … Acknowledge It and Help Them.

In How to Manage After the Events in Charlottesville, I talked about what organizations need to be prepared to do from a policy enforcement standpoint should something like those events happen involving employees in your workplace.

But what about the hurtful and horrible feelings floating around and lingering?

It is hard to watch the news coverage and images surrounding these events without feeling heavy.  It is hard not to form opinions about the state of our country and our world based on this. It is hard not to think how you can get involved and make a difference. It is hard not to worry for your friends and family and community, wondering if your town  or someone you care about could be next.

It is hard to focus and feel positive. It is hard to turn all that off and work like none of it is happening.

So if it is hard for you, it is hard for the people who work with you too.

Look around you and know that everyone is more than likely feeling some of the same feelings of anger and frustration and helplessness and hopelessness that you are feeling.

What are you doing about it?

Most employers don’t know what to do … so they do nothing.

If you’re wanting to walk the talk on diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity, this approach isn’t going to cut it.

You need to do more. You need to do different. You need to do better.

Don’t know where to start? Consider these:

  • Encourage Self-Care … Remind employees of the benefits of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If you don’t have an EAP, reach out to your benefits broker about adding one to your benefits offerings and possibly expanding the existing program if it isn’t very robust.
  • Communicate Candidly … Send acknowledgement of the horrible events and your empathy for the difficulty everyone is experiencing as a result. Send thanks for the continued hard work and diligence during this heavy time. Send reminders about limiting consumption of negative news and images to avoid damage to their psyche and becoming desensitized. Send messages of positivity, unity and hope.
  • Be Silent Together … Schedule a moment of silence for the victims and for our nation and for our world and, most of all, for our peace and sanity.
  • Give Together … Research charitable organizations who are doing positive work to help bring healing, understanding and equality. Encourage your employees to donate to these causes and match the donations.
  • Denounce White Supremacy … Yeah, I know I said this in the last post. I’m saying it again. Take this opportunity to remind everyone in your organization again that diversity and inclusion are celebrated and that the organization will not continue business with anyone who demonstrates they do not share these values. Knowing your workplace is a safe place from supremacy matters to your employees. Don’t let the fear and discomfort stop you from taking the stance if it is in your heart.

We spend half of our waking hours at work. Expecting people to suppress their emotions and thoughts from outside influences during that time is unrealistic. Whether you want it or not, your employees are talking about their feelings with each other. Look for ways to support them in their coping and healing.

Acknowledge their pain. Help them heal.


Healthcare Reform — So What? Now What?

Thursday, June 28, 2012 was a history-making day in the United States when the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was constitutional. It was a decision that shocked many — including me!

For the record, I believe the US system of healthcare absolutely needs reform. And I believe all Americans should have access to affordable care. It baffles me that this battle is still being waged and is so fiercely debated in one of the richest, most powerful countries in the world … However, I also recognize the potential fines on employers could cripple and permanently shut the doors on many already struggling businesses. So I understand why the legislation makes corporations nervous. That reality often makes the legislation feel bittersweet for me.

Ultimately, we’re a long way from full implementation of all aspects of this legislation. Although 2014 is the goal, it isn’t a hard and fast deadline; I suspect there will be lots of modifications to the timeline as the infrastructure is put into place on how this will work. In the meanwhile, I choose to have faith that things will work out for everyone’s good — and I focus my energy on what is going on right now as it relates to the PPACA instead of what could or might be. I encourage you to do the same.

Now that the SCOTUS has ruled in this matter and the PPACA will press forward, it’s time to think about “what’s next” for the organizations we serve. Here’s my tips on that:


  • Strengthen your benefits program. Work with your broker/reps/consultants to find options that will strengthen the options your organization offers. Add new benefits or make enhancements to existing plans where you can. Use caution in making any changes to plans that might cause you to lose grandfathered (GF) status, if you’ve already received a waiver from the Department of Health & Human Services. Once you lose GF status, there’s no turning back! But there are lots of enrichments you can make to your programs that won’t force a forfeit.


  • Monitor full-time and part-time designations. Employers are only in danger of being penalized for failure to provide adequate coverage to full-time equivalents (FTEs). The standards for “adequate coverage” still haven’t been defined and a definition isn’t expected until some time in 2013. However, FTE is a definition that we already know within our state and our organization. Audit to ensure your current workforce is properly designated and make changes if necessary. Keep in mind that designation changes might qualify adversely impacted employees for unemployment benefits and/or might persuade employees to seek employment elsewhere — not to mention general complaints surrounding fairness and employee morale overall. Anticipate issues and make sure you have a plan to address them. Discuss it with your attorney or union as well.


  • Educate yourself. Business leaders, especially HR, cannot afford to rely on television and printed news to gain knowledge about this issue. It is far too complex and politically charged. Instead, we need to find ways to learn about it on our own from sources that are as neutral as possible. I am already seeing free webinars, conference calls and seminars popping up to discuss the impact of the ruling on employers and benefits plans heading into the 2013 enrollment season. Sign up and listen up — for more than just one. If you can’t find anything, check with your insurance broker or with your attorney; I am sure they can point you in the right direction. If not, check with me — I am absolutely willing to help!


There is no doubt that Healthcare Reform is one of the top 5 “Issues of Our Time.” And it gives HR another opportunity to be front-and-center and shine, as we help our organizations to navigate through it.

That’s an honor and a privilege. Don’t screw it up.

Hey You!!! Stop Dissing Obamacare!

And stop calling it Obamacare, while you’re at it. It’s the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — or the PPACA (Pee-pack-uh). Healthcare Reform Act works, too.

But if you can’t say “Obamacare” without obvious disdain or excitement, you should probably use another word. At least while you’re at work. Especially if you work in HR or some related function.

A couple weeks ago, I conducted training with our HR Administrators, Payroll Specialists and A/P Clerks on our benefits plans. Since these 3 groups spend a lot of time working together on our benefits, premium deductions and premium payments; it made sense to bring them all together for refresher and to roll-out updated procedures.

We were about half way through the session and everything was going great. Great discussion, great questions and great nodding in all the right places. I was so pleased.

Then I moved into a segment on the PPACA. It was 4 – 5 slides about the history of the law, the current provisions we are required to enforce, the pending Supreme Court case and what the Court’s decision would mean for us and our plans, depending on what all they decide. I deliberately kept it very dispassionate and middle of the road. I wanted the group to walk away with the facts of what was, what is and what could be as it relates to our company and this law, separate and apart from any personal or political feelings.

Which is why I was really surprised when one of our A/P clerks walked out during the session. I heard her mumble something about “Obamacare” and a bunch of expletives, get up and leave. I was shocked and shaken by it. In over a decade in HR, I’d never had someone get so upset over a topic that they’d walked out of a training before. I didn’t know what to do. So I just kept going. There were 20 other people in the room who were still there and willing to listen and learn. I wasn’t going to further interrupt things by calling more attention to the outburst of one person. She returned about 30 minutes later and the rest of the day went off without incident.

I wasn’t going to just let the incident go, though. Clara the Clerk’s behavior was beyond inappropriate. I spoke with her supervisor about it and learned this wasn’t the first time this woman had an outburst or stormed out when she didn’t like the topic. The previous incidents had not been formally documented.

Well, this one was definitely going to be.

We brought Clara the Clerk into the office to discuss these issues with her. We wanted her to understand that her behavior during the training was disrespectful, disruptive and dangerously close to insubordinate. Since this was not the first time, we wanted her to understand that this was not acceptable and would no longer be tolerated.

Clara apologized for her outburst and for anything she’d said or done that made me and others feel disrespected. She said that wasn’t her intention. She said the current Presidential Administration and its actions upset her so much that she just couldn’t contain herself sometimes. She assured us that it wouldn’t happen again. She signed the warning without any fanfare.

The case was closed, but I still felt … some kind of way … about it.

I can’t imagine feeling so charged about something that I couldn’t even sit through a ten minute review of the subject. And I can’t imagine ever thinking it would be acceptable to walk out on any workplace training because I didn’t like the topic. Perhaps this is another one of the ways working in HR has made me soft? Perhaps I am too deferential, too “company” for my own good?

In this case, I say no.

Ultimately, whether we are in HR or some other support function, we are responsible to know, understand and enforce the laws applicable to our job and our industry. We may disagree with the law and dislike the people who enact it … but we’re still responsible to abide by it. Period.

You don’t like Obamacare … or SarbOx … or OSHA … or whatever the laws and regulations … That’s your prerogative. Now shut up about it and do your job.

Please and thank you very much.

A Silver Lining in Benefits?

Of all the areas of HR that I deal with, I hate benefits the most. There are rarely any
shining, victorious moments in benefits. Occasionally, I save someone money by helping sort out a claims/billing issue … but even those victories are hollow because if the insurance company had it together and weren’t a bunch of money-grubbing, sneaky jackholes who hid behind medical jargon and find every excuse in the book not to pay claims or issue invoice credit in the first place, my help on those types of issues wouldn’t even be necessary.

However, my thoughts on the American Healthcare System are for another day … Right now, I want to talk about benefits administration.

But I can’t really do that without talking about the American Healthcare System so I will keep it brief. Without going too deep, let me just state the obvious: the system sucks. It is ultimately designed to profit off of people’s illness on one hand while managing expenses by not paying for claims using any and every nit-picky reason on the other. I get it. However, there’s just something morally askew about that in my mind and the conspiracy theorist in me doesn’t trust the system’s integrity.

Stuck in the middle of the vicious cycle of the System is the employer, who absolutely gets the short end of the stick in this thing. We pay thousands of dollars each year for coverage our employees will never be happy with, no matter how comprehensive it is! And if we can’t provide major, comprehensive medical
coverage—then we battle the guilt, shame and stigma of being an employer who
somehow doesn’t care about their employees because of it. With the Healthcare
Reform legislation still looming, it looks like employers will be jammed between
an even bigger hard place and rock full of new requirements, fines … and bears!
Oh my!

But again, more on that another time.

A few weeks ago, I got suckered into a meeting with a sales rep wanting our company to add their supplemental benefits to our program. Normally, our genius of a gatekeeper switchboard operator screens those calls out so I don’t have to talk
to anyone. This time, the rep squeezed through because she is the wife of one
of our employees and led the operator to believe she was calling about a
personal coverage issue, not to sell something. I gave her props for being
crafty so I took the meeting. I will not say the name of her company, but let’s
just say they are quite well-known little quackers.

I get the draw of supplemental benefits and their cash benefit to people. Who doesn’t want an insurance company that pays them instead of paying claims?! In fact, I had supplemental benefits at one of my previous employers and found it really useful. But with my views on the insurance industry in general, it would be an
understatement to say I have a healthy skepticism about it. For years, our
company has passed on adding this type of supplemental benefit to our plan for
a number of reasons.

  • First, we weren’t sure of the value of the benefit itself for our employee population. Does a twenty year old machine operator really need a cancer policy? Does a thirty year old single woman really need an accident policy? At $12 per check per policy when that person is only making $8, $10 or $15 per hour, it would be hard to recommend it when there is no guarantee or even a significant likelihood they will actually utilize the benefit. When we’re already battling the guilt and stigma of allegedly peddling crappy, useless benefits to our employees, it is natural and reasonable for us to have pause about adding something new that we’re not sure is going to be truly useful to them.
  • Second, the enrollment and administration for the benefit would be a nightmare. Many of these supplemental benefit companies don’t offer a central point of contact or method of enrolling employees. In a high volume production facility, there isn’t always time or space to post a rep to sign people up. Same goes for retail environments. Customers do not want or need to know what goes on behind “the curtain.” So the alternative is to ask employees to come early or stay later. But asking employees to come in before or stay after hours when they are already working long hours on back-to-back days is unfair. Not to mention the question of if and how people are compensated for this. And then there considerations for the safety of the benefits rep in the employer’s work environment … Ugh.

So suffice it to say, I was not enthusiastic about my meeting at all. I was confident that I would chat with the rep for ten or fifteen minutes at most, hit her with the
questions about enrollment and central point of contact that always seem stump
the reps, exchange business cards, send her on her way and notify our switchboard
operator to send her to voicemail from now on.

That’s not what happened at all! After a wonderful chat for almost 45 minutes, I walked away a believer … well, almost.
I’m still not sure if we can fit the benefit into our program this year. But I am sure that was the best sales meeting I’ve ever had with a benefits rep. Here’s why:

  • She was knowledgeable about the healthcare system and the workings of insurance and our current plan offerings so she was able to speak confidently about the ways she believed their benefit could enhance and improve our plan.
  • She had researched our business and already had several ideas on how to handle informational meetings and enrollments in a way that was not disruptive to our business. She was familiar with our annual enrollment times and was able to ideas on how to add the benefit in a way that wouldn’t create tons of extra work for me and our satellite offices. Of course, her husband being a current employee of ours probably helped her tremendously. However, if she is half as prepared for meetings with her other clients as she was when she met with me, that lady is going to be very successful in her job!

I wish everyone trying to peddle something was that prepared. Most HR professionals are wearing multiple hats on the job. These days, the Benefits Manager likely deals with health benefits and wellness and the retirement plan and COBRA and leave of absence and worker’s compensation. No one with all that stuff going on has the time or inclination to spend time figuring out how to reinvent or
improve the wheel that is their program—especially if the addition looks like
it is going to add a ton of additional work to their plate. Reps and brokers must
do a better job of partnering with employers to figure this thing out a little better. If HR has to know it all and do it all, the reps and brokers are useless.

This rep made it clear to me that there were some very obvious perks to adding their coverage to our plan. And she made it seem possible to add the benefit with minimal disruption and difficulty to our current program and process. Isn’t that all any Benefits Administrator really wants from the coverage offered?

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