Making Employee Benefits Sexy! #SHRM15

2015-Employee-Benefits-CoverIn the king-sized bed of core human resources accountabilities employee benefits nestles up alongside compensation and compliance in a ménage a trois of least sexy HR responsibilities. Snuggled together under a cozy fleece blanket these three are necessary to the effectiveness of a solid foundational HR program in every organization. But let’s face it; they’re not nearly as glamorous or exciting as talent acquisition, employee engagement, or learning & development. Even the battle-weary Labor Relations folks have a rough-and-tumble image that puts them higher on the hot-meter than the majority of Benefits Managers.

Yet every single HR professional must constantly be tuned in to the trends, costs, and shifting landscape that is employee benefits. So in the spirit of ensuring I stay up to date on the basics I recently read through SHRM’s 2015 Employee Benefit research report. I picked up a copy at last week’s SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition but you can also download the report here.

The report provides information about the types of benefits US employers offer and, as part of the research, the team explored over 300 types of benefits including health care and welfare benefits, preventive health and wellness benefits, retirement savings and planning benefits, leave benefits, flexible working benefits, professional and career development benefits, housing and relocation benefits, and even business travel benefits.

As pointed out in the Executive Summary: “Research has shown that many job seekers frequently place greater importance on health care coverage, flexible work schedules and other benefits rather than on their base salaries. Benefits plans should be viewed by HR professionals as a vital tool in their retention and recruitment strategies.”

But, as I have frequently wondered for many years, do HR professionals truly dive deep and understand the right benefit levers to attract the right talent? Are benefits managers nimble enough to put together the right package – and adjust it as needed – when faced with attraction or retention issues? Does anyone ever, really, ask the employees what benefits they want?

One of the most interesting charts in the report indicates the prevalence of different types of benefits. The majority of surveyed companies continue to offer, as would be expected, paid holidays (98%), AD&D coverage (85%), a 401(k) or similar DC plan (90%), and break-rooms/kitchenettes (90%). (note: only in the world of HR would someone actually consider a break-room a benefit. Then again, a high number of benefit marketing/collateral statements given to applicants/employees touts “direct deposit of paychecks” as a benefit, so…..)

On the low end of the spectrum, however, we see the availability of the following benefits:

  • On-ramping programs for parents re-entering the workforce (2%)
  • Access to backup to child care services (4%)
  • Babies at work (1% of employers offer/allow) (Bringing them to work, one would assume. Not birthing them).
  • Access to backup elder care services (1%)
  • Elder Care assisted living assessments (<1%)
  • Elder care in-home assessments (<1%)
  • Geriatric counseling (<1%)
  • On-ramping programs for family members dealing with elder care responsibilities (<1%)

There’s a higher prevalence of companies offering self defense training (4%) and pet health insurance (9%) than there are those assisting with elder care needs.

Are sexy and family friendly mutually exclusive?

As noted in the report There was a five-year decline in the percentage of organizations permitting employees to bring their child to work in an emergency and offering child care referral services and on-site parenting seminars. There were no statistically significant increases in the percentage of organizations offering family-friendly benefits over the last year.”

That’s a decline. With no significant increase. Huh.

So what types of benefits have been increased? According to the report the number of organizations offering general wellness programs has regularly increased over the last five years. Out go the Snickers bars in the vending machines to be replaced by high fiber low sugar bars and BAM – Janet the HR Director can say she’s implemented a wellness initiative! We all know that wellness sells to frazzled HR ladies as evidenced by the preponderance of “wellness” booths in the #SHRM15 Expo Hall last week as well as the long lines at Dr. Oz’s book signing.

You know what struck me though after reading through the report and glancing at the Executive Summary? It appears that not much has evolved in employee benefits since I started in my first HR Department 25 years ago. Oh sure, fewer organizations now offer defined benefit plans while they do get to offer Target Date funds (exciting!) in their defined contribution plans. But good grief… I think we offered more child care assistance and other family friendly options in the 90’s.

But never fear!!! 60% of surveyed companies still offer a service anniversary award.

And if service awards can still be considered a ‘benefit’ then by golly – I guess we have brought the sexy back.

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The Aftermath #50ShadesofHR

Employee complaint form

MEMORANDUM

 

February 16, 2015

TO:                   All Employees

FROM:           Janet Jones, Director of Human Resources

RE:                   Inappropriate Workplace Conversations

It has come to my attention that a fair number of you saw the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” this past weekend. Some of you, according to my sources, attended multiple screenings.

It is apparent that many of you have forgotten that Acme Corporation’s Workplace harassment policy prohibits “verbal or physical conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” (Section III, subsection A, paragraph 2).

While talk of one’s ‘inner goddess’ may not, on the surface, create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, when followed up with a discussion about the color of one’s cheeks it may cause others to feel uncomfortable.

Please also note:

  • It is not appropriate to begin using “Laters, baby” as your email signature
  • We will not, despite repeated requests, be turning the vacant office on the 5th floor into a “Red Room”
  • Corsets are not appropriate workplace attire
  • It is neither funny nor professional to inform a co-worker “I’d like to bite that lip.”
  • We will no longer allow college journalism students to interview our top executives
  • This memo is not tongue in cheek; it is not advisable, after all, to use the phrase “tongue in cheek.”

Thank you for your attention to this matter and please see me with any questions.

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The Harsh Reality: Sometimes HR Has to Talk about Sex

50 Shades of HRThis week brings the much-anticipated (well, in some quarters) release of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 4 years you’re likely aware that the Fifty Shades trilogy has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. According to Boxoffice.com, the movie is forecast to make $89 million in the US and Canada over the upcoming weekend and it’s been reported that close to 50% of advance ticket sales in the US have been from fans under the age of 30; two-thirds of them are women.

And next Monday morning these moviegoers will flock back to their offices, gather around the water cooler or huddle in cubicles, and give a blow-by-blow discuss flogging, paddling and shackles with co-workers. Amidst all the breathless (no doubt) titillation, I can guarantee you there will also be employees who are offended and place a call to the HR Department. Most human resources practitioners are accustomed to having conversations about FMLA, WC, ADA, OSHA and LTD … but not so much BDSM.

This all got me thinking about the “Seinfeld” case. Who remembers that one?

In 1993, Miller Brewing Co. fired Jerold Mackenzie, an executive, for an incident that arose from his discussion of the show with a female colleague. Mackenzie, relaying the story line from an episode, explained that Jerry was unable to recall a woman’s name that was described as rhyming with a part of the female anatomy (Mulva? Gipple?). Mackenzie, embarrassed to tell his colleague Patricia Best what the character’s name (Dolores!) rhymed with, ended up showing her the word in a dictionary.

She was offended.

Mackenzie, after being fired for sexual harassment, sued Miller Brewing Co. and Patricia Best. The jury (10 women, 2 men) ruled for Mackenzie and ordered Miller Brewing Co. to pay $26.5 million. The verdict was appealed and eventually the entire jury award was set aside. (note: the actual case focused on issues other than harassment – specifically Mackenzie’s lawyers argued that Miller deceived him for years and dubbed it “misrepresentation to induce continued employment”)

I’m not suggesting that HR Directors send out emails admonishing staff “not to wear leather” but perhaps it’s advisable to listen for excess talk about riding crops and bondage. It may be time to figure out, once and for all, if the cultural norms of one’s organization include language or visual displays that, well, might not meet grandma’s approval. As the lawyers and Supreme Court like to say, a hostile work environment is one that is “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.” This means when you work in HR you need to watch out for that stuff. I’m not saying be a humorless prude…(lord no); don’t be like the HR lady I met at a recent conference who was upset that an attorney speaking-about-sexual-harrassment used anatomically correct words for body parts. Please don’t be like her.

I am saying that even though you may not find it easy to tell the guys on the loading dock to “knock it off,” sometimes you just have to do that. And you might have to use words you’ve picked up by reading “Fifty Shades Darker” in order to adequately convey your message.

Claims of a sexually charged hostile work environment are often not painted in black and white; sometimes they’re in shades of grey.

*******

image: classic HR swag via Cornerstone on Demand

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