Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace, Post-COVID

As more businesses welcome employees back to the workplace, HR leaders have understandably prioritized physical health and safety. This is entirely appropriate in the wake of the pandemic: Workplaces can and should do everything in their power to promote hygiene and support employee wellbeing.

It is crucial to remember, though, that employee wellness is about more than physical safety. Mental health is also a significant concern. Keep in mind that many employees will return to work feeling anxious, afraid, or depressed; some will be carrying grief from loved ones they have lost, or trepidation that they might become sick themselves. Others may simply feel nervous due to changes and uncertainty in our work environments.

Mental Health as a Priority

Due to these concerns, it is critical that employers and HR leaders develop their back-to-work plans with employee mental health in mind.

Indeed, mental health is a major source of concern for many business leaders. Businessolver recently published the results of their fifth annual State of Workplace Empathy Study, where they found that CEOs, HR leaders, and employees agree that mental health should be a key consideration in the workplace. And yet, the same study also shows that just 69 percent of employees feel that their workplace is sensitive to mental health concerns.

Digging deeper into the numbers, we find the following:

  • Many employees are afraid to reveal their mental health struggles, with 64 percent saying they are concerned about confidentiality. Their fear is that, in being honest about their mental health issues, they could jeopardize their job security.
  • There is a disconnect between employees and leaders. An overwhelming 86 percent of CEOs give their companies high marks for open discussion of mental health issues… but only 58 percent of employees agree.
  • Similarly, 76 percent of CEOs note that their workplaces offer mental health benefits, but only about half of employees are aware of these benefits! Awareness-raising will be a key issue moving forward.
  • About 92 percent of employees say their companies should do more… and 100 percent of HR leaders agree!

What we see here is that mental health concerns loom large among employees and business leadership; and that there remains much work to be done in creating workspaces where mental health is addressed with honesty and sensitivity.

Take Action

As HR leaders start considering their options for improving mental health in the workplace, especially amidst a post-COVID re-opening, there are a few preliminary action steps that we can commend.

  • Start talking honestly and openly about mental health. Make your workplace an environment where people feel comfortable talking about these issues without fear. This must start at the top: Leaders and executives must be the ones who model transparency and vulnerability.
  • Create support systems in which employees can talk with each other not only about logistical aspects of their jobs, but also emotional ones. This may look like team huddles where emotional issues are expressly raised. It may also mean pairing employees to check in with each other in a more confidential, one-on-one setting (such as a “coffee buddies” program).
  • Finally, it is so crucial for employers and HR leaders to develop benefits packages that include mental health care… and, to make sure the scope of those mental health benefits is discussed openly with employees. Again, raising awareness and rejecting stigma will be important going forward.

Ready to find out more about designing (and communicating) benefits packages that put mental health as a priority? Reach out to our team at WhiteWater Consulting at any time.

Creating Safe Workplaces After COVID-19

As business owners consider the long and challenging process of re-opening in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a central question that must be addressed: How can we begin growing the economy, and resuming some semblance of normal productivity, while still promoting the health and safety of employees?

It’s a question that may not have an easy answer, and yet one thing is clear: Prioritizing workplace safety is very much the right thing for business leaders to do. It’s the right thing ethically, it’s what’s best for employee morale, and it’s really the only way to sustain business growth in the long run.

While many employers may have outstanding questions about how they can build safe workplaces, and while there may not be any “perfect” solution, there are a few guidelines that should be taken seriously.

Creating Safe Workplaces Post-COVID-19

Some of these recommendations include:

  • Create a culture that is more fluid and permissive with regard to remote work. One of the best ways to minimize exposure to coronavirus, and to provide employees with the freedom to make their own healthy decisions, is to create a culture in which working remotely is permitted as much as possible. While some positions or projects may require employees to be physically present in the workplace, employers should make it clear that employees have some flexibility to perform their work from home whenever it makes sense to do so. (This also means implementing a technological infrastructure that facilitates remote productivity and collaboration, something most companies have invested in during the quarantine.)
  • Change your workflows. It’s also important to minimize contact between workers, and to ensure that if an employee can safely do their job alone or with just one other person, that they have the space to do so. Business owners and HR teams are encouraged to be creative in reconfiguring their existing facilities, using break rooms, closets, or unused offices to provide a little extra workspace for employees. If you have workers who are not able to maintain the recommended physical distance, ensure there is a sanitized, impervious barrier between them.
  • Limit exposure between team members and customers/clients. During the quarantine, many businesses have shown their resourcefulness by implementing “no contact” delivery, curbside pickup, and similar solutions. Maintaining these provisions can be a good way to protect not only the customer, but also your team members.
  • Continue providing hand sanitizer to workers. Advise frequent hand washing, and make sure that employees have both the time and the physical access to wash and sanitize as needed.
  • Don’t overburden your cleaning staff. Maintaining a sanitary workplace is naturally going to require a more frequent application of disinfectant, as well as rigorous standards of workplace cleanliness. This may be a significant burden placed on the cleaning staff, so support them as best you can with additional staffing or by asking your other team members to help with some of the cleaning work.
  • If you know there is a risk of infection, supply employees with PPE. In some office environments, it will be a necessity to keep masks and gloves on hand at all times, ensuring that your employees know their wellbeing is a foremost concern.
  • Be attentive to mental health. As employees return to work after the quarantine, many of them will struggle with anxiety, uncertainty, and other mental health conditions. Make sure your people are all aware of the mental health resources available to them. And, as best you can, be flexible in allowing your team members “mental health breaks” and leave.

In the coming months, business owners will be figuring out how to adapt to a new normal, and much of it will be through trial and error. Throughout the process, ensure that employee wellbeing is your North Star.

With questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at WhiteWater Consulting.

Final Changes to Coronavirus Relief Act, Paid Leave

Yesterday, the House of Representatives scaled back the paid-leave portion of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that it attempted to enact days earlier following pressure from businesses worried about financial burdens of extended FMLA. The revised bill was sent to the Senate on Wednesday, where it passed by a vote of 90-8. President Trump then signed the emergency bill into law. The bill goes into effect on April 2, 2020, and it sunsets on December 31, 2020.

The new measure still provides two weeks of sick leave to employees affected by COVID 19, including those who are in quarantine or caring for family members who have it, and those who have children whose schools or daycare centers have closed in response to the outbreak.

Here’s what’s changed:

For the next 10 weeks (following the 2 mentioned above), paid leave would be limited only to employees caring for a child whose school or daycare had been closed. Employees who had been in quarantine or caring for a family member affected by the virus wouldn’t be eligible for the additional 10 weeks of leave. Health-care providers and emergency responders aren’t guaranteed the additional 10 weeks of paid leave either. The decision to extend their time off will be made by the Labor secretary at a later date, the reason given that the government might face a shortage of such workers.

The legislation also makes coronavirus testing free and increases access to food assistance to those who need it.

The new mandate still applies only to companies with fewer than 500 employees and sets up a mechanism for the government to reimburse through a tax credit employers who pay employee wages while they are absent from work due to coronavirus. Two notes about this provision:

  1. The bill amends the FMLA to allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave if the employee is unable to work or work remotely because they need to care for a child under the age of 18 because the child’s school or daycare has closed due to COVID-19. The first 10 days of such leave is “emergency FMLA” and may consist of unpaid leave, but the employee must be paid for every day thereafter. That payment would be calculated based on the number of hours the employee would normally be scheduled to work, not less than two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay. The bill provides that this amount will not exceed $200 per day and $10,000 “in the aggregate.”

    Employers with fewer than 25 employees may be exempted from this job-protected aspect of the “emergency FMLA” leave provided certain conditions are met, including if a leave-taking employee’s position is eliminated due to “economic conditions” or other changes that affect the employer’s operations resulting from the public health emergency.

    The bill allows the Secretary of Labor to exempt employers with fewer than 50 employees from the “emergency FMLA” leave requirement “when the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.”
  2. The bill mandates that employers with fewer than 500 employees provide paid sick time to employees when those employees are sick with or have been quarantined due to COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms of the disease and seeking medical attention, or are caring for a child/children because of school or daycare closures due to COVID-19, among other situations. Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of such leave; part-time employees are entitled to time equal to the number of hours they work on average over a two-week period. The leave doesn’t carry over from one year to the next.

    Note that an employer, as a condition of providing paid sick time, cannot require that an employee search for or find a replacement to cover for the hours during which the employee is using the paid sick time. The payment is calculated based on the employee’s “required compensation” (i.e. the employee’s regular rate of pay or minimum wage, whichever is greater) and the number of hours the employee would otherwise be scheduled to work. Pay standards differ in certain situations, such as if an employee is using the time to care for a family member.The Secretary of Labor can also exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the paid sick leave requirement.In the original version, all employees who received paid sick time would have been eligible for the additional 10 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds pay. That version of the bill passed Saturday morning, 3/14/20. 

Original Source BGW CPA, PLLC

Paycheck Protection Program Offers Employers Ability To Prevent Layoffs

The CARES Act passed both houses of Congress and met the president’s signature this evening. Its primary item for small business aid is a $349 billion loan program called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which can be used to support small businesses to maintain their payroll and some overhead expenses through the coronavirus emergency. The stated goal is to keep workers paid and employed during the period of the emergency.

If you’re looking to take part, here’s what you need to know:

  • Who can apply?
    Businesses and nonprofits, veterans organizations, or tribal businesses with 500 or fewer employees, or under the Small Business Administration standard (if greater than 500 employees), or under 500 employees per physical location for all food-service companies, are generally eligible for the loans. But the loans aren’t restricted to companies: Individuals operating as sole proprietors or independent contractors or self-employed individuals (including gig workers) also qualify. Qualified borrowers must have been in business before February 15, and must have paid employee salaries and payroll taxes or contractors.

    For sole proprietors and independent contractors, “payroll costs” are similarly defined, and include any annual compensation, commissions or other similar payments up to $100,000, as prorated for the period from February 15 to June 30, 2020.

    Borrowers need to make good-faith certifications that (a) current economic uncertainty makes the loan necessary, and (b) the proceeds would be used for retaining workers, maintaining payroll, or covering existing overhead costs. They do not need to show that credit was unavailable elsewhere.
  • What can I use the loan for?Loan proceeds can be used for payroll support (including group health costs and insurance premiums), employee salaries, mortgage interest or rent payments, utility payments, and interest on existing debt obligations, rather than just the capital costs allowable under existing Section 7(a) programs.

    The PPP sets out a comprehensive definition of “payroll costs” (e.g. salary, cash tips, leave benefits, insurance and retirement benefits)—a definition that excludes (a) any compensation for individual employees in excess of a salary of $100,000, as prorated for the period from February 15 to June 30, 2020, and (b) compensation paid to employees residing outside the United States.
  • How much?
    Businesses can receive these small business interruption loans up to 2.5 times their average monthly payroll up to a maximum of $10 million at up to 4% interest rates, depending on how much they paid their employees between January 1 and February 29.
  • What’s the deadline to apply?
  • Loans under the PPP are available to eligible recipients through June 30, 2020, with streamlined eligibility criteria.
  • When do I have to start repaying?Lenders are required to defer payments on PPP loans for between six months and one year, with the Small Business Administration to issue deferment guidance to lenders within 30 days of enactment.
  • Who’s providing the money?
    Loans will be provided through banks, credit unions, and other lenders and will be guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. Loan applications should be submitted through lenders who are partnered with the Small Business Administration, not the SBA itself.
  • How long will the process take?
    The loan process could become a same-day process as early as next week, meaning loans would be signed and disbursed within 24 hours.
  • Can the loans be forgiven?
    The program is meant to ensure that businesses have the funds to pay their employees and to prevent layoffs. Loans offered through the program are forgivable if they are used for their intended purpose. That is, as long as a business receiving a loan maintains the average size of its workforce, it will only need to pay back the interest accrued, and the principal will effectively become a grant. The forgiven amount will be nontaxable. Loan forgiveness is limited to costs incurred between Feb 15 and June 30, 2020.

    In order to incentivize the retention of employees at existing salaries, the amount of loan forgiveness is reduced by any reduction in the average number of monthly full-time equivalent (FTE) employees employed by the loan recipient during the eight weeks following disbursement of the loan (the covered period) as compared to the average number of monthly FTE employees employed by the recipient during, at the recipient’s election, either the period between February 15 and June 30, 2019, or the period between January 1 and February 29, 2020. For example, if the recipient had an average of 95 FTE employees during the covered period and an average of 100 FTE employees during the reference period, then the recipient would only be entitled to 95% of the loan forgiveness that would otherwise be available; and the amount of any reduction in total salary or wages of any employee during the covered period that is in excess of 25% of the total salary or wages of the employee during the most recent full quarter during which the employee was employed (taking into account only employees who did not receive, during any single pay period in 2019, wages or salary at an annualized rate of pay in an amount more than $100,000).In order to incentivize the rehiring of employees and the reversal of any recent salary reductions, loan forgiveness will be determined without regard to the reduction in the number of FTEs of a loan recipient and any reduction in salary or wages of employees of a loan recipient, in each case in between February 15, 2020, and 30 days after enactment of the CARES Act, that is eliminated prior to June 30, 2020.A detailed application and documentation are required for borrowers seeking forgiveness, with lenders required to decide any such application within 60 days, with forgiveness capped at the amount of the loan principal.
  • I run a seasonal business. Am I out of luck?
    No, there are special provisions for seasonal businesses and businesses that were not in operation between February 15 and June 30, 2019. Source: BGW CPA, PLLC

Is a PEO Your Differentiator?

Twenty years ago, PEO’s had 3-4% penetration in the small to midsize marketplace within the US. Today, that number has grown to 175,000 clients which represents approximately 15 percent of all employers with 10 to 99 employees. Currently, there are approximately 907 PEO’s in the US and most of us can only recall the name of the larger PEO’s in the industry; however, does that mean they are the best fit for your company? Not necessarily. The reality is there are many smaller PEO’s that provide great value and service to their clients. I want to focus on four important questions that need to be addressed when considering a PEO for your company:

Can a PEO enhance a company’s Talent Acquisition strategy and Employee Engagement?

With small to midsize companies seeking solutions to help fill the gap with their talent acquisition and retention strategies and seeking strategies to enhance employee engagement, a PEO can be a viable option. Studies show that PEOs help their clients achieve better revenue growth and profitability. Clear results also illustrate that they help to improve their clients’ HR policies and practices, employees’ work environment and satisfaction/engagement, and businesses’ ability to focus on factors that drive business success.

If the PEO model can help me address my greatest challenges of being an employer, how do I select the PEO that is best for my company and our employees?

After you and your leadership team determine that outsourcing HR is right for your company, the question becomes, how do I know which PEO is the right for my company? This determination is based on the priorities and objectives of your company and the breadth of services offered by the PEO. There are two mindsets and options available at this point:

Is the DNA of your company one of growth and investment into your company and your employees or are you focused on stabilization and cutting costs?

Are you seeking strategic HR (where you focus on being proactive, planning and preparing for both short and long term objectives), or do you prefer a more tactical approach to HR (where you are focused on the core components like payroll processing, employee benefits, work comp and compliance)?

There are Tier 1 and Tier 2 PEO’s that can fit the needs of both mindsets. There are fewer PEO’s that can fit the requirements to be a ‘strategic business partner” that is focused on providing the infrastructure to help businesses grow and there are many that can provide the more tactical HR services at a lower cost which helps those companies that identify with #2 above.

Over the years, I have found that a majority of companies interested in HR Outsourcing via PEO are focused primarily on cutting costs and only a small percentage of companies are seeking to make their companies better. How do the results of these mindsets differ? Companies that were focused on lowering costs, changing providers regularly because of price and focused on tactical operations grew at a much lower rate than the companies that selected a PEO that provided more flexibility and offered the ability to scale within its model. Several clients grew from 5 – 15 employees and ultimately outgrew the model when they were 150 – 300 employees. Does this mean that the PEO model is outgrown when companies get to this size? No; however, it depends once again on the needs and the objectives of the organization. Some elect to bring HR back in house meanwhile, others prefer to keep utilizing HR Outsourcing due to the efficiency it offers.

How does a PEO establish their Service Fee?

Most PEO’s will require you to provide similar information in order to provide a proposal and pricing. You should be prepared to provide:

  • Employee Census that includes employee and dependent name, age, home zip, pay amount, pay frequency, work comp code, and benefits election.
  • Company profile
  • Copy of current Work Comp rates, codes and 3 years loss runs
  • Copy of current Benefit invoice, plan designs and potentially a copy of the upcoming renewal pricing if you are within 60 – 90 days of renewal.
  • Copy of current State Unemployment rate

Once this information has been provided, the PEO will calculate how much will need to be allocated for:

  • Payroll taxes. This includes the employer’s portion for FICA and Medicare, Federal Unemployment, and State Unemployment tax. These allocations should be consistent between PEO’s; however, the exception to this is the State Unemployment allocation. As with every company, each PEO has their own State Unemployment rate (aka SUI) and it is important to fully understand what the state Wage Cap is and what percentage the PEO is collecting. It is also important to verify that once the Wage Cap has been achieved for an employee that these fees do not continue being collected for that employee and you should see a reduction in fees on future invoices. It’s important to do occasional audits to confirm that you are being billed correctly.
  • Employee Benefits. Most PEO’s will try and map your current plan(s) designs to comparable plans they offer. By using the information on the census and invoices provided, the PEO can calculate the estimated Benefits allocation. They will then divide the monthly allocation into two parts; first is the employee portion which is collected when each payroll is processed and then the remaining is the employer’s portion and these dollars are built into the Service Fee. This is an area where pricing transparency is above average for most PEO’s.
  • Work Comp. This is calculated by determining the estimated payroll for each code and multiplying by the corresponding code rate. The rates are determined based on the amount of risk a job has. An example would be Work Comp code 8810 is for office and administrative positions and it carries a low risk so the corresponding rate is .15 for each $100 in payroll whereas a Work Comp code of 8742 is for the Outside Sales position and since the position has a higher risk of a claim happening the corresponding rate may be .40 cents for each $100 in payroll. As your payroll fluctuates, the work comp allocation will fluctuate.

The Administrative fee is another area where you may see significant differences. Although there can be a wide range in these fees, I want to focus on the two ways these fees are calculated:

  • Fixed dollar per employee per month. Regardless of pay amount, pay frequency, title or position with the company, the PEO will charge a fixed dollar per month for each employee. An example is a company that has 10 employees and the PEO is charging $120 per month per employee, the administrative fee would be $1200.
  • Percentage of Pay. The PEO will calculate the administrative fee based on the amount of pay for that pay period. There are occasions where this can be advantageous, however, it is important to note that as employee pay increases or if bonuses are paid, the administrative fee increases too. My concern with this model is that the more successful a business is, the more a PEO will charge when it doesn’t cost any more to deliver their services.

Do I need a Consultant to help guide me through the PEO evaluation process? It is not required to include a Consultant in this process; however, they can bring experience, expertise, objectivity, and clarity to a somewhat confusing process as every PEO proposal is unique. A consultant can help you define and design an HR infrastructure solution that fully supports the company, their people and solve your greatest business challenges. Based on twenty years of experience, clients have shared that they had clarity and peace of mind as they worked through the decision-making process with a consultant.

Driving Value To Your Employee Benefits

Communicating what’s new in benefits and how those changes impact employees is challenging to do in a short amount of time. Which is why benefits communication and personalization should be considered a year-round strategy for higher benefits literacy and an overall better enrollment experience for employees. 

Since benefits spending is one of the highest price tags for employers, using data and communicating these benefits in a personalized way is key to higher ROI. 

There is too much at stake for the process to not run efficiently. The urgency and importance of getting this right is heightened by the fact that benefits spending is often the second or third largest budget item in a company’s budget.

Having the right benefits administration technology and meaningful data can transform annual enrollment from a once-a-year event into a year-round personalized journey that engages employees. Ultimately, this helps employees become better consumers of benefits, thereby lowering benefits spend.

But how can organizations move from a solution that administers benefits to one that focuses on benefits strategies to create better member outcomes? Most organizations face headwinds that include tracking benefits data effectively, helping members select the appropriate plans and automating tasks such as dependent verification.

For example, knowing who is not eligible for benefits coverage is important. Many organizations unknowingly provide benefits to those who are not eligible or who are no longer with the company, oftentimes it can be 5-7% of those enrolled. With an average annual health benefits cost of $15,000 per employee, that amounts to a significant financial burden to the business. Without full and transparent access to data, businesses can’t make informed decisions that drive better outcomes.

It’s common for businesses to see close to double-digit increases in their annual benefits spend from health care costs. “Tackling these costs requires organizations to have an understanding of employees’ claims and utilization data to determine their biggest expenses. Using that data, organizations can tailor plans to fit employees’ needs.

Some clients took this approach, but we realized that creating an optimal plan for employees is only part of the solution. How that plan is communicated is also critical. When they implemented a high-deductible health pan (HDHP) a few years ago, less than 2% of employees enrolled. An HDHP essentially has lower premiums and higher deductibles than a traditional health plan and is meant to encourage consumer-driven healthcare. What they found was people didn’t understand how an HDHP works. It is important to offer a decision guidance tool to help employees choose the plan that best fit their needs. The following year, the clients saw an increase of 5x in HDHP participation at their next Open Enrollment.

By leveraging technology to learn about your population, you can significantly impact your organization’s bottom line. To create a sustainable benefits program and reduce the average annual increase in total spend for your organization, you must have access to the right data and transparency.

The real value to a business is using the right technology and data analysis to better understand employee needs and craft a benefits strategy that addresses those needs.

How does a comprehensive employee benefits strategy impact a company’s culture? We will be presenting our finds in February’s Insight.

Review of The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle explores and answers two primary questions:

  • Where does great culture come from?
  • How do you build and sustain it in your group – or strengthen it in a culture that needs fixing?

From his discovering journey visiting extraordinarily successful organizations—U.S. Navy’s SEALS Team Six, San Antonio Spurs, IDEAL Pixar, Union Square Hospitality and more—he concludes:

“While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not. Culture is a set of living relationships working towards a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”

The doing of culture is synthesized in three critical skills.

  1. Build safety – “explores how signals of connection generate bonds of belonging and identity.”
  2. Share vulnerability—“explains how habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation.”
  3. Establish purpose—“tells how narratives create shared goals and values.”

Initially, the author previews how “each part of the book is structured like a tour: first we will explore how each skill works, and then we’ll go into the field to spend time with groups and leaders who use these methods every day. Each part will end with a collection of concrete suggestions on applying these skills to your group.”

While addressing big ideas, Daniel Coyle personalizes his narrative, describing how restaurateur extraordinaire Danny Meyer, “is relaxed and alert but unhurried. His voice is steady, with a Midwestern earnestness that’s vaguely reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart.” Like the wisdom of characters played by that famed actor, Danny Meyer brings extraordinary insight, prioritization, and systematization to his work.

Meyer pushes “his leaders to seek opportunities to use and model the key behaviors. He began to treat his role as that of a culture broadcaster.” He explains: “You have priorities, whether you name them or not. If you want to grow, you’d better name them and you’d better name the behaviors that support the priorities.” Priorities in a Danny Meyer restaurant are 1) colleagues, 2) guests, 3) community, 4) suppliers; and 5) investors.

Informed by place-anchored values, from having grown up in St. Louis, his hiring strategy tilts towards people from the Midwest. While the wait staff might share the orientation of those drawn to New York for the excitement, edgy energy, opportunity, at the core they bring Midwestern goodness to their work, to their purpose of creating great experiences for their guests.

Modeling the best nonfiction writing, Coyle sprinkles his pages with side comments that provide another perspective, a contextual reference, a complementary insight that promotes reader engagement, thereby deepening message relevance.

For example, Cooper, the Navy SEALS’s “the best in creating great teams,” was attracted to the SEALS by a history teacher telling him, “SEALS are highly intelligent, copious readers.” This seemingly counterintuitive statement deepens readers’ engagement, for most perceive SEALS as excelling at physical confrontation, so the author’s positioning them as cognitively deep. The SEALS’ extraordinary cohesiveness is fundamental to their potent effectiveness, for SEALS epitomize the proposition that the shared experience of physical challenge builds cohesion. Tellingly, central to the SEALS’s effectiveness is a probing After Action Review, a truth-telling session led not by commanders but by enlisted men.

These reviews are structured around five core questions:

  1. “What were our intended results?
  2. “What were our actual results?
  3. “What caused our results?
  4. “What would we do the same next time?
  5. “What will we do differently?”

Daniel Coyle relates the fascinating research story about 4-person groups tasked to build the tallest possible structure using marshmallows, a yard each of string and transparent tape, and 20 uncooked spaghetti. Surprisingly counterintuitively, kindergarten teams dramatically and consistently outperformed groups of lawyers, CEOs, and business school students.

Business students prioritized what “psychologists call ‘status management’ they are figuring out where they fit into the larger picture . . . their interactions appear smooth, but their underlying behaviors are riddled with inefficiency, hesitation and subtle, competition.” All of this distracts from the task at hand.

By contrast, “the kindergarteners’ actions appear disorganized on the surface, but when you view them as a single entity, their behaviors are efficient and effective. They are not competing for status. They stand shoulder to shoulder and work energetically together. They move quickly, spotting problems and offering help. They experiment, take risks, and notice outcomes, which guides that toward effective solutions.”

As Coyle observes, “The kindergarteners succeed not because they are smarter, but because they work together in a smarter way. They are tapping into a simple and powerful method in which a group of ordinary people can create a performance far beyond the sum of their parts.” The Culture Code “is the story about how that works.”

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s NBA’s team “ranks as the most successful team in American sports in the last two decades, winning five championships and a higher percentage of games than the New England Patriots, the St. Louis Cardinals, or any other storied franchise.” Gregg Popovich excels in creating an environment that facilitate his teams consistently, far more than any other NBA team winning games that “measured by their players’ skills, they had no business winning.”

“Popovich, sixty-eight, is a hard-core, old-school, unapologetic authoritarian, a steel-spined product of the Air Force Academy who values discipline above all. His disposition has been compared to that of a dyspeptic bulldog, and he possesses a temper that could be described as ‘volcanic’ with much of the lava being funneled at his star players.”

From observing the Spurs, “It’s not hard to figure out why Popovich’s teams win because the evidence is in plain view on the court. The Spurs consistently perform the thousand little unselfish behaviors—the extra pass, the alert defense, the tireless hustle—that puts the team’s interest above their own . . . What’s hard to figure out is how Popovich does it.”

Assistant coach Chip Engelland, explains, “A lot of coaches can yell or be nice, but what Pop does is different. He delivers two things over and over: He’ll tell you the truth, with no bullshit, and then he’ll love you to death.”

Pop succinctly states his coaching philosophy essence, “We gotta to hug ’em and hold ’em.”

The Culture Code does not disappoint, as Coyle eloquently informs and illuminates the true meaning of “culturewhich means to care.

Three Trends to Consider for 2020

Benefits play a pivotal role these days, and pros know how tough it is to keep good people, so many employers are upping their game when it comes to offering their employees a comprehensive benefits package.

They’re being strategic about designing a robust package tailored to their employees’ unique needs and one that can convince upper management that this is what the company needs to retain – and attract – the right people moving forward.

The workplace is becoming more multi-generational, as millennials start to dominate and older workers delay retirement. More than a third (37%) of employers say they’re making changes to their benefits package, or plan to do so in the near future.

No longer a one-size-fits-all package

There’s no such thing as a basic benefits package (healthcare, dental, vision, pension, etc.) or a one-size-fits-all package anymore. Companies are now asking employees what perks or benefits they want. And employers are listening.

Most employees at small and medium-size companies (91%) view nontraditional benefits (flexible work schedules, expanded paid time off and working remotely) as important to job satisfaction.

Offering the right employee benefits is one of the “Top 10 HR challenges of 2019,” according to a recent report from HR compliance firm XpertHR.  
To help employers effectively create a competitive package, XpertHR suggests that benefits pros take certain steps:

  • Measure benefits against competitors and assess what the marketplace is offering
  • Identify benefits that have the lowest employee participation levels and redesign or eliminate them
  • Tailor benefits according to the needs and interest of multiple generations

Now let’s take a look at three key developments shaping the world of employee benefits – and how you can decide from a myriad of offerings what’s right for your employees.

Trend No. 1: Millennials are disrupting the benefits game

Now that more than a third of the workforce are millennials and nearly half will be by 2020, have you rethought your benefits strategy to cater more to this group?

Healthcare is the most important benefit to millennials, according to a recent Fit Small Business survey. But, at the same time, debt-ridden millennials are worried about the cost of going to the doctor. That’s why many employers are taking a proactive approach to offset costs.

The health savings account (HSA) is “the most millennial-friendly benefit,” wrote Amino digital health company CEO David Vivero in Forbes. “It’s an excellent way to save money while you’re in your young, healthy years.”
“Your millennial employees will also appreciate the flexibility of an HSA, which can be used to pay for anything from acupuncture to contact lenses to medical supplies,” says Vivero, a millennial himself.

And employers are buying into the concept, since employee participation in HSAs grew from 50% in 2017 to 81% in 2018, according to a Benefitfocus report.
Best benefits strategy: Make it easier to “doctor shop” for services, get online appointments and visit providers via telemedicine.

Student loan repayment ranks high with millennials. Companies that offer relief in this area will have a big leg up on the competition and likely be able to bolster dwindling retention rates.

More than a third of employees said student debt repayment was a must-have benefit, according to Unum survey, but that percentage leaps to 55% for millennials.

A growing number of employers, including Estée Lauder, Pure Insurance and Carhartt, have added student loan assistance to their benefits packages in 2018.

There’s also an emerging group of third-party administrators offering student loan programs, such as Fidelity’s Student Debt Employer Contribution program and CommonBond, which also offer benefits for parents to help plan for their child’s education.

Family benefits is a crucial benefit that millennials want. “Having comprehensive family benefits – fertility, infertility, pregnancy, maternity and parenting benefits – can make one company stand out from the rest,” said Paris Wallace, CEO, Ovia Health in Forbes.

Paid leave benefits are becoming a must-have for employers that want to have any shot at attracting and retaining top-performing employees. A SHRM study says 29% of employers offered paid paternity leave in 2018, up from 8% in 2016.

Flexible schedules “can also be a make-or-break benefit for young millennials,” adds Wallace. And it’s a close second to paid family leave as the most popular benefit overall, according to a recent benefits provider Unum survey.

Trend No. 2: Employers get innovative to rein in high healthcare costs

Savvy benefits managers need to know what’s in the pipeline for health care in 2020 and beyond so they can stay competitive:

Chronic-condition management should be at the very top of employers’ healthcare strategies. Reason: Annual healthcare costs for workers with a chronic condition (diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, etc.) are five times higher than for workers without such a condition.

Employers are providing disease management programs and health screenings to combat chronic conditions and keep employees healthy. More than half (55%) of employers have made telehealth a part of their health plan, according to the Medical Trends and Observation Report.

By providing access to a healthcare provider on the phone or online, employers are hoping employees will avoid more costly visits to the doctor or the emergency room. For 2019, nearly all large employers said telehealth was one of their top healthcare initiatives, according to the 2019 National Business Group on Health study.

On-site clinics: As many as 65% of large companies are expected to offer on-site or near-site health centers to bolster their benefits by 2020, reports the National Business Group on Health. And many smaller companies are banding together to share the costs of healthcare clinics. Companies have seen major ROI in reduced absenteeism when this option’s added, according to the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions. Also providing a health clinic can offer same or next-day appointments, which can help solve a concern of millennial workers, who expect shorter wait times.

Wellness tech: With fitness-tracker Fitbit leading the way, firms are investing in the new wave of apps and wearable devices to help employees lose weight, quit smoking or manage diabetes. The remote monitoring technology, where biometric data is transmitted to a provider via scales, glucose meters and heart-rate monitors, is used by 56% of plans.

Trend No. 3: Voluntary benefits are driving retention

More than two-thirds (72%) of organizations increased their benefits offerings to retain employees in the last 12 months, according SHRM’s The Evolution of Benefits report. More and more employers are looking to benefits to attract/retain employers in a tight job market, so there’s a host of more trendy benefits being offered.

Employees want flexibility, choice and non-traditional options.

Gym class reimbursement, mental health services and 

discounted entertainment are now more common than ever.

Companies are using a new breed of work perks to lure employees, according to, which explains why the following perks are growing in popularity:

Free life coaching: Mental health and happiness go hand in hand. That’s why companies’ offerings include counseling, healthy living programs and work-life coaching to help employees with both personal and professional goals.

Customization is key to the future of benefits and technology can make the process even easier. There are a host of different types of apps and debit cards that can help enhance the employee benefit experience, including:

Free lunch: Ritual for Business, an order-ahead food app, is a brand-new benefit that Chicago Trading Company, Spotify and Verizon Media are offering to their employees.

Pick your own perk: Employers can set a monthly allowance on a reimbursement-free Zestful Perk Card for pre-approved health and fitness, travel, food, etc. services (Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, Southwest Airlines, to name a few).

Mobile-friendly benefits: With the first-of-its-kind Aon app, employees can access benefits all in one place, using facial recognition to log on. It includes push notifications for benefit announcements. 

Celebrate your staffers: With the employee recognition Recognize app, you can create your own employee rewards catalog of automatic gift cards (or non-monetary rewards) employees redeem with points.

Employees’ desires for benefits tailored to their own needs is changing the mix of offerings. And this trend will be the key to keeping top talent.

Benefits Insight Report

The data from the Businessolver study consisted of 500,000 men and women from multiple generations, with income ranging from $30,000 to $105,000+. The following will provide an overview of the current landscape within the SMB marketplace and a summary of the key findings.

Current Landscape

  • 64% of employers say finding talent is very or extremely challenging in today’s economy
  • In this environment, benefits are front-and-center in the recruitment, engagement, and retention strategies of savvy employers
  • Employees are at different stages of their lives with vastly different needs and appetites for benefits, and employers feel they are struggling to create just the right approach for their dynamic, multi-generational workforce
  • Employees need to have the knowledge or the support to make appropriate choices that meet their physical, emotional, and financial well-being
  • Employees’ benefits knowledge is still rudimentary
  • People are often confused by their benefits or indicate they know just enough to get by
  • They skimp on decision-making, spending approximately 17 minutes to make their decisions
  • It is critical to provide enhanced decision-making support and guidance during enrollment as well as ongoing education
  • Making ends meet is a challenge for many. Employees are concerned about their monthly budget and only a small percentage spend less than they make. 
  • Over-insuring can exacerbate their ability to make regular deposits into savings or plan for emergencies
  • On average, 86% of employees are confused about benefits
  • Only 4% of Americans can correctly define terms such as deductible, coinsurance, copay and out-of-pocket maximum
  • Based on the study, 80% of employees are not knowledgeable enough to fully appreciate their benefits or maximize their benefit choices
  • Millennials (35%) were the most confused by benefit offerings and GenXers (31%) were not far behind
  • When people are risk-averse, they tend to choose what they perceive as the safest option. Cost may seem to be less important than a safety net.
  • Workers are feeling pain in their wallets
    • 63% of Millennials are more concerned about their monthly budget
    • 53% of Boomers said they were more concerned about a large medical claim
    • Almost 25% of those surveyed said that high healthcare costs are holding them back from achieving their financial goals

Key Findings

As employers and benefits experts, what does this mean for us? If employees are not effectively putting the pieces together, how can we move the needle to help them better understand their options and make more educated decisions regarding their benefits?

  • First, we need to effectively address the benefits literacy crisis
    • As benefits become more complicated, we have not innovated in how we communicate. Many organizations continue to issue large amounts of data around open enrollment and little else throughout the year. I would suggest that a year-round engagement and education approach that includes using technology to give employees small, manageable and meaningful bites of information can go a long way to increasing their knowledge and understanding of benefits.
    • Support effective decision-making 
  • We recognize one size doesn’t fit all, but there is more to it than increasing the number of options
  • People at different life stages and those with various levels of earnings have diverse perspectives and ways of thinking about and using their benefits
  • Understanding how employees in different demographics and at multiple earning are feeling about their individual situations and their benefits can help inform plan designs, communications and delivery, and it can increase the likelihood that people will choose wisely
  • Ensure you are taking care of the whole person by helping employees with meaningful financial wellness offerings
    • Often, financial education focuses on empowering employees to save for retirement; however, programs that address immediate financial challenges such as creating an emergency fund, need to be implemented so people can more effectively balance their current financial reality with their future goals. 
  • Help employees with the basics throughout the year
    • It is time we think differently about how you want to promote your benefits program. Benefit communication is often focused on choosing benefits; what’s missing is content around how to use them. Providing relevant and easy-to-understand information throughout the year will help the employees become better consumers.
  • Leverage the data to personalize your approach
    • Communications and nudges should consider where people are within their life stage and earnings potential. Make sure the information being provided will be of value to the employee.
    • Guide employees to better decisions
      • People are risk-averse, and that comes into play when they make benefits decisions. As a result, how plans are designed, communicated, what things are called, and how they are explained all contribute to what employees choose. 
      • Providing employees with easy to use decision guidance helps them overcome both risk adversity and lack of benefit expertise. 
  • Make enrollment and access easy, intuitive, and ongoing
    • Intuitive platforms that offer tools that guide appropriate decision making offer the richest experience and best outcome. Best practice is simple, self-paced enrollment, either online or on a mobile device. Help should be a chat, or a phone call away 24/7. 
  • Financial Well-Being
    • Many American workers are struggling to make ends meet, and it is affecting their benefits decisions. Financial education and wellness efforts need to expand beyond the traditional focus on retirement to helping people address their near-term needs, such as saving for a home, or paying off student loan or credit card debt. It should also support creating and funding emergency savings to help protect employees from the emotional and financial impact of an unexpected large expense. 
  • As benefits continue to evolve and grow in complexity, we need to close the gap between what is being offered and what employees want, need, and understand. 
  • People are telling us clearly that they are confused and that they need more guidance to make better choices.

HR is in a unique position to address the needs of today’s workforce by focusing on where people are in their knowledge curve, life stage, and financial situation. 

If you would like to discuss how a comprehensive Benefits education strategy can help you attract and retain the highest quality employees and enhance your company culture contact WhiteWater Consulting at
(704) 236-3131 or It is our mission to help you and your company become better – better employers, better culture, better financial results.

Your C-Suite Recruitment Process

Assuming your mission and culture are in sync and your reputation is solid, let’s consider who needs to be involved in the recruitment process.

Depending upon the structure of your company, essential stakeholders may include everyone from direct reports, members of the board, private equity group members, and those currently in top leadership posts. If your C-suite employee is retiring, it is good to have them involved in the process as well.

When you initiate your search, it’s critical to consider who will be involved in the initial screening of candidates, interviews and making the final offer. This cadre of professionals likely have opinions – perhaps strong ones – about responsibilities, deliverables and other functions for the new staff member. Be sure to welcome their input about:

  • What the company is currently doing well
  • What are some of the challenges facing the company
  • What are the goals and vision for the future
  • What is needed from the new hire to fulfill those goals and that vision

By clarifying expectations and setting some parameters, you can define precisely whom you’re seeking and present a more united front to interviewees.

Your C-suite job description

It is time to craft the Job Description. Do your homework to benchmark with industry leaders and competitors, if only through a Google or LinkedIn search for recent, similar job postings.

(Note: It’s important to track and update job descriptions over time, not just in the heat of recruiting. They can be helpful for employee reviews, performance management as well as future recruiting efforts.)

Keep in mind that the description should reflect characteristics suitable not only for the position but also for where the organization is in its life cycle.

For example, if yours is an early-stage startup company, you may think you need a dynamic, entrepreneurial personality for your C-suite post. What you may actually need is someone who has prior experience smoothing out processes and planning for the future.  

Meanwhile a turn-around company working to replace someone in an existing position can fall into the trap of thinking they need a clone of the person who just left. Again, having conversations with key stakeholders about needs and goals can provide some clarity around the ideal candidate’s character.

Where will you find great C-suite prospects?

It’s possible that your next C-suite hire is working for a competitor, in a different field or even in the work-space down the hall. You won’t really know for certain until you start recruiting. With a clear job description in hand, it’s time to begin sharing it in hopes of building a rich, dynamic applicant pool.

Just as job seekers are encouraged to look within their networks for job leads, companies should look within professional networks for great employees. This process can take a lot of different forms, including:

  • Talking to peers in your industry
  • Reaching out to alumni at your alma mater
  • Tapping your own board members for potential leads
  • Looking internally

Wise leaders also look to diversify their pool. Look beyond your existing networks to professional organizations and leaders who can help a forward-thinking company uncover more diverse talent.

Foster an environment that can enhance your company, your brand and your product’s appeal to a wider array of clients and customers in an increasingly global marketplace. Indeed, the issue of diversity in C-suite hiring is so important that it has its own separate question (see below).  

Once you’ve got your job description in hand, you’ll want to post it to your company website, relevant professional organizations and on public job boards like LinkedIn and specialized sites unique to your field.

Utilizing a recruiting process outsourcing company to manage this part of the work can free you up to focus on your business as they identify and engage qualified candidates that meet your organizations goals and objectives. 

Whom should you avoid hiring?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but serious thought should be given to whom you don’t want in a leadership role, especially for an essential role like those in the C-suite.

A good hire knows that the executive team isn’t there to lead in a top-down fashion. They appreciate that a productive workplace runs on collegiality and a sense of shared responsibility.

Conversely, a bad hire in the C-suite may not share the same vision and values as the rest of the organization.  Many times these executives are focused more on the top-down approach instead of the current collaborative workplace already established. In a worst case scenario, a bad hire can:    

  • Damage productivity and morale
  • Collapse even the healthiest company culture
  • Lead to a mass exodus of employees that cripples the company, perhaps permanently

Hoping to avoid this kind of scenario? The key is to remember that sometimes bad leaders interview well and look great on paper. A polished veneer coupled with extraordinary communication skills can mask poor leadership abilities.  Vetting a candidate thoroughly requires:

  • Probing behavioral interview questions
  • Follow-up interviews or assessments
  • Identifying a candidates EQ
  • Thoughtful conversations with previous supervisors and, if possible, recent subordinates

Look for evidence of substance over style. If other team members express reservations, hear them out – even if their intuition runs counter to your own.

Remember: Just because a candidate has previous or similar experience at another company doesn’t necessarily mean that their leadership style will work well with your business culture.

Good leadership requires trust, and if a new hire can’t spark trust because they put their agenda above that of the company’s mission, then your business’s long-term success may be placed in jeopardy.

To discuss your Recruiting and HR needs please contact WhiteWater Consulting LLC at 704-236-3131 or