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Talking Politics at Work

Talking Politics at Work

On the heels of 4th of July, and with off-cycle election season quickly approaching, you may be finding yourself in a few more political conversations than usual. Talk at weekend BBQ’s, family gatherings—even checkout line chatter seem to land on politics.

But what about the workplace? Hot topics are still buzzing, but how much can employees engage in political conversations at work? If there is a line, what happens if it’s crossed?

Can you actually fire—or be fired—for talking politics at work?

Many assume First Amendment protection, but free speech isn’t so simple. According to writer Stacey Lastoe at The Muse, “There’s free speech, and then there’s free speech in the workplace.”

Private vs. Public

Private and public employers operate by different sets of rules. Private employers can generally set regulations about what is or isn’t appropriate for workplace discussions. There is not an inalienable First Amendment right in a private employer’s workplace.

Examples of private-sector employment areas include financial services, law firms, estate agents, newspapers and hospitality. Examples of public-sector employment areas include government employment, some healthcare, teaching, emergency services, armed forces and civil services.

Because politics are so polarizing, private organizations can easily and justly prohibit political discussions while at work. However, federal law also protects employees’ right to discuss labor issues with each other (i.e. wages and working conditions).

So the line is hazy—as guidelines pertain to specific topics of political conversation. For example, employees are protected if discussing support for a candidate who promotes higher wages. But as soon as the conversation switches to a candidate’s stance on foreign policy, those same protections technically don’t apply.

Variables

So what actually happens if an employee discusses politics in the office? 

Of course the political answer is, it depends. There are a few variables that determine potential consequences:

  • Your state. You might work in a state where the law protects employees from workplace discrimination based on political affiliation or extends other protections that would tend to protect you from being fired for talking about politics. Click here to read the different laws for each state regulating politics in the workplace.
  • NLRA protection. Most employers are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which makes it unlawful to fire employees for participating in “concerted activity.” (Read our article about concerted activity on social media here.) If employees are discussing how they might improve the terms and conditions of their employment, or the previously mentioned labor issues, NLRA protection is granted.
  • The situation. Bosses have the right to call out employees chatting on the clock. Politics aside, if an employee is not working when they’re supposed to be working, it may be cause for disciplinary action. If discussions are “creating a disruption,” this can also lead to discipline.  

Takeaways for Employers

Be clear and aware. Make sure your organization has everything spelled out—what is expected of employee talk and behavior at work, how employees should use the internet on the job, social media policies, etc. 

Be aware of your state’s laws and work with HR on communication of what is and isn’t allowed. (Need help with HR? That’s our thing! Contact us today and see how our PEO model can lighten your administrative load.)

Takeaways for Employees

Know the rules. Be careful of how you’re using work time and remember that regardless of your political opinion, you’re at risk if you’re posting it during work hours. Remember that even out of the office, you represent your company and behaving professionally is good practice

Being an employee doesn’t require you abandon political causes you care about either! Simply set your social media accounts to private and make sure not to link yourself to your company—make it clear you’re representing only yourself.

Both employers and employees have the responsibility of pursuing shared goals for the good of their company. The good news is, that responsibility can easily be carried out apart from politics. Our best advice? Your #1 issue at work, should be work.

Two Ways to Revamp Traditional Incentives

Two Ways to Revamp Traditional Incentives

Many companies have approached employee incentives the exact same way for decades—sick leave, overtime pay and annual salary reviews. While these ideas are important and generous, companies must take cues from today’s market to broaden their perception of incentives.

Employee engagement is now a financial strategy for businesses and high engagement is commonly driven by recognition and reward. Two key factors have been identified in the creation of modern incentives that actually engage and produce real, bottom-line benefits:

1. Personalization

Consumer demand for personalization is up. Why would employee demand be any different?

Still, a recent Deloitte survey reported that only 8% of companies say their systems of incentives are very effective at creating a personalized, flexible solution.

Personal and frequent engagement with employees can lead to the discovery of unique incentives that work well for each individual. Incentives then become the tangible evidence that employees are truly known and cared for within their organization.

Personalization of incentives often looks like project or target-based bonuses. For some, the ability to create their own benefits packages may be most rewarding. For others, the freedom to do more independent or remote work can motivate and establish trust. Other ideas include creating company-wide recognition with company-wide games—meeting specific performance targets on a points-based system.

By personalizing incentives, employees feel known and uniquely valued within an organization. Oftentimes, being heard is a powerful incentive in and of itself.

2. Purpose-Oriented

An employee’s interpretation of the work he or she does for a company is a critical part of employee engagement. If the brightest minds feels their work is worthless, work ethic will inevitably decline.

This requires employers to give employees a well-defined and visible mission that can inspire and motivate even the most tedious work. Those from the lowest level to the top should be able to see their contributions and value in day-to-day operations.

Sometimes creating purpose-oriented incentives doesn’t even mean creating new ones—it may mean just presenting incentives in a more thoughtful way.

For example, let’s say a travel marketing agency traditionally gives an extended PTO incentive. That’s nice. But if the extended PTO is given with the intent that employees go out, travel, experience the world and bring fresh ideas back with them… that’s a purpose-oriented incentive.

A carefully developed reason for longer vacation time actually gives employees a sense of belonging, purpose and importance. Traditionally, people take vacations to escape from work. But how might organizational culture and engagement shift if even on vacation, employees felt purposeful and helpful?

Another purpose-oriented incentive could involve linking employee rewards to social causes or community issues that matter to them. This incentive is both purposeful and personalized, as it caters to an individual’s passion. Win-win.

Time to Reevaluate

Still not sure you need to revamp your traditional incentives? Try walking by some desks. Do your employees perk up at the sight of you, trying to look busy? Or are they already driven and motivated? Do you find yourself struggling to know what to say, or do you know your employees on a personal level?

Servant HR is a human resource service provider that gives business leaders freedom to focus on the parts they love about their business. Give us a call and see how a PEO can help you today! We take care of your business’s administrative tasks, so that you can take care of your employees—and we think that’s a pretty good incentive.

Preboarding as priority: Intentional hospitality as an HR function

Preboarding as priority: Intentional hospitality as an HR function

For some employers, “onboarding” is defined as that first paperwork meeting with a new hire — shaking hands, filling out tax forms and practicing signatures. For others, onboarding is simply any learning that takes place from day one on the job. Either way, both interpretations of onboarding are necessary parts of the hiring process, as employees work to acclimate to a new employer.

Even after you’ve sealed the deal, there is still a small gap of critical time between job acceptance and an employee’s first day. Usually a few weeks are given for employees to transition out of their current job and take a breath before their new one begins. But a lot can happen during that gap. Job offers are often used to bargain in other interviews or leverage a promotion with a current employer.

Some employers combat this risk by starting the onboarding process earlier. “If we can get them in the door faster and have them start completing insurance forms, they’ll be less likely to quit!” But research shows retention comes less from eager paperwork meetings and more from relationship and exceptional hospitality.

 

Guarding the Gap

 

Creative initiatives to welcome and engage new hires, from the time of offer acceptance to day one, are called preboarding. While ultimately beneficial for employers and a company’s bottom line, preboarding is most effective when genuinely focused on the employee.

Whether it’s that first meeting or the first few weeks of work, employees begin learning everything about their new employer during onboarding.

Preboarding offers an extra-mile opportunity for the employer to learn about the employee.

Taking time and honest interest in a new hire demonstrates the value a company places on its people. This helps new hires make the jump to a new workplace and feel at home faster (while inadvertently encouraging their best work).

 

Thinking Ahead

 

Attention to hospitality details may seem like a waste of time, but ignoring preboarding can prove costly. Consistent communication with new hires before their first day prevents ambivalence and makes employees less likely to continue communication with other potential employers. Lack of engagement before starting work allows new hires to feel that nothing is yet final and continue pursuing other offers.

Employers may use up some time on the front end, but preboarding also saves time on day one. Since a new employee has already become familiar with the team, culture and business operations in the weeks after acceptance, day one can be a work day rather than a day of introductions and tours.

So how is it done? Is it really just muffin baskets and welcome emails? Sometimes!

To put it a simpler way, preboarding has been called, “onboarding that’s more fun.”

Different ideas work better for different companies, but these small things can help new hires feel welcomed, valued and excited to stick around:

 

  • Before an employee’s first day, schedule a tour followed by a lunch with immediate team members or their managers. This helps the employee to feel more confident on their first day instead of walking in blind.

 

  • Send the employee a questionnaire after acceptance to outline things they like and dislike. When figuring out where to go/what to cater during a welcome lunch, the employee’s favorite place can be chosen without putting them on the spot. This questionnaire can be used throughout an employee’s time, as a way to intentionally thank them for good work. (Employers can also post employee questionnaires for everyone to see, fostering intentional relationships between coworkers.)

 

  • Pay attention in interviews and follow up with specifics. If a new hire mentions their family in the interview, send a gift basket including treats for their kids. If they just moved to the area, gift them with favorite local goods and a list of restaurant recommendations from their coworkers.

 

  • Keep checking in. Consistent emailing shows an employer is available. Sending a schedule of the first week, creating their email account and telling them when their desk is set up lets a new hire know you’re anticipating their arrival and keeps them in the loop.

 

  • Some companies offer “show up bonuses” on an employee’s first day or at the end of their first month. Of course this isn’t feasible for every company, but this bold gesture is an unexpected way to show appreciation.

 

  • Follow through. Hospitality attempts can seem insincere if new employees are left to fend for themselves after day one. In the initial learning stage at a new job, consistent check-ins are necessary to ensure confident acclimation specific to each new hire. This care and attention will not go unnoticed and can help ensure best fit for both employees and employer.

 

You may not be able to give your employees a million bucks, but you can make them feel like it! These small gestures help to guard that gap of critical time, and keep your employees excited about their new position with you.

Want to spend less time with the HR hassle and more time with your people? We want that for you too. Contact us today and see how Servant HR can give you the freedom to focus on what’s most important.

Top 3 things you need to know during medical insurance renewal season

Top 3 things you need to know during medical insurance renewal season

Medical insurance renewal season is usually considered a “necessary evil” in the grand scheme of medical insurance. We want the coverage, but we hate anxiously waiting for the renewal rates. I had the opportunity to sit down with Founder and President of Servant HR, Jeff Leffew, and talk about this topic. During our discussion, Jeff shared his perspective on three key areas’ the Servant HR team gets asked this time of year.

1.) What’s different this year?

Healthcare and medical insurance is ever evolving, which makes renewal seasons unique every year. And this year is no exception. According to Leffew, the biggest distinction is the length of time this renewal season covers. In fact, the renewal season for small groups that are not currently on an Affordable Care Act (ACA) qualified plan will extend until the end of 2017.

What does that mean?

As an example, a company has an Oct. 1st, 2016 renewal date. Instead of renewing Oct. 1st, 2017 (or 12 months from the last renewal) their plan would actually go to the end of 2017 (or a 15 month period). If their renewal date was Dec. 1st, 2016, it would go to the end of December 2017 (or 13 months).

Why is the renewal season length different this year?

When the ACA was established, there were serval provisions given that delayed the ACA from being fully implemented. Because these provisions will be gone by January 1st, 2018, it doesn’t make sense for companies who renew on October 1 to turn around and renew again for only three months.

Why is this important to you?

When you get your renewal percentages, they might be a tad higher than normal because they could be covering 13 or 15 months. It all depends on your renewal date.

2.) Options are dwindling

For small groups in Indiana, the options for medical insurance coverage are beginning to dwindle. According to Leffew, groups with fewer than 50 employees realistically have only three or four providers that will offer quotes.

The reason?

The environment for an insurance company is so complex that it’s difficult and costly for new companies to break into the market. As a result, they barely get off the starting line because looming regulations and complexities make profitability quite stingy for these companies.

3.) Judgement calls are gone

There was a time when the requirements to obtain medical insurance were less formal—less controlled. Those days are over. Now that companies are being held accountable by the federal government, the standards are black and white.

While the intentions may be good, Leffew believes it has taken away the ability for medical insurance companies to make judgement calls. He says, “Not all businesses look alike. There are unique situations, but the human element has been taken out.” With the reality that everyone has to look the “same”, judgement calls become less of a viable option for companies to make.

If you have questions about our top 3 list or need help this renewal season, we’d love to talk with you.

Health Care Reform and Small Business: Part 2 (Types of Plans)

Health Care Reform and Small Business: Part 2 (Types of Plans)

hospital care

For small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, the biggest changes health care reform will bring about are related to the benefits landscape:

  1. 1. It will change how the rates of those plans will be determined. (Click here for Health Care Reform and Small Business: Part 1 (Rates), the first part of this discussion.)

  2. 2. It will change the types of plans employers will offer employees.

Types of Plans: Slim Pickings Ahead

I predict that the time is coming where brokers will start breaking the news to small groups that they have fewer choices in benefits plans. Health care reform is dictating to large groups how benefits plans have to function. In order to meet the definition of what a plan is, carriers are going to have to redesign their plans.

The carriers for a short time will continue to have a wide variety, although they eventually will narrow the choices to meet what is called a “qualified plan.” The government is telling us all what is appropriate, and this increased pressure on carriers will lead to limited choices for consumers. Robust plans will be available, but they will be cost prohibitive for most employers.

A fascinating thought leader in this area is Dr. Ben Carson. Carson is a pediatric neurosurgeon who was raised by a single mother in inner city Detroit and eventually carried out work on the first separation of conjoined twins. To summarize his big idea, he argues that if the government is going to mandate anything, carriers should be set up as nonprofit organizations. It is an interesting idea to consider. If insurance companies were set up as nonprofits, it would take out the natural battle between a government mandating a product and a business’s focus on making a profit.

What’s a Small Business to Do?

So given the current and impending medical insurance landscape, what can a small group employer do? For companies that are around that 50-employee mark, I would recommend that you think twice about getting bigger or expanding right now. Before you begin growing, be sure you count the costs. We haven’t had to consider these costs in the past, but this is part of our new reality under health care reform.  If you need to hire and doing so is cost prohibitive considering the growing costs of health care, you may need to think about increasing the prices of your own services or products.

At the end of the day, you need to know what is in the bucket of money you have to give your staff (wages, taxes, benefits, etc.) and be sure that benefits are still valuable because you will have to evaluate what makes sense. I encourage you to look at your position in the marketplace and the skill set of your employees; see if a salary increase is a better choice in place of health insurance.

Fifty is the magic number when it comes to employee counts. But for small groups under that 50 mark, health care reform still has repercussions. Be ready to tackle those today.

What questions do you have about health care reform? Contact me to see how Servant HR can help.

Health Care Reform and Small Business: Part 1 (Rates)

Health Care Reform and Small Business: Part 1 (Rates)

hospital care

There has been some confusion regarding news that came out July 2 about the Obama administration’s decision to postpone implementation of his health care program’s employer mandate. This change only affects large group employers — not those with fewer than 50 full-time employees. Small group employers have other issues to consider.

For small groups, the biggest changes health care reform will bring about are related to the benefits landscape:

  1. 1. It will change how the rates of those plans will be determined.

  2. 2. It will change the types of plans employers will offer employees.

Rates: Let’s Do the Numbers

Small groups aren’t currently required to offer health care benefits to employees. If they do offer it, they are offering it at will. The common worry among employers and analysts is that health care plans will be very expensive in the future, and projections are showing that this is a legitimate concern.  Even if an employer is offering health insurance benefits now, the price tag could be prohibitive in the future as plan prices increase across the board. The result could be that employees are forced to find coverage at the individual level in the exchange market.

Why are rates expected to go up?  For one, health care reform requires carriers to determine rates by a community rating. A community rating system (opposed to a system based on risk) is currently being used in New York, Maine, Colorado and several other states. It’s not a foreign concept, but it is not at a national level — yet. In a community rating system, a person’s individual health history and occupation do not help determine their rate. Today, when someone is in a higher-risk industry such as construction or commercial fishing in Alaska, their occupational risk is used to figure their rate. Likewise, if someone works in a slow-moving office setting that’s considered a preferred industry, that person may be able to earn credits to get lower rates.

Under health care reform, that kind of risk isn’t weighed. Under health care reform, employers or insurance companies may no longer ask if you or anyone in your family has a history of cancer, heart disease or other health issue. This may seem good for the employee and bad for the employer, but it’s not so cut and dry. Think about your driving history. Insurance carriers regularly reward safe drivers with less expensive rates, credits and better coverage because they can make an educated guess regarding what their risk is if they insure that driver. If someone has had multiple traffic violations and accidents over the past couple of years, that information is also used to determine rates. If all of us drivers are lumped together as just “drivers” without the benefit of a little driving history, there is much less incentive for us to drive safely. Similarly, it could be argued that under the community rating system, there is less incentive for your employees to be healthy.

The community rating does consider gender, whether the person is a smoker and where they live. If you live here in Indiana, where we are known as one of the unhealthiest states in the country, even running the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon every year, abstaining from alcohol and eating right at every meal won’t help you when the community rating system goes into effect.

Consideration by insurance companies of individuals’ preexisting conditions is going away as well. This has been the case for children since 2012. Last year, virtually all carriers in the state of Indiana pulled out of writing policies solely for kids. The result is that affected parents can either pay for children’s expenses out of pocket or go through the state to get a medical coverage policy. Medical Mutual of Ohio just pulled out of Indiana completely — for children and adults. With one less carrier, we have fewer carriers competing for Hoosiers’ business.

Helping everyone get coverage despite their health history seems like a good idea, but eliminating the ability to ask about preexisting conditions has negative repercussions for business. For example, employers would want to be aware if an employee coming onto a new insurance policy has had three back surgeries, because chances are good that person will need another one.

The bottom line is that when the insurance carriers can’t predict the kind of risk they may be covering, they have to think worst case scenario. As a result, rates are poised to increase under health care reform.

Look for Part 2 (Types of Plans) on the Servant HR blog tomorrow, July 26.

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