What’s ahead for 2017 and employee benefits?

Predicting or forecasting about uncertain events isn’t based on extrasensory perception or an informed guess. And it’s usually not a scientific explanation. Most of the time, predicting trends is based on experience or knowledge. In the case of employee benefits, it’s more about understanding the industry and what the players in the industry — including the workforce, employers, brokers and providers — are saying and doing.

Today’s diverse workforce, coupled with employees’ desire to choose benefits that are important to them, means that companies are recognizing the role that nontraditional benefits can play in distinguishing their employee benefits package. There’s no doubt that traditional voluntary benefits that supplement core benefits are important. However, with a workforce dominated by millennials — who clearly want it ‘their way’ — the availability of nontraditional benefits provide a way for employers to engage employees in all generations.  In broaden the horizons of wellness, employers need to focus plans not only on the physical and nutritional aspects, but also to expand into mental soundness and financial stability.

Craig Schmidt, senior wellness consultant at EPIC, has seen a strong focus around three main areas: mindfulness, stress and financial wellness.

“This is a different trend than what has been done in the past with regard to traditional wellness programs where the industry would identify a chronic disease risk and focus their efforts solely on nutrition, activity and … avoiding a chronic condition, instead of living a healthy lifestyle and improving healthy behaviors,” Schmidt says.

This year, wellness consultants maintained a growing focus on financial wellbeing. Some approached these programs by offering debt assistance programs, many directed toward assisting with student loan debt. This approach not only helps the employee with paying off a loan that could very well last decades, but it also increases retention of millennial employees who have been known not to stay with a single company for long periods of time.

Financial wellness and college debt “is a growing concern and employers want to assist and help employees be better fiscally, but at this time its uncharted territory that we don’t know what the results of the programs are or what employees are looking for on an individual basis,” Schmidt says.

Expanding mental wellness

In an attempt to break the stereotypes and stigmas around mental health, many wellness consultants are making a push to encourage the use of mental and social assistance programs like EAPs, in the workplace. Emily Noll, national director of wellness solutions at CBIZ, says more employers are seeking mindfulness and resiliency programs on a regular basis to reduce stress and improve employee engagement.

“CEOs and CFOs are paying attention to the data on the benefits of meditation practice, yoga and other techniques that yield better focus, more creativity and make their employees better equipped to solve problems and avoid workplace conflict,” Noll says. “One HR director told me that when she boarded the train to head home in the evenings she would doze off, but after participating in a weekly at-work mindfulness program, she felt more energized during her work day and was alert even on her commute home.”

Looking ahead to 2017

When Schmidt looks ahead to the coming year, he predicts there will be more focus on mental, emotional and mindfulness in the workplace. “I see there being a focus on engaging employees in their work, and mindfulness will play a large role,” Schmidt says.

On top of an increased awareness of mental and emotional need, Schmidt says there will be more attention on corporate culture, with companies focusing on creating an environment where employees want to be at work.

“Millennials are known to be the job hoppers and millennials now make up a large portion of the workforce. Retention of these employees is going to be an important focus in the battle for talent,” he says. “Wellness will be a difference-maker to this group, as worth, value and well-being is an important focus for millennials.”

Noll agrees with Schmidt’s prediction of an emphasis on corporate culture, saying companies will need to provide more training for leaders and managers on how to improve culture, well-being and engagement. “Managers have a significant influence on their employees and developing high performing teams — team members need to be well to perform at their best,” Noll says.

Are you ready for 2017??

Why Millenials need a plan too…

Much has been made of the challenges of managing the different generations in the workplace, from baby boomers to Gen-X’ers to millenials. Without going into all the stereotypes usually associated I wanted to address one stereotype I found prevalent as I began working in the human resource space with DocuVital: that millenials don’t have very many possessions to worry about and thus they don’t need to plan ahead in case of an emergency or death.

For example, as I meet millenials they commonly state that since they don’t own a house, have little, if any, in a 401k, don’t own a car(think UBER), and have no other significant assets, that they don’t need to make a will or do any type of end of life planning. When I dig a little deeper into the conversation with them and their life, it becomes readily apparent that they have much more than they realized.

Millenials are more mobile than previous generations. A new study by LinkedIn found that young people really do change jobs a lot more than their parents did. The new normal is for millennials to jump jobs four times in their first decade out of college. That’s nearly double the bouncing around the generation before them did. What does this mean? If they acquired any benefits such as 401k, life insurance, company equity, etc., this needs to be well documented with a third party source so that if something happens to this person, their family can easily find these benefits. Otherwise significant assets can be lost and end up in state coffers.

Millenials are not just more mobile with jobs but also with travel. Millennials can afford to add extra time to their business trips, and an Expedia study found that Millennials are 62% more likely than older employees to extend a business trip into a holiday. Others may turn their business trip into a “bleisure” holiday by making the most of any downtime, using it for leisure activities or simply seeking local culture. More travel means that having secure and independent backup of documents such as passports, immigration/visa papers, wills, identifications photos, etc., becomes even more important. Imagine being stuck in a foreign country losing a passport? Having access to backup copies in an online solution can greatly reduce your problems in this situation.

Millenials are less likely to be homeowners, car owners or parents than their predecessors, but they do lead in one category: Pets. Three-fourths of Americans in their 30s have dogs, while 51 percent have cats, according to a survey released by research firm Mintel. That compares to 50 percent of the overall population with dogs, and 35 percent with cats. What does this mean? In case of an emergency or death, someone needs to be able to take care of the pets either temporarily or permanently. Millenials are obsessed with their furry loved ones and thus the need to protect them when they are gone is very strong although my experience has shown few have done anything about that. Just like the conversation parents must have to decide who will take care of their children, millenials who are pet owners must be educated to do the same. After all, most millenials consider their pets as their children.

There are many other non traditional benefits also that millenials have accrued in large numbers such as credit card rewards, airline miles, hotel points, etc. These all need to be documented and stored so that they can be passed on to loved ones. Helping your millenial employees or clients with these issues will have a big impact on their life.

Religion and end of life…Do your doctors know your decisions?

Talking about death is an emotionally fraught and daunting topic, and we applaud the growing number of congregations that are giving their members tools and resources to have such conversations with their families and loved ones around end-of-life preferences.

But as important as these discussions are for families, they are only half the story when it comes to end-of-life planning.

It is also crucial that health care providers are prepared to have end-of-life conversations with their patients, especially when religion plays a role in the patient’s health care decision-making.

To be sure, the “faith factor” is not uncommon. In the United States, a country where 89 percent of people believe in God and 78 percent say that religion is important to their lives, religion will inevitably emerge in health care.

In fact, one study has actually found that 41 percent of patients can think of a time when religion influenced one of their health care decisions. The impact of religion on medical treatment can involve anything from patients’ need to have a kosher, halal or vegetarian meal when in the hospital, to their requests to coordinate medical procedures around prayer times.

The most profound intersection between religion and health care, however, may be in end-of-life care.

The truth is that religion can influence the procedures patients want to receive, or reject. Are they comfortable starting artificial nutrition, hydration and respiration, for example? Or removing these supports once they are in place? Do they accept brain stem death as the moment of death? Or do they want a religious figure to be involved in the end-of-life decision-making process?

Religious beliefs may affect patients’ beliefs about the afterlife and help frame their illness in a context that medical professionals need to understand.

And yet, health care providers are often ill-equipped to discuss religion when it does come up, with one study finding that 20 percent of medical residents reported being unprepared to care for patients whose religious beliefs affected their treatment.

This discomfort, coupled with doctors’ lack of training around end-of-life care, means that important conversations about how religion affects patients’ end-of-life decisions simply never happen.

Take, for instance, the story of Mohammad Kochi, a Muslim who immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan. Kochi was diagnosed with gastric cancer and his doctors recommended a continuous infusion pump for chemotherapy. When Kochi refused the continuous infusion pump, his doctors never asked why; instead, they assumed that his religious beliefs had led him to decline all medical treatment because he believed it was his time to die.

In reality, Kochi refused the pump because he wouldn’t be able to follow his practice of praying five times a day if something broke his skin, which the pump would do. (In some cases, religious authorities say that an open cut or bleeding can impede a Muslim’s fitness to pray.)

He would have accepted other kinds of chemotherapy, but they were not offered. This miscommunication, and the health care team’s failure to ask Kochi how his beliefs influenced his decision-making, led to a significant and costly delay in his care.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But it can only change if systematic, preparatory training is provided to medical students and residents, to nurses and nurses’ aides — training that goes beyond a one-off course in cultural competence.

They need expertise in taking a spiritual history — i.e., asking patients appropriate questions about whether they have religious or spiritual beliefs or practices that may impact their care — as a routine part of taking a patient’s history.

Even when patients don’t know right away what their care might entail or how religion may be relevant for them, asking these initial questions can open the door to further conversations and make the patient more comfortable voicing their beliefs if and when they become relevant. The result can lead to better care every day, and certainly as life draws to a close.

But clinicians need to learn even more. Like recognizing signs of spiritual distress so they can refer patients to pastoral care for spiritual support and guidance.

These should be skill sets that we expect from our providers, skill sets they are trained to execute, without ever imposing their own beliefs on their patients.

Today, we do see more and more organizations and communities, including religious communities, promote open, honest and proactive conversations around end-of-life preferences.

As that trend continues, it is important to make sure that health care providers are also prepared. They need the training and resources to ask about a dimension of many people’s lives that influences their health care choices, and then incorporate their patients’ religious beliefs and practices into a plan for care.

As patients and family members of patients, we should expect nothing less.

Great piece from:(Eliza Blanchard is assistant director for Workplace and Health Care Programs at the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding)

Why financial wellness benefits are vital for your company…

When you think about employee benefits, your mind probably goes right to medical coverage. But there are actually a lot of other valuable added employee benefits to consider, from retirement plans and disability to vision and dental coverage.

If you don’t consider these added benefits to be a priority for your business, you might want to rethink that. Employee benefits are actually more important now than they ever have been before. Below are some of the reasons you should consider value added employee benefits beyond medical for your small business, along with tips for implementing those benefits.

Why You Should Offer Value Added Employee Benefits

They Help You Attract the Best Employees

According to a 2015 CareerBuilder study, 55 percent of employees consider affordable benefits to be more important than salary when job hunting. That means that more than half of potential workers out there would rather work for a company that offers comprehensive benefits than one that offers a slightly higher salary but limited benefits.

So if you don’t offer any valued added benefits to your employees, you could really be missing out on some great potential team members.

If more than half of people would pass on the opportunity to work for your company just because of the benefits, that greatly reduces the talent pool for your organization. And that means you’ll have less of a chance to actually find the best people for each job.

They Help Your Team Stay Focused on Work

Even if you do manage to hire a great team, it’s more difficult for employees to stay focused and engaged at work if they’re worried about money or experiencing financial issues, which is more likely if comprehensive benefits packages aren’t offered.

According to MetLife’s 14th Annual Employee Benefit Trends Study, 46 percent of employees who are financially distressed believe that their money worries have a negative impact on their productivity. And employers tend to agree.

In addition, since two-thirds of Americans report that they would have trouble coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected medical emergency or other crisis, insurance can have a big impact on whether or not many workers have to actually experience those financial burdens.

They Convince Your Team to Stick Around Longer

If you’re able to attract the right employees to your business and compensate them enough so that they can actually be productive and focused at work, then you likely want to get them to stick around as long as possible. Luckily, value added employee benefits can also help in that area.

Fair compensation, which often includes added benefits, can make employees feel that they are fairly compensated for their work. And if they’re satisfied and stable in their jobs, they’re more likely to stick around instead of looking for opportunities with better compensation elsewhere.

This not only allows your business to hold onto the best possible employees, but also potentially saves you money on training and HR expenses.

How to Offer Value Added Employee Benefits

Talk to Your Employees

There are many different types of employee benefits out there. Generally, more than half of employees tend to see retirement plans, dental coverage and life insurance options as “must-haves,” according to MetLife’s Employee Benefit Trends Study. And vision care insurance and disability insurance are also considered to be important.

But as a small business owner, you have access to even more specific information about what your employees want if you’re willing to just talk to them. If you know exactly what kinds of benefits they consider to be important, you can prioritize those over others.

Keep Looking Forward

You’ll also want to be sure that your benefits plans will work for the future of your business as well. Don’t spend so much in the short term that you’ll potentially harm your chances of affording great options in the future. But you also need to consider how added employee benefits might help your business going forward they help your team grow and stay productive.

Re-evaluate Regularly

As your team changes and evolves, so should your benefits. You’ll need to constantly re-consider different types of benefits so that you can make sure your plan is always what’s best for your team. In addition, as your budget grows or fluctuates, you can make adjustments that fit within what you can afford while still offering the best possible plans to employees.-Annie Pilon

Ready for Thanksgiving?

Our family’s Thanksgiving tradition has nothing to do with food or football, but has everything to do with our personal beliefs, values and expectations.

It’s an annual family discussion of issues related to Advance Care Planning, and it’s a tradition I encourage all families to adopt.

Advance Care Planning involves completing the necessary legal forms to document your health care preferences at end-of-life, and legally designating someone to represent you during a medical crisis if you can’t speak for yourself. The basic legal forms are a Health Care Proxy and New York Living Will.

Years ago, my family started this tradition on Thanksgiving, because it’s an American holiday that just about everyone celebrates, and it brings together family members from far and wide. At first, you might think it’s morbid to discuss such topics at a fun holiday gathering, but we’ve found that it brings us closer together. We each gain peace of mind from knowing that our own wishes have been expressed and will be honored, and from hearing how our loved ones want to be treated if ever they need someone to make health care decisions on their behalf. It’s yet another reason to give thanks.

After our Thanksgiving meal, and after the dishes are cleared, the adults in our family remain at the table and review our individual Advance Care Planning documents to make sure they reflect our current feelings. We have blank forms on hand in case new documents need to be completed and witnessed.

As a medical doctor and health plan administrator with a specialty in pain management and end-of-life issues, I am passionate about Advance Care Planning. I recommend that everyone 18 years and older completes the legally recognized Advance Care Planning forms and keeps copies on file with their physicians, lawyer and loved ones.

In addition to the Health Care Proxy and New York Living Will, there’s a document called Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST), and an electronic version called eMOLST. MOLST is recommended for people with serious or advancing chronic illness, and for those who want to further define their wishes for medical interventions, including resuscitation. The MOLST form is legally approved for use in hospitals and nursing homes across New York state.

I encourage your family to adopt our Thanksgiving tradition. Discussing and documenting each family member’s thoughts and views on this subject will save heartache and family turmoil in the future. Download a free step-by-step booklet and discussion guide on Advance Care Planning, as well as blank forms for the New York Living Will, Health Care Proxy and MOLST at compassionandsupport.org.

Patricia Bomba, M.D., is vice president and medical director/geriatrics for Univera Healthcare. She served on the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Transforming End-of-Life Care

3 tips for end of life planning

Most people can’t or don’t want to think about the day they might be incapable of making even basic decisions, says Jessica Lillesand, senior advisory specialist at Wells Fargo Private Bank. Incapacity planning—laying out the manner you want to be cared for should you lose your cognitive ability—is difficult to face but an absolute must for someone with estate plans.

“Most people don’t give much thought to the issue” until it is too late to handle carefully, Lillesand says, and that can accidentally throw parts of an estate or financial plan out of the window—the exact opposite of what they want.

Lillesand had a female client, for example, with an intricate and long-planned tax strategy requiring residence in Florida. When she began to deteriorate and started needing assistance, her family kept trying to move her out of Florida, nearer to where they lived. She never shared with them her tax strategy and her family was left to guess her exact wishes.

So, here’s lesson number one: make your location wishes clear from the get-go, says Lillesand, and let your surrogate decision-makers understand your thought process. That way, they have all the information on hand to carry out your wishes when the need arises.

The common mistake is that “there is a fall or illness that puts a person into a rehab and everyone is in crisis mode,” she says. The family ends up making a decision based off of the information they have on-hand, which is usually not complete.

Which gets us to lesson number two: pick strong surrogates. The advocates you grant “durable power of attorney,” reminds Lillesand, “will be running your show”—from handling your finances, such as conducting complicated bank transactions; to legal battles, such as standing in your place in the case that a medical lawsuit is filed. This means, you not only have to trust your surrogate, but they also have to be capable of managing your sophisticated finances.

That’s a lot more responsibility than most people really sign up for, Lillesand says, which is why you need to talk beforehand and in considerable detail to the person you want to nominate for the position. To make the conversation more robust, be sure to bring up the day-to-day administrative and financial tasks that may need overseeing, she says.

To split the burden, so no one person is overwhelmed by the responsibility, you may also separately pick a healthcare surrogate, to become your voice on medical decisions, freeing up the competent administrator to focus solely on your complicated financial affairs. That can become a problem in itself. Many people, when it comes to their medical surrogate, pick someone close to them, who may not always be the one best-suited emotionally for tough medical decisions. You may, for example, pick your child to be your medical surrogate, but ask yourself whether they have the heart to advocate for your wish to withdraw from life-prolonging procedures or the intake of food, if the situation arises. Lillesand says, “the emotional challenge is tremendous,” and when you’re not fully there, this person needs to be able to communicate your wishes, even if they are brutally painful to execute.

Which brings us to lesson number three: don’t leave a child who is easily heartbroken the responsibility of cutting off your life.

It’s the little things…

I have been an attorney for over 21 years and I have seen my share of families grieving after they lose a loved one.  Death is never expected, even for those who are terminally ill.  What compounds the problem is that the family left behind now is tasked with wrapping up the affairs of their loved one, all during a time they are grieving.

Did you know that on average over 100 tasks need to be completed after someone passes such as finding and closing bank accounts, credit cards, claiming life insurance benefits, pensions, social security and much more?  The look of complete exhaustion and the overwhelmed faces of the family at trying to do this all while living their lives is unforgettable.  This then crosses over to work.  A person does not check their grief at the door of their job at 9 in the morning and then pick it back up when they leave at 5.  And in today’s society, most families live in different states and cities which means frequent travel will be required to tend to the affairs.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that because you have a will that all is good. That is just the start.  It typically addresses only the high line items and assets in a person’s life.  What we have seen over and over are families ripped apart by the “little things”.  Epic arguments and ruined relationships occur over over pots and pans, shoes, clothes, mementos, pictures, etc.  But this can all be handled and prepared for with a minimal amount of time and thought by using solutions like DocuVital.

Helping your employees prepare for both the “big things” and the “little things” are key to making a smooth transition when they lose a loved one.   Assisting them during the ultimate time of loss and grief will be one of the greatest benefits you could ever provide them.

Life Happens Fast. Be Prepared.

By now many of you have heard and read about Prince’s tragic death.  To many of us he defined our youth and his albums were the soundtrack to our lives. What has compounded his passing was the fact that he was not prepared.  Like many Americans(over 50%), he died without a will and without making plans for his family.

Prince was famously known for guarding his privacy.  This was very important to him but now that he is gone, his life is being needlessly dragged out in the public eye and the courts.  “Prince’s relatives, employees and friends, even his ex-wives, apparently knew less about the 57-year-old star’s habits than they thought. And because Prince failed to leave a will, the probate proceeding is even more complicated — and non-transparent — than usual.”  There is much talk about the worth of his musical legacy which has surged in value since his death.  But who are his heirs?  Where are the “secret tapes” located?

In my experience as an attorney for over 20 years I have seen families ripped apart by the smallest things that a will does not usually address.  For example; baseball card collections, clothes, pots and pans! Fortunately, these issues can be easily addressed now.  Being prepared now will greatly reduce the stress and headache for your family later.

We all wanted to be Prince at one time, but don’t be like him now.  Life Happens Fast.  Be Prepared.

Does wealth transfer scare you as a financial services professional?

Anyone working in the financial services industry right now has been aware of or is quickly learning about the aging baby boomer population. Whether they work for a bank, insurance company, financial planning firm, or related entity, there is a tsunami waiting offshore that is heading in their direction. Already struggling to attract clients and differentiate themselves, they now face the greatest wealth transfer in human history as baby boomers get older and die. According to the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, $59 Trillion will be transferred from baby boomers to their heirs over the next 40 years.

What does this mean for the financial services industry if they are not prepared and not taking measures to reduce this effect? Disaster. The baby boomers acquired significant amounts of wealth and have used their trusted advisors to manage their wealth and protect it. Many have long lasting relationships that have endured for years and acted like an annuity for the professionals in this industry. But, the adult children who will inherit the money and accounts in most cases have no relationship with the bank or financial institution of their parents. This means accounts that have been stable parts of your business will now be vulnerable.

In order to prevent this from happening, financial institutions must be forward thinking and one way is to embrace the Fintech revolution. Rather than looking at Fintech startups as disruptive technology, look for startups that can complement your business. How are you driving customer engagement? How are you making yourself relevant to the family members? How will you retain them as clients? How will you provide meaningful content and services to them?

In other words, what steps have you taken to survive the greatest wealth transfer in human history?