Steps to Help Your Employees Understand the Details of Their Benefits

Tell them real-life stories

This week I’m going to cover a small but very important tactical element of HR. Although it’s a small thing, it leads to a much larger strategic element of building a high-performing workplace culture

I’m a strong believer in delivering an amazing onboarding experience for employees. I built one at one employer from the ground up and I had the pleasure of  inheriting an outstanding one at another employer.

Today’s post is going to deal with one portion of the onboarding process – the Benefits discussion.  This is often the most confusing and boring part because HR typically comes in and goes through the insurance benefits using HR and insurance industry jargon. As a result, most employees don’t understand most of what is being said and just tune out and start looking at their phones. This is unfortunate because an organization’s benefits are an important and  critical piece of the total rewards program and employees need to fully be comfortable with understanding them.

I think employees really need to understand all of their benefits and there should be the appropriate amount of time put into the onboarding schedule to make sure employees really do fully understand them. We owe our employees the extra effort to help them understand their benefits rather than just handing them a packet of papers or just helping them logon to the onboarding site and leaving them with an hour to review and enroll.  

So here’s how I do it.

In my schedule, the benefits discussion occurs immediately after all the required hiring paperwork is completed. This way, they are still pretty fresh and enthusiastic.  I always go into the HR portion which includes the insurance and benefit portion of onboarding telling the new hires that this portion is going to be the most exciting and interesting part of the entire  process. I’m obviously being silly and I purposely exaggerate this because they and everybody else has experienced the opposite so it grabs their attention.

I then like to tell real-life stories about how the different benefits work. These are my stories based on my experiences and I’m certain you have your own story bank you can go to when communicating benefit details to your employee team.

For instance as I’m talking about the medical benefits, most people understand what the deductible means and how the co-pay plays into that but many don’t really understand what the Annual Max Out of Pocket means.

So I tell a real-life story about an employee (this was at a previous employer and whose identity I keep confidential) who had a heart attack while out camping with his family. He was life flighted to the hospital and had open heart surgery.  Well, when everything was said and done and the employee added up all the bills that came, the total was over $1,000,000. Fortunately for him and his family, the company health insurance plan had a maximum out of pocket of $3500.  What does this mean? Simple. The employee only had to pay $3500 total for the episode.. And this all happened in the summer so he had to continue treatment, cardiac rehab, and many other doctor appointments and because he reached his MOP, he paid nothing for the rest of the year. Every time I tell this story, I see clear understanding in the new hires’ eyes because this story always makes it obvious what the max out of pocket is.

Another story I like to tell is when describing the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This benefit is very often forgotten and rarely used. I believe strongly in it as I’ve used it myself and tell the story of a couple employees I helped through substance abuse problems (again at a previous employer keeping names confidential).  

I had employees come to me asking for help with their substance abuse. They feared they would lose their job but my company believes in helping employees who ask for help. So I gave them all the EAP info and explained to them how the EAP works and strongly encouraged them to call and get the counseling help they need. I also explained that in addition to the free counseling sessions, our medical insurance has programs to help them clean up. They took advantage of these programs, cleaned themselves up, and remained good productive employees.

I love telling this story.

The last story I’m going to share this week is about the Flexible Savings Account (FSA). I tell them I love this benefit because it’s like an interest free, tax free loan to pay for medical related expenses like co-pays and deductibles. I tell them I usually max out the benefit and contribute the full $2600 and at the end of the year, if I have some left over, I treat myself to some very nice eye glasses and/or prescription sunglasses.  I also go back to the story above about the maximum out of pocket and tell them the heart attack employee had about $1600 left in his FSA and applied that to the MOP amount of $3500 he owed. So he only had to come up with $1900 for the entire cost of the episode.

There are, of course, other stories I tell to help our new employees understand the more complicated details of their benefits but I may share those at another time.. I always get positive comments from the new hires who appreciate me taking the time to sit down with them and going through the benefits we offer and explaining, through real-life stories, how they work.

Not only does this help them personally in understanding their benefits package, it sends the strong message that the organization sincerely cares about them and their well-being.  It’s an important element in the strategy of building that all important high-performing culture that we all strive for.  

The HHHR Performance Appraisals and Objective Setting Cycle

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Image courtesy of tiramisustudio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The first of the year, of course, is the time many of us are working through the Performance Appraisal and Objective Setting cycle in our companies.  I know that a lot of small HR departments don’t even do PAs, much less objective setting but I believe it is a critical and a very important part of what we do in HR.  Despite what many in HR think.

Today, even though it’s February and many of us are finishing up our cycle,  I’m going to share how I do the Performance Appraisal and Objective Setting cycle. This post is a quick overview of what I do.  I have a seven week process and in the coming weeks, I will devote a post to each of the the weeks in the process.

Pre and Week One – Prep and Training Week

The first thing I do is send out an email in December to all the supervisors in my company reminding them that the PA cycle will start in January.  I also include a timeline of deadlines in that email. They, of course, love getting this email just before the Holidays!

I then take the time to update all the documents from the previous year to the new year and make any edits to the process of forms that supervisors suggested the year before.

After the Holidays, the cycle starts full swing.  The supervisors already got the heads up from my email in December so there is no surprise when I start sending out all the information about the PAs and Objectives at the first of January.

Then I make all the updated current year documents available on our SharePoint site designated for HR.

Finally, the most important part of this week is training.  I conduct a webcast training session for all the supervisors in our three locations on why and how we do PAs and Objectives setting.

Week Two – Writing Week for PAs and Objectives

Supervisors write the PAs for each of their direct reports.  These are preliminary as I will explain later in this post.  They also have a discussion with their direct reports during this week about objectives they will collaboratively set for the year.

Week Three – Deadline Week for Preliminary PAs

The preliminary Performance Appraisals are due to me on Wednesday of this week.  I make the deadline Wednesday because very few supervisors get these in on time and it gives me two extra days until the end of the week for them to get turned in.  It’s a way to trick my chronic procrastinators into getting their PAs turned in on time.  It generally works except for the real professional procrastinators who probably know what I’m up to anyway.  There are always several who take longer but if you can get the majority in by the end of week three, your doing OK.

Week Four – Prep week for Talent Review Meetings

This is the week I construct Talent Review Notebooks for the Talent Review Meetings that will be held next week.  What the heck are Talent Review Meetings, you ask?  Well, I will explain the Talent Review Meetings more in depth in the coming weeks since it is one of the most important parts of the cycle but you may get the gist of things here.

Week Five – Talent Review Meeting Week

The Talent Review Meetings are where we review every single preliminary PA and the performance scores for each employee are calibrated for fairness.  The PAs are finalized during these meetings before they are to be delivered to the employee.  Again, you’ll learn more about the Talent Review Meetings in the coming weeks.

Week Six – Delivery Week

Supervisors deliver the PAs to their direct reports and have a final discussion on what their objectives for the year will be.

Week Seven – Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives

Completed PAs and Objectives are due to me by Wednesday of this week.  You, of course, know why I have Wednesday as a due date…

 

This the schedule that has evolved in the seven years I have developed this cycle.  It works very well for my company and HR Department of One.

As I write more in depth about each of these weeks, I will include copies of the versions of the documents I’ve developed.  They will be different, but similar, to the documents and forms I use at my company.

The Importance of The Morning Greeting

My favorite podcast, Manger Tools, recently released an episode titled The Morning Greeting. I liked the episode because it speaks to an important activity I learned many years ago working as a store manager for the Bon Marche (now Macys).

Basically, it is simply the act of saying good morning to each of your direct reports every day and the positive impact it generates.

Mike and Mark go into quite a bit of detail on the mechanics of how to greet direct reports which I found humorous.  I know there are many managers who find it difficult to circulate and greet their employees so I understand their need to go into detail.  It came naturally to me early in my career as I observed  effective managers I worked with and as I developed my own style.

When I was in retail, I would make the point of circulating through my store every morning and greet each of my employees (direct reports, sales and sales support associates) by name.  Sometimes I would cruise by their department, wave and say “Good morning, Joan!” and sometimes I would  stop and chat a bit – either about business or personal stuff or both, depending on what was going on in the store or in their lives.

I would also make a point of circulating through the store as I left for the day, catching the late shift,  and say “Goodnight!” to each employee by name.

Each time I started in a new store, I would immediately begin my greeting activity and quickly learn every employee’s name along the way.  I was told I was the first store manager who did this and/or even knew their names.

I often startled new employees when I would approach and greet them but they quickly learned I was OK and approachable.  While I did much more than just “the daily greet” to my employees, this simple activity was a significant factor in creating a tremendous amount of trust and loyalty among my teams.

In my current job as an HR leader, I have five direct reports but  still make a point of greeting all 16 employees, by name, in my office every morning.  I also do the same when I visit the mine or the Wyoming office.  Similar to when I was a store manager, sometimes its just a quick greeting with a wave or a chat for a few minutes.

As a result, I am on friendly terms with everybody in the office and know and understand a lot of what is going on at many different levels.  This allows me to do my job, as the HR leader in my company, more effectively and provide greater value to my company.  More importantly, knowing my co-coworkers as I do helps me enjoy my job more.

I would challenge all HR leaders and managers, even Mike and Mark who said it isn’t realistic or practical to greet 30 people every morning, to take the time to greet all their direct reports and steps even if there are 30+ of them.  I did it in a 60,000 square foot store with nearly 30+ people working during any given shift.  The time you take to do this is nothing compared to the value you derive.

It is a simple and powerful management activity.

Building and Maintaining Professional Relationships at Work

Building and maintaining professional relationships at work is a strategic advantage for any HR professional.  These relationships extend both above as well as below you on the organization chart.  HR pros must do the hard work of building relationships every single day.  It’s no easy task.  It’s so easy to get caught up in plugging away on this project or that project each day until it’s time to go home.

But, as an effective HR professional, you need to take the time, each and every day, to have a regular conversation with the people in your organization.  Get out of your comfort zone and your regular circle of acquaintances and make an effort to speak with two to three different people in your organization each day until you’ve talked to everybody then go back and start from the beginning.  Visit or call them and spend a few minutes and just chat about what they are working on right now, what their plans are for the weekend, what can you do to help them, etc.  Tell them what you are working on and what your plans for the weekend are.  Remember, you are building and maintaining a relationship here.

HR needs to know what’s going in in their organization and the only way to do this is to be having regular conversations with employees at all levels. It’s a critical part of our job.  People will start sharing some pretty interesting stuff  about what’s really going on in the organization when they start really trusting you.  This will make you a much more effective HR professional giving you valuable information about current simmering problems,  potential future problems, who the real leaders are, candidates for promotions, etc.