5 Tips to Beat the Heat | Texas Employee Benefits Team

There’s no denying that summer has arrived. In fact, the news has been abuzz with Alaska’s heat wave in July that sent temperatures soaring between 20 and 30 degrees above average. When you are caught in the middle of a heat wave, it may seem like there’s nothing you can do to keep cool. But, there are ways for you to beat the heat this summer and stay safe from heat related illnesses.


Avoid the Heat

It may seem like a no-brainer to avoid the heat to prevent a heat related illness but some professions work solely outdoors. In those cases, there aren’t many options for avoiding the heat.  Be aware of the hottest time of day and limit physical activity outside during that time.

Reduce Activity Levels

Plan the most active job of the day to be in the morning when the sun and heat aren’t as intense. Heatstroke can occur when a person engages in strenuous activity for long periods of time in the heat. If possible, arrange workflows to include times of rest and times to visit a cooling station.

Drink Fluids Regularly

The underlying factor in most heat related illness is the inadequate supply of fluids for your body, in other words, drink more water! Heavy sweating depletes a person’s body of fluid and salt and this in turn can cause heat cramps and heat exhaustion. If this occurs, drink cool water or an electrolyte-replacement beverage like Gatorade. To prevent these two illnesses, drink plenty of water before you know you will be outside in the heat so that your body has sufficient fluids in reserve.

Have a Buddy System

When you know you will working outside or even playing outside in the heat of the day, make sure you have someone with you. If you should experience a heat related illness while alone, there would be no one available to offer first aid or call for help. As in the case of heatstroke, confusion and weakness along with fainting and possibly convulsions could occur. These are all series symptoms and require immediate action for treatment. The buddy system gives you a safety net of someone else who can recognize these symptoms and can act to save them.

Take a Dip!

The best way to beat the heat is by cooling off your body. Not everyone has access to a pool when spending time outside in the heat so if that’s the case, use cold compresses or ice and ice packs to lower body temperature. You can also remove excess clothing and spray your body with cool water. If you do have someone with you and you are experiencing a heat related illness, make sure they are watching you if you jump into a pool.


By following these easy tips to beat the heat you can safely be outside when temperatures are at their peak. Enjoy your summer and stay cool!

Top 5 Learning Metrics to Watch | Texas Benefits Consultants

How much job training equates to time wasted:  About 20%, according to one LinkedIn study.  That’s the percentage of learners who never apply their training to their job.  That same study says 67% of learners apply the lessons learned, but in the end, revert to previous habits.  Another study found 45% of training content is never applied.

For HR professionals designing or monitoring the Return on Investment of training programs, those are disturbing statistics, especially when you consider the decrease in productivity this causes and the cost of wasted money.

So, how do you mitigate or address the issue?

Learning Metrics

Gone is the day leaders make learning strategy decisions via gut and intuition.  Arrived is the day leaders look at learning data and statistics to make decisions and provide evidence for an action.

There was a time when the only metrics requested from learning and development officials were the number of people taking part in the training and the cost involved.  In other words:  basic effectiveness and efficiency.

As with everything, however, learning and development has evolved.  It’s now a business critical change agent.  It’s not enough, though, to measure inputs, the number of courses, and attendance.  Learning and development must look at the output and outcomes.

“We’re in the process of trying to become a learning organization, and to become a learning organization you have to be nimble.  You have to have a culture of leaders as teachers.  You have to have a culture of recognizing those things that contribute, and actually those things what lead to success,” Brad Samargya said.  Samargya is the Chief Learning Officer for mobile phone maker Ericsson.

All of the descriptions Samargya is using refer back to the content, specifically how it is delivered and is it of substance.  When both pieces are in concert, HR professionals should see an increase in quality around the metrics gathered.


First, let’s focus on delivery.

Samantha Hammock is the Chief Learning Officer for American Express.  Her company employs a learning management system as part of their learning process.  Hammock says measurement is the company’s biggest need.

“If we’re going to mandate training, we had better be robust in tracking and reporting. Is the experience getting better, is the knowledge increasing. We have put it thru workforce analytics to slice and dice some of those metrics,” Hammock said.

Of course, learning management systems are not the only way to deliver learning.  Mobile learning for instance, makes content available on smartphones, tablets, and other devices.  Not only is the content accessible anywhere, but anytime.  Video learning is similar in that the content is available in the ever-popular YouTube format.  Gamification, or education by gaming, again delivers learning in a form much for attractive than your regular classroom format, and microlearning, or the strategy of delivering learning content over a short amount of time.

None of those work without one specific ingredient, however:  the content.  Providing relevant content is key to a good learning strategy, good metrics, and  to ensure your learners are engaged and continue to come back for more.

The modern employee is distracted, overwhelmed and has little time to spare. Catering content to their needs is not only important – it’s critical.

The content presented to employees must be applicable and timely to help them with their daily duties, expand their mind, and provide them with quick takeaways that can immediately be applied.

Metrics to Watch

There are a handful of metrics derived for HR professionals to analyze.

  1. Completion rates – This metric is important because it indicates the level of learner engagement, motivation and participation. Low completion rates indicate employees aren’t investing in the material or how it relates to their jobs.  High completion rates show employees are invested.
  2. Performance and Progress – This particular metric is split into two categories: the individual and the group.  For the individual, metrics will give you a detailed look at how the employee is doing with the learning.  For the group, the metric will include the details around specific trends.  For instance, how the group is progressing through the material.  Both individual metrics and group metrics allow for the tracking of course effectiveness and engagement.
  3. Satisfaction and approval – This metric gives HR professionals some indication of how the employee or employees feel about the content. The is a powerful metric because it allows HR or learning managers to adjust current content or, if need be, create better content based on the needs of the employee.
  4. Instructor and manager ratings – This metric may not always be applicable as, in some cases, material is not presented by an instructor or manager but through a technology interface of some sort. If that is not the case, this will indicate how learners feel about the instructor or manager.  It can also be directly linked to the reason an employee or group of employees are not learning at the level expected.
  5. Competency and proficiency – Competency and proficiency metrics show HR professionals if employees have the knowledge and skills to achieve a desired outcome. If not, this metric allows for learning managers to adjust the material accordingly.  It also allows from some insight into an employee or group’s currently proficiency.

In summation

The challenges facing HR professionals when using analytics to transform the learning and development program are connected.  Before companies can actually engage with the transformation, data has to be present.  Whether it is realized or not, companies do have learning data available.  What may not exist is the ability to evaluate that data.

Data provides invaluable insight into the future learning opportunities of a company’s workforce.  Now, more than ever before, HR professionals have a real opportunity to do what all leaders and C-suite members want to do:  predict the future.  By leveraging and understanding the data generated by learning programs, HR professionals can better evaluate the content and their effectiveness.  It can lead to better outcomes both developmentally for the employee and financially for the employer.

By Mason Stevenson

Originally posted on hrexchangenetwork.com

Volunteering Time Off | Fort Worth Benefits Team

Volunteering Time Off, or VTO, has become a buzz topic for many companies as of late. It involves encouraging employees to take time off from their job to plug in to their community and the nonprofits that support it. Let’s delve in deeper to understand what VTO looks like.

  • Typical VTO policies allot for 8 hours of paid time off to volunteer each year.
  • Just like Paid Time Off (PTO), VTO usually requires advance notice to the employer and approval for time away from the business.
  • Studies have shown that VTO boosts employee engagement and retention.
  • Millennials state they are attracted to companies who offer VTO.
  • VTO builds loyalty and pride for a company with its employees.
  • A recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study states 20% of its respondents now offer volunteering benefits as part of their employee benefits package.

As you look for ways to engage with your employees through VTO, take a look at these resources:

  • VolunteerMatch.org—This website makes the business-to-nonprofit connection possible. Nonprofits post projects and jobs they need assistance with and then the company builds its team to help.
  • Volunteering Is CSR—An arm of Volunteer Match, this blog is for business leaders to educate themselves on best practices and case studies.
  • CatchAFire.org—This site connects professionals with nonprofits using their specific skill sets.
  • PointsofLight.org—Founded by President George H.W. Bush, this group offers toolkits to businesses and nonprofits to maximize volunteering efforts as well as offers products to maximize those efforts.

Millennials, legal industry workers more likely to be hungover at work | Texas Benefits Agency

Dive Brief:

  • On average, American workers miss two days of work per year due to being hungover, a survey of 1,000 full-time workers from Delphi Behavioral Health Group found. By industry, the sector most affected by hangovers is tech, with an average of 8 sick days used, while construction workers and legal industry workers used four, the survey found. Medical and healthcare; wholesale and retail; and government and public administration workers used only one sick day on average, according to Delphi, which estimated that hangovers cost U.S. employers more than $41 billion in sick day pay last year.
  • More than 75% of workers admitted they've shown up to work with a hangover — nearly 80% of men surveyed and about 70% of women — the study revealed. By age group, millennials lead the pack at almost 77% reporting for work hungover, and workers in the legal industry were most likely to nurse hangovers at the office, Delphi said.
  • Workers come into work hungover on average six times per year, according to the survey, and spend about five hours of those days actually working. To get through the day, they pretend to work, hide out in the restrooms, take a nap or a long lunch. More than 30% said they've told their boss they overdid it the night before, and there were no consequences for 66%.

Dive Insight:

While the occasional overindulgence isn't problematic, employers may rightfully be concerned with the behavior if it becomes a chronic problem and it's worth considering if it indicates a broader issue. Almost half of employers are unsure whether their staff has a substance abuse problem, but some reports suggest employers think mental illness and substance abuse levels are reaching record highs. The trend is prompting some companies to assess if new benefits can help workers.

Many of the industries that appeared on the Delphi report, like the legal industry, are considered high stress. Mental health advocates believe stress on the job threatens work-life balance for many workers. Unrealistic expectations for productivity, efficiency and constant communication can pressure staff. Ironically, as stress levels increase, productivity can suffer and some workers may not be equipped with effective coping mechanisms. To address this problem, Macy's, ADP and other employers recently partnered to create a guide for offering mental health benefits and reducing mental health stigma.

By Riia O'Donnell

Originally posted on hrdive.com


Employers that self-insured any group health plans in 2018, including health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), are responsible for determining whether the annual PCORI fee applies to their plan. If so, use Form 720 to calculate, report, and pay the fee by July 31, 2019.

PCORI stands for the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Federal law imposes a small annual fee on most health plans that include medical benefits in order to raise revenue to finance the Institute’s work. See our blog for details on which employer-sponsored plans are subject to the PCORI fee, how to calculate the 2018 amount, complete Form 720, and make payment.

By Kathy Bergen

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Ask the Experts: Overtime and Paid Time Off | Fort Worth Employee Benefits Agency

Question: Should we include holidays, PTO, vacation, or other leave taken during the workweek in calculating overtime premium pay under FLSA rules?

Answer: No. Because holiday, PTO, and vacation hours are not actually hours worked they do not count towards overtime pay.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an employer who requires or permits an employee to work overtime is generally required to pay the employee premium pay for such overtime work. Unless specifically exempted, employees covered by the FLSA must receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rates of pay. The key consideration for premium pay under the FLSA is whether or not the employee actually works more than 40 hours in the workweek, not just that he or she is paid for more than 40 hours in the workweek.

For example, an employee is off work for one day for a company-paid holiday and takes the next day as a paid vacation day. He then works 10 hours for the next three days of the workweek. Under the FLSA, he would be paid straight time at his regular rate for the 46 hours recorded for that week as follows: 8 hours of holiday pay + 8 hours of vacation pay + 30 hours of regular pay for time worked = 46 hours at his regular pay rate.

Employers should also check state laws for overtime requirements regarding holiday and vacation time.

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Identity Theft | Texas Benefits Consultants

Recently, the “Happiest Place on Earth” wasn’t living up to its name for many families. For almost a full year, malicious software had been installed on point-of-sale systems at several Earl Enterprises restaurants. This software then captured debit and credit card numbers, expiration dates, and cardholder names of users purchasing food at these venues. Identity theft has become too commonplace in our day and age and we need to become better educated on where we are most likely to encounter threats as well as ways to avoid becoming victims.

How many people are truly affected by identity theft? According to IdentityForce.com, here are some basic numbers:

  • In 2017, 6.64 percent of consumers became victims of identity fraud, or about 1 in 15 people
  • That equals 16.7 million victims last year, an increase of 1 million from 2016
  • Over 1 million children in the U.S. were victims of identity theft in 2017, costing families $540 million in out-of-pocket expenses
  • There’s a new victim of identity theft every 2 seconds
  • Identity theft is one of the most common consequences of data breaches, as 31.7 percent of breach victims experienced ID theft
  • There were 1,579 data breaches exposing 179 million records last year
  • It takes most victims of identity theft 3 months to find out what’s happening, but 16 percent don’t find out for 3 years

How do you protect yourself from identity theft? Experts agree that there are several basic steps to take to help prevent theft from happening.


If you are anything like me, you frequently forget the passwords you have for the numerous online accounts you manage. One way to manage those passwords, and help you remember to change them, is an online password manager like LastPass. Enter the passwords into this secure account and then you’ll just need to remember one password to access them all. Was there a security breach at your gym? Just log on to LastPass and in one click, you can have a new password for your account and can go along with your day.


In an era of “over-sharing” you must be cautious about giving away personal information on your social media accounts. Thieves are smart and can mine your accounts for information. When you post about being out on vacation, you open the door for thieves to come rob your home. The same holds true for identity theft. Be careful about posting sensitive information online like maiden name, age, birthday—even your high school! All it takes is one crafty thief to take the background info you’ve posted on social media and open a new credit card in your name. Use caution when you share this sensitive information online.


Gone are the days of getting a bank statement in the mail every month that you reconcile with your checking account ledger. With almost all of our banking transactions occurring online, many people never check the detailed statements for their accounts. This is exactly what the identity thieves want to happen. Check your bank statements for transactions you didn’t make, medical bills for care you didn’t receive, and credit card statements for cards you do not have. Also, make it a practice to check each of your three credit reports at least once a year—and the best part is that this is free for you to use!


One last way to protect yourself against identity theft is to enroll in ID Theft Insurance. While ID Theft Insurance does not protect against the actual monetary theft, it does cover the costs you, as the victim, will incur while rebuilding your identity. The coverage may include:

  • Phone call and photocopying charges
  • Postage fees for mailing documents
  • Salary loss due to uncompensated time away from work while repairing one’s identity
  • Legal fees
  • Access to a fraud specialist who can assist in restoring good credit and protecting one’s identity again
  • Help with preparing documents, filing police reports and creating a fraud victim affidavit

Taking these steps will help protect you and your family from identity theft.  While it doesn’t guarantee you will be protected all the time, it does make it harder for the thieves to gain access to your protected information—and this can make your identity stay in a happy place—with you!


Gig Economy 101 | Fort Worth Benefits Advisors

By now you’ve heard of the term “gig economy” but you may not know what it means. Is it describing the economy of musicians as they work gigs? Does it mean something about computers and the measurement of space allotted for their programs? Does it have something to do with fishing? Well, not exactly. But, have no fear! We will break this term down into easy bites and you’ll be an expert on the gig economy in no time.


What IS the Gig Economy?

The term “gig economy” refers to the new landscape of employment in the world where workers are hired for temporary, flexible jobs instead of full-time permanent positions. Think of it this way: workers in a gig economy are paid for completing a job in a predetermined timeframe—like musicians are paid for a night of music (a gig) at a venue. In a gig economy, you see that independent contractors and freelancers tend to be hired over the more traditional, full-time job seekers. Examples of jobs that thrive in this economy are technology-based positions, creative jobs, and the new tide of service-based positions in companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Instacart.


Gig Economy Numbers

Forbes magazine reports that according to the 2018 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 55 million people in the US classified as gig workers. This is a huge number! In fact, that translates to more than 35% of the current US workforce. Projected to rise to 42% in 2020, over 40% of these workers are estimated to be millennials.  As those numbers increase, the proportion of male to female workers shifts. Once right at 50/50, the new ratio is 60/40. This is attributed to larger numbers of women returning to school for postsecondary education. In fact, many leave the workforce completely to return to school versus taking courses and working at the same time.


Pros of Gig Economy Jobs

There are many pros to a job in this category. Job seekers who are looking for gig economy positions name flexible workplaces and flexible hours as their top priorities. The shift to remote offices as well as the freedom to work at whatever hours are most convenient definitely supports this new economy. Employees who have the discipline to manage their workflow and complete tasks on time are ones that will thrive in a gig job. The positives are not limited to just the employees, though. Employers like being able to choose new hires from a much larger pool of candidates because they are not tied down to job seekers in their immediate vicinity. Employers are also able to save money as they do not have to invest in work equipment, health benefits, or on-going training for these independent workers.


Cons of Gig Economy Jobs

The cons of gig work are some of the flip sides to the pros of gig work. These drawbacks include the absence of health benefits and 401k benefits. Freelancers have to buy their own healthcare and figure out their own savings schedule for retirement—both of which aren’t impossible, but they do take up time and tend to be at a greater expense than the benefits offered in a traditional work environment. Gig workers also face the reality of no paid sick days or vacation days. If a freelancer has the flu, he isn’t paid for the time he misses from work and his deadline isn’t adjusted in this task-based economy. On the employer side of the equation, companies report that the pool of qualified candidates for higher level management positions continues to get smaller as the trend for gig workers who freelance from job-to-job increases.


The workplace continues to evolve from a traditional 9-5 workday in a traditional office environment to one that is a flexible work cycle in an ever-changing location. Employees place high priority on setting their own rhythm for work flow and prize independence. Employers are encouraged to stay in-tune with the gig economy and to seek ways to marry their company’s needs with the needs of this new workforce population. Both employer and employee can benefit from this new work landscape.


Ask the Experts: Executive-Only Medical Plans | Texas Benefits Advisors

Question: Our company offers group medical and dental plans for all employees. We also have an executive-only medical plan that covers out-of-pocket expenses that the regular group plan does not pay. Does COBRA apply to the executive-only plan? Do we have to include it in our summary plan description (SPD)?

Answer: The coverage continuation requirements of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) pertain to group health plans sponsored by employers with 20 or more workers (except certain church plans). This is referred to as federal COBRA, which is enforced and regulated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Labor (DOL).

Any employer-sponsored plan or program providing health benefits (medical, dental, vision, etc.) is a group health plan under COBRA. Briefly, if the employee’s access to the program or benefits is based on the person’s current or past relationship with an employer, it is a group plan. An executive-only medical plan is a group health plan – and subject to COBRA – since eligibility for the plan is connected to employment. (Reference: 26 CFR § 54.4980B-2 )

Next, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) imposes numerous reporting and disclosure requirements on employee benefits plans, including rules for plan documents and summary plan descriptions (SPDs). Plans sponsored by governmental employers and certain church plans are exempt from ERISA, but plans sponsored by private-sector employers must comply with ERISA’s plan document and SPD rules. There is an exception, however, for an executive plan that meets the following conditions:

  • The plan primarily provides welfare (e.g., health) benefits for a select group of management or highly-compensated employees; and
  • No part of the plan is funded through employee contributions or a trust.

The most common example is an executive-only medical insurance plan for which the employer pays 100 percent of premiums. In that case, an SPD is not required and Form 5500 reporting does not apply. A plan document is required but it does not have to be made available to employees. The plan document does have to be provided to the Department of Labor (DOL) if requested. (Reference: 29 CFR § 2520.104-24)

By Kathleen A. Berger

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

3 Ways to Improve Psychological Safety | Fort Worth Benefits Team

Employees who feel a sense of psychological safety at work are more likely to be engaged, productive and generating the innovative ideas needed to move an organization forward—but promoting that type of environment requires significant commitment on the part of the employer, a process that can be supported by HR leaders.

At a session at last month’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, Rachel Druckenmiller, director of wellbeing at national benefits-consulting firm Alera Group, emphasized the importance of psychological safety at work.

“Fear stunts our analytical thinking, our ability to be creative; essentially, we’re ‘dumber’ when we’re operating out of a state of fear,” she told the audience, noting a fear-inducing environment activates the amygdala—the fear response in our brain—and we can only focus on surviving, not thriving.

From a business perspective, she said, an environment in which employees are too anxious to speak up or worried about humiliation stymies growth and innovation.

“People put on a mask and only show the parts of themselves they think someone else will approve of,” she said. In psychologically safe environments, however, “they can let their guard down. They’re not in self-protection mode, worrying about who they can trust—so they can problem solve and be creative. All positive things happen when we’re not focused on trying to protect ourselves.”

Druckenmiller cited three ways employers can get serious about improving the psychological safety of their workforces:


Managers, as well as HR leaders, should understand the strengths and weaknesses of their employees—as well as their own. As an example, Druckenmiller cited a client she once worked with: a self-described “bulldog,” who was gunning for the status of being her company’s first female vice president. While she was speeding toward that goal, on an interpersonal level, “she was leaving everyone in the dust and had no idea of how she was being perceived,” said Druckenmiller, who, as part of her coaching services, conducted extensive interviews of the people her client managed.

Consistent themes emerged from those conversations: The client only looked out for herself, she wasn’t a good listener and she didn’t seem to value employee input, for instance. While the client initially rebuffed those claims, Drunkemiller said she eventually softened to those perceptions and they worked together to identify potential blind spots she may continue to struggle with; the woman now keeps a list of reminders handy to help guide her interactions, Druckenmiller said.

On a broader level, organizations can undertake strengths assessments to help their employees and managers better understand one another and develop strengths-based leadership training.


Psychologically safe environments value curiosity over judgement, Druckenmiller said.

For instance, if a manager notices one employee responds to high-pressure environments with hostility, he or she should consider the context—such as that this person may have been raised in an environment with strict demands.

“Nobody came out of childhood unscathed, so maybe we can all have more compassion,” she said. “Difficult people are people who don’t feel safe, and sometimes all they need is just for someone to acknowledge that they’re doing something right.”

Managers and HR leaders should ask questions, listen attentively—using “door openers” like “Tell me more” and “Let me see if I got that right”—and respond with empathy.


Loneliness contributes to early death more than alcohol abuse, obesity and air pollution, Druckenmiller said—and the workplace is rife with it.

Managers and HR professionals can play a key role in combatting loneliness. Mandate device-free meetings, Druckenmiller suggested, as studies have shown that the mere presence of cell phones in a room stifles interpersonal connectedness and trust. “Unless you’re closing the hole in the ozone layer or curing cancer, you can wait an hour,” she said. “Take your Apple watch off.”

Survey team members about their interests and organize out-of-office excursions that people would actually want to go to, she added. “Connection and time together build trust, and trust is the foundation of psychological safety,” Druckenmiller said.

Management style can also enhance connections. If a manager focuses on an employee’s strengths, there’s only a 1% chance he or she will actively disengage from work; if the manager focuses on a person’s weakness, there’s a 22% chance he or she will actively disengage—a number that jumps to 40% when the manager ignores the employee altogether.

“The extent to which someone feels valued, appreciated and seen affects how they engage with people and it affects their health,” she said.

By Jen Colletta

Originally posted on hrexecutive.com

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