Archive for August, 2011

Create a Healthier Workplace with a Company Wellness Program

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

GymEmployee-sponsored wellness programs provide organizations with many benefits. Designed to help employees maintain healthy lifestyle choices, wellness programs can strengthen staff morale, raise productivity and decrease health care related expenses for employers. To create a successful program, it is important to make sure the initiative’s focus is on helping employees get healthier rather than helping the organization save money—though both can occur.

An effective wellness program begins with involvement from a company’s leadership team. Like most business pursuits, employees are less skeptical to buy-in when senior managers and c-suite executives participate. There are multiple options to choose from when deciding to create a wellness program. Most are offered in partnership with an organization’s benefits provider, but agencies that specialize in developing and launching wellness programs are additional options for companies that want to create their own.

In addition to involving senior leadership, the start of a company wellness program should be communicated to all eligible employees through multiple channels, such as the company’s intranet and newsletter or a company-wide email.  Organizations should also set and publicize goals that they would like the program to accomplish. Progress throughout the duration of the wellness initiative should be measured as well.

With careful planning and execution, a wellness program can help organizations lower insurance costs, reduce absenteeism and help employees improve their overall physical and mental health. Here are a few suggestions for creating a healthier work culture at your company:

  1. Offer Financial Incentives: reward employees who opt into the wellness program by offering them benefits, such as lower insurance premiums and contributions to their flexible spending accounts.
  2. Survey Employees: to gauge the effectiveness of the wellness program, as well as track employee morale, organizations can gather updates from staff members via employee opinion surveys.
  3. Encourage Team Spirit: help employees get motivated to pursue healthier lifestyle choices by personalizing items that inspire exercise and good nutrition. For example, organizations can order water bottles and pedometers personalized with the company logo or names of staff members.
  4. Throw It Out: If your organization provides poor food options in vending machines, replace them with healthier choices, such as low-calorie or reduced-fat snacks.

For more information on creating a wellness program for your organization, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Ben Sisto

Are You Communicating Effectively?

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

How your organization communicates is a good indicator of how well your business is performing. With statistics revealing that the majority of American workers are dissatisfied with their current positions, companies cannot afford to make communication errors.Talk

Businesses that communicate effectively reap many benefits. Employees perform quality work and complete assignments by deadline. If a problem occurs, workers address it immediately to diffuse the situation. Communicating effectively provides managers with more time because they do not have to repeat explanations or micromanage to help their employees finalize tasks. Additionally, turnover is reduced and companies’ bottom lines increase.

Organizations that lack effective communication put themselves at risk for many negative scenarios. Inadequately explaining a project can lead to missed deadlines, poor client service or lost business deals. Pitiable communication skills can cause employee frustration, which can lead to a decrease in productivity or an increase in employee turnover.

Because the number of unhappy workers is growing steadily, it is important for companies to evaluate their current communication practices. Below are a few strategies to help your organization communicate effectively:

  • Start with Management:
    • Managers have multiple responsibilities. In addition to their own assignments, they relay information and projects to their subordinates. Problems occur quickly when managers are not communicating their requests effectively.
    • Employees should not have to guess what their managers expect them to accomplish. Expectations should be communicated clearly and repeated if necessary. Creating an action plan with specific timelines, employee roles and final due dates will eliminate the probability that staff members misunderstand assignments.
  • Encourage Open Communication:
    • No one wins when there is only one line of communication at an organization. Employees do not perform at their full potential when their managers are only allowed to give feedback. Encourage all staff members to ask questions, discuss concerns or suggest ways to problem solve often.
    • Management and senior leadership should try to uncover any communication concerns employees might have. Company leadership also should ensure that employees do not feel as though revealing unfavorable information could jeopardize their positions. Anonymous employee opinion surveys can serve as an option to find answers to assessing your current communication style.
  • Listen and Respect:
    • In addition to allowing employees of all levels to express their opinions on company decisions or policies, it is also important to actively listen to their concerns or suggestions.
    • Do not talk over them or dismiss their viewpoints. All employees, including management and senior leaders, should respect the opinions of their colleagues. Before passing judgment on an idea or concern, take time to understand why they are addressing the issue.

Following these guidelines will help your organization create a positive work environment. With these strategies in place, workers will be happier and take greater pride in their work, which will increase productivity. Relationships on every level will also improve—managers to subordinates, coworkers to coworkers, and employees to clients.

For more information on utilizing effective communication techniques, please contact CAI’s Advice & Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Aaron Friedman

How Utilization Data Can Drive Employee Benefit Messages and Channels

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

The post below is a guest blog from Chris Tutino who serves as Communications Specialist for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

As I’m nearing my one-year anniversary with Hill, Chesson & Woody, Ifind that I am continually learning new concepts and information that relate to a comprehensive picture of the challenges employers face in managing their medical insurance rates within an employee benefit plan.

My most recent educational experience occurred at our Greensboro, N.C. Eleven in ’11 series event focused on “Getting Down to Brass Tacks – Understanding Utilization Data.” I’m an analytical person by nature and like to find out what the common thread is in any business challenge so that there is a basis for solutions to the issue at hand.

The first thing I learned is that employer groups with more than 100 employees, regardless of funding arrangement, have access to utilization data. Similarly, all employers who are self funded, regardless of employee size, have access to utilization data – so use it!

From claims history, disease management, wellness/preventive checkups, pharmacy claims and much, much more, an analysis of your company’s utilization data shines a spotlight on potential issues you may have within your employee population.  It’s kind of like looking under the hood of your health plan to see how it’s actually being used.

Understanding this data can help you make critical plan design changes, tailor your wellness program or negotiate your renewal more effectively.  When taking actions based on utilization data, the next challenge is how you communicate those changes.

For example, if your specific claims data shows that 10 percent of your company’s total claims come from dependents receiving non-emergency care at the emergency room, what would the message be and how would you communicate it?

One way to get the message out would be to email all employees, asking them to not use the emergency room so much for dependent care. But, would that message be effective? From our experience, it would not.

However, if you send a letter to your employees’ homes and include alternatives to the emergency room that may be a more effective message and channel since it would reach spouses who may ultimately be the decision makers during those “emergencies.” You could include information on the potential cost savings for urgent care centers within their zip code/ county and give a sample scenario of the price differences.

What communication challenges do you face in your company and how do you determine what the message is and how to get it out?

Utah’s Four-Day Workweek: Could It Work for Your Organization?

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Welcome to Utah

Amid the economic downturn and rising costs of gas and energy, the state of Utah took initiative on reducing its operational costs by mandating a four-day workweek in 2008. The western state required a majority of its state employees to start work earlier andleave later Monday through Thursday to fit 40 hours in four days.  

The federal government standardized the traditional five-day workweek in 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act to protect workers from unjust wages and unreasonable overtime. Utah uprooted the traditional five-day workweek to save money and resources. Many state and local governments offer their employees a four-day workweek option, but Utah is the first to make it a requirement for 17,000 of its employees. The state’s ultimate goal for issuing a shorter workweek was to reduce its energy costs by 20 percent in 2015. So far, Utah has reduced its energy use by 13 percent.

Not only have the state’s energy costs decreased, but Utah estimates that because its state employees do not commute on Friday, they have saved nearly $6 million in gasoline. The program also reduced the state’s green house gas emission by more than 12,000 metric tons per year.

Some critics feared that a 10-hour work day could cause employees to be stressed, tired and frequently sick, but program participants discovered different results. Surveys conducted throughout the initiative revealed that there are fewer health complaints, and people are reporting less stress and taking fewer sick days. People also voiced concerns that longer work days could trigger people to exercise less and eat fast food more. Calming these worries, a survey found that only 20 percent of employees feel they eat more fast food, only 30 percent say they work out less and 30 percent say they actually exercise more since the change. Eighty-two percent of the employees surveyed feel content with the government’s new workweek structure.

Utah has saved $1.8 million since the start of its four-day workweek experiment. Operational costs have lowered dramatically and many employees have seen positive health results. Other benefits from the change include: increased volunteerism for outside activities, more time spent with families, and because state buildings now offer longer hours, Utah citizens can accomplish tasks, such as renewing a licenses at the DMV, during later hours.

If your company can provide support for working non-traditional hours and the services that your company provides are not confined by time, a four-day workweek might be a popular option for your team. The strategy, although not feasible for every organization, could prove to be a great solution for cutting costs and increasing employee morale in a down economy.

For more information on reducing workplace costs and strengthening employee morale, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: rayb777

OFCCP Looks to Strengthen Affirmative Action Requirements

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Federal Contractors/Subcontractors:  Are you prepared for the proposed changes to Affirmative Action requirements?

Companies that are federal contractors or subcontractors need to be aware of the recent activity coming from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).  OFCCP Director Patricia Shiu recently hosted a web chat regarding the agency’s semi-annual regulatory agenda.  She identified the priorities of the OFCCP and specific areas where federal contractors can expect changes in order to strengthen the current affirmative action requirements.  The federal contractor community should be considering how these potential changes will affect them and prepared to make revisions to policies and procedures when the new guidance is issued.

Below are the proposed changes and the expected timeframe for each. The OFCCP:

  •  Published an Advanced Notice for Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for a Compensation Data Collection Tool on August 10, 2011.   This ANPRM is open for comments until October 11, 2011.  The OFCCP is encouraging interested parties to submit comments and/or concerns for the new compensation tool, which the office will consider as they design it. For information on the Compensation Data Collection Tool, please visit  The ID for this proposed rule is OFCCP-2011-0005-0001.
  • Expects to issue proposed revisions to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in August 2011 
  • Plans to finalize changes to the  Scheduling Letter for audits in Fall 2011
  • Plans to release  the updated Federal Contract Compliance Manual in  Fall 2011
  • Plans to publish proposed changes to the Construction Contractors Regulations in November of 2011
  • Plans to publish proposed changes for the Sex Discrimination Guidelines in February  2012
  • Is currently reviewing the comments submitted regarding the proposed changes for the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act.  They expect to issue the final rule in Spring 2012.

Director Shiu also spoke at the 2011 National Industry LBusiness Peopleiaison Group Conference in New Orleans.  During her speech she reiterated the OFCCP’s focus and confirmed the agency’s commitment to the proposed changes identified during her July web chat.  She also said:

  • Under the current administration there is a “restored commitment to our core values of equality, fairness and opportunity for all.”
  • “Good faith” efforts are no longer enough to define affirmative action.  The OFCCP is going to look to contractors to provide measureable results. 
  • During audits, the OFCCP intends to conduct more thorough and careful reviews.   Federal contractors need to pay attention to their efforts and ensure they are meeting their obligations for compliance. 
  • There will be significant efforts toward updating and revising regulations.
  • The OFCCP is making strides to more efficiently and effectively collaborate with the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor.
  • The OFCCP has made no secrets about enforcing the current regulations as well as focusing on specific areas, such as individuals with disabilities, protected veterans and pay discrimination.

For additional information about how these proposed changes may affect your organization please call a member of our AAP Team at (919) 878-9222.

Photo Source: Thomas Cunningham

Happiness: The Productivity Booster

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Unhappy WorkerRecent surveys from reputable sources, including The Conference Board, Mercer and CNNMoney, reveal that American workers are the unhappiest they have been in more than two decades. Statistics that highlight workforce unhappiness include:  84 percent of employed Americans are unhappy at their current jobs (CNNMoney), only  45 percent of workers are satisfied with their current jobs (the Conference Board) and one in three American workers is serious about leaving their current job (Mercer).

These gloomy statistics leave company leaders searching for strategies to keep their employees content and productive. It is a fact that retention rates increase when employees are satisfied with their jobs, and their job satisfaction is influenced by many factors, such as the work they do, the support they receive and the people they work with. Another key indicator for job satisfaction is the level of happiness employees have when they are working.  Research shows that creating a positive work environment increases productivity and overall health in employees.

There are multiple reasons why happiness is an instant productivity booster for workers. Here are a few:

  1. Employees who are happy relate better with others, including their coworkers and clients. This helps improve teamwork and customer service.
  2. People who are happy tend to be more creative and are open to different ideas. Increased creativity also helps employees problem solve more effectively.
  3. People who are happy at their jobs enjoy what they do, so they have more motivation to perform well.
  4. Those who are happy tend to get sick less frequently. Being sick instantly decreases productivity, and employees who dislike their jobs are prone to stress, making them more susceptible to catching a cold or getting ulcers.
  5. People who are happy are also more likely to be optimistic. Optimists are more successful and productive and complain far less than those who are unhappy.

Happy Face

Although not every employee will become happy, companies can encourage employees to participate in activities and make choices that will promote happiness. Organizations have several options of exercises and tasks to give employees the opportunity to increase their happiness, and ultimately increase overall company productivity. Happiness coaching is spreading through business culture—large companies are hiring happiness coaches to train their staffs, and graduate schools are now offering classes that promote workplace happiness.

Try implementing some of the simple, yet highly effective strategies below to boost the happiness of your employees:

  1. Have staff members evaluate their strengths and utilize them to work more effectively. They will become more engaged and happier over time.
  2. Encourage employees to write positive emails to colleagues that praise them on work they have recently completed. This will help promote good employee relations.
  3. Allow workers to take multiple breaks during the workday. Studies prove that short time away from work reenergizes individuals and helps them increase their productivity.
  4. When appropriate, suggest that employees use their vacation and sick time. Ample vacation or recovery time will help them return revitalized and productive.
  5. Help staff members take advantage of training and educational opportunities when available. Learning new information or skills will help them achieve greater success and will increase their happiness.Meditate

There are also a number of steps employees can take on their own to help increase their individual happiness and health. Below are several tips to help your staff members improve their outlook on work:

  1. Exercise for at least 20 minutes three times per week .
  2. Take time to meditate for a few minutes each day.
  3. Make your self-talk positive to work through stressful situations or errors. For example, instead of saying to yourself, “You idiot.” Try, “How can I work to make this better?”
  4. Focus on issues or situations that you can control, instead of worrying about factors that you cannot.
  5. Plan a routine for your daily activities to establish a productive week. This can include choosing specific times to wake up or listing projects you want to start.

For more information on how to promote happiness in your workplace, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Bark, Jessica Tam, Big Mind Zen Center

Why Employees Stay Long-Term

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Granted, some reasons employees leave a company are out of your control. People may quit a job for reasons as varied as having a bad commute, a deterioration of their community, an industry downturn, a desire to be closer to family or even to escape from unpleasant weather. However, most employees leave a company because of factors directly connected with their job.

 Like the Rolling Stones’ song, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” people leave a company when they are dissatisfied and decide they can only achieve their career goals somewhere else. To combat this, you need an armload of information relevant to your company in particular.Meeting

 Find Out Why Employees Leave and Why They Stay

 It’s important not only to have exit interviews in which you find out an employee’s reason for leaving, but also to ask those who have stayed with the company the reasons why they stay. A simple employee survey could open your eyes (and those of management) to all sorts of useful insights.

 Studies have shown that the longer employees stay with a company, the more likely they are to continue to stay. Research company Blessing White’s Employee Engagement Report 2011 shows that engaged employees stay longer and provide more value to the company ( ). So the big question is, how does a company engage its employees?

 Engage Your Employees

 There are many ways to effectively engage employees. Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Implement a strong career development program.
    This involves many aspects of management, from the creation of job descriptions and career ladders with clear advancement steps tied to job performance, salary and status, to the time set aside for coaching and mentoring. Providing training to employees is a major part of any career development program. Some employers fear that if they train their employees, the employees will leave—but it is most often the other way around. Fail to train your employees, and they will leave.
  2. Monitor the company benefits constantly for improvement.
    Having great benefits is a strong factor in retaining employees. Offering top wages is not enough, as employees make career decisions based on company benefits such as 401(k)s, profit sharing, sick leave, vacation, and health plans—especially as health insurance premiums continue to rise. The Department of Health and Human Services just released its guidelines to states for the creation of affordable insurance exchanges on July 11. Monitor your statMeetinge’s efforts to carry out the new federal health care law and keep your employees informed.
  3. Make employees feel valued.
    This is where job satisfaction begins and ends. To keep up morale and make people feel appreciated, you must create a workplace environment where managers are respected for their competence and fairness, and employees are recognized in multiple ways for their contributions. Develop creative employee incentive and reward programs, and you will affect employee productivity and company profitability. People have a strong need to feel valued.
  4. Empower your employees. Personal autonomy in completing tasks is important to employees because no one likes to feel powerless. Giving people some control over their workplace environment and schedule is often a wise move on the part of management, but so is delegating authority and trusting employees to follow through. Accountability and responsibility for results are essential for empowerment, so the benefit works both ways.

For additional information about how you can improve employee retention, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo Source: Alan Cleaver, Voka-Kamer van Koophandel Limburg

Help Your Employees Save Money in a Down Economy

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

The cost for almost everything—gas, food, insurance, etc.—is currently rising. Unfortunately, due to the economic recession and other business factors, employees’ paychecks are not increasing at a rate to offset the higher cost of living. As an employer, there are several ways to help your workers keep money in their wallets. Helping employees save money will increase their job satisfaction and the company’s retention rate.

Here are a few tactics to help staffers cut down their expenses:Carpool

1. Carpooling

  • Today’s gas prices are fluctuating around $4 across the country. Help workers save money at the pump by encouraging them to carpool with their coworkers. Put a signup sheet in the office break room to make others aware of those interested in carpooling.

2. Flexible Schedule

  • Thanks to technology there are several ways to adjust the traditional “9 to 5” work week. To help employees avoid traffic, allow them to come in earlier or later and leave earlier or later. Additionally, agreeing to let employees work from home at least one day of the week could help them save a few hundred dollars in gas per year. Some organizations are even implementing 4 day weeks with longer work days to combat gas prices.

Lunch3. Staff Lunch

  • Although your organization might be unable to provide daily lunch for all staff members, offering a free meal a couple of times per month will be appreciated. Ordering in for your workers will help them save money on lunch and on gas.

4. Pre-Tax Accounts

  • Health Saving Accounts (HSA) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) allow employees to put money away in pre-tax accounts for health care services and goods. Offering this benefit will assist employees in the long run because it will help them take advantage of their earnings and increase their savings.

5. Retirement Plans

  • It is never too late to help your employees invest in their retirement. If a 401(k) p401(K)rogram is available at your organization, ensure that all eligible staff members know the advantages of opening an account. The contributions made for 401(K)s are pre-tax dollars, and the interest on the accounts are compounded to make greater profits.

For more information on helping your employees save money, as well as strategies to retain your top talent, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Richard Drdul, Matt Seppings, Calita Kabir

Workplace Issues Addressed During the NC General Assembly’s 2011 Legislative Session

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

For the first time since the late 1800’s, both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) are controlled by the Republicans. This year’s NCGA session ended early, but legislators did reconvene briefly in July to deal with redistricting, vetoes and bills in conference.  The NCGA’s new leadership tackled job creation, regulatory reform, tort reform and taxes with their legislative decisions.

To ensure your organization is informed on the recent legal outcomes, as well as stays compliant with the different changes NCGA has imposed, please review summaries of bills affecting worGavel with Paperkplace issues from the 2011 session:

H709—Protect and Put NC Back to Work: CAI and ECNC (Employers Coalition of North Carolina) have been focusing efforts on workers’ compensation reform since 2003, and this year were part of a large coalition of business advocacy groups who helped draft, lobby and negotiate the final version of the bill. New workers’ compensation claims will now be subject to a cap of 500 weeks on temporary total disability, “suitable employment” criteria has been revised to encourage return to work and employers will have reasonable access to medical information and treating physicians. The NCIC (North Carolina Industrial Commission) will be affected by dramatic changes, including legislative confirmation to gubernatorial appointments and requirements to comply with standards of judicial conduct and rulemaking procedures under the Administrative Procedures Act. To read this bill, go to
Status: Passed the House and Senate with almost unanimous support and was signed by the Governor on June 24, 2011.

S532—ESC/Jobs Reform: CAI and ECNC have taken the lead on reforming North Carolina’s Employment Security Commission (ESC). We made sure that your voices were heard in Raleigh regarding the “head scratching” unemployment decisions that resulted in unwarranted charges to your unemployment accounts. CAI and ECNC worked with House and Senate leadership to design and draft this bill, which not only merges the ESC into the Department of Commerce but also makes important clarifications to unemployment insurance benefit eligibility language such as employee misconduct. To read this bill, go to
Status: Passed the Senate and House but was vetoed by the Governor on June 30, 2011.  The Senate overrode the veto on July 13, 2011 and the House overrode the veto on July 26, 2011.

S99—Reform UI Tax Structure/Expedite Analysis: This bill requires the Department of Commerce to hire an independent consultant for assistance in solving North Carolina’s unemployment insurance tax issue and the $2.5 billion owed to the federal government. Within 45 days of the completion of the analysis, the Department of Commerce will report to the Governor and the General Assembly how it intends to solve the problem. However, no specific date for starting the study is given. To read this bill, go to
Status: Passed the Senate and the House, signed by the Governor and ratified on March 29, 2011.

H650—Amend Various Gun Laws/Castle Doctrine: This bill merges two bills: H63—Firearm in Locked Motor Vehicle and H650. H63 is no longer in play. The original bill had a section requiring all employers to allow employees to bring their guns to work if they were kept locked in the employee’s car trunk. ECNC opposed that version of the bill. An amendment on the House floor removed the “guns in trunks” section of the bill. To read this bill, go to
Status: The bill was passed by the House and the Senate and was signed by the Governor on June 23, 2011.

H36—Employers and Local Government Must Use E-Verify: This bill requires all public and private employers to use E-Verify when hiring new employees. The original bill required only private sector employers bidding on public contracts to use the system. It was expanded by the Senate to require all employers with a staff of 25 or more to use E-Verify, and now addresses concerns raised by the business community regarding penalties and processes. To read this bill, go to
Status: The bill was passed by the House and the Senate and was signed by the Governor on June 23, 2011.

H30—Allow Wage Garnishment to Satisfy Judgments: This bill allows a creditor to seek garnishment of a debtor’s wages once certain criteria have been met. There are specific guidelines regarding what can be garnished and how the garnishment can take place—a change from the original bill which allowed for greater latitude. The final version of the bill dramatically narrows what can be garnished. To read this bill, go to
Status: The bill has passed the House and was heard by Senate before being placed in the Senate Judiciary I Committee. It may be taken up again during the 2012 Short Session.

S386—Repeal G.S. 95-98 (Contracts between units of government and labor unions, trade unions or labor organizations concerning public employees declared to be illegal): For the past several sessions, this bill to allow collective bargaining for public employees has been filed in both chambers. There was no chance of it passing in this session. To read this bill, go to
Status: Sent to Senate Rules Committee and never heard.

CourthouseH223—Healthy Families & Workplace/Paid Sick Leave: This sick leave bill has been filed during several sessions but with the new House leadership, there was never even a hearing on the bill. To read this bill, go to
Status: Sent to House Commerce Committee and never heard.

ECNC is the only group in North Carolina that focuses exclusively on providing the business community with an avenue of public policy input on day-to-day employer-employee workplace issues.  CAI and ECNC persistently spend long hours promoting bills at the NCGA on employers’ behalf. Support from CAI’s members and other proponents of their work have helped create the successes of workers’ comp and unemployment reform. Continued support from their advocates will help CAI and ECNC continue their public policy efforts to address and resolve critical workplace issues for employers of North Carolina.

For more information on any of the rulings above or to find out how CAI can help you with your compliance issues, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Brian Turner, dbking