Archive for the ‘Everything Else’ Category

Employee Benefit Communications – Keep it Clear and Simple

Thursday, June 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.

On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Plain Writing Act, which says that all communications from the federal government must be clear, concise and well organized. That’s not bad guidance for all of us to follow – especially when it comes to communicating to our employees.  In fact, data suggests that employee communications that are not easily understood can lead to distrust and possible legal ramifications, specifically around insurance communications.

In an Employee Benefits News online story, Deborah Bosley, an associate professor of English and plain language expert at UNC Charlotte , was interviewed and provided four reasons to write communication materials in plain language:

  1. According to a Stanford University study, when people can’t understand complex information, they lose respect for the company.
  2. When information is difficult to understand, they don’t trust the company.
  3. There’s a direct correlation between the corporate reputation and how well employees understand information relayed to them — a company that commits itself to writing employee benefits in plain language will garner more trust from its employees, saving time and money.
  4. Vital communications that are not written in plain language can open your company up to legal struggles.  Bosley specifically mentioned two lawsuits where she was an expert witness on plain language that surrounded summary plan descriptions.

It’s probably safe to say that we’ve all used big words to try to impress someone…an employer, significant other or teacher. But when we’re talking about key information that is crucial to an employee making a year-long decision on benefits, we should ensure that what we’re communicating is easy to read and understand. By doing so, it can save time, our reputations and build trust.

2011 Ovation Award Spotlight: Novo Nordisk Pharmaceutical Industries, Inc.

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Novo Nordisk’s Clayton site began building a foundation for a strengths-based organization several years ago, and in 2008, the insulin production company decided to accelerate its use of strengths-based practices to build employee engagement and increase operating efficiency. The company’s approach and success of its initiative won the 2011 Ovation Award in the mid-size employer category (companies with 250 to 500 employees).

The Clayton site’s decision makers strongly believe that engaged employees desire to stay with an organization long term and strive to contribute to business success, which can lead to revenue growth. Through research, the organization learned that engaged workers are 20 percent more productive than those who are disengaged. With the Gallup Q12 Pyramid and the Clifton Strengthsfinder Inventory assessment already in use at the site, managers discovered that 85 percent of their own employees could be 20 percent more productive.

To implement the strengths-focused initiative, an OD consultant was certified by Gallup as a “strengths performance coach” to design a program allowing employees to discover their strengths and use their talents more effectively. Managers also developed and shared tools to learn employees’ strengths, such as using strengths language when talking with their direct reports.

Employees created individual development plans targeting their strengths. Novo Nordisk used the development plans to help employees gain skills and knowledge to become more effective contributors. The company also provided employees with strengths-based workshops, and all team members received one-on-one meetings with the boss to review their growth and development plan. The organization asked employees to reflect on their best work day in order to find areas of work that would energize them to recreate similar days.

Other strengths-based activities the Clayton site applied included:

  • Using strengths language during performance reviews
  • Creating teambuilding exercises
  • Requiring managers to track and record employee talents.

Once Novo Nordisk determined each employee’s key strengths, it redesigned its company structure to help them attain their goals.

Keeping the program’s momentum up, Novo Nordisk continued delivering its strengths-builder workshops to all 400 employees and created more teambuilding activities centered on appreciating the diversity of others. The Clayton site also developed a DVD showcasing best practices and tips for and from managers. Strengths-based activities are part of the company’s on-boarding process as well.

The organization has achieved success in several areas of its business since implementing its strengths-based program, and it continues to grow. The Clayton site has the shortest lead-time of all Novo Nordisk plants, is one of the premier new product launching sites, and its staff continues to break records on insulin produced per shift. Not only did the strengths-based approach earn the company a 2011 Ovation award, but the program helped the Clayton location remain the number one Novo Nordisk site based on high productivity and low cost.

For more information on how to implement a strengths-based plan for your organization, please contact Novo Nordisk’s Organizational Development Manager, Diane Cox at

CAI recognizes North Carolina companies for innovative HR/People solutions with Ovation Awards during its annual HR Management Conference in February.  If you’d like to be considered please send a 2-3 paragraph description of your program to  The description should summarize the business need, describe how the solution was implemented, and highlight the measurable and/or forecasted business results.

Photo source: net_efekt

Are You Using Social Media for Employee Communications Yet?

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

The post below is a guest blog from Stephanie Clark who serves as the Marketing Coordinator and Social Media Manager for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody Employee Benefit Services.

Have you seen the social media traffic stats on the night of Sunday, May 1, 2011? While President Barack Obama announced to the world that a U.S. military team killed Osama Bin Laden, Twitter topped 5,000 tweets per second.  Care to guess how many of your employees updated their Facebook status that night? The news spread like wildfire on various social media channels, per CNN’s report, as details unfolded through reputable and highly-followed twitter users.

More and more businesses are jumping into social media to educate consumers and create brand awareness. At the same time, this way of communicating has also changed how organizations approach their own workforce, by offering another method of sending out information. A 2010 Watson Wyatt survey showed the most popular topics to engage employees through social media are collaboration and team building, adapting to change, and promoting health and wellness. On the other hand, for messages around business changes, employees widely prefer face-to-face communication. Social media provides another avenue to engage employees in a way they like to receive information.

Paper memos are a thing of the past. Long-winded emails may be going in that direction as well. Here’s a thought: Try pasting the next employee memo you compose into Microsoft Word and conduct a Flesch-Kincaid readability test. If your memo scores higher than a seventh or eighth grade level, some employees may not understand it. It’s hard for employees to genuinely care about what goes on in your company when information is presented at a level they don’t understand. Keep it simple if you want to reach everyone in your company with the message.

For years now, IBM has engaged with employees through social media, even before they used social media externally for marketing. Companies such as Virgin Media have gone the route of video blogging on a YouTube channel exclusively for employees. Viewers see and hear someone as if they are speaking only to them, and yet a wide audience is being reached.  Also, this offers workers the opportunity for commenting in a public forum.

Who doesn’t like to hold the remote? Like most individuals, your employees probably prefer to control their own communication experience. By asking questions, offering suggestions and learning other employees’ perspectives, they create news that is relevant to them on a level that makes sense. What is a better way to become a true stakeholder? Forums, blogs and social networks are a great way to encourage employees to connect and interact.

If you’re not using social media in your organization yet, internally or externally, it’s never too late to start. Many resources are out there to help you get started. A few helpful links are listed below.

How to create a LinkedIn company page

How to create a Facebook page for your business

How to create a YouTube channel

How to create a Twitter account

How to optimize your Facebook privacy for business

Six non-fluff answers to your social media questions

How to Incorporate a Wellness Program Within Your Company

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

When high levels of unhealthy food intake meet the low levels of activity that result from a sedentary work life, it inevitably causes overweight individuals. The reality of overweight Americans is not an uncommon topic in the media, but it hasn’t been until recently that the conversation has reached the company boardroom.

As organizations evaluate annual spending and out-of-pocket expenses, there has been less conversation concerning employees who smoke and more dialogue directed at those who are overweight. Because of poor eating habits and lack of exercise among employees, employers have lost billions of dollars toward health care premiums and sick leave benefits, which could be significantly decreased by employing a healthier staff.

The monetary impact is obvious and the individual health risks are frightening, but both have been motivating factors in assisting employers to make a change. Through incorporating a companywide wellness program, organizations are recognizing physical and mental changes among staff, and anticipating long-term financial savings.

What are the greatest challenges your staff faces and how can you make strides for improvement? If by reflection, your company recognizes the output of annual finances could be lessened by employing healthier employees, it’s time to make a change. Determine the needs of those involved and construct a tailored and detailed wellness program with the following considerations in mind.

Promote exercise internally – If inactivity is your company’s main concern, find ways to provide exercise options throughout the workday. Offering group fitness workouts at the close of business or during the lunch hour makes exercising convenient and harder to ignore.

How often have you indulged in a heavy lunch and returned to the office feeling lethargic and unmotivated? By adjusting the afternoon workload to include exercise, you provide employees with extra energy and increased concentration because of the natural endorphins being released, making for a more productive staff.

Utilize outside sources – Developing a relationship with a personal trainer or local gym can work to the benefit of all involved. Because of the individualized environment, personal training sessions tend to motivate and hold individuals to their set commitments. If your company doesn’t have accessibility to personal trainers, connect with a nearby gym to allocate a monthly reimbursement, which not only coincides with your wellness program, but acts a job perk for new employees.

Supply healthy alternatives – Take a step back and evaluate the food exposure within the office. If the break room is stocked with soda and high calorie snacks, make an adjustment. When your employees reach for an afternoon snack, provide healthy choices. By exchanging soda for flavored water, and the candy jar with fruits or vegetables, you are removing temptation and making steps to a healthier lifestyle just a bit easier.

It would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t desire to be their healthiest self, but without the proper education, support group and motivation, many will never fully experience the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Those benefits aren’t a result of diets or short-term goals, but rather daily life alterations. With the proper program in place, your company can play an active role in improving lives and setting an example of healthy living for others to follow.

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

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Ten Things N.C. Employers Need to Know About Independent Contractors and Joint Employment

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Gretchen Ewalt from the Ogletree Deakins law firm shared her expertise on Employee Classification (Employee or Independent Contractor) and Joint Employment at CAI’s October members-only Ask the Expert. Participants left the sessions with a number of recommendations that, if implemented, will limit their organization’s exposure to costly litigation and potential penalties.

Below are some of the points covered in these sessions.

1. Independent Contractor Tests. There are a number of factors considered by the IRS and the USDOL in determining if a worker is an independent contractor or an employee.  A brief description of a true independent contractor is as follows:

  • The employer does not control the means and manner of how a project is performed, only specifying the expectations of the end result.
  • The “contractor” has a viable business concern, having the opportunity to make a profit or suffer a loss, and provides the same services to other employers.
  • The “contractor” absorbs expenses incurred during the project.

2. Penalties for Misclassification. Penalties for misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor include state and federal tax liabilities, as well as back pay for wage and hour overtime violations.

3. Conduct Internal Audits. It is recommended that periodic internal risk analysis audits be conducted to ensure that independent contractors are properly classified.

4. Draft Independent Contractor Agreements. Contracts for independent contractors should be drafted by legal counsel establishing expectations by both parties to clearly show that the independent contractor relationship exists.  Language also needs to be included stating that the contractor waives and relinquishes any rights to the client’s benefit plans and that the contractor agrees to comply with all business/industry standards.

5. Educate Managers and Supervisors. Managers and supervisors should know the difference between an employee and an independent contractor and understand the liabilities incurred due to misclassification.

6. Definition of Joint Employment. A condition where an individual is providing services that jointly benefits two or more employers.

7. Joint Liability. Employers that utilize employees from an outsourcing agency can be held liable along with the agency for complaints filed by those employees with state and federal regulatory bodies.

8. Time Credited for FMLA. The time spent by an outsourcing agency’s employee providing services to a client employer is credited toward FMLA eligibility if that employee is employed as a regular employee by the client employer.

9. Outsourcing Agreements. Agreements with outsourcing agencies should be carefully drafted by legal counsel to ensure that the agency is responsible for taxes, insurance, business licenses and all employment matters, including employee training, disciplinary actions, compensation/benefit programs and maintenance of personnel files.

10. Contract with Reputable Agencies. Make sure that your outsourcing agency complies with all applicable laws and specify such compliance in the outsourcing agreement.  Ensure that their personnel policies/procedures are sound and that their managers are well equipped to effectively deal with agency employee complaints.

If you have questions about employee classification or joint employment, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: University of Waterlo

Employers Bring Back Job Perks

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Let’s be honest – everyone appreciates the perks that certain jobs can bring. At the peak of the economy job perks were as golden as the job itself. Perks like the famous end-of-year bonuses, continued education tuition assistance, lavish off-site holiday parties or discounts on day care costs and gym memberships are some of the big incentives companies have used to win employees and stand out among competitors.

In the midst of a game-changing economic recession, however, many companies had to place job perks on hold, with the focus no longer about all the extras, but about providing a reliable paycheck.

According to the research director of Forum for People Performance Jennifer Rosenzweig, job perks are beginning to return to the table. As the recession dwindles down and companies begin to see more positive profit margins, job perks are making a comeback.

The comeback of perks means that we are slowly, but surely digging ourselves out of this recession hole. It also means that to stay competitive and continue to attract talent, companies must get back in the perk game. Obviously salaries, benefits and internal relationships weigh heavily on an employee’s choice to stay long-term with an organization, but often it’s the small things that can make the difference. Job perks help preserve top talent, attract new talent, maintain company morale and build a reputation as a company that appreciates the hard work of all its employees.

What can you give your employees this holiday season? Maybe your budget won’t let you provide anything extravagant. Consider an in-office luncheon, a small holiday dinner, or handwritten thank you notes. It’s important to realize that this year’s gifts don’t have to be something grand.

Most employees understand the financial cutbacks and sacrifices that have recently been made. It’s the simple and small gestures that remind employees they are appreciated and valued, and that their efforts have not gone unnoticed.

For more information or to discuss related issues to job perks, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo source: Kelvin Kay

N.C. Employers: How Do Your Healthcare Benefits and Costs Measure Up?

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

On Nov. 15 CAI opened up our 6th annual N.C. Healthcare Benefits and Cost Survey.  Designed with our employee benefits partner, Hill, Chesson and Woody, this survey provides employers with the information that is critical to managing their employee benefits plan, allowing for a comparison of plan designs, premiums and cost-sharing arrangements with that of other N.C. companies.

The geographic focus is one of the things that makes this survey exceptional. It has more N.C.-based data than any other employer survey out there.  The 2009/2010 survey included data from 516 N.C. employers, and we anticipate that the 2010/2011 version will include more than 600 participants.

If you make decisions or are charged with gathering information about employee benefits for your organization, I highly encourage you to participate in this survey.  All survey participants will receive a free electronic report (early March 2011) and an invitation to an in-depth debriefing of the results.  The report and debriefing will help you and your organization:

  • Compare and benchmark your benefits plan with other N.C. employers with similar numbers of employees and/or by industry
  • Get access to the data you need to develop an effective employee benefits strategy
  • Learn how other employers are reacting to healthcare reform
  • Stay competitive in the labor market

Both traditional and consumer-driven health plans are covered in the survey.  Data is further filtered by number of eligible employees, industry and funding arrangement.  In addition to the yearly numbers, the survey addresses longer term trends and competitive practices within the market.

To take advantage of this opportunity to get critical information that will help you manage your employee benefits plan, please go to  For additional information or survey assistance, please contact our survey team at  For one healthcare plan the survey requires as little as 20 minutes to complete.  The survey will close on Dec. 17.

Photo Source: CarbonNYC

An Analysis of Our Social Media in the Workplace Survey

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

From July 29 through Aug. 29, 2010, CAI conducted a survey on “Social Media in the Workplace” with 227 member organizations. The results have been compiled and include some of the following observations:

  • Social media policies in member organizations vary widely. While 24 percent have formal policies in place, 33 percent have only guidelines and 43 percent have none.
  • Depending on job role, 41 percent allow employees to access social media during work hours. Fewer (25 percent) allow access regardless of job role, while 35 percent do not allow access at all.

  • More than a third of respondents reported obstacles to using social media in their organizations. They included lack of policies or guidelines in place (47 percent); impact on employee productivity (46 percent); concern about legal issues (46 percent); and lack of knowledge in using tools (44 percent).
  • Nearly half of all organizations surveyed use social media for networking/relationship building and branding/marketing. Another 20 percent are considering using social media for these initiatives.
  • Some 30 to 41 percent use social media for external communication, reaching new customers, recruiting and sales.
  • A large majority (84 percent) of organizations believe their use of social media for business purposes will increase over the next one to three years.

The results indicate that while most respondents believe social media will be part of the business world in the near future, if not already in their current activities, they are not necessarily setting any guidelines or policy on its use. Legal experts are warning that an absence of such rules can result in  situations of employees using social media that put employers at risk, including:

  • Revealing confidential or proprietary information via social media that can be viewed by millions.
  • Making discriminatory or other critical comments regarding the company, its employees and/or its clients.
  • Promoting the company’s services or products without disclosing the employment relationship.

CAI can provide your company with guidelines in developing a social media policy that satisfies any goals you and your organization have regarding using social media effectively for recruiting, sales and/or networking while providing you with adequate legal coverage for employees who abuse the privilege.

For information on how to create this policy or to discuss related issues to this item, including more survey results, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo Source: Liako

Is Massachusetts Law Banning Criminal History Questions on Applications a Trend?

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

A new law that takes effect in Massachusetts Nov. 4 prohibits employers in that state from asking any criminal history questions on their initial application forms. However, it does not prevent employers from asking certain criminal history questions during an interview, requiring applicants to complete a criminal history questionnaire after an interview or performing a criminal background check on applicants.

The theory is that the law will put applicants with criminal histories on equal footing with other candidates so that such applicants will now have a chance to explain their criminal histories in person during an interview. The state is the second to do what has been called “ban the box,” prohibiting both public and private employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. Hawaii was the first in 1998.

In 2009, Minnesota enacted similar “ban-the-box” legislation proscribing public employers from asking a job applicant about criminal records or conducting a criminal record check until after an applicant has been selected for an interview. New Mexico and Connecticut followed in 2010, passing comparable legislation applicable to public employers, but as with Minnesota’s law, private ones are exempt.

While no such “ban the box” law has been proposed in the North Carolina General Assembly yet, the legislation has passed in the legislatures of California, Connecticut, New Mexico and New Jersey to apply for state employers only. It was not passed in Maryland and postponed in Nebraska.

Even though Hawaii is the only state with long enough experience with the law to measure its impact on the employment and recidivism of ex-offenders, such a study has not occurred to date. Therefore it is hard to conclude at this point the impact this law would have if it took effect on private employers in North Carolina.

It is known that as far as Massachusetts is involved, one legal firm specializing in labor, employment and benefits says the law creates new obligations for private employers with respect to the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information, CORI, record-keeping policies and procedures while it protects employers from liability surrounding the use of CORI records in making hiring decisions. These recommendations could of course vary greatly depending what form if any kind of “ban the box” law passes in North Carolina.

For additional information on this issue, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo Source: Armigeress

Top 5 HR Books of 2010

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

As 2010 is heading toward a close, now is a good time to review the year’s top books addressing human resources management and related concerns. According to Amazon, the following are the most popular ones to come out this year:

1)     The Truth About Managing Effectively, by Stephen P. Robbins, Cathy Fyock, and Martha I. Finney

This came out in 2007, but as it is now available free for a limited time via Kindle (956 KB), it has topped the Amazon list and is worth your consideration in case you have not read it previously. It offers more than 150 tips on how to hire great people (and how to avoid those that are not), get the best from them as employees, and lead them to success. A Kirkus Reports review says it offers “Sharp, necessary words for both employers and prospective employees.”

2)     Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity, by David Sibett

Tools such as graphic recording and visual planning are in place in Silicon Valley to engage and energize participants in group meetings. These creative resources can facilitate excellence both face-to-face and in virtual group work among all employees when properly used.

3)     The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, by Robert I. Sutton

Do not let the off-color title dissuade you from this still-popular 2007 book, based on a much-discussed Harvard Business Review article that assessed the impact of jerks and bullies in the workplace. “This meticulously researched book” (in the words of Publishers Weekly) includes advice on how to cope with these people and ways an organization can measure the actual cost to their bottom lines of individuals with consistently poor conduct, which could generate into benefits for everyone in response.

4)     Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, by Tom Rath and James K. Harter, Ph.D.

The wellbeing elements divide into career, social, financial, physical and community. The authors argue that focusing on any of these elements in isolation may drive us to frustration and even a sense of failure. Seeing them from a holistic view, the authors believe it can improve not only the reader’s wellbeing, but that of work colleagues as well.

5)     The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, by Tony Schwartz, Jean Gomes, and Catherine McCarthy, Ph.D.

The needs referenced in the title are ones that the authors say are essential in retaining employees and keeping them committed to organizations. Their proposed solutions recommend employers embrace humans’ need for both effort and renewal.

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