Wednesday December 19, 2018

Pay student loan or join 401(k)? Help millennials do both

What if there was a way to help your employees repay their student loans and increase your company’s retention rates?

Because student loan debt is so important to younger employees, companies that offer relief in this area will have a big leg up on the competition and will likely be able to bolster dwindling retention rates.

A growing number of employers, including Estée Lauder, Pure Insurance and Carhartt, have added student loan assistance to their benefits packages this year.

Still, only 4% of employers currently offer some form of student loan assistance, according to a SHRM survey. But a student loan benefit is the “hottest employee benefit of 2018,” according to Forbes.

A 401(k) twist on student loan aid

Now, with a new IRS ruling, there’s a way for employees to repay their student loans and share in your company’s 401(k) plan. The IRS approved one company’s plan that allows employees to set aside 2% of their salaries toward student loan repayment.

This IRS ruling only applies to the Illinois-based health company Abbott, but it opens the door for other employers to make the same request.

Here’s how it works: Employees make a student loan payment of at least 2% of their pay and the employer makes a matching contribution equal to 5% of employee pay into their 401(k) plan.

3 ways employers are stepping up

Employers may want to consider applying for their own IRS letter, or take guidance from what’s working for other employers now:

1. Offer to make a monthly student loan payment. Many employers pay a specified monthly amount – usually $50-$100 a month (with a cap of roughly $10,000) – to help pay employees’ loans.

There’s now an emerging group of third-party administrators offering student loan programs, such as Fidelity’s Student Debt Employer Contribution program.

One employer, 3Q Digital, has recently begun offering a $50 per month student loan benefit, and the results so far have exceeded its expectations. “Around 25% of our employees signed up for the benefit and we’ve seen our retention rate increase from 57% to 78%,” said Laura Rodnitzky, 3Q’s VP of people.

2. Provide student debt assistance. Student Loan Genius teams up with companies to offer employees one-on-one advice to help them navigate a myriad of repayment scenarios.

Los Angeles-based VCA Inc. began offering this benefit in 2016 because “debt prohibits [employees] from home ownership and saving for the future,” said Don Cervantes, VCA’s director of benefits. So far, 583 of its 4,000 employees have enrolled.

Other companies that offer this type of assistance program include and Gradifi.

3. Use the benefit to attract top talent. Since 2017, Prudential Financial has given new employees hired through its campus recruiting program up to $5,000 to help pay off student debt, after one year of employment.

Industry experts expect that by 2019, there will be a 24% increase in the number of companies offering student loan assistance as a benefit.

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Trust is the key to great company culture: 4 ways to build it

Every employer wants to have a strong company culture where workers feel happy and comfortable and are ready to work each day.

And the secret to achieving that? Trust. A recent study from Harvard Business Review found those who work in a high-trust environment have 74% less stress than those who don’t.

Some other benefits the study discovered include more energy, higher levels of engagement, fewer sick days and less burnout.

Openness and communication

Trust doesn’t just materialize overnight – it’s something that needs to be built purposefully. And Jeff Yurcisin, president of Zulily, shared steps he followed to achieve a trusting environment.

1. Be transparent. Always communicating openly with staff is a surefire way to gain their trust. An open-door policy lets employees know all thoughts and questions are welcome. Holding regular meetings to keep everyone in the loop helps to do this as well.

2. Be clear. A lot of workers are unsure of their companies’ goals. Make sure your employees know exactly where the company is heading and why, and how everyone helps achieve these goals.

3. Keep your promises. Nothing destroys trust more than not following through on something. If you tell an employee you’ll look into getting them help on a project, make sure you keep your word. This will emphasize reliability at work.

4. Get to know everyone. Getting familiar with people’s personal and professional goals will let your staff know you care about them on a human level. Being genuinely interested in your people will naturally foster trust.

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HR pros might want to keep an eye on their own this holiday season

Here come the holiday gatherings, a chance to celebrate the year’s accomplishments, let the folks know you appreciate all their hard work … and do your best to keep a lid on things as the party rolls along.

First the good news.

According to a recent survey conducted by Chicago-based ad agency Third Coast Digital, respondents who work in HR were the most likely to say that they try to limit the amount they drink at holiday work parties. In the days before Uber, we would have known to ask you guys for a ride home.

But other findings are likely to make any HR pro wince … or blush.

According to the survey, people working in HR were the most likely to hook up with a co-worker at the annual soiree.

Who says HR doesn’t get any love?

That finding may help explain another stat from the survey: Only 9 percent of workers report that they’ve ever been reprimanded for letting loose at a company-sanctioned celebration. But the number one reason for after-party discipline, when it does happen? Messing around with a colleague.

Other findings include a caution about dancing too close to the IT crowd. The survey showed that bunch has the most embarrasing dance moves.

And, apparently, your male colleagues are either party animals or wimps: they are significantly more likely than female coworkers to call in sick on the morning after. The survey wasn’t as clear about the gender of the 10% of workers who cleverly avoided having to make that call … and slept right there at the office.

Well, you’ve been warned.

Here’s hoping everyone has a safe … and uneventful … holiday season!

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Win the war for talent: 7 perks job candidates say they want

Every HR pro’s been here before: You find a candidate with all the right qualifications, only to have them slip away right before closing the deal. 

After having done your best to woo them and offer a strong salary, you can be left scratching your head, wondering what you could’ve done differently.

Changing strategies

Most HR pros have spent a great deal of time revamping their recruitment strategy in this candidate-driven job market, so it can be frustrating to continue to lose out on top talent.
To combat this, successful companies are turning toward unique perks to seal the deal and sign a great candidate.

So what kind of unconventional benefits are job seekers looking for the most?

A recent report by FitSmallBusiness revealed the best unique perks, ranked by what candidates desire most, that employers might want to consider implementing in 2019:

1. “Paw-ternity” leave. With more and more people putting off having children and getting fur babies instead, offering “paw-ternity” leave – time away from work to get a new pet settled in – will appeal to almost everyone.

Currently, only about 5% of companies offer this perk, with an average leave time of one week for a new furry friend. Adding this benefit is a great way to woo animal lovers.

2. Fertility treatment coverage. Over 6 million women in the U.S. have difficulty getting pregnant on their own. Offering help with fertility treatments can change your employees’ lives for the better.

FertilityIQ conducted a study and found 62% of employees who received this perk were more likely to stay at their company, and 22% actually worked harder.

3. Life coaching and counseling. It’s no secret that employees’ mental health is just as important as their physical health. Having counseling and coaching services readily available will help support your people no matter what they’re going through.

Some types of these services companies currently offer include outside counseling, healthy living programs and work-life coaching that helps employees with both personal and professional goals. A perk like this will ensure your people come to work ready to focus.

4. International retreats. Here’s a fun spin on your run-of-the-mill team-building exercise. Full blown companywide vacations are becoming a more popular perk.

About 20% of companies offer a domestic retreat, but a few are taking it international. Not only does this benefit give your staff the opportunity to travel, but it’ll improve your employees’ professional relationships at the same time.

5. In-office drinks. It’s easy for co-worker bonding to happen over a few beers. One big up-and-coming perk is free in-office alcohol.

About 11% of employees currently enjoy this perk, and it can lead to a happier, connected workforce that’s more dedicated to the company.

6. Wellness services. Employees regularly deal with stress, so some companies are offering relief through on-site wellness services and spas.

Yoga, massages and acupuncture are just some options employers are offering their staff, who greatly appreciate the relaxation.

7. Nap rooms. Tired employees cause a whopping $63 billion in lost productivity. Napping areas are a great way to assist workers who struggle to get in their full eight hours every night.

Google is known for its nap pods, which staff can use on their breaks. Nap rooms are a great option for companies with overnight staff, too. An important aspect of this benefit is creating a culture that encourages napping so employees can take advantage of this benefit guilt free.

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Getting ‘CLEAR’ about creating and updating your code of conduct: Why it matters

While only publicly-held companies are required by law to have a formal code of conduct, every organization –  no matter the size – should give creating and maintaining this document top priority.

A code of conduct commits an organization to complying with applicable laws, which is certainly critical. Almost equally important, however, it describes the core vision and set of values that drive your organization’s dealings with its employees, customers and the broader society in which you operate.

Because it’s so foundational, it’s a good idea to revisit this document regularly to be sure it reflects changes to the law and to the organization itself.

What to look for

Management restructuring, strategic evolution and branding changes are all examples of things that should be reflected in a company’s code of conduct. Here are five areas the Association of Corporate Council recommends you look at when developing or refreshing your company code of conduct. The group gathers its recommendations under the “CLEAR” banner – compliance, leadership, engagement, alignment and resources.

Compliance reviews for both new and revised codes should be conducted together with your in-house counsel or an external law firm or compliance expert. Your own team should include representatives from all key functions within the company. This group will help point out needed changes to an existing code of conduct or make sure a new code captures all relevant compliance and addresses the specific business ethics affecting your company.

Code of conduct is a pledge

These aren’t empty words. Your code of conduct is a pledge by your leaders that they embrace and will live up to the organization’s stated values and guiding purpose. Employees, business partners, clients – and even regulators and the courts – will judge you on how well leadership practices match that pledge.

A carefully crafted code of conduct is critical to employee engagement. More and more workers report that working for a purpose-driven organization feeds their satisfaction with their jobs.

Of course, companies change direction over time, whether through mergers and acquisitions or by entering new markets. Those changes need to be addressed in your code as well.

Keep the language clear, too

Keeping the language plain and straightforward is important because your employees want to know what they’re working towards. And don’t forget this holds true for non-native English-speaking employees, too. It’s worth the small investment to translate your code of conduct as appropriate.

A true alignment between code and conduct is very important. Even if your organization’s demonstrated values and code of conduct are entirely admirable, neither will look authentic to internal or external audiences if they don’t line up precisely.

Make sure these things evolve together so that anyone looking at your code of conduct can see it truly describes how your organization acts. And include in your code specific examples of how all employees can help uphold and demonstrate your values.

This is not a place to skimp

All these steps require investments in time and money. Whether you’re creating a code of conduct for the first time or making minor tweaks, be sure that you understand the resources will be required to complete the effort. And then be sure to dedicate enough time, people, and money to get the job done and to keep your code updated to reflect changing laws and the evolution of your organization’s mission and strategy.

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Who let the dogs in? More companies are welcoming pets

The list is growing of companies that now have bring your dog to work “paw-licies.” Is yours next? 

Google, Zappos and Amazon are some big companies that are pet-friendly, but smaller businesses are going to the dogs too, adding to the now 7% of employers that permit pets.

‘Ruff’ day? Take your dog to work

For example, electronics maker Crutchfield Corp. has a dog-friendly office, which the company says reduces stress.

Walking a dog helps to keep its owner fit, says Adrienne Webster, HR VP, Carfax, another pet-friendly company. But she adds that her employees are responsible for making sure their pets are well behaved.

Many companies implement policies that stipulate dogs need to be healthy, clean and up-to-date on vaccinations.

Dog-friendly office? ‘Paws’ for a foolproof pet policy

If you’re not quite ready to let the dogs in on a full-time basis, you might “paws” to allow your folks’ four-legged friends to sit, stay and play for a day, and see how it works out.

“Policies around bringing pets to work should be clear,” says employment attorney Karen Michael. “To be successful, careful attention and respect for all employees must be considered.”

Since allowing pets into the workplace creates a whole list of concerns – “from unruly, jumpy, biting, irritating dogs, to those that relieve themselves inside to those that bark and disrupt the workplace,” she urges employers to put certain rules in place:

  • Written pet policy that dictates pet owner’s responsibilities, who’s responsible for animal bites, etc.
  • Sign-up calendar (to prevent too many pets at the same time)
  • Zero-tolerance policy for bad-behaving pets (barking, biting, etc.)
  • Pet-free zone (for those with allergies or a fear of animals)
  • Liability insurance (employers might ask workers to get as well)
  • Employee discipline (for those who fail to clean up after their pets)

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When diversity efforts backfire: Advice to avoid legal trouble

Many employers support the idea that diversity is good for business. 

Increased productivity and innovation are just a couple of the benefits that come with employing people from different backgrounds.

So, it’s no surprise many HR pros are making diversity and inclusion efforts a top priority.

How inclusion efforts go wrong

But despite their best intentions, companies can end up in legal trouble if they go about diversity the wrong way. One major mistake? Focusing so much on inclusion that others feel excluded.

This misstep is exactly why Google is currently facing a discrimination lawsuit from two ex-employees – both white men.

In Damore v. Google, James Damore claims he was fired from the tech company after expressing his conservative political views, which employees have allegedly been mistreated or punished for having.

He further claims Google takes its diversity efforts so seriously that white men like himself are often overlooked in hiring and promotions simply because they aren’t female or minority employees. He claims the company has diversity quotas it must fill.

Damore pointed to Google’s Diversity and Inclusion Summit – something open to only minority workers – as additional evidence of white male employees being excluded from initiatives and company culture.

Discrimination is discrimination

While the case has yet to go to trial and Damore’s claims remain unsubstantiated, it highlights the potential discrimination dangers that come with intense diversity and inclusion strategies.

Though it doesn’t happen as often, non-minority employees can be discriminated against, too.

For example, in Palmer v. CSC Covansys Corp., a white male worker claimed his IT firm laid him off because it favored Indian employees. A court allowed this claim to continue, emphasizing Caucasian-American is a protected class just like any other race.

Diverse hiring the right way

Failing to hire a white candidate due to their race is just as illegal as not hiring a minority candidate because of their race. And many employers unknowingly open themselves up to legal risks by going about diversity efforts the wrong way.

Google’s mistake was attempting to increase diversity by filling hiring quotas. This practice is both discriminatory toward non-minority candidates and won’t ensure you hire the most qualified people.

But there are more effective ways to build diversity at your workplace, straight from Addie Swartz, CEO of ReacHIRE, and Dianne Shaddock, President of Easy Small Business HR:

1. Cast a wide net in recruiting. The first step to a more diverse workforce is attracting diverse candidates. Examine your website and marketing materials. Do you have people from a variety of backgrounds representing your company? If your company’s image isn’t diverse enough, it could discourage minority candidates from applying.

2. Interview a variety of candidates. Employers should always hire the most qualified person. But companies can’t increase diversity if they never even interview minority candidates. By always having a variety of applicants in the mix, you can ensure everyone gets a fair shot at the job, and diversity will steadily improve.

3. Examine your company culture. Another great strategy is to look at your company from the inside out. Ask your current employees about the company culture and if any improvements can be made to create a more inclusive, welcoming environment for all.

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2018 Salary Guide: How does your comp plan stack up against other companies?

Is your compensation strategy workable in today’s business climate and tight labor market? There’s a tool to help you answer that question. 

The Creative Group has published its 2018 Salary Guide, which offers info on trends, starting salaries and benefits, which will help you get a sense of where you stand. 

It’s a pay-for-performance world

Here’s a look at the report’s take on current compensation practices. See how your comp plan stacks up:

1. It’s about performance.

Sixty-five percent of the employers who participated in The Creative Group’s research said they base their comp decisions on a pay-for-performance model:

•   37% offer spot awards for individual or team achievements

•   20% offer profit sharing

•   18% have retention bonuses

•   18% offer some stock options, and

•   16% give their employees deferred compensation.

2. Just 19% of those participating said they didn’t offer any form of bonus to their employees.

Of the remainder:

•   27% offer bonuses on the basis of individual or company performance

•   22% combine individual, team and company performance

•   16% base the bonus on individual achievement only, and

•   8% based bonuses on company performance only.

3. How companies determine salary increases:

•   72% base them on merit

•   38% use cost-of-living adjustments

•   17% consider length of service

•   16% use different criteria, like market data, and

•   3% said they had no hard-and-fast standard for setting increases.

4. Time off: The Creative Group report said that on average, companies offer 14 days of paid vacation for the first five years of employment, plus nine paid holidays.

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New study highlights power of performance management systems

A recent study out of the UK has great takeaways for HR pros across the globe on the use and effectiveness of performance management (PM) systems.

London-based Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) shared research showing that, where PM systems are absent or poorly designed, organizations are losing valuable insight that can help workers contribute more to long-term growth.

As one of the respondents said, “Development should be linked to ongoing performance management, because, otherwise, there’ll be a disconnect between how well people are performing and the skills they need to improve […] If somebody needs development in certain areas, how do you know that, if you haven’t got the performance management to back it up?”

Watch for discrimination when designing and implementing PM systems

The research also highlighted many organizations’ ongoing challenge in recognizing the various ways that unequal treatment can show up in performance management processes and procedures, even where there is no intent to discriminate.

While half of UK organizations surveyed adjust employee performance monitoring practices for employees permitted to have flexible working arrangements, only about a quarter of those surveyed make similar adjustments for staff with special needs, disabilities and conditions such as dyslexia and autism.

Not only could that expose organizations to lawsuits but it leaves those workers at a disadvantage and can erode their motivation and productivity.

Other findings point to many employees seeing the use of PM systems as unfair and demotivating, which Acas connects to the design and implementation of the systems, along with insufficient manager training in how to use them effectively.

HR pros should have the strategic vision to challenge exclusionary practices and push for a culture of fairness within organizations. Performance management systems can help to encourage—and measure progress towards—that critical goal.

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How closing the gender gap improves your bottom line

interview questions

Despite years of high-profile diversity initiatives at corporations across the world, a recent study by consulting giant McKinsey & Co. paints a sobering picture of stalled progress.

According to McKinsey data gathered over four years, women’s representation steadily declines at every level up the ladder. This happens despite more women than men earning college degrees each year, actively pursuing raises and promotions and staying on the job just as long as men.

At the critical first step up the corporate ladder, when workers transition to management positions for the first time, women immediately lose ground compared to their male peers, dropping from 48% of entry-level workers to 38% of managerial staff.  And that trend is even more stark for women of color.

By the time someone works their way up the ranks to take on senior executive responsibilities, women make up just 22% of the total, and women of color hold less than 5% of C-level jobs. And at each stage of the pipeline, women’s representation has barely budged over the last four years.

Gender equality is good for business

This is more than a legal or social justice issue. Other McKinsey data indicates that increased diversity gives employers a competitive edge and correlates to above-average financial results.

McKinsey makes six key recommendations that’ll help companies improve diversity and tap into this under-appreciated source of business-performance fuel:

  1. Get the basics right—targets, reporting, and accountability.
  2. Ensure that hiring and promotions are fair.
  3. Make senior leaders and managers champions of diversity.
  4. Foster an inclusive and respectful culture.
  5. Make the “only experience” — where a worker is the only woman/person of color/LGBTQ/differently-abled person on a team or in a department — rare.
  6. Offer employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives.

McKinsey’s research and other large-scale studies make clear that it’s past time for companies to make hiring and promoting a diverse workforce a top priority. HR pros should work with leaders in all departments to set meaningful targets and make sure management is accountable for making progress, not just for saying the right things.

Gender equality is an important issue of fairness in the workplace, and there’s still a massive amount of work that remains to acheive it. But by taking the right steps, not only do employers help out their employees, they help their own bottom line.



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