Elkay Manufacturing Co. is on the cusp of something new as benefits open enrollment season rolls around. After successfully meeting the needs of employees and the budget of the employer for years, its health care offerings just weren’t popular anymore. communication during open enrollment

“Because of either new businesses or how things are trending, you find your plan design after a period of time doesn’t fit anymore. That’s when you realize you need to shelve it, start with a clean slate and see what’s a good design to be competitive in your work environment for your employees,” said Carol Partington, corporate senior manager of total benefits for the Oak Brook, Illinois-based plumbing-fixture maker.

Elkay scrapped its previous health plans to introduce three completely new lifestyle plans that will go into effect in 2019, she said. The three plans are meant to appeal to employees at different stages of life and include a core plan, another plan with a higher deductible and lower premium, and one with a lower deductible and higher premium. One challenge was communicating the new plans’ advantages to Elkay’s 3,138 employees.

The vast changes in the health care landscape can be confounding even to seasoned benefits professionals. Employees whose jobs don’t revolve around benefits can get frustrated with multiple offerings. That’s why employers must focus on communication solutions that work for their employees.

Almost half of U.S. workers spend 30 minutes or less reviewing their benefits, according to Unum research released in August 2018. The same survey found that of the 1,227 respondents, many reported feeling stressed (21 percent), confused (22 percent) or anxious (20 percent) while enrolling.

Communication during open enrollment is a large task for any employer, even one that didn’t revamp its entire plan design. Elkay had the added challenge of dealing with a rural, dispersed workforce that didn’t necessarily have regular access to the internet. Their communications solution was to bring the top HR leaders to local HR staff at outside locations to copresent benefits information.

Also read: Don’t Waste Open Enrollment Time on Just Open Enrollment 

“We get so entrenched in where we are, [and] we have to spend time sitting in the shoes of the employee or their family when they’re making that decision,” Partington said. “With these changes, we’re being mindful that we want them to make successful decisions.”

Elkay wanted to be present instead of solely rely on online material or videos. By holding the mandatory meetings, employees can ask questions, she said. Also, the company schedules conference calls in the evening where family members of employees cans listen to the presentation and ask questions.

Communicating health care information in a way that employees and their families can understand is especially important to ensure the success of these new programs.

Also read: Don’t Underestimate the Effects of Poor Communication 

“The change in [health plans] will only be successful if we get the majority of our employees and their family members understanding what they’re doing and comfortable with the decisions they’re making,” Partington said.

Ally Financial Inc., a Detroit-based financial services company, sees a unique quality in its benefits strategy this open enrollment season as well. It relies on an unconventional, straightforward and conversational communication style, said Chief Human Resources Officer Kathie Patterson. HR consistently reaches out to employees looking for feedback about the company’s benefits offerings.

Thanks to the dialogue, in 2019 Ally is introducing several new benefits offerings including broader fertility and adoption benefits, hearing-aid coverage and no dollar limit on applied behavioral analysis therapy for autism treatment — all additions specific to the employee population.

Also read: Benefits Open Enrollment Advice From an Employee’s Point of View

The changes the company has made and how it has communicated them has inspired employees to be more open, Patterson said. Employees have both reached out with personal success stories and raised helpful questions or suggestions.

“This open dialogue is exciting and will help us continue to shape and evolve the programs going forward,” Patterson said.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in September that the 2017-18 flu season was one of the worst on record.flu season workplace

Some 80,000 Americans died, making it the deadliest season in more than four decades. With this year’s flu season approaching, health experts and employers are taking action to keep employees healthy.

The CDC predicts flu activity will begin this year as early as November and may continue to spread as late as May 2019. They also add that flu activity usually peaks in the United States between December and February.

HR departments nationwide are preparing for ways to keep their workplace safe from what has the potential to be another epidemic.

Danielle Ozer, executive vice president, brokerage services at Benefits Solutions Group LLC, suggests employers and managers should inform employees about the dangers of the flu, enforce certain health rules and make flu shots available.

flu season workplace
Danielle Ozer

“Educating employees and pushing things around the office like washing your hands, staying home until your fever is clear, any precautions you would get from your doctor,” Ozer said. “[My company] hooks up our employers with vendors to administer flu shots on site. That makes it easy for people, so they don’t have to run out to their primary care physician or a pharmacy to get it done.”

The CDC published its final estimates on the 2017 flu season in late October, estimating that only 37 percent of Americans got vaccinated last season.

Dr. Pat Lord said the lack of vaccinated people was one of many reasons why last year’s flu season turned out to be so difficult. Lord said it’s imperative for companies to offer employees flu shots.

“Getting the vaccine allows your bodies to build antibodies,” said Lord, a virologist at Wake Forest University. “So, when you are exposed to the virus by someone that is sick, the antibodies stick to the virus and prevent the virus from getting into the cell.”

flu season workplace
Dr. Pat Lord

The CDC’s 2018 forecast cites daily protective actions to ward off influenza. Avoiding sick people and hand-washing helps reduce the spread of germs, and coughing into the elbow helps.

When someone coughs, they are typically propelling droplets at about 100 miles per hour, according to Lord. Those droplets can contain hundreds of thousands of copies of the flu virus. Coughing into the elbow prevents the virus from becoming airborne and spreading.

Also read: You’re Sick? Go Home!

If an employee happens to experience flu-like symptoms, they should be advised to stay home to prevent spreading the flu to others. For those who haven’t experienced symptoms but want to be cautious, they can check out the website FluNearYou, which tracks how much the flu is being spread in specific areas by ZIP code.

While plenty of resources exist to prevent and control the flu, Lord said employers still should have a no-tolerance policy with the illness. Being too lenient with the flu can be very problematic, she added.

“[Employers need to] get the message out that if you’re running a fever and sick and coughing, stay home,” Lord said. “That’s so important. You should not power through when you’re sick. You need to stay home because you’re putting your co-workers at risk and it’s getting spread out.”

The post Threat of Another Nasty Flu Season Prompts Workplaces to Be Proactive appeared first on Workforce.