In recent years, surveys have shown that most Americans who receive paid vacation benefits don’t take all the leave to which they are entitled. According to Project: Time Off, our reluctance to take vacations has a significant impact on the economy, leading to over $200 billion worth of lost spending. Needless to say, the travel and tourism industry would prefer that the US workforce spend those billions, leading to marketing campaigns like this one from JetBlue, which pokes fun at Americans’ underused vacation time by advertising a fake line of office souvenirs such as the “HR scented candle”:
Ads like these are not new: A few years ago, for example, Maryland’s tourism board put out a series of tongue-in-cheek commercials showing vacation days being used for boring things like running errands or doctor’s appointments instead of going to the beach. The problem with these commercials is that they assumes that the decision not to take a vacation is always up to the employee, but as we know, there are clear organizational and personal reasons behind that decision.
Discussing a recent report from Guardian Life Insurance Company, SHRM’s Stephen Miller examines the case for using voluntary benefits to compete for and retain part-time employees and independent contractors. Noting that most part-time workers lack employer-sponsored health care plans, retirement plans, or other core benefits, Guardian suggests that voluntary benefits can be a good way to help address these employees’ needs:
Under a voluntary benefit program, the employer offers workers a menu of benefits; employees pay for the ones they want through payroll deductions. The employee pays the cost, and the benefits provider handles all administration and provides all needed education materials, [Peggy Maher, senior vice president and head of Guardian’s direct-to-consumer business in New York City,] explained. Usually employees are responsible for paying 100 percent of the premiums. However, voluntary benefits sometimes are niche offerings, such as pet insurance, that might appeal to a subset of workers, and employers may pay part of the cost.
Providing access to voluntary benefits can ease part-time workers’ financial stress, reduce turnover and differentiate employers from competitors in the talent market, Maher noted.
Sure, organizations could offer benefits to part-time employees to increase retention, but why would they? Two of the main benefits of having a part-time employee is that they cost less than full-time employees, in terms of both money and time, and they require less long-term commitment, as most are hired to complete a shorter-term project or task.
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I’m what many people would call a gamer. I own and play a lot of video games, I see games as my primary source of entertainment, and I’ve even built my own high-end gaming computer. I’m also pretty well connected with the gaming communities studied in the recent controversial paper claiming that better video games may account for why young men are declining to pursue full-time employment. I don’t dispute the data backing up these economists’ argument, but I do take issue with their framing.
The premise of the paper (as it has been described in the popular press) is that young men are choosing video games over potential jobs because video games are as good at building the social networks and feelings of self-fulfillment as those jobs. However, my experience with this community suggests the opposite: Gamers who choose not to work do so not because because games are a great substitute for a career, but because the jobs they would qualify for don’t make them happy.
Among the gamers I know who best fit the profile of the demographic examined in the study, many are vocal about the dissatisfaction they feel with the roles available to them. This seems to be reflected in the data itself: The paper also finds that while more educated young men are also playing more video games, this has not led to a significant decline in their average work hours. Undereducated gamers, by comparison, tend to qualify only for jobs that are dull and menial, with low pay, poor mangers, no upward mobility, and high and risky barriers to better job opportunities (particularly, college education). Many don’t see gaming all day as a goal, but the best of several bad options—the exception being those few gamers who believe they can play competitively.
If your group health insurance plan covers your employees’ spouses, why shouldn’t your wellness program do the same? At Employee Benefit News last week, Karen Moseley reviewed some research showing the benefits of including spouses in employee well-being initiatives:
By allowing spouses to take part in well-being programs, they may drive better participation from employees. Data from the HERO Scorecard support that idea. For example:
- 28% of employees participated in lifestyle coaching if a spouse was involved, compared to 14% with no spousal involvement.
- 88% of employers reported improvements in health risk with spousal involvement, compared to 81% without.
- 70% reported positive impact on medical trend with spousal involvement, compared to 64% without. …
The benefits of including spouses in wellness efforts are not strictly financial. A 2016 Harvard Business Review survey found that 70% of participants in employee well-being programs felt the program was an indication their employers supported them. Extending wellness support to family members only strengthens that connection. Improving a spouse’s well-being might even make an employee more productive.
Our research at CEB (now Gartner) further reinforces the importance of employees’ spouses to encourage healthy behaviors. We find that spouses and partners are the biggest motivator for wellness activities such as exercise and healthy eating, and have more influence on employees’ health behaviors than doctors, nurses, or other health providers.
From getting certified as a B Corporation in 2012, to its proposal for a social safety net for gig economy participants, to its expansive parental leave policy and other generous employee benefits, the online handicrafts marketplace Etsy has made a point of positioning itself as a socially responsible business that takes good care of both its employees and the users who rely on it to sell their creations. Since going public two years ago, however, Etsy’s growth has stalled and its stock price has fallen considerably as investors balked at a business philosophy that appeared to them insufficiently profit-minded. Now, Max Chafkin and Jing Cao report in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek feature, activist investors are stepping in to push the company in a more pro-growth direction, which means rethinking some elements of its culture and particularly spending less money on compensation and employee perks:
The answer, as [tech investor Seth Wunder] saw it, was that the company had been careless with its spending—Etsy’s general and administrative expenses amounted to 24 percent of total revenue. (EBay and MercadoLibre.com, the Latin American online marketplace, each spend about 10 percent of revenue on such expenses.) Etsy had been hiring like crazy, having increased its staff 55 percent since the end of 2014, and doling out all manner of perks: an elegant Brooklyn headquarters with Manhattan views, art installations, and a “breathing room,” along with salaries and benefits common at much, much more profitable tech companies. Wunder’s Black-and-White Capital began buying Etsy stock, eventually acquiring 2 percent of the company. The stake is relatively modest—Black-and-White is Etsy’s 16th-largest shareholder—but it was more than enough to launch an activist campaign.
Fidelity Investment’s first ever Retirement IQ Survey shows that most US employees misunderstand basic concepts around retirement and financial planning, with two-thirds of respondents underestimating how much money they need to save for retirement Bruce Shutan reports at Employee Benefit News:
Many people surveyed, including those age 55 and older, gave wrong answers to questions in nearly every category, even though it was a multiple-choice format, according to [Ken Hevert, SVP of retirement at Fidelity Investments]. He says the average grade was 30% (the equivalent of an F), no one answered all 14 questions correctly and 1% got all of the questions wrong. Fewer than 0.5% of respondents received a 79% (C+), which was the highest grade.
The question most people answered correctly concerned the age of Medicare eligibility (77% got it right), while there was a three-way tie for toughest question, which only 14% answered correctly. Those results included:
- Number of years out of the past 35 with a positive market return (about 60% thought it was half the time or less, whereas the correct answer was 80% of the time).
- Future value of $50 a month earning market average return (half underestimated it).
- Largest expense for most retirees (most wrongly guessed healthcare, whereas the correct answer is housing).
Building employee knowledge about the importance of saving for retirement is critical to driving usage of retirement benefits. CEB (now Gartner) research finds that employees who believe they have high future financial risk if they do not save for retirement now, and who believe they can save adequately for retirement using a 401(k) plan, are much more likely to make the maximum contribution to their retirement plans as compared to the average.
In the US, paid family leave benefits are an increasingly important component of many organizations’ total rewards offerings, as employers aim to attract and retain more working parents and caregivers, particularly women. At the same time, some states and cities have moved toward mandating paid parental leave, and the future of federal policy in this regard remains unclear. Central to the policy debate over mandatory paid leave policies is the question of whether they are good or bad for job creation: Studies from liberal think-tanks have concluded that these laws don’t kill jobs, but critics of these policies maintain that the costs they impose on small businesses are too high, as Bruce Shutan explains at Employee Benefit News:
Rob Wilson, president of Employco USA, recently listed six weeks of paid family leave benefits among five employment regulations that need to be removed or tweaked for job growth to continue unimpeded. Developing a national policy across corporate America would be a boon to recruiting and retention for small employers, which he says are responsible for most job growth. But, it all depends on how the benefits are financed. …
There’s little doubt that “additional payroll costs for any benefits can impede job growth,” [Laura Kerekes, chief knowledge officer at ThinkHR,] argues, but she adds that “not having the right employees” on board can generate the same result. “It’s really a delicate balancing act,” she says.
Asking whether paid parental leave creates or destroys jobs may make sense from a public policy perspective, but very few of our members think about parental leave this way. Most organizations think about it as an additional benefit to support employees’ medical needs, so from an employer’s perspective, it is as strange to ask if parental leave is a “job killer” as it is to ask if offering short-term disability or workers’ compensation is a “job killer” (especially because most employers are mandated to offer unpaid maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act anyway).
Instead, the question we hear most from our members regarding paid parental leave is: “Does parental leave hurt or advance our business and talent goals?”