Best HR Ideas in Benefits

The editors of HRE announce their top picks for ideas launched this past year that helped strengthen productivity, boost morale and engagement, and put a well-deserved spotlight on the creative powers within HR.

These are the best ideas chosen in the benefits area:

Monday, March 2, 2009
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Elder Care Resource Center

Rodale Inc., Emmaus, Pa.

Who is taking Mom to the doctor on Wednesday? Is anyone having dinner with Dad this week?

For some employees, caring for an elderly parent or relative can weigh heavily on their minds and, in some cases, disrupt concentration at work.

To help its employees effectively manage those issues, Emmaus, Pa.-based publisher Rodale Inc. introduced the Elder Care Resource Center and made it available in July 2008. What seemed especially innovative to our judges was how the program allows a user to create a personalized Web page where family and friends can get information about the senior and schedule visits, meals, transportation or other activities. Even if there are numerous caretakers, everyone can stay connected and up-to-date on the senior's schedule and condition.

We also liked how the online tool helps employees locate resources and services, such as alternative-care facilities, adult-daycare programs or senior care services.

In addition, the service provides assistance and information on the transition from traditional health insurance to Medicare, and lets employees and extended family members purchase long-term-care insurance at group rates.

The People Place

MGM Mirage, Las Vegas

Rather than just laying out its benefits package in an employee handbook that might get stuffed in a desk drawer and forgotten forever, MGM Mirage in Las Vegas took a more high-tech approach to informing its employees about its various offerings. Called The People Place, the online tool displays various personas representing typical employees.

The Best HR Ideas judges like how each persona has its own Facebook-style profile -- complete with interests and friends -- and relays benefits information through stories. "Tony," for example, is a young single male who discusses information about short-term disability and how it helped him after he suffered a soccer injury that kept him out of work for an extended period of time.

"Ron" -- an older man with grown children -- uses his profile to tell people to get a flu shot, which is available at a free on-site clinic. Over the next few years, all the characters will go through life-cycle events, such as marriage, divorce, childbirth or retirement, and new characters will be added. The product was developed with help from Chicago-based Aon Consulting, and is offered as part of MGM Mirage's Benefits Service Center Web site.

PBG HealthyMoney Financial Education Workbook

The Pepsi Bottling Group, Somers, N.Y.

When most people think of a healthy diet, they probably think of food, nutrition and physical well-being -- not their wallets and checkbooks. But the HR leaders at Pepsi Bottling Group in Somers, N.Y., think many of the same principles meant to get employees physically healthy also apply to getting them financially healthy.

With the struggling economy weighing on the minds of most, the company began offering the HealthyMoney Financial Education Workbook in an effort to help employees deal with their personal finances just like they would deal with health issues -- slow and steady -- a concept our judges found highly unique. Most everyone believes getting fit won't happen overnight; it's a lifelong process that involves making positive choices every day. The same can be said for financial health.

The thorough workbook walks employees through key financial decisions and helps them build a personalized plan-of-action by providing case studies, self-assessments, tips and targeted activities such as worksheets and checkpoints. It also includes a 40-minute DVD that covers the concepts in the workbook and educates employees on the company's benefit offerings such as disability insurance, flexible-spending accounts and retirement plans. The product was developed with PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York.

Employee Assisted Housing Program

P.W. Grosser Consulting Inc., Bohemia, N.Y.

With the economy in shambles, P.W. Grosser Consulting Inc. in Bohemia, N.Y., is hoping to make it easier for its employees to own a home. The company is offering a forgivable loan to help pay for a down payment and is now enrolled in a program to get the government to not only match those dollars -- but triple them.

The company partnered with a nonprofit organization called Long Island Housing Partnership Inc., which administers the Employer Assisted Housing Program of Nassau and Suffolk Counties in Long Island, N.Y. After PWGC makes a contribution to help an employee with a down payment, the LIHP offers a three-to-one match. All the employee needs to do is purchase a home in Suffolk County or Nassau County and make it their principal residence to be able to secure a mortgage.

Considering that many employees are struggling with personal finances, our judges were especially impressed by the fact that PWGC would go to such great lengths to help workers purchase a home. Employees at PWGC are eligible if they are full-time technical team members currently employed for at least 90 days and are in good standing with the company -- meaning they have not faced disciplinary action and have received high performance evaluations. The loan is forgivable as long as the employee remains with PWGC for three years following the closing date of the property sale.

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"It's a retention tool and also helping young people purchase houses in New York, where it's very expensive to live, and keep them here," says Deanna M. Lantieri, the company's human resource director.

Wellness Ride-Along Program

American Electric Power, Columbus, Ohio

While many corporate wellness programs offer general information about diet, exercise and health risks, Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power decided to get personal. So personal, in fact, that the company sent "wellness coordinators" to spend a day with employees. Coordinators came from AEP's health-management provider, Minneapolis-based HealthFitness.

After that "ride-along," the coordinator created specific programs designed to improve employees' health.

Our judges were struck by stories such as the one about wellness coordinator Fancy Morgan, who traveled with a crew during a power outage, watching employees who struggled to be healthy.

"We had a lot of men and women working 20-hour shifts, eating on the road," says Joshua Erdei, AEP's wellness manager at HealthFitness.

Workers slept in their cars and some didn't eat at all. Morgan developed a program to help them eat healthy, even while traveling, and educated them about sleep deprivation. She also rode along with meter specialists tasked with shutting off electricity to delinquent customers. Those jobs are particularly stressful since employees are dealing with highly emotional -- and sometimes violent -- customers. HealthFitness then created a month-long program on reducing and relieving stress.

With employees in 11 different states, AEP hoped to reduce healthcare costs and improve productivity. AEP saw a 40 percent increase in screening participation from 2007 to 2008. A total of 6,524 employees registered for a health-coaching program in 2008, up from just 247 in 2007.

Read the Best HR Ideas main story and our winners for Benefits, for HR Technology, for Talent Management and for Training & Development.

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