Best HR Ideas for Benefits

The editors of HRE announce their choices of the most noteworthy HR ideas for benefits that were launched last year.

Monday, March 1, 2010
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Fab 5

CORT (A Berkshire Hathaway Co.), Aurora, Colo.

Working in a furniture warehouse can be pretty strenuous. Combine that with an aging workforce and rising workers' comp claims, and you have a growing problem.

So, with the help of a third-party wellness facilitator, CORT came up with a plan to make its distribution team (70 percent of its 2,300-person workforce) stronger and less susceptible to injuries.

Called Fab 5, the program highlighted five key areas in which employees could improve: upper-body strength, lower-body strength, core strength, back flexibility and cardio conditioning.

The company then created a workout for each area of the body; for example, a "wall sit" exercise for lower-body strength and jump rope for cardio. In each workout, employees can score "fit" (for instance, with 150 jump-rope revolutions) or "fab" (500 jump-rope revolutions). To work on their conditioning, all employees now do 15 to 20 minutes of workouts each morning.

The top 10 employees in each exercise have their names posted on a leader board in the warehouse and become part of a national competition run by the company.

Rolled out in 14 districts, the program has helped workers' comp injuries drop by roughly 50 percent and has employee morale going through the roof, the company reports.

"In San Francisco, a couple of [Fab 5] employees cut out their faces [from photos] and superimposed them on top of Arnold Schwarzenegger's body, then e-mailed the Los Angeles office saying, 'Who can catch us?' " says Jodee Bacon, regional human resource manager.

Benefits Money Back Guarantee and No Interest Medical

Zions Bancorp., Salt Lake City

Perhaps no HR initiative can cause as much anxiety as changing healthcare benefits, but Zions Bancorp made it a point to put their employees at ease about the process.

In 2008, the company eliminated its HMO- and Exclusive Provider Organization plan options, leaving only a high-deductible health plan. The company's 10,500 employees were then invited to track their medical expenses to compare 2008 to 2007. If the employee found that he or she had higher out-of-pocket expenses for 2008, Zions would reimburse the difference.

"It gave them more piece of mind because it gave them control, [such] that, if they were treated unfairly, they could prove it to us," says Connie Linardakis, executive vice president and chief human resource officer. Also, if an employee had an unexpected medical event and had trouble paying the higher deductible, he or she could apply for a no-interest medical loan.

As of December 2009, 1.9 percent of the workforce received a payout on a submitted claim to the Money Back Guarantee program, for a total of just more than $148,000 (the average payout was around $1,500 per person.) Just 1.3 percent took out a No-Interest Medical Loan, totaling slightly more than $83,000 (the average loan was about $1,400 per person).

By moving its employees to the high-deductible plan -- and keeping them on it -- Zions saved $10 million over one year, says Linardakis.

Rental Incentive Option and Employee Purchase Program

Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill.

These are strange times for relocating employees. Their houses are probably not worth as much as they were just a few years ago. If selling a home isn't feasible, buying one in the new location surely isn't, either.

To ease those -- and other -- anxieties about relocating in this economy, Archer Daniels Midland Co. initiated a rental incentive of $10,000 per year, for a maximum of two years. Of the 60 employees relocated since the incentive was launched last July, 60 percent have taken it. (If the person takes the rental incentive, the company won't help them purchase a home in that location.)

For those who preferred to buy instead of rent in their new location, ADM offered a generous incentive -- a reimbursement of $4,000 in closing costs -- to purchase houses from the company's inventory. This represents a nice add-on to the bonus they would also receive for buying the home in inventory (3 percent of the purchase price). It kills two birds with one stone -- getting a house out of inventory and helping to relocate an employee quickly.

Intensive Outpatient Care Program

The Boeing Co., Chicago

Savvy HR executives know the sickest employees not only need the most care; they also utilize the most in healthcare expenses. So Boeing Co. launched a pilot program to help 276 employees with chronic illnesses.

The Intensive Outpatient Care Program assigned a doctor and nurse to each patient. Acting as a "care manager," the nurse executed an outreach program including in-person, telephone and e-mail contact. The IOCP team also created a program for the patient, including rapid access to care and self-management of chronic conditions.

Patients could call nurses 24 hours a day, seven days a week to better manage their illnesses. For emergency issues, they could set up a house call, much cheaper than going to the emergency room, says Boeing spokesperson Karen Forte. Boeing sponsored the program, which was administered by Mercer and Renaissance Health. Although Boeing ended the program in mid-2009, it is now evaluating the results to see if it can be implemented over the long haul, Forte says.

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Because some of the sickest workers have complex medical conditions consisting of several ailments, she says, care is often disjointed -- assigning a nurse to manage care for a patient can help pull it all together. The program seems to be a success, with absenteeism dropping by 57 percent and costs reduced by 20 percent since it was initiated.

"It's extremely important, not just for the company managing cost, but for getting those people healthy and keeping them at work," says Forte.

Employer-Sponsored Garden

Haberman, Minneapolis

Cake. Donuts. Cupcakes. Cookies. While junk food is usually offered in vending machines or served during meetings in many workplaces, things are different at Haberman, a public-relations firm. The company has set up an organic garden near the office and employees take turns working the land -- with all 30 workers making at least one trip to the garden.

The result: free organic vegetables available in the cafeteria, and plenty more for employees to take home to their families.

In 2009, the "Dude Ranch," as they call it, yielded plenty of tomatoes, green beans, beets, potatoes, herbs, lettuce and even pumpkins. So much, in fact, that there was plenty left over for charity.

CEO Fred Haberman says the program boosts morale while also helping employees (and their families) get healthier.

"When you look at the staggering, daunting numbers, with the increase in diabetes and obesity in this country and the skyrocketing costs associated with those two conditions, it's imperative that we as a nation -- and specifically, companies -- begin to do something that will reverse this trend," says Haberman. "One of best ways is to encourage people to eat better."

While some may argue that setting up a company garden is a bit harder to do if you're in the middle of Manhattan, there's no denying that fresh, organic vegetables are better options

See the 2010 Best HR Ideas.

See also:

Contextualizing Cleverness

Worst HR Ideas

The Architecture of Change

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