More HR Reach and Employee Focus

This is part of a special advertising section on the Outlook for 2012.

Sunday, October 2, 2011
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When employee confusion rises and HR is ready to say, "Take a number!" strategies are needed for extending HR resources and keeping employees focused on their jobs.

It's not "new news" to hear the staggering statistics on the time employees spend on personal matters at work. Estimates range from 45 minutes per day up to three hours. In dollars and cents, we're talking about millions in lost pay each year. So what are employees doing with their time, and how can you help them . . . help themselves?

Healthcare, Insurance Complications

Think about the number of complexities we've introduced to employees over the past 15 years. Co-pays and co-insurance came first. Then high-deductible plans -- HSAs, HRAs. Let's not forget COBRA, FSAs, HIPAA. Then add in a healthy serving of PHI (protected health information) and an SOB (that's a statement of benefits!). Finally, top it all off with the crème de la crème -- healthcare reform.

Voila! We've created a system of healthcare (and access to care) that's about as easy to understand as quantum physics. As human resource executives, you have a leg up. You understand the complexities and you've got access to information employees don't have.

Or do you? I'd venture to say that even the most well-schooled among us are challenged weeding through healthcare and benefits issues.

So, we have to empathize with the average Joe. Have we failed to make resources available to help employees navigate this complex territory? After all, good health is the most fundamental and pivotal factor in productivity. We all stand to gain by keeping employees healthy and happy.

Good Health is Hard to Come By

Even with the best intentions, taking good care of yourself and your family isn't always easy. There are a number of things that can get in the way. The most important factor that keeps many of us from peak health status is time. Quite simply, there's not enough of it. And when you're taking care of yourself and a family, and dealing with a down economy, making time for good health comes at a premium. Many of our employees are taking care of parents and in-laws, and if they, too, have health issues, that's incredibly time-consuming to manage.

Would you venture a guess at how much work time is used to handle health or benefits issues? In an average day, a cross-section of your employee population is trying to handle these problems. And they are doing it on work time -- because time is at a premium.

Huddled in their cubicles, or in their cars in the parking lot, or between meetings with their staff, you can hear the quiet clamor, each employee with a different story: "Why was this claim denied? I owe you what? Asthma? How will I find the right specialist in-network? Mom's moved in . . . I need to find all new doctors to treat her diabetes close to our home." How incredibly stressful for employees who want to do their job well, and balance work with family! Can you say PRESENTEEISM?

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How HR Can Help

When you stop to think about it, there's a huge gap to be filled. Your staff is at capacity. But if you're like me, you're serious about taking good care of your employees. And that means, even though you've got a line out your door, you won't install a "Take a Number" dispenser.

High-performing companies have HR leaders who are thinking about the future. They are delivering to their CEOs strategies for keeping employees focused. Many are enrolling the help of advocacy services to get employees back in the game. Advocacy companies work on behalf of your employees and are typically paid on a per-employee, per-month basis. They provide both benefits expertise and clinical resources, such as nurses and dieticians.

And with an advocate, there's no issue with HR staff and PHI. Advocates will help research claims issues, clarify benefits, help an employee understand a recent diagnosis and even coordinate care for elderly parents. Advocates can also work on a project basis during open enrollment to assist employees in understanding their benefits options. The idea is to transfer the time an employee is spending on the phone researching and scheduling, and let the advocate do the leg work. An added advantage is that it's all confidential, and employees feel comfortable knowing that.

As you look ahead to 2012, you'll be looking to implement key strategies to impact your employees' productivity and your companies' profitability. Consider affordable alternatives to adding staff -- while saving time, and actually improving employees' perceptions of your benefits.

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