Why Employee Benefits Matter in 2021

It may be tempting to cut corners and justify a conservative budget in these difficult economic times. But, with the healthcare renewal season fast approaching, planning employee benefits for 2021 should be an opportunity to support the people who help keep your business running well.

Now is when care is needed most

In a time when employees need more support than ever, find ways to care for your team without surrendering to obscene healthcare costs. Studies show that 87% of employees are loyal to organizations that help them balance work and life. Consider modern voluntary benefits such as 401(k) retirement plans, student loan repayment programs, or flex spending. These are paid for mostly, or 100% by, employees via payroll deductions. This is a very inexpensive way to express care for your team and help retain valuable employees during such an unpredictable time.

Create an inclusive discussion around healthcare

Do you know what benefits matter most to your employees? Do you know if your benefits align with what your employees actually want? Don’t go blindly into this healthcare renewal season without understanding your employee demographic. Getting feedback on your benefits offering is a simple way to help shape a more utilized and more economical benefits package for your team. Consider preferred perks by generation, too. Generation Z’ers love competitive salaries and student loan repayment programs. While Baby Boomers prefer retirement plans and medical insurance. An anonymous survey is a great way to get insight from employees prior to renewal time.

Bring in experts to balance what’s best for business and what’s best for your people

Managing a business in this COVID crisis means lots of time and money is spent on busywork. Take yourself out of the equation and hire an HR company to ensure your employees receive the best benefits you have to offer at rates you can afford. Now more than ever, your employees are looking at how you make decisions, and whether they’re better off because of those decisions. Some HR companies, like ProService, even offer free training to keep your employees safe in the workplace. Hiring a HR company easily contributes to a more rich benefits package for your workforce.

Want to pay less for better employee benefits? Download our free guide: 5 Simple Ways to Improve Employee Benefits in 2021.

4 Simple Ways to Manage Employee Stress During COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended virtually every aspect of life and work. Employees are being asked to do more…often, to go above and beyond the call of duty.

All of this, on top of their own to-do list to stay healthy and keep their families safe. It’s a lot. That’s why employee wellbeing and workforce resilience was the hot topic on the table for discussion in our latest webinar, The Here and Now on Employee Wellbeing, which featured:

Here were our top insights and takeaways:

1. Create space to make connections

Right now people’s sense of belonging and sense of place is dispersed. With that grows a disconnect and a sense of loss for many employees. Even so, our experts explained that there are ways working virtually can actually create more opportunities for connection…if you make space for it.

To foster connection they recommend having daily touchpoints with your team to create an opportunity to check in on them—even if it’s to say hello! It could be as simple as 15-30 minute morning briefings, or virtual lunch-and-learns, or Friday pau hana get-togethers. Keeping human connection open through these virtual avenues is the new open-door policy.

They also reminded us to have fun along the way! Insert Zoom background challenges or ice breakers before or after meetings to mix things up. Take the opportunity to learn about your employees and do your part to prevent stress and burnout among your team.

2. Advocate for balance and boundaries

Going into an office created clear boundaries between one’s work life and one’s home life. Now that this reality has disappeared for many employees, we’re seeing that remote work, while desirable, can be difficult to do. Just because your employee can work from home, doesn’t mean they can work from home.

Our experts encouraged employers to be flexible with their employees and advocate for balance and boundaries. Some suggestions discussed included making it a rule not to email after hours (as to not disrupt family time) or to have meeting free lunch hours so working parents can prepare lunch for children who are distance learning.

3. Communicate with empathy, always

There’s a lot going on today. Looking at the way you communicate with your team is key, especially the way you deliver the what and how. Jackie Ingamells shared these 3 elements to meaningful communication with your employees:

  1. Transparency – Be honest and clear about why you’re reaching out and with the information you are giving.
  2. Empathy – Overlay your conversations with compassion. Listen intently.
  3. Timing – Everyone is dealing with a lot outside of their own scope. Keep things purposeful, relevant, and simple.
4. Don’t forget to nurture your leaders

Leaders will make or break how an employee feels about where they work. Don’t just assume that your managers know what to do because they’re in positions of authority. Take time to slow down and nurture managers and leaders on your front-lines, too, so they are well-equipped to provide great care for your employees.

Some best practices to consider:

  1. Double down on training. Having an information exchange or a forum for learning is necessary for your leadership. Beth Whitehead shared that every week she sends out a leadership lesson to all her managers. Develop training that is both humble in its approach, yet impactful in its execution.
  2. Check-in and share appreciation. Ask managers how they are doing or feeling. What’s been working? What’s not? Get their feedback and don’t forget to acknowledge the ways (big or small) they’re hustling for your business. These signs of acknowledgment goes a long way.

In conclusion…“be like water”

Bruce Lee’s famous quote really applies here. All the training and planning in the world won’t always do your best intentions justice. When it comes to employee wellbeing, stay flexible. Just as the COVID crisis is fluid every day, you must be too. Adopt the concept of impermanence and be forgiving with yourself, your leaders, and your employees for we are all in this together.

Remote Work: Temporary Shift or New Reality?

We’ve talked about remote work before. Helped you recognize the need to transition to a work-from-home model amid the pandemic and how to do it seamlessly. We’ve also shared how to work together with your team, even when you’re not together.

But as time forges on and the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel seems dull, it’s time to shift our focus from “this is temporary” to “this is our new reality.”

It’s time to examine our long-held beliefs about remote work and think critically both about its opportunities (and potential pitfalls). Because let’s face it, an aspect of remote work is here to stay — whether it impacts you directly or indirectly. And business survival is at stake.

As the thinking on remote work shifts from temporary to long-term, here are a few thought starters we’re mulling over right now (in no particular order) should it be helpful to you.

1. Surprise, your team may prove to be more productive from home.

Studies are showing an overwhelming increase in productivity by remote workers. One citing a 47% increase. Fair to say that once the pandemic subsides, going back to the good ol’ days at a centralized office will be tempting. However, the data is showing that employees work longer hours and get more done by working from home. Stay flexible and think about permanently offering remote work to those who desire it. Maybe your new workforce is a hybrid of in-office staff and remoters.

2. Abandoning your lease won’t necessarily save you money if you invest it in your team (as you should)

Office spaces are expensive and you may think that downsizing (or eliminating your space) may free up more money. But, eliminating a lease isn’t the solution to all your money woes once you consider the investment you’ll need to rightfully make to support your WFH team. After all, your team still needs the tools to work from home (wi-fi, computer equipment, office supplies). And you should flip the bill! Plus, there will be times when you must get back together in-person. That means additional budget for travel, food, team bonding activities, and maybe a rented venue.

3. Managing from a distance will 100% require more intentionality

No doubt about it, managing in this new normal requires more intention and attention. Some of your managers may be naturally good at engaging teams, giving productive feedback or shaping careers–other managers, not so much. That doesn’t mean that all is lost. Manager training (and employee training too) is a great way to level the playing field and to sharpen everyone’s skills together. This is all part of the hyper intentionality that’s needed to thrive long term.

4. Even with high unemployment, there will still be recruiting challenges to overcome

For the first time in a long time, the supply for excellent talent in Hawaii greatly exceeds the demand for jobs. But that doesn’t mean finding the right employees will be easy. With more remote work options, we expect employers to become judged more by company culture and WFH policies and aptitude. That means your remote work culture and policies will be highly considered, perhaps just as much as your pay and benefits package.

5. We must figure out how to integrate newer team members into remote (or hybrid) teams

A new hire’s onboarding experience will become more critical than ever before. How do you share your company’s vision and values with new hires from a distance? And so much so that it impacts their behavior? How should they “meet” and navigate your company’s stakeholders? How can you substitute the deep learning that occurs in in-person settings with…stronger process documentation? Clearer communication? Defined expectations? This is something that all businesses will need to figure out through trial and error–and find an approach and experience that uniquely works for them.

At ProService, all new hires receive a welcome box mailed to their doorstep filled with fun branded swag and most importantly, our “Little Blue Book” — a pocket-sized guide that outlines our guiding principle and serves as a reminder of what we stand for and can do together.

6. Now is the time to think long-term

Even though a vaccine may be near, it doesn't necessarily mean that people will be lining up to receive it. A good chunk of the public is hesitant. Perhaps some of your employees will be too. This is why we must come to grips that remote work is here to stay awhile longer.

In conclusion…

While there is no one size fits all for this work model, there are things we can all do. To our best abilities, we can planfully leverage the tangible benefits of remote work where possible, and do our best to anticipate and minimize any risks with intention.

Our Top 5 Tips to Take Care of Employees During COVID-19

Managing a company through a pandemic is no easy feat.

As employers, we bear the responsibility of keeping employees and customers safe if we are open for business.

In our recent webinar, Caring for People in the COVID Storm (now available on-demand), we heard from business leaders in the healthcare industry who shared candidly not only what they’re facing on the frontlines of COVID-19, but how they are keeping their teams safe in doing so.

Here are our top insights and takeaways.

1. Educate, train, communicate, repeat!

While everything around them was shutting down, healthcare facilities had to keep their doors open. This meant they needed to anticipate protocols, regulations, and changes on a whim and make the adjustments immediately with their team. So how did these essential businesses keep their team safe through it all? The answer: employee education and training.

Our featured leaders could not stress enough how frequent training and education had become the key to ensuring their teams were safe and healthy while under their roof. They also encouraged constant communication. The more owners talk about what is happening, the more it becomes normalized. The more managers communicate with their teams, the easier procedures are to enforce. Plus, constantly communicating with employees is a great way to reassure them that you are adequately prepared for every scenario.

2. Get people focused on your workplace facts

Although some may doubt the realities of COVID, employees (and customers) must understand that regardless of their beliefs and opinions, your workplace policies come first! Since this pandemic is a fluid situation, your company’s safety policies and procedures should be clearly articulated and presented in the most digestible way. This both communicates what you expect, but also what the consequences are if expectations aren’t met.

3. Safety is your responsibility (not someone else’s)

Because of long wait times, relying on the state’s contact tracing program has proven to be more harmful than helpful. Our panelists encouraged businesses to implement their own micro systems to manage threats and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces. When it comes to safety, you have to look out for your own (and not depend on the work of others).

For example, one panelist shared how they created a process for tracing and logging connections from positive cases within their own organization. Having immediate information on hand was critical for containing and preventing further spread.

ProService’s three key steps for managing a positive COVID case was also reiterated as a way to ensure information is shared and spread is contained within a workplace:

  1. Take immediate action – Communicate with the infected person(s) and send them home immediately.
  2. Minimize the spread – Contain people who may have been in contact with the infected person while cleaning and sanitizing the spaces they frequented.
  3. Take care and offer support – Listen to their concerns, answer questions, and show them that you care.
4. Come together around your mission

The #1 priority among our panelists was making sure their employees felt safe and confident doing their jobs. A big #2 was encouraging employees to stay anchored in the mission of the business and remaining employees about why they do the hard and difficult work they do. When people are aligned with a common goal, it creates a sense of purpose and fuels motivation and engagement, especially when the tough gets going.

5. An emotionally safe workplace matters too

Our panelist talked about how burnout, fatigue, and stress were among the biggest challenges for employees on the frontlines of COVID-19. Managing their fears and anxiety was something the business needed to address. It’s not just about physical safety, but emotional safety too. Here were a few of their tips to consider:

  • Create a space where they can air and voice their concerns. Make sure it’s private and that they feel like they are being heard.
  • Give them choices. Let them know that they have the power to ultimately do what feels right to them.
  • Continue pre-covid activities that employees enjoyed such as team and culture building exercises even if done remotely.
Get information and share information!

In conclusion, remember there is no right or wrong answer. Lots of employers are working through what feels right for their companies. Lean on other business owners and find out their best practices. Constantly learning and sharing information helps normalize our new workforce reality.

What to Say When An Employee Test Positive for COVID-19 (with scripts)

COVID related conversations are never easy. Especially when there is a positive case in the workplace. Fears and anxieties will be high. There will be lots of questions. And employees and customers alike will want answers at the ready. With so much sensitive information involved, having a clear, confident and empathetic talk track is a must. To help you out, here’s a few guidelines and sample scripts to get you started.

How to communicate with an employee testing positive for COVID-19:
  • Encourage the employee to seek immediate medical advice from their healthcare provider to determine whether isolation or other next steps are appropriate.
  • Ask the employee to identify co-workers/vendors they’ve come into “close contact” (within 6 feet) for a prolonged period of time (10-30 minutes depending on the interaction) in the last 14 days, according to the CDC. Make a full list.
  • Provide the employees with information on sick leave and other applicable benefits (e.g. local/federal benefits such as TDI and COVID-19 related absences under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • Remember, take action with empathy. Your employee is likely anxious even if their symptoms may be mild.

Sample conversation: “John, I know that this is a scary thing to deal with. I understand that you may not be able to work for a little while or that you might be a little distracted. Don’t worry about that, I understand. If you have to miss work because your healthcare provider recommends that you isolate, please keep me posted. I know you might be concerned about your paycheck but there are paid leave benefits that you may qualify for under the Families First COronavirus Response Act. ”

How to communicate with an employee who has been exposed or in “close contact” with an employee testing positive:
  • Inform and send home any individuals who came into close contact with the affected employee.
  • Expect a lot of questions. Stick to the facts. (e.g. the definition of “close contact”, what date/approximate time they were exposed, that the employee who tested positive is not at work and is seeking medical care and advice.)
  • Advise them to consult their healthcare professional to determine if quarantining or testing is necessary.
  • DO NOT identify the name of the affected employee. Keep their health information confidential, per the ADA, HIPAA, and other state laws.

Sample conversation: “Someone in our workplace has tested positive for COVID-19, and they have identified you as a close contact according to the CDC definition. We are here to support you. If you are at work, please prepare to leave as quickly as you can. Once you get home, please talk to your doctor to see if you need to get tested or self-quarantine and monitor yourself for symptoms.”

How to communicate with the rest of your team:
  • State the facts and don’t overshare.
  • Respect the confidentiality of the affected employees
  • Assign someone on staff as the sole spokesperson to triage employee questions
  • Give a timeline for safe reopening and what employees can expect in the short-term

Sample announcement to employees:

Aloha, We learned [today] that one of our employees has tested positive for/contracted COVID-19. The person who tested positive on [date] is now [self-isolating]. [Identify the area(s) where and the date(s) when the employee frequently worked].

Due to privacy laws, we cannot identify the employee who tested positive for the virus. However, we have gathered the names of those employees or others that worked in close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) of the employee and have been advised to leave the workplace and seek medical advice from their healthcare provider on next steps. If you were not already told you were in close contact, then you have not worked in close proximity with the employee.

At [Company Name], the health and well-being of our employees is paramount. Out of an abundance of caution, we are closing the [Location] office on [Dates]. While the office is closed, we will clean and disinfect the [Location] office. All [Location] employees with remote work capabilities are expected to work from home while the office is closed. Each employee should consult with their manager for additional instructions.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact [Company Contact]. The company is here to support everyone during this difficult time, and we all send our best wishes to the people affected. You may also check the CDC COVID-19 website for additional information, and also check out Hawaii’s health department website.

How to communicate to customers, the public, or media:
  • Consider releasing a public statement on your own channels (i.e., email, website, social media, press release or sign outside of your establishment).
  • Share proactive actions that have been taken to ensure a safe environment for both employees and customers.
  • Assign someone on staff as sole media spokesperson for the company. Someone who is well-versed with the situation and can speak confidently with the media.
  • Give a timeline for safe reopening or back to normal business practices or hours.

Sample customer email:

Aloha, [Company A] has operated during these uncertain times with tremendous regard for the health and welling of our employees and customers. We’ve required all customers and employees to [list safety precautions taken].

Despite our best efforts to provide a safe environment, we have just been informed that one of our employees at [Location] has tested positive for COVID-19 on [Date]. We believe it’s our responsibility to inform you because it is only through complete transparency that our community can combat this pandemic and start on our road to economic recovery.

Here’s what you need to know:

The employee in question worked last week in [Location] from [Date to Date].

The employee’s last shift was [Date]. The employee was feeling unwell on [Date], and got tested [Date]. We were informed [Date] that the employee has tested positive. If you feel that you have been exposed, we encourage you to seek the advice of a healthcare provider to determine whether you need to be tested.

What is being done:

  • We have identified and contacted all staff and vendors who have come into “close contact” (within 6 feet) for a prolonged period of time (10-30 minutes depending on the interaction) in the last 14 days, according to the CDC.
  • We have currently shut down the [Location] until [Date] while we hire a professional sanitizing company to come and deeply sanitize our business.
  • [Any additional notes operations or logistics for customers/vendors e.g. new pick-up locations, store hours etc.]

Having one of our employees tested positive for COVID-19 is something we worked very hard to prevent and hoped would never happen. Nevertheless, it is a huge reminder for all of us to be vigilant by wearing masks, socially distancing, and following recommended safety precautions to protect our families, co-workers, and community. We thank you for your patience and continued support during this pandemic. 

How to Pivot Your Business and Survive. Right Now.

Unprecedented times require unprecedented responses. Hawaii companies and their people are facing rare challenges and there is little indication it will end soon.

Leaders at the helm of businesses must move fast to assess the current conditions of their market and customer, see clearly new opportunities, pivot the strategy, engage their leaders, and, above all else, move into decisive and iterative action.

Survival depends upon this.

At the heart of this plan is raw speed, decisiveness, and action. Details matter, but this is not the time for perfect information and analysis. Nor is this the time for committees, task forces, research, and organizational alignment on decisions. CEOs and their teams must dive in, see quick patterns, and make moves. Now.

Survival depends on speed.

But how do you begin as a CEO of, let’s say, a chain of restaurants, a thriving law firm, dental office group, or small hotel chain?

In one week, a CEO can take the following 7 immediate steps to position their companies to endure this crisis.

Step 1: Get your arms and legs around your customers and market situation.

Know what your customers and non-customers are planning.

  • What is the health of your primary market and customer? Are they spending money right now? Are they pulling back moving the next 3 months? How are they struggling?
  • Do customers believe they can survive? When will they recover? Will they be going out of business?
  • Are there any new customers or market opportunities that are emerging?
  • Who are your most valuable customers? What can you do to increase value to them, create loyalty, and new revenue streams?
  • Are there customers who are draining value and driving costs for your company? How can you optimize? Exit them?
Step 2: Examine your immediate and mid-term financial health.

Attack some key questions to assess the situation and the severity of the challenge in front of the company.

  • What is your cash position for the next 3, 6, and 9 months under worst-case conditions?
  • What is the condition of your sales pipeline and forecasted revenue streams?
  • What are your payroll and other benefits costing you?
  • What value are you getting from current marketing efforts? What is the state of debts owed?
Step 3: Assemble a >70% view of the current condition of the company.

Bring together your top thinkers on the leadership team including the person who heads finance and people. Get into a room. Don’t leave until you have a clear assessment of the problem. Move fast and bring together a 70% point of view of your market and customer situation alongside your financial and operations condition.

Draft your thinking on adjustments you must make now. What profitable customers can you build? Are there new products or services you can furnish to the existing market? Are there new, more attractive markets adjacent to you? Is there a new way to channel your offering such as online and home delivery? What changes can you make to operations today and cut costs while improving value to valuable customers? What initiatives and investments can be postponed? Abandoned?

Step 4: Get objective input that pushes you to get aggressive and innovate now.

Big companies have boards. Smaller companies have advisors, experienced friends, peer company leaders, some investors and board members, and a network of professionals who can provide perspective and expertise to push back and pressure test your initial assessment and planned moves. Enroll them now and ask for their honest, detached point-of-view that challenges your assumptions, your assessment, and your initial 70% plan. Get them to challenge attachments to precious, legacy operations and practices, and make bolder moves. Now is not the time to hold onto the past.

Step 5: Integrate the feedback. Build the 80% plan. And then pivot. Now.

We began this short piece with urgency and action. In this step, you must quickly integrate the feedback of the “board” on your initial thinking, move it to an 80% answer and move fast now.

There is no “I need to get aligned with the people in . . . .” There is no “we should really do some research to make sure that is truly an opportunity.” There is no “Let’s set up a bunch of project teams to diligently plan and walk these moves forward.” There is some of this but, essentially, this is a top-down lead plan for now.

There is only one word – Act.

Step 6: Communicate and engage your leaders as you sprint ahead.

Executives lead this effort but they must bring in their leaders who know the nuances of the operation to move even faster and land on the other side. They can identify mid-term innovations that should be protected so that the company is even stronger on the other side of this crisis. But again, this isn’t about committees and big meetings and holding on to what is precious. It's bringing in the best of your team to sharpen and drive the plan forward now without losing sight that we will emerge from this and want to be in a position to succeed there and then.

The executives and these first rung leaders must over-communicate. “We are in the fight for our lives. We’re repositioning our company. We’re making fast changes. Not tomorrow. Not in 2 months. Today, and we are doing this to survive today and, on the other side, thrive for the long term and continue to build a great company and place to work.”

The message – whatever it may be – should be clear and must be shared with the broader organization. Teams must be engaged in this dialog and mobilized to take action, bringing forward a constant flow of solutions that transform the company.

Step 7: Move, Measure, Modify – the “3 Ms” of Transformation.

The 80-90% plan is not the final answer. You have to move, measure, and modify. Move now with the plan you have today. This is your starting point. Measure your moves, however. Huddle each day in short meetings focused on the impact of the moves. What happened? What was the miss? Why? What was learned? Modify the approach where you missed and where you hit. Strengthen what is working. Fix what was missed or kill it on the spot so you don’t waste time and money. Move again. Measure again. Modify again, until you have the flywheel flying and momentum, or a foundation underfoot at least.

Many companies in Hawaii can survive the impacts of COVID-19 if they take action this week and commit to change now. Some of us will get to the other side with our companies. Sadly, some companies may not get to the other side of this. If you follow the above steps and get it done in less than 7 days, your chances for success improve.