SBN Staff

Improve performance, optimize efficiency and deliver value. That’s what employers are always under pressure to do. What many employers do not realize is that an integrated approach to safety and health can play a major role in creating healthier, high-performing workforces.

“Employers can have a major influence on the health and care behaviors of employees,” says Dr. Michael Parkinson, senior medical director for health and productivity at UPMC Health Plan. “Employers have a major role to play in both improving health and reducing health-related costs.”

Smart Business spoke with Parkinson about how to best improve employee health and productivity and reduce health costs.

What is the connection between employee health and company productivity?

Growing competitive and economic forces increasingly challenge employers and leaders of all organizations. A core asset of any organization is the health and productivity of its workforce, its ‘human capital.’ And as visible leaders, employers can influence their employees. It makes sense to provide an integrated, incentivized strategy to address the core drivers of poor health, excessive medical costs and lost productivity. Healthier employees are safer employees, and healthy, alert employees reinforce properly designed workplaces and safety policies.

By following an integrated and incentivized strategy that addresses the core drivers of poor health, excessive medical costs and lost productivity, employers not only improve the health and care behaviors of employees and their families but also add dollars to both their top and bottom line.

Total health management is increasingly being recognized as a business necessity, not a ‘nice to do.’

What’s the first step?

Building a culture of health, performance and productivity has been shown to be a critical determinant of the health and competitiveness of any business.

A comprehensive assessment of environmental drivers of health and productivity is an essential first step to determine an organization’s strengths and needs. The work environment is not just the traditional physical workplace, but also attitudes, behavior policies, compensation schedules and promotion opportunities.

Creating simple, reinforcing messages in corporate vision, compensation, and promotion and benefit alignment sends the message that employee and family health is core to the organization’s success.

How can healthy behaviors be improved?

Assisting employers to create the infrastructure to sustain health, wellness and productivity is a key responsibility of a health plan. A health plan can help sustain health and productivity through consultation, educational support, benefit alignment, and the creation of a wellness committee to initiate and sustain wellness efforts.

The recognition and rewarding of healthy employee champions is a key leadership message, along with making it known that the employer wants to assist employees and their families in achieving health goals.

By offering employees a health plan with appropriately designed and communicated incentives, employers have an evidence-based method to improve behavior change and increase employee engagement. Account-based, consumer-directed plans with additional targeted incentives for health improvement and care management decisions increase employee engagement and produce health care costs savings.

What results can an employer expect from an integrated and incentivized strategy?

The majority of the known causes of excessive health care and productivity costs — stress and mental health, absenteeism, short- and long-term disability, workers’ compensation, occupationally-related illness and injuries — can be addressed by an employer using a comprehensive and integrated strategy supported by targeted tactics, programs and practices.

By improving the health status of employees (and their families), by assisting them to get involved in their medical care decisions with their doctors and by directly targeting specific ineffective and inefficient medical practices and delivery modalities, both the employer and the employee can improve health and produce savings.

Dr. Michael Parkinson, MPH, FACPM, is the Senior Medical Director of Health and Productivity at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-5643 or

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

A commercial interior design firm works to help companies find a space that’s an effective setting for their operational and aesthetic needs, and tailors its services to best suit specific client goals. For example, one client may be relocating because of growth, another wants to reflect its rebranding throughout a new office, and another is downsizing operations and needs a cost-effective relocation solution. Design firms help clients such as these achieve their goals while saving them money, time and hassle along the way.

Smart Business spoke with Sam McWilliams, managing partner at SMC Consulting, LLC, to learn more about effective office relocation and design.

What are some ways to ensure a space suits a company’s needs?

A designer uses programming to learn about a company and its needs. He or she will spend a day at your office talking with management and employees to understand what is and isn’t working, then develop a space plan that will maximize efficiencies and increase productivity.

Another aspect of programming is learning about the company’s desired image and work to reflect that in its office look and design. Companies can effectively market themselves by injecting their brand image into their physical space. This can be achieved by using logo colors within the space or by finding ways to highlight the company’s products and services through imagery and design. If your space welcomes the public, then it should remain consistent with your brand promise and image.

How can a design firm help during relocation or construction?

A professional designer can help you get the most out of your rentable square footage by doing ‘test-fits’ in several buildings. This will help determine which building gives you the most usable square footage while comparing rentable cost per square foot rates.

Once a site is chosen, third-party oversight becomes an extremely valuable service to clients. Having a project manager represent you on a construction or relocation project ensures quality, cost control and that schedules are kept.

Weekly project update meetings will keep you informed and assured that the project is running smoothly. Project managers will keep control of the schedule, providing sufficient time for long-lead items and ensuring all the elements are in place and tasks are completed when they should be.

What needs to be done with the former location upon leaving?

First, know when your current lease termination date is and plan accordingly to avoid penalties. The more lead-time you have, the better project costs and schedules are controlled.

Next, avoid unexpected costs by reading and understanding the termination requirements in the lease. Some leases require that the building be restored to its original condition, which may require demolition, construction, data cable removal, etc. Some leases only require a cleaning after all assets have been removed. A relocation manager can provide assistance in the building closeout process.

What are ways a company can minimize the impact of a move on employees?

Companies should provide perks when relocating farther from ‘home’ because the risk of losing good talent is possible. Offset additional travel costs by offering free or reduced parking fees, public transportation discounts, or institute a flextime or a compressed workweek schedule. You can also identify area day care facilities and other personal services that are important to your employees before you announce the new location.

How can companies minimize operational interruptions when relocating?

Relocation managers take the hassle out of a physical move, whether it’s a multi-phase move, consolidating multiple offices into one or a single-phase move over a weekend.  Let them get you from point A to point B with little or no downtime.

Choose a design firm that can build an in-house team of designers, furniture planners, project managers and relocation experts. Firms that provide one point of contact, with all the resources at hand, makes the entire process seamless, which enables clients to focus on their core business.

Sam McWilliams is a managing partner at SMC Consulting, LLC. Reach her at (724) 728-8625 or

Insights Facilities is brought to you by SMC Consulting, LLC

Whether you love it, hate it or are still “on the fence,” the implementation of health care reform is in full swing.

“While escalating health care costs have long been a concern of employers who desire to offer a quality, competitive employee benefits package to their workforce, health care reform has presented even more challenges in terms of changing legislation, compliance issues and requirements,” says Ron Smuch, insurance and benefits analyst at JRG Advisors. “The business decisions that employers face today are more complex and require educated consideration and guidance.”

Consumerism, however, is a strategy often overlooked by employers in their efforts to keep health care costs down.

Smart Business spoke with Smuch about how to better manage health plan costs by promoting consumerism strategies.

How does consumerism help with costs?

Employees who make smarter, more cost-effective health care decisions have a positive impact on health care costs for themselves and for their company. Many employees simply underestimate the value of asking questions, researching health care options and taking a more active role in their health care purchasing.

What does it mean to engage employees to be wiser health care consumers?

Most people already practice ‘consumerism’ with purchases they make. Individuals will dissect a newspaper or magazine in search of coupons that will save them 50 cents. Yet when it comes to health care, which is a more complex and costly service, rarely do they ask questions or even consider other options that could save money.

How can you get started?

Making more conscientious health care decisions starts with educating employees on how their health insurance plan works. They need to know what is covered and what is not, and which providers or facilities to use to receive the most cost-effective, quality outcomes-based care.

Employees should be educated to ask their doctor questions such as: ‘How much does the treatment cost? Is there another option that is equally effective but less costly? What are the risks or side effects?’

Another area to educate employees is about prescription drugs. Surprisingly, many people mistakenly think that there is a difference between generic and brand name prescription drugs. They are unaware that the difference lies in the drug name and, yes, you guessed it, the cost.

How can making wise choices extend to emergency room use?

A trip to the emergency room is one of the most expensive types of outpatient care. Emergency rooms should only be used for true emergencies, as they are staffed, equipped and best suited for medical emergencies. Going to an emergency room for non-emergency care is a poor use of health benefits and is very costly.

Consumers should consider using an urgent care facility to assist with non-emergent care needs. For example, if you have a cold or unidentifiable rash that needs attention sooner than waiting through the weekend to see your general practitioner, consider going to an urgent care facility.

What’s the best way to create and implement a strategy that engages employees?

While these are just a few examples of wise health care purchasing, companies need to choose an advisor who can properly review its workforce demographics, utilization, trends, risks and rewards to create the consumerism strategy that is engaging, measureable to objectives and effective in achieving established goals.

Today’s health care landscape requires a consultative approach and commitment to strategic planning, expertise, innovation and technology. Companies should partner with an advisor who takes a proactive approach to educating employees about consumerism strategies. Through the use of employee communications, fliers, posters and payroll stuffers, employees can be educated to make wiser health care decisions and in turn become smarter health care consumers.

At the end of the day, quantifying the overall plan cost savings and improving employee health is the best and most rewarding engagement tool for employers and their employees.

Ron Smuch is an insurance and benefits analyst at JRG Advisors. Reach him at (412) 456-7017 or

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors

Monday, 24 February 2014 13:39

2014 Pillar Awards: photos and video

Medical Mutual 2014 Pillar Award for Community Service

On Jan. 16, 2014, Smart Business and Medical Mutual presented the 2014 Medical Mutual Pillar Award for Community Service event to a well-deserving group of honorees.

The evening event, held at the Statehouse, not only recognized corporate philanthropy in many forms and the special relationship between the for-profit and nonprofit worlds, but it also award grants to worthy causes.


Check out our Facebook album to see who was there


“If you aren’t familiar with the Pillar awards, you may view it as another night away from home for people who are already very busy. But that couldn’t be less true,” says Mark Pizzi, president and COO, Nationwide Insurance. “This night is very special. It’s a truly inspirational evening that provides a respite from the often negative and tumultuous news we hear each day. The Pillar awards recognize individuals who make this world a better place through sheer will and commitment. I can’t think of a more satisfying and inspirational evening.”

Nine organizations and seven individuals were honored with Pillar Awards throughout the night.


Check out a video about the 2014 nominations


For corporate philanthropy in all its forms, The Crane Group, Diamond Hill Investments, Fifth Third Bank, Franklin International, Molina Healthcare of Ohio Inc., OhioHealth, Sequent and White Castle were all honored.

The Medical Mutual SHARE Award for the organization that best represents employee-driven philanthropy went to Delta Energy Services.

The Rea & Associates Nonprofit Executive Directors of the Year are:

The Nonprofit Board Executives of the Year are:

The final honoree of the evening was Tom Feeney, CEO of Safelite Auto Glass, who received the 2013 Kent Clapp CEO Leadership Award.

In addition, The Pillar Foundation, established within the past year by Smart Business, reached its fundraising goal of $150,000, thanks to matching a commitment from Medical Mutual. At the event, the foundation seeded a new Pillar Fund at The Columbus Foundation with a $10,000 check, and $3,000 match from The Columbus Foundation.

Medical Mutual also presented a $25,000 grant to YWCA Columbus’ shelter program.

Learn more about the Medical Mutual 2014 Pillar Awards for Community Service

Rewind to 1964, the summer The Beatles invaded America —the world has never been the same.

Fifty years later, Trends International of Indianapolis is hoping to help recreate those old memories — and new ones  — by producing licensed posters, stationery and other items showing the record-setting band, marking the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania in the U.S.

For Vice President of Licensing Jeff Loeser, handling a product featuring one of the most popular brands isn’t unusual.

“We are used to dealing with similar types of artists, bands and brands, so we know the steps that we have to go through to get the approvals and what they will and won’t approve,” he says.

Protecting the image

“They don’t like to have their images or likenesses altered, which you can understand. They want it certainly to be a good quality product, and not a case of just kind of slapping their logo on something,” he says.

It’s not a case of taking the money and making a “Run for Your Life.”

“It’s more about protecting the brand perception, and keeping it at a higher end, if you will, and keeping it on products that won’t portray them as selling out,” Loeser says. “We deal with some of the largest studios and consumer product companies in the world, whether it’s Disney, ‘Star Wars,’ Marvel or different sports leagues, they are all very protective of their trademarks and their brands and how they are represented in merchandise.”

While almost everything imaginable has been marketed with the image of The Beatles, Trends International is sticking to some image-specific items — stationery, posters, calendars, stickers, decals and writing instruments.

One of the iconic photos being used is of the young Beatles in coats and ties walking in the streets of London. Later photos of the mustached and bearded Fab Four are also being used.

Trends International released posters and bookmarks late last year and is scheduled to market gel pens, stylus pens, stickers and decals in the first quarter this year. Then in the third quarter, 2015 calendars will be available. All products will be distributed through national retailers, as well as independent specialty and gift stores.

Trust and comfort

“We’ve worked with Bravado (Universal Music Group’s global merchandising company) for a long time, so I think part of that is they have a trust and a comfort level with the types of designs that we do, and our distribution and how we will treat the image of their artists,” Loeser says. “In addition to The Beatles, we represent a lot of other artists, but that is a sensitive topic of course because it does reflect directly on these high profile celebrities. But we are used to doing that.

“I think we treat everybody that way. Everyone’s brand or likeness, if it is a celebrity, we can appreciate their wanting to be portrayed in the best possible light, on the best possible product. We treat everybody that way whether it’s The Beatles or an up-and-coming star. But from our approach, we treat them all that way, and I think based on the types of products we do and sell — we’ve been in business for 26 years — they have that trust that we know what we are doing.

“They know their brand, they know their talent better than anyone, and we know our products and our consumers, our core demographics. We are very good at what we do and they are very good at what they do, so you put the two together and end up with some great products.”

In 2013, Bravado signed an agreement giving them the rights to offer official Beatles merchandise in North America. Trends International, however, isn’t the only third party to reap the benefits of this deal. Boelter Brands is producing merchandise glassware, drinkware and tabletop accessories. Working with Bravado, both licensees will produce special items featuring images from “Yellow Submarine,” the animated film in which The Beatles travel through the fantasy world of Pepperland facing the Blue Meanies.

“When dealing with a band as iconic and beloved as The Beatles, Bravado has had to be very careful with the band’s image and what companies to partner with,” said Tom Bennett, CEO, Bravado. “Both Trends International and Boelter Brands are at the top of their respective areas and we’re confident that The Beatles brand will be well taken care of and that Beatles fans will be very pleased with the vast array of products.”

Loeser says Trends International pursued the licensing deal, but had an existing relationship with Bravado so it was somewhat collaborative.

“For the products that we produce, we are kind of the go-to company for those products,” he says. “They know we have the distribution, we have quality, we have the retail relationships, and because we worked with them on other projects, when The Beatles became one of their clients, it was a good match.”

As for a sales forecast, you have to admit that money “Can’t Buy Me Love,” but it sure can bring back some memories from 1964.

“I imagine the calendars and posters probably will be the biggest sellers,” Loeser says. “Those categories, by nature are larger than our stickers, bookmarks and writing instruments. It is all going to be designed with the core fan in mind, and it seems like every new generation discovers or rediscovers The Beatles. So they always seem to have something going on, like the ‘Love’ show in Las Vegas.”

What will it take for Bravado to call the venture a success? When will Loeser be able to say, “I Feel Fine?”

“I can’t speak for them,” he says. “I think certainly sales are a factor. But if it came down to getting an order for something that they weren’t comfortable with or didn’t really care for the design on, and there was a customer ready to order it, they would probably rather say no and miss the order than get the order and put something in the market that doesn’t meet their expectations.

“There are certain things like that. We haven’t come across that yet, but from just being in this business, working with other licensors, you see that sometime. Some licensors don’t care. It’s just all about the money, and they will put their brand or their logo on anything whether it makes sense or not.

 “They are not the fads that come and go but they are the ones that last, are maybe a little bit more particular about what they will and won’t approve,” he says.
In other words, if your effort requires “Eight Days a Week,” it’ll be sure to last.

“We are really excited about it,” Loeser says. “I think it is going to be a great opportunity. We have a great design department. I think we are going to give it a nice, fresh look, using what’s available. Our initial response from our customers and everyone has been really positive too. We think it’s going to be great.”

How to reach: Trends International, (866) 406-7771 or  

Twitter: @IntlTrends

It’s a moment of panic for drivers: You suddenly notice the warning light on your fuel gauge, but you don’t know when it came on or how close you are to the nearest gas station.

Now, imagine you drive a compressed or liquefied natural gas-powered vehicle. The Pittsburgh region, for example, has only five natural gas fueling stations. That scarcity is a barrier to more people adopting cleaner, more fuel-efficient natural gas vehicles that could also reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Three professors at Robert Morris University have developed a mathematical model that determines the optimal locations for natural gas fueling stations in Pittsburgh, based on existing traffic flow and traffic density. The paper, authored by Tony Kerzmann, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Gavin Buxton, associate professor of physics; and Jonathan Preisser, assistant professor of mathematics, predicts the optimal locations for up to 128 fueling stations in Pittsburgh. The paper is being published in the journal Sustainable Energy Technology and Assessments.

A step toward energy independence

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, 14.8 million natural gas vehicles operate worldwide but only 112,000, including buses and trucks, operate in the United States.

Yet as the RMU professors note in their paper, while the U.S. imports 45 percent of its total petroleum consumption, the nation produces nearly 90 percent of the natural gas it consumes.

“A transportation sector dominated by natural gas vehicles would provide a huge step toward energy independence, but this is not the only advantage of natural gas vehicles,” the authors write. “Natural gas vehicles significantly lower carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, non-methane hydrocarbon, particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Taking a look at the model

As a first pass, the authors considered the total vehicle miles traveled through each location as the numerical variable with which to optimize the distribution of natural gas fueling stations. The fueling stations are treated in the model as wandering around, trying to find the regions with the higher numerical variable.

The computer model finds the optimum locations for a large number of natural gas fueling stations simultaneously, while penalizing the overlapping of natural fueling station locations — fueling stations that are close enough to one another that potential customers will be divided, and use both.

However, the numerical variable used to optimize the distribution of natural gas fueling stations is at present too crude. The authors, therefore, are looking at the socioeconomic factors that might make a given location a sound investment for placing a natural gas fueling station.

“Say you are BP and you wanted to change some of your existing gas stations to supply natural gas. Our computer program could tell you where to distribute the natural gas stations that would make the most sense, that would increase the likelihood of customers switching over to natural gas vehicles,” Buxton says.

Socioeconomic factors

The typical customer of a natural gas-powered vehicle might prefer to see natural gas fueling stations near his or her neighborhood, where he or she is likely to be refueling his or her vehicle, than in areas of high vehicle traffic. Therefore, while vehicle miles traveled through a given location may be an important variable, it is not the only variable to consider.

The number of residents in a given neighborhood might influence the decision of where to place a natural gas fueling station, along with the average household income — with customers from more affluent neighborhoods being more likely to purchase a new vehicle.

Furthermore, the typical political persuasion within a neighborhood might also influence the customers’ likelihood to purchase a natural gas-powered vehicle. For example, might it be possible to consider the type of customers that are more likely to buy a more environmentally-friendly vehicle, or a vehicle that reduces our dependence on foreign fuel?

The presence of existing gasoline fueling stations that could be converted to also provide natural gas refueling capabilities would be another influencing factor. For example, currently no gas stations are located in downtown Pittsburgh, making the Golden Triangle an unlikely destination for natural gas fueling stations.

However, it’s important to remember that ultimately a robust network of natural gas fueling stations could ease the transition to even cleaner hydrogen fuels. The infrastructure that we invest in now to transition to natural gas-powered vehicles is the same infrastructure required to store and transport hydrogen for hydrogen-fueled vehicles.


Natural gas basics

Natural gas is an odorless, nontoxic, gaseous mixture of hydrocarbons — predominantly methane. Because of the gaseous nature of this fuel, when stored onboard a vehicle, it must be in either a compressed gaseous (CNG) or liquefied (LNG) state. Both CNG and LNG are clean burning, domestically produced, relatively low priced and widely available for fuel vehicles.

  There are three types of natural gas vehicles:

  • Dedicated vehicles are designed to run only on natural gas.
  • Bi-fuel vehicles have two separate fueling systems that enable them to run on either natural gas or gasoline.
  • Dual-fuel vehicles, traditionally limited to heavy-duty applications, have fuel systems that run on natural gas and use diesel fuel for ignition assistance

  Natural gas accounts for about a quarter of the energy used in the United States.

  About one-third goes to residential and commercial uses, such as heating and cooking; one-third to industrial uses; and one-third to electric power production.

  Only about one-tenth of 1 percent is used for transportation fuel.

Source: Alternative Fuels Data Center, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program

How to reach: Robert Morris University, Jonathan Potts, senior director, public relations, or (412) 397-5291. For more information, visit

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of claims filed against employers arising out of employment practice disputes. Many claims have no legal basis, but employers are still forced to defend themselves — spending time and money.

“Businesses are more likely to have an employment practices claim than a property claim,” says Marc McTeague, executive vice president at SeibertKeck. “There are over 100,000 charges filed annually against employers under statutes imposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The majority of these claims target smaller businesses. However, no business is exempt.”

Smart Business spoke with McTeague about understanding employment practices liability coverage.

What’s important to know about employment practice claims?

Employment law has grown at an incredible pace since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, among others. Ambiguities in these laws allow the widest possible interpretation, which in turn opens the door for litigation.

The most frequent types of claims made against an employer are discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination and retaliation. There’s also been an uptick in wage and hour lawsuits. Claims can come from potential hires, former and current employees, clients, suppliers or vendors.

Discrimination can be defined as the termination of an employee, demotion, refusal to hire or promote due to race, color, religion, age, sex, physical or mental disabilities or handicaps, pregnancy or national origin. Think about the times you or someone in the office told an off-color or racy joke to a new employee or client. It’s only a matter of time until this comes back as a claim.

The average claim costs an employer $50,000, and defense costs represent about two-thirds of the total settlement. Without a mechanism to transfer risk, these costs could cripple smaller businesses, or at least damage their reputation. For larger businesses, one uninsured claim can lead to potential shareholder lawsuits.

How does employment practices liability coverage mitigate this risk?

Businesses can purchase a policy that provides coverage for a wide spectrum of employment-related claims and offers risk management services to help minimize the risk of getting sued. This policy protects the corporation, directors and officers, employees (including leased and temporary), volunteers, and in some cases can be endorsed to include independent contractors (when working for the employer).

The definition of a claim includes arbitration, regulatory and administrative proceedings, and EEOC and Department of Labor investigations.

Limits can range from $500,000 up to $10 million or higher. As your business assets grow, so should your limits. Settlement costs and legal fees are typically included in the policy limits. However, some carriers will provide separate limits for these costs.

It’s important, however, to be aware of the varying contracts and differences in coverage and exclusions from one policy to another. There is no standard form. Sitting down with your trusted insurance adviser will help with this process.

Beyond buying insurance, what preventive measures lower claim risk?

Minimize the possibility of costly claims by:

  • Creating an employee handbook detailing company policies and procedures.
  • Educating employees on sexual harassment and discrimination, and offering sensitivity training.
  • Establishing a procedure for handling employee complaints.
  • Developing job descriptions with clear expectations of skills and performance.
  • Conducting periodic performance reviews.
  • Creating an effective record-keeping system to document employee issues, and what was done to resolve them.
  • Instituting at-will employment.
  • Implementing procedures for hiring, firing and disciplining employees.

Many carriers offer free risk management services. Online resources provide best practices training modules for addressing sexual harassment, discrimination, investigations and termination, while providing links to HR websites.

Marc McTeague is an executive vice president at SeibertKeck. Reach him at (614) 246-7475 or

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck

Effective communication is a vital aspect of the employer-employee relationship regardless of industry and geography, says Renay Gontis, communications coordinator at JRG Advisors.

“The opportunity for quality dialogue demonstrates to employees that they are valued by the company. Conversely, a lack of value placed on communication can make them feel underappreciated, fostering discontentment and low morale,” Gontis says.

Smart Business spoke with Gontis about how to utilize the many channels for communication to supply employees with timely and accurate company news and information.

What tools can be used to communicate?

In today’s technological environment, employers have a variety of communication tools. And the majority of these tools are free. Consider the options available and how to best interface these tools with your current communication style. Emails, videos, blogs, newsletters and bulletin boards can all streamline the process and make it easier to communicate more frequently and effectively. Of course, face-to-face communication should remain an integral part of the communication process.

When should you communicate with your employees?

A formalized communication campaign and schedule will vary by business and company structure.

Items such as holiday schedules, recurring meetings and office hours can be efficiently introduced annually and reinforced on a company intranet or bulletin board, for example.

Other news such as that which impacts the overall company structure, success and progress should be communicated immediately, and in person even if that requires a Web interface for remote office locations or off-site employees. For example, if your company is considering a merger or reorganization, employees should be notified. Nothing diminishes morale and loyalty more than when employees hear about significant changes secondhand.

Other updates such as company goals, financial initiatives and benefit changes should be communicated on a quarterly or annual basis. If you engage employees in workplace wellness, you should communicate information about initiatives and results on a monthly basis.

How can you best engage employees?

It is important to encourage and solicit two-way communication so employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions with management. Sharing information with employees is essential; however, it is equally as important, if not more critical, to listen to their thoughts, concerns and ideas. This will bring additional value to the employees, while providing the employer with excellent feedback for future changes and improvements.

Employees do best when they feel engaged, informed and acknowledged, and are working for a company that cares about their individual needs. Quality and ongoing communication using a variety of tools and methods will improve employee morale and productivity.

Should employee demographics be considered?

Absolutely, consider demographics. A younger workforce will typically be more receptive to modern communication strategies such as blogs, social media tools, company intranets and other electronic communications. An older demographic may still prefer face-to-face and printed communication tools.

It is important to understand your employee comfort levels in regards to technology. Employers may consider surveying their employees to determine what forms of communication they prefer and what types of information they would prefer the company share with them on a regular basis. An employee survey will provide the insight needed to tailor a communication campaign, schedule and methods of delivery that will resonate with the workforce.

Ask your advisor today to identify communication options and how they can help you implement them for your employees. Consistent communication is a critical component for success.

Renay Gontis is a communications coordinator at JRG Advisors. Reach her at (412) 456-7000 or

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors

When it comes to telemedicine and telehealth, the future is most definitely now. Advances in technology have spurred advances in telemedicine and carry with it the potential to increase access to care, improve quality and reduce costs.
“Telehealth solutions have the capacity to improve the quality of care, improve access to care and reduce the cost of delivering care,” says Dr. Stephen Perkins, vice president of Medical Affairs for UPMC Health Plan. “It has the potential to reduce costs for both physicians and patients.”   

Smart Business spoke with Perkins about telemedicine and telehealth and their potential to improve care and reduce costs.

What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

Telehealth is a general term describing the delivery of health-related services and information by the use of telecommunication technology. It can include phone calls between physicians, videoconferencing or even robotic technology.

Telemedicine has a narrower definition: The specific use of medical information that is exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications for the health and education of a patient or a health care provider for the purpose of improving patient care. It includes consultative, diagnostic and treatment services.

Historically, hospitals and health systems in rural areas have been most closely connected with telemedicine, as travel times and a lack of specialty physicians has made telemedicine more attractive. However, the entire health care industry, urban and rural, national and even international, could benefit from its widespread use.

What are the most significant benefits from telehealth and telemedicine?

Certainly, the top benefit would be increased access both for patients and physicians.

Persons who live in remote areas have not always had access to the latest medical advances. With telemedicine, there is the capacity for specialists to evaluate a patient’s condition from afar. Homebound patients could have their conditions monitored and reduce the number of trips they need to make to a physician’s office.

With telemonitoring technology, a physician can oversee the progress of a patient and help the patient avoid problems. Telehealth technology breaks down many barriers to access to care.

What technologies are used in telehealth?

Many different technologies can be used. Among them are: videoconferencing, the Internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, terrestrial communications and wireless communications.

What are some examples of telehealth?

Telehealth can mean e-visits, whereby patients do not have to come into their physician’s office for a routine problem, but correspond via Internet and may even get a prescription for their condition, if needed. This way, routine matters do not tie up a physician’s time, and patients do not need to miss work or arrange for day care in order to get medical advice for minor matters.

In some instances when someone has a chronic condition requiring consistent monitoring, or they are homebound with a stroke, a telestroke program allows them to be seen by a specialist.   

Are there barriers to telehealth becoming more widespread?

Telemedicine implementation can be expensive and time consuming, which may make it difficult for health system executives to see the value, especially since not all patients will use the services.

In addition, with telehealth’s ability to transcend state boundaries, there may be issues regarding licensing and certification. Policies regarding telehealth licensing vary greatly between states.

How will this impact health care costs?

While the initial cost of the technology may be high, the overall impact should be to reduce costs. If monitoring a condition becomes easier because of telehealth access to patients, that should improve preventive care and reduce the number of emergencies, which will help to hold down costs. If telehealth advances can bring specialist care to places where it has never been before, that, too, should mean more effective treatments and, ultimately, lower costs.

Dr. Stephen Perkins is a vice president of Medical Affairs at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-7682 or

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Sheri Tackett
Founder and CEO
Delta Energy Services LLC

The past year has been a time of significant change at Delta Energy Services LLC. The company sold the natural gas commodity portion of its business and acquired a Canadian company in the spring, changes that resulted in a head-count reduction of almost 30 percent. It would have been easy to accept that with fewer people there wouldn’t be enough time or manpower to do a lot of work in the community.

It was just the opposite under the leadership of Sheri Tackett, the company’s founder and CEO.

There was an understanding that the company’s financial contributions might shrink, but an emphasis on volunteerism resulted in many wonderful stories of help and support to organizations across the area.

Homeless Families Foundation, Welcome Warehouse, The Salvation Army, Down Syndrome Achieves and the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio are just a few of the organizations that benefit from Delta Energy volunteerism.

Financial support was still there, too. The company’s longest running charity program is the Jeans Day Fund. Employees are given the option to wear jeans on Fridays in exchange for a $2 donation. The funds are matched 100 percent by the company and at the end of the year, the money raised is donated to a handful of charities nominated and voted upon by Delta employees.

There is a similar program called the Soda Fund, in which employees make a 25-cent donation if they take a beverage from the company refrigerator. Donations made this past year totaled $53,000. ●