Empower employees, improve accuracy and decrease HR workloads

Most businesses are using self-service technology to reduce transactional activities and save time. In the human resource world, this mechanism allows employees to update their address, keep contacts up to date, enroll in the company benefits plan, or otherwise review or change their personal information.

“It’s a tool to help offload those basic tasks from your HR department so they can focus on more strategic initiatives,” says Brian Donovan, Managing Director at IntegreatHR Technologies.

Self-service systems also improve the accuracy of employee data that companies must maintain. Rather than having HR representatives interpreting employee handwriting from forms then keying that data into an isolated system, employees companywide enter their information straight into an enterprise system.

“Employees also appreciate having access to their information and serving themselves,” he says. “It has, in some cases, been a morale booster because they can manage and access their information themselves rather than go through a gatekeeper.”

Smart Business spoke with Donovan about self-service technologies and how they impact businesses.

What does self-service technology look like and how do employees interact with it?

Self-service is a function or feature of whatever technology the company has chosen to run its HR payroll and benefits administration. Employees are typically logging in through a browser, which allows them to access their records while at the office or off-site. There’s a mobile application, or at least a mobile-responsive website, that allows employees to access the appropriate features.

What are the more notable benefits companies can derive from these systems?

Self-service systems can quickly guide employees to the tools and information they seek. This enhances the efficiency of payroll and HR processes, and can allow a company to offer additional services by providing links to external vendors and information.

It can reduce HR expense by cutting the time spent handling routine administrative matters and performing data entry, significantly reducing the amount of paper forms, distribution and processing, and virtually eliminating printing of forms.

These systems allow management to communicate consistent messages to employees on a regular basis, or as needs arise. It provides an unprecedented opportunity to deliver relevant, media-rich information to each person in an organization. Information that was once centralized can now be delivered to everyone in the organization through an HR website without HR intervention.

What size or types of companies stand to benefit most from self-service?

Just about any size workforce can benefit from self-service. Small businesses, for instance, can struggle to keep the detailed volumes of HR information organized and updated. Having fewer resources means carrying a greater workload, so self-service can offload some of that remedial work and allow HR staff to focus more on critical initiatives for the organization.

Larger organizations have so many employees that they need a solution like this in place just to keep up with all the changes and give employees access to information.

What are the keys to effective implementation of self-service?

When considering the implementation of a self-service system, first determine the most critical functions you want to allow your employees or managers to do. That will help you talk with a provider about what will give you the biggest bang for your buck. For example, a HR or payroll manager might be getting 50 requests each week for pay stubs. Instead of fielding each request, those managers could send employees through the self-service portal to retrieve it themselves.

Also, it’s important to have a plan in place to roll out the new technology, communicate its availability and explain why the tools are there.

There are systems with built-in tutorials that can help employees navigate the capabilities. As with any technology, having a good communication and training plan is important.

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by IntegreatHR Technologies

Just-in-time staffing offers impactful solutions without commitment

In 2008, the recession prompted many companies to downsize their workforces. Though the economy has improved, companies are still gun shy when it comes to hiring full-time employees because it can be difficult to justify the expense when the need for help will likely be short-lived.

At the same time, many companies are investing in new systems and processes to improve efficiency and productivity. They need talented and experienced people to help them implement these systems, but only for a short time. That’s why contract employees are getting more attention.

“Project-specific workers have the experience to meet the needs of a company’s short-term objectives,” says Beth Thomas, executive vice president and managing director of Consulting Services at Sequent. “This just-in-time talent is often the solution when there’s uncertainty that a project can sustain a full-time hire.”

Smart Business spoke with Thomas about how project-based workers are filling a vital need in today’s workforce.

What industries have the greater need for project-based employees?    

New market realities have many companies changing their business models, systems, processes and customer targets. With that change comes the need for experts who have helped companies achieve similar goals.

These changes are impacting companies from all industries and of all sizes. Retailers, for instance, are in the midst of a transition to an omnichannel model, which has them trying to achieve a channel-agnostic customer experience that’s consistent regardless of whether a consumer interacts with them online or in a physical store. This huge change requires significant resources to implement.

There are many transformations being undertaken by companies today. Some are looking to improve their internal processes around HR functions such as on-boarding programs, employee engagement and creating better processes around the employee experience. But the biggest is new systems implementation that looks to improve the customer experience through technology. These changes require project managers, tech support, quality assurance and testing, change managers, training and development personnel, and communications and HR thought leaders, many of which are not part of a company’s full-time staff.

Why might project staffing be a better answer for companies than hiring staffers?

Trying to execute enterprise-wide changes internally can be difficult as it diverts attention from the core competencies of employees and the company to a short-term project. Also, there are a lot of challenges finding good employees. Many companies might not have the resources to conduct a productive search in a market that’s hungry for top talent. Employees are expensive, so some companies prefer project-specific options because that allows them see if a person is a great culture fit or not.

Culture fit is increasingly important. Between 40 and 70 percent of employees report that they are unhappy at work, which can negatively impact productivity. People who are hired on a temporary or contract basis enjoy working on a variety of projects. When they’re at work, they’re fully engaged and can be very productive employees who don’t get caught up in office politics and culture challenges.

What challenges do companies typically face with project staffing?

Companies need great talent, but it’s becoming an employee market again. There is, however, a large contingent of unhappy employees who are disengaged or actively disengaged who are holding companies back from making meaningful improvements. Project-based staffing offers twice the engagement to help companies be more successful and get the return on their project’s investment they’re hoping for.

There are staffing and HR consulting companies that can help businesses find just-in-time talent for their projects without the commitment that comes with full-time employees. Going this route mitigates the burden of finding a qualified candidate and offers access to people who are ready to work, allowing a business to maximize that resource. It’s an arrangement that offers the benefits of a highly experienced employee without the risk that comes with a full-time hire.

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by Sequent

It costs money to fill a position. Make sure you’re doing it right.

A new hire is a living resource. Employers groom employees to take on more responsibilities in their companies, often investing in their education so that the investment will deliver a return.

“When you’re looking at hiring a person, there are a lot of costs involved,” says John Lamotta, director of sourcing, consulting services at Sequent. “There’s a cost for a recruiter to find a qualified candidate, costs for the hiring managers to conduct the interviews, costs for on-boarding, and the cost of training and bringing the candidate up to speed. Everything about bringing someone into a company costs money.”

Smart Business spoke with Lamotta about managing new hire investments for the greatest return.

Is there a commonly accepted trajectory to get a return on a hiring investment?

Much of it goes back to the culture of the hiring company. Some companies expect people to hit the ground running. Other companies are more about the on-boarding process and getting candidates acclimated.

While it depends on the manager, the general expectation is that in 90 days an employer will start seeing some independence and ability from the new hire to do the job. If that isn’t being realized, that could be the result of a manager who isn’t watching the employee’s progress closely, so it’s important for hiring managers to set goals and benchmarks for new employees.

Depending on the role, it could be a full year before the new hire is generating money for the company. The worst case, however, is hiring the wrong candidate. That can cost a company between three to 10 times the salary of the position being filled.

What can an employer do to maximize the return on a hiring investment?

From a recruiting perspective, the average time for a full-time position to be filled is between five and eight weeks. Improving on that starts with the job description. Employers must clearly define the position and what the person will actually do at the company. Without that clarity, the recruiter may take more time to find the right fit, so it’s about having a conversation with the people conducting the search to ensure you’re sending the right message.

Another factor in filling open positions effectively is speed. Hiring managers should understand that in today’s job market multiple employers are engaging candidates with certain niche skill sets. The unemployment rate for some professions is near zero. It’s important that when a candidate is presented to the hiring manager that he or she contacts that person immediately. Failing to do so may mean the candidate is no longer available, and the process has to start again, which costs money.

If you’ve been interviewing multiple qualified candidates each week and are not finding what you need, go back and adjust the job description. Look at what you want in terms of qualifications and what you’re wiling to pay, and ask yourself if it’s reasonable.

What are the common mistakes employers make that result in losing money on a hiring investment?

Many employers falsely assume that the on-boarding process is all about paperwork. It’s actually a process to acclimate the new hire into the workplace culture and familiarize them with the company’s systems, processes and their responsibilities so they can work to expectations and produce a return on investment.

Set benchmarks at 30, 60 and 90 days, as well as at the end of the first year, to gauge whether your investment is meeting the necessary criteria. If he or she is falling short, it could be something simple that’s impeding their understanding or ability to do the job.

Another key is to make new employees feel welcomed. Some people can go a month without feeling as if they’re part of the organization. Without engagement, people may be more worried about job security than doing their job.

Understand that there is a cost associated with every person that you hire. Those costs include the time existing employees spend to help acclimate and support the new hire. Don’t waste time. Be clear about what you want from a candidate and your new hire for the best results.

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by Sequent

Paying employees to go to heath care exchanges doesn’t add up to savings

There is growing sentiment among companies that they can save money by not offering health care coverage to employees and instead give them money to go to a health care exchange to buy coverage. Considering all the tax implications, however, this is not a cost-effective alternative.

Smart Business spoke with William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent, about the implications of dropping health insurance plans and sending employees to exchanges.

What’s the cost difference between providing health insurance and giving employees cash to go to an exchange?

Let’s say a company with 109 employees decides to drop health care coverage for employees and instead gives them cash to go to the federal exchange. In this scenario, the company would redirect an estimated $592,000, a figure that includes the combined premiums and health reimbursement account (HRA) dollars. On the surface, it would seem as if the company is saving money compared with an assumed $653,000 it would be paying in health insurance premiums. There are, however, tax implications under this scenario because of the loss of the pretax deduction.

Employees and the company both pay more in taxes on the $592,000 that ostensibly comes to them in the form of raises — $199,937 by employees and $73,395 by the company. There’s also an Affordable Care Act (ACA) penalty of $114,000 to the employer based on employee eligibility, because the company would no longer be a health plan sponsor. The employees also are paying all of the plan deductible, so that’s another $158,000, assuming a $2,000 deductible.

When considering all of those factors, the total cost is $779,894, or about $57,000 more to not offer health insurance.

Can employers with more than 50 employees use an HRA to help employees buy coverage?

An HRA no longer qualifies as a health plan because the ACA has changed how a company can use them. These accounts cannot be used to reimburse the employee for health care premiums paid for non-group health coverage. An HRA must be paired with enrollment in a group health plan and can only reimburse for qualified medical expenses.

How might self-insured health contracts offer a solution?

Self-insurance plans may be exempt from many ACA requirements, which is why companies have increasingly explored the option. It’s a strange set of rules, but companies can choose to cover or not cover certain things as long as they aren’t considered minimum essential coverage requirements. It can’t, however, be done in a limited way — a company can’t decide to cover autism but only up to $10,000 a year, for example. It has to choose to not cover it or cover it completely.

Self-funding creates more predictability for companies because they purchase a stop-loss policy to limit their liability. Health insurance costs will continue to rise because of an aging demographic. The plan design can help keep increases to 4 to 6 percent annually compared to potential 30 or 40 percent increases, making health care costs more predictable. This option can be available to businesses with fewer than 50 employees, although it’s tough to achieve the same results because they don’t have the numbers to mitigate the risk of large claims.

Self-insurance is a plan design matter. Being self-insured with a specific stop-loss point might work. Companies with 30 employees can have a stop-loss of $10,000 each. Then companies must determine their actuarial funding and reserve that amount to pay for claims and expected losses. When applied to a healthy employee group, it makes financial sense.

Companies with 50 or fewer employees can join a larger health care coverage pool through an aggregation model. In this arrangement, member employees can get access to health care while a service provider handles all ACA compliance tracking, reporting and legal compliance. The approach can give companies transparency into health care cost drivers for their group.

New information regarding ACA regulations continues to surface, and it takes months to rethink a health insurance strategy. This will continue to be difficult for companies to work through for the next few years.

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by Sequent

How to fix a broken company culture

Workplace culture is getting a great deal of attention as the market works free from the grip of recession. Hiring is on the uptick and employers are pitted against each other in a competition for top talent. Millennials and Gen Y workers, however, have peculiar interests. They’d rather have a great work environment than a bigger paycheck. As companies look to acquire the best and brightest — and retain their most valuable employees — they’re busy on social media and their own websites hyping their culture and all its appeal.

What if your culture is not well defined and candidates and employees can’t relate to the organization’s higher purpose? Can you draw in the talent you need when your current employees are disengaged?

“When a company is experiencing lack of clarity and purpose, it’s often because executives have not operationalized their corporate values, which are the building blocks of any culture,” says Midge Streeter, talent management consultant at Sequent.

“Culture cannot be mandated, dictated, controlled or replicated. It can be created, shaped and sustained, but there has to be a means to do that, such as a collaborative leadership mindset, an effective framework of change and leadership that is willing to engage employees. It’s not an easy thing for senior leaders to do.”

Smart Business spoke with Streeter about how to fix a broken culture.

How does a company get its workforce back on track after its culture has been negatively impacted?

Senior leaders must understand that it’s their role to shape culture. They must deliberately set a clear and compelling purpose for themselves and the company coupled with a strong business rationale.

Take inventory of what’s important, what needs to be changed and come away with a compelling purpose that can inspire the company to get its culture back on track. This needs to be supported with resources and a systematic execution plan, which gives employees something to get aligned to.

An important part of changing culture is personal change. People need to unfreeze their existing habits. With clear vision and purpose, management and employees can determine what they need to do different to align with the vision of leadership. This has to happen on an emotional level.

Executives need to be clear on the ‘from’ and ‘to’ of the journey. They need to paint a picture of the problem, the way out of it and the end result. Executives also must sell the result to get everybody on-board. This creates the energy and momentum to get employees engaged and back on track.

What if an executive’s idea of what the culture should be doesn’t match with the personalities in the organization?

Executives whose idea of culture doesn’t gel with the concept held by their company won’t last long. A company may go through multiple changes at the top before it finds a leader who can get the troops engaged.

Department managers, or those folks in middle, are champions for change. Their mindset must be aligned to the vision and priorities that senior leadership has defined. Executives, however, need to help direct reports manage change and coach them along the journey. Otherwise a middle manager’s under preparedness can be a barrier to success.

What are the steps to establishing the right company culture?

Once a company’s values are in place it needs to operationalize those values. A variety of activities can help in this regard, such as applying those values to the recruiting and orientation of employees.

To bring those values alive, companies need to ask behavioral questions to determine if a candidate’s values match those of the organization. Once an employee is hired and in place, his or her orientation has to cover what those values look like inside the company and how they’re reflected in employee behavior.

Another area to explore is performance management. That system should hold people accountable for their work based on understanding those values. Awards and recognition can go a long way to reinforcing behaviors that are in alignment.

If there’s any doubt on the part of a leader as to whether folks are committed to corporate values, ask. These conversations can provide valuable feedback.

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by Sequent

Peril awaits companies that forego change management

Companies spend millions of dollars on new enterprise resource planning systems designed to improve productivity and increase efficiency. They allocate just pennies, however, for organizational change management, which is the difference between success and failure when installing new systems.

“Change management is essential to ensure impacted associates understand how to operate in their new world and can adapt to the new systems and processes,” says Beth Thomas, executive vice president and managing director of Consulting Services at Sequent. “If they can’t adapt, the initiative will fail.”

She says success hinges on preparing the organization at all levels for what this new world will look like and how associates can be successful within it.

“When we change the working world, the people operating within it lose a sense of what success looks like. It’s up to the change management partners to make sure everyone understands how they transition from old to new and how to be successful.”

Smart Business spoke with Thomas about the change management process with system implementation.

Why do enterprise projects fail?

The No. 1 reason projects fail is because they don’t have adequate executive leadership support or sponsorship. Without leadership, 56 percent of projects fall behind schedule and 37 percent run over budget. More than one-third of projects are considered complete or partial failure, and less than 20 percent fully achieve the stated objective.

Without strong leadership behind the change process, employees express confusion and frustration because of the lack of support and direction. They become disengaged, which increases mistakes, reduces productivity, causes turnover and leads to the failure of the project.

What is the responsibility of the C-suite in change management?

Leaders want to get behind the critical initiatives that are tied to new technology, but they rarely serve as an example of proper adoption — they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. It’s not enough to speak about the importance of change. Their actions need to support that sentiment because that will set the tone for the entire organization.

Company executives need to champion the change by speaking about it at every opportunity, asking questions, getting feedback from associates on the transition and holding people accountable for the success of the implementation. They also need to let go of the old system and embrace the new. They can’t tell associates to get out of their comfort zone and then ask them to generate a report from the old system.

It’s helpful if executives present the benefits of making the change. Talk about why the new system is being implemented and the benefits to company and employees.

Also, set realistic expectations. Give associates time to learn and be patient with their questions and concerns.

What are the steps of change management?

First, do a needs assessment to understand the transition, where the company is going and where it’s coming from, where the greatest impact will occur in the business and who will be affected. An impact analysis and change readiness assessment will help a company understand whether it has the right staff, culture, timeline and project milestones in place.

It’s important to get everyone on the same page, from an organizational change team to each associate, the managers and the executives, to set expectations. A change agent network can be created that comprises department leaders and influencers to make sure they are prepared to help lead the rest of the team through the process.

Change management requires a lot of communication. It must be clear why the change is happening. Many companies stop the change management activities when the system goes live. That’s a mistake because that’s when people need the most support, and it ensures the change is sustained when the system is live.

In essence, change management is about winning people’s heads and hearts in order to gain the desired results from your transformation. It’s your insurance policy to gaining your ROI of those expensive new systems. Are you ready to change?

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by Sequent

ACA compliance is made easier with HR information systems

One of the more challenging components of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the complexity of the reporting and tracking requirements with which companies must comply. Already, the legislation has introduced myriad challenges into the day-to-day operations of businesses, requiring that they pay strict attention to administrative details. Employers can expect ongoing changes through the year 2018.

As part of ACA compliance, employers this year will be required to report each employee’s monthly health insurance coverage status and hours as well as the cost of coverage and a benefits summary. Companies must ensure they can handle the necessary reporting, which is nearly impossible to track with pen and paper.

One way to cope with the heavy compliance burden is with a human resource information system. This data entry and tracking software has applications that will allow even the smallest HR departments to keep up with ongoing reporting requirements. The alternative to accurate reporting is heavy fines and penalties that could severely harm a company.

Smart Business spoke with Brian Donovan, Managing Director of IntegreatHR Technologies, to learn more about these systems and how they can help companies stay compliant.

What are HR information systems?

An HR information system helps HR staff manage data related to payroll and benefits. On the payroll side, it makes it easier to evaluate hours and full- or part-time status, data that is necessary for ACA compliance.

On the benefits side, these systems make it easier to determine whether plans meet the legal affordability and minimum coverage standards.

Most systems provide look-back reporting to help you track employee hours, minimize overtime and optimize schedules. These systems offer ease of use for employers to see across all relevant information sets, instead of looking through filing cabinets and pulling multiple reports.

How can these systems help improve a company’s reporting?

Systems today offer the ability to dive into all available data and customize information presentations into dashboards that sync-up with ACA or other reporting requirements, allowing staff the most accurate account of employee status.

Having a consolidated HR benefits platform puts all the data HR staff need in one place.

Most system providers are offering cloud-based solutions, which allow HR professionals to stay on top of changes that are occurring with regulations that affect compliance requirements, and access critical data remotely.

This makes it easy for employers to implement rule changes in their reporting and know when they apply. HR staff no longer need to dig as deep to understand what can be very complicated legal requirements because these systems can compile the most essential information.

There is also support available for these platforms, which offers an added layer of assistance to get questions answered about system features that can make reporting more efficient.

Who can benefit from the implementation of an HR information system?

Many HR staff have trouble keeping up with all the aspects of compliance. This is especially true in smaller and mid-market companies, which typically don’t have the amount of HR employees, or the top level systems in their department to keep up with industry changes, law changes, and changes in federal, state and municipal tax codes.

Some companies are trying to spread out the management of the many HR reporting functions with forward-thinking technology. They’ve moved to an employee self-service model in which individual employees handle their benefits enrollment, changes to personal information, reporting needs and hour tracking.

On the other end, HR staff have access to the data analytics that are needed for reporting. This allows a company to dedicate more resources to its core competencies rather than being bogged down by administrative burdens.

The toughest challenge with the ACA is that it’s constantly changing. Once you think you understand the implications for your business, it changes again. HR information software can help HR staff stay on top of the law and avoid costly penalties.

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by IntegreatHR Technologies

Making the most out of your new year at work

The new year is an opportunity to make positive changes. People pledge to lose weight or spend more time with family. In that same vein, many people look to make changes in their work life.

“With work-specific goals, ask yourself what makes you unhappy at work. Is it your boss? Your performance? It’s important to identify the things you can change and the things you can’t,” says Beth A. Thomas, executive vice president and managing director at Sequent Consulting.

Smart Business spoke with Thomas about setting work-life goals and strategies on sticking with your resolutions.

How should the goal-setting process begin?

The first step is to determine what you want to change about yourself. Evaluate all areas of your life at work and at home. Settle on realistic goals that are specific, measureable and actionable. Give yourself a timetable that sets the pace for realizing your goals and dedicate yourself to giving the energy and time necessary to achieve them. Keep in mind that it took many years to get to where you are today and you won’t be able to make a complete change in a month.

What are some work-related goals that people should consider?

It’s said that 80 percent of people don’t leave their job they leave their boss. Resolve to call a truce with your boss and figure out how you can both move forward toward a healthier relationship.

Know that you can’t change your boss, but you can change how you interact with him or her. To do that, find people who get along with him or her and steal behaviors from them. If you can’t improve that relationship — you’ve tried everything and you’re still miserable — then you need to leave.

Another area to consider improving is your relationship with your colleagues. It’s a good idea to work first on your direct reports and management. That goes a long way to making the work environment a better place to be, and may lead to work getting done faster because you can utilize your peers to get things done.

What are some tips on staying on track to achieve New Year’s workplace goals?

One way to stick to the changes you’d like to make is to set up a personal board of directors. They’ll be responsible for watching you work and evaluating how you are behaving in your job, and can help you through tough situations with real-time feedback on how to improve your behaviors.

Choose people for your board who will take an interest in your personal development. They should understand your goals and commit to helping you get there, or at least give you feedback.

Additionally, put your goals and the actions to achieve them on a calendar just like you would schedule your work appointments. That will help you prioritize your commitment to improvement and help you stay on track.

How can people overcome the challenges of self-improvement?

Unless someone wants to be helped they won’t make changes. It’s important that you recognize your flaws so that you’re more motivated to fix them. This can be done through a 360 review, which can help you understand how you’re being perceived. It can be a humbling experience to be criticized by your peers, but it can help you get to a place that allows you to accept feedback.

How can people overcome obstacles and stick with their positive changes?

There are a few things that commonly keep people from realizing positive change: Their goals are too steep or unrealistic, there’s no action timetable driving the pace of change, or they don’t hold themselves accountable or have an accountability partner to keep them on track.

Set smart and realistic goals. You need small wins along the way to larger goals because otherwise it’s hard to stay motivated. Have frequent talks with accountability partners on your personal board of directors to gauge your progress.

Don’t forget to add to your goals the positive things you’re already doing that should continue. Expect to have backslides, but stay focused and don’t quit.

Finally, think about what you start, stop and continue, and never forget to celebrate your wins along the way.

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by Sequent