Jessica Tremayne

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 19:00

The road less traveled

With tough economic times taking a toll on all of us, your first instinct to rising business travel costs might be to eliminate the expense across the board.

Don’t do it.

Travel leads to growth and cutting it is counterproductive. If you’re looking to adhere to a more realistic plan, consider reevaluating your travel policy and consulting with a travel management company to save 20 to 30 percent on travel while keeping worthy trips in the budget.

Travel is the second-largest controllable cost for the average U.S. business, seated between data collection and salaries, yet most companies have little or no management of it.

While your company may have an unofficial policy instructing employees to ‘get the cheapest rate,’ a policy that isn’t managed and enforced is equivalent to not having one at all.

A Smart Business poll showed that 84 percent of respondents’ employees are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. The problem is, if your employees are utilizing online booking agencies or different vendors, your company is likely losing out in the long run. If you lump your travel needs together with selected vendors and submit requests for proposals, your annual negotiated rate will outweigh nickel-and-dime savings earned on a case-by-case basis.

Why travel management is important

If you take steps to retain a travel budget and manage it efficiently, you will most likely see a significant return on your investment.

Sixty-nine percent of companies polled in an October Association of Corporate Travel Executives survey say they will be spending less or the same on travel in 2009.

“Businesses citing lateral travel expenditures in 2009 will likely just be traveling less as the cost of travel has climbed significantly,” says Susan Gurley, executive director, Association of Corporate Travel Executives. “Even those who say they are spending more are barely keeping up with the increase.”

You’d like to think your employees have the company’s best interest in mind, but statistics show companies that place a travel manager or an outside agency in charge of travel finances stay within the confines of their budgets while employee-handled travel has a less successful return on investment.

You need to take a proactive approach to managing your travel costs if you expect to get bottom-line results for a minimum of expense.

But being smart about your budget entails more than waiting for the computerized ping alert of a reduced airline fee like one of Pavlov’s dogs. While airfare is the most costly aspect of travel, you don’t want to arbitrarily eliminate it.

“The first step is to differentiate between strategic and nonstrategic travel,” Gurley says. “Strategic travel generates revenue while nonstrategic travel is anything that results in cost but has no substantial gain in revenue.”

In most cases, meetings with customers are justifiable, as there is a direct correlation to revenue gains. On the other hand, meeting with the head of the Omaha office may not have much effect on your bottom line this year, so consider cutting that — and other trips like it — out of the budget. Use videoconferencing or teleconferencing equipment for these internal meetings whenever possible.

Why?

Because internal travel can account for about 40 percent of a business’s travel. Don’t worry, technology has come a long way since the early days of choppy robotic movements and out-of-sync voices. Look into Skype and WebEx as a couple of travel alternatives that could save you money while still keeping you in touch with your people in a more personal manner.

“Our heaviest travel season is February and July,” says Mia McPherson, publicity director, Brighter Minds Media LLC. “We have an employee in Germany now. We travel to meetings for major accounts and conferences, but we’ve been using teleconferencing on a weekly basis to save time and money.”

What you need to know

Getting your travel budget under control starts with the assembly of an in-house team of policymakers who vow to prevent travel anarchy while clearly defining your terms and expectations. A good policy will answer why travel management is necessary, detail the value of expectations, cite the requirements and give examples of useful practices.

The team involved in policy planning should include you, a scheduler, travelers and the finance team. After the policy is made, one person should oversee its enforcement and keep up to date on travel industry policy. This could be a part-time or full-time position based on need.

A realistic travel budget must be based on destination costs versus a flat-rate figure that is impossible to meet in all travel locations. A rate for things like car rental, hotel and food must be figured depending on the median rates in that city.

A policy needs to be revised annually to adjust to economic and company needs, and some flexibility is required in any plan. For example, an employee’s time may be more valuable than the cost savings from putting the person on a later flight, especially if arriving later could jeopardize a meeting with a client.

Also, you want to make sure the employee’s time is used efficiently on any business trip. A policy should entail what is expected of employees during travel and ways they should make the best use of time outside of the office. Meeting with multiple clients during a conference or calling on one located en route are a couple of ideas to maximize the value of a trip.

Some businesses use online booking agencies, believing their rates will be lowest and eliminate travel management company fees, which can account for 3 percent of all travel costs. But the majority of costs — 97 percent — goes to airfare, hotel and car rental, which is the same arena in which a travel manager will save money.

“A lot of people are seeing the value of travel agencies now in this new economy,” says Elizabeth Blount, vice president, UNIGLOBE Travel Designers Inc. “Fees change 4,000 times a day, having employees monitor that is a waste of company time.”

While travel costs are unlikely to decrease anytime soon, getting through the initial pain may be the biggest challenge facing business.

“The cost increase is felt the hardest initially,” Gurley says. “However, increases and a poor economy have resulted in a reduction in routes traveled — about 12 percent fewer flights are available today than even a year ago. This figure will increase and companies that considered reducing travel to be cost-effective will find flying increasingly less attractive into 2009. Optimistically speaking, the economy will eventually level out, but being prepared will mean better opportunities.”

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 19:00

The road less traveled

With tough economic times taking a toll on all of us, your first instinct to rising business travel costs might be to eliminate the expense across the board.

Don’t do it.

Travel leads to growth, and cutting it is counterproductive. If you’re looking to adhere to a more realistic plan, consider reevaluating your travel policy and consulting with a travel management company to save 20 to 30 percent on travel while keeping worthy trips in the budget.

Travel is the second-largest controllable cost for the average U.S. business, seated between data collection and salaries, yet most companies have little or no management of it.

While your company may have an unofficial policy instructing employees to ‘get the cheapest rate,’ a policy that isn’t managed and enforced is equivalent to not having one at all.

A Smart Business poll showed that 82 percent of respondents’ employees are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. The problem is, if your employees are utilizing online booking agencies or different vendors, your company is likely losing out in the long run. If you lump your travel needs together with selected vendors and submit requests for proposals, your annual negotiated rate will outweigh nickel-and-dime savings earned on a case-by-case basis.

Why travel management is important

If you take steps to retain a travel budget and manage it efficiently, you will most likely see a significant return on your investment.

“The majority of business travel policies are flawed,” says Carl Howard of All Points Travel — Atlanta. “If companies invested time in their strategy of travel planning, they can reduce overall expenses while keeping face time with clients. This year’s economic roller coaster has businesses sloppily hacking away at travel, which is making a bad problem worse.”

Sixty-nine percent of companies polled in an October Association of Corporate Travel Executives survey say they will be spending less or the same on travel in 2009.

“Businesses citing lateral travel expenditures in 2009 will likely just be traveling less as the cost of travel has climbed significantly,” says Susan Gurley, executive director, Association of Corporate Travel Executives. “Even those who say they are spending more are barely keeping up with the increase.”

You’d like to think your employees have the company’s best interest in mind, but statistics show companies that place a travel manager or an outside agency in charge of travel finances stay within the confines of their budgets while employee-handled travel has a less successful return on investment.

You need to take a proactive approach to managing your travel costs if you expect to get bottom-line results for a minimum of expense.

But being smart about your budget entails more than waiting for the computerized ping alert of a reduced airline fee like one of Pavlov’s dogs. While airfare is the most costly aspect of travel, you don’t want to arbitrarily eliminate it.

“The first step is to differentiate between strategic and nonstrategic travel,” Gurley says. “Strategic travel generates revenue while nonstrategic travel is anything that results in cost but has no substantial gain in revenue.”

In most cases, meetings with customers are justifiable, as there is a direct correlation to revenue gains. On the other hand, meeting with the head of the Omaha office may not have much of an effect on your bottom line this year, so consider cutting that — and other trips like it — out of the budget. Use videoconferencing or teleconferencing equipment for these internal meetings whenever possible.

Why? Because internal travel can account for about 40 percent of a business’s travel. Don’t worry, technology has come a long way since the early days of choppy robotic movements and out-ofsync voices. Look into Skype and WebEx as a couple of travel alternatives that could save you money while still keeping you in touch with your people in a more personal manner.

What you need to know

Getting your travel budget under control starts with the assembly of an in-house team of policymakers who vow to prevent travel anarchy while clearly defining your terms and expectations. A good policy will answer why travel management is necessary, detail the value of expectations, cite the requirements and give examples of useful practices.

The team involved in policy planning should include you, a scheduler, travelers and the finance team. After the policy is made, one person should oversee its enforcement and keep up to date on travel industry policy. This could be a part-time or full-time position based on need.

“The policy should state that every traveler takes the lowest fares within the defined parameters,” says Terry Brennan, president, Williamsburg — American Express Travel. “Travelers should stay at mid-sized hotel properties and rent midsized cars. Everyone should deal with an in-house policy administrator, which will keep organization.”

A realistic travel budget must be based on destination costs versus a flat-rate figure that is impossible to meet in all travel locations. A rate for things like car rental, hotel and food must be figured depending on the median rates in that city.

A policy needs to be revised annually to adjust to economic and company needs, and some flexibility is required in any plan. For example, an employee’s time may be more valuable than the cost savings from putting the person on a later flight, especially if arriving later could jeopardize a meeting with a client.

Also, you want to make sure the employee’s time is used efficiently on any business trip. A policy should entail what is expected of employees during travel and ways they should make the best use of time outside of the office. Meeting with multiple clients during a conference or calling on one located en route are a couple of ideas to maximize the value of a trip.

Some businesses use online booking agencies, believing their rates will be lowest and eliminate travel management company fees, which can account for 3 percent of all travel costs. But the majority of costs — 97 percent — goes to airfare, hotel and car rental, which is the same arena in which a travel manager will save money.

While travel costs are unlikely to decrease anytime soon, getting through the initial pain may be the biggest challenge facing business.

“The cost increase is felt the hardest initially,” Gurley says. “However, increases and a poor economy have resulted in a reduction in routes traveled — about 12 percent fewer flights are available today than even a year ago. This figure will increase and companies that considered reducing travel to be cost-effective will find flying increasingly less attractive into 2009. Optimistically speaking, the economy will eventually level out, but being prepared will mean better opportunities.”

Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

Lost and found

If your IT guru has told you that something called search engine optimization is the way to go, but you’re still foggy about what it is or why you should care, consider this: When done right, SEO could double your return on investment and help you acquire scores of new customers.

Search engine optimization in its most basic form is simply about making your Web site appear higher up in search results from sites like Google and Yahoo.

Search engines are the starting point of almost all online activity, second only to e-mail, yet 90 percent of readers surveyed by Smart Business say search engine optimization isn’t part of their current marketing strategy. Search engine optimization has a rightful place in every company’s budget, yet few companies ‘get it,’ and they don’t allocate serious funds into the development of a program.

It all starts when a potential customer enters a search term into Google. Two types of search results are displayed: natural and pay-per-click.

Natural search, which are the results shown on the left side of any search page, are based on merit and validity to the keywords used. The results in the narrow column on the right are pay-per-click results.

When you optimize your site for natural search, it can take three months to see progress in your rankings. The better the optimization, the higher up your site will appear in relevant searches, increasing your chances for a sale.

Pay-per-click gets immediate results by displaying your ad when someone searches for a particular keyword that you choose, but you are charged every time someone clicks on your site. This is an advertisement and a temporary fix.

Why optimization is important

The name Google is so widely used that it’s the newest verb in the English language. Everyone knows of the search engine because it has a commanding market share (various online sources cite 60 to 70 percent on average), so the connection is easy to make: If your Web site ranks high on Google, that’s the best way to reach an audience that’s looking for your goods or services. SEO gets your name in front of consumers at a time they are looking to buy what you sell.

SEO creates compelling information on your site, makes it easy to find and spreads your name around the Internet as much as possible. In the process, your site will be placed ahead of your competition when keywords are searched related to your business.

“Even though we all use search engines all day long, clients often say they don’t think this will bring me much business,” says Rob Swick, partner, SEO Philadelphia. “Those clients are always surprised. No matter what you have or sell or do, people are looking for you.”

Competition plays a role in the difficulty in ranking high, but a series of criteria installed by Google and implemented by SEO firms help make the ranking determination.

“Companies shy away from SEO because they don’t understand it, or they’ve had a bad experience in the past,” says William Flaiz, vice president of SEO and Web analytics, Avenue A/Razorfish “This is unfortunate because their site is suffering in the end. A professional SEO firm will be able to tell their clients what keywords generated traffic to their site, how long people stayed on the site and what pages they clicked on.”

The longer you wait to take action, the more difficult it will be to get your site ranked higher.

“If you don’t invest in SEO, it’s like handing clients over to your competitor,” Swick says. “Someone is getting that business at the top, and it’s a lot of business. If it’s not you showing up first, it’s someone like you who has seized the opportunity.”

What to look out for

Although understanding the intricate details of what makes search engine optimization work would require two Advil and a clear schedule, knowing the basics and what questions to ask will minimize the use of your mental reserves. There’s no accreditation program for SEO firms, but getting a brief education of the process will allow you to know your opportunities instead of becoming one.

First, there are different forms of SEO, none of which comes with a guarantee. There are two main types of search: local and global — and you’ll also hear the term “universal search,” which encompasses both, plus video. A business like a restaurant would probably be interested in a local search only, so would focus on keywords and phrases that include the city name.

One of the easiest ways to measure what keywords might help you rank high is Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics). It’s a free service provided by Google that allows you to test the current value of your Web site and gives you detailed reports on what keywords are being used to find your site.

But keywords are not the only measure of success.

“A big barrier to success is implementation,” Flaiz says. “It’s good to know if a company will be working for you at a greater capacity than just finding keywords.”

Web site design also plays an intricate role in the process. Your site may have an impressive appearance, but spiders — software robots that “crawl” the Web indexing data — must be able to understand information on the page, or it will not be efficiently indexed, dropping your Web site’s ranking.

Mobile search is the newest type of optimization and sometimes it’s referred to as “third screen.” In the U.S., mobile marketing is largely used for local search, but foreign markets rely on mobile Web access heavily for all facets of search.

Getting the most return from your site requires a balance of compelling information, easy access and optimization that gets it to the top of the search engine rankings. Most professional firms will be able to handle all of these needs, but again, ask questions before signing anything.

Ask the SEO firm if it performs link building, which places a link to your site from other reputable sites. Also ask what techniques it uses to create incoming links to ensure they follow search engine guidelines.

Also, ask the company how it tests, measures and reports results. Think about what you want to know, such as how many people visited a page and if they made a pur-

chase, and make sure the firm can provide that data. The SEO firm must provide updates that mean something to you. Also ask to see samples of its work and see where those clients rank.

Once you find a company you are comfortable with, think long term.

“If you are thinking of hiring an outside company, you should definitely engage in it for a year,” says David Roth, director of search marketing, Yahoo. “SEO is a long, iterative process with delayed results; you’ll want to keep the agency around so they can maximize the benefit to your company and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Like anything else, SEO gets you what you pay for and that means hours of work and a decent chunk of your marketing budget. Since a feasible figure depends on your budget, factor at least a quarter of your marketing budget for SEO.

“The good news is, once SEO is put into place, the cost of attracting a new user is practically zero,” Roth says. <<

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Multiple choice

If you are toiling over what to do about training, you’re not alone.

Tuition reimbursement and continuing education look good on paper and are great recruitment and retention tools, but, as businesses are finding out, in today’s economy, those types of programs could also look more like a dispensable employee perk than a business necessity.

While academics will tell you it’s a mistake to cut training from the budget, those closest to financial reality will suggest trimming the fat and adopting a leaner training strategy that ties education to the company’s immediate needs. For most businesses, this means doing away with the nice-to-have training and focusing on the must-haves that affect the bottom line today.

“Most companies aren’t following my advice because they haven’t asked me,” says Vincent S. Daniels, executive director, executive education, H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. “Companies are cutting back and not necessarily consulting with anyone before they do it. Businesses that had training up to three times a month have gone down to almost zero. Businesses often don’t understand that when you’re putting money into an employee, you’re making an investment in the company. Those that keep education going through the down economy will get the market advantage when the economy comes back.”

Keep in mind that the usefulness of what is learned today doesn’t last as long as it once did. Technology’s rapid evolution makes knowledge obsolete when it isn’t built on. Still, the average number of formal training hours has dropped from 25 hours per learner in 2007 to 17.2 hours in 2008, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2009 Corporate Learning Factbook. The report reflects an 11 percent reduction in corporate training spending and claims a trend shift in the types of education that businesses are pursuing.


Goal setting

Training that educates employees on ways to increase revenue or decrease expenses or that improves relationships with customers is a business necessity and has a place in your training regimen.

Determine what your company needs to work on and what areas you need to continue to grow in as well as the basics to keep up with the competition.

“What we are seeing now is a strong uptick in fundamental training that leads to specific certifications, while employer-funded MBA programs are decreasing,” Daniels says. “There isn’t one answer for all companies, but I can say that if you paid for this type of degree in the past and you stop, the employees close to getting their degrees will lose motivation.”

Considering who will be receiving the training is an important step. Being wise about your budget means training those who are in a position to benefit the company most instead of offering a la carte training to whoever is willing to trade a few hours of work for classroom duty.

“You may initiate a higher hurdle to earn the benefit of tuition reimbursement and other training, but you need to keep it for your business’s benefit,” says Barbara E. Kahn, dean, University of Miami School of Business Administration. “Investing in shorter, more customized programs gives more value when you are worrying about every education dollar. These types of programs give you training that is right to your needs.”

Considering the type of education you need has equal importance to the way the education is delivered. While some companies find online courses give employers the best return on investment while saving on travel and driving time, others find in-house courses or a classroom setting to be the best delivery method for employees.


Choosing a trainer

Your company’s goals help determine what institution you’ll use to provide employee training. Look at local colleges and universities first, as these organizations have flexibility in training formats and delivery.

Universities are often willing to consult with businesses to determine what the immediate training needs are. Community colleges, business schools and specific work force training centers can also provide tailored programs as opposed to off-the-shelf training that serves as a one-size-fits-all education.

“Colleges are willing to spend a lot of time with businesses to develop a program tailored to their needs,” Kahn says. “Universities can create programs that last just one week or longer depending on what is necessary to meet the business’s needs. The colleges willing to diversify what they offer are the ones that will keep their programs going in a down economy — and businesses should seek out those academics.”

Don’t think of continued education as a perk to employees, but think of it as a way to keep the business growing.

A common error employers make is accepting a program where the employee misses a significant amount of work to go to school. Options exist that allow you to dictate within reason, how, when and where your employees are educated.

“Training via community colleges that are attuned to local work force needs can be the most cost-efficient decision companies make,” says Eduardo J. Padrón, president, Miami Dade College. “If you identify and prioritize your needs in relation to the company’s growth, you can collaborate with a local partner to establish a program that will be long-standing and efficient.”

After you select a program and a university, your strategy must carry over into measuring tactics. Make sure you have a way to calculate the benefits of training and the reason you have selected the specific program.


Measuring results

Before an employee begins training, testing the skills that will be built upon is important. Testing will help determine where the employees’ skills are today and where they need to be after training. Making sure the employee, trainer and you are on the same page with expectations will help eliminate any miscommunication about future performance expectations.

“You can’t put your finger on the return on investment immediately with education,” Daniels says. “It’s not as tangible as an investment in a new computer. If it’s functional education, such as finance or marketing, you may be able to see a direct result sooner, and therefore have the ability to show their value easily. The return on soft skill programs aren’t as easily shown, but over the long term, [they] are just as valuable or perhaps more valuable. You should be continuing training with upper-level management, training for new management, functional areas of business and certification programs.”

Prior to training, discuss the reason for the education and the way the training will be measured with the employee. Tell the employee how the new knowledge directly impacts his or her daily responsibilities. Managers should tie the training into performance evaluations to determine its true impact on the enhanced ability to perform.

Even after trimming the education budget, some companies say the cost is too much to handle right now. If you still believe in education, but can’t afford it, reassess it in nine months. In the meantime, use in-house training and coaching capabilities.

“It’s critical to stand back, reassess overall operations and think strategically,” Padrón says. “You cannot afford to be lulled into thinking that good or bad times will persist forever. The world is moving too quickly to set aside training needs. The use of technology alone demands c ontinuing education attention.”

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Multiple choice

If you are toiling over what to do about training, you’re not alone.

Tuition reimbursement and continuing education look good on paper and are great recruitment and retention tools, but, as businesses are finding out, in today’s economy, those types of programs could also look more like a dispensable employee perk than a business necessity.

While academics will tell you it’s a mistake to cut training from the budget, those closest to financial reality will suggest trimming the fat and adopting a leaner training strategy that ties education to the company’s immediate needs. For most businesses, this means doing away with the nice-to-have training and focusing on the must-haves that affect the bottom line today.

“Training is very important to business continuity,” says Tracey L. Missien, interim director of work force education and economic development, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “In this economy, even though up to a quarter of companies report that training is one of the first places to make budget cuts, most employers see training and skills enhancement as key to maximize productivity and profitability.”

Keep in mind that the usefulness of what is learned today doesn’t last as long as it once did. Technology’s rapid evolution makes knowledge obsolete when it isn’t built on. Still, the average number of formal training hours has dropped from 25 hours per learner in 2007 to 17.2 hours in 2008, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2009 Corporate Learning Factbook. The report reflects an 11 percent reduction in corporate training spending and claims a trend shift in the types of education that businesses are pursuing.

Goal setting

Training that educates employees on ways to increase revenue or decrease expenses or that improves relationships with customers is a business necessity and has a place in your training regimen.

Determine what your company needs to work on and what areas you need to continue to grow in as well as the basics to keep up with the competition.

“As with other areas of business, training programs need to be evaluated for their ability to impact the business,” Missien says. “Goals and outcomes of education should be defined and then compared between different methods of training. Management should look at feedback from employees, the level of knowledge retention, how quickly the employee can apply the knowledge and how the training experience was for the employees. The key is to prepare, deliver and measure in order to achieve the best practices.”

Considering who will be receiving the training is an important step. Being wise about your budget means training those who are in a position to benefit the company most instead of offering a la carte training to whoever is willing to trade a few hours of work for classroom duty.

“Training has always been important,” says Judy Savolskis, interim vice president, work force development, Community College of Allegheny County. “In the past, people acquired expertise on the job and stayed married to that same job their entire career. Now, there’s not as many opportunities for advancement and everything’s more competitive and changing. Continued education is imperative to roll with the changes.”

Considering the type of education you need has equal importance to the way the education is delivered. While some companies find online courses give employers the best return on investment while saving on travel and driving time, others find in-house courses or a classroom setting to be the best delivery method for employees.

Choosing a trainer

Your company’s goals help determine what institution you’ll use to provide employee training. Look at local colleges and universities first, as these organizations have flexibility in training formats and delivery.

Universities are often willing to consult with businesses to determine what the immediate training needs are. Community colleges, business schools and specific work force training centers can also provide tailored programs as opposed to off-the-shelf training that serves as a one-size-fits-all education.

“Oftentimes, a university or college have curriculum already developed that can be modified for continuing education training so a company can save money but not have to outsource curriculum development,” Missien says. “Over the long term, when a company has a relationship with a higher education institution, the partnership develops and efficiency tends to become a built-in benefit because they get to know each other’s needs and capabilities. This can save costs in the long run.”

Don’t think of continued education as a perk to employees, but think of it as a way to keep the business growing.

A common error employers make is accepting a program where the employee misses a significant amount of work to go to school. Options exist that allow you to dictate, within reason, how, when and where your employees are educated.

After you select a program and a university, your strategy must carry over into measuring tactics. Make sure you have a way to calculate the benefits of training and the reason you have selected the specific program.

“Sit down with your training provider and have a quality dialogue,” Savolskis says. “Tell them what you want to accomplish and what types of employees will be participating in the training. Make sure before you leave the discussion, you’ve decided on a measurable learning outcome so all parties know what can be expected for the cost of training and that they can provide what you are looking for.”

Measuring results

Before an employee begins training, testing the skills that will be built upon is important. Testing will help determine where the employees’ skills are today and where they need to be after training. Making sure the employee, trainer and you are on the same page with expectations will help eliminate any miscommunication about future performance expectations.

“Companies must use some form of participant evaluation and assessment tool to gain feedback about the training,” Missien says. “Participants should be asked to provide feedback and individual reaction about the continuing education and evaluate their views toward the content, delivery and time.

Second, the organization should utilize a skills assessment process to gauge how well participants met the educational requirements of the training. Lastly, some companies use an evaluation report as a communication tool for the stakeholders, whether that is departments or divisions who have an interest in the training. This can help to further assess the outcomes of the education.”

Prior to training, discuss the reason for the education and the way the training will be measured with the employee. Tell the employee how the new knowledge directly impacts his or her daily responsibilities. Managers should tie the training into performance evaluations to determine its true impact on enhanced ability to perform.

Even after trimming the education budget, some companies say the cost is too much to handle right now. If you still believe in education, but can’t afford it, reassess it in nine months. In the meantime, use in-house training and coaching capabilities.

“You can train the trainer as a way to save money,” Savolskis says. “Send managers to training, then have them relay their new information to other employees. Make sure the college shares approaches the trained employees can use. You can also save money by having the training on site which will also allow for flexible training times.”

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Multiple choice

If you are toiling over what to do about training, you’re not alone.

Tuition reimbursement and continuing education look good on paper and are great recruitment and retention tools, but, as businesses are finding out, in today’s economy, those types of programs could also look more like a dispensable employee perk than a business necessity.

While academics will tell you it’s a mistake to cut training from the budget, those closest to financial reality will suggest trimming the fat and adopting a leaner training strategy that ties education to the company’s immediate needs. For most businesses, this means doing away with the nice-to-have training and focusing on the must-haves that affect the bottom line today.

“You only drive productivity through people,” says Harold C. Taber Jr., director, MBA Mentor Program, Crowell School of Business, Biola University. “The people are the greatest asset, and they help companies compete in the marketplace. To compete as robustly as possible, you must offer benefits. There are no laws that say companies have to provide health care coverage. It is a benefit, and the same goes for education, but education will help the company grow and evolve. There’s always a good ROI on education because the employee will come back with better ideas and ways to do things.”

Keep in mind that the usefulness of what is learned today doesn’t last as long as it once did. Technology’s rapid evolution makes knowledge obsolete when it isn’t built on. Still, the average number of formal training hours has dropped from 25 hours per learner in 2007 to 17.2 hours in 2008, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2009 Corporate Learning Factbook. The report reflects an 11 percent reduction in corporate training spending and claims a trend shift in the types of education that businesses are pursuing.


Goal setting

Training that educates employees on ways to increase revenue or decrease expenses or that improves relationships with customers is a business necessity and has a place in your training regimen.

Determine what your company needs to work on and what areas you need to continue to grow in as well as the basics to keep up with the competition.

“Companies should focus on continuing education activities that will help their employees to do their job or the additional responsibilities better,” says Karla Wiseman Bright, executive director, office of executive education, University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business. “For some employees, this might be technical skill training, but for other employees, this might be more soft skills, such as leading in tough times, building effective teams or communicating the tough message.”

Considering who will be receiving the training is an important step. Being wise about your budget means training those who are in a position to benefit the company most instead of offering a la carte training to whoever is willing to trade a few hours of work for classroom duty.

“During tough economic times, a lot of companies are turning to smaller or shorter programs,” Wiseman Bright says. “They should choose the most important objective they need to accomplish and develop or work with a partner college or university to develop a program that will meet that objective. Most importantly, it needs to be something that people can use immediately.”

Considering the type of education you need has equal importance to the way the education is delivered. While some companies find online courses give employers the best return on investment while saving on travel and driving time, others find in-house courses or a classroom setting to be the best delivery method for employees.


Choosing a trainer

Your company’s goals help determine what institution you’ll use to provide employee training. Look at local colleges and universities first, as these organizations have flexibility in training formats and delivery.

Universities are often willing to consult with businesses to determine what the immediate training needs are. Community colleges, business schools and specific work force training centers can also provide tailored programs as opposed to off-the-shelf training that serves as a one-size-fits-all education.

“You can pick and choose where you can get the best education for your employees,” Taber says. “Right now, you may be thinking about laying off employees and not have a lot of concern for retention, but that isn’t a best business practice. Look around at your local colleges and focus on the ones that can meet your needs in the most cost-effective way — looking at the education acquired and not just a university’s name and make sure you are using an accredited program.”

Don’t think of continued education as a perk to employees, but think of it as a way to keep the business growing.

A common error employers make is accepting a program where the employee misses a significant amount of work to go to school. Options exist that allow you to dictate within reason, how, when and where your employees are educated.

“Keeping training programs is a tough issue when companies are laying off people and taking salary cuts, but cutting training altogether sends an even more dire message,” Wiseman Bright says. “Companies need to figure out how to do continuing education with smaller expenditure. Online learning is available at lower costs, internal resources are excellent for a ‘lunch and learn’ as well as some partners, like community colleges, will help a company figure out how to create a small program allowing a company to demonstrate its commitment to employee development on a smaller scale.”

After you select a program and a university, your strategy must carry over into measuring tactics. Make sure you have a way to calculate the benefits of training and the reason you have selected the specific program.


Measuring results

Before an employee begins training, testing the skills that will be built upon is important. Testing will help determine where the employees’ skills are today and where they need to be after training. Making sure the employee, trainer and you are on the same page with expectations will help eliminate any miscommunication about future performance expectations.

“Make sure you are selecting the most promising group of employees to educate and ones that demonstrate a desire to stay with your company,” Taber says. “You may even want to make an agreement with employees to stay with the company one year for every year of college you pay for. In a tough economy, you may even boost that agreement to two years per year of covered tuition.”

Prior to training, discuss the reason for the education and the way the training will be measured with the employee. Tell the employee how the new knowledge directly impacts his or her daily responsibilities. Managers should tie the training into performance evaluations to determine its true impact on the enhanced ability to perform.

Even after trimming the education budget, some companies say the cost is too much to handle right now. If you still believe in education, but can’t afford it, reassess it in nine months. In the meantime, use in-house training and coaching capabilities.

“Finding a way to keep education in the budget will be the solution to alleviating future budget concerns, because your business will be a place where you don’t have to eliminate beneficial business practices to stay afloat,” Taber says.

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Multiple choice

If you are toiling over what to do about training, you’re not alone.

Tuition reimbursement and continuing education look good on paper and are great recruitment and retention tools, but, as businesses are finding out, in today’s economy, those types of programs could also look more like a dispensable employee perk than a business necessity.

While academics will tell you it’s a mistake to cut training from the budget, those closest to financial reality will suggest trimming the fat and adopting a leaner training strategy that ties education to the company’s immediate needs. For most businesses, this means doing away with the nice-to-have training and focusing on the must-haves that affect the bottom line today.

“A mistake that is frequently made by companies is to assume that during an economic downturn, investment in employee development is less important — an expense that can be easily cut with few ramifications,” says D. Brent Smith, associate dean of executive education at Rice University. “However, if you take a long-term view, a sustained investment in continuing education maintains employee commitment and engagement and can have a measurable impact on a company’s bottom line. We know that employees are much more likely to stay engaged when they have opportunities for growth, which turns out to be one of the primary drivers of motivation for employees across all industries.”

Keep in mind that the usefulness of what is learned today doesn’t last as long as it once did. Technology’s rapid evolution makes knowledge obsolete when it isn’t built on. Still, the average number of formal training hours has dropped from 25 hours per learner in 2007 to 17.2 hours in 2008, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2009 Corporate Learning Factbook. The report reflects an 11 percent reduction in corporate training spending and claims a trend shift in the types of education that businesses are pursuing.

Goal setting

Training that educates employees on ways to increase revenue or decrease expenses or that improves relationships with customers is a business necessity and has a place in your training regimen.

Determine what your company needs to work on and what areas you need to continue to grow in as well as the basics to keep up with the competition.

“Develop and implement an effective training program, which creates an environment for employee development that contributes to the success of a person in their job,” says Brenda Lang Hellyer, chancellor, San Jacinto College. “Develop a realistic formal plan including a timeline for rollout. Compare training options, then choose the best college that fits your training needs. There are benefits from partnering with a community college, such as the offering of affordable opportunities from businesses.”

Considering who will be receiving the training is an important step. Being wise about your budget means training those who are in a position to benefit the company most instead of offering a la carte training to whoever is willing to trade a few hours of work for classroom duty.

“Determine the skills and abilities required for success in a specific role; since roles are changing for many employees, this process can uncover any deficiencies,” Hellyer says. “An employee assessment of these individuals is a good start.”

Considering the type of education you need has equal importance to the way the education is delivered. While some companies find online courses give employers the best return on investment while saving on travel and driving time, others find in-house courses or a classroom setting to be the best delivery method for employees.

Choosing a trainer

Your company’s goals help determine what institution you’ll use to provide employee training. Look at local colleges and universities first, as these organizations have flexibility in training formats and delivery.

“Companies face a lot of choices with training,” says William Theodore Cummings, dean of the School of Business and Public Administration at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. “Businesses should take a look at local universities, which are often overlooked. The talent in your own backyard is the best to take advantage of because they are part of the community and want to help your business through their programs. Your success means their success, and that often comes at a lower cost to you, too.”

Universities are often willing to consult with businesses to determine what the immediate training needs are. Community colleges, business schools and specific work force training centers can also provide tailored programs as opposed to off-the-shelf training that serves as a one-size-fits-all education.

Don’t think of continued education as a perk to employees, but think of it as a way to keep the business growing.

A common error employers make is accepting a program where the employee misses a significant amount of work to go to school. Options exist that allow you to dictate within reason, how, when and where your employees are educated.

“Determine the most appropriate delivery method — online, instructor-led or a combination of both,” Hellyer says. “Colleges employ business development managers who focus on helping define clients’ training needs and objectives, then translating those needs into training solutions.”

After you select a program and a university, your strategy must carry over into measuring tactics. Make sure you have a way to calculate the benefits of training and the reason you have selected the specific program.

Measuring results

Before an employee begins training, testing the skills that will be built upon is important. Testing will help determine where the employees’ skills are today and where they need to be after training. Making sure the employee, trainer and you are on the same page with expectations will help eliminate any miscommunication about future performance expectations.

“A pre- and post-test should be included in all training initiatives,” Hellyer says. “You will be able to find out what skills the employee gained. Keeping track of training each employee has completed will create order to any regulatory required training and let you focus on training necessary for company growth. A university will be able to provide a listing of your employees training upon request.”

Prior to training, discuss the reason for the education and the way the training will be measured with the employee. Managers should tie the training into performance evaluations to determine its true impact on the enhanced ability to perform.

“The ROI is a key question asked by companies contemplating continuing education,” Smith says. “Colleges can help companies realize the value of training by including action learning projects in its programs. This component allows participants to learn business principles relevant to the organization and then apply that knowledge to a defined company project that can have an impact on a company’s bottom line. You can configure ROI with the outcome of the project. Usually, it more than covers the costs of continuing education.”

Even after trimming the education budget, some companies say the cost is too much to handle right now. If you still believe in education, but can’t afford it, reassess it in nine months. In the meantime, use in-house training and coaching capabilities.

“The best thing companies can do is avoid costly mistakes by investing wisely,” Smith says. “Focus on programs that are tailored to fit your needs. One size doesn’t fit all.”

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Multiple choice

If you are toiling over what to do about training, you’re not alone.

Tuition reimbursement and continuing education look good on paper and are great recruitment and retention tools, but, as businesses are finding out, in today’s economy, those types of programs could also look more like a dispensable employee perk than a business necessity.

While academics will tell you it’s a mistake to cut training from the budget, those closest to financial reality will suggest trimming the fat and adopting a leaner training strategy that ties education to the company’s immediate needs. For most businesses, this means doing away with the nice-to-have training and focusing on the must-haves that affect the bottom line today.

“If you’re going to continue to grow, if you’re going to make it through the recessionary time, education is critical,” says Merodie A. Hancock, vice president and executive director of off-campus programs at Central Michigan University. “In a bad economy, there’s a tendency of two things to cut — training and marketing — and the loss will kill you. You’ve got to keep investing in them both because the half-life of knowledge is significantly shorter than it was in the past. Everyone needs to stay sharp.”

Keep in mind that the usefulness of what is learned today doesn’t last as long as it once did. Technology’s rapid evolution makes knowledge obsolete when it isn’t built on. Still, the average number of formal training hours has dropped from 25 hours per learner in 2007 to 17.2 hours in 2008, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2009 Corporate Learning Factbook. The report reflects an 11 percent reduction in corporate training spending and claims a trend shift in the types of education that businesses are pursuing.

Goal setting

Training that educates employees on ways to increase revenue or decrease expenses or that improves relationships with customers is a business necessity and has a place in your training regimen.

Determine what your company needs to work on and what areas you need to continue to grow in as well as the basics to keep up with the competition.

“You can’t just throw training at a problem and expect it to solve everything,” says Lisa Kujawa, assistant provost for enrollment management, Lawrence Technological University. “Training is vital for people to move forward in a company, but it must be done in a way that helps meet the company’s specific needs, [and] then is followed up on. Each new employee should be placed on a vertical or horizontal education plan when hired.”

Considering who will be receiving the training is an important step. Being wise about your budget means training those who are in a position to benefit the company most instead of offering a la carte training to whoever is willing to trade a few hours of work for classroom duty.

“Look at the specific issues holding your company back,” says P. Nick Blanchard, professor of management, College of Business, Eastern Michigan University. “Tie training to the strategic plan by looking where the company’s going and not where it’s been.”

Considering the type of education you need has equal importance to the way the education is delivered. While some companies find online courses give employers the best return on investment while saving on travel and driving time, others find in-house courses or a classroom setting to be the best delivery method for employees.

Choosing a trainer

Your company’s goals help determine what institution you’ll use to provide employee training. Look at local colleges and universities first, as these organizations have flexibility in training formats and delivery.

“Colleges are untapped resources when it comes to business training,” Blanchard says. “If you have a partnership with a college, you may even be able to get a lower rate on classes or MBA programs. Educating your employees helps you to always have the best and brightest on staff.”

Universities are often willing to consult with businesses to determine what the immediate training needs are. Community colleges, business schools and specific work force training centers can also provide tailored programs as opposed to off-the-shelf training that serves as a one-size-fits-all education.

Don’t think of continued education as a perk to employees, but think of it as a way to keep the business growing.

A common error employers make is accepting a program where the employee misses a significant amount of work to go to school. Options exist that allow you to dictate, within reason, how, when and where your employees are educated.

“If you aren’t able to get the rates you want from a college, try another one,” Hancock says. “You can also pair up with another small employer to form a large enough group in need (of) education that gives you more financial leverage. If you can fill a classroom on your own, you can say when and where it meets, too.”

After you select a program and a university, your strategy must carry over into measuring tactics. Make sure you have a way to calculate the benefits of training and the reason you have selected the specific program.

“Always think about why you are doing the training, why the people getting the training are involved and what you expect to accomplish afterward,” Kujawa says. “Know what professional opportunities you want to mesh with company needs.”

Measuring results

Before an employee begins training, testing the skills that will be built upon is important. Testing will help determine where the employees’ skills are today and where they need to be after training. Making sure the employee, trainer and you are on the same page with expectations will help eliminate any miscommunication about future performance expectations.

“The college can help you develop a program that works specifically for what your company is looking for,” Kujawa says. “Colleges can really help link industry to education, which, in turn, means you’re helping each other out. You can meet and discuss the company’s needs, then the college takes that information back and gets academics involved to determine the type of class they can offer.”

Prior to training, discuss the reason for the education and the way the training will be measured with the employee. Tell the employee how the new knowledge directly impacts his or her daily responsibilities. Managers should tie the training into performance evaluations to determine its true impact on the enhanced ability to perform.

“Employees may do well on paper, but the true measure is if they can transfer the education back to the job,” Blanchard says. “One way is to figure what the cost of the problem was before training, then see how the training reduced that figure.”

Even after trimming the education budget, some companies say the cost is too much to handle right now. If you still believe in education, but can’t afford it, reassess it in nine months. In the meantime, use in-house training and coaching capabilities.

“Companies often drop education in steps — first eliminate paying upfront, then the amount they pay,” Hancock says. “If you maintain the most important type of training, you’ll never need to look at it as a place to cut.”

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Training in business

If you are toiling over what to do about training, you’re not alone.

Tuition reimbursement and continuing education look good on paper and are great recruitment and retention tools, but, as businesses are finding out, in today’s economy, those types of programs could also look more like a dispensable employee perk than a business necessity.

While academics will tell you it’s a mistake to cut training from the budget, those closest to financial reality will suggest trimming the fat and adopting a leaner training strategy that ties education to the company’s immediate needs. For most businesses, this means doing away with the nice-to-have training and focusing on the must-haves that affect the bottom line today.

“Training isn’t an overhead expense, it is part of the cost of doing business,” says Dennis N. Ulrich, executive director, Workforce Development Center, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. “The most efficient manufacturing is necessary in tough economic times, and education can help teach those methods for each industry. Keep this type of training as streamlining production, product quality and customer service is essential to keep up with the competition.”

Keep in mind that the usefulness of what is learned today doesn’t last as long as it once did. Technology’s rapid evolution makes knowledge obsolete when it isn’t built on. Still, the average number of formal training hours has dropped from 25 hours per learner in 2007 to 17.2 hours in 2008, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2009 Corporate Learning Factbook. The report reflects an 11 percent reduction in corporate training spending and claims a trend shift in the types of education that businesses are pursuing.

Goal setting

Training that educates employees on ways to increase revenue or decrease expenses or that improves relationships with customers is a business necessity and has a place in your training regimen.

Determine what your company needs to work on and what areas you need to continue to grow in as well as the basics to keep up with the competition.

“Keep in mind what you’ve done in the past — what worked, what didn’t work and what direction you need to go in order to improve on past mistakes,” says Victoria Culbreth, executive director, educational outreach, Northern Kentucky University. “Ask employees what it would take to do their job better. You can do this through survey or just asking them.”

Considering who will be receiving the training is an important step. Being wise about your budget means training those who are in a position to benefit the company most instead of offering a la carte training to whoever is willing to trade a few hours of work for classroom duty.

“Look at opportunities to reduce costs, period,” says Thomas E. Murphy, executive professor, Miami University. “You can’t think about the employee selection as an emotional choice. People that want to keep learning are the best employees to educate. Not growing or challenging these minds stops the ability to progress as a company.”

Considering the type of education you need has equal importance to the way the education is delivered. While some companies find online courses give employers the best return on investment while saving on travel and driving time, others find in-house courses or a classroom setting to be the best delivery method for employees.

Choosing a trainer

Your company’s goals help determine what institution you’ll use to provide employee training. Look at local colleges and universities first, as these organizations have flexibility in training formats and delivery.

“Colleges want to forge relationships with businesses and have the flexibility to provide what companies need,” Culbreth says. “They have close ties to the community and are willing to work with you to provide a service.”

Universities are often willing to consult with businesses to determine what the immediate training needs are. Community colleges, business schools and specific work force training centers can also provide tailored programs as opposed to off-the-shelf training that serves as a one-size-fits-all education.

“There are many benefits to working with a local university,” Ulrich says. “It’s not uncommon for them to design a class that will teach to a business’ specific needs. Businesses can also get bonuses that don’t cost anything like access to the university’s students seeking internships.”

Don’t think of continued education as a perk to employees, but think of it as a way to keep the business growing.

A common error employers make is accepting a program where the employee misses a significant amount of work to go to school. Options exist that allow you to dictate, within reason, how, when and where your employees are educated.

“If you’re not getting the answers you want from one educator, go to another source,” Murphy says. “There are hybrid teaching opportunities — some online and some on-site, all online, all in the classroom setting. Decide what you need and you can find someone willing to accommodate.”

After you select a program and a university, your strategy must carry over into measuring tactics. Make sure you have a way to calculate the benefits of training and the reason you have selected the specific program.

“The methodology of training is often not thought through, but it’s an essential step,” Murphy says. “You’d be amazed that companies don’t test after the training has been received. You need to test before training, after and six months later to make sure it was retained and is being used.”

Measuring results

Before an employee begins training, testing the skills that will be built upon is important. Testing will help determine where the employees’ skills are today and where they need to be after training. Making sure the employee, trainer and you are on the same page with expectations will help eliminate any miscommunication about future performance expectations.

“In this economy, training has got to be all about the company,” Murphy says. “It has to tie back to the company and meet what the company’s needs are. Results can be measured through testing but also with employee retention, revenue increases and post-education growth.”

Prior to training, discuss the reason for the education and the way the training will be measured with the employee. Tell the employee how the new knowledge directly impacts his or her daily responsibilities. Managers should tie the training into performance evaluations to determine its true impact on the enhanced ability to perform.

“Measure how the training impacted the bottom line and process improvement,” Ulrich says. “Setting up metrics for efficacy of training will help you monitor the impact training has on job performance and revenue in years to come.”

Even after trimming the education budget, some companies say the cost is too much to handle right now. If you still believe in education, but can’t afford it, reassess it in nine months. In the meantime, use in-house training and coaching capabilities.

“Speak with the university to see what options they may have for you when money is tight,” Murphy says. “Don’t run too quickly to, ‘We can’t do anything right now.’”

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

Healthy returns

Revenue is down, the budget has been hacked away and now you’re edging toward reducing employee health care coverage — or even eliminating it outright. Before taking action, take into account the short-term benefits and long-term effects of your options.

A knee-jerk reaction may be to shift the benefit burden to employees. But those who have been down that road, say there are ways to take a strategic approach to generate value from a shrunken budget and employee pool. The most successful organizations over the long-term will be the ones that cut costs now, while improving the health of their employee populations.

Utilize existing resources to find out how you can save money, starting with your health insurance provider.

“Get engaged; understand how to use a health insurance and wellness plan together,” says Scott Evelyn, president and general manager of CIGNA HealthCare of Florida. “Put an aggressive carrot out there to boost employee compliance with having better health and understanding of their benefits.”

Awareness of the claims filed by your employees will allow you to determine the best health plan move that will work for their needs and devise a health promotion program that will be most appealing to them. While moving to a lower-cost plan may be a necessity, it is a temporary fix and should be complemented with an emphasis on health that will have a more lasting impact.

A 2009 Watson Wyatt report shows that 67 percent of employer respondents to an Annual National Business Group on Health survey say the top challenge to maintaining affordable benefits coverage is employees’ poor health habits. Only by managing these habits can you truly get your costs under control.

Work with your provider

Work with your health insurance provider to decide what the best options to your budget will be. Negotiating rates with insurers isn’t usually effective, as insurers aren’t offering massive discounts because of the economic downturn. The option you usually have is a different plan with reduced coverage.

One option is cost shifting to save the company money while increasing the cost to employees. But altering plans and shifting costs to employees isn’t solving the problem of high premiums. A Hewitt Associates LLC executives’ survey shows that participants found cost shifting didn’t bring out desired behavior changes in employees and that an emphasis on health at the workplace is needed.

Another money-saving health care option is risk sharing.

“Many health insurance plans can be designed to let the employer be in control of employees’ rates,” Evelyn says. “If the employee has better health, they get a better rate.”

A third option is a health savings account, which takes money out of an employee’s check pretax and the employer has the option of adding money to the account, as well. If the employee switches jobs, he or she will take this health savings plan to the new position and the employer will retract its contribution from the fund.

“Just like with auto insurance, if you change your health insurance deductible to be higher, you’ll get an instant reduction in your rate,” Evelyn says. “But if you don’t change your driving habits, you won’t reduce long-term costs — so you have to change your habits to get the best rates.”

While health promotion — or wellness — programs aren’t usually at the top of the list when contemplating short-term health insurance savings, a program will have positive results in the short term with the best outcomes in one to three years. Companies that effectively promote health see immediate savings in premiums of 10 to 13 percent with the potential of reducing future medical costs. The investment has a $3 to $6 payback on the dollar.

Your best bet to cut costs will be a two-prong approach. Change your health plan for instant budget relief and initiate a health promotion plan.

“Just about every health topic has a free Web site full of information,” says Ray Kendrick, chief human resources officer of Memorial Healthcare System. “Talk to your insurance provider to see what educational materials they can give you and what discounts are available when you initiate a wellness program.”

Design your health awareness plan with consideration of the number of employees that will be participating. A smaller company of 50 employees or less shouldn’t invest more than $25 per employee initially, but should focus on raising awareness by providing educational material that emphasizes preventive care, proper nutrition and health-related Web sites.

A midsized company of 300 or more employees should invest about $90 per person. Providing educational tools, focusing on the population’s main areas of concern and taking a competitive, fun approach is effective. A large company with a willingness to invest about $240 per employee can have a comprehensive program that includes education, financial incentives, the inclusion of spouses and perks like gym memberships.

Your insurance provider may have free online health risk assessment surveys. By surveying your employees you can determine ways to meet the company’s and employees’ financial needs. Ask questions about physical activity, stress management, tobacco use and general disease risk factors.

“Good primary care helps weed out bad outcomes down the road,” Kendrick says. “Bring to employees’ attention issues that are most common, like smoke cessation programs, and ask them what they’d like to see offered.”

Discussing what your insurance company provides to you at no cost or at reduced rates is a great first step. Many employers are unaware of fringe benefits included in their plans. If the insurance provider doesn’t offer what you need for free, it should be able to direct you to an organization or local hospital program that does.

The process

After you’ve determined a health awareness focus for your employee population, you can create a plan of action.

“Everyone wants to start a wellness program and have it fixed in a month,” Kendrick says. “But it doesn’t work that way. You must consider what outcome you expect from insurance plan changes and wellness programs. If employees participate in wellness programs, the company benefits.”

You also need to make an assessment of your workplace wellness environment. Identify strengths and areas that need improvement. Enforce no smoking on the campus; provide healthy choices in vending machines and the cafeteria.

“Make sure employees know any private health information you get from them will be received in aggregate and you will not know their specific personal information,” Evelyn says. “You can also give them an incentive of money back toward their deductible if they report good health. This can also be done confidentially through the insurer.”

Provide health tips, programs, discounts to gyms and other information through multiple delivery sources. Some employees are more receptive to e-mails or newsletters — or they just need to hear the same message multiple times to get motivated into action.

“Insurers are aggressively working with employers to predict future claims,” Evelyn says. “Engaging in wellness will help those discussions and considering you need to convince only 5 percent of the population to make a financial difference, trying a wellness program is worth it.”