10 Learnings After 6 Months in HR and Employee Benefits

I haven’t been in Human Capital Management for long, but I’ve already uncovered many important observations along the way. My findings have spanned industries, size of company, and corporate infrastructure. As a result, I’ve come away with a myriad of general insights that have allowed me to invent my way toward making major improvements to the ways companies run their businesses.

To me, there will never be anything as important as the team you work with. This is especially true in a small and dynamic workplace. This makes managing your people correctly a constant priority. It doesn’t always have to be your number one priority, however. That’s part of the reason I wanted to write this article.

You see — there is still a massive chasm between reality and capabilities. There is still so much confusion about what is actually possible. There are and will always be unsatisfied employees everywhere. But hopefully with a few of these subjective realizations, companies can begin to minimize the number of issues that arise in their organizations. Furthermore, perhaps some of this will lead to greater productivity within Human Resources departments around the world.

  1. Compliance is a Pain in the A$$

Regardless of the size of the HR department, ensuring the proper (and legal) actions are carried out can be a daunting task. Without automated end-to-end systems that can cover everything via an exhaustive checklist, one or more dedicated HR representative(s) become tasked with this laborious responsibility.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), for example, has placed an emphasis on the many requirements Human Resources have to consider for compliance. Even when you internally feel you understand the ACA, rules can change, interpretations and opinions tend to differ, and vendors become increasingly more difficult to work with.

Overall, with so many added components, compliance has become its own version of a full-time role and responsibility.

2. Payroll Technologies Break

It doesn’t matter which system is being used, I’ve seen bugs across them all. In the case of technological glitches, I can understand that things happen. But shouldn’t this industry build in technological fail safes? Shouldn’t there be a completely rigid approval system to protect companies from such massive monetary concerns?

When it’s not a technological glitch, the blame inevitably ends up falling on the HR Director that clicked on the “Process Payroll” button. Smaller companies, unfortunately, don’t get to take as much of an advantage of the “four-eye” approval rule, which suggests that there should never solely be one person running payroll on their own. The larger the company, the more important it is for an Owner or some other administrator (with complete visibility into the company) to ensure that payroll is accurate before something bad happens.

I can’t help but go back to it, though. Why don’t payroll systems offer a review process inside of their systems by default?

3. Some Benefits Brokers Don’t Have an Employer’s Best Interest in Mind

That’s right. I said it. But I don’t mean it in a “She won’t take care of you when you need her” sort of way. In that way, they care about employers. They’ll always care when there is a reaction to be made. My observation is more based around the proactivity of brokers. Or, rather, the lack thereof.

Although the industry was built off of the concept of “Win the business, retain the business” (much like almost every other service-oriented B2B business), the service after the sale is generally lacking.

I believe health insurance plans are a lot like tattoos. Companies feel it was painful enough to carve the ink onto your body, and since everyone “seems to like the way it looks,” there is never a subsequent thought to remove it.

Insurance plans, instead, should be viewed more as face paint or makeup. What may look good now will undoubtedly wash off or fall out of style in the future. Brokers do well not forcing change despite there being vast opportunities to reassess, and possibly improve, their clients’ benefits every year.

4. Most Employees Don’t Understand Their Benefits

I’m certainly not saying that your employees aren’t smart. I’m simply observing that the education posed to a workforce can and should be better during Open Enrollment periods. Generally speaking, marketing insurance plans to employees is never made simple enough, and the result is often employees asking around to family members or friendly experts that may have suggestions as to which plans to select.

5. Most Employees Don’t Utilize Their Benefits

A lot of companies offer some pretty cool and over-the-top perks these days. Free lunch, flexible spending accounts, stipends, stock options… you name it.

These type of benefits extend far beyond insurance plans and 401Ks. Many of my peers are offered forward-thinking wellness programs, or gym memberships, but because workers get so caught up in their daily work (and life), they aren’t able to allocate the necessary time to take advantage of these perks.

6. Employers are Mostly Afraid of Change

It’s natural to resist change no matter what it is regarding. Change can be difficult especially when you aren’t uncomfortable. Why fix what isn’t broken? I can’t argue against that stance. It’s a legitimate response.

But rather than fearing change, businesses must open themselves up to new opportunities. Every time something new isn’t welcomed, what you do have becomes outdated. I know it’s a frustrating never-ending cycle, but it’s evolution.

7. The Technology isn’t Important

The people come first. Then it’s the process. Last on the list is the technology. It’s a fact that there is not one single HR technology that will work perfectly for every business. Sure — robust features are great to have, but they simply waste space if you don’t intend to use all of them.

An HR Department can still thrive without advanced technologies. But should they? A clearer answer to that question can be unearthed ahead.

8. The Technology is Important

See what I did there? Although I’ve observed that technology isn’t the most important component to a healthy and organized company culture, I want to strongly recognize its impact.

When you realize that over 50% of HR Directors suffer from buyer’s remorse after they choose an HRIS system, you should be tempted to close your eyes and start throwing darts at the wall. The answer is always integration and customization. The more flexible and open the platform, the better it will be for the company as it grows.

9. No One Knows What’s Going to Happen Next

With the current administration doing whatever they can to overturn the Affordable Care Act, we are facing a period of utter uncertainty. The result is double-sided risk. On one hand, you can become (or continue to be) an ACA expert in hopes that everything stays the same. But on the other hand, you may end up wasting a great deal of time studying it if it does get overturned.

This fact is leaving us all in a bit of a frustrating limbo. We all want to become experts of our domains, but we would hate to waste such precious time “going through the motions” right now.

10. It’s Easy To Switch Your Broker

This can be a cutthroat industry. When I heard that a broker can do all of the work to customize a benefits package for an employer only to have the commissions stolen from underneath them the day after the policies begin, I was flabbergasted. It’s just a simple letter that needs to be signed. This executed letter, called the Broker of Record (BOR) is what brokers send to the insurance companies to earn commissions.

To be clear, any company can sign a new BOR letter anytime. While I’m still flummoxed by this, I take comfort in knowing that this type of activity doesn’t happen very often.

But alas — therein lies the opportunity as well. It’s an opportunity to assess your benefits, your insurance policies, and your broker. If your company doesn’t have a close, trusting, and consultative relationship with the firm administering your benefits, you may want to consider signing the BOR over to a more proactive firm immediately.

You don’t know what you’re missing out on.

In Summary…

I’d like to conclude this post with some action items for you to take home:

  • Find out who your benefits broker is. No, not your insurance provider, but rather the company that sold your employer your policies. It’s likely you have a benefits booklet issued by your broker. Or, they may be listed in your employee handbook.
  • Document any payroll glitches. What was the cost of the bug? Was the issue easily avoidable?
  • Benchmark your benefits against your industry. How does your company stack up? Has fallen behind on your offerings resulted in declining talent levels applying for your open positions?
  • Survey the HR technology market. Once you know more about what exists in the market, you can begin to figure out which system may save you the most time and money.
  • Check out the Creative Human Project. If you are looking for any assistance on any of the aforementioned items, we are a talented team that can help immensely.
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