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Collaborative technologies require rethinking “dos and don’ts” for effective communication

August 25th, 2014 No comments

Burma-CraigAs collaborative communication technologies improve, plan sponsors and Milliman colleagues continue adjusting business etiquette to best use these new instruments. Tools such as Microsoft LYNC, GoToMeeting.com, and Webex.com allow consultants to communicate remotely with plan sponsors to improve service, reduce cycle times, and ultimately reduce costs. However, these productivity gains were far from automatic when these technologies were first implemented.

The humorous YouTube video “A conference call in real life” struck a nerve with many early adopters who have shared similar experiences. The comedy demonstrates the challenges that collaborative communication technologies may present—system audio interruptions, technology incompatibilities, and ambient noise distractions (i.e., the barking dog). It doesn’t help that some of us have attention spans shorter than a child on cotton candy at a three-ring circus. Past the comedic relief, we realized achieving effective use of collaborative communication technologies requires further research.

A process improvement group studied Milliman’s use of collaborative communication technologies. We monitored meetings, collected observable data, and analyzed the results of more than 30 meetings. We were surprised to find the technologies worked fine; the business etiquette established for in-person meetings did not.

From our research, we edited our suggestions into 15 best practices for organizers and 15 best practices for attendees. Here they are:

15 organizer dos and don’ts

1. Don’t plan future sessions outside local business hours of any attendee.
2. Do become highly proficient in the technology before using it in a meeting.
3. Do join at least five minutes in advance to help people checking into the call.
4. Don’t troubleshoot tool issues in session; have a “phone only” option as a backup.
5. Do start on time by utilizing http://www.time.gov with whoever is there.
6. Do state session objective of the meeting within one minute and ask for concurrence.
7. Do take on-screen notes; open documents and annotate as needed.
8. Don’t take dictation; ask participants to instant message (IM) or email long content or updates.
9. Don’t assume silence as agreement; affirm key points by voice.
10. Do advise at five minutes remaining to “hard stop” session at time limit.
11. Do ask “any other items for today?” as a trial call close if session objective is achieved.
12. Do close by thanking everyone for their time.
13. Do summarize session outcomes in emailed notes.
14. Do show the date, time, and attendees on all notes.
15. Do email or post notes online within five minutes of session close.

15 attendees dos and don’ts (all apply to organizers as well)

1. Do read session objective four hours in advance; your mind will prepare itself.
2. Do have your computer and phone charged and in a quiet area.
3. Don’t use a speaker phone next to the keyboard you are typing on.
4. Do mention any nonobjective items at beginning—ask organizer to note.
5. Don’t be within earshot of a (possibly) barking dog or other audio intrusions.
6. Do actively use the mute button if no quiet place is available.
7. Do know when mute is on or off at all times.
8. Don’t listen for name to be called and then pay attention; it’s too late at that point.
9. Don’t put call on hold; everyone has on-hold music and we hear it.
10. Do say your first name and company in one-time sessions of multiple companies.
11. Don’t say your name each time you speak; we probably know your voice.
12. Don’t leave session before close; count on important items at end.
13. Do offer to take items off-line if a discussion is between two attendees only.
14. Do message or mention if you have to leave a call early.
15. Do continually assess session effectiveness and send feedback to organizer.

Milliman employee benefits consultants will continue to use collaborative communication technologies within their organizations and with plan sponsors. But as with the telephone, the fax machine, and email in their times, we will continue to update our “dos and don’ts” to make these interactions as seamless as if they were held in person. Adhering to these dos and don’ts will ensure time well spent for both organizers and attendees.

The end of SSA letter-forwarding service poses an obstacle for plan sponsors

August 12th, 2014 No comments

The termination by the Social Security Administration (SSA) of its letter-forwarding service creates a hindrance for retirement plan sponsors. The service allowed sponsors to mail letters trying to locate missing participants regarding their benefits as required under ERISA.

In the latest issue of Milliman’s DB Digest, Alexandra Moen addresses the implications sponsors face in fulfilling their ERISA obligations. Here is an excerpt:

ERISA, IRS, SSA, and DOL regulations have consistently emphasized “reasonable methods” when attempting to locate participants. The SSA and IRS letter-forwarding services have historically provided fiduciaries great confidence that all appropriate steps had been taken. Free Internet search sites and social media can be unreliable and inaccurate. Are these methods “reasonable” if they fail to locate a participant? Several questions regarding these government agency announcements remain, but it seems certain that plan sponsors will now have to put more time, money, and effort into these required searches for plan participants and beneficiaries.

Many plan documents do not include wording about participants who are unable to be located. It is permissible to forfeit the benefit after all reasonable means have been exhausted, as long as the benefit would be reinstated if the participant makes a claim for it. Plan sponsors may also wish to consider adding wording to the Summary Plan Description or website telling the participant of their responsibility to inform the plan of address changes, especially if their benefit could be forfeited.

To read more DB Digest articles, click here.

The case for total rewards statements

May 29th, 2014 No comments

Bentz-JulieAccording to the Center for American Progress (CAP), it costs nearly $10,000 to replace an employee earning $50,000. For upper management employees, the cost can be 10 to 20 times higher. Then consider the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) on employee retention. With health coverage available to all and preexisting conditions no longer applicable, employees have more freedom than ever to change jobs. This is why it is so critical to have effective employee retention and attraction strategies in place. One of those strategies is to effectively communicate the value of the benefits you offer via a total rewards statement.

Whether regularly produced in print or hosted online, this statement gives employees a snapshot of their total rewards packages and highlights the value of employer-paid benefits. Without these statements, employees are less likely to be aware of the full value you offer as an employer. This can potentially lead to low morale, dissatisfaction, and, at its worst, departure for an organization that appears to have a better benefits package or that pays an extra $5 per hour. Consider some of the following benefits as well.

Employee engagement. When you provide information about the investment you’re making in your employee through employer-sponsored benefits, you are also showing employees that you value them. Employees who feel valued are more engaged. And as you’re likely aware, the more engaged an employee is, the more committed he or she is to your organization. Online total rewards statements are particularly effective in driving engagement. They allow you to make regular content updates, such as quarterly commission payments, merit increases, or adding new hires throughout the year. In addition, employees can view archived statements and link directly to benefits providers for more information or to make changes in their benefits.

Cost reduction. A total rewards statement is an inexpensive way to interact with employees about their benefits. It makes providing information as simple as sending an employee a printed statement or accessing the information at the click of a mouse. Online statements can reduce costs even more because they eliminate printing and mailing costs that are associated with print-only statements.

Streamlined simplicity. You want your employees to know about the valuable benefits you offer, but expecting employees to proactively seek that information is simply not realistic. The total rewards statement allows you to streamline all this information in one regularly provided document or in one online destination. An effective statement visually demonstrates an employee’s personal total rewards package of compensation plus employer-paid benefits. Your employees may be surprised at how much their benefits add to their personal bottom lines. And that’s a powerful message.

With another open enrollment around the corner, new disclosures required under the ACA, and a competitive job market, your employees are likely paying closer attention to the benefits you offer. Now is the time to beef up your benefit communication efforts and make certain that your employees understand their options and the actual costs.

Google+ Hangout: Milliman mobile benefits app (Part II)

April 21st, 2014 No comments

Employers can revolutionize the relationship between retirement plans and plan participants using the Milliman mobile benefits app. The app is designed to address employee engagement from a behavioral standpoint.

In this Milliman Hangout, Craig Burma discusses the app’s upcoming functionality and transaction enhancements to further boost employee engagement. For more information on the Milliman mobile benefits app, click here.

Burma provides an overview of the mobile app technology in this previous hangout.

Google+ Hangout: Milliman mobile benefits app

March 21st, 2014 No comments

Retirement plan enrollment can overwhelm employees and discourage them from participating in benefits. Milliman’s mobile app targets and reduces choice aversion among participants, helping increase enrollment rates and maximize plan value.

In this Hangout, Craig Burma discusses how Milliman’s mobile app technology is helping retirement plan participants and sponsors meet their needs.

For more information on the Milliman mobile benefits app, click here.

Milliman enhances mobile apps for retirement plan participants, incorporates behavioral finance principles

January 28th, 2014 No comments

Milliman today announced enhancements to its mobile “app” technology that help to further simplify the mobile experience for participants in retirement plans administered by Milliman. By incorporating behavioral finance concepts, the enhanced technology furthers Milliman’s mission to provide participants with a comprehensive yet accessible user experience that serves all their needs, regardless of the way in which they access their plan.

“Plan participants increasingly expect a simple, integrated series of interactions with their retirement plans,” said Milliman Principal Kevin Skow. “We’ve boiled our mobile experience down to the kinds of things participants can do easily, without being overloaded with choices or information that can discourage their engagement.”

New mobile functionality includes:

• The ability for participants to enroll in a plan by making one simple election—selecting a deferral rate
• The ability for active participants to review and change their deferral elections
• The ability for participants to set annual automatic increases to their deferral rate

For more information, go to http://milliman.com/benefitsapp. You can access our mobile site, or download our mobile apps in the App Store, the Amazon Appstore , or on Google Play.

Let’s talk about retirement

December 4th, 2013 No comments

In this Raconteur article, Colette Dunn, a consultant in Milliman’s London office, summarizes key conversations retirement advisers need to have with individuals during preretirement and at-retirement stages. Here is an excerpt:

Retirement has also become less of a definite line in the sand and has evolved into a journey where people gradually work less. A total of 76 per cent of those polled for the 2012 Attitudes to Pensions survey said that they would do some paid work beyond the SPA.

Many people have existing pension provision and the number of people with some form of pension will increase as a result of auto-enrolment. However, people are often disengaged with the process of saving for their retirement. Of those questioned in the survey, 62 per cent with a private pension still had no idea or only a vague idea of what their retirement income would be.

There is a need to engage with people about their retirement savings. Once people get into their 50s, retirement seems much more real and within reach. This is a key time to start a conversation with people about getting a better understanding of what income they will receive in retirement and, if necessary, how they can improve it.

Starting a conversation with people in their 50s or late-40s is key as they can be brought on board to go through the life stages; taking them from pre-retirement to the eventual point of retirement and onwards through retirement where their needs will continue to evolve.

In many cases there is currently a disjoint with the “conversation” that the financial services industry has with individuals and this needs to be resolved. There are signs that some in the industry are starting to acknowledge the need to get closer to customers as they approach retirement and this trend needs to grow.

How a website for pension employees can help employers

November 12th, 2013 No comments

Hart-KevinHaving a website for pension employees isn’t just good for the employees, it’s also good for employers. A website for pension employees can save an employer time and can help communicate retirement benefits. And in today’s world, some employees will be more comfortable doing as much as possible online.

Communicating directly with employees through a participant website can often be a time-saver. A participant website can allow employees to send emails to the employer. Certain self-service functions can also be made available on the participant website. This would include allowing employees to change their beneficiaries, or current addresses, or even begin termination/retirement processes, all online. Another self-service possibility on the participant website is allowing retirees to change their direct deposits or tax withholding information online. This is an always growing area and, as time goes on, more and more self-service functions will be made available to employees.

A website for pension employees can also save an employer time by making certain documents available there. Frequently requested documents can be made available for download, including summary plan descriptions, annual funding notices, beneficiary designation forms, frequently asked questions, and more.

Benefit calculations can be posted directly to an employee’s portion of the website. Periodic benefit statements can also be posted online and are thus always available to employees. This gives employees an opportunity to see past statements and how their pension benefit is growing. Any types of calculations can be posted on the website and only made available to targeted employees. This includes final termination or retirement paperwork that the employee must fill out.

But perhaps the biggest benefit of a website for pension employees is allowing employees to project their retirement benefits and become comfortable with their retirement incomes, using online tools to run projections at different termination and retirement dates. Employees can see their accrued benefit as well as what their benefits would be if they stayed employed with the employer up to their normal retirement dates.

The website can also estimate Social Security benefits at various beginning dates and can even include the defined contribution (DC) benefits (401[k], 403[b], etc.) offered through an employer. Enabling employees to combine all of their retirement benefits and other retirement income, as well as their spouses’ retirement income, can give employees a picture of their total retirement income. Employees can run various “what-if” scenarios to see how their retirement choices might affect future benefits. A participant website is one way to show employees the value of total retirement benefits packages.

If you are an employer who would be interested in creating or enhancing a website for your pension employees, then now might be a good time to investigate further.

Mandatory retirement savings in the United States? Why not?

October 18th, 2013 No comments

Moen-AlexIn response to the continuing retirement crisis in the United States, some interesting survey results have been published. American workers want to retire at a reasonable age and need to have adequate funds saved to live comfortably; the majority is very concerned that money won’t be there.

A recent global poll by CFA Institute showed almost half of respondents would prefer a “mandatory, government-imposed solution” to retirement savings. Following that, 22% of respondents chose an “elective, whereby employees are automatically enrolled in private retirement plans but can opt out if they so choose” solution. Almost 70% of respondents want some form of automatic retirement plan entry. Even with a smaller survey population, that’s a telling number.

In the March 2013 Employee Benefit Research Institute’s Retirement Confidence Survey, only 66% of workers report that they or their spouse are currently saving for retirement. In 2009, this number was 75%. Many Americans may not want to be in charge of their retirement, and unfortunately, some may not have the skill set to accomplish it. In a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. respondents lagged behind 18 other countries in mathematical skills and 12 countries in literacy.1 While this points at the larger issue of education in the United States, it does support the argument that most workers aren’t able to manage and prepare for their retirement on their own. Workers may prefer to rely on their employer and/or the government to provide a meaningful retirement plan that will sufficiently provide for their golden years. In addition, such results highlight the need for more extensive and perhaps mandatory employee education. There are many options available to plan sponsors in this regard.

The shift from relying on defined benefit pension plans and Social Security for retirement income to relying on 401(k) plans and maybe Social Security (younger generations, cross your fingers) has hurt more workers than it has helped. Social Security typically makes up for less than half of a worker’s preretirement income,2 and with poor investment returns in recent years (for both the federal government’s Social Security funding efforts as well as 401(k) plan investments), employees might feel like they are fighting a losing battle. All agree that changes must be made.

Perhaps it is time to consider mandatory retirement plans in the United States. One such example is Australia’s retirement system, a highly regarded, two-part “means-tested government benefit and mandatory savings account financed by employers.” However, in Wade Matterson’s November 2012 Benefits Perspectives article, he shows there is no easy answer. The government portion of retirement savings is always, and most likely always will be, at the mercy of changing political environments. In any event, maybe we have reached the point where mandatory education is called for in the United States.

Sources:

(1) Layton, Lyndsey. “Education.” Washington Post., Oct. 8 2013. <http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-10-08/local/42804364_1_literacy-education-secretary-arne-duncan-adults>.
(2) Social Security Administration. “Understanding the Benefits.” 2013. <http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10024.pdf>. (page 4)

Travel budgets improve, but webinars still effective for workforce communications

September 30th, 2013 No comments

Brantley-JasonThe stock market and economy have shown much improvement since the lows of 2008 to 2009. We remember those dark days, right? All those months spent avoiding retirement account statements, all those hours wasted watching Jersey Shore (ugh), and of course the budget-friendly “staycation.” Families weren’t the only ones getting in on the act when it came to cutting travel costs. Employers moved quickly to adopt webinars as a low-cost, preferred communications channel with employees.

Now that the economy is turning the page, companies are showing a renewed interest in meeting employees or prospective employees face-to-face. What are the implications for webinars? Will “webinar” join “staycation” in the lexicon as a word only accessed in times of trouble? That’s doubtful.

Webinars remain a popular method for workforce communications because of many benefits:

Inexpensive: Most online services cost no more than $100 per month per presenter.
Instant-On: No need to schedule events far into the future and coordinate travel schedules. Launch that new product or deliver that important message at any time via a webinar!
User-Friendly: Today’s webinar programs are easy for presenters to set up and simple for participants to access. Often, it takes one click to participate. Webinars can also be recorded for future playback.
Eco-Friendly: More firms are choosing to demonstrate their environmental awareness by opting for webinars whenever possible.
Greater reach: Stay connected to your distributed workforce and remote employees. Many people choose to receive content electronically. Millennials in particular are highly adjusted to receiving news, information, and training online.

Which method is best for delivering updates or training to employees? Not all messages require us to hop a flight to the next town in order to communicate effectively. Keep both options on the table at all times, and do a “SWAT” analysis to determine which approach works best.

Social: What level of engagement is required in order to reach your objective? Face-to-face meetings offer the highest potential level of social interaction with employees.
When and where: How soon do you need to meet and in how many locations? A webinar is the quickest way to reach multiple locations without time lost to traveling.
Affordability: What’s your budget for communicating the message? Face-to-face meetings are significantly more expensive.
Technology: Do you want to incorporate video, polling, and quizzes? Will you want the event recorded? Modern webinar programs can be quite interactive, and in some situations, employees are better off at their keyboards such as when you’re rolling out new systems and software.

Milliman’s communications consultants are constantly at work helping clients assess the right content and the right mix of channels for delivering training and education, specifically in the areas of employee benefits and retirement planning. Milliman’s in-person and eLearning services can help your employees prepare for a brighter future.