A Strong BYOD Policy Combines Convenience & Security

It’s easy to understand why more and more businesses are taking a “bring your own device” (BYOD) approach to the smartphones, tablets, and laptops many employees rely on to do their jobs. BYOD can boost employee efficiency and satisfaction, often while reducing a company’s IT costs. But the approach isn’t without risk for both you and your staff. So, it’s highly advisable to create a strong formal policy that combines convenience with security.

Primary concerns

As an employer, your primary concern with BYOD is no doubt the inevitable security risks that arise when your networks are accessible to personal devices that could be stolen, lost, or hacked. But you also must think about various legal compliance issues, such as electronic document retention for litigation purposes or liability for overtime pay when nonexempt employees use their devices to work outside of normal hours.

For employees, the main worry comes down to privacy. Will you, their employer, have access to personal information, photos and other non-work-related data on the device? Could an employee lose all of that if you’re forced to “wipe” the device because it’s been lost or stolen, or when the employee leaves your company?

Important obligations

A BYOD policy must address these and other issues. Each company’s individual circumstances will determine the final details, but most employers should, at minimum, require employees to sign an acknowledgment of their obligations to:

  • Use strong passwords and automatic lock-outs after periods of inactivity,
  • Immediately report lost or stolen devices,
  • Install mandated antivirus software and other protective measures,
  • Regularly back up their devices,
  • Keep apps and operating systems up to date, and
  • Encrypt their devices.

The policy also should prohibit the use of public wi-fi networks or require employees to log in through a secure virtual private network when connecting via public wi-fi. You may want to forbid certain apps, too.

In addition, you need to spell out your rights to access, monitor and delete data on employees’ devices — including the types of data you can access and under which conditions. In particular, explain your wiping procedures and the steps employees can take to protect their personal information from permanent erasure.

Protection now

Nearly everyone who works for your company likely has a smartphone at this point. As such devices integrate themselves ever more deeply into our daily lives, it’s only natural that they’ll affect our jobs. Establishing a BYOD policy now can help prevent costly mistakes and potential litigation down the road. We can provide further information.

Business Tips for Back-to-School Time

Late summer and early fall, when so many families have members returning to educational facilities of all shapes and sizes, is also a good time for businesses to creatively step up their business development efforts, whether it’s launching new marketing initiatives, developing future employees or simply generating goodwill in the community. Here are a few examples that might inspire you.

Becoming a sponsor

A real estate agency sponsors a local middle school’s parent-teacher organization (PTO). The sponsorship includes ads in the school’s weekly e-newsletter and in welcome packets for new PTO members. Individual agents in the group also conduct monthly gift card drawings for parents and teachers who follow them on Facebook.

The agency hopes parents and teachers will remember its agents’ names and faces when they’re ready to buy or sell their homes.

Planting the seeds of STEM

An engineering firm donates old computers and printers to an elementary school that serves economically disadvantaged students. The equipment will be used in the school district’s K-12 program to get kids interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

At back-to-school time, a firm rep gives presentations at the schools and hands out literature. Then, in the spring, the company will mentor a select group of high school seniors who are planning to pursue engineering degrees in college.

Participating in STEM programs fosters corporate charity and goodwill. It can also pay back over the long run: When the firm’s HR department is looking for skilled talent, kids who benefited from the firm’s STEM efforts may return as loyal, full-time employees.

Launching an apprenticeship program

The back-to-school season motivates a high-tech manufacturer to partner with a vocational program at the local community college to offer registered apprenticeships through a state apprenticeship agency. In exchange for working for the manufacturer, students will receive college credits, on-the-job training and weekly paychecks. Their hourly wages will increase as they demonstrate proficiency.

The company hopes to hire at least some of these apprentices to fill full-time positions in the coming year or two.

Finding the right fit

Whether schools near you are already in session or will open soon, it’s not too late to think about how your business can benefit. Sit down with your management team and brainstorm ways to leverage relationships with local schools to boost revenues, give back to your community and add long-term value. We can provide other ideas and help you assess return on investment.

Contemplating Compensation Increases and Pay for Performance

As a business grows, one of many challenges it faces is identifying a competitive yet manageable compensation structure. After all, offer too little and you likely won’t have much success in hiring. Offer too much and you may compromise cash flow and profitability.

But the challenge doesn’t end there. Once you have a feasible compensation structure in place, your organization must then set its course for determining the best way for employees to progress through it. And this is when you must contemplate the nature and efficacy of linking pay to performance.

Issues in play

Some observers believe that companies shouldn’t use compensation to motivate employees because workers might stop focusing on quality of work and start focusing on money. Additionally, employees may feel that the merit — or “pay-for-performance” — model pits staff members against each other for the highest raises.

Thus, some businesses give uniform pay adjustments to everyone. In doing so, these companies hope to eliminate competition and ensure that all employees are working toward the same goal. But, if everyone gets the same raise, is there any motivation for employees to continually improve?

Two critical factors

Many businesses don’t think so and do use additional money to motivate employees, whether by bonuses, commissions or bigger raises. In its most basic form, a merit increase is the amount of additional compensation added to current base pay following an employee’s performance review. Two critical factors typically determine the increase:

  1. The amount of money a company sets aside in its “merit” budget for performance-based increases — usually based on competitive market practice, and
  2. Employee performance as determined through a performance review process conducted by management

Although pay-for-performance can achieve its original intent — recognizing employee performance and outstanding contributions to the company’s success — beware that your employees may perceive merit increases as an entitlement or even nothing more than an inflation adjustment. If they do, pay-for-performance may not be effective as a motivational tool.

Communication is the key

The ideal solution to both compensation structure and pay raises will vary based on factors such as the size of the business and typical compensation levels of its industry. Nonetheless, to avoid unintended ill effects of the pay-for-performance model, be sure to communicate clearly with employees. Be as specific as possible about what contributes to merit increases and ensure that your performance review process is transparent, interactive and understandable. Contact us to discuss this or other compensation-related issues further.

Finding a 401(k) that’s Right for Your Business

By and large, today’s employees expect employers to offer a tax-advantaged retirement plan. A 401(k) is an obvious choice to consider, but you may not be aware that there are a variety of types to choose from. Let’s check out some of the most popular options:

Traditional. Employees contribute on a pre-tax basis, with the employer matching all or a percentage of their contributions if it so chooses. Traditional 401(k)s are subject to rigorous testing requirements to ensure the plan is offered equitably to all employees and doesn’t favor highly compensated employees (HCEs).

In 2018, employees can defer a total amount of $18,500 through salary reductions. Those age 50 or older by year end can defer an additional $6,000.

Roth. Employees contribute after-tax dollars but take tax-free withdrawals (subject to certain limitations). Other rules apply, including that employer contributions can go into only traditional 401(k) accounts, not Roth 401(k)s. Usually a Roth 401(k) is offered as an option to employees in addition to a traditional 401(k), not instead of the traditional plan.

The Roth 401(k) contribution limits are the same as those for traditional 401(k)s. But this applies on a combined basis for total contributions to both types of plans.

Safe harbor. For businesses that may encounter difficulties meeting 401(k) testing requirements, this could be a solution. Employers must make certain contributions, which must vest immediately. But owners and HCEs can maximize contributions without worrying about part of their contributions being returned to them because rank-and-file employees haven’t been contributing enough.

To qualify for the safe harbor election, the employer needs to either contribute 3% of compensation for all eligible employees, even those who don’t make their own contributions, or match 100% of employee deferrals up to the first 3% of compensation and 50% of deferrals up to the next 2% of compensation. The contribution limits for these plans are the same as those for traditional 401(k)s.

Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE). If your business has 100 or fewer employees, consider one of these. As with a Safe Harbor 401(k), the employer must make certain, immediately vested contributions, and there’s no rigorous testing.

So, how is the SIMPLE 401(k) different from a safe harbor 401(k)? Both the required employer contributions and the limits on participant deferrals are lower: The employer generally needs to either contribute 2% of compensation for all eligible employees or match employee contributions up to 3% of compensation. The employee deferral limits are $12,500 in 2018, with a $3,000 catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older.

This has been but a brief look at these types of 401(k)s. Our firm can provide you with more information on each, as well as guidance on finding the right one for your business.

Four Ways to Encourage Innovation in Customer Service

When business people speak of innovation, the focus is usually on a pioneering product or state-of-the-art service that will “revolutionize the industry.” But innovation can apply to any aspect of your company — including customer service.

Many business owners perceive customer service as a fairly cut-and-dried affair. Customers call, you answer their questions or solve their problems — and life goes on. Yet there are ways to transform this function and, when companies do, word gets around. People want to do business with organizations that are easy to interact with.

Here are four ways to encourage innovation in your customer service department:

  1. Welcome failure. Providing world-class customer service involves risk, and inevitably you’ll sometimes fail. For example, many businesses have jumped at the chance to use “big data” to develop automated systems to direct customers to answers and solutions. But the impersonality of these systems can frustrate the buying public until you establish the right balance of machine and human interaction. Remember, every failure opens the door to better strategies for serving your customers.
  2. Link compensation to employees’ contributions. Companies that fail to reward innovation aren’t likely to retain their best customers or establish a good reputation. Because customer service employees tend to be paid hourly or relatively nominal salaries, consider a cash bonus program for the “most innovative idea of the year.” Or you could hold semiannual or even quarterly innovation challenges with prizes such as gift cards or additional time off.
  3. Praise the groundbreakers. Employees who challenge customer-service tradition may find themselves at odds with management. But don’t be too quick to reprimand those with new ideas or methods. Fresh language and modes of communication enter the public consciousness regularly. Give company-wide recognition to those who find ways to adapt — even if their initial efforts bend the rules a bit.
  4. Be the customer. Among the most simple and practical ways to innovate your customer service is to simply pretend you’re a customer to get a firsthand view on how your employees treat those who contact your business. Business owners can make these calls themselves or, if your voice is too recognizable, find someone who’s less familiar but capable of taking detailed notes of the interaction.

Finding new ways to improve your company’s customer service isn’t easy. But innovations are always just one bright idea away. If you’d like more information and ideas about building your bottom line, contact our firm.

Manage Costs of Health Benefits with a Multi-pronged Approach

Many companies offer health care benefits to help ensure employee wellness and compete for better job candidates. And the Affordable Care Act has been using both carrots and sticks (depending on employer size) to encourage businesses to offer health coverage.

If you sponsor a health care plan, you know this is no small investment. It may seem next to impossible to control rising plan costs, which are subject to a variety of factors beyond your control. But the truth is, all business owners can control at least a portion of their health care expenses. The trick is taking a multi-pronged approach.  Here are some ideas:

Interact with employees to find the best fit. The ideal size and shape of your plan depends on the needs of your workforce. Rather than relying exclusively on vendor-provided materials, actively manage communications with employees regarding health care costs and other topics. Determine which benefits are truly valued and which ones aren’t.

Use metrics. Business owners can apply analytics to just about everything these days, including health care coverage. Measure the financial impacts of gaps between benefits offered and those employees actually use. Then appropriately adjust plan design to close these costly gaps.

Engage an outside consultant. Secure independent (that is, non-vendor-generated) return-on-investment analyses of your existing benefits package, as well as prospective initiatives. This will entail some expense, but an expert external perspective could help you save money in the long run.

Audit medical claims payments and pharmacy benefits management services. Mistakes happen — and fraud is always a possibility. By regularly re-evaluating claims and pharmacy services, you can identify whether you’re losing money to inaccuracies or even wrongdoing.

Renegotiate pharmacy benefits contracts. As the old saying goes, “Everything is negotiable.” The next time your pharmacy benefits contract comes up for renewal, see whether the vendor will do better. In addition, look around the marketplace for other providers and see if one of them can make a more economical offer.

No silver bullet exists for lowering the expense of health care benefits. To manage these costs, you must understand the specifics of your plan as well as the economic factors that drive expenses up and down. Please contact our firm for assistance and additional information.

Three Ways to Supercharge Your Supervisors

The attitudes and behaviors of your people managers play a critical role in your company’s success. When your managers are putting forth their best effort, you are more likely, in turn, to get the best performances out of the rest of your employees. Here are three ways to supercharge your supervisors.

Transform them into teachers

Today’s people managers must be more than team leaders; they must also be teachers. Attentive managers look for situations that will help subordinates learn how to work smarter and more efficiently.

Typically, learning occurs most readily when rewards are applied as close to the intended behavior’s occurrence as possible. Thus, train managers to look for moments when employees are being successful and to immediately recognize those efforts. Managers should praise them in the presence of others and regularly. Low-cost rewards such as the occasional free lunch or gift card can also be highly motivational.

Turbo-boost their reaction times

Be sure people managers address problems right away. The operative word there is “address,” and its meaning may vary depending on the nature of the trouble.

For minor difficulties, just leaving a friendly voice mail or carefully worded email may do the trick. But for more serious conflicts or dilemmas, a thorough investigation, followed by face-to-face meetings documented in writing, is important. In either case, problems must not fester.

Turn off their micromanagement switch

While people managers need to keep an eye out for good and bad behavior, they shouldn’t micromanage. Those who perch atop employees’ shoulders, checking every detail of their work, are as bad for a business as rude customer service or defective products.

Why? Because the more people managers micromanage, the more they communicate the wrong message — that they don’t believe employees can get the job done. Micromanaging not only lowers morale, but also hinders efficiency, as the manager is basically spending valuable time doing the employee’s job rather than his or her own.

In the day-to-day grind of keeping a business running, people managers can understandably get worn down. If yours need a lift, consider reinforcing the points above in training sessions or during performance evaluations. For further information and other ideas, contact us.

It’s Time to Get More Creative with Retirement Benefits Communications

Employees tend not to fully appreciate or use their retirement benefits unless their employer communicates with them about the plan clearly and regularly. But workers may miss or ignore your messaging if it all looks and “sounds” the same. That’s why you might want to consider getting more creative. Consider these ideas.

Brighter, more dynamic print materials

There’s no getting around the fact that printed materials remain a widely used method of conveying retirement plan info to participants. But if yours still look the same way they did 10 years ago, employees may file them directly into the recycle bin. Look into whether you should redesign your materials to bring them up to date.

A targeted number of well-formatted e-mails

You probably augment printed materials with email communications. But finding the right balance here is key. If you’re bombarding employees with too many messages, they might get in the habit of deleting them with barely a glance. Then again, too few messages means your message probably isn’t getting through. Also, like your printed materials, emails need to be well written and formatted.

Social media

Some employers have tried using their social media accounts to keep employees engaged and reminded about benefits. The effectiveness of this will depend on how active you are on social media and how many staff members follow you. It may work well if you have a younger workforce.

“Gamification”

As the name suggests, gamification involves incorporating some fun and a competitive element into benefits education — offering virtual rewards, status indicators or gift cards to successful competitors. Games can include quizzes testing employees’ understanding of their benefits or the fundamentals of retirement planning.

Robocalls

Granted, this may not be an immediately enticing option. These prerecorded calls have largely gotten a bad reputation because of their overuse for sales purposes. But, some employees may appreciate an occasional robocall as a reminder or update that they may have otherwise missed.

Making the problem of benefits communication even tougher is the fact that many companies budget little or even nothing to accomplish this important task. But, considering the cost and effort you put into choosing and maintaining your retirement benefits, effective communication is worth some investment. Let us know how we can help.

Turning Employee Ideas Into Profitable Results

Many businesses train employees how to do their jobs and only their jobs. But amazing things can happen when you also teach staff members to actively involve themselves in a profitability process — that is, an ongoing, idea-generating system aimed at adding value to your company’s bottom line.

Let’s take a closer look at how to get your workforce involved in coming up with profitable ideas and then putting those concepts into action.

Six steps to implementation

Without a system to discover ideas that originate from the day-in, day-out activities of your business, you’ll likely miss opportunities to truly maximize profitability. What you want to do is put a process in place for gathering profit-generating ideas, picking out the most actionable ones and then turning those ideas into results. Here are six steps to implementing such a system:

  1. Share responsibility for profitability with your management team.
  2. Instruct managers to challenge their employees to come up with profit-building ideas.
  3. Identify the employee-proposed ideas that will most likely increase sales, maximize profit margins or control expenses.
  4. Tie each chosen idea to measurable financial goals.
  5. Name those accountable for executing each idea.
  6. Implement the ideas through a clear, patient, and well-monitored process.

For the profitability process to be effective, it must be practical, logical and understandable. All employees — not just management — should be able to use it to turn ideas and opportunities into bottom-line results. As a bonus, a well-constructed process can improve business skills and enhance morale as employees learn about profit-enhancement strategies; come up with their own ideas; and, in some cases, see those concepts turned into reality.

A successful business

Most employees want to not only succeed at their own jobs, but also work for a successful business. A strong profitability process can help make this happen. To learn more about this and other ways to build your company’s bottom line, contact us.