Personalization of Employee Health Management


Employers have long understood that focusing on employee’s health has a multitude of benefits for employees and employers alike.  Health insurance companies touted health and wellness initiatives by offering employee newsletters which didn’t hesitate to point out the distinct correlation between obesity and the greater propensity for all sorts of diseases.  Some offered seminars where employees could ask questions about a particular health issue. Still others went a step farther and held full blown health fairs with vendors across a broad range of areas from clinics to yoga to healthy eating.  Although each initiative may have met with marginal success, they lacked the aspect of real personalization.

In walks wearables.  Wearables, as the name so implies, are devices that are worn by the individuals.  Fitbit is a perfect example.  Having just acquired Twine Health, they are taking aim at helping consumers/employees manage chronic conditions such as diabetes  or hypertension, make lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation and weight loss and allowing all the parties involved in someone’s health, including providers, coaches and families, to collaborate on care plans.

More employees are expecting their benefits offerings to be personalized to their experience and a wearable could easily set a framework to allow that personalization.

The touted benefits of an employer focus on health and wellness are many:


Reduced absenteeism

It seems logical enough.  Healthy employees tend to be unexpectedly absent less than their unhealthy counterparts. The Wellness Council of America estimates that 100 million workdays are lost to workers’ lower back problems each year. A company fitness program that includes weight loss and muscle strengthening can reduce instances of lower back injuries. Fewer doctor visits and fewer sick days make for a more productive employee population.


Lower health insurance costs

According to the American Journal of Health Promotion, a study of nearly 950,000 individuals showed  decreased hospitalization costs, length of stay and admissions for those engaged in a comprehensive wellness program.


Lower turnover as employees feel cared for by their employer

Sometimes just showing you care is enough to reap the rewards of engagement among your employee population.  Higher engagement yields lower turnover. For example, the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award winners report a significantly lower turnover rate than the national rate of 38 percent, as well as a 73 percent employee satisfaction rate. HBR reports that 70% of employee participants reported that their company’s offering is an indicator that their employer cares about them. The real differentiator between successful and failed wellness programs may be whether they deliver on the emotional level as well as the physical.

Wearables offer an opportunity to take employee health and wellness to a new level.  One where programs, advice and reminders are personalized to each individual employee. According to ABI Research, 13 million wearable devices will be integrated into corporate-wellness plans over the next five years. Encouraging employees to use wearable fitness devices, such as Jawbone’s UP 24 activity tracker, Nike’s FuelBands or Fitbits, to track their movement, sleep and eating habits and share their accomplishments with their colleagues can motivate your entire office to lead a healthier life, resulting in less sick days, lower health insurance premiums and higher productivity.

Should we hit the Easy Button?


It’s a question worth pondering.  Is easy indeed always better? The fast, intuitive response might be a resounding “YES”, but given more thought would you change your mind?  While easy gets the job done, does it leave us with the same level and sense of satisfaction of overcoming a challenge, something that was hard, something that, because it didn’t kill us, made is stronger?  Do we need to feel a sense of accomplishment at overcoming something that was not easy, in order to grow as human beings?

In the words of Margaret Thatcher “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.”  And, I might add, exceedingly well in spite of it being exceedingly hard.

Perhaps that is because the level of accomplishment that leads to success and promotes self-esteem requires that you do estimable things.  Taking the easy way out does not result in these feelings and does nothing to further predict your ability to undertake great endeavors in the future.  This is part of the reason that colleges would rather see a student who takes Calculus and gets a “C” than a student who takes Pottery and gets an “A”. It is because undertaking something that is hard is a better predictor of success than simply achieving something easy.  

A look at accomplished individuals who regularly win awards and medals shows that they are driven by the effort rather than the result. It is the striving rather than the reward that is long-lived.  The striving, the risk taking, the hard won spoils of war are what build self-esteem, not the awards and trophies that are handed out to both teams, win or lose. 

Self-esteem feels good because it calls on the emotion of pride. Pride in turn arises from one’s sense of confidence and capability. Esteem and related emotions instill a sense of success and the confidence that you can accomplish whatever you set out to do.

So, are we cheating ourselves when we take the easy way out?  When we cut corners just to get to the result faster? Are we telling our selves that the result is all that matters?  I think “yes”. I think striving to do our absolute best against formidable odds, even if we take a few missteps along the way, is better than taking the easy way out.  It yields accomplishment rather than simply achievement, it builds self-confidence, and it forms a habit that is a predictor of success for the rest of your life

Technology Startups and the Case for HR Leaders


Technology start-ups may not be on every corner these days, but depending on your location, they are still prevalent.   The economy is doing well, the DOW crested 26,000 and the VC community has money to spend and to invest in promising series A startups. Entrepreneurs and founders who are fortunate enough to pitch an idea and retain an investment go about the arduous process of actually building a team to grow the business. They strive to build a team of dynamic, qualified and adaptable people. However, the labor market is tight and there is a significant amount of competition for these individuals.  The best and the brightest.  And not only do they have to attract them, they have to retain them.

Few startup companies have the resources or the desire to invest in a senior level Human Resources.  They are normally very focused on hiring the development team and maybe a Operations or Marketing resource, but almost never HR.  Below are a few reasons it makes sense, however, to consider a senior level HR resource, whether regular employee or consultant, earlier rather than later


Entrepreneurs and developers often lack the experience handling people 

Tech tends to attract a very young workforce and it’s not unusual to find an average age in the late 20’s to early 30’s.  They lack experience in hiring, training, and retaining people. This is a skill set possessed by seasoned HR leaders who are experienced in multiple industries. An HR resource can ensure that you bring the best talent on board and that you retain that talent through the critical phases.  Nothing halts a software company faster than losing their lead architect.


Business Strategies

As new age-ish as it sounds, it is important to develop vision and mission statements focusing on the company’s core philosophies up front.  Getting everyone aligned and moving in the same direction is critical to getting out in front of the competition. An experienced HR leader who has experience synchronizing the overall organizational goals can be of great help in formulating strong business strategies. 


Neutral Third Party

It is not unusual to run into divergent views in a startup.  How to execute a business plan, which direction to go, how much money to spend on what are all potential pitfalls.  A neutral HR leader will be able to organize a meeting of the minds and prevent valuable time from being wasted arguing about who is right. 


Keep the energy up

HR leaders should be responsible for energizing the organization.  Providing ways for employees to stay engaged, whether it be all night hack-a-thons, nerf gun wars or contest.  It’s easy to be energized in the beginning before the product or process hits multiple snags, but in order to be successful and come to the other side, you need someone to keep that energy flowing right through a profitable exit or IPO.

Although it sounds cliché, people are truly any organizations biggest asset and getting it right from the start will pay huge dividends in the end.  An experienced HR leader, as an employee or consultant, can save startup organizations from a multitude of woes from expensive hiring and firing mistakes, to poor retention to lack of management of change initiatives.

Some of the Best Things are Free


That statement is never more accurate than when talking about employee satisfaction.  Employers often create employee surveys to discover ways to boost employee satisfaction and retain employees.  They think of programs with hefty price tags including, incentive pay, additional benefits, and perquisites. When reviewing results of such surveys, many employers are concerned they won’t be able to respond to employee needs/asks that surface. However, they may be missing existing internal satisfiers that are already in place but are not being utilized. In some cases, attention to current programs and opportunities can reap great rewards and be real opportunities for employee satisfaction.

Career growth and even professional relationships are often motivators of satisfaction and engagement. One of the reasons employees leave a company is career growth opportunities.  Career growth does not have to be the typical upwardly mobile, vertical track, but can be horizontal growth as well.  Many employees would relish the opportunity to become more involved in a different part the business.  A reason employee stay is the relationships made in the workplace. One survey showed 25 percent of departing employees revealed that they would have stayed in their position with the company if they had a more respectful and connected relationship with their direct manager.  Employees are human beings who want to feel that others care about them and that includes their direct supervisor.

Employees want to learn and experience healthy professional relationships. Management must connect with workers both professionally and personally, and, depending on the work atmosphere and nature of the company, create a fun work environment.  Initiating conversations about things outside of work is one way managers can show an interest in their employees’ lives. Other things managers can do to build employee satisfaction are:

  • Allow employees to use and demonstrate their strengths. Everyone wants to be valued and make a difference. Know where to place each employee for the greatest results. Ask what an employee wants to do in the company and look for opportunities to create the experience.
  • Ensure employees understand the goals of the business and how the work they are doing impacts those goals.  Make sure they understand how they fit into the big picture. Individuals on a team create winning scenarios when everyone knows their role and the rules of the game.
  • Enhance communication. Really listen to your employees. Ask what is and is not working and take action to explore where the company can and cannot implement idea changers. Have managers meet with employees on a regular basis and report on performance, engagement, and employee feedback.
  • Consider stay interviews to understand engagement and exit interviews to understand turnover better. Especially for your HiPo’s, conducting regular stay interviews pays off with better engagement and less risk of them turning elsewhere.
  • Create a learning environment. Foster internal opportunities to learn from one another and expand upon existing skills. Implement programs like “a Day in the Life” where you employees get up to eight (8) hours a year to shadow someone in a job that they would like to know more about.  While this may cause a hiccup on that particular day, future projects led by a well-rounded work teams will create greater quality, be more productive and come up with winning solutions faster.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it costs thousands of dollars to ensure that your employees rank high in satisfaction.  Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of thought and a lot of care.  

Workplace Giving


There are a number of ways that employers can support employees in their desire to give back, especially during the holiday period.  Employers themselves, can, of course, contribute to a charity directly, but, in the spirit of engagement, it is more special to allow employees a say over how the dollars or donations are being distributed.  Some employees will want to give to a specific charity that supports a cause near and dear to them.  Others will want to give to a specific person who they know is in need over the holidays.  Below is a description of the many ways that employers can facilitate the spirit of giving.

Workplace Giving through Deductions

If you work for a company, organization or the federal government, chances are you’ve had the opportunity to participate in a workplace giving program. Workplace giving is an easy and efficient way to make tax-deductible donations to the charities you care about with donations taken directly out of your paycheck. 

This type of giving can be set up through payroll and can be a one-time gift or can be set up as per paycheck deductions of either a percentage or dollar amount.  Many organizations will choose to match, at least to some degree, the dollars that employees contribute.

Employer Provided Donations

Some employers give their employees each a certain amount that they may contribute to any charity or person of their choosing.  The employers only ask, in return, is that the employee share what they choose to use the dollars for.  This can yield especially heartwarming stories of how the employee “spent” the money and what the surprised recipient’s reaction was.  Sharing these throughout an organization can spur others to think about ways they can actively better the life of another.

Non-cash Donations

Certainly not all contributions need to be in cash.  Opportunities abound over the holiday period for employees to bring in food for food drives.  Numbers of organizations will welcome the extra set of hands if groups of employees are available to help sort, shelve and package food items for delivery.  Some services, such as Meals on Wheels will allow the delivery of the food baskets also.

There are wonderful opportunities to make a child’s holiday bright be buying an extra gift or two as you are shopping for others on your list, to brighten a deserving child’s holiday.  Large organizations such as the Marines run annual campaigns like Toys for Tots, but smaller neighborhood organizations run gift drives as well.

Organizations may choose to set up an Angel Tree where an employee picks the name of a family or child and on the back is a description of the wants/needs of that family.  Companies can provide ornaments to replace each card that is chosen until the whole tree is filled with beautiful ornaments, a reflection of what has been given back.  

These are just a few ways that each and everyone one of us can feel what the true meaning of the holidays is all about- giving freely of our time and love to those around us.  

Pulse Surveys


Pulse Surveys can be called many different name, employee satisfaction surveys, employee engagement surveys, employee experience surveys, etc.  One of the reasons I like PULSE, is because they are truly designed to measure the pulse of the employees and of the organization, as a whole, at a given point in time.  Not all employees who take them are satisfied or necessarily dissatisfied, nor are they engaged or disengaged.  However, all employees have an opinion, and when give a chance to air it, usually do not disappoint.

Pulse surveys take on three primary forms- Annual Surveys, which may measure a broad level of employee satisfaction, Weekly check ins that might tackle a topic or two and Reaction Surveys, which measure the employees reactions to a certain initiative.


Annual Employee Surveys

Annual Employee Surveys are common amongst employers pursuing an Employer of Choice philosophy.  They provide management with the knowledge and tools to build positive employee relations and a corresponding positive work environment. Employee attitudes, burnout tendencies, engagement, loyalty and workplace environment are key indicators for employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity.

Effective businesses focus on creating and reinforcing employee satisfaction to get the most out of their human capital. Properly constructed employee satisfaction surveys provide the insights that are foundational to creating and reinforcing productive work environments. These surveys can address topics such as compensation, workload, perceptions of management, flexibility of schedules, teamwork, appropriate resources, etc.


Weekly Check-ins

Weekly Check-ins provide management insight into a particular topic or issue that is important in the near term.  Frequently organization will adopt Guiding Principles or Corporate Values and choose to focus their efforts around one of these initiatives per quarter.  Guiding Principles are principles that guide an organization throughout its life in all circumstances, irrespective of changes in its goals, strategies, type of work, or the top management.  These can be quick questions, maybe just one or two, that give an organization directional guidance on that particular topic.  These can also be useful for a department when you don’t necessarily want to check in with the organization in its entirety.


Reaction Surveys

Reactions surveys are just that.  They test the reaction of employees to a specific initiative.  You may have rolled out copious communications on a a particular initiative and yes, when it goes live, you hear a rumbling through the grape vine that not everyone is happy, there are misunderstandings.  Reaction surveys give everyone an anonymous voice.  Both Survey Monkey and CustomInsight offer employers a free vehicle to use to create these surveys and analyze the data collected.

In all cases, once you have collected and analyzed the data, give the feedback and have a plan of action to present an implement.  Collecting data and not acting on it is worse than not collecting the data in the first place. Use this as an opportunity to show your employees that you really do care and you will be rewarded with their honest thoughts and opinions going forward, helping you, as an employer, to create a truly great place to work.

What do most start-ups have in common?


There are as many types of start ups as there are investors to invest in them but most have a few things in common.  Knowing what these are, in advance, will help you to stay one step ahead of your investors, your market and your competition.


VC’s are an impatient bunch

Venture Capitalists, commonly referred to as VC’s,  are those that invest dollars in multiple start up business enterprises with the hopes of hitting it big in 1 out of 10, in my experience, although different VC’s may tell you otherwise. Various VC’s play in different niches established by the stage of the business.  For instance, idea generation, proto-type product, mature product, revenue, growth and profitability.  However, they share at least one thing in common which is impatience.  Impatience to get a product to market, to show profitability, to attract later stage investors at higher valuations and to make a very profitable exit.  

Fail fast is a fact worth remembering.  You are less likely to burn investor bridges with $1M in when you determine that your idea or product has little chance of success than after you have $10-20M in.

Don’t underestimate the marketing spin

No matter how good your product is, whether it be software, SaaS, or shoes, it needs to be marketed effectively.  What will you brand around and how will you differentiate in the marketplace should be the first questions you ask yourself and your team.  Keep your head in the sky and think about the ways you want people to “feel” when they hear about your product.  Stay away from long lists of functionality.  People buy, for the most part, on emotional reactions.  

Shelter your employees

Start ups are volatile and not everyone needs to know every brutal truth.  There will be times when you are putting payroll on the execs credit cards, but you don’t necessarily need to share that with everyone in the company.  Trust me, I have been one of those execs floating 1,000’s of dollars for a couple of weeks before funding closed.  Some who join your start up will be true entrepreneurial types and for those the uncertainty will not matter.  Others, however, will be employees looking for stability, with families to support.  You don’t want to shrink your candidate pool any further than is necessary.  Portray a positive, stable and growth oriented environment.  

Act bigger than you are

Allocate a few dollars into presenting a professional image.  Maybe that is the receptionist in the lobby who doubles as the AP specialist.  Maybe that’s a phone system where you can look like you have lines for a variety of different functions.  To some extent, it follows the old adage of “Fake it till you make it.”  If you have 20 employees and someone asks the response is still truthful if you say “we are still under 100” but send a very different signal to a potential customer.

Start ups are, by their very nature, challenging in many respects.  Knowing a few of the most common pitfalls can help to guarantee yours is that 1 in 10 that everyone is looking for to hit it big!

Stereotypical Startup Culture Can Be Detrimental – Part 1

startup culture

This is the era of the startup. Between the simultaneous unemployment crisis America has been experiencing in for the past few years, and the technological boom that is seemingly unstoppable, startups (primarily in the tech sector) have been popping up left and right. With this influx of startups came an entirely new culture: one of relaxed schedules, no dress codes, huge personal freedoms, and a never ending supply of snacks. The stereotypical startup is full of young, charismatic go-getters who thrive in a “fun” and “casual” workplace.

While this new culture and mindset have been hugely beneficial for some companies (see: Google and Facebook), it may not be the right move for all startups. There are a few ways that “startup culture” can actually do more harm than good for certain startup businesses.


Too Much Money is Being Spent

This is actually one of the biggest problems that many startups are facing. Everyone wants to emulate the Google culture, with the free food,  the games, and the chic & fun office space. But, the reality is that most startups cannot afford those overhead costs. Many companies will use a lot of the money from their investors to foster this fun space. While this will absolutely make a great impression on both employees and clients alike, it’s important to make sure that your company is saving money and focusing funds on creating a viable product/service.


The Lines Between Boss & Subordinate May Be Blurred

The beautiful part of startup culture is that it’s generally an environment of openness and personal connections. For a lot of companies, “culture fit” is important and people are hired based on how well they will get along with the existing employees. This creates a comfortable place of work and creativity, which is fantastic for productivity.

However, this wholly democratic environment may may lead to issues when hard decisions or conversations need to take place. If the bosses aren’t seen as leaders, and are instead seen as friends & peers, it makes it difficult to reign in a rowdy team, or to provide disciplinary action when an employee is out of line.


Be sure to check out the blog next month to learn more about the potential downfalls of the stereotypical startup culture.