Get Curious: A Simple Question to Ask Your Employees

Posted on June 28th, 2018

Rachel Druckenmiller, MS – Director of Wellbeing

How do we engage our employees?

This is a question I hear on a weekly basis. With employee disengagement hovering around 70%, it's not surprising that this question keeps coming up year after year.

Often, we expect a vendor or a portal to solve our employee engagement challenge, and are disappointed when they don't deliver on their promises. We send out emails or letters telling our employees that they are our greatest asset, yet our words aren't carried through in what we do. Little seems to change. Each year, companies conduct engagement surveys asking the same scripted questions and often getting the same answers but often fail to take action. Justifiably, employees begin to think that what they want doesn't really matter and remain stuck in a state of disengagement and resentment.

What can we do about it? Is there anything we can do to effectively and authentically engage our employees?


It's almost too obvious, too simple, yet few organizations are doing it in a meaningful way.

Ask people what they want, and then respond.

Something I learned through my training as a Thriving Workplace Culture Consultant that has stuck with me ever since is this:

People only support what they help create.

Does your approach to employee engagement involve the co-creation of solutions with all ofyour employees, not just the higher-ups and shareholders? If employees don't feel like you genuinely care about them and what they want, they will not be engaged.

Each month, our employees come together for an all-hands meetings for company-wide updates. Having been an employee of SIG in some form for nearly 15 years, I've been to dozens of these meetings. At our most recent meeting, our CEO, Richard Silberstein, went off script to bring a simple question to our attention:

"What is something we could bring to you that would help make your life better or improve it in some way?"

He asked us to turn to two people sitting near us and discuss our responses to this question. After a few minutes, we went around the room, and each small group shared some of their top "wants". A few themes emerged that encompassed most people's wishes. I thought I'd share with you some of our employees' input, as these topics very likely are important at your company as well. Having said that, the only way to truly know what your people want is to ask them a similar question.

Work-Life Integration

This was the most common response across the board.

How do we balance work commitments, family, kids' activities, staying organized, managing time, running a household, doing laundry, and preparing nourishing meals in minutes?

All of us are challenged to figure out how to integrate all of these different aspects of our lives and meeting the demands of multiple roles. In response to employees' requests for help with organizing their homes, we will be looking into bringing a local home organizing expert to our employees. Imagine how much bandwidth could be freed up if your employees didn't have to worry about staying organized on their own? You can find a home organizer in your area here on thumbtack. Also, if you have kids and multiple schedules to coordinate, download the Cozi app. It's free and includes a shared family calendar, to do lists, grocery lists, and recipes.

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post about 6 Tips for Healthy Meal Planning Made Easy. In it, I share my top pantry staples, resources for recipes, online meal planning services, and a list of meal kit delivery service options, which are perfect for busy families and have become a weekly staple for my brother, his wife and their three kids. I look forward to seeing what we come up with to address the challenges of work-life integration and will share them with you in the future!

What do you do to help your employees effectively integrate and blend work and the other demands of life?

Financial Advising

Budgeting, one-on-one consultations with a financial planner, 529 planning, budget travel with and without kids. These are just a few of the topics that emerged as areas of interest for our employees.

I'm grateful to have been raised by a mother who is a Certified Financial Planner because I have had a lifetime to learn about the importance of living within your means, not living on credit, saving for retirement as soon as I was able, and paying down debt aggressively. The more time I spend at companies listening to their employees and the concerns they have, the more I realize how great the need is for guidance like what I have received at just about every organization.

In our credit-centric culture with student loan debts as high as some mortgages, we need to provide support for people to better manage their finances. As long as employees are distracted by financial concerns, they will not be able to perform at their best for you.

We have a financial tracking tool, SmartDollar, in place for our employees and have brought in financial education sessions in the past, but we will be looking into what we can do to provide our employees with more individualized support in this area.

Ask your employees what their primary financial stresses are and see if there is something you can do to help them.


Managing Technology

In our digitally connected, always on culture, it's difficult to figure out how to disconnect from our devices. Compounding that challenge is managing the technology usage of our kids. Our email is on our phones. Social media tempts us with each ding, like or comment. Even when we are on vacation, we are accessible in ways we never have been before. How can we manage the overwhelm so many of us feel when it comes to technology?

I'll never forget a conversation I had with our receptionist about a year or so ago. I was heading out on a week-long vacation and stopped by her desk to chat and say goodbye. "I'll be off the grid!" I told her. She laughed and double-checked to make sure she heard me correctly: "Really? Most people tell me all the ways people can reach them if they need to when they are away on vacation."

Not me.

As my dad says, I'm not curing cancer or closing the hole in the Ozone layer. I do my due diligence to tie up loose ends before I leave, so all urgent matters are addressed. Whatever someone needs while I'm away can be handled by a co-worker or wait until I return from my trip. If you haven't truly checked out and taken a quality vacation lately, the case for vacation is data-driven and compelling, yet few of us truly disconnect from work when we go away.

Why is it so hard for us to check out and sign off?

One, we teach people how to treat us. If you have taught the people you work with that you will answer on the first ring at 11pm, then you have to own that. If you're an ER doctor who needs to be available at all hours because of a life-or-death crisis, then please answer the call. But the rest of us cannot honestly say that what we do on a daily basis is that urgent. How you behave teaches people what is acceptable for you, so be careful about responding to emails at 2am, unless you want to create an expectation that you'll feel pressured to consistently meet. I could have easily blamed my employer and heavy demands at work when I got mono last year, but I had to own my contribution to that situation.

Secondly, if we're honest, we can chalk up at least part of our inability to disconnect to an inflated sense of self-importance. Technology and social media make us so self-consumed that we think the world will not go on without us if we are out of touch for a week. This is why you have co-workers to share the burden with, so you can have peace of mind as you recharge. Our CEO went on a trip to the Galapagos Islands for over a week last year and completely checked out. He had no access to technology, but he trusted the team of people he has hired to handle things while he was gone, and lo and behold…everything was fine.

We are going to address this problem as a team, but in the meantime, if you'd like to make changes in this area of your life, check out these Harvard Business Review articles on the topic:

If you'd like to observe a company-wide day of unplugging, check out this national organization devoted to helping you do just that.

What do you do to manage technology for yourself, your team and your family? Have you found any strategies that have worked for you?

Slowing Down

Our desire to slow down is undoubtedly linked to trying to manage competing life priorities and our incessant need to be digitally connected.

One of the questions Richard asked everyone to consider and to discuss with their manager is what they would do with five extra hours of time each week. Few of us slow down long enough to consider how we'd respond to that question, but we'd benefit from doing so.

We're bringing mini meditation sessions to our company in May and are also looking into using Muse to make meditation easier for our employees. Mindfulness may not be the answer to every challenge related to slowing down, but here are a few benefits you can expect from a regular practice.

What do you do to promote a culture that creates margin and gives people permission to slow down?

Stress Relief

When you think about the compounding effects of financial stress, competing priorities, struggles with managing time and staying organized, and our addiction to technology, it's no wonder so many of us feel stressed. To add to that, many employees these days are taking care of aging parents and raising children of their own. We have a lot to juggle and a seeming lack of time and resources to do it all.

For many organizations, the response to dealing with stress is sending employees to an EAP or bringing in massage therapists. We bring quarterly massages to our company for employees, but we do it as a perk, not as a strategy to dispel stress. Think about it. If you send a stressed out employee to an EAP but put them back in an environment with unclear expectations, a poorly trained manager, a lack of autonomy, and inadequate recognition and appreciation, they will probably not change long-term. That's why it's more important to look at the root causes of stress in your organization than it is to only offer surface solutions that don't address the underlying problem.

In an effort to identify the drivers of stress for our employees, we are going to ask them for their perceptions about the current state of our company compared to how they would like it to be. We are going to be using the Thriving Workplace Culture Survey to obtain that information in the next few weeks. If you'd like to learn more about how to bring that survey to your company, send me a message.

I'm also developing training drawing on research about how reframing stress can help us enhance our performance and forge deeper social connections and look forward to sharing with you when that training is available. I've also been delivering trainings to other organizations and leadership teams about the motivational power of gratitude at work, how we can beat burnout and live our best lives, and how we can live happier, happier, more fulfilled lives. The self-care component of leadership is rising in importance, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to speak into that space at organizations. We are planning to bring in other management and leadership training as well to better equip our people to lead effectively as another strategy for addressing stress.

What do you do to address stress at work and equip employees with tools to more effectively address it?

Work-life Integration. Financial Management. Disconnecting. Slowing Down. Rethinking Stress. These were just a few of the challenges our employees are facing, and they're asking for our help. We're now in the process of coming up with a strategy for how to respond in a way that makes our employees feel heard and valued. I look forward to sharing what happens in future posts and presentations!

Next Steps

If you'd like to learn more about how to bring resources like these to your organization to help you recruit, engage and retain top talent, message me or comment below. We support companies to become top workplaces through strategic plan development, training, workshops, and consulting. You can learn more about us on our website here.

If you're interested in digging into these topics around how to help people bring their whole selves to work and home each day, join me at the Fusion 2.0 conference this fall in Minneapolis. I will be leading a Learning Lab session, and the keynote speakers will inspire and empower you to re-humanize your workplace. Learn more and register here.

What Should You Expect for Workers’ Comp Costs? Doom or Boom?

Posted on June 27th, 2018

Two experts recently gave their opinions on the future of workers’ comp costs. One expert is pessimistic, the other one is optimistic. What do you think?

Workers’ compensation costs could increase 300 percent by 2030, according to economist Richard Victor, a senior fellow with the Sedgwick Institute, a risk and benefits think tank. Victor has been a keen observer of the forces driving workers’ comp costs for many years since founding the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) in 1983.

Until now, according to Victor, the workers’ comp system has been able to adapt by introducing internal reforms to help lower costs. But today, he says, a number of external factors outside the control of employers and even state governments are threatening workers’ comp.

In remarks he addressed to the annual WCRI conference in Boston in April (as reported in Insurance Journal), he named three principal reasons for concern in the coming years: demographic shifts because of retiring boomers, new immigration policies and changes in health care costs and policies.

Boomers Retiring: Today, more boomers are staying on the job past “normal” retirement age, many out of necessity because they haven’t saved enough for retirement. These people are more prone to injury with longer down time. But this factor only contributes about five percent to increased costs.

“The real impact is the labor shortages that follow as more and more Baby Boomers retire,” said Victor “And these labor shortages, which will be longer and deeper than anything we’ve experienced, will lead to significant increase in workers’ compensation claims and longer durations of disability.” That’s because with labor in short supply, employers tend to lower hiring standards, bringing on board people less skilled and less capable of performing the work safely.

New Immigration Policies: Until now, immigration has been a mitigating factor when demand for labor has exceeded supply. If the current administration’s reduction in immigration flows continues, labor supply will tighten dramatically. Victor cited the healthcare industry in particular as an example of how immigration has helped meet the country’s growing demand for more workers, where overall one in six healthcare workers is foreign-born.

Health Insurance: Now that health insurance deductibles are often $3,000 to $10,000, people tend to often forgo medical care for a non-work-related injury or illness or, especially if the condition worsens, even claim it as work-related. Victor sees the weakening of portions of the Affordable Care Act as making this situation even worse.

Future Prognosis?
“I think it’s tough because these are forces outside the system. Raising the maximum [workers’ compensation] benefit, or putting limits on duration of benefits, that’s something within the normal workers comp process, but a labor shortage, high deductibles in commercial health insurance, I think there are fewer tools [to mitigate problems] within that traditional process, within the state government, in general,” he said.

“You end up with a 300 percent increase in workers’ compensation costs without increasing benefits to injured workers.”

Technology is on the verge of a new era of radically improved risk management, job safety and cost control, according to engineers like Pete Schermerhorn, president and CEO of Triax Technologies.

Technologies like wearables, sensors, drones and other data collection points are allowing managers to harness the data needed to make the workplace more efficient and safe.

At construction sites, for example, says Schermerhorn, “The right construction technology helps managers and crews communicate, identify and report hazards, and learn from past experience for future projects. Crucially, these technologies allow insurers for the first time to see what is happening at client worksites and with their workforce — how long they’re spending on site, for example, or the distance of a fall — so they can more accurately assess risk,
determine coverage, and mitigate losses.”

Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of sensors embedded in vehicles, appliances and other physical devices that collect and exchange information and interpret that information to make programmed decisions. This can be as simple as the room evaluating when to turn lights on when someone enters. Or it can be as complex as a vehicle determining whether the accident it just experienced resulted in bodily injury and if an immediate call for an ambulance should be placed.

In an industrial setting, sensors implanted in buildings, equipment and machinery constantly gather information about hazards such as parts in need of repair or conditions unfavorable to safety. Predictive maintenance such as this could prevent many accidents from ever happening in the first place.

Wearables extend the IoT concept to humans, channeling their experience into data collection points as well. Workers passively or actively report hazards, signal distress and communicate conditions helpful in building analytic models. Not only is the data being communicated predictive and therefore immediately actionable to prevent an injury, if an injury does occur, instant notifications will reduce severity by deploying help immediately.

Big Data can put all this information together and analyze it in ways that are highly predictive for making long-term decisions. This is the real power of the IoT. As data is collected and stored in the cloud to be used — not locked up in paper reports — “advanced data analytics will increasingly predict and mark risky behaviors … helping to prevent incidents.” This will help managers take a proactive, real-time approach to safety and risk management.

“By providing a real-time view into jobsites for the first time, and collecting and sharing key data, technology is driving critical safety and process improvements. And, it allows insurers to more accurately assess risk, determine liability and mitigate fraud, reduce costly claims and improve the overall bottom line,” says Schermerhorn

What do you think? We’d welcome your comments and concerns.

Answering Your Employee’s Questions About Enrolling in Medicare

Posted on June 27th, 2018

Working past age 65 is no longer uncommon. According to the U.S. Jobs report, almost 19 percent of people 65 or older worked at least part-time in the second quarter of 2017.

With that in mind, it pays to be aware of current guidelines for employees who want to keep their group health care benefit plan as opposed to using Medicare.

Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people 65 or older; certain younger people with disabilities; and people with permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant.

Seniors can sign up for different parts of Medicare, depending on the services they need:


  • Part A – Hospital insurance for inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some home health care. Coverage is free.
  • Part B – Medical insurance for certain doctor services, outpatient care, medical supplies and preventive services. Requires a monthly premium.
  • Part C (Medicare Advantage Plans) – Offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare and provides all or part of Part A and Part B benefits. Enrollees pay a monthly premium.
  • Part D – Prescription drug coverage offered by some insurance companies and other private companies approved by Medicare. Enrollees pay a monthly premium.


Remember that while you can provide basic information, it will be to your employees’ advantage to double check answers with Social Security in case of rule changes or exceptions.

Employee: When must I enroll in Medicare?

Answer: You have a seven-month period to sign up. This period starts three months before the month you turn 65 and ends three months after your birth month. If you don’t sign up, you will see a 10 percent increase in your Medicare Part B premiums for every 12 months you qualify but fail to enroll in Part B. There may also be a late penalty on Part A if you were not entitled to Part A for free because you did not previously work or did not work long enough.

Employee: Do I have to enroll in Medicare Part B if I want to stay on the company’s group health benefit plan?

Answer (if your company has 20 or more employees): No. Since our company has more than 20 employees, you can delay enrolling in Part B, stay on our company’s coverage and not pay a penalty when you decide to enroll in Medicare Part B. When you do retire, or leave work, you’ll have eight months to sign up for Part B without a late penalty. Call Social Security to inform them that you decline Part B. You may have to provide documents showing you have creditable coverage with us. If you decide to stay with our plan plus Medicare Part B, our coverage probably will be your primary insurer and Medicare will be secondary. In this case, it may not be cost effective to pay both premiums.

Answer (if Your Company has Fewer Than 20 Employees): Smaller companies like ours have discretion in deciding if employees must sign up for Part B at age 65. Under current guidelines, if you decide to go with both, Medicare is the primary insurer for organizations our size and our plan is secondary.

Employee: Do these rules apply to my family?

Answer (20 or More Employees): Since our company has 20 or more employees, you can enroll in company coverage instead of enrolling in Medicare Part B and your spouse will be covered, including if you are in a same-sex marriage (even if in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage). It doesn’t apply for an unmarried partner (unless you live in a state recognizing common law marriage).

Employee: If I stay with company coverage, will I get the same health care benefits?

Answer (20 or More Employees): Yes, federal law requires we offer the same benefits for members over age 65 as we do for all other employees. Also, we cannot offer to pay your Medicare premiums to induce you to enroll in Medicare and drop the employer plan.

Employee: If I don’t sign up for Part B, what are the advantages of signing up for Part A?

Answer: If you qualify, you pay no premiums for Part A, which mainly covers allowable, medically necessary hospital expenses; limited home health care; institutional care in a skilled nursing facility in certain situations; and hospice care. You can sign up during your initial Medicare enrollment period.

Employee: If I sign up for Medicare Part A, B or C, can I keep my health savings account?

Answer: You can withdraw funds, but you cannot add to the account.

Employee: Do I need to sign up for Part D?

Your Answer: Part D is voluntary. If you have our coverage (and we have creditable drug coverage), you probably don’t need Part D. When our coverage ends, you have two months to sign up for Part D without penalty.

For help explaining their Medicare options to your over 65 employees, please contact us.

Simple Steps to Reduce Telecommuting-Related Risks

Posted on June 25th, 2018

Employers’ Responsibilities:
1. Provide clear job descriptions, goals and reporting procedures for your
telecommuting employees.
2. Ensure your workers’ compensation coverage applies to telecommuters. For
example, if you have out-of-state teleworkers, make sure you have “other states”
3. Verify that the organization’s general liability policy applies to the acts of
4. Provide workers with the right equipment and support.
5. Offer training and guidelines for efficient teleworking.
6. Ensure your employees know what to do in the event of a work-related injury and how to report a claim. Stress the importance of early reporting.
7. If your workers’ compensation insurer has a network of preferred providers, make sure your telecommuting employees have a list of nearby providers and their contact information.

Employees’ Responsibilities:
1. Provide work space with ergonomically correct chair, desk and computer
2. Complete a safety checklist certifying the space is free from hazards. This
checklist is not legally binding, but details management expectations and, if
signed, assumes employee compliance.
3. Verify that having a home work space will not violate the terms of their
homeowners insurance policy, community CC&Rs or local ordinances.
4. Immediately report any work-related accident to the supervisor with all medical documentation related to the accident. If the employer’s workers’ compensation claims manager or insurer deems an inspection necessary, the employee agrees to cooperate with the inspector.

Alera Group Acquires Second Nevada Firm

Posted on June 25th, 2018

DEERFIELD, IL (June 25, 2018) — Alera Group, a leading national employee benefits, property
and casualty, risk management and wealth management firm, has acquired Menath Insurance.
Terms of the transactions were not announced.

Menath Insurance, headquartered in Incline Village, Nevada, is a comprehensive insurance firm
that has been serving clients in the western United States for over 33 years with a service team
who cumulatively boasts over 200 years of experience working with businesses, non-profits and
individuals. The firm also has offices in Reno, NV, South Lake Tahoe, NV, and Susanville, CA.

“Menath Insurance is a powerful, exciting addition to Alera Group,” said Alan Levitz, CEO of
Alera Group. “They are an excellent fit for our collaborative national culture, and we look forward
to the addition of their expertise to our national service offerings.”

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of Alera Group’s acquisition of Las Vegas-based
Kaercher Insurance just last week.

Alera Group was formed in early 2017 and is one of the nation’s foremost independent
insurance agencies and privately-held employee benefits firms. For more information on
partnering with Alera Group, visit Partnership Opportunities


About Alera Group
Based in Deerfield, IL, Alera Group’s over 1,000 employees serve thousands of clients
nationally in employee benefits, property and casualty, risk management and wealth
management. Alera Group is the 15th largest independent insurance agency and the 7th largest
independent employee benefits firm in the country. For more information, visit or follow Alera Group on Twitter: @AleraGroupUS

M&A Contact
Rob Lieblein, Chief Development Officer
Phone: 717-329-2451

Media Contact
Jessica Tiller, Weiss PR
Phone: 443-621-7690

10 Tips for Thinking Outside the Wellness Box

Posted on June 25th, 2018

When most of us think of the word, “wellness”, images of yoga mats, massages and FitBits are typically what come to mind. While fitness, stress relief and exercise are all important components of wellness initiatives at companies, there’s more to being well than what we eat and how we exercise. We are more than our physical body.

In early June, several hundred employers from the greater Chicago area gathered together at GCG’s annual symposium to discover how to think outside of the wellness box and expand their understanding of what it means to be well.

I shared the story of my own burnout experience last year and how even the “wellness person” isn’t immune to the consequences of demanding work. It’s difficult for most of us to find a sense of work/life integration that works for us and keeps us feeling rested and also restored. The same is true of the people who work for us.

We explored how our current approach to wellness is limited and focuses too much on telling people what they do wrong rather than celebrating them for what they do well. It focuses too much on programs and not enough on the people we are serving and what they want. If we want employees to be engaged, we must involve them in the process because people only support what they help create.

Many of us limit ourselves when we think the only value to promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace is to “move the needle” and generate a return on investment (ROI). Fortunately, quite a bit of data exists to back up that point. It’s important to help companies contain costs, but that can be done through a variety of methods, including care coordination, functional medicine, telemedicine, pharmacy programs, and other benefit plan design modifications.

The new business case for wellness – what is now more commonly referred to as “wellbeing” – is to engage, recruit and retain top talent, to help organizations be seen as employers of choice. According to research by Quantum Workplace, when employees feel like their employer cares about their health and wellbeing, they are more likely to be engaged, stick around, perform better, speak well of their company and less likely to be hostile. The term wellbeing is most commonly used by Gallup and includes five dimensions of who we are as human beings – our career wellbeing or sense of purpose, social wellbeing or quality of relationships, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and community wellbeing or volunteerism and give back initiatives. Very few people are thriving in all five areas, but those who are thriving in career wellbeing are twice as likely to be thriving in all other areas.

During the session, one of the activities we did was to reflect on what our organization is doing to support employees in each of those five areas. This was an eye-opening exercise for some, as we have a tendency to silo different aspects of our organization rather than thinking about bringing them together and connecting them with a common theme.

We collected and compiled everyone’s top ideas and are sharing with you the top 10 ideas that were submitted. We hope at least one of these ideas resonates with you and that you bring it back to your organization to foster a workplace where people are excited to come work:

  1. “We have a new program encouraging employees to ‘dream and explore what things they’d like to accomplish in life.” I love this idea. It draws on the most important dimension of wellbeing – a sense of purpose. To learn more about what it could look like to invite employees to dream big at your company, I encourage you to read the book, The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly.
  2. Community service policy that matches 1 paid day off for each vacation day taken to work at a non-profit or missions. This is a great way to show your employees your commitment to the community and to giving back. It’s also a triple hit because it impacts community wellbeing, physical wellbeing (volunteers experience less depression than non-volunteers), and career wellbeing because it could be used as a recruitment tool.
  3. Improving our onboarding process and leading a committee to share ideas and develop a better program. In an HR study of over 1,000 workers, 31% reported having quit a job within the first six months. This highlights the importance of being strategic and intentional about onboarding new employees and creating memorable experiences for them in the first few months on the job. Bringing together groups of new and tenured employees to share ideas and develop a better process shows that this organization is serious about making employees’ first impression the best impression. If new hires feel valued, wanted and supported, it’s more likely they will stay.
  4. Monthly volunteer opportunities at a food pantry where one of our executives will sponsor. Great way to give back and get face-time with leadership. It’s important for employees to see that their leadership is willing to get their hands dirty and humble themselves to be a servant leader. Combining teambuilding with giving back is a wonderful idea because it invites us to be humans who care first and our roles or titles second.
  5. Have meetings around the neighborhood to unite with our neighbors and to enjoy their businesses. When we think of supporting our employees’ wellbeing, most of us think of what we can do within our organization, not how we can reach out to other organizations in our community. Strong social connections are crucial for thriving employee wellbeing and are correlated with greater happiness, health, and longevity. Is your business so impactful and intentional that the community around you would notice if you disappeared tomorrow? If the answer is, “no,” I encourage you to brainstorm how your company can intentionally connect with and support the businesses and neighborhoods around you.
  6. Management and HR cook breakfast for employees. What a neat way to bring people together. One of the companies I work with is in the construction industry, and they have a monthly lunch cooked by one of their leaders. It’s a great way for him to show off his cooking skills and do something he loves while also bringing people together over a meal. Servant leaders are the best kind of leaders.
  7. Forgivable home loan of up to $10,000 for down payment/closing costs that is interest-free and 100% forgiven after 5 years of employment. Many employees dream of being homeowners, but the process of saving enough money to be able to make a down payment is a roadblock for many. I can only imagine how many dreams this company has made a reality by so generously facilitating the process of home buying for their employees.
  8. Thrive pass wellness reimbursement program: each employee gets up to $50 per month to spend on wellness activities of their choice. For employees who may not have the financial means to invest in their own physical wellbeing, offering monthly or annual allowances to support them could be a valuable benefit. Whether it’s a gym membership, coaching, cooking class, yoga class, new pair of running shoes, or partial funding of a massage, employees appreciate having funding to pursue the wellbeing activities of their choice.
  9. Register for any fitness event (5k, bike, swim, marathon, etc.) and do it with at least one coworker to build community and meet fitness goals. At most organizations, there are select groups of employees who regularly participate in walking / running / biking events. Rarely have I seen companies encourage those employees to buddy up and bring at least one coworker into that event with them. This is a great way to encourage connection and community within your employees while also promoting movement. It hits on three of the five dimensions of wellbeing.
  10. Fun committee with a participant from each department to bring more social events to culture and foster a sense of friendship among employees. With loneliness on the rise and suicide rates escalating, it’s more important than ever to intentionally foster community and friendship in the workplace. Focusing on fun as the motivator makes it more likely that employees will take part in whatever is planned because they want to, not because they have One idea you could take back to your organization is to ask your employees to complete this statement, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we…” and let their imaginations run wild.


Thank you to all of the organization who joined us and submitted such creative ideas for how to engage, recruit and retain top talent by focusing on and prioritizing employee wellbeing.

For more ideas about how to foster a thriving workplace culture and employee wellbeing, follow our Director of Wellbeing, Rachel Druckenmiller, on LinkedIn.


Alera Group's Teddy Felker Named Business Insurance 2018 Break Out Award Winner

Posted on June 21st, 2018

DEERFIELD, IL  – Teddy Felker Managing Director, Private Equity Practice for GCG, an Alera Group Company, has been named a Business Insurance 2018 Break Out Award Winner. Alera Group is a leading national employee benefits, property/casualty, risk management and wealth management firm

The Break Out Awards honor 40 top professionals on track to be the next leaders in the risk management and property/casualty insurance field. Break Out winners from across the United States are recognized for their leadership and professional skills.

One of the reasons he was honored with the Break Out Award was for his forward thinking and inititative. Recognizing clients needed private equity services, he co-founded the Private Equity Practice at GCG in 2015. Since then has been instrumental in growing the division to 10 full-time professionals. He oversees implementation of Risk Management solutions for financial institutions. While the private equity industry is extremely competitive, in just the past three years, he has advised on more than 100 transactions. He credits much of his success to his client approach – making sure his clients recognize he is on their team.

“Teddy is completely deserving of this recognition. He is a problem solver for his clients, many of whom are involved with Private Equity firms that – more often than not – have complex structures requiring out-of-the-box thinking,” says Richard Levitz, Managing Parter at GCG Financial, an Alera Group Company.

Continues Levitz, “Teddy has a veteran’s strategic vision to help navigate the hurdles that clients face with these more complex issues.”

Felker was recognized at the awards recognition event in Chicago on June 12 and is featured in the June 2018 issue of Business Insurance and on

About Alera Group
Based in Deerfield, IL, Alera Group’s over 1,000 employees serve thousands of clients nationally in employee benefits, property and casualty, risk management and wealth management. Alera Group was created by merging 24 high-performing, entrepreneurial firms across the U.S. It is the 15th largest independent insurance agency and the 7th largest independent employee benefits firm in the country. For more information, visit or follow Alera Group on Twitter: @AleraGroupUS.

Break Out Awards
Business Insurance’s Break Out Awards program honors 40 top professionals on track to be the next leaders in the risk management and property/casualty insurance field. Break Out winners from across the United States are recognized for their leadership and professional skills and can be working in any area of the industry — risk managers, brokers, insurers, reinsurers, MGAs, MGUs, wholesalers, captive managers, TPAs, lawyers and other providers serving the commercial insurance sector. The program culminates with regional award recognition events held in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

DOL Releases Final Rule Expanding Association Health Plans

Posted on June 20th, 2018

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a final rule expanding the opportunity of unrelated employers of all sizes (but particularly small employers) to offer employment-based health insurance through Association Health Plans (AHPs).  Significantly, the final rule applies “large group” coverage rules under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to qualifying AHPs.

The final rule confirms that AHPs may be formed by employers in the same trade, industry, line or businesses, or profession.  They may also be formed based on a geographic test such as a common state, city, county or same metropolitan area (even if the metropolitan area includes more than one State).

The final rule contains staggered effective dates:

  • All associations (new or existing) may establish a fully insured AHP beginning September 1, 2018.
  • Existing associations that sponsored an AHP on or before the date the final rule was published may establish a self-insured AHP beginning January 1, 2019.
  • All other associations (new or existing) may establish a self-insured AHP beginning April 1, 2019.

We will expand upon these issues in future alerts.  In the meantime, highlights of the final rule are as follows:

  • Existing bona fide associations may continue to rely on prior DOL guidance.  The final rule provides an additional mechanism for AHPs to sponsor a single ERISA-covered group health plan.
  • AHPs may self-insure under the final rule; however, the DOL anticipates that many AHPs will be subject to state benefit mandates.  States retain the authority to adopt minimum benefit standards, including standards similar to those applicable to individual and small group insurance policies under the ACA, for all AHPs.
  • The primary purpose of the association may be to offer health coverage to its members; however, it also must have at least one substantial business purpose unrelated to providing health coverage or other employee benefits.
    • A “substantial business purpose” is considered to exist if the group would be a viable entity in the absence of sponsoring an employee benefit plan.
  • The employer members of an association must control the functions and activities of the association, and the employer members that participate in the group health plan must control the plan. Control must be present both in form and in substance.
    • Whether “control” exists is a facts and circumstances determination.  The DOL considers the following factors to be particularly relevant for this analysis: (1) whether employer members regularly nominate and elect the governing body of the association and the plan; (2) whether employer members have authority to remove a member of the governing body with or without cause; and (3) whether employer members that participate in the plan have the authority and opportunity to approve or veto decisions which relate to the formation, design, amendment, and termination of the plan, for example, material amendments to the plan, including changes in coverage, benefits, and premiums.
  • The AHP must limit enrollment to current employees (and their beneficiaries, such as spouses and children), or former employees of a current employer member who became eligible for coverage when the former employee was an employee of the employer.
  • An AHP may not experience-rate each employer member based on the health status of its employees; however, an AHP may charge different premiums as long as they’re not based on health factors.  For example, employees of participating employers may be charged different premiums based on their industry subsector or occupation (e.g., cashier, stockers, and sales associates) or full-time vs. part-time status.
  • The final rule reduces the requirement for working owners. To be eligible to participate they must work an average of 20 hours per week or 80 hours per month (the proposed rule required an average of 30 hours per week or 120 hours per month).
  • All AHPs are Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements (MEWAs) and will need to ensure compliance with existing federal regulatory standards governing MEWAs (such as M-1 filings). The Department intends to reexamine existing reporting requirements for AHPs/MEWAs, including the Form M-1 and possibly the Form 5500, and may be asked to propose class or individual prohibited transaction exemptions for AHPs that want to use affiliates to serve as their administrative service providers or act as issuers providing benefits under the AHP.
  • States can continue to regulate AHPs.
  • AHPs are subject to the disclosure requirements of Title I of ERISA (e.g., summary plan descriptions, summary of material modifications, etc.) and Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) requirements.
  • The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA), which applies to employers with more than 50 employees on business days during the preceding calendar year, would apply to an AHP so long as the number of employees employed in the aggregate during the preceding calendar year by the employer members of the bona fide group or association.
  • The DOL anticipates issuing future guidance on the application of COBRA to AHPs.
  • The rule does not address the liability of the respective parties to the AHP for violations of the nondiscrimination provisions in the rule, general ERISA reporting and disclosure requirements and fiduciary rules, Code section 4980H (employer mandate) and the related Code sections 6055 and 6056 reporting requirements, Form W-2 reporting, COBRA compliance, and “all of the other responsibilities that come with the maintenance of a single large employer plan.” These Code provisions are under the jurisdiction of the IRS and Treasury and the rule refers stakeholders to the relevant Code sections and guidance thereunder.

Next Steps

The release of final regulations expanding the availability of AHPs will come as welcome relief to small employers, who have been subject to strict insurance mandates and market reforms under the Affordable Care Act.  The final rule is intended to level the playing field and allows small employers to band together by common geography or industry to purchase “large group” insurance policies, which are subject to fewer ACA mandates and have greater flexibility in plan design than small group plans, which generally must offer coverage in all ten essential health benefit categories. However, States will continue to be able to regulate AHPs, so it remains to be seen whether some of the flexibility gained under the final rule will be curtailed by the adoption of minimum benefit standards by States.

The rule also enables AHPs to self-insure, which provides an additional avenue for cost-savings by participating employers.  While the impact on the ACA Marketplaces and the individual and group insurance markets is unclear and likely will not be felt immediately, opponents of the rule have raised concerns ranging from destabilization of the individual and small group markets (due to AHPs being marketed toward younger, healthier individuals) to consumer protection issues, including insolvency and fraud.

Employers should work closely with qualified ERISA counsel and their trusted advisors when evaluating whether to join an AHP and to ensure that compliance obligations are being met.


About the Author.  This alert was prepared by Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, a national law firm with recognized experts on the Affordable Care Act.  Contact Peter Marathas or Stacy Barrow at or

The information provided in this alert is not, is not intended to be, and shall not be construed to be, either the provision of legal advice or an offer to provide legal services, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of the agency, our lawyers or our clients.  This is not legal advice.  No client-lawyer relationship between you and our lawyers is or may be created by your use of this information.  Rather, the content is intended as a general overview of the subject matter covered.  This agency and Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP are not obligated to provide updates on the information presented herein.  Those reading this alert are encouraged to seek direct counsel on legal questions. © 2018 Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP.  All Rights Reserved.

Alera Group Expands Southwestern Presence by Adding Nevada Firm

Posted on June 19th, 2018

DEERFIELD, IL and LAS VEGAS, NV — Alera Group, a leading national employee benefits, property and casualty, risk management and wealth management firm, has acquired Kaercher Insurance, which includes Kaercher Campbell, Kaercher Insurance Agency and Sundance Insurance. Terms of the transactions were not announced.

Kaercher Insurance, based in Las Vegas, Nevada, offers industry-leading employee benefit services, property and casualty insurance, and workers’ compensation to clients throughout Nevada. Closely aligned with Alera Group’s culture, they are a company founded on the principles of integrity, professionalism and ethics.

“We are thrilled to expand Alera Group’s presence to Nevada. Kaercher Insurance is truly an outstanding firm,” said Alan Levitz, CEO of Alera Group. “We welcome the excellent team from Kaercher Insurance to Alera Group. We look forward to their collaborative contributions to our national expertise, which will continue to elevate the service and solutions we offer our clients.”

Alera Group was formed in early 2017 and is one of the nation’s foremost independent insurance agencies and privately-held employee benefits firms. For more information on partnering with Alera Group, visit Partnership Opportunities at


About Alera Group
Based in Deerfield, IL, Alera Group’s over 1,000 employees serve thousands of clients nationally in employee benefits, property and casualty, risk management and wealth management. Alera Group is the 15th largest independent insurance agency and the 7th largest independent employee benefits firm in the country. For more information, visit or follow Alera Group on Twitter: @AleraGroupUS

Legal Alert: IRS Issues Affordability Percentage Adjustment for 2019

Posted on June 7th, 2018

In Rev. Proc. 2018-34, the IRS released the inflation adjusted amounts for 2019 relevant to determining whether employer-sponsored coverage is “affordable” for purposes of the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA’s”) employer shared responsibility provisions and premium tax credit program.  As shown in the table below, for plan years beginning in 2019, the affordability percentage is 9.86% of an employee’s household income or applicable safe harbor.

Code Section 4980H(a) 4980H(b) 36B(b)(3)(A)(i)
Description Potential annual penalty for failure to offer coverage to at least 95% (70% in 2015) of full-time employees (calculated per full-time employee, minus 30 (80 in 2015))[1] Potential annual penalty if coverage is offered but is not affordable or does not provide minimum value (calculated per full-time employee who receives a subsidy)[2] Premium credits and affordability safe harbors

Section 4980H penalties may be triggered by a full-time employee receiving a PTC

2019 $2,500* $3,750* 9.86%
2018 $2,320 $3,480 9.56%
2017 $2,260 $3,390 9.69%
2016 $2,160 $3,240 9.66%
2015 $2,080 $3,120 9.56%
2014** $2,000 $3,000 9.50%

* Estimated based on premium adjustment percentage in the 2019 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters

**No employer shared responsibility penalties were assessed for 2014.

Under the ACA, applicable large employers (ALEs) – generally those with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees on average in the prior calendar year – must offer affordable health insurance to full-time employees to avoid an employer shared responsibility payment.  Coverage is “affordable” if the employee’s required contribution for self-only coverage under the employer’s lowest-cost minimum value plan does not exceed 9.5% (as indexed) of the employee’s household income for the year.  In lieu of household income, employers may rely on one or more of the following safe harbor alternatives when assessing whether coverage is affordable:  W-2, Rate of Pay, and Federal Poverty Level.  Each of the three safe harbors refers back to the 9.86% figure in 2019.

The ACA also provides a premium tax credit to assist individuals paying for health coverage in the public marketplace. An individual offered affordable employer-sponsored coverage is generally ineligible for the premium tax credit.  Accordingly, for plan years starting in 2019, if a full-time employee’s required contribution for self-only coverage offered by the employer is more than 9.86% of his or her household income (or applicable safe harbor), the coverage will not be considered affordable for that employee and the employer may be liable for an employer shared responsibility payment if the employee obtains a premium tax credit.

Note that beginning January 1, 2019, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the individual mandate penalty imposed on individual taxpayers for failure to have qualifying health coverage was reduced to $0, effectively repealing the individual mandate.  However, despite repeated efforts by the Trump Administration and Congress, the employer mandate has not been repealed and the IRS has begun enforcing the employer mandate by sending Letter 226-J for 2015 informing employers of a potential employer shared responsibility payment. While there continue to be calls to suspend the assessment and repeal the employer mandate, including most recently a letter by industry groups to Treasury and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to date, enforcement has not ceased and the employer mandate remains the law of the land.

Next Steps for Employers

Applicable large employers should be mindful of the updated affordability percentage for plan years beginning in 2019. Given that the affordability percentage has increased significantly from 9.56% to 9.86%, employers should have additional flexibility when setting “affordable” employee contributions.


[1] The “A” penalty applies when an ALE fails to offer coverage to at least 95% of its full-time employees (and their children up to age 26) and at least one full-time employee receives a premium credit for marketplace coverage. The requirement is only to offer coverage – no employer contribution or minimum plan design is necessary to avoid the penalty.

[2] The “B” penalty applies when the ALE offers coverage to 95% of its full-time employees (and their children up to age 26), but the coverage is either not affordable or does not provide minimum value, and at least one full-time employee receives a premium credit.

About the Author.  This alert was prepared by Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, a national law firm with recognized experts on the Affordable Care Act.  Contact Peter Marathas or Stacy Barrow at or

The information provided in this alert is not, is not intended to be, and shall not be construed to be, either the provision of legal advice or an offer to provide legal services, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of the agency, our lawyers or our clients. This is not legal advice. No client-lawyer relationship between you and our lawyers is or may be created by your use of this information. Rather, the content is intended as a general overview of the subject matter covered. This agency and Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP are not obligated to provide updates on the information presented herein. Those reading this alert are encouraged to seek direct counsel on legal questions. © 2018 Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP. All Rights Reserved