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Very Cool! Google Unveils Google Glasses. Workplace Applications Seem Limitless.

Google unveiled “Project Glass” today, which is a project from the Google[x] team that aims to make your daily life completely hands free. Rather than using your phone to take pictures, meet via video, accept a meeting, schedule, and interview, you could have a pair of glasses that do it all right in front of your eyes. Received a notification on your phone? What if it popped up on screen in your glasses and then let you respond view voice-to-text? Or what if you could snap a picture of a newly created product design and share it with Google+, all without ever pulling out your phone? Pretty cool huh? Watch the video and start thinking about the workplace possibilities.

 

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Health Reform Or Not, HR And Finance Are In The Same Foxhole.

The two-year-old law provides a vehicle for human-resources officers to play an important role in advancing business and finance considerations.

Health-care reform has been a catalyst for bringing finance and human-resources together to analyze potential effects on the organization.

There are uncertainties around reform, such as whether the Supreme Court will uphold the individual mandate and how this fall’s elections will turn out, but they are not unlike many other uncertainties that businesses face, in the view of Randall Abbott, a senior group benefits consultant with Towers Watson.

“Health-care reform is a business risk,” said Abbott, moderating a panel of finance and HR professionals at a recent health-care conference hosted by The Conference Board. “And regardless of whether you believe it will exist in its current form, be modified, or go away altogether, from a prudency standpoint HR, finance, and senior leadership need to be thinking about it from a scenario-planning perspective.”

Panelist Jon Lara, senior director of benefits finance at DirecTV, said the company’s finance organization has nudged HR into long-term thinking, “which dovetails nicely with health-care reform.” With reforms scheduled to take effect over the next five years, finance has talked to HR about creating a five-year business strategy for wellness initiatives designed to get buy-in at the company’s highest levels.

Such buy-in is far more easily achieved where there is an existing, high level of collaboration between finance and HR. “We’ve had so much collaboration, we don’t even think of each other as HR or finance,” Lara said. “We’re a benefits-strategy team, and everyone thinks with both of those sides of their brains.”

Intent on understanding what was driving DirecTV’s health-care costs, the company invested in a data warehouse. The benefits team broke out data by the major health services to understand how much of the overall cost was unit costs, provider costs, doctor costs, and anything else. That was followed by consideration of whether those factors could be influenced or controlled in any way. “We’ve gone through those kinds of discussions so many times now that it’s second nature for HR and finance to walk through the analysis together,” said Lara.

One thing the team realized was that it couldn’t seem to put a dent in employees’ emergency-room visits. The company has many call-center employees and installers who aren’t highly paid, schedule doctor appointments infrequently, and use emergency rooms for nonemergencies. The team realized that an onsite nurse center would pay dividends.

“It’s about demonstrating to senior management that some new spending or redeployment of spending is going to result in a happier, more productive employee without increasing our overall spend,” Lara said.

Another panelist, Scott Beekman, spent 15 years as a tax attorney and corporate director of taxation for a Fortune 500 company. “With that background, I’m a big believer in collaboration between finance and benefits,” said Beekman, now vice president of corporate services at American Financial Group. “We are data-driven in everything we do. We work with the finance people to analyze everything, because if you can’t measure it, it’s hard to manage it. A lot of the plan-design decisions we’ve made have been driven by that.”

For example, the company launched a high-deductible health-savings-account (HSA) plan in 2005 and later added a health-reimbursement-account plan, while retaining a traditional low-deductible plan. During the next few years, 75% of American Financial’s employees moved into the high-deductible plans. Finance and HR jointly analyzed the plans’ bottom-line costs, factored in an expected financial impact of health-care reform, and moved everyone to the HSA plan.

The trick was convincing the people who had been in the low-deductible plan that the HSA plan was actually a wealth-creation vehicle. Anyone who runs the numbers knows that most plan participants do not have a lot of claims in any particular year,” Beekman said. “So the value of an HSA plan is risk pooling. The beauty of it is that employees also pool their own risks over a number of years. We promote that very much to the employees.”

The company shows employees quarterly how much wealth has been created within the plan. Last year, the first year the HSA plan became the de facto plan, the figure was $5 million, combining what employees and the company contributed. “That’s a lot of money,” said Beekman, especially compared with what’s created in the 401(k) plan.  Read the rest of the terrific article by David McCann for CFO.com here.

Support Stalls For Right To Work In Michigan.

Lansing — Proponents of a right-to-work bill are exploring a hybrid version that would eliminate union membership as a condition of employment while affirming the legal right to collectively bargain for pay, benefits and working conditions.

“We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got something that appeals to everybody,” said state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, the likely Senate sponsor of a right-to-work bill.

Extending an olive branch to the labor movement is the latest attempt to drum up support for the controversial legislation, which remains a hotly debated concept nearly 15 months after Republican lawmakers who campaigned on a right-to-work agenda took control of the Legislature.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, both Republicans, have remained the biggest roadblocks to legislation that could alter Michigan’s pro-union work force by eliminating rules that require union fees or membership for certain public and private sector jobs.

“He doesn’t feel right now it’s the right time to pursue that issue,” said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Richardville, of Monroe. “There is just not the desire in the caucus to move forward on a right-to-work bill.”

Rep. Mike Shirkey, the leading proponent of the bill in the House, said speculation that the legislation has been shelved this year is “inaccurate.” But with the November general election less than seven months away, Shirkey has not said when he will introduce the bill.

“Whenever you begin to put hard and fast timetables to things, all you’re doing is setting yourself up for disappointment,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “I’m not going to be driven by an artificial time frame.”

Shirkey and Colbeck said they’re lining up votes in the Republican-controlled House and Senate as labor unions mobilize for a political fight that could stretch into the November general election.

Labor unions are circulating petitions for a ballot initiative that would carve collective bargaining rights into the state Constitution if approved by voters. The Protect Our Jobs initiative must collect signatures from 320,000 registered voters by July 9 to get the measure on the ballot.

Led by a labor-backed group called Protect Our Jobs, the proposed constitutional amendment has delayed introduction of right-to-work legislation, Shirkey said.

Shirkey said the amendment threatens to invalidate new laws requiring public sector employees pay 20 percent of health care costs, banning university graduate assistants from unionizing and ending public school collection of union dues. Also vulnerable is the emergency manager law, which allows union contracts to be tossed out in financially distressed schools and municipalities.

“Right now, defeating the ballot initiative becomes the No. 1 priority and everything else is subordinate to that in terms of time, strategy, planning, the whole nine yards,” Shirkey told The Detroit News. “None of us will want to risk turning the clock back on those (laws) with this ballot initiative.”

The amendment also could invalidate a right-to-work bill or prevent future legislation from becoming law, Shirkey said.

Even as right-to-work remains on the back burner, labor unions believe they remain the target of an anti-union, pro-business Legislature.

On March 7, the day after Protect Our Jobs launched its ballot initiative at a Capitol press conference, the GOP-run Senate suddenly fast-tracked a bill prohibiting public schools from deducting union dues from employee paychecks. The bill, which Snyder signed March 15, had been sitting in a Senate committee since late September “collecting dust,” said Zack Pohl, spokesman for We Are the People, a coalition of labor and progressive groups organizing the ballot initiative.

“What we’ve seen since we introduced the proposal a few weeks ago is one retaliation after another against middle class workers in the state,” Pohl said.

Growing impatient with the GOP-controlled Legislature, some right-to-work proponents are less optimistic Shirkey and Colbeck can introduce a bill and get it moving this year.

“The closer we get to the fall, I just don’t see it happening at all,” said Scott Hagerstrom, director of Americans for Prosperity-Michigan, a conservative advocacy group. “For whatever reason, a lot of Republican legislators when they’re running for office say this is something they support. But when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is, they don’t introduce it.”  Source/Credit: Chad Livengood for the Detroit News, Lansing Bureau.

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