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Friday, February 25, 2011

Benefits Education Week March 14 - 18th

March is Open Enrollment month for Thomas Nelson. Every year we have a Benefits Fair in Nashville, and attempt to get local resources to visit Live Events offices to deliver similar information. This year in Nashville we'll devote the entire week of March 14th - 18th for education on some important topics.

In addition to raising general awareness on the benefits available to our emplmoyees (i.e. our Benefits Fair and electronic communications), our points of emphasis will be:

1. High Deductible Plans and Health Savings Accounts
2. 401(k) participation and diversification of investments
3. Home ownership and refinancing

We chose these points because the medical insurance market is moving toward almost all high-deductible plans. We won't be there this year, but could be by next. With the 401(k) match still suspended, wisely saving and investing your own money is more important than ever. Also, being in the plan is necessary to take advantage of any future restoration of matching contributions. Finally with interest rates at historic lows, but credit still hard to come by, we want to leverage our corporate banking relationship with Fifth/Third Bank to help our people obtain information on lowering their home payments or purchasing that first home.

Please mark your calendars and take advantage of information you'll receive simply because you work at Thomas Nelson. Live Events staff will have a separate schedule of vendor visits, and I play on coming down to answer Open Enrollment questions March 22nd and 23rd.

Mon 3/14
9:30-10:00 Fifth Third Home Mortgage Workshop – Refinancing, Cafeteria area
10:00-12:00 Fifth Third Mortgage Representative available for individual consultation, Lobby Meeting Room B

Tues 3/15
12-5 Benefits Fair, Corporate Cafeteria Conf. Room

Wed 3/16
9:00-10:00 Vanguard 401(k): Diversify Your Plan Investments (breakfast provided), Corporate Cafeteria Conf. Room
10:30-11:30 Open Enrollment Meeting, Corporate Cafeteria Conf. Room
12:00-1:00 Vanguard 401(k): Save More (pizza provided), Corporate Cafeteria Conf. Room
1:30-2:30 Liberty Mutual – Auto 101 (snacks provided) , Corporate Cafeteria Conf. Room
3:00-4:00 Vanguard 401(k): Invest in Your Future - SPANISH (snacks provided), Warehouse Break Room
4:30-5:30 Vanguard 401(k): Invest in Your Future (snacks provided), Warehouse Break Room

Thurs 3/17
9:00-10:00 Vanguard 401(k): Save More (breakfast provided), Corporate Cafeteria Conf. Room
11:00-12:00 Vanguard 401(k): Invest in Your Future (pizza provided), Warehouse Break Room
1:00-2:00 Vanguard 401(k): Diversify Your Plan Investments (pizza provided), Corporate Cafeteria Conf. Room
3:00-4:00 Vanguard 401(k): Invest in Your Future - VIETNAMESE (snacks provided), Warehouse Break Room

Friday 3/18
9:30-10:30 Open Enrollment Meeting, Corporate Cafeteria Conf Room
1:00-2:00 Fifth Third Home Mortgage Workshop – First Time Homeowners, Corporate Cafeteria Conf. Room
2:00-4:00 Fifth Third Mortgage Representative available for individual consultation, Lobby Meeting Room B

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guest Post: "An Accountant Runs the Numbers on the High-Deductible Health Plan" by Darlene Mangrum

I have been enrolled in the HDP insurance plan through Thomas Nelson for two years. The HDP insurance plan is based on the principle of the insured having a deductible and no co pays. Once the deductible is met, the insurance pays 80% of medical costs and the insured pays the remaining 20%.

In the HDP plan offered by Thomas Nelson, the deductible for our current year is $2,400 for employee + 1 and family coverage. What that means is that you will pay $2,400 out of your pocket before the insurance pays anything. I know that seems like a big pill to swallow, but consider the cost/benefit of the HDP over the PPO. When thinking about deductibles, there are differences between the PPO and HDP. With the PPO, you pay higher premiums, you pay a $35 co pay each time you visit the doctor, and you pay a co pay of $10, $30, or $50 for each prescription at the pharmacy. In the PPO none of these payments are credited to your deductible. With the HDP, everything counts toward the deductible. So once you reach out of pocket expenses of $2,400, you then only pay 20% of any future medical expenses for that calendar year. Deductibles are always calculated on a calendar year.

Premiums for PPOs are higher than premiums for HDPs. Since insurance premiums are deducted from your paycheck, it’s easy to forget how much you are actually paying for insurance. For example, the PPO annual premium for Employee + 1 is currently $2,410. The HDP annual premium for employee + 1 is $638. That’s a difference of $1,772.00. By choosing the HDP option, you could use some or all of the difference in premiums to fund an HSA bank account that can then be used to pay for actual medical expenses.

Nelson offers payroll deductions to fund your HSA account. You can use a debit card or checks to pay medical expenses from the account.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when considering the HDP:

• Annual premiums are lower.
• Your charges from physicians and pharmacies are at a discounted rate.
• You pay for medical services as you use them instead of paying high premiums for services you may not need.
• All medical expenses you pay are counted towards your deductible.
• Only people with an HDP can set up an HSA bank account.
• HSA accounts are owned by you.
• HSA accounts are not a “use it or lose it” account. The funds roll over and accumulate year to year if not spent.
• HSA money is portable and can be moved with you when changing jobs.
• HSA accounts can be used as an investment vehicle-after the age of 64, you can withdraw your money from the account for any reason.

Darlene is a Senior Accountant working primarily with both Women of Faith and corporate Payroll reconciliations and journal entries. She has been with the company 9 1/2 years.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Post: "Why I Chose a High Deductible Health Plan" by Mandy Mullinix

I consider starting a Health Savings Account (HSA) in conjunction with a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) to be one of the best financial decisions I’ve ever made.

I came to Thomas Nelson in August 2007 after five years of working at a small-business that unfortunately did not have a large enough pool of workers to get good health insurance at a competitive price. As a result, I watched my health insurance premiums and co-pays increase dramatically year after year. By early 2007, I was paying close to $100 a week (or $5,200 annually) just for bare-bones coverage that came saddled with huge out of pockets costs.

My “a-ha” moment came that year when I actually sat down and read an Explanation of Benefits letter and saw just how little my insurance at the time paid my doctor. My son had been for a normal visit for some routine kid-sickness he had at the time. He didn’t have an x-ray, blood work or even an injection. It was a simple doctor visit and we received a script for an antibiotic. I remember paying the doctor a $35 co-pay, so you can imagine my shock when I read the EOB and saw all the insurance had left to kick in was $9.00. We made few visits to the doctor in 2007, which is a wonderful blessing. However, when you realize I paid in well over $5000 to receive maybe just $100 in actual benefits, you don’t have to be a mathematician to see why I started looking for an alternative to a traditional PPO plan.

I had read online about HSAs and thought that would be a good idea for me. I equated it to how I shopped for car insurance. I pay less in premiums if I agree to a higher deductible. The trick with it though is to actually save the difference for the deductible should anything happen (not pocket it, as is tempting). Unfortunately, a HSA/HDHP was not offered at my former job, but I started my HSA as soon as I was eligible for benefits here and haven’t looked back.

I’m going on my fourth year now in the plan and haven’t had any difficulties. My initial concern was how doctor’s offices would handle the billing/fee payment part (since most want your co-pay money upfront). I shouldn’t have worried. They all know they have to submit to my insurance first, then send me a bill for my portion which I pay with my HSA debit card. The exception to this is my dermatologist’s office. They somehow know up front what charges I am responsible for, but that’s even easier because I simply pay before I leave and there is no bill needed. Prescriptions work the same way. I drop them off along with my insurance card, then when it’s ready I pay for it with the HSA debit card. My pharmacist knows I’m in this plan and lets me know if a certain medicine is going to be expensive. If it is, we call the doctor and see if there is a lower priced alternative. The trick to making this plan work for you is to communicate your participation to both your doctor and pharmacist.

In the past three years, I’ve saved significantly more than I paid for medical claims. And since the money in my account rolls forward, I can use it for future expenses I may incur.

Mandy works as a Marketing Coordinator in trade book Publishing. She is a single mother and sole support of her family. That she's made the High Deductible Plan and Health Savings Account program work for her shows that most any family can benefit from this program. - Jim Thomason -

Monday, February 21, 2011

Guest Post: Strengthen Your “Critical Connections” at Work

Michael Lee Stallard and Jason Pankau are co-authors of Fired Up or Burned Out ( Michael is president of E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training firm. He writes about leadership and employee engagement at his award-winning blog, Jason is president of Life Spring Network, a Christian discipleship and leadership training ministry (

Research has shown that people perform better if they take time to create checklists that break their work down into necessary tasks. Here is an approach we recommend. Make a list of those individuals whom you count on you in order to do your work well and the individuals who count on you in order to do their work well. Think of these people as your “Critical Connections.” Strengthening your relationship with them is, in addition to making checklists, another key to achieving excellence in your work.

With each Critical Connection you should strive to develop a “Rational Connection” and an “Emotional Connection.” A Rational Connection is a “meeting of the minds” in terms of what has to be done by whom and what date it needs to be completed by. Frequently, mistakes are made when one individual presumes a meeting of the minds when in reality it doesn’t exist. An Emotional Connection is how you feel about an individual and how they feel about you. How we feel about people has a impact on trust and cooperation. Research has shown that Emotional Connections affect the amount of effort people put in their work up to four times as much as Rational Connections.

Here’s a two-part process you can use to be intentional about strengthening your working relationship with these individuals. First, periodically sit down with each Critical Connection and explain your W3 task list. A W3 task list describes what the task is, who is responsible for a specific task, and when it must be completed. It looks like this.

Verify Books Shipped
Marketing Plan
Foreign Rights Agreement Completed

Sandy Bradley
David Schroeder
Daisy Hutton

December 1
December 1
January 15

After you share your W3 task list, ask each Critical Connection to tell you “what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s missing” on your W3 task list. Work through any differences until you reach agreement. You might even consider confirming what you agreed upon in an email to each Critical Connection. This practice will help you establish a Rational Connection with each Critical Connection.

You might think of Emotional Connections as being established when you interact with your Critical Connections as human beings (as opposed to the task interactions we have where we interact with individuals as “human doings”). We recommend having lunch or coffee periodically with your Critical Connections. Ask them questions that are unrelated to work such as where did they grow up, what are their interests outside of work, what’s their favorite movie or what kind of music do they like. Look for ways to help them in their work and life outside of work.

By developing both Rational Connections and Emotional Connections with each of your Critical Connections, you will be more effective at work and, as you get to know your Critical Connections better, you’ll enjoy your time at work even more.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Our Benefits Direction

We're pretty much finished with this year's insurance renewal negotiations and, as expected, it was another brutally frustrating year. Our claims experience was outstanding yet again, with claims running between 80 and 90% of premiums. While that would normally mean a flat renewal (as underwriters have to project this trend out 15 - 16 months to reach the end of next plan year), this year it means another set of increases.

How could this be? Trust me when I say we've asked that question repeatedly for weeks. The answer lies in three places: (1) the general mess that is the state of American health care, (2) the lack of competition among insurance carriers, and (3) the unfunded mandates of the Health care Reform law. I'll save you my personal views on what's wrong with our health care system, other than to say that we spend a huge amount more than any other nation on earth and rank somewhere around 10th in life expectancy.

The lack of competition comes from the fact that the multi-state, fully-insured carrier market is down to Blue Cross in each state, Cigna, Aetna, and United Health care. At any one time whoever carries your policy is one, so you have a market of three; and they all watch each other. Present your renewal case to any one and the first question you'll get is, "What's everybody else doing." They won't admit to that because it would arguably violate anti-trust, but that's what happens.

This year we're already with the Blues, and Aetna is shaky financially. United Healthcare and Cigna, when shown Blue Cross' quote, declined to quote saying that they couldn't' undercut it enough to entice us to convert.

So as bad as our renewal ended up being, on top of that Healthcare Reform mandates will make up 5% of our total benefits cost for FY '12.

In order to give our people reasonable options we'll most likely implement the following changes:

1. The PPO, P-Network option, which is a Nashville-only network that includes HCA hospitals at a higher negotiated cost, will not continue into next year. This plan was costing us substantially more than the other plans and yet most of the utilization was in the S network (deeper discounted). It appears that most of chose this option just asked, "What's the best plan?" and didn't choose it for HCA access.

2. The PPO, S-Network will continue to be part of the plan, but the premiums will increase substantially. That's because this plan's cost is significantly more than High Deductible Plans, and if you choose this option it is just that you pay for what you choose.

3. The two High Deductible Plans will remain in the plan, and a new provider for our FSA and HSA cards will come on-line around April 1st.

Rates and specifics will come soon via internal emails and memos. For now it is important for all Nelson employees to understand two facts:

- That the Company is still paying the same proportion of your health care costs that is always has: the increase in cost is not from our shifting cost to our people.

- That the days of having any PPO option are probably numbered. We will probalby be an all-HDP medical plan by next April.

A major emphasis during Open Enrollment and all during FY '12 will be education about High Deductible Plans and Health Savings Accounts. Everyone should make plans to learn more about how these programs work. They really are good programs and can save you money if used correctly, or cost you if not. We've avoided making them our only options due to complexity, not because they are bad options.

More to come...

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Moment to Appreciate Gender Progress

Last Tuesday I hosted a coffee-talk session with our staff members hired one year ago or less. I wanted to get a first-hand view of what we were doing well and not-so-well now that we're hiring with more frequency. I didn't realize until the list spit off the printer that every one of these individuals were young women, almost all in their early-to-mid twenties. This turned the session from a look at "newbies" to a session exploring age and gender issues as well.

I had my usual list of questions: from generally how they liked it here to what do they specifically like to what do they specifically not like. I was very pleased with almost all of what I heard. We are doing a very good job connecting mission and people; not just articulating our company mission and values, but in selecting people with a passion for who we are and what we do. Almost everyone in that room appeared to be a really good fit. Most of the negatives revolved around on-boarding, initial training, and some miscommunication about PTO. There was nothing I heard that couldn't be addressed.

It was when I asked the question, "So since you are all young women, tell me what its like to work at Thomas Nelson as a woman." The best way to describe the facial expressions and body language was, "Huh?" as most had no idea what I meant. When I expounded about if they felt they were treated with respect, as equals, and perceived an environment of equal opportunity there was an almost unanimous "yes" in the room. They spoke of being on all-women teams, having women supervisors, seeing women in leadership as role models, etc...

Having been at Nelson 10 years this was rewarding. More important was the fact that I had to explain what I meant when asking the gender question. I've been in HR for close to 30 years and I've seen a lot change during that time. I'm married to a 50-something wife who remembers having to stand at attention in front of the high school principal to prove that her skirt (shorts weren't allowed) touched her knees. I had a relative who almost died in the 1970s waiting for a hysterectomy because her husband wouldn't give the doctors his permission. There are literally thousands of such examples in society and in the workplace. These young women have no such frame of reference. They entered the workplace after the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings.

And now here's the big lesson. Providing equal opportunity is to this generation like paying time-and-a-half for overtime or providing a 401(k) plan. You don't get a cookie for doing it, but not doing it brands you as no place they will work. The impressive progress of society in these last 30 years comes with expectations and assumptions that they are respected and get an equal shot at success. If you're a manager who doesn't yet get that; who gives lip service to equality but holds on to your biases, beware. If you thought dealing unfairly with a generation of women who see gender behind all issues was tough, try it with a generation of women who don't.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Eight Gables and the Lesson of Debt

We are spending a long Valentine's Day weekend once again in Gatlinburg at Eight Gables Inn, a favorite of ours for some years. This year we've met the third owner since we began coming here. The results of this new ownership, in place since November, is significant. The situation here has a lesson to teach for businesses and individuals about debt.

The last owner, a dear lady who we liked a lot, simply paid too much for this property. During her tenure prices went up to cover that debt, which was structured pre-recession. During the recession, due in part to the higher prices, occupancy went down as did service and the number of available staff.

The new owners, from all indications, paid considerably less. The property had been on the market for some time before it sold. The new owners also operate a string of wedding chapels in Gatlinburg so this property is an adjacency for them; book the chapel and house the wedding party in one package: operate the Inn as normal otherwise.

The impact is noticeable. First of all, prices have dropped about 30%. The parking lot was full this morning, and there are about three times more staff than usual. The facilities are still a little tired from years of ownership that couldn't reinvest, but there are small visible improvements with more planned. The place has the feel of something about to come roaring back.

Have you seen a business example of this recently? How many companies are straddled with pre-recession debt and can't invest in people or infrastructure? How about a friend (I have a couple) who overbuys for their home as compared to their income and has a great house in a great neighborhood, but no shrubs?

The lesson is to never overpay for anything. Whether it be a car, a home, or a business you can operate smaller and better rather than over reaching and struggling. This should be one of the rules for the "new normal" of the post recession economy.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Nashville's Anti-Discrimination Issue

Once again the Metro Council has taken up the issue of requiring companies that do business with the city not discriminate against gays and lesbians in matters of employment. Mayor Karl Dean was quoted in today's Tennessean newspaper that if passed, he will sign it. The Nashville Chamber is asking to slow down consideration of the measure for more study; in other words, they don't favor it but need more time to know just why.

Its time for this measure to pass. Discrimination is good and necessary so long as its based upon performance and behavior. You should, as an employer, pay more, give more, and advance people who perform in favor of those who don't. The word "discriminate" has a negative connotation based upon its use in the civil rights struggle, but leaders must do it every day to lead an organization. It is discrimination using factors other than performance and behavior that run counter to both Christian and American values.

Labor lawyers and traditional managers don't favor sexual preference discrimination because it complicates the employment landscape. How do I know the sexual preference of an individual I'm about to discipline, terminate, or not hire? I understand that argument, believe me I do. But the framework is already there to accommodate new restrictions using the existing non-discrimination framework (methods, policies, procedures) that HR departments already use in employing minorities and women. It really isn't that big of a deal.

I would suggest to Metro and to the Mayor's office that they go one step further. Once enacted, they should ask for all employers who are not city contractors to sign a pledge to uphold the law voluntarily. In a region not known nationally for tolerance (the South's reputation has not caught up with the fact that we're pretty open-minded in our urban areas), this would brand Nashville as progressive and tolerant and would give us an additional advantage in landing new businesses and creating new jobs.

"But that lifestyle is not Christian," you say? Well I'll leave that theological debate to others. Almost all Christian companies employ non-Christians whether we know it or not. Chances are some of the Christians that those companies employ engage in immoral behavior at times without losing their jobs. Our goal each day should be a workplace where performance, behavior and adherence to our core values in the workplace are all that matters. Banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in all workplaces would be a huge step in that direction.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Simple Solution to Retaliation Charges

Thompson vs. North American Stainless, LP is the latest ruling to send labor lawyers spinning. This US Supreme Court ruling expanded Title VII protections against retaliation to cover third party employees. In Thompson lower courts had ruled that the employer had retaliated against the fiance of a terminated employee who had brought legal action against them. The employer's defense was that Title VII didn't cover third parties. That the Court ruled for the Plaintiff has caused a new selling opportunity for labor law seminars, as law firms want to teach all of us in business how to protect ourselves from third party retaliation claims.

This is much hysteria about nothing for a couple of reasons. First Title VII already protects against "affiliative discrimination" i.e. protection against retaliation for whites who worked with and/or are friends with a non-white who brought an EEOC charge. Protection of third parties is not a new theory.

Second you can avoid third party retaliation claims with a simple countermeasure: don't retaliate.

One of my first Regional Managers back in my Wal-Martian days taught me that leading people who don't necessarily support you is the highest form of the managerial arts.

If you are in business and you run your operations for efficiency instead of trying to make sure nobody's feelings get hurt you will inevitably be charged with something. Work through the charge and focus on the work. Forget about who did what, trying to exact payback, running off the sympathizers, etc... That only gets you your own version of Thompson.

Getting accused of something at some point in your career is the norm in management; you are probably not doing your job if you don't. Prevailing against charges, self-correcting if you inadvertently do something wrong, and not retaliating are the three elements to keeping you and your workforce focused on business and not conflict: no seminar required.