Employee Benefits

5 Tips for Saving Money on Employee Benefits


Employees’ loyalty is greatly enhanced when their employer offers them decent employee benefits. However, offering benefits can be a struggle for small businesses with limited profit margins. Below we offer 5 tips on helping smaller employers to minimize the costs of providing their loyal employees with good benefits.

1. Consider buying cooperatives

Health insurance buying cooperatives can help smaller companies to woo potential insurance providers. Each cooperative has its own unique structure, and may or may not issue superior insurance rates to companies in the regular open market. The value of buying cooperatives is often determined by local insurance underwriting rules and regulations.

A New York City business cooperative, for example, offers members up to 35 health plans to compare and choose from. Though the insurance itself often comes with no discount, members are nonetheless entitled to additional benefits such as free health assessments and discounted dental care.

2. Health Savings Accounts & High-Deductible Health Plans

Employers can use these plans to influence employees into considering their own healthcare costs. People with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) can use HSAs to harness employee tax funds for non-covered medical expenses. Unused HSA funds can also conveniently be rolled over to the following year. Both employers and employees alike can fund an HSA plan.

Additionally, health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) can also be used in conjunction with HDHPs. Employers use an HRA to set aside funds that can be used to reimburse a fixed amount to employees when it comes to non-covered healthcare expenses and deductibles. The funds are technically owed to the employer, but the employee can nonetheless roll unused funds over to the following year.

3. Look into disease control

Thorough health assessments and preventive healthcare can ease the symptoms and onset of chronic diseases such as asthma or diabetes. Smaller businesses with limited profits and healthcare budgets will often struggle if an employee has a long-term illness that racks up medical bills. In order to avoid this, many smaller companies are now running disease control plans that aim to treat and manage any chronic diseases that their employees may suffer from. Both insurers and third-party organizations provide these disease control plans that can save a smaller business tons of healthcare costs in the long run.

4. Utilize FSAs (Flexible Spending Accounts)

Employees can use FSAs to pay for non-covered medical bills with their pre-tax money. FSAs come in the form of special debit cards that cover co-pays and medications that are uncovered by the employee at hand’s insurance plan. The money is taken away from the pre-tax funds that employees reserve. These FSA cards cost very little to own (often $2 or $3 per month) yet several FSA providers include them as added perks with certain insurance plans.

5. Implement a company wellness plan

Whether it’s a free gym membership, healthy canteen, or free periodic health tests, employers can provide their staff with many health-conscious facilities and resources that often see their insurance costs drop. Employer insurance costs can be greatly reduced by promoting health and wellness knowledge among your staff and providing them with the necessary facilities with which to boost their health.

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Businesses of All Sizes Should Think About Benefits

Benefits are for small businesses too. For many small business owners, benefits seem cost prohibitive. In the interest of short-term gain (or just making the bills each month), a number choose to operate without a benefits structure in place. While limiting monthly expenses can help some aspects of the business, high turnover rates and dissatisfied employees more than outweigh the gain.

Today, more businesses large and small are creating benefits programs to attract and retain talented help. Benefits come in many shapes and sizes, continually growing in numbers firms compete for talent. Topping the list is medical care, yet staff members may also demand disability insurance, retirement plans, and more. The best benefits are better likely to attract the best talent.

Employees satisfied in the workplace, feeling compensated with a benefits structure, are more likely to perform better. That’s according to Aon Consulting Senior Vice President Joe Lineberry agrees, claiming that when employees feel valued attendance and productivity will improve. Great benefits improve retention as well, as employees will want to keep them.

The Simple Benefit Breakdown

Some benefits employers are required to offer. These include:

  • Excusing absences for jury and military obligations
  • Proper withholding and payment of payroll taxes
  • Contributing to state unemployment taxes
  • Compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (depending on size and location, more below)

Beyond these basics, many businesses are including additional benefits to attract the best employees. Today it is common to see businesses of all sizes offer extra benefits such as:

  • Health and dental care
  • Life, disability, and other insurance policies
  • Paid time-off for holidays, vacations, and more

The types of benefits are limited only to the creativity of the entrepreneurs offering them. Competition dictates some companies may offer a combination of benefits programs to stay ahead of their peers. In addition to the types of benefits offered, ease of access factors as well. Simple processes for submitting vacation requests and accessing other benefits is likely to increase morale.

The Family Leave and Medical Act (FMLA)

Business size and operating state may require compliance with the Family Leave and Medical Act. Under the FMLA, employees are eligible for 12 weeks of leave, unpaid. These include welcoming a baby or adopted child into the family, attending to the care of a family member, and personal health concerns. The leave may be taken at once or non-consecutively. To find more about state-specific requirements, contact your state’s labor division.

Compliance and Oversight

Small business owners are subject to scrutiny from enforcement agencies. Small business owners often have limited experience implementing and managing employee benefits programs, and mistakes can be costly. The IRS and the Department of Labor have the ability to audit, fine, and more as enforcement tools. Before launching a benefits program or adding to an existing, contact a financial professional.

Creating employees should be viewed as an investment rather than an expense. Good employees can help your business grow and develop, and low retention rates can help keep you focused on what matters. Be sure to come back often for more tips on small business ownership, and information on other insurance topics.

Want to Know if Your Employees are Happy? Ask!

The average American employee spends almost 25% of each week at the office. Add a commute and overtime and that number begins to climb dramatically. The more employees feel like their time spent working matters, the more likely productivity will improve. Companies investing in employee morale stand to gain. Asking a handful of questions can help discreetly reveal employee opinion in the workplace.

1. On a scale of 1-10, how happy are employees?

Many managers find a simple scale of 1-10 helps gauge satisfaction in the workplace. Staff may have difficulty opening up about particular concerns; a number scale encourages feedback yet allows employees to remain noncommittal about responses. Those comfortable enough to elaborate should be encouraged to do so. The more information managers have, the better they can respond.

2. “If you could change one thing…?”

If employees could make one change to the organization, what would it be? This is a positive approach to understanding how to improve the workplace environment. Suggestions can range from improving the workspace to changing company processes and much more. Approach with an open mind and uncover deeper issues.

3. Is there room to grow?

Goals help increase staff retention and can help boost morale. People want something to work toward. With room for advancement, employees are likely to perform better and tend to feel better about coming to work.

4. Do employees feel like the company cares?

People like to feel acknowledged for their contributions. Encourage excellent performance by recognizing employees for performance. This will help foster stronger relationships in the company and helps encourage others to perform better.

5. Ask employees to describe the company in one sentence.

This is a direct way to gauge satisfaction. Limiting employees to single-sentence responses demands they select words carefully, placing an increased value on the response.

Remember that employees are simply responding to questions they’ve been asked. Treat all responses as constructive criticism. Penalizing employees for responses will create large divides. Increased interaction between staff and management can keep the workplace running smoothly.

Disability Insurance as a Safety Net

Disability Insurance Form Contract Concept

People are natural optimists. For most unthinkable situations the general response is: “it can’t happen to me”. In truth, disabilities can affect anyone ranging from mild to debilitating. Disability insurance is a type of protection paying a portion of income in case of disability. The majority of American workers lack disability insurance and many are unaware the coverage is available. LIMRA, a group of financial and insurance professionals conducted a recent survey on employee insurance protection. 65% of respondents recommended disability insurance for employees, yet only 48% felt a personal need. Of those, a mere 20% actually carried disability insurance leaving the vast majority at-risk in case of the unexpected.

The annual benefits open season is here. Disability insurance may be something to think about adding to benefits packages to add a safety net to coverage. As companies become more competitive with recruitment, this may be an automatic enrollment for many employees. Check with a human resources representative to see about automatic coverage; there may be new additions to benefits packages this season. Disability insurance may be less-glamorous than some other benefits out there yet the payoffs may far outweigh them. Disability insurance is a safety net for truly, often compensating up to 50-60% of annual revenue while disabled.

Individual policy protection will vary depending on the insurance carrier and company options. Many long-term disability insurance policies have a waiting period before taking effect, in some cases up to six months. For protection during this period, short-term disability policies fill the gap. A broken arm or illness can affect weeks or months of work and income yet cancers and musculoskeletal afflictions can last years. Most people lack the savings to support the lost income through this time.

According to the Social Security Administration, 25% of those entering the workforce will be disabled prior to reaching retirement. At one-in-four odds, chances are high enough to consider adding a layer of protection. A 2015 survey by the Federal Reserve Board found nearly half of Americans lack emergency savings. Asked about a hypothetical $400 emergency expense, 46% of those surveyed claimed inability to match that amount. Months or years of lost income due to serious illness or disability would likely cripple them.

A growing number of companies include disability insurance as part of employee packages. LIMRA states 41% of companies offer disability insurance with larger companies leading the way. Depending on the organization, this may be a voluntary option or paid incentive. For employees paying their own premium, the cost is generally affordable with annual costs as low as $250-$300. Employees paying a premium with post-tax income may have more coming in the future if a claim is filed. Employees paying policy premiums may qualify for tax-free benefit payouts in case of a claim.

The benefits of paying for a policy come with a catch, says Carol Harnett, president of the Council for Disability Awareness. She worries employees, when faced with a long list of insurance options, tend to skip disability coverage in favor of more-attractive or less-expensive options. The solution may lie in auto-enrollment into voluntary programs. Leaving it to the employee to opt-out increases participation up to 45% more than opt-in disability insurance programs. Enrolling early is recommended as more companies include health evaluations for coverage. Pre-existing health conditions may affect qualification for long-term disability insurance. Speak to an agent for more information on disability insurance and create a safety net for the future.

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The Future of Employee Health Insurance

The last two years have been a virtual health insurance battleground. The political fiasco surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”) has many employees irked and asking where to look for health insurance protection. Entrepreneur Walt Rowen knows this all too well. Rowen owns a company engraving glass with over 70 employees and once switched from offering benefits, to referring employees to the health insurance exchange. Increasing premiums and an uncertain future lead Rowen to reclaim control, once again offering benefits through an umbrella program.

Employer-sponsored insurance protection is becoming once again popular. Health benefits are in high demand by the American worker even with the political turmoil surrounding them. Good employees are worth attracting. In a workforce where good talent is in high demand, companies aren’t willing to leave it up to the government. More companies are offering health benefits on their terms. In 2016 the Kaiser Family Members Foundation stated almost 96% of businesses with 50 or more employees offered coverage in 2014. By choice, almost 35% of businesses with less than 50 did as well.

In Rowen’s opinion, companies are unlikely to abandon health coverage completely. This would, in his opinion, likely lead to mass exits as employees find better alternatives; this is especially so in states with a weak Affordable Care Act market. Since the future of the ACA remains uncertain, the government is likely to continue enforcing companies with 50 or more employees to offer health insurance coverage.

The Trump administration pledged to continue working with Congress to write effective health care legislation. White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the ACA mandated many people pay for services they were unable to afford. At present, the White House is considering continuing cost-sharing aid, a premium-reducing benefit. Take it away and it’s estimated premiums will increase and insurance firms will leave markets completely.

A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found 61% of those surveyed opposed revoking the ruling, including 58% who identify as Republicans. Since World War Two, when Congress granted tax exemption to benefits, health coverage has been the national standard. Today nearly 90% of employees work for companies with health and wellness benefits, according to the Kaiser Family study in 2016. When dependents are included in that figure, nearly half of Americans are covered under employer programs.

William Kramer, executive director for national health policy for the Pacific Business Group on Health, agrees with Rowen that large companies must keep workers happy and would be unwise to cut benefits. This finding has many thinking it’s likely businesses will continue to. On top of that, reduced unemployment and a competitive workforce drive companies to offer benefits far beyond the ACA requirements. Even if the mandate to offer coverage is removed, experts suspect many companies will carry on offering benefits.

Glass company owner Walt Rowen said his decision to reinstate on medical insurance had less to do requirements. For Rowen, the decision to bring benefits back has more to do with staff retention and overhead expenses. There was a time when it made more sense to pay the fine, rather than pay for benefits. Packages are more affordable today, and the competition for good talent is strong. The turmoil and fallout from the ACA make it more affordable to offer benefits today than in previous years. For Rowen, the expenses involved are a worthy investment. He is sure if employees found a less-expensive plan, or a company offering health insurance where he wasn’t, staff would understandably take the offer.

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The War For Talent is Entering New Territory

Perks are a hot topic for people in the workforce. It’s true that job security and high income always rank high for importance, benefits are swiftly becoming a deciding factor for many applicants. According to a 2016 study by Glassdoor, of the 2000 people surveyed, a whopping 75% described benefits a top consideration before accepting a position. The same survey revealed managers struggling to recruit top talent, illustrating a need for more-competitive benefits packages.

Accordingly, more companies are starting to include more benefits than before. These may include extra vacation days, childcare, paid volunteer time, or company-paid lunches. Companies are getting creative, creating unprecedented benefits packages for recruiting and retaining talent.

Next Generation Healthcare

The future is happening today. Some top companies are starting to include DNA screenings for detecting genetic and health anomalies early on. These kits cost the average consumer several hundred dollars apiece, illustrating the sheer amount of capital these giants are willing to pay for employee satisfaction. It isn’t hard to imagine the costs for companies with staff in the thousands, only hard to imagine paying it.

Parent Perks

Childcare costs are prohibitively high for many parents trying to enter the workforce. This leads to more parents staying at home, removing their skill and talent from the workforce. Today, companies are courting parents with attractive childcare and schooling benefits. 5th Third Bank employees receive pregnancy concierge services, and the staff at SAS of North Carolina can concentrate knowing children are safe within any of the company-inclusive daycare solutions. Happy employees perform better, and great benefits bring top-talent into the fold.

Health and Wellness Services

Some employers take employee health and wellness to the upper-level. Alliance Healthcare team members receive holistic massages on Mondays. The company estimates spending $3000.00 monthly on this program alone, and it’s money well-spent. Alliance firmly believes this improves employee satisfaction, health, and performance. As an added bonus, employee retention has been linked to massage Mondays.

SHI International General Supervisor Phil Wilhelm says the company spends about $50,000 each year on health programs. These range from Yoga Thursdays to Camp Gladiator Tuesdays. On top of physical fitness and health, these events create and strengthen employee relationships and contribute to a team atmosphere. Lola includes a nutrition program for the staff of 53 employees, inclusive of training and nutrition counseling for staff.

Vacation Spending

Vacation days are great, yet many employees lack the ability to enjoy it. Companies like BaseCamp want employees to have fun, granting each employee $5000.00 in vacation pay each year. Betabrand, using a lottery, grants flyer miles to one staffer every 4-6 weeks for a company-sponsored trip. This is similar to the program at Dialpad where employees vote among each other to award an all-expenses vacation to the winner.

G Adventures gives a complimentary vacation to all permanent employees after completing a year with the company. The company wants staffers familiar with the programs, encouraging travel. Staffers can choose paid-trips up to $2,500, with additional air travel reimbursement up to $600.00.

Continuing Education

For some time, many company benefits packages included student-loan payback programs to help employees overcome college loans. Today, innovative companies are placing a new spin on this concept. Continuing and further education is the new way to attract, retain, and build company talent.

Argentinian software giant Belatrix includes language training for employees and attributes low attrition rates to it – some of the lowest in the technology industry. CreditKarma has courses for and by staff members including valuable coding, negotiation, and management courses for staff. Courses by employees for employees fosters a positive mentor-student environment.

The only limits to engineering benefits are creativity and capital. Top companies recognize the importance of recruiting and keeping top talent. Employees have choices. Stay current and stay competitive with attractive employee benefits.

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Education Benefits Pay Dividends

Student debt creates challenges for persons in the workforce. Employees saddled by debt may change positions often, looking for better pay. The firms leading the pack incentivize recruitment packages inclusive of loan assistance and student-debt payback programs. Past and present debt assistance helps firms attract and keep top-level staff.

Top companies like Pricewaterhouse Cooper, Starbucks, Walmart, Taco Bell and Geico are pioneers for today’s education benefits. These organizations include attractive loan reimbursement programs for staff. Professional help with accounts, creating payment plans and helping employees overcome debt. Zoe Weintraub with Guild Education says attracting fresh graduates is vital for growth. With college debt removed from the picture, employees can better focus on the job at hand.

Increase Retention

Weintraub says employees feeling catered to are 70% more effective than coworkers. Employees want their debts under control, and the option to pursue more education. Competition is strong for the best graduates, and graduates know it. Technology moves fast, industries across the board change rapidly. Fresh talent helps firms stay current with industry and customer trends. Companies keen on organizing and paying off employee debt have a recruitment advantage.

Happy employees are more likely to remain with the company, reducing turnover. According to Weintraub, the proof for this is in the numbers. Her data supports higher retention levels for employees with employer assistance, with rates as high as 60%. Weintraub has the support of Lance Salman, a lead marketer with Taco Bell claims a 30% increase in employee retention since implementing Taco Bell’s employee benefits program.

Include the Entire Company

Salman said the tactics at Taco Bell included top-down staff integration into the program. Company leaders, supervisors, and junior employees have access to the program. This tactic worked especially well for entry-level employee eager for advancement. Tuition reimbursement helps retain employees while generated educated staff.

With retention covered, companies can focus on generating leads and making sales. Attract and keep the best people with loan payback and tuition assistance programs. Staff with education interests tied into employment have more to gain from long-term retention. Implementing an employee education benefits program is simple and affordable.

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Helping Employees Maximize Benefits

Employees spend a lot of time at the workplace. As an employer, you want them to feel right about their time there. Happiness in the workplace pays dividends. Knowing the current staff wants, needs and concerns can help improve workplace morale and productivity. Each workplace is different. Asking employees key-questions can help gauge employee attitude. To improve the workplace ask employees these five questions:

1. Are they happy?

On a scale of 1-10, how happy is the employee to be with the company? This question can help sound employee attitudes and opinions about the workplace. How employees feel about their environment will impact employee retention and company output. Improve attitudes and improve the bottom line.

2. Is there room for advancement?

Employees who feel as if they cannot grow with a company are more likely to leave. Employee retention is valuable, saving time and money training new staff. Employees with something to work toward are more apt to remain with the company.

3. Are employees feeling acknowledged?

Everyone likes to know they are doing a good job. Recognition and appreciation from peers and management will boost morale and efficiency. Recognizing employee accomplishments will build loyalty and rapport, helping further improve the workplace.

4. If they could change one thing at the company…

As with any question, prepare to receive the answers. Beware: employees may take this opportunity to speak candidly. Poor supervision, unpleasant environment, lacking benefits and other concerns may come to light. It is important to remember employees are merely answering the question. View comments as constructive criticism; a means to improve job satisfaction and productivity.

5. Given 3 words, how would they describe the company?

Limiting employees to 3 words means they must choose their words carefully. This uncovers what employee find most important. With such a small limit on the number of words, employees must be direct in their answer.

Asking these questions will help generate genuine responses. Creating a culture of communication takes time but employers must take the lead. Good communication in the workplace translates to a better work environment, and better business.

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Offering Attractive Benefits Means Incorporating Financial Wellness

Employees want more than a job, they want financial security and well-being. Benefits are a big concern for employees and their families. Companies eager to attract the best talent need attractive benefits packages. Today’s workforce faces new challenges requiring modern benefits solutions. Tom Woods, Senior Vice President of Sales at Fidelity Investments says the answers lie in bundled benefits packages.

Student-loan debt is at an all-time high. Employers enter the workforce years behind in debt. Additionally, an increasing number of adults are sacrificing retirement savings to pay their children’s tuition. Retirement is no longer the certainty it once was. Offering benefits programs targeting modern concerns helps employees secure their own financial future. Optional benefits such as debt assistance, loan payback, and retirement are available.

Employees entering the workforce with college loans face huge financial challenges. As a solution, Woods suggests employers offer student-loan administration programs, helping employees budget their savings and payments. Companies can be creative when crafting benefits. Woods says his own company recently added a plan to help pay student debt. Beyond incredible popularity with employees, the package serves as a valuable retention tool as well.

Studies have shown workers value these types of modern programs more than traditional 401k programs. Millennials and Gen-X worry about modern AND future financial obligations. They want to make sure they can plan for comfortable retirement, taking that into account when shopping employers.

Other innovative benefits options include Health Savings Accounts (HSA’s). Fidelity, evaluating their own company, noted significant employee interest in this program. Enrollment is increasing with younger employees at the front. Fidelity also noted increased interest in managed accounts. Woods stated enrollment increased over 13% since 2016. The majority of employees interested in managed accounts were older, with high incomes.

Woods says those who need the benefits most are the ones who aren’t using them. Most employees using money management strategies and financial planning are already secure. They feel comfortable investing their money in the future because they enjoy financial security now. It is the younger, busy employees Woods expressed concern over. Young employees are generally overextended without the time, ability, or desire to plan their financial future.

The modern employee has modern financial needs. Employers who want to offer attractive packages have many things to consider. Woods says focusing on four core employee needs categories can help employers tailor their packages. These four employee needs categories are:

  • Health and Safety
  • Economic Wellness
  • Workplace Fulfillment
  • Sense of Productivity

Ultimately, the goal for any benefits program is to maximize value in all four categories. Employees want to feel valued, and they want to know they have a future. Businesses can attract top talent with employee benefits programs offering value and security. Increased employee retention means less time and money spent on training and recruiting. Talk to an expert today to see how benefits can impact your business and your family.

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Watch Out For Candidates That May Abuse Benefits

Skilled employers demand top pay and benefits for their labor. The need to attract the best talent and employees means companies need to offer more than the basics. Companies must offer increasingly higher pay, and more-lucrative benefits to be competitive. This may include any number of additional benefits on top of the mandatory benefits already provided.

This may be working against them.

More job hunters are focusing on benefits now more than ever before. A March 2016 survey by LinkedIn, sampling from over 26,000 members, noted close to 55% more interested in benefits over any other aspect of the job. With so much to gain through employment benefits, more cases of employees abusing them occur. Employers need to watch for warning signs or risk losing millions.

Workers who show more interest in the benefits than the job are less likely to perform well and may be difficult to manage. They may carry or even spread negative attitudes, affecting other workers. Employers need to protect themselves. Here are 3 red flags employees may abuse benefits:

1. They Are Overly-Interested In Benefits 

It’s normal for prospects to ask questions about benefits included with the position. It’s not normal to focus solely on that. Benefits are part of a job, along with many other aspects and responsibilities. They should be discussed only after the potential employee demonstrates an interest in the rest of the job. Be aware of any prospects who show unusually high levels of interest in voluntary benefits such as:

  • Working from home
  • Paid leave
  • Overtime compensation
  • Vacation time
  • Insurance plans and coverage
  • Bonuses and incentives

These and other benefits are wonderful ways to attract top-level talent but may also attract scammers. If these topics are an issue during the interview process, that prospect may be a potential benefit abuser. It is important to flush these prospects out before they become employees. A mistake early on can be a costly error later.

Helpful interview questions include:

A: Why are you interested in this position?

B: What are you passionate about in your work?

C: How would you comment on this firm’s operating environment?

D: What improvements would you suggest for the company, if offered the job?

E: How would you combine your unique talents with the colleagues in your department?

What to do: If a candidate is showing too much interest in the benefits, tactfully steer the conversation back to job responsibilities. If the candidate continues to focus on benefits they are likely not prepared for the position, or too interested in the benefits.

2. They Are Not Passionate About The Job

We aren’t always able to spot scammers during the hiring process. Some employees manage to navigate the process without setting off alarms. Others may begin as good employees but lose interest in their position over time.

Enthusiasm as an indicator.

Employees enthusiastic about their position are easy enough to spot. They show passion and energy toward their position and advancement. Enthusiastic employees collaborate, lead projects and mentor colleagues. It’s hard to fake genuine enthusiasm.

Be wary of employees who demonstrate a cursory interest in their jobs. Look for a lack of enthusiasm about business direction and affairs and a focus on benefit-related topics. These employees often operate without much teamwork and do not show initiative.

3. They Do Not Maintain A Job For Long

Employment verification is a useful tool for protecting your company. This can help you determine if a candidate is likely to stay with the company or leave after exhausting the benefits. Individuals more interested in benefits than the job are less likely to remain in a position for very long. Employees like this exist in a perpetual state of employee dissatisfaction. They move from job to job for any number of reasons, preying on employers.

A study on United States Worker Advantages Trends (performed by Metlife) reports up to 36% of millennials between 21 and 24 would have no problem changing jobs within a year to search for better benefits.

Employees will leave positions for various reasons. Personal development, family, and school are all normal reasons for moving on. The candidates to watch are those constantly on the lookout for the next best deal. These individuals will change positions often and may give conflicting reasons for doing so.

Somewhere along the way, the idea was born employers stopped calling to verify past employment. You are absolutely encouraged to contact former employers to verify the work history for your candidate. Records that don’t match are an obvious warning sign.


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