HR Admin | By Guest Author,

Benefit Administration Systems: 3 Features to Look For

*Guest blog content provided by freshbenies.


How many Benefits Administration systems did you work with last year versus 5 years ago? Like you, we’ve seen a few different companies with multiple options over the years– and a lot more in recent years. They’re getting smarter and more efficient, and that’s good because today, most medium to large-size employers already have or are considering a benefit administration system.

Of course, the goal is to deliver benefits to employees in a more efficient manner, and we should be prepared to help with the decision-making process.

On that note, here are 3 key areas of functionality to consider when reviewing a new or current system.  

  1.  Consolidation of services – with support!

The system should handle multiple carriers and offer enrollment for all employee benefits. This involves seamless connectivity for eligibility feeds to all carriers. The “holy grail” everyone is looking for is integration with a payroll system. True integration allows for one point of input for employee information, plus payroll deductions carried from the benefits system to the payroll system (That would make life a little easier, right?).

Also, while good software is crucial, support when things go wrong (because they will) is just as important. Some questions to ask include:

  • Are account management and technical support available when setting up feeds?
  • How are errors, reconciliation and auditing of data handled?
  • What compliance reports are available?
  1.  Paperless, self-service enrollment

The trend is headed toward paperless and self-service enrollment. What specific features are required to meet this need?

  • Employees should be able to enroll in all benefits via the system, including voluntary benefits with the necessary restrictions for participation.
  • Benefit descriptions should be easily available in the system or via links.
  • HSA and FSA contributions should be captured.
  • Costs should be presented on a “per paycheck” basis.
  • Defined contributions will require credit bank functionality so employees can shop for benefits and use credits.

Bonus functionality would allow employees to order ID cards, update addresses and change benefits due to qualifying events. HR should be notified when a change is made and be able to track these changes in a date range. Based on the love affair Americans have with their phones, the demand for systems with mobile app enrollment will likely increase. Ask if the system offers this technology now or plans to in the near future.   

  1.  Content management – external and internal streams

As they say, content is king. Cutting-edge systems will allow for delivery of critical messages and serve as a central repository for relevant news and updates. This will be an important trend going forward because it facilitates efficient communication between benefit advisors and employers, as well as between employers and employees.

Internally, the employer can deliver useful information to employees and draw them to the site. Where do employees go for information now and how can the system help provide a better, more convenient information source? The portal can also include health and nutritional information, new medical breakthroughs and lifestyle information as a start.

We all know how hard it is to sort through emails and take note of all the information they contain. The importance of a central go-to information source will only increase for you and your employees.      

There are many systems out there that provide a varying mix of these functions. It’s important to discuss these possibilities with your employee benefits broker as part of your overall benefits strategy.


At Sonus Benefits, we build cost effective, long-lasting benefits strategies to keep your business and your employees in optimum health. Located in Kirkwood, MO, we help clients throughout the greater St. Louis area identify and manage complex employee benefits challenges. If you want help managing your employee programs, we may be the insurance consultant and business partner you need.


Find the original article here. (freshbenies helps employers and employees take the headache out of healthcare with telehealth, doctors online, advocacy, Rx savings (and more)… all in one easy membership.)

HR Admin | By Scott Schulte,

Performance Reviews Are Dying. Should You Bring Them Back to Life?

This just in! People hate performance reviews.

Managers hate how much time they suck up, employees hate the awkward self-evaluations, and everyone hates the annual dump of repressed criticism, praise, and feedback. Throw in the added pressure of compensation adjustments, and you’ve got a regular recipe for despair.

In recent years, performance management backlash has resulted in many businesses deciding to ditch them all together. But is that really the best solution? Does the criticism and feedback just get repressed permanently? How will employees know where to improve? Will anyone ever get a raise?

Performance management processes are getting poor reviews

And the statistics are out there to prove it. According to one study, over half of employers surveyed said they don’t measure improved productivity. But that’s just the beginning.

  • 45% of HR leaders do not think annual performance reviews are an accurate appraisal for an employee’s work.
  • 58% of organizations rated their performance management system as a “C grade or below.”
  • Only 14% of organizations are happy with their performance management system.
  • A mere 8% of companies report that their performance management process drives high levels of value. Nearly 60% said it is not an effective use of time.

Performance reviews either aren’t being done well or aren’t happening at all.

Did We Throw Out the Baby with the Bath Water?

There are some benefits to the traditional performance review. Having a defined process in place encourages the development of standardized practices and objective criteria for rating performance. It also helps with documenting employee performance issues, which may help prevent discrimination and unlawful termination claims.

When done right, performance management can also help build relationships, increase employee engagement, assist with talent development and succession planning, and create staff loyalty and trust.

The best of both worlds

Perhaps formal performance reviews don’t need to disappear. Maybe they just need to change with the times. A new version of the old review that aligns with your company goals and emerging best practices might just be the answer you need.

Here are some key ways you can put a new twist on employee reviews, and make everybody happier in the process.

Scrap the formal, annual review

The ineffectiveness of annual reviews doesn’t just come from the amount of pressure that builds up over the course of 12 months. Or the awkwardness of talking to your boss about performance issues while trying to eat sushi.

If you’re only assessing progress once a year, it’s going to be hard to remember key details for each of your employees. And even if your memory is a steel trap, the feedback you provide is often too little, too late. Employees don’t want critiques about how they handled something six months ago. They want real time feedback and support that can help them do their jobs better and more efficiently.

Tip: Schedule short meetings on a regular basis (quarterly, monthly or even weekly) and focus on and how you can help your employees succeed.

Take notes and summarize

The human memory is a funny thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes two people remember the same event two completely different ways.

Take notes during or right after your meetings, and send them along to summarize what was covered and any specific takeaways. Make sure both of you are in consensus, and that it’s captured in writing.

Once feedback becomes more frequent and notes are being kept on a regular basis, performance review meetings become more of a summary and discussion of feedback the employee has already been given. This conversation can set the tone and trajectory for the time period until the next review.

Give constructive criticism

It should go without saying that the point of performance management should be to review progress and make suggestions for improved performance— not to nitpick or wield power.

Addressing performance issues can be tricky, and requires some finesse. It’s natural for people to get defensive, but these conversations get easier when your employees know you’re primarily interested in helping them move forward and do their best.

Instead of showing up with a laundry list of complaints or demands, ask some open-ended questions so employees can address their own performance successes and concerns. Did you get the results you wanted? How does this work fit in with company goals? Would you have done anything differently? Are there ways management can help make these processes better or more efficient?

Address the elephant in the room

If you’re going through organizational change, a staffing issue, serious morale issues, or some other major challenge, don’t dance around the topic or make people drag information out of you. Be honest and open about what’s happening and how it could affect the company and the team.

The same goes for compensation. Companies who talk about compensation early and often can remove the taboo and the stress involved with bringing it up. Make sure your compensation policies are fair, documented, and consistent.

Schedule reviews in advance

Dropping by for an unexpected performance meeting is more likely to raise heart rates than performance levels.

The last thing you want to do is cause anxiety and draw attention away from the real work of developing your team.

If regularly scheduled meeting times don’t work for your company culture, that’s okay. Just be sure to approach performance meetings in a constructive way. Request a meeting ahead of time and let your employees know what you’d like to discuss.

Make it a two way street

Evaluating employees isn’t just about checking off boxes and letting them know what they did right and wrong.

Of course you’ll want to check in on things like schedules, workloads, projects, processes, and results. But also make it clear that as a manager, your main purpose isn’t just to grade performance. You’re also there to answer questions, listen to ideas, and provide support.

Your employees will never meet their goals if you don’t give them the tools they need to be successful. Make sure you’re holding up your end of the deal.


Running into challenges with employee performance, engagement, and retention? At Sonus Benefits, we’ve got ideas to help you address these issues and more. Get in touch with Sonus to find out what working with a true employee benefits consultant feels like.

HR Admin | By Tom Murphy,

Are Your Employees Failing? Examine Your Hiring (and Firing) Processes.

Ever hired someone who seems to have the right skills, attitude and desire to succeed only to watch them flounder in their new position?

This can be super frustrating for managers, coworkers, and HR. Not to mention your underperforming employees, who may not only be taking up vast amounts of time and energy, but also quietly thinking about hitting the road. Talk about wasted resources!

Ensuring employee success is critical to the health of your business. The good news is that there are ways to help increase your employee success ratio. And it all starts with you.

Let’s talk about hiring

If you’re looking to fill positions, it probably means you’ve got more work than you can handle. This can make rushing, delaying, or winging the hiring process seem really tempting. Don’t do it! This is one of those areas where taking the shortcut won’t get you where you want to go.

What’s your hiring process like? Do you have a detailed plan or are you flying by the seat of your pants? Do you involve people from the team or leave it up to hiring managers? Are you primarily focused on hard skills, soft skills, or cultural fit? How will that affect your search?

Let’s face it. When you have a well-designed plan to follow, you’re much more likely to find the right people for the right positions. Take the time to develop a strategy for who and how you want to hire by:

  • Rethinking roles and tasks
  • Rewriting job descriptions
  • Reassessing how you determine who is a good candidate
  • Reexamining who is involved in interviews and decision making
  • Restructuring your hiring processes to align with your new goals
  • Revamping your onboarding program

No, these things aren’t necessarily quick and easy, but investing your time wisely on the front end can save you huge amounts of time, frustration and money in the long run.

And Firing

Even with the best hiring practices in place, you will occasionally discover an employee who is stuck in the wrong position and unable to live up to his or her full potential. This doesn’t mean you have to fire that person and start all over again.

Once you’ve determined the problem, you may be able to address it through cross training activities, adjusting job functions, or considering that person for other positions as they become available.

What about hiring from within?

Let’s talk about internal moves and promotions. They’re great, right? Absolutely! Not only can they help put people in the right seats, they can also provide career paths for motivated employees and increase retention rates. Just beware of promoting your top performers away from their core strength areas.

If you’ve got a salesperson who excels at bringing in new business, think carefully before “rewarding” her with a Sales Manager position. These are two very different skill sets, and being good at one doesn’t mean she’ll automatically be good at the other. If you move a high performing rock star into a position that’s a struggle, the effects can be devastating, both for that individual, and for your ROI.

Yes, by all means, promote your best people. Just do it in a way that continues to allow them to excel.

Can firing be good?

It happens, even in the best of companies. Perhaps you’ve got a few people who just aren’t feelin’ it. They don’t buy into your mission. They’re just punching the clock. They’re sabotaging your efforts and spreading ill will. Clearly these folks hopped on the wrong bus. The thing is, you’re the driver. You let them on, and now it’s your job to help them off.

A few tips to make this process go smoothly:

  • Document what’s not working
  • Have a meeting to discuss current performance and future career visions
    • Who knows? Maybe there’s an easy fix!
    • Set realistic goals and agree on measurements for success
  • Document again
    • If all is going well, great!
    • If not…
  • Set that person free

Often, unhappy employees want to leave their jobs. They’re just too scared to do it. Meanwhile, the negative energy they emit brings the whole team down. Letting these individuals go can set them on a path to where they really want to be. And set you on the path to building a more consistent and positive company culture.

Paving the path to employee success

When you have an employee who isn’t working out, it’s easy to place the blame squarely on that person. And sometimes you’ll be right. But if you have consistent problems with turnover or want to improve your overall success rate, it’s time to take a look at the big picture.

Are you hiring the right people? Are they in the right positions? Are you hanging on to people you need to let go?

Your HR processes should be moving you forward, not holding you back. Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at yours.


Running into challenges with employee engagement, turnover, and retention? At Sonus Benefits, we’ve got ideas to help you address these issues and more. There’s so much more to employee benefits than policies and premiums. Are you confident your policies and processes are doing what they need to ensure that your company—and your employees— are healthy and productive?

HR Admin | By Scott Schulte,

Want to Cut Costs? Invest in HR and Compliance Administration

For the vast majority of organizations, HR functions are not a luxury— especially the benefits administration and compliance pieces. Your company depends on HR’s critical role to keep you in compliance and out of legal trouble.

When businesses think about cutting costs, it’s tempting to look at lowering fixed expenses such as rent, electricity, insurance, salaries and employee benefits. Some employers have even decided to trim their HR departments in an effort to save money. But when it comes to reducing expenses, investing in your Human Resources team can yield big returns.

HR handles a huge range of activities relating to employees. From hiring staff, to implementing organizational strategies, to maintaining administration systems for payroll, employee benefits, and compliance tracking, these folks do some pretty heavy lifting.

As a local insurance agency, we’ve seen more than our share of St. Louis area businesses who desperately need help with compliance.

Compliance matters

The stakes are high when you’re dealing with a part of the business that is regulated with potential fines and lawsuits. If you’re not following the rules, punitive fines, fees and litigation can literally bring down your business.

Compliance penalties for not keeping up with new regulations can be severe, including fines and criminal penalties.

  • SPD violations can be $110 per day, per instance and up to $500,000 and/or include imprisonment for willful violation.
  • The IRS penalty for late filing of a 5500-series return is $25 per day, up to a maximum of $15,000.
  • The DOL penalty for late filing can run up to $1,100 per day, with no maximum.
  • COBRA penalties can be complex and mounting, starting at $100 per day for tax penalties + $110 per day through ERISA, + actual benefit missed and legal fees.

Keeping up with these responsibilities is daunting, but the “I didn’t know!” defense isn’t going to help if you end up on the wrong side of the rules.

It’s your job to know your organizational responsibilities and operate within that space. If you don’t have the team, resources, and processes in place to manage it all, things can go wrong. Sometimes very wrong.

Dangers include:

  • Fines for non-compliance
  • Litigation and attorney fees
  • Lack of confidence in leadership
  • Damage to the organizational brand
  • Exposure to increased Workers’ Comp fees
  • Inefficiencies due to lack of training and procedures

Investing in your HR team and processes will help keep you in the safe zone. Start by breaking your efforts down to the basic level to uncover your most pressing needs. Then review your current HR and compliance administration practices as a leadership team.

Discussing the importance of these issues allows for strategic-level input to address issues that may arise. Once you have an understanding of your greatest concerns, you can seek out the right solutions.

Is your employee benefits broker also a compliance consultant? A good broker will bring you policy options. A great broker will be willing (and excited!) to help you work through any HR and compliance challenges you may be facing.

If your current agent isn’t focused on finding creative business solutions, do yourself a huge favor and find someone who is.


Struggling with benefits administration and compliance? At Sonus, we’ve got tools to make it easier. We help businesses all throughout the Midwest identify organizational challenges and put customized solutions in place. From tailored benefit programs to human resource management services, we’ve got you covered.


HR Admin | By Tom Murphy,

2 HR Policies You May Want to Kick to the Curb

Company Culture. Employee Engagement. Managing Millennials. These hot topics have been getting a lot of press lately, and with good reason. Workplace processes, recruitment, and demographics are changing rapidly. Things that worked fine in the past simply aren’t cutting it today. Even more frightening, what works well today might not work tomorrow.

If you want to be successful in an ever-shifting business world, you have got to be willing to see, accept and facilitate change. Whether it’s adjusting to new technologies, finding and keeping the right people, or effectively overseeing a diverse workforce, clinging to old HR policies simply won’t do.

Of course, every business has its own unique set of needs, and workplace policies should rightfully reflect them. Retail and manufacturing companies can’t necessarily offer work-at-home options. Banks and insurance companies might not be able to say yes to jeans and flip-flops. But chances are good that you have at least one HR policy or practice that’s worth re-visiting in order to make your company more appealing to current staff and potential new employees.

Not sure where to start? Here are two things to quickly eliminate if you’re interested in attracting and retaining top-notch talent.

1.) Harrowing hiring

Your hiring process says a lot about who you are as a company. An ineffective, unprofessional or exhausting interview process will send fantastic candidates running. Away, that is.

If you require five years of experience, three separate interviews, and a 1,500-word essay for an entry-level position, chances are you’re going to do one of two things:

  1. scare applicants away, or
  2. build an expectation that the job is more lucrative or significant than it actually is

Yes, you need to find highly capable people, but the last thing you want is a top pick candidate who turns you down— or an over-qualified new hire who feels bored and disillusioned two months into the position.

Tip: Keep your skill requirements and your interview process properly geared toward the position to make sure you get a generous pool of appropriately qualified candidates.

Employers can also miss out on awesome future employees by not moving applicants through the process in a timely manner and/or failing to keep them in the loop. Hiring should never be rushed, but taking too long to conduct interviews, check references and make a decision will only hurt you in the long run.

You may be convinced your company is the gold standard and your position is amazing, but that doesn’t mean you have an infinite amount of time to find that right person. Today’s job seekers are smart, savvy, and driven. And you can bet they’re not just talking to you. By the time you finally get around to calling your top choice back, they could already be putting their enthusiasm and talents to work for someone else.

Tip: To avoid losing out on great candidates and hires, institute a short, but effective process and keep people informed and updated as it moves along.

2.) Vacation vs. sick days

This system probably seemed logical at some point, but in today’s working world, it just doesn’t make sense. Employees aren’t interested in being sick; they’re interested being well. And that means achieving a healthy, manageable work/life balance.

According to the 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study, 75% of employees surveyed chose workplace flexibility as the most important benefit their employer could offer them. Meanwhile, research from Morneau Shepell found that 52% of incidental employee absence is not actually due to illness.

When your employees need to be out of the office, does it really matter what the exact reason is? Whether a staff member has intestinal distress, a sick toddler, or playoff tickets is irrelevant. The point is, that person either needs to deal with a personal situation or they need to rest and re-charge.

Not being flexible when it comes to employee time off will only cause resentment and ultimately reduce employee engagement and productivity.

Don’t force your employees to call in “sick” from the stadium. Scrap your vacation policy and come up with a Paid Time Off system that allows for maximum flexibility and discretion. Even better, design it so that paid time off can be used in hourly increments instead of in all-or-nothing eight-hour blocks. That way, your employees will feel free to take only the time they need, when they need it, whatever they need it for.

Switching your outdated sick policy to a PTO program is an inexpensive way to make current employees happy, recruit new talent and, according to Workforce, significantly reduce the number of unscheduled absences at your business.

What outdated policies do you have?

We’ve worked with clients to help implement a variety of operational solutions designed to ensure a happier, healthier workplace (Optional: Insert client example here).

The only question now is: What can we do for you?

At Sonus, we build cost-effective, long-lasting employee benefits strategies to keep your business— and your employees— in optimum health. We help clients all over the Midwest identify organizational challenges and put customized solutions in place.

If you’re looking for a corporate employee benefits consultant who is a true business partner, and not just a once a year policy peddler, Sonus is here for you.

HR Admin | By Sonus Benefits,

WEBINAR: Handbooks – Deeper Dive – 5/10

To register for this webinar:

Bobbi Kloss offers an overview of NLRB issues in this special webinar. You’ll be exposed to the core concepts of developing a handbook: tying policies to the mission and culture of your organization and maintaining compliance.


May 10, 2017

12:00 pm to 1:00 pm  Eastern

11:00 am to 12:00 pm Central

10:00 am to 11:00 am  Mountain

9:00 am to 10:00 am  Pacific

HR Admin | By Sonus Benefits,

WEBINAR: Best practices for an HCM Implementation – 4/26

Best Practices for an HCM Implementation: This presentation will be focused on the challenges associated with any HR Technology implementation and how to mitigate some of those challenges and make your life easier. Key topics include: taking a phased approach, building your timeline, change management, managing expectations, and not rushing.



April 26, 2017

12:00 pm to 1:00 pm  Eastern

11:00 am to 12:00 pm Central

10:00 am to 11:00 am  Mountain

9:00 am to 10:00 am  Pacific