Open Enrollment: A Flexible Guide to Healthcare Benefits for Freelancers

The global health crisis sparked by the pandemic has shown people, no matter their job status, need effective and reliable healthcare benefits. Employees often have an HR team to help them with healthcare education and to sort through their options. Freelancers, though, know the responsibility to remain informed – and then secure comprehensive coverage – lies entirely with them.

Indeed, during open enrollment freelancers are in a unique situation. True: When it comes to health benefits providers freelancers enjoy a greater amount of choice. However, there is less access to full coverage with comprehensive care and decision support tools. Throw in the changes in healthcare brought about by the pandemic, and it has never been more difficult to make strategic healthcare decisions.

When sick or hurt, we’re often advised not to give in to our worst impulses by Googling our symptoms and searching for medical advice. But when researching insurance coverage, that is where we tend to start. However, we need to modernize our thinking. Because, just as a Google isn’t the best way to obtain medical advice, not all of the best answers about healthcare come from internet searches.

Open Enrollment 101: Benefits Plan Customization for Freelancers

To help us begin to look at insurance coverage options differently, let’s use the choosing of a cable television plan as an example. In the recent past, we would purchase a basic cable subscription, then pay for additional add-ons and special channels. But today, the right combination of streaming subscriptions offers similar content and more on-demand convenience than basic cable service. Those streaming services also provide solid recommendations based upon our preferences and behaviors. For many subscribers, this customization ultimately means more options, better value and better service.

Freelancers can apply a similar line of thinking when securing healthcare benefits. Traditional plans, like a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or high-deductible health plans (HDHP), may not be the best option for freelancers. Instead, look for ways to tailor coverage through products and resources like a HealthSherpa and Transamerica. These highly regarded providers can help you create a benefits plan that best fits your needs – at the best price and at the highest possible level of service.

Building Your Benefits Plan

When building your benefits plan, start with the core components: medical, dental, and vision. Next, perform a self-assessment of specific health care needs. For example, consider any chronic conditions that might be considered pre-existing or medication prescriptions that require a comprehensive pharmacy benefit option. Your goal: Determine the factors driving your plan and where more coverage or voluntary benefits are needed.

Next, determine your budget (and appetite for financial risk) by asking yourself three questions:

  1. How much coverage is my plan going to provide?
  2. Within the plan as designed, how much must I pay in out-of-pocket expenses when receiving care?
  3. What is the amount of your total monthly payments or premiums?

With the answers to these questions, you’ll know how much you’ll be paying – and for what combination of services.

Should You Add Voluntary or Supplementary Benefits?

What voluntary benefits should you take advantage of when personalizing benefits?

Typically, those are the supplemental insurance plans that provide a financial safety net. This is especially true in the event of a critical illness, accident, or hospital stay. Also, freelancers – just like everyone else – should look into enrolling in other lifestyle benefits such as personal protection plans. After all, as we continue to live online, it is important to protect yourself from the growing threat of fraud and identity theft.

On the positive side of supplemental benefits, consider joining those who have leveraged virtual wellness options. Also, with more and more people working from home, we’re likely to see an increase in off-the-shelf voluntary benefits that meet the unique needs of freelancers. Those plans include coverage of ongoing education, childcare options, and set-up of in-home office ergonomics.

Community and Freelancing: Find Your Emotional Support System

While most everyone is experiencing feelings of isolation and disconnection, freelancers – without an organization to call home base – might be feeling it just that much more.

To combat these feelings, consider getting involved in industry-focused communities. Today, there are thousands of options available online to connect. Social media groups and online communities often organize virtual coffee breaks and happy hours. During these events, they cover various topics and based on shared interests and hobbies. So, find like-minded solidarity that serves an important source of support throughout your career. Those groups also foster a a greater sense of wellbeing through emotional engagement.

Freelancers: Take Control of Your Open Enrollment

At a time when all aspects of our health, wealth, and wellbeing need protection, there are more resources and support available than you may have previously realized. And you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.

The realities of our new world of work will continue to impact our lives. But freelancers can meet those challenges head on by being strategic and thoughtful about their benefits plan designs. Ultimately, the key to success during this open enrollment period means careful evaluation and proactive planning for future life events – both expected and unexpected.

We will eventually move forward to a post-pandemic world.

Between now and then, set yourself – and your freelance business – up for success.


Photo: Ali Yahya

#WorkTrends: Going Gig: Freelancing in HR

Meghan invited both Chris Russell, the founder of HR Lancers, and Jim Stroud, VP of Marketing at Proactive Talent, to talk about the new trend in HR: hiring freelancers and consultants to fill in the gaps. 

COVID-19’s uncertainties are leaving no field untouched, including HR. As Jim said, “if employees hear the whiff of a rumor, or a layoff or have any kind of indication that their job might be in jeopardy or a furlough,” they might venture to freelance as a quick way to gain income and stay afloat. Further, freelancing is on the rise among millennials who are leaving the city. They can make their living at home — now more than ever before, noted Meghan. 

But not everyone’s cut out for the gig, Jim said. It takes self-discipline and the ability to self-structure, particularly now. Schedules may be more flexible, but kids and mounting responsibilities can add up. But the demand is there: Companies are hiring experts to help bridge the gaps, and sourcing out project-based, niched assignments like crafting job descriptions or writing a handbook. For smaller companies, this may be an effective solution. 

And if we see universal healthcare, said Chris, we’ll also see an explosion in freelancers. Meghan concurred: If benefits weren’t tied to employment, a lot more people would go independent. And that’s something companies need to think about, Jim added. Companies could be much more competitive at attracting top freelancers if they offered to cover healthcare expenses for the duration of a gig. And Meghan predicts we’ll see HR shifting along with the rest of the gig economy‚ and it’s going to be interesting to see how that changes our practices. 

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why are more organizations hiring freelancers for HR? #WorkTrends
Q2: How is freelancing changing the nature of HR? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders better attract top HR freelancers? #WorkTrends

Find Chris Russell on Linkedin and Twitter

Find Jim Stroud on Linkedin and Twitter

How Mastercard Is Evolving Payments for the Gig Economy

At the 2018 Collaboration in the Gig Economy conference in Dallas earlier this month, I was struck by the keynote message, delivered by Dr. Vivienne Ming. Her thesis: There’s a lot of fear and buzz about AI taking over the workforce, but we will always need people’s problem-solving skills to supplement those algorithms. And because we’ll always need people, we’ll always need payments.

That’s why we’re excited to play an integral role in ushering in the next era of the gig economy. At Mastercard, we believe it’s time for more sophisticated, tailor-made solution to support this emerging workforce.

Both the challenge and the stakes are right in front of us. The role of payment is critical to the gig economy, and enabling payment is the golden thread that ties it all together.

What Gig Workers Want

At Mastercard we began focusing on the gig economy more than two years ago, talking to hundreds of gig workers around the world and fielding research with thousands more. The results were illuminating.

We heard that the best and worst aspect about gig work is the flexibility. Nobody gives you any structure, workers tell us, so you have to create that on your own — not always the easiest task under old payment paradigms.

Our research clearly shows that the inefficiency of payments is one of the most prevalent obstacles keeping independent workers from fully realizing the flexibility and independence that attracts many people to gig work in the first place.
Here is what they want:

  • Visibility into their gig. Mastercard research shows that today, 90 percent of gig workers use their personal payment product for business purposes, mixing their personal and professional expenses. This generates confusion about inflows and outflows and a poor understand of the gig’s profitability.
  • Fast payments. Only a small percentage of gig platforms have fast payment capabilities, but when they offer it, gig workers love it. Fifty-seven percent of Uber and Lyft drivers use instant or express pay apps to get paid out instantly; 36 percent use it at least three times a week.
  • Benefits. Gig workers do not have the same benefits full time employees have, and they feel the pain. 76 percent of gig workers would value merchant offers linked to their card, considering this a necessary feature of their payment solution.

A Global Gig Payment Solution

The Mastercard Gig Payment Solution was co-created with gig workers to address their specific needs. We applied design thinking and a user-centric development process to build an end-to-end solution that answers both gig platforms’ and gig workers’ needs.

This payment solution resonates with the key insights of our research. We built the value proposition around the three pillars of visibility, fast payments and benefits.

The new prepaid card for gig workers give them a better visibility into their gigs, allowing them to separate their gig from their personal life; also, the solution enables gig workers to request an instant payment from the platform as soon as the buyer has made payment. It gives access to benefits such as discounts and rebates at over 40,000 relevant merchants and device insurance.

We are working with many partners all around the world to seize the opportunity to serve gig workers with a new and more effective payment solution, through new product launches, partnerships and more.

The gig economy is thriving and here to stay. The time for intelligent payment solutions to support this revolution is upon us.

This post is sponsored by Mastercard.

Contract, Staff, Remote, In-Office: Which is the Best Hiring Solution for Your Company?

Bringing on talent as your business grows is a big step, and depending on your needs, there are several options to consider. According to CareerBuilder’s hiring outlook for 2017 report, 40 percent of employers said they planned to hire full-time, permanent employees this year, while half of all employers anticipate adding temporary or contract workers. So how do you determine the best hiring solution for your company? Let’s explore all the options of contract, staff, remote, and in-office so your company can make the best hiring decisions.

Contract Workers are ideal for boosting talent for short-term projects that require a very specific set of skills.

The pros are simplicity and flexibility. Hiring contract workers is a less complicated and less expensive process than hiring an employee, points out author and marketing expert Neil Patel. With freelancers, it’s just a matter of drawing up a contract, and they can begin immediately—no need for lengthy onboarding, and because they are not on staff, you don’t have to provide a benefits package. Other than filling out a 1099-MISC form at the end of the year that specifies how much you paid that person, you also don’t have to worry about withholding or paying FICA taxes. Because contractors don’t require the same investment of time and money as hired employees, there is a lot less pressure should you decide to cut ties or work with someone else.

The cons are less control and potential IRS issues. Unlike your own employees, contract workers are self-employed, therefore you don’t have the authority to dictate work hours. You also cannot expect to have 9-5 access to them since they likely have other clients. Other than project specifications and a deadline, you don’t have much authority.

If you hire freelancers and become the subject of an audit from the IRS or the Department of Labor, you’ll have to be prepared to prove they were not, in fact, your employees. Do yourself a favor and review the IRS guidelines on how to determine whether the individuals providing services are employees or independent contractors.

In-Office Hires work well for companies that need someone to provide long-term value and wear several hats.

The Pros include engagement, longevity, and on-site management. Employees who are part of your team become invested in the success of the company. Unlike contractors who have their own business, your employee’s success is directly related to the success of the business overall. Plus, by providing a competitive salary and growth opportunities, you can retain your best talent.

People who work for your company are essentially subject to your workplace rules. You set the work hours, the training programs, the productivity expectations, and can require that the person only work for you.

The Con is risk. Recruiting and onboarding a new employee is a big time and money investment, and if it doesn’t work out, you have to start from scratch. Plus, a hire gone badly can negatively affect the morale of other staffers.

Remote Employees add talent without using up office real estate.

The Pros are saving money, productivity is boosted, and a larger talent pool to hire from. According to a Global Workplace Analytics survey, Cost and Benefits: Advantages of Telecommuting for Companies, nearly six out of 10 employers say allowing some staffers to telecommute provides cost savings. Telecommuters at Compaq, Best Buy, British Telecom, and Dow Chemical have all shown to be as much as 45 percent more productive. Without the distractions that sometimes happen in an office, focused remote workers can get more done. When you’re not limited by geography, you can stretch your talent search to find employee who more closely match the roles you need to fill.

The Cons include employees feel disconnected and tough to supervise. Culture is such an important part of business success, and that can be tough to cultivate for the portion of your workforce who works remotely. To help staffers feel a sense of camaraderie, you’ll have to be more proactive about planning in-person functions and meetings. Despite the productivity potential, if your remote workers aren’t self-motivated, it can be hard to manage them from afar. Plus, certain types of jobs might benefit from face-to-face brainstorming and collaboration.

Deciding which type of hiring solution is right for you comes down to your needs, if it’s a short- or long-term project, your physical office space, and your budget. The good news is that you can decide on a case-by-case basis, and build a hybrid workforce that is optimized for efficiency.

photo credit: amtecstaffing Scrabble – Now Hiring via photopin (license)

3 Secrets To Leading A Multi-Everything Blended Workforce

The new normal in terms of the workforce is not just multi-generational or global. It’s multi-everything. Working alongside each other are permanent payroll employees and all kinds of contingent workers. A recent government report found that 40.4% of the U.S. workforce is composed of contingent workers, and the numbers are trending up. For a slice of reality, I hopped on Glassdoor and typed in, “Google contingency worker” jobs. Of the 49 that came up, there were even positions to be part of the team that manages Google’s enormous, 70+ country, contingency workforce.

Highly skilled, intensely focused, precisely specialized, or just super-competent generalists are parachuted in for a stint, often performing the same tasks and covering the same ground as their perma-colleagues. And we all know this, because many of us qualify as contingency workers: consultants, freelancers, thought leaders. The movement to free agent has shaken up the loyalty culture and put a different kind of spin on the issue of retention. Is it even necessary? Well, I’ll say, and this is all I’ll say for now: it is.

But the blending of workforces was a natural shift in our climate. The traumatic economic contractions we all had to weather not so long ago reminded people that it’s nice to not have to worry about being laid off. And it made companies reevaluate their staffing models. A swinging-door approach may well be a way to better leverage resources: project by project. Moreover, this is an entirely different landscape we work in: we don’t have to be anywhere. We can dwell in the cloud. We’re mobile and social and we’re working digitally and we’re productive wherever we are.

Good. Fine. But here are three essentials for doing it right:

1) Hire on the basis of skills, not cost.

Who’s in charge of bringing in the contingency talent? Let’s start with that word, talent.This isn’t a service contract for a set of copiers, so contingent workers shouldn’t be treated that way. It should be based on skills: what skills gaps need to be filled? Who do we need and at what level? And it’s usually a full spectrum of skills. HR should manage hiring, and it should be connected to other branches of hiring. It should be considered an issue of recruitment, not filling a hole in the dam. Whatever the role, and whatever the duration, should be coordinated with the rest of the organization’s talent strategies.

2) Source widely and often.

Whenever I think about talent sourcing I inevitably think: cast an infinitely wide net, but do it with the best arms you can; make it quick and make it responsive. In terms of sourcing for contingency talent, same rules apply, but even more so. Given that organizations may not anticipate their talent needs — and hence have to turn to contingency workers, there’s even less time to fill. Moreover, the range in contingency talent may be from interim leadership positions (think about it — Twitter, Dupont) to skilled assemblers, and geographically speaking, be all over the globe. We need to have agile, intelligent strategic partnerships with a range of empathetic and effective solution providers — including job sites, staffing specialists and external recruiters.

3) Practice diligent and insightful analytics.

Skipping the application of metrics and meaningful analytics to the non-permanent workforce is to overlook major issues, including organizational holes and skills gaps. But onboarding effectiveness is also affected. You have less time to get them into the daily flow, so this is a brilliant way to see how it’s working. It’s also a great way to measure key performance indicators and core competencies, so long as you have the tech with its sights trained not just on the one sitting at the desk in her office, but the one conferencing at the worktable with his temporary team. There are lots of sophisticated platforms that can respond to business priorities quickly, leverage data into insights, and plot a course going forward. Go for it.

There are, of course, plenty of issues in this new zeitgeist. It’s an incredibly complex example of why HR needs to stay focused on managing profound change. And that’s what this is: a profound change in the way we define, recruit, acquire, and engage talent. Instead of loyalty, we get rapid engagement.

Certainly many of us have wised up and are aware of the benefits of contingency workforces from both sides. For companies, there are all sorts of cost benefits; for workers, there’s work-life balance, millennial-esque self-determinism, and of course building one’s personal brand. And if you really start focusing on some of the most innovative employer brands, here’s an interesting twist: many are associated with interim, temporary, free-wheeling talent. Success lies in freedom, perhaps, and I’m fine with that.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 11/7/15

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Make Your Own Blended Worlds of Work

The three of us have lived and breathed on all three worlds. We’ve been full-time employees, we’ve been independent contractors, and we’ve been entrepreneurs – all in varying capacities and with varying success. And sometimes we’ve been on two or even all three at once.

Because of this, we of course agreed that the way we used to work is long gone. We being myself, TalentCulture #TChat Show co-founder and co-host Meghan M. Biro, and founder and CEO of Zenith Talent Sunil Bagai, a recent show guest. We discussed how the days of primarily being full-time or part-time have given way to what we call the blended workforce – those individuals working as regular employees, freelance workers, and self-employed entrepreneurial talent side-by-side their full-time brothers and sisters.

Employers are now hiring record numbers of contingent workers and relying increasingly on this mix to achieve their goals. Staffing Industry Analysts research states that after rising substantially for a few years, the average percent across respondents has held steady at 18% since 2013. And earlier in 2015, a report by the Government Accountability Office showed that contingent workers make up 40 percent of workforce.

Not only that, we assumed during our discussion that these workers (us included) are happier, have achieved greater work-life integration and are profiting on their own. If that’s true, it’s welcome news for employers and workers looking to improve their opportunities.

And if it’s true, building and managing this blended workforce does still present challenges on almost every front – particularly when it comes to effectively sourcing and hiring contingent workers. It’s an on-demand world regardless of our classification – we want to do what we want, when we want and how we want.

That said, there are also no active or passive employment seekers on any level. Being called passive is a misnomer. It’s just incorrect. We’re all free agents loyal to the work we love to do first and foremost, and how we do that work, then those we do it with, around and for. So employers need to rethink the way their source, recruit, hire and onboard anybody for their organizations.

The three of us have also traversed two other interconnected universes that embody all three worlds above – one that supports us financially and the one that supports us emotionally and psychologically. I’m sure many of you readers have as well. The mix of breathable atmospheres is always dependent on where we’re at any given time, but I’d argue that the happiest of us frolic in our own by-design Milky Ways, with the heavy gravity of economic reality keeping us fixed in both spaces on any of the blended worlds.

Part of the softer gravitational pull does include how we perceive, consume and absorb like-minded cultures at those (blended workforce) opportunities – those that may feed our emotional needs. For example, 2015 Talent Board Candidate Experience research of over 130,000 job seekers revealed that what attracted more of them to specific employers over 40 percent of the time for Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Z (or Centinnials) were the company values. For Baby Boomers it was number two, but still nearly 40 percent. And both men and women valued values over 40 percent. (An interesting note was that financial information was in the top five only for Boomers and men.)

While this is important from a recruitment marketing perspective, Josh Bersin shared new research by a research firm named Imperative that echoed the softer gravity and the fact that we’re much more productive, are higher performers and are significantly more likely to be net promoters of their organizations when we are doing personally fulfilling work in any capacity, outweighing any financial gain.

Ultimate success is relative and subjective, but I’d argue that we three have made our own blended worlds of work and gained invaluable rewards both tangible and intangible. That’s definitely the way to make a elevated living today.