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A Healthy Approach to Attracting and Retaining Talent

Employee wellness programs become strategic perks for transportation staffing

A valued workforce position is no longer defined by a fancy job title and corner office. Employees and prospects are biw placing a greater value on company benefits that support health, wellbeing and work-life balance.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the workforce through a greater focus on welfare. Remote workers proved to their employers that at-home work can be just as efficient as in-office work, if not more. Additionally, the recent supply chain issues and driver shortages have shifted the power dynamic between employers and employees. In 2022, employees are calling more of the shots and demanding more benefits.

Plus, current economic conditions have contributed to a worsening of mental health among employees and their families. With health cost increases showing signs of acceleration, employers are boosting efforts to make benefits more affordable. They also are elevating employee awareness of what benefits are offered and how best to access them.

Employers have learned that if employees are struggling, their performance is impacted. Most U.S employers (94 percent) say managing healthcare benefit costs will be their top priority over the next two years, followed by enhancing mental health benefits (87 percent), according to a report released in April by Willis Towers Watson, a business advisor company.

“Inflation and rising healthcare costs, ongoing emotional and physical wellbeing needs, and attraction and retention challenges caused by a tight labor market are driving employers to carefully evaluate their benefit programs and strategies,” said Lindsay Hunter, senior director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. “In particular, they are looking for ways to make healthcare more affordable for themselves and their employees.”

Driving Healthy Hiring Competition
In employee benefits, health refers to a state where the physical body is free from disease, while wellness refers to an overall balance of a person’s physical, social, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, environmental, and occupational well-being. As a competitive recruiting and retention strategy, employers are offering both comprehensive health and wellness benefits to full-time and part-time transportation employees.

“Leadership must advertise their wellbeing program to staff,” said Ryan West, corporate training and business development director at ARCpoint Franchise Group, which provides background checks and a full spectrum of drug-alcohol-COVID testing for education clients and the school transportation industry.

ACRpoint is in the final stages of developing an employee assistance program for wellbeing and work-life solutions, and it is expected to be available to school transportation clients by the end of the summer.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked leaders if they have an employee assistance program, and their response is either ‘I’m not sure’ or ‘I believe so, but I have no idea who it’s with.’ If leaders don’t know, employees aren’t benefitting, and the employer is not helping its bottom line. It’s that simple,” said West, who is presenting this month at STN EXPO Indianapolis.

Corporations are setting the bar very high, due to the high demand for drivers across many trucking sectors. For drivers willing to haul freight for long distances, salaries and benefits now range up to six figures. For example, Walmart is offering full-time driver salaries up to $110,000 with health and wellness benefits costing drivers around $30 per pay period.

To defer healthcare-related costs, Walmart drivers have preventative care covered at 100 percent, free access to healthcare counselors, health reimbursement plans up to $1,000, and a health savings account plan with up to $700 matching for in-network and out-of-network medical expenses. Walmart also offers a program called Included Health tailored for the healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ drivers.

Pupil Transportation Extends Healthcare Perks
School Transportation News surveyed its readers to see what types of healthcare and wellness programs are currently offered within the industry. For the most part, school districts include transportation employees in their full programs for social, emotional and physical health.

The survey revealed some specific perks for transportation staff, including free counseling sessions, limited legal services, healthy eating programs, monetary incentives for exercising, heath tracking apps, free flu shots, and extra credit on performance reviews for those reaching health goals.

A model example is at Grandview C-4 School District, located in the southern part of Kansas City, Missouri. The district has 35 school bus drivers on the transportation staff and approximately 40 district-owned school buses for transporting approximately 2,300 students daily within 38 square miles.

Both full-time and part-time transportation staff members are eligible for health and wellness benefits at the same level as the rest of district employees. The district program includes opportunities for gym membership reimbursement, book study programs, and healthy snacks during professional development sessions. The district also has a wellness coordinator on staff to manage programs and lead activities.

“We’ve been able to use wellness funds to provide outdoor games and activities staff can enjoy between routes,” said Adam Schwartz, the district’s transportation director. “We focus on encouragement to keep active and healthy by several different challenges and programs that could be safely navigated during COVID, such as cash for those with the most steps.”

Meanwhile, Aspen School District in Colorado has a model example for supporting all employees through a $600 annual wellness benefit. This supplemental benefit fund can be used on activities or items that help employees emotionally, physically or spiritually. In addition to standard benefits, the district reimburses employees up to that amount for ski passes, massages, bikes, sports apparel or medical bills.

Learn First, Offer Benefits Second

Healthcare and wellbeing programs will be one of the presentation topics during the STN EXPO Indianapolis on June 3 throught 7. Ryan West of ARCpoint Franchise Group will present, “Ensuring Employee Health and Wellbeing in a Post-Covid World: Reimagining the Value of Employee Assistance Programs.” Attendees will learn to assess the quality of their programs, differentiate between health and wellbeing programs, address the top three barriers to employee assistance program utilization and learn how to promote their benefits.

Additionally, the district offers mental health counseling and an annual bonus of $50 if employees complete all wellness check-ups and related activities. The food department makes all of its meals from scratch, as an added way to support healthy eating. The district promotes these perks when recruiting and retaining employees.

“We have a great team and know each other like family in a small district. We usually end our week by gathering for meals in our homes,” said Reghan Mahaffey, transportation director at Aspen Public Schools. The transportation department currently has 23 drivers and two mechanics on its staff for the owned and operated bus fleet, which transports 800 students daily.

New Health Considerations (and Complications) in Drug Testing
The rise of alternative healthcare solutions is causing employers to weigh workplace policies with civil liberties in states where medical and recreational cannabis (marijuana) are legal. It is especially the case for employees who do not drive for a living.

Due to a labor shortage and the abundance of marijuana usage, employers are increasingly removing the THC panel from their pre-employment drug tests in states where it is legal. Additionally, liability is becoming an issue for companies facing lawsuits by plaintiffs who were terminated or not hired based on a positive screening. The exact time of cannabis usage is hard to determine because the marijuana substance, called THC, can remain in a body for weeks.

Currently, 37 states, four territories and the District of Columbia allow medical use of cannabis products. Additionally, recreational marijuana is legal in 18 states, Guam and the District of Columbia. Elections this year may widen legalization in states. As a paradox on the federal level, marijuana remains an illegal Schedule I substance, along with heroin or crystal methamphetamine. Most recently, the U.S. House passed a marijuana decriminalization bill in April, but it is facing an uncertain future in the Senate.

Related: FMCSA to Mandate States Downgrade License for Drivers with Substance Violations
Related: New CDL Clearinghouse Flags 8,000 Driver Substance-Abuse Violations in First Weeks
Related: Federal Guidance Cautions Against CBD Oil Use by School Bus Drivers
Related: Experts Share Messages Promoting Mental, Physical Wellness for Student Transporters
Related: Mental Health Took a Back Seat to Physical Health During COVID-19

In its quest for equity and workplace leadership, Amazon excluded marijuana from pre-employment drug screening in June 2021. The exception is for job candidates applying for positions regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, such as truck drivers and heavy equipment operators. Meantime, Amazon is lobbying the federal government to legalize marijuana.

To ensure safety in school transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation and state transportation agencies have strict regulations for drug and alcohol testing upon hiring school bus drivers. Additionally, school districts require additional testing following a crash. Some districts only need a reasonable suspicion when performance is not up to par. A minor number of districts have either random quarterly testing or mandatory monthly testing.

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