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Five Tips to Minimize Stress in the Workplace

According to The American Institute of Stress, stress in the workplace is extremely high among American adults. Stress can cause problems like heart disease, stroke, and many other illnesses. In fact, stress is the basic cause of 60% of human illness and disease. Just talking about it is stressful!

You can see how important it is to reduce stress in the world around us and, specifically, in the workplace. But how can one do this without getting stressed out himself? Here are five tips that will help you manage and minimize workplace stress:

#1. Make sure employees take breaks. Working on an empty stomach, sitting for six or eight hours at a time, constantly answering phone calls and emails all take a toll on us. That’s why employees are provided with lunch breaks and work breaks.

Oregon state law says that employees who work at least six hours are entitled to a 30-minute meal break as well as a paid 10-minute rest break for each four hour period of work. The exact details of this law can be found by contacting the United States Department of Labor.

Be sure your employees take advantage of these breaks and, if possible, try to provide a couple of extra stretching or walking breaks throughout the day. You can even program a calendar reminder for each employee to make sure they take their mandated breaks and have a little time to de-stress.

#2. Think about the workspace. An endless sea of blue cubes can get very narrowing and stressful. Here are three simple improvements you can make to the overall office space that can help lower stress levels for everyone:

  • Add plants. Studies show that plants improve the air quality in enclosed buildings, reducing illness in those buildings and benefiting employees’ immune systems. Excellent air purifiers include: ivy, chrysanthemums, peace lilies, parlour palms, varieties of dracaena, chinese evergreen, and philodendron.

  • Change out those old fluorescents. Studies show that natural lighting improves human productivity and reduces stress. Changing out those old bulbs with full spectrum tubes can be an instant stress-reducer!

  • Utilize colors for quick relief. Different colors help stimulate different actions. Red is energizing, blue is calming, green fights irritability, and orange stimulates creativity. Add some stimulating art to your office or replace that old brown carpet with a calming green and stress may just melt away!

#3. Foster a social, cohesive environment. Humans are social, collaborative creatures. Be sure your workplace helps harness this by asking employees to participate in team building activities and face-to-face meetings.

#4. Create a technology-free space. We use our phones or stare at computer screens constantly. Create a space within the office that is tech free. It can be a quiet space for meditation or a fun room with a foosball table. The only caveat is that it is screen free.

#5. Make sure you de-stress too! Be sure to practice what you preach! Manage your time, take breaks, and generally work to stay as stress free as possible throughout your day.

It can be hard to decompress at work, but it is important to fight workplace stress with every tool at our disposal. Be sure to help your employees get and stay as stress-free as possible!
Is a 401(k) Worth it?

It can be difficult to make the right decision when it comes to retirement planning. There are 401(k) plans offered by employers, IRA plans, an investment portfolio and more. It can feel as if there are as many retirement options as there are people! However, if your employer offers a 401(k) plan, it may be a good idea to take her up on it. Here’s the scoop on 401(k) planning:

What is a 401(k) anyway?

The name 401(k) comes from a section of tax code developed during the 1980s to supplement pensions. Employers used to provide pensions which were managed by the firm and paid out an income over the course of a former employee’s retirement. However, the administrative costs rose and pensions became less manageable.

With a 401(k), an employee can control how his or her money will be invested. Many plans provide a spread of mutual funds with stocks, bonds, and money market investments. Plans also have a number of restrictions and rules that must be followed. However, if you follow the rules laid out on a 401(k), you will receive excellent benefits upon retirement.

Benefits of a 401(k)

There are many benefits associated with a 401(k). Here are just five of the perks provided by this retirement plan:

#1. Employer contributions. Often employers will match a portion of your investment in your retirement plan. Think of it like a boost to your paycheck. If you pass this up, you will be losing money you could retire on.

#2. Investment opportunities. A 401(k) plan offers a good variety of investment channels that you can utilize. For example, you may be able to choose from:

  • Stock and bond mutual funds

  • Company stock

  • Money market funds

  • Guaranteed investment contracts and other stable value accounts

#3. Tax deferred earnings. The income you invest into your 401(k) plan has not yet been taxed as income, which lowers your overall yearly tax bill. This way, you postpone payment of taxes on that income until you withdraw the money upon retirement. The idea is that, when you retire, you will be in a lower tax bracket than when you were actively earning money. Therefore, you would be paying less money back to the government than if you invested your money outside of a 401(k).

#4. Restrictions that work for you. Because of the tax benefits, it is very difficult to take money out of a 401(k) until you have reached the age of 59 ½ or it has been more than five years since you made your first contribution or you are disabled. This restriction helps keep your retirement money safe and secure.

#5. Compound interest. In short, this plan allows you to re-invest both the money you have invested along with the interest earned. This means your savings will grow exponentially over time.

If your employer offers a 401(k), it may be a great idea for you to take advantage of it. If your employer does not offer this retirement plan, get them in touch with us. We would be happy to help them establish a great plan that benefits you!
7 Actions Small Businesses Can Start Now to Make 2016 Tax Season Simple

With tax season over, your first impulse may be to sit back and relax until next year. However, there are things you can do right now to make next year’s tax season simpler, easier, and less stressful. Here are seven stress-free things you can do to make your 2016 taxes easy as pie:

#1. Start a file. You will need receipts, mileage logs, and invoices to hand over when you are ready for tax time. Don’t let them scatter to the four corners of your office. Get them filed so you have them available when you’re ready for tax time.

#2. Log your receipts. Probably one of the most frustrating parts of taxes is figuring out what you spent deductible money on in the previous year. By the time next April comes around, your receipts may be faded - along with your memory. Create a log and be sure to update it every time you file a receipt.

#3. Interview CPAs now. During tax season, CPAs are incredibly busy. Instead of waiting until the last minute to get help, gather recommendations from fellow business owners or friends and interview your potential CPA now. You’ll get more of their attention and they will likely be more excited about gaining your business when they aren’t completely swamped.

#4. Consider what you did wrong with last year’s taxes. Perhaps something made you panicky at the last minute or there was information you needed to gather the day before your appointment with the CPA. Think about what stressed you out this year and make sure you correct it for next year.

#5. Give a list of things to keep track of to your accountant or accounting department. It’s your job as the business owner to think ahead. Help your accounting department keep tax season in mind by giving them a list of what you will need. That way they can start filing and logging now instead of going into overtime in March or April.

#6. Take advantage of tax breaks all year long. Many businesses forget there are tax breaks they can take advantage of until December. Instead of rushing around trying to figure out how to cram in business improvements right when everyone is trying to take time off, plan your tax write-offs now and implement them all year long.

#7. Get tax projections for 2015. Ask your CPA or accountant to work up your projected taxes for this year. If you are doing significantly more business, this will help you avoid the shock of higher tax costs when you start to do your taxes in 2016.

It is never too early to get ready for tax season. By planning ahead, you can take advantage of more tax deductions and tax write offs so your tax season next year is as stress-free as possible.
How Does COBRA Work?

COBRA is not nearly as scary as the snake it might make you think of. COBRA stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It is a federal law designed to help workers keep their health insurance. It allows individuals to continue to use their group plan coverage in a variety of situations, including if an individual:

  • quits work, is laid off, or is fired (not for gross misconduct)

  • has his or her hours reduced so the worker no longer qualifies for the group plan

  • becomes legally separated or divorced

  • has a child who no longer qualifies as a dependent under the plan

  • becomes disabled

  • dies

  • becomes eligible for or enrolled in Medicare.

These life events are covered by COBRA for a specific amount of time, depending upon the circumstance.

How to Get COBRA Health Insurance

Employees hoping to receive COBRA benefits need to tell Human Resources or their insurance administrator within thirty days of one of the above events. Beneficiaries of the employee have up to 60 days to elect COBRA after one of the qualifying situations listed above.

Once you have let the appropriate person at your former place of employment know that you wish to elect COBRA, they must send you a notice within 14 days. After the notice is received, you and your beneficiaries have up to 60 days to decide whether or not to claim coverage. After that 60-day period, the right to those benefits are lost.

COBRA lasts for a maximum of 18 months in most situations, but can end earlier under specific circumstances.

COBRA Insurance Costs

There are additional costs associated with getting COBRA insurance, so it is important to determine whether another insurance option is better or more affordable. Your employer can charge you the entire premium plus an extra 2% administrative cost. As insurance costs increase, the premium you pay will also increase. However, you will receive the same benefits you received when working under your employer.

Disadvantages of COBRA

While COBRA can be a great option if you have excellent insurance and have been laid off or need some extra time to sign up for new benefits, it may not be the right fit for every worker. There are drawbacks to COBRA benefits, including the additional fees one incurs when utilizing this service.

Be sure to research all of your insurance options before deciding upon COBRA - and make sure to get new coverage before your COBRA coverage expires.

Common Flexible Spending Account Questions

We have a number of insurance options available here at IBG. One such option an employer can choose to provide to employees is a Flexible Spending Account (FSA).

What is an FSA?

A Flexible Spending Account is an account that can be used to pay specific out-of-pocket healthcare costs. While this is a great program, there are certain eligibility requirements necessary for a person to enroll in an FSA. For example, this type of account is only available with job-based health plans.

Why is it a good idea to have an FSA?

Money placed in an FSA is tax free. This means you not only have money to spend on health concerns, you can spend this money tax-free.

FSA’s can be used to pay for things like medication, medical equipment, medical supplies, and copayments. This can be extremely helpful if you have an insurance plan that has a high deductible or a plan that doesn’t cover things like medicine or crutches.

Are there rules connected with an FSA?

Because an FSA is tax free, there are several rules connected with it. For example, the maximum allowed deduction for an FSA is $2,550 for many 2015 plans. Additionally, you are required to re-enroll in your FSA every year during the open enrollment period, 31 days within your date of hire, or at a qualifying life event.

Can I spend money from my FSA after the 12 month expiration date?

An FSA often requires that the money placed in it must be used within the plan year, but employers may also offer one of the following two options:

  • You may be allowed to carry up to $500 per year over for use in the following year.

  • You may have a grace period of up to 2 ½ months in your FSA - making the spending period up to 14 ½ months instead of one year.

Can I use my FSA to cover my child’s medical expenses?

An FSA can be utilized for children under 13 years old who are claimed as a dependent for tax purposes. Additionally, it can be used in the care of a disabled spouse or disabled dependent of any age.

Because a Flexible Spending Account is only available through insurance provided by an employer, be sure to see if this is an option provided to you. It can help you save a lot of money and take care of your family, tax free.

The Water Tower 5331 SW Macadam, Suite 260, Portland, OR 97239 Email: Phone: 503.972.4285 Fax: 503.972.4284