The Affordable Care Act isn’t a Benefits Change – It’s a Culture Change

acaToday’s guest post is courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby, better known as the HR Bartender.  You can learn more about how the ACA and how Kronos can help you comply with its employer provisions at

One of the hot topics at this year’s KronosWorks 2013 was the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Even with the delay in the company mandate, employers are taking this time to do extra research, specifically where it applies to implementation best practices.

The sessions I attended regarding the ACA were a reminder that, while strategy is important, execution is critical. Organizations are taking the implementation of ACA very seriously. The conversation was a thoughtful and lively exchange about how to implement this very complex law while maintaining the business operation and keeping employees satisfied with their jobs. Some of the key takeaways I learned during the ACA sessions include:

The Affordable Care Act requires a culture change. The ACA isn’t considered an HR issue. It’s a law. And organizations have to develop and implement a strategy that will be used on a daily basis. Organizations are viewing the decisions they make regarding the ACA as culture decisions (versus benefits decisions).

Every department needs to be involved in the strategy and implementation of ACA. This directly reflects the first point. Business professionals agree – you cannot manage the ACA after the fact. The professionals I spoke with talked about the many departments being touched by the ACA:

Senior leadership to set the strategy.

Human resources to ensure compliance and craft the policy.

Finance to manage resources and finances associated with the Act.

Operational managers to monitor schedules and manage daily activity.

Many organizations are having to revisit their staffing models. As a result, some employees will become full-time. Instead of trying to figure out ways to keep employees part-time, many organizations acknowledge that the ACA is making them ask the question “Should this be a full-time position?” In some cases the answer is yes.

Speaking of staffing models, another topic brought up was the notion of giving hours to the best workers. We all know how this works. There’s a last minute project to be completed. Often because both skill and speed are required, we ask the fastest, most qualified employee. But what if we can’t now because the extra hours will reclassify their status? Organizations are trying to figure out how this potentially impacts the talent they currently have and skills they might need if they have to develop a contingent workforce.

Employers are concerned about losing employees who don’t want to be full-time. We often make the assumption that everyone wants to be full-time and it’s simply not the case. Employers who have created part-time positions to accommodate employees are concerned that employees will leave because the positions aren’t as flexible as they used to be.

Full-time employees who currently have benefits are impacted as well. In the past, full-time employees who wanted to cut back a few hours were fine – it didn’t jeopardize their status and another part-time employee could pick up the hours without overtime. Now, full-time workers will need to maintain their full-time schedule because those hours being passed along to a part-time employee have greater implications than just payroll.

Everyone agreed the key to managing the ACA successfully will be effective management of workforce data, reports and analytics. Debbie Baum, HRIS director at the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas shared their plan. “We’re not changing our full-time/part-time mix of employees because of the Affordable Care Act.  We’re not going to cut hours to avoid paying healthcare.  We are going to manage the scheduled hours staff were hired to work.” Unlike the YMCA, this level of data collection and review could be new and different for some organizations. It might take some getting used to.

The Affordable Care Act’s complexity mandates that organizations dedicate time getting their strategy right on the front end. Smart organizations are using this additional time wisely, to identify their focus as a result of the ACA. Troy Jackson, employment and performance manager at Firekeepers Casino Hotel in Battle Creek, Michigan said it best – “We want to be an employer of choice. Employees who work full-time hours will get full-time benefits. It’s the right thing to do.”

The Affordable Care Act is more than a new law about health care benefits. It’s a definition of corporate culture.

Related Posts:

Talking About The Affordable Care Act With Dr. Tim Porter-O’Grady

Engaging Health Reform

Part Time Workers Confused by the Affordable Care Act

Results of the Workforce Institute Affordable Care Act Worker Survey


6 thoughts on “The Affordable Care Act isn’t a Benefits Change – It’s a Culture Change

  1. I like this customer quote from your post: “We want to be an employer of choice. Employees who work full-time hours will get full-time benefits. It’s the right thing to do.” It would be great if all employers operated this way.

  2. Fantastic post, Sharon. This is a great summary of the challenges all employers face on ACA right now. Two thoughts:

    First, I appreciate and agree with your comments that ACA needs to be viewed a cultural change rather than a benefits change. When put in this context, communication around ACA can be much more effective. Speaking of communication, employers should be careful to avoid politics with their ACA communication. Be empathetic to employees, understand their fear and confusion, and stick to the facts, not political rhetoric.

    Second, you’re absolutely right that organizations need to get their strategy right on the front end, but getting it right up front, is only the first step towards success. The reality is an organization’s strategy will need to evolve as their business evolves, as ACA evolves, and as their understanding of ACA evolves.

  3. Sharlyn, thank you for a great post.

    At CHAP, we have also taken steps to implement aspects of ACA a year out to ensure we work meet the requirements ahead of time. We are being very strategic.

    Similar to Firekeepers Casino Hotel, we are an employer of choice and have had to revisit our staffing models and employment classifications. Instead of trying to figure out ways to keep employees part-time and not eligible for benefits, we have made those that should qualify benefit eligible.

    We have had a great response from those who have met the benefit eligibility status. Those that have not, we made sure to provide the exchange information as well. Moreover, we will be evaluating eligibility bi-annually to see who else should become eligible.

  4. A great post, Sharlyn.

    There’s no better example of the importance of execution than demonstrated when the government’s ACA web site failed to perform upon launch — surely, a failure of execution of a new health care strategy.

    It’s really a cautionary tale for employers: just as the government’s execution problems threaten the public’s willingness to embrace such massive change in health policy, an employer’s failure to think through all of the implications listed by Sharlyn will threaten their employees’ confidence in the employer.

  5. @Joyce – I liked this quote as well. Employers who embrace this change will definitely reap the benefits.

    @Bob – So true about the impact of communication. Organizations that communicate well, even when things go kablooey (and we know they will), have the advantage.

    @John-Anthony – Thanks for the comment! Best practice sharing is essential to getting this new law acclimated into today’s workplaces.

    @Sue – Absolutely. Actions speak louder than words.

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