It’s Not Just Tax Season – It’s Deadline Season

Tax season isn’t really anybody’s favorite time of year – not even the legions of accountants and preparers who earn their living by working inhuman hours for a month or more in the run up to April 18.

If anyone has a reason to complain about the Ides of April, though, it is small business owners. April 18 is the deadline for filing personal income taxes, which of course is a hassle enough on its own – but it also falls on, before, and after a succession of other tax and reporting deadlines. Taken together, they are enough to cause plenty of headaches, consume a lot of time and energy, and increase the likelihood of mistakes on the part of business owners.

Small businesses’ employees probably aren’t aware of it, but March 15 is actually the tax filing deadline for corporations and S corporations, a full month before personal taxes are due (sole proprietorships and single-member LLCs still file on April 18). The March 15 deadline falls just before two headaches facing almost every small business owner four times per year: Quarterly SUTA filings and payment and FUTA payments.

SUTA (State Unemployment Tax Act) and FUTA (Federal Unemployment Tax Act) reporting requirements and payments are no joke. By the end of April, businesses need to submit in-depth documentation along with an amount equivalent to a substantial percentage of every employee’s earnings to date. Federal rates come out to 0.60% to over 2% on each employee’s first $7,000 in earnings. SUTA rates are variable, based on employer experience from under 1% to over 12% depending on your location.

For most businesses, unemployment taxes are a lot to pay out in a single quarterly payment. As part of our services to our clients, Trion enables a more balance sheet-friendly “pay as you go” process, allowing payments to be evenly prorated throughout the year. Along with handling the onerous reporting requirements, this takes a significant strain off of companies who’ve got still more deadlines to worry about.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was enough to worry about – but these are tax issues we are talking about, so of course there’s much more. Somewhat helpfully, the IRS has published a tax calendar for employers. While not especially easy to understand or user-friendly, it does provide a reliable resource for many of the deadlines most smaller companies are likely to face throughout the course of a year.

Trion’s clients frequently find the range of deadlines, obligations, and due dates to be challenging under the best of circumstances – and in a changing regulatory environment, that effect is intensified. Successfully managing to meet IRS and state requirements demands constant vigilance, lots of planning – and a good deal of knowledge and experience doesn’t hurt, either. We do our best to put our knowledge to work for our clients in any way we can; we can’t take on all their tax issues, but handling SUTA, FUTA, local municipal income taxes, and other complex payroll task tasks, we can make the deadline relay race a lot easier.

OUTSOURCING’S EXPENSIVE ALTERNATIVES: Why The PEO Model Is Gaining Ground

Throughout the last half of the 20th century and the first part of this one, we had the opportunity to learn the same lesson over and over: For business, “business as usual” wasn’t working – at least not as well as it needed to or should. Traditional models of ownership, management, investment, employment, marketing and distribution all underwent repeated phases of major disruption as technology, demographics, wealth distribution and market demand experienced major change. With each upheaval, the choice was stark: Adapt or perish.

Sure, you could try to stick with the way you’d always done things – but chances were that there would be a new, aggressive upstart ready and waiting to eat your lunch. The rise of the Japanese auto industry, Chinese consumer goods, and Silicon Valley tech startups were all made possible by seismic changes in old-guard industries. Smarter companies adapted, evolved, and survived; those who didn’t disappeared. RIP, Packard. RIP, Howard Johnson’s. RIP Union Carbide.

One upheaval that hasn’t been broadly addressed: The slow, steady decline of the old employment model. American business still maintains hundreds of thousands of atomized individual HR departments, doing what HR departments have always done: reviewing resumes, managing paperwork, negotiating contracts, and administering benefits. While practices have remained largely the same, though, costs have not: Estimates have shown that the average company now spends $5,000 per year per employee on HR administration expense alone. In an era of narrow margins and savage competition, such nonproductive capital expenses seem not only unjustifiable, but unsustainable.

Many companies have tried to blunt the impact of this inefficiency and expense by turning to temp agencies. Companies that once were called on to provide only short-term or ad hoc personnel now are called on to handle a significant portion, if not all, of many businesses’ staffing needs. While this can be a valuable short-term solution, it probably isn’t the best way to address all long-term needs..

Over time, cost and consistency can emerge as issues. Temp agencies depend upon the availability of a steady supply of skilled personnel willing to work in a temporary capacity. In an economic downturn, that doesn’t pose a tremendous challenge as the labor supply rises; in a tightening labor market, though, it becomes a bigger problem as temp workers find long term or permanent employment, or create their own businesses or individual consultancies. The continuing need for new recruits, and to handle the associated paperwork, adds to infrastructure costs which are passed on to clients.

Traditional employment models are becoming less suited to many of today’s efficiency-driven, stability-seeking businesses. That’s why Professional Employer Organizations (or PEO) like Trion Solutions have prospered. The ability to provide a high-quality, stable, and affordable labor pool while containing costs has become a pivotal competitive advantage—and one that more and more forward looking businesses are finding impossible to ignore. There will always be temp agencies, of course, and there will always be companies that insist upon maintaining their own extensive HR infrastructure—but as labor and administration costs rise and as a technology-empowered workforce becomes ever more mobile, these will become more challenging to sustain.

Doing Workers’ Comp Insurance Right

Recently, Trion Solutions renewed our agreements with 2 major insurance companies to continue obtaining Workers’ Compensation insurance through their firms. In both cases, it marks the third successive annual renewal.

That may not sound like a big deal – but it is. Here’s why.

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you already know about the risk and expense that Workers’ Compensation insurance and claims can pose to your company. Unless you have incredibly deep pockets, claims mean trouble – usually in the form of skyrocketing premiums, and sometimes the inability to obtain affordable coverage, or even any coverage at all.

Considering that the cost of almost all types of insurance is steadily and dramatically rising, it is especially striking that Workers’ Comp insurance remains a dominant concern among business owners and management. Health care, liability, property and other insurance rates have gone through the roof for many businesses, but none of these pose the direct existential threat that workers’ comp often entails. When it comes to worker’s comp, companies need predictability, stability, and a reasonable cost structure—not to mention an appropriate level of coverage. More and more often, they’re finding that these aren’t easy to come by, even when they’re working with a PEO.

Unfortunately, most PEOs haven’t been successful in truly stabilizing the insurance environment for their clients. As with other companies, the volatility of the workers’ comp landscape finds many PEOs scrambling every year to secure affordable, reliable coverage. Even when they find it, switching between providers causes confusion and disruption, contributing nothing positive to their clients’ comfort levels.

Trion Solutions is proud to be an exception to this rule. Thanks in large measure to the best practices processes we’ve put into place, our strong track record in effective Workers’ Compensation management, and the leverage afforded to us by our size, we have been able to forge enduring, sustainable relationships with our insurance providers. These days, it’s pretty much unheard of for a company of our type to maintain positive successive multi-year relationships with insurers, but once again we’ve managed to pull it off.

So far as our clients are concerned, that means a lot. It means that they will continue to enjoy the same high level of protection, the same manageable costs, and the same processes that they’ve gotten used to. It means that for another year, Workers’ Compensation insurance is something they don’t have to think about or worry about, and they can focus on other, more productive aspects of their businesses. And they can be confident in knowing that any concerns are being capably, effectively, professionally handled by people who know what they’re doing and who can be counted on to act in their interest.

We’re glad to be working once again with some of the most reputable, solid companies in the Workers’ Comp insurance industry, and we are pleased to be able to say that at Trion, we’ve built the strong, enduring relationships it takes to do it right. We’re betting that our clients are pretty happy about that too.

The PEO Industry Footprint is Growing in Florida and Michigan

The PEO industry is growing – there is certainly no doubt about that. Consider that a few short years ago, a large percentage of even the most informed small to medium sized business owners had no idea what a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) was, and certainly had not considered working with one. That’s changed, in a big way: Changes in the marketplace, uncertainty surrounding health care, increases in Workers’ Compensation costs and other factors have given PEOs greater visibility, and a more central role in safeguarding the success of growing businesses.

A recent study conducted by McBassi & Company estimates the PEO industry’s gross annual revenues at between $136 and $156 billion. The study further cites between 156,000 and 180,000 PEO client companies, and somewhere between 2.7 and 3.4 million employees receiving services from PEOs. Obviously, none of these are small numbers, and virtually every current and emergent trend would indicate that they are likely to continue to rapidly grow in the near-term future.

While the industry’s overall national growth is impressive in and of itself, the study includes another remarkable, little-noticed fact: Two of the states leading the nation in the numbers of PEOs who call them home aren’t necessarily the country’s biggest (although they could perhaps be considered the most forward-looking). Both Florida and Michigan boast impressive numbers of resident PEOs, with Florida leading the pack at 107 – beating out much more populous states, including New York and California. Meanwhile, Michigan’s PEO census nearly equals New York’s at the low estimate (47 vs. 49) and handily beats it at the high-end estimate (59). Michigan is similarly neck-in-neck with population- and business-dense California.

To us, that means several things:

We have to say that these are developments we’ve seen coming, and have had a hand in helping to make happen. Trion maintains a strong presence in both Michigan and Florida – the consequence of our early recognition of these states’ potential as powerful centers of activity with high growth prospects. We also were quick to recognize that these states’ unique business climates and unique business needs lend themselves particularly well to serving as environments where a truly professional, efficient PEO could effectively serve its clients, and prosper in doing so.

The PEO business is growing ever stronger in the mitten and sunshine states, and Trion is pleased to be helping to lead the charge.

Taking Care of Business for 2016 and Beyond

We are now nearly two months into 2016. For many business owners, the close of 2015 was an opportunity to take account of where their business stood – what it had accomplished in the past year, and where it’s likely to go in this one.

From our perspective, our year-end analysis found the overall US business climate to be an interesting one—a mixture of good and bad news, with both bright and daunting prospects on the horizon. By nature, Trion is a company that thrives in times of change and challenge, but that certainly doesn’t hold true for the majority of businesses. Stability, order, and a logical progression of events create the best overall business climate, but 2015’s close found all three in somewhat shorter supply than many companies might like.

Here’s where it seems we stand. On the plus side, the economy is still enjoying general growth overall, though it is faltering in some sectors and growth never really started in others. The unemployment rate is edging back towards something resembling normal levels. Interest rates remain at historically low levels for the moment. There are few signs of significant inflation, and we’re just starting to see some slight upward pressure on wages.

That’s the good news. Now, the other side of the coin.

Nobody has to tell you that globally we are experiencing tremendous uncertainty and upheaval—the broadcast news networks will certainly never let you forget it. Headlines are filled with terrorist attacks, plunging oil prices, downed airliners, military skirmishes throughout the Middle East and dotted throughout Asia. We’re facing the distinct possibility that US troops may be called to take an active role in Syria; the US is simultaneously in significant diplomatic and economic disputes with Russia and China; and there’s no clear favorite in sight for next year’s presidential elections, leaving considerable uncertainty as to future tax and economic policies. From a business owner’s standpoint, any and all of these circumstances have the potential to be disruptive.

As a business owner, you can’t control national or global events – but you have at least some control over your response to them. That control is amplified when plan ahead for them, and are ready to make changes on the fly as consumer sentiment changes, economic conditions shift, prices rise, or supply chains contract. Just as in the natural world, adaptation is the key to survival, and the advantage goes to companies ready to right-think, right-size, and right-strategize for the times they’re in and the times to come.

As human resource services specialists, that’s what Trion is all about. A big part of our business is helping our clients adapt constructively to change and meet emerging business challenges head on. We work to give companies the flexibility to adapt, both responsively and proactively as needed, making sure they have the right number of the right people in the right positions to get the job done—and freeing management up to focus on handling today’s urgent business needs, strategizing to meet tomorrow’s demands, and laying the groundwork for stability and success, no matter what the coming years may bring.

Trion Solutions is a NAPEO Member

To Trion Solutions’ clients, it’s no secret that our company is constantly striving to improve itself. We have the same mania for optimizing efficiency, cost savings and company performance within our walls as we do for our client companies. What can we say? Trying to do things a little bit better—better than the other guy, better than we did yesterday—is in our DNA: A big part of Trion Solutions’ identity and operating methodology are grounded in the concept of continuous improvement.

That’s for a pretty good reason: When it comes down to it, business improvement is the main “product” we have to sell. Naturally, it makes sense to start with our own company.

In our experience, it’s paid off well:

Trion Solutions has grown consistently, becoming one of the nation’s most stable, successful, and highly reputed human resource services companies.

As such, it seems only appropriate that we formalize our quality and service commitment in a clear, unequivocal way. While we are accustomed to acting independently, and have had great success through doing so, we make it a point to pursue memberships and certifications from the organizations that are doing the most to advance the integrity of our industry and the quality of our services.

The National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (or NAPEO) is the largest national organization devoted to PEOs and human resources services companies such as Trion. In recent years, NAPEO has emerged as “the voice of the PEO industry,” advancing public knowledge about PEOs, supporting public policies that make sense for PEO companies and workers, helping to establish industry best practices, and supporting the integrity of the industry.

Nearly 1,000 PEOs currently operate across the United States; as is the case in most industries, quality, stability, and integrity can vary greatly from one company to the next. NAPEO’s Code of Ethics helps to ensure that reputable PEOs adhere to common baseline ethical standards with regard to the services they provide and the treatment of their employees. NAPEO supports ethics, good corporate conduct, best practices, and expertise amongst participants. This helps assure prospective PEO clients that the company they’re considering working with will truly work on their behalf, and will conduct its activities honorably and professionally.

NAPEO’s standards align closely with those of Trion Solutions. We have built our business on a foundation of professionalism, integrity, and expertise, and we applaud all efforts to improve our industry and the results we are able to achieve for our clients. That’s why we are glad – and proud – to be a NAPEO member.

Within our own sphere of influence—in our own company, and in the companies of our clients—we are working hard every day to achieve many of the same goals NAPEO is striving for: A better PEO industry that delivers better results for PEO clients.

NAPEO serves a vital role within the human resources ecosystem and within the PEO industry. As an active and engaged NAPEO member organization, Trion is doing its part to advance NAPEO’s quality agenda, creating a winning outcome for all concerned: Integrity, sound business practices, and industry stability are good for our industry and our clients—and ultimately, they’re good for the economy and for the country as well.

The Downsides of Outsourcing Alternatives

Trion Solutions specializes in HR outsourcing, but this is by no means the only option for supplementing your HR department and tackling HR needs. Many people ask us why they should consider HR outsourcing when traditional temp agencies have supported companies for years. While traditional temp agencies do provide similar services to HR outsourcing, there are many downsides that people do not consider.

In this blog post, we’re going to address some of the weak points of temp agencies that HR outsourcing avoids.

If you’d like to learn more about the pros and cons of temps versus HR outsourcing, then call or email us today to talk to our experts. We can walk you through the ins and outs of any HR difficulties and help you find the perfect solution for your business.

Helping Staff Cope with Change

CHANGE. For some, it’s a word associated with challenge and excitement; for others, it inspires revulsion, resentment, or dread.

Considering the degree to which the American workplace has changed over the last quarter century, both answers are understandable. Some change has been for the better; some decidedly for the worse. And some could be either, depending on your perspective. But two things seem certain: The last few decades of change have been rapid and transformative, and continuing rapid change seems inevitable and unstoppable.

Fortunate people and fortunate companies have managed to ride the tide of change up to this point – but each workplace upheaval leaves some fallen by the wayside. Adaptability, it seems, is no longer optional for survival. So how do we help our businesses deal with change? It turns out that in large measure, helping employees adapt helps companies adapt too.

Here are a few steps that will help your company and your people navigate the road ahead, whatever it may bring:

  1. Foster collaboration. When it comes to change of any kind, some people are early adopters while others tend to stick with the familiar. Left to themselves, people addicted to familiar routines tend to be outpaced when workplace changes happen. In a collaborative environment, however, employees have the opportunity to share knowledge, ideas—and crucially, mutual encouragement. When it’s time to adopt new processes or technologies, that interactive and collaborative dynamic goes a long way towards making the transition smooth.
  2. Plan for change. From the organization’s highest levels, make it a point to expect change, anticipate it, and welcome it when it arrives. Leaders have the opportunity to set the tone for their subordinates, and to create plans to help employees adapt as needed. Whether it’s developing extensive retraining programs, or simply being prepared to give employees authoritative information about coming transformations, planning ahead helps avoid operational disruption and employee resistance.
  3. Compensate for adverse results where possible. Does a coming change mean that some employees will be affected adversely – working longer hours, losing a title, or losing a job? It’s not always easy or even possible to balance the impact of such outcomes, but when it can be done it usually should be. It’s no secret that performance is keyed strongly to morale, and even if some expense or effort is required to sustain morale during business transformation, the investment is usually well worth it over the longer term.
  4. Encourage dialogue. People fear what they do not understand, and fear is a lousy basis for a good attitude on the part of your employees. Inviting questions, giving straight answers, and encouraging discussion can help your employees to come to grips with transformational workplace events like mergers, automation, efficiency drives, downsizing, or restructuring. Even when the answers you give aren’t exactly what people wanted to hear, giving straightforward responses inspires confidence, encourages loyalty, and helps employees overcome fear of the unknown.
  5. Acknowledge – and appreciate – your team’s strengths. People tend to appreciate others who appreciate them. When change is coming, express your confidence in your staff’s ability to handle it productively, and thank them in advance for their willingness to adapt and for helping to make the transformation as smooth as possible. After the fact, show your appreciation – where deserved – for cooperation and a job well done. Not only will this make current changes easier for employees to swallow, it builds a basis of trust you can call upon the next time a significant shift is coming.

Change is seldom easy, but it is often necessary—and as the whirlwind pace of modern business shows, it is always coming whether we like it or not. Companies that not only survive but thrive are usually the ones that lay out the welcome mat for change, and which help their employees to do the same.

Do You Have a Handle on Health Care Reform?

The annual open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act health coverage has begun. This year marks the third annual ACA open enrollment to date, and Americans seeking coverage through either federal or state exchanges seem to have become reconciled – if not comfortable – with the process. The popular and media perception seems to be that the ACA has stabilized, and while occasional calls for repeal are still heard in Congress, the belief is that “Obamacare” is now a settled law, and a stable program.

This isn’t entirely true. To date, there have been 14 separate modifications to the Affordable Care Act since it was enacted. The most recent of these, the “Protecting Affordable Coverage for Employees (PACE) Act,” was signed into law by President Obama on October 7.

In other words, the law is still changing only a little more than a week before the open enrollment kicks off. Perhaps it’s understandable, given the complexity of the US health care coverage system and the multiple, labyrinthine layers of bureaucracy involved, but that is small comfort to small businesses who are still struggling to meet its complex requirements. Just when benefits administrators think they’ve gotten a handle on what the ACA demands of them, the ground shifts again – upsetting plans, projections, and budgets, in addition to creating outright confusion.

In fact, the PACE Act changes stand to have a direct effect on some 150,000 small to medium-sized businesses nationwide. Originally, businesses with 51 to 100 employees had been slated to enter a small group health insurance market next year; the result was likely to be an 18% increase in the cost of per-employee coverage. The PACE Act modifies this requirement, deferring to individual states to determine the size of businesses required to enter the small group market. While this is likely to mean cost savings for some companies, it will mean additional complexity for others.

Businesses will have to depend upon individual states establishing small group market guidelines – something they may or may not be eager to do given their individual political climates. In addition, companies doing business in more than one state are likely to find themselves subject to differing regulations for employees based in different states. This stands to make negotiations with any unions more complex, not to mention requiring special measures to prevent the perception of unequal benefits for different employees of the same status and type.

As is often the case, the PACE Act “fix” seems likely to generate more problems that will require fixing in future years. It seems unlikely that the ACA is going to achieve absolute stability any time soon; until it does, businesses will just have to learn to enjoy the ride – and be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice.

Have questions about how the PACE Act is likely to affect your business – or need help arranging affordable, ACA-compliant benefits packages for your employees? Trion would be happy to help. Contact us and one of our representatives will be in touch with you as soon as possible.

Major Insurers Leaving Small Groups Stranded

These are difficult times for benefits administrators—especially those working for smaller companies. Costs seem to endlessly rise; the regulatory environment continually changes; and a combination of market forces make it harder and harder to manage what seems to be an increasingly nightmarish health insurance marketplace.

Unfortunately, HR professionals aren’t the only ones finding the environment challenging. Major insurers are too—and it’s too the point where some major national companies are pulling up stakes and abandoning the small group market altogether.

This is a severe blow to smaller companies and their employees. There are fewer coverage choices available; those that remain offer diminished number of options, and plans are becoming more expensive. Employers are left with the unappealing prospect of signing on for higher-cost, lower-value plans, and then having to explain themselves to dissatisfied employees.

At Trion, we’ve been able to help some of these employers out. While remaining with a company’s prior insurer may not be an option, we are able to help companies abandoned by their insurer to find roughly equivalent plans elsewhere while containing costs—and sometimes even reducing them. The key is economy of scale: As a major Professional Employer Organization, Trion is eligible to obtain large-group benefits that are beyond the reach of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Access to a broad range of lower-cost large group plans enables us to offer client companies a range of benefit choices that are usually better than those they’d received from the insurers who had left them behind. Our larger size also gives us increased negotiating strength: We are able to leverage our large-group eligibility to attain more favorable terms and increased plan customization. As a result, clients often find that the disruption created by being “fired” by their insurer of first choice leaves them better off both financially and in terms of employee morale.

We don’t believe that it’s going to be particularly smooth sailing ahead in the insurance marketplace—far from it. Both larger and smaller insurers are caught up in a whirlwind of fast-paced change as the marketplace evolves, as new Affordable Care Act mandates come into force, and as industry consolidation takes place. Whether they like it or not, benefit professionals are going to have their work cut out for them as the ripple effect of these changes makes itself felt in their companies.

In our roles as our clients’ trusted consultant and as a PEO, it’s part of our job to try to make these types of changes ultimately work to the benefit of our clients, however initially disruptive they may be. We’re happy to help any company whose insurer has outgrown them find a solution that works for them, their employees, and their bottom line.