How Student Loan Debt is Impacting Businesses and Employees

According to The Federal Reserve, U.S. student loan debt reached $1.7 trillion in 2020. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided some relief by pausing eligible federal loan payments, but experts predict that loan deficits will continue to be a concern for years to come – not only for borrowers, but also their employers. Let’s look at a few ways this can affect businesses, and what employers can do about it.

Employee Moonlighting

With the average student loan debt reaching almost $37,000 (at the time of graduation), it’s no surprise that borrowers are taking on second jobs to help pay down their loans. In 2018, almost 8% of the U.S. workforce was working more than one job – a trend that has increased steadily since the mid-1990s.

But working multiple jobs can have drawbacks. For instance, more time on the job means less time sleeping, eating, resting, and practicing self-care. When this cycle continues for a period of time it can lead to fatigue, exhaustion, and workplace burnout – which can take anywhere from weeks to years to recover from. So while working additional jobs may seem like a good solution, it can actually cause a cascade of problems for both employees and employers.

Mental Health

Financial debt has been known to cause serious emotional effects, such as depression, anxiety, and stress. While moderate and manageable levels of stress, also called eustress, can be beneficial, higher levels of stress can have a damaging effect. Chronic, heightened stress has a direct link to poor physical and mental health. In a study by the American Psychology Association, results showed that 64% of graduate students say their financial debt distresses them to the point of interfering with their “optimal functioning”. Financial burdens have been tied to issues with absenteeism, presenteeism, and decreased productivity – all of which have resulted in billions of dollars in losses by U.S. businesses.

Addressing the Need

Companies are waking up to these issues. As awareness grows, businesses are implementing loan repayment assistance benefits. In just a single year, the number of companies offering these benefits doubled in an effort to increase employee satisfaction and retention rates. According to one survey, 86% of employees said they would entertain a five-year commitment to a company that helped them repay their student loans.

If financial wellness isn’t already a part of your company’s employee benefits package, it may be something to consider adding.

The Benefits of Building a Customer Loyalty Program

In the US, there is currently a staggering 3.8 billion memberships spread across numerous customer loyalty programs. You may be asking yourself, why are so many brands investing in this tried-and-tested customer strategy still when there are more innovative solutions available.

Although the approach has been in place for decades, the dynamics of loyalty programs are always changing to appeal to the interests of newer audiences, meet the needs of the moment, and keep up with the ever-increasing competition.

What Is Customer Loyalty?

Loyalty among customers is defined as the act of consistently choosing the products and services of a certain company above those of its competitors. When someone is loyal to a certain company their purchasing decisions are not impacted by price or availability considerations. Most people would rather wait – and even pay more – to receive the same product and quality of service that they are accustomed to and value.

How Customer Loyalty Programs Work

A customer loyalty program is a marketing strategy that recognizes and compensates customers who make repeat purchases or engage with a brand on a regular basis. Customers who spend more money with a company may be rewarded with points or privileges, and their loyalty levels may rise as a result. As such, loyalty programs can have lasting effects on customer retention.

Advantages of Loyalty Programs

1) They establish an emotional connection. For example, curating a variety of third-party promotions (such as access to restaurants, theaters, spas, and merchants) can help to create a sense of community and a “lifestyle” perception among customers, which will aid in emotionally connecting them to your business. If you’re able to combine this with personalization, the impact will be even greater.

2) They create repeat customers. Existing customers are 50% more likely than new customers to try new products. They also spend 31% more per purchase. And attracting a new customer can cost five times as much as keeping an existing one. Finding new customers is important for growth, but keeping existing ones is the key to long-term success. A customer loyalty or incentive program can help you prevent high turnover rates by building important, long-term relationships with existing consumers. (It’s also a cheap way to boost sales.)

3) They engage customers. Customer engagement has a direct impact on the long-term viability of a brand. A brand that fails to connect with its target audience has a low recall value – and has difficulty establishing a trustworthy image in the marketplace. A customer loyalty program is an excellent method of promoting client involvement. When customers are members of a loyalty or rewards program, they are more receptive to receiving emails or other marketing materials from the business. These programs can provide comprehensive client engagement and contribute to the strengthening of the relationship between the brand and its customers.

4) They create brand advocates. A satisfied customer is a happy consumer. Implementing an effective and relevant customer loyalty program can help nurture brand advocacy through a loyal customer base. Brand advocates have a favorable impact on their network of family and friends, and serve as an ambassador for the brand’s message. A referral program can aid in the creation of brand supporters as well as the generation of additional referrals.

5) They deliver insights. Loyalty programs should be designed to provide the greatest possible benefit to your customers – while also benefiting your business. Today’s digitized rewards programs give you access to real-time data about how your customers interact with the program and with your brand as a whole. This information allows you to design unique and successful ways for boosting not only your loyalty program but also your reputation.

Digital features enable you to experiment with different incentives, find the prizes that are most appealing to specific types of clients, and detect the rewards that aren’t receiving as much attention. Rewards programs can also help you gain a more personalized perspective on your customers’ purchasing habits.

Creative Ways to Engage Your Social Media Audience

As of 2021 more than 4.5 billion people utilize social media. This represents tremendous potential for your brand to interact with. Practicing good social media engagement is the key to effectively tapping into that audience.

Social media engagement includes comments, likes, mentions, clicks, and shares. Many people believe that their success is determined solely by their number of followers – but the most important metric of social media success is actually an engaged audience. (Quality over quantity.)

Using this method of communication and outreach, you can overcome many of the obstacles that traditionally impede outbound marketing efforts, allowing you to reach a much larger audience of potentially interested individuals – many of whom could turn into leads and customers.

Creative Ways To Increase Social Media Engagement

You might cross your fingers and hope that your followers spontaneously begin to engage in conversation, but most will require some encouragement. Fortunately, there are a variety of tricks of the trade which can be used to increase interaction and make your digital platform a success:

1. Make Your Own Hashtags

Hashtags can help you organize your posting strategy and give interested subscribers a method to follow up with things that pique their interest. They can also help you attract new subscribers. Additionally, other brands may follow suit and tag you in comparable posts that use the same hashtag, which can increase interaction among your fans. Hashtagging is a unique and fun way to reach out to both existing and new audiences.

2. Create and Join Q&A Sessions

Participating in Q&A answer sessions is a great approach to provide users with value while also establishing your brand as a helpful one. If you’re able to provide appropriate responses to questions and initiate dialogue with prospective consumers before your competitors do, you can establish yourself as the go-to service provider or supplier in your industry.

3. Organise Online Competitions

Competitions on social media have been around since the inception of the digital revolution – and are one of the most effective techniques of increasing participation. Contests, on average, can contribute to a 34 percent increase in the size of your fan base. Keep these considerations in mind when orchestrating a competition:

  • Clarify the Rules: Ambiguous or hidden rules can frustrate users, leading some to believe they’ve been duped.
  • Give Yourself Adequate Time: Too much time is just as bad as not having enough time. To ensure that your content remains at the forefront of your audience’s minds, keep the length moderate. See what others are doing before finalizing your contest’s timeframe.
  • Choose a prize that is appropriate for the situation: Generic showy prizes attract leads that aren’t interested in your product, so try to find something that uniquely appeals to your target audience. You may get fewer participants, but those that do participate are more likely to stay for the duration of the event. For example, giving away an iPad will almost certainly garner a lot of attention. But if the prize has little or nothing to do with your company, the attention you receive is unlikely to translate into qualified leads.

4. Connect With A Social Cause

Emotional content is significantly more successful than logical and dry content. A social cause is the ultimate emotional motivator, and may help your business stand out from the competition. Here are a few tips to help get you started:

  • When researching potential causes, look for those that align with your brand’s principles. Choosing a social cause doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to your industry, but it’s easier to fight for something that you are passionate about.
  • Tap into your customer base for advice on which cause to take on. Utilize a poll or quiz to find out which issues resonate with your audience.
  • Once you decide on a cause, create a list of ways that you can make a difference. Fundraising is a popular method, but caring and raising awareness might have a greater impact in some situations. Invite individuals to share personal stories on your channels. Demonstrate your support for the organization. Promote acts of goodwill. These will all help you reach your goals.

5. Host a Social Media Takeover

Sometimes the best way to breathe new life into your social media feeds is to hand them over to someone else. Partnering with an influencer or celebrity who has a large, engaged audience is a great approach to get your brand in front of some fresh faces while also injecting a new voice if you’re running low on post ideas. Make a list of business partners and industry contacts that you think might make ideal candidates. Takeovers are intended to increase exposure, so it’s best to partner with someone whose target audience is similar to your own.

Getting Familiar With Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization is one of the most viable and cost-effective ways to market to your audience. It makes your website more accessible, which results in more visitors and more opportunities to convert prospects into customers. It can be an effective tool for increasing brand awareness, developing relationships with prospects, and establishing oneself as a trustworthy authority in your field of expertise.

While it would take more than a single blog post to fully explore SEO, let’s look at some of the primary components that you can familiarize yourself with before undertaking an SEO effort.

Content Creation: Content SEO refers to the process of developing content that can help your web pages rank higher in search engine results. Search engines read the text on your website, and so the words you use there will help decide where your site will appear in their results pages.

Keywords Research: This is the process by which you investigate common search terms that people input into search engines and strategically integrate them in your content so that your material ranks higher on search engine results pages.

Local SEO: Local SEO is a method that helps your business appear more prominently in local search results when people search for it in their area. Local SEO can be beneficial to any company that has a physical location or that serves a specific geographic area.

On-Page SEO: On-page SEO involves optimizing both the text and the HTML source code of a particular page, as opposed to an off-page SEO strategy that involves links and other external signals.

User Experience: Creating good content is not only important to SEO – it can also help improve the usability of your site and foster a seamless user experience. For instance, make sure your website is responsive so that users can access it from mobile devices. And work on increasing page load speed, which will lower your bounce rate and encourage users to stay on your site longer. (The average bounce rate for pages loading within 2 seconds is 9%. That rate jumps to 38% if it takes more than 3 seconds.)

Website Authority: Although the concept of authority is relatively new in SEO, it is becoming increasingly significant to search engines as online users become more aware of its significance. For the most part, authority indicates that your website is trustworthy, of high quality and relevance, and that it has something to offer visitors. When your website has greater authority, it will rank higher in search results and more prospects will come to trust your brand.

Website Traffic: Increased web traffic is one of the primary objectives of SEO. Approximately 33% of all clicks are sent to the first ranking page, and the top five listings receive more than 75% of all hits. If you want more prospects to see your website using a search engine, you need SEO strategies that will help you rank at the top of the search results page.

The use of SEO can assist you in developing stronger relationships with your audience, improving the customer experience, increasing your authority, driving more traffic to your site, giving you a competitive advantage, and increasing conversions – all of which can lead to increased sales, more customers, and greater growth for your company.

COVID-19 Pandemic Gives Rise to Telehealth Technology

Social distancing guidelines and safer-at-home recommendations that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic forced families, businesses, governments, schools, and healthcare systems to figure out entirely new ways to operate. Ingenuity, innovation, and new technologies have allowed many to adapt to this new way of life.

One of these breakthroughs has been the emergence of telehealth / telemedicine. Usage soared in the last year, with consultations rising by 89%, according to First Stop Health. Many are still unaware of the benefits of this new service, so let’s review a few of them.

Reduced Exposure to Illnesses

Flus and viruses normally travel from person to person through respiratory droplets, and the COVID-19 virus is no different. Researchers consider COVID-19 to be a highly contagious virus, with each infected individual possibly infecting up to two or three additional people. Being able to visit a doctor from the comfort of your home eliminates contact with other people and crowded waiting rooms filled with sick patients. This can be especially helpful for those with pre-existing conditions, as they may face more severe complications.

Saves Time & Money

The convenience of being able to talk to a board-certified physician from the comfort of your home means less time spent in a waiting room and less time out of your workplace. This is especially helpful if the medical specialist happens to be located far away from your home. Most virtual telehealth visits last only 17 minutes, compared to in-person appointments, which average two hours (including travel time).

One of the best things about telehealth is its affordability. With many employers expanding their benefits package to include telemedicine, a virtual session can end up being more affordable than a trip to an urgent care center.

On-Demand Healthcare

Telehealth can allow you to receive medical treatment at a moment’s notice – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether that is on a lunch break from the confines of your car, or in the middle of the night when your child comes down with a fever, a medical professional will be available to assist you.

Building a Strong Company Culture for Your Remote Workers

Having a strong company culture, both onsite and remotely, with clear lines of communication, can help a team do much more than simply implement their projects. It can be the catalyst for higher-quality work, greater efficiency, and improved morale.

Remote teams with a positive culture will have a greater sense of accountability – a benefit that cannot be understated when considering working environments where supervision is more challenging.

Let’s break down a few ways to help build a better culture with a remote workforce:

Tip 1: Build Team Communications and Working Relationships

Even when geographically separated, teams can still develop excellent communication by extending their office cultures into the virtual environment. Several of the most popular remote team collaboration technologies available today – such as Zoom and Slack – have features built into their interfaces that are expressly designed to facilitate this process.

In order to maintain a positive culture it is important to remind everyone that they are still part of the same team as they were before the switch to remote work was made.

Tip 2: Support Team Collaboration

Employees become stronger and more cohesive when they can freely collaborate on a platform that is accessible by all of the team’s members. The feeling is akin to that of being on the same boat, all working on the same problem that, if solved, will benefit them all equally.

This connection motivates employees to collaborate in order to achieve their common objectives. Physical distance creates hurdles and gaps that must be bridged, and this is made easier by allowing them to interact.

Tip 3: Control Your Message Volume

Do you follow up on an assignment using an email, a text message, or a phone call? Do you have a habit of checking in with individuals to see if they received your last message?

In many cases, oversaturating these points of communication can be seen as an act of digital dominance, a relentless and unpleasant type of harassment that can hinder the team by placing distinct demands on the time of the receiver.

Be careful not to overwhelm the team with communications. Make an informed decision about your digital volume and review it regularly with everyone to prevent issues from arising.

Tip 4: Reduce Virtual Distance

Virtual distance is a feeling of psychological and emotional detachment. It develops gradually and unknowingly when our in-person experiences are replaced with digital experiences – and it can have a negative effect on team culture.

As a manager, you need to reduce this virtual distance. Try substituting more of your phone calls and emails with video chats. Seeing the people you’re talking to is much better for establishing rapport and creating empathy among team members.

Tip 5: Be a Proactive Facilitator

It is critical to be proactive when bringing your team together remotely. Encourage virtual guests to actively participate to keep everyone interested. You might even try keeping a running tally to ensure that everyone is contributing and that everyone’s viewpoint is heard.

Avoid asking the cliched question, “Does anyone have any further points to add?” Instead, make a specific appeal to individuals.

Finally, don’t allow people to ramble or veer off course. It’s your responsibility as the meeting facilitator to politely intervene when required so that it doesn’t turn into a “one-man show”.

5 Tips To Differentiate Your Personal Brand

Your own personal brand focuses on the impression you give to others, how they will best remember you, and what people they are likely to associate you with – both now and in the future.

To put this another way, your personal brand is your own unique identity and marker in the business world, being a representation of all your knowledge, talent, skills, and disposition. Your knowledge and capabilities, in combination with how you operate and present yourself, are all equally important factors in developing a successful personal brand.

Building your brand can be an extremely effective technique for gaining a competitive edge in any activity you do, whether personal or professional in nature.

Here are five tips to help you create a personal brand that will differentiate you from others:

1.    Develop a Brand Strategy

One of the most important steps you can take is to develop a marketing strategy around furthering your own image. Personal brands can allow you to differentiate yourself by consistently and regularly stating and leveraging your own unique values. If you identify and broadcast the points which distinguish you from others in your field through the likes of social media and other channels – you will see a significant increase in your own brand reach.

2.    Utilize Social Media

It is vital to establish credibility and authority within your brand space. Looking to build a powerful network of individuals and brands which are relevant to your field and will engage with you can be highly beneficial.

Platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook are very useful for this – with you having easy access to tens of thousands of like-minded individuals. Concentrate on connecting with people who empower you and offer the opportunity to grow. If you can position yourself alongside these values, you’ll set yourself up for a good start.

3.    Deliver a Collection of Personal Core Messages

Consumer trust isn’t built overnight, but if built properly, it’s less likely to be destroyed as easily either. Flexibility and adaptability in brand communications can be a strong driving force for cultivating trust amongst your connections and audience. Regularly broadcasting your values and beliefs will help define consumer desires on when, where, and how – aligning yours and their interests together.

4.    Create and Publish Insightful Content

One of the key methods of building a personal brand that stands out from the crowd in 2021 is by publishing your own insightful content on trends and topics which are relevant to your field.

In order to do this, you’ll need to have a strong perspective on numerous areas which you want to highlight, and you’ll need to be able to communicate it clearly and on a regular basis.

This content can be published in many different forms, with the most common formats being:

  • Video Content: Quick, 1-minute snippets can be a good starting point.
  • Blogging: It is easier than ever to start your own blog – developing a written content library can go a long way to establishing yourself as a name that shouldn’t go ignored.
  • Social Media Posts: Creating engaging posts and engaging with others about the topics you have published can result in your network expanding quickly.

5.    Be Genuine

Now more than ever, people want to know that brands, whether personal or corporate, are transparent and that what they see is what they get. Authenticity is therefore a key component for developing a personal brand that will resonate with a large audience.

So, when developing your personal brand make sure not to put on any false pretenses. You need to back up what you say and behave in a way that is consistent with your brand. Doing this will help you develop a loyal following of supporters.

Resolving Conflict in the Workplace

Losing key employees is never ideal. The after-effects of such losses can have far-reaching consequences for any company’s operations. Accounting for the initial decrease in work output, lowered workplace morale, and the need to hire and train new staff, research indicates that employee replacement costs U.S. businesses a trillion dollars a year.

Conflicts with management and employee disagreements are frequently at the top of the list of reasons why employees quit their jobs.

To assist in navigating the murky waters of workplace conflict, consider the points below as best practices in preventing and resolving tension within the workplace.

How to Address Internal Conflict

Be Decisive: It’s important to address conflicts directly and as early as possible to have the best chance at preventing escalation and workplace toxicity. Rather than avoiding conflict altogether, learn to manage it effectively.

As a top executive or manager, it’s your responsibility to address the concerns fairly and expeditiously. The sooner you act, the easier it will be to resolve a disagreement at your company.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes: It’s critical that you empathize with all parties so you can fully understand the motivations and circumstances of a disagreement. When dealing with a problem, actively listen to both parties and pay close attention to what they have to say.

Use Facts and Fairness to Arbitrate: When you are in a position where it is not possible to reach a mutually accepted conclusion, make your decision based on fairness and understanding. While we would all like to resolve conflicts amicably, it isn’t always possible. Consequently, it’s critical to remain objective to ensure that no personal feelings or agendas are brought into the discussion.

Concentrate on the Lesson: After resolving a conflict, think about what the parties could do differently next time to prevent it from happening again. Consider a disagreement to be an opportunity for constructive growth, development, and improvement. What is the point of convergence for both parties? What can you take away from this experience? Should company policy changes be made?

How to Prevent Conflict

Communicate Company Values: Company values serve to anchor decision-making, inspire constructive behavior, and aid in the recruitment and retention of personnel who share the company’s values. Not effectively communicating this is one of the most common causes of conflict in the workplace. If there’s any ambiguity in the way that a company is managed, employees become less confident in policies, rules, procedures – which inevitably leads to conflict.

Promote Positivity: It’s important to acknowledge the ability to foster positive employee relations as a valuable, intangible, and long-lasting asset for your company. This involves being open, implementing equitable management practices, and treating all employees with decency and respect. Encourage a culture of positivity to help maintain a productive workplace environment.

Lead the Way: Being able to confront and handle uncomfortable topics between employees is a critical asset for company leaders. While some people are born with innate management abilities, most are not. Consider investing in training programs for your management team. Having well-trained, well-supported leaders can pay dividends.

Celebrate Your Success: Ensure that all teams are provided with realistic incentives to fulfill group objectives — and make sure you recognize the efforts they make in accomplishing them. Group events, outings, well-being workshops, and team meals can all contribute to this endeavor.

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