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Affordable Healthcare Act? For Whom?

There are certain inherent differentiators in working for a large company vice a small company. By working for a large company, an employee is in an environment where job security and corporate name recognition is at a premium. In an economy such as ours, that is a tough hurdle for a small business to climb. As such, small business must offer incentives to prospective employees that large companies just cannot afford.

For years, integrateIT’s most attractive feature to potential employees has been our comprehensive benefits package, most notably our ability to cover 100 percent of health insurance costs for our employees and their families. This benefit was appreciated by our staff, as it provided them a huge financial savings while still covering them with a premium health insurance plan.

And in honesty, it is something that Geoff and I were extremely proud of. It always made me smile when an employee would come back from maternity leave and tells us how amazing it was that they didn’t pay a dollar out of pocket to deliver their baby. It was just one less thing for them to worry about. And it was something that made them appreciative of their employer.

Over the last few years, it has proven extremely difficult for us to maintain this benefit. integrateIT’s healthcare costs have increased by an average of 25 percent a year over the last five years. Geoff and I have done whatever we could do to not pass these increases onto our employees. We have cut costs where possible. Geoff and I haven’t taken a raise in five years, for example. We have tried to raise profits to compensate for the increased costs, and thus invested in a full-time recruiter.  Each year we have continued to sneak by without passing some cost onto our employees. Until now.

The Affordable Healthcare Act has proven anything but, well, affordable.  According to our insurance provider, the current plan that we offer our employees is too good….so good that when new ACA requirements were added to it, it became too expensive for the carrier to continue to offer it. In its place, our insurance provider offered us an alternative plan, the “closest plan” to what we offer, which has new fees, higher co-pays, and….another 30 percent price increase.  In addition, because of changes within the ACA, certain employee’s rates have increased by as much as 120 percent. Now, lower coverage with a higher price? That to me doesn’t seem too affordable.

The point of the Affordable Healthcare Act was to allow every American the opportunity to purchase insurance at an affordable cost. The problem is, however, that not every American can even afford the cost of what these plans would entail. As such, the insurance companies passed the cost increases onto the middle and upper tier health plans. The thought was that by raising the costs of these plans, and passing the costs onto the people that could “afford” them, the insurance companies would recoup some of their losses. Problem is…the health care plans now became unaffordable for the middle class, and in some cases, it became more cost effective for the average American to pay the fine and not obtain health insurance. And when that person gets sick and has to go to the hospital? We are in the same mess that we are in now, only worse.

And how about for businesses? Well, business that don’t participate in the Affordable Healthcare Act and do not offer their employees insurance would have to pay a fine. That fine is to be a deterrent. But let me tell you, from purely a business perspective, it would make much more sense financially for us to pay the fine and not offer insurance. From speaking to my peers that own other companies, they are in the same boat.  So now it makes more sense for me to not offer insurance to my employees?  I’m guessing that is not the intent of the Affordable Healthcare Act either.

The purpose of this post is not to bring any political opinions to the table. Fact is, the current iteration of the ACA went through something like 50 iterations. Which means that Democrats and Republicans both had a say as to the final content of the bill. What I do know is the current bill is not working. Healthcare is still not affordable, as the burden of the cost just switched from one demographic to another. Businesses have great incentive financially to not offer employees insurance. And insurance companies? They are going to continue to play the shell game with costs to stay viable.

As for me? Well, I’m sad.

I’m sad I can no longer offer employees the same benefits that I have in the past. Although we will still be able to offer a generous stipend to employees- approximately 95 percent of our staff will still be fully covered by integrateIT- the plan just isn’t as good as it used to be. I’m sad that other people are in way worse shape than I am. I’m sad that the state of the industry is such that doctors are turning away patients. I’m sad that my wife and her nursing colleagues may not have the means to treat patients as effectively as the patients deserve.

What do I want? I want our leaders to fix it. All of them.

 

PS- If the intent of the Affordable Healthcare Act is to keep health care costs under control, I’m fairly certain we shouldn’t be so accommodating in allowing people who are at risk of passing on Ebola to enter the country.

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Want a new job?

I was recently talking to a good friend of mine who is entering the job market for the first time since college. Because this is the first time in 13 years that he is interviewing for a job, he is a bit nervous of what is ahead.  Since he correctly assumes that his upcoming interviews will consist of a bit more rigor than asking about his contributions to his college fraternity, he asked me for a bit of advice on how to prepare for what’s ahead.  By no means am I an expert on interviewing, but since I have been conducting an average of two interviews a week for the past few years, I can definitely say that I have seen it all: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright bizarre.  Below are a few tips on how to present yourself in the best light to future employers.  And unfortunately….everything mentioned in the “don’ts” below has definitely happened to me….and it has happened more than once:

Do: Write a concise resume. This is often your first, and sometimes only, impression to a future employer.  Try to avoid the temptation to embellish your resume with fancy words and flowery descriptions.  If I have to use a dictionary to try and figure out what you accomplished, chances are I’m just going to punt on the resume.  Use short, concise sentences with strong action words to define your accomplishments and the benefits that your work has supplied to a company.

Don’t: Be late….or even worse, not show up. If I am on time, you should be on time.  We both have busy schedules; we both had to fight the same nightmare traffic.  Be respectful of your interviewer’s time just as the interviewer should be respectful of yours.  If you need to cancel or reschedule, be sure to do so at least 24 hours in advance.  And if you decide to not show up…don’t even bother trying to get back in touch.

Do: Be honest. Especially in the current job market, people are going to have gaps on their resumes.  Contracts run out, and funding is sometimes cut on a whim.  If you are looking for a new job, be truthful about why you are looking. Believe it or not, I don’t get along with everyone.  I understand that personality and cultural conflicts are an acceptable reason to be looking for a new job.  Here’s the other thing- companies do still check references.  And believe it or not, your references will tell your prospective new employer the truth. If you are caught in a lie, or even a half truth, you are done.

Don’t: Talk badly about your current company. If you are in the process of interviewing for a new job, it is because something is not ideal about your current employment. It may be the pay, the location, the company culture, or the type of work you are doing.  I know this ahead of time; no one is going to leave a perfect situation.  But if you come to the table and disrespect your current employer, it immediately makes me question if you are the type of person I want representing (and speaking about) my company.

Do: Research the company you are interviewing for, and ask questions. If someone is taking the time to interview you, it means that they have a vested interest in their company. It is important that you come to the interview with an idea of what the company you are interviewing with is all about: the history, core competencies, goals, and vision of the company as examples.  Asking questions about the company and your potential place within the company shows the employer that you are truly interested in the position.  Additionally, if you are able to ascertain information about the person who is interviewing you ahead of time, that is also a good thing.  I won’t lie, it certainly plays to my ego if someone asks me how I enjoyed attending the University of Virginia, or says that they read my blog.

Don’t: Complain to me about the interview location.  Geoff and I have built a company around a certain culture, where we are a results driven company that also enjoys a true team atmosphere that is laid back and relaxed.  We also spend money in a strategic fashion, which means we only spend money on salaries and benefits.  Thus, we don’t have a corporate office.  If our recruiter lets you know that we will be meeting you at a Starbucks or Panera……don’t complain to me upon arrival that we are meeting at a Starbucks or a Panera.  You knew about the location of the interview ahead of time, and you knew about the culture of the company from your pre-screen with our recruiter.

Do: Follow up with your interviewer. At some point with the advent of technology, the thank you note became a lost art.  If someone takes the time out of their day to meet with you, they are doing just that- taking their personal time to get to know you, to learn about you, and to see if you are a fit with the company.  A simple thank you note goes a long way to showing your appreciation of the interview and your respect for their time. It also leaves a lasting positive memory with the person who interviews you, and will set you apart from your competition.

Don’t: Ask for ownership in the company. So let me get this straight: I just met you, and you haven’t worked a day for my company.  You have not received accommodations for work performed on site, you have not assisted in business development, and you have not recruited any new employees.  I’ve worked hard the last 8 years to build this company into what it is today.  Geoff has worked for two years on top of that.  Guess what I really want to do? Give someone I don’t know ownership in my company.

And finally….

Don’t: Chastise me for my dress at the interview. About six months ago, I came straight to an interview after spending the morning with my son at his school.  It was a themed dress up day, and I looked the part.  I believe I had on jeans and a Redskins jersey, which I covered with a jacket.   Now, you can get on me for being a fan of such a poor team, but don’t get on me for being a good dad.  This proceeded to tell me how unprofessional I was for not “dressing the part of my title.”  Sir, last I checked…you were asking me for a job.  Best of luck in your future endeavors.

If you follow the above guidance, you should be well on your way to securing that coveted new job….or at the least ensuring that you don’t embarrass yourself too badly.  If you have any experiences to share either as an interviewer or interviewee, please do so in the comments section.

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Giving Back

Over the past eight years, I have probably interviewed over 200 prospective employees. While every conversation is different, there are always consistent “boiler plate” topics that are discussed- the history of the company, the vision for the future, potential job openings. The themes and messages behind these topics typically remain consistent; the history of the company can’t be re-written, the vision of the future remains consistent, and the open positions are pretty straight forward.

Where the conversation between me and a prospective employee turns unique is when we begin to discuss employee benefits. Why? Because different things are important to different people. Some people are driven by salary, others by work-life balance. The head of a household of five is very interested in our family healthcare plan, while a recent college graduate wants to hear about training and certification opportunities.

One benefit that intrigues all prospective employees is integrateIT’s commitment to charitable contributions and the community. Why is that? I’ve found it is the same reason I listed above- because different things are important to different people. If you view integrateIT’s website, you can see a sample of the diverse group of charities that our employees have supported over the years. A former soldier may be passionate about supporting our troops; a pet lover may be an advocate for supporting no-kill animal shelters. The list goes on and on.

integrateIT gives each employee a thousand dollars a year to contribute to a charity of their choice. I can proudly say that over the past three years alone, the company has contributed approximately $30,000 to various local and national charities. But writing a check, while invaluable, is easy.

Beginning in 2012, integrateIT entered a partnership with the Washington Literacy Center. integrateIT resources donate one thing that is more valuable than any financial contribution- their time. Over the past two years, we have conducted mock interviews with resources entering the job market. We have taught people how to use Microsoft products to write their first resumes. We have rid computers of viruses and cleared out operating systems to load software suites to teach people how to read. We have seen no greater satisfaction, both from our employees and those receiving our help, than the smiles on faces when someone prints their first resume, or reads for the first time.

It is this response that makes me want to do more. The Jason Beach Foundation is an organization that integrateIT has supported over the past few year, primarily through financial contributions. My goal is to help the Foundation further, and there is no greater contribution than time. At our last all hands meeting, I discussed this aspiration with our staff. Almost immediately, integrateIT resources started volunteering their time to build websites or help plan charitable events. The genuine enthusiasm of the staff made me proud, and I cannot wait to see our ideas turn into reality.

I am proud to see our company make a commitment to areas of our passion. I know that at the end of the day, this will be integrateIT’s lasting contribution. I encourage everyone to find their own passion to contribute to, be it with time, money, or other general support. The rewards are endless to all involved.

 

 

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Put Your Phone Down

Over the last few years, I have learned that time management is of the utmost importance.  Being a father, a husband, and a business owner are all full time jobs.  When you add in my ridiculous social calendar (it’s tough being so cool and having so many friends), monthly WWE pay per view events, semi regular hilarious Facebook postings, and bi-weekly golf outings, there isn’t much time left for…..anything.  And oh yeah, Jen and I are welcoming our second child next week.

Father. Husband. Business Owner.  Three full time jobs, each listed in descending order of importance.  The issue is at times (and if you ask my wife, WAY too many times) I prioritize running the company at the expense of being present for family time.  The key word there is present- as in- not checking my email at Chuck-E-Cheese or while we are relaxing in front of a family movie. 

It is very difficult for me to detach from the company.  Every email to me demands immediate response and is THE most important email of all time.  I’ve found myself telling my wife more times than I can count that I will “come back” to the present just as soon as I finish another email.   If I don’t reply to an employee concern immediately I cannot shake the guilt.  What will they think if I don’t get back to them within 5 minutes?  Will they think I don’t care about them?  Will a potential teaming partner rescind an offer if I don’t get back to them ASAP? 

The answer is….it can wait. 

Unless one of my kids starts the next One Direction, chances are I’m going to be working for the next 30 years.  This means 30 more years of employee emails, customer complaints, and proposal data calls.  Unfortunately, Jake is only going to be 4 years old for another 6 months.  I have roughly 3 years left before he realizes I am not as awesome as I think I am. Our new son is going to have so many “firsts” over the next year…moments I don’t want to miss because I am preoccupied with another email.

I won’t change overnight, but I will try. It will make me a better Father, a better Husband…and ultimately a better Business Owner.

 

 

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Furloughed….Looking Back

When things are going well for integrateIT, I have the opportunity to interview somewhere between three and five people a week.  When you take that number, and multiply it by the three years or so I have been conducting interviews….that’s a lot of interviews.  While each experience is different, the same questions pop up from the candidates.  Common points of discussion include the direction of the company, current status of existing contracts, and integrateIT’s total benefits package.  But over the last few months, everyone has asked me the same thing…what did your company do for its employees during the furlough?

First, it is important to look back at the landscape of the times….all of three months ago.  Over the past eight years, there have been several threats of work stoppages, each seemingly halted with a last minute deal.  It had gotten to the point of the boy who cried wolf, so no one really believed a furlough would come, and if it did, we’d all be out of work for what would amount to a snow day.  The first day off, I think about 90 percent of my company played golf.  Everyone was in a good mood, laughing and joking.  By the third day, people were starting to get jitters, and the laughter turned nervous.  By the fifth day? Well, people were starting to worry about how bills were going to be paid.

This was the first time an event on a national level personally impacted me.  By no means am I comparing the furlough to a catastrophe such as Hurricane Katrina where lives were lost, as obviously these events are on two different spectrums.  But to me, the furlough was huge.  I was in the one percent of people that was affected, while everyone else was able to carry on with their lives.  I was incredibly stressed out….stress that I have never felt before.  I had no way to decompress.  Each day I spent hours refreshing my web browser to see if there was any movement towards ending the shutdown.  As the shutdown entered into the second week, I became more depressed as movement seemingly was halted…and status updates were pushed further and further away from the front page of the news.  As stressed out as I was, I could only imagine how worried our employees were.  They had heard stories from their peers about salary freezes, about benefits no longer being paid.  As cliche as it sounds, and I’ve mentioned this before, Geoff and I recognize the leap people take to work for a small company.  We have promised our staff that we will do whatever we can to take care of them, and we mean it. As such, Geoff and I decided to pay our staff during the shutdown.  No matter what it took, we were going to figure out a way to make it work.  But as the shutdown entered the third week, we knew we couldn’t keep this up much longer, else there wouldn’t be a company for anyone to come back to.

Fortunately, it never came to that.  The shutdown ended, and everyone went back to work.  The whole thing seems like a distant memory.  Except it isn’t, not to me, and not to the people that experienced it.  Every day is a reminder to feel grateful to be able to make a living.  Every day is a reminder to work hard, or else someone could replace you. I don’t feel entitled.  I feel lucky.  And I hope everyone else feels the same way.   I hope the people that we interview that ask about how we handled the furlough feel the passion we have towards our company and the loyalty we have to our staff.  And….I hope we never have to deal with this again.

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My First Time….

Blogging, you silly geese.

My name is David Baldini and I am the Vice President and CFO of integrateIT LLC. Unless you and I have been friends for a while, you have probably never heard of my company. We are an IT consulting company with a niche in portfolio management based in Northern Virginia.

So who am I and where did I come from?  I graduated from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia in 2003.  I believe I finished somewhere around 310 of 330 students, but I’m okay with that.  After graduation, I moved to Northern Virginia and worked for some big consulting companies such as KPMG, Accenture, and Booz Allen.  After realizing that working for multiple people was miserable, I decided it would be easier to work for one person, and joined integrateIT where I met Geoff Keller, our President and CEO, in January of 2006. It seemed like a great idea to join a company of two with a single contract, seeing as I was getting married about five months later.  This is probably a good time to mention Jenny, the other (and most important) CEO in my life.  Jen runs our family and without her, there is no chance I could do what I do on the company side, because she literally takes care of everything else.  Outside of integrateIT, I am the father of Jake (age 4) and future Son (age 8 months in belly). I am a huge sports fan (Redskins and Wizards), music fan (Bon Jovi, 80s hair metal, Creed, and other bands no one else respects), and fan of degeneracy (casinos, professional wrestling, my idiot friends).  I will supplement future columns of this blog with tales of the aforementioned awesomeness.

And now, the company.  integrateIT has been in business for 10 years, and has grown to 22 full time employees, which in itself is a great success. Geoff  and I take great pride in our business.  It is our baby.  It is our goal to nurture, grow, and sustain our business no matter what the day or state of the industry brings.  We care about our employees.  The commitment they have made to trust their careers in our hands is one that Geoff and I would never take lightly.  I truly believe that we work for them as much as they work for us.

But with all great successes come great challenges and obstacles.  I can honestly say that no two days of running this company are alike. Running the company is more than a full time job.  You never have to “turn it on” because you never really “turn it off”. Other than our families, it is the first thing we think about in the morning, and the last thing we think about at night. When you are a small business owner, you truly are accessible 24/7/365, wearing whatever hat is needed at the time.  There is always an employee that needs assistance, a meeting that needs taken, a call that needs returned, an interview that needs conducted, a bill that needs paid, or an email that needs written. Oh yeah, and I need to work my full time job on client site as well.  And the industry? Well, that changes daily too, what with the next furlough, sequestration cut, administration change, hot technology, and the like.

So what is the point of this blog? To make you read about me as much as possible of course.  But other then that, it is to communicate with anyone who is interested in any aspect of business, whether it be how to operate a business, lead a business, grow within a business, or step away from a business.  I hope to learn more about myself in these posts, just as I hope you all learn a bit about me.

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