Category Archives: health

Sniffling While You Work

For the first time in five years, the number of employees who said they go to work with the flu has dropped to 60 percent, after four straight years of increases, according to the fifth annual Flu Season Survey from Staples.

The 60-percent figure marks a drop from last year, and yet many employees still feel they can’t take a sick day, according to the office-supply retailer. Indeed, despite 88 percent of managers encouraging sick employees to stay at home, 40 percent of workers feel there is too much going on at work to stay away, and 31 percent show up sick because they think their boss appreciates it.

The Staples survey finds there are a number of factors that have contributed to the drop in employees going to work sick, including:

• Sick employees coming into work are now considered worse for office productivity than a security breach;

• Presenteeism recognized as a bigger problem than absenteeism;

• Employees are taking charge of their own health and wellness; and

• Recent virus outbreaks are affecting behavior.

“While we are encouraged that for the first time in five years the number of sick employees coming into work has dropped, 60 percent is still a significant number,” said Chris Correnti, vice president of Staples Facility Solutions at Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples.

“Clearly there is still much work to be done. Recent outbreaks such as Enterovirus in the U.S. underscore the importance of fostering a culture of workplace wellness. ”

Meanwhile, last year was one of the worst flu seasons on record, reports outplacement consultancy Challenger, Christmas & Gray, with more than two-thirds of states reporting that the flu outbreak had reached “severe” levels, says CEO John Challenger.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that, on average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost the nation’s economy $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits.  That does not include the indirect costs related to lost productivity and absenteeism.   Online resource, Flu.gov, cites one study estimating that each flu season 111 million workdays are lost to flu-related absenteeism, which amounts to about $7 billion annually in lost productivity.

“New York alone saw more than 15,000 reported cases in the first month of the season, compared to fewer than 5,000 in the entire previous season.  These outbreaks and the resulting workplace absenteeism can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line; particularly in smaller companies where illness can spread quickly and incapacitate large portions of a workforce,” Challenger adds.

Twitter It!

The Wellness Journey Continues …

Earlier this month, the Economist Intelligence Unit released a study (sponsored by Humana) of 255 executives. It found that roughly 70 percent of the respondents believe their organization’s wellness programs are effective, even though only 31 percent deploy some sort of “rigorous evaluation methods.”

Kevin Volpp, founding director of the Leonard Davis Institute Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, is quoted in the report saying he believes asking whether wellness [programs] have value based solely on return on investment is a mistake. Instead, the question should be, “Do we improve health at a reasonable price.”

185998025At this year’s Benefits Forum & Expo at the Boca Raton Resort in Florida, there seemed to be ample evidence that the business community’s commitment to wellness is very much alive and well, even if the data isn’t nearly as visible as some might like.

As might be expected, many of the employers featured on the program are, with the help of the vendor community, applying tools such as biometric screenings, health coaches and gamification in their attempts to improve the well-being of their workforces and, in turn (hopefully), reap meaningful productivity gains. (Such approaches will also be explored at HRE‘s Health and Benefits Leadership Conference next April.)

During a session titled “Domino’s Pizza: Evolving Wellness Strategy into Business Strategy,” Domino’s Director of Benefits Sandra Lollo shared some of the outcomes her company has achieved through the use of Quest Diagnostics’ Blueprint for Wellness tool, which has served as the cornerstone of its wellness efforts for quite some time. Lollo noted that Domino’s uses four key performance indicators to gauge its progress: participation, a health-quotient score (including a wellness scorecard combined with HRA), metabolic-syndrome risks (targeting BMI) and tobacco use.

Eight years into its effort, Lollo reports, Domino’s has seen discernible improvement on each of these fronts. In the case of the tobacco-use KPI, for instance, the percentage of tobacco users has been cut in half, dropping from 26 percent to 13 percent over that period.

The company’s benefits team is currently in the process of rebranding its effort (“dusting it off,” Lollo says) and pursuing a more holistic approach to wellness, including adding components that address issues such as financial wellness.

As might be expected, gamification found a decent amount of air time at the conference. In a session titled “Gamifying Wellness: How to Challenge Employees to Lead Healthier Lives,” Goldenwest Credit Union Assistant Vice President of HR Ashley Shreeve co-presented with hubbub Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Berchtold and shared some of the ways her 421-employee firm has used the hubbub platform to drive engagement and change behaviors.

Through simply named challenges such as “Walk the Dog” (a 14-day challenge that involves, yes, dog walking) and “Home Cooking” (a 14-day challenge aimed at eating healthier foods), Goldenwest is getting employees to take a small but valuable step in a better direction. (In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew?)

One of the goals, Berchtold said, is to get employees to understand that wellness doesn’t end at 5 p.m.; it’s something that needs to be 24/7.

Goldenwest is attempting to undo the fact that “we’re asking our employees to be unhealthy by having them sit behind a desk all day,” Shreeve said.

For the 421-employee credit union, encouraging participation has not been a problem. All of its employees are currently on the platform and have, last count, completed more than 18,440 challenges.

(Here’s another interesting stat I jotted down from the session: There are more than 43,000 weight-loss/fitness apps out there today.)

Of course, gamification may not be the answer for every organization.

Elkay Manufacturing Co. Corporate Manager of Compensation and Benefits Carol Partington offered me a preview of a session she was slated to present later in the day with Interactive Health Senior Wellness Strategies Sandi Eskew: “Elkay Manufacturing: Tune Up Your Wellness Program.”

Elkay is entering its third year of on-site screening through Interactive Health. Under the program, employees who participate in the screening and independently declare they’re not tobacco users pay 20 percent less for their healthcare than a person who doesn’t do either of those things. From a financial standpoint, Partington said, that translates to about a $1,000 per year.

As with most things, the success of these initiatives often hinges on how well they’re communicated.

“We need to get employees to understand what we’re doing and that there’s a partnership; they’re not in it all by themselves,” Partington said. To that end, Partington and her team have worked hard to get the messages out into the workplace and employee homes. “You’d have to have your head in the sand if you didn’t know what’s going on,” she said.

What’s proven to be the most effective way to get these messages out there at Elkay? Through the organization’s plant managers, says Partington, because “it’s not corporate giving the message” … it’s coming from someone the employees know and trust.

Twitter It!

Stand In the Place Where You Work

Here at HRE, we’ve written numerous times on the potential health hazards of prolonged sitting at work. Dan Kois, an editor at Slate magazine, sums it up a bit jarringly in the opening lines of his New York magazine article documenting his effort to stand continuously (even when reading bedtime stories to his kids) throughout the day during the entire month of April:

Are you sitting down? Nice knowin’ ya! If you sit down more than 11 hours a day, one study suggests, you’re 40 percent more likely to die in the next three years than I am. I’m standing up. I’ve been standing up all day. I’ll be standing up all month, in fact, without a break. I expect that at the end of that month I’ll be sore but triumphant, glowing with smug enlightenment.

As you might guess, Kois’ adventure concludes not with smug enlightenment but painfully sore calves, an aching back and a renewed appreciation for the sheer comfort that a chair brings. However, he’s also five pounds lighter, with stronger legs, greater stamina and, to top it off, he ends up being more productive during his stand-a-thon than in his previous, chair-borne incarnation.

Kois acknowledges, however, that what he did goes against the advice from experts on such matters, who warn that too much standing can be just as hazardous as too much sitting. Indeed, he notes, people who have no choice but to stand all day — such as retail employees and waitresses — frequently suffer from ailments such as varicose veins and lower-back pain. Ideally, the experts tell Kois, employees — the ones lucky enough to be able to choose whether to sit or stand during the day — will alternate being in a chair with standing while working and taking frequent breaks to move around.  They also stress the importance of using good posture when standing, making use of sit-stand desks when possible and using shoes that provide proper foot support.

And, I should also add, remaining considerate of those who choose to continue making full-time use of their comfy chairs in the workplace. Consider Kois’ reference to that eternal font of wisdom, The Simpsons:

Sitting, the great equalizer,” Mr. Burns memorably told Homer Simpson. “From the lowliest peasant to the mightiest pharaoh, who doesn’t enjoy a good sit?”

 

 

Twitter It!

Listening to the Data

I was having lunch the other day across the street from a noisy construction site. It wasn’t the best location in the world to read a book and enjoy a sandwich, but it was one of the few places I could find with some comfortable shade.

122399493As I sat there consuming my sandwich (and drink), I remember thinking to myself, “How in the world do these folks work eight hours straight with all that banging and clanging? I’m sure they were wearing protective gear to diffuse some of that noise, but despite the protection, it still had to be loud enough to drive a sane person crazy. (I eventually moved.)

If you’re like me, you probably know a few folks who’ve lost a decent amount of hearing as a result of the work they do. Some recognize they have a problem and have taken steps to remedy it, say by acquiring a hearing aid. Others are less aware, perhaps in denial or simply reluctant to do something about it. (According to the National Center on Hearing Assessment, only one in four people with hearing loss use hearing aids.)

When we think of the health and well-being of employees, a host of issues comes to mind. Diet. Exercise. Regular checkups. Hearing loss? Not really. But as a Better Hearing Institute press release sent out the other day to raise awareness on this issue points out, the problem of hearing loss is widespread, affecting more than 40 million Americans. And costly.

In an effort to bring attention to the issue, the American Tinnitus Association recently sent out its own press release, encouraging both employers and employees to be proactive. It urged employers to develop engineering controls to reduce overall noise output and implement administrative procedures to minimize workers’ noise exposure. Meanwhile, it asked workers to take control of their hearing health by using appropriate ear and noise protectors.

Of course, before either of these things are going to happen, employers and employees alike are going to have to get on the same page and acknowledge that a noise problem exists. Soon-to-be-released research suggests there’s a definite disconnect here between the perceptions of the two.

According to a survey of 1,500 full-time workers and nearly 500 benefits professionals by EPIC Hearing Healthcare ( a hearing-care provider), employees and employers each have a somewhat different take on the situation. Asked how many hours a day they believe their workplace is noisy, more than half (55 percent) of the employee respondents said it is noisy for more than one hour a day and more than one-third (36 percent) said it was noisy for more than three hours a day. In contrast, nearly 80 percent of employers said their workplace is hardly ever noisy.

The EPIC research also found nearly half of the employees felt the level of noise at work was damaging their hearing, even though less than one in four have had their hearing checked in the past two years.

In light of the above data and the impact hearing loss can have on productivity, employers shouldn’t be turning a deaf ear to this issue (excuse the pun). Indeed, they certainly have no shortage of tools available to them, ranging from reducing noise levels in their workplaces and providing employees with better protection to offering “financial support” through insurance products (EPIC’s business) and raising employee awareness.

Being this month is National Employee Wellness Month, I would think it might be as good a time as any for employers to revisit the state of their respective workplaces as far as noise exposure is concerned and the efforts that they’re taking to address the problem.

Twitter It!

Another Drowsy Day at the Office

sleepy employeeFor the average employee, a truly good night’s sleep may seem like a distant memory from the days before adulthood arrived with all sorts of grown-up problems in tow.

So, employees adjust and learn to function at high levels, even with less quality rest. But the effects of losing sleep to financial, familial and other worries can still be seen at work.

The Virgin Pulse Institute—the new research arm of Framingham, Mass.-based Virgin Pulse—recently surveyed 1,139 workers at three companies, in an effort to better understand sleep disturbances and offer insight on how to help employees sleep more soundly.

The study found nearly 30 percent of employees reporting they were “unhappy” or “very unhappy” with the quality or quantity of their sleep. More than 75 percent said they feel tired “many days of the week,” with 15 percent saying they doze off at work during the day at least once weekly.

What keeps employees tossing and turning at night, and, in turn, leaves them sluggish at their desks the next day? Environmental factors identified in the study as sleep disruptors included room temperature (85.2 percent), partners (71.9 percent), noise (68.6 percent), bright lights (52.8 percent), mattresses (40 percent) and young children (35.9 percent).

These findings only make sense, and it’s natural that poor sleep can lead to poor performance at work. But what can employers do about it? How can you help encourage employee behaviors that result in better-rested and, therefore, more alert and productive workers?

Jennifer Turgiss, vice president of health solutions at Virgin Pulse, director of the Virgin Pulse Institute and lead author of the study, offers a few suggestions.

“Employers have lots of opportunities to encourage employees to improve their sleep habits,” says Turgiss. “First, they can focus on creating awareness. Provide employees with tips and information about how to improve sleep. Host a brown-bag lunch with a sleep expert. Encourage employees to share tips on what works for them.”

She also urges HR professionals to review internal policies, to ensure the organization has procedures in place to help support improved sleeping habits among the workforce.

“For example,” says Turgiss, “a company could put in place a policy that makes it clear that managers don’t expect employees to respond to emails after certain hours or on weekends. This can help alleviate the worry and concerns that keep people up at night.”

Finally, she recommends that companies provide programs focused on improving sleep habits; an especially important offering at firms employing workers at risk of sleep deprivation—shift workers or frequent overtime workers, for instance.

Physical appearance and behavior are “great indicators” of an individual suffering from poor sleep, and HR and other leaders in the organization should also be asking themselves a variety of questions to help identify the signals of sleep-starved employees, says Turgiss.

Do [employees] look tired or sleepy? Do they fall asleep in meetings? Do they seem more irritable? Have they missed more days of work or has their output decreased significantly? Are they forgetful? Do they have trouble recalling details of projects? Have they made more mistakes than usual?”

Some workers may function better than others with little sleep, she says, “but the telltale signs are usually there.”

Twitter It!

The Cost of Cancer in the Workplace

I came across some pretty alarming statistics the other day regarding cancer’s impact on the workplace.

78770849-- cancer at workThe report, from the Integrated Benefits Institute, shows cancer typically costs employers about $19,000 annually per 100 employees in lost work time and medical treatments.

Broken down, lost work time and underperformance at work, the latter also known as presenteeism, due to cancer costs employers $10,000 per 100 workers, and medical and pharmacy treatments cost about $9,100. Employees with cancer, the report says, are absent 3.8 more days per year than workers without cancer, and also lose the equivalent of 1.8 more days per year to presenteeism.

In the words of Tom Parry, IBI president:

Cancers present complex challenges for the workplace. At a basic, human level, a cancer diagnosis is a frightening, sometimes emotionally devastating, event. It is natural that co-workers and supervisors will want to provide support to a friend and colleague when told he or she has cancer. At the same time, balancing privacy and workplace accommodation is a critical, but sensitive, issue. Many employees with cancer will frequently feel too sick to work, while others report that remaining on the job keeps them ‘connected’ and provides a sense of routine as they undergo treatment.”

Considering there are very few of us who have not been touched by cancer, myself included (my father is undergoing chemo as we speak), I’m thinking the disease must touch just about every workplace as well. So, given the prevalence and inherent challenges in addressing it, what are employers to do?

The IBI report suggests upping your commitment to workplace-based cancer screening and job accommodations. Here are some of those advantages, according to the study:

  • Compliance rates with cancer-screening guidelines are highest when there is access through insurance-plan coverage.
  • Workplace educational programs have been shown to raise awareness of and screening for colorectal cancer.
  • Workplace screening for breast cancer reduces lost productivity.
  • Employees whose breast cancer was detected early through on-site mammography experienced half as many lost workdays for treatment as employees whose cancer was detected later.
  • Providing job accommodations or other workplace stay-at-work or return-to-work opportunities has been shown to help employees with cancer remain on the job.

Also worth looking into, if you haven’t already, is the National Business Group on Health’s cancer guide, An Employer’s Guide to Cancer Treatment and Prevention, which I blogged about back in November.

In that post, I suggest we’re only going to see cancer cases at work grow as baby boomers age and stay in the workplace. It’s … well … increasingly part of life. And getting older. Ask my dad.

As Helen Darling, retiring NBGH president and CEO, puts it in the November post:

Today, more than ever, employers are facing the growing impact of cancer … . With significant gains in cancer survival rates and most cancer survivors staying at work during their treatment or returning to work after their treatment, employers need a comprehensive benefits plan to ensure that their current strategies to address cancer in the workplace complement the needs of their employees. Cancer casts a wide net, affecting not only those diagnosed with the disease, but also family members, friends, managers and co-workers. The impact on a company’s culture can be profound.”

 

Twitter It!

Another Sign Your Talent May Be Bolting: Hooky

160611067-- sick employeeA month ago, almost to the day, Editor David Shadovitz posted this about a Utah State University professor’s study laying out specific behaviors to look for in top talent about to head out the door.

I thought the signs themselves, as revealed by researcher Tim Gardner, were interesting and deserve repeating. Employees about to leave, he found:

  • Offered fewer constructive contributions in meetings;
  • Were more reluctant to commit to long-term projects;
  • Became more reserved and quiet;
  • Became less interested in advancing in the organization;
  • Were less interested in pleasing their boss than before;
  • Avoided social interactions with their boss and other members of management; and
  • Began doing the minimum amount of work needed and no longer went beyond the call of duty.

Now, thanks to this from Monster Worldwide, we have another dimension to offer up in this flight-detection protocol: playing hooky. Or at least playing “I have a doctor’s appointment.”

According to Monster’s global poll, based on votes cast by Monster visitors from Dec. 2 through 6 of last year, 44 percent of respondents consider telling their boss they have a medical appointment to be the best excuse to leave work for a job interview.

The second-most-popular choice for getting out of work to interview for other work is also health-related: saying they’re sick, weighing in at 15 percent. Of course, the way I see it, both excuses — especially the latter — requires some play-acting as well, so perhaps there are some additional behavior traits we can read between the lines.

There were other non-health-related excuses — childcare, at 12 percent, and delivery/repairman at 8 percent — but faking personal health challenges topped the chart.

Especially interesting, I thought, were the differences in faking forte by country. As the Monster release states:

French respondents are the most likely to create faux doctor’s appointments when sneaking out for interviews, with 54 percent answering that they believe it is the best excuse;      conversely, French respondents are the least likely to fake an illness to excuse an interview-related absence, with only 7 percent selecting it as the best option. Respondents in the United States were the biggest proponents of the call-in-sick method, with 16 percent choosing illness as their preferred excuse. Canadian respondents were the least likely to use a delivery/repairman excuse, with under 7 percent selecting this option and were the most inclined to use a childcare-related excuse, with 16 percent picking this answer.”

Mary Ellen Slayter, a career-advice expert for Monster, says all employers ought to look at this as a reminder that “they have no choice but to be on both sides of this coin.”

“Making it easy for people to be honest is a good approach,” she says. “That means when you’re recruiting, make an effort to schedule interviews before or after work hours — or perhaps at lunch. With your own workers, don’t press them about how they’re spending their requested time off.”

As for what you’re supposed to do when you notice your top talent scheduling an inordinate number of doctor’s appointments, that’s anyone’s guess. I would think that might be a good time to start examining their engagement levels.

Twitter It!

Creating a Culture of Well-being

The breakfast spread—fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, muffins—preceding yesterday’s opening keynote at the 2014 i4cp Conference at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess should have been a clear giveaway as to the focus of this year’s opening keynote.

457068405Author Tom Rath, whose latest book is Eat Move Sleep, opened the conference with an engaging and thought-provoking talk on well-being and productivity. (Rath apparently delivers keynotes all the time, but this was the first time I personally heard him speak.)

Rath notes that the big question far too few corporate leaders ask is: How do we ensure that employees have the energy they need to be effective on a day-to-day basis? (Rath noted that only 8 percent of employees say their well-being is better off because of their employer.)

If organizations want to build an engaged and productive workforce, he told attendees, leaders are going to need to begin to ask that question.

One interesting sound bite from Rath’s remarks was that the relationship employees have with their boss or manager has a huge influence on their well-being and engagement. (In other words, bad bosses will inevitably result in unhealthy outcomes.)

Based on the research out there today, he said, “we wonder if the quality of your immediate manager may be more important for your physical health than the quality of your physician.” That’s certainly a sobering thought.

Rath noted that, when followers were asked what they want from their leaders, trust was at the top of the list. But right up there as well was caring. “If you were to step back and say, ‘What’s the hallmark of any great relationship between a leader and manager, and someone who works for him or her?’ ” he said, “I would say it’s that sense of caring … .”

At a little more than 200 pages, I’m looking forward to reading Eat Move Sleep (which was generously included in attendees’ registration packets) on my trip back to Philadelphia. I’ll be the first to admit I could probably do a lot better on all three fronts. Perhaps Rath’s book could be of some assistance.

Twitter It!

A Walking Path to Greater Productivity?

By now, I’m sure most of you are familiar with them, even if you haven’t seen one of these strange-looking devices in a workplace setting yet.

Yes, I’m talking about workstation treadmills, which we first wrote in-depth about in 2009 when our managing editor, Kris Frasch, put one to the test at SHRM’s annual conference.

Of course, at the time, the vendors of these unique devices asserted that they would not only improve the health and well-being of your workforce, but would also go a long way to boosting productivity. But while that certainly seems intuitive enough, little, if any, evidence existed to back up that claim.

SteelcaseNow, those vendors (including Steelcase, whose Walkstation is featured here) can at least point to one study by researchers at the University of Minnesota, who recently found that these treadmills had a significantly favorable impact on both physical activity (burning off 7 percent or 8 percent of their calories per day) and work performance.  (To calculate productivity, they used employee and supervisor surveys that measured, using a 10-point scale, the levels and quality of performance, as well as the quality of interaction with co-workers.)

“For the duration of the study, productivity increased by close to a point,” says lead author Avner Ben-Ner, professor of work and organizations at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “That’s a substantial increase.”

Ben-Ner describes the findings as a win-win situation:

It’s a health-improving option that costs very little. I think there will be an increasing number of employers [that] will invest $1,000 or $2,000 in outfitting a persons’ workstation. The employer benefits from the employee being active and healthy and more smart because more blood is flowing to the brain.”

Ben-Ner predicts that millennials would be particularly open to this sort of thing “because they grew up and came of age in a time [when people were, and are, more familiar and versed in] these types of things. It will be easier than trying to break in someone who is 50 years old and a lifelong sedentary person and get them to start walking.” (I certainly can relate to that.)

At this point in their product lifecycle, I’m not sure what traction these treadmills are getting within corporations. Guess it might be worth asking about at HRE‘s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference the week after next in Las Vegas. In the meantime, I have to think research like this isn’t going to hurt.

Twitter It!

A Comprehensive Cancer Guide for Employers

With workforces getting older and older as boomers stay on longer and longer, an annoucement like this was bound to happen sooner or later.

78770849-- cancer at workThe National Business Group on Health just got there first.

In announcing last week its release of An Employer’s Guide to Cancer Treatment and Prevention, the NBGH called it “the industry’s first publication of its kind” and a culmination of three years of work in conjunction with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

“Today, more than ever, employers are facing the growing impact of cancer in the workplace,” NBGH President and CEO Helen Darling says in her organization’s release about the initiative. “With significant gains in cancer survival rates and most cancer survivors staying at work during their treatment or returning to work after their treatment, employers need a comprehensive benefits plan to ensure that their current strategies to address cancer in the workplace complement the needs of their employees.

“Cancer casts a wide net,” she adds, “affecting not only those diagnosed with the disease, but also family members, friends, managers and co-workers. The impact on a company’s culture can be profound.”

The Guide provides technical assistance to help employers design, implement and monitor the performance of their cancer-related strategies. It contains a series of six tools with guidelines and recommendations based on published research and reports, including the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology.

According to the NBGH, the tools are designed to coincide with the various steps in the employer-benefit life cycle, including plan design, vendor and program management, enrollment and communications, plan administration, and vendor and program evaluation. It also addresses issues across the continuum of cancer care, including medical, pharmacy and behavioral benefits; short-term disability; family medical leave; employee assistance programs; and health improvement programs, says the release.

Robert W. Carlson, CEO of NCCN, describes the guide as a “groundbreaking toolkit [that] empowers employers to be proactive in their approach to dealing with the needs of their employees as they deal with their own or a loved one’s cancer.”

Nothing to analyze or poke holes in here. Strictly a good-news story simply worth sharing.

 

 

Twitter It!