Category Archives: healthcare

The High Cost of Caregiving

You may or may not be familiar with the story of Kristian Rex, a New Jersey man who cares for his elderly father, a former boat captain who once had “arms like Popeye” and who now — thanks to a debilitating stroke — is unable to perform basic, daily routines such as shaving himself. As shown in a recent award-winning commercial (for Gillette, no less), Rex Jr. must perform these and other tasks for his dad, and he does so with care and grace, as any good son would.

Many of us will find ourselves in Rex Jr.’s shoes one day, as the number of elderly in the U.S. continues to grow. In fact, an estimated 40 million Americans already serve as family caregivers and of those, 24 million juggle those responsibilities with holding down a job (Rex Jr. is a bit of an outlier, as women make up the majority of caregivers for elderly parents.) Nearly one in five adult children provide care for at least one elderly parent at some point, according to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. These caregivers spend an average of 77 hours per month with their parents, the Center finds, or the equivalent of about two weeks of work. Caregiving also exacts a mental and physical toll on health, with women caregivers reporting more pain and significantly higher out-of-pocket costs for their own healthcare, a study by the Center for Retirement Research finds. The study also finds that both male and female caregivers say they’re more depressed and suffer from poorer health because of parental care.

Many employers recognize the burden that caregiving employees shoulder: A new survey by the Northeast Business Group on Health (undertaken in partnership with AARP) finds that more than three quarters of the 129 mostly large employers surveyed agree that caregiving will grow in importance to their companies over the next five years. Respondents cited increased productivity, decreased absenteeism and reduced healthcare costs as the top drivers that would make a compelling case for investing in benefits that would make them “caregiver friendly” organizations.

“Family caregiving is an issue that affects the vast majority of us,” says AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond. “We are either caregivers now, have been in the past, will be in the future or will need care ourselves.”

Fewer than half of the companies surveyed have programs or benefits designed specifically for caregivers, such as caregiver support groups, subsidized in-home back-up care for those being cared for, or counseling services. For those that do make such offerings available, communication appears to be an issue, with most saying their employees are only “somewhat” or “not very” aware of these benefits and services.

Plenty of compelling reasons exist for employers to get serious now about offering — and communicating — these services.

“The implications of this trend are significant not only for workplace productivity but for employee population health and healthcare costs,” says Dr. Jeremy Nobel, Executive Director of NEBGH’s Solutions Center. “Caregivers tend to abandon their own physical and emotional needs and employers need to plan for how to respond.”

Studying Sleep at Goodyear

According to Dr. Brent Pawlecki, the goal of his Thursday morning presentation here at Human Resource Executive‘s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference (held April 19 – 21 at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas) was to “make the case for why sleep is important” to employees’ health.

Making that case was also part of his plan when he took over as chief health officer at Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. six years ago.

At the time, the company has begun investing more in the health of its 69,000 employees around the world. Pawlecki was brought in to “build a culture of health” at the organization. When he took the job in 2011, he was charged with helping Goodyear to better define its overall healthy strategy.

“We said, we’re a global company, with well over 20,000 U.S.-based employees,” says Pawlecki. “We need to build a strong foundation of healthy employees here in the U.S.”

Part of that building process was addressing the impact of sleep, or the lack thereof, on Goodyear employees. Why study sleep?

“I was at a conference where I attended a presentation on how sleep affects workers,” says Pawlecki. “And I thought that, if we can get our employees thinking and talking about sleep issues—which could be caused by or contributing to underlying health issues— then maybe we can get them to focus on those larger issues.”

Enter Big Health, the San Francisco-based provider of the Sleepio sleep health app.

Sharing the stage with Pawlecki was Jenna Carl, medical director at Big Health. She talked about the “hidden nature” of behavioral health problems, and how tackling sleep issues might “offer a gateway to solving mental health problems” and subsequently creating healthier and happier workers.

Those suffering from insomnia, for instance, often find themselves more easily irritated and more sensitive to stress, she says.

“Insomnia also affects the frontal cortex—the CEO of the brain—which is responsible for decision making,” continues Carl. “And, behaviorally, those with sleep problems fall into a vicious cycle. They start worrying about not sleeping, and/or might start using more caffeine or alcohol, which actually have a negative impact on the ability to sleep.”

Naturally, employees trying to work their way through such problems are going to be less than their best while on the job. Pawlecki and Goodyear were acutely aware of this reality when bringing in Big Health to help conduct a sleep awareness campaign, “designed to engage good and poor sleepers,” says Carl.

The campaign began with encouraging employees to take a sleep test, the results of which led to creating personalized plans for employees who took part.

In getting employees to participate, “it’s important to know your employee population in order to know how to reach them,” says Carl.

Goodyear, for example, has 24,000 U.S. employees spread across plants and retail locations. Roughly 60 percent of these associates have no company email address, says Pawlecki.

As such, the initial sleep awareness campaign included home mailers and in-person communications in the form of posters and animated videos geared toward these workers, as well as providing intranet articles and sending emails detailing the campaign to those with Goodyear email accounts.

Overall, the campaign netted 2,798 employees who completed the sleep test, the majority of whom suffered from poor sleep, says Carl, adding that about one third of these workers could meet the clinical criteria for insomnia, while around half were experiencing less-than-optimal sleep. Plant workers, she says, struggled the most.

These plant employees also reported that poor sleep impacted their productivity close to 28 percent of the time, with retail workers saying that sleep affects their productivity 23 percent of the time. Office workers said that inadequate rest took a toll on their work 21 percent of the time.

“This is a pretty significant impact,” says Carl, adding that Goodyear employees who used the Sleepio app and underwent cognitive therapy reported getting an additional five hours of sleep per week after using the application. Those same workers also saw their stress reduced by 54 percent, and experienced a 35 percent drop in anxiety.

“These are obviously big improvements,” says Carl, noting that these workers also reported productivity improvements in addition to improving their overall mental health.

“And that’s just from getting better sleep.”

Taking Well-being’s Pulse

If there’s a single item that runs through Aon Hewitt’s 7th Annual Consumer Health Mindset Study, released yesterday at the National Business Group on Health’s Business Health Agenda 2017 in Washington, it’s that well-being continues to be a work in progress. (You can pre-register here for the full report.)

The study of 2,503 consumers, mostly employees and their dependents, found that well-being is continuing to have a big impact, with all well-being dimensions (financial, physical, emotional and social) being viewed by employees as important.

The findings suggest that consumers are increasingly looking at well-being in a holistic way, certainly a good sign for employers as they attempt to expand their well-being footprints. In light of this, one of the recommendations offered by Aon Hewitt Partner Joann Hall Swenson at a general session on the survey’s key takeaways was for employers to build workplaces that can support well-being in its entirety.

It’s also worth noting that, according to the study, some of the more traditional elements of physical wellness experienced a decline in importance over the past year. Diet, for example, decreased in importance by 7 percent, from 65 percent to 58 percent. Exercise, meanwhile, dropped 6 percent, from 59 percent to 53 percent.

Swenson suggested that employers might want to refresh their efforts in both those areas.

Employers, of course, would like nothing more than to see a greater percentage of employees become better consumers. Right? Better consumers make better decisions, after all.

Well, if the study’s findings are correct, employers still have more work to do on this front as well.

A takeaway from the study is that savvy consumerism continues to be a challenge as far as healthcare is concerned. Among the data points shared by Swenson: 77 percent of the respondents regretted a health decision they made, and only 40 percent said they know where to go to find out what a particular health service costs, down 7 percent over the past year.

“When you look at the number of people who bring a list of questions to their doctor and the number of people who are looking at costs before having a procedure, those numbers are down,” Swenson pointed out.

Then there’s the high level of frustration and confusion patients experience navigating the healthcare system, another key finding cited by Swenson. “Patients are losing their patience,” especially in the case of emerging millennials, she said.  “Many are giving up and throwing in the towel.”

To address this, she said, employers need to use technology to simplify the health-navigation process.

The survey also took a deeper dive into the area of mental health than in past years, finding that the issue continues to reside “in the shadows.” Not surprisingly, it found that stress continues to be on the rise, with the percentage of respondents reporting high stress levels at 54 percent, up 5 percent over the past year. Of those reporting high stress, 74 percent said they were experiencing more and more obstacles that stood in the way of receiving treatments.

Consumers, Swenson said, would like to see more one-on-one assistance from their employers, greater flexibility in terms of arranging for appointments and an expanded provider network from which to choose.

Finally, Swenson said, consumers want healthcare and well-being to be a multichannel experience, one that includes email, mobile and social. Messages and information, she added, need to be delivered when they’re needed, not when it’s convenient for the employer. (The topic of personalization was addressed at several other points during the NBGH event.)

Filling the Insurance Gap

The Wall Street Journal site posted a very interesting piece that explores the trend of employers offering “gap policies” to workers to help them cover unexpected out-of-pocket costs associated with their healthcare insurance.

For many workers, the WSJ notes, paying for healthcare has become “such a difficult budgeting exercise that the insurance industry is marketing additional products to help.” This gap insurance, also known as supplemental or voluntary insurance, is designed to provide extra coverage for things like hospital stays, unexpected accidents or treatment for acute illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. The policies are also designed to help cover the cost of high deductibles or copays for treatment—the gap that employees face before their health insurance kicks in.

“It is kind of like insurance on insurance,” says Brian Akian, a senior account executive with insurer Colonial Life, which provides gap insurance and is a unit of Unum Group.

The story goes on to detail how AmeriGas Propane Inc. recently began offering voluntary gap insurance to its 8,500 workers:

“Some people want more reassurance so they can put their head down and sleep well,” says Andy Rosa, director of human-resources and benefits at the propane-services company.

The piece goes on to lay out some of the different types of gap insurance on offer from the large insurers, including hospital-indemnity and critical-care insurance.

“It is growing like crazy,” says Shawn Jenkins, chief executive of Benefitfocus Inc., which provides benefit-administration technology to employers.

The whole piece is well-worth a read, especially considering that healthcare premiums show no signs of plateauing any time in the near future. Indeed, the WSJ piece notes that deductibles have grown 49 percent, on average, since 2011.

Answering the Cancer Call

It’s nice to see efforts continuing at a healthy pace to help employers and employees deal with one of the scariest threats to corporate 508254750-cancerhealth — the growth of cancer in our aging workforce.

The latest initiative is an impressive one, a program introduced recently by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York through which it now collaborates with employers to simplify the whole process for their working cancer patients to get the help they need. New as the program is, it already has six employers signed on for this collaboration, including CBS Corp. and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Through the program, called MSK Direct, each collaborative partnership is customized to the individual employer’s and its employees’ needs. A customized menu might include initial evaluations or second opinions, the options to immediately begin cancer treatment and support services such as counseling.

“Cancer care is extraordinarily difficult to go through, but accessing it in a time of distress shouldn’t be,” says Wendy Perchick, senior vice president of strategy and innovation at MSK. “MSK Direct is a prime example of our commitment to our mission, which includes making all aspects of our experience, care and services more accessible, seamless and beneficial to as many people as possible. In the face of a cancer diagnosis, we want patients, their family members and their employers to feel certain they are in caring and highly capable hands.”

Let’s face it, she and others say: The number of cancer diagnoses among working Americans is only going to climb as baby boomers continue to keep working out of a sense of purpose, but also out of necessity, whatever the cost to health, welfare and sanity may be.

As this story in HRE by Julie Cook Ramirez less than a year ago confirms, the number of people continuing to work with cancer diagnoses is now close to 15 million. And though there are a lot of positives around that for those employees (a sense of purpose, distraction away from their diagnosis, the list goes on), there are many challenges they bring to work as well, including diminished physical capabilities and stamina, and some mental impairments as they undergo chemotherapy.

The story also details things HR professionals can do to make such a devastating time for an employee a little more navigable, such as reworking their schedules, making a special effort to go over all benefits till they’re sure the patient understands and basically just being there to answer all the questions they may have.

As the numbers grow, so grow the costs. This post by me in 2014 put the price tag for employers at about $19,000 annually per 100 employees in lost work time and medical treatments, according to research from the Integrated Benefits Institute. (IBI President Tom Parry confirmed for me that these are still the latest figures.)

Numbers aside, let’s face it, there are a whole lot of us baby boomers in the workplace probably in a good bit of denial about what lies ahead. Many of these boomers’ employers might also be happily sharing in that denial as they continue reaping the benefits of older employees’ work ethics and knowledge.

But let’s also face the inevitability. None of us are getting any younger. And as workers age, health problems at work grow. As one friend, a seemingly ageless practicing family doctor in Seattle who likes to backpack, power walk, participate in medical missions abroad … and who’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer … put it, “No one ever told us boomers that life after 50 becomes a journey of loss — loss of our own health and loss of loved ones to the loss of their health. They should have told us this.” (And she’s a doctor!)

At least some employers are now facing this reality with their unstoppable boomers and helping them through the obstacle course that is cancer, however they want to be helped.

For some tips on how this might be done at your organization, and some immediate steps you can take to increase the value of cancer-care benefits and services you’re providing, consider this report — High Value Cancer Care: Guidance for Employers — that the Northeast Business Group on Health put out just last week. Here’s the news statement as well.

Roughly, as Dr. Jeremy Nobel, executive director of NEBGH’s Solutions Center, lays it out:

“Understanding what high-value services to look for when evaluating sites of care; making sure patients have access and coverage for seeking expert second opinions whether via health-plan-recommended specialists, a Center of Excellence or third-party second-opinion services; and encouraging employees to educate themselves about the benefits of palliative care and to request it early in the treatment process are all important steps employers can take right now.”

I guess I might only add that leaving them in the driver’s seat on directions to go and care to pursue, honoring their journey with the dignity they deserve, is a must.

Supporters of E-Cigs Fight Back

There’s some real pushback under way to what I was thinking had become a generally agreed-upon vice worth eradicating from our streets, public arenas and workplaces: e-cigarette vaping.

470456691--vapingMy eyebrows were raised on Friday when I came across this release from the National Center for Public Policy Research announcing an amicus brief that had just been filed by the NCPPR and TechFreedom in support of an earlier challenge to the Food and Drug Administration’s war on vaping.

Specifically, the initial challenge that got a major boost on Friday was filed by Nicopure Labs, a manufacturer of e-cigarette liquid, against the FDA’s Deeming Rule, which was finalized in May. That rule would force e-cigarette manufacturers to undergo an expensive and time-consuming premarket tobacco-application process unless their products were on the market prior to the predicate date of Feb. 15, 2007. As the NCPPR release puts it:

“The high cost of the application process means most e-cig businesses will be forced to shut down, eliminating choices of dramatically safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes, which will leave smokers with fewer options to compete against the most harmful form of nicotine consumption, [again,] combustible tobacco.”

It also states that:

“The FDA’s Deeming Rule fails to consider the scientific evidence readily available to the agency regarding the safety and the public health benefits of e-cigarettes.”

Is it just me or is this the first time you’ve read anything about the “public health benefits of e-cigarettes”?

I love how this guy, Tom Remington, on his blog post, compares  choosing between e-cigs and tobacco to choosing between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Mind you, I’m not 100-percent sure what position he’s taking here (something tells me he’s anti e-cigs … and don’t ask me to even hazard a guess as to who he plans to vote for), but his quote is pretty fun:

“Having a discussion about whether or not e-cigarettes are more healthy than real tobacco-product cigarettes is akin to deciding which crook, Hillary or Donald, should get your vote. Would you rather die from e-cigarettes or from tobacco? Would you rather get screwed and further forced into slavery by Hillary or Donald?”

For a much more complete and sobering look at why clamping down on the e-cigarette business isn’t necessarily a good thing for health but IS a big victory for Big Tobacco, read this opinion piece on the Washington Post site by Jonathan Adler. Here’s just one compelling thought to come away with, as Adler writes it:

“With the new FDA rule, Big Tobacco is getting just what it wanted. … [A]s a consequence of the FDA rule, the e-cig market will shrink, and Big Tobacco will be in a better position to dominate what’s left. A vibrant competitive market will be replaced with a cartel, much like the one we see in the cigarette market.”

So what does all this have to do with HR? Probably not as much as other topics we’ve raised here, but I do know many of you are grappling with your smoking policies, and many of you have opted to lump vaping in with the rest of your organization’s prohibited activities.

I guess this might just give you something more to think about as you go about drafting or enforcing such a policy … like who’s hands you might be playing into(?) Or where the real truth lies(?) If, indeed, these things are so much healthier than cigarettes, for all concerned, and can help move the quitting process along, are you sure you want to deny your employees any and all access(?)

Maybe just put all this in your pipe and smoke it(?) (Sorry.)

Opioids Continue to Be a Workplace Scourge

158362155We’ve all heard a lot during this presidential election season about the heroin epidemic that has seemingly left no corner of the United States untouched. Experts say an important factor that led to today’s skyrocketing rates of addiction has been the widespread abuse of opioid prescriptions for painkillers, including those prescribed by doctors for employees covered by workers comp claims. A new report from Castlight Health reveals that this prescription abuse continues today, accounting for a significant chunk of healthcare spending.

Castlight’s report, The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce, finds that nearly one third (32 percent) of opioid prescriptions subsidized by U.S. employers are being abused by a small number of employees — just 4.5 percent of the population, accounting for 40 percent of opioid prescription spending. Baby boomers are four times as likely to abuse opioids as millennials, the report finds, and workers with a mental health diagnosis are three times more likely to abuse opioids as those without.

The report is based on aggregated reporting from medical and pharmacy-based claims, including de-identified and anonymous health-data reporting covering nearly 1 million Americans who use Castlight’s health-benefits platform. The report defines “opioid abuse” as receiving more than a cumulative 90-day supply of opioids and receiving an opioid prescription from four or more providers over the five-year period between 2011 and 2015.

In addition to the cost (opioid abusers typically cost employers twice as much as non-abusers in medical expenses annually), opioid abuse lowers productivity and potentially puts other employees at risk, says Kristin Torres Mowat, Castlight’s senior vice president of health plan and strategic data operations. Opioid prescription abuse results in more than 16,000 deaths in the United States each year, the report notes.

The report finds that patients living in low-income areas are twice as likely as patients living in high-income areas to abuse prescription painkillers. The South is home to a significant chunk of opioid abusers, with 22 of the top 25 U.S. cities for opioid abuse located in Southern states.

Using Data to Drive Health Outcomes

Given the hour (8 a.m.) and the setting (the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas), Ronald Leopold, M.D., wasn’t so sure that the time was ideal this morning for a talk centered on getting the most out of employee-healthcare data.

Nevertheless, Leopold—the national practice leader of health outcomes at Willis Towers Watson—soldiered on in the opening session of Human Resource Executive’s Health and Benefits Leadership Conference’s second day, delivering a lively presentation that focused on harnessing healthcare-claims data to better control coverage costs.

In “Doing the Math: Data-Driven Health Outcome Strategies for Employers,” Leopold first asked attendees to rate, by a show of hands, their comfort with data analytics on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest.

While a scattering of audience members indicated the highest level of comfort with data analytics, and a few ranked themselves as “4s,” the clear majority considered themselves to be “3”s—“not bad, but leaving some room to improve,” noted Leopold.

His goal at that moment, he said, was to help attendees better understand available data “to make the best [benefits] decisions on behalf of their employees.”

In 2016, “we are poised for a new era,” said Leopold, “where we see healthcare costs starting to trend slightly upward.”

For employers, being ready for this uptick entails making efforts to lower employee health risks—implementing effective wellness programs and making plan-design changes that encourage employees to become more responsible for their healthcare, for example—and, in turn, lower healthcare costs.

Leopold urged attendees to “demand the story” beyond typical metrics such as average employee hospital stays and number of employees with a given disease or condition, for instance.

This type of descriptive data “doesn’t always give us a lot,” said Leopold.

“Go deeper, and get diagnostic data to find out why” these numbers are what they are, “and do predictive analysis as well.

“Look at data and use algorithms—which you in HR may not have, but carriers will have, and some consultants will have, and data aggregators will have—to determine [your population’s] health risks,” he continued.

“This,” said Leopold, “is practicing predictive analytics. Then we can see what’s likely to happen in the future … and we’ll get better results.”

 

Back to the Future for Healthcare

Value-based care. ACOs. Narrow networks. Consumerism. These were just a few of topics explored in depth at last week’s National Business Group on Health’s Business Health Agenda 2016 conference at the J.W. Marriott in Washington. But if there was a single thread running through these sessions and many others during the two-and-a-half-day event, it was the increasingly important role technology is playing these days as a disrupting force.

Consider this: It wasn’t a huge surprise to see the NBGH and Xerox Human Resource Services (the former Buck Consultants) unveil the findings of a study titled Emerging Technology to Promote Employee Wellbeing, one of three research projects released at the event.

Looking at four key areas—gamification, mobile technologies, wearable sensors and social media—the study of 213 employers found significant growth in all four areas, with mobile, not surprisingly, leading the way. When the survey was last conducted three years ago, just 16 percent of employers were using mobile apps to engage employees. In this latest study, that number jumped to 50 percent.

The study also revealed that wearable technologies climbed from 16 percent to 34 percent over the three-year period.

Social networking, meanwhile, grew by 50 percent. “People are increasingly relying on others to get their information,” said Scott Marcotte, client technology leader for Xerox HR Services.

Also, as might be expected, mobile topped the list of future senior-leader priorities, with 50 percent of the respondents citing it as a prime focal point over the next year. Many also predicted that texting will be an increasingly important part of their strategy going forward.

As for barriers to adoption, the respondents cited competing business priorities, the lack of buy-in and support from senior management, the lack of a guaranteed return-on-investment (and ways to measure technology’s impact), and confidentiality and privacy as significant hurdles.

“Technology is also enabling employers to more successfully reach family members,” Marcotte pointed out. He noted that more and more of the companies he’s been working with are “creating hyper-personalized experiences for the spouse,” distinct of the employee.

Of course, you would think the Internet and mobile technology would represent today’s best ways to get educational resources into the home and involve the family, right? But at a session titled Leveraging Technology to Reach the Home, several speakers suggested the next frontier might actually be the television. (Though one conference session on narrow networks featured Back to the Future in its title, I couldn’t help but wonder if that phrase might have been better suited for this one.)

In an effort being led by Kaiser Permanente and Comcast, just out of beta, employees at a handful of employers (Comcast, IBM and Lowe’s Cos.) are beginning to deliver information directly into the home through TV apps.

“People are consuming video on their phones and other devices, but the fact is that many are still watching a lot of TV,” said Chris Stenzel, vice president of business development and innovation at Kaiser Permanente.

Participating with Stenzel on the panel were Marc Siry, vice president of strategic development at Comcast Corp.; Lydia Boyd Campbell, director of global integrated health services at IBM Americas; and Bob Ihrie, senior vice president of compensation and benefits at Lowe’s Cos. (Ihre, by the way, will be participating at two sessions at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference later this month.)

All the panelists believe TV has the potential to make healthcare engaging and interesting for the entire family.

Maternity was selected as a pilot for the program because it represents a significant percentage of claims and is a time when families are really engaged in the health system. Videos are delivered to the employees’ TVs based on the stage of the pregnancy—so employees and their spouses/partners are delivered content that’s meaningful to them at that moment. The system knows what to deliver based on the due date, which is the only personal information that needs to be offered up to provide the just-in-time information. (Netflix-like binge watching, however, is still an option for those who prefer that approach.)

Television, of course, isn’t the only legacy device that’s attempting a comeback in the world of healthcare. Let’s not forget the 500-year-old watch, which many are predicting, thanks primarily to the Apple Watch, will someday be a major force in wearables.

That promise isn’t lost on vendors such The Vitality Group, which used the conference as a platform for officially announcing a program that enables “Active Rewards” members to fully fund their Apple Watches by meeting monthly targets over a 24-month period. (The founder and CEO of Vitality Group’s parent company, Discovery Group, Adrian Gore, also delivered the opening-keynote address at the NBGH event.)

Alan Pollard, CEO of The Vitality Group, told me the results of the program in South Africa have been “phenomenal,” with the early data revealing that Vitality members using Apple Watches are more physically active than those using any other fitness devices.

In the United States, early adopters of the new Vital program include Amgen, Lockton and DaVita HealthCare Partners. (The program is also available to consumers through Vitality’s arrangement with John Hancock.)

Poll: Mindfulness Training Really Works

OK, full disclosure here. A company that provides online mindfulness programs for employers, insurers, wellness companies 166198718 -- meditation2and employee-assistance programs recently announced results of a survey showing mindfulness training improves sleep quality and workplace productivity, and reduces worker stress.

So consider the source, of course. But much like other vendor polls we occasionally report on, this one seems worth sharing. The provider — eMindful, headquartered in Vero Beach, Fla. — analyzed data from 1,200 employees across multiple countries and found a 29-percent reduction in perceived stress among companies offering mindfulness training.

Also, before taking the courses, employees at the responding companies reported losing an estimated 117 minutes of productive time per week. After taking them, that number was reduced to 70 minutes.

Again and mind you, this is one provider’s claim of success, but it does add to the collective wisdom growing rapidly out there that a commitment to workforce-wide mindfulness reaps benefits worth noting, and considering. (This post by me earlier this year features one company’s discoveries along these lines, along with a link to a column by our benefits columnist, Carol Harnett, underscoring the value of workplace mindfulness and the importance of a commitment to it coming from the top and being ingrained into the culture.)

Ruth Q. Wolever, eMindful’s chief scientific officer and associate professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says scientific studies on mindfulness “have burgeoned recently, with demonstrated benefits ranging from decreased stress and anxiety to increased immune-system functioning and pain tolerance.”

“The costs of stress for employers include not only absenteeism and losses in productivity,” she says, “but also include medical costs related to unhealthy behavior patterns [such as alcohol or drug abuse, overeating, smoking and sedentary lifestyles as well as] stressful lifestyles that create and/or exacerbate chronic illness [including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke].”

Harnett, in her column, corroborates Wolever’s benefits and adds a few more:

“When all is said and done, mind-body programs seem to be at least as effective as lifestyle-management programs and bring benefits such as decreased stress and sleep challenges, and improved cardiac responses to stressful situations.

“Researchers such as RAND Corp.’s Soeren Mattke indicate lifestyle-management programs do not decrease healthcare costs to nearly the same levels as disease-management programs. However, Mattke related on the CoHealth radio show I co-host that employees with chronic health conditions achieve even better results when they participate in both disease- and lifestyle-management initiatives.

“Finally, as Mattke said and I agree, there are other reasons to offer lifestyle-management programs, including mind-body therapies, to your worksite. Mind-body curriculums will most likely please a growing portion of your employee population and improve your workers’ perceptions of the workplace culture. And that may be an employer’s greatest consideration of all.”