3 ways to promote inclusion in your workplace

Are you looking to grow your current inclusion practices or build new ones? Read this blog post to learn three ways employers can promote inclusion in their workplace.


Diversity and inclusion is top of mind for HR practitioners and employees alike. If we think about diversity as who is walking through the door, then inclusion would be the next part of the employee experience. With the recent focus on workplace diversity trends, it’s important to not forget how important it is to create an inclusive working environment.

It’s critical to facilitate relationship building with new hires and their teams. We often focus on the work to be done without taking time to get to know our co-workers as individuals. When we see each other as people and learn to appreciate our similarities and differences, it makes it easier for everyone to thrive.

Whether you’re looking to grow your current inclusion practices or are starting from scratch, try these three action items:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask.

It may sound simple, but a great first step to improving inclusion is to survey employees. By conducting quick and easy “pulse” surveys, you can gauge the level of belonging that employees feel. You can do this by launching survey focused on diversity or add questions around inclusion and belonging into your existing employee engagement surveys. Once you have a baseline on company sentiment, you can begin to improve areas that may be lacking. Start to put in place mechanisms to support individuals from different backgrounds and don’t forget to conduct these surveys on an ongoing basis.

2. New Hire Buddies

Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, it can be hard to meet new people when you start a new job. Consider creating a “buddy” program to encourage new hires to bond with their co-workers. Companies hit roadblocks when they put the onus on new employees to reach out and engage with their teams. Having the support of a “buddy” at work helps create a feeling of security, which leads to greater engagement. The more engaged your employees are, the longer they will want to stay with your company.

3. Resource Groups

Employee resource groups (ERGs), sometimes also called affinity groups, serve as a platform that employees can use to build a culture of inclusion and belonging. Not only do they foster a sense of community within your organization, they also help new hires transition into their new working environment. These groups create opportunities for education and understanding between diverse individuals across your company. They can also be a great launchpad for new ideas and change in creating more inclusive policies and practices.

Fostering an inclusive company culture helps increase both engagement and retention. The better an employee feels about working at your organization, the greater the likelihood that they will reach their full potential on the job. Measure your current state of inclusion with regular pulse surveys and follow up with making changes as necessary to foster stronger relationships across the organization.

Source: Li, J. (19 July 2018). "3 ways to promote inclusion in your workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/3-ways-to-promote-inclusion-in-your-workplace


How tech solutions can take aim at employee stress

Workers are stressed out. Stress can lead to a number of grave health conditions and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Read this blog post to learn how technology is helping battle employee stress.


In case you haven’t noticed, today’s workforce is completely stressed out. Overwhelming workloads, looming deadlines and the 24/7 always-on mentality is becoming the corporate America norm. Unfortunately, long-term stress can contribute to everything from heart disease to strokes, cancer and other grave conditions. Stressed employees also are more likely to be unmotivated, quit their jobs, perform poorly and have low morale and higher incidence of illness and accidents.

Because everyone copes with stress differently, some deal with it in unhealthy ways, such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol, according to the American Psychological Association. This vicious cycle makes stress one of the top health concerns, with 49% of individuals at risk for stress-related illnesses, second only to weight, which impacts 69% of individuals, according to internal research.

All in all, employee stress is causing employers … well, stress. In fact, the cost of work-related stress in the US is $300 billion annually, according to the American Institute of Stress. Further, behavioral-related disability costs have increased more than 300% in the past decade and account for 30% of all disability claims.

While more than two-thirds of US corporations have adopted some kind of health and wellness program, the majority doesn’t adequately address or even include solutions that support mental health. That’s why it’s critical to educate employers on the real cost of stress and the benefits of an effective stress-related wellness initiative to help keep health costs down, while keeping employee productivity and retention up.

However the realities of promoting a healthy balance for employees, while simultaneously ensuring the delivery of quality work that’s completed on time, is much easier said than done. Anecdotally, we often hear that employees don’t feel they are benefiting from their corporate wellness plans because they don’t have time or they can’t break away from their desks.

Walk the walk
What can employers do to break the cycle? First and foremost, stress reduction starts from the top-down as management and bosses play a key role in employee adoption and lasting engagement. Not only are they responsible for communicating about available resources, they need to literally and figuratively walk the walk. When leadership incorporates stress management into their own lives, employees understand the company's commitment to these practices and feel more comfortable taking a break.

The role of technology
Some of the most effective wellness programs leverage a variety of technologies that offer something for everyone and makes it easier for employees to engage and benefit, regardless of where they are or the time of day. Popular technology-based solutions include:

· Digital health platforms — Connecting employees to health coaches, board-certified physicians, and colleagues who can provide support for those dealing with stress and offer guidance with chronic disease resulting from, or adding to, individuals’ stress levels.
· Digital health games — Employees receive encouragement and rewards through fun, engaging games in which they compete against others in stress-busting exercise to reach health goals.
· Wearables — Employees can sync popular wearable devices, such as their Apple Watch, to visualize the impact of guided meditations on their heart rate. Through smart feedback, employees can better understand which meditation exercises, locations, and times of day have the greatest impact on their heart rate, and therefore, stress level.
· Virtual Reality guided meditation — Combining an immersive VR with mindfulness meditation can help transport employees to relaxing environments, bringing a whole new dimension to the meditation experience. Using apps on their cell phones and portable VR headsets, employees are able to practice meditation from any place, at any time. In addition to stress reduction, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that meditation can heighten attention spansimprove sleepreduce chronic pain and fight addictions like drug and alcohol abuse, and binge eating.

The bottom line: Stressed-out employees can have significant health and financial consequences for your clients. With the start of open enrollment season just a few short months away, it’s time to start educating your customers about the benefits of incorporating mental health programs, like digital health platforms and meditation, into their corporate wellness plans to mitigate employee stress and improve productivity.

Miller, M. (11 July 2018) "How tech solutions can take aim at employee stress" (Web Blog Post) Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/mental-fitness-why-your-corporate-wellness-portfolio-needs-mental-health-solutions


3 ways to support employee caregivers

Caregiving can impact the well-being of employees. Because of this, many employers have started offering benefits to employees who provide care to loved ones.


Think about the people you work with every day—their similarities and differences, their hobbies and family backgrounds, their areas of expertise. Despite their myriad differences, employees of all backgrounds face common challenges that preoccupy their thoughts and pull them away from their work.

A newly released white paper, “Taking Care of Caregivers: Why corporate America should support employees who give their hearts and souls to those in need,” highlights caregiving as an emerging factor that greatly impacts the well-being of today’s workforce.

The scope of what it means to be a caregiver is broad, and many employers remain unaware of how caregiving affects the well-being of their employees. “For many, caregiving is comparable to holding down a second job, and the lines between their work and personal lives become blurry, at best, when the care of a loved one is top-of-mind,” the white paper states. “Tethered by an emotional struggle to leave unpaid caregiving at home, these people must go to work and are expected to perform at the highest level.”

Transamerican Institute’s pivotal study, The Many Faces of Caregiving, reported that 14 percent of employee caregivers go so far as to reduce their work hours or receive a demotion. Another 5 percent  give up working entirely.

While caregiving proves costly for employee well-being, studies also reveal how costly it is for business. According to AARP and the Family Caregiver Alliance, employee caregiving costs employers:

  • Up to $33 billion annually from lost productivity
  • $6.6 billion to replace employees who retire early or quit
  • $5.1 billion in absenteeism

It doesn’t take a “Big Four” accounting firm to see that ignoring this challenge is bad for business. The National Business Group on Health reports 88 percent of employers have “expectations that caregiving will become an increasingly important issue in the next five years.”

But what can be done to make life easier for employee caregivers and keep them happy, healthy and focused at work? Companies of all sizes are taking notice of this challenge and embarking on the first steps to support employee caregivers.

Taking Care of Caregivers highlights a few policies industry leaders have implemented thus far to support employee caregivers.

1. Offer paid leave for caregivers

Giving employee caregivers time and space to be with their loved one and figure out what’s next is a great starting point.

Companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Facebook all offer paid time off for employees to care for sick family members. Facebook even offers 10 to 20 days of bereavement leave, which provides much-needed time for caregivers to focus on self-care after experiencing the loss of a loved one.

Renee Albert, Facebook’s Director of benefits, goes so far as to say, “Caregiver support is part of our DNA,” as Facebook aspires to be “the best company for families, no matter how you define ‘family.’”

2. Get creative with online resources

While paid leave certainly frees up time for employee caregivers to focus on their loved one’s care, simply providing PTO doesn’t guarantee that the employee will figure out how to best care for their loved one while they’re away from work. Most first-time caregivers spend hours searching the internet for what to do next with little luck or clarity.

Taking Care of Caregivers cites online support groups, decision-support systems and digital support platforms as primary ways to support employee caregivers in today’s digital world. These tools can be particularly helpful for emotional support and guidance.

“Use opportunities to create communities,” Albert suggests. “Often just knowing you aren’t alone and have someone to share your experience with goes a long way.”

3. Consider how your workplace culture can benefit caregivers

Caregiving programs come in all shapes and sizes, and companies of all sizes can leverage their resources to develop solutions that are responsive to the needs of employee caregivers. This includes options like telecommuting and flexible schedules, which are becoming increasingly common as traditional workplace culture continues to change.

A study conducted by AARP and the ReACT coalition confirms the importance of these programs, stating that “flextime and telecommuting programs saw an ROI of between $1.70 and $4.45 for every dollar invested. What’s more, a work-family human resources policy is associated with a share price increase of .32 percent on the day that policy is announced.”

Even incorporating stress-reduction activities into the workplace can go a long way for caregivers. On-site yoga and exercise classes, relaxation techniques, and massage therapy are just a few options that can help caregivers focus on self-care.

As America’s workforce continues to face the challenges of caregiving, it is time for employers to creatively consider ways to offer support to this preoccupied and stressed-out employee group. Caregiving will eventually touch us all. Take part in these initiatives now, and your employees will thank you later.

SOURCE:
Payne, E. (19 July 2018) "3 ways to support employee caregivers" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/19/3-ways-to-support-employee-caregivers/


A vacation can't undo the damage of a stressful work environment

Researchers say employees experience chronic stress during their workday and vacations aren't helping to fix it. Take a look at why a stress free work environment is critical for productivity.


That easy breezy feeling after taking a vacation slips away pretty quickly when people have to face the same systemic workplace issues that wore them down in the first place, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2018 Work and Well-Being survey.

The Harris Poll surveyed 1,512 U.S. adults who were employed either full time, part time or were self-employed, and found that nearly a quarter (24 percent) say the positive effects of vacation time – such as more energy and feeling less stress – disappear immediately upon returning to work. Forty percent say the benefits last only a few days.

“Employers shouldn’t rely on the occasional vacation to offset a stressful work environment,” says David W. Ballard, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “Unless they address the organizational factors causing stress and promote ongoing stress management efforts, the benefits of time off can be fleeting. When stress levels spike again shortly after employees return to work, that’s bad for workers and for business.”

More than a third (35 percent) of respondents say they experience chronic stress during their workday, due to low pay (49 percent), lack of opportunity for growth or advancement (46 percent), too heavy of a workload (42 percent) and unrealistic job expectations and long hours (39 percent each).

However, just half say their employer provides the resources necessary to help them meet their mental health needs. When adequate resources are provided, only 33 percent of the respondents say they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday, compared to 59 percent of those who say their employer doesn’t provide sufficient mental health resources. When it comes to overall well-being, nearly three-fourths of employees supported with mental health resources (73 percent) say their employer helps them develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle, compared to 14 percent who say they don’t have the resources.

“Chronic work stress, insufficient mental health resources, feeling overworked and under supported – these are issues facing too many workers, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” Ballard says. “Psychological research points the way in how employers can adopt effective workplace practices that go a long way in helping their employees thrive and their business grow.”

Even in a very supportive workplace environment, encouraging vacations can boost morale and performance even more, according to the survey. Upon returning from vacation, employees who say their organization’s culture encourages time off were more likely to report having more motivation (71 percent) compared to employees who say their organization doesn’t encourage time off (45 percent). They are also more likely to say they are more productive (73 percent vs. 47 percent) and that their work quality is better (70 percent vs. 46 percent).

Overall, respondents are more likely to say they feel valued by their employer (80 percent vs. 37 percent), that they are satisfied with their job (88 percent vs. 50 percent) and that the organization treats them fairly (88 percent vs. 47 percent). They are similarly more likely to say they would recommend their organization as a good place to work (81 percent vs. 39 percent).

“A supportive culture and supervisor, the availability of adequate paid time off, effective work-life policies and practices, and psychological issues like trust and fairness all play a major role in how employees achieve maximum recharge,” Ballard says. “Much of that message comes from the top, but a culture that supports time off is woven throughout all aspects of the workplace.”

SOURCE:
Kuehner-Hebert, K (13 July 2018) "A vacation can't undo the damage of a stressful work environment" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/02/a-vacation-cant-undo-the-damage-of-a-stressful-wor/


Top 10 health conditions costing employers the most

Conditions that impact plan costs can be problematic. Here is a look into the top 10 health conditions hitting the hardest on employers wallets.


As healthcare costs continue to rise, more employers are looking at ways to target those costs. One step they are taking is looking at what health conditions are hitting their pocketbooks the hardest.

“About half of employers use disease management programs to help manage the costs of these very expensive chronic conditions,” says Julie Stich, associate vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans. “In addition, about three in five employers use health screenings and health risk assessments to help employees identify and monitor these conditions so that they can be managed more effectively. Early identification helps the employer and the employee.”

What conditions are costly for employers to cover? In IFEPB’s Workplace Wellness Trends 2017 Survey, more than 500 employers were asked to select the top three conditions impacting plan costs. The following 10 topped the list.

10. High-risk pregnancy

Although high-risk pregnancies have seen a dip of 1% since 2015, they still bottom out the list in 2017; 5.6% of employers report these costs are a leading cost concern for health plans.

9. Smoking

Smoking has remained a consistent concern of employers over the last several years; 8.6% of employers report smoking has significant impact on health plans.

8. High cholesterol

While high cholesterol still has a major impact on health costs- 11.6% say it's a top cause of raising healthcare costs- that number is significantly lower from where it was in 2015 (19.3%).

7. Depression/ mental illness

For 13.9% of employers, mental health has a big influence on healthcare costs. This is down from 22.8% in 2015.

6. Hypertension/ high blood pressure

This is the first condition in IFEBP's report to have dropped a ranking in the last two years. In 2015, hypertension/ high blood pressure ranked 5th with 28.9% of employers reporting it is a high cost condition. In 2017, the condition dropped to 6th with 27.6% of employers noting high costs associated with the disease.

5. Heart disease

This year's study found that 28.4% of employers reported high costs associated with heart disease. In 2015, heart disease was the second highest cost driver with 37.1% of employers citing high costs from the disease.

4. Arthritis/back/musculoskeletal

Nearly three in 10 employers (28.9%) say these conditions are drivers of their health plan costs, compared to 34.5% in 2015.

3. Obesity

Obesity is still a top concern for employers, but slightly less so than it was two years ago. In 2017, 29% of employers found obesity to be a burden on health plans. In 2015, 32.45 cited obesity as a major cost driver.

2. Cancer (all kinds)

Cancer has become more expensive for employers. Now, 35.4% of employers report cancer increasing the costs of health plans, compared to 32% in 2015.

1. Diabetes

The king of raising health costs, diabetes has topped the list both in 2015 and 2017. In the most recent report, 44.3% of employers say diabetes is among the conditions impacting plan costs.

SOURCE:
Otto. N (18 June 2018) "Top 10 health conditions costing employers the most" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/slideshow/top-10-health-conditions-costing-employers-the-most


7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal

Need more energy and excitement in your office? Keep your employees healthy and motivated with these fun wellness program ideas.


Building your own workplace wellness program takes work–and time–but it’s worth it.

“It’s an investment we need to make,” Jennifer Bartlett, HR director at Griffin Communication, told a group of benefits managers during a session at the Human Resource Executive Health and Benefits Leadership Conference. “We want [employees] to be healthy and happy, and if they’re healthy and happy they’ll be more productive.”

Bartlett shared her experiences building, and (continually) tweaking, a wellness program at her company–a multimedia company running TV outlets across Oklahoma –over the last seven years. “If there was a contest or challenge we’ve done it,” she said, noting there have been some failed ventures.

“We got into wellness because we wanted to reduce health costs, but that’s not why we do it today,” she said. “We do it today because employees like it and it increases morale and engagement.”

Though Griffin Communication's wellness program is extensive and covers more than this list, here are some components of it that's working out well that your company might want to steal:

  1. Fitbit challenge.Yes, fit bits can make a difference, Bartlett said. The way she implemented a program was to have a handful of goals and different levels as not everyone is at the same pace-some might walk 20,000 steps in a day, while someone else might strive for 5,000. There are also competition and rewards attached. At Griffin Communications, the company purchased a number of Fitbits, then sold them to its employees for half the cost.
  2. Race entry.Griffin tries to get its employees moving by being supportive of their fitness goals. If an employee wants to participate in a race-whether walking or running a 5k or even a marathon, it will reimburse them up to $50 one time.
  3. Wellness pantry.This idea, Bartlett said, was "more popular than I ever could have imagined." Bartlett stocks up the fridge and pantry in the company's kitchen with healthy food options. Employees then pay whole sale the price of the food, so it's a cheap option for them to instead of hitting the vending machine. "Employees can pay 25 cents for a bottled water or $1.50 for a soda from the machine."
  4. Gym membership."We don't have an onsite workout facility, but we offer 50 percent reimbursement of (employees') gym membership cost up to a max of 200 per year," she said. The company also reimburses employees for fitness classes, such as yoga.
  5. Biggest Loser contest.Though this contest isn't always popular among companies, a Biggest Loser-type competition- in which employees compete to lose the most weight-worked out well at Griffin. Plus, Bartlett said, "this doesn't cost us anything because the employee buys in $10 to do it." She also insisted the company is sensitive to employees. For example, they only share percentages of weight loss instead of sharing how much each worker weights.
  6. "Project Zero" contest.This is a program pretty much everyone can use: Its aim is to avoid gaining the dreaded holiday wights. The contest runs from early to mid- November through the first of the year. "Participants will weigh in the first and last day of the contest," Bartlett said. "The goal is to not gain weight during the holidays-we're not trying to get people to lose weight but we're just to not get them to not eat that third piece of pie."
  7. Corporate challenges.Nothing both builds camaraderie and encourages fitness like a team sports or company field day. Bartlett said that employees have basically taken this idea and run with it themselves- coming up with fun ideas throughout the year.

SOURCE:
Mayer K (14 June 2018) "7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2015/10/10/7-wellness-program-ideas-you-may-want-to-steal/


Lack Of Insurance Exposes Blind Spots In Vision Care

Vision problems are typically not life threatening but can impact the success of your everyday life. Vision care is a significant benefit that could change the lives of many families.


Every day, a school bus drops off as many as 45 children at a community eye clinic on Chicago’s South Side. Many of them are referred to the clinic after failing vision screenings at their public schools.

Clinicians and students from the Illinois College of Optometry give the children comprehensive eye exams, which feature refraction tests to determine a correct prescription for eyeglasses and dilation of their pupils to examine their eyes, including the optic nerve and retina.

No family pays out-of-pocket for the exam. The program bills insurance if the children have coverage, but about a third are uninsured. Operated in partnership with Chicago public schools, the program annually serves up to 7,000 children from birth through high school.

“Many of the kids we’re serving fall through the cracks,” said Dr. Sandra Block, a professor of optometry at the Illinois College of Optometry and medical director of the school-based vision clinics program. Many are low-income Hispanic and African-American children whose parents may not speak English or are immigrants who are not in the country legally.

Falling through the cracks is not an uncommon problem when it comes to vision care. According to a 2016 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, as many as 16 million people in the United States have undiagnosed or uncorrected “refractive” errors that could be fixed with eyeglasses, contact lenses or surgery. And while insurance coverage for eye exams and corrective lenses clearly has improved, significant gaps remain.

The national academies’ report noted that impaired vision affects how people experience their world, including normal communication and social activities, independence and mobility. Not seeing clearly can hamper children’s academic achievement, social development and long-term health.

But when people must choose, vision care may lose out to more pressing medical concerns, said Block, who was on the committee that developed the report.

“Vision issues are not life-threatening,” she said. “People get through their day knowing they can’t see as well as they’d like.”

Insurance can make regular eye exams, glasses and treatment for medical problems such as cataracts more accessible and affordable. But comprehensive vision coverage is often achieved only through a patchwork of plans.

The Medicare program that provides coverage for millions of Americans age 65 and older doesn’t include routine eye exams, refraction testing or eyeglasses. Some tests are covered if you’re at high risk for a condition such as glaucoma, for example. And if you develop a vision-related medical condition such as cataracts, the program will cover your medical care.

But if you’re just a normal 70-year-old and you want to get your eyes examined, the program won’t cover it, said Dr. David Glasser, an ophthalmologist in Columbia, Md., who is a clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. If you make an appointment because you’re experiencing troubling symptoms and get measured for eyeglasses while there, you’ll likely be charged anywhere from about $30 to $75, Glasser said.

There are a few exceptions. Medicare will pay for one pair of glasses or contact lenses following cataract surgery, for example. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer vision care.

Many commercial health insurance plans also exclude routine vision care from their coverage. Employers may offer workers a separate vision plan to fill in the gaps.

VSP Vision Care provides vision care plans to 60,000 employers and other clients, said Kate Renwick-Espinosa, the organization’s president. A typical plan provides coverage for a comprehensive eye exam once a year and an allowance toward standard eyeglasses or contact lenses, sometimes with a copayment. Also, individuals seeking plans make up a growing part of their business, she said.

Vision coverage for kids improved under the Affordable Care Act. The law requires most plans sold on the individual and small-group market to offer vision benefits for children younger than 19. That generally means that those plans cover a comprehensive eye exam, including refraction, every year, as well as a pair of glasses or contact lenses.

But since pediatric eye exams aren’t considered preventive care that must be covered without charging people anything out-of-pocket under the ACA, they’re subject to copays and the deductible.

Medicaid programs for low-income people also typically cover vision benefits for children and sometimes for adults as well, said Dr. Christopher Quinn, president of the American Optometric Association, a professional group.

But coverage alone isn’t enough. To bring down the number of people with undiagnosed or uncorrected vision, education is key to helping people understand the importance of eye health in maintaining good vision. Just as important, it can also reduce the impact of chronic conditions such as diabetes, the national academies’ report found.

“All health care providers need to at least ask vision questions when providing primary care,” said Block.

SOURCE:
Andrews M (13 JUNE 2018). "Lack Of Insurance Exposes Blind Spots In Vision Care" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/lack-of-insurance-exposes-blind-spots-in-vision-care/


Are You And Your Primary Care Doc Ready To Talk About Your DNA?

Knowing your genes could save your life, especially if a genetic mutation is hereditary. See why incorporating DNA testing is a crucial part of your primary care.


If you have a genetic mutation that increases your risk for a treatable medical condition, would you want to know? For many people the answer is yes. But such information is not commonly part of routine primary care.

For patients at Geisinger Health System, that could soon change. Starting in the next month or so, the Pennsylvania-based system will offer DNA sequencing to 1,000 patients, with the goal to eventually extend the offer to all 3 million Geisinger patients.

The test will look for mutations in at least 77 genes that are associated with dozens of medical conditions ranging from heart disease to cancer, as well as variability in how people respond to pharmaceuticals based on heredity.

“We’re giving more precision to the very important decisions that people need to make,” said Dr. David Feinberg, Geisinger’s president and CEO. In the same way that primary care providers currently suggest checking someone’s cholesterol, “we would have that discussion with patients,” he said. “‘It looks like we haven’t done your genome. Why don’t we do that?’”

Some physicians and health policy analysts question whether such genetic information is necessary to provide good primary care — or feasible for many primary care physicians.

The new clinical program builds on a research biobank and genome-sequencing initiative called MyCode that Geisinger started in 2007 to collect and analyze its patients’ DNA. That effort has enrolled more than 200,000 people.

Like MyCode, the new clinical program is based on whole “exome” sequencing, analyzing the roughly 1 percent of the genome that provides instructions for making proteins, where most known disease-causing mutations occur.

Using this analysis, clinicians might be able to tell Geisinger patients that they have a genetic variant associated with Lynch syndrome, for example, which leads to increased risk of colon and other cancers, or familial hypercholesterolemia, which can result in high cholesterol levels and heart disease at a young age. Some people might learn they have increased susceptibility to  malignant hyperthermia, a hereditary mutation that can be fatal since it causes a severe reaction to certain medications used during anesthesia.

Samples of a patient’s blood or spit are used to provide a DNA sample. After analysis, the results are sent to the patient’s primary care doctor.

Before speaking with the patient, the doctor takes a 30-minute online continuing education tutorial to review details about genetic testing and the disorder. Then the patient is informed and invited to meet with the primary care provider, along with a genetic counselor if desired. At that point, doctor and patient can discuss treatment and prevention options, including lifestyle changes like diet and exercise that can reduce the risk of disease.

About 3.5 percent of the people who’ve been tested through Geisinger’s research program had a genetic variant that could result in a medical problem for which clinicians can recommend steps to influence their health, Feinberg said. Only actionable mutations are communicated to patients. Geisinger won’t inform them if they have a variant of the APOE gene that increases their risk for Alzheimer’s disease, for example, because there’s no clinical treatment. (Geisinger is working toward developing a policy for how to handle these results if patients ask for them.)

Wendy Wilson, a Geisinger spokeswoman, said that what they’re doing is very different from direct-to-consumer services like 23andMe, which tests customers’ saliva to determine their genetic risk for several diseases and traits and makes the results available in an online report.

“Geisinger is prescribing DNA sequencing to patients and putting DNA results in electronic health records and actually creating an action plan to prevent that predisposition from occurring. We are preventing disease from happening,” she said.

Geisinger will absorb the estimated $300 to $500 cost of the sequencing test. Insurance companies typically don’t cover DNA sequencing and limit coverage for adult genetic tests for specific mutations, such as those related to the breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 or BRCA2, unless the patient has a family history of the condition or other indications they’re at high risk.

“Most of the medical spending in America is done after people have gotten sick,” said Feinberg. “We think this will decrease spending on a lot of care.”

Some clinicians aren’t so sure. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch is a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice who has authored books about overdiagnosis and overscreening, including “Less Medicine, More Health.”

He credited Geisinger with carefully targeting the genes in which it looks for actionable mutations instead of taking an all-encompassing approach. He acknowledged that for some conditions, like Lynch syndrome, people with genetic mutations would benefit from being followed closely. But he questioned the value of DNA sequencing to identify other conditions, such as some related to heart disease.

“What are we really going to do differently for those patients?” he asked. “We should all be concerned about heart disease. We should all exercise, we should eat real food.”

Welch said he was also concerned about the cascading effect of expensive and potentially harmful medical treatment when a genetic risk is identified.

“Doctors will feel the pressure to do something: start a medication, order a test, make a referral. You have to be careful. Bad things happen,” he said.

Other clinicians question primary care physicians’ comfort with and time for incorporating DNA sequencing into their practices.

A survey of nearly 500 primary care providers in the New York City area published in Health Affairs this month found that only a third of them had ordered a genetic test, given patients a genetic test result or referred one for genetic counseling in the past year.

Only a quarter of survey respondents said they felt prepared to work with patients who had genetic testing for common diseases or were at high risk for genetic conditions. Just 14 percent reported they were confident they could interpret genetic test results.

“Even though they had training, they felt unprepared to incorporate genomics into their practice,” said Dr. Carol Horowitz, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who co-authored the study.

Speaking as a busy primary care practitioner, she questioned the feasibility of adding genomic medicine to regular visits.

“Geisinger is a very well-resourced health system and they’ve made a decision to incorporate that into their practices,” she said. In Harlem, where Horowitz works as an internist, it could be a daunting challenge. “Our plates are already overflowing, and now you’re going to dump a lot more on our plate.”

SOURCE:
Andrews, M (12 June 2018). "Are You And Your Primary Care Doc Ready To Talk About Your DNA?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/are-you-and-your-primary-care-doc-ready-to-talk-about-your-dna/


Employee benefit satisfaction has direct relation to job fulfillment

New reports say that employees would sacrifice pay increases for better benefits. Heres some tips on how to keep your employees satisfied.


A link between the satisfaction workers feel about their benefits — both employment based and voluntary — has a direct relation with retention opportunities for employers.

Eight in 10 employees who ranked their benefits satisfaction as extremely or very high also ranked job satisfaction as extremely or very high, according to Employee Benefit Research Institute’s recent 2017 Health and Workplace Benefits Survey. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of respondents who ranked benefits satisfaction as extremely or very high ranked their morel as excellent or very good.

“It is important for employers to understand that benefits continue to be valued by employees,” says Paul Fronstin, director of the health research and education program at EBRI. “Health insurance, retirement plans, dental, vision and life insurance continue to be highly important when making job change decisions.”

In fact, the survey finds that more than four in 10 respondents say they would forgo a wage increase to receive an increase in their work-life balance benefits, and nearly two in 10 state a preference for more health benefits and lower wages.

Employees continue to indicate benefits play a key role in whether to remain at a job or choose a new job. Since 2013, health insurance consistently remains one of the top benefits that employees consider in assessing a job change.

Last year, 83% say health insurance is very or extremely important in deciding whether to stay in or change jobs. A retirement savings plan is also one of the critical benefits, with 73% indicating it is extremely or very important in determining whether to stay in or switch jobs.

Although employees say they are generally satisfied with the employee benefits provide today, there is a growing concern benefit programs might start to dwindle. When asked, only 19% of respondents say they are extremely confident in what will be provided will be similar to what they have now in three years.

Other challenges remain

“The challenge is how employers can continue to provide the strong employee benefits package that employees want and need, while still controlling the costs of these benefits, particularly healthcare,” Fronstin notes.

Employee education on benefit offerings could use some beefing up. According to the study a little more than one-half (52%) of employees say they understand their health benefits and 43% indicate they understand their non-health benefits very/extremely well.

Some of this limited understanding of benefits may come from the lack — or perceived lack — of benefit educational opportunities that employees are receiving from their employer, according to the study.

Nearly one-third (31%) of employees indicate that their employer or benefits company provides no education or advice on benefits. Only 39% state that their employer provides education on how health insurance works, 24% say that their employer provides education on how a health savings account works, and 28% confirm that their employer offers education on how to invest money in their retirement plan.

In any case, Fronstin adds, “as employers weigh the future of benefits, they should consider that health insurance consistently remains one of the top benefits that employees consider in assessing a job change, with retirement savings plan also viewed as a critical benefit.”

SOURCE:
Otto N (4 June 2018) "Employee benefit satisfaction has direct relation to job fulfillment" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employee-benefit-satisfaction-has-direct-relation-to-job-fulfillment


Five Practical Ways to Support Mental Well-being at Work

Mental well-being impacts engagement, absenteeism and productivity. Discover how help make the workplace atmosphere and environment more pleasant with these tricks.


The American Institute of Stress reports that stress is the nation’s top health problem. This makes sense, as mental capacity is highly valued in the workplace but can also be highly vulnerable. Today’s workplace, with technology, fast-paced growth and decreased resources, can contribute to increased stress.

Companies should value the mental health of their employees as a top asset and fiercely protect it. Mental well-being impacts engagement, presenteeism, absenteeism and productivity — all of which impact businesses bottom lines. More importantly, supporting and protecting the mental health of your employees is the right thing to do.

Here are five best practices to support mental health in the workplace.

  1. Normalize the conversation.

Top-down support of mental health is crucial in creating an open dialogue, as is an open-door policy. Senior leaders should participate in the conversation about mental wellbeing to show buy in. Normalizing the occurrence of a grief reaction or stress disorder can insure that your employees seek help when it happens to them.

Establishing mental health champions within your organization is another way to encourage a healthy dialogue. People with mental health conditions who want to help others are great candidates for this role.

Use awareness days that focus on stress and mental health as external nudges to educate staff about these important issues. Importantly, remind staff that a diversity of perspectives, including those with lived mental health experiences, are valued and encouraged in inclusive environments.

  1. Implement strong policies and procedures.

Disclosure can help an employee seek the appropriate resources and care before conditions worsen, so having proper policies and procedures in place are important in removing barriers to disclose.

This includes protection against discrimination, which is usually a top concern for employees, as well as providing appropriate workplace accommodations. Ensure managers are aware of key resources, like employee assistance programs, and maintain confidentiality when an employee discloses information.

Beyond this, educate employees on policies, procedures and proper protocols to increase employee awareness. Here’s a tip: Repeat key messages and tailor your communications to better reach your staff.

  1. Prevention is better than cure.

It’s essential to remember that anyone is susceptible to stress and a resulting decline in their mental health, whether a preexisting condition exists or not. Big life events like having a baby or losing a loved one and every day struggles like money worries, relationship issues or work-related stress can cause or aggravate mental health conditions to the point of interfering with work. 

Mental wellness sessions or work/life balance programs can help. Bring in an expert and talk to your staff about how to safeguard their own mental health, build resilience and recognize signs of distress in others.

  1. Tailor your benefits package to support mental wellbeing.

Choose a major medical plan that gives employees access to quality mental health specialists in network, as these costs can add up significantly. Helping employees have access to and triage the right specialist support is crucial in managing conditions.

EAPs can act as a first line of defense for a wide range of problems – from money and relationship worries to support for working caregivers. They provide both practical and emotional support for employees through confidential counseling and can help prevent issues from escalating and impacting productivity. These programs are often offered as part of a major medical or disability plan, so your company may already have access to them.

Money worries can also take an emotional toll on wellbeing. In fact, financial concerns were the leading cause of stress across all generations in a recent consumer study conducted by my company, Unum.

Help your employees establish a strong financial foundation by offering financially-focused benefits, like life and disability insurance, retirement savings options and supplemental health benefits that can close the rising financial gap in medical plans.

If your budget doesn’t cover these benefits, consider offering them on a voluntary basis. Access to financial protection benefits are more affordable when offered through the workplace, even if the employee picks up the cost.

Flexible hours or remote working options can also help employees schedule their work days when they’re feeling most productive. This can help reduce presenteeism for mental ill-health, and it also signals to employees that you’re supportive of a healthy work/life balance.

  1. Encourage self-care.

Self-care plays a critical role in overall wellbeing. Encourage employees to do small tasks that’ll help them build resilience over time.

The basics like getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising are foundational in overall wellbeing.

Beyond these staples, developing appropriate time management and work/life balance skills are also important. Delegating and collaborating are also key to ensure healthy work behaviors which also decrease stress.

While technology and our always-on culture make it hard to disconnect, encourage employees to set device off-times so they can fully recharge before the next day. And most important, model this behavior to your staff and limit after hours work and emails.

Having a holistic mental well-being strategy that includes prevention, intervention and protection is essential for unlocking a workforce’s true potential.

 

SOURCE:
Jackson M (4 June 2018) "Five Practical Ways to Support Mental Well-being at Work" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.workforce.com/2018/05/18/five-practical-ways-support-mental-well-work/