One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health

Are you promoting oral health when promoting employee wellness? Research shows an association between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease. Continue reading to learn more.


With the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare benefits approaching $15,000 a year per employee, according to the National Business Group on Health, innovative companies are looking for new and creative ways to get maximum value from their benefits dollars.

By embracing benefits strategies focused on overall health, companies can help their current employees be healthier and more productive and attract and retain the workers they need to succeed in today’s competitive labor markets.

And although wellness programs or health apps might first spring to mind, there’s an overlooked way to promote employees’ health: oral care.

Guided by research that shows associations between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease, forward-thinking dental insurers are developing products that emphasize the importance of regular oral care, particularly for workers with those conditions — and smart companies are jumping on board.

Products that emphasize the importance of maintaining oral health are an important step in integrating care. Over the next several years, leading-edge insurers will create new ways to engage patients in conversations about their dental and overall health, as they seek to encourage behavior changes and improve health outcomes. To help improve oral and overall well-being, insurers will need to share oral care information with their members through targeted emails, text messages and phone calls.

Additionally, because individuals dealing with a complex treatment plan may put off receiving oral care while they address their medical issues, they could benefit from plans featuring a case manager, or a “dental champion.” Working in conjunction with medical case managers, a dental champion can help employees understand how receiving regular oral care can influence their overall health. They also can ensure a company’s workforce is getting the oral care they need, helping them find providers and arrange appointments.

Savvy employers recognize that any realistic effort to limit the increase in healthcare costs begins by addressing chronic ailments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease, like heart disease, cancer, stroke or diabetes.

By promoting overall health — including regular oral care — employers can encourage positive lifestyle changes that help their employees reduce the likelihood of many chronic problems. Those who brush and floss their teeth regularly, receive frequent cleanings and checkups and deal with oral issues at early stages are taking steps to improve their overall health.

Because everyone’s individual situation is different, insurers and employers will need to include a more personalized approach, engaging members in conversations about their dental health and how it contributes to attaining their overall health goals.

SOURCE: Palmer, T. (13 June 2019) "One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/promoting-wellbeing-through-dental-health


Why employers can’t hit snooze on tired employees

Research shows that a lack of sleep can negatively impact performance and mental and physical health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than a third of American adults are not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Continue on to learn more.


It’s time for a wake-up call. We’ve all heard the familiar phrases — sleep when you’re dead or burn the midnight oil from high-powered CEOs and celebrities touting how they sacrificed sleep to advance their careers.

But research shows that lack of sleep may have the opposite effect. Rather than helping people get ahead at work, losing out on sleep can negatively impact performance and, more importantly, mental and physical health.

It’s time for employers to recognize the role sleep plays in employee well-being and take steps to foster a workplace culture that reinforces and encourages healthy behaviors.

More than a third of American adults are not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A lack of sleep can lead to:

  • Increased absenteeism and illness. The U.S. loses an equivalent of around 1.2 million working days due to insufficient sleep, and research has found that sleeping fewer than five hours consistently is associated with staying home sick for 4.6 to 8.9 more days.
  • Lost productivity. Losing even just a bit of sleep can affect productivity. A recent study found that participants who lost just 16 minutes of sleep on a nightly basis reported having more distracting thoughts at work.
  • Consequences for physical and mental wellbeing. Lack of sleep has major consequences on long-term health, including increased rates of chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

Lack of sleep affects workers regardless of occupation. For employees who work shifts (often overnight), such as in call centers, manufacturing, hospitals and oil and gas, losing sleep can become a safety risk. In fact, findings have shown that shift work sleep disorder impacts approximately 10% of the night and rotating shift work population.

So how can we promote a healthy sleep culture? There are a number of tools and programs that employers can use to show they value and encourage healthy sleep habits, educate employees about how sleep can improve their work performance and support them in sticking to sleep goals. Organizations like the National Sleep Foundation offer employers resources to learn more about the benefits of sleep tracking to monitor sleep stages and tips to improve sleep for everyday health.

Employers can provide employees with tip sheets, send emails or hang posters around the office to encourage healthy sleep habits and explain how critical sleep is for their wellbeing. Tips employers can share include shutting down electronics 30 minutes before bedtime, keeping smartphones and laptops away from bed to create a sleep zone and using a guided breathing exercise or meditation apps to help the body wind down. It’s also important for managers to lead by example and encourage healthy sleep habits, including avoiding sending emails too late in the evening and being conscious of employees working in other time zones.

Wearables can also help people track their activity, sleep and overall health goals. Before the launch of wearable devices, many types of health data, including quantity and quality of sleep, were only accessible to study participants via sleep labs – which are both costly and time consuming. With today’s technology, employees can better understand their sleep patterns and use that data to find a sleep plan that works for them.

Sleep tracking can also be useful to help employees correlate data and insights based on their schedules, activity levels and what they’ve had to eat or drink. For instance, someone who tracks their sleep may find that getting exercise after work helps them get a better night of rest. Having a different sleep pattern on work days versus days off can cause social jetlag — a feeling almost like changing time zones that can take a significant toll on sleep cycle and overall health. That’s why it’s important to keep a consistent sleep schedule throughout the week and the weekend.

Here’s the bottom line: insufficient sleep contributes to poor productivity, worse health outcomes, absenteeism at work and can create safety risks. Today, more and more employers are working to combat the idea of sacrificing sleep in corporate culture and are recognizing that it is an asset to the workplace, not an enemy.

SOURCE: McDonough, A. (28 May 2019) "Why employers can’t hit snooze on tired employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/sleep-deprivation-impacting-company-bottom-line


Your bad work environment may be raising your healthcare costs

A growing amount of research is documenting a relationship between stressful work environments and a range of chronic conditions. Research is also finding a link between employee health and employee job performance. Continue reading to learn how your work environment could be raising your healthcare costs.


If you want to reduce the cost of healthcare for your employees — while simultaneously improving care — you may need to take a serious look at your work environment. When reviewing areas that could help reduce costs, a much overlooked aspect is a stressful work environment.

While employers have done a lot to reduce the risk of potential injuries in the workplace, they have done far less to reduce stress, which could also be harmful.

Research finds a link between employee health and job performance. There also is a growing body of research documenting the relationship between a stressful work environment and a range of chronic conditions — including depression, hypertension and sleeping problems. But employers often struggle to connect the dots between these health concerns and supporting a healthy environment for employees.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to manage something that remains unmeasured. That’s why measuring outcomes beyond healthcare cost fluctuations, such as absence, periods of work disability and job performance, can help employers understand a broader range of outcomes important to the successful operation of their business.

When employers ask how they can affect the health of their employees, I ask what they know about the working conditions in their organization. Is there management trouble, high turnover, high illness-related absence or low job satisfaction? Some of this can be determined from employee satisfaction surveys, or analyses of sick leave data and work disability claims. Often, even more can be discovered by gathering employee feedback.

For example, listening to employees, equipping them with the knowledge to recognize safety issues and providing the tools or procedures to correct these issues, were key to improving workplace safety. A successful safety review can result in real change. Employees observe this change and a cycle is created where prevention becomes the focus because all are accountable and all have trust based on experience that their identification of potential or real safety issues will be dealt with effectively.

If employers are unaware of the factors in their own work environment that could be modified to lessen psychosocial stressors, a good place to start is by listening to employees. Many employers already conduct job satisfaction surveys or health risk appraisals that provide some information around work and health issues. These same tools could be used to identify and address psychosocial issues in the workplace.

Whatever the channel — a suggestion box, a designated HR representative, a focus group, a survey — it must provide employees with the opportunity to authentically and safely share their perspectives. And, finally, it must be demonstrably legitimate, resulting in employer actions that are clear and meaningful to all.

Typically employers use health and wellness programs in an attempt to remediate rather than prevent illness. Our interviews with medical directors of some of the leading U.S. corporations revealed a similar finding. Often, the medical director or chief health officer is charged with improving employee health, while the HR benefits manager is charged with reducing healthcare costs. Not surprisingly, these two goals can be at odds with each other. Imagine the company with a large percent of untreated depression.

So how can employers know what works or even what to try?

Evaluators often start their work by asking why particular activities, services or coverage types were chosen or implemented. This helps identify those areas more proximal to the employment setting (something about the job or in the work environment, for instance) and those areas more distal to the employment setting (such as medication formulary). To put a fine point on the problem, Pfeffer notes that “putting a nap pod into a workplace is not going to substitute for the fact that people aren’t getting enough sleep because they are working 24/7.”

Those looking to get started might begin by watching Working on Empty, an 11-minute documentary, which can provide solid direction for the type of information you’re seeking from your employees. Honor their voice and insight, and use it to implement real change. In doing so, you will build trust and a channel for contribution that improves outcomes for employees and employers.

SOURCE: Jinnett, K. (20 May 2019) "Your bad work environment may be raising your healthcare costs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/workplace-stress-increasing-healthcare-costs


Helping a Good Employee Who Hits a Rough Patch

Are any of your top performing employees going through a rough patch? Read this blog post from SHRM for helpful tips and factors to consider when employees are going through rough times.


One of our employees, who has been a steady, solid performer the last two years, suddenly erupted in anger at one of our clients during a company event. Granted, the client is difficult and the event had all of us stressed out, but that’s no excuse to lose one’s temper and get into a shouting match. We immediately suspended him without pay.

Since then we’ve learned from coworkers that he’s dealing with stress by drinking. What should we consider as we try to decide whether to fire him or let him come back?

Suspending him without pay while you’re trying to figure out the situation is a good choice. While emotions run high, I always recommend suspending instead of “firing on the spot”. A suspension allows you to carefully choose a decision after learning all the facts, and avoids you having regrets later for having acted too rashly.

Below are some factors to weigh that will help you decide:

Value - You say he’s been there 2 years, which means he’s probably knowledgeable and you’ve made an investment in his training and development. Does this make him a keeper?

History - Is this his first offense or is this a repeat pattern? Is he well respected? or is he perceived as a hot-head? Does he have good relationships with clients and colleagues? Did you expect this or did it appear to come out of the blue?

Help available. If you were to keep him, what’s the level of support you can provide for him getting some help? For instance, does your company have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides therapy or substance abuse treatment? You can make this a condition of employment. In other words, you can allow him to keep his job as long as he agrees to participate in the EAP.

Note: Be careful here if you make a referral, to do so only for a generic EAP assessment and not for a “substance abuse” program, in other words, stay away from labeling or diagnosing him. Let the pros at EAP determine what he needs. His treatment will remain confidential, you’ll only know whether he’s participating.

Kudos for carefully considering your decision. He may simply be a good employee who is going through a rough time and needs some help.

SOURCE: Del Rio, E. (22 April 2019) "Helping a Good Employee Who Hits a Rough Patch" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/helping-a-good-employee-who-hits-a-rough-patch

Originally posted on HR Box.


A better place to work: How well-being impacts the bottom line

Did you know: One in 10 employers are skeptical about the value of well-being programs. Health challenges, near stagnant wages, financial stress and more can take a personal toll on your employees, causing their stress levels to rise. Read this blog post to learn more.


Logically, employees bring their “whole selves” to work. Unfortunately, health challenges, relatively stagnant wages, heightened financial pressures, always-on technology and contentious geo-political climates around the world all take a personal toll on employees in the form of rising stress.

Employers recognize that the health and well-being of their workers is vital to engagement, performance and productivity, yet one in ten are skeptical about the value of well-being programs. But by learning from peers’ experiences, employers can take steps to help employees improve their well-being through access to related programs and services. And that contributes strongly to the overall success of the organization.

Survey says

According to the 252 global employers polled in the Working Well: A Global Survey of Workforce Wellbeing Strategies, building a culture of well-being is a higher priority than ever. Fully 40 percent of organizations believe they’ve actually achieved it, up from 33 percent in our 2016 survey. Of those who have not, another 81 percent are making plans to get there.

Top priorities for wellness programs in North America were to reduce stress and boost physical activity. Stress is a bottom-line issue for employers: 96 percent identified employee stress as the biggest challenge to a productive workforce.

Closely related priorities were improving nutrition and work-life issues, addressing depression and anxiety, and getting better access to health care services. On the latter, discussion with many employers confirms this includes sufficient access to mental and behavioral health providers—directly related to the top challenge of stress and its more serious potential debilitative consequences that can include anxiety, depression, addiction and more.

Health

The most frequently offered employee health benefits which respondents also assessed as most effective included the following:

  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs): By far the most frequent program, offered by 86 percent of global employers and 96 percent of US respondents. About 7 in 10 of those who offer an EAP said it’s effective in achieving their objectives, although actual experience reveals a wish that many more employees would take full advantage of EAP services. Know your numbers assessments, including health screenings and health risk appraisals, rose in prevalence globally and were considered effective by 86 percent of respondents.
  • On-site care: While smaller numbers of employers offer on-site immunizations, delivery of medical care, or fitness centers, they were still rated at just over 80 percent effective – demonstrating that convenience and access can remove barriers and enhance results.
  • Flexible working policies: These rose in prevalence over our last survey, consistent with other research demonstrating that multiple generations prize work flexibility to enable balance and help manage life’s stressors.
  • Wearables: Sensors and trackers also rose in prevalence. Globally, two-thirds of respondents credited them with effectiveness in monitoring and perhaps motivating healthy activities.

The survey also found health literacy is required to engage and drive behavioral change, and employers need targeted solutions to build it.

Finances

Validated by other research, a majority of employees live paycheck to paycheck today. Of US respondents, 87 percent reported financial distress among employees (the global average was 83 percent). Employers cited negative bottom-line results from financial stress, such as lower morale and engagement, delayed retirement and lower productivity, among other detrimental impacts. Other studies show financially stressed employees spend three hours or more each week distracted by it.

In prior years, this survey showed a top focus on saving for retirement; now, non-retirement-related objectives are rapidly catching up as priorities. It’s hard to focus on retirement when current needs are pressing. As a result, well over 7 in 10 employers also seek ways to ensure adequate insurance protection, help in saving for other future needs, better handling day-to-day expenses, reducing debt, and having emergency savings.

ROI vs. VOI

Just under half of respondents have specific, measurable goals or targets and outcomes for their well-being programs overall. But measurement is tricky, and 45 percent of respondents noted a lack of resources to support measurement as the top barrier to metrics. Nevertheless, only 8 percent perceived “no measurable return.”

Of those measuring the health care cost impact, 54 percent reported their programs were reducing trend by 2 to 5 percentage points per year. Financial well-being ratings were more challenging, with only 4 percent globally saying they have objective data to demonstrate their financial well-being program effectiveness.

Concurrently, many placed their bets on technology tools to inform program design and outreach: 84 percent rated predictive analytics as effective in helping to support well-being, even if just over a quarter offer it today—another half plan to do so in the next 2 to 3 years.

A value-of-investment priority emerges from the data. Employers intuitively pursue programs that build goodwill by providing helpful resources. The top four objectives globally focused on engagement and morale, performance and productivity, attraction and retention, and overall, enhancing the total rewards offering while managing spend. While reducing health care costs was the top objective for the US, it was fifth globally. Other objectives linked the organization’s image or brand and values and mission—if the company has a message to external customers, it needs to “walk the talk” internally with employees.

Holistic strategy

Compared to prior surveys, employers continue to explore new ways to support well-being, in response to employee and business needs. The historically stronger emphasis on health-related well-being continues, but financial well-being efforts are on the rise. For the US/Canada, the recent fast-rising program elements have been spiritual well-being (67 percent), retirement financial security and preparedness (57 percent), social connectedness (57 percent), and financial literacy/skills (63 percent).

In total, survey responses suggest employers understand that these well-being issues are interconnected and cannot be effectively addressed in isolation without a more holistic strategy and delivery solutions.

That’s where value of investment comes in, acknowledging that enhancing physical and emotional, financial, social, and other aspects of employee well-being can help make the organization a better place to work.

SOURCE: Hunt, R. (11 April 2019) "A better place to work: How well-being impacts the bottom line" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/04/11/a-better-place-to-work-how-well-being-impacts-the-bottom-line/


To check or not to check: Managing blood sugar in diabetic employees

There's been a growing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in the U.S. over the last 20 years. This chronic condition significantly impacts employees, their family members and even employers clinically and financially. Read this blog post to learn more.


Over the last 20 years, there’s been a growing prevalence in the U.S. of Type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that significantly impacts employers, their employees and family members clinically, financially and through quality of life. With that comes an increase in the use of insulin for people with Type 2 diabetes to better control blood sugar to reduce long-term complications, which includes eye, kidney and cardiac disease, as well as neuropathic complications.

Most of these patients manage their condition with oral medicines versus insulin, and it’s estimated that 75% of patients with Type 2 diabetes regularly test their blood sugar, even though doing so may not be needed. Blood sugar testing is an important tool in managing diabetes as it can help a patient be more aware of their disease and potentially control it better. But it also can be painful, inconvenient and costly.

Blood sugar testing can be an important tool in managing diabetes, and there are two types of tests. The first is a test conducted at home by the patient that shows the blood sugar at a specific point in time. The second type is called HA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar control) that shows the average blood sugar over the last two to three months. The value of at-home testing is now thought to be questionable.

In 2012, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute began a study to evaluate the value of daily blood sugar testing for people with Type 2 diabetes not taking insulin. The endpoint for the study was whether there was a difference in HA1c levels for those who did daily testing and those that did not. The conclusion of the study found that there were no significant differences between those two populations.

In response to these findings, the institute developed an initiative called Rethink the Strip that involves stakeholders including primary care practices, healthcare providers, patients, health plans, coalitions and employers. Given the cost for test strips and monitors for patients with Type 2 diabetes who test their blood sugar daily, it’s important to adopt an evidence-based patient-centered approach around the need for and frequency of self-monitoring of blood glucose.

As employees and employers cope with the costs associated with blood sugar testing, there are several strategies that should be considered to better manage this issue. They include:

1. Support shared decision-making. Like all interventions within healthcare, it’s important to weigh both the benefits and the risks of daily blood sugar testing in a thoughtful manner between the patient and their provider.

2. Managed benefit design. Employers should pay for daily blood sugar test strips in cases where it brings value (e.g., Type 1 and Type 2 patients who are taking insulin as well as patients that are either newly diagnosed or are going through a transition period, for example, post hospitalization or beginning a new medication regimen).

3. Involve vendors. To ensure alignment in all messaging to plan members, ask health systems and/or health plans and third-party vendors to align their communication, measurement and provider feedback strategies on when it’s appropriate for daily blood sugar testing.

These strategies can help employees with diabetes understand how their daily activities (nutrition, exercise and stress) and medications impact their condition. This benefits the employee in reaching treatment goals and feeling their best, while also helping employers and employees reduce the need for unnecessary and costly test strips.

SOURCE: Berger, J. (14 March 2019) "To check or not to check: Managing blood sugar in diabetic employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/managing-blood-sugar-in-diabetic-employees?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Do paycheck advance apps improve financial health?

Do you allow your employees access to draw money from their paycheck before payday? Many apps now let workers have early access to their money. Read this blog post to find out more about paycheck advance apps and how these may improve financial health.


Fintechs that let workers draw money from their paycheck before payday through an app are having a moment.

Such apps, including Even.com, PayActiv, EarnIn, DailyPay and FlexWage, are designed for consumers who live paycheck to paycheck — roughly 78% of the U.S. workforce according to one study.

More than 300,000 Walmart employees, for example, use this feature, called Instapay, provided by Even and PayActiv. PayActiv, which is available to 2 million people, announced a deal with Visa on Thursday that will let people put their pay advances on a feeless prepaid Visa card.

Earnin, which lets consumers retrieve up to $100 a day from upcoming paychecks, received $125 million in Series C funding from DST Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, Matrix Partners, March Capital Partners, Coatue Management and Ribbit Capital in December. The Earnin app has been downloaded more than a million times.

In theory, such apps are useful to those who run into timing problems due to large bills, like mortgage and rent, which come due a few days before their paycheck clears. Getting a payday advance from an employer through an app can be less expensive and less problematic than taking out a payday loan or paying overdraft fees.

But do these programs lead to financial health? Or are they a temporary Band-Aid or worse, something on which cash-strapped people can become overdependent?

Volatile incomes, gig economy jobs

One thing is clear — many working poor are living paycheck to paycheck. Pay levels have not kept up with the cost of living, even adjusted for government subsidy programs, said Todd Baker, senior fellow at the Richman Center for Business, Law and Public Policy at Columbia University.

“That’s particularly evident when you think of things like home prices and rental costs. A large portion of the population is living on the edge financially,” he said. “You see it in folks making $40,000 a year, teachers and others who are living in a world where they can’t handle any significant bump in their financial life."

A bump might be an unexpected expense like medical treatment or a change in income level, for instance by companies shifting to a bonus program. And about 75 million Americans work hourly, with unstable pay.

“Over the last several decades, we’ve changed the equation for many workers,” said John Thompson, chief program officer at the Center for Financial Services Innovation. “It’s harder to have predictable scheduling or even income flow from your job or jobs. But we haven’t changed the way we pay, nor have we changed the way bills are paid. Those are still due every month on a certain date. This income volatility problem that many people experience hasn’t been offset by giving the employee control of when they do have access to these funds.”

Where on-demand pay comes in

Safwan Shah, PayActiv's CEO, says he has been working on the problems for consumers like this for 11 years. The way he sees it, there are three possible ways to help: by paying these workers more, by changing their taxes, or by changing the timing of when they’re paid.

The first two seem out of reach. “I can’t give more money to people; that’s not what a Fintech guy does,” Shah said. “I can’t invent money. And I can’t change the tax laws.”

But he felt he could change the timing of pay.

“I can go to employers and say, your employees are living paycheck to paycheck,” Shah said. “They’re bringing that stress to work every day. And you are suffering too, because they are distracted — a Mercer study shows employers lose 15 hours a month in work from these distracted employees.”

Shah persuades employers to let their employees access a portion of the wages they have already earned. His early wins were at companies whose employees frequently request paycheck advances, which generates a lot of paperwork. Employees can access no more than 50% of what they have already earned — a worker who has earned $300 so far in a month could at most get $150.

Employees pay $5 for each two-week period in which they use PayActiv. (About 25% of the time, the employer pays this fee, Shah said.)

PayActiv also gives users unlimited free bill pay and use of a Visa prepaid card. In July, PayActiv became part of the ADP marketplace, so companies that use ADP can use its service.

PayActiv's largest employer is Walmart, which started offering it via the Even app in December 2017. In October, Walmart began allowing employees to pick up cash through the app in Walmart stores, so users who were unbanked could avoid ATM fees.

Shah said the service helps employers reduce employee turnover, improve retention and recruit employees who prefer real-time pay. He also has a guilt pitch.

“I was first in the market to this, in 2013,” Shah said. “People looked at me and said, ‘What? I’m not going to pay my employees in advance. Let them go to a payday lender.’ Then I’d show them pictures of their offices surrounded by payday loan shops. I’d say, ‘They’re here because of you.’ ”

Does early access to wages lead to financial health?

When Todd Baker was a Harvard University fellow last year, he studied the financial impact of PayActiv’s earned wage access program. He compared PayActiv’s $5 fee to payday loans and bank overdraft fees.

Baker found that a $200 salary advance from PayActiv is 16.7% of the cost of a payday loan. Payday lenders typically charge $15 per $100 borrowed, so $30 for a two-week, $200 loan. If the borrower can’t pay back the amount borrowed in two weeks, the loan gets rolled over at the original amount plus the 15% interest, so the loan amount gets compounded over time.

With PayActiv, "there is always a full repayment and then a delay before there is enough income in the employee’s payroll account for another advance," Baker said. "It never rolls over.”

Baker also calculated that the PayActiv fee was only 14.3%, or one-seventh, of the typical $35 overdraft fee banks charge.

So for people who are struggling to manage the costs of short-term timing problems and unexpected expenses, Fintech tools like PayActiv’s are a lot cheaper than alternatives, Baker said.

“Does it create extra income? No. What it does is help you with timing issues,” he said.

Aaron Klein, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said workers should have access to money they’ve already earned, whether that’s through real-time payments or through apps that provide pay advances.

“I also am on board with the idea that by saving your $35 overdraft and saving your payday loan rate, you’ll be better off,” Klein said.

But he’s not willing to say these tools solve the problems of low-income people.

“If the core problem is I used to make $35,000 a year, now I make $30,000, and because of that shock I’m going to end up accruing $600 of payday loan and overdraft fees, eliminating that $600 makes you a lot better off,” Klein said. “But it doesn’t negate the overall income shock.”

Thompson at CFSI says it’s too soon to tell whether earned wage access brings about financial well-being.

“We’re just beginning to explore the potential for these tools,” he said. “Right now they feel very promising. They could give people the ability to act quickly in an emergency and have access to and use funds in lieu of a payday loan or some other high-cost credit or consequence they would rather avoid, like an overdraft fee.”

What could go wrong

Thompson also sees a potential downside to giving employees payday advances.

“The every-other-week paycheck is one of the few normal structures we have for people around planning, budgeting and managing their money,” he said.

Without that structure, which is a form of savings, “we’re going to have to work hard to make sure we don’t just turn people loose on their own with even less structure or guidance or advice on their financial life.”

Another common concern about payday advance tools is that if you give people access to their money ahead of time, they’ll just spend it, and then when their paycheck arrives, they will come up short.

But Klein, for one, doesn’t see this as an issue.

“I trust people more to manage their money,” he said. “The people who work paycheck to paycheck spend more time budgeting and planning than the wealthy, because it’s a necessity.”

A related fear is that people could become addicted to payday advance tools, and dig themselves into a deeper hole.

Jon Schlossberg, CEO of Even.com, somewhat surprisingly acknowledges this could happen.

“Getting access to your pay on demand is a tool you can use the right way or the wrong way,” he said. “If you offer only on-demand pay, that could cause the problem to get worse, because getting access to that money all the time triggers dopamine; it makes you want to do it more and more. If you are struggling with a very low margin and you’re constantly up against it, getting more money all the time accelerates that problem."

Quantitative and qualitative analyses have borne this out, he said.

Even has granted users $700 million worth of Instapays; they typically use Instapay 1.4 times a month. Schlossberg doesn't see high use of the feature as success.

“You shouldn’t need to be using Instapay,” he said. “You should be becoming financially stable so you don’t have to.”

Baker said addiction to payday advances isn't a danger because they don't roll over the way payday loans do. With a salary advance, “It’s conceivable you could get $200 behind permanently, but it’s not a growing obligation and it’s not damaging,” he said.

Shah at PayActiv said users tend to withdraw less than they're allowed to — about 75%.

“When it comes to usage of their own salary, instead of asking for more, people behaviorally ask for less,” he said.

They see PayActiv more as a headache reliever like Tylenol, rather than an addictive candy or drug, Shah said.

Pay advances are just one of many tools that can help the working poor. They also need help understanding their finances and saving for goals like an emergency fund and retirement.

“This conversation about on-demand pay is a double-edged sword because people are paying attention to it now, which is good, but they’re viewing it as this magic tool to solve all problems,” Schlossberg said. “It isn’t that. It is a piece of the puzzle that solves a liquidity problem. But it is by no means going to help people turn their financial lives around.”

SOURCE: Crosman, P. (14 March 2019) "Do paycheck advance apps improve financial health?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/do-paycheck-advance-apps-improve-financial-health?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000

Editor at Large Penny Crosman welcomes feedback at penny.crosman@sourcemedia.com.


3 ways anxiety can hold back your employees’ careers

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly six in 10 American workers report anxiety impacts their workplace performance. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about workplace anxiety.


Employers want their employees to grow and succeed at their jobs. Unfortunately, there are a variety of external and psychological obstacles that can stand in the way of employees reaching their full potential. While most workers would like nothing better than to perform well on the job, anxiety can prevent them from doing so.

Anxiety disorders are extremely common: They affect 40 million adults in the U.S. each year, and nearly six in 10 American workers report anxiety impacts their workplace performance, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. A study in the academic journal Anxiety found the economic effects of this mental health condition are huge — costing employers almost $35 billion from lost or reduced productivity in the workplace, the study says. The good news is 80% of employees treated for mental health problems report improvements in their job satisfaction and productivity.

For employers to mitigate the impact anxiety has on their employees, it’s important to understand the form it takes in the workplace. Anxiety often takes shape in various thinking traps that can sabotage an employee’s growth. Three of the most common traps are social comparisons, personalization and overmagnification.

To explore how these thinking traps manifest in the workplace, let’s consider a scenario in which an employee sees a co-worker gets a promotion instead of them.

The social comparison trap. The research is clear that comparing yourself to others is bad for your mental health. However, that doesn’t stop people — especially those with anxiety — from doing just that. A co-worker’s promotion can lead an employee to leap to the conclusion they must be inferior to their colleague. In reality, there’s no way employees can fairly compare themselves to a co-worker. Their experiences, personalities and skills are different. Employees able to avoid that comparison trap might, instead, keep the focus on themselves, evaluating the growth they’ve achieved over the past year and determining how they can continue to improve in the year ahead.

The personalization trap. It’s hard for some employees to recognize not everything is about them. The co-worker who earned the promotion may have gotten the job because they were simply a better fit; that doesn’t diminish the talents and abilities of those who weren’t chosen for the position. Rather than assume the worst of themselves, employees could look at the situation more objectively and recognize that their co-worker may not be better than them, just different.

The overmagnification trap. Blowing things out of proportion is another thinking pattern with a destructive effect. Being passed over for a promotion can expand to a sense of being permanently, hopelessly, bad at one’s job. Instead of being able to parse out the specific reasons why the promotion didn’t go their way, employees who overmagnify convince themselves that they are not only unqualified for the promotion, but they’ll never get a promotion and their career is doomed — so why even try? To keep those overblown feelings at bay, a better approach is to stay focused on the specific and transient nature of what has just happened. Being passed over hurts now, but it won’t hurt forever. Not getting this particular job says nothing about the person’s ability to get other jobs. It may mean that they are missing certain skills or experience, but it doesn’t mean they will always lack them.

Workplace culture and practices can either exacerbate or diminish the self-sabotaging thinking traps that go hand in hand with anxiety. Some effective strategies that can help foster a positive work environment for all employees, but especially those who tend toward anxiety, include:

Create a collaborative workplace. Workplace collaboration helps employees feel valued for their contributions and allows them to see how their skills are important to achieving success for their team or company. It also provides the opportunity to learn from other employees and appreciate what they bring to the table, rather than viewing them as their competition.

Promote transparency. Employees who are kept in the loop, who understand their role, the criteria for what promotions are based on, and understand what they can do to get to the next level are more trusting of their leaders. Be particularly sensitive to what employees may be experiencing during annual performance reviews and make sure to overcommunicate during those times.

Offer tools and services. Providing programs and services to help reduce stress and anxiety can be beneficial for all employees. These can include subsidizing gym memberships, offering yoga classes, encouraging “mind vacation” breaks throughout the day, providing online programs that guide employees through mindful meditations or other well-being exercises.

Model self-care. Employees are more likely to engage in self-care at work if they see their supervisors practicing it, not just encouraging it. If a meditation class is offered in the workplace, employees are more likely to take part if their managers are taking time out of their day to participate as well. Similarly, organization-wide activities, such as a mid-day walk, allow employees to see management promote the message that self-care is a workplace priority.

Given the high number of working Americans with anxiety conditions, easing their anxieties and helping them avoid those thinking traps is good for business. It will improve employees’ overall well-being, workplace satisfaction and professional growth.

SOURCE: Parks, A. (5 March 2019) "3 ways anxiety can hold back your employees’ careers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/3-ways-anxiety-can-hold-back-your-employees-careers


The benefit you may not be offering to employees — but should be

The costs, gaps in care and stress associated with serious, long-term illness can negatively impact the health and productivity of your workforce. Surveys show that about 17 percent of full-time workers act as caregivers. Read on to learn more.


When it comes to getting better value for their healthcare dollars, employers and other healthcare purchasers may be overlooking a significant cost driver that negatively impacts the health and productivity of their workforce.

It’s the costs, gaps in care and stress associated with serious, long-term illness. In addition to the roughly 11.4 million adults and children living with serious illness, about 17% of full-time workers are also caregivers. And while a caregiving role is rewarding, it’s also been shown to reduce work productivity by more than 18%, costing U.S. businesses up to $33 billion annually. Given this, it’s surprising that palliative programs are not nearly as widespread as they should be.

Employers should give serious consideration to offering palliative care as a benefit to employees. Here are two misconceptions that can get in the way of implementing palliative care programs — and two reasons why serious illness care may be right for your organization.

First, the misconceptions:

It’s not the same as hospice care. While hospice care is a part of palliative care, they’re not synonymous. Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness that is appropriate at any age and any stage of their disease and can be provided along with curative treatment. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of their medical condition(s) — whatever the diagnosis.

The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and their family. Those who would greatly benefit from access to palliative care face conditions such as diabetes with complications, metastatic cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

It doesn’t affect my population. While people with a serious illness typically represent only a small proportion of the commercial population — roughly 2% to 3% — and up to 10% of retiree populations, they consume a disproportionate amount of healthcare resources. By addressing the needs of those living with serious illness, helping them avoid unnecessary, unwanted, and even potentially harmful care, employers can make a big impact on employees’ lives and the bottom line. Moreover, palliative care also greatly benefits caregivers, who can experience stress, negative impacts on their own health, and lessened productivity and presenteeism at work, even when they find their role fulfilling.

Now, why should employers offer palliative care benefits?

Quality can generate cost-savings. Palliative care’s focus on improving the quality of life of patients and their families means it leads with quality. The logic of “quality first” applies to many high-value healthcare strategies including accountable care organizations, centers of excellence (COEs) and second opinion programs. And like those other strategies, leading with quality can lead to lower costs. For instance, by providing access to high-quality care for certain services or conditions at a COE, employers hope that costly complications from low quality or inappropriate care can be avoided, just as introducing a palliative care team to a treatment plan can help patients better manage their symptoms, such as severe pain, proactively and lead to fewer trips to the emergency room.

Employers can make a big difference for patients and caregivers. Employers and other healthcare purchasers can play a powerful role in improving care for people living with serious illness by demanding certain capabilities and services from contracted health plans, other vendors and healthcare providers.

These include:

· Proactive identification of the population of patients living with a serious illness
· Training all healthcare providers in basic communication and symptom management skills
· Access to certified specialty palliative care teams across care settings
· Access to appropriately trained case managers
· Specific benefits that include home-based services and support for caregivers

To change the healthcare system, it’s important for purchasers to be on the same page with each other to ensure that providers and plans are on board with providing this type of care. After all, at the end of the day, it’s about the patient and their family. In focusing on palliative care, along with other key areas, purchasers have the power and influence to make a difference in the quality and affordability of care their employees receive.

SOURCE: Delbanco, S. (6 March 2019) "The benefit you may not be offering to employees — but should be" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/the-benefit-employers-may-not-be-offering-to-employees?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Treat Your Weekend Like A Vacation

How did you feel at work this past Monday? According to research, your answer may reveal a lot about your approach to the weekend. Read this blog post to learn more.


Take a moment to recall how you felt at work on a recent Monday. Were you happy and satisfied? Or stressed and worried?

Your answer may reveal a lot about the way you approached the prior weekend. According to our research in progress, making one small mindset change — treating your weekend like a vacation — can increase your happiness. And unlike taking a more traditional vacation, this emotional boost doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming.

My colleagues Colin West, Sanford DeVoe, and I came to these conclusions over the course of several studies. First, we looked at the effects of actual vacations on hundreds of thousands of Americans by analyzing the subscription-only 2014–2016 data from the Gallup U.S. Daily Poll. We found that individuals who prioritize vacation are significantly happier: They exhibit more positive emotion, less negative emotion, and are more satisfied in life.

The problem is that Americans are really bad at taking vacations. Compared to workers in the European UnionAmericans spend more hours in the office each week and take less time off. Part of the reason is that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without legally mandated vacation — one out of four employed Americans receive no paid vacation days at all. But Americans don’t even use the few vacation days they are allotted: More than 50% of Americans leave their paid vacation days unused each year.

This got us thinking. While most working Americans take little time off for vacation, the majority get (and take) two days off from work every week: the weekend. We wanted to see if there’s a way to help people leverage the time they already take off from work to enjoy the potential happiness they would get from a vacation.

To do this, we ran an experiment among more than 400 working Americans over the span of a regular weekend in May 2017. The intervention was simple: On the Friday leading into the weekend, we randomly instructed half of the participants to treat the weekend like a vacation. The other half, serving as a control condition, were instructed to treat the weekend like a regular weekend. That was it. How they interpreted the instructions was entirely up to them. Everyone was left to do whatever they wanted during those next two days.

When participants were back at work on Monday, we followed up with a survey measuring their current happiness (that is, their positive emotion, negative emotion, and satisfaction). The results showed that those who had treated their weekend like a vacation were significantly happier than those who had treated it like a regular weekend. This effect held when we controlled for the amount of money they reported to have spent. Thus, without taking any extra time off from work and without needing to spend any additional money, the simple nudge to treat their time off like a vacation increased their happiness when they were back at work on Monday.

These results seemed too good to be true, so we ran the study again with more than 500 different people on another regular weekend in January 2018. This time, we also measured how happy people were during the weekend, how they spent their time, and the extent to which they were mentally present. The experimental treatment was exactly the same: At random, half were instructed to treat their weekend like a vacation, and the other half were instructed to treat it like a regular weekend. Yet again, the vacationers were statistically happier at work on Monday. They were happier throughout the weekend as well.

How did treating the weekend like a vacation boost happiness? Yes, the “vacationers” behaved somewhat differently: doing less housework and work for their jobs, staying in bed a little longer with their partner, and eating a bit more. These differences in activities, however, weren’t responsible for their increased happiness. Instead, treating the time like a vacation seems to have shifted people’s mindset. Specifically, the vacationers were more mindful of and attentive to the present moment throughout their weekend’s activities.

For example, two women — one in the control group and one instructed to treat her weekend like a vacation — reported making breakfast on Saturday morning. The first woman reported doing so with enjoyment: “Made biscuits and gravy for breakfast. It’s my favorite!” The second woman took her enjoyment one step further: “I woke everyone up with pancakes this morning. It’s something I like to do when we are on vacation. I found myself enjoying the morning more than usual, maybe it’s because I focused on staying in the moment.” The difference between the women’s experience is subtle, but crucial. Even though their activities and behaviors were largely the same, it was the second woman’s attention to the present moment — her mindset — that produced the subsequent effect on happiness during the rest of the weekend and the following Monday.

Why does this mindset shift have such a powerful effect? Research shows that slowing down and paying more attention to your surroundings, the activity at hand, and the people who are involved allows you to enjoy the activity more. Without ruminating on the past or getting distracted by anxieties or fantasies about the future, increasing your attention to the present moment makes you more sensitive to the pleasures that are already in the environment. It helps you savor experiences and life a bit more.

Even if you can’t take the entire weekend “off” because of a looming work deadline or household obligations, it is still possible to gain the benefits of a vacation mindset. You can carve out a piece of the weekend (or perhaps even the workweek) to fully enjoy and be in the present, as you would on vacation. Or you can apply a vacation mindset to whatever task is at hand. Slow down, notice, and make it more fun; turn on some upbeat music in the car while running errands, or make yourself a margarita for folding laundry.

One word of caution: Given that the vacation mindset and resulting happiness stems from mentally breaking from routine and the day-to-day grind, this intervention cannot itself become a routine. Treating every single weekend or evening off from work like a vacation might cause a reduction in its cognitive and emotional impact. We recommend saving the mental vacations for when you really need the break.

When used judiciously, however, this simple reframing allows you to enjoy some of the happiness from a vacation without taking additional time off. Our experiments suggest that your mindset is more important than the activities you take part in, or the amount of money you spend, when you’re not at work. So between weekend errands, soccer practices, and birthday parties, try to notice and appreciate the time you do have. Treating this time like a vacation can provide a needed break from the typical grind, allowing you to appropriately savor moments spent at the soccer field or gathered around the dinner table with family and friends. And when you do head back to work, you’re more likely to feel refreshed and ready to tackle your week.

SOURCE: Mogilner Holmes, C. (31 January 2019) "Treat Your Weekend Like A Vacation" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/01/treat-your-weekend-like-a-vacation