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


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Improve workplace fitness by focusing on the collective "we"

Do your employees participate in workplace wellness programs? Try involving the collective "we" to increase involvement. Continue reading to learn more.


Workplace wellness programs are implicitly focused on the individual: biometric screenings, individual incentives, gym member reimbursements. This approach can leave employees feeling less than motivated to take part because, even though the programs focus is on the individual, by no means does it make the program personalized.

As workplace wellness programs rapidly improve to meet the expectations of today’s workers, it’s important to remember the value of accountability and what a culture of health can do to create a workplace committed to wellness solutions.

Since wellness programs have traditionally focused on the individual, oftentimes employees never know if their colleagues are participating in any of the programs being offered. Bring it into the light by giving your employees a program they want to talk about, while still keeping it personalized. The collective “we” are not only more likely to try a wellness program, but we are also more likely to stick with it, if we know our peers are also partaking.

The power of sharing with your peers

We all know writing down a goal gives you a much higher chance of achieving it, but research from the Association for Talent Development says someone is 65 percent more likely to achieve a goal if the goal is shared with another person. Why? Because it creates accountability.

We are in the day and age of a social media frenzy, and, it’s cross-generational. We share everything we do and spend a lot of our time concerned with what our friends, family and co-workers are doing through these social platforms. Wellness practitioners can and should be taking advantage of this, especially as you build your culture of health.

To find the right wellness solution for your company or client, look for solutions that are social and easy to use. If the company as a whole has buy-in, or even a few internal advocates, word-of-mouth can be incredibly powerful. Whether that is around the water-cooler at work, on employees’ personal social media channels, or within the work intranet, create opportunities for employees to talk about your program and encourage them to use it. We know when an employee knows a few of their coworkers are planning to attend yoga or kickboxing on a Tuesday evening, they are much more likely to sign up and actually go.

These “wellness relationships” help not only build stronger bonds at work, but they also help you create and maintain healthy habits. You want your employees to engage with your wellness solution, so encourage them to share and become part of the “solution” themselves. At the end of the day, workplace wellness solutions are there to help everyone get healthier and stay that way, but they have to use the program.

More than just an incentive

We have spent at least a decade looking at incentives and how we align them to solve problems with low participation in our wellness program, when we should have focused on building a program that empowers our employees and puts them in the driver’s seat. I’m not suggesting you stop incentivizing your employees, but I do suggest you measure what it is you are rewarding. If it can’t be measured you may as well burn the money you are investing.

Remember, your employees are the real reason your program will sink or swim. Take care of your employees and encourage them to be and find their healthiest selves. Empower them in the process and give them choice in how, when and with who they participate in your wellness program and let them become your wellness solution.

Maurer E. (18 July 2018). "Improving workplace wellness by focusing on the collective 'we'" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/18/improve-workplace-wellness-by-focusing-on-the-coll/.


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/


Quality trumps convenience among employees

Convenience, or quality? Take a look into why researchers are saying quality of a doctors visit outshines convenience when scheduling the next appointment.


Faced with the choice between going to a conveniently located doctor’s office or a more qualified physician, group health plan members are four times more likely to embrace the better-perceived medical professional.

“Traditional metrics like patient ratings, prescribing rates and volume of patients seen were not nearly as compelling to respondents as more qualitative, contextualized statements about a doctor’s clinical expertise,” according to Nate Freese, senior director of data strategy at Grand Rounds, a healthcare service provider for employees in need of local and remote specialty care.

The data is based on a study of 1,100 members covered by Grand Rounds, which is headquartered in San Francisco.

While surprising, Freese says that result depends on the information and messaging that’s provided to employees. Just 14% of respondents based their choice on clinical expertise if they saw traditional physician profiles, whereas it was 69% if they saw contextualized profiles. Contextualized profiles offered more information in complete sentences compared to traditional profiles. These profiles also compared data against other doctors and specialists, such as appointment wait times, expertise and patient satisfaction.

Freese is encouraged by these findings, which were recently presented at the National Healthcare Ratings Summit. “Don’t sell employees short in terms of their ability to appreciate quality and willingness to sacrifice convenience,” he says.

Offering more subjective interpretation of hard quality metrics would be helpful, Freese explains, as long as employers and their advisers are careful not to “overstep what can be reasonably inferred based on available data.”

Another caveat to consider is that finding high quality providers may not be inherently more difficult in narrow networks. Rather, he says, the issue is when health plan members “lack the ability to identify them. And so, it’s more about presenting information in the right way.”

Providing compelling quality information can achieve the same results of a narrow network, he notes. But he hastens to add that even narrow networks must be sufficiently broad enough for members to have a reasonable amount of choice. Geography also plays a role. “You could be in the broadest network, but by virtue of where you live, have reduced choice,” he says.

Michael Hough, executive vice president and U.S. founder of Advance Medical, believes the quality metrics that are currently available are insufficient for several reasons. “We’re looking at things like frequency and whether the outcomes are horrible,” he says. “But just because the outcomes weren’t horrible doesn’t mean they were good, either.” Desired outcomes depend on what’s going on with patients and whether their objectives are being achieved.

The context of care is “extremely important,” Hough explains, noting the importance of relationships between the patient and a trained physician based on human interaction, as well as the delivery of services. Also, while he believes the rise of telemedicine and self-service “is good for many parts of our lives,” Hough cautions that it’s not necessarily true for healthcare because meaningful relationships trump convenience.

SOURCE:
Shutan, B (22 June 2018) "Quality trumps convenience among employees" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/quality-trumps-convenience-among-employees?tag=00000151-16d0-def7-a1db-97f0240f0000


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/


4 perks to make your employees' lives easier and less stressful

Recruit top talent with ease and confidence when considering these tips on attractive, creative and innovative employment perks.


A 2016 survey from Glassdoor found that 57 percent of people looking for jobs said benefits and perks are among their top considerations when weighing offers. So how can a company stack the deck in its favor when recruiting top talent? Although some companies limit their benefits packages to traditional offerings such as health insurance, 401Ks and paid time off, a today’s forward-thinking employers know they need to find more creative ways to offer benefits that make a genuine difference in employees’ day-to-day work and personal lives.

As competition for employees intensifies, the race to improve employer-based services is likely to result in better options for employees. Unconventional benefits options come in many shapes and forms, but they share one thing in common: the goal of saving time for employees, reducing their stress, and ultimately improving their health and satisfaction at work.

All other things being equal, companies that offer innovative perks that speak to the well-being of their employees are more likely to attract and retain the top talent in their field. Here are a few such perks to consider.

Expectant-parent counseling

You’ve thrown the baby shower, cut the cake, helped carry staff gifts to the car—and you’ve explained the company’s parental leave policy in detail. As you wave Julie from accounting off with best wishes, you’re confident she’ll come back to her desk in a few months’ time.

But the truth is that 43 percent of women who have babies leave the workforce permanently within a matter of months. Many say it’s because they don’t have adequate support at home to enable them to resume their careers. That is why companies like Reddit and Slack use a service called Lucy that provides expectant employees help before, during, and after parental leave, including 24/7 messaging and one-on-one sessions that can be done in the home or online.

As Reddit VP of People Katelin Holloway put it, “It’s not enough to simply offer parental leave; every child and family is different and has independent needs.” By helping expectant parents find resources that meet their specific needs, you’re making an investment in your workforce that pays enormous dividends in retention, productivity, and morale.

Caregiving support

A Gallup survey revealed more than 1 in 6 full-time or part-time American workers has difficulty balancing caring for elderly parents with their work commitments. This results in decreased productivity and frequent leaves of absence. Companies can help their employees cope and stay engaged with their work by providing concierge services that offer amenities such as taking elderly parents to doctor’s appointments and eldercare coaching when choosing between assisted living options.

To help reduce stress (and retain highly specialized employees), take a cue from companies like Microsoft and Facebook, which provide caregiver paid-leave programs to help employees care for ailing family members or sick relatives.

Dry cleaning at work

Sometimes it’s the little things that save time during the workday that can push the needle in your favor as a potential employer. It may sound trivial, but company-provided dry cleaning is a perk that’s proving to be a big draw in workplaces from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Service providers pick up employees’ laundry or dry cleaning items from work and return them to a designated employer closet in their office building—one less errand, and no more lost tickets. “People have lives to live, so I try to make it easy for them to deal with any of those personal errands that could take up time for them,” said Experian CEO Craig Boundy, speaking about his company’s employee benefits programs in an interview with the The Orange County Register.

Car maintenance and service

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household owns 1.9 vehicles and spends around 1.5 percent of its annual income on auto maintenance and repairs. Cars are a significant investment for most of us, so the more you can help potential employees save time and money on maintaining their vehicles, the more tempting you’ll become as an employer. Growing numbers of innovative companies provide car repair services to help employees save money, find the best quality mechanics, and reduce stress associated with the entire process.

Some firms also offer on-site car wash services, giving employees peace of mind and a positive outlook as they drive home after work. Several big Silicon Valley corporations —including eBay, SanDisk, Cisco, and Oracle—use BoosterFuels to fill employees’ gas tanks while they’re at work. It saves employees time and protects them from potential accidents or robberies at gas stations.

SOURCE:
Weiss Y (31 May 2018) "4 perks to make your employees' lives easier and less stressful" Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/05/11/4-perks-to-make-your-employees-lives-easier-and-le/


The Most Desirable Employee Benefits

When it comes to hiring new employees, benefits can make or break the process. Hire with confidence when considering these tips on attractive and affordable employment perks.


In today’s hiring market, a generous benefits package is essential for attracting and retaining top talent. According to Glassdoor’s 2015 Employment Confidence Survey, about 60% of people report that benefits and perks are a major factor in considering whether to accept a job offer. The survey also found that 80% of employees would choose additional benefits over a pay raise.

Google is famous for its over-the-top perks, which include lunches made by a professional chef, biweekly chair massages, yoga classes, and haircuts. Twitter employees enjoy three catered meals per day, on-site acupuncture, and improv classes. SAS has a college scholarship program for the children of employees. And plenty of smaller companies have received attention for their unusual benefits, such as vacation expense reimbursement and free books.

But what should a business do if it can’t afford Google-sized benefits? You don’t need to break the bank to offer attractive extras. A new survey conducted by my team at Fractl found that, after health insurance, employees place the highest value on benefits that are relatively low-cost to employers, such as flexible hours, more paid vacation time, and work-from-home options. Furthermore, we found that certain benefits can win over some job seekers faced with higher-paying offers that come with fewer additional advantages.

As part of our study, we gave 2,000 U.S. workers, ranging in age from 18 to 81, a list of 17 benefits and asked them how heavily they would weigh the options when deciding between a high-paying job and a lower-paying job with more perks.

Better health, dental, and vision insurance topped the list, with 88% of respondents saying that they would give this benefit “some consideration” (34%) or “heavy consideration” (54%) when choosing a job. Health insurance is the most expensive benefit to provide, with an average cost of $6,435 per employee for individual coverage, or $18,142 for family coverage.

The next most-valued benefits were ones that offer flexibility and improve work-life balance. A majority of respondents reported that flexible hours, more vacation time, more work-from-home options, and unlimited vacation time could help give a lower-paying job an edge over a high-paying job with fewer benefits. Furthermore, flexibility and work-life balance are of utmost importance to a large segment of the workforce: parents. They value flexible hours and work-life balance above salary and health insurance in a potential job, according to a recent survey by FlexJobs.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they’d give some or heavy consideration to a job offering flexible hours, while 80% would give consideration to a job that lets them work from home. Both flexible hours and work-from-home arrangements are affordable perks for companies that want to offer appealing benefits but can’t afford an expensive benefits package. Both of these benefits typically cost the employer nothing — and often save money by lowering overhead costs.

More vacation time was an appealing perk for 80% of respondents. Paid vacation time is a complicated expense, since it’s not simply the cost of an employee’s salary for the days they are out; liability also plays into the cost. American workers are notoriously bad at using up their vacation time. Every year Americans leave $224 billion dollars in unused vacation time on the table, which creates a huge liability for employers because they often have to pay out this unused vacation time when employees leave the company. Offering an unlimited time-off policy can be a win-win for employer and employee. (Over two-thirds of our respondents said they would consider a lower-paying job with unlimited vacation.) For example, HR consulting firm Mammoth considers its unlimited time-off policy a successnot just for what it does but also for the message it sends about company culture: Employees are treated as individuals who can be trusted to responsibly manage their workload regardless of how many days they take off.

Switching to an unlimited time-off policy can solve the liability issue; wiping away the average vacation liability saves companies $1,898 per employee, according to research from Project: Time Off. And with only 1%–2% of companies currently using an unlimited time-off policy, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it’s clearly a benefit that can make companies more attractive.

Contrary to what employers might expect, unlimited time off doesn’t necessarily equal less productive employees and more time out of the office. A survey from The Creative Group found that only 9% of executives think productivity would decrease significantly if employees used more vacation time. In some cases, under an unlimited time-off policy, employees take the same amount of vacation time. We adopted an unlimited time-off policy at Fractl about a year ago and haven’t seen a negative impact on productivity. Our director of operations, Ryan McGonagill, says there hasn’t been a large spike in the amount of time employees spend out of the office, but the quality of work continues to improve.

Student loan and tuition assistance also ranked highly on the list of coveted benefits, with just under half of respondents reporting that these bonuses could nudge them toward a lower-paying job. A benefits survey from SHRM found that only 3% of companiescurrently offer student loan assistance, and 52% of companies provide graduate educational assistance. Although education assistance sounds costly, companies can take advantage of a tax break; employers can provide up to $5,250 per employee per year for tuition tax free.

Job benefits that don’t directly impact an individual’s lifestyle and finances were the least coveted by survey respondents, such as in-office freebies like food and coffee. Company-sponsored gatherings like team-bonding activities and retreats were low on the list as well. This isn’t to say these benefits aren’t valued by employees, but rather that these perks probably aren’t important enough on their own to convince a job candidate to choose a company.

We noticed gender differences regarding certain benefits. Most notable, women were more likely to prefer family benefits like paid parental leave and free day care services. Parental leave is of high value to female employees: 25% of women said they’d give parental leave heavy consideration when choosing a job (only 14% of men said the same). Men were more likely than women to value team-bonding events, retreats, and free food. Both genders value fitness-related perks, albeit different types. Women are more likely to prefer free fitness and yoga classes, while men are more likely to prefer an on-site gym and free gym memberships.

Our survey findings suggest that providing the right mix of benefits that are both inexpensive and highly sought after among job seekers can give a competitive edge to businesses that can’t afford high salaries and pricier job perks.

SOURCE:
Jones K (30 May 2018). [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://hbr.org/2017/02/the-most-desirable-employee-benefits


Is Ergonomics A "Must-Have" For Your Workplace Wellness Plan?

 

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Workplace wellness in most organizations centres around health promotion activity or policy development to support healthy behaviour and improve health outcomes in the workplace. A "workplace wellness" Google search reveals a range of programs focused on fitness, weight management, smoking cessation, stress management, work-life balance and occasionally flexible work scheduling. These are legitimately important aspects targeted at improving specific health outcomes.

It is important to realize that the average office worker spends over 65 per cent of their time at work in a sedentary seated position. No doubt you have seen the media campaigns touting the health concerns related to sedentary behaviour, some going as far as labelling sitting as the new smoking. Prolonged sitting has been associated with cardiovascular problems, increases in musculoskeletal discomfort, and decreases in concentration and productivity. Improper sitting and work station setup has been associated with an increase in musculoskeletal pain and injury (MSI) in the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, legs and lower back. MSI are associated with the wear and tear on the muscles, tissues, ligaments and joints of the body.

It is for these reasons that office ergonomics should be on the workplace wellness program menu. Ergonomics is the science of matching the work to the worker. In an office environment, a major focus would be insuring that employee workstations fit the worker – not the employee made to fit the workstation. To design a healthy employee work station properly requires an understanding of the limitations of the human body, especially in terms of muscle and soft tissue fatigue. Again, a Google search on "office ergonomics" leads you to resources on the proper configuration of computer workstations to promote a neutral sitting posture aimed at reducing muscle and soft tissue pain.

This is a great place to start, but does not replace the knowledge of an experienced ergonomist to ensure that individual limitations and pre-existing health conditions are accommodated for properly. Here are some examples of the most common office ergonomic challenges I encounter when consulting with organizations. The first is the desk. The working height of a standard desk is 30 inches, for which we expect it be comfortable for both the 5-foot-2-inch and a 6-foot-2-inch employee. But the reality is that this standard desk height is appropriate for the 6-foot-2-inch employee. The average female is 5-foot-4-inches, which would suggest that the standard 30-inch working height is too high for the majority of female workers in the office. When the working height is too high, the employee will adopt a posture where the wrists are extended when keyboarding, the neck is extended, shoulders are hunched and back is flexed forward off the chair.

—theglobeandmail.com