Wellness Programs Benefit Employers, Employees

Original post benefitspro.com

Offering employee wellness programs isn’t just an exercise in altruism for employers. It pays off where most companies would value it most: the bottom line.

According to Forbes, companies are jumping on the wellness program bandwagon right and left, to varying degrees. In fact, Society for Human Resource Management statistics indicate that in 2015, 80 percent of employers offered preventive wellness resources and educational information, with 70 percent providing full strategic wellness programs.

But while companies are happy that such programs pay off in healthier employees — 59 percent of employers offering such programs believe they’ve resulted in improved worker health — those programs also pay off in ways that have more to do with the balance sheet than the scales.

The cost of wellness programs is nothing to be sneezed at, but on the other hand, employees involved in them often shift their diets to healthier foods, quit smoking, have a better mental outlook on life, and watch the pounds come off through diet and exercise. That means they’re less likely to have to take so much advantage of company-provided health plans, if they’re reducing or eliminating some of the risk factors that could send them to the doctor more often.

Healthy employees might exercise more and weigh less, but they’re also more engaged, and thus more productive. Better health can also keep them on the job longer, with better results and better job satisfaction. They’re less stressed, miss fewer days at work and don’t look for a new job as often; all those things add up to an 8 percent improvement in productivity.

All of that can translate, for most programs, to dollars and cents: a return on investment of approximately 3:1. It can, however, go as high as 6:1, thanks to reduced health care costs that result when workers are eating better, exercising more, and forestalling some of the conditions that can result in mega health care bills — and equally mega premiums.


Americans Don't Do Much to Avoid Hearing Loss

Original post benefitspro.com

Have you ever even heard of healthy hearing habits?

If not, you’re probably not alone. Relatively few Americans appear to pay much attention to their ears, according to a recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of EPIC Hearing Healthcare.

The survey found that only a quarter of U.S. adults have had their hearing checked in the past two years.

In contrast, nearly two-thirds of Americans make a trip to the dentist at least annually. Three-quarters wear some type of corrective lens — either glasses or contact lenses — to address poor eyesight.

The survey also revealed that very few understand the risks to hearing presented by a number of different conditions and behaviors, including diabetes (22 percent) and smoking (14 percent).

Granted, it’s hard to believe that evidence showing how smoking harms hearing would be the game-changer that gets people to quit their habit, considering that people are more than aware of the other substantial health risks linked to tobacco use.

But overall hearing health would likely improve if the topic was more often emphasized by physicians and other health experts. According to EPIC, only 8 percent of employer-based wellness programs include hearing health.

But according to EPIC, only one in five people who would benefit from hearing aids actually have them. Even worse, people who don’t discuss hearing issues with their doctors often do not adopt habits to prevent hearing loss.

Hearing loss is often a problem that snowballs, explains EPIC. Dr. William Luxford, medical director of House Clinic. He says that people who begin to lose their hearing engage in behavior that exacerbates the problem, such as turning up the volume on their TV.

“A lot of people aren’t aware how important preventive care is for their hearing health,” he says. “Regular, comprehensive hearing exams by an audiologist are the best way to establish a baseline for your hearing and ensure any hearing loss is caught early so further damage can be prevented or minimized and hearing can be improved as quickly as possible.”


How to Bridge the Wellness Disconnect

Original post benefitnews.com

HR executives and business leaders are not always aligned about employee well-being or wellness solution buy-in, new research shows, signaling a need for adviser help to bridge the disconnect.

Optum’s seventh annual workplace study surveyed wellness budgets, return on investment (ROI), incentive strategies and challenges in building a culture of health among companies of all sizes.

Seventeen percent of HR executives versus 30% of business leaders think employee well-being is” very good,” according Optum Health’s Seventh Annual Wellness in the Workplace Study, conducted by the Optum Resource Center for Health & Well-Being.

On the other hand, 41% of HR executives versus 32% of business leaders say wellness solutions are important to the benefits mix.

Seth Serxner, chief health officer for Optum says it is important for benefit advisers and consultants to make sure that both HR executives and business leaders are all on the same page when it comes to understanding their wellness programs.

“[Advisers] might think they have everyone on board when speaking to HR executives,” Serxner says. “However, when HR goes to pitch this program to a CFO or members of the C-Suite, they may need to adjust how they present the business case.”

While HR managers view some of the non-financial productivity and moral factors that are important in a wellness program, the non-HR managers are focused on the bottom line, ROI, cost containment and healthcare cost issues, he adds.

“[Non-HR managers] tend to think the population is healthier and more well than the HR folks,” Serxner says. “So they may not think there is as much of a problem as the people who are closer to the data and understand the health risk condition of the population.”

Optum’s survey did find that wellness budgets are not decreasing, but are actually increasing. Twenty-eight percent of employers increased their wellness program budgets, according to the survey, up from 22% last year.

Serxner says advisers should use the data gathered in this study to help ground their clients in respect to what is happening within the client’s respected industry and with their peers.

“Clients will ask, ‘where do I sit in terms of culture of health, how am I doing with how I am investing my money,’ and what we find is it is very helpful to share some of these benchmarks about what other clients are doing and what the trend over time has been,” Serxner says.

Optum’s seventh annual workplace study surveyed wellness budgets, return on investment (ROI), incentive strategies and challenges in building a culture of health among companies of all sizes.

Optum surveyed 554 benefit professionals at U.S. companies across a variety of industries, which offer at least two types of wellness programs to employees. The size of respondent companies ranged from 20% small companies with two to 99 employees, to 38% jumbo employers with 10,000 or more employees.


Why Do Some Workers Get Away with Bad Behavior?

Original post benefitspro.com

Researchers from Baylor University are seeking to explain why some workers get away with sleazy behavior on the job.

After three studies that included over 1,000 employees, they are convinced they have found an answer: You can get away with breaking the rules or acting less-than-honorably as long as you’re productive. A valuable worker can afford to cross the line occasionally, while those whose performance lags cannot.

It’s an intuitive answer, but one that is no doubt often overlooked by disgruntled employees who wonder why they are being disciplined by their superiors or ostracized by coworkers while others have not.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Matthew J. Quade, a Baylor professor of business, wrote that productive workers who ignore rules or act unethically present a dilemma to employers because of their “contrasting worth.”

“The employees’ unethical behaviors can be harmful, but their high job performance is also quite important to the organization’s success,” he explained in the study, which was published in Personnel Psychology. “In this vein, high job performance may offset unethical behavior enough to where the employee is less likely to be ostracized.”

But that calculus is often flawed, argued Quade. If a worker is regularly engaging in unethical behavior, the employer will likely pay a big price for it down the road. As any observer of the subprime mortgage crisis might say, the short term gains of crooked business are often more than offset by major losses later on.

Unsurprisingly, the study authors concluded that employers should establish that they have no tolerance for unethical behavior from employees, no matter how good they are at their jobs.

Furthermore, they argue, employers should make clear that workers can come to organization leaders with complaints about unethical behavior from colleagues. This point is aimed not only at stopping poor behavior, but to prevent divisions among coworkers.

Another recent study found that employees are more likely to be stressed and unhappy at work when they perceive a lack of “organizational justice,” meaning that rules are not applied consistently or fairly.


Wellness: Get a Lunchtime Workout, Even if You Can't Leave the Office

Original post washingtonpost.com

It can be one of the most exhilarating things you do during the workday, but nailing the lunchtime workout can be tricky. Should you eat before or after? How much should you pack? Shower? No shower? And most important, how much exercise can you pack in during a lunch hour?

The good news is that there are all sorts of tricks for getting the most out of your midday workout and several products that make it easier to navigate.

How to prepare

The key is to have a plan. The night before, pack a light bag of just the essentials: a change of underwear, travel-size deodorant and wet wipes — if you won’t have time for a shower.

Need to shower no matter what? Consider throwing in a bottle of dry shampoo to cut down the amount of time you spend away from your desk, said Tami DeVitis, an instructor at Vida Fitness in the District. She also recommends (if your hair is long enough) wearing a ponytail that requires no maintenance post-workout.

Another way to stay prepared is to keep a pair of sneakers and toiletries in your desk at work. That way, you can just grab what you need and go. Personal trainer Lee Jordan has noticed clients bringing no more than what can fit into a rolled-up T-shirt. In other words, pack light.

You also should consider arriving at the office a little early just in case it takes you longer than expected to get ready, said DeVitis, who teaches several lunchtime classes.

What to eat

Scarfing down a hoagie right before a run might not be the best idea, but you should eat something, said Nancy Clark, author of “Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.”

“The goal is to enter into your workout with a normal blood sugar level,” Clark said. “If you’re exercising at a pace you can maintain for a half-hour, your body can digest the food and use it during the workout. You could eat five minutes beforehand; it all depends on your tolerance level.”

If you’re planning a high-intensity workout of burpees or jump squats, she recommends eating a hearty breakfast. For less strenuous exercise, Clark said, it’s perfectly fine to eat a banana or half of your lunch before getting started.

What you eat post-workout is also very important. To recover from a tough routine, Clark says, down a smoothie, peanut butter sandwich, chocolate milk or any other mini-meals with a balance of carbohydrates and protein.

“Protein builds and repairs muscles, but it does not refuel muscles. Carbs fuel, so you actually want three times more carbs than protein,” Clark said. “The mistake people make these days is just having a protein shake after the workout, but you’d be better off having a fruit smoothie to get carbs andprotein.”

Where to work out

If you’re lucky enough to work near a park or somewhere with good trails, going for a run outdoors is a great way to break up the workday. Too cold? Hit the treadmill at the gym and add in some intervals — one minute of sprints followed by a 30-second jog for several rounds could help you get the most out of your run.

Circuit training is another option for burning calories that could also build muscle if you throw some weights into the mix. Jordan recommends four to five sets of compound exercises, the kind that work two or more parts of the body. You could, for instance, grab a pair of dumbbells for a squat with a bicep curl or lunges with a lateral raise.

“You can either time your reps, say 45 seconds or a minute, or do a set number, say 10 or 15 squats with a curl,” said Jordan, an American Council on Exercise-certified health coach.

If designing your own routine is a lot to ask, there are apps for that. Nike Training Club, Sworkit, Spitfire Athlete and a host of other apps have cardio and strength-training routines that you can do in 30 minutes.

Even Fitbit, the wearable fitness monitor, is getting in on the act. This month, the company released Fitbit Blaze, a touch-screen tracker that comes with access to the workout app FitStar. The app offers diagrams that show you how to execute the moves in each routine.

Game for a class? Just about every gym has a variety of ­45-minute classes, allowing you enough time to get in, get to it and get going.

“Consider classes where you don’t get as sweaty, a barre class. You’re going to sweat, but you can clean yourself off and go,” DeVitis said.

Leaving the office in the middle of the day is a no-go for some folks. In that case, Jordan recommends heading to a stairwell, one without traffic, for a quick workout. All you need is a pair of sneakers, if that much, to do a few sets of calf raises on the stairs. Or you could do high-knee runs or squats or sprint up two flights for eight-to-10 minute intervals.


Technology: Talking to a Financial Coach Reboots Financial Wellness and Narrows Gender Gap

Original post businesswire.com

In a year marked by increased market volatility and slow economic growth, it’s not a surprise that overall financial wellness levels remained virtually unchanged. Employees appear stuck, hitting a brick wall with debt, lack of emergency funds and inadequate retirement savings. However, the latest study from Financial Finesse shows that the way forward to improved employee financial wellness – and to narrow the financial Gender Gap – could be human-to-human coaching, with technology playing a supporting role.

The Year in Review: 2015, an analysis of employee financial trends based on anonymous data collected by workplace financial wellness firm Financial Finesse, describes a year where most employees have been treading water in terms of their financial wellness. Overall financial wellness levels were unchanged at 4.8 out of 10 vs. 4.7 in 2014.

The study shows that while technology was helpful in increasing employee awareness of their financial vulnerabilities, online interactions alone did not improve employee financial wellness. By contrast, employees who had five interactions including conversations on the phone or in person with a financial planner professional showed substantial progress. Those repeat interactions with a financial coach appear to help an employee get “unstuck,” and advance in key areas. For these regular participants:

  • 80% have a handle on cash flow, compared to 66% of online-only users
  • 72% have an emergency fund, compared to 50% of online-only users
  • 98% contribute to their retirement plan, compared to 89% of online-only users
  • 48% are on track for retirement, compared to 21% of online-only users
  • 64% are confident in their investment strategy, compared to 42% of online-only users

Employers who offer financial wellness programs consider tailoring communications to address these vulnerabilities in particular:

  • 58% may not be saving enough for retirement, with only 16% of Millennials on track to achieve their retirement goals.
  • 51% don’t have an emergency fund. While this declines with age, a worrisome 25% of employees 65 and older still don’t have an emergency fund.
  • 34% may be living beyond their means. For employees with family incomes of $100,000 or lower, less than half pay off their credit cards every month.
  • 33% may have serious debt problems. Debt may be hurting African American and Latino employees the most, with 75% of African American and 66% of Latino employees saying getting out of debt is a top concern.
  • Concern over market volatility is high. Many employees grew nervous about their retirement plan savings and turned to their financial wellness program for guidance on how to handle these market fluctuations.

3 ways gamification can improve your team’s well-being

Original post benefitsnews.com

What does a big, fancy word like “gamification” mean anyway? Simply put, it’s the idea that game-like rules and rewards make the hard stuff fun. And smart leaders now use it to engage and motivate their employees.

Well-known game designer Jane McGonigal says “living gamefully” helps people bring curiosity, passion and balance into their lives. It gives them a higher purpose so they keep moving forward in their mission even when obstacles block their vision.

Gamification is the reason fitness apps work. When the buzzer signals that you hit 10,000 steps, you win. Even performance reviews contain elements of game design – when your employees exceed all their goals and move to the next career level, you both win.

Let’s go for that big win. Help your employees achieve their goals and improve their health by introducing these gamification strategies.

3 gamification strategies to implement:

1. Wellness quests. As noted above, wearable technology makes tracking exercise so much easier. But gamification for health doesn’t require that level of sophistication — you can make a game out of almost anything when you keep score by pencil. Challenge your team members to sneak extra exercise into their day. Have them jot down a checkmark every time they take a stretch break. Heat up competition by posting results on a whiteboard for all to see. Add rules or creative complexities as time goes on and the activities become easier. The more quests employees complete, the healthier they’ll be.

2. Social communities. We all need a little help from our allies. We crave support from one another, and we’re willing to dig in deeper when we know others are rooting for us. So it’s no surprise that social interactions and competitions help employees stay motivated and happy. Hook your employees into healthy activities with team vs. team challenges, photos, comments, nudges and cheers. Recognize accomplishments in ways that best fit your company’s culture – whether that’s sending around leader-board rankings each week or letting peers nominate each other for special badges.

3. Power-ups. The journey to well-being is never over — but it’s nearly impossible to keep going if you don’t hit milestones. This is when you need to activate “power-ups” — the quick tasks that feel like small wins. Remember how satisfying those power-ups were in your video games of childhood? Encourage your employees to take baby steps toward their goals. For instance, they may not have time for a lunchtime workout, but can they sneak in a few jumping jacks before every meeting? How about simply standing up for two minutes? Or taking a mid-meeting plank break? Achievements like these provide a burst of feel-good energy and intrinsic motivation to help us stick with lofty commitments.


4 ways to maximize the benefit of your workday breaks

Take a look at your workday. When do you take a break? How long is your break? What do you do on your break? Do you take more than one break? Do you feel recharged after your break?

Those questions were the focus of a study done by 2 Baylor University researchers. Emily Hunter, Ph.D. and Cindy Wu, Ph.D. are associate professors of management in Baylor's Hankamer School of business. The pair surveyed 95 employees between the ages of 22 and 67 over a 5-day workweek. Each person was asked to document each break they took.

Their empirical study - "Give Me a Better Break: Choosing Workday Break Activities to Maximize Resource Recovery" - was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The research defined a break as “any period of time, formal or informal, during the workday in which work-relevant tasks are not required or expected, including but not limited to a break for lunch, coffee, personal email or socializing with coworkers, not including bathroom breaks.”

When compiling the total of 959 break surveys, Hunter and Wu were able to provide a greater understanding of workday breaks. Their findings offer suggestions on when, where and how to plan the most beneficial daily escapes when on the clock.

Key findings of the study include:

1) Best time to take a workday break: Mid-morning.

A typical work day may have you counting down to lunch, but the study found an earlier break is more successful in replenishing energy, concentration and motivation.

“We found that when more hours had elapsed since the beginning of the work shift, fewer resources and more symptoms of poor health were reported after a break,” the study says. “Therefore, breaks later in the day seem to be less effective.”

2) What to do on your break: Something you enjoy and not necessarily non-work related.

The study found no evidence that non-work-related activities are more beneficial. Instead, do things choose to do and like to do which could include work-related tasks.

“Finding something on your break that you prefer to do – something that’s not given to you or assigned to you – are the kinds of activities that are going to make your breaks much more restful, provide better recovery and help you come back to work stronger,” Hunter said.

3)"Better Breaks" = Better health, increased job satisfaction

Employee surveys showed those that took mid-morning breaks and did things they preferred led to less somatic symptoms like headaches, eyestrain and lower back pain after the break.

The study also found the employees also experienced increased job satisfaction and a decrease in emotional exhaustion.

4) But how long should the break be?

The study wasn't able to pinpoint an exact length of time for a better workday break, but it did find that more short breaks with associated with higher resources - energy, concentration, and motivation.

“Unlike your cellphone, which popular wisdom tells us should be depleted to zero percent before you charge it fully to 100 percent, people instead need to charge more frequently throughout the day,” Hunter said.

Hunter and Wu believe the results of the study benefit both managers and employees.


A way to take your wellness program beyond paper

Target is taking its wellness program a step further and giving its more than 300,000 employees access to a FitBit tracker. And to sweeten the deal, all employees participating in the FitBit Wellness Program will have a chance to earn money for the charity of their choice.

Employees can sign up to get the FitBit Zip ($59.95) for free or pay the difference for a more advanced FitBit.

Amy McDonough, vice president and general manager of Fitbit's wellness unit, told eWEEK that the deal with Target is one of the largest company-wide wellness arrangements it has made so far.

"The Target announcement was exciting because they are a strategic retail partner for Fitbit products and also a large employer," McDonough said. "It's a great example of how these larger organizations are really putting wellness at the forefront."

Employees who take advantage of the FitBit offer will be grouped into teams for a monthlong challenge. The winning team will get $1 million to funnel into a charity of their choice, Chief Human Resources Officer Jodee Kozlak told CBS News.

Kozlak added that employees will also receive extra discounts on fruits and vegetables, and healthy grab and go snacks will be featured near cash registers.

RELATED: One compelling reason to participate in a wellness plan


Grab the sanitizer, you'll want it after you read this

The digital age is giving germs a new breeding ground. But a little extra cleaning can narrow the playing field according to this article from forbes.com.

When it comes to germs, the gold standard for grossness is the bacteria brewing in our bathrooms.

A variety of studies and reports over the years have put the average bacteria per square inch on a toilet seat somewhere between 50 and almost 300 for household potties and over 1,000 for the public varieties. Yet our own handheld electronics harbor even more bacteria than that.

Smartphones Your smartphone is home to your photos, music, contacts, productivity apps and odds are at least one game featuring a bird, zombie, fruit or farm. Oh, and there’s something else on your smartphone, too — loads of fecal coliforms. Joining the coliforms are Streptococcus, Staphylococcus aureus and a host of other -ococci.

A 2013 project at the University of Surrey perfectly illustrates the situation.

Bacteriology students made imprints of their phones in Petri dishes, and after three days, they saw examples of many of the aforementioned bacteria — plus one particularly hairy case of Bacillius mycoides. It’s really not surprising that the device that goes everywhere from public transportation to public restrooms to not-so-public germ repositories (aka our own homes) is a hot bed for bacteria.

Even back in 2012, when iPhones only offered us 4.5 inches of germ-covered surface,University of Arizona microbiologist Chuck Gerba found cellphones carried 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats. In 2013, Mashable put that number much higher, claiming that our phones may boast a whopping 25,107 bacteria per square inch. But your smartphone is just one of the worst offenders, not the only one, as this black-light-enhanced demonstration from British business services group Initial reveals.

Here are four more gadgets to rival any restroom when it comes to germs:

Tablets/e-readers — Just think of them as smartphones with fewer features and more surface area when it comes to the germ load tablets and e-readers pack. One iPad tested by British consumer magazine Which? found 600 units of Staphylococcus aureus alone.

Game controllers — With almost 5 times more bacteria than your toilet seat, your game controller has probably still seen scarier stuff (like that boss faceoff with Sephiroth). Still, E. coli is among the potential offenders.

Keyboards — Your keyboard could be home to anywhere from three times more bacteria than your toilet seat to almost three times that of a public toilet seat. Some studies found 3,000 bacteria per square inch on computer keyboards and 1,600 on the average computer mouse.

Remote controls — While likely cleaner than a public toilet seat, remotes still boast a bit more bacteria than some home-throne estimates with 70 present per square inch.

So how do we handle all of this bacterial buildup?

Step one: Remember the bathroom is no place for a phone (that you don’t want covered in fecal coliforms).

Step two: Wash your hands before handling your devices, or at least use a hand sanitizer.

Step three: Use gadget-friendly wipes to keep your favorite handhelds tidy.

But if you only do one thing, let it be step two. After all, you know what else has more bacteria per square inch than a toilet seat? You do. A lot more.