3 ways to support workplace well-being during COVID-19

The coronavirus has created many struggles for employees to deal with, and some of the struggles will continue even after measures become lifted. Read this blog post to learn more.


Personal and professional worlds are colliding in ways that have never been seen before, leading employees and employers to navigate new challenges in uncharted waters. As employees continue to struggle with balancing work and personal obligations at home, they are dealing with emotional, physical and financial consequences from the pandemic. Some of these struggles will remain even after social distancing measures are lifted and the economy stabilizes, and they could have a lasting impact on people’s overall wellness.

While many companies are rightfully focused on the bottom line and maintaining business operations throughout the pandemic, it is equally important that they take steps to ensure their employees are supported throughout this tumultuous time. Employee well-being is directly tied to business health, which is why it is so important for organizations to optimize their benefits and deliver the right health and wellness offerings for their workers.

 Reassess employee benefit programs

The pandemic is raising awareness that total wellbeing, not just physical health, is a key component to success for businesses and the economy. Employees that are facing at home pressures or feeling financially insecure may be less productive or distracted during the workday, which can impact company success. COVID-19 has hit companies hard. Many are looking for places to trim costs, but benefits and wellbeing programs are not an area they can afford to cut.

Diabetes, depression, mental health and financial stress are on the rise with the majority of employees dealing with unprecedented challenges like childcare, caring for family members who are sick or otherwise impacted by COVID-19 and general anxiety about their future. Cutting benefits programs now may save a few thousand dollars today only to spend tens of thousands of dollars on healthcare costs tomorrow.

Employers who understand the value of employee benefits programs will fare much better than those that guess which programs will be effective. This is an ideal time for businesses to re-assess their current well-being offerings to ensure the programs they are investing in align with the needs of their workforce. It’s also essential that employers make sure employees are aware of the wellness offerings available to them and how to use them. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to increase their communications to employees around wellbeing programs that can help provide physical, mental and emotional support through the pandemic and beyond.

Evaluate current and future employee needs

Not all people are the same, which is why one-size-fits-all programs fail. A successful well-being program should be personalized to best meet employees’ current and future needs. This can be difficult, especially when considering environmental and lifestyle factors, but with the right partner it can be done effectively. Many large employers are working with a partner that leverages social determinants of health data such as household composition, purchasing habits, education and income level and more, to identify individual employee needs.

Employers should also evaluate new types of resources to accommodate the “new normal”. Case in point: we have seen double digit increase in engagement with financial wellbeing and EAP resources. Telehealth and remote condition management programs are on the rise as well as stress management and resilience programs. For example, “Linda” has diabetes, so she needs to know the COVID-19 risks associated with her condition. She may also need extra support to ensure she is keeping up with her healthy eating and exercise regimen during quarantine. Connecting her with a remote diabetes program like Livongo or Virta Health can help Linda feel valued and stay on track. Or, “Tom” has been having severe back pain and his doctor recommends he have surgery to correct a spine-related issue. But not all health systems are offering elective surgeries right now, so he is better off with a telehealth pain management program like Telespine or Hinge Health, Physera and Simple Therapy.

This information allows employers to personalize the health and wellness plans they offer to employees and provide them with the right tools to make their healthcare journeys easier as they navigate this new way of life. Employers will also see the benefits in healthier, happier employers, increased productivity and potentially lower long-term healthcare costs.

Have a solid strategy for returning to work

COVID-19 return to work programs will require an increase in spending for heightened safety measures, such as enhanced cleaning and disinfection practices, employee daily temperature checks (which are now required by some states) and developing and implementing policies and procedures that address preventing, monitoring for and responding to an emergence or resurgence of COVID-19 in the workplace.

As businesses begin reopening workspaces, it is critical for leaders to have a solid employee engagement plan in place to keep workers safe. Be sure to clearly and effectively communicate new safety protocols to employees, so they can feel safe going to work as offices reopen. Invite employees to discuss any concerns they may have in an open forum or via a survey and involve them in problem-solving. Listen to their needs both personally and professionally as our lives will be complicated for months, and possibly years to come. It sounds cliché to say that people are companies most valuable assets. However, it could not be more true right now. It’s time for businesses to make employees’ wellbeing a priority and step up to the challenge of evolving their programming to meet current and future needs. Both the business and its employees will benefit.

SOURCE: Hinkle, C. (19 August 2020) "3 ways to support workplace well-being during COVID-19" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/3-ways-to-support-workplace-well-being-during-covid-19


Benefits fair cancelled? 6 strategies for remote benefits communication

Even as states begin to reopen from COVID-19-related closures and many employees return to their places of work, employers can’t rely on past approaches to communicate benefits information during open enrollment and to educate employees about their benefits. It’s unlikely that employers will be hosting large events like benefits fairs, a staple of open enrollment in past years, soon. In addition, some employees may continue to work remotely for an extended period, which means in-person benefits communication can’t be the only strategy.

Employers can consider several alternatives to craft an open enrollment and benefits education and engagement strategy that addresses these issues. For many employers, the solution will be to combine several of these approaches to ensure they are effectively communicating important benefits information and providing employees with more than one way to learn about their benefits and get answers to any questions that may arise.

Before developing a strategy, consider surveying employees to find out how they would prefer to receive information about benefits. Some people find email or printed materials effective, others prefer videos or interactive webinars, while others may be more responsive to receiving information via text message. Once you know your employees’ preferences, you can tailor your approach to increase the likelihood that your employees will use the tools you provide and have a positive experience.

  • Recast your benefits fair as a virtual event. If you want to gather employees together and explain benefit options, how the open enrollment process will work this year and provide them with the opportunity to interact with benefit vendors, you could create a virtual event modelled on the in-person benefits fair. Depending on your organization’s size, the number of employees you need to reach, and where they are located (for example office employees, warehouse or field employees, and remote employees), your approach to hosting a virtual benefits fair will vary. A growing number of IT service vendors offer virtual event planning and execution services that include setting up the technology needed to conduct the event, handling invitations and registrations of participants, working with benefits vendors to set up virtual booths and arranging educational webinars as part of the event.
  • Use your employee intranet, portal, or app. Regardless of whether you host a virtual event, you can use your employee website, portal or app and upload all the informational and educational material employees will need to make benefit choices. This approach can also include a secure portal that employees use to complete benefits forms. Another good feature to include is a chat, which can be either live chat or a chatbot, where employees can get answers to frequently asked questions and assistance with completing open enrollment forms.
  • Host webinars. Webinars not only give you the ability to communicate information about benefits, they also give employees the chance to directly ask the HR and Benefits team questions. In addition to the live webinar, you can record the event and post it on your organization’s employee site or send a link via email so that employees who were not able to attend can still hear your message firsthand.
  • Mail printed materials home. Some employees still prefer to receive benefits and enrollment information and forms in a printed format. It can provide a resource that they can easily refer back to when making their benefits sign up decision. Mailing these materials to employees’ home addresses rather than using your business address ensures that all employees, those who have returned onsite and those who are working remotely, have access to the information they need.
  • Use texts and calendar reminders. To help employees stay on top of enrollment deadlines, send text messages and add reminders to their work calendars. Text messages can also be used to send links to more in depth information resources so employees can access information when required.
  • One-on-one support is key. Employees are bound to have more complicated or confidential questions about their benefits choices, e.g. the need for information about coverage for cancer treatment or labor and delivery. Providing one-on-one phone and chat support from the HR and Benefits team gives employees a way to get answers to questions they don’t want to ask in a more public forum such as a webinar.

A benefits plan is only valuable if employees are knowledgeable about what benefits they have and how to access them. Many of these approaches can also be used on an ongoing basis to provide education on and drive engagement with benefits so employees and employers both get the most out of their plans.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (27 July 2020) "Benefits fair cancelled? 6 strategies for remote benefits communication" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/benefits-fair-cancelled-6-strategies-for-remote-benefits-communication


Navigating the New Normal in International Business Travel

The coronavirus pandemic has placed many restrictions on travel for both leisure and business. As parts begin to open up and lift certain regulations, organizations are now looking at travel for the business, and if those are possibilities once again. Read this blog post to learn more.


What can your company expect in terms of your employees' ability to travel internationally as parts of the world begin to come out of months of lockdown?

And what will the ongoing restrictions and changes in everyday life mean for your company's ability to transfer or hire new foreign national talent in key areas? Only time will tell exactly what will happen, but we are beginning to see patterns and hints of what is to come.

Some countries that have managed to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections are gradually easing restrictions on freedom of movement and commerce. This is typically being undertaken cautiously and in a multistep fashion. Other countries have been slower to ease travel restrictions. A broad travel ban remains in place in China, and countries in Latin America continue to extend travel limitations with a wary eye on the outbreak in Brazil.

International travel restrictions on freedom of movement are being eased, albeit more slowly than domestic restrictions. We expect that the easing of international travel restrictions will be incremental in nature as the easing of domestic restrictions has been. We also expect that quarantine requirements for arriving travelers are likely to be put into place in many locations, significantly hampering international business travel.

Arriving travelers are also likely to be questioned more closely than in the past regarding their recent travels, health, reasons for visiting and plans for satisfying quarantine requirements. Although the primary purpose of the vetting may be to limit the spread of COVID-19, an unintended consequence may be that the purpose of the visit and whether the traveler has the correct documentation is scrutinized more closely than in the past. If the traveler is attempting to enter to engage in productive or remunerated work—which often includes consulting, commissioning, installing, troubleshooting and, in some countries, even training or audit activities—without the proper work visa, they are likely to be identified and denied entry.

Governmental migration authorities around the world are beginning to either ramp back up where they were operating at limited capacity or to reopen where they were shut down completely. But although many facilities are ramping up and/or reopening, significant backlogs of applications exist. Many government offices and consulates are encouraging or requiring contactless submissions via post or even e-mail.

The New Normal: A Long-Term Perspective

Looking ahead, it is somewhat challenging to predict what will happen in the global immigration space given that we do not yet know how long the pandemic will drag on. The longer it continues, the more different our new global immigration normal is likely to be. What is already clear is that even if a vaccine or effective remedy for COVID-19 is developed, things are unlikely to go back to "normal" as we knew it before the pandemic. So, what will the new normal look like for your company?

Rise in Remote Work—Decrease in Global Mobility

Many companies have discovered the ability to conduct business remotely, including across borders. What used to require an international business trip (with the corresponding time, costs and visas) now takes place via conference call. Where you used to relocate key staff across borders to facilitate teams working together in person, you likely have now discovered that with everyone working remotely, it may not matter whether your newest team member is physically sitting in Canada, China or France.

New Challenges for Essential Travel

Despite the rise in remote work, technology can't replace all short- or long-term global movement of employees. Some work—installing or commissioning equipment, quality control on a production line, testing of systems and more—simply cannot be done via conference call. If your company has employees who must travel for business purposes, those employees will likely continue to encounter quarantine requirements until the pandemic has been resolved. This means your employees traveling for work will need to provide evidence that they will quarantine for 14 days following arrival, before attending their meetings and/or work duties.

In the past, citizens of privileged countries, such as the U.S., have often enjoyed a low level of scrutiny at ports of entry and have been able to avoid issues when traveling for work purposes without a visa. In fact, before the pandemic, your company's employees may have been previously accustomed to traveling to certain countries with just their passport and no visa. Under the new normal, we anticipate that all international travelers will be subjected to increased scrutiny on entry through the destination country's customs and immigration process. This means your employees are more likely to need to secure a visa in advance of any foreign travel. For this reason, it will be important for you to verify immigration requirements with the most recent information well in advance of your employee's planned travel date. After all, the last thing you want is for your employee to experience the unpleasant surprise of being denied entry or prevented from boarding a flight.

New Challenges for Long-Term Relocation and Local Hires

While it is true for some industries that it does not matter whether a new hire is sitting in Canada, China or France, for others, it absolutely matters. It is probably impossible for a manager to supervise a manufacturing facility via Zoom. Unfortunately, it is likely that companies seeking to transfer or hire foreign nationals will face increased hurdles, even beyond the immediate travel-related hurdles posed by COVID-19 travel restrictions. As unemployment numbers have soared, we have already seen a significant political backlash against immigrants in the U.S. Even putting aside any politically or economically motivated reduction of work visa numbers, the labor market reality of having millions of citizens out of work will make it extremely difficult to pursue work visas that require labor market testing. This would include Labour Market Impact Assessment work permits in Canada, Tier 2 General work visas in the U.K., and Subclass 482 work visas in Australia, among others.

Mitigating Negative Impacts: Preparation and Strategy

It is hard to imagine how any company, let alone a company with global operations and travel needs, could avoid the negative impact of the pandemic. Here are a few ways your company can mitigate (rather than eliminate) the negative impacts:

  • Raise awareness. Your company and your employees are likely to face many obstacles that you are not accustomed to, whether it is a requirement that employees add 14 days to a business trip to accommodate a mandatory quarantine period, the need to obtain visas in advance of travel where they previously could travel without one, or delaying many months before starting a new position while waiting for a work visa approval. It is crucial that all key stakeholders within your company are made aware that immigration is not business as usual. Stakeholders include not only HR and legal personnel but also company managers and recruiters. To the extent that employees can book international travel without managerial approval, it may be prudent to disseminate policies and information to all employees regardless of level. Requirements for travel, transfer and new hires alike must be checked before business commitments and plans are made or contracts with clients are signed. We recommend providing both written and video training to ensure that managers and other employees outside of legal and HR who may not be familiar with immigration concepts have both an opportunity to ask questions and reference materials to refer to in the future.
  • Conduct quarterly planning. In countries where international transfers or hiring of foreign nationals is not prevented by political and labor market challenges, it will be important for your company to plan well in advance for any transfer or new hire. It is likely that the process of obtaining the necessary work visa and/or permit will be slower for some time given the COVID-19-related backlogs. Even where the immigration process itself is not slower than usual, it may take significantly more time to procure the corporate and personal documents (such as birth certificates, marriage certificates and university diplomas) that often must be included in visa applications. It is also possible that there will be more requirements that must be satisfied to obtain the visa, such as medical exams and negative COVID-19 tests. Given this, we strongly recommend that your company plan as far in advance as possible. Although it is not always possible to anticipate all business needs, it is a best practice to work to identify upcoming assignments or new hires on a quarterly basis. We have seen that having a policy and schedule in place with the relevant managers and recruiters can go a long way to reducing last-minute immigration surprises. As part of this plan, before committing to a client contract or signing an employment contract, companies should confirm with their immigration counsel or another trusted source that the employee is able to qualify for the necessary visa and the timeline involved.
  • Implement a global mobility management system. While we have always recommended that companies with global mobility needs have an organized way to track and manage the global movement of their employees, the pandemic has greatly increased the need for such a system. Many companies were caught off guard by the fast-moving pandemic and did not know where their employees were in the world, when their visas were expiring or how they were going to get them home again. Having a centralized system will certainly not solve all your problems, but it will at least equip your company with the information and tools needed to make informed decisions. A "system" does not necessarily mean the very latest and most expensive software for managing global mobility, but rather, some sort of functional, organized method by which to vet and track travel, international transfers and new foreign national hires, along with a clear company global mobility policy.

SOURCE: Lustgarten, A. (08 July 2020) "Navigating the New Normal in International Business Travel" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/navigating-new-normal-international-business-travel.aspx


Mental Well-Being During a Quarantine

Maintaining Mental Well-Being During a Quarantine

In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have recommended that individuals who may have been exposed to the disease self-quarantine at home for 14 days. In addition, public health officials are recommending that healthy individuals practice social distancing, staying at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Following the advice of public health officials can help stop the spread of COVID-19, but if you don’t take proper precautions, your mental well-being could suffer while you’re quarantining.

If you’re self-quarantining or practicing social distancing, keep the following tips in mind to maintain your mental well-being.

Maintain a Routine

One of the best things that you can do to preserve your mental well-being is to stick to a routine. For example, if you’re used to going to the gym before work, try to wake up early and get an at-home workout in before you go to work or start your workday from home. Maintaining as much normalcy as possible with your daily routine can help keep your mood as lifted as possible, and prevent boredom and distress from taking over.

If you have children that will be at home now, it’s also important to create a routine for them. Whether they are practicing virtual learning with their schools or if they will just be home, you should implement a structured schedule for them so they know what your expectations are. Try to limit as much screen time as possible and incorporate learning activities throughout the day.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

This suggestion goes hand-in-hand with sticking to a routine. While you’re at home, it can be easy to go to bed or sleep in later than you typically would. Breaking your normal sleep routine can have negative effects on your overall mental well-being, so you should try to stick to your typical schedule as much as possible.

Spend Time Outside

Unless health officials give you explicit instructions to stay in your home no matter what, try to get outside periodically throughout the day. This could involve going out in your backyard or taking a walk around the block, but shouldn’t include going to a park or other areas where large groups of people may be.

Being outside also helps to promote higher vitamin D levels, a vitamin the body makes when skin is directly exposed to the sun. Many people are deficient in vitamin D, so exercising outside can be a great way to correct that.

Leverage the Power of Technology

When in quarantine or self-isolation, it can be easy to feel lonely. Fortunately, advancements in technology have made it easy to connect with others without having to physically be in contact with them. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends reaching out to loved ones with technology to reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety, and to supplement your social life while you’re quarantining or social distancing. If you’re feeling down, use video calling technology or social media to get in touch with friends and family.

Don’t Obsess Over the News

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by watching the news and reviewing the updates of the COVID-19 situation. While it’s important to be informed of the situation, you should not obsess over the news. For example, instead of monitoring the news all day from home, consider checking for updates once in the morning and once at night.

Practice Positivity and Gratitude

Taking five minutes a day to write down the things that you are grateful for has been proven to lower stress levels and can help you change your mindset from negative to positive. While you’re quarantining or social distancing, it’s important to build time into your routine to practice positivity or express gratitude to change your mindset on your situation and boost your mood.

Summary

Your mental well-being plays a huge role in your overall health and well-being, and it should be prioritized. These six suggestions may help you maintain your mental well-being during a quarantine, but shouldn’t be considered as medical advice.

If you have concerns about your mental well-being while you’re in quarantine, please contact your mental health professional or use SAMHSA’s National Helpline by calling 800-662-HELP (4357).


Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?

While coronavirus (COVID-19) is disrupting the workplaces of many in various countries, it is imperative that the United States takes as many precautions as possible. Many workplaces have emergency plans into fruition for storms and unforeseen weather, but are there plans in place for a virus that is spreading quickly? Read this blog post to learn more.


This coronavirus (or COVID-19) has taken a more serious turn in the U.S. with warnings that it could very well impact how, when and where we work:

"Disruption to everyday life may be severe," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned at a news conference. "Schools could be closed, mass public gatherings suspended, and businesses forced to have employees work remotely."

The global spread of the virus may be a moment that reveals whether employers are ready to respond rapidly to unexpected workplace changes. Business travel could decrease or come to a full stop. More employees may need to work outside of local "business hours" and use video conferencing to operate across time zones. And, if it gets bad enough, many could indeed be asked, or request, to work remotely.

Are organizations ready? Chances are probably not. But even for those open to rethinking how the work would get done, are they ready for the inevitable post-crisis question: "Why don't we do this all the time?"

How do you prepare your organization to not only flexibly respond to this potential disruption, but also to use it as an opportunity to reimagine work broadly? Here are five steps to get started:

Acknowledge the possibility that all or part of your workforce may need to work remotely.

Hoping and praying it doesn't happen, or simply ignoring it, is not a strategy. Neither is handing everyone a laptop and saying "Go work someplace else" on the day they expand wide-scale quarantines. Plan as if the only way to remain operational will be for as many employees as possible to work remotely. Gather a cross-functional team together now that includes business-line leaders, IT, HR, communications and facilities to start to plan for different scenarios and optimize execution, should circumstances require a rapid response.

Map out jobs and tasks that could be affected.

Note which roles and duties: 1) Can be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the workplace, 2) Cannot be done, even somewhat, outside of the physical office, and 3) Not sure.

Challenge any potentially inaccurate default assumptions about specific jobs you may have thought couldn't be done remotely. And for those in the "not sure" column, be willing to experiment. For example, for years, I've been told, "Administrative assistants can't work flexibly." And, for years, I've worked with teams of administrative assistants to prove that is not true. Yes, certain tasks they complete require physical presence, but those can be planned for. The majority of their tasks can happen effectively outside of the traditional model of work and benefit the business.

Audit available IT hardware and software, and close any gaps in access and adoption.

Assess the comfort level with specific applications, such as video conferencing and other collaboration/communication platforms. Where you find gaps, provide training and opportunities for practice before people need to use them. Real-time mastery is not optimal and is inefficient. Identify devices owned by the organization that people could use and clarify acceptable "bring your own" phone and laptop options. Determine if there are any data-security issues to consider and how best to address them beforehand.

Set up a communications protocol in advance.

This communications plan needs to outline: how to reach everybody (e.g., all contact information in one place, primary communication channels clarified — email, IM, Slack, etc.); how employees are expected to respond to customers; and how and when teams will coordinate and meet.

Identify ways to measure performance that could inform broader change.

After the flexible response period is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn't and why. The data will also prepare you in advance to answer the inevitable question once the crisis has passed, "Why don't we do this all the time?" Depending upon the outcomes, you may decide to continue certain aspects of the flexible response permanently. For example, perhaps you cut business travel by 25% and substitute video conferencing. You determine afterward that about 80% of those meetings were equally as effective virtually. Therefore, a 20% decrease in business travel will continue, but this time as part of the organization's sustainability strategy to cut carbon emissions.

Global health emergencies, like COVID-19, are scary, disruptive and confusing for everyone. And if you plan and nothing happens? Then, at minimum, you have an organized, flexible work disaster response ready the next time there's a challenge to operational continuity, which chances are, there will be.

SOURCE: Williams Yost, C. (10 March 2020) "Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/viewpoint-whats-your-companys-emergency-remote-work-plan.aspx


Vaping in the workplace is a bigger problem than most employers think

Smoking policies have been set in many workplaces, but policies regarding vaping are not typically addressed. Although vaping has become a trending topic, it may not be as heavily discussed as it should be. Read this blog post to learn more about vaping in the workplace.


According to the recently released Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking Cessation, just 3.2%of U.S. adults vaped in 2018. That’s a pretty low number, and it’s been stable for about the past 5 years. But new research shows that vaping in the workplace is a much bigger concern than many employers recognize, and it actually has as much to do with those who do not vape as it does with those who do.

The Innovations Center within Truth Initiative recently surveyed 1,620 U.S. employed adults from a range of industries and companies to ask about their experience with vaping in the workplace. What we found was surprising:

  • 63% of respondents said vaping in the workplace bothered them. Non-vapers are more bothered than vapers, with 69% of non-vapers saying vaping in the workplace bothered them versus 40% of vapers.
  • 72% of respondents said they “sometimes” or “often” see vapor clouds from vapes or e-cigarettes at work.
  • 41% of respondents said they “sometimes” or “often” notice coworkers vaping near their workspace.

Vaping isn’t harmless, either for e-cigarette users themselves or for those exposed to secondhand aerosol. First and foremost, the long-term effects of e-cigarette use are not yet known. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. In addition, the aerosol from e-cigarettes can contain cancer-causing chemicals.

There are risks for non-vapers too, from secondhand exposure to e-cigarette aerosol. A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report examined more than 800 peer-reviewed studies and found conclusive evidence that secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes poses risks. These health risks are particularly high for vulnerable populations like pregnant women and people with respiratory disorders like asthma.

In addition to health concerns, decreased productivity related to vaping is also important to have on your radar. In our survey, 55% of non-vapers agreed that vaping in the workplace decreases productivity for those who do not vape; further 70% of non-vapers agreed that vaping in the workplace decreases productivity for those who do vape. What this means is that even if you have a small number of people vaping at work, those handful of people who are vaping may be affecting a much larger segment of your workforce.

Vaping may also be distressing your employees in other ways. For example, two-thirds of parents of teens and young adults were very/extremely concerned that their children were vaping. Our survey found that this concern translates into being less productive at work for 18% of parents of children who vape. With more than five million young people vaping today, it’s likely that a significant number of parents in your workforce are struggling with this issue.

These parents’ concerns are valid. Twenty eight percent of high school students are current e-cigarette users, up from 20.8% in 2018. And, to make matters worse, most parents are flying blind. According to Truth Initiative research, almost 75% of parents indicated they received no communication from their child’s school regarding e-cigarettes.

So, what should companies do about vaping in the workplace? The first step: add vaping to your workplace no smoking policy. Numerous progressive companies are already doing this, but our research found that about half of respondents said their company did NOT have a formal, written policy that addresses vaping in the workplace. In short, there’s ample opportunity.

There are a few reasons why adding vaping to your no-smoking workplace policies makes sense. First, you need to protect all employees from exposure to potentially harmful particulate emissions. Second, there are risks that e-cigarette devices can explode at work, causing burns and projectile injuries to employees. From 2015 to 2017, there were an estimated 2,035 e-cigarette explosions and burn injuries reported in U.S. hospital emergency departments. Banning e-cigarette devices eliminates the risk posed by malfunctions in the workplace.

Finally, including e-cigarettes in your no smoking policy creates a supportive environment for quitting. Few vapers use e-cigarettes exclusively; nearly 60% of adult e-cigarettes users were also smokers according to a 2015 CDC survey. Being able to use e-cigarettes at work may prolong or intensify their addiction and make it more difficult to quit smoking. By eliminating the possibility of continuing to use e-cigarettes at work, you may increase the likelihood that smokers can quit, and stay quit. That’s good for smokers, and good for your business.

What else can employers do? In our research, 68% of respondents said their company either did not encourage e-cigarette users to quit or didn’t know if such a program existed. Yet, 61% of respondents said providing support to e-cigarette users who want to quit was very/extremely important. Adding a tobacco cessation program to your list of benefit offerings simply makes good sense.

Bottom line: vaping in the workplace is important to address, largely because vaping can impact everyone in your workforce. It’s time to add vaping language to your workplace tobacco policies—and evaluate options to add a smoking cessation program that provides tailored support to e-cigarette users and even parents of kids who vape. Your employees will thank you for it.

SOURCE: Graham, A. (20 February 2020) "Vaping in the workplace is a bigger problem than most employers think" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/vaping-in-the-workplace-is-a-bigger-problem-than-most-employers-think


What employers need to know to combat coronavirus

As the coronavirus is a trending topic of discussion, it is important for employers to keep their employees safe regarding any illness. Having set protocols and preventative guidelines set in place could keep symptoms from spreading. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about the importance of protocols around this flu season.


The coronavirus is continuing to spread rapidly, spurring employers such as Starbucks and PwC to implement workplace practices that protect their employees and offset growing fear and anxiety over the outbreak.

Since December, over 28,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported, and 565 people have died in China, which is at the epicenter of the outbreak. The disease has currently spread to 28 countries. In the U.S., there have been 293 cases reported and 11 people have tested positive for the virus in five states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There is a tension we’re seeing between being cautious and panicky,” says Joseph Deng, an employment law partner at Baker McKenzie law firm. “Companies want to communicate in a way that reassures the employee population while taking reasonable measures to protect employees.”

Employers like Facebook, Starbucks and WeWork, among others, have enacted a variety of preventative measures to handle the spread of the outbreak, including closing office locations in China and asking employees to self-quarantine in their homes for up to three weeks. Companies including accounting giant PwC and LG have placed mandatory travel bans to and from China.

“We are confident that the disease can be contained if everyone — including corporations doing business in China — is prudent and makes the safety of their employees their number one priority,” LG said in a statement.

Because of the changing nature of the pandemic and the speed in which it’s spreading, employers need to have essential protocols in place to protect employees and avoid misinformation. Often, employers feel unprepared but typically already have a blueprint for other disasters, Deng says.

“If you don’t have a pandemic policy, you as an employer will very likely have analogous policies that can be used in this situation,” Deng says. “When planning for this scenario, you need to ask what are the objective facts and what are your options.”

A critical first step to carrying out proper protocol is establishing a senior-level point person who can gather information, communicate across teams and report to upper management to implement the plan if necessary.

“You have to have someone who has the right touch and that can be subjective,” Deng says. “Find a person now who is the most knowledgeable and has the time and resources to gather information, assemble a cross functional team, and has access to a decision-making authority.”

Additionally, workplaces should focus on basic disease prevention measures, like promoting proper hygiene and encouraging workers to stay home if they’re not feeling well.

“If you feel you have symptoms, make prudent decisions. Do not travel or go into the workplace where you could spread the illness,” says Kathleen O’Driscoll, vice president of the Business Group on Health.

Taking these smaller, preventative measures early on will prepare both the employer and the employee in the event more extreme measures need to be taken. A more measured approach will make employees feel confident and protected.

“Think about how you want to be seen by your employees when this is over. You don’t want your employees to say, they didn’t tell me what to do or I had no support,” Deng says. “You’re not just preparing for an emergency. You’re working on how to come out with a better, stronger and more resilient workforce.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (06 February 2020) "What employers need to know to combat coronavirus" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/what-employers-need-to-know-to-combat-coronavirus


Congress OKs paid family leave for federal workers

First-time landmark benefits are rising to the surface come the new year. In 2020, federal workers will receive paid family leave for the birth or placement of a child. Read this blog to learn what paid family leave for federal workers will look like come the new year.


Congress has given the green light for federal workers to receive 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth or placement of a child. This first-time landmark benefit comes as lawmakers and influential CEOs, continue to advocate for a nationwide parental leave policy.

The Senate approved and sent the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes the leave provision, to President Donald Trump Dec. 17. The House passed the bill Dec. 11. Trump previously said he would sign the bill into law, and Ivanka Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon that the president would sign the legislation this week.

The NDAA, sweeping defense legislation, provides 12 weeks' paid parental leave for federal employees based on language of a bill sponsored by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y. The benefit takes effect Oct. 1, 2020.

The NDAA also includes a "3.1-percent pay raise for our troops [and establishes] the United States Space Force," according to a statement by the White House press secretary. Bipartisan congressional lawmakers allowed for the creation of the Space Force as the sixth branch of the military in exchange for the new parental-leave benefits, according to The New York Times.

Calls for private-sector leave
The new benefit is reserved for federal employees and highlights the fact that the U.S. is the only industrialized country without a nationwide federal parental leave policy or law, according to Maloney.

The congresswoman noted in her opening remarks that the U.S. is one of only two countries that do not provide workers with paid family or medical leave, a statement presidential candidate Andrew Yang made during the November Democratic presidential debates. (It's worth noting that this is not strictly true, according to reporting from Inc.)

"This agreement is not perfect," she said. "The Senate refused to approve paid leave for medical reasons. This provision covers only federal employees. So, it does not cover anyone working in the private sector."

Maloney, who has advocated for such a benefit for many years, added, "We will continue fighting for these Americans in the months and years to come. But despite these drawbacks, this is an amazing accomplishment."

Some state and local governments require paid leave for private-sector employees, but that patchwork of laws serves neither employees nor employers well, according to the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of American companies.

Ginni Rometty, chairman, president and CEO of IBM, sent Trump and congressional leaders a letter Dec. 12 on behalf of the council, urging them to enact federal legislation creating paid family and medical leave benefits.

"Legislation should provide uniform standards that apply to all covered employees and that adhere to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requirements," the letter said. "Doing so would benefit employees needing coverage as well as help businesses challenged by the growing patchwork of competing and inconsistent state plans."

As private companies compete with the federal government for top talent, benefits could be a deciding factor, and studies have shown that employers can boost retention by offering such perks.

SOURCE: Estrada, S. (17 December 2019) "Congress OKs paid family leave for federal workers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/congress-oks-paid-family-leave-for-federal-workers/569286/


4 Things to Know About Mental Health at Work

Did you know: 80 percent of workers will not seek help for mental health issues because of the associated shame and stigma. Read this blog post from SHRM for four things employees and employers should know about mental health in the workplace.


Kelly Greenwood graduated summa cum laude from Duke University with degrees in psychology and Spanish. She holds a master's degree in business from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, contributes to Forbes magazine and is editor-at-large for Mental Health at Work, a blog on Thrive Global.

She also is someone who has managed generalized anxiety disorder since she was a young girl. It twice led to debilitating depression. During a Smart Stage presentation at the recent Society for Human Resource Management Inclusion 2019 event in New Orleans, she discussed how someone can be a high-performing individual and still contend with mental health issues.

Greenwood had to take a leave of absence after experiencing a perfect storm at work—a new job in an understaffed, dysfunctional environment; an inflexible schedule that caused her to miss therapy sessions; and a change in her medication. When it became clear her performance had deteriorated, she was forced to disclose her condition to her manager.

She took a three-month leave, but that only fueled her anxiety. Still in her 30s, she worried about whether she would be able to return to work and feared her career was over. It wasn't. She went on to join the executive team of a nonprofit and in 2017 founded Mind Share Partners, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that offers corporate training and advising on mental health.

Greenwood shared the following four things she wishes she had known earlier in her life about mental health:

  1. Mental health is a spectrum. "Hardly anybody is 100 percent mentally healthy" all the time, she said. "We all go back and forth on this spectrum throughout the rest of our lives." The grief a person experiences over the loss of a loved one, for example, affects that person's mental health. "You can be successful and have a mental health condition," Greenwood said, noting that a study Mind Share Partner conducted with Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that mental health symptoms are equally prevalent across seniority levels within companies, all the way up to the C-suite.
  2. You cannot tell a person's mental condition by his or her behavior. "It's never your job," she told managers and other workplace leaders, "to diagnose or gather [information] or assume what's going on. Our goal at work is not to be clinicians, but to create a supportive environment."
  3. Mental health conditions and symptoms, including suicidal thoughts, are common. Greenwood said the Mind Share Partners/HBR study found that 60 percent of 1,500 people surveyed online in March and April said they had a mental health symptom: feeling anxious, sad or numb or experiencing a loss of interest or pleasure in most activities for at least two weeks. National Institutes of Health research suggests that up to 80 percent of people will manage a diagnosable mental health condition in their lifetime. "They may not know it," Greenwood said. "It may be a moment in time because of a job loss or grief over a death. That means mental health affects every conference call, every team meeting. It is the next frontier of diversity and inclusion."
  4. Workplace culture can reinforce the stigma around mental health issues. And so, 80 percent of workers will not seek help because of the associated shame and stigma. If they do, they cite a different reason, such as a headache or upset stomach, rather than admit they are taking time off because of stress. That is leading to what Greenwood calls a "huge retention issue," with 50 percent of Millennials and 75 percent of Generation Z saying they left a job—voluntarily and involuntarily—because of a mental health challenge. She advised leaders to have "courageous conversations" with those they work with. Even simply engaging in a discussion about having to deal with a child's tantrum can be powerful.

"There is so much research," she said, "about the power of vulnerability in leadership."

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (12 November 2019) "4 Things to Know About Mental Health at Work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/4-things-to-know-about-mental-health-at-work.aspx


Working on Wellness: 5 Tips to Help You Prioritize Your Health

When it comes to personal wellness, it doesn't have to be one or the other when choosing health versus work. Read this blog post for five tips on prioritizing personal health and wellness.


Wellness is such a buzzword these days. It seems like everyone is talking about it, and with good reason. Taking care of yourself needs to be a top priority in your life, but that doesn’t mean it's easy. I know that you may feel stressed and overwhelmed with work, family, friends, or other commitments, but at the end of the day, your health should be your most prized commodity. Most people understand the importance of caring for their health, but cite numerous reasons why they just don’t have the time – namely, work. However, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can prioritize your well-being and succeed in the office. In fact, my theory is that an individual's personal wellness must be a top priority in order to achieve one's major corporate goals. Not only do I teach this method, but I live it too. Every. Single. Day.

Here are my 5 tips that will help you prioritize your health while thriving in the corporate world.

Find Your Passion

Deciding that you are going to start focusing on wellness is usually not difficult. However, when you are dreading the time you have set aside to go to the gym, that’s when it gets hard. It’s challenging to motivate yourself to do an activity that you despise doing, and it's even harder to keep it up. This is why it is important to find a task that you enjoy doing within the realm of wellness possibilities. Do you like lifting weights or doing aerobic exercises? Maybe swimming, yoga, or hiking is a better fit for you. There are a multitude of possibilities and something for everyone.

Personally, I’m a runner. I participate in ongoing marathons and IRONMAN 70.3 competitions across the globe. Over the next few months, I will embark on several major races. In September, I will be running a Marathon in Capetown, South Africa. The following month, I am going back for my second year of running 55 Miles through the Serengeti in Africa. To keep the momentum going, in November, I will be running in the TCS New York City Marathon. And then in December, I will be completing an IRONMAN 70.3 Cartagena in Colombia. I did not always compete in these types of races, but I worked up to it through rigorous training sessions. Embracing the open terrain while enjoying some time alone with my thoughts as I run is incredible.

Be Mindful of Your Time

The best advice I can give to those who worry that they don’t have enough time to exercise is to be aware of how you are using your time. Are you using your time efficiently to the fullest potential? Is there anything you can cut or shorten the time you devote to? Get creative. For example, I actually develop many of my business strategies while working out. I am able to let my mind ruminate about work while my body focuses on my wellness. Make time to move. Even if it’s just a little bit every day. Try taking a ten-minute break and going on a walk. Afterward, you’ll feel great and will probably be more productive too. The email can wait; your health cannot.

Follow a Routine

Consciously making the effort to prioritize your wellness isn’t always easy. This is why it is important to follow your routine. Stopping for even a few days makes it hard to get back into it again, and restarting again after a break is always the hardest part. On the other hand, sticking to a routine helps working out feel natural. It becomes a part of your day, an activity that happens somewhere in between waking up in the morning and falling asleep at night. Schedule your fitness into your calendar. If it’s on the calendar, it is real – just like that phone call or meeting you have scheduled after your workout. Setting aside time for your health is like making a promise to yourself to care about your well-being. Honor that promise.

Transfer Your Skills

It’s important to remember that working out is not just good for your body. Exercise also helps develop valuable skills that you can transfer to the workplace. I have completed many races this year, all of which help me to stay focused in my personal life and in the office. Following a schedule and setting goals when training and competing fosters an organized and centered mind when I am at work. I can focus on what I want to execute and achieve. The cadence of training is very similar to the way that I operate in the corporate landscape. Similarly, I attribute many of my most prized leadership qualities – including motivation, perseverance, and a stellar ability to navigate the daily struggle of balance – to an active and healthy lifestyle that is the impetus for day-to-day accomplishment. I first learned how to motivate myself to prioritize my well-being and how to persevere when training becomes a challenge. I worked to find a balance that fits my lifestyle. Then I was able to transfer those skills that I learned to helping others. After all, if you cannot take care of yourself, you cannot take care of your team.

Reward Yourself

Choose a fitness goal and obtain it, whether it's running a 5K or something completely different. Every time you train, you'll become stronger. Then, reward yourself when you make progress, whether it’s with a new outfit, new running shoes, or a pedicure that you have been dying to have. You worked hard for a goal and accomplished it, so treat yourself! Likewise, don’t forget the little victories. Be proud of yourself for training each day and be content with what you achieved. You are setting yourself up to be a happier and healthier you—and that is no small thing. This translates to the business side of things as well, the sense of completion.

Prioritizing your health may seem like something that is out of reach for you, simply because it just doesn’t fit into your schedule. But that’s not necessarily the case. If you have the right mindset going in and make a conscious effort, you can focus on both your wellness and corporate life. And you'll be thankful you did!

SOURCE: Vetere, R. (Accessed 1 November 2019) "Working on Wellness: 5 Tips to Help You Prioritize Your Health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/five-tips-to-prioritize-health