Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds

Workplace wellness programs do not cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers' health, according to a recent study from JAMA. Continue reading this blog post to learn about this recent study and workplace wellness programs.


Workplace wellness programs have become an $8 billion industry in the U.S. But a study published Tuesday in JAMA found they don’t cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers’ health.

Most large employers offer some type of wellness program — with growth fueled by incentives in the federal Affordable Care Act.

A host of studies over the years have provided conflicting results about how well they work, with some showing savings and health improvements while others say the efforts fall short.

Many studies, however, faced a number of limitations, such as failing to have a comparison group, or figuring out whether people who sign up for such wellness programs are somehow healthier or more motivated than those who do not.

Now researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard may have overcome these obstacles with one of the first large-scale studies that is peer-reviewed and employs a more sophisticated trial design.

They randomly assigned 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all employees, then compared results with 140 stores that did not.

The big-box retailer employed nearly 33,000 workers across all 160 clubs during the test.

After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled.

But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

“The optimistic interpretation is there is no way we can get improvements in health or more efficient spending if we don’t’ first have changes in health behavior,” said one study author, Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. (Dr. Zirui Song, an assistant professor of health policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, was its co-author.)

“But if employers are offering these programs in hopes that health spending and absenteeism will go down, this study should give them pause,” Baicker said.

The study comes amid widespread interest in wellness programs.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey of employers found that 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle change. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Some programs are simple, offering gift cards or other small incentives to fill out a health risk assessment, take a lunch-and-learn class or join a gym or walking group. Others are far more invasive, asking employees to report on a variety of health-related questions and roll up their sleeves for blood tests.

A few employers tie financial incentives to workers actually lowering risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol — or making concerted efforts to participate in programs that might help them do so over time.

The Affordable Care Act allowed employers to offer financial incentives worth up to 30% of the cost of health insurance, leading some employers to offer what could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars off workers’ deductibles or premiums to get them to participate. That led to court challenges about whether those programs are truly voluntary.

In the study reported in JAMA, the incentives were modest. Participants got small-dollar gift cards for taking wellness courses on topics such as nutrition, exercise, disease management and stress control. Total potential incentives averaged $250. About 35% of eligible employees at the 20 participating sites completed at least one module.

Results from those workers — including attendance and tenure data, their self-reported health assessment and results from lab blood tests — were specifically compared with similar reports from 20 primary comparison sites where workers were not offered the wellness gift cards and classes. Overall employment and health spending data from all worksites were included in the study.

Wellness program vendors said details matter when considering whether efforts will be successful.

Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes.

Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.

An accompanying editorial in JAMA noted that “traditional, broad-based programs like the one analyzed by Song and Baicker may lack the necessary intensity, duration, and focus on particular employee segments to generate significant effects over a short time horizon.”

In other words, don’t give up entirely on wellness efforts, but consider “more targeted approaches” that focus on specific workers with higher risks or on “health behaviors [that] may yield larger health and economic benefits,” the editorial suggested.

It could be, the study acknowledges, that 18 months isn’t enough time to track such savings. So, Baicker and Song also plan to publish three-year results once they are finalized.

Still, similar findings were recently reported in another randomized control trial conducted at the University of Illinois, where individuals were randomly selected to be offered wellness programs.

In one interesting point, that study found that wellness-program participants were likely already healthier and more motivated, “thus a primary benefit of these programs to employers may be their potential to attract and retain healthy workers with low medical spending.”

Everyone involved in studying or conducting wellness agrees on one thing: Changing behavior — and getting people motivated to participate at all — can be difficult.

Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps, a wellness program vendor, said that for the efforts to be successful they must cut across many areas, from the food served in company cafeterias to including spouses or significant others to help people quit smoking, eat better or exercise more.

“Behavior is more complicated than simply taking a few wellness modules,” said Aldana. “It’s a lifestyle matrix or pattern you have to adopt.”

SOURCE: Appleby, J. (16 April 2019) "Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/workplace-wellness-programs-barely-move-the-needle-study-finds/


Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far

The effectiveness of digital health devices is being called into question by recent studies. Digital health devices provide personalized feedback to users, helping improve their health. Read this blog post to learn more.


The promise of the digital health revolution is tantalizing: a multitude of connected devices providing personalized feedback to help people improve their health. Yet, some recent studies have called into question the effectiveness of these resources.

While still evolving, many compelling use-cases are starting to emerge for digital health, including a set of best practices that can help guide the maturation of this emerging field. In the near future, many people may gain access to individual health records, a modern medical record that curates information from multiple sources, including electronic health records, pharmacies and medical claims, to help support physicians in care delivery through data sharing and evidence-based guidelines.

As these advances become a reality, here are several digital health strategies employers, employees and healthcare innovators should consider.

Micro-behavior change.

Part of the power of digital health is the ability to provide people with actionable information about their health status and behavior patterns. As part of that, some of the most successful digital health programs are demonstrating an ability to encourage daily “micro-behavior change” that, over time, may contribute to improved health outcomes and lower costs. For instance, wearable device walking programs can remind people to move consistently throughout the day, while offering objective metrics showcasing actual activity patterns and, ideally, reinforcing positive habits to support sustained change. Technology that encourages seemingly small healthy habits — each day — can eventually translate to meaningful improvements.

Clinical interventions.

Big data is a buzz word often associated with digital health, but the use of analytics and technology is only meaningful as part of a holistic approach to care. Through programs that incorporate clinical intervention and support by care providers, the true value of digital health can be unlocked to help make meaningful differences in people’s well-being. For instance, new programs are featuring connected asthma inhalers that use wirelessly enabled sensors to track adherence rates, including frequency and dosage, and relay that information to healthcare professionals. Armed with this tangible data, care providers can counsel patients more effectively on following recommended treatments. Rather than simply giving consumers the latest technologies and sending them along, these innovations can be most effective when integrated with a holistic care plan.

Real-time information.

One key advantage of digital resources, such as apps or websites, is the ability to provide real-time information, both to consumers and healthcare professionals. This can help improve how physicians treat people, enabling for more customized recommendations based on personal health histories and a patient’s specific health plan. For instance, new apps are enabling physicians to know which medications are covered by a person’s health plan and recommend lower-cost alternatives (if available) before the patient actually leaves the office. The ability to access real-time information — and act on it — can be crucial in the effort to use technology to empower healthcare providers and patients.

Financial incentives.

Nearly everyone wants to be healthy, but sometimes people need a nudge to take that first step toward wellness. To help drive that engagement, the use of financial incentives is becoming more widespread by employers and health plans, with targeted and structured rewards proving most effective. From using mobile apps and comparison shopping for healthcare services to encouraging expectant women to use a website to follow recommended prenatal and post-partum appointments, financial incentives can range from nominal amounts (such as gift cards) to hundreds of dollars per year. Coupling digital health resources with financial rewards can be an important step in getting — and keeping — people engaged.

The digital health market will continue to grow, with some studies estimating that the industry will exceed $379 billion by 2024. To make the most of these resources, healthcare innovators will be well served to take note of these initial concepts.

SOURCE: Madsen, R. (14 March 2019) "Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/digital-health-revolution-what-weve-learned-so-far?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Workout - Girl - Stretching - Pixabay

How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret

Did you know: Some insurance carries pay wellness dollars to companies who implement wellness programs. Continue reading this blog post to learn how companies can take advantage of insurance companies’ best-kept secret.


Did you know some insurance carriers pay companies to implement wellness programs? It’s called wellness dollars, and it is insurance companies’ best-kept secret.

Wellness dollars are a percentage of a company’s premiums that can be used to cover wellness-related purchases. The healthier employees are, the fewer dollars insurance carriers need to pay out for a policy. Many insurers have incentives like wellness dollars for employers to improve the well-being of their workers.

The benefits of adding a wellness program are plenty. These programs typically generate a positive return on investment for companies. Research done by three Harvard professors found that overall medical costs decline $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. Costs from absenteeism fall about $2.73 for each dollar. Well-designed programs can improve employees’ overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a new year, and group health insurance plans are starting fresh. Here’s how employers can take advantage of wellness dollars.

Get in touch with your carrier. The first step is to get in touch with your insurance carrier to find out if your self-insured or fully-insured plan covers participatory or health-contingent programs. If you don’t have wellness dollars, it’s still early in the year, and it’s worth negotiating to see if you can include them in your company’s current package.

You will work with your insurance carrier to determine how your wellness dollars can be spent, based on an agreed-upon contract. The amount of wellness dollars that you receive depends on the number of employees and profitability.

Every company is different, so the range of services varies and could include wellness programs, gym memberships, nutrition programs, massages and more. Sometimes incentives for wellness activities can be used; sometimes it can’t. Ask your carrier for a complete list of covered expenses. This will help you as you shop around to find the right offerings. Save receipts and records for reimbursements.

Determine the best use. There are a few ways to determine what offerings you should use for your company. Before making any decisions, ask your employees and the leadership team what type of program they would be most likely to engage in. Gallup named the five elements that affect business outcomes: purpose, social, community, physical and financial. Look for a comprehensive program that includes these five elements, instead of coordinating with multiple vendors. If only a portion of your expenses will be reimbursed, it’s still worth getting a wellness program. They have cost-savings on an individual and team level.

Wellness programs are all about building culture, and with unemployment at a record low, it’s a sticking point to keep employees invested in your company. A few examples of wellness offerings include fitness classes, preventive screenings, on-site yoga, financial wellness workshops, healthy living educational workshops, and health tracking apps.

Once you’ve implemented wellness offerings in your workplace, keep track of your company’s progress. Create a wellness task force, a healthy workplace social group, or conduct monthly survey check-ins to make sure employees are staying engaged. Some wellness programs utilize technology to track participation, integrate with wearables, and report other analytics. Ask your insurance carrier if wellness dollars have flexibility in adding or changing the services throughout the year, based on engagement.

SOURCE: Cohn, J. (14 February 2019) "How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-take-advantage-of-the-best-kept-wellness-secret


Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now

Do you know whether your wellness plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent?” Under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) current guidance, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” Read on for more.


Defining “wellness” for any one person is no simple task, and neither is deciphering a given wellness program’s compliance under the law.

In 2016, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its final regulations defining a “voluntary” program under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the entire landscape — at least what can be seen on a hazy day — appeared defined. But thanks to AARP’s successful challenge to these regulations and the EEOC’s recent acknowledgment of the demise of its incentive limitations, employers find themselves back in the “Wild West” of sorts for wellness compliance.

That being said, the uncertainty is not new for employers with wellness programs, and there is now more guidance than before, so let’s take a moment to take in the current view.

The current guidance under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) remains unchanged, so any wellness program integrated with a health plan or otherwise constituting a health plan itself, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” The health-contingent plans (which condition the award of incentives on accomplishing a health goal) will require additional compliance considerations, including—but not limited to—incentive limitations, reasonable alternative standards (RAS), and notice requirements.

The RAS should be of particular importance because they can be missed most out of the compliance parameters. Often there is an “accidental” program such as a tobacco surcharge, and the employer does not even realize the wellness rules are implicated, or the employer’s RAS is another health-contingent parameter that actually necessitates another RAS.

The Department of Labor is actively enforcing compliance in this area, so employers will want to take care.

Additionally, the EEOC’s ADA (and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) regulations are still largely in force. This seems to be a common misconception—ranging from a celebration of no rules to a lament for the end of incentivized wellness programs that include disability-related questionnaires (like an average health risk assessment) or medical examinations (including biometric screenings).

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

The ADA’s own RAS and notice concepts still apply, along with confidentiality requirements. All that has changed is that the EEOC has declined (again) to tell us at what point an incentive turns a program compulsory. So employers sponsoring wellness programs subject to the ADA have three choices, based on risk tolerance (In truth, there are four options, but charging above the ADA’s previous incentive limitations would be excessively risky):

  • Run incentives for ADA plans up to the 30 percent cap that existed before. This is the riskiest approach. To take this route, an employer must rely upon HIPAA’s similar (though not exactly the same) incentive limitations as indicative of non-compulsory levels. The fact that Judge Bates did not accept this argument in the AARP case advises against this approach, but this case does not have global application. If this path is chosen, it will be imperative to document analysis as to why this incentive preserves voluntariness for your participants.
  • Keep the incentives below the previous 30 percent cap but incentivize the program. This approach does have risk because no one knows at what point an incentive takes choice away from participants. However, the incentive is a useful tool to motivate and reward health-conscientious behavior. The wellness incentive limitations stood at 20 percent under the HIPAA regulations for quite some time without much concern, so this could be a relatively safe target. But the most important thing is to carefully assess the overall structure of the program(s) offered, consider the culture and demographics of the employees who may participate, and balance the desire to motivate against the particular tensions of the program to decide on a reasonable incentive. Make sure to document this analysis and reconsider it every time a program changes.
  • Not incentivize the program at all. This is the most conservative approach from a compliance perspective but ultimately not required. Before the EEOC’s 2016 regulations, employers were incentivizing programs subject to the ADA, and nothing about the AARP case or the EEOC’s response to it prohibits incentives.

There’s no doubt the wellness compliance landscape has changed a little over this last year, but this is also just the tip of the iceberg. With enforcement heating up, it is imperative for employers to carefully consider compliance, document the reasonableness of incentive choices and lean on trusted counsel when necessary to avoid potentially costly and time-consuming issues.

SOURCE: Davenport, B. (13 February 2019) "Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/02/13/employee-wellness-programs-and-compliance-what-to-know-right-now/


4 Ways to Help Employees Keep Their Resolution

Have you kept your New Year’s resolutions so far this year? Continue reading for four ways HR departments can help employees keep their resolutions this year.


As we ring in 2019, there are plenty of resolutions being made and likely already broken. Inc. Magazine’s list of the ten most common resolutions doesn't contain too many surprises. Prioritizing health and fitness through diet and exercise, spending quality time with friends and family, and other self-improvement plans are on many people’s minds. Endless how-to articles and listicles are published this time of year to motivate and inspire individuals to stick with their resolutions.

In a recent articleUSA Today discusses several resolutions employees can make to have their best year ever at work. But more than a best year at work, HR teams can support both personal and professional resolutions. An HR department ready to support those employees may just see happier, more productive and more engaged employees.

Here are some common resolutions and some proactive ideas for HR departments to consider.

1. Support Employee’s Healthy Eating

Many of your employees are looking to eat healthier in the new year. Employee Benefit News suggests a few key changes, rather than aggressive wellness pushes, can help employees make better food choices. Putting healthier options in vending machines or making healthy snacks a free break room benefit makes eating better an easier choice. Plan a tasting or activity around healthy and delicious food options to model better habits. Do keep in mind that dietary restrictions and preferences means a one-size-fits-all employees approach is likely to backfire!

2. Empower Employee Networking

If your team members want to get out and meet people in related fields as a resolution, champion that cause. Encourage connection because, as an article in Mint highlights, beyond benefitting the employee, it can have incredible benefits for your company, too. Candidates referred by a current employee are eight times more likely to get hired. Employees are one of the best ways for potential hires to learn about a company and openings. Encourage networking within your company, too. At the office, encourage cross-pollination by creating opportunities for employees to interact and learn from one another across departments or business units.

3. Invest in Employee’s Skills

Learn a new skill, a resolution on many minds, may include tackling a craft or an instrument at home. It could also mean learning a new skill at work. One HR professional recommends via Fast Company that employees commit to improving a work skill in the New Year. Investing in your employees through offering trainings, sponsoring professional development, or reimbursing coursework or certifications means a more skilled, more engaged, and even more loyal workforce. If budget is a concern, consider championing a mentor match, inviting employees to share expertise through lunch and learns, or create other opportunities for informal skill sharing through inter-office networking opportunities mentioned earlier.

4. Support Employee Financial Goals

Saving more is a common resolution, and one that’s commonly failed. While retirement may be top of mind when it comes to savings, Workforce recommends considering other financial safety nets like a rainy day fund since 8 out of 10 Americans live paycheck to paycheck and would not be able to afford a $400 emergency. USA Today encourages employees to make a point of brushing up on financial benefits like commuter assistance, 401(k) company match. HR can make all this even easier by helping employees brush up on what’s available or show how to set up direct deposits to make saving easier. Consider having a workshop or office hours for employees who want to ensure their financial resolution success this year.

Read more:

10 Top New Year's Resolutions for Success and Happiness in 2019

4 Ways to Help Employees Make Better Choices About What They Eat

9 New Year’s Resolutions You Should Consider Setting for Your Career in 2019

9 Ways to Be a Better Employee in 2019

Networking Basics You Should Not Ignore

12 Expert Tips to Make 2019 Your Most Productive Year Yet

Help Workers Save for Rainy Days, Not Just Golden Years

SOURCE: Olson, B. (23 January 2019) "4 Ways to Help Employees Keep Their Resolution" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/4-ways-to-help-employees-keep-their-resolution


4 trends in employee wellness programs for 2019

According to a white paper by MediKeeper, employee wellness programs will be impacted by intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics. Continue reading to learn more.


Employee wellness programs will likely be transformed in the coming year by intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics, according to MediKeeper’s white paper, “Four Emerging Employee Wellness Trends for 2019.”

“Embracing change and knowing what organizations need to keep driving wellness offerings forward in the next few years will help them lay the groundwork for building stronger employee wellness programs and increasing employee engagement,” says MediKeeper’s CEO David Ashworth. “With health care costs on the rise, companies that pay attention to these key trends will have the greatest success investing in their employees’ overall well-being.”

Intelligent Personalization

Intelligent personalization allows companies to make more informed decisions based on understanding risks and their causes and identifying what is driving present and future cost, according to the white paper.

“Every person is different, so it only makes sense that everyone’s wellness portal experience should also be different — this includes personalization, targeted messages and offerings.,” the authors write. “Adding business intelligence/data mining capabilities delivers the ability to take data captured within the portal, manipulate it, segment it and merge with other sets of data to perform complex associations all within each population groups’ administration portal will be the key to truly managing the population’s health.”

Social Recognition

In the coming year, workplace wellness programs will also implement a multitude of ways to include social recognition that fosters a team-oriented atmosphere intended to encourage people to perform to the best of their abilities, according to the white paper.

“Through social recognition, which can include posting, sharing, commenting and other virtual interactions, employees can help motivate each other to reach their goals,” the authors write. “These interactions foster both a competitive and team-oriented atmosphere that encourages people to perform to the best of their abilities.”

In addition to support from coworkers, managers can also promote their employees’ achievements by offering praise in an online public forum or even further boost morale by handing out incentive points that can be redeemed for tangible rewards.

Virtual Wellness Programming

In 2019, the importance of offering virtual wellness programming will grow as more employees work remotely or set flexible hours, according to the white paper.

“Since employees may work variable hours or work in several locations around the world, it simply doesn’t make sense to solely rely on lunchtime health seminars that may not be accessible to much of the workforce,” the authors write. “Instead of providing physical classes, consider hosting virtual programs that can be viewed at any time or any place. By making your wellness program available online, you’re able to reach a broader audience and make more of an impact within the entire working population.”

Smarter Analytics

Smarter analytics will also be at the forefront in 2019, according to the white paper.

“Now you can generate reports targeted specifically to the information that you are seeking, as well as layering various reports including biometrics, incentives, health risk assessments and challenges, to see what is working and what is not,” the authors write. “You can use these results to inform and better customize the intelligent personalization side of your wellness program. You’ll also be able to send messages from the reports, making them actionable instead of just informative.”

As employers continue to evaluate the effectiveness of their wellness programs, they should keep these four emerging trends in mind in order to ensure that their business is providing all the tools necessary to keep their employees both happy and healthy, according to the white paper.

“Remember that just because you’ve seen success in the past, you can’t just sit back and relax now,” the authors write. “Continual advances in wellness technology mean that you need to stay on top of the trends and adjust frequently in order to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive workplace environment.”

SOURCE: Kuehner-Hebert, K. (28 November 2018) "4 trends in employee wellness programs for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/28/4-trends-in-employee-wellness-programs-for-2019/


Changing the conversation on mental health

Are you looking to change the conversation on mental health? Bell is creating a set of guidelines employers can use to encourage conversations around mental health, helping change the landscape for mental health in Canada. Continue reading to learn more.


NEW ORLEANS — With no existing standard for how to deal with mental health issues from a workplace perspective, one Canadian employer aimed to tackle the stigma around discussing mental illness, using steps that U.S. employers can follow.

Bell, the telecom giant headquartered in Montreal, has helped change the landscape for mental health in Canada by creating a set of guidelines employers can use as they put in place policies that encourage conversations around mental health.

“When we first went on our journey to establish workplace best practices, we couldn’t find any established guidelines,” Monika Mielnik, senior consultant, human resources, workplace health at Bell, said last week at the Benefits Forum & Expo, hosted by Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser.

So the company helped fund the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety to provide a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources employers can use.

There are 13 psychological factors within the guide, ranging from workload management and organizational culture to engagement, recognition and reward, which Mielnik says is “low-hanging fruit” for employers looking for a place to start.

Mielnik offers five steps for employers looking to build a successful program that promotes psychological health in the workplace: Commitment and awareness, support services, mental health training, return to work and accommodation processes, and the ability to measure progress.

Before starting out, Mielnik added, “it’s important to engage individuals across the organization to establish successful mental health initiatives.” Getting executive support and sponsorship, a dedicated mental health leader, and cross-functional involvement are also key.

And while commitment is important, awareness is equally necessary, she added. Bell has three annual campaigns with events aimed at engaging and educating employees across the country to address stigma and create a supportive and inclusive environment: Bell Let’s Talk (January), Mental Health Week (May) and Mental Illness Awareness Week (October).

“Understanding there is stigma and taboo around mental health, we want to make sure our employees are educated and aware of the impact it can have on them, their spouses, and others,” she said.

Bell partnered with digital wellness platform LifeSpeak in 2013 to provide employees with around-the-clock access to tools and assistance programs. In addition, Bell created a dedicated intranet page to provide weekly articles and an on-demand video library.

Bell employees access LifeSpeak 97% of the calendar days, said panelist Danny Weill, VP of partnerships at LifeSpeak. “This has become part of their culture. I like how Bell walks the walk. They do all this amazing stuff in the community, and then they do this stuff in the workplace, which is ultimately good,” he said.

In addition to access, mental health training is a huge part of the culture at Bell.

All employees are required to complete the building blocks to positive mental health training – which includes six interactive modules to help improve and maintain their own mental health.

Further, workplace mental health leadership is mandatory for all leaders within the organization. “This training equips leaders with a better understanding of mental health and [helps them to] be better equipped to have a conversation with employees,” she said. “That has been very key for us.” More than 10,000 leaders have been trained to date.

Part of leadership training includes return-to-work processes, as well as accommodation programs, she noted.

Measuring progress within the organization is an important final component of her five-step plan.

“When we took on this cause in 2010, we did it to make a lasting and significant impact,” she said. Dollars and percentages linked to such things as long- and short-term disability rates, utilization of benefits, etc., can all be measured for success, she added.

Bell noted a positive impact over a two- to three-year period, including a 20% reduction in mental health-related short-term disability and a 50% reduction in relapse and reoccurrence rates.

“One key area, and something we did early, is to take a pulse and baseline check with what’s occurring right,” she said. “Look at your short-term claims or any metric results you have that can speak to the mental health area in your workplace.”

There is a misconception that you have to start big and re-create the wheel when it comes to mental health programs, Mielnik said. “Look at metrics and programs in place and either build off or enhance those programs, but that baseline will be a good place to start.”

SOURCE: Otto, N. (3 October 2018) "Changing the conversation on mental health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/news/changing-the-conversation-on-mental-health?feed=00000152-18a4-d58e-ad5a-99fc032b0000


What's a simple addition to your day to decrease stress & improve well-being?

In recent studies, gratitude has been shown to reduce stress and improve well-being. Studies showed that on days when people felt more grateful, their well-being was higher. Continue reading to learn more.


Previous research on the positive effects of gratitude has shown that gratitude appears to reduce stress and foster well-being (e.g. Wood et al., 2010). A recent prospective study in which people were instructed to list things they were grateful for on a daily basis supports this notion (Krejtz et al., 2016). However, little if any, research has looked at whether spontaneous (non-directed) changes in gratitude track with well-being and stress response. Rather than being a stable personality characteristic (a “trait”), gratitude may be more of a “state,” varying over the course of time—or perhaps a combination of both. Do daily fluctuations in gratitude correlate with well-being and indicators of happiness, stress, and depression? Furthermore, does gratitude serve as a buffer for stress and negativity, helping to offset toxic effects on more challenging days?

In order to look more closely at how natural day-to-day levels of gratitude may interact with various indicators of well-being and stress, researchers Nezlek, Krejtz, Rusanowska and Holas (2018) followed 131 participants for two weeks, using daily self-assessments to investigate correlations among gratitude and factors related to well-being and stress. Daily measures included gratitude, positive and negative emotional states, self-esteem, depressogenic adjustment (optimism about oneself and life), worry, and rating of important events of the day on how stressful and how positive they were. Participants reported on 10 possible categories for events: family, interpersonal, partner, work, finances, official, health, hobby, values, and other/everyday events.

As in previous studies looking at intentionally cultivated gratitude, researchers found that on every measure, gratitude was significantly correlated with well-being. On days when people felt more grateful, well-being was reported as being higher. Likewise, on higher stress days, participants reported lower well-being, and on lower stress days, participants reported greater well-being.

Using gratitude to buffer stress responses.

Importantly, they found that gratitude did in fact appear to act as a buffer for stress. On days with fewer positive events, gratitude and well-being were more strongly related, suggesting that gratitude may serve to bolster resilience, amplifying lower positive emotions on difficult days or perhaps even providing, essentially, internal positive events to compensate for a lack of external positive events. This is especially noteworthy because people often have difficulty tapping into gratitude when difficulties arise, focusing on negatives with bitterness or pessimism.

Gratitude therefore appears to provision us internally with a positive response when external events fail to do so. For people who are able to muster up gratitude when the going gets rough, not only as a generally characteristic but also as a just-in-time response to stress and negative events, gratitude can be a “bridge over troubled water” that helps to keep us from getting pulled down into a negative spiral of maladaptive coping. People who use gratitude in this way must be able to do so, rather than undermining resilient responses.

Gratitude, compassion and resilience.

In keeping with research showing that resilience is related to cognitive flexibility, active coping, optimism, and related beliefs, the current research suggests that a subset of people use gratitude automatically, generating a state of mind which buffers negative events and stressful responses to sustain greater overall well-being. Religious belief, which often emphasizes gratitude, is also associated with greater levels of resilience. In addition, recent research by Abbondandolo and Sigal (2018) also found a positive relationship between self-compassion and active coping, suggesting that there are common pathways governing gratitude, self-compassion, and resilience.

Additional research is required to further understand the causal relationships between gratitude, resilience, well-being, and related factors in order to spell out what innate factors help make us stronger, as well as what interventions can bolster overall well-being. Understanding whether those who naturally utilize gratitude to buffer stress and sustain well-being tend to do this consciously or not, how they had learned to do so during the course of development, and whether there are intrinsic factors that predispose one to feel grateful would help us learn how to teach the effective use of gratitude—especially for those who have difficulty seeing for what, if anything, there is to be grateful.

SOURCE: Smith, K. (26 March 2018) "What's a simple addition to your day to decrease stress & improve well-being?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.provanthealth.com/industry-trends/2018/3/26/whats-a-simple-addition-to-your-day-to-decrease-stress-improve-well-being

Original source: Psychology Today | Grant Hilary Brenner M.D. | How Does Spontaneous Gratitude Increase Daily Well-Being?


Helping employers start the conversation around suicide prevention

How can employers start the conversation around suicide prevention? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2016 suicide was the tenth-leading cause of death in the U.S. Read on to learn more.


Suicide was the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States in 2016, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given recent media coverage of the high-profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, employers should be more aware of how these events have a heightened impact on people’s mental health and well-being in the workplace.

Research has shown that the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals increases immediately after publicity of these types of events. This phenomenon is known as suicide contagion or the increase in suicidal behavior following media exposure. While suicide prevention is not an easy conversation to have with clients, it’s an important one. Now is the perfect time to start the conversation with your clients on how they can play a crucial role in creating awareness and supporting employees who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Here’s how benefit advisers and employers can navigate the conversation:

Discuss warning signs

Sharing information about common warning signs of symptomatic behavior can give your clients a greater understanding of how they can help employees get the support they need. Often, typical warning signs can be seen in declining work performance, poor hygiene, sudden weight changes, mood swings and depression.

While discussing these common symptoms, help break down the misconception that behavioral health also can be a sign of suicidal behavior. Explain that more than half of people who die of suicide did not have a known mental health condition. Often, individuals considering suicide cite other issues, including fear that they are a burden to others, stress about finances or struggles to afford or secure a place to live. Discuss these instances with your client so they are aware of other factors that could be contributing to their employee’s situation.

Discussing these symptoms can help ensure your clients have a better understanding of how to play a role in supporting and assisting at-risk employees.

Remove the stigma of behavioral health issues

While it’s true that not all suicides are related to a behavioral health condition, the stigma surrounding these conditions still exists and can prevent many individuals from approaching their employer or seeking assistance. By talking with your clients about this stigma, you can help remove the labels and negative connotations surrounding mental health conditions in the workplace.

Share with your clients the ways in which they can develop proactive open lines of communication around behavioral health conditions. For example, explain how they can reach out to employees to build awareness of the services they offer to those struggling. By incorporating educational campaigns that promote awareness of resources, your clients can help ensure employees get the assistance they need. In doing so, your clients can foster a workplace culture of acceptance and support.

Promote available resources

As you create awareness among your clients about the role they can play in removing the stigma, it’s also important their at-risk employees are aware of the resources available to them. Regardless of what their employees may be struggling with, suicidal thoughts or another behavioral health condition, it’s important for your clients to promote resources available through their employee benefits plan. For example, you can highlight how EAPs typically provide numerous free counseling sessions.

Clients also can work with their disability carrier to address employees’ behavioral health issues. Most disability carriers can assist with integrating existing benefit offerings with other resources to help ensure clients are providing their employees with robust treatment options. Additionally, disability carriers can recommend creative solutions and accommodations to meet employees’ unique conditions and support them staying at work or returning to work sooner.

The heightened attention around suicide prevention presents you with the opportunity to discuss the importance of suicide awareness in the workplace. In doing so, your clients can better support those who may be at risk and play a crucial role in creating an inclusive and supportive environment for their workforce.

SOURCE: Jolivet, D. (24 September 2018) "Helping employers start the conversation around suicide prevention" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/helping-clients-start-the-conversation-about-suicide?feed=00000152-18a4-d58e-ad5a-99fc032b0000


DISCOVER THE WELLNESS TRENDS FOR 2019

What is your favorite color? Color therapy is one of the top wellness trends for 2019. Continue reading this blog post for more 2019 wellness trends.


It’s that time of year again when we cast our minds forward and bring you our predictions for the wellness trends that are set to relax, improve and make us feel better about ourselves in 2019. And let’s be honest it feels as if there’s a new trend every week at the moment, so we’ve sifted through the trend trough to tell you ALL about the ones you absolutely need to know about!

Reconnecting With Nature

As a predecessor to the digital detox trend of last year (although heaven knows we still haven’t mastered that one yet!) 2019 is all about shifting our backsides off of the sofa and actually *gasp* leaving our homes to reconnect with nature. The focus is very much on disconnecting i.e. leaving your phones and even your fitness trackers (sorry you’ll have to manage without the steps for this one) in order to reconnect. You see exercising outside is all well and good, but it starts to become detrimental when we begin putting too much pressure on ourselves to hit the next PB or when we become obsessed with comparing ourselves against our friends on the Fitbit leaderboard.

Hey, I’m all for healthy competition and that heady endorphin rush when you smash out an all-time best, but to truly enjoy the benefits of what nature can do for our health we need to unplug and pay attention to what is out there – without the distractions!

From moonlit yoga on the beach to forest bathing in the sensual shadiness of the beautiful English woodland, learning to embrace your inner mother nature is all about fine-tuning the senses. It’s essentially another branch of mindfulness that allows us to break free from the stressful trappings of the modern world and find inner peace and gratitude for the world around us.

Soothing Sounds

You must have that one song that makes you feel amazing? That song that no matter how down in the dumps you are, when you hear those first notes you’re up dancing and feeling as if nothing can stop you. Music’s funny like that isn’t it? It evokes all kinds of emotions in us – from positive uplifting vibes, sorrow and sadness, motivation and drive, right through to silliness and freedom of expression – music has a power over us like no other.

And the sound, of any description, is no different. Think about when you visit a spa, often there will be sounds of the rainforest, birds chattering in trees or that peaceful drift you off to sleep music, floating over the space, creating a calm and serene ambiance and helping you to relax and switch off.

Sound therapy works through the healing power of sound vibration and frequencies. All of us have our own natural frequencies and when we are exposed to the external frequencies of singing bowls, gongs, tuning forks, drums etc. and allow them to wash over us and resonate with us, natural healing of both the body and mind can begin to occur. For example, Tibetan singing bowls can help people to experience a deep sense of relaxation, which can relieve pain, help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve circulation and blood flow, balance the Chakras, create focus and emotional clarity and leave people feeling at peace and happy with themselves.

Everyone has the ability to connect with the healing power of sound and most important of all it gives us that chance to focus on just one of our senses, which in a world where our senses are continually blasted with information overload, this is one of life’s most simple of luxuries. Sound classes are becoming increasingly popular for this very reason and many also incorporate the practices of yoga and meditation within them to further aid the wellness experience.

Color Therapy

Do you have a favorite color? There’s a good reason why you are drawn to one color over another and it’s all to do with energy and the way it makes you feel.

Color is energy that is transmitted on different wavelengths and frequencies to create different colored light. There are seven shades of visible light, the rainbow colors, then there is white which contains all of the 7 shades, black which absorbs light and therefore appears void of color, and then there are literally millions of invisible colors that our eyes cannot see. Color therapy, or Chromotherapy to give it its official name, is all about using color to enhance our health and wellness in certain ways. Each color has its own vibrational frequency that relates to different physical symptoms and emotions.

BLUE – This is a calming color that is used to ease symptoms of pain, anxiety, depression and can even aid sleep. Yes I know we’re told the blue light emitted from our screens is bad for us, but that’s a synthetic digital light, so I’m afraid scrolling through Instagram in bed won’t have the same effect! Research has also shown that blue light can help lessen inflammation, lower fevers, reduce high blood pressure and relieve migraines, due to it’s cooling almost anesthetic style energy.

RED – The fiery, powerful color that denotes passion and confidence. It’s bold and powerful and will give you balls when you need it most. And as such, it is thought that being exposed to red light will increase your pulse, raise your blood pressure and increase your breathing rate. Doesn’t necessarily sound too good, right? But red is the color to energize, to motivate and to put yourself out there and show people you mean business. Infrared therapy is also used to activate collagen cells, stimulate the skin to help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and can speed up the healing process.

YELLOW – This bright cheerful color does as you would expect; it uplifts, invokes optimism and a real sense of self love in a person.

GREEN – The color of nature, green is associated with harmony and it provides a neutral, positive and calming effect.

ORANGE – This color can raise energy levels and help improve mood, I mean who can’t but raise a smile when you see something bright orange!?!

PURPLE – The mean and moody one, the color of royalty, richness and luxury. Purple is the color for tranquility and works well in a detox sense, stripping the body and mind of impurities and can help patients deal with that sense of mind over matter when dealing with chronic pain.

And then there’s Colorstrology – a bit like astrology, but this is the idea that each birth month has its own color, which is a reflection of your personality. To find out yours go to the Pantone website and pop in your birth date.

2019 sure is set to be a colorful one that’s for sure!

Sleep Hygiene

We all need sleep to survive, it’s a chance for our body and mind to rest, recharge, repair and grow. However, there aren’t many of us that are a) getting enough sleep and b) getting good quality sleep. 2018 saw the rise in good sleeping practices, with power naps and sleep yoga hitting the wellness scene. But 2019 is set to move on from this by teaching us the ways in which we can employ these good habits at home. And it’s much more about quality rather than quantity. Because yes we should be aiming for around about 7 hours of shut-eye a night, but surely 4 hours of quality sleep is way more beneficial than 8 hours of disrupted sleep?

Sleep hygiene is about being ‘clean’ with your sleep, which means setting good practices and routines such as the following:

  • Avoiding caffeine late at night.
  • Switching off screens and other devices at least an hour before going to bed – and ideally, you don’t even want them in your bedroom.
  • Get the temperature just right- not too hot and not too cold.
  • Ensure the room is dark – blackout blinds are your new best friend.
  • Keep noise to a minimum, or if that’s impossible due to noisy neighbors or yapping dogs then try listening to white noise which will drown out the other sounds and has a calming, sleep-inducing effect.
  • Comfort is key to ensure you have a good mattress, a duvet tog that you’re happy with and good supportive pillows.

You may well think that you can catch up on any missed sleep during the week at the weekend, but irregular sleep is far more damaging. Instead aim to finish work by a set time and give yourself a deadline to be in bed, even if you’re up there and reading for half an hour beforehand, that will help you relax and unwind from the day.

And if you’re someone who struggles to switch off and get to sleep try having a warm bath, drinking a hot milky drink, meditating, or practicing some deep breathing exercises before settling down for the night. These are all things that help induce sleepiness and should see you dozing off in no time.

Ultimately if you eat well, exercise regularly and keep those stress levels down then your sleep hygiene should be pretty damn clean. If you don’t… then perhaps that’s something you could work on in 2019!

Less Is More

Minimalism, the KonMari method, decluttering… call it what you like, but essentially all you need to know is that a clear space equals a clear mind.

Go on, try it.

Choose just one cupboard in one room of your house, drag everything out and then set to work sorting out what you do and don’t need. It’ll be tough, especially when you start finding long lost treasures or useful kitchen gadgets you’d forgotten about, or that top you wore back in 1992 that made you look like a bohemian princess, but you need to set yourself limits. Marie Kondo, the queen of clutter-free living, theorizes that we should only hang onto possessions that ‘spark joy’, those that don’t only serve to hold us back and bring negativity into our lives. And it’s certainly a good place to start. Can you honestly say that vegetable peeler shaped like a pencil sharpener brings you joy? Or does it annoy you because every time you go to open the drawer it catches and makes the drawer jam? And that book you’ve clung onto from your days at uni, the one riddled with post-it notes and pencil scrawled study notes… does it bring you joy? You can’t ever read it properly again, it’s probably out of date and so therefore no longer suitable as a study guide for anyone else and all it’s really doing is taking up space and gathering dust on your bookshelf.

The thought of getting rid of your belongings is a scary one. Objects become security blankets, but they are restrictive and oppressive and are preventing you from living your best life. Existing in a tidy and clear space, whether it’s within the work or home environment, can help reduce stress levels, conserve mental energy, give us clarity, make us more productive and most importantly of all can make us feel in control. And when you’re in control you can achieve anything!

Clean Air

As much as we’re all for clean air outside, is it actually doing us any good if our home or work environment is riddled with all kinds of chemicals – yes I’m deffo thinking of those plug-in air fresheners!!

Whether you fill your rooms with plants (they’re amazing at purifying the air and look pretty spesh too!), pay more attention to the ingredients used in your cleaning sprays etc. or even download an app that can tell you how pure the air is – yes really! –  2019 is 100% about living clean. We’ve done the clean eating thing, started to adopt the clean sleeping thing, so it was only a question of time before clean breathing became a thing.

Sales of air purifying plants have more or less tripled over the past year as people strive for that natural air in their homes. If you listened to your Biology teacher at school, you’ll know that plants are capable of turning carbon dioxide into vital oxygen, but they are also great at absorbing unwanted nasties such as formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, acetone etc. which are found in so many of the items we have in our homes and workspaces.

Crystal Clear Water

Crystals were everywhere in 2018, helping us with their energizing vibes and well they just look so pretty don’t they!?! And don’t worry, they’re not going anywhere, they’re just infiltrating other areas of our lives, namely… our water bottles. Yep, that’s right, you’ve seen the fruit, veg and herb infuser water bottles, now it’s time for the crystal infused ones!

Not only does it take a good Instagram picture (these are beautiful things peeps!) but the crystal gets to work its magic by pouring out all of its positive energy into the water you’ll be sipping on. Crystal gurus have been doing this for donkey’s years, but for us newbies, crystal-infused water is big news. It’s basically creating an essence and so it is up to you which crystal to insert in your water bottle for any given day.

One thing you must, must, MUST make sure of is that any crystal you use is safe to be put in water. Certain stones may dissolve, whilst others may contain lead or corrosive chemicals. A quick Google search is all that should be needed to confirm whether a crystal is safe in water or not and it’s worth keeping a list of the ones you can and cannot use and storing them in different places so you don’t get confused.

It certainly takes drinking crystal clear water to a whole different level, doesn’t it!?!

SOURCE: Stafferton, B. (11 July 2018) "DISCOVER THE WELLNESS TRENDS FOR 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://artofhealthyliving.com/discover-wellness-trends-2019/