How tech solutions can take aim at employee stress

Are your employees stressed? Stress can lead to multiple health conditions and many people cope with stress in unhealthy ways. Continue reading to find out how employers can help reduce stress in the workplace.


In case you haven’t noticed, today’s workforce is completely stressed out. Overwhelming workloads, looming deadlines and the 24/7 always-on mentality is becoming the corporate America norm. Unfortunately, long-term stress can contribute to everything from heart disease to strokes, cancer and other grave conditions. Stressed employees also are more likely to be unmotivated, quit their jobs, perform poorly and have low morale and higher incidence of illness and accidents.

Because everyone copes with stress differently, some deal with it in unhealthy ways, such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol, according to the American Psychological Association. This vicious cycle makes stress one of the top health concerns, with 49% of individuals at risk for stress-related illnesses, second only to weight, which impacts 69% of individuals, according to internal research.

All in all, employee stress is causing employers … well, stress. In fact, the cost of work-related stress in the US is $300 billion annually, according to the American Institute of Stress. Further, behavioral-related disability costs have increased more than 300% in the past decade and account for 30% of all disability claims.

While more than two-thirds of US corporations have adopted some kind of health and wellness program, the majority doesn’t adequately address or even include solutions that support mental health. That’s why it’s critical to educate employers on the real cost of stress and the benefits of an effective stress-related wellness initiative to help keep health costs down, while keeping employee productivity and retention up.

However the realities of promoting a healthy balance for employees, while simultaneously ensuring the delivery of quality work that’s completed on time, is much easier said than done. Anecdotally, we often hear that employees don’t feel they are benefiting from their corporate wellness plans because they don’t have time or they can’t break away from their desks.

Walk the walk
What can employers do to break the cycle? First and foremost, stress reduction starts from the top-down as management and bosses play a key role in employee adoption and lasting engagement. Not only are they responsible for communicating about available resources, they need to literally and figuratively walk the walk. When leadership incorporates stress management into their own lives, employees understand the company's commitment to these practices and feel more comfortable taking a break.

The role of technology
Some of the most effective wellness programs leverage a variety of technologies that offer something for everyone and makes it easier for employees to engage and benefit, regardless of where they are or the time of day. Popular technology-based solutions include:

· Digital health platforms — Connecting employees to health coaches, board-certified physicians, and colleagues who can provide support for those dealing with stress and offer guidance with chronic disease resulting from, or adding to, individuals’ stress levels.
· Digital health games — Employees receive encouragement and rewards through fun, engaging games in which they compete against others in stress-busting exercise to reach health goals.
· Wearables — Employees can sync popular wearable devices, such as their Apple Watch, to visualize the impact of guided meditations on their heart rate. Through smart feedback, employees can better understand which meditation exercises, locations, and times of day have the greatest impact on their heart rate, and therefore, stress level.
· Virtual Reality guided meditation — Combining an immersive VR with mindfulness meditation can help transport employees to relaxing environments, bringing a whole new dimension to the meditation experience. Using apps on their cell phones and portable VR headsets, employees are able to practice meditation from any place, at any time. In addition to stress reduction, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that meditation can heighten attention spansimprove sleepreduce chronic pain and fight addictions like drug and alcohol abuse, and binge eating.

The bottom line: Stressed-out employees can have significant health and financial consequences for your clients. With the start of open enrollment season just a few short months away, it’s time to start educating your customers about the benefits of incorporating mental health programs, like digital health platforms and meditation, into their corporate wellness plans to mitigate employee stress and improve productivity.

Miller, M. (11 July 2018) "How tech solutions can take aim at employee stress" (Web Blog Post) Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/mental-fitness-why-your-corporate-wellness-portfolio-needs-mental-health-solutions


Point-of-sale wellness: How health plans are cashing in

With skyrocketing healthcare costs, payers constantly look for ways to reduce costs and improve health. Continue reading to learn more.


Health care costs continue to skyrocket, and payers are constantly looking for ways to keep their populations healthier and to reduce these costs. Payers looking for more effective strategies to improve health and wellness for members should be aware of the new preventative approaches that more health plans are offering.

One such method that health plans are deploying to engage members is point-of-sale wellness, a type of incentive program that encourages members to actively make healthier purchases and lifestyle choices. As point-of-sale wellness becomes more prevalent among health plans, human resource managers and benefits brokers should understand how these programs work to best determine if they would be a valuable option for their employees and clients.

What is point-of-sale wellness?

Point-of-sale wellness is all about helping health plan members make smart, healthy purchasing decisions when they’re in a retail store or pharmacy. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the average consumer visits their doctor 3.1 times per year. This same consumer will visit his or her favorite retailers multiple times per week. This presents the perfect opportunity for actionable engagement. It is often too easy for individuals to make impulsive decisions that favor cheaper care items or junk food that provides instant gratification but lead to an unhealthy lifestyle in the long run. Empowering consumers in these moments before checking out at the register with the understanding — and more importantly, the financial incentive — to make informed, smarter choices can lead to a healthier lifestyle and reduced health care costs. In short, the goal is to help individuals prioritize health and wellness at retail point of sale.

There are numerous ways that health plans can achieve this goal. One of the most common is by providing members with prepaid cards that are loaded with funds and discounts for the purchase of over-the-counter (OTC) items such as vitamins, diabetes care items and medications for allergies or cold and flu symptoms. The key component of these specialized prepaid cards is that they can be restricted-spend cards. In other words, they cannot be used to purchase any items that the health plan members want; they can only be used to purchase items off a curated list of products.

Under this arrangement, all parties, from the individual to the health plans and retailers, benefit. With a restricted-spend prepaid card in hand, an individual is rewarded for making purchases that contribute to a healthier lifestyle, while reducing health care costs both for themselves and the health plans administering the cards. In the meantime, the retailers partnering with the health plans to make point-of-sale wellness possible enjoy the opportunity to build long-term customer relationships with the health plan members using the cards.

Point-of-sale wellness in action

Point-of-sale wellness can be customized to be as general or specific as a health plan needs. For example, a health plan that supports a high number of new parents on a regular basis may offer a prepaid card designed specifically to assist members with newborn children. The first years of an infant’s life are among the most expensive from a health care perspective. More health plans are starting to offer new parents prepaid cards that are loaded with funds and discounts for items such as OTC medications, baby food and formula, diapers, strollers, car seats or thermometers. This opens an easier path for new parents to do basic at-home diagnostics and keep their babies’ health monitored so costly trips to an emergency room or urgent care center are not needed as often.

Payers that offer health and wellness programs to assist new parents in their populations can consider engaging health plans that offer these types of prepaid cards. Having a healthier child has the added benefit of reducing stress on the parents, which means they are in a better position to continue performing in the workplace.

Financial incentives for healthier choices

Most wellness programs are focused on informing participants of the best ways to support a healthier lifestyle, but that is only half of the equation. Point-of-sale wellness goes one step further to ensure participants are empowered from a financial perspective to make smarter purchasing decisions while shopping for daily care items. Businesses and benefits brokers who want to provide their employees and clients the best opportunities to live a healthier lifestyle should consider engaging health plans that prioritize these prepaid card incentives into their offerings.

Vielehr, D. (19 July 2018). "Point-of-sale wellness: How health plans are cashing in" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/19/point-of-sale-wellness-how-health-plans-are-cashin/


Improve workplace fitness by focusing on the collective "we"

Employees are more likely to try wellness programs if they know their coworkers are participating as well. In this article, Maurer discusses how focusing on the collective "we" will increase participation in employee wellness programs.


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

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

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

The power of sharing with your peers

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

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

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

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

More than just an incentive

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

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

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


HRL - Woman - Frustrated

Addressing mental healthcare at work

Studies show that one in five adults has a mental health disorder. In this article, Olson list ways employers can address mental health within their organizations.


Nancy Spangler, senior consultant at the Center for Workplace Mental Health of the American Psychiatric Foundation, says that one in five adults has a mental health disorder, and one in 10 has a substance abuse problem. In addition, major depression and its associated conditions cost the U.S. over $210 billion every year. Clearly, mental health is an issue we need to investigate both in our offices and across the country.

Many organizations have found that simply by working with employees to recognize depression, build empathy, and find resources, increased EAP utilization while claim dollars did the opposite. In most cases there was no formal program involved—leadership simply began talking about the issue, and the reduced stigma led to better health (and better offices!).

What can we do besides reducing stigma, especially from the top down? At the 2018 Health Benefits and Leadership Conference, experts listed five “buckets” of challenges in addressing mental health: access to care, cost of care, stigma, quality, and integration. Breaking these down into individual components not only helps employees find the support they need and deserve, but it further reduces stigma by refusing to separate mental health from medical coverage or wellness programs. Experts also recommend inviting EAPs to visit offices in person, instead of simply suggesting employees call when they can. Another increasingly popular technique is text-based therapy. This a great fit for many employees because someone is always available and the conversation is always private, even when the client is sitting at a desk in a shared space.

In addition to reducing stigma through transparency and access, employers can also help increase the quality of care available to employees. One key move is simply asking for data. How do vendors evaluate quality, meet standards, and screen for illness? Do health plan members have confidential ways to report their experiences? Mental health care should be seen no differently from other kinds of health care. Employees who have access to quality, destigmatized mental health care build stronger, more functional, and ever-happier workplaces.

Olson B. (17 July 2018). "Addressing Mental Health Care at Work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/addressing-mental-health-care-at-work.


7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal

Need more energy and excitement in your office? Keep your employees healthy and motivated with these fun wellness program ideas.


Building your own workplace wellness program takes work–and time–but it’s worth it.

“It’s an investment we need to make,” Jennifer Bartlett, HR director at Griffin Communication, told a group of benefits managers during a session at the Human Resource Executive Health and Benefits Leadership Conference. “We want [employees] to be healthy and happy, and if they’re healthy and happy they’ll be more productive.”

Bartlett shared her experiences building, and (continually) tweaking, a wellness program at her company–a multimedia company running TV outlets across Oklahoma –over the last seven years. “If there was a contest or challenge we’ve done it,” she said, noting there have been some failed ventures.

“We got into wellness because we wanted to reduce health costs, but that’s not why we do it today,” she said. “We do it today because employees like it and it increases morale and engagement.”

Though Griffin Communication's wellness program is extensive and covers more than this list, here are some components of it that's working out well that your company might want to steal:

  1. Fitbit challenge. Yes, fit bits can make a difference, Bartlett said. The way she implemented a program was to have a handful of goals and different levels as not everyone is at the same pace-some might walk 20,000 steps in a day, while someone else might strive for 5,000. There are also competition and rewards attached. At Griffin Communications, the company purchased a number of Fitbits, then sold them to its employees for half the cost.
  2. Race entry. Griffin tries to get its employees moving by being supportive of their fitness goals. If an employee wants to participate in a race-whether walking or running a 5k or even a marathon, it will reimburse them up to $50 one time.
  3. Wellness pantry. This idea, Bartlett said, was "more popular than I ever could have imagined." Bartlett stocks up the fridge and pantry in the company's kitchen with healthy food options. Employees then pay whole sale the price of the food, so it's a cheap option for them to instead of hitting the vending machine. "Employees can pay 25 cents for a bottled water or $1.50 for a soda from the machine."
  4. Gym membership. "We don't have an onsite workout facility, but we offer 50 percent reimbursement of (employees') gym membership cost up to a max of 200 per year," she said. The company also reimburses employees for fitness classes, such as yoga.
  5. Biggest Loser contest. Though this contest isn't always popular among companies, a Biggest Loser-type competition- in which employees compete to lose the most weight-worked out well at Griffin. Plus, Bartlett said, "this doesn't cost us anything because the employee buys in $10 to do it." She also insisted the company is sensitive to employees. For example, they only share percentages of weight loss instead of sharing how much each worker weights.
  6. "Project Zero" contest. This is a program pretty much everyone can use: Its aim is to avoid gaining the dreaded holiday wights. The contest runs from early to mid- November through the first of the year. "Participants will weigh in the first and last day of the contest," Bartlett said. "The goal is to not gain weight during the holidays-we're not trying to get people to lose weight but we're just to not get them to not eat that third piece of pie."
  7. Corporate challenges. Nothing both builds camaraderie and encourages fitness like a team sports or company field day. Bartlett said that employees have basically taken this idea and run with it themselves- coming up with fun ideas throughout the year.

SOURCE:
Mayer K (14 June 2018) "7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2015/10/10/7-wellness-program-ideas-you-may-want-to-steal/


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

 

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

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

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

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

—theglobeandmail.com