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


Seeds of Change

Fruits and vegetables fill a variety of essential nutritional needs and help protect us against certain diseases. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn more about how adding more fruits and veggies to your diet can positively impact your health.


Has anyone ever said to you, “Eat your vegetables!”? Have you ever admonished your own kids to do the same? Are you guilty of throwing away the banana your mom packed in your lunch bag, or ignoring that apple you brought to the office — the one that’s now shriveled up and inedible?

Chances are you can answer “yes” to at least one of the above. While many people are trying to include more fruits and veggies in their diets, most of us could probably do better — in fact, most of us should probably eat twice what we’re currently eating. That’s because fruits and vegetables fill an incredible variety of essential nutritional needs and can help protect against certain diseases. These may include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and even some cancers. They can also help reduce the risk of digestive and eye problems.

Veg out

Let’s hear it for vegetables. These colorful foods are cholesterol free and low in fat and calories. Depending on the variety, they offer vitamins A and C, folate, and potassium, along with fiber to aid digestion. The fiber also helps you feel fuller faster, which may help you stay away from less-nutritious, higher-calorie foods. They’re just as good for you whether cooked or raw, fresh, frozen, or canned, whole or chopped. Even 100% vegetable juice counts. Try to eat a wide variety, including red and orange (such as peppers and carrots), dark green leafy (such as spinach), peas and beans (such as lentils), and starchy (sweet potatoes).

More fruit? Sweet!

As with vegetables, fruits provide a host of nutrients. Potassium, vitamin C, folate, and fiber are just a few. In addition, fruits are low in sodium, calories and fat and have zero cholesterol. Some fruits contain plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that may play a part in keeping you healthy — but this is being looked into further by scientists. In general, though, a diet that includes plenty of fruit may help reduce the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, birth defects, and heart disease. The potassium in fruit may help with bone strength. And fruit may also protect against certain kinds of cancer. Like veggies, you can enjoy fruit fresh, frozen, whole, chopped or sliced, or as 100% juice.

How much?

So just how much do you need to consume to get “enough” fruits and veggies? It depends on your age, your activity level and whether you’re male or female. For adult women, 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables per day is recommended. Men should strive for 2 to 2½ cups of fruit and 3 to 4½ cups of veggies. Try to eat a variety of each, as no one fruit or veggie will give you all the nutrients you need. If you try to make half the food on your plate fruit and vegetables, you’ll be well on your way to getting the earthborn nutrients they offer.

So think green. And red, yellow, orange, blue and purple. Experiment with different varieties and recipes. Sneak spinach into sauces and omelets. Make frozen treats from fresh fruit. There are so many ways to enjoy fruits and vegetables — and you’re sure to enjoy their health benefits, too.

Sources:

USDA. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Why is it important to eat vegetables? June 2015 https://www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables-nutrients-health (Accessed 1/3/2019)

USDA. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Why is it important to eat fruit? June 2015     https://www.choosemyplate.gov/fruits-nutrients-health (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Healthyeating.org. Health benefits of vegetables. https://www.healthyeating.org/Healthy-Eating/All-Star-Foods/Vegetables (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Healthyeating.org. Health benefits of fruits. https://www.healthyeating.org/Healthy-Eating/All-Star-Foods/Fruits (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Produce for the Better Health Foundation & the Centers for Disease Control. Fruits & Veggies – More Matters. Top 10 reasons to eat more fruits & vegetables. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Harvard School of Public Health. The nutrition source. Vegetables and fruits.
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-youeat/vegetables-and-fruits/ (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Helpguide.org. Healthy eating. https://www.helpguide.org/articles-healthy-eating/healthy-eating.htm (Accessed 1/3/2019)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (12 February 2019) "Seeds of Change" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/seeds-of-change


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/


Tackling Workplace Bullying

According to recent research, about 75 percent of U.S. employees have been impacted by workplace bullying. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn how employers can tackle workplace bullying.


A recent study reports more than half of employees in global businesses witnessed or experienced workplace bullying. While that’s alarming, research focused on the U.S. says closer to 75 percent of employees have been impacted by workplace bullying.

What are some of those impacts? Individuals experiencing bullying report increased stress, depression, lower self-esteem and disengagement. A company culture that allows workplace bullying to go unchecked is a culture that will struggle with overall retention, productivity and worker satisfaction. While the social-emotional and productivity impacts are not to be ignored, studies cited in Safety and Health Magazine also show an increased risk of cardiovascular disease at rates rivaling diabetes and drinking as risk factors.

Given these impacts, it’s not surprising workplace bullying is getting significant attention from both researchers and the popular press. While it would be easy to assume, then, that solutions are being proactively developed, that’s not always the case. Several factors impact HR and other company leadership’s ability to aggressively tackle this hot topic.

One challenge is that workplace bullying can be seen as harmless, unintentional, or a matter of subjective interpretation. To counter that, the Workplace Bullying Institute says to look for deliberate behavior or language that is repeated, harmful, intimidating, insulting, humiliating or sabotages the target according to an article in Entrepreneur. When looking, it’s also important to look up and down the corporate ladder. This kind of workplace problem can come from a coworker or a misuse of power by a manager or leader.

According to an article in The HR Director, while more than 9 in 10 businesses want to make feeling safe a hallmark of employee wellbeing, only 1 in 10 is doing something about it. One reason so few are taking action is due to a disconnect about who should take the lead. Senior management skews toward expecting HR to take the lead, but most employees think management should be leading. A first critical step, then, is determining if employee psychological safety is a priority and then empowering a department or team to do something.

Once your team is ready, here are five steps to take.

Establish policies against bullying and to address allegations if you don’t already have them. If you do have policies, take meaningful time to assess and improve them. Consider your social media policies as well. Not all workplace bullying happens at a physical place of work. Much happens online.

Educate employees on new or existing policies. Employees who know there are clear systems in place are more satisfied and more likely to get help. Consider onboarding education for new employees and how you can let them know you’re a company with a plan in place. Formal training that addresses bullying and how to intercede as a bystander can put everyone on the same team.

Empower employees to report bullying. Many people who experience workplace bullying are unsure if they should report it, worried they’ll get in trouble if they do report it, and aren’t comfortable reporting it because they’re being bullied by a supervisor or manager.

Explore how your workplace works for gig economy freelancers and contractors. It’s important to decide how your HR department will acknowledge and deal with their bullying concerns. Are they less likely to report something you should know about because they have less job security or don’t feel protected by policies?

Exemplify the type of behavior you wish to see, says Forbes. Workplace civility and culture start at the top, and managers set expectations. Take claims seriously, behave in respectful, authentic ways, and you’re on your way to a better experience for your employees.

Read more:

Workplace bullying is not going away

Here Is Why We Need To Talk About Bullying In The Work Place

Five Ways To Shut Down Workplace Bullying

Study shows workplace bullying rivals diabetes, drinking as heart disease risk factor

Effectively Addressing A Workplace Bully

SOURCE: Olson, B. (19 February 2019) "Tackling Workplace Bullying" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/tackling-workplace-bullying


Treat Your Weekend Like A Vacation

On-going research shows that how you feel at work on Monday may reveal a lot about how you approached the previous weekend. Read on to learn how your approach to the weekend can improve your mood at work on Monday.


Take a moment to recall how you felt at work on a recent Monday. Were you happy and satisfied? Or stressed and worried?

Your answer may reveal a lot about the way you approached the prior weekend. According to our research in progress, making one small mindset change — treating your weekend like a vacation — can increase your happiness. And unlike taking a more traditional vacation, this emotional boost doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming.

My colleagues Colin West, Sanford DeVoe, and I came to these conclusions over the course of several studies. First, we looked at the effects of actual vacations on hundreds of thousands of Americans by analyzing the subscription-only 2014–2016 data from the Gallup U.S. Daily Poll. We found that individuals who prioritize vacation are significantly happier: They exhibit more positive emotion, less negative emotion, and are more satisfied in life.

The problem is that Americans are really bad at taking vacations. Compared to workers in the European UnionAmericans spend more hours in the office each week and take less time off. Part of the reason is that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without legally mandated vacation — one out of four employed Americans receive no paid vacation days at all. But Americans don’t even use the few vacation days they are allotted: More than 50% of Americans leave their paid vacation days unused each year.

This got us thinking. While most working Americans take little time off for vacation, the majority get (and take) two days off from work every week: the weekend. We wanted to see if there’s a way to help people leverage the time they already take off from work to enjoy the potential happiness they would get from a vacation.

To do this, we ran an experiment among more than 400 working Americans over the span of a regular weekend in May 2017. The intervention was simple: On the Friday leading into the weekend, we randomly instructed half of the participants to treat the weekend like a vacation. The other half, serving as a control condition, were instructed to treat the weekend like a regular weekend. That was it. How they interpreted the instructions was entirely up to them. Everyone was left to do whatever they wanted during those next two days.

When participants were back at work on Monday, we followed up with a survey measuring their current happiness (that is, their positive emotion, negative emotion, and satisfaction). The results showed that those who had treated their weekend like a vacation were significantly happier than those who had treated it like a regular weekend. This effect held when we controlled for the amount of money they reported to have spent. Thus, without taking any extra time off from work and without needing to spend any additional money, the simple nudge to treat their time off like a vacation increased their happiness when they were back at work on Monday.

These results seemed too good to be true, so we ran the study again with more than 500 different people on another regular weekend in January 2018. This time, we also measured how happy people were during the weekend, how they spent their time, and the extent to which they were mentally present. The experimental treatment was exactly the same: At random, half were instructed to treat their weekend like a vacation, and the other half were instructed to treat it like a regular weekend. Yet again, the vacationers were statistically happier at work on Monday. They were happier throughout the weekend as well.

How did treating the weekend like a vacation boost happiness? Yes, the “vacationers” behaved somewhat differently: doing less housework and work for their jobs, staying in bed a little longer with their partner, and eating a bit more. These differences in activities, however, weren’t responsible for their increased happiness. Instead, treating the time like a vacation seems to have shifted people’s mindset. Specifically, the vacationers were more mindful of and attentive to the present moment throughout their weekend’s activities.

For example, two women — one in the control group and one instructed to treat her weekend like a vacation — reported making breakfast on Saturday morning. The first woman reported doing so with enjoyment: “Made biscuits and gravy for breakfast. It’s my favorite!” The second woman took her enjoyment one step further: “I woke everyone up with pancakes this morning. It’s something I like to do when we are on vacation. I found myself enjoying the morning more than usual, maybe it’s because I focused on staying in the moment.” The difference between the women’s experience is subtle, but crucial. Even though their activities and behaviors were largely the same, it was the second woman’s attention to the present moment — her mindset — that produced the subsequent effect on happiness during the rest of the weekend and the following Monday.

Why does this mindset shift have such a powerful effect? Research shows that slowing down and paying more attention to your surroundings, the activity at hand, and the people who are involved allows you to enjoy the activity more. Without ruminating on the past or getting distracted by anxieties or fantasies about the future, increasing your attention to the present moment makes you more sensitive to the pleasures that are already in the environment. It helps you savor experiences and life a bit more.

Even if you can’t take the entire weekend “off” because of a looming work deadline or household obligations, it is still possible to gain the benefits of a vacation mindset. You can carve out a piece of the weekend (or perhaps even the workweek) to fully enjoy and be in the present, as you would on vacation. Or you can apply a vacation mindset to whatever task is at hand. Slow down, notice, and make it more fun; turn on some upbeat music in the car while running errands, or make yourself a margarita for folding laundry.

One word of caution: Given that the vacation mindset and resulting happiness stems from mentally breaking from routine and the day-to-day grind, this intervention cannot itself become a routine. Treating every single weekend or evening off from work like a vacation might cause a reduction in its cognitive and emotional impact. We recommend saving the mental vacations for when you really need the break.

When used judiciously, however, this simple reframing allows you to enjoy some of the happiness from a vacation without taking additional time off. Our experiments suggest that your mindset is more important than the activities you take part in, or the amount of money you spend, when you’re not at work. So between weekend errands, soccer practices, and birthday parties, try to notice and appreciate the time you do have. Treating this time like a vacation can provide a needed break from the typical grind, allowing you to appropriately savor moments spent at the soccer field or gathered around the dinner table with family and friends. And when you do head back to work, you’re more likely to feel refreshed and ready to tackle your week.

SOURCE: Mogilner Holmes, C. (31 January 2019) "Treat Your Weekend Like A Vacation" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/01/treat-your-weekend-like-a-vacation


With the Advent of Remote Work, Is the ‘Sick Day’ Becoming Passé?

Do your remote workers take sick days when needed? With many employees working from home full time, the idea of a sick day could become out of date. Continue reading this post from SHRM to learn more.


Your advertising manager works from home full time. She has a nasty cold. But hey—she only needs to walk a few steps from her bedroom to her desk, can nap when she needs to and won't infect her colleagues. So she doesn't really need to take a sick day, right?

Well, she probably should, but as remote work continues to rise, workplace experts find that those who do their jobs from home are inclined to stay on the clock while soldiering through colds, the flu and other maladies—in part because they don't want to appear to be taking advantage of their work-from-home benefit.

"Remote workers find it hard to integrate work with the rest of their life because it is so easy to overwork and even plow through your work while you are sick," said Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, a New York City-based HR executive network and research firm. "If you are only traveling from your bedroom to your home office, remote workers may rationalize, 'What harm can be done if I work while I am sick? At least I'm not contagious.' "

In addition, the advent of remote working has introduced another trend: managers suggesting that onsite employees work from home when they're sick.

"It's no secret that many [workplaces] have cultures that encourage the 'always-on' mentality," said Erica Denner, head of people and culture at YouEarnedIt/HighGround, an Austin, Texas-based company that focuses on employee recognition, rewards and performance management. "In my experience, I've found that because of this, employees at these organizations can find it difficult to ask for time off when they're sick and are often encouraged to work from home instead."

Circumstances Matter

Thanks to technology that facilitates remote work, there are instances when working during what otherwise would have been a sick day may actually be a win for the employee and employer.

"There are all kinds of reasons to take sick days," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute and a senior research advisor for the Society for Human Resource Management. "If employees have a condition that affects their ability to be mobile, like a broken bone or torn tendon, they might have to take a sick day if they work in a traditional workplace because travel to work would be difficult, but they could easily work at home. I can think of other such illnesses, such as having something contagious and not wanting to infect others but feeling good enough to work or being postoperative and being able to work in short spurts. Working at home could be ideal for that."

Consider U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who recovered from cancer surgery at home but nonetheless heard arguments in a case before the court. A court spokesperson said Ginsburg would participate "on the basis of briefs, filings and transcripts," CNBC reported.

But if working while ill prevents an employee from fully resting and recuperating, this will likely hinder performance—and even future productivity and morale.

"If an employee is really sick, he or she might power through and get a few things done but might not do them well," Galinsky said.

Working through your cold, sore throat or flu not only can lead to a decline in physical well-being but "also can present mental health challenges," Meister said.

Contractors, or so-called gig workers, in particular, may be wary of taking sick time. Lacking job security, they may fear that doing so would make them appear dispensable to their employers.

What Employers Can Do

To discourage employees from avoiding sick days because they're working remotely:

Communicate to employees that you expect them to take time off when they're sick. Or, encourage them to be open about how much work, if any, they feel they can accomplish. "If you can't produce high-quality work, even from the comfort of your own home, when you're under the weather, relay that message to your manager," Denner said. "If they value your contributions and are a good supervisor, they will understand and step in to help until you're feeling better."

At YouEarnedIt/HighGround, workers are asked to make it clear when they are out sick and unavailable. This includes setting up not only the typical out-of-office notification by e-mail but also notifications across productivity platforms the company uses, such as Slack. "It's remarkable how effective turning on the 'out sick' emoji in Slack is in terms of alerting colleagues you need time to recover," Denner said. "When employees are out on a longer-term medical leave, we actually remove their technology access so they can't check e-mails or Slack. This way, the employee doesn't feel guilty or obligated to respond to messages."

Talk about the importance of taking sick days for one's physical and mental well-being. Bring up the topic during all-hands meetings with onsite as well as remote workers. In benefits materials and handouts, address the importance of taking sick days.

Ensure that managers and executives take sick days themselves. When a boss shows up at a meeting sniffling and coughing, she sends the clear message that work is too important to be interrupted by illness. And that only leaves her subordinates feeling guilty if they take sick days.

"We've found that [modeling sick-day behavior] actually goes a long way in not just encouraging our employees to do the same, but also in further solidifying a culture of trust and respect," Denner said.

Encourage remote workers to take time for themselves even when they're healthy—such as taking a midday break—and reinforce how this is important for their well-being and productivity.

SOURCE: Wilkie, D. (6 February 2019) "With the Advent of Remote Work, Is the ‘Sick Day’ Becoming Passé?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/remote-workers-and-sick-days-.aspx


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


Why chiropractic services could be the next big thing in wellness

Chiropractic services could be the next popular wellness perk for employer-sponsored benefit plans. The American College of Physicians' care guidelines recommends the conservative, non-pharmacologic treatment chiropractors provide. Read on to learn more.


The next popular wellness perk could be offering chiropractic services at on-site medical centers.

On-site or near-site clinics typically offer services to employees including first aid, occupational health, condition management, wellness and ancillary services — and increasingly chiropractic care.

Employees, healthcare administrators and physicians are recognizing the health and employee satisfaction benefits of integrating chiropractic care into multidisciplinary settings, research suggests. Care guidelines from the American College of Physicians recommend the conservative, non-pharmacologic treatment chiropractors provide. Employers are finding that adding chiropractic care to their worksite health center teams reduces direct costs of care, decreases opioid prescriptions for neuro-musculoskeletal episodes and improves health outcomes.

Healthcare costs for employers are expected to reach $15,000 per employee in 2019, according to the National Business Group on Health. The direct and indirect costs associated with low back pain are estimated between $85 billion and $238 billion, and expenditures for back pain are rising more quickly than overall health expenditures. To help stem that growth, as many as 65% of large companies are expected to offer on-site or near-site care by 2020, NBGH reports.

Employer focus on improving workers’ health and wellness has gained momentum in recent years, as evidenced by last year’s announcement from Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase that they would form an independent healthcare company for their U.S. employees. Another example is employers with self-funded health plans contracting with narrow, high-quality provider networks and even negotiating directly with local hospitals on their prices.

Clinics offer similar cost control and oversight benefits. More importantly, they offer faster and easier access to care that keeps employees healthy, motivated and engaged — and out of the emergency room or hospital. As such, 54% of large employers currently offer on-site or near-site clinics, while another survey showed that 94% of employers reported their clinics improved employee health and 95% said they contributed to increased employee productivity.

Each clinic’s services, cost-sharing, use privileges and staffing can be customized to meet the needs of a specific organization and employer benefit plans. These decisions should be reflective of the objectives of the sponsoring employer and the healthcare needs of the population.

While most healthcare clinics are located on-site or close to the workplace, a growing number are near-site or shared clinic locations, serving populations from multiple locations of the same employer or various employers. Additionally, more care is being delivered virtually. The objective is to provide easy access and immediate attention for employees, at little or no cost, for a host of services and products that an employee would normally have to leave the work site to obtain.

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Worksite Health Centers, the majority of employers reported their workers had expressed interest in chiropractic services at their clinics. The nationwide cost for treatment and management of low back pain and arthritis has reached $200 billion annually. Another study attributes two-thirds of these costs to lost wages and reduced productivity.

The fact that chiropractors deliver drug-free therapies should be particularly meaningful to employers in light of the country’s opioid abuse epidemic. The good news is a recent study published in “The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine” concludes that for adults receiving treatment for low back pain, the likelihood of filling a prescription for an opioid was 55% lower for those receiving chiropractic care than for adults not receiving chiropractic care.

In particular, chiropractors follow evidence-based and value-based guidelines to promote safety and effectiveness. Findings like these and many others show that by adding chiropractic care, employers will strengthen the opportunity for cost savings, improved outcomes, greater worker productivity and stronger employee retention.

SOURCE: Lord, D. (25 January 2019) "Why chiropractic services could be the next big thing in wellness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/why-chiropractic-services-could-be-the-next-big-thing-in-wellness?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000