Healthcare waste is costing billions — and employers aren’t doing anything about it

According to a recent survey, 60 percent of employers don't take steps to manage their healthcare plan's wasteful spending. Read on to learn more.


Providing the workforce with healthcare coverage is expensive, but a new survey of 126 employers suggests a large chunk of that cost is being wasted by the healthcare industry on treatments patients don’t need.

The healthcare industry wastes $750 billion per year on unnecessary tests and treatments, according to a survey from the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions and Benfield, a market research, strategy and communications consulting firm.  Some 60% of employers don’t take steps to manage their healthcare plan’s wasteful spending, despite the fact that the same percentage of employers view it as a problem, the survey says.

“While waste has long been identified as a key concern and cost contributor, employers are operating blind and need to look at a more disciplined approach to address top drivers that influence waste,” says Michael Thompson, National Alliance president and CEO.

Employers are under the impression that prescription drugs are the culprit behind the spending waste, and they are, just not as much as other services. Around 54% of health spending waste is caused by unnecessary medical imaging tests, such as MRIs and X-rays, the survey says. Specialty drugs, unnecessary lab tests and specialists referrals are also major money pits.

However, the survey data isn’t suggesting these procedures and treatments shouldn’t be covered by employer health plans. The tests and treatments are potentially life-saving, they’re just used more than they should be. Sometimes previous test results can help with a current diagnosis, but medical staff don’t always check patient files before ordering new tests.

Most employers don’t monitor unnecessary healthcare spending. The 34% of employers who do rely entirely on their healthcare vendors to do it for them, trusting that it’s being taken care of.

“The idea of reducing waste in the healthcare system can be overwhelming,” says Laura Rudder Huff, senior consultant for Benfield. “While employers ask themselves: ‘Where to start?’ this is an issue where even small steps matter. Employers can begin by collecting data to identify where the inefficiencies are in their workforce and community and use assets such as vendors and organizations like coalitions to realize market improvements.”

The survey also recommends employers enlist the services of Choosing Wisely, an organization that counsels patients and employers on healthcare plans and medical treatments.

SOURCE: Webster, K. (7 November 2018) "Healthcare waste is costing billions — and employers aren’t doing anything about it" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/healthcare-waste-is-costing-billions-and-employers-arent-doing-anything-about-it


9 Simple Ways to Deal With Stress at Work

Are your employees stressed? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 to 40 percent of Americans are extremely stressed at work. Continue reading to learn more.


According to research, the percentage of Americans who are stressed at work is high, and it’s only getting higher. According to the CDC’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, studies have found the number of Americans who are “extremely stressed at work” range between 29 percent to 40 percent.

Unfortunately, work stress has significant health consequences that range from the relatively benign—more colds and flus—to the more serious, like heart disease and metabolic syndrome. But, because stress at work is so common, finding a low-stress job may be difficult or impossible for many people. A more realistic choice would be to simply adopt more effective strategies to reduce stress at work. Here are some stress management techniques to try.

Start Your Day Off Right

After scrambling to get the kids fed and off to school, dodging traffic and combating road rage, and gulping down coffee in lieu of something healthy, many people come in already stressed, and more reactive to stress at work. In fact, you may be surprised by how much more reactive to stress you are when you have a stressful morning. If you start off the day with good nutrition, proper planning, and a positive attitude, you may find the stress of the workplace rolling off your back more easily.

Be Clear on Requirements

A factor that contributes to job burnout is unclear requirements. If you don’t know exactly what’s expected of you, or if the requirements keep changing with little notice, you may find yourself much more stressed than necessary. If you find yourself falling into the trap of never knowing if what you’re doing is enough, it may help to have a talk with your supervisor and go over expectations, and strategies for meeting them. This can relieve stress for both of you!

Stay Away From Conflict

Because interpersonal conflict takes a toll on your physical and emotional health, and because conflict among co-workers is so difficult to escape, it’s a good idea to avoid conflict at work as much as possible. That means don’t gossip, don’t share too many of your personal opinions about religion and politics, and try to steer clear of colorful office humor. Try to avoid those people at work who don’t work well with others. If conflict finds you anyway, learn how to deal with it appropriately.

Stay Organized

Even if you’re a naturally disorganized person, planning ahead to stay organized can greatly decrease stress at work. Being organized with your time means less rushing in the morning to avoid being late and rushing to get out at the end of the day. Keeping yourself organized means avoiding the negative effects of clutter, and being more efficient with your work.

Be Comfortable

Another surprising stressor at work is physical discomfort. You may not notice the stress you experience when you’re in an uncomfortable chair for a few minutes. But if you practically live in that chair when you’re at work, you can have a sore back and be more reactive to stress because of it. Even small things like office noise can be distracting and cause low-grade frustration. Do what you can to ensure that you’re working from a quiet, comfortable and soothing workspace.

Forget Multitasking

Multitasking was once heralded as a fantastic way to maximize one’s time and get more done in a day. Then people started realizing that when they had a phone in their ear and were making calculations at the same time, their speed and accuracy (not to mention sanity) suffered. There is a certain kind of frazzled feeling that comes from splitting one’s focus that doesn’t work well for most people. Rather than multitasking, try a new strategy known as chunking.

Walk at Lunch

Many people are feeling ill effects from leading a sedentary lifestyle. One way you can combat that, and manage stress at work at the same time, is to get some exercise during your lunch break and perhaps take short exercise breaks throughout the day. This can help you blow off steam, lift your mood, and get into better shape.

Keep Perfectionism In Check

Being a high achiever can help you feel good about yourself and excel at work. Being a perfectionist, on the other hand, can drive you and the people around you a little nuts. Especially in busy, fast-paced jobs, you may not be able to do everything perfectly. But striving to just do your best and then congratulating yourself on the effort is a good strategy. Your results will actually be better and you’ll be much less stressed at work.

Listen to Music on the Drive Home

Listening to music brings many benefits and can offer an effective way to relieve stress after work. Combating the stress of a long day at work with your favorite music on the drive home can make you less stressed when you get home, and more prepared to interact with the people in your life.

SOURCE: Scott, E. (12 November 2018) "9 Simple Ways to Deal With Stress at Work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-deal-with-stress-at-work-3145273


Do you have a strong foundation of best practices for your wellness program?

Are you looking for ways to improve involvement in your company's wellness program? According to a study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, nine out of 10 U.S. corporations offer some type of wellness initiative. Read on to learn more.


Wellness programs at the office are becoming increasingly popular, but not all of them are as successful as they could be. Here are three simple things you can do to improve involvement in your association’s wellness program.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plan’s new study—A Closer Look: Workplace Wellness Trends—takes a deeper dive into data from one of its previously published studies, with an aim to “determine practices that lead to potential wellness success.”

To do so, IFEBP analyzed responses from 431 U.S. corporations and government entities, and what the foundation uncovered is that nine out of 10 of the respondents offer some type of wellness initiative.

But the wellness initiatives they offer vary, ranging from fitness challenges and employee assistance programs, to healthy food and drink choices in the kitchen and opportunities for employees to do charity work.

Employers’ goals for even instituting wellness initiatives differ widely too. “There are a lot of different reasons why employers have wellness programs,” said Julie Stich, associate vice president of content at IFEBP. “You want your employees to be healthier, not only to keep healthcare costs down, but you want to increase their morale, increase their productivity and efficiency while they’re in the office, [and] you want to cut back on absenteeism …”

No matter the program or the goals associated with it, here are a few ingredients IFEBP has found are essential in creating a successful wellness program:

Leadership involvement.

“What we’ve seen repeated over and over in our analysis of our data was the involvement of leadership,” Stich said. And it’s important that the leaders of the organization support it publicly and communicate about it with their employees, encouraging staff, for example, to go get their flu shot during work hours or get up from their desks and take a walk. But leadership participation in the initiative is also important. “When you’ve got a fitness challenge going on, you actually [want to] see the CEO taking their walk around the building as well,” Stich said.

Communication.

Employers might first ask their employees what they’d like to see in a wellness program, whether a flu shot or a lunch-and-learn session on stress management and then use that feedback in crafting the organization’s wellness program. But, after an organization has launched an initiative, “it’s important to always be reminding employees about your wellness program and its activities,” Stich said.

Incentives.

Offering incentives is a great way to motivate employee involvement in an organization’s wellness initiative. One way to do this is to put the names of staff who are participating in the program into a raffle and then hold a gift card drawing.

Stick it’s important to keep in mind that the results of such a program won’t be revealed quickly. “You’re not going to see a positive or any kind of ROI in the first year,” she said. “If you roll out a new program or a new component of your program, it takes on average three to five years before you can really get a good sense of whether this is working or not and what impact it’s having.”

SOURCE: Smith, K. (20 March 2018) "Do you have a strong foundation of best practices for your wellness program?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.provanthealth.com/industry-trends/2018/3/26/are-you-succeeding-at-the-three-the-foundational-elements-of-a-successful-program

Original source: Associations Now | Emily Bratcher | How to Boost the Success of Your Workplace Wellness Program


Give employees time back in an always-on working world

With time being the most precious benefit of all, a growing number of employers are offering benefits designed to save employees time. Continue reading to learn more.


When it comes to employee benefits, what do people really want?

As HR and benefits professionals, we shouldn’t make broad assumptions or generalizations about what benefits our employees need or want. Each employee in any given organization is an individual with different circumstances to be met at every stage in their lives — from those entering the workforce to those preparing to retire, and everyone in between. This is why employers must differentiate their benefits packages to meet the needs of a diverse and multigenerational workforce. And as consumers demand more choice in how they spend their benefits dollars, employers are getting more creative and curating a more expansive set of options for everyone.

No matter how efficient an employee is, work inevitably extends beyond the traditional workday from time to time. Similarly, as the lines between home and work blur with flexible work arrangements and email available 24/7 on smartphones, employees still need to take care of personal tasks, like scheduling family dentist appointments, setting up child care, disputing medical bills or calling the veterinarian … all during the workday.

Regardless of generation, industry, position or title, people are yearning to find the right balance between work and life demand. Time is the most precious benefit of them all. As a result, there are a growing number of employers offering benefits designed to save employees time.

Previously offered predominantly by large, tech companies in Silicon Valley, we’re seeing time-saving benefits spread to employers and industries of all kinds and encompass a variety of conveniences, from on-site dry cleaning pickup, to employer-funded shuttles to get employees to and from work, gym memberships, grocery delivery and services like dog walking and personal errands. This benefits category can also include more significant, personalized benefits like concierge health services, assistance in evaluating elderly care options, telehealth for humans and pets, and emergency childcare services.

Once seen as just perks, these services run deeper. Employers care about their people, and these time-saving benefits — anything people leave work early for, or deal with during the work day — has created a new benefits category that increases employees’ productivity and capacity for work by eliminating distractions and freeing up mental space. While these types of benefits may seem like “nice to have” instead of essentials, they can add up and make a substantial difference in employees’ lives.

Life is complicated. Things go wrong that impact productivity, contribute to presenteeism and the well-being of our workforce; these employee benefits offered through employers are returning valuable time back into someone’s day, helping them focus on work and better balance work and life expectations.

Employees need HR’s help. By not offering a wide variety of benefits personalized to the workforce, employers are missing out on an opportunity to provide great value to employees and make a tremendously positive change in their lives. But many HR professionals falsely assume employees will ask for voluntary benefits directly and proactively make suggestions about what would help them. You may say, “My employees aren’t coming to me asking for things like elder care services, so they don’t need them.” My response is, of course, they’re not asking: they may not want you to know about challenges they’re facing in their personal lives.

Employee’s personal situations are just that - deeply personal. They may be suffering in silence. Americans are now facing the highest housing, education and medical costs in our history, meaning nearly everyone is stressed out about family, work and finances; it’s causing problems in the workplace. If their minds are somewhere else and not focused on work, their productivity could be suffering.

Open Enrollment is rapidly approaching. Don’t wait for your employees to ask you for benefits. Take advantage of OE to ask your employees what they’re looking for, as this is the time they’ll already be assessing what types of benefits they need in the coming year anyway. Use this time to survey the workforce to see what people do or don’t like about their benefits. Be sure to specifically ask “What can we offer you?”

It’s a question, and a gesture, that may matter more to employees than you know.

SOURCE: Oldham, J. (14 September 2018) "Give employees time back in an always-on working world" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/give-employees-time-back-in-an-always-on-working-world?feed=00000152-18a4-d58e-ad5a-99fc032b0000


Creating Better Employee Benefits With Advanced Analytics

Are your employees happy at work? It is important to provide a workplace, employee benefits and payment system that keep your employees happy. Read on to learn more.


Job satisfaction is the most important part of maintaining a happy workforce. If you have a workforce that feels like they could get a better deal elsewhere then they are likely to leave.

It is therefore important to provide a working environment, benefits and payment system, that keeps your employees happy without breaking the bank.

Analytics are being used to make sure that this is being done effectively, seeing where discontent is occurring and helping to suggest how this can be solved.

For instance, there are research companies that can use text analysis tools to analyze hundreds, if not thousands of survey entries that can give a holistic view of employee benefits. Often when survey results are being analyzed by an individual, it is difficult to gauge the overall feeling and there can be bias put on the results.

It also allows for HR to note the frequency of meetings with individuals as well as the frequency and size of any pay rises. If it is flagged that somebody hasn’t had a meeting with HR where they can directly communicate any concerns for a considerable amount of time, then tho scan be rectified.

Analytics can also be used to investigate which teams are happiest, have the highest retention rates or are the most profitable. This then allows companies to investigate in detail what is making these teams happiest or most productive, then create benefit packages to create similar results for other teams in the company.

Analytics and data have allowed companies to collect data to make their workforces happier and more content. This, in turn, creates situations where employees are eager to work and appreciative of the benefits they receive, improving ROI and increasing productivity.

SOURCE: Pannaman, E. (12 October 2018) "Creating Better Employee Benefits With Advanced Analytics" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://channels.theinnovationenterprise.com/articles/202-creating-better-employee-benefits-with-advanced-analytics


Employers Assess Risk Tolerance with Wellness Program Incentives

Are you currently designing your 2019 wellness programs? This year, employers must decide which approach to take on program incentives without EEOC guidance. Read this blog post to learn more.


Employers designing 2019 wellness programs must decide what approach to take on program incentives without Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

The commission has a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking tentatively slated for January 2019. Last year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided the commission's 2016 ADA and GINA wellness regulations were arbitrary and vacated them, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

Employers again are "in the uncomfortable position of not knowing with certainty whether and to what extent they can use incentives as part of a wellness program that involves medical examinations, disability-related inquiries and/or genetic information," wrote Lynne Wakefield and Emily Zimmer, attorneys with K&L Gates in Charlotte, N.C., in a joint statement.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) "has long advocated for proposals that will ensure consistency between the wellness rules that the EEOC has jurisdiction over, the ADA and GINA, with those provided under the ACA [Affordable Care Act]," said Nancy Hammer, SHRM vice president, regulatory affairs and judicial counsel. "While EEOC's 2016 rulemaking effort adopted the ACA's 30 percent incentive, it added new requirements that would have discouraged employers from providing wellness options for employees. We are hopeful that the EEOC is able to revisit the rules to ensure both consistency with existing rules and flexibility to encourage employers to adopt innovative programs to improve employee health and reduce costs."

ADA and GINA Requirements

Employers have long sought guidance over whether and when wellness program incentives—rewards or penalties for participating in biometric screenings and health risk assessments connected with the programs—comply with the ADA and GINA.

The ADA prohibits employers from conducting medical examinations and collecting employee medical history as part of an employee health program unless the employee's participation is voluntary, noted Ann Caresani, an attorney with Tucker Ellis in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.

GINA prohibits employers from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information from employees or their family members, unless the information is provided voluntarily.

The EEOC in 2000 asserted that for a wellness program to be voluntary, employers could not condition the receipt of incentives on the employee's disclosure of ADA- or GINA-protected information.

However, in 2016, the commission issued regulations providing that the use of a penalty or incentive of up to 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage would not render involuntary a wellness program that seeks the disclosure of ADA-protected information. The regulations also permitted employers to offer incentives of up to 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage for disclosure of information, in accordance with a wellness program, about the manifestation of a spouse's diseases or disorder, Caresani said.

Wakefield and Zimmer noted that the EEOC's 2016 wellness regulations applied to wellness programs that provided incentives tied to:

  • Biometric screenings for employees and spouses.
  • Disability-related inquiries directed at employees, which might include some questions on health risk assessments.
  • Family medical history questions, such as risk-assessment questions that ask about the manifestation of disease or disorder in an employee's family member and/or such questions about the disease or disorder of an employee's spouse.
  • Any other factors that involve genetic information.

Court Actions

The AARP challenged the 2016 rule, arguing that the 30 percent incentives were inconsistent with the voluntary requirements of the ADA and GINA. Employees who cannot afford to pay a 30 percent increase in premiums would be forced to disclose their protected information when they otherwise would choose not to do so, Caresani explained.

While the 30 percent cap was consistent with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as amended by the ACA, the AARP said this was inappropriate, as HIPAA and the ADA have different purposes, noted Erin Sweeney, an attorney with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C..

In addition, the change from prohibiting any penalty to permitting one of 30 percent was not supported by any data, according to the AARP.

In the summer of 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that the EEOC's rule was arbitrary. The court sent the regulations back to the EEOC for further revisions.

In December 2017, the court vacated the 2016 rule after the EEOC initially said that the new rule would not be ready until 2021.

Conservative to Aggressive Approaches

Wakefield and Zimmer observed that employers may take several different approaches as they design wellness programs for next year:

  • No incentives (most conservative approach). These types of wellness programs can still include biometric screening and health risk assessments that employees and spouses are encouraged to complete, but no rewards or penalties would be provided in connection with their completion.
  • Modest incentives (middle-ground approach). A modest incentive is likely significantly less than 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage, given the court's finding that the EEOC did not provide adequate justification for an incentive level up to 30 percent.
  • Up to 30 percent incentives (more aggressive approach). Although the court did not rule that a 30 percent incentive level would definitely cause a wellness program to be considered involuntary, incentives at this level after 2018 likely will expose employers to lawsuits, they wrote.

Multiple-Point Program

One good way to demonstrate compliance, they noted, is a multiple-point program in which participants engage in different activities and earn an incentive by participating in enough activities apart from biometric screenings, risk assessments or providing their spouse's health information.

For example, an employer could let employees take health care literacy quizzes or offer a program that measures a worker's activity as opposed to fitness, Caresani noted. She said, "Programs that are participatory are probably less effective than outcome-based programs, but they are more popular with employees and are less likely to pose litigation risks."

SOURCE: Smith, A. (1 August 2018) "Employers Assess Risk Tolerance with Wellness Program Incentives" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/risk-tolerance-wellness-program-incentives.aspx


How data science can help employers build better benefit plans

What is your definition of data? New approaches to data science allow companies to have many different definitions of data and have them all coded. Read on to learn more.


Is your data management system overdue for an overhaul? Benefit plan sponsors don’t need to feel stuck with old systems requiring hours of manual data entry, according to Marc Rind, chief data scientist for ADP.

“I’ve been in data for a long time,” he says. “For generations, the traditional data management approach has been people having to standardize data.”

But people in different companies — even different departments of the same company – could have different definitions and means of data. An organization’s governance team would have to come up with one definition for everyone to adhere to.

With new approaches to data science, Rind says, “you’re able to have many different definitions of your data and have them all coded. It’s not about governing the definition of data but more about enhancing and publishing that data.”

With data science, employers and those in HR can see trends much more easily using automated mapping and search capabilities. This will allow them to see trends over time, like what people are choosing for their benefit plans and how benefits impact employee productivity and engagement.

“It builds context around the data,” Rind says. “For employers, they have to not only understand which benefit offerings they have to offer to employees but the effect on retention. They can also see what similar employers are offering and if they are getting higher retention rates.”

Employees can use the data to see what benefits others with similar backgrounds have chosen to get, helping them decide what their perfect healthcare plan looks like. However, they cannot yet see how satisfied people similar to them were with these benefits. Rind says that this feedback loop is important, and will become more prominent for the next generation of data science systems.

SOURCE: Spiezio, C. (16 June 2016) "How data science can help employers build better benefit plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/how-data-science-can-help-employers-build-better-benefit-plans


Stress in the Workplace

Even though some stress is normal, excessive workplace stress can interfere with the productivity and performance of employees. Read on for more information.


While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance, impact your physical and emotional health, and affect your relationships and home life. It can even mean the difference between success and failure on the job. You can’t control everything in your work environment, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless—even when you’re stuck in a difficult situation. Whatever your ambitions or work demands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress, improve your job satisfaction, and bolster your well-being in and out of the workplace.

When is workplace stress too much?

Stress isn’t always bad. A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energetic, and able to meet new challenges in the workplace. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation or alert to prevent accidents or costly mistakes. But in today’s hectic world, the workplace too often seems like an emotional roller coaster. Long hours, tight deadlines, and ever-increasing demands can leave you feeling worried, drained, and overwhelmed. And when stress exceeds your ability to cope, it stops being helpful and starts causing damage to your mind and body—as well as to your job satisfaction.

If stress on the job is interfering with your work performance, health, or personal life, it’s time to take action. No matter what you do for a living, or how stressful your job is, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your overall stress levels and regain a sense of control at work.

Common causes of workplace stress include:

  • Fear of being laid off
  • More overtime due to staff cutbacks
  • Pressure to perform to meet rising expectations but with no increase in job satisfaction
  • Pressure to work at optimum levels—all the time!
  • Lack of control over how you do your work

Stress at work warning signs

When you feel overwhelmed at work, you lose confidence and may become angry, irritable, or withdrawn. Other signs and symptoms of excessive stress at work include:

  • Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
  • Apathy, loss of interest in work
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Muscle tension or headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope

Tip 1: Beat workplace stress by reaching out

Sometimes the best stress-reducer is simply sharing your stress with someone close to you. The act of talking it out and getting support and sympathy—especially face-to-face—can be a highly effective way of blowing off steam and regaining your sense of calm. The other person doesn’t have to “fix” your problems; they just need to be a good listener.

Turn to co-workers for support. Having a solid support system at work can help buffer you from the negative effects of job stress. Just remember to listen to them and offer support when they are in need as well. If you don't have a close friend at work, you can take steps to be more social with your coworkers. When you take a break, for example, instead of directing your attention to your smartphone, try engaging your colleagues.

Lean on your friends and family members. As well as increasing social contact at work, having a strong network of supportive friends and family members is extremely important to managing stress in all areas of your life. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.

Build new satisfying friendships. If you don't feel that you have anyone to turn to—at work or in your free time—it's never too late to build new friendships. Meet new people with common interests by taking a class or joining a club, or by volunteering your time. As well as being a great way to expand your social network, being helpful to others—especially those who are appreciative—delivers immense pleasure and can help to significantly reduce stress.

Tip 2: Support your health with exercise and nutrition

When you’re overly focused on work, it’s easy to neglect your physical health. But when you’re supporting your health with good nutrition and exercise, you’re stronger and more resilient to stress.

Taking care of yourself doesn’t require a total lifestyle overhaul. Even small things can lift your mood, increase your energy, and make you feel like you’re back in the driver’s seat.

Make time for regular exercise

Aerobic exercise—activity that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat—is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body. Rhythmic movement—such as walking, running, dancing, drumming, etc.—is especially soothing for the nervous system. For maximum stress relief, try to get at least 30 minutes of activity on most days. If it’s easier to fit into your schedule, break up the activity into two or three shorter segments.

And when stress is mounting at work, try to take a quick break and move away from the stressful situation. Take a stroll outside the workplace if possible. Physical movement can help you regain your balance.

Make smart, stress-busting food choices

Your food choices can have a huge impact on how you feel during the work day. Eating small, frequent and healthy meals, for example, can help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar, keeping your energy and focus up, and avoiding mood swings. Low blood sugar, on the other hand, can make you feel anxious and irritable, while eating too much can make you lethargic.

Minimize sugar and refined carbs. When you’re stressed, you may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries. But these "feel-good" foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy, making symptoms of stress worse not better.

Reduce your intake of foods that can adversely affect your mood, such as caffeine, trans fats, and foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones.

Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost. The best sources are fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines), seaweed, flaxseed, and walnuts.

Avoid nicotine. Smoking when you're feeling stressed may seem calming, but nicotine is a powerful stimulant, leading to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.

Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol may seem like it’s temporarily reducing your worries, but too much can cause anxiety as it wears off and adversely affect your mood.

Tip 3: Don't skimp on sleep

You may feel like you just don’t have the time get a full night’s sleep. But skimping on sleep interferes with your daytime productivity, creativity, problem-solving skills, and ability to focus. The better rested you are, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle your job responsibilities and cope with workplace stress.

Improve the quality of your sleep by making healthy changes to your daytime and nightly routines. For example, go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, be smart about what you eat and drink during the day, and make adjustments to your sleep environment. Aim for 8 hours a night—the amount of sleep most adults need to operate at their best.

Turn off screens one hour before bedtime. The light emitted from TV, tablets, smartphones, and computers suppresses your body's production of melatonin and can severely disrupt your sleep.

Avoid stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime such as catching up on work. Instead, focus on quiet, soothing activities, such as reading or listening to soft music, while keeping lights low.

Stress and shift work

Working night, early morning, or rotating shifts can impact your sleep quality, which in turn can affect productivity and performance and leave you more vulnerable to stress.

  • Adjust your sleep-wake cycle by exposing yourself to bright light when you wake up at night, using bright lamps or daylight-simulation bulbs in your workplace, and then wearing dark glasses on your journey home to block out sunlight and encourage sleepiness.
  • Limit the number of night or irregular shifts you work in a row to prevent sleep deprivation mounting up.
  • Avoid frequently rotating shifts so you can maintain the same sleep schedule.
  • Eliminate noise and light from your bedroom during the day. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask, turn off the phone, and use earplugs or a soothing sound machine to block out daytime noise.

Tip 4: Prioritize and organize

When job and workplace stress threatens to overwhelm you, there are simple, practical steps you can take to regain control.

Time management tips for reducing job stress

Create a balanced schedule. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime.

Leave earlier in the morning. Even 10-15 minutes can make the difference between frantically rushing and having time to ease into your day. If you're always running late, set your clocks and watches fast to give yourself extra time and decrease your stress levels.

Plan regular breaks. Make sure to take short breaks throughout the day to take a walk, chat to a friendly face, or practice a relaxation technique. Also try to get away from your desk or workstation for lunch. It will help you relax and recharge and be more, not less, productive.

Establish healthy boundaries. Many of us feel pressured to be available 24 hours a day or obliged to keep checking our smartphones for work-related messages and updates. But it’s important to maintain periods where you’re not working or thinking about work. That may mean not checking emails or taking work calls at home in the evening or at weekends.

Don't over-commit yourself. Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day. If you've got too much on your plate, distinguish between the "shoulds" and the "musts." Drop tasks that aren't truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.

Task management tips for reducing job stress

Prioritize tasks. Tackle high-priority tasks first. If you have something particularly unpleasant to do, get it over with early. The rest of your day will be more pleasant as a result.

Break projects into small steps. If a large project seems overwhelming, focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.

Delegate responsibility. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Let go of the desire to control every little step. You’ll be letting go of unnecessary stress in the process.

Be willing to compromise. Sometimes, if you can both bend a little at work, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone.

Tip 5: Break bad habits that contribute to workplace stress

Many of us make job stress worse with negative thoughts and behavior. If you can turn around these self-defeating habits, you’ll find employer-imposed stress easier to handle.

Resist perfectionism. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you’re setting yourself up to fall short. Aim to do your best, no one can ask for more than that.

Flip your negative thinking. If you focus on the downside of every situation and interaction, you'll find yourself drained of energy and motivation. Try to think positively about your work, avoid negative-thinking co-workers, and pat yourself on the back about small accomplishments, even if no one else does.

Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things at work are beyond our control—particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.

Look for humor in the situation. When used appropriately, humor is a great way to relieve stress in the workplace. When you or those around you start taking things too seriously, find a way to lighten the mood by sharing a joke or funny story.

Clean up your act. If your desk or workspace is a mess, file and throw away the clutter; just knowing where everything is can save time and cut stress.

Be proactive about your job and your workplace duties

When we feel uncertain, helpless, or out of control, our stress levels are the highest. Here are some things you can do to regain a sense of control over your job and career.

Talk to your employer about workplace stressors. Healthy and happy employees are more productive, so your employer has an incentive to tackle workplace stress whenever possible. Rather than rattle off a list of complaints, let your employer know about specific conditions that are impacting your work performance.

Clarify your job description. Ask your supervisor for an updated description of your job duties and responsibilities. You may then be able to point out that some of the things you are expected to do are not part of your job description and gain a little leverage by showing that you've been putting in work over and above the parameters of your job.

Request a transfer. If your workplace is large enough, you might be able to escape a toxic environment by transferring to another department.

Ask for new duties. If you've been doing the exact same work for a long time, ask to try something new: a different grade level, a different sales territory, a different machine.

Take time off. If burnout seems inevitable, take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence—anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and take perspective.

Look for satisfaction and meaning in your work

Feeling bored or unsatisfied with what you do for large parts of the day can cause high levels of stress and take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. But for many of us, having a dream job that we find meaningful and rewarding is just that: a dream. Even if you’re not in a position to change careers to something that you love and are passionate about—and most of us aren’t—you can still find purpose and joy in a job that you don’t love.

Even in some mundane jobs, you can often focus on how what you do helps others, for example, or provides a much-needed product or service. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy—even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your job can also help you regain a sense of purpose and control.

How managers or employers can reduce stress at work

Having your employees suffering from work-related stress can result in lower productivity, lost workdays, and a higher turnover of staff. As a manager, supervisor, or employer, though, there are things you can do to lower workplace stress. The first step is to act as a positive role model. If you can remain calm in stressful situations, it’s much easier for your employees to follow suit.

Consult your employees.Talk to them about the specific factors that make their jobs stressful. Some things, such as failing equipment, understaffing, or a lack of supervisor feedback may be relatively straightforward to address. Sharing information with employees can also reduce uncertainty about their jobs and futures.

Communicate with your employees one-on-one. Listening attentively face-to-face will make an employee feel heard and understood—and help to lower their stress and yours—even if you’re unable to change the situation.

Deal with workplace conflicts in a positive way. Respect the dignity of each employee; establish a zero-tolerance policy for harassment.

Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their jobs. Get employee input on work rules, for example. If they're involved in the process, they'll be more committed.

Avoid unrealistic deadlines. Make sure the workload is suitable to your employees' abilities and resources.

Clarify your expectations. Clearly define employees' roles, responsibilities, and goals. Make management actions fair and consistent with organizational values.

Offer rewards and incentives. Praise good work performance verbally and organization-wide. Schedule potentially stressful periods followed by periods of fewer tight deadlines. Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees.

SOURCE: Segal, J., Ph.D.; Smith, M., M.A.; Robinson, L.; Segal, R., M.A. (September 2018) "Stress in the Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-in-the-workplace.htm


HR’s recurring headache: Convincing employees to get a flu shot

The flu killed roughly 80,000 people last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Read this blog post to learn how HR departments are convincing their employees to get a flu shot.


Elizabeth Frenzel and her team are the Ford assembly line of flu shots: They can administer about 1,800 flu shots in four hours.

Frenzel is the director of employee health and wellbeing at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and with 20,000 employees, she is no stranger to spearheading large flu shot programs. The center where Frenzel administers flu shots has roughly a 96% employee vaccination rate. Back in 2006, only about 56% of employees got their shots.

“When you run these large clinics, safety is critically important,” she says.

Problems like Frenzel’s are not unique. Every fall, HR departments send mass emails encouraging employees to get vaccinated. The flu affects workforces across the country, costing U.S. companies billions of dollars in medical fees and lost earnings, according to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is not only a cause of absenteeism but a sick employee can put their coworkers at risk. Last year the flu killed roughly 80,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Even if an employer offers a flu shot benefit, the push to get employees to sign up for the vaccine can be a two-month slough, with reminder emails going unanswered. Moreover, companies often contend with misconceptions about the shot, such as the popular fallacy that shots will make you sick, running out of the vaccine, and sometimes just plain employee laziness.

In Frenzel’s case, increasing the number of employees who got flu shots weren’t just a good idea, but it was needed to protect the lives of the cancer patients they interact with every day. The most startling fact, she says, was that healthcare workers who interact with patients daily were less likely to get vaccinated.

“So that’s how we started down the path,” she says. “Really targeting these people who had the closest patient contact.”

Frenzel credits the significant increase in employee participation in the flu shot program to several factors. They made the program mandatory — a common move in the healthcare industry — but Frenzel says their improvement also was related to flu shot education. The center made it a priority to explain to staff members exactly why they should get vaccinated. Frenzel made it more convenient, offering the vaccine at different hours of the day, so all employees could fit it into their schedule. They also made it fun, offering stickers for employees to put on their badge once they got a shot. Every year, she says, they pick a new color.

Employers outside of the medical industry are focused on improving their flu shot programs, including Edward Yost, manager of employee relations and development at the Society for Human Resource Management, who helped organize a health fair and flu shot program for 380 employees.

Yost says onsite flu shot programs are more effective than vouchers that allow employees to get vaccinated at a primary care doctor or pharmacy. The more convenient you make the program, he says, the more likely employees will use it.

“There’s no guarantee that those vouchers are going to be used,” he says. “Most people aren’t running out to a Walgreens or a CVS saying, please stab me in the arm.”

Besides the convenience, employees are more likely to sign up for a shot when they see co-workers getting vaccinated, Yost says. If a company decides to offer an onsite program, planning ahead is key. Sometimes employees will not sign up in advance for the vaccine but then decide they want to get one once the vendor arrives onsite. Yost recommends companies order extra vaccines.

“Make sure that you’re building in the expectation that there's going to be at least a handful of folks who are more or less what you call walk-ins in that circumstance,” he says.

Incentivizing employees to get the flu shot is also important, Yost says. Some firms will offer a gym membership or discounted medical premiums if they attend regular checkups and get a biometric screening in addition to a flu shot. He recommends explaining to employees how a vaccine can help reduce the number of sick days they may use.

“Employees need to see that there’s something in it for them,” Yost says. “And quite honestly, being sick is a miserable thing to experience.”

Affiliated Physicians is one of the vendors that can come in and administer flu shots in the office. The company has provided various employers with vaccines for more than 30 years, including SourceMedia, the parent company of Employee Benefit News andEmployee Benefit Adviser. In the past 15 years, Ari Cukier, chief operating officer of the company, says there’s been an increase in the amount of smaller companies signing up for onsite vaccines. HR executives should be aware of the number of employees signing up for vaccinations when scheduling an onsite visit.

“We can’t go onsite for five shots, but 20-25 shots and up, we’ll go,” Cukier says.

Cukier agrees communication between human resources departments and employees is crucial in getting people to sign up for shots. Over the years, he’s noticed that more people tend to sign up for shots based on the severity of the previous flu season.

“Last year, as bad as it was, we have seen a higher participation this year,” he says.

Brett Perkisonassistant professor of occupational medicine at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, says providing a good flu shot program starts from the top down. The company executives, including the CEO and HR executives, should set an example by getting and promoting the shots themselves, he says.

It’s also important to listen to employee concerns. Before implementing a program, if workers are taking issue with the shot, it’s best to hold focus groups to alleviate any worries before the shots are even being administered, he says.

Some employees may even believe misconceptions like the flu shot will make one sick or lead to long-term illnesses, he says. Others may question the effectiveness of the shot. Having open lines of communication with employees to address these concerns will ensure that more will sign up, Perkison says.

Regardless of the type of flu shot program, the most important part is preventing illness, SHRM’s Yost says. While missing work and losing money are important consequences of a flu outbreak, having long-term health issues is even more serious, he says. Plus, no one likes being sick.

“Who’s going to argue about that?” he says.

This article originally appeared in Employee Benefit News.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C (24 October 2018) "HR’s recurring headache: Convincing employees to get a flu shot" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/hrs-recurring-headache-convincing-employees-to-get-a-flu-shot