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


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


Ready for the sounds of office sniffles?

It can take someone up to 10 days to recover from the common cold. According to a new study by a law firm, Farah and Farah, just 18 percent of full-time workers get enough sick days, between 11 to 15 days, to recover from a cold. Read on to learn more.


It’s not just a matter of whether they feel well enough to work, or whether they have sick days. The boss’s attitude about whether workers should take sick days or not can determine whether they actually do stay home when they’re sick, or instead come to work to spread their germs to all and sundry.

A new study from law firm Farah & Farah finds that even though it can take a person some 10 days to fully recover from a cold, approximately 10 percent of full-time workers in the U.S. get no sick days at all (part-timers don’t usually get them either), while more than 1 in 4 have to make do with between 1 and 5 sick days. Just 18 percent get enough sick time to actually recover from that cold—between 11 and 15 days.

The amount (or presence) of sick time varies from industry to industry, with government and public administration providing the most (an average of 12.1) and both hotel, food services and hospitality and manufacturing providing the least (an average of 5.4 for the hospitality industry and 5.1 for manufacturing). Some lucky souls actually get unlimited sick days, although even then they don’t always use them.

Regardless of industry, or quantity, just because workers get sick days it doesn’t mean they use them. Workers often worry that they’ll be discouraged from using them, with employers who may provide them but not encourage employees to stay home when ill. In fact, 38 percent of workers show up to work whether they’re contagious or not. Sadly for the people they encounter at work, the most likely to do so are in hospitality, medical and healthcare and transportation. Plenty of germ-spreading to be done in those professions!

 

And their employers’ attitudes play a role in how satisfied they are with their jobs. Among those who work for the 34 percent of bosses who encourage sick employees to stay home, 43 percent said they’re satisfied with their jobs in general. Among those who work for the 47 percent of bosses who are neutral about the use of sick days, that drops to 21 percent—and among the unfortunate workers who work for the 19 percent of bosses who actually discourage workers from staying home while ill, just 12 percent were satisfied with their jobs.

When it comes to mental health days (no, not that kind; the ones people really need to deal with diagnosed mental health conditions), fewer than 1 in 10 men and women were willing to call in sick. Taking “mental health days” when physically healthy, however, either to play hooky or simply have a vacation from the office, is something that 15 percent of respondents admitted to.

SOURCE: Satter, M (5 October 2018) "Ready for the sounds of office sniffles?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/10/05/ready-for-the-sounds-of-office-sniffles/

Original report retrieved from https://farahandfarah.com/studies/sick-days-in-america


Target on Safety: Driver Fatigue

Fatigue is the result of physical or mental exertion that impairs performance. Driver fatigue may be due to a lack of adequate sleep, extended work hours, strenuous work or non-work activities, or a combination of other factors. The Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) reported that 13 percent of Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash.

Below are some tips that will help you stay healthy and feel well rested during your time on the road.

Tip #1: Get Enough Sleep

Be sure to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. If possible, do not drive while your body is naturally drowsy, between the hours of 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Driver drowsiness may impair a driver’s response time to potential hazards, increasing the chances of being in a crash. If you do become drowsy while driving, choose a safe place to pull over and rest.

The circadian rhythm refers to the wake/sleep cycle that our body goes through each day and night. The cycle involves our internal clock and controls the daily pattern of alertness in a human body. With inadequate sleep, the drowsiness experienced during natural “lulls” can be even stronger and may have a greater adverse effect on a driver’s performance and alertness.

A study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that driver alertness was related to “time-of-day” more so than “time-on-task.” Most people are less alert at night, especially after midnight. This drowsiness may be enhanced if you have been on the road for an extended period of time.

A recent study conducted to determine the risk of having a safety-critical event as a function of driving-hour suggests that incidents are highest during the first hour of driving. The authors hypothesize that drivers may be affected by sleep inertia shortly after waking from sleep. This may be especially true for drivers who sleep in the sleeper berth. Sleep inertia refers to impairment in a variety of performance tasks, including short-term memory, vigilance, cognitive functioning, reaction time and ability to resist sleep.

Tip #2: Maintain a Healthy Diet

Skipping meals or eating at irregular times may lead to fatigue and/or food cravings. Also, going to bed with an empty stomach or immediately after a heavy meal can interfere with sleep. A light snack before bed may help you achieve more restful sleep. Remember that if you are not well-rested, induced fatigue may cause slow reaction time, reduced attention, memory lapses, lack of awareness, mood changes, and reduced judgment ability.

A recent study conducted on the sleeping and driving habits of CMV drivers concluded that an unhealthy lifestyle, long working hours, and sleeping problems were the main causes of drivers falling asleep while driving.

Tip #3: Take a Nap

If possible, you should take a nap when feeling drowsy or less alert. Naps should last a minimum of 10 minutes, but ideally a nap should last up to 45 minutes. Allow at least 15 minutes after waking to fully recover before starting to drive.

Short naps are more effective at restoring energy levels than coffee. Naps aimed at preventing drowsiness are generally more effective in maintaining a driver’s performance than naps taken when a person is already drowsy.

Tip #4: Avoid Medication That May Induce Drowsiness

Avoid medications that may make you drowsy if you plan to get behind the wheel. Most drowsiness-inducing medications include a warning label indicating that you should not operate vehicles or machinery during use. Some of the most common medicines that may make you drowsy are: tranquilizers, sleeping pills, allergy medicines and cold medicines.

In a recent study, 17 percent of CMV drivers were reported as having “over-the-counter drug use” at the time of a crash. Cold pills are one of the most common medicines that may make you drowsy. If you must drive with a cold, it is safer to suffer from the cold than drive under the effects of the medicine.

Tip #5: Recognize the Signals and Dangers of Drowsiness

Pay attention. Indicators of drowsiness include frequent yawning, heavy eyes and blurred vision.

Research has indicated that being awake for 18 hours is comparable to having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent, which is legally intoxicated and leaves you at equal risk for a crash. A 2005 study suggests that three out of every four CMV drivers report having experienced at least one type of driving error as a result of drowsiness.

Tip #6: Do Not Rely on “Alertness Tricks” to Keep You Awake

Behaviors such as smoking, turning up the radio, drinking coffee, opening the window and other “alertness tricks” are not real cures for drowsiness and may give you a false sense of security.

Excessive intake of caffeine can cause insomnia, headaches, irritability and nervousness.  It takes several minutes for caffeine to get into your system and deliver the energy boost you need, so if you are already tired when you first drink a caffeinated drink, it may not take effect as quickly as you might expect. In addition, if you are a regular caffeine user, the effect may be much smaller. Rolling the window down or turning the radio up may help you feel more alert for an instant, but these are not effective ways to maintain an acceptable level of alertness.

Source: DOT/FMCSA CMV Driving Tips: Driver Fatigue


Safety Focused Newsletter - October 2018

Avoid Getting Sick at Work

It can be difficult to avoid getting sick at work, particularly if you work in close quarters. While you may not be able to avoid germs altogether, the following tips can help reduce your risk of getting sick:

  • Wash your hands. Germs can cling to many surfaces in the workplace, including elevator buttons, doorknobs and refrigerator doors. To protect yourself from illness, it’s important to wash your hands regularly, especially before you eat or after you cough, sneeze or use the restroom.
  • Keep your distance. Illnesses like the cold or flu can spread even if you aren’t in close contact with someone. In fact, experts say that the flu can spread to another person as far away as 6 feet. If you notice a co-worker is sick, it’s best to keep your distance.
  • Get a flu shot. Yearly flu shots are the single best way to prevent getting sick. Contrary to popular belief, flu vaccines cannot cause the flu, though side effects may occur. Often, these side effects are minor and may include congestion, coughs, headaches, abdominal pain and wheezing.

In addition to the above, it may be a good idea to avoid sharing phones, computers and food with your co-workers during flu season. Together, these strategies should help you stay healthy at work.

Parking Lot Safety Tips

Parking lots are common hazards for drivers and vehicles alike. Slips, falls, auto accidents, theft, harassment and assaults are just some of the risks individuals face while using parking lots.

Even the parking lots and garages at your place of employment can be dangerous. Thankfully, there are simple and effective precautions drivers can take to protect themselves and their vehicles:

  • Park in a well-lit area, preferably one with surveillance cameras and security patrol services.
  • Avoid parking near shrubbery or other areas that could conceal attackers.

  • Park as close to an exit as possible when using garages.
  • Lock your doors when leaving your vehicle.
  • Remain vigilant, and notify security or the authorities if you notice any suspicious behavior.
  • Lock all of your valuable items in your trunk and out of sight. Avoid leaving purses or wallets in your vehicle.
  • Walk confidently when leaving or returning to your vehicle. If you notice a potential threat, proceed to a safe place, like a public building or store.
  • Use the buddy system, and walk to your car with a co-worker.
  • Have your car keys ready when you near your vehicle.

Staying safe can be easy as long as you’re cautious and mindful of your surroundings.

Avoid Slips and Falls in Parking Lots:

Watch Out for Uneven Surfaces, Curbs and Potholes.

Beware of Ice During Colder Months.

Stay in Well-Lit Areas.

Walk, Don't Run.

Illnesses like colds or the flu can spread even if you aren’t in close contact with someone.

Download the Newsletter

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Get Moving...To Live!

Are your employees sitting all day at work? Regardless of who you are and how often you exercise, if you're sitting for long periods of time, your chance of an early death increases. Read on to learn more.


The phrase: “If I’m lying, I’m dying” should be changed to: “If I’m sitting, I’m dying” even though it doesn’t rhyme. If you haven’t heard by now, sitting for long periods of time increases the chance that you’ll die early, regardless of your race, gender, age, body mass index (BMI), or even if you exercise. The longer you sit, the higher your risk of dying sooner rather than later.

See also: 7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal

Every morning, people get ready for work and then sit in their cars (or public transportation), then sit when they get to work, then sit again in their cars, then sit in from of the TV when they get home. It’s time everyone breaks that cycle and starts moving around more during the day and not just when they’re at the gym, assuming they even go.

Fortunately, in an article on CNN’s website titled, “Yes, sitting too long can kill you, even if you exercise,” reveals that taking “movement breaks” every 30 minutes basically cancels out this health problem. But it’s not as simple as just standing, there are two factors impacting this—frequency and duration. How often you sit during the day, and how long you sit each time, have an effect. The article references the American Heart Association’s message of “Sit less, move more,” but admonishes them for not telling people how they should move around, or for how long.

See also: Beyond wellness: Workplace health initiatives that work

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has specific guidelines and recommendations for exercising, but none for sitting. For example, if you sit for 30 minutes, you should probably walk around for at least five minutes before sitting down again. And don’t assume that a “standing desk” is healthier than a traditional desk where you sit down. There isn’t enough evidence to say that a standing desk is better. It’s all about actual movement, which is why simply standing up isn’t enough.

Age is another factor that would seem to make a difference but actually doesn’t. The article discusses age, yet the same principles apply. Older adults who sat more often and for long durations were far more likely to die earlier than those who sat less.

See also: Top 10 Corporate Wellness Habits to Adopt During 2018

The message is clear. Regardless of who you are, what you do for a living, or how “fit” you may be, if you’re not moving around during the day and sitting for fewer than 30 minutes, you’d better get used to the fact that you may not be around as long as you expect, so get moving!

SOURCE: Olson, B. (18 September 2018) "Get Moving...To Live!" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/get-moving...to-live


Dear Brain, Please Let Me Sleep

Does your brain kick into overdrive the minute your head hits your pillow? Read this blog post for a few tips on how to try and lull your brain to sleep when this happens to you.


There are alarms to help people wake up, but there isn’t anything similar to help people fall asleep. It seems that no matter how much you zone out just before going to bed, the minute your head hits the pillow your brain kicks into overdrive. Thoughts of every decision made that day, things that need to be done tomorrow, or that stupid song just heard continue to flood the brain with activity.

Often, when this happens to me, I’m reminded of the time Homer Simpson said, “Shut up, brain, or I’ll stab you with a Q-Tip!” because I feel like the only way I’ll stop thinking about something is to kill my brain. Fortunately, there are other ways of dealing with this problem. An article on CNN’s website titled, “Busy brain not letting you sleep? 8 experts offer tips,” reveals a few clear tips to try and lull your brain to sleep.

A few that have worked for me are to think about a story I’ve read or heard or to make one up. It may seem counterintuitive to think about something so that you’ll stop thinking, but the story tends to unravel as I slowly drift off to sleep. Another favorite is to get out of bed and force myself to stay awake. While the chore of getting out of bed, especially on a cold night, may seem daunting, there’s nothing quite like tricking your brain with a little reverse psychology. If that doesn’t work, write down what’s bothering you, take a few deep breaths, or even do some mild exercise. If all else fails, there’s always warm milk or an over-the-counter sleep aid, but really this should be used as a last resort and not your first “go to” item.

Ideally, your bedroom will be conducive to sleep anyway. Light and noise should be kept to an absolute minimum and calming, muted colors promote a more restful ambiance. Also, make sure that the bedroom is your ideal temperature because it’s more difficult to sleep if you’re too hot or cold.

Don’t let your brain win the battle of sleep! Fight it on your own terms and equip yourself with as many tools as possible to win. Your brain will thank you in the morning by feeling refreshed.

SOURCE: Olson, B. (25 September 2018) "Dear Brain, Please Let Me Sleep" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/dear-brain-please-let-me-sleep


10 creative ways to help working parents

Do you have working parents at your organization? Employers can take an active role to help relieve daily stressors that affect working parents. Continue reading to learn more.


Can working moms have it all? Say goodbye to the broad-shouldered power suits of the ’80s and ’90s. Juggling a career and raising children is no longer a women’s-only issue.

While mothers are now the primary or sole source of income for 40% of American households with children, 75% of employees of all genders report their biggest concern as a working parent is not having enough time for their children. From single dads to same-sex couples, breadwinning moms to full-time working grandparents, the parenting workforce is changing.

No matter a family’s parenting makeup, employers can take an active role to help alleviate daily stressors affecting all working parents in the new, high-demand workplace. Here are 10 ways to do so.

1. Get real about childcare.

One of the biggest challenges working parents face is finding good quality, reliable, affordable care. Employers can help by offering programs and services such as backup childcare, onsite childcare, or dependent care flexible spending accounts. An employee assistance program with comprehensive dependent care resource and referrals, adoption assistance and personal finance services can relieve a lot of the hassle and pressures of finding childcare services for working parents.

2. Offer flexibility.

Many working parents report that the resource they value most is the ability to have some control over where and when they work. A policy allowing for fixed alternative hours, or the opportunity to work at home as needed, can be a big help. Providing the further ability to have some flexibility on a day-to-day basis — whether to get to a parent conference or accommodate a missed school bus — is even better.

3. Make it convenient.

The ability for working parents to get some of life’s necessities taken care of right at the workplace is a huge plus. On-site amenities that employers offer range from big-ticket items like childcare and fitness centers to postal and banking services, take-home dinners to dry cleaning pick-up and delivery, and car washes to oil changes.

4. Help tackle the “hate-to-do” list.

Often without the support of the village, working parents are saddled with overwhelming responsibilities at home and a laundry list of ‘hate’ to-dos. From grocery shopping to laundry services, employers can offer convenient concierge and errand running perks to save employees time, money, and stress in all areas of life, house, and family management. These services help free up golden personal time, so working parents can focus on more fulfilling family experiences rather than constantly catching up on personal tasks and errands.

5. Promote total health.

Being a working parent is stressful. Don’t underestimate the power of wellness offerings to provide much-needed support. From standing desks to yoga classes, walking meetings to meditation rooms, there are many ways to promote a healthy lifestyle at work.

6. Prioritize mental wellness.

Mental wellness should also be a top priority, and employers can partner with an engaged EAP to build strong stress management solutions and reduce the stigma around mental health at work. Mental health support should be confidential and available at all stages of parenting, from pre-natal to post-partum, empty-nesting and beyond. Mental wellness benefits should be promoted year-round and available to all family members.

7. Remember the older kids.

Parenting doesn’t end when children graduate from grade school. Many employers offer programs such as homework hotlines to help kids through their teen years; EAPs can also provide a wide range of resources and referrals on parenting and education. Services and activities like college coaching, financial counseling, and “lunch and learns” with scholarship or admissions experts can be invaluable to parents facing the next adventure.

8. Simplify travel.

Business travel can be hard when you’re a parent, especially of young children. Careful planning can help ensure working parents don’t have to spend precious weekend time traveling or head to meetings that might have been just as effective by phone. Increasing numbers of employers are also offering breast milk storage and shipping services; some even pay for childcare while employees are out of town.

9. Don’t forget the “working” in working parents.

Becoming a parent doesn’t automatically mean losing interest in your career. Leave it up to employees to decide if they want to take up educational or advancement opportunities.

10. Stay inclusive.

Remember that caregiving responsibilities can encompass a wide range of family situations. Make sure programs and policies — as well as communications about them — support fathers, single parents, adoptive and foster parents, same-sex couples and grandparent-caregivers.

Being a parent is a rewarding and enriching experience — but it can also be exhausting and thankless, especially for those juggling work and family. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to make the workplace a more supportive, less stressful place for working parents, who will likely return the favor with greater productivity, engagement and loyalty.

SOURCE: Krehbiel, E (2 July 2018) "10 creative ways to help working parents" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/slideshow/10-creative-ways-to-help-working-parents#slide-6

How tech solutions can take aim at employee stress

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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