Extended reality promises a holistic training experience, experts say

Employers are beginning to embrace the use of virtual environments for employee training and development programs. Are you? Read this blog post from HR Dive to learn more.


As more employers embrace virtual environments for training, tech gurus are fine-tuning the technology to be more accessible to employers. Some organizations have developed apps to take employees through soft skills training; others customized VR experiences to suit their specific training needs.

As the potential of AR and VR technology continues to unfold, and workforces reap benefits from using it, employers will need to decide how to best implement the tech in their own learning and development initiatives.

Why merge AR, VR and L&D?

When it comes to virtual training, XR (extended reality, which includes VR and AR) may the best option for employers with tricky needs, according to Toshi Anders Hoo, emerging media lab director at the Institute for the Future. "XR training is valuable in situations when the experience is too expensive, too far away, too infrequent or too dangerous," he told HR Dive. "It allows users to experience pretty close to what it's like, and that includes the physical and psychological experience."

XR isn't just for standard operating procedures, Anders Hoo added; it creates a holistic understanding, providing emotional preparedness for difficult situations. He cited Walmart's well-known VR training, which prepped employees for Black Friday shopping, but noted that the applications can be even more varied. XR can acquaint learners with the emotional experience of public speaking, uncover hiring biases or replicate the pressure of a surgical operating theater, he said.

AR and VR can also help employers better understand workers' strengths and weaknesses, Amy Vinson, associate director, safety analytics, health and safety at Tyson Foods told HR Dive in an email. It can also enforce better, safer working habits. "[Trainees] can put on goggles and virtually practice operating our plant's robotic arm to safely stack heavy boxes in high areas," she said. "It helps team leaders better understand training areas that may require extra attention."

XR can also be "an empathy engine," Anders Hoo noted, by providing anyone with a perspective on an unfamiliar challenge. "Consider a medical emergency: the learner can be the doctor, watching a patient bleed, or a loved one, helpless to assist. These scenarios have major implications for critical thinking and to help learners expand their points of view."

How does it work for learners?

The biggest challenge for classroom learning is retention, according to Shawn Gentile, training content development and delivery leader at Vitalyst, because the majority of knowledge is lost over time. Simulation-based learning, however, can be done continuously, said Gentile; "Learners can go right back into the simulation and continue to build on their competence.

And when L&D pros are examining why training is or isn't working, the tech can eliminate some of the guesswork, he said. "With simulation-based training, you can see where they're not learning and why, targeting learning points to increase retention." Accessing this data removes deviation points and allows training to focus on the organization's objectives, he added. Uniformity is another consideration: Different instructors may perform training differently, but the consistency of AR and VR training provides better knowledge, higher retention rates and a better ability track failures and update training to meet objectives, according to Gentile.

Anders Hoo said that XR, unlike video-based training, is more than the mere "illusion of learning." Videos can give learners the false perception the task they're learning will be as easy in real life as it looks, which can create performance gaps and discourage some, Anders Hoo said. However: "If you show someone a video of someone juggling," he said, "but they're holding the juggling club, they're much less likely to be discouraged when trying to learn the skill."

Forecasting the future

One concern to consider, according to Anders Hoo, is data privacy. XR captures biometric data that can identify a person by how they move their hands and head. In a one-hour VR session, he said, thousands of data points are captured that can potentially be used to later identify someone in, for example, a surveillance camera. Next-generation XR will have eye tracking capabilities and may even be able to track your heart rate and emotional state, he said. "The same systems that allow us to have more immersive experience are the same that make for very sophisticated surveillance systems," he said. As with all new HR tech, L&D pros will have to remember to ask the right questions.

For Anders Hoo, one of the most interesting things about this futuristic tech is that it's really not new at all. It was adopted in the early twentieth century for flight simulations. Almost 100 years later, it's still seen as the newest thing because developers have begun to iterate on it more. "People overestimate the impact of tech in the short term," he said, "and underestimate its impact long term."

SOURCE: O'Donnell, R. (21 May 2019) "Extended reality promises a holistic training experience, experts say" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/extended-reality-promises-a-holistic-training-experience-experts-say/554872/


3 summer workplace legal issues and how to handle them

Summer is right around the corner, leaving employers little time to brush up on seasonal employment law issues. Issues such as hiring interns, dress code compliance and handling time off requests can cause legal issues for employers. Read this blog post to learn more.


Summer is almost here and with that comes a set of seasonal employment law issues. Top of the list for many employers includes hiring interns, dress code compliance and handling time off requests.

Here’s how employers can navigate any legal issues that may arise.

Summer interns

Employers looking to hire interns to work during the summer season or beyond should know that the U.S. Department of Labor recently changed the criteria to determine if an internship must be paid. In certain circumstances, internships are considered employment subject to federal minimum wage and overtime rules.

Under the previous primary beneficiary test, employers were required to meet all of the six criteria outlined by the DOL for determining whether interns are employees. The new seven-factor test is designed to be more flexible and does not require all factors to be met. Rather, employers are asked to determine the extent to which each factor is met. For example, how clear is it that the intern and the employer understand that the internship is unpaid, and that there is no promise of a paid job at the end of the program? The non-monetary benefits of the intern-employer relationship, such as training, are also taken into consideration.

Though no single factor is deemed determinative, a review of the whole internship program is important to ensure that an intern is not considered an employee under FLSA rules and to avoid any liabilities for misclassification claims.

Companies also should be aware of state laws that may impact internship programs. For example, California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland and New York consider interns to be employees and offer some protections under various state anti-discrimination and sexual harassment statutes.

All employers should be clear about the scope of their internship opportunities, including expectations for the relationship, anticipated duties and hours, compensation, if any, and whether an intern will become entitled to a paid job at the end of the program.

Summer dress codes

Warmer temperatures mean more casual clothing. This could mean the line between professional and casual dress in the workplace is blurred. The following are some tips when crafting a new or revisiting an existing dress code policy this summer.

If the dress code is new or being revised, the policy should be clearly communicated. Sending a reminder out to employees may be helpful in some workplaces. In all cases, the policy should be unambiguous. List examples to make sure there is no confusion about what is considered appropriate and explain the reasoning behind the policy and the consequences for any violations.

To serve their business or customer needs, companies may apply dress code policies to all employees or to specific departments. They should also make sure the dress code does not have an adverse impact on any religious groups, women, people of color or people with disabilities. Company policies may not violate state or federal anti-discrimination laws. If the policy is likely to have a disparate impact on one or more of these groups, employers should be prepared to show a legitimate business reason for the policy. Also, reasonable accommodations should be provided for employees who request one based on their protected status. For example, reasonable modifications may be required for ethnic, religious or disability reasons.

Finally, failure to consistently enforce a neutral dress code policy or provide reasonable accommodations can expose a company to potential claims. As always, dress codes and any discipline for code violations should be implemented equitably to avoid claims of discrimination.

Time off requests

Summer time tends to prompt an influx of requests for time off. Now is a good time to review policies governing time off, as well as the implementation of those policies to ensure consistency. Written time off policies should explicitly inform employees of the process for handling time off requests and help employers consistently apply the rules.

An ideal policy will explain how much time off employees receive and how that time accrues. It also will include reasonable restrictions on how time off is administered such as requiring advance approval from management, and how to handle scheduling so that business needs and staffing levels are in sync.

Most importantly, time off policies and procedures must not be discriminatory. For instance, if a policy denies time off or permits discipline for an employee who needs to be out of the office on a protected medical leave, the policy could be seen as discriminating against employees with disabilities. Companies should train their managers on how to administer time off requests in a non-discriminatory manner. Employers generally have the right to manage vacation requests, however protected leave available to employees under federal, state and local laws adds another layer of complexity that employers should consider when reviewing time off requests.

To minimize employment issues this summer and all year around: plan ahead, know the relevant employment laws and train managers and supervisors to apply HR best practices consistently throughout the organization.

SOURCE: Starkman, J.; Rochester, A. (23 May 2019) "3 summer workplace legal issues and how to handle them" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-handle-summer-workplace-legal-issues


Safety Focused Newsletter - June 2019

Emergency Preparedness During National Safety Month

It’s always important to take a proactive approach to safety in the workplace, but sometimes an emergency can arise at a moment’s notice. Taking some time to plan before an incident takes place can help you take action quickly and ensure the safety of yourself and your co-workers. And, because the National Safety Council organizes National Safety Month every June, it’s a great time to review emergency preparedness in various workplace settings.

Here are some strategies to help ensure you’re ready to respond to an emergency in the workplace:

  • Check workplace policies—There may already be plans in place for how to respond to an emergency, but they’ll only be effective if you and your co-workers follow them. These plans may also include evacuation routes or strategies to help contain a hazard.
  • Stay focused and calm—You may not have time to react to an emergency, so you should always be ready to get to safety at any time. Try to keep essentials on hand so can take them with you, as you should never go back to a dangerous area to gather your belongings.
  • Have a communication plan—After you’re in a safe area, you should have a plan to communicate with your manager, co-workers or emergency responders. Try to meet in a designated location that’s established by a workplace policy and give an update on your status as soon as possible.
  • Help others when possible—Make your own safety a priority during an emergency, but offer any help you can if there aren’t any hazards present. It may be a good idea to check the locations of first-aid kits in your workplace if you need to treat an injury.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 330 heat-related fatalities every year.

5 Tips for Outdoor Heat Safety

The hot summer months can cause body temperatures to rise to unsafe levels, especially when combined with strenuous work. Outdoor workers are also be vulnerable to heat-related illnesses since they spend long periods in direct sunlight.

There are many types of heat illnesses, such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, dehydration and heat cramps. Each of these conditions have various symptoms, but they commonly cause dizziness, weakness, nausea, blurred vision, confusion or loss of consciousness.

Here are some tips for staying safe in the heat while working outdoors:

  1. Wear loose, light-colored clothing so your skin gets air exposure.
  2. Shield your head and face from direct sunlight by wearing a hat and sunglasses.
  3. Take regular breaks to rest in a shaded area. If you’re wearing heavy protective gear, consider removing it to help cool off even more.
  4. Ease into your work and gradually build up to more strenuous activity as the day progresses. You should also avoid overexerting yourself during the hottest hours of the day.
  5. Drink water frequently, even if you aren’t thirsty. Experts recommend drinking at least eight ounces every 20 to 30 minutes to stay hydrated. Stick to water, fruit juice and sport drinks and avoid caffeinated beverages, as they can dehydrate you.

Employees should take care to monitor themselves and their co-workers on hot days. If you notice any signs of heat illness, notify your on-duty supervisor immediately.

Heat illnesses can usually be treated by being moved to a cooler area and drinking cool liquids. In extreme cases when heat illnesses cause unconsciousness, health care professionals should be alerted immediately.

Taking some time to plan before an incident takes place can help you take action quickly and ensure the safety of yourself and your co-workers.

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Construction Risk Advisor - June 2019

Trenching and Excavating Safety

Excavations are any man-made cuts, cavities, trenches or depressions formed by earth removal. Of these, trenches—narrow excavations made below the surface of the ground—create the most significant workplace hazards, particularly as they relate to:

  • Cave-ins
  • Hazardous atmospheres (e.g., carbon monoxide, noxious gas, vapors or a lack of oxygen)
  • Falls (e.g., a worker accidently falls into a trench and injures themselves)
  • Floods or water accumulation
  • Mobile equipment (e.g., equipment operated or stored too close to the excavation site falls into the trench)

Above all, cave-ins present the greatest risk in trenching and are more likely to result in worker fatalities than any other excavation-related accidents. In fact, one cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car, leading to serious injuries or even death in the event of a trench collapse. In order to keep workers safe, employers must consider one or more of the following protective systems:

  • Shoring involves installing aluminum hydraulic or other types of supports to prevent soil movement and cave-ins. Shoring systems typically consist of posts, wales, struts and sheeting.
  • Benching/sloping is a method of protecting workers from cave-ins by excavating the sides of an excavation to form one or a series of horizontal levels or steps, usually with vertical or near vertical surfaces between levels. Sloping, if done correctly, removes the risk of cave-ins by sloping the soil of the trench back from the trench bottom.
  • Shielding protects workers by using trench boxes or other types of supports to prevent soil cave-ins.

For more information on construction safety, contact Hierl Insurance Inc. today.

Newsletter Provided by: Hierl's Property & Casualty Experts

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Commercial Risk Advisor - June 2019

Benefits of Crime Insurance

While you may think your business would never be the victim of a crime, the harsh reality is that nearly every business can become a victim. In this day and age, criminals (including employees) do not need direct access to cash to steal from you—merchandise, supplies and securities are all fair game. Standard commercial insurance policies may provide some protection from criminal acts, but they often do not cover losses resulting from all types of fraudulent activities. Crime insurance was developed to deal with the limitations of other policies and extend protection to include coverage for a wide variety of wrongdoings:

  • Coverage for the misuse of funds—It is likely that a number of your employees have access to company funds or financial information. In some cases, employees may abuse this access for personal gain. Crime insurance can protect organizations from the misuse or illegal transfer of funds, ensuring your finances are safe from internal criminal acts.
  • Insurance for goods in transit—Goods in transit are particularly vulnerable to employee theft and, in some cases, organizations may not notice anything has been stolen until it is too late. What’s more, if the theft takes place outside of the organization’s premises, it can be difficult to prove, often leading to drawn out and expensive legal battles. Crime insurance policies can provide ample protection for goods in transit and reduce the likelihood of extreme losses whenever you send or receive products.
  • Coverage for forgery and alteration—Your employees may have access to checks that they can easily alter for their own gain. Crime insurance policies provide coverage for losses that result from the forgery or alteration of a check.

The only way to ensure your company has the protection it needs is through crime insurance. To discuss your unique risks and to learn more about crime insurance policies, contact your insurance broker.

Fire Protection Impairment Programs

A fire can be extremely damaging to your organization, and while a fire protection system may be able to protect against many threats, impairments are an inevitable part of a fire protection system’s life cycle. An impairment is any time that a fire detection, alarm or suppression system is out of service or unable to operate to the full extent of its intended design. During an impairment, the chances of a fire developing and causing major damage is greatly increased.

There are two types of impairments: planned (the system is purposely put out of service for maintenance) and unplanned (the system is unintentionally out of service). These are further grouped into two different levels of severity—major and minor:

  1. Major—The impairment lasts more than ten hours and/or affects multiple systems.
  2. Minor—The impairment lasts for fewer than ten hours and is limited to a single system.

Ensuring safety and efficiency during an impairment requires a great deal of work, planning and coordination. To be prepared for an impairment, organizations should develop a written program, assign responsibilities to staff and train employees in the procedures to be followed during an impairment.

The written program should outline exactly what to do before, during and after an impairment based on its type and severity, as well as assign and detail the role and responsibilities. The most important role to consider is that of the impairment supervisor, who will implement and manage the fire protection impairment program, take care of scheduling planned impairments and carry out the plan during unplanned impairments.

Above all, the goal of a fire protection impairment program is to minimize the risk of a fire developing and spreading during an impairment while maintenance, repairs and tests are performed to the system. Before an impairment period, or upon discovering an unplanned impairment, the impairment supervisor should obtain a copy of the organization’s fire protection impairment program form and fill it out. This form must be updated as progress is made to include further details of the impairment and repair process.

To learn more about fire protection impairment programs, contact Hierl Insurance Inc. today.

The Following Parties Should be Notified in the Event of an Impairment as Soon as Possible:

Insurance company or companies

The local fire department

Safety managers, or relevant managers and supervisors

Staff

Building owners or their designated representative

 

Standard commercial insurance policies may provide some protection from criminal acts, but they often do not cover losses resulting from fraudulent activities.

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Working from home for medical reasons poses challenges for employers

There has been an 11 percent increase in remote work since 2014, according to SHRM. This increase in remote work is posing new challenges for HR teams when the request is due to medical reasons. Read this post to learn more.


While working from home has become much more popular in recent years – an 11% increase just since 2014, according to SHRM – this can pose challenges for HR teams when the request is due to medical reasons.

Even if your workplace has guidelines for remote workers, requests to telecommute as an accommodation must be carefully reviewed to assure you’re in compliance with ADA regulations

The ADA prohibits discrimination in employment based on disability, and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees. A reasonable accommodation entails any changes in the work environment, or in the way things are customarily done, which enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

In these cases, it’s important for both the HR rep and a physician to gather information about the accommodation request to gauge if telecommuting is medically necessary or simply a personal preference.

The HR rep needs to gather specific information from the employee, including the following:

  • Explanation of why it’s medically necessary to work from home
  • The essential job functions the employee finds challenging to perform in the office
  • The duration of the request to work from home
  • Whether telecommuting for a period of time enables the employee to return to work in the office and perform essential functions of the job
  • Confirmation that they have a dedicated workspace with phone, Wi-Fi and other essential technology

Meanwhile, the physician should gather certain information from the HR rep, including:

  • A description of the medical condition
  • How working from home will help the employee better manage that medical condition and perform the essential job functions
  • The restrictions (things the employee cannot do) and limitations (things the employee should not do)
  • Why the employee can work from home but not in the office
  • How long the employee will require the accommodation (short or long term)
  • Likelihood that the employee will ever be able to perform their essential job functions from the office

With more offices adopting an agile model with open workspaces, employees now have more natural lighting, feel less cramped and have more opportunity for collaboration with their colleagues. However, these advantages to many people can be challenges for others.

Light and odor sensitivity, as well as distractions, are some of the most frequent triggers of medical conditions that drive the need for accommodations. In many cases, some simple modifications to the workplace can help solve or alleviate some of the employee’s challenges.

Light sensitivity, or photophobia, is intolerance to light, which can cause a painful reaction to strong lighting. Adjustments can be made to help alleviate this, including head lighting modifications, window shading, cubicle shields for fluorescent lights, polarized glasses and/or prescription eyewear.

Odor sensitivity is another common issue in open workspaces – especially for employees who previously were in a contained space with infrequent interaction with colleagues. Consider workplace signage prohibiting perfume or cologne in the office, enforcing a fragrance policy, air purifiers throughout or in select areas, a transition to scent-free cleaning products, or upgrading the ventilation system in the office to allow more air flow. For food smells, ask employees to eat in a designated area and not bring food to their workspace.

Distractibility is the inability to sustain attention or attentiveness to one task. With agile workspaces often involving moving around frequently or being positioned in a high-traffic area, this can be challenging to some employees. Consider providing noise-canceling headphones, white noise machines, cubicle shields, noise barriers or an adjustment to the office configuration. Consider allocating space within the open work plan that’s off-limits for meetings and away from heavy foot traffic.

While agile workspaces have many benefits, they can pose challenges to your workforce. It’s your responsibility to work with employees to accommodate medical requests which may result from light sensitivity, distractions or even odors. Following these simple tips can help assure a healthy, happy and productive workplace for your team.

SOURCE: Holliday-Schiavon, K. (23 May 2019) "Working from home for medical reasons poses challenges for employers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/remote-work-for-medical-reasons-challenging-for-employers


White Chicken Chili with Cathleen

Welcome to our monthly Dish segment. This month, we asked Cathleen Christensen to provide us with her favorite Dine In and Dine Out choices. Check them out below and let us know if you give them a try!

A Little Bit About Cathleen

Cathleen is the current Vice President, Property & Casualty of Hierl.

Cathleen has a yellow lab named Bella and a rag-doll cat named Capone. In 2015, she began keeping chickens and since then she’s added a few ducklings to her family!

In her free time, Cathleen enjoys gardenings and traveling Spain and other new places with her husband who is a college & youth soccer coach.

Read Cathleen’s Full Bio Here


White Chicken Chili

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 3 (15-1/2 ounces) cans Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed (other white beans can be substituted like cannellini)
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
  • 1 (4 ounces) can diced green chilies, drained
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Tabasco sauce (optional)

Directions

In a large stockpot over medium heat, sauté onions in oil until tender. Stir in remaining ingredients except for the sour cream and cheese.

Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until heated through. Shortly before serving, add sour cream and cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. If you like a little kick add a few shakes of Tabasco sauce.

 


When It’s a Great Time to Go Out

Cathleen and her family enjoy Ala Roma Pizzeria & Pub in Fond du Lac. Ala Roma offers delicious and authentic food, made from scratch using high-quality ingredients.

Get more about Ala Roma Pizzeria & Pub on the restaurant’s website.

View Ala Roma Pizzeria & Pub’s menu.

Ala Roma Pizzeria & Pub is rated 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor.

Thank-you for joining us for this month’s Dish! Don’t forget to come back next month for a new one.


Scott Smeaton, CIC, CRM, Attends Certified Insurance Counselor Institute

Scott Smeaton, CIC, CRM, Attends Certified Insurance Counselor Institute

Scott Smeaton, CIC, CRM, Executive Vice President of Hierl Insurance Inc. of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin has successfully completed the annual continuing education requirement of the Society of Certified Insurance Counselors and Certified Risk Managers.

To earn these prestigious designations, Scott Smeaton attended ten courses covering all phases of the insurance and risk management business and passed ten comprehensive examinations.  Additionally, The National Alliance requires annual attendance in the program to maintain the designation.

Scott Smeaton, a thirty year veteran of the industry, believes the insurance and risk management profession is best served by those who acquire and maintain a high standard of professionalism by meeting the continuing education requirements of the Certified Insurance Counselor and Certified Risk Management programs.

About Hierl Insurance

A third-generation family owned business, Hierl’s goal is for you to “Expect More and Demand Better.” Since 1919, Hierl has earned the trust of Wisconsin employers by using insight and innovative technology to create unique strategies that protect business owners, their employees and their budgets. Hierl’s mission is to provide clients with the wisdom and tools necessary to build a more engaged, productive and loyal workforce. With locations in Fond du Lac and Appleton, Hierl’s expertise in employee benefits, commercial insurance, human resources and wellness creates a great business team. Learn more at hierl.com.


Nicole Sumner Promoted to Employee Benefits Service Agent and Earns Accident & Health License

Nicole Sumner Promoted to Employee Benefits Service Agent and Earns Accident & Health License

Nicole Sumner, EB Service Agent, Hierl Insurance, Inc. of Fond du Lac, has successfully completed the Accident and Health training course through Kaplan, as well as took and passed the licensing exam, earning her Accident and Health license.

Starting at Hierl as an Administrative Assistant, Nicole is an honors graduate from Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac with an Associates of Applied Sciences in Human Resources. She spent her earlier employment years at Agnesian Healthcare, where she filled multiple roles such as delivering patient meal trays, working the hospital coffee shop, and cashiering at the hospital cafeteria.

After a year, Nicole moved into the Pharmacy Department where she worked as a Salesclerk, helping customers with questions about their prescriptions and was the assistant to the Pharmacists and Technicians. This assistant work led her to be a perfect fit for the Administrative Assistant position at Hierl.

Due to her dedication, work ethic, and newly required qualifications, Nicole makes a great addition to the Hierl team as an Employee Benefits Service Agent. Having received this promotion, Nicole commented, “I’m very excited to join the EB team at Hierl. I look forward to learning about the EB processes in depth, as well as using my HR knowledge to assist the team.”

About Hierl Insurance

A third-generation family owned business, Hierl’s goal is for you to “Expect More and Demand Better.” Since 1919, Hierl has earned the trust of Wisconsin employers by using insight and innovative technology to create unique strategies that protect business owners, their employees and their budgets. Hierl’s mission is to provide clients with the wisdom and tools necessary to build a more engaged, productive and loyal workforce. With locations in Fond du Lac and Appleton, Hierl’s expertise in employee benefits, commercial insurance, human resources and wellness creates a great business team. Learn more at hierl.com.


Your bad work environment may be raising your healthcare costs

Is your company’s culture leading to raised healthcare costs? More and more research is documenting a relationship between stressful work environments and a range of chronic conditions. Continue reading to learn more.


If you want to reduce the cost of healthcare for your employees — while simultaneously improving care — you may need to take a serious look at your work environment. When reviewing areas that could help reduce costs, a much overlooked aspect is a stressful work environment.

While employers have done a lot to reduce the risk of potential injuries in the workplace, they have done far less to reduce stress, which could also be harmful.

Research finds a link between employee health and job performance. There also is a growing body of research documenting the relationship between a stressful work environment and a range of chronic conditions — including depression, hypertension and sleeping problems. But employers often struggle to connect the dots between these health concerns and supporting a healthy environment for employees.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to manage something that remains unmeasured. That’s why measuring outcomes beyond healthcare cost fluctuations, such as absence, periods of work disability and job performance, can help employers understand a broader range of outcomes important to the successful operation of their business.

When employers ask how they can affect the health of their employees, I ask what they know about the working conditions in their organization. Is there management trouble, high turnover, high illness-related absence or low job satisfaction? Some of this can be determined from employee satisfaction surveys, or analyses of sick leave data and work disability claims. Often, even more can be discovered by gathering employee feedback.

For example, listening to employees, equipping them with the knowledge to recognize safety issues and providing the tools or procedures to correct these issues, were key to improving workplace safety. A successful safety review can result in real change. Employees observe this change and a cycle is created where prevention becomes the focus because all are accountable and all have trust based on experience that their identification of potential or real safety issues will be dealt with effectively.

If employers are unaware of the factors in their own work environment that could be modified to lessen psychosocial stressors, a good place to start is by listening to employees. Many employers already conduct job satisfaction surveys or health risk appraisals that provide some information around work and health issues. These same tools could be used to identify and address psychosocial issues in the workplace.

Whatever the channel — a suggestion box, a designated HR representative, a focus group, a survey — it must provide employees with the opportunity to authentically and safely share their perspectives. And, finally, it must be demonstrably legitimate, resulting in employer actions that are clear and meaningful to all.

Typically employers use health and wellness programs in an attempt to remediate rather than prevent illness. Our interviews with medical directors of some of the leading U.S. corporations revealed a similar finding. Often, the medical director or chief health officer is charged with improving employee health, while the HR benefits manager is charged with reducing healthcare costs. Not surprisingly, these two goals can be at odds with each other. Imagine the company with a large percent of untreated depression.

So how can employers know what works or even what to try?

Evaluators often start their work by asking why particular activities, services or coverage types were chosen or implemented. This helps identify those areas more proximal to the employment setting (something about the job or in the work environment, for instance) and those areas more distal to the employment setting (such as medication formulary). To put a fine point on the problem, Pfeffer notes that “putting a nap pod into a workplace is not going to substitute for the fact that people aren’t getting enough sleep because they are working 24/7.”

Those looking to get started might begin by watching Working on Empty, an 11-minute documentary, which can provide solid direction for the type of information you’re seeking from your employees. Honor their voice and insight, and use it to implement real change. In doing so, you will build trust and a channel for contribution that improves outcomes for employees and employers.

SOURCE: Jinnett, K. (20 May 2019) "Your bad work environment may be raising your healthcare costs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/workplace-stress-increasing-healthcare-costs