Strategies to promote emotional well-being in the workplace

Fifty-eight percent of employers are offering wellness programs, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in five adults experiences some form of mental illness during the year. Read this blog post to learn more about how to promote emotional well-being at work.


Employers are taking a greater interest in their employees’ well-being by promoting emotional wellness at work.

Wellness programs are offered by 58% of employers, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management. There are mutual benefits to be reaped by the employer and employees when an organization looks to support its workers’ emotional wellness.

About 90% of employees perform better when they address mental health, but only 41% feel comfortable bringing it up during a check-in, according to data from 15Five, a software company that specializes in gathering employee feedback.

One in five American adults experience some form of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. Additionally, one in every 25 adults is living with a serious mental health condition such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or long-term recurrent major depression.

Employees are demanding better mental health benefits from their employers and some of them are listening. In September, coffee giant Starbucks announced that it is taking steps to improve its employees’ mental health with a new long-term initiative that includes an enhanced employee assistance program and mental health training for store managers.

See Also: 5 reasons employers should offer student loan repayment benefits

Only 25% of U.S.-based managers, across a variety of industries, have been trained to refer employees to mental health resources, according to SHRM. Employers including PNC and Ocean Spray are also investing in benefits to address mental health.

By investing in emotional and mental wellness benefits, employers are creating a human-centric workforce that drives retention, productivity and engagement, says Heidi Collins, vice president of people operations at 15Five. A key part in achieving this to create a culture that normalizes conversations about mental health.

Collins spoke with Employee Benefit News about how organizations can provide management with stronger training and more open check-ins that enable them to build trusting relationships with their employees to promote productivity.

How is 15Five creating a culture that is more understanding of employees’ mental health needs?

In so many different practices with our employees, both in our manager and direct report programs, but also as a company as a whole. We are normalizing emotions and emotional wellness in the workplace. What it all has, to begin with, is the strategy behind it and your company’s values. It can’t just be a program that HR is sponsoring and promoting but that’s not really attached to the overall company values.

How can an employer create a more mental-health and wellness-focused workplace?

We do automated weekly check-ins between managers and their direct reports. We have a recognition feature called High5, so that people throughout the organization can highlight their peers, express gratitude and also highlight someone for how they may have impacted their day or a project that went really well. There’s a recognition feature, there’s a review feature, there’s a weekly check-in feature. In the weekly check in we have a poll rating and every week we ask our employees: on a scale of one to five, how did you feel at work this week? So we build into our product the practice of managers checking in with their employees about their feelings and about their emotional and mental well-being. We attempt to create enough psychological safety, trust and openness to vulnerability that employees feel comfortable that if they are having a two out of five weeks, it can be okay to share that with a manager and be able to back it up with the reason why. So for example, an employee might say: This week was a two out of five for me because three projects blew up in our faces and at home my kid is sick and I didn’t get any sleep. The employee can just lay it all out there.

How can employers and employees become more comfortable normalizing the conversation around mental health?

It has to be very intentional, deliberate and explicit. It’s the kind of stuff employers may talk about or advertise or promote on their employer branding website...it should be very clear that promoting emotional well-being and mental wellness is part of the employer’s culture and something they value. The executive team and all of the leadership needs to be totally brought into that and that’s challenging because there are many people out there in the world who aren’t comfortable yet with talking about or bringing up those kinds of things at work. That’s the big challenge we’re facing right now, yet so many employees are coming to expect [support for mental health issues].

Is there a generational disconnect when it comes to promoting emotional wellness in the workplace?

I would say that those of us who don’t have our heads stuck in the sand, we get it. We realize that there’s a reason this mindset of addressing employees’ mental health is so popular. It’s because it’s way more effective. This is how we want to work. I’m generation X and I have a lot of friends who work in big corporate environments who still think you leave your emotions at the door. But I would say those of us who want to have a more progressive approach are so on board with it. HR professionals and potential employees who follow those old school ways, they won’t even get hired at a company like ours and I bet a lot of our customer’s companies. That’s because we know that doesn’t work anymore.

See Also: What is Perfectionism, and Is It Affecting Your Work Life?

What specifically has 15Five done to promote this initiative among its employees?

It all starts from our hiring process and what we communicate about our values and what it’s like to work at 15Five. Not only are we assessing candidates on their skills, but we’re also assessing them on their willingness to go to that very vulnerable place in their day to day with their manager or direct report. We have question in our interviews that ask “would you be comfortable talking about emotions at work?” and “if you were a two out of five on the emotion poll for the week, would you be able to share that with your manager and how would you go about doing that?” We will ask questions to make sure candidates we are bringing in are okay with this way of doing things. If somebody is going into a manager position internally, we have just implemented a manager assessment interview to make sure this person really has the skills to be a 15Five manager. A manager in our eyes is not just a taskmaster or somebody who approves your time off. They need to be employees’ coach, cheerleader and champion and they need to be comfortable supporting employees when things aren’t going well. It’s almost like having the skill set of a therapist.

SOURCE: Shiavo, A. (23 October 2019) "Strategies to promote emotional well-being in the workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/strategies-to-promote-emotional-well-being-in-the-workplace


What will Workplace Wellness Look Like in 2020?

The U.S. workplace wellness industry is expected to rapidly evolve in 2020. Targeted wellness and wellness exchanges are just two of the expected changes for 2020. Read this blog post to learn more about what wellness will look like in 2020.


As we look toward 2020, all indicators point towards a rapid evolution of the U.S. workplace wellness industry characterized by innovative solutions for managing health care costs that serve the increasing need for proactive ownership of well-being. However, are advances in related disciplines being leveraged optimally, cohesively and creatively to provide for maximum benefit to both the employee and employer?

The corporate model of wellness programs ranges from education programs, to a more evolved model of on-site fitness facilities, incentive programs and HR driven wellness initiatives as part of an overall health and benefits offering. The 2014 SHRM Survey of Strategic Benefits - Wellness Initiatives shows that 76 percent of all surveyed companies had some form of wellness programs/resources. Among those companies two-thirds offered some form of incentive or reward program.

The results of these types of programs have already demonstrated the positive impact of a collaborative responsibility partnership between employer and employee in implementing a wellness approach and the reduction of medical costs.

Several key performance indicators have been used for evaluation, including reductions in monthly medical cost spend, hospital admissions and employee absenteeism. According to SHRM, of the 30 percent who conducted a cost analysis of their wellness programs, 93 percent noted their programs were somewhat or very effective in cutting costs.

This certainly demonstrates a return on investment (ROI) to the employer. In addition, the positive qualitative effect on the organizational culture cannot be understated, with direct impact on talent and team spirit as well as other variables that are incremental to the quantitative benefits measured.

This is particularly important given that variables such as an increasingly aging workforce (by 2020, the number of Americans in the 55 to 64 age group will have grown by 73 percent since 2000), an increase in predominant disease states (by 2030, 40.5 percent of the US population is expected to have some form of cardiovascular disease) and rapidly changing regulations added to the equation, employers are evaluating best and "next" practices to determine if these programs are truly optimized to realize their full potential of impact.

For the next iteration of workplace wellness, the lessons learned can be leveraged from the evolution of the traditional health benefit offering to a health exchange model or to the advances and learnings in personalized therapeutic medicine. The current opportunity requires a creative and innovative approach to health and wellness ownership. Coupling a predictive, proactive and fact-based wellness management approach with employee-owned and led wellness decisions can provide a powerful and personalized platform.

By maintaining this initiative in a structured and sustainable manner, employers are able to provide a more targeted approach of spending proactive wellness dollars for maximum ROI and decreasing the reactive spend on medical costs.

These personalized programs will enable companies to better track and monitor costs and ROI with the goal to have more than 30 percent of the companies properly monitoring cost efficiencies. This is further supported by the fact that 90 percent said they would increase their investment in wellness programs if they could quantify the ROI.

Targeted Wellness

Traditional medical treatment has evolved significantly from standard diagnostic evaluations to increased utilization of scientific advances, specifically in terms of personalized medicine. Medical decisions and treatments are tailored to an individual patient through a data-based approach to drive the efficiency and effectiveness of patient treatment.

Similarly, there is an opportunity for the employee - within the framework of privacy regulations - to leverage this fact-based approach to optimize the value derived from a wellness offering. Two-thirds of employers involved in wellness initiatives typically provide some type of defined contribution or incentive towards wellness (e.g., fitness rebate); however, an opportunity exists to focus this spend on the desired health outcomes. This would provide the maximum benefit to the employee from a well-being standpoint, as well as to the employer for its investment.

While the powerful combination of data analytics and segmentation analysis allows a human resources team to facilitate a fact-based decision-making approach to right-fit an organization with the right individual in the right role at the right time, an organization can effectively manage the time and money dedicated to workplace wellness by creating a tailored program based on the individual employee's current needs and critical influencing factors.

Wellness Exchanges

Employers have made the journey from self-funded managed health care to the growing trend of providing employees with a "shopping mall" of health insurance options, and on to formal health exchanges - gradually increasing the patient-centric involvement of employees in managing their own health care choices.

The value drivers for this organizational transition include increased price competition based on the marketplace model as well as cost savings influenced by employers not overbuying health care coverage for their employees. This is exemplified by the vast majority of participants switching to cheaper plans in their first year of choice coverage.

This undertaking by an organization is by no means a small effort, and it requires a good amount of diligence and change management - not only in creating the road map for the transformation journey, but also in properly structuring, executing and sustaining this approach. In a well-planned and structured implementation journey, the return on investment can be well recognized.

Similarly, a workplace wellness exchange can offer a suite of proactive health program choices designed to give the employee the responsibility to make an informed and impactful decision that is tailored to drive specific health outcomes.

A marketplace approach can also drive competitive offerings from wellness solution providers and encourage a spirit of innovative and cost-conscious platform options - further maximizing use of wellness dollars. This model will encourage individuals to leverage their own personal health ecosystem information (e.g., current state baseline, lifestyle, environmental factors and disease state predisposition) to choose a solution that may help reduce reactive health care dollars spent based on disease state prevention and risk factor reduction.

According to SHRM, year-over-year employee participation has remained flat. An innovative and personalized approach could help motivate and boost participation and would also continue to ensure that the individual employee's wellness responsibility is shared in partnership with the employer. This would require an independent review of the process, structure and plan design, specifically as it relates to patient privacy and the impact to the holistic benefits offering.

Regardless of a company's ability to track ROI, an overwhelming majority (72 percent) think their wellness initiatives are very or somewhat effective in reducing health care costs and 78 percent thought they improved the overall physical health of their employees.

As the impact of reactive medical claim costs on employers continues to increase due to a variety of influencers, proactive workplace wellness will likely evolve and become an inherent component of an organization's benefits offering.

This presents an opportunity to leverage recent learnings from other initiatives in the life sciences vertical to create an effective and efficient workplace wellness platform that is data-driven and tailored to the needs of the employee - providing a marketplace for choice and competition, and reinforcing the shared partnership responsibility between the employer and employee.

SOURCE: Pervaaz, V. (Accessed 01 November 2019) "What will Workplace Wellness Look Like in 2020?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/workplace-wellness-in-2020


Employers can help employees catch some Z's with new wellness benefit

According to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research, about 45 percent of the world's population has chronic sleep issues. Employers are starting to offer employee benefits that are focused on a long-ignored but crucial aspect of employee health - sleep. Read this blog post to learn more about this new wellness benefit.


Employers are taking a greater interest in employees’ emotional and physical well-being by offering specialized programs focused on mental health, weight loss, financial health, and now one long-ignored yet crucial aspect of health — sleep.

Beddr, a sleep health technology company, has launched a comprehensive, personalized solution to identify and treat the root causes of chronic sleep issues, though a voluntary benefits platform. The program leverages clinical data captured from Beddr’s app that uses an optical sensor and accelerometer to measure blood oxygen levels, stopped breathing events, heart rate, sleep position and time in bed.

About 45% of the world’s population has chronic sleep issues, according to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research. Poor sleep costs U.S. employers an estimated $411 billion each year, according to a report from Rand.

Employees using the Beddr benefit will have access to an expert-led sleep coaching program and a nationwide network of sleep physicians to provide targeted treatment options to help employees improve their sleep health. The program has the potential to save an employer up to $5,700 per employee, per year in productivity improvements, lower healthcare costs and decrease accident rates, Beddr says.

“Sleep is the foundation to every employee’s mental and physical health. High quality sleep has been shown to both reduce healthcare costs as well as improve productivity, but most employers haven’t found a comprehensive program that addresses the primary root causes of sleep issues and that benefits their entire workforce,” says Michael Kisch, CEO of Beddr. “We have seen a dramatic increase among our users relative to the overall population in their understanding of their sleep health and how their choices impact their overall sleep quality.”

Beddr partners with benefits teams to design a customized program specific to each employer and their employees. The company developed a screening process that makes it easy for an employer to engage their employee base, while providing Beddr the ability to identify employees who are a good match for the program.

In some cases, the company heavily subsidizes the cost of the benefit to employees, while in others it is the full responsibility of the employee. In the latter instance, the company negotiates a discount that is passed on to all participating employees. That discounted price is less than what an employee would pay to purchase the program directly from Beddr.

“Beddr was founded on the belief that the most important thing a person can do to improve their physical and mental health is to get consistent, high-quality sleep,” Kisch says. “We see employers as natural partners in fulfilling this mission because the goals of a company and its management are highly aligned with the goals of our program — to improve the health and productivity of employees. ”

SOURCE: Shiavo, A. (23 October 2019) "Employers can help employees catch some Z's with new wellness benefit" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/beddr-app-helps-employees-get-more-sleep


Key elements to consider when researching financial wellness programs

Have you implemented a financial wellness program? With financial wellness programs becoming a staple employee benefit, organizations find themselves implementing programs that only offer a few tools or resources. Read the following blog post for key elements to consider when researching financial wellness programs.


Financial wellness programs are becoming a staple in the employee benefit universe. But what should a successful financial wellness program encompass? As a rapidly growing industry, we often lack a consistent definition for financial wellness. This leads to organizations believing they have implemented a financial wellness program, when they may only be offering a few tools like education or counseling.

I define financial wellness as the process by which an individual can efficiently and accurately assess their financial posture, identify personal goals, and be motivated to gain the necessary knowledge and resources to create behavioral change. Behavioral change will result in improved emotional and mental well-being, along with short- and long-term financial stability.

As the administrator of your company’s benefits, you are responsible for bringing the best possible solution to your employees. That’s a tough ask, given the growing number of service providers. So, what is the most efficient and effective way to assess financial wellness services to determine which solution best fits your organizational needs? Ask yourself these questions:

Does the platform offer a personal assessment of each employee’s current financial situation and help them identify their financial goals? If the answer is yes: Does the assessment return quantifiable and qualifiable data unique to each individual employee?

Does the platform address 100% of your employee base, including the least sophisticated employees at various levels of employment? Much of your ROI from a financial wellness program does not come from your top performers. It comes from creating behavioral changes within your employees who need the most financial guidance.

Does the platform integrate the various components to provide a personalized roadmap for each employee? It should connect program elements like personal assessments, educational resources, tools, feedback and solutions to ensure the employee is presented with a cohesive, comprehensive plan to attack and improve their financial situation.

Does the platform offer solutions for short-term financial challenges like cash flow issues, as well as long-term financial challenges associated with saving and planning? A major return on your investment comes from reduced employee stress, which is substantially driven by short-term needs versus long-term objectives. The program must help employees deal with current financial challenges before they can focus on their longer-term vision.

About 78% of U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, according to data from CareerBuilder.com. The need for financial wellness is clear, but there are consistent pillars that must be addressed in any successful financial wellness program to affect change: spend, save, borrow and plan. When evaluating financial wellness programs, it’s important that these dots all connect if you are truly going to motivate behavioral change and recognize the ROI of a comprehensive financial wellness program.

SOURCE: Kilby, D. (13 September 2019) "Key elements to consider when researching financial wellness programs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/key-considerations-for-employee-financial-wellness-programs


Survey: What Employees Want Most from Their Workspaces

In 2019, employers across the country are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on employer-sponsored benefits such as onsite gyms, standing desks, meditation rooms and nursing hotlines. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about what employees want most out of their workspaces.


In an effort to support a healthier and more productive workforce, employers across the country are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on wellness programs in 2019. Think onsite gyms. Standing desks. Meditation rooms. Nursing hotlines. These are just some of the benefits companies are investing in.

But is any of it paying off?

The results of a recent Harvard study suggest that wellness programs, offered by 80% of large U.S. companies, yield unimpressive results — and our findings mirror this. Future Workplace and View recently surveyed 1,601 workers across North America to figure out which wellness perks matter to them most and how these perks impact productivity.

Surprisingly, we found employees want the basics first: better air quality, access to natural light, and the ability to personalize their workspace. Half of the employees we surveyed said poor air quality makes them sleepier during the day, and more than a third reported up to an hour in lost productivity as a result. In fact, air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness, and wellbeing, while fitness facilities and technology-based health tools were the most trivial.

Organizations have the power to make improvements in these areas, and they need to, both for their workers and themselves. A high-quality workplace — one with natural light, good ventilation, and comfortable temperatures — can reduce absenteeism up to four days a year.  With unscheduled absenteeism costing companies an estimated $3,600 annually per hourly worker and $2,650 each year for salaried workers, this can have a major impact on your bottom line.

Other research finds that employees who are satisfied with their work environments are 16% more productive, 18% more likely to stay, and 30% more attracted to their company over competitors. Two-thirds of our survey respondents said that a workplace focused on their health and wellbeing would make them more likely to accept a new job or keep the job they have. This means that companies willing to adapt to an employee-centric view of workplace wellness will not only increase their productivity, they will also improve their ability to attract and retain talent.

To get started, here are three steps you can take to improve your work environments and the wellbeing of your employees:

1.  Stop spending money on pointless office perks. A good rule of thumb is to never assume that you know what your employees want — but instead, find ways to ask them. If more employers did, they might put less emphasis on office perks that only a minority of employees will take advantage of (like an onsite gym), and more on changes in the workplace environment that impact all employees (like air quality and access to light).

The number one environmental factor cited in our survey was better air quality. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that fresh, allergen-free air would improve their wellness. Fifty percent said they would work and feel better with some view of the outdoors, while one third said they would want the ability to adjust the temperature in their workspace. Only one in three survey respondents characterized their office temperature as ideal.

Noise distractions bothered more than a third of those surveyed, impacting their ability to concentrate. Employees said sounds like phones ringing, typing on keyboards, and distractions from coworkers all impacted their concentration.

Almost half of our respondents wanted to see their companies improve these environmental factors, and in many instances, more than they wanted to be offered office perks. The first step, then, is to take a look at where you are spending your money, and consider cutting expenses that aren’t worth the cost.

2. Personalize when possible. We’ve all gotten used to personalizing our outside-of-work lives. We binge the shows we want to watch and listen to the music we like to hear, even if our partners or friends have different preferences. We adjust our thermostats without having to get up off our couches, and dim our lights to our level of satisfaction.

Employees are beginning to expect these same privileges in the workplace. Our survey revealed that employees, by a margin of 42% to 28%, would rather be able to personalize their work environment than opt for unlimited vacation. Specifically, what employees want to personalize:

  • Workspace temperature: Nearly half want an app that will let them set the temperature in their workspace.
  • Overhead and desk lighting: One-third wants to control their overhead and desk lighting, as well as the levels of natural light streaming in.
  • Noise levels: One-third would like to “soundscape” their workspace.

While these asks may sound exclusive to the personal offices of higher-ups — they’re not. Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters is just one example of a company that has managed to help employees control the noise level in an open floor plan. Their building was actually designed to manage ambient sound in order to reduce worker distractions. Some companies like Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, have gone a step further, allowing employees to control the amount of natural light streaming in through the glass of their office windows with a cell phone app.

But for organizations that don’t want to invest in a completely new building, there is a more organic route. Cisco, for example, has managed the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighborhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone.

This same strategy applies to light or temperature. You can position employees who want a higher temperature and more light around the edge of your floor plan, and those who like it quieter and cooler in the core.

3. Create a holistic view of workplace wellness. When deciding what changes to make to your organization, remember that workplace wellness is not just about the physical health of your employees. It includes physical wellness, emotional wellness, and environmental wellness. To create a truly healthy work environment, you must take all three of these areas into consideration:

  • Emotional wellness: Give employees access to natural light, and quiet rooms where they can comfortably focus on their work.
  • Physical wellness: Provide people with healthy food options, and ergonomically designed work stations.
  • Environmental wellness: Make sure your workspaces have adequate air quality, light, temperature, and proper acoustics.

Companies that adapt to a more holistic view of workplace wellness will soon realize no one department alone can solve the puzzle. Our study results, along with the results from the World Green Building Council report, push organizations to take a closer look at what changes they can make that will actually matter. My suggestion: consider how you can get back to the basics employees want, and invest in the core areas that will have the most impact.

SOURCE: Meister, J. (27 August 19) "Survey: What Employees Want Most from Their Workspaces"(Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/08/survey-what-employees-want-most-from-their-workspaces


The case for expanding wellness beyond the physical

New data from Optum and the National Business Group on Health is revealing how wellness programs affect job performance. Will addressing mental health, financial wellness and substance abuse in the workplace help employees feel fulfilled both personally and professionally? Read this blog post from Employee Benefits Advisor to learn more about expanding wellness programs.


Client's wellness programs that only focus on physical fitness may need to rethink their approach.

By expanding wellness offerings to include programs that support workers’ mental and financial wellness, employer clients can increase the overall wellbeing of their workforce. Newly released data from Optum and the National Business Group on Health shows that employees who are offered programs that address most or all of the five aspects of wellbeing — physical, mental, financial, social and community — are significantly more likely to say their job performance is excellent, have a positive impression of their employer, and recommend their company as a place to work.

Over the last decade, workplace wellness initiatives have evolved beyond health risk assessments, physical fitness and nutrition programs. Many programs now include resources to address mental health, financial wellness and substance abuse.

“[Employers] must commit to looking beyond clinical health outcomes,” says Chuck Gillespie, CEO of the National Wellness Institute, speaking at a webcast from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. “You want employees to be fulfilled both personally and professionally.”

Even though some clients address financial, social and community health, most still focus on physical and mental health.

However, there are benefit trends that address wellness beyond physical fitness. The emergence of financial wellness benefits — such as early pay access, student loan assistance and retirement saving plans — may help employees feel less stressed and more financially secure, which has shown to improve overall health.

But having a good wellness program in place isn’t enough — employers also have to make sure that the offerings are inclusive and personalized, and that the programs have successful participation and engagement rates.

“These programs need to be adapted to who you are,” Gillespie says. “Customization has to be a key factor of what you’re looking at, because everybody is not going to fit inside your box.”

Effective wellness programs use both health and wellness data points and best practices, while keeping an eye on developing trends. Multi-dimensional wellness — looking at aspects such as social and community — can help companies understand the needs of their employees better.

“Employers need to better recognize personal choices, and if the employees are in an environment where they are functioning optimally,” Gillespie says. “Smokers hang out with smokers; the cultural foods that you eat with family may not be nutritious; is there social isolation; do you contribute to your community. [Most benefits] are work-oriented, but for most people, their life is their home life. It’s important to look at the degrees of which you feel positive and enthusiastic about your work and life.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (15 August, 2019) "The case for expanding wellness beyond the physical" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/the-case-for-expanding-wellness-beyond-the-physical


The “Official” Lowdown on Physical Activity

Are you looking for wellness tips and information on staying active? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is the official voice of authority when it comes to physical activity and health. Continue reading this blog post for guidelines and recommendations from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.


You can read fitness magazines or online blogs, get tips from friends and neighbors, or make up your own rules and regimens for staying active. But when the federal government speaks, you should probably listen.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is the voice of authority when it comes to physical activity and health. The guidelines are based on scientific evidence and provide recommendations for Americans of all ages. The second edition of these guidelines came out in 2018 and includes some intriguing facts:

  • About half of all American adults have at least one chronic disease.
  • Seventy percent of the most common of these diseases can be improved by physical activity.
  • A full 80 percent of adults aren’t getting the aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity recommended.
  • This lack of activity has been linked to 10 percent of premature deaths.

Yikes! Not good, right? If this gets your attention and you’d like to up your activity level, here are the top recommendations from the guide:

  • Kids ages 3 - 5 should be active at least 3 hours a day.
  • Kids 6 - 17 should strive for at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity per day. This should include aerobic activity (anything that speeds up heart rate) and muscle-strengthening activities. This activity has been shown to help with things like bone health, heart health and even learning.
  • Adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week and at least two days of muscle-strengthening activity (lifting weights, push-ups). Physical activity brings immediate health benefits, like lowering blood pressure and improving sleep. Over time, physical activity can lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, weight gain, and eight different cancers, among other health risks. It also helps improve overall quality of life.
  • For people who already have a health condition, physical activity can help with pain, slow the disease’s progress, keep depression and anxiety at bay, and improve brain function for people with Alzheimer’s disease, MS, Parkinson’s, and other conditions.

When it comes to government, you might not like everything you hear and read. But for the real scoop on activity levels and health, our friends in Washington seem to know what’s best. Remember, any activity is better than none, so get out of your chair, step away from your desk, or otherwise get moving!

Source: Health.gov. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/10things (Accessed 6/20/19)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (14th August, 2019). "The “Official” Lowdown on Physical Activity" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: http://blog.ubabenefits.com/lowdown-on-physical-activity


It’s time to incorporate cancer screenings into your wellness program

About a third of the eligible population has never been screen or are not up-to-date with the cancer screening guidelines. According to the National Cancer Institute, newer FDA-approved novel immunotherapies have shown to be beneficial responses to colorectal cancer, but at staggering costs that can be upward of $400,000 per year. Read this blog post to learn more about incorporating cancer screenings in corporate wellness programs.


Scott Wilson, an employee at brewing company Molson Coors in Denver, was diagnosed with stage four metastatic colorectal cancer in 2016 — a disease that would cost him upward of $1.3 million to date, with significant dollars paid out for non-covered medical expenses.

As a consequence of a later-stage diagnosis, colon and liver resections were necessary coupled with aggressive treatment using chemotherapy and Vectobix — a newer and costly immunotherapy that is priced at $8,000 per week. On average, more than 40,000 people undergo treatment for metastatic colorectal cancer each year and the cost of treatment varies depending on the stage at diagnosis, treatment response and plan.

The availability of newer FDA-approved novel immunotherapies have shown to be beneficial responses to this deadly cancer, but at staggering costs that can be upward of $400,000 per year at market introduction, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Today, about 60% of diagnosed colorectal cases are discovered in later stage disease due to under-screening — a third of the eligible population have never been screened or are not up-to-date with screening guidelines. As a result, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with any stage of colorectal cancer and about 51,000 people die of this cancer annually. A recent study examined 1,750 colorectal cancer deaths from 2006 to 2012 in the Kaiser Permanente Health System — 76% of those deaths occurred in patients who were never screened or were not up-to-date with screening.

Cancer screening in the workplace

Last year, the American Cancer Society lowered the colorectal cancer screening age to 45 based on the rising rates of cancer trending in younger age populations — other cancer organization’s recommendations remain at age 50. Employers are in a unique position to reinforce and support these national recommendations among their employees.

Employees between 50 and 65 years of age have the lowest screening rates for colorectal cancer screening, and are typically covered by employer-sponsored health plans. Employers find offering cancer screening programs that reward participation via health and wellness programs are reducing disease risk and financial burdens for themselves and their employees.

The costs for treatment of cancer are more than double the rate of other healthcare expenses. For an employer, the impact of a late versus an early stage diagnosis is significant. National expenditures for treatment and care of colorectal cancer are second only to breast cancer.

In people age 65 and younger, the U.S spends in excess of $7.4 billion for treatment of colorectal cancer. For those employees diagnosed with any stage of colorectal cancer, a large percentage of costs are paid out by company-sponsored health plans despite the implementation of high-deductible health plans.

It would seem prudent to institute a screening initiative to find cancer early in your employee populations, or prevent it altogether by supporting screening for preventable cancers. Employees who test positive are referred by their physician for diagnostic colonoscopy to determine if colorectal cancer is present or to remove precancerous polyps or lesions. The intangible costs associated with cancer is the time off of work for treatment and lost productivity.

Most companies administer a wellness program for employees and families, like Molson Coors, but only about 20% offer colorectal cancer screening. Incorporating a blood test as a preventive cancer screening strategy alongside workplace wellness programs can get employees up-to-date with screening recommendations. Employers who are interested in instituting a colorectal cancer screening program in the office should consider the following suggestions.

Incorporate CRC screening into wellness programs. Screenings provide the opportunity to identify risks early and can bridge the gap between doctor office visits for employees who do not see their providers on a regular or annual basis.

Partner with third-party administrators. Third party administration services can ensure HIPAA regulations are followed for privacy. TPAs also will arrange for the delivery of results.

Create communications campaigns. Target your messaging to those eligible for colorectal cancer screening and make sure to cite the correct statistics for benefits and risk.

Reward participation. Participation is shown to increase when incentives are provided to reward participation. Decide what incentives work for your employees – PTO, financial rewards, gym memberships, coupons or gift cards.

Follow up. Plan for next steps based on employee screenings. Results should be provided in a timely manner to enable employees.

Wilson, the Molson Coors employee, remains in remission for nearly 20 months. He’s since devoted his time to advocate for access to colorectal cancer screening, especially in the workplace. Wilson recently joined the Colorectal Cancer Alliance organization as a board member, a non-profit dedicated to reducing the incidence of colorectal cancer through their many efforts aimed at prevention and awareness. He also wrote a book, “Through the Window: A Photographic Tale of Cancer Recovery” for the alliance. Wilson has been an advocate for the vital need for employee access and employer support for CRC screening in the workplace.

SOURCE: Childers, P. (27 June 2019) "It’s time to incorporate cancer screenings into your wellness program" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/add-cancer-screenings-to-wellness-programs


Giving onsite clinics an engagement booster shot

Are you offering wellness services and programs in efforts to reduce healthcare spend and increase health? Two 2018 National Association of Worksite Health Centers’ studies show that close to 50 percent of large firms are now operating worksite clinics. Read this blog post to learn more about increasing engagement in onsite clinics.


Employers of all sizes and industries are currently offering a variety of wellness services that include preventive, acute, primary, chronic disease and occupational healthcare programs at or near the worksite. These benefits are intended to reduce healthcare spend, increase the population’s health and productivity and positively impact recruitment and retention efforts.

In fact, according to two 2018 studies by the National Association of Worksite Health Centers, more than one-third of all employers and close to 50% of large firms are now operating worksite clinics. But just because employers offer such benefits doesn’t mean employees will take advantage of these services, even when they’re free.

But many employers are frustrated to find that 20% or less of the targeted or covered workers utilizes their programs — with millions of dollars in benefits wasted.

Failure can be caused by lack of promotion, inadequate incentives, poor communications or providers who don’t fit into the culture of the employer. However, one of the most significant problems than can undermine a benefit program, especially a worksite clinic, is when employees don’t trust that their personal health data will be confidential and fear it will be used for employment decisions.

Employers who achieve high benefit utilization build the foundation for success by informing their workforce, prior to a benefit or clinic being available and on an ongoing basis, of the many federal and state confidentiality and privacy laws that dictate who can receive personal and occupational health information and the limitations placed on employers.

Communications, posters, presentations and other marketing vehicles must assure employees that the employer will only see aggregate, not personal data from the offered benefit programs. Emphasize that the program’s or clinic’s medical providers will be the only individuals dealing with this information, and that by law they are legally and ethically obligated to keep this confidential.

Understanding the culture and labor-management dynamics of an organization are also critical to building trust. To increase use, it’s often best to market the program or facility under a new brand name, such as “The Healthy Life” or use the name of the provider who manages the program or clinic, rather than the employer’s name.

The physical design or location of a benefit program or clinic also needs to be kept in mind. Clinical or counseling activities should be separate from business offices or fitness centers where a person taking advantage of the benefit could be seen by their peers, managers and supervisors.

Achieving engagement in a health benefit program or clinic is key to its success, as well as obtaining the resources and support of senior management for its expansion and continuance. The design, marketing and location of benefit programs need to be well-planned so the workforce is confident that the confidentiality of their patient records will be maintained and not used for employment decisions.

SOURCE: Boress, L. (9 July 2019) "Giving onsite clinics an engagement booster shot" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-increase-employee-engagement-in-healthcare-benefits


Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds

Workplace wellness programs do not cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers' health, according to a recent study from JAMA. Continue reading this blog post to learn about this recent study and workplace wellness programs.


Workplace wellness programs have become an $8 billion industry in the U.S. But a study published Tuesday in JAMA found they don’t cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers’ health.

Most large employers offer some type of wellness program — with growth fueled by incentives in the federal Affordable Care Act.

A host of studies over the years have provided conflicting results about how well they work, with some showing savings and health improvements while others say the efforts fall short.

Many studies, however, faced a number of limitations, such as failing to have a comparison group, or figuring out whether people who sign up for such wellness programs are somehow healthier or more motivated than those who do not.

Now researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard may have overcome these obstacles with one of the first large-scale studies that is peer-reviewed and employs a more sophisticated trial design.

They randomly assigned 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all employees, then compared results with 140 stores that did not.

The big-box retailer employed nearly 33,000 workers across all 160 clubs during the test.

After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled.

But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

“The optimistic interpretation is there is no way we can get improvements in health or more efficient spending if we don’t’ first have changes in health behavior,” said one study author, Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. (Dr. Zirui Song, an assistant professor of health policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, was its co-author.)

“But if employers are offering these programs in hopes that health spending and absenteeism will go down, this study should give them pause,” Baicker said.

The study comes amid widespread interest in wellness programs.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey of employers found that 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle change. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Some programs are simple, offering gift cards or other small incentives to fill out a health risk assessment, take a lunch-and-learn class or join a gym or walking group. Others are far more invasive, asking employees to report on a variety of health-related questions and roll up their sleeves for blood tests.

A few employers tie financial incentives to workers actually lowering risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol — or making concerted efforts to participate in programs that might help them do so over time.

The Affordable Care Act allowed employers to offer financial incentives worth up to 30% of the cost of health insurance, leading some employers to offer what could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars off workers’ deductibles or premiums to get them to participate. That led to court challenges about whether those programs are truly voluntary.

In the study reported in JAMA, the incentives were modest. Participants got small-dollar gift cards for taking wellness courses on topics such as nutrition, exercise, disease management and stress control. Total potential incentives averaged $250. About 35% of eligible employees at the 20 participating sites completed at least one module.

Results from those workers — including attendance and tenure data, their self-reported health assessment and results from lab blood tests — were specifically compared with similar reports from 20 primary comparison sites where workers were not offered the wellness gift cards and classes. Overall employment and health spending data from all worksites were included in the study.

Wellness program vendors said details matter when considering whether efforts will be successful.

Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes.

Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.

An accompanying editorial in JAMA noted that “traditional, broad-based programs like the one analyzed by Song and Baicker may lack the necessary intensity, duration, and focus on particular employee segments to generate significant effects over a short time horizon.”

In other words, don’t give up entirely on wellness efforts, but consider “more targeted approaches” that focus on specific workers with higher risks or on “health behaviors [that] may yield larger health and economic benefits,” the editorial suggested.

It could be, the study acknowledges, that 18 months isn’t enough time to track such savings. So, Baicker and Song also plan to publish three-year results once they are finalized.

Still, similar findings were recently reported in another randomized control trial conducted at the University of Illinois, where individuals were randomly selected to be offered wellness programs.

In one interesting point, that study found that wellness-program participants were likely already healthier and more motivated, “thus a primary benefit of these programs to employers may be their potential to attract and retain healthy workers with low medical spending.”

Everyone involved in studying or conducting wellness agrees on one thing: Changing behavior — and getting people motivated to participate at all — can be difficult.

Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps, a wellness program vendor, said that for the efforts to be successful they must cut across many areas, from the food served in company cafeterias to including spouses or significant others to help people quit smoking, eat better or exercise more.

“Behavior is more complicated than simply taking a few wellness modules,” said Aldana. “It’s a lifestyle matrix or pattern you have to adopt.”

SOURCE: Appleby, J. (16 April 2019) "Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/workplace-wellness-programs-barely-move-the-needle-study-finds/