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


Workout - Girl - Stretching - Pixabay

How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret

Did you know: Some insurance carries pay wellness dollars to companies who implement wellness programs. Continue reading this blog post to learn how companies can take advantage of insurance companies’ best-kept secret.


Did you know some insurance carriers pay companies to implement wellness programs? It’s called wellness dollars, and it is insurance companies’ best-kept secret.

Wellness dollars are a percentage of a company’s premiums that can be used to cover wellness-related purchases. The healthier employees are, the fewer dollars insurance carriers need to pay out for a policy. Many insurers have incentives like wellness dollars for employers to improve the well-being of their workers.

The benefits of adding a wellness program are plenty. These programs typically generate a positive return on investment for companies. Research done by three Harvard professors found that overall medical costs decline $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. Costs from absenteeism fall about $2.73 for each dollar. Well-designed programs can improve employees’ overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a new year, and group health insurance plans are starting fresh. Here’s how employers can take advantage of wellness dollars.

Get in touch with your carrier. The first step is to get in touch with your insurance carrier to find out if your self-insured or fully-insured plan covers participatory or health-contingent programs. If you don’t have wellness dollars, it’s still early in the year, and it’s worth negotiating to see if you can include them in your company’s current package.

You will work with your insurance carrier to determine how your wellness dollars can be spent, based on an agreed-upon contract. The amount of wellness dollars that you receive depends on the number of employees and profitability.

Every company is different, so the range of services varies and could include wellness programs, gym memberships, nutrition programs, massages and more. Sometimes incentives for wellness activities can be used; sometimes it can’t. Ask your carrier for a complete list of covered expenses. This will help you as you shop around to find the right offerings. Save receipts and records for reimbursements.

Determine the best use. There are a few ways to determine what offerings you should use for your company. Before making any decisions, ask your employees and the leadership team what type of program they would be most likely to engage in. Gallup named the five elements that affect business outcomes: purpose, social, community, physical and financial. Look for a comprehensive program that includes these five elements, instead of coordinating with multiple vendors. If only a portion of your expenses will be reimbursed, it’s still worth getting a wellness program. They have cost-savings on an individual and team level.

Wellness programs are all about building culture, and with unemployment at a record low, it’s a sticking point to keep employees invested in your company. A few examples of wellness offerings include fitness classes, preventive screenings, on-site yoga, financial wellness workshops, healthy living educational workshops, and health tracking apps.

Once you’ve implemented wellness offerings in your workplace, keep track of your company’s progress. Create a wellness task force, a healthy workplace social group, or conduct monthly survey check-ins to make sure employees are staying engaged. Some wellness programs utilize technology to track participation, integrate with wearables, and report other analytics. Ask your insurance carrier if wellness dollars have flexibility in adding or changing the services throughout the year, based on engagement.

SOURCE: Cohn, J. (14 February 2019) "How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-take-advantage-of-the-best-kept-wellness-secret


Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now

Do you know whether your wellness plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent?” Under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) current guidance, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” Read on for more.


Defining “wellness” for any one person is no simple task, and neither is deciphering a given wellness program’s compliance under the law.

In 2016, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its final regulations defining a “voluntary” program under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the entire landscape — at least what can be seen on a hazy day — appeared defined. But thanks to AARP’s successful challenge to these regulations and the EEOC’s recent acknowledgment of the demise of its incentive limitations, employers find themselves back in the “Wild West” of sorts for wellness compliance.

That being said, the uncertainty is not new for employers with wellness programs, and there is now more guidance than before, so let’s take a moment to take in the current view.

The current guidance under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) remains unchanged, so any wellness program integrated with a health plan or otherwise constituting a health plan itself, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” The health-contingent plans (which condition the award of incentives on accomplishing a health goal) will require additional compliance considerations, including—but not limited to—incentive limitations, reasonable alternative standards (RAS), and notice requirements.

The RAS should be of particular importance because they can be missed most out of the compliance parameters. Often there is an “accidental” program such as a tobacco surcharge, and the employer does not even realize the wellness rules are implicated, or the employer’s RAS is another health-contingent parameter that actually necessitates another RAS.

The Department of Labor is actively enforcing compliance in this area, so employers will want to take care.

Additionally, the EEOC’s ADA (and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) regulations are still largely in force. This seems to be a common misconception—ranging from a celebration of no rules to a lament for the end of incentivized wellness programs that include disability-related questionnaires (like an average health risk assessment) or medical examinations (including biometric screenings).

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

The ADA’s own RAS and notice concepts still apply, along with confidentiality requirements. All that has changed is that the EEOC has declined (again) to tell us at what point an incentive turns a program compulsory. So employers sponsoring wellness programs subject to the ADA have three choices, based on risk tolerance (In truth, there are four options, but charging above the ADA’s previous incentive limitations would be excessively risky):

  • Run incentives for ADA plans up to the 30 percent cap that existed before. This is the riskiest approach. To take this route, an employer must rely upon HIPAA’s similar (though not exactly the same) incentive limitations as indicative of non-compulsory levels. The fact that Judge Bates did not accept this argument in the AARP case advises against this approach, but this case does not have global application. If this path is chosen, it will be imperative to document analysis as to why this incentive preserves voluntariness for your participants.
  • Keep the incentives below the previous 30 percent cap but incentivize the program. This approach does have risk because no one knows at what point an incentive takes choice away from participants. However, the incentive is a useful tool to motivate and reward health-conscientious behavior. The wellness incentive limitations stood at 20 percent under the HIPAA regulations for quite some time without much concern, so this could be a relatively safe target. But the most important thing is to carefully assess the overall structure of the program(s) offered, consider the culture and demographics of the employees who may participate, and balance the desire to motivate against the particular tensions of the program to decide on a reasonable incentive. Make sure to document this analysis and reconsider it every time a program changes.
  • Not incentivize the program at all. This is the most conservative approach from a compliance perspective but ultimately not required. Before the EEOC’s 2016 regulations, employers were incentivizing programs subject to the ADA, and nothing about the AARP case or the EEOC’s response to it prohibits incentives.

There’s no doubt the wellness compliance landscape has changed a little over this last year, but this is also just the tip of the iceberg. With enforcement heating up, it is imperative for employers to carefully consider compliance, document the reasonableness of incentive choices and lean on trusted counsel when necessary to avoid potentially costly and time-consuming issues.

SOURCE: Davenport, B. (13 February 2019) "Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/02/13/employee-wellness-programs-and-compliance-what-to-know-right-now/


4 Ways to Help Employees Keep Their Resolution

Have you kept your New Year’s resolutions so far this year? Continue reading for four ways HR departments can help employees keep their resolutions this year.


As we ring in 2019, there are plenty of resolutions being made and likely already broken. Inc. Magazine’s list of the ten most common resolutions doesn't contain too many surprises. Prioritizing health and fitness through diet and exercise, spending quality time with friends and family, and other self-improvement plans are on many people’s minds. Endless how-to articles and listicles are published this time of year to motivate and inspire individuals to stick with their resolutions.

In a recent articleUSA Today discusses several resolutions employees can make to have their best year ever at work. But more than a best year at work, HR teams can support both personal and professional resolutions. An HR department ready to support those employees may just see happier, more productive and more engaged employees.

Here are some common resolutions and some proactive ideas for HR departments to consider.

1. Support Employee’s Healthy Eating

Many of your employees are looking to eat healthier in the new year. Employee Benefit News suggests a few key changes, rather than aggressive wellness pushes, can help employees make better food choices. Putting healthier options in vending machines or making healthy snacks a free break room benefit makes eating better an easier choice. Plan a tasting or activity around healthy and delicious food options to model better habits. Do keep in mind that dietary restrictions and preferences means a one-size-fits-all employees approach is likely to backfire!

2. Empower Employee Networking

If your team members want to get out and meet people in related fields as a resolution, champion that cause. Encourage connection because, as an article in Mint highlights, beyond benefitting the employee, it can have incredible benefits for your company, too. Candidates referred by a current employee are eight times more likely to get hired. Employees are one of the best ways for potential hires to learn about a company and openings. Encourage networking within your company, too. At the office, encourage cross-pollination by creating opportunities for employees to interact and learn from one another across departments or business units.

3. Invest in Employee’s Skills

Learn a new skill, a resolution on many minds, may include tackling a craft or an instrument at home. It could also mean learning a new skill at work. One HR professional recommends via Fast Company that employees commit to improving a work skill in the New Year. Investing in your employees through offering trainings, sponsoring professional development, or reimbursing coursework or certifications means a more skilled, more engaged, and even more loyal workforce. If budget is a concern, consider championing a mentor match, inviting employees to share expertise through lunch and learns, or create other opportunities for informal skill sharing through inter-office networking opportunities mentioned earlier.

4. Support Employee Financial Goals

Saving more is a common resolution, and one that’s commonly failed. While retirement may be top of mind when it comes to savings, Workforce recommends considering other financial safety nets like a rainy day fund since 8 out of 10 Americans live paycheck to paycheck and would not be able to afford a $400 emergency. USA Today encourages employees to make a point of brushing up on financial benefits like commuter assistance, 401(k) company match. HR can make all this even easier by helping employees brush up on what’s available or show how to set up direct deposits to make saving easier. Consider having a workshop or office hours for employees who want to ensure their financial resolution success this year.

Read more:

10 Top New Year's Resolutions for Success and Happiness in 2019

4 Ways to Help Employees Make Better Choices About What They Eat

9 New Year’s Resolutions You Should Consider Setting for Your Career in 2019

9 Ways to Be a Better Employee in 2019

Networking Basics You Should Not Ignore

12 Expert Tips to Make 2019 Your Most Productive Year Yet

Help Workers Save for Rainy Days, Not Just Golden Years

SOURCE: Olson, B. (23 January 2019) "4 Ways to Help Employees Keep Their Resolution" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/4-ways-to-help-employees-keep-their-resolution


11 top workplace stressors

Thirty percent of survey respondents to a recent CareerCast survey listed deadlines as a top workplace stressor. Continue reading this blog post for more of the top workplace stressors.


With workplace stress leading to lower productivity and increased turnover, an important tool in an employer’s pocket is a working knowledge of what workplace stressors exist and how to help workers manage them. A new survey from CareerCast, a job search portal, finds these following 11 factors represent the most common stressors in any given profession.

The CareerCast Job Stress survey had 1,071 respondents who selected the most stressful part of their job from one of the 11 stress factors used to compile CareerCast’s most and least stressful jobs report.

11. Environmental conditions

2% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

10. Travel

3% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

9. Meeting the public

4% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

8. Hazards encountered

5% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

7. Life at risk

7% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

6. Growth potential

7% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

5. Working in the public eye

8% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

4. Physical Demands

8% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

3. Competitiveness

10% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

2. Life of another at risk

17% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

1. Deadlines

30% of respondents say this is a leading contributor to workplace stress.

For the full CareerCast report, click here.

SOURCE: Otto, N. (5 May 2017) "11 top workplace stressors" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/slideshow/11-top-workplace-stressors?tag=00000151-16d0-def7-a1db-97f03af00000


It’s peak flu season. Here’s what employers should do now

Even though many businesses offer paid sick leave as a benefit to their employees, there is no federal paid sick leave law. Read this blog post to learn what proactive steps employers can take to keep the workplace healthy.


The U.S. is in the height of flu season, which means employers are likely to see an influx of employees coughing, sneezing and spreading germs in the office. Aside from passing a box of tissues, employers may be wondering what they are legally permitted to do when their workers get sick.

One benefit that is becoming increasingly relevant is paid sick leave. Several cities and states — including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Chicago and others — have paid sick leave laws on the books. But while many companies offer paid sick leave as a benefit, there is no federal paid sick leave law. Paid sick leave laws may remove some incentive for sick workers to report to work, making the illness less likely to spread to the rest of the workforce.

But paid sick leave laws do place limitations on employers. For example, companies cannot make taking a paid sick leave day contingent upon the employee finding someone to cover their shift. Depending on the law, employees don’t always need to give notice of their absence before their shift begins, which could make scheduling difficult. Some laws limit an employer’s ability to ask for a doctor’s note.

Employers do, however, have some latitude when it comes to requiring employees to stay home from work or sending them home if they show signs of illness. Employers just need to be careful not to cross any lines set by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act or a state fair employment statute. This means steering clear of conducting medical examinations or making a disability-related inquiry.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers should avoid taking an employee’s temperature. This is considered a medical examination by an employer, which is generally prohibited except in limited circumstances.

They should also avoid asking employees to disclose whether they have a medical condition that could make them especially vulnerable to complications from influenza or other common illnesses. Doing so would likely violate the ADA or state laws, even if the employer is asking with the best of intentions. Employers also cannot require workers to get a flu shot, according to the EEOC.

Employees could have a disability that prevents them from taking the influenza vaccine, which could compel them to disclose an underlying medical condition to their employer to avoid taking the shot. Additionally, some employees may observe religious practices that would prevent them from taking the flu vaccines. Thus, requiring an employee to take a vaccine could lead to a violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 in addition to the ADA.

Beyond these limitations, employers can take these proactive steps to keep the workplace healthy.

Ask employees if they are symptomatic. In determining who should go home or not report to work, employers may ask workers if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. This would not rise to the level of a medical exam or a disability-related inquiry, according to the EEOC.

Advise workers to go home. Employers can order an employee to go home if they are showing signs of the flu. The EEOC says that advising such workers to go home is not a disability-related action if the illness is like seasonal influenza.

Encourage workers to telecommute as an infection-control strategy. But keep in mind that the company could be establishing a precedent for telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation in other circumstances, such as for an employee recovering from major surgery who cannot come to the workplace.

Encourage flu shots. Employers may encourage — but not require — employees to get flu shots. For example, a company can invite a healthcare professional to the workplace to administer flu shots at a discounted rate or free.

Employers may require its employees to adopt certain infection-control strategies, such as regular hand washing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, proper tissue usage and disposal, and even wearing a mask.

The ADA, Title VII, state fair employment laws and paid sick leave statutes are also incredibly nuanced. Moreover, it’s important to balance the mandates of OSHA, which require employers to maintain a safe working environment. Before taking any significant actions, employers should consult with an employment attorney or HR professional for guidance.

SOURCE: Starkman, J.; Dominguez, R. (4 December 2018) "It’s peak flu season. Here’s what employers should do now" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/its-peak-flu-season-heres-what-employers-should-do-now?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Peer Support Strengthens Mental Health Offerings

Peer-support programs serve as an outreach for employees who are struggling with mental and emotional health problems. Read on to learn more about peer-support groups.


In workplace peer-support programs, employees are encouraged to talk to their co-workers before personal issues cascade out of control.

In peer support, employees who have experienced mental and emotional health challenges and learned to manage them help co-workers who are facing similar issues. It isn't meant to replace professional therapy but instead serves as an outreach to those who are struggling. Peers let their co-workers know they're not alone in dealing with mental and emotional health problems and encourage them to take advantage of counseling through an employee assistance program (EAP). Peers also provide ongoing support as employees work to resolve addiction, depression and other issues.

That's good for employees and good for the company, said Mike Weiner, EAP director for global consultancy EY, where peer counseling has proved successful. "It means people are more comfortable getting the care they perhaps had been uncomfortable reaching out for previously."

Two years ago, when the company introduced the peer-support program, it hoped for "a boost in people calling the employee assistance program to get support, and that's exactly what has happened," Weiner said.

EY is not alone. Other companies are creating peer-support systems for their workers.

"We have increased our EAP utilization and have decreased our sick leave, both short and long-term, related to mental health cases," said Lyne Wilson, assistant vice president for talent management at Nav Canada, a not-for-profit corporation that runs Canada's civil air navigation system. "There are employees who are at work today who [otherwise] would have gone out on sick leave, and we were able to prevent that."

Another Source of Support

Stéphane Grenier had served in the Canadian army for 29 years and was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression when a colleague's offer to talk opened the floodgates of inspiration. Grenier is the founder of Ottawa, Ontario-based consultancy Mental Health Innovations (MHI) and a past member of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Peer support at the worksite can help with issues that are no less debilitating just because they're common. "When you are getting a divorce, you are struggling emotionally. That is a mental health challenge," Grenier said.

As helpful as peer support can be, however, it should be considered part of an overall mental health benefits package that includes clinical expertise, he pointed out.

In the past two decades, large employers in the United States and Canada have "availed themselves of good employee assistance programs," Grenier said. Peer support "fast-tracks employees into the hands of care providers when they need it to ensure they get the best support available."

The problem is, he added, "people do not recover in their clinicians' office." In addition to health care and counseling with a professional therapist, "the third leg is to actually support people through the recovery process."

Nav Canada, an MHI client, launched a peer-support program called Light the Way in 2012. EY began its program, originally called r u ok?, in 2016. Other organizations contemplating peer support might look to these employers and their programs for best practices.

A Wider Scope

About a year ago, EY expanded its peer-support program beyond addiction and clinically designated mental illness (such as depression and anxiety) to cover emotional challenges, and it rebranded the program as We Care, Weiner said.

"We saw the rebranding as an opportunity to broaden the scope, and so we talk about issues like sleep, relationships and challenges that come up in the workplace," Weiner said the effort led to a 45 percent increase in calls to the EAP.

"That's a good thing," he said. "It doesn't mean there are more issues; it means people are more comfortable getting care."

Employers can customize the peer-support approach to fit their culture. In Nav Canada's case, trained employees who have gone through similar challenges provide support either in person or through a variety of communication technologies, Wilson said. The Nav Canada intranet includes contact and biographical information on each of the company's peer supporters.

"The description of their experience is written in their own words―whether they went through a marriage breakdown, child custody issues or whatever they dealt with," Wilson noted. "They struggled through that period of time, but they made it through and things are better for them."

Someone going through something similar can text or e-mail a supporter or, if they are in the same building, "just talk over coffee, and the peer supporter may just listen or may refer them to the EAP or a clinical professional, depending on the situation," Wilson explained.

At EY, employees companywide are trained to recognize when a colleague might be dealing with an emotional or mental health issue, and they are encouraged to act, such as by telling the colleague how the EAP can help, Weiner said.

He recognized that some might regard such action as "intrusive" and emphasized that peer supporters are instructed to be respectful.

Nav Canada convenes its 50 peer-support volunteers, divided into seven regions nationwide, at its Cornwall, Ontario, training center for a couple days every year to teach effective ways to reach out to colleagues and what is and isn't appropriate.

Worth the Cost

Annual costs for a company of 2,000 to contract with MHI to launch a peer-support program amounts to "a middle manager's salary," Grenier said.

Calculating whether a peer-support program is worth the cost is not an easy dollars-and-cents equation, however.

"I know [return on investment] comes up," Weiner said. "What's most important to me is that people are using the services. If people are getting help through the employee assistance program, that means they are getting help proactively before there is a very serious issue."

"You don't know what you're preventing," Wilson said. "It is an investment in creating a healthy [and] an engaged workforce."

"Anyone can implement this kind of program," Weiner added. "This is all on a voluntary basis; employees do this because they want to. The size of the program may be smaller at a smaller company, but anyone can do it."

SOURCE: Goth, G. (29 November 2018) "Peer Support Strengthens Mental Health Offerings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/peer-support-strengthens-mental-health-offerings.aspx/


4 trends in employee wellness programs for 2019

According to a white paper by MediKeeper, employee wellness programs will be impacted by intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics. Continue reading to learn more.


Employee wellness programs will likely be transformed in the coming year by intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics, according to MediKeeper’s white paper, “Four Emerging Employee Wellness Trends for 2019.”

“Embracing change and knowing what organizations need to keep driving wellness offerings forward in the next few years will help them lay the groundwork for building stronger employee wellness programs and increasing employee engagement,” says MediKeeper’s CEO David Ashworth. “With health care costs on the rise, companies that pay attention to these key trends will have the greatest success investing in their employees’ overall well-being.”

Intelligent Personalization

Intelligent personalization allows companies to make more informed decisions based on understanding risks and their causes and identifying what is driving present and future cost, according to the white paper.

“Every person is different, so it only makes sense that everyone’s wellness portal experience should also be different — this includes personalization, targeted messages and offerings.,” the authors write. “Adding business intelligence/data mining capabilities delivers the ability to take data captured within the portal, manipulate it, segment it and merge with other sets of data to perform complex associations all within each population groups’ administration portal will be the key to truly managing the population’s health.”

Social Recognition

In the coming year, workplace wellness programs will also implement a multitude of ways to include social recognition that fosters a team-oriented atmosphere intended to encourage people to perform to the best of their abilities, according to the white paper.

“Through social recognition, which can include posting, sharing, commenting and other virtual interactions, employees can help motivate each other to reach their goals,” the authors write. “These interactions foster both a competitive and team-oriented atmosphere that encourages people to perform to the best of their abilities.”

In addition to support from coworkers, managers can also promote their employees’ achievements by offering praise in an online public forum or even further boost morale by handing out incentive points that can be redeemed for tangible rewards.

Virtual Wellness Programming

In 2019, the importance of offering virtual wellness programming will grow as more employees work remotely or set flexible hours, according to the white paper.

“Since employees may work variable hours or work in several locations around the world, it simply doesn’t make sense to solely rely on lunchtime health seminars that may not be accessible to much of the workforce,” the authors write. “Instead of providing physical classes, consider hosting virtual programs that can be viewed at any time or any place. By making your wellness program available online, you’re able to reach a broader audience and make more of an impact within the entire working population.”

Smarter Analytics

Smarter analytics will also be at the forefront in 2019, according to the white paper.

“Now you can generate reports targeted specifically to the information that you are seeking, as well as layering various reports including biometrics, incentives, health risk assessments and challenges, to see what is working and what is not,” the authors write. “You can use these results to inform and better customize the intelligent personalization side of your wellness program. You’ll also be able to send messages from the reports, making them actionable instead of just informative.”

As employers continue to evaluate the effectiveness of their wellness programs, they should keep these four emerging trends in mind in order to ensure that their business is providing all the tools necessary to keep their employees both happy and healthy, according to the white paper.

“Remember that just because you’ve seen success in the past, you can’t just sit back and relax now,” the authors write. “Continual advances in wellness technology mean that you need to stay on top of the trends and adjust frequently in order to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive workplace environment.”

SOURCE: Kuehner-Hebert, K. (28 November 2018) "4 trends in employee wellness programs for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/28/4-trends-in-employee-wellness-programs-for-2019/