How to Make a Flu Season Contingency Plan

By Lisa Evans

This year's flu season is hitting the U.S. harder than normal. All those coughs and sneezes could put the brakes on your company's productivity. According to the Center for the Disease Control (CDC), up to 20 percent of Americans contract the flu virus each year, and it's likely to be more this season.

Failure to prepare your company for the flu season can result in missed deadlines and lost opportunities. Nim Traeger, vice president of casualty services risk control at Travelers Insurance, says crafting a contingency plan to deal with the flu is the best way to minimize the impact of illness on your company’s bottom line. Here are her suggestions:

1. Evaluate employee roles. "Managing the human resource element of a contingency plan is critical [in preparing your company for dealing with the flu]," says Traeger. Examine your critical operations and the individuals who perform them and discuss how to build contingencies around how these tasks could get done in the event that someone is away sick.

2. Host a flu awareness campaign. According to the CDC, flu viruses spread in respiratory droplets through person-to-person contact. Viruses can be spread one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming infected, meaning you can pass the flu to someone even before you know you're sick. Make sure all employees are educated on how to avoid spreading the flu.

Related: What the Flu Is Costing You (Infographic)

"Remind [employees] to have proper coughing etiquette," says Traeger. Coughing or sneezing into your arm or sleeve will significantly reduce the spread of viral droplets. Encourage employees to wash their hands regularly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand gel. "The flu virus can survive on surfaces for several hours, so it's important to take precautions and keep common areas clean," says Traeger. If you haven’t received a flu shot, it’s still not too late. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the influenza virus. And make a plan for next year to ensure all employees have access to the flu shot pre-flu season, generally starting in October.

3. Use technology to minimize gatherings. Encourage employees to keep germs at home. Audio and video conferencing is a great way to conduct business without physical contact. Closed conference rooms can be a breeding ground for germs, especially if one or two employees are already infected. Provide options for sick employees to contribute from home. "Being able to work remotely is a contingency plan benefit that goes past the flu season," says Traeger. Giving employees the option to work from home when their children are sick or on holidays can help ensure employees take less time off from work.

Five trends in wellness incentives for 2013

By Mark Hall

Five trends in wellness incentives for 2013

Employers want return of investment for their wellness programs. They want to know what incentive dollars are really being used for. Here are five trends to look for in wellness incentives in 2013.

1. Personalization of incentives

The idea of incentivizing people to participate in wellness programs is one of the few to be embraced with equal enthusiasm across the board.

While the concept held enough innovation and promise to spur health plans and employers to spend over $60 billion last year to motivate consumers to engage in health, incentives have often been primitive in execution. Incentive dollars flow to plan members as reward or encouragement for healthy behaviors, but what consumers do with that money has until now been largely a mystery to employers and health insurers.

A 2009 survey conducted by MasterCard and Harris Interactive found 61% of employees participate in a wellness program if incentives are offered versus only 26% when there is no added incentive. Additionally, 25% of employees reported that being incentivized was actually the driver and the very reason they agreed to enroll in a wellness program at all.

Instead, the answer is to better tailor the incentives to fit the person, and to provide incentives that motivate while driving program ROI. A recent study from the Journal of Economic Psychology shows consumers prefer to be incentivized with cash. Yet the utility of cash (even cash rebated to a paycheck) leads many to decisions that fail to drive long-term engagement, satisfaction and ultimately outcomes.

2. Incentives tailored around health related products and services

Health incentives need to focus on an emotional affinity felt by participants toward earned rewards—a paradigm that has the potential to create the initial embrace of health behavior change and perpetuate it. Yet, today’s healthcare dollars are stretched thin, and employers want to make sure every dime spent on health and wellness programs is targeted to accomplish health goals. They have increasingly offered discounts to fitness clubs, healthy foods, supplements and Weight Watchers as incentives.

3.  New focus on analytics

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) increases the cap on wellness incentives—now at 20% of an employee’s total health insurance premium cost—to 30% and then 50% by 2014. This provides an opportunity to create an incentive program with influence.

Yet as increasing dollar amounts are being driven towards wellness/incentive programs; understanding exactly how funds are being spent; what they are being spent on; and how the actual spending is impacting outcomes and ROI will be critical to understanding the overall impact and success of wellness incentive programs. To that end, rich new data sets being driven by innovation in payments technology will play a key role over the next 18 to 24 months in determining how funds can better be allocated within programs to achieve results.

4.  Deeper integration of wellness incentives into overall care continuum

Through a richer data set of spend analytics tied back into larger Big Data initiatives focused on efficient healthcare dollar allocation, the role of wellness incentives, their impact on behavioral economics, and ultimately their importance within the overall care continuum will be far better understood. Health plans and employers will increasingly have the ability to design and integrate highly targeted incentive dollar programs to reduce costs, and improve outcomes.

5.  Continued focus on gamification

The recent gamification of wellness programs, employee challenges and the role that both competition and fun in wellness program engagement will continue, as these wellness tools have proven successful in driving initial and—in many cases—longer term engagement and results. That said, there will be an increased focus in 2013 on the actual currency being offered as rewards.

According to a March 2012 study by Fidelity and the National Business Group on Health, employers on average are spending a $169 per-employee per-year on wellness platforms. Yet they are spending nearly three times that on the actual incentive, or $460 per-employee per-year. The incentive dollars represent the single greatest investment into wellness programs. Until now, these dollars have been limited in their ability to be tangibly measured and evaluated for their effectiveness. This will be a critical area of change in 2013, and one that will fundamentally shift how actual incentive dollars are perceived and utilized across all aspects of healthcare to drive cost reduction.

Large gaps seen in health perceptions vs. reality

By Tristan Lejeune

A new survey from Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company indicates that many American workers and their families — even those who know what it takes to get and stay healthy — have inaccurate perceptions about their own weight, condition and the cost of their health care. The survey results, released this month by Aon Hewitt, further indicate satisfaction and claims of positive behavior changes associated with participation in consumer-driven health plans.

More than 2,800 employees and their dependents covered by employer-sponsored health plans were surveyed about their thoughts, attitudes and behaviors toward health and wellness. Eighty-seven percent of respondents reported being in good health, yet more than half of those (53%) gave height and weight combinations that categorize them as having a body mass index in the overweight or obese categories. Only 23% of all respondents believe they are actually overweight or obese, when in reality that number is 34%.

“Employees want to be healthy, but many have an overly rosy perception of their health and may not see an urgent need to take action,” says Joann Hall Swenson, Aon Hewitt’s health engagement leader. “For others, the activities and stresses of daily life take priority over good health, and many consumers are unwilling to make sacrifices to improve their health.”

She says employers need to offer workers and their families “the necessary tools and resources that give them a realistic picture of their health,” then follow up by encouraging healthy decision making.

Consumers’ incorrect perceptions extend to cost, the survey finds. Total health care costs per employee were $10,522 last year, according to an analysis, of which employers paid $8,318. When asked, however, how much of their bill their employer pays, the average respondent guessed around half that amount.

“These survey results,” says Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, “underscore the challenges employers face as they seek to engage employees and their families in health improvement as a means to better managing rising health care costs. It is critical for employers to bridge the knowledge gap evident in this survey.”

It seems one way to do that is by offering a consumer-driven health plan, the survey reveals, as 60% of those in a CDHP say they have made positive behavior changes in regards to their health, including more preventive care (28%), seeking lower-cost options (23%) and more frequent research of health costs (19%). In addition, 63% of respondents say they would complete a health risk questionnaire for a monetary reward, and just under that would engage in a healthy eating or weight management program.

“Consumers are looking for solutions that address their specific health needs and concerns,” says Christine Baskin, senior vice president at the Futures Company. “Tailored, targeted feedback such as that given in the HRQ process, along with understanding individual consumer's attitudes towards health, are essential ingredients to having employees take actions to improve their health and their lifestyle.”

Let’s Go Wellness

Most business leaders (87 percent) see value in worksite wellness programs, according to a recent online survey of HR leaders. Seventy-four percent of polled executives said they would be open to sharing ideas with other business leaders in their community to come up with unique and effective wellness initiatives, the report said.

Bad Flu

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is predicting a particularly nasty flu season this winter. Health officials detected a jump in influenza cases in five Southern states in early December. Luckily, people seem to be better prepared this season, with more than a third of Americans already being vaccinated, CDC officials said

How Ergonomics Can Save You Money


By Chris Kilbourne

More companies are beginning to view ergonomics as an overall business tool. And they’re saving money.

According to veteran ergonomics consultant Dan MacLeod, the value of ergonomics is often underrated—especially when budget time rolls around. Macleod, however, has catalogued many ways ergonomics can save money.

  • Dramatic reduction in workers' compensation costs. Good ergonomics programs cut comp costs an average of 60 percent and up to 90 percent in some cases.
  • Improved productivity. According to MacLeod, ergonomic improvements commonly raise productivity by 10 to 15 percent.
  • Fewer mistakes and less scrap. People working in awkward and uncomfortable postures commonly make mistakes. At one business, a $400 mechanical device eliminated a $6,000 annual loss in scrap caused by employees who had been unable to consistently perform a demanding physical task. The return on investment was 1500 percent!
  • Improved efficiency. Ergonomics improves efficiency due to improved working posture, less exertion, fewer motions, and better heights and reaches.
  • Less fatigue. Fatigue has long been known to result in lost productivity. Ergonomics specialists seek the causes of excessive fatigue and ways to reduce or eliminate them.
  • Reduced maintenance downtime. For example, providing clearance, reducing exertion, and reducing motions can speed up the time in which operations can be brought back online.
  • Protecting human resources. Loss of key personnel due to ergonomics injuries can be a costly problem, especially in smaller organizations.
  • Identifying waste. By evaluating elements such as motion and exertion, it is possible to identify and eliminate wasted activity.
  • Offsetting the limitations of an aging workforce. Making ergonomic adaptations can help older workers be as productive as younger ones, if not more so.
  • Reduced turnover. Employees working in uncomfortable environments that cause them pain are more likely to seek other employment and leave.
  • Reduced absenteeism. Absenteeism can be an indicator of the early stages of a musculoskeletal disorder. "Work that hurts doesn’t exactly encourage people to come in every day," says MacLeod.
  • Improved morale. Frustration, aches, and pains caused by ergonomic problems are likely to affect morale—and not in a good way!
  • More engaged employees. Ergonomic improvements directly benefit employees, and this serves as a positive reinforcement for participation.
  • Improved labor relations. Ergonomic issues can be a source of positive labor/management problem solving. This collaboration can extend to other aspects of the work environment.
  • Resurgence of "methods engineering." Methods engineering is an old business efficiency technique that seeks to reduce costs and optimize reliability by analyzing task performance. Ergonomics brings these ideas back in a valuable "new and improved" format, says MacLeod.
  • Linking to LEAN. Ergonomics, with its emphasis on waste reduction, can help businesses advance their LEAN programs.
  • Keep regulators at bay. OSHA has issued some historically high fines for ergonomics violations.


MacLeod adds that humans have been "doing ergonomics" for thousands of years. It's a proven practice. He points to examples such as the stone ax and the wheel.

In addition, ergonomics can provide valuable insights that can lead to other improvements. Any new perspective in the workplace helps leaders identify ways to improve and motivates them to make improvements that result in higher profits.


Help Protect Employees from the Dangerous Influenza Outbreak

Throughout the country, cities and states are reporting a surge in flu cases and even some flu-related deaths. Zurich risk specialists conclude that "the current influenza season is the most widespread since the H1N1 pandemic of 2009-2010."

To help your employees protect themselves and minimize impact to business continuity, please share the information below, from Zurich:

"Influenza Outbreak: What your business should be doing"

"Cleaning and disinfection plans during an influenza outbreak"

Recommended guidance includes good health habits for employees and critical high-traffic areas to clean and disinfect.

With the flu epidemic in full swing, it is important to equip businesses with all the means necessary to help protect themselves and their employees.  A healthy workforce is always the basis for strong results and business continuity.

Please share this information and knowledge with your employees. We wish you all well, and hope this outbreak has not touched you personally.

Study: Families Try to Eat Healthy

By Marlina Pesce | February 1, 2012

A new study reveals that low-income families cook dinner at home five nights not only do so to save money but also to eat healthier.

Released by Share Our Stregnth’s Cooking Matters with support from the ConAgra Foods Foundation, the study shows that 85 percent of family respondents said eating healthy is important.

“It’s clear that even families with limited resources are making healthy eating a priority, but there’s a gap between their healthy aspirations and their ability to put nourishing meals on the table most days,” said Janet McLaughlin, director of Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters.  “Simple strategies, like writing a grocery list or comparing unit prices at the store, can help narrow that gap.”

Eating well is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle, which can directly or indirectly lead to the difference between good health and lengthy hospital stays, doctor’s visits and prescription costs. This is why everyone, no matter what state of health they are currently in, is encouraged to have healthcare coverage of some kind or a health

Researchers See Real Worth in Wellness

Source: Crain's Detroit Business
[via AHIP Wellness SmartBrief]

By Jay Greene

Dee Edington is optimistic that companies are starting to understand the relationship between healthy employees and profitability.

“I am positive about wellness. Companies have been adopting it more the past couple years, and it has grown exponentially,” said Edington, director of the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center in Ann Arbor.

The UM health management center has been conducting research on wellness and preventive care programs for more than 25 years.

. . . When it comes to using wellness programs to improve worker productivity, companies can embark on two economic strategies, Edington said.

“There is the "do nothing' strategy. People will flow from high (health) risks to high costs,” he said. “The second is intervention to help people get healthy or help healthy people stay healthy.”

For the past 30 years there has been extensive research on the importance of exercise, good nutrition and wellness, Edington said.

“The data is out there, and we have tried some things, but not much has changed with disease states,” he said. “We don't have any fewer people with diabetes, we have more obese people, not fewer, and there are no more people exercising.”

But over the past few years, attitudes have been changing, he said.

Companies are starting to look for solutions to rising costs and ways to improve worker productivity.

“You can fix the person by changing (health behaviors), but you have to fix the environment first. Otherwise you are putting a changed person back in the same bad environment,” he said.

Changing the environment can be accomplished by adopting company-sponsored wellness programs. These programs help employees identify high-risk health behaviors by conducting health risk screening tests. The tests measure cholesterol, blood pressure, stress and signs of diabetes or other potential chronic diseases.

Some companies offer smoking cessation support, stress management, massages, yoga, health club memberships or nutritional services.

“Companies are the only entities, besides families, that benefit from changes in employee health. It is so important for corporations to lead this charge for a healthy workplace,” he said.

In his book, Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy, Edington lays out five steps that companies should take on the road to implementing a worksite wellness program.

They are: creating a vision for wellness by senior management; aligning the environment with the vision; training managers and setting health and performance goals; educating employees and rewarding them to encourage sustainability; and developing measurements for return on investment.

“Return on investment has not changed all that much,” Edington said. “We promise ROI, but it is very difficult and often overpromised and underdelivered.”

Edington said a realistic ROI on wellness programs is 1.6 percent to 1.9 percent, although some companies that have high participation rates can get up to 6 percent.

Obesity Poses Massive Problem for Employers

A recent study examining the impact of an obese workforce on companies provides new reasons for employers to consider taking steps to keep their employees fit and healthy.

A new Duke University analysis found that obesity costs U.S. employers a whopping $73.1 billion per year in health care costs and lost productivity, according to a report posted by ABC

Surprisingly, direct health care costs weren't the biggest loser for employers with an obese workforce. Obese employees' presenteeism -- defined as the productivity lost when sick employees try to work -accounted for the biggest drain on employers at $12.1 billion per year, the study found. In fact, the costs of presenteeism were nearly twice that of medical costs for employers, researchers said.

The study calculated that each male or female worker with a body mass index (BMI) higher than 40 (about 100 pounds overweight) cost employers $15,500 or $16,900, respectively.

Despite the growing problem of obesity, few Americans are choosing to improve their diet, according to a separate study published in The New York Times. After decades of eat-right campaigns by federal and state governments and stricter dietary guidelines, Americans are still snubbing their vegetables. Only 26 percent of the nation's adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, according to recent research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While these studies paint a bleak picture for America's workforce health, some companies are working hard to make a difference -- and save money -- with company-sponsored programs.

One example is IBM, which instituted a special 12-week program of health-promoting activities, according to a HealthDay report. The company offered $150 to participate in the program. But they didn't just try to recruit the employee. IBM worked to get entire families enrolled, which ultimately made a big difference in participation.

"Employers spend a lot of time thinking about how to get their employees healthy, and while the employee is an important factor, what about the family?" asked Dee Edington of the University of Michigan and an author of a study that analyzed IBM's efforts. "When you have a sick child, you also have a sick employee. So, if you're going to have a healthy culture, you need to think about having healthy families as well."

In IBM's program, families sat down, made decisions together and turned it into a family project, researchers said.

The result: More than 11,000 employees -- better than half of those that enrolled -- completed the program.

While the IBM case might not offer hard evidence that such programs save money, experts say any effort by employers to improve workforce health -- including focusing on obesity -- can make a positive difference.

"Some weight loss is likely to be associated with some health improvement. . . . It's a continuous scale of weight and health and dollars," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.