Sleep – Who Needs It?!

Think about young children out at a restaurant with their family way after their normal bedtime.  Maybe they’re on vacation or have been going all day, had to wait in line and, your luck, got the booth next to yours. They may be short tempered, ill-mannered, and obstinate – not the best dinner companions. But here’s the thing:  It’s probably not their fault. If they haven’t gotten enough sleep, they are tired and cranky. Lack of sleep throws off our chemical balance and deprives us of much-needed rest that allows us to cope, concentrate, solve problems, and function more effectively in interactive situations–like while playing, in school, and at work.

In March, we turn the clocks ahead an hour and look forward to enjoying the lengthening days and milder temperatures. If you have a dog or cat, you know they’re not happy about the time change – they expect breakfast and dinner on the schedule they’re used to. But besides upsetting our animals, the time change and loss of an hour adds to any sleep deprivation we may already be suffering and wreaks havoc with our internal clocks.

When we’re tired, we become irritable. Productivity, service, creativity, and quality of work often suffer. Being fatigued tests the patience of everyone around us, increases chances of accidents or mistakes, and aggravates chronic health conditions. It also reduces our natural immune system, making us more susceptible to illness.

Humans have a 24-hour internal clock called circadian rhythm that controls our eating and sleeping patterns, internal bodily functions and the timing of hormone secretions. We might have trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning if our internal clock gets out of sync with the external day-night cycle. This happens with multi-time-zone travel and is the basis for jet lag. With the daylight savings time shift, the external time has shifted while the internal clock has not, and even though it’s been weeks, there’s still a lag.

The more stable and consistent our circadian rhythm, the better our sleep. This cycle also may be altered by the timing of various factors including naps, bedtime, exercise, diet, and especially exposure to light.

Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene. After the age of 40, our sleep patterns change and we have many more nocturnal awakenings than in our younger years. These not only directly affect the quality of our sleep, but they also interact with any other condition that may cause arousals or awakenings, functioning like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bedtime. Chronic illness, changes of medications, and injuries also affect restlessness. But whatever the causes, the more times we awake at night, the more likely we will not feel refreshed and restored in the morning.

Additionally, psychological stressors like deadlines, exams, arguments, and job crises may prevent us from falling asleep or wake us from sleep throughout the night. It takes time to “turn off” all the noise from the day. If you work right up to the time you turn out the lights, are watching television, or are on your phone or laptop, you simply can’t just “flip a switch” and drop off to a blissful night’s sleep.

Steps for sleeping more peacefully

Millions of Americans suffer from fatigue caused by poor sleep habits. And while chemical imbalances and chronic conditions such as sleep apnea—where the body doesn’t get enough oxygen during sleep—can be affecting you, there are many simple solutions you can try before turning to medications or speaking with your doctor about a sleep study.

The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. It’s also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed—not too little, or too much. This may vary by individual. For example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed, but if they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to seven hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated.

Here are 10 good sleep hygiene practices to consider:

  • Avoid napping during the day. It can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half of your sleep cycle as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be practiced in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep; but avoid exercise close to bedtime.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep. Stay away from large meals, spicy foods which increase metabolism, sweets, or unhealthy snacking. And, remember, chocolate contains caffeine, though it has many helpful properties, as well.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, though try to avoid too much light exposure in the evening if you’ve been having trouble sleeping.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine and try to wake up at the same time every day.
  • Limit stimulating activities, electronic games, social networking, and TV shows before trying to go to sleep.
  • Don’t dwell on or bring your problems to bed, and try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations when it’s time to relax.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or work.
  • Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, and the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.

It’s easy to put off sleep, figuring we can catch up when there’s more time. But like taking our medications, eating nutritional meals and exercising regularly, getting the rest we need is important for our overall health and wellness and should be treated as a necessity, not a commodity.

Resolve to Establish a Wellness Champion

With the launch of each new year, health and wellness are on our minds, personally, just as organizations are concerned with the health and wellness of their bottom lines. Fortunately, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive — the link between employee wellness and organizational productivity, innovation, teamwork, quality and customer service has long been demonstrated. So as we do our 2014 planning, building in time for proactive health awareness should be part of our strategic thinking.

Organizations participating in CBIA’s Health Connections have access to online health and wellness resources, including this online monthly newsletter, Healthy Connections. But if you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to move past the lowest-hanging fruit and tackle the next simple step of appointing a Wellness Champion, someone from your organization who becomes your liaison to health and wellness information, encourages your staff to complete a simple, easy online healthcare assessment, and then participates in monthly outreach, promotes health education tools, and literally “champions” your internal health- and wellness-improvement efforts.

“When companies sign up for wellness benefits, they receive information on the role of the Wellness Champion, and then we help guide them, step by step, on duties and expectations,” explains Michelle Molyneux, insurance specialist, who oversees Healthy Connections for CBIA. “Our program is easy to implement and maintain, and beyond general support including regular emails and monthly updates, we offer a variety of financial incentives to encourage and reward participation.”

A website dedicated to health and wellness includes a dedicated portal for Wellness Champions, Molyneux says. It includes tips, best practices, access to workshops, and educational materials and videos on subjects ranging from smoking cessation and nutrition to exercise and fitness. Wellness Champions also see updates on how many employees in their companies have completed online healthcare assessments, a critical first step for designing a personal wellness program. Each employee receives a $50 Amazon gift card for completing the assessment, and each organization receives raffle “points” good toward a quarterly drawing for a $500 Amazon gift card. Additional raffle points are earned for completing online workshops and interactive educational materials.

“Wellness doesn’t have to be hard,” observes Molyneux. “Healthy habits come in many creative shapes and forms. The most important steps involve establishing a culture of wellness. Once you get started, you can take it in any direction that works for your organization or business.”

For more information on appointing a Wellness Champion, visit CbiaHealthyConnections.com, or contact Michelle Molyneux (860.244.1966; Michelle.Molyneux@cbia.com).

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Reducing Stress at Work

Last month was National Stress Awareness Month and we examined the impact of stress on employee wellness. This month we’ll address how to set up a roadmap for decreased stress in the workplace.

According to the 2013 Work and Well-Being Survey released in March by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Center for Organizational Excellence, more than one-third (35%) of American workers experience chronic work stress. The APA’s most recent Stress in America survey (released in February 2013) also found high levels of employee stress, with 65 percent of working Americans citing work as a significant source of stress, and 35 percent  reporting that they typically feel stressed during the workday.

According to the Work and WellBeing Survey, fewer than half of working Americans report that they receive adequate monetary compensation (46%). Of course, employers can’t be expected to arbitrarily increase employee compensation across the board and stay in business. But it’s critical to note that almost half of the employees surveyed (46%) talked about non-monetary compensation. Additionally, just 43 percent of employees say that recognition is based on fair and useful performance evaluation, and just over half (51%) say they feel valued at work. Besides feeling undervalued, employees also report feeling unheard: Less than half (47%) say their employer regularly seeks input from employees, and even fewer (37%) say the organization makes changes based on that feedback.

These numbers help put into perspective what organizational development experts see as an epidemic-level wave of unhappy employees. If you’re wondering what the impact of this unhappiness may be on your workplace, consider that stress at work manifests itself in increased absenteeism and presenteeism, lower productivity and increased service errors, and has a negative impact on safety, quality and teamwork.

Yet despite growing awareness of the importance of a healthy workplace, few employees say their organizations provide sufficient resources to help them manage stress (36%) and meet their mental health needs (44%). Just 42 percent of employees say that their organizations promote and support a healthy lifestyle, and only 36 percent report regularly participating in workplace health and wellness programs.

That sounds like a boatload of opportunity for savvy employers who want to do more to address workplace stress, but don’t want to spend a fortune.  People want to be heard and feel that their opinions count. They want to see an employer show an interest in them as human beings, and want to be recognized for their hard work, dedication and value. And since health is important to all of us, investing in health and wellness planning, and involving your workforce in both the planning and execution can result in a significant return on investment.

Taking time to ask employees what they think is important. That can be done informally at lunches, team meetings, small-group interactions, and one-on-one. There are a variety of inexpensive online tools available for surveying attitudes and communication, as well. But the easy steps, like building employees into planning and decision making is invaluable for improved execution and buy-in. And recognizing performance, personally and in front of the team, pays back in spades. Small gestures like gift certificates, comp time, and team lunches go a long way toward improving morale.

You can sponsor team walks and charity events, supplement fitness center fees, host on-site health screenings, and many other activities – the list of potential steps is long, as are the benefits. Additionally, if you haven’t yet, consider establishing a wellness champion and having your employees participate in a free, online health assessment. You can do this by joining CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

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Stress at Work: Recognizing and Understanding Symptoms

We all experience stress, in different ways and from different sources and it affects each of us differently. The common denominator, though, is that stress in the workplace manifests itself in increased absenteeism and presenteeism, lower productivity and increased service errors. Stress also has a negative impact on safety, quality and teamwork.

According to the 2013 Work and Well-Being Survey released in March by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Center for Organizational Excellence, more than one-third (35%) of American workers experience chronic work stress, with low salaries, lack of opportunities for advancement, and heavy workloads topping the list of contributing factors.

The online survey polled 1,501 adults in January 2013. The majority of those surveyed (53%) work at organizations with fewer than 500 employees, 37% at organizations employing fewer than 100. Thirty-one percent of respondents had frontline jobs, directly involved with the production of products or providing services such as sales, bookkeeping, and customer service. Twenty-nine percent had mid-level positions involving management and supervision or coordination of people or departments. Those with mid-level or senior positions but no management responsibilities comprised one-quarter of respondents, while 15% had upper-level positions, involving coordination of the organization, development of organizational plans/goals, and supervision of managers.

The APA’s most recent Stress in America survey (released in February 2013) also found high levels of employee stress, with 65% of working Americans citing work as a significant source of stress, and 35% reporting that they typically feel stressed during the workday.

Stress also is a contributor to high blood pressure and other diseases. When we’re frustrated, depressed, or under tremendous pressure at work or at home, we tend to eat poorly, not exercise and otherwise tax our bodies. Links have been established between stress and our body’s production of excess cholesterol. Stress also interferes with our normal sleep, which causes fatigue and makes us irritable and more susceptible to illness. When unchecked, stress interferes with our general quality of life, and can affect our relationships, productivity, customer service, safety and quality.

Why are we so stressed?

For starters, says the Work and Well-Being Survey, many workers don’t feel like they’re being paid enough or getting the recognition they deserve. Less than half of working Americans report that they receive adequate monetary compensation (46%) or non-monetary recognition (43%) for their contributions on the job. Additionally, just 43% of employees say that recognition is based on fair and useful performance evaluations. Just over half (51%) say they feel valued at work.

In addition to feeling undervalued, employees also report feeling unheard: Less than half (47%) say their employer regularly seeks input from employees, and even fewer (37%) say the organization makes changes based on that feedback.

On the heels of the recession, many employees also appear to feel stuck, with only 39% citing sufficient opportunities for internal career advancement.

Despite growing awareness of the importance of a healthy workplace, few employees say their organizations provide sufficient resources to help them manage stress (36%) and meet their mental health needs (44%). Just 42% of employees say that their organizations promote and support a healthy lifestyle, and only 36% report regularly participating in workplace health and wellness programs. “This isn’t just an HR or management issue,” says Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D., APA’s CEO, “The well-being of an organization’s workforce is a strategic business imperative that is linked to its performance and success.”

Also, despite many work-related advances for women, the workplace still doesn’t feel like a level playing field for many women who report feeling less valued than men (48%). Less than half of employed women (43%) say they receive adequate monetary compensation for their work, compared to 48% of employed men. Further, fewer employed women than men report that their employer provides sufficient opportunities for internal career advancement (35% versus 43%) or resources to help them manage stress (34% versus 38%). Though employed women are more likely than men to report having good mental health (86% versus 76%), more women say they typically feel tense or stressed out at work (37% versus 33%).

Employers can’t eliminate all the factors that cause their workers to feel stressed, but there are a number of items that can be addressed – and most of them are outlined in the issues described above. Next month, in the June issue of CBIA Healthy Connections, Wellness Matters will address how to set up a roadmap for decreased stress in the workplace.

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

The Price of Obesity in the Workplace

The increase in obesity rates in the United States is costing every employer — and every employee. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 36 percent of U.S. adults are obese (at least 20 percent above their ideal weight), and current estimates of the medical cost of adult obesity range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion annually — more than alcohol- and smoking-related costs combined.

A 2012 report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicts that if current obesity rates continue unabated, by 2030, 13 states could have adult obesity rates above 60 percent, 39 states above 50 percent, and all 50 states above 44 percent.

Obesity is closely linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain types of cancer, and other serious medical conditions. That represents significant costs to employers who provide health benefits to their employees and face ever-increasing health insurance premiums. In addition, all employers risk incurring obesity-related costs in the form of lower employee productivity, increased workers’ compensation claims, and other workplace issues.

Medical expenses for obese employees are estimated to be 42 percent higher than for those with a healthy weight, says the CDC. Costs related to medical expenses, however, don’t necessarily account for the lion’s share of the financial burden on employers.

A 2010 study by Duke University researchers found that obesity among full-time employees costs U.S. employers more than $73 billion per year. The investigation considered three factors in determining costs: employee medical expenditures; lost productivity on the job due to health problems (presenteeism); and absence from work (absenteeism). Presenteeism was found to account for most of the total cost — as much as 56 percent in the case of female employees and 68 percent in the case of male workers.

Additionally, a 2007 Duke University Medical Center analysis showed that obesity also drives up employers’ costs associated with workers’ compensation claims and the cost of workers’ compensation insurance, which all employers are required to carry. The study found that obese employees filed twice the number of workers’ comp claims and lost 13 times more work days from injuries and illness than did non-obese workers.

How employers can make a difference

Employers can help themselves and their employees by encouraging a culture of wellness from the top of the shop down.  The most effective solution is to provide economic and other incentives to those employees who show clear signs of improving their health via weight loss, maintaining a healthy weight, or participating in exercise programs.

Educating employees also plays a beneficial role in promoting healthy weight consciousness. This is especially important when you consider that individuals’ beliefs about the causes of obesity affect weight-loss success or failure.

Researchers found that whether a person believes obesity is caused by overeating or a lack of exercise can predict whether he or she will gain or lose weight. People who believe obesity is caused by diet will focus on consuming less food, while those who believe the cause is lack of exercise will work out more. The problem is that people tend to overestimate the number of calories burned during exercise and underestimate the number of calories in the food they eat.

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Building your wellness roadmap takes time, planning, and commitment

As a small business leader, you are constantly analyzing your benefits programs, taking into account growing healthcare expenditures and the personal health and wellness of your employees. To address this, you may have already taken the first step by joining a wellness program such as CBIA Healthy Connections. The program was designed with this key tenet in mind: To reduce costs, employees need to become engaged in both their healthcare spending and in reducing their health risks.

But remember, while one obvious goal of any wellness program is to reduce costs, it is not the primary message. Wellness is about people and improving their quality of life. Successful programs place heavy emphasis on personal outcomes. Employees benefit from access to fitness facilities, and access to healthcare education and information on topics ranging from stress management and exercise to healthy cooking. Employees also benefit from smoking-cessation courses and materials, and through an understanding of their own personal responsibility in ensuring their health and wellness.

When you integrate wellness and intervention programs, you have the opportunity to educate employees about how the connections between their healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices relate to their premiums and other healthcare costs. And these efforts also are rewarded through improved teamwork, increased productivity, fewer sick days, and enhanced quality and service.

How to get started

It’s already February, and if you’re like most of us, January just flew by. Blink and it will be summer. So, if you’re thinking of implementing a more proactive health and wellness program in 2013, you have to dig in now by identifying initial action steps, setting goals, and implementing your program.

A critical first step is to take advantage of interactive, online health and wellness programs. You’re at an advantage here because as a member of CBIA Health Connections, your company can join CBIA Healthy Connections for free! This program was developed to enhance the health and productivity of employees and support a more complete system of care.

Pulling together members of your team to discuss and build a road map, or plan, is the next step. What do you want to achieve? What is reasonable, given time, costs, the business you’re in and your culture? Will you shoot for the “low-hanging fruit,” or try to implement a more comprehensive program?  Once you’ve had these discussions, and have determined what you can reasonably achieve, you have to establish a timetable and a communication plan for building consensus, promoting action steps, and rewarding successes.

The next step is encouraging your team to complete the free, in-depth health assessment offered through CBIA Healthy Connections. This online assessment yields revealing, yet actionable information for the individual, and can be used to help guide the employee to programs and actions that will address his or her health needs. There’s also a popular incentive:  Each employee who completes an assessment receives a $50 Amazon gift card, and your company is automatically entered into a raffle for a $500 gift card.

Quality educational courses and materials, accessible fitness activities and effective communication are all core components of a successful wellness program. Employers must make the connections between medical costs, health risks and personal responsibility. The more we understand that health risks, many of which are modifiable, drive health utilization and cost, the more effective we can be in helping our employees adjust their behaviors and attitudes toward wellness.

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Give the Gift of Health and Wellness

As the year wraps up and you contemplate all the ways of thanking and giving back to your staff for their time, effort, hard work, and contributions to your organization’s success, don’t overlook the gifts of health and wellness. That doesn’t mean you have to cancel the office party or return the eggnog! But when it comes to long-term value, appreciation, positive morale and team building, demonstrating a proactive commitment to areas of your employees’ lives that matter outside of the office or workplace are priceless.

As wonderful as this time of year may be, the holidays are typically a time of overindulgence. We eat too much rich, fattening food, drink more alcoholic beverages than usual, don’t sleep or exercise enough, run around like fruitcakes, and generally wear ourselves out. We know this about ourselves, however, which is why many people make their year-end “resolutions” to eat less, sleep more and exercise regularly in the New Year. Savvy employers can play a role in helping their employees achieve these goals through encouragement, open communication, setting team goals, and offering rewards for healthy behaviors.

You can start by encouraging employees to complete an online personal healthcare assessment. Available for free as part of CBIA Healthy Connections, these assessments are simple screening tools that don’t involve any testing or medical intervention, and help people set benchmarks and identify wellness and health items they’d like to improve. Based on their assessment, people can set goals and determine steps for improving key health items like reducing weight, eliminating smoking, exercising more regularly, improving their diets, reducing stress, and more.

Depending on staff size and location, you can consider having healthcare screenings done onsite for verifying cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and related key indicators. You also can encourage your staff to set goals publicly among the team, then work together to achieve those goals. This could be through fitness center memberships, exercise classes, dance, yoga and a variety of recreation activities.

Altruism and volunteering are also valuable contributors to emotional health and wellbeing and to physical health as well. Supporting your employees’ efforts to donate time, money, and work for causes they believe in will help them feel better about themselves, help the community, and benefit everyone involved. That also benefits your company’s bottom line through enhanced morale, productivity, and teamwork. So, as the advertisements say, “give the gift that keeps on giving” by becoming actively involved in employee health and wellness.

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To enjoy the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Why bother investing in prevention?

Employers face a variety of costs related to their employees. If you’re already providing health benefits, giving your staff a safe work environment, and underwriting paid vacations and sick days, why do more? After all, people manage their lives outside of the workplace every day. So what’s an employers’ return on investing in prevention?

Every day, we take steps to prevent unwanted events from happening. We brush our teeth and take vitamins. We wear helmets when we ride our bikes, safety glasses on the job, or protective gear in contact sports. Even our lawnmowers and tools have safety devices to limit our chances of hurting ourselves. Of course, accidents still happen. People who brush their teeth can still get cavities. People who always wear their seat belts may still get hurt in a car crash. The best we can do is to reduce the odds these events will happen by improving the chances for a good outcome.

When talking about cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases, the same concept applies. Prevention mainly refers to lowering the risk of getting a disease rather than completely removing the risk. There always will be elements outside of our control, and there are many behaviors or realities we can’t prevent.

If you’re an employer, the health and wellness of your employees is and should remain of concern to you on a number of levels. The stronger, more vibrant and happier your workforce, the better their productivity and morale. Healthy employees take fewer sick days, are more “present” at their jobs, and provide better service to your customers. So, what can you do to help keep them healthy and well?

Making a difference

Humans, by and large, are pleasure driven, well-intentioned, convenience-dependent creatures. We eat what tastes good, drive when we can walk, sleep when we’re able, and create amazing tools and devices to make our lives faster, cheaper, and easier.

It’s hard to know who benefits from prevention. We know some behaviors can lower the risk of cancer, but we don’t know how great the benefit is for any one person. For example, non-smokers are much less likely to develop lung cancer compared to smokers. However, we do not know who prevents lung cancer by not smoking and who would have remained cancer-free even if they had smoked. Further, most smokers will never be diagnosed with lung cancer and some non-smokers will. So, taking steps to prevent cancer lowers risk, but it does not ensure a person never develops the disease.

Cancer, like many other chronic diseases, tends to be caused by a combination of factors. Some factors we may be able to control (like exercise and diet), some are out of our control (like age and genetics), and some are still unknown. Since many factors drive risk and we can change only a few of these, we cannot avoid some amount of risk.

But employers are leaders, and as such, we can lead our employees to better health by creating an environment and culture at work or outside of the office that educates, informs, accommodates, and rewards for healthier behaviors. We can provide easy online or onsite access to health assessments and screenings, underwrite gym memberships, support walking during breaks, sponsor bowling or softball teams, contribute toward charitable events like walkathons and 5K races, and much more. We can recognize and provide incentives, like time off, gift certificates and peer celebrations for our employees who set and achieve personal goals such as weight loss, smoking cessation and cholesterol reduction. And we can encourage our workers to get regular physical exams, mammograms, colonoscopies, and other preventative tests that help reduce long-term health risks.

Prevention is not an illusion. The disease process is very complex, so it’s hard to pin down how a certain set of risk factors will affect a person. But the good news is that many behaviors that comprise a healthier lifestyle are under our control. Making healthy choices offers rewards far beyond disease prevention, and leaders can set the bar higher for their employees and help them achieve those benefits.

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To enjoy the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Bringing the Family to Work

“It’s a Family Affair,” sang Sly and the Family Stone, and indeed it is.  An effective workplace functions like an extended family, and acknowledging and accommodating employees’ “real” families contributes significantly to employee satisfaction, quality, improved productivity, and enhanced customer service.

When employees take time off, whether planned or unplanned, to tend to sick family members or to pursue family oriented activities away from work, it can be inconvenient and disruptive, especially when you have a small staff. How companies handle those “normal” requests can make a world of difference in employee attitudes toward their employer.

There are two sides to this coin. As understanding as employers may appear regarding work/family balance, when we have an angry customer, deadline, or rush job on the line, we don’t want to work around personnel shortages. Planned absences are more easily managed, but unplanned time, such as when an employee gets sick or has to take care of someone else who is sick, can be a real pain.

For their part, employees typically understand that being away from work or the office may put pressure on others to fill gaps. We don’t want to leave our teammates in the lurch, and being away can make preparing for the time off or the return more challenging. But life calls, and taking breaks from work, whether planned or not, is healthy and important, especially since it helps strengthen families and reduces stress, which makes the employee more appreciative of workplace accommodation and support.

Employers can help employees reduce unplanned time off through proactive wellness efforts that address healthy nutrition and diet, by encouraging and supporting exercise and fitness, by supporting smoking-cessation and general health improvement, and through a positive, accommodating attitude toward employees’ lives away from the office.

By providing health and wellness information and educational resources that encourage family awareness and participation, you can help your employees and their families set and achieve personal wellness goals. Employers also can sponsor activities outside of the workplace, such as wellness walks and runs, bicycling events, outings and other healthy activities that promote teamwork and include families.

Being actively aware of employees’ personal needs goes a long way toward improved morale, loyalty and productivity. For example, if your workplace can accommodate scheduling flexibility—such as letting an employee start a little later or leave a little earlier, or take time off during the day for medical appointments, workouts or other needs—it helps employees better manage their lives and meet their families’ needs. When employees can’t achieve balance in their lives or satisfy family obligations, it causes stress and resentment and can contribute to absenteeism or “presenteeism,” the word coined to reflect when employees come to work but aren’t able to pay attention or work effectively.

Additionally, establishing and communicating clear boundaries and expectations about time off is crucial. Productivity, safety and quality always will remain critical requirements, but they’re not just the company’s goals—every employee and his or her family can embrace them as well.

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To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Friendly challenges and incentives help drive wellness participation

It’s coming up on summer, when people are forced to look at their bodies in sleeveless shirts, shorts, and bathing suits. This is the perfect season (and a good internal marketing opportunity) to capitalize on normal worries over body shape and image by enhancing your employee wellness program participation through reminders, incentives, and team activities.

Most wellness programs ramp up in the winter, when people are forced indoors, holiday eating increases, and weight gain peaks. That’s when personal goals are often set, new-year resolutions made, and gym memberships soar. Now, six months later, people are emerging like butterflies from their cocoons, and they may not be happy with what they’re seeing. And even if they are, summer is a good time to reiterate your commitment to their health and wellness, and to parlay your interest in their wellbeing into visible action.

This would be a good time to review wellness program participation, to recognize goals achieved, and to encourage others to set their own or new goals. You can help through any of the following steps:

Offer a company-wide incentive for health assessment participation. When everyone participates in your wellness program, everyone benefits. Even though it’s an individual choice, you can encourage more involvement by rewarding the entire team when everyone completes their assessment. This can be through gift cards, a team meal, time off, or other incentives that work for you and your business.

Offer healthcare screenings.  You can bring healthcare screeners to your workplace, or encourage your employees to get screened on their own. Then consider having them compare notes and share their personal results, goals, and accomplishments. Having moral support at the workplace is invaluable, and it strengthens overall teamwork and morale.

Ask employees to talk about wellness efforts. Host a breakfast, lunch, or afternoon gathering (with healthy snacks, of course!) dedicated to your wellness efforts. Ask employees what’s working right about your program, and what could be done differently or better. Soliciting feedback and involving them directly in their own wellness planning allows you to learn what challenges they (and you) are facing in launching or maintaining a successful effort.

Host a “wellness picnic” or event. Chances are you’re going to do some kind of picnic or team outing before the summer’s over, so why not relate it to wellness? If you tie your activity to wellness, you can have themed events, offer healthy food and involve families in your employees’ personal wellness practices. It also shows that you are fully committed to this program. Let your employees plan the event, then you can pick up the check and be the hero.

Sponsor a walk for charity. There is no shortage of worthy causes, only a shortage of funding! So encourage your employees to choose a charity walk or run, build a team, and train for the event. You sponsor them, your company name gets on their tee-shirts, and they work together to improve their health, improve camaraderie, and support a good cause. The same thinking can be applied to softball, golf, or other physical activities.

Introduce a new wellness element. This might be a good time to offer an incentive such as partial reimbursement on health or fitness club membership, involvement in a smoking-cessation program, replacing candy, soda, and unhealthy snacks in vending machines with healthy snacks and drinks, etc. The point is to keep building momentum and to show you’re vested in your team’s wellness…just saying it isn’t enough.

As your company’s leader, it’s up to you to set a positive, energized wellness example, to offer meaningful incentives and opportunities, to encourage teamwork, and to reward effort. These actions will speak far louder than words throughout the year.

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!