Assessing Health and Wellness Activity

Three months into the new year, it’s easy for well-intentioned health commitments made in December to go south. It’s harder getting to the gym in the winter, comfort food may be beckoning during these cold, shorter days, and outdoor activities like running, bicycling, and hiking are far more difficult to complete.

Now is a good time to assess how effectively you and your team are using health and wellness tools. That includes those available to you through your health insurance provider and CBIA, and a variety of options you and your employees can embrace at your discretion.

Completing CBIA’s online healthcare assessment tool is an easy first step. Employers also can conduct their own health and wellness survey through a variety of media, including a written survey, using an online survey tool, or through small group or individual meetings. Discussions can focus on preferred health and wellness activities underway personally or through the workplace, or measure attitudes about the use of fitness facilities, tobacco-cessation plans, healthy vending machine options, nutrition, healthcare coaching and a variety of other subjects.

For example, when assessing topic areas, some possibilities might include the following areas of inquiry:

Health status:

  • Self-perceived general health status (i.e., poor to excellent)
  • Number of days per month impaired by poor physical/mental health
  • Specific questions about diseases or health conditions (e.g., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, stress)

Use of preventive health services:

  • Doctor visits (including an annual checkup)
  • Dental visits
  • Use of flu, pneumonia and shingles vaccines
  • Blood pressure and cholesterol checks
  • Colonoscopies, mammograms, and PAP smears

Health behaviors:

  • Tobacco use: Current smokers or other tobacco use, tobacco cessation goals
  • Diet and physical activity: Weight and height (to calculate Body Mass Index); self-perceptions of weight; fruit/vegetable consumption; activity level at work; recent moderate/vigorous activity outside of the job
  • Alcohol consumption: Drinks per week; drinks per sitting
  • Safety: Seatbelt and bicycle helmet use, ear and eye protection, etc.

Assessing current health status and health behaviors may point to opportunities for specific health-education programs. And completing a benchmark survey allows you to compare progress when you conduct follow-up surveys at set intervals. These can be conducted through the workplace, or online through a variety of employee healthcare information tools.

And when it comes to implementing health and wellness activities, some companies have gone the extra mile, inviting nutrition and fitness coaches to the office or workplace, holding onsite yoga, fitness and meditation classes, and encouraging employee participation through incentives and competitions.

Many employers form employee committees to oversee health and wellness programs, encourage participation and set and measure goals. When this outreach is peer driven, it tends to gather more steam and taps employee goodwill, enthusiasm and interest.

In the winter, team activities can include ice skating, sledding, downhill and cross-country skiing, and outdoor walks or hikes. Also, with spring right around the corner, so is the return of charity runs, walks and rides, and competitive team athletic activities like volleyball, softball and basketball. Encouraging and supporting team activities such as walks and sports builds morale, strengthens employee bonds and improves productivity. Employers can help their employees build personal health and wellness plans, check in to measure progress, or simply ensure that opportunities for staff wellness learning and exploration exist on a regular basis.


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!

Hear What Your Employees Are Saying… And What They’re Not

When employers think about employee health, good listening and the importance of soliciting feedback might not be at the top of their wellness list. But physicians have this figured out – they ask specific, diagnostically relevant questions, then listen carefully. They ask informed follow-up questions as part of their process for developing their diagnosis. And, if they’re doing their jobs well, they check in again with their patients in a short time to assess compliance and improvement, or to adjust actions accordingly.

Employers interested in improving communication, reducing workplace-related stress, improving teamwork and boosting morale also should be focused on feedback and listening carefully to their employees.

The importance of asking people their opinions, and actually listening to and responding to what they have to say is a basic tenet of good communication. But obtaining feedback is far more than simply listening to words. Humans are complex communicators, we use gestures, eye contact, body language and tone to express how we feel, so email or telephone conversations alone aren’t sufficient for accurately assessing employee sentiment.

People want to be heard and believed, to feel valued. Paying attention to that need is an opportunity to motivate and engage. Performance evaluations are one way to give and receive valuable feedback, but to be most effective, that process needs to be continuous, not simply an annual review – it should involve goal setting, constructive input, and ongoing check-ins to ensure professional development, measured improvement and for managing perceptions.

Creating teams to engage employees in decision making is an important tool for boosting participation. Decisions that can be shared help people feel more ownership; when their ideas and opinions are actually implemented, that translates into pride and enhanced involvement.

In a variety of workplace surveys, employees often list the willingness of their management team to listen and communicate candidly as important metrics, and teamwork and morale can be viewed as barometers of their willingness to remain at a company. Job satisfaction is as important, or often more important, then salary increases for many employees. They want to know that their opinions matter, and in companies that fail on that front, stress levels increase dramatically, which has a negative impact on productivity, quality, service and retention.

Open feedback also allows managers to improve their credibility – as leaders, mentors and coaches. It builds confidence and trust, benefits money can’t buy. And that’s good for everyone’s health.

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 Financial Stress: The Healthy Gift to Yourself in 2018

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who charged gifts or purchased items on store credit during the holiday season, the joy of giving is now being surpassed by the anxiety of coming up with the extra money to pay your bills. For many, one of the unwelcome “gifts” that follow the holiday season is increased financial stress of dealing with debt.

There’s an insidious nature to how we spend money, how we talk with our significant others about it, and the impact finances have on our mental and physical health. Worrying about money and debt causes increased anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, and stress that taxes our hearts, contributes to high blood pressure, aggravates stomach issues like acid reflux and ulcers, and can lead to strokes and heart disease.

Three out of four American families are in debt and the weight of all that anxiety can become more apparent in our performance in the workplace, as well. Whether it’s lack of sleep, irritability, lower productivity or increased absenteeism due to the side effects of stress and depression, money woes cost us professionally and personally across a wide spectrum. Unhealthy spending behaviors and debt are a major cause of relationship problems and often cited as a contributing factor in many divorces and breakups.

Coping through planning and daily focus

There’s a difference between active coping and comfort coping – some of us eat more, spend more, or devise short-term solutions. Instead we should be thinking about informed, collaborative planning and strategies for dealing with our money issues. Creating goals is important–working toward a home purchase, a special vacation, college, or retirement savings. We need a clear game plan and tools to help realize our dreams. So it’s important to think long term, but live with short-term daily strategies, as well.

Employers pay attention to the health and well-being of their employees, so why should employees’ financial health be any less important? Financial experts and coaches are available to come into the workplace for “lunch and learn” or after-work discussions, and employers can encourage employees to seek outside counseling and guidance.

Here are tips to share for improving financial health:

  • Make a budget. While it sounds simple, many people fail to truly organize their financial lives and understand what they bring in and what they can afford. Is it possible that you spend $25 a week on coffee? Sure it is – and that’s okay, if you can afford the extra hundred dollars a month. If you have a detailed budget and you stick to it, buying things during the day that make you happy is okay. If you can’t pay your bills, you may consider making your own coffee at home for a fraction of the price.
  • Track your expenses. Write it in a notebook, record it on your computer, or download one of the many spending applications like Mint or PocketGuard. Tracking what you spend is an important way to understanding your spending habits, course correcting, and establishing a realistic budget.
  • Avoid credit or use it wisely. Credit cards can be a good way to build your credit, but only if you use them infrequently and wisely. If you can afford something, buy it with cash or use a debit card. Use a credit card as a last resort for important purchases you don’t have the money for upfront, but be diligent about paying it off as quickly as possible to avoid exorbitant finance charges.
  • Talk to others about your financial concerns. Share your worries and issues with people close to you, especially your partner. The stigma and shame that accompanies money problems – and the weight of hiding those pressures – causes stress, anxiety and depression, as well. Good communication and honesty helps alleviate some of the stress and the sense of hopelessness that comes with every bill or debt collector’s call.
  • Consult a financial expert.You don’t need investment income to seek guidance from a financial planner or consultant. They can help you devise a savings strategy, prioritize your debt, build your budget, and plan for the future more effectively.
  • Refinance your debt. Consolidation loans with a lower monthly finance charge can help you rid yourself of credit cards. If you can, pay more than the minimum monthly payment and avoid missed payments.

There also are services available to help negotiate payment plans and for consolidating debt, but many of them charge a service fee for this assistance. Look for support groups, free counseling services, and programs such as Debtors Anonymous (DA), a confidential 12-step program available online and across the country, where people with debt or spending issues can come together to examine solutions to their money issues, and find fellowship and support.

Money challenges us all, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change. If we avoid being vague or frivolous about how, what, and when we spend, we can take a big step toward changing and improving our financial health, as well as our overall health and wellness.

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!

New Lung Cancer Screening Reduces Deaths Through Early Detection

New screening technologies are being used to help identify potential health issues earlier in patients who may be at risk of contracting certain cancers.

Symptoms of lung cancer usually don’t appear until the disease is already at an advanced, non-curable stage. Even if there are symptoms, many people may mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or long-term effects from smoking.

Screening is the use of tests or exams to find a disease in people who don’t have symptoms. Doctors have looked for many years for a good screening test for lung cancer, but only in recent years has research shown that a test known as a low-dose CT (LDCT) scan can help lower the risk of dying from this disease.

The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) was a large clinical trial that looked at using LDCT scans of the chest to screen for lung cancer. CT scans of the chest provide more detailed pictures than chest x-rays and are better at finding small abnormal areas in the lungs. Low-dose CT of the chest uses lower amounts of radiation than a standard chest CT and does not require the use of intravenous (IV) contrast dye. LDCTs expose people to a small amount of radiation with each test.

The trial compared LDCT of the chest to x-rays in people at high risk of lung cancer to see if these scans could help lower the risk of dying from lung cancer. The study included more than 50,000 people aged 55 to 74 who were current or former smokers and were in fairly good health. The study did not include people if they had a prior history of lung cancer or lung cancer symptoms, if they had part of a lung removed, if they needed to be on oxygen at home to help them breathe, or if they had other serious medical problems.

People in the study got either three LDCT scans or three chest x-rays, each a year apart, to look for abnormal areas in the lungs that might be cancer. After several years, the study found that people who got LDCT had a 20 percent lower chance of dying from lung cancer than those who got chest x-rays. They were also 7 percent less likely to die overall (from any cause) than those who got chest x-rays.

Screening with LDCT also had some downsides. For example, because it is more sensitive to abnormalities (as many as one in four tests) this may lead to additional tests such as other CT scans or more invasive tests such as needle biopsies or even surgery to remove a portion of lung in some people. These tests can sometimes lead to complications, even in people who do not have cancer (or who have very early stage cancer).

Guidelines for lung cancer screening

The cost for a low-dose CT scan as a screening test for lung cancer is generally about $300 for each test, but prices vary widely at different centers. Under the Affordable Care Act, most private insurers must cover the cost of yearly lung cancer screening in people considered at high risk: aged 55 to 80, with a 30 pack-year history of smoking, and either a current smoker or quit within the last 15 years. Medicare also covers the cost of lung cancer screening in people considered at high risk, although the age range is slightly different (55 to 77 years).

According to the American Cancer Society, people who meet all of the following criteria may be good candidates for lung cancer screening:

  • 55 to 74 years old
  • In fairly good health
  • Have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history
  • Are either still smoking or have quit smoking within the last 15 years

Screening should only be done at facilities that have the right type of CT scanner and experience using LDCT scans for lung cancer screening.

If you fit all of the criteria, you should talk to your doctor or health care provider about screening and if it’s right for you. If you smoke, you should consider counseling about stopping. Screening is not a good alternative to stopping smoking, but it’s one more way you can take a more active role in helping to prevent or potentially reduce the risk of contracting a serious disease like lung cancer.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Reducing Year-end Burnout

The end of each year, as well as the accompanying holidays, bring a multitude of gifts. While the holidays represent joy, gratitude and happiness for many people, they also are punctuated by a wide spectrum of emotional reactions including nostalgia, guilt, loneliness and, for many, sadness. These can become overwhelming and lead to depression, anxiety or illness.

The culmination of our business and calendar years increases pressure on us as we rush around trying to multitask, wrap up projects and budgets, deal with personal and family needs and prepare ourselves for the coming year. If money challenges are wearing on us, this time of year exacerbates financial woes, adding to stress and guilt. And if we’re alone, or missing people in our lives who have passed, moved away or otherwise departed, those feelings can come home to roost as the holidays rapidly approach.

It’s also a time of overindulgence, especially when it comes to eating and drinking. These activities, as wonderful as they are in moderation, may contribute to an unhealthy sense of self, which typically results in more unhealthy practices. Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully.

But it’s more than just overeating; exercise substantially reduces, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (approximately 60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

What we need is our own way to help reduce stress and disorganization, improve our focus, and slow down enough – in a short, manageable period – to regain our emotional and physical footing without losing traction or productivity. Some people hit the gym, run or take a walk; others go out to eat, read, nap, pray or call a friend. Many also find that the pursuit of mindfulness – the ability to slow ourselves down, focus and truly be present in the moment – can be enhanced through meditation or other relaxation activities.

Taking charge

Many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat or feel stressed during this season. Holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion and wintry weather can dampen the best of workout intentions. To make this holiday season a healthier one, it’s important to be conscious of what we’re eating, and to manage our stress and emotions.

  • Practice awareness.  It’s important to be conscious of what we eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats at the holidays but consider moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each dish instead of a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar, and preservatives. Remember, we don’t have to indulge every minute. We can allow some treats for those special days, and then get back into our healthy routines the next day.
  • Manage stress and emotions.  For some people it’s an abundance of friends and family coming out of the woodwork that has them down. In contrast, you may be alone, not have your family or friends nearby, and feel isolated. The holidays are very nostalgic, but for every good memory there also may be memories of family members and friends now deceased or living far away, and traditions no longer possible. Spending time with difficult family members, grieving the loss of a loved one, feeling pressure to give gifts when finances are tight, and loneliness can leave people feeling sad, angry, or even depressed. And these feelings are aggravated by the shorter, colder days and reduced sunlight.
  • Outreach and consistency are good. It’s always beneficial to try and continue our normal routines to help feel like we’re still in control. We can consciously try to not over-eat and make time for exercise and rest. Additionally, personal outreach, especially socializing and connecting with old friends and associates, is important for our emotional health. We humans are social creatures, and while digital outreach is valuable and sometimes our easiest option, the Internet tends to act as a buffer between us and real intimacy.
  • Dealing with the holiday blues. Though depression as the holidays near is common, there is a difference between the holiday blues, which are often temporary and go away once the season ends, and more serious conditions. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychological state that literally changes your biology and can cause or add to depression. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless and hopeless about changing their situation. If the holiday blues seem to linger or become more intense, seek help from a mental health professional.
  • Do your personal planning. This is the perfect time to assess what you did or didn’t accomplish in your personal health and wellness efforts, and to plan action for the coming year. Set simple goals, and commit to action. That choice is yours, and can involve joining a gym or fitness center, changing your eating habits, participating in organized athletic events, swimming, learning to meditate, reading more, or getting involved through volunteering or charity work. Telling a friend about your goals or enlisting someone to be a partner increases your chance of success, and is more fun.

This season certainly isn’t a time to be punishing yourself. No matter if you forget to follow the above advice, your healthy habits slip a little, or you do end up eating that extra pumpkin pie, cookies or cheesecake – this is a time to recognize how far you’ve come this year, to celebrate what you’ve achieved and to show your body and yourself the love and respect you deserve.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Wrap Up the Year With the Gift of Wellness

As the year winds down, it’s the perfect time to reflect on your 2017 health and wellness efforts, and to contemplate how you can do more in 2018. One of the best gifts employers can give themselves and their employees are gifts that “keep on giving,” such as improved long-term employee health, tools for reducing stress, and activities that will enhance teamwork, productivity and morale.

Helping employees meet individual or team goals through successful planning and execution, a sense of accomplishment, providing service, and feeling valued are indisputable contributors to success, retention, and service excellence. Additionally, generosity, giving, and awareness create a sense of increased goodwill and can increase the bond between employer and employee, and among staff.

By supporting employees’ interests in local or national organizations through donations, fund- raising activities and in-kind services, you help your staff achieve that valuable sense of accomplishment and caring that comes from generosity and giving to others.

Additionally, every month brings a variety of wellness, disease awareness and health-related special events, activities and recognition. These represent some of the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” for promoting, encouraging and rewarding employee workforce participation. And if you time your internal outreach to the wide variety of wellness material available online, through your healthcare insurance provider and from CBIA, you’ll find the resources and educational information robust and easily available.

Here are some simple ideas you can consider for a healthier new year:

  • Health and wellness planning:Host a planning session — led by employees or by an outside expert – where participants can talk about their personal health and wellness goals, and discuss possible group support, in-house challenges and activities.
  • Nutritional guidance: Ask a professional nutritionist or dietitian to meet with staff at a group lunch, or in one-on-one or small group meetings to talk about healthy eating, smart dieting and nutritional awareness.
  • Gym memberships:If you don’t already, consider offering an allowance to employees to use for purchasing a gym, yoga or fitness center membership, or consider bringing a fitness trainer or yoga instructor onsite.
  • Offer incentives:Some organizations incentivize employees by rewarding them for healthy activities such as setting and achieving personal wellness goals, or by completing wellness workshops and classes. Many companies also allow employees to take work time to visit their primary care physician for their annual physicals.
  • Community outreach: Building up morale in the company is a commonly overlooked wellness initiative, but the results are always positive. Lead this initiative by getting a team together for a charity event or race, volunteer, “adopt” a family or charity for the holidays, raise money as a team for gifts, match team and individual efforts, and encourage employees to donate food, time and services.
  • Stress relief: Studies show that a power nap or meditation increases alertness, memory and stamina. Some companies have designated an office or area where employees can reserve times during the day for relaxing, and forward-thinking organizations find ways to reward employees and help them “recharge” by allowing them much-needed “down time” that is customized to individual needs. Also consider inviting a yoga instructor or massage therapist to the workplace, and if possible, create a space for team instruction.
  • Teambuilding activities: Some companies sponsor art nights, onsite or at local art centers, where employees can paint, complete ceramics or pursue other artistic endeavors as a team. Charitable walks and runs, fitness competitions or bicycle rides, bowling or volleyball are other good team activities, as are skating, skiing and other outdoor recreational challenges that can be turned into team fun. Many companies also sponsor facilitated off-site retreats focused on team building, communication, planning and interpersonal development.
  • Smoking-cessation:A variety of free or inexpensive smoking cessation programs are available locally through the American Lung Association, hospitals and other sources.

Whatever you choose, remember that sometimes the best gifts can’t be wrapped!  Have a happy and healthy holiday season and year to come.

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!

ERs vs. Urgent Care Centers: Knowing the Difference Can Save a Bundle

When you are injured or sick enough to require emergency care, you don’t want the cost of that care to prevent you from seeking professional medical help. But there’s no ignoring the hefty price tag that accompanies a visit to a hospital emergency room. If it’s a true emergency requiring a call to 911, the ambulance crew aren’t going to ask about cost or insurance – they’re going to take you to the nearest or the most appropriate ER depending on your condition, especially if you may be having a heart attack, stroke or other medical event that renders you unresponsive, in shock or suffering from severe blood loss. But if the injury or illness you have experienced is not life threatening, your choice of service provider has a significant impact on the cost.

“Emergency care” is a broad term, ranging from serious injuries or life-threatening events toeye injuries, sprains, broken bones, earaches, sore throats, burns, fevers, infections, animal bites and much more. Deciding where to go can be confusing, and price shouldn’t deter you from seeking help. However, there are a wide variety of more affordable choices now available that offer different levels of emergency or “urgent” care that is sufficient for incidences that do not require emergency rooms, and won’t break the bank.

Knowing the difference is especially important. If you’re an employer, helping your employees choose the proper level of care will save you and them money. Copays and out-of-pocket costs for emergency room visits continue to rise in an effort to control costs. Dissuading patients from going to ERs when a walk-in clinic will do just fine is prudent and sensible. In fact, the next step in this cost-awareness evolution now being implemented by some health insurance carriers will be to penalize members who seek care at an ER when it is not medically necessary.

Protecting against unnecessary emergency medical costs

Ask your insurer for documentation on what your plan will and won’t cover if you or your employees need emergency care. For example, get clarity on your ER copay and coinsurance and on what the plan will cover if you’re not admitted. Your insurer can also tell you which area hospitals take your insurance. You also can then ask the billing department at your hospital of choice whether the ER doctors participate in your insurance plan. And because most insurers cover medically necessary ambulance rides, know how your plan defines that—typically, it means the patient is unconscious, bleeding heavily, or in severe pain.

But the biggest single step employees – patients – can take to reduce medical costs is to choose the right kind of medical care center for themselves and their children. While the emergency room can help care for any medical situation, it costs an average of three times more than a visit to an urgent-care center. In a non-life threatening situation, you can usually be treated at an urgent-care center effectively and far more quickly.

Walk-in urgent-care centers are typically staffed by at least one emergency medical physician, as well as physician assistants and advanced practice resident nurses. They handle non-life threatening situations, and many facilities have x-rays and labs onsite.

While hospital ERs are open 24/7, many urgent-care centers are open late and on weekends and holidays. Emergency rooms are meant for true medical emergencies and can handle trauma, diagnostic x-rays, surgical procedures and other life-threatening situations. In addition to the added cost, which averages approximately $2,300 according to industry data, the average wait at an ER is 4.5 hours. In comparison, the average cost of visiting an urgent-care center is $176, and waiting times are typically significantly shorter.

Visit an emergency room if you experience:

  • Allergic reactions to food, animal or bug bites
  • Broken bones
  • Chest pain
  • Constant vomiting
  • Continuous bleeding
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Deep wounds
  • Weakness or pain in a leg or arm
  • Head injuries
  • Unconsciousness

Visit an urgent-care center for these common conditions:

  • Flu and cold
  • Coughs and sore throat
  • High fevers
  • Ear aches and potential eye infections
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain
  • Cuts and severe scrapes
  • Minor broken bones such as fingers or toes
  • Minor injuries and burns

Getting the right care when needed always should be your priority. But with the plethora of urgent- and walk-in-care medical centers now available, making a wise and informed choice can save employees thousands of dollars and help stem the continuing rise in healthcare costs that affect all of us.


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!

Being Mindful is Good for Your Mind…and Body

If you’re one of the two out of 10 employed Americans who say they are NOT stressed at work, you may already be practicing mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques effectively, be one of those annoyingly happy people we all love to hate, be truly lucky, or maybe you just happened to be having a great day. Regardless, if you’re one of the eight out of 10 Americans who struggle with stress during the work day – as an employer or an employee – this article may help you.

Staying focused can be challenging. There’s just so much coming our way simultaneously and so many messages constantly bombarding us. Whether it’s people talking to us face-to-face or through technology, the assault on our senses is ongoing and distracting. And it’s hurting productivity, service, quality and our health.

We can only stand a certain amount of stimulation and distraction. Remaining focused on priority tasks and duties always is in conflict with reality. Whether it’s planned or unexpected meetings, calls, people showing up uninvited, customer demands, drop-everything rush projects – we’ve all been there. Finding ways to retain focus and concentration for increased productivity and quality is critical, as is ensuring that we keep stress at bay.

Many organizations are realizing the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness, in its simplest terms, is awareness, being present, and feeling like we’re in control. In addition to contributing to overall well-being, mindfulness and meditative practices have been linked to improved cognitive functioning and reduced stress levels.

Mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness and the capacity to manage distressing emotions. Sometimes it’s as simple as truly paying attention in a meeting or on a call, or managing to let other ideas, thoughts and pressures slide past you and concentrate on the person or task at hand. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve memory and lessen depression and anxiety.

Some employers have created quiet spaces for people to relax, meditate or simply seek a few peaceful minutes during their workday to unwind and refocus. Lunch rooms help, but are shared and often not as effective. Savvy businesses are inviting meditation, mindfulness, yoga and massage specialists to the workplace during the day, during lunch and after hours. But when these opportunities don’t exist or aren’t convenient to the day and type or place of work, there are other mindfulness tips you and employees can practice to help relax and improve productivity and efficiency. For example:

  • Practice breathing. It seems so obvious, but taking time to breathe consciously is very beneficial and easy to do, wherever you are. Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, and become aware of each breath, in and out. Feel the air enter your mouth and nose and travel down into your lungs, and then back out on the exhale. Some people measure the breathing cycle with a simple one/two count, others silently chant a personal mantra, but it doesn’t matter – spend five minutes just breathing consciously and it will slow you down considerably. It’s also an easy exercise to practice anytime, anywhere when you feel your pressure rising and your concentration weakening.
  • Practice “strategic acceptance.” When we get stressed out, we start thinking of everything in catastrophic terms. Each setback is amplified, and the negativity starts to compound. Rather than fighting these negative feelings and getting more stressed, try observing and exploring them, and accept the situation you’re presently experiencing. It doesn’t mean we like or can necessarily change or fix things at that moment, but through acceptance and a willingness to examine the way the negative energy is working on our minds and bodies, we can regain control and perspective. This doesn’t mean resigning yourself to a bad situation at work — it’s a matter of accepting how things are at this moment before making a plan to do what you can to improve them.
  • Tune into distractions around you. Offices are noisy, distracting environments, especially so-called “open offices” and cubicles. People talk loudly, you hear one another’s phone calls, typing, music – the sound mix is non-stop. Taking a moment to pay attention to those distractions rather than trying to tune them out can be a good way to prevent them from stressing you out. Gently notice the sounds and see if you can become aware of the effects they have on your body. The observation tends to rob the distractions of their power.
  • Take breaks. Regular breaks during the workday can boost productivity, creativity and patience. Instead of eating at your computer or work station, leave your work area for a brief walk, to get a drink or breathe some fresh air.  Stretch, walk when you can, or simply eat your meal in a different location, and try doing it without technology interference like emails, texts or social media . . . it’s good to use the time to think, daydream, meditate or do something that breaks the routine of your regular day.
  • Unplug from technology. With laptops, smart phones and tablets, it’s hard to truly relax or get unplugged from our work. Studies have shown that excessive reliance on technology makes us distracted, impatient and forgetful. Finding a way to “detox” can be extremely relaxing and helpful, be it through a walk, live social interaction, sharing a meal, reading a book or whatever works best for you.
  • Find time to exercise. There’s nothing like exercise, whether formal or spontaneous.  Exercise is good for our minds and our bodies, and a great tool for reducing stress. Whether you prefer to recreate outdoors, participate in sports, take a hike or bike ride or go to a fitness center, gym or training class, getting “physical” is a good way to calm our minds.

Whatever form or method you choose to achieve mindfulness, being aware of how stress, noise and distractions play negative roles in our every-day work lives is a critical first step for improving how we react – or don’t react – to situations that tap our energy, patience and creative spirits.


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!

Achieving Balance Between Work, Health, and Overall Wellness

It is rare when you find a company that seems to have successfully bridged the gap between hard work, customer service and quality of life. ZAG Interactive is one of those organizations, featuring a vibrant, energized workforce that prides itself on customer quality, innovation, teamwork and their own health and wellness.

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency specializing in website design, strategic marketing, custom development and campaign support. Much of its name recognition comes from building or redesigning websites for credit unions and banks across the country. It employs 55 people, and has been growing like gangbusters. It’s a youthful organization founded 15 years ago by a young, hands-on CEO, Larry Miclette, Jr., who leads by example, in the office and in the fitness arena.

Miclette has always supported work/life balance, and takes a personal, interactive interest in the health of his employees. The culture, says the company’s Wellness Champion Dawn Stanford, operations coordinator for ZAG, is very family and team oriented. People work and play together, and even spend time in one another’s company out of the office. And fitness, nutrition and exercise play important roles in helping them bond, manage stress and remain customer focused.

ZAG offers a variety of opportunities for employees to increase their activity level and health, Stanford says. “Employees are given a full membership to Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness, a gym that specializes in group classes, personal training, or individual training. We also offer a membership to Mission Fitness, which is a group-fitness-style gym that specializes in group boot camp, boxing, power and spin classes. They also offer ‘Mission Adventures,’ which include trail running, hiking, and triathlons.”

ZAG recently provided on-site lunch-time workouts with a trainer from Mission Fitness. The trainer offered nutritional guidance as well as a 20- to 30-minute workout. Lunchtime is playtime, as well – interested employees gather to enjoy Wiffle ball, a fun activity that started with a few ZAG players and now has expanded into a league, with tournament time quickly approaching and a trophy – and bragging rights – on the line.

Every Friday during the warm months there is a team picnic, and an employee who is a yoga instructor offers a class onsite on many Thursday evenings. Frequently employees bring in fresh vegetables and fruit from their gardens, share smoothie and nutritional snacks and dinner recipes, and discuss healthy food alternatives at lunch time and throughout the day.

“Our team is very congenial, supportive, proactive and involved,” says Melissa Wilkinson, a senior designer at ZAG, who also assists Stanford with the day-to-day health and wellness communication, planning and outreach. “In the past we’ve posted daily health tips such as how to optimize a 30-minute workout break, nutritional information, and other ideas. Many of us go outside at lunch for walks or hikes, and there’s a park nearby with walking and fitness trails. We set and share personal goals, and prompt and support each other.” A fear years ago, Zag hosted a “ZAG Fit” competition. The competition encouraged employees, their families and friends of ZAG to upload photographs of themselves doing any kind of health and wellness activities that interested them at work or on their own time. If they posted photos with a ZAG Fit hashtag, they were entered into a drawing for a free Fitbit. One was awarded to an employee, and one went to a non-ZAG employee.

They’ve also created a wellness advocacy team, comprising one representative from each business area. The goal, Wilkinson says, is to better integrate health and wellness across the organization by recognizing that each department has different interests, challenges ideas and its own subculture. Inclusivity, she adds, is key to success.

“Everyone benefits in a culture that embraces wellness,” Wilkinson explains. “We all think we eat healthy and exercise properly, but getting a professional to come in and explain things to the group, or in a one-on-one setting, makes a huge difference in how effective and educated we are when it comes to nutrition, fitness and overall wellness.”

“Here at ZAG, living a healthy lifestyle is important,” Stanford stresses. “‘Living healthy’ means different things to different people. We offer many opportunities for our employees to help reduce their stress and be active, involved and nutritionally fit every day. Wellness is a regular topic of conversation, and a way of life.”

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!

Flu Shot Protocols for Employers

The cost of getting sick taxes employers and employees alike. Chronic illness and injuries—though not always anticipated—can be managed, but it’s hard to limit exposure to viruses and bacteria. However, there are steps we can take to mitigate the chances that we and our fellow workers will come down with and share certain contagious illnesses, especially in the workplace.

High on the list of contagions that can be controlled is influenza, or the flu. Every year, millions of Americans contract the flu, losing three to five days of work or more, requiring visits to physicians or walk-in clinics, and for many, a stay in the hospital. It’s also life threatening for seniors, small children and adults with compromised immune or respiratory systems. The annual medical costs run in the billions, as do the costs of lost productivity.

With easy, convenient, and affordable access to safe immunizations for preventing the flu, employers across the country, especially in the healthcare industry, are taking a more proactive stance toward ensuring employee compliance. Some companies are shooting for 100%compliance, launching educational campaigns, team competitions, rallies, and incentive options such as discounts and premiums. Others are taking a carrot and stick approach, linking employer contribution incentives to medical savings accounts. Others are just wielding the stick, insisting that employees receive a flu vaccination as a condition of employment, with exceptions for those who have legitimate religious concerns or allergies to the vaccination.

Recognizing the central role businesses and employers play in protecting the health and safety of their employees, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have produced materials intended to guide employers in their planning and preparedness for seasonal and pandemic influenza. The guidance is intended to help employers take actions to decrease influenza spread, maintain business continuity, and secure critical infrastructure. OSHA recommends that employers prioritize vaccination because it is a long-term and effective intervention that reduces reliance on employee behavioral changes such as hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

As far back as February of 2010, the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) released their provisional recommendation that all people six months of age or older receive an annual influenza vaccination, unless contraindicated. The CDC also recommends that employers encourage employees to seek vaccination against both seasonal and pandemic influenza, offer influenza vaccination opportunities at their worksite or consider allowing employees time off from work to seek vaccination.

Despite the potential benefits of vaccination, self-reports within the National Health Interview Survey suggest that vaccine coverage among healthy adults 18 to 49 years is only approximately 20%. Offering vaccination in the workplace could increase coverage by making vaccination more convenient, and reducing or eliminating the associated cost may further improve influenza vaccine participation.

Studies have shown that individuals who received influenza vaccine at work cited convenience as an important factor in the decision to be vaccinated. Following physicians’ offices, workplaces are the most common location to receive an influenza vaccination, with one-third of 18- to 49-year-old vaccine recipients and one-fifth of 50 to 64-year-old vaccine recipients receiving the vaccine at work. The addition of workplace education programs can provide information and alleviate employees’ concerns and misinformation about influenza vaccination.

Compliance and the law

More and more healthcare employers are requiring that all employees get the influenza vaccine in order to help protect patients and coworkers during flu season. This trend has resulted in questions pertaining to the legality of such policies, as well as how to properly implement a mandatory influenza vaccination policy for employees. Employers may adopt mandatory flu shot policies which are drafted and implemented in a legally compliant manner.

As a condition of employment, an employer may require that all employees receive a flu shot. However, an employer’s compulsory flu shot policy must provide for exemptions in order to comply with various laws regulating the employer/employee relationship. For example, if an employee with a physical or mental disability refuses a flu shot, the employer may have to make a reasonable accommodation in order to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A reasonable accommodation could take the form of exempting the employee from the requirement and instead requiring a different protective measure, such as wearing a surgical mask. Similarly, if an employee objects due to a sincerely held religious belief, the employer may also have to provide a reasonable accommodation, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

If an employee refuses to comply with the employer’s policy and/or any reasonable alternative protective measures required by the employer if an exemption is granted, an at-will employer may pursue disciplinary action which could include termination. Employers should consult knowledgeable legal counsel before making employment-based decisions.

Employers wishing to require flu shots should adopt a written flu shot policy so that all employees have reasonable advance notice that receiving an annual influenza vaccination is a condition of employment. The policy should set an annual compliance deadline based on the anticipated start of the flu season and outline consequences for noncompliance. For instance, the policy may list the steps triggered by noncompliance, such as a written warning, suspension, and termination if the noncompliance is not addressed within a certain time frame. The policy should also specify what written documentation the employee must furnish the employer to prove that the employee was vaccinated.

An Employer’s Policy Should Include Exemptions

An employer’s influenza vaccination policy should provide a process for employees to request an exemption from the employer. Additionally, the policy should notify employees that if the employer grants an exemption, employees are required to comply, as a condition of employment, with reasonable alternative protective measures specified by the employer.
Exemptions should be allowed for reasons such as

  • A sincerely held religious belief or creed;
  • A qualifying physical or mental disability;
  • A prior severe allergic reaction to the flu shot;
  • A history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome; or
  • Some other relevant medical reason.

Ultimately, educating employees about the benefits and importance of the flu shot may help maximize employee participation. Just like frequent hand washing, the flu shot is an important protective measure for employees and their families. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) recommend that all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against influenza. The CDC has a variety of resources related to influenza vaccination  that may be helpful to employers and employees, especially those in the healthcare field.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!