Reducing Employee Tobacco Use and Vaping for Improved Health

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness. In the United States alone, smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths, and about 8.6 million people suffer from smoking-related lung and heart diseases.

There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes. Additionally, the CDC reports that more than 3.2 percent of American adults use e-cigarettes. Additionally, more than 2 million teens (11.3 percent of high school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students) were using e-cigarettes in a national study conducted in 2016, and it’s expected that those numbers have soared over the past two years.

The CDC says that more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year, often without lasting success. That is an opportunity for employers to assume a supporting role through education and personal outreach to help address a calamity that is costing American businesses billions of dollars annually in related healthcare costs and robbing millions of Americans of their health.

Need More Fuel?

Most consumers – including smokers – know that smoking can cause lung cancer, but few people realize it is also linked to a higher risk for many other kinds of cancer too, including cancer of the mouth, nose, sinuses, lip, voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, ovary, cervix, stomach, colon, rectum, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Smokers are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as non-smokers. Smoking is a major risk factor for peripheral vascular disease, a narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the leg and arm muscles. Smoking also affects the walls of the vessels that carry blood to the brain (carotid arteries), which can cause strokes. Smoking can cause abdominal aortic aneurysm, in which the layered walls of the body’s main artery (the aorta) weaken and separate, often causing sudden death. And men who smoke are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction (impotence) because of blood vessel disease.

Based on data collected by the CDC, it is estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life because of smoking.

Each year, smoking causes early deaths of about 443,000 people in the United States. And given the diseases that smoking can cause, it can steal our quality of life long before we die. Smoking-related illness can limit our activities by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play.

The Dangers of Vaping

Vaping involves using electronic cigarettes (also referred to as e-cigarettes). These devices contain heating elements, batteries and a reservoir that holds vaping liquid. According to the CDC, the liquid usually consists of varying amounts of nicotine, flavorings and chemicals. When users puff e-cigarettes, the heating element is activated and produces an aerosol, or vapor, which is inhaled.

Many chemicals that cause cancer are in this vapor. That includes formaldehyde, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles that can get stuck in the deepest parts of our lungs. Other potentially harmful substances found in e-cigarettes include flavorings like diacetyl (a chemical linked to lung disease), volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals such as lead, tin and nickel.

It’s hard to know how much of these chemicals are breathed in when people vape. The levels are usually lower in e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes. But some studies show that high-voltage e-cigarettes have more formaldehyde and other toxins than standard e-cigarettes, and most contain nicotine, which is addictive and dangerous.

Getting the word out to employees about the health risks of vaping – through workplace wellness programs, company-wide newsletters, signs, posters or email blasts – helps lower disease risks and improve health, wellness and productivity in the workplace.

Help Employees Quit Now

No matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who keep smoking. Ex-smokers enjoy a higher quality of life. They have fewer illnesses like colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and feel healthier than people who still smoke.

Habits and addictions are hard to break. Humiliating, shaming or punishing smokers isn’t the answer – it’s not illegal to smoke in Connecticut, just to smoke in certain places like restaurants and where otherwise dictated. But there are several steps people can take to improve health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.

November 15th is the Great American Smokeout

Mark Twain famously reported: “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times!” The American Cancer Society is marking the 41st Great American Smokeout on November 15th by encouraging smokers to use the date to help smokers quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By doing so, smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life — one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.

There are an abundance of programs, many free, to help smokers quit. Physicians can prescribe supportive medical aids as part of a more formal program, there are over-the-counter remedies, and support groups are available in most communities and through local hospitals. Most health insurance providers also offer smoking-cessation assistance.

Quitting is hard, but employees can increase their chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society provides an abundance of information about the steps to quit smoking and provides resources and support that can increase the chances of quitting successfully. To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org. The American Lung Association also has a wealth of information and resources. Reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www.lung.org.


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!

Recognizing and Managing ADHD

Time management can be our friend or our nemesis – how we use time, and our ability to stay organized and on task varies from person to person. We may be constantly drawn in several directions simultaneously, often with multiple conflicting priorities. For many task-oriented people, variety is the spice of life and they thrive on challenges and deadlines. But for others, it’s often difficult to remain focused, to complete tasks without interruption or distraction, or to finish one assignment or activity before moving onto something else.

The failure to remain focused, difficulty completing tasks without interruption, and the inability to successfully negotiate distractions can be signs of chemical, emotional, and genetic challenges such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Over the past decades, these symptoms have been more readily diagnosed in children, especially those having trouble in school or unable to relax, play quietly or get along effectively with others. With today’s technological advances, it’s easy to blame over-stimulation for playing a strong supporting role in keeping kids off balance, more easily bored without technology, and wanting more all the time. But for adults, these same symptoms can be more insidious, limiting our efficiency at work and at home, straining relationships, and interfering with sleep and health.

Currently, approximately seven percent of American children are being treated with medications for ADHD, and about half of them will carry those symptoms into adulthood, says the American Psychiatric Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates numbers are even higher, at least twice as many. On top of that, many adults have ADHD or ADD but have never been diagnosed.

The average age of ADHD diagnosis is seven years old. Males are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than females, and during their lifetimes, 13 percent of men will be diagnosed with ADHD. Just 4.2 percent of women will be diagnosed.

Signs You Might Have ADD or ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of three and six, but as many children and adults have never been diagnosed, it’s difficult to judge exactly when symptoms might have appeared, since those inflicted have been living with these challenges most of their lives. Here are common behavioral signs:

  • Lack of focus.Possibly the most telltale sign of ADHD, “lack of focus,” goes beyond difficulty paying attention. It means being easily distracted, finding it hard to listen to others in a conversation, overlooking details, and not completing tasks or projects.
  • Hyperfocus. While people with ADHD are often easily distracted, the flip side of the coin is called hyperfocus. A person with ADHD can be so engrossed in something that they can ignore anything else around them. This kind of focus makes it easier to lose track of time, ignore those around you, and cause relationship misunderstandings.
  • We all forget things occasionally. But for someone with ADHD or ADD, forgetfulness is an everyday part of life. This includes routinely forgetting where you’ve put something or important dates. Some can be menial. Others can be serious. The bottom line is that forgetfulness can be damaging to careers and relationships because it can be confused with carelessness, lack of intelligence, or ambivalence.
  • Impulsivity. Impulsiveness in someone with ADHD or ADD can manifest in several ways:
    • Interrupting others during conversation
    • Being socially inappropriate
    • Rushing through tasks
    • Acting without much consideration to the consequences

Even a person’s shopping habits are often a good indication of ADHD. Impulse buying, especially on items they can’t afford, is a common symptom of adult ADHD.

  • Restlessness and anxiety. As an adult with ADHD, you may feel like your engine never stops. Our yearning to keep moving and doing things constantly can lead to frustration when we can’t do something immediately. This leads to restlessness, which can lead to frustrations and anxiety. Anxiety is a very common symptom of adult ADHD, as the mind tends to replay worrisome events repeatedly.
  • Poor health. Impulsivity, lack of motivation, emotional problems, and disorganization can lead a person with ADHD or ADD to neglect their health. This can be seen through compulsive poor eating, neglecting exercise, or forgoing important medication. Anxiety and stress negatively affect health, so without good habits, the negative effects of these illnesses can make other symptoms worse.
  • Relationship issues. An adult with ADHD or ADD often has trouble in relationships, whether they are professional, romantic, or platonic. The traits of talking over people in conversation, inattentiveness, and easily being bored can be draining on relationships as a person can come across as insensitive, irresponsible, or uncaring.

Treatment and Coping with ADHD

People who experience some or many of these symptoms also change employers more often, miss deadlines, experience higher use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and suffer from repeated relationship failures, including divorce. If all of this sounds too familiar, it doesn’t mean you suffer from adult ADD or ADHD. But if you do, here are a few steps you can take to improve your life.

Treatment for adult ADHD or ADD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD/ADD, and includes stimulant drugs or other medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy), and treatment for any mental health conditions that occur along with adult ADHD.

Stimulants (psychostimulants) are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD, but other drugs may be prescribed. Stimulant drugs are available in short-acting and long-acting forms. Other medications used to treat ADHD include antidepressants. The right medication and the right dose vary between individuals, so it may take some time in the beginning to find what’s right for you. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of medications. And keep your doctor informed of any side effects you may have when taking your medication.

Counseling for adult ADHD can be beneficial and generally includes psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and education about the disorder. The benefits of psychotherapy can include:

  • Improve time management and organizational skills
  • Learn how to reduce impulsive behavior
  • Develop better problem-solving skills
  • Cope with past academic and social failures
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Learn ways to improve relationships with family, co-workers and friends
  • Develop strategies for controlling temper, stress and impatience

ADHD is a neuropsychiatric condition that is typically genetically transmitted. These challenges are caused by biology, essentially a miscue in how our brain is wired. It is not a disease of the will, a moral failing or weakness in character. Professional interventions, medication, support groups and self-education can help those with ADHD manage, or even overcome many of these challenges.


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!

Why Health Illiteracy Could Be Making Employees Sick

How well do you listen to your doctor’s directions or orders regarding medications, exercise, diet and other health-compliance issues? When you go for a test, do you understand what’s being done and why? Are you aware of recommended preventive-care measures you should be practicing? Do you recognize signs and symptoms of potentially serious illnesses early enough to intervene, or wait until your health deteriorates enough to justify calling a medical professional?

If you recognize yourself in any of these queries, you are among the 88 percent of American adults with health literacy challenges. And when you stop to consider that nine out of 10 adults may lack the skills to manage their health and prevent disease – and apply that consideration to your workforce – the impact of that lack of knowledge should make you feel sick!

The Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Nearly 90 million Americans have difficulty understanding and using the information shared by their doctor, clinic or hospital. A high degree of reading literacy does not necessarily translate into a high degree of health literacy, nor does a college education.

Poor health literacy affects individuals of many different ages, languages, cultures and education levels. For example, someone may question if he can drink coffee before a fasting lab test, forget how and when to take newly prescribed medication, or decide to stop taking medication when she is feeling better. And it can be difficult for anyone, regardless of their reading literacy skills, to remember instructions or read a medication label when feeling sick.

Only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Furthermore, 14 percent of adults (30 million people) have below-basic health literacy. In studies, these adults were more likely to report their health as poor (42 percent). Additionally, there is a mismatch between the reading level of health information and the reading skills of the public. There also is a mismatch between the communication skills of lay people and health professionals.

Without clear information and an understanding of the information’s importance, people are more likely to skip necessary medical tests, end up in the emergency room more often, and have a harder time managing chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure. As reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, individuals with limited or low health literacy

  • Skip preventive care
  • Are more likely to have chronic conditions and less able to manage the conditions
  • Have more preventable hospital visits and admissions, with longer stays
  • Are more likely to use medications inappropriately or ineffectively
  • Are often ashamed to ask for help making health care decisions.

Improving Health Literacy in the Workplace

For employers, the relationship of low health literacy to poor health behaviors results in overall higher costs of drug, medical and disability claims, lower productivity and higher absenteeism. Employers can have a significant positive impact on the health literacy of their employees and, ultimately, influence better health and financial outcomes. Here are recommended steps to improve health literacy in the workplace:

  • Use clear and simple messaging. Keep it simple. Clearly state the actions you want your employee to take, and discuss options and potential consequences.
  • Get rid of complex jargon.Insurance and medical industry professionals throw around a lot of jargon. Ask your insurance provider and benefits consultant to include descriptions of benefits and how to use the benefits in consistent, easy-to-understand language. This includes their member website or portal, Explanation of Benefits (EOB), emails, and mailers.
  • Treat everyone the same.No matter their job title, assume all employees may have difficulty understanding health, wellness and benefits communications. Use simple, easy-to-understand language.
  • Empower employees to take charge of their health.When people take an active role in their healthcare, research shows they fare better in both health and financial outcomes. Increase employee confidence in their ability to advocate for themselves by providing educational materials and holding workshops. Topics could include how to talk to a doctor, how to get more support when you need it, and how to ask questions about insurance coverage.
  • Identify a navigator.Consider a current staff member or external support person who can help employees navigate the complex world of benefits available.
  • Technology isn’t for everyone. Don’t leave behind those who aren’t as comfortable or familiar with technology. Depending on the range of ages and skills in your workforce, use a variety of communication methods to share health and wellness information. This includes emails, texts, and verbal updates at team meetings.
  • Repeat information regularly.Don’t expect your once-a-year open enrollment presentation to be memorable enough that your employees remember their benefits. Plan year-round campaigns and communications using frequent but brief messages, and talk with employees about their role in managing their health.
  • Remember the household decision makers. While you may give employees a lot of information while they are at work, the person making decisions about when and where to go for healthcare may not be getting that same information translated to them. Consider home mailings, invitations to open-enrollment meetings, and other ways to ensure all family members on the medical plan receive credible sources of health and wellness information.

The benefits of health literacy improvement include enhanced communication, greater adherence to treatment, increased ability to engage in self-care, and overall improved health status. Healthier employees result in a healthier workplace, and we can all feel good about that.


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!

Recognizing Team Healthcare Wins

It’s marathon season – as in running a little over 26 miles in one race for fun, health, personal challenge, charity or any of these motivators combined. However you cut it, completing a race of any length, as well as competitive or non-competitive walks, bicycling, swimming, hiking, fitness activities or sporting events are enormous achievements, worthy of recognition and support. They also are huge morale boosters and team-building opportunities in addition to the obvious health benefits.

While employers cannot legislate their employees’ personal fitness and physical activities, they certainly can encourage, promote, model, sponsor and support these strengths and healthy behaviors. Creating time and space for these activities, rewarding for participation and generally promoting a culture of health and participation is a successful strategy for large and small companies regardless of their business, product or service inclination.

Many organizations establish employee health committees who focus on healthy eating and nutrition, fitness, athletics and stress-reduction activities such as yoga, meditation and walking. From hula hooping to jumping rope, whether for fun or charity, there are dozens of pursuits worthy of note that engage employees during the day and after work to come together in the name of health, fraternity and personal growth. Those values all benefit employers, as well.

Picking up the tab for a competitive sporting activity like bowling, volleyball, softball, hockey or golf, to name but a few, can be a wise investment in your team’s health. Supplementing gym and fitness memberships often is the little push people need to focus on their health. And getting people outdoors during lunch and after hours to walk together or to train for charity or competitive events enhances the work environment and employee attitudes about their jobs and work/life balance.

From a promotional perspective, it’s always good to see the company name emblazoned on tee-shirts and banners, on view for the public, at charity walks, runs and rides. But the catalyst isn’t self-promotion, it is the recognition that teams that play together work better together, as well.

Team activities have a positive impact on productivity, quality, safety, customer service, retention and absenteeism. Personal health and fitness challenges help employees maintain a healthier lifestyle, reduces susceptibility to illness, and carries over into employees’ lives and family relationships outside of work.

Even something as simple as setting, sharing and celebrating goals related to nutrition, weight loss, exercise, smoking cessation and other health-related activities is a win/win for employers and employees. Leaders who get involved make it easier for employees to participate, as well, but at the least, supporting your team through sponsorship, financial contributions and constant encouragement is a winning strategy for completing the marathon we all face each day.


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!

Appreciation Boosts Productivity, Morale, and Health

How important is it to you to know you’re doing a good job, or to hear someone say “thanks” for your work and efforts? While the personal satisfaction and pride we take in knowing we’ve done something well or right can be its own reward, numerous studies have shown that overall personal satisfaction is enhanced when we receive praise, recognition and constructive feedback from employers, customers, parents, teachers and friends. It’s simple, it’s free, it helps increase productivity and quality, boosts job satisfaction, morale, teamwork and retention – and helps improve emotional and physical health.

When someone feels taken for granted, unrecognized or under-appreciated, it has a direct impact on their emotional health and stress levels. Lack of recognition, especially in the workplace, often is mentioned as a contributing factor to overall employee dissatisfaction. And the more employees are unhappy at work, the more productivity, teamwork and customer relations may suffer.  Quality suffers, as well, and increased stress is a known factor in promoting irritability, increasing conflict, interfering with sleep and diet, boosting absenteeism and increasing “presenteeism,” a loss of workplace productivity resulting from employee health problems and personal issues. It also contributes to increases in blood pressure, heart disease, poor nutrition, sleeplessness and weight gain.

Americans like being told “thanks” but aren’t that great at thanking others, according to a national survey on gratitude commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation. The polling firm Penn Shoen Berland surveyed over 2,000 people in the United States, capturing perspectives from different ages, ethnic groups, income levels, religions and more.

Gratitude was enormously important to respondents, who also admitted they think about, feel, and espouse gratitude more readily than expressing it to others. This might be why respondents also felt that gratitude in America is declining. Some of the findings included these facts:

  • More than 90 percent of those polled agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives, and are more likely to have friends.
  • More than 95 percent said that it is important for mothers and fathers to teach gratitude.
  • People are less likely to express gratitude at work than anyplace else. Seventy-four percent never or rarely express gratitude to their boss. But people are eager to have a boss who expresses gratitude to them. Seventy percent would feel better about themselves if their boss was more grateful, and 81 percent would work harder.
  • 93 percent of those polled agreed that grateful bosses were more likely to be successful, and only 18 percent thought that grateful bosses would be seen as “weak.”

It’s human nature:  We’re better at noticing and tallying what we personally do than what other people do.  According to the data, most of the people surveyed appreciate being appreciated, but lack in their tendency to say “thanks”– despite knowing that expressing gratitude can bring more happiness, meaning, professional success, and interpersonal connection into their lives.

Taking the time to express gratitude to others goes a long way toward improving individual and organizational health. Ultimately, there are so many ways to say “thanks” to our employees. Whether verbally, through written or public commendation, one-on-one recognition or in front of peers, gratitude is an important employee relations, productivity and stress-reduction tool. And while bonuses, pay raises, gift cards, and compensatory time off are terrific recognition tools, employees want to feel like it is more than simply “doing their jobs and meeting expectations” that matters. Increased responsibility, promotions and inclusion also are important factors, but it all starts with feeling appreciated and respected.


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!

 

 

Who Has Time for Vacation?

Are you one of those people who swears you’ll never become one of those people when it comes to “working vacations,” checking your laptop while you’re away with the family, or avoiding vacations entirely? If so, you’d be a member in a surprisingly large club; but you would also be part of an even larger club of people who suffer from cardiac disease, high blood pressure, strokes, sleep disorders and a variety of other dangerous illnesses that often are aggravated by stress, fatigue and the willingness to ignore our bodies’ needs.

It’s easy to understand why many people resist taking personal time off from work. Maybe you own a small business with limited staff or help you can trust running things in your absence. Or things are really popping and you just can’t afford the time or cost of a vacation. No work no pay – or the fear of losing a job if you take time off – sidelines many. And so-called “workaholics” who thrive on being busy and are strongly emotionally linked to their work also resist time away, sometimes for fear things will fall apart, someone will take advantage of the perceived gap, or simply because they believe they are irreplaceable, even for a week or two.

Beyond the obvious ego issues, the simple truth is that we all need time to relax, alter our pace, and get away from the day-to-day hassles and pressures of work . . . even if we like our jobs. Think about the need to shut down a laptop or smart phone so it can refresh programs and download applications. Taking time off works that way for our brains and bodies, too – it doesn’t really matter what we do or where we go, it’s simply important and healthy to take the break.

In other countries around the world, especially the UK and across Europe, employees take up to six weeks of “holiday” to relax, travel, read, work in their gardens or homes, visit with family or pursue whatever pleases them. They look on Americans with dismay and shake their heads at our work philosophy and customs. It’s not that they don’t enjoy or value their work or need the paycheck as much as we do – it’s just that taking time off is normal, accepted and a welcome practice.

Vacations for many of us are a paid benefit. As employers, we need to model correct and healthy behaviors and encourage employees to enjoy their time off at their leisure, and as they choose – but to use the time. In a Harris Poll conducted last year among 2,224 working adults over 18, two thirds (66 percent) report working when they do take a vacation. The study also found that the average U.S. employee had taken just a hair over half (54 percent) of their eligible paid vacation time over the past 12 months.

We can make vacationing easier for employees and for the business by asking well in advance about vacation plans, adjusting schedules and workloads accordingly, determining who is covering for employees when they are out and making it easy for people to be away without them feeling guilty or threatened. That means doing more than setting “out of the office” email messages, especially since 29 percent of respondents said they were contacted by a co-worker while they were on vacation, and 25 percent said they were contacted by their boss!

If you are self-employed or lack a vacation benefit, putting aside money throughout the year will help finance some play time, but even staying at home, catching up on sleep or reading, making day trips, hiking, biking, hitting the beach or just visiting with friends and family will help ease some of your daily pressure and anxiety and refresh you for the return to work.

The consequences of not taking time off – including people being fatigued, irritable and less resistant to common and chronic illnesses – affects productivity, quality, safety, retention and customer service. These costs can have a perceptible impact on your bottom line, or if you work for yourself, affect your performance and results. And when you get too run down, you are more likely to get sick, or develop a serious illness.

Encourage days away from the office, and practice what you preach. However difficult it may feel, taking a block of personal time benefits you, your family, your business and everyone around you. It’s smart, relaxing and healthy.


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!

Why Our Brains Say “Yes” When the Facts Say “No”

If you’re an employer trying to motivate your workers, how do you get past their biases to get everyone on the same page, or at least rowing in the same direction? Psychologists suggest that, rather than taking on people’s surface attitudes and beliefs directly, tailor messages so that they align with their motivation.

Using vaccinations as an example, everyone agrees that deadly diseases exist, that they are bad, and that people are getting sick and dying from them. By exploring what happens when people resist vaccinating themselves or their children – the very real possibility that those adults or children will either get sick themselves or be a carrier who gets another child or person sick – and by examining statistics from reliable sources, we can “agree to disagree,” but still make a decision based on logic and the well-being of those around us.

That same thinking can be applied to getting employees to work together toward a common cause or goal. Influential people – leaders, both natural or by ranking in the workplace – can sway opinion. People want to be accepted, recognized, and considered a valuable part of a team. By looking for the things we have in common, listening to differing opinions, recognizing how people make decisions and then finding solutions and compromises, we become more effective leaders.

It isn’t entirely our fault that we err to the side of comfort. Based on scientific research, our brains protect us, validating information that supports our biases, often to the point of denigrating the information with which we disagree, accepting compatible information that makes us feel better – or which supports our beliefs – almost at face value. Scientists link this to our innate “fight or flight” response, with the twist being we may choose to fight by latching on to what we want to believe, in essence, “taking flight” from the truth to protect our opinions.

Psychologists have identified key factors that can cause people to reject science – and it has nothing to do with how educated or intelligent they are. In fact, researchers found that people who reject scientific consensus on topics such as climate change, vaccine safety, and evolution are generally just as interested in science and as well-educated as the rest of us. It’s just that they think more like lawyers than scientists, meaning they “cherry pick” the facts and studies that back up what they already believe is true.

As hard as this is to believe, or to understand, the rationale for this behavior often comes down to a simple, though troubling truth: No matter how irrefutable the evidence is, many people reject anything which contradicts their deeply entrenched false belief.

How they arrive at their false belief often has to do with how they are raised, religious doctrine, political leaning and their willingness to accept and believe information from powerful or confident people. Oftentimes, people would rather think they are right, even if they’re wrong. It becomes a tug of war between ego, self-esteem, long-held beliefs and the desire to stick with something that meshes with your own way of seeing the world, even if facts refute or contradict your opinion.

Over 90 percent of our decisions are made at an unconscious level. Brain imaging has shown that when the brain inputs data, the emotional centers light up first (what does this mean to me?), followed by the logic centers (what do I do with it?). This means that ‘facts’ are what people use to validate decisions already made at an unconscious level.

For example, if someone believes that vaccinations aren’t safe, they will ignore the hundreds of medical studies that support vaccination safety and glom onto the one study they can find that casts doubt. These phenomena are known as cognitive bias – people treat facts as more relevant when those facts tend to support their opinions. They may not totally deny facts that contradict their beliefs, but they will say that those facts are “less relevant.”

Our brains tend to easily accept information compatible with what we already know, and minimize information that contradicts what we already know, or believe we know. The information goes into our brain, but the importance our mind allots to these facts and information is being weighted unconsciously in favor of those bits of data that already fit our preconceptions. Our brains unconsciously diminish their importance, regardless of the truth or facts, and since they are perceived as “less important,” these facts or truths quickly fade from memory.

 


 

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!

A Whole Lot of Hoopla

Anyone who thinks vigorous exercise can’t be good for you and fun hasn’t spent time at New England Residential Services in Middletown. There, an enthusiastic employee team, lead by a supportive executive director, has demonstrated that having fun while you improve your health is easy when you put your hips, arms, legs, necks and bodies into it.

Ironically, the answer to combining work, play and wellness came to the company’s Human Resource Manager, Kim Fritsch, because she didn’t like to exercise. Fritsch walked, but found she wasn’t losing enough weight from walking alone. Talking with co-workers over lunch one day, they started reminiscing about games from their childhood, and Fritsch mentioned that she’d loved hula hooping as a kid, and had won a school hula-hooping competition, continuously hooping for eight hours. Hooping, she said, was fun and good exercise, and the more she thought about it, the more excited she became about trying it again.

Fritsch, who’s been with the company for 19 years, did some research and discovered that a workout with a weighted hula hoop could help burn 400 to 600 calories per session. Sold, she ordered a weighted hula hoop for the office. She and a few associates started working with it at the end of the day; they enjoyed making fun of each other and admiring one another’s hooping style. They even have a “professional” hula-hooper on their staff, she adds, who makes customized hoops for staff and for residents of the company’s group homes.

hoola hoop wellness program

As they became more proficient, word spread, and other staff became interested. Soon they had a regular following, and set up an exercise area at the end of a hallway between office areas. Workers were encouraged to take hoop breaks at lunch or whenever they were able, and for those who struggled with the dynamics of hooping, jump ropes were purchased. Fritsch shared her story with CBIA, and was put into a raffle to win a $500 Amazon gift card, which they won!

The prize money, she said, was used to purchase other exercise equipment, including a stepping machine, exercise ball, weighted resistance ropes, a wireless speaker for listening to music while people work out, and a special stool made for accommodating hooping while seated. Everyone in the office, she says, is encouraged to participate, and support from their management makes it easier to get people involved.

“A good wellness program starts with a leader who strongly believes that any exercise that gets your heart going is good for you, even if it’s in the workplace,” Fritsch explains. “We’re lucky to work in an environment with a supportive manager who sets the tone for our agency.  He says his mission is to be more like Google, and is striving to build a great work environment so people are happier, healthier and more productive.”

New England Residential Services operates group homes and apartments, providing residential support for people with intellectual disabilities. They have 130 employees, most working at their field locations, with a support staff of 10 at their home office in Middletown.

Their executive director, Chet Fischer, reimburses office employees who join a gym or take yoga, and always encourages breaks from work to walk or work out, Fritsch says. Some employees bring their dogs to work, she adds, and others plank and do alternative fitness activities during and after work.

The hula hooping, Fritsch explains, has become a great source of laughter, stress reduction and team building. She says everyone from their executive director to their maintenance person has tried it, and visitors are encouraged to give it a whirl, as well. She adds that when employees started completing the CBIA health assessment, they realized they needed to do more fitness-related activities, and started using their reward cards for fitness clothes and materials – and for more hoops.

“It’s inspiring to see someone increase the time that they can keep the hoop up, and seeing their progress and personal styles,” Fritsch explains. “The original goal, simply, was to get people active. Now employees are tracking their own time, checking out hoop-related exercise videos and working out when it suits them. We’re even planning to make our own video in the spring, and when all the new hoops come in we will have hoop breaks. It’s fun, it makes you feel great, and increases camaraderie among the staff.”


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!

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!