Living Life on the Sunny Side of the Street

When people are acting negatively – critical about themselves and others, pessimistic, always seeing the darker side of things, constantly questioning motives, always assuming the worst – it wears on the people around them and on them, as well.  Negative people get sick more often and take longer to recover, while optimistic people tend to be less sick and more resilient.

Research indicates that psychological factors influence cardiovascular disease, morbidity, and mortality. Persistent negative behavior such as depression, anxiety or anger, and cynical, hostile attitudes toward others have been linked as early indicators of future heart disease. On the other hand, dispositional optimism or the general feeling that good things rather than bad will resolve a difficult situation or generally prevail in the future, have been associated with reduced risk of mortality.

Published last year in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found a definitive association between a positive sense of well-being and better health. This study used data from 70,021 women who were part of a long-running nurses’ health study. It gauged their level of optimism through a questionnaire originally conducted in 2004. The average age of respondents was 70 years old.

Then the researchers tracked deaths among the women from 2006 to 2012. They found that after controlling for factors including age, race, educational level, and marital status, the women who were most optimistic were 29% less likely to die during the six-year study follow-up than the least optimistic. That reduced risk was seen in cancer (16% lower), heart disease (38%), stroke (39%), respiratory disease (37%), and infection (52%).

When the researchers ran additional analyses controlling for existing health conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer, the risk of dying was 27% lower among the most optimistic women. When controlling for health behaviors like smoking and exercise, 14% lower. And when controlling for all those factors, the risk of dying was still 9% lower among the most optimistic women.

People who are more optimistic tend to have healthier behaviors when it comes to diet, exercise, and tobacco use. It’s also possible that more optimistic people cope better, create contingency plans, plan for future challenges, and accept what can’t be changed. This optimism may have a direct impact on improved immune function or lower levels of inflammation.

In another study, doctors evaluated 309 middle-aged patients who were scheduled to undergo coronary artery bypass surgery. In addition to a complete pre-operative physical exam, each patient underwent a psychological evaluation designed to measure optimism, depression, neuroticism, and self-esteem. The researchers tracked all the patients for six months after surgery. When they analyzed the data, they found that optimists were only half as likely as pessimists to require re-hospitalization. In a similar study of 298 angioplasty patients, optimism was also protective; over a six-month period, pessimists were three times more likely than optimists to have heart attacks or require repeat angioplasties or bypass operations.

And finally, an American study of 2,564 men and women who were 65 and older also found that optimism is good for blood pressure. People with positive emotions had lower blood pressures than those with a negative outlook. On average, the people with the most positive emotions had the lowest blood pressures.

Can we learn to be positive?

So if having a positive attitude can help reduce illness and prolong life, why aren’t we all happy, and what might we do to become less pessimistic and negative? The first question is the harder to answer. We are complex psychological beings, products of our upbringing, genetics, hardships, and positive and negative experiences. We’ve been shaped and influenced by many people and situations, and we learned good and bad behaviors through the years by observation and reaction, and as protection.

But there are things we can do to help move ourselves into a more positive, optimistic mindset.

For example:

  • Notice negativity. Listen to what you and others say and how negative it is. Track your own thoughts on a daily basis and notice the negative assumptions and conclusions that you draw, because identifying our own negativity is essential to change.
  • When you find yourself saying something negative, think of something positive to say.
  • Search for positive aspects of situations. Most situations can be seen in both a positive and negative light. You just have to find the positive one and keep reminding yourself of it in order to eventually believe it.
  • Think of someone you know who has a positive outlook on life and ask yourself what that person would do or think in particular situations. Then try to think that way too.
  • Give others positive feedback. Even if someone has done something poorly, there has to be some aspect of it that is good. If you can find this, your view will be more positive and the other person may feel encouraged to continue.
  • Give yourself positive feedback and notice when you discount or minimize your successes. Pessimists feel uncomfortable with good things and often fear disappointing others by acknowledging their own strengths. Learn to just say thank you if someone (including yourself) gives you positive feedback.
  • Identify why you feel negative. Does it provide protection against disappointment? Does it help you not to get hurt? Do you think that it helps you to plan for possible challenges? We often think that pessimism and worry are helpful but this is not true. We can learn to handle disappointment, hurt, and challenges if we were not bogged down by anxiety and negativity.
  • Take the risk of being positive and see how it feels. It takes a long time to learn negativity and will take a while to learn optimism.

Positive thinking and being will help you lead a longer, healthier life. It may take practice, but what do you have to lose, other than the negative attitude?


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!

Stress at Work Is Killing Us

Whether home or at work, at school, shopping, or driving, there’s no shortage of things to stress us out. Our ability to cope, get along with others, get things done efficiently, and be reasonable often hinges on how we manage that stress. Those coping mechanisms have a lot to do with how well our days go and how we get along with family and friends. But when it comes to work, there’s a greater price to pay. Not managing stress effectively costs employers billions of dollars annually in healthcare-related expenses, lost-work hours, and reduced productivity due to illness, depression, accidents, turnover, and worker burnout.

According to research by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Center for Organizational Excellence, more than one-third (35%) of American workers experience chronic work stress, with low salaries, lack of opportunities for advancement, and heavy workloads topping the list of contributing factors. Stress in the workplace, researchers found, manifests itself in increased absenteeism and presenteeism (coming to work, but not achieving expectations, or working to potential), lower productivity, and increased service errors.

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

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), work-related stress is the physical and emotional damage that occurs due to a mismatch between work requirements and the resources, needs, and capabilities of workers. Currently, 40% of American workers say that their jobs are very or extremely stressful. At the same time, 26% of employees say they are very often burned out, or stressed at the workplace. Twenty-nine percent of workers say that their jobs are extremely stressful, and 25% report that their jobs are the leading causes of stress in their lives.

How is that affecting them physically? CDC statistics say that seven out of 10 workers say they experience stress-related psychological symptoms regularly, and close to eight out of 10 employees regularly encounter physical symptoms associated with stress. To avoid workplace stress, 60% of 26,000 U.S. workers surveyed said they would opt for a fresh career start. This dissatisfaction on the job is costing American employers $300 billion annually on employee healthcare and employee absence costs.

Why so much workplace stress?

If you’ve ever worked for or with other people, you probably can answer this question yourself.

Workload accounts for 46% of all workplace stress incidents, and “people issues” account for 28% of stress at work problems. Additionally, juggling work/personal life challenges accounts for 20% of stress incidents reported by American workers, while lack of job security is the fourth-leading cause of stress at the workplace.

The symptoms of worrying, anxiety, and stress at work result in back pain, fatigue, stomach ailments, headaches, teeth grinding, and changes in sex drive. It reduces immunity to disease, and leaves workers unable to sleep well at night due to worrying about their jobs. And it’s costing employers an estimated $10 billion annually in productivity losses alone.

All in all, it sounds pretty dire. Yet we have to work, we have to get along with our co-workers, bosses, and customers, and we have to remain focused on quality, service, and productivity. So how can employers help address the issues that cause this detrimental behavior and side effects, and improve outcomes?

Organizations that have implemented measures to address burnout have a staff turnover rate of just 6%, which is low compared to the national average of 38%. Additionally, in progressive-thinking companies, the rate of staff reporting “chronic work stress” stands at 19% compared to the national average of 35%. Employees at the same organizations registered higher job satisfaction scores, meaning they were unlikely to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Tips for managing workplace stress

Humans are complicated – there are no easy answers or magic bullets. But based on research, an important first step is promoting a healthy work/life balance. Progressive organizations offer telecommuting, paid time off, and flex time perks. Employee recognition strategies including profit-sharing programs, bonuses, and cost-of-living salary raises. Organizing staff retreats, interacting with staff to learn more about their problems, and monitoring job satisfaction helps, as does providing workers with regular career growth and development opportunities.

While the work has to get done and get done on time, fatigue plays an enormous role in reduced workplace productivity. While napping in one’s car is helpful when coping with exhaustion, some employers provide rest or nap lounges with couches, reduced lighting, and soft music. Ensuring that employees get adequate time for stretching, moving around, breaks, and for lunch or dinner is critical.

Additionally, time during the day for recreation – walks, runs, athletics, bicycling, working out – helps people manage stress and keep themselves healthier. That could be as simple as having a fitness room, basketball or volleyball court at the workplace, or encouraging employees to take a walk or go to the gym at times that work best for them and fit within their work requirements.

Bringing in experts on nutrition, fitness, yoga, massage, and other forms of relaxation or wellness education is inexpensive and helpful. And engaging employees in team problem-solving, or creating and empowering recreation, communication, health and wellness, and “fun” committees goes a long way toward improving morale, teamwork and productivity.

Ultimately, we all have to find ways to deal with our own stress, and the stress that accompanies most jobs. But recognizing the signs of worker stress and acknowledging the importance of providing creative and healthy outlets for employees will help reduce some of the factors that are heavily taxing workers and costing employers a fortune, and employees their health.

Raise Your Glasses… Then Place Them Back Down

Think what you will about alcohol use, but a culture of drinking is part of our heritage and lifestyle. While many people abstain due to health, religious, or moral concerns, millions of Americans and people around the globe imbibe socially, use wine in religious ceremonies, binge drink, or abuse alcohol for a variety of reasons varying from habit to pain relief to genetics.

Many people enjoy the experience of being lightly intoxicated including reduced inhibitions and stimulation, and drinking is a normal part of many of our every-day rituals and customs here in the United States and around the world.

But drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can have serious consequences for our health. These consequences go far beyond having a headache and a hangover that make us uncomfortable but go away relatively quickly.

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. Most people recognize that excessive drinking can lead to accidents and dependence, and can cause liver disease. But that’s only part of the story. Unlike other drugs, alcohol disperses in all body tissues and therefore has the potential to harm many organ systems. Alcohol abuse can damage organs, weaken the immune system, and contribute to a variety of cancers. Plus, much like smoking, alcohol affects different people differently. Genes, environment, and even diet can play a role in whether you develop an alcohol-related disease.

On the flip side, some people may actually benefit from drinking alcohol in small quantities. Alcohol’s effect on our heart is the best example of alcohol’s dual effects. Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can cause heart problems including high blood pressure, strokes, arrhythmia, and cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes our heart muscle to weaken and droop. But research also shows that healthy people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (such as red wine) may have a lower risk of developing coronary artery disease than people who never drink at all.

Putting drinking in perspective

If you enjoy an alcoholic beverage once in a great while, you’re in good company: According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), seven out of 10 Americans report drinking alcohol at some point in the past year, and 56% drank in the past month. However, 26.9% of people ages 18 or over reported that they engaged in binge drinking, and 7% in heavy alcohol use regularly.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) – or problem drinking – was reported in 15.1 million adults age 18 and over, with 1.3 million Americans seeking help in treatment facilities for drinking problems. What’s even more frightening is that, according to NSDUH, 623,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 were reported suffering from AUD, resulting in 37,000 treated at medical or rehabilitation facilities.

Approximately 90,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Close to 10,000 Americans die in alcohol-related car accidents annually, and alcohol misuse costs our country approximately $250 billion in health-related expenses, lost work time, and other factors such as reduced productivity and accidents.

How alcohol hurts us

While drinking in moderation may not affect the health of our liver, heavy drinking can definitely take its toll. The liver helps rid our bodies of substances that can be dangerous, including alcohol. By breaking down alcohol, the liver produces toxic byproducts that damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s natural defenses. This can make conditions ripe for disorders like steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis, and dangerous inflammations like hepatitis to develop.

Pancreatic inflammations can also develop in response to drinking too much. Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually cause inflammation and swelling in tissues in blood vessels. This inflammation, called pancreatitis, prevents the pancreas from digesting food and converting it into fuel to power our bodies.

Aside from damaging our organs, drinking too much alcohol can also increase our risk of developing certain cancers, including those of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast.

Alcohol also can weaken our immune systems, making our bodies a much easier target for disease. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows our body’s ability to ward off infections, even up to 24 hours after getting drunk. Chronic drinkers are more likely to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.

So while some light to moderate drinking may not hurt you, it’s important to understand the toxic, longer-term effects of alcohol and use common sense when drinking any alcoholic beverage. We may never be a nation of teetotalers, but understanding what we put in our bodies and making smart decisions about our health will always work in our favor.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Having fun and working successfully used to be considered incongruent. The workplace was viewed as a monument to serious business only. The standard philosophy was that safety, quality, and productivity would be negatively affected if employees were distracted and having fun instead of focusing on their work. But humor and having fun are natural human reactions. Each plays an important role in regulating interpersonal relations, for reducing stress and in helping people keep their perspective. It also serves as an invaluable team-building tool, and platform for improving morale.

Generational differences play a large role in how workers view their jobs and having fun. Millennials are more at ease with diversity, technology, and online communication than are other generations. In general, they have high expectations and seek meaning in their work, but also regard their jobs as a means to build their career résumé, rather than looking for long-term attachment or commitment to the organization that better defines the Baby Boomers.

Millennials see a stronger association between workplace fun and individual outcomes than do other generations. In fact, this age group often considers fun in the workplace a requirement, rather than a benefit, and seeks balance and synergy between their personal and work lives. In this evolving workplace model, employees expect purposefully designed fun activities that are linked to organizational outcomes like enhanced productivity, increased innovation, stronger teams and customer service, stress reduction, and improved retention.

Employees today enjoy social activities such as company-wide outings and food-related activities, internal contests, sports, and athletic competitions. Fun and inclusiveness go hand in hand, so offering special events and programs that are open to all workers is important.

Employers learned long ago the value of dress-down days and casual Fridays but since most workplaces are business casual or informal in their dress expectations, those perks are no longer seen as special. Other ideas worth considering for boosting the fun factor at work include:

  • Favorite team jersey days. Baseball favorites in this region seem to be split fairly evening between the Red Sox and the Yankees, with a smattering of Mets and other teams. Let everyone wear their colors to work and celebrate other sports as well as baseball.
  • Healthy breakfasts, lunches, or dinners, either sponsored by the employer, or have staff bring in food to share with their co-workers. Healthy recipe exchanges, a smoothie or coffee bar, and dessert station also are fun, as are barbeques in the warm weather.
  • Attend a sporting event. Offer tickets to a baseball, basketball, hockey, road race, or other sports activity locally including minor league or college sports, and open participation to all employees and possibly their families or guests.
  • Encourage team events. These can include softball, basketball, skiing, bowling, volleyball, exercise or fitness activities, charity walks, and bike rides, whatever appeals to your workforce. The buzz from these activities is bound to carry over into the office as well.
  • Establish an internal social network. While compliance and HR rules apply, people can post information, talk about service issues, make suggestions, respond to those suggestions, post funny articles, YouTube and Facebook links, and much more.
  • Host seasonal fun activities. These can be pumpkin-carving contests, events linked to the Super Bowl, World Series, or Daytona 500, or whatever floats people’s boats.
  • Encourage the creative personalization of individual work spaces. Nothing over the top, of course, but we spend a lot of time at work, so our work space should be able to reflect who we are and who or what we care for outside of work.
  • Celebrate wins. There’s nothing better than bringing people together to celebrate a successful launch, achieving a business goal, to recognize service, acknowledge awards, or to simply thank employees for their hard work and support. It should include food, special guests, premium gifts, and whatever else you or a planning group have in mind.
  • Use meetings to recognize team or individual contributions. Meetings have a purpose, but they’re also a great time for peer recognition. Celebrate one another, and consider gift cards and other informal recognition tools.
  • Create a “fun” committee. Let a group of volunteers come together to solicit ideas and plan activities that will be well received, rather than guessing what people might like. And consider giving them a small budget to help get programming off the ground.

The bottom line is that having fun at work doesn’t have to be work, or all about work. It’s about understanding people’s needs, teamwork and, literally, the bottom line.

Using Social Networks to Promote Health and Wellness

Employers understand that simply trumpeting the benefits of employee wellness programs isn’t enough to guarantee participation. In the digital age, the common wellness textbook for “Leading the Horse to Water 101” has changed. It isn’t enough to just point out the pond and extol the virtues of drinking — you have to help the thirsty find it, convince them it’s healthy, and creatively encourage them to drink from it. And since maps are practically extinct, using GPS – or some form of electronic media – will help guide your audience effectively and efficiently.

While the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that as many as half the employers with 50 or more workers offer some kind of company wellness program, most managers say that engaging employees to participate in these efforts is their greatest challenge. For smaller employers (under 50 employees), proximity may work in their behavior for traditional face-to-face wellness outreach, but employees are busier than ever, multi-tasking like crazy, and often on the run or working remotely.

The solution to reaching everyone more effectively has to include but also extend beyond the workplace. That creates a perfect opportunity for using social media. Even though companies have long frowned on having their employees access the Internet or their personal phones while working, today’s world dictates new rules. And with smart phones and other electronic devices, savvy employers and health benefits companies have 24-hour access to promote healthful programs and activities.

Online social interaction is a way of life in today’s rapidly evolving world. Social communities keep people – and in this case, employees – involved and engaged, both in and out of the workplace. In fact, robust employee wellness programs have long been credited with helping to reduce sick time, improve quality and teamwork, and enhance morale, productivity and retention.

Beyond these positive long-term results, social media also provides the extra motivation employees may need to lose weight, quit smoking, adjust their diets, spend more time exercising and to make other healthy decisions. Sharing goals is a win/win – it’s often more fun to work out, walk or pursue other wellness activities when you do it with friends and coworkers. Positive peer pressure is a strong incentive for change, and utilizing online tools should be part of your strategy as well as the use of posters, questionnaires and “live” information sessions with health and wellness experts.

The social nature of products like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and other popular platforms can be harnessed to help people become more engaged in their wellness programs, and more successful as they try to improve their health. Other ideas that employers can consider implementing are online wellness journals, and discussion groups and progress reports that they can choose to share with friends or other individuals with the same fitness goals.

Here are some practical tips for using online tools and social media to improve health and wellness participation and results:

  • Post regular quizzes, trivia, Q&A sessions, and other interesting educational tools. You can also share helpful resources to navigate screenings, ergonomics and other health-related services provided through your business, or using outside resources.
  • Promote events and activities. Keep employees in the loop about ways they can get actively involved such as classes, news, team marathons or online meet-ups. They can even subscribe to a calendar for the latest updates.
  • Hold friendly contests, such as who can lose the most weight, walk the furthest or visit the gym most often. The competition can be individual or team-based between departments (or even businesses). You can also create daily or weekly challenges in the office, where participants can share their results.
  • Use third-party platforms for a more personalized experience. Third-party apps like FitBit or Keas are great ways to expand employee engagement with integrated sensors, devices, and biometric tracking – all with private access.
  • Create groups or boards. Wellness engagement needs to be long-term, so keeping the dialogue going is crucial. Give your employees space to discuss health issues, share recipes, post updates and more, in the office and online.
  • Offer discounts, recognition, time off, or other rewards. Nothing encourages activity like a great return – so give plenty of public recognition to celebrate employees’ achievements and successes.
  • Share success stories. Workers are more likely to jump on the fitness bandwagon if they can see what others have achieved. Sharing personal accomplishments puts a positive emphasis on each employee’s strengths and potential.
  • Use your resources. If you’re not sure how to begin the wellness conversation on social media, recruit your top internal health advocates to get the ball rolling and to manage your team Chances are your employees are interested, and if encouraged, will take a stronger role in coordinating activities that benefit them, the company, and their associates.

The bottom line is that social media networking can provide strong support for your health and wellness program year round, without adding cost. Through creative incentives and careful management – including a clear use policy and well-defined privacy guidelines – the right networks can transform your current workplace into an active, dynamic social community.


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!

Set Goals for a Healthier New Year

It’s not a coincidence that the gyms are packed in January — nor that the crowds thin in February. When it comes to our health and wellness, there’s also no denying our history, past successes, or lack of progress. Striking an effective balance between measurable action and good intentions is a challenge we all face in our personal and professional lives. But it’s not as simple as just labeling people action oriented or procrastinators — we’re all busy chasing kids, dogs, paychecks and as many other pressing details as there are hours in the day.

But now it’s a new year, a clean slate, tabula rasa. Coming off a season where many of us indulge by overeating, running around and pushing our bodies to unhealthy places, it is the perfect time to make specific plans, set goals and execute strategies that will truly help improve our health. Those plans should include diet, exercise and restful sleep, but the components that can have the most long-term value are how we make it easy to pursue health, and how we measure and reward ourselves and others for progress.

Employers can take an active role in encouraging and supporting their workers’ health and wellness efforts. There’s no question that the benefits of good health extend to productivity, quality, service and teamwork on the job. Employees who are healthier typically get sick less often, are more focused and rested. By establishing goals and working with your employees in positive ways, employers are directly affecting their bottom line.

Here are some simple tips for supporting health and wellness activities at work.

  • Offer healthcare screenings in the workplace. Many local healthcare service providers, clinics and insurers will come into offices to measure items such as cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index. You also can arrange for flu-vaccination clinics, or address smoking-cessation, nutrition and other health and wellness initiatives.
  • Integrate the workplace in health-related activities. If employees are interested, establish a wellness committee and allow them to plan activities of interest to your workers. That could be inviting fitness or nutritional consultants to come speak during lunch or after work, bringing in yoga instructors, aerobic dance, fitness consultants or massage professionals. It also can include planning walks during the day, competitive sports after work, participating in charity events, and bringing healthy snacks, food and recipes into the office for sharing.
  • Set workplace-related goals. There’s power in sharing and collaboration. By setting team goals for weight loss, dietary changes, walking/exercise, smoking cessation and other commonly shared activities, employees can have fun, support one another, and think about health during the day. Offering simple rewards and incentives and publicly celebrating participation and successes builds teamwork and improves morale, as well.
  • Encourage healthcare education. Most large health benefits providers have extensive websites detailing healthcare actions, and offering guidance and useful information.
  • Join the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program. This valuable program is available to all CBIA Health Connections participants at no additional charge.

We’re all responsible for our own health and wellness. Employers can’t mandate health, but they certainly can support efforts and encourage their workers. By discussing and supporting personal efforts, getting involved, facilitating planning and rewarding for participation, each of us can make 2017 a healthier year.

 

Exercising for Financial Health

We may love money, but it doesn’t love us. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously quipped, “Money costs too much,” warning about the unhappiness associated with pursing wealth. We all need money to pay bills and to enjoy a better quality of life. But 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.

Debt, financial stress and spending behaviors are a major cause of relationship problems and often cited as a significant contributing factor in many divorces and breakups. Worrying about money and debt also 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. When you consider that more than three out of four American families are in debt, the weight of all that anxiety becomes more apparent.

Most of us worry about money, and this time of year, that worrying gets worse. Or, we cast caution to the wind, spend beyond our means for the holidays, and figure we’ll bear down come January . . . much like we view our diets and holiday eating.  Granted, December may not be the best time to be considering cutting back on spending, so if we allow for reality and the joys of the season – and think about what we’re going to do differently in the coming months and years — that would be a great gift to ourselves and our families.

Planning and focus pay big dividends

There’s a difference between active coping and comfort coping – some of us eat more, spend more, devise short-term solutions, and find other creative avoidance mechanisms. Instead we should be thinking about informed, collaborative planning and strategies for dealing with our money issues. Creating goals is important – if we are 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.

Here are some tips for improving our financial health:

  • Make a budget. That sounds so basic and simple, yet many people fail to truly organize their financial lives, and to understand what they bring in and what goes out . . . and what they can truly afford. Is it possible that you actually spend $25 a week buying coffee and drinks on the road? Sure it is – and that’s okay, if you can afford the extra C-note 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 phone bill, purchase oil for your furnace or buy a new interview suit, it isn’t.
  • Track your expenses. Whether you write it in a notebook, record it on your computer or download one of the many spending applications available for phones and laptops, tracking what we spend is an important tool for understanding our spending habits and for charting behaviors.
  • Avoid credit, or use it wisely. All that talk about how important it is to use credit cards to build up your credit report is bologna. If you can afford something, buy it with cash or use a debit card. If you can’t afford it, and it’s really important (like fixing the car, and for travel), use a credit card, but be diligent about paying it off as quickly as possible to avoid exorbitant finance charges or the seductive allure of instant gratification.
  • Talk to others about your financial concerns. Share your worries and issues with people close to you, especially your partner. Money worries cause countless troubles for individuals, for couples, and for families. The stigma and shame that accompanies money problems – and the weight of hiding those pressures – causes stress, anxiety and depression, as well. Candor and good communication helps alleviate some of the stress that comes with feeling like you’re bearing the financial burden on your own, or the sense of hopelessness that comes with every bill or debt collector’s call.
  • Consult a financial expert. You don’t have to have a ton of investment income to seek guidance from a financial planner or consultant. He or she can help you devise a savings strategy, determine wise, affordable investments, build your budget, and plan for the future more effectively.
  • Get help for managing your debt. If you have debt and it’s wearing you and your loved ones down, there are options and strategies for addressing your bottom line. Consolidation loans with a lower monthly finance charge can help you rid yourself of credit cards. Banks love when we only pay the minimum due, and profit greatly when we miss a payment and they can charge a hefty penalty. Avoid both by paying more than the minimum monthly payment, or by paying off the card completely as soon as possible.

There are services available to help negotiate payment plans and for consolidating debt, but many of them charge a service fee for this assistance. There also are support groups, free counseling services, and programs such as Debtors Anonymous, a confidential 12-step program available in Connecticut 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. What can change is how we view our spending habits – if we’re not vague or frivolous about how, what and when we spend, we can take a big step toward improving our financial health, as well as our overall health and wellness.

# # #

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!

Take the Lead on Workplace Wellness

It’s that time of year again – the apex of when distracted and cheerful meet pressured and busy. People are running around and more stressed than usual, especially as the days until the holidays count down. It’s also a challenging time in many workplaces, as year-end deadlines, workloads and customer expectations peak.

The good news is that the season will be done before we know it. But keeping employees healthy and well is a year-round venture. Thinking creatively and strategically, you can use the season to remind staff about healthy practices and to reinforce behaviors for the holidays, and for the new year.

Sharing educational materials about healthy eating is a good start. Eating a balanced diet that is low in saturated fats and salt and rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and whole grains — as well as healthy sources of proteins, vitamins and calcium — are critical ingredients for a healthier future. Eating smart helps us maintain a healthy weight and reduces our risk of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

Remind employees that the best way to avoid overeating is to maintain a routine eating schedule during the holidays, pile our plates with vegetables and fruits, eat mindfully, take the time to enjoy our food, and consume a healthy breakfast every day. Additionally, employees can be encouraged to share meals at work, and explore smart nutrition and dietary practices informally, or through sessions at or after work with nutritionists and dietitians.

Variety is also important — sampling a small amount of everything that has different textures and colors on the table can help alleviate cravings. And eating in moderation is always key.  For more information, a good guide is the USDA nutrition website called “My Plate.” It can be found at www.choosemyplate.gov.

Plan exercise and good health practices

Physical activity is one of the most important steps we can take towards a healthier future. If employees are not currently exercising, encourage them to start slowly and build up – employers can think about introducing incentives and friendly competitions, and offering time and space for these team-building activities. Fitness experts are happy to come into workplaces to meet employees and to help them design team or personalized fitness routines.

Set simple goals such as at least 30 minutes three to five days a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, or an hour per week of high-intensity aerobic exercise. The trick is to stay active – staff can take the stairs instead of elevators, and engage in a power walk instead of a power lunch. By setting goals and measuring achievement weekly, it makes exercising more fun and helps improve morale and teamwork. And by offering rewards to all who participate, you both condone and thank employees for their efforts to remain healthier and more productive.

Here are few other tips for improving health and wellness at the holidays, and throughout the year:

  • Stop smoking. Use the end of the year as an opportunity to remind employees of the value in reducing or eliminating smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco products at work and away from work. Point them to programs that are available online, in groups, and through local organizations. Many employers choose to bring smoking-cessation programs into the workplace, as well.
  • Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation. Alcohol adds calories, interferes with restful sleep and leaves you dehydrated. And while one glass a day of red wine might help prevent heart disease, alcohol abuse accounts for 79,000 preventable deaths every year, and is associated with an increased risk of liver disease and some forms of cancer, as well as tens of thousands of motor vehicle accidents annually.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, and avoid snacks and foods high in salt, fats and sugar.
  • Get plenty of rest. Between traveling, shopping, and attending holiday events, it can be difficult to get enough sleep during the holiday season. But getting a good night’s rest will leave people refreshed and can also help to reduce stress. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Even if traveling or away from home during the holidays, try to maintain a regular bedtime routine. Also, avoid caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals and exercising right before bedtime.
  • Set realistic team and personal goals. This is a great time to plan healthy activities for the upcoming year. Consider creating a health and wellness planning team or committee, link activities to monthly health-awareness topics, and work with your Wellness Champion to incorporate ideas available through CBIA, insurance providers, and other health and wellness resources.

Employers play an important role in their employees’ health and wellness. By taking the lead, communicating your interest, and encouraging participation, 2017 will be a healthier year for everyone!


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!

Changing more than the clocks

It’s already November – we’ve turned back the clocks and are readying ourselves for shorter days and inevitable cold weather. November also heralds the start of the holiday season. With Thanksgiving planning on our minds and December parties storming up right behind, it’s a perfect time to contemplate healthy eating, moderation and our waistlines.

Raising nutritional awareness and changing habits are two goals Tyler Losure, the wellness champion for Connecticut Society of CPAs had in mind when he took on the health and wellness assignment this past summer. Career and Academics Development Coordinator for the Society – which has more than 6,000 members and a staff of 15 — Losure had long been involved in athletics and fitness, and concerned about his own health. He saw his wellness champion role as an opportunity to share his commitment to healthy eating and fitness with his work associates, and to have fun and build teamwork at the same time.

“We have a small family atmosphere in our office, including a few new mothers, and many of us are concerned with our health and improving how and what we eat,” Losure said. “At first we tackled the proverbial ‘low-hanging fruit,’ like switching from coffee and juice drinks to water and tea, and replacing afternoon cookies with granola bars and yogurt. That escalated into talking about healthier lunch choices, and we started comparing what we were bringing in from home and discussing choices and recipes.

“I’m also a big juicing fan,” Losure added, “so as people got interested I brought in different juicing options and recipes for tastings. Now we’re talking about getting a juicer for the office to replace afternoon coffee. Improvement starts small – even when one person does something simple and shares it, we inspire others to be more conscious of how we each are fueling and treating our bodies.”

Losure and most of the Society staff have completed their CBIA Healthy Connections online health assessments. In fact, thanks to high participation, the Company was entered into CBIA’s quarterly raffle and won a $500 Amazon gift card which they’ve added to their account for health-related activities. CBIA’s health and wellness education resources, Losure added, are appreciated and shared among staff. The organization offers gym membership discounts, and a group of employees walk together outdoors at lunch three or four times a week.

Additionally, a Connecticut Society of CPAs member who is a yoga instructor ran an onsite yoga class for other members and Society staff, and people in the office are talking openly about health and wellness, nutrition and related life choices. Management support, Losure added, and inviting everyone to participate on their own terms are important factors for ensuring successful participation and change.

“As a small company we’re comfortable enough with one another to talk about the personal decisions we’re making regarding our eating habits, and even about what may be causing stress and anxiety in the office and in our lives,” Losure explained. “We’re setting personal and group goals, and realize that healthy choices at work lead to improved lifestyles outside of work, as well. As a former rugby player and now a power-lifter, I have always been the ‘go-to’ health guru for my friends and work associates, so incorporating what I have learned and enjoy doing has been fun and inspirational. Thanks to the CBIA wellness program, I am really able to promote and encourage those around me to take better control of their lives and their 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!

Achieve Improved Productivity Through Wellness Programs

While there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence about the value and benefits of proactive health and wellness efforts in the workplace, statistics directly linking wellness and cost savings are harder to measure. Large companies can document the number of employees who successfully complete smoking-cessation programs or achieve weight-loss goals, but it’s been more difficult for smaller employers to determine how exercise, eating healthfully and living a more conscious lifestyle translate into other known benefits such as cost savings, decreased absenteeism, improved morale and enhanced teamwork.

But current research has established a definitive link between wellness programs and improved productivity. A study currently under review and co-authored by a faculty member at Washington University in St. Louis empirically tested how wellness programs affect worker productivity. The research paired individual medical data from employees taking part in a work-based wellness program to their productivity rates over time.

The researchers used a three-year panel of medical data for 111 employees and compared them to their work performances, which were accurately measurable by the number of pieces or tasks completed in a factory setting. The researchers also used self-reported data from the employees, as well as evaluations from physicians who examined each employee’s medical progress as the program continued. All information was kept confidential and anonymous.

The researchers compared data for employees who participated in the health plan to employees at the same company who opted out of the program or were in plants that weren’t offered the full program. When they analyzed participant data, the researchers found wellness programs boosted employees’ health and productivity – in fact, productivity jumped by 5 to 11 percent compared to those that didn’t participate in the program. When further quantified, that figure equaled a whopping 528 percent return on investment for the company after introducing its wellness program.

Help your employees to help themselves

The simplest step an employer can take for improving wellness is to encourage his or her staff to use online resources that are free, easily accessible and extremely useful. CBIA Healthy Connections offers a free, confidential online healthcare assessment that takes no more than 15 minutes to complete. Employees completing their assessment receive a $50 Amazon gift card – and the more employees who complete their assessment, the more entries into a quarterly company raffle for a $500 Amazon gift card. Companies also get entered in raffle drawings for completing workshops and sharing wellness stories.

There is a wealth of other resources and tools at the CBIA Healthy Connections website as well. These include

  • An exercise planner
  • Training videos
  • Food log
  • Meal planner and recipes
  • Cardio planner

The exercise planner allows participants to choose a plan and activity level that works for them, ranging from beginning walker, to boot camp or various cardio workouts.  The meal plan tool allows users to choose the plan type they prefer based on their personal nutrition goals. It can be customized for calorie range, dietary restrictions and other options.

Videos at the website teach specific exercises based on personal interests – visitors can choose videos that focus on core exercises, upper or lower body, or stretches – including instruction on more than 15 types of exercises. And a nutritional-needs option, linked to the healthcare assessment, helps people keep track of daily vitamin and mineral intake, and offers suggestions on how to meet these specific nutritional assets. It also provides a weekly customized progress report so users can track their results.

Many similar tools are available through benefits providers and at their websites. Getting started, though, is easy – with simple-to-understand and use resources literally at your fingertips! Check out the CBIA Healthy Connections website at cbiahealthyconnections.com for more information, or call Michelle Molyneux at 860.2441966. Increased productivity and improved wellness are within reach, regardless of a company’s size or focus.