Getting comfortable at work

How you feel about your work place, and your work space, has as much to do with productivity, teamwork and improved communication as it does comfort. Employees spend a lot of time at work, and the composition of their working, meeting, and common areas says much about an organization’s culture, values and health.

People like a flexible work culture that helps each employee personalize his or her experience as much as possible. Business owners are finding that more flexibility leads to greater retention, better production and improved customer and employee satisfaction. All of this leads to a better bottom line, as well.

Not everyone works the same way. While some people may prefer a constant buzz around the office, others like quiet spaces to concentrate. It’s a bonus when an employer can match someone’s needs to how – and what — they produce, or to the way they like to work. Varied spaces, when it’s possible, enhance workplace wellness and make offices more inviting.

Customized work spaces can have lounge chairs and couches as well as traditional desks. Mixing it up in the workplace gives employees something different to look at every day instead of a boring, neutral-colored walled cubicle. Empty or unused spaces can be retrofitted as open conference areas, meeting rooms, or gathering places for brainstorming, quality checks, or coffee, juice and snack stations. Plants can be added for warmth and color. The idea is to think creatively, and the more you can involve employees in planning how to use office and warehouse space, the more engaged they will be.

Workers whose companies allow them to help decide when, where, and how they work are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, perform better, and view their company as more innovative than competitors that don’t offer such choices. We can’t always have what we want, but trying to find a compromise – and remaining open to employee ideas and suggestions – goes a long way.

Other simple steps can be taken to improve life in the office, on the plant floor or in other working areas. These include:

  • Place desks near natural light, which helps keep us better attuned to our own circadian rhythms and is a mood enhancer
  • Choose bright and welcoming artwork and colors
  • Allow employees to decorate their own cubicles, offices or work spaces, and to contribute to decorating the office, meeting rooms and common areas
  • Create open spaces throughout the work area by lowering the sides of cubicles and creating café-style seating for mingling and working
  • Reduce clutter so people don’t feel hemmed in, and to reduce visual chaos
  • Involve employees by asking them how they work best, what currently helps or doesn’t, and by offering them a decision-making role in rearranging work areas
  • The typical American sits an average of 9.3 hours a day – which is far longer than most of us sleep each day. Consider “walking or standing meetings,” especially for smaller groups, and when possible, take the meeting outdoors.

The more we can give employees a say in creating a comfortable, effective workplace for themselves and their peers, the happier they’ll be.  Less stress means greater satisfaction and increased productivity and retention. Little that we do in life is “one size fits all.” So the workplace shouldn’t try to be that, either.

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

Saying “Thanks” is Healthy for Giver and Receiver

Think about your own life, work, and accomplishments. It feels good when we do a good job. But while that satisfaction itself can be very rewarding, acknowledgement from our bosses, peers, family members, and friends is equally important. Telling someone he or she has done a good job isn’t just the right thing to do, but also is a mechanism for improving emotional and physical health, productivity, teamwork, and service.

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 unhappy employees are 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/or personal issues. It also contributes to increases in blood pressure, heart disease, poor nutrition and weight gain.

Americans like being told “thanks” but aren’t that great at thanking others, according to a national survey on gratitude commissioned in 2012 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.

  • 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 anywhere from “somewhat” to “very” 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.”

The bottom line is that 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.

Ultimately, there are so many ways to say “thanks” to our employees. Whether verbally, through written or public commendation, one-on-one, or in front of peers at staff meetings, 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.

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



Patient Portals are Good News for Medical Consumers

The days of vast paper records and colorful files in your doctor’s office papering the walls from floor to ceiling are rapidly changing. As physicians, clinics, outpatient service providers and hospitals grapple with evolving digital technology and healthcare mandates, maintaining accurate electronic records has become a priority. The changes are taking time, are costly for providers, and are confusing for patients. But the end result, sometime in the future, will be consistent reporting and patient tracking, truly portable records, simplified access, and improved patient safety and quality.

The healthcare world is being forced to comply by evolving Federal and State mandates and policies. Federal reimbursement strategies for Medicare and Medicaid providers require movement to these new ways of tracking data, though implementation is happening in stages. Called “Meaningful Use” regulations, providers participating in these federal programs have deadlines for implementing Electronic Health Records (EHRs), and in the coming years will continue adding other technological requirements.

The rest of the provider world is following – and sometimes leading — at varying degrees of enthusiasm and compliance. Each of us likely has seen evidence of this new healthcare world:  Many providers make appointments by email or text, X-rays and other diagnostic images are sent to providers electronically, and patient portals are being established that allow patients to review their records, test results and medical histories online through their providers’ websites.

There also had been an uptick in telephone and email-based medical services, from scheduling appointments to communicating with nurses and physicians. Patients who live in more rural areas or who suffer from chronic disease such as diabetes or congestive heart failure can complete simple testing online, such as stepping on a scale that sends your weight to a monitoring service, as well as testing your blood pressure or sugar levels and having this data sent electronically to a medical professional. By reviewing these results, provider can flag vital metrics that might indicate a medical problem or need for an intervention.

For the most part, the uptake of patient portals has followed on the heels of electronic health records. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 41 percent of family practice physicians use portals for secure messaging, another 35 percent use them for patient education, and about one-third use them for prescribing medications and scheduling appointments.

For patients, using portals is relatively easy – provided you have an email address. There is a small learning curve though, and for older patients not as comfortable as Millennials with technology – or for people who don’t have access to the Internet or smart phones – access is more difficult. Getting started typically requires setting up a confidential user ID and password. Then, in addition to scheduling and record viewing, many providers offer a wide spectrum of educational materials and help lines on topics ranging from nutrition and fitness, to preventing heart disease or diabetes.

Communicating through portals can save nurses and receptionists time, too, since the messages pop up in real time on their computer screens. Patient-to-doctor or nurse direct communication also cuts out other staff members’ interpretation of medical issues and patient needs that can occur with phone calls or voicemail. And portals can contain updated prescription information, immunization records, medical procedures and dates, visit logs and family history, items that are vital for your physician, for hospitals, and for you, especially if there’s an emergency.

There remain other barriers, though. For example, most portals are English only, which poses a challenge for populations in inner cities and communities that can contain as many as 150 different languages and dialects. And many of these populations don’t have email accounts or trust technology, which also is true for many seniors, regardless of ethnicity, location, or income. These issues are being addressed, though, and eventually, most patients will be using online tools.

Meanwhile, for portal enthusiasts, confidential access to your personal health information has never been easier, nor has the ability to quickly and easily make appointments, leave messages and check recent test results. It’s a brave new world – but in this case, it’s changing for the better relative to quality, patient safety and consumer engagement.

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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!

Sharing Wellness Messages Online Boosts Participation

As employers increasingly look to expand participation in health and wellness programs in and out of the workplace, they are constantly examining the range of tools available for sharing messages, communicating benefits, and recognizing employee participation and successes.

As an employer, you may already have posters, written wellness tips, or a newsletter and other communication to promote employee health and wellness. In many organizations, employees go online to complete their personal healthcare assessments, a wellness champion shares health information details, and companies have fitness and nutrition experts come to the workplace. So the next logical step involves reaching audiences when they are away from the office.

Digital communication and social networking are rapidly evolving into primary outreach vehicles for employees and their families. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t a part-time commitment; while employers were once reticent to communicate with employees beyond work borders, today’s electronic media have changed boundaries involving the availability of information. Now employees are interested in accessing benefits details and useful tips, ideas, nutritional information and other resources around the clock, especially data that helps them live, eat, exercise and pursue their lives in a healthier manner.

Social networking allows people to communicate with one another wherever they are and whenever they choose. As a result, it can be utilized as a catalyst for improving employee participation in ways that traditional communication programs cannot. And the availability of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, websites and a wide variety of messaging services and smart phone apps can translate into increased participation and worker engagement.

On Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, for example, people can share information among their networks of friends and colleagues. That includes articles, blogs, news, opinions, reviews, recipes and much more. They also can form online groups linked by common interests such as general fitness, charity walks, running or bicycle rides, diets and nutritional resources, and much more. Employees can reach out to one another and their wider networks of friends through these media, invite others to join them, share results or goals, and compete for bragging rights.

Employers can participate in this wellness outreach, too, by establishing Facebook and Twitter accounts that focus on health and wellness, posting information on their websites, promoting ideas, sharing articles and event notices, and recognizing employee achievements and team milestones. And the price is right – the investment is time, as most of these vehicles are free to use.

Another good way to increase engagement in health and wellness is to allow employees to help decide what gets posted, shared or communicated via social media. And interactive tools are great for congratulating employees who reach important goals, such as competing in a 5K run, marathon or fitness program, or to invite others to join them in these endeavors. Privacy issues have to be respected, but like any other form of public communication, information can be vetted before it’s posted or shared to ensure compliance with legal, HR and ethical standards and codes of appropriate conduct.

Achieving wellness goals is much easier when you’re not in it alone. Employing tools people already use to plan group activities, promote support and recognize successes can increase retention, boost morale and help everyone improve wellness while trying to get a handle on health care costs.

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

Are You Maximizing Your Health Benefits?

Earlier this month, someone incredibly lucky – a $63 million lottery winner in California – failed to step up and claim his or her grand prize prior to the closing date, forfeiting the fortune. We can only speculate why they didn’t cash in. Maybe they were ill or had died. Maybe they didn’t need – or want – the money. Or maybe they just threw the winning ticket into the garbage accidentally, never checked the winning numbers, or washed it in their jeans.

Most of us will never walk away from a fortune, or even from an opportunity to save. We clip coupons, fight the Black Friday crowds, shop online, and check the prices of everything we consider purchasing. Yet, there’s one area where many people often fail to think about missed value, lost opportunities and missed savings – and that’s their health and wellness benefits.

Employers can reinforce the value of employees’ “hidden paycheck” through regular reminders, updates, benefit education sessions and by encouraging employees to touch base with their benefit provider’s website, telephone resources, and customer service support. The more employees understand their benefit offerings, the more they can utilize the full spectrum of valuable services, which can include annual health screenings, fitness center discounts, smoking-cessation programs, vaccinations, eye exams, nurse-call lines, disease-management programs and much more.

Most benefits providers reach out regularly to members. But employers also can encourage employees to visit their benefits websites and, if they haven’t already, establish an account. Suggest they review the full range of health and wellness benefits available throughout the year, instead of just tuning in during open-enrollment season. It’s easy to keep track of your progress against a benefits deductible, or to monitor how much you have in your health savings account. And there may well be unexpected surprises for those users willing to take a few minutes to review their plans in more detail.

Though benefits vary widely from plan to plan, here are a few examples of potential missed opportunities:

  • Keeping track of balances (deductibles, health savings accounts, etc.) and claims helps you monitor your healthcare spending, and know when insurance benefits will kick in more fully following completion of deductible requirements as applicable.
  • By knowing what your plan covers, in detail, you will be better able to take advantage of important benefits such as covered annual physicals, OB/GYN visits, mammograms, eye exams and more.
  • Pharmacy benefits such as tiered drug coverage, 90-day mail-order prescriptions, and generics can represent significant cost savings.
  • Many insurance benefits providers offer online or telephone-based services such as nurse help lines, online question and answer forums, and disease-management programs for medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and respiratory illness.
  • Many benefits providers offer obesity-reduction and nutritional information, educational materials for expectant or new mothers, stress-reduction guidance and a variety of classes.

Reminding employees to complete their online health assessment and access healthcare educational information are simple steps we all can take to become more engaged in helping to manage health and wellness for ourselves, our families, and our employees.

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

Plan for a good, healthy year

There’s nothing like a clean slate to make you feel you can conquer the world! January is like a year of Mondays  . . . but instead of just having the entire, fresh week to look forward to, you have an entire year ripe with change, opportunity and the 20/20 vision you gained from the previous year’s successes, failures, good intentions or near misses!

January is when most people make – or kick off—their “new year’s resolutions.”  Most organizations do their business planning cyclically, or aligned to their fiscal calendar. But when it comes to employees’ personal health and wellness, this is when they’re typically thinking about losing weight, eating healthier, returning to the gym, taking fitness classes and otherwise looking to improve themselves. Why not tap that vein, metaphorically speaking, and join in the fun and wellness planning?

Employees appreciate their employers’ interests in their wellbeing, and when the workplace offers support and encouragement for helping workers achieve personal goals, it’s a winning combination. If you don’t have one already, this is a great time to establish a voluntary health and wellness committee, under the guidance of your Wellness Champion. Encouraging all employees to complete their CBIA Healthy Connections online healthcare assessment is low-hanging fruit, and as additional incentive, there’s a gift card for the employee when the assessment is complete, and a raffle opportunity for the employer.

Have your health and wellness team speak with their fellow workers to determine what’s foremost on everyone’s minds. Maybe they’d like to meet with a fitness expert, nutritionist or yoga instructor, or have a healthcare screening completed onsite. Team walks, runs, biking or other fitness activities that may also benefit select charities or organizations help build teamwork, reduce stress and improve morale. And when employees choose the topics and do the outreach and coordination, the chances of greater participation are increased.

Employers can help by instigating these activities, funding reasonable ideas, creating incentives for participation, setting goals, and offering gifts for completion or to reward competitors who outperform the rest.

Another way to build teamwork and improve morale is to remember that “giving” doesn’t occur only at the holidays. People need blood, clothes, food, shelter and support throughout the year. January is National Blood Donor Month – consider hosting a blood drive at your workplace. You also can plan food or clothing drives for people. Collect food for animals, and support or adopt a local shelter for animals and donations, or support for homeless individuals, vets and seniors.

Giving has been established as having positive emotional and physical health benefits. It makes people “feel good,” affects us chemically, and heightens our attachment to one another, as well as to the workplace that supports these efforts. And your efforts to encourage health and wellness planning for 2016 – and to reinforce and support these plans over the coming months – are great gifts for a healthy new year!

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

Sometimes the best gifts can’t be wrapped

If you’ve been thinking about workforce gifts for the 2015 holidays, consider gifts that “keep on giving,” such as improved long-term employee health, tools for reducing stress, and activities that will enhance teamwork, productivity and morale.

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

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

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

Here are some simple ideas you can consider for a healthier 2016

Health and wellness planning: Host a planning session — led by employees or by an outside expert – where participants can talk about their personal health and wellness goals, and discuss possible group support and activities.

Nutritional guidance:  Ask a professional nutritionist or dietitian to meet with staff at a group lunch, or in one-on-one or small group meetings to talk about healthy eating, smart dieting and nutritional awareness.

Gym memberships: If you don’t already, consider offering an allowance to employees to use for purchasing a gym, yoga or fitness center membership, or consider bringing a fitness trainer onsite.

Offer incentives: Some organizations incentivize employees by rewarding them for healthy activities such as setting and achieving personal wellness goals, or by completing wellness workshops and classes. Many companies also allow employees to take work time to visit their primary care physician or OB/GYN for their annual physicals. Plus, routine visits are covered in full for CBIA Health Connections members.

Community outreach: Building up morale in the company is a commonly overlooked wellness initiative, but the results are always positive. Lead this initiative by getting a team together for a charity event or race, volunteer, “adopt” a family or charity for the holidays, raise money as a team for gifts, match team and individual efforts, and encourage employees to donate food, time and services.

Stress relief: Studies show that a power nap can increase alertness, memory and stamina. Some companies have designated an office where employees can reserve times during the day for relaxing, and forward-thinking organizations find ways to reward employees and help them “recharge” by allowing them much-needed “down time” that is customized to each employees’ needs. Also consider inviting a yoga instructor or massage therapist to the workplace, and if possible, create a space for team instruction.

Smoking-cessation: A variety of free or inexpensive smoking cessation programs are available locally through the American Lung Association, hospitals and other sources.

There’s no shortage of good ideas and easily adopted practices for increasing employee health and wellness. CBIA continuously reaches out to our Health Connections members to discover how they bring wellness into the workplace without spending a lot of money. From time to time this column runs best-practice stories, and we’re always interested in what you are doing, regardless of how seemingly small, to promote health and wellness in your workplace.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season and year to come!


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

Champion healthy eating, especially during the holidays

The final weeks of 2015 are coming at us like a runaway freight train. In addition to the stress of year-end results, deadlines, 2016 planning and never-ending customer demands, we know we’re going be competing to keep our employees focused as the holidays loom. It may be early November, but advertisers are already amping up, parties are being booked, Thanksgiving-themed foods are lining the supermarket shelves and we’re all steeling ourselves for the chaos to come.

This is an unhealthy time of year, from an eating and exercise perspective. It’s likely that many of us will throw caution to the wind and indulge more than we might normally, skipping workouts and allowing ourselves to be swayed toward the darker side of nutritional sanity. But if we’ve been working hard at our health all year – or for those who don’t want to let themselves go to seed for the next two months or start the New Year at a serious deficit – eating carefully now is more important than ever.

As employers, our employees’ health matters all year round, so why let it slip come November? Obesity is a huge issue, pun intended. Fewer than one-third of Americans are currently at a healthy weight. Obesity is related to increases in diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, all of which converge as an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Closer to home, this means many employees aren’t eating properly, exercising regularly or taking care of themselves. That translates into more sick time, reduced productivity, quality issues, stress, and morale problems.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for an intervention, doesn’t it?! Since we want to encourage year-round healthy eating and exercise, this is a great opportunity to make the workplace the healthy holiday place. Encourage employees to bring in sugar-free or reduced-fat desserts only. Host contests for the best-tasting, healthiest, alternative treats. Promote healthy recipe swaps, and discourage people from sharing candy, cookies and other sweets at their desks and in the kitchen or lunch room.

If that sounds too Scrooge-like, consider offering incentives for maintaining personal or team weight between mid-November and mid-December. That way, people can find clever, creative ways to eat healthfully, and then eat whatever they want as the actual holidays approach in late December. Reward individuals or teams with gift cards – or even “go off the wagon” together as a team with your own holiday party. And surprise the troops with anonymous vegetable platters, fruit and healthy snacks in the common room, instead of cookies, bagels and pizza.

Remind employees of the importance of exercise, as well, especially with the change in weather driving us indoors. Schedule walks, investigate fitness center or gym memberships for the New Year, or look for charitable activities employees can adopt and pursue as a team.

If we’re creative, motivated and dedicated, we can use this time of year as a positive catalyst for maintaining our health and wellness now, into 2016, and beyond.

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

Wait and watch, or take action?

The best managers lead by example, whether it’s related to productivity and quality, service, cost savings, teamwork or championing improved health and wellness. When it comes to employee wellness, small companies across Connecticut and throughout the country are taking simple, measurable steps, setting achievable goals, supporting employee engagement, creating incentives and offering proactive, ongoing support.

With healthcare costs rising every year, more employers turn toward wellness programs to counter some of the financial strain, according to the 2015 SHRM Employee Benefits Survey report recently released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Wellness benefits, incentive programs and outreach efforts provide employers with a preventative approach that can reduce healthcare expenses for organizations over the long haul. According to the survey report, the top wellness benefits offered to manage chronic diseases and other health-related issues include wellness resources and information (80% of respondents) and wellness programs (70%). Additionally, wellness benefits such as health and lifestyle coaching, smoking-cessation programs, and premium discounts for getting an annual risk assessment have risen in the past five years.

Employers can play a critical role in helping their workforce properly utilize their health benefits and participate in wellness efforts. As the end of the year approaches, picking one or two items may be a good course of action, and easier to control. And as National Health Education Week is October 19 to October 23, this month is as good a time to start as any!

For example, fewer than one-third of Americans are currently at a healthy weight. About 35 percent of men and 37 percent of women are obese. Another 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women are overweight, researchers said in a recent issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Obesity has been linked to a number of chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and arthritis. A new report used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, gathered between 2007 and 2012, involving more than 15,000 men and women age 25 and older.

Overweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BMI is calculated by comparing a person’s weight to their height. For example, a 5-foot-9 man who weighs 169 pounds or a 5-foot-4 woman who weighs 146 pounds both have a BMI of 25, and would be considered overweight, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Obesity is defined by the CDC as any body mass index 30 or higher. More Americans are overweight and obese these days, compared with federal survey data gathered between 1988 and 1994.

Obesity is related to increases in diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, all of which converge as an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Closer to home, this means many employees aren’t eating properly, exercising regularly or taking care of themselves. That translates into more sick time, reduced productivity, quality issues, stress, and morale problems.

As employers, we can encourage dialog and promote wellness education. We can bring nutritional and fitness experts to the office or shop, or make these and other healthcare professionals available to employees and their families. We can create friendly, internal competitions, offer incentives for trying, let alone succeeding, support charity walks and events, and recognize these efforts individually and in front of peers.

By engaging employees in these processes, the results are bound to improve. And with the year racing to a close, setting reasonable expectations and plans for 2016 can make a difference in everyone’s lives and in our organizations’ bottom lines.

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



Lead the battle against seasonal flu and colds

The mornings are taking on that characteristic early autumn chill, and the sugar maples are starting to turn red. Pumpkins will soon appear in local farm markets, along with fresh apples, cider and gourds. But as much as we may welcome and savor the oncoming fall, it’s also a harbinger of cold and flu season. And while we can’t totally eliminate seasonal illnesses, there are plenty of steps we can take to ensure a healthier workforce and to limit the spread of germs and bacteria among staff and associates.

If you’re wondering if taking simple, inexpensive steps in the workplace is worthwhile, consider these flu-related costs: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that, on average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost the nation’s economy $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits. That does not include the indirect costs related to lost productivity and absenteeism.

One CDC study estimates that each flu season, 111 million workdays are lost to flu-related absenteeism, which amounts to about $7 billion annually in lost productivity. And that doesn’t include time lost to “presenteeism,” when employees come to work not feeling well. This has an impact on customer service, productivity, quality and safety, as well.

And if you think you’ll wait until the season arrives, it’ll be too late. Prevention is essential, and for the most part, this entails some simple, common sense measures, such as encouraging employees to wash their hands, offering free or low-cost flu vaccination shots, and routinely washing and disinfecting work surfaces. Most importantly, workers who suspect they are ill should stay home from work.

What to expect, how to react

The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. Most seasonal flu activity typically occurs between October and May. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February.

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. People should begin getting vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available, if possible by October, to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating in the community, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.

It’s important to get a flu vaccine every season, even if you got vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed for the current season. And while you’d think that this message has been heard, the numbers of Americans still not getting vaccinated is extremely high. According to the CDC:

  • Only 49.9 percent of children six months to 17 years received an influenza vaccination during the past 12 months.
  • The number of adults 18-49 years who received an influenza vaccination during the past 12 months was only 31.2 percent.
  • And only 45.5 percent of adults 50-64 years received an influenza vaccination during the past 12 months. The number for adults over 65 was 70 percent.

A number of different private-sector vaccine manufacturers produce flu vaccine for use in the United States. This season, both trivalent (three-component) and quadrivalent (four-component) influenza vaccines will be available. Different routes of administration are available for flu vaccines, including intramuscular, intradermal, jet injector and nasal spray vaccine.

Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine somewhere else, like a health department, pharmacy, urgent care clinic, and often through your school, college health center, or at work.

Information, access and accommodation

Employers also can take the lead on educating their workforce about prevention and treatment.

Antiviral drugs are prescription drugs that can be used to treat flu illness. People at high risk of serious flu complications (such as children younger than two years, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions) and people who are very sick with flu (such as those hospitalized because of flu) should get antiviral drugs. Some other people can be treated with antivirals at their health care professional’s discretion. Prompt treatment can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

Treatment with antivirals works best when begun within 48 hours of getting sick, but can still be beneficial when given later in the course of illness. Antiviral drugs are effective across all age-and risk groups. Studies show that antiviral drugs are under-prescribed for people who are at high risk of complications who get flu. This season, three FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs are recommended for use in the United States: oseltamivir, zanamivir, and peramivir.

Children younger than six months are at higher risk of serious flu complications, but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because of this, safeguarding them from flu is especially important. If you live with or care for an infant younger than six months of age, you should get a flu vaccine to help protect them from flu.

In addition to getting vaccinated, you and your loved ones can take everyday preventive actions like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others.

Finally, there are a few other simple steps employers can take at the office, shop floor or in work areas to help protect your workforce from colds and the flu. Here are a few additional examples:

  • Work with your staff or your health and wellness champion to send out regular messages, information and access to websites
  • Increase shifts so there are fewer people in the office at one time
  • Limit meetings and communal lunches during the height of flu and cold season
  • Expand opportunities, if possible, for telecommuting
  • Encourage workers who are sick or becoming sick to work from home or remain home to rest, without fear of compromising their jobs
  • Allow more flexibility for parents with sick children
  • Install “no-touch” garbage cans and hand sanitizers throughout the workplace
  • Encourage hand washing frequently
  • Offer onsite flu clinics for your workers, or work with a local health facility to accommodate your workers at convenient times.

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