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!

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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!

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!

Simple, realistic goals help employees shape up

People often say it’s the little things that count, that difficult and challenging tasks aren’t insurmountable when tackled in small bites. And time after time, we see how simple steps — tempered by consistency, enthusiasm, effort and support — can form a potent mix when it comes to changing behaviors and instituting positive habits.

Such is the case at The Health Consultants Group, a privately held employee benefits brokerage with 25 employees in Plainville and a small satellite office in Massachusetts. Committed to employee health and wellness — for their clients and their employees — the company asked its staff at a team lunch held prior to the summer what they might want to do together that would be fun, involve physical activity, require goal setting and promote friendly competition. The results, said Susan Mateyov, wellness coordinator, was a seasonal wellness program called Summer ShapeUP.

ShapeUP, she explained, was an eight-week voluntary program which encouraged participants to track a variety of healthy practices that involved tasks easily achieved and items readily available. These activities, she added, were based on research she did into what other companies were doing on the health and wellness front, as well as information she gathered from The Wellness Council of America (WELCOA).

The company had already tried a walking program and wanted something more interactive. A weekly point system was developed for tracking a variety of healthy choices. Points were assigned and awarded for a minimum of 30 minutes of activity daily; for water, fruit and vegetable intake; for days without tobacco products; and for a variety of “bonus” items such as visiting a local farmers’ market, grilling instead of frying foods, bringing a healthy lunch to work, and getting eight or more hours of sleep at night.

“We knew that to be successful, these had to be simple, achievable tasks like eliminating sugary drinks, packing a nutritious lunch, and just taking a quick walk before or after work,” Mateyov said. “We weren’t looking to do anything invasive like drawing blood, or more aggressive tactics like measuring and recording weight. People told us to keep it simple, that their challenge often was just getting started and needing support from colleagues and friends. So we kept it easy, made it fun, and introduced financial incentives to stoke the competitive fires!”

Those incentives, she added, were gift card drawings for everyone who earned a certain amount of points each week, drawings for all participants simply for trying, and additional weekly gift card drawings for participants who exceeded the weekly point threshold. The program wrapped up at the end of June with the majority of participants consistently exceeding the minimum weekly incentive level. Employee evaluations, Mateyov said, indicated that staff enjoyed the program and that they now drank more water and had an enhanced awareness of what they were eating and general nutrition. Additionally, four employees participated in a charity 5K fitness walk in July.

The company’s senior management team, she stressed, was very supportive. The program was promoted through a kick-off meeting, regular emails, and flyers posted around the office. Flush from this success, the next wellness program on their agenda is to have employees complete workshops found at the CBIA Healthy Connections website. Each employee who finishes at least three online workshops will receive a Starbucks gift card.

“I realize how simplified this sounds, but it’s just about raising awareness, increasing focus and setting realistic goals that anyone can achieve,” Mateyov concluded. “We’re trying to introduce similar health and wellness thinking with our client companies, but it’s the same formula: Ensure support from management, keep it fun, introduce low-cost incentives and be willing to run the program even if only a few people participate initially. The word will get out, and more employees will join in each time!”

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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!

Catering to employee appetites for good nutritional health

It’s July already — how’s that diet going? If you’re like most Americans, you may be a few pounds heavier than you’d like, or have a specific goal in mind. That could be sliding effortlessly into a favorite dress or suit, comfortably wearing your bathing suit or bikini in public, or reconnecting with the jeans that used to fit you like a glove!

Many of us could stand to lose a few pounds. Nobody knows better than we do how we feel — and look — at optimum weight. Maybe the stairs or trails are getting tougher to climb, or that brisk walk across the shop floor or mall parking lot leaves us huffing a bit. Or, of greater consequence, our blood sugar, cholesterol counts or blood pressure is higher than recommended by our physicians.

If we are managing a business, we’re trying to keep ourselves, our workers and our bottom line healthy. But it isn’t easy. Every day we hear staggering statistics about the toll heart disease, diabetes, cancer, failing joints and respiratory illnesses take on Americans. Anybody afflicted with these chronic diseases or conditions knows how it affects their quality of life — and their pocketbooks. But it’s also costing employers billions of dollars annually in lost productivity, sick time, worker’s compensation, disability, safety and quality.

More times than not, the culprit — directly or indirectly — is obesity or a combination of poor diet, bad eating habits and lack of exercise. It’s aggravated, of course, by genetics, stress, age, poverty and access to good healthcare and nutritional information.

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

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

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

When workers aren’t feeling well, they don’t perform well…or at all. Quality, productivity and safety decline, and other workers and customers feel the pain, as well.

So, what to do? You can’t follow your employees around watching what and when they eat or exercise. You also can’t discriminate against them for being heavy, or offer incentives or competitions that punish those who can’t lose weight successfully. What you can do is provide access to informational tools on nutrition and healthy eating. You can invite specialists to come counsel your workforce. You can sponsor healthcare screenings where employees’ Body Mass Index (BMI) is determined and discussed, and where medical professionals can screen for cholesterol, sugar, high blood pressure and other issues.

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

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

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

Interactive options can take many forms, from healthy snacks, recipe swaps and lunches to time during the day for exercise, educational sessions and peer support. Letting employees lead the effort can pay back in creative ideas, buy-in and improved results, boosting morale and team work at the same time.

Although it may seem that only large organizations can implement obesity prevention and control programs, organizations of all sizes have done so successfully. One useful website that provides a variety of tools, ideas and resources can be found at www.cdc.gov/obesity/

Whatever you do, communicate your intentions candidly and consistently, encourage feedback, and seek guidance from experts in your community. Engage employees and their families as much as possible, and the results could help lift some, uh, weight off your shoulders!

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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!

Putting national observances to work for your company

Summer’s rapidly approaching, which means the year is half gone. Or, on a more positive note, you still have six months in 2015 to plan some fun, competitive and interesting health and wellness activities for your workforce!

One CBIA Health Connections employer created a health and wellness committee to brainstorm and plan activities. They linked several of their activities to national health- and wellness-related observances. Another tied their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Many employers bring in guest presenters and instructors, or sponsor classes, health screenings, nutritional education, and internal competitions. It’s all good fun, can be used to support charitable programs, and helps build stronger workplace teams.

Every month in the United States, there are a dozen or more “formal” awareness commemorations. These provide great topics around which you, your wellness champion, management team, or staff employees can develop an action plan for one or more activities.

There’s something for everyone, ranging from high-profile cancer awareness months for ovarian, prostrate, breast, lung and skin cancers, to fruit and vegetables “matter” month, obesity, eye and hearing care, diabetes, yoga, UV protection, blood pressure, workplace and helmet safety, immunizations, and much more. You can find the list and related information here.

This month is National Great Outdoors Month – there are a variety of activities planned at Connecticut State parks, perfect locations for picnics and outings. And even though it’s not even summer yet, it’s never too early to begin planning for the autumn and winter – by building a schedule well in advance, you can encourage more employee involvement in planning and implementing activities that ultimately improve teamwork, enhance morale and productivity and support health and wellness.

Healthier employees are happier employees. They get sick less often, suffer from fewer incidences of chronic diseases, and have reduced absenteeism and sick days.

Sounds like a win for everyone. By delegating – and using the many health and wellness tools available online – you can play a major role in promoting, supporting and funding health and wellness activities that feature a huge return on your investment!

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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!

Spring’s a great time for company activities

Spring heralds charitable walks, runs, bicycling and all manner of fundraisers that offer great team-building options and promote healthy activities. Softball, volleyball, tennis, basketball and many other team-related recreational opportunities are starting as well. If you haven’t already, now might be a good opportunity to see what events and activities appeal to your workforce, and support or sponsor one or more team endeavors.

Employers also can encourage individual recreational pursuits — for example, offering support to employees who are interested in community gardening, and for planting flower boxes around their communities. Other outdoor activities can include hiking, bird-watching, nature walks, park and river clean-up days, rock climbing and much more. People can do things on their own, as groups, and even find opportunities through organizations like the Audubon and Sierra Clubs, local YMCA or YWCA facilities, Boys and Girls Clubs, and private gyms.

The bottom line is that whatever employers do to support employee activities can be good for morale and teamwork. And improved teamwork and attitudes boost productivity, retention and quality, reduce absenteeism and accidents, and increase voluntary participation. Not to mention the health and wellness benefits!

Of course, activities aren’t limited to the outdoors. There are bowling and indoor fitness workouts, spinning, swimming, cooking, art and pottery classes…there’s no limit if you apply your imagination. Additionally, many organizations are bringing guest presenters to the workplace to talk about stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, massage therapy and yoga. Team weight-loss efforts and competitive programs also are trending.

One great example is a program by Charkit Chemical Corporation, which sponsored an employee “Biggest Loser” program. Their effort lasted 12 weeks and included 16 employees divided into four teams. Every week each participant weighed in privately, and the team weight-loss percentage was reported. One team and one individual received top honors at the end of the program.

Teams had the opportunity to add workouts and win trivia contests for additional weight-loss value, scored every other week. The workouts needed to be a minimum of 30 minutes and had to include all team members. The trivia contests were held every other week as well, and the winning team earned a two-pound advantage. All trivia was taken from emails and health-related articles that were emailed and posted around the office. Most of the trivia focused on food and portion size information. Each week the winning team received prizes such as Amazon gift cards, funded by the company. The final winners won Visa gift cards and were announced during a special ceremony.

While their Biggest Loser contest was running, Charkit also offered a series of employee nutrition seminars held onsite by a licensed nutritionist. They held three group sessions, and offered employees one-on-one planning meetings so individuals could address personal nutrition and health issues. Topics for the group sessions included reducing sugar and fat intake, portion control, and increasing healthy eating.

According to a Charkit leader, many of the employees who participated in the seminars have applied their learning to their everyday nutritional behavior. Overall, she added, the programs got people thinking about their health in a far more comprehensive way, and resulted in many positive changes.

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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!