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!

Becoming mindful of the stressors around us

How many times have you sat in meetings watching people check their emails and text messages, or had everything stop for a phone call? Have you ever been at your desk, on the shop floor, at a team function or driving a vehicle while thinking about life, other work, a relationship, a sick parent, or how you’re going to get your kid to soccer practice at the end of the day? Have you ever blown past an exit on the highway, made a mistake on an assignment, gotten hurt or missed a deadline because you were distracted or not paying attention to details?

We’ve all been there. Truth is, we have a lot on our minds — and pressure to get too much done at once. In today’s world, multi-tasking is seen as an essential skill, not the liability it actually is. Oftentimes, it becomes more important to get things done than to get them done well — or we struggle finding that “well-enough” zone.

When we allow our minds to drift — when we are not present in the moment — we can’t achieve our potential. The need to remain focused is critical, but we also need tools to help us concentrate effectively, as well as to relieve stress, frustration, anger, anxiety and negativity. These side effects of our work and lives interfere with our relationships, and have an impact on teamwork, morale, productivity and our physical, mental and spiritual health.

April is Stress Reduction Awareness Month. If we clarify our thoughts, use relaxing techniques and calm our approach to life and work, it will make us more productive, happier and healthier.

The pursuit of “mindfulness” is one valuable approach to gaining control of attention span, focus and concentration. It is now gaining significant traction in large and small organizations across America, especially for its value in reducing the unhealthy results of stress.

Mindfulness essentially means moment-to-moment awareness. Although it originated in the Buddhist tradition, you don’t have to be Buddhist to practice or find value in its benefits. In fact, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is being taught in colleges, yoga studios, meditation centers and workplaces across America. The benefits can be dramatic — in addition to supporting overall health and well-being, mindfulness has been linked to improved cognitive functioning and lower stress levels. That’s even more important when we are being constantly bombarded by email, texts, Facebook, Twitter and other electronic and social media.

When we are mindful we become keenly aware of ourselves and our surroundings by simply observing these things as they are. We are aware of our own thoughts and feelings, but do not react to them in negative or distracted ways. There’s no “autopilot” when we’re focused. By not labeling or judging the events and circumstances taking place around us, we are freed from our normal tendency to react to them, and shift from a subjective to an objective mindset.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, is founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts. He established MBSR in the 1970s to help patients suffering from chronic pain. Mindfulness experts teach us to not resist our mind’s natural urge to wander, but to train it to return to the present, and to center ourselves in the moment. Mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness, and the capacity to manage distressing emotions. It also reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves memory and lessens depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness is being practiced at a number of large companies including Proctor & Gamble, Apple, Google, Deutsche Bank, Astra Zeneca, General Mills and Aetna. It includes a broad spectrum of informal activities, in addition to meditation, movement and structured MBSR techniques.

Here are simple tips that we can incorporate every day, even at work:

  • Spend at least three to five minutes a few times each day doing nothing but breathing and relaxing in the moment, whether at work or at home.
  • Manage distractions like noisy co-workers by tuning into them, instead of letting them drive us crazy. . . by noticing the sounds and their effects on our bodies, we rob the distraction of their power over us.
  • Pay attention to our walking by slowing our pace and feeling the ground against our feet.
  • Anchor our day with a contemplative morning practice, such as breathing, Zen, yoga, meditation or even a walk.
  • Before entering the workplace, remind yourself of our organization’s purpose, and mentally recommit in that moment to our vocation and to being a leader.
  • Throughout the day, pause to make sure we’re fully present before undertaking the next critical task, call or meeting.
  • Practice “strategic acceptance,” which is not seeing every setback in catastrophic terms. When we feel our stress levels rising, we shouldn’t try to force ourselves to cheer up or calm down — rather, simply accept how we feel. That doesn’t mean to ignore the problem, but instead, to observe and accept reality in that moment before making a plan to tackle the problem.
  • Find time to unplug from electronic gadgets, phones, computers and video games — studies have shown that excessive reliance on technology can make us more distracted, impatient and forgetful.
  • Get in touch with our senses by noticing the temperature of our skin and background sounds around us.
  • Review the day’s events at the close of the day to prevent work stresses from spilling into our home lives.
  • Before going to bed, engage in some spiritual reading.

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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!

Investing in employee health and wellness

It’s often said that to succeed, you have to walk before you run. In the case of C.M. Smith, it might be seen as the other way around: Employees started with a marathon and, in short order, followed that effort by walking themselves toward a wide variety of health and wellness programs that has morphed into a year-round sprint.

Since 1974, the C.M. Smith Agency, Inc. and C.M. Smith Financial have provided businesses and individuals with a broad range of employee benefits, insurance, and retirement services. Focused on their customers’ financial health and wellness, it made sense to target their own employees’ health and wellness, too.  And they were able to find creative ways to both encourage wellness and enhance employee engagement through programs designed and implemented by employees, with the blessing, support and encouragement of C.M. Smith management.

Brigid Gunn is the company’s Human Resources and Operations Director, and their Wellness Champion. She explained that when the company moved its offices from Glastonbury to Hartford in 2013, some employees were discouraged by the longer commute and perceived inconvenience of working in the city. A CBIA Health Connections member since the 1990s, the company wanted to find a way to improve morale, support team activities, encourage wellness, and link employee interests with the advantages of working in downtown Hartford.

An employee wellness committee was formed, and meets bi-monthly to brainstorm creative health ideas and to examine activities that were conducive to being downtown. It also was important, she explained, to offer a diverse selection of events, programs and activities that would appeal to differing employee interests, while being convenient and easily accessible.

“We already were a reasonably healthy population,” Gunn observed, “with few smokers and pretty active employees. But not surprisingly, reducing life and work stress was typically mentioned by staff as a key goal. So we set about finding ways to help reduce stress and encourage participation across the board. We also were hoping that every employee would participate in at least one activity in 2015.

“Not everyone likes to walk or run recreationally, and some people want to go home right after work, or exercise early in the day or at lunch, Gunn added. “Like most organizations, we’re a real melting pot, so we needed to make sure we offered something that would appeal to every employee at some point. Also, with two related but separate businesses, we wanted to encourage people to ‘play’ together, as possible, but also feel free to pursue activities on their own.”

The company created an activity budget of $50 per employee, and also arranged to pay for employees to use a fitness center located in their building. Three offsite employees who are on-staff personal health coaches are available to their associates, and the wellness committee sponsored lunchtime learning sessions; lunchtime yoga classes are now planned for March.

“There’s no shortage of clever, fun and interesting ideas to try when you’re committed and have management support,” said Marah Block, Marketing & Data Reporting consultant, whose responsibilities include managing internal employee communication. “We held our own, very successful ‘Biggest Loser’ contest for employees and most of the office attended a UCONN hockey game at the XL Center. We’re also planning downtown clean-up days, and a variety of contests and exercise opportunities. Once you get started, it becomes contagious, and employees have responded very positively to our efforts.”

The company still supports employee participation in The Hartford Marathon and gathers donations for local charities and events. Their medical director recently gave a presentation on healthy dieting, and walking challenges, downtown scavenger hunts, UV and sun protection education, and a harvest fruit and vegetable month are all in the works.

“For us, wellness started by encouraging our team to complete the CBIA Healthy Connections health assessments, but to work effectively and keep people engaged, it has to escalate into a far more comprehensive and energetic effort,” Gunn concluded. “Our employees are heathier, downtown has become an asset, and having this program in place makes coming into work a lot more fun!”

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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!

Make improving employee wellness your winter project

January is over, the deep freeze has set in, and many of us have gone into physical hibernation until the spring thaw. The well-intentioned wellness plans and goals we formulated in late December and early January are already at risk of going south. It’s too cold to walk outside, going to the gym is a time hassle, and we need our comfort food.

If you’re an employer, now is a good time to step in and rally your troops. When we don’t exercise, eat properly or otherwise take care of our bodies mentally and physically, we open ourselves up to obesity and chronic illnesses such as heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes and cancer. Fatigue and depression become commonplace, and all of these maladies contribute to increased time away from work, less productivity while at work and a general malaise that has a negative impact on teamwork, productivity, customer service and morale.

Adopting an organization-wide policy designed to support healthy behavior overall and to improve health outcomes is an important strategy. These programs comprise activities such as health education and coaching, weight-management programs, medical screenings, on-site fitness programs and more.

Wellness programs also include policies intended to facilitate employee health, including allowing time for exercise, providing on-site kitchens and eating areas, offering healthful food options in vending machines, holding “walk and talk” meetings, and offering financial and other incentives for participation. Effective workplace programs, policies, and environments that are health-focused and worker-centered have the potential to significantly benefit employers, employees, their families, and communities.

Here are some ideas to get you started. A useful approach is to recruit employees to meet and discuss wellness options, and then help implement these ideas, with your support.

  • Sponsor walks, runs, bike rides, golfing or other activities for charities or special causes, and encourage workers to participate (pay their entry fees)
  • Sponsor dance lessons, onsite or off
  • Pay for swimming lessons or open-swim time at a local recreation facility
  • Conduct a health fair, with screenings for cholesterol, BMI, blood sugar, etc.
  • Promote “stretch time” and breaks and encourage workers to move around physically
  • Offer smoking-cessation workshops
  • Create healthy competition for achieving personal healthcare goals and a system for monitoring progress and rewarding participants who meet their goals (not just the top achievers, but everyone)
  • Bring a massage therapist to the office or workplace for scheduled appointments with workers
  • Conduct yoga, meditation or other wellness-related classes onsite during the day or after work hours
  • Pay all or a portion of gym or fitness center memberships
  • Consider creating a workout room or space onsite, even if it’s a shared space like a large conference room, lunch or storage area
  • Encourage employees to “wear the colors” and participate in local softball, volleyball, soccer and other competitive sports
  • Bring healthy snacks into meetings and serve healthy lunches
  • Encourage employees to walk at lunch, during breaks or before and after work
  • Make health and wellness videos and educational materials available to employees
  • Instead of candy, cookies and soda, substitute fruit, yogurt and other healthy snacks at meetings and in vending machines
  • Invite guests, such as nutritional experts, chefs and personal trainers to present to employees onsite or locally.

These are just a few ideas — there are hundreds of good programs and suggestions for improving employee health. Although some health risk factors, such as heredity, cannot be modified, focused education and personal discipline can change others such as smoking, physical inactivity, weight gain, alcohol use and, by extension, hypertension, high cholesterol, and even depression.

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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!