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!

CBIA Healthy Connections at Work

When your employees are sick or absent, it has a measurable impact on service and your bottom line. When they’re at work but not feeling well — physically or mentally — it affects their attitude, their responsiveness, their interactions with customers and other employees, and their overall performance.

Ensuring that your employees are at their personal best was part of the vision in creating CBIA Healthy Connections. When we function at 100 percent of our capacity, everyone benefits. And when you and your employees are healthier, it increases productivity and saves you money. Ultimately, these savings can help control escalating premium costs, which is good for your business, your employees, and their families.

It’s a new calendar year, and opportunities abound for improving workplace health and wellness. If you’re new to CBIA Health Connections or considering membership, the benefits of workplace wellness are waiting for you and your employees!

Helping employees take control of their health

As a small business owner, you know how important every employee’s contribution is to your bottom line. So CBIA Healthy Connections is designed to help employees take better control of their own health. Benefits of increased health and wellness at work include:

  • A decrease in paid and unpaid sick days
  • Reduced general absenteeism
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved morale and teamwork
  • Fewer work-related accidents and violations
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction

Once you and your team are enrolled, a CBIA Healthy Connections representative will contact each employee by email and encourage them to complete a free, confidential, online health assessment on his or her physical and mental health. The health assessment utilizes a simple online questionnaire that helps determine the employees’ current understanding of and commitment to wellness. It includes questions about their general health such as weight, stress, diet and exercise, and asks about habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption. The information is confidential. None of this information is shared with the employer or with the insurance carrier.

In return for completing the health assessment, each employee will receive a $50 Amazon.com electronic gift card. After the employee completes the health assessment, they’ll receive a report that outlines their general state of health and highlights areas for improvement. The employee will be encouraged to visit CBIA’s interactive, personalized wellness website for health tips and suggestions, educational information, and to participate in wellness workshops.

This easy-to-use online program will provide you and your team with:

  • Increased awareness of the benefits of wellness
  • Access to useful, pertinent health and wellness information
  • Simple interactive tools
  • Informed decision-making about health choices
  • A dedicated support mechanism
  • Personal and team incentives

Each participating employee has access to information through the website that covers a variety of wellness topics including diet and nutrition; exercise and recreation; stress reduction; weight reduction or weight-gaining guidance; smoking cessation; and much more. They’ll be able to return to the site as often as they’d like to receive confidential program feedback and support.

Learn more about CBIA Healthy Connections here. You can join up to 90 days after your company’s renewal. And remember, it’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

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A gift to employees you don’t have to wrap

If you’re struggling to find the perfect gift for your employees that truly keeps on giving, think health and wellness! This is the ideal time of year to help employees explore their personal wellness regimen and health goals, and set positive behavioral changes in motion for 2015. As employers, we can set the pace for ourselves and our teams through proactive planning, education and outreach.

Chances are you’ve already picked the low-hanging fruit, such as completing individual health assessments. That’s a great start, but now it’s about moving from planning to action. Leaders help encourage and motivate their workforces. Healthier employees are happier, more motivated and productive. They also require less sick time, and are more attentive to their teammates and customers.

Supplementing the cost of membership in local fitness centers and gyms is a popular option. You also can bring health experts in areas such as nutrition, fitness and stress reduction into your office to talk with employees during the work day. Encouraging and sponsoring activities such as bowling, team workouts and charity drives encourages team-building and improves morale. This is particularly important during the cold winter months when getting outside is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Spring, thankfully, isn’t that far away, so planning for charity walks, softball, volleyball and related activities can start now.

Some employers sponsor in-house fitness classes, yoga and health screenings, and offer personal health and fitness coaches. One local company, The Barn Yard & Great Country Garages, in Ellington, actually had a massage therapist in for an employee spa day. According to Michael Maiscalo, assistant vice president, when their company held their free massage day, 16 employees enjoyed 20-minute massages. The idea for this event resulted from a “Wellness Jumpstart” contest held by CBIA Health Connections earlier in the year to encourage wellness ideas. Submissions were collected and entered into a drawing.

The Barn Yard & Great Country Garages submitted their spa suggestion, and received a $500 gift from CBIA to help pay for the event. The feedback from this activity was very positive, said Maiscalo, and the company will look at repeating it and related wellness activities in the future.

There are a variety of health and wellness initiatives companies can entertain. Asking employees for their input and participation helps keep people focused and engaged. It can be something as simple as healthy recipe swaps, replacing candy and soda machines with healthier snacks, and sponsoring fitness activities. Friendly internal competitions with cash or other incentives go a long way toward promoting participation. In fact, incentives for improving employee participation in health coaching and related programs was a major topic discussed in November by The National Obesity Society (TOS) at its annual meeting in Boston.

Workplace wellness programs have the potential to significantly improve employee health, said lead researcher and author Jason Block, MD, TOS Member and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Population Medicine. “Our goal was to evaluate what motivates people to participate in these programs and what strategies companies and insurers can use to get everyone involved,” Block explained. “Our data show that financial incentives clearly work to motivate participation in a health coach program and in related health activities.”

Block offered the following tips on initiating coaching or wellness-related incentives:

  • Structure your programs to reward employees for engaging in healthy habits;
  • Avoid the use of body mass index (BMI) as a basis for financial penalties or incentives;
  • Ensure incentive programs are matched with health plans that cover evidence-based obesity treatment programs and medications;
  • Focus programs on overall wellness for all employees, rather than only those affected by obesity or overweight; and
  • Create a supportive workplace environment that provides opportunities for healthy behaviors, such as healthy food options in the cafeteria and vending machines.

Whatever you can offer your employees will be appreciated when it comes to recognizing their health concerns.

If you haven’t already, start your planning now and welcome the new year with a renewed commitment to workforce health and wellness.

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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!

Watch what I say AND what I do

Humans are naturally complex creatures, but we take our social and behavioral cues from those around us. We carefully watch the actions of our mentors, partners, peers, leaders, and employers to see what they’re doing and what they’re saying.

It’s going to be tougher for employers to “sell” health and wellness if they’re walking around smoking cigars, drinking colas and handing out chocolate at meetings. The battle of the bulge notwithstanding, we all have work to do when it comes to our personal healthcare, but setting priorities and working toward shared goals makes a big difference in getting others to notice and follow suit.

So often, it’s the little things that matter…and while it’s not all nutritional, that’s a good place to start since everyone loves to eat!  Replacing candy and soda vending choices with healthier options says you’re paying attention and taking an interest in your employees’ health. Fruit at meetings in place of cookies and bagels, water in lieu of soda, coffee and sweetened drinks, and salads or healthy platters instead of pizza and grinders at office meetings will be noticed.

Eliminating smoking at the workplace — indoors, on company grounds and in company vehicles — sends a strong message as well. We can’t legislate what our employees do on their own time and outside of the office or shop, but we can provide smoking-cessation information, articles, incentives and access to programs. Paying for those programs sends an even stronger message.

Employers can link wellness in their workplaces to national monthly health-awareness events and activities. For example, November is American Diabetes Month; Lung Cancer Awareness Month; Alzheimer’s disease awareness month; and The Great American Smokeout. Each, by itself, offers a multitude of creative interventions and educational opportunities. For example, Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity, poor nutrition and lack of proper exercise.  Smoking tobacco products is the primary cause of lung cancer…and the Great American Smokeout, held annually on the third Thursday in November, has become an institutionalized national movement (for more information, visit The American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org). 

Encouraging employee collaboration when it comes to health and wellness makes great sense in terms of health improvements, teamwork and boosting morale. Encourage staff to meet on company time and come up with ideas for improving team and individual health. Create competitions, offer prizes and awards, sponsor team events, invite guest speakers and wellness experts, supplement fitness programs…the list of potential activities is endless. And when company leaders take an active role – and walk the talk – employees notice and participation increases.

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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.

Sharing wellness information is easy, inexpensive and healthy

If you’re an employer concerned with keeping your workforce healthy and productive, there are a variety of simple and inexpensive steps you can take to help keep employees informed, motivated, and focused on their health and wellness. Raising awareness so employees make smarter health decisions doesn’t take a lot of effort, but the return on investment — measured through improved customer satisfaction, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, better teamwork and enhanced morale — can be significant. October is a busy month on the national health observance calendar. There are numerous listings including:

  • Breast cancer awareness month
  • Health literacy month
  • Bone and joint health awareness month
  • National health education week
  • National infection prevention week

Each of these is important in its own right, and providing material or access to information for any one or a few of these would be valuable for your workforce. In fact, this issue of CBIA Healthy Connections has articles on bone health and how to prevent or limit infections, and another article on skin health. You also can find more than 200 articles on different health topics in the CBIA Healthy Connections archives.

There’s an abundance of good facts, recommendations, articles and health- and wellness-focused websites available for free on the Internet. There also are services you can subscribe to, and resources available locally through hospitals, health benefits providers and your physicians or various health provider offices. Additionally, most diseases or illnesses have dedicated national and local organizations specializing in outreach, prevention and education.

If you haven’t already, consider creating a simple disease-awareness grid or calendar, and choosing one health or wellness topic to discuss monthly, every-other month, or even quarterly. Your wellness champion can help lead the charge, or you can ask other employees to choose topics of interest and potential action steps to share internally with their associates.

Consider posting information on bulletin boards, in lunch rooms or other common spaces. Talk about the focus health topic at weekly or monthly meetings, and consider internal competitions to make it more fun and engaging. Involve employees’ families, as well, so the benefits cascade and are carried home. Set and post goals and measure progress for all to see. Also, fund targeted efforts through small incentives like gift cards and education materials, or by hosting a small recognition event after goals have been met.

Additionally, many local health organizations and hospitals are happy to send in a speaker to address your employees and to disperse materials. The bottom line IS your bottom line: By leading these efforts, you reinforce your commitment to your employees’ health and wellness, boost teamwork, and enhance workplace productivity.

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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!

Stress at Work is Costing a Fortune

Feeling stressed lately, moody or irritable? Falling behind on your sleep? Finding it harder to come to work? Requiring more patience than usual with work associates, family members, friends or your kids? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions — and let’s face it, most of us recognize at least one of those behaviors in ourselves at one time or another — you’re probably experiencing some normal side effects of workplace-related stress. How much stress, and what you can do about it varies, but one thing’s for certain:  If you ignore the causes or effects, they’re not likely going to disappear on their own anytime soon.

When we’re experiencing stress, we’re distracted, fatigued and less focused. The quality of our work and the service we provide slips, accidents are more common, and we’re harder to get along with in general. This can have a negative impact on teamwork, morale and customer satisfaction. It also can facilitate or aggravate chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma and hypertension, and reduce our resistance to common illnesses.

As if that wasn’t enough, researchers have actually tried to put numbers on the costs of stress in the workplace, and the potential losses are staggering – estimated at up to $300 billion per year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and healthcare costs, according to a recent Randstad Engagement study.

When asked to select up to three out of 10 possible factors that might push an employee to leave their job — including excessive workload and difficult working relationships — a high stress level (at 24%) was the third-most-selected reason, behind pay (37%) and opportunity for advancement (27%).

The study found the negative effects of workplace stress vary by gender and, to a lesser extent, age. For example, 27% of women (compared to 22% of men) cite a high stress level as a top reason to leave their current job. Within generational groups, one quarter (25%) of Gen Y/Millennial employees say stress is a likely reason they would leave their current organization, similar to Generation X and Baby Boomers, both at 24%.

How can you help?

The good news, according to the Randstad study, is that workplace stress can be managed, especially when employers provide support — and that starts with being well-connected to your workers. Companies can help reduce employee stress by communicating regularly with workers to identify their concerns, and establishing wellness programs that make healthy stress management a top priority across the organization.

Some of that relief can come through team athletic activities, sponsorships, gym or fitness center memberships, walks during work hours, health-related classes during the day, yoga, massage, meditation, or a variety of other options.  Access to Employee Assistance Programs, if available, can make a significant difference as well for workers struggling to keep it together and seeking assistance outside the office. The important thing is to be tuned in to your own – and your workers’ – behaviors, realize what may be driving additional stress, and figure out how to step away from it, regain perspective and relax.

Here are five tips to help alleviate workplace stress:

  • Communicate often: By effectively communicating with workers, managers can better gauge the stress level of their employees and work to diminish pressure before it affects morale and productivity.
  • Encourage camaraderie: Employees who actively connect with one another often create a better office environment. It’s important to set aside time for staff to socialize and get to know one another, and to encourage extracurricular activities such as sponsored walks, softball, bowling or whatever works for your team. 
  • Promote wellness: Give employees access to wellness programs that help relieve stress. Whether it’s a company workout facility or reimbursements for yoga classes, wellness programs are proven strategies to help relieve workplace stress.
  • Set an example: Healthy stress management starts at the top. If employees consistently see their boss as being stressed, the negative energy can trickle down and have an impact on the entire team.
  • Empower your employees: One of the most stress-inducing triggers is feeling out of control, so allow your staff to take ownership of their work and give them as much control as possible when it comes to making decisions on how work gets done.

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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!

Take your best shot at keeping employees healthy

There are a variety of ways employers can help their staff improve overall health and wellness, and at the same time enhance productivity, reduce time lost to illness, and build workplace morale. One easy solution is to consider an educational campaign aimed at verifying and promoting immunizations, to host an immunization clinic at the worksite, or to work with a local medical clinic to make it easy for employees to ensure they are properly immunized.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. We’ve written two articles this month (read “Immunizations are nothing to sneeze at” here) on the topic to help provide more complete information on the importance of immunizations.

There’s a common misconception that vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States today have been virtually eliminated. In some cases, people use that erroneous belief to put off having themselves or their family members vaccinated, or they fall prey to misinformation about negative side effects.

It’s true that vaccination has enabled us to reduce most vaccine-preventable diseases to very low levels in the United States. However, some of them are still quite prevalent — even epidemic — in other parts of the world. Travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into the United States, and if we were not protected by vaccinations these diseases could quickly spread throughout the population, causing epidemics here. At the same time, the relatively few cases we currently have in our country could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases without the protection we get from vaccines.

We should still be vaccinated, then, for two reasons. The first is to protect ourselves. Even if we think our chances of getting any of these diseases are small, the diseases still exist and can still infect anyone who is not protected. Travelers are especially vulnerable. In 2005 and 2006, outbreaks of measles and mumps occurred in several U.S. states. The measles outbreak began in a group of travelers who had not been vaccinated upon their return from a trip to Romania where they had been exposed to measles.

The second reason to get vaccinated is to protect those around us. A small number of people cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons such as a severe allergy to vaccine components and a small percentage simply do not respond to vaccines. These persons are susceptible to disease, and their only hope of protection is that people around them have been successfully vaccinated and cannot pass disease along to them.

Soon it’ll be flu season again. Influenza sickens hundreds of thousands of Americans annually, and kills thousands. Flu vaccine is easily obtainable and a smart preventative health measure you and your employees can take to keep them from getting sick. Talk to your staff about the importance of updating their immunization history (a simple blood test can determine existing antibodies), and lead by example – the team that gets their shots together stays well together!

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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!

You’re never too stressed to take a vacation, right?!

If all decisions in work and life were truly based on rational thinking, taking a vacation would be a no-brainer. We work, we go to school and run around, take care of kids and family, shop and launder and cook and more and more “ands” than there is time to count. We know we want, and need, time off from our many regular pursuits, yet as employers and workers, making that time, taking that time, and using it to the fullest are huge challenges.

Considering we’re a society that claims to love our vacations, it’s curious that Americans don’t take enough vacations, and often don’t even use the vacation days we’ve earned. Unfortunately, job reductions, doing more with less, constant deadline pressure, financial challenges, and our own sense of insecurity drives us to make bad choices about our need for healthful relief from our jobs. And whether you’re an employer or an employee, you’ll both suffer for the lack of time off, whether it’s staff or management time.

Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. We emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again. We gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines.

Alternatively, chronic stress takes its toll on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and ability to avoid injury. When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and accidents are more prevalent. Ironically, though, even trying to arrange and take the time for a vacation is stressful – little wonder we often put off making our vacation decision, feel guilty taking time off, and have trouble relaxing when we finally do get away. But stop to consider the consequences of not changing our routines or finding ways to relax and get away from every-day worries.

Time off from our jobs and our regular routines helps us manage stress, improves our bonds with family, friends and co-workers, can alleviate fatigue, and strengthens our immune systems. When we’re stressed our work performance suffers. That has an impact on customer service, as well as safety, quality and productivity. Most of us are harder to get along with when we’re under pressure and feeling anxious, and more prone to depression, memory loss, distraction and bad decision making. We eat poorly and sleep less. Whether you’re typically healthy or not, that’s an insidious mix, and while vacation or time away from work and our regular routines won’t cure it all, vacations offer an important break.

With tough workloads and schedules, cost issues and market demands, employers often send mixed signals to their staff about accommodating time off. Instead of being supportive, there’s often the unspoken caveat, “Sure, take the time off, but make sure all your work gets done and nothing falls through the cracks.” The insinuation is that vacations are inconvenient, and the time is allowed reluctantly instead of graciously as the earned benefit and healthy break it represents.

Sometimes vacation days carry over from year to year, and employees “stockpile” them, but it isn’t healthy, despite longer-term intentions. And while in today’s unstable job market it’s understandable that employees – or managers – are reluctant to take time off, employers should be encouraging this healthy respite.

Vacations have the potential to break the cycle of stress that plagues most working Americans. When we return to work we’re happier, better focused, more pleasant and more productive. Everyone benefits – so if you’re an employer, start asking your team when they’re planning time off, make it as easy as possible for them to take their breaks, and book yourself some time off, as well!

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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!