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!

Wellness support and outreach make for good chemistry

Company leaders know, instinctively, that supporting health and wellness activities is a valuable benefit for employees. Research has established that active work-based wellness programs help build teamwork, boost morale, reduce healthcare costs and improve productivity. But, like anything else that requires employee involvement on a personal level, it takes time, effort and ongoing communication to build momentum and participation.

Charkit Chemical Corporation, in Norwalk, has 55 full- and part-time employees, with 40 in Norwalk. This chemical distribution company offers a wide range of products to the specialty chemical, flavor and fragrance, personal care, food, pharmaceutical, imaging, water treatment and metal treatment industries. Founded in 1982 by Charlie Hinnant, Charkit’s president, Charkit joined CBIA’s Health Connections program in 2011. Bryant Hinnant, Charlie’s brother, is Charkit’s general counsel, part of the Charkit senior management team, and served as the Company’s original wellness champion.

Charkit  started out promoting health and wellness conservatively – everyone on their team liked the idea, but people were all very busy with work and life, and many had their own physical fitness regimens already in place. Employees were encouraged to complete CBIA’s online personal health assessment and CBIA Healthy Connections and other wellness articles were shared with the employees. There was some enthusiasm to start but no formal effort or large movement to jump on the fitness bandwagon.

“When it comes to personal health and a healthy lifestyle, people often have good intentions. But left to their own devices, motivation typically takes time, gentle and consistent prompting, and a significant change in personal health or circumstances to exact real change,” Hinnant says. “Some of our employees were golfers, some were runners, we had a few gym lovers, but we had a lot of ‘couch potatoes’ as well.”

Charlie Hinnant decided to build an onsite gym and make it available for free to employees. Charkit added a weight room, universal exercise machine room, and bicycles, rowing, and jogging equipment. Charkit also added lockers and two shower areas, and a television monitor for cable shows or videos. Initially only a few employees used the gym, but that number is now up to 12 regular users,  plus a significant number of other employees who work out as time permits. Videos on training, biking and related subjects were purchased, and made available to employees as well.

About four months ago, Hinnant turned the wellness champion role over to Christian Gomez, an accountant at the Norwalk facility. Both acknowledge that every company or small business can’t build a gym at their office, but say there’s still much that can be done to encourage health and wellness and to involve employees in activities and events. For example, Charkit has sponsored flu-shot clinics and hosted fitness meetings and discussions. Gomez talks regularly to his fellow employees to gauge their interest and to measure participation, and Charkit management pays entry fees for community walks, charitable athletic events, sponsors activities in several local programs, and is very open to ideas and suggestions for new programs.

“In addition to working out, our employees have been involved in cancer walks, and we sponsor a co-ed kickball team,” Gomez says. “We support other team-building interests as well such as community food and clothing drives. If someone comes to us with a good idea, we’ll take it up the ladder as required to obtain funding, communicate it to the staff, and actively promote participation.” The support and outreach is appreciated, he stresses, and he turns to the CBIA Healthy Connections health and wellness portal and other resources for ideas and suggestions.

“Even though I’ve only been in the role a short while, I can see the difference in people’s attitudes and impressions,” Gomez observes. “While it’s all across the board, almost everyone here in Norwalk does something of interest to them related to improving their health and wellness, whether formally or informally. They appreciate the opportunities and the fact that our company is taking a role in helping them reduce stress and improve their health. What they’re doing doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they’re choosing to do something.”

Hinnant agrees, and adds that when companies demonstrate an interest in their employees’ welfare and health, people notice and this drives participation and strengthens teamwork. “In many ways, we’re just in our infancy when it comes to wellness,” Hinnant reflects. “We’ll continue looking for ways to participate, be it through softball, bowling, soccer, charity events or whatever interests our staff and fits their schedules. There’s only so much you can do when we all have our ‘day jobs,’ but as we get more experience and our efforts mature, so will participation and the direction of our programs.”

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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!

Use your head to save backs — and bucks

If you or your workers spend a portion of each day working at a computer, a desk, or other type of workstation, repetitive motions, posture, and back, arm and wrist support all play significant roles in physical health and wellness. Proper chair type, size and design, workstation height, location of keyboards, phones, shelves, and tools can contribute to body fatigue, muscle strain, repetitive-motion injuries, and other debilitating factors affecting work and quality of life.

Ergonomics is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans with other elements of a system. It’s particularly relevant in the design of things such as safe furniture and easy-to-use interfaces with machines and equipment. Proper ergonomic design is necessary to prevent repetitive strain injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders, which can develop over time and lead to long-term disability.

Ergonomics examines the “fit” between the user, equipment and their environments. It takes account of the user’s capabilities and limitations to ensure that tasks, functions, information and the environment suit each user. To assess the fit between a person and the technology, ergonomists consider the job (activity) being done and the demands on the user; the equipment used (its size, shape, and how appropriate it is for the task), and the information used (how it is presented, accessed, and changed).

Proper ergonomics may prevent musculoskeletal injuries (such as back strain or carpal tunnel syndrome) by reducing physical and mental stress caused by the workstation setup. By focusing on the physical setup of workstations and the tools employees use, employers can reduce chances of injuries. It also is important to evaluate the work process, including job organization, worker rotation, task variety, and demands for speed and quality.

Working intensely over long periods of time without taking breaks can greatly increase the risk for musculoskeletal injuries. Taking regular breaks from work and doing stretching exercises may reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries. For example, it’s advised that workers try taking three- to five-minute breaks or change tasks every 20 to 40 minutes. Here are some tips to improve workstation safety and efficiency:

  • Arrange work so you (or a worker) can sit or stand comfortably in a position that does not put stress on any specific area of the body. You should be able to keep your neck in a neutral position and minimize the need to look up or to the sides continuously while you are working.
  • Eliminate most movement from the waist. Keep the workstation and workstation tools within reach without having to lean, bend, or twist at the waist frequently.
  • Vary postures if possible.
  • Take 10- to 15-second breaks frequently throughout tasks. For example, look away from the computer monitor or machine, stand up, or stretch arms and legs. Short breaks also reduce eyestrain and buildup of muscle tension.
  • Stretch your body by getting up out of your chair and stretching your arms, shoulders, back, and legs. When you are sitting, shrug and relax your shoulders, and if you have a chance to take short walks, do so whenever possible.
  • If you do similar work or activities at home, be sure to apply these principles there as well to avoid the cumulative effect of repetitive motions.

For office workers, particularly, there are a variety of preventive solutions that can help limit or avoid muscular discomfort or injuries. Computer monitors, for example, should be easy to see without having to lean forward or look up to one side. They should be placed at a height where the top of the screen is at eye level or within 15 degrees below eye level, and less than an arm’s length from the user.

Protection against eyestrain can prevent headaches and vision problems. Glare guards can be placed over the monitor screen, and plasma screens reduce glare. Additionally, many keyboards and keyboard trays have wrist supports to help keep wrists in a neutral, almost straight position. But wrist pads are just there for brief rests. They are not meant to be used while typing, even though some people find they help even during keying.

It’s important to have a computer keyboard and keyboard tray that allows comfortable typing or keying, and it should be at a height that allows elbows to be bent about 90 degrees and close to your sides. Also, when you type, try raising your wrists from the support so your wrists are in a neutral position. You may want to alternate between resting your wrists on the supports and raising them up. Also, a computer mouse or pointing device that does not require a lot of forearm movement or force, such as a trackball mouse or touch pad, is more comfortable than a standard mouse for some people.

Of vital importance is the comfort and design of the office or workplace chair, which should maintain normal spinal curvature. A supportive chair:

  • Is adjustable, so that you can set the height to rest feet flat on the floor. Keep feet supported on the floor or on a footrest to reduce pressure on the lower back. Some people like to sit in a slightly reclined position because it puts less stress on the back, although this may increase stress on the shoulders and neck when they reach for items.
  • Supports the lower back.
  • Has adjustable armrests that allow elbows to stay close your sides. If you are not comfortable with armrests, move them out of your way. It is still important to keep your arms close to your sides even if you choose not to use armrests.
  • Has a breathable, padded seat.
  • Rolls on five wheels for easy movement without tipping.

These and many other ergonomic principles available online and through facilities consultants and workplace-design specialists will help ensure a healthier workplace and workers that are more comfortable and less prone to workplace-related injuries. Investing properly in worker comfort is more than a simple amenity – it will improve morale, safety and productivity, and reduce worker’s compensation costs and absenteeism.

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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!

Don’t Let Stress Break Employees’ Hearts or Their Spirits

It isn’t a coincidence that National Stress Awareness Month and National Humor Month are observed at the same time. Stress is a very common denominator for humans, regardless if at work, home, school, or wherever our daily travels carry us. And humor is a factor we can learn to embrace in our efforts to reduce the pressure and strains that are killing us, literally and figuratively.

We all experience stress, though it affects each of us differently. Sometimes we don’t recognize when we’re acting short tempered, impatient or easily distracted. When stress levels are high, we can become withdrawn, agitated, depressed or angry. We may not sleep well, can eat less or too much. We also may experience tightness in our chests, stomach discomfort, headaches, increased blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, and other physical manifestations.

In the workplace, these symptoms often drive increased absenteeism and presenteeism (coming to work while sick), lower productivity, and service errors. Stress also has a negative impact on safety, quality, and teamwork.

According to the 2013 Work and Well-Being Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Center for Organizational Excellence, more than one-third (35%) of American workers experience chronic work stress, with low salaries, lack of opportunities for advancement, and heavy workloads topping the list of contributing factors. The APA’s recent Stress in America survey (released last winter) also found high levels of employee stress, with 65% of working Americans citing work as a significant source of stress, and 35% reporting that they typically feel stressed during the workday.

Despite growing awareness of the importance of a healthy workplace, few employees say their organizations provide sufficient resources to help them manage stress (36%) and meet their mental health needs (44%). Just 42% of employees say that their organizations promote and support a healthy lifestyle, only 36% report regularly participating in workplace health and wellness programs, and just over half (51%) say they feel valued at work.

Employers can’t eliminate all the factors that cause their workers to feel stressed, but there are a number of items that can be addressed. Working with your staff to create wellness and feedback programs, encouraging them to take breaks, work out, walk, or nap are extremely beneficial. And providing access to stress-relief activities without having to leave work are a few solutions.

As one workplace example, Christy Graham, wellness champion at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, says they implemented yoga classes starting in fall 2013. The classes are held onsite once a week from 12:15 pm to 1:00 pm. Graham contacted several studios before choosing an instructor, and says the Bushnell staff really enjoys the classes. Half a dozen employees participate, she adds, and the fee is only half of what yoga classes held offsite normally would cost. She also sends out a reminder email about a farmer’s market held weekly near their office. Additionally, staff regularly walks together at lunchtime in nearby Bushnell Park, and they have added a water cooler to help keep hydrated.

Address the issues that are adding to your stress

Whether we’re the employer or an employee, often the best way to cope with stress is to find a way to change the circumstances that are causing it. And one common set of tools that traverse all aspects of our lives is our ability to efficiently manage time, especially if we tend to feel overwhelmed at work. Here are some useful tips for reducing time-related stress:

  • Set realistic goals. Work with colleagues and leaders to set realistic expectations and deadlines. Set regular progress reviews and adjust your goals as needed.
  • Make a priority list. Prepare a list of tasks and rank them in order of priority. Throughout the day, scan your master list and work on tasks in priority order.
  • Protect your time. For an especially important or difficult project, block time to work on it without interruption.
  • Get other points of view. Talk with trusted colleagues or friends about the issues you’re facing at work. They might be able to provide insights or offer suggestions for coping. Sometimes simply talking about a stressor can be a relief.
  • Take a break. Make the most of workday breaks. Even a few minutes of personal time during a busy workday can be refreshing. Similarly, take time off when you can — whether it’s a two-week vacation or an occasional long weekend.
  • Have an outlet. To prevent burnout, set aside time for activities you enjoy — such as reading, socializing or pursuing a hobby.
  • Take care of yourself. Be vigilant about taking care of your health. Include physical activity in your daily routine, get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet.
  • Seek help. If none of these steps relieves your feelings of job stress or burnout, consult a mental health provider — either on your own or through an employee assistance program offered by your employer. Through counseling, you can learn effective ways to handle job stress.

It’s also critical to keep your perspective. When your job is stressful, it can feel as if it’s taking over your life. To maintain perspective:

  • Get other points of view. Talk with trusted colleagues or friends about the issues you’re facing at work. They might be able to provide insights or offer suggestions for coping. Sometimes simply talking about a stressor can be a relief.
  • Take a break. Make the most of workday breaks. Even a few minutes of personal time during a busy workday can be refreshing. Similarly, take time off when you can — whether it’s a two-week vacation or an occasional long weekend.
  • Have an outlet. To prevent burnout, set aside time for activities you enjoy — such as reading, socializing or pursuing a hobby.
  • Take care of yourself. Be vigilant about taking care of your health. Include physical activity in your daily routine, get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet.
  • Seek help. If none of these steps relieves your feelings of job stress or burnout, consult a mental health provider — either on your own or through an employee assistance program offered by your employer. Through counseling, you can learn effective ways to handle job stress.

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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!