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!

Whether We Walk, Run, or Crawl, Athletic Charity Events Help Us All

According to a new survey from Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health, and The Futures Company, as employers explore new ways to create and maintain a healthy and productive workforce, employees who perceive their organizations as having a strong culture of health are happier, less stressed and more likely to take control of their well-being than employees in other organizations.

For the third straight year, these organizations surveyed more than 2,700 employees and their dependents covered by employer-sponsored health plans to determine their perspectives, behaviors and attitudes towards health and wellness. While the survey – called the Consumer Health Mindset survey* – focused on large employers, the information is largely applicable to medium- and small-sized employers, as well.

The report analyzed the responses of employees who work at organizations with strong cultures of health – or organizations that prioritize and encourage healthy behaviors in the workplace – and compared them to employees’ responses in organizations that do not.

Based on survey analysis, employees who work in strong cultures of health were more likely to say they have control over their health than those who work at companies where it is less of a priority (75 percent versus 63 percent). In addition, they were less likely to report that stress has a negative impact on their work (25 percent versus 49 percent). The report also showed a link between strong health cultures and general happiness. Sixty-six percent of employees in strong health cultures say they are extremely or very happy with their lives compared to just 32 percent of those in weak health cultures.

 Small efforts can produce large returns

There are many ways for employers to foster a culture of health and wellness. This month, we’ll focus on how employer encouragement and commitment focused on charity walks, runs and other athletic events can benefit employee morale, improve teamwork, boost health and wellness, and do good by increasing participation, raising awareness and raising funds for important charities and health-related benefit activities.

Now is the time to research and sign-up for a variety of charity events held in the spring across Connecticut. Employers should encourage their employees to find the events and activities they’d most like to support or participate in, and then – through financial underwriting, time for practice and involvement, sponsorship, or general cheerleading – make it easy for them to follow through, either individually or as teams. There also are non-athletic activities, such as helping Fidelco raise, train, maintain and support guide dogs for the blind – that bring people together and promote teamwork by working toward a common cause.

To get you started, here is a small listing of several popular and well-known charitable events held annually in Connecticut. Whether you support these or many other worthwhile charitable options, now’s the time to start. Choose one or more that work for you and your staff, get involved, and everyone wins!

The March of Dimes

The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation

Fidelco

Easter Seals

Relay for Life

Komen for the Cure

 

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*For more information on the Consumer Health Mindset survey, visit www.aon.com/consumerhealthmindset.

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!

Manufacturing a Healthier Workplace

If you’re a small employer, raising awareness about health, wellness and fitness typically isn’t a full-time job, and likely isn’t on the top of your priority list. Most business owners agree that staff and individual health and wellness are important goals, but achieving those goals takes time, work, and commitment. Many companies get there slowly, and understand that wellness is a marathon, not a sprint.

Pinto Manufacturing in Glastonbury, Connecticut, is a machine shop specializing in aerospace parts. This 12-person company joined CBIA Health Connections three years ago. Owner Bob Pinto named Joseph Marino, his office manager, their wellness champion. It was a good fit for Marino, who was already interested in improving his health, stayed active, and saw his new role as additional incentive as well as an opportunity to help his co-workers. But he was realistic, and knew things weren’t going to change overnight.

“Becoming the wellness champion worked for me, because I already was focused on health, and this gave me an extra boost,” Marino recalls. “I encouraged our guys to complete their online assessments, and started placing articles and printed copies of CBIA Healthy Connections in the break room. Several of us looked into gyms and different kinds of fitness classes. I never was a ‘gym guy,’ so I’m taking boxing classes with another Pinto employee, another guy is learning rock climbing, and others go to gyms. Some of us tried fitness ‘boot camps,’ then settled into whatever venue we liked best.  Fitness is personal, and people are motivated for their own reasons, and on their own timetables.”

The Amazon gift card, which is sent to everyone who completes the program’s online health assessment, was a useful “carrot,” Marino says, and a commitment from the boss helps keep wellness an ongoing topic of conversation. “Bob is very supportive, and we’ve talked many times about how staying active keeps the blood flowing, so to speak, and helps us all remain focused and healthier, which is good individually and for the Company. We promote the fitness message as possible,” Marino adds. “When the weather’s good, we now see guys outside walking during breaks and at lunchtime.”

Brian Pinto is the company sales manager. He acknowledges that having a formal effort, even though it’s loosely structured, is producing positive results, and that people are thinking about their health and taking steps that weren’t in place before the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program was initiated. His father, Bob Pinto, agrees.

“I’m almost 70, and have always been focused on maintaining my health,” Pinto explains. I go to the gym as often as possible, lift weights, and walk two miles three or four times a week. I had set a personal goal of achieving 50 pushups every morning, which I’ve now reached, and lost 16 pounds. We spoke with our entire staff when we got started, and I know many of them are now more active. When people are inactive, they get sick and can get hurt more easily, so there’s a business incentive, as well. But ultimately, success is self-determined, and starts with awareness. It’s mostly about trying to make something happen and ensuring it’s part of the larger conversations regarding quality, safety and productivity.”

Marino reflects that they still enjoy doughnuts at some team meetings, but that people understand that wellness is a long-term strategy, and there’s room for compromise. “When I started this assignment, I posted a ‘wellness champion’ sign on my desk, and took some good-natured ribbing for it,” Marino remembers. “But over time we’re definitely seeing changes, whether it’s small things like people snacking on apples instead of chips, or getting outside to walk during breaks. It’s a good bonding experience and a smart decision personally, as well as for the business.”  

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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!

Resolve to Establish a Wellness Champion

With the launch of each new year, health and wellness are on our minds, personally, just as organizations are concerned with the health and wellness of their bottom lines. Fortunately, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive — the link between employee wellness and organizational productivity, innovation, teamwork, quality and customer service has long been demonstrated. So as we do our 2014 planning, building in time for proactive health awareness should be part of our strategic thinking.

Organizations participating in CBIA’s Health Connections have access to online health and wellness resources, including this online monthly newsletter, Healthy Connections. But if you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to move past the lowest-hanging fruit and tackle the next simple step of appointing a Wellness Champion, someone from your organization who becomes your liaison to health and wellness information, encourages your staff to complete a simple, easy online healthcare assessment, and then participates in monthly outreach, promotes health education tools, and literally “champions” your internal health- and wellness-improvement efforts.

“When companies sign up for wellness benefits, they receive information on the role of the Wellness Champion, and then we help guide them, step by step, on duties and expectations,” explains Michelle Molyneux, insurance specialist, who oversees Healthy Connections for CBIA. “Our program is easy to implement and maintain, and beyond general support including regular emails and monthly updates, we offer a variety of financial incentives to encourage and reward participation.”

A website dedicated to health and wellness includes a dedicated portal for Wellness Champions, Molyneux says. It includes tips, best practices, access to workshops, and educational materials and videos on subjects ranging from smoking cessation and nutrition to exercise and fitness. Wellness Champions also see updates on how many employees in their companies have completed online healthcare assessments, a critical first step for designing a personal wellness program. Each employee receives a $50 Amazon gift card for completing the assessment, and each organization receives raffle “points” good toward a quarterly drawing for a $500 Amazon gift card. Additional raffle points are earned for completing online workshops and interactive educational materials.

“Wellness doesn’t have to be hard,” observes Molyneux. “Healthy habits come in many creative shapes and forms. The most important steps involve establishing a culture of wellness. Once you get started, you can take it in any direction that works for your organization or business.”

For more information on appointing a Wellness Champion, visit CbiaHealthyConnections.com, or contact Michelle Molyneux (860.244.1966; Michelle.Molyneux@cbia.com).

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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!

Add Employee Wellness to Your Holiday Shopping List

As surely as we develop our strategic business forecasts for the new year, we also should think about the roles employee health and wellness play in helping achieve our bottom-line goals.

The benefits of staff wellness are many; improved morale, productivity, quality, teamwork, and customer service. Sick days are reduced, illness can be avoided or better managed, and the efforts can be rewarding both for enhanced quality of life and healthcare cost reductions.

The health benefits of “feeling good” — by meeting individual or team goals, through successful planning and execution, a sense of accomplishment, providing service, and feeling valued — may be hard to measure, but are indisputable contributors to success, retention, and morale. Additionally, generosity, giving, and awareness create a sense of increased goodwill and can increase the bond between employer and employee, and among employees.

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

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

CBIA continuously reaches out to our Healthy Connections members to discover how they bring wellness into the workplace without spending a lot of money. From time to time this column runs best-practice stories, and we’re always interested in what you are doing, regardless of how seemingly small, to promote health and wellness in your workplace. Based on recent outreach, here are some of the most common practices we’re finding:

Gym memberships: Many companies offer an allowance to their employees to use for purchasing a gym membership. Some organizations incentivize employees to “earn” extra money by doing other healthy activities such as going to their PCP for their physical, by setting personal wellness goals, or by completing wellness workshops and classes.

Community outreach: Building up morale in the company is a commonly overlooked wellness initiative, but the results are always positive. Lead this initiative by getting a team together for a charity event or race, volunteer, “adopt” a family or charity for the holidays, raise money as a team for gifts, match team and invidual efforts, and encourage employees to donate food, time and services. Remember, charity doesn’t end when the year does!

Stress relief: Studies show that a power nap can increase alertness, memory, and stamina. The end result: Your employees are more productive! Some companies have designated an office where employees can reserve times during the day for relaxing, and forward-thinking organizations find ways to reward employees and help them “recharge” by allowing them much-needed “down time” that is customized to each employees’ needs.

And finally, encourage employees to visit their PCP. One of the best ways to stay healthy and to prevent illness is to visit your PCP for regular check-ups. Many companies see the value in allowing employees to take work time to get their physical. Plus, routine visits are covered in full for CBIA Health Connections members. It’s a win-win for everyone.

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

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

The Great American Smokeout Turns 36

This month, we celebrate the 36th anniversary of The Great American Smokeout. The widespread recognition of this important event represents more than simply reducing or eliminating smoking from workplaces, schools, restaurants, and public spaces. It’s a testimonial to advocates’ ability to raise public awareness of health- and wellness-related actions that have far-reaching implications and consequences for those who participate, and even for those who choose to ignore science and warnings from the medical community.

The Great American Smokeout is held on the third Thursday in November and has helped dramatically change Americans’ attitudes about smoking. These changes have led to community programs and smoke-free laws that are now saving many lives. Annual Great American Smokeout events began in the 1970s, when smoking and secondhand smoke were commonplace.

Each year, the Great American Smokeout also draws attention to the deaths and chronic diseases caused by smoking. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, many state and local governments responded by banning smoking in workplaces and restaurants, raising taxes on cigarettes, limiting cigarette promotions, discouraging teen cigarette use, and taking further action to counter smoking. These efforts continue, and from 1965 to today, cigarette smoking among adults in the United States has decreased from more than 42 percent to around 20 percent. Strong smoke-free policies, media campaigns, and increases in the prices of tobacco products are at least partly credited for these decreases.

Smoking is responsible for nearly one in three cancer deaths, and one in five deaths from all causes. Another 8.6 million people live with serious illnesses caused by smoking. Still, about one in five U.S. adults (more than 43 million people) smoke cigarettes and about 15 million people smoke tobacco in cigars or pipes or use “smokeless” tobacco products. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women. About 87 percent of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking, which also causes cancers of the larynx, mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder. It has also been linked to the development of cancers of the pancreas, cervix, ovaries, colon/rectum, kidney, stomach, and some types of leukemia.

As if the human toll wasn’t incentive enough, smoking causes more than $193 billion in annual health-related costs in the United States, including smoking-attributable medical costs and productivity losses. That’s something every employer can’t ignore, as it affects our costs of doing business, directly and indirectly.

We can’t fix everything for everybody — nor should we — but we can tackle our own personal health, and promote wellness among our families and staff.  Eliminating smoking from our workplaces is an important step, as is encouraging improved nutrition, lower-sugar snacking, exercise/fitness, and overall stress-reduction techniques. Regardless of staff size, creating a safe, healthy workplace is an important component of employee wellness. It helps boost productivity, quality, teamwork, customer service, and retention. The Great American Smokeout occurs annually, but overall wellness can be practiced every day.

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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!

Tackling Wellness a Step at a Time

When it comes to improving our health and wellness success often comes a step at a time. Small goals lead to small victories, which lead to additional, often larger victories. We build acceptance and positive results by setting and supporting achievable measures, and our progress results in greater participation and increased resolve.

There are many positive steps employers can take to encourage employees to embrace wellness efforts. It begins, however, with a commitment to try something, however minor, and to see it through. Success, it’s been said, is contagious, proving wellness and contagion can coexist, at least on paper!

Here are some examples of small steps being practiced by two Connecticut employers participating in the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program.

Jan Wahnon is the wellness champion for The Computer Company, an IT solutions firm located in Cromwell. When it comes to health, every little bit counts, Wahnon says, and sometimes you just have to start out with the basics. Her company offered a reduced gym membership, she explains, but there wasn’t enough interest among the staff. So they looked for some wellness alternatives that were easy to introduce and support.

“Here at The Computer Company,” Wahnon says, “we have monthly company-wide meetings to talk about upcoming business, completed projects, birthdays, and company anniversaries. These meetings finish up with snacks and bagels for everyone. Since starting the wellness program, we have cut down from three birthday cakes to one a month, and have switched the sugary snacks for fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and granola. We find that after the meeting people feel better and don’t feel the need to nap at their desks.”   

The company owners, she adds, also held a wellness event tied to a monthly all-staff meeting, and brought in a guest speaker, Dr. Allie Mendelson, DC, from Talcott Family Chiropractic. “Mendelson is a nutritionist and hosts a radio program about healthy living,” cites Wahnon. “She came to our office and spoke about nutrition, holistic health and wellness. My associates and I enjoyed hearing the presentation and learned a lot from it.”

As a related story, Devon Francis, the wellness champion for Fiduciary Investment Advisors (FIA), shared wellness efforts underway at her company, which has 37 employees and is located in Windsor.

 “We have a corporate membership at a gym down the street from our office, and the more people that sign up, the less expensive it is for each member,” says Francis. “More than half of our employees are members, and about 10 people regularly go to the gym on their lunch hour or before or after work.  We even have a few employees who organized an informal group-fitness class after the regularly scheduled lunchtime class at the gym was canceled. They met with people from other companies in the area and followed the same type of format that the class sponsored by the gym followed.”  The class at the gym, she adds, was later reinstated, and remains a popular activity.

Francis’ company designated this past May as “Better Sleep and Mental Health Awareness month.”  For the last two weeks of the month, she says, they used an empty office as a “recharge room.”  “We set up yoga mats, a noise machine, a comfy chair, a foot massager, and provided magazines and fresh water with lemons and limes,” Francis recalls. “Employees could pay five dollars for a 20-minute break in the relaxation room, and we donated all of the money to tornado relief in Oklahoma.  It was a great opportunity for people to step back from the hustle and bustle of the day and take some time to relax and relieve stress.”

FIA also submits relay teams annually for The Hartford Marathon, a company tradition now in its tenth year. This year they’ll sponsor four teams of employees who will each complete a portion of the race. Twelve employees and their families are participating, and they raise funds to donate to CT Children’s Medical Center.

Editor’s Note:  Do you have a wellness practice or story you’d like to share? Contact Michelle Molyneux at michelle.molyneux@cbia.com.

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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 programs move center stage in healthcare reform efforts

As the healthcare reform debate presses on, a number of new policies and compliance requirements approved as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — and as addendums to existing HIPAA regulations – are already being implemented, or will become effective January 1, 2014.  It is important to be aware of recently adopted federal regulations about wellness programs and how the new regulations may affect your existing wellness program as well as what they mean for those interested in starting a wellness program, says Jennifer Herz, assistant counsel, CBIA.

“Part of federal healthcare legislation is shifting health coverage attention to targeting prevention and promoting healthy behavioral changes,” Herz explains. “Some employers already use wellness programs to support such healthy behaviors and other employers may take advantage of the increased attention to help promote and reward employees for participation in healthy lifestyle programs, goal setting, health screenings and proactive wellness efforts that benefit them and their families.”                            

“Free” preventive care is one of the positive changes already in place. Changes of special interest to small employers address participation in wellness programs, educational outreach, and efforts to increase self-management behaviors.

The bottom line, Herz stresses, is that the new regulations are a good opportunity to remind employers about the benefits of wellness programming to support a healthier workforce, which increases productivity, while also working to reduce premium costs.

What is changing

Wellness programs come in all shapes and sizes, and these programs attempt to address body, mind, and pocketbook, helping employers reduce benefit costs and lost work time, while increasing employee productivity and satisfaction. For example, a wellness program might create incentives to encourage employees to adhere to a particular course of treatment or to otherwise better manage their health.

The Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health & Human Services have issued final regulations and modifications which, among other things, reflect changes made by the ACA to wellness programs subject to the HIPAA nondiscrimination rules. As a result, companies currently offering wellness programs will need to determine if any design changes are necessary. The regulations are effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2014. Read the final regulation here.             

Click here for an expanded version of this article with additional details on the ACA’s wellness program provisions.

CBIA will continue examining healthcare legislation changes that affect your policies, and will offer periodic ACA updates and explanations of program changes and opportunities. This information will be available through CBIA’s Health Connections Resource Center, cbia.com/healthcare2014.

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