For decades, policy analysts in developed countries have been trying to determine why waistlines in their country continue to grow. In the United Kingdom, many believe that physical inactivity, not unhealthy diets, are the primary culprit. According to the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCFS), a long-running study that tracks shopping in the United Kingdom, average daily calorie purchases fell from 2,534 in 1974 to 2,192 in 2013. Another official survey based on reported food consumption found a similar pattern. These surveys led to the widely held belief that sloth, not gluttony, is the reason for obesity in the country.
A report from the Behavioural Insights Team, a research group spun out of government, rejects this idea. The researchers compared LCFS data with those from other sources: a private survey and measures of actual calorie consumption. The comparison suggests that the participants in the LCFS are dramatically under-reporting their intakes. The authors estimate that England consumes 30% to 50% more calories than declared in the LCFS. The researchers also argue that if the daily calorie purchases did actually decrease in the last 40 years, it would need to have been akin to every adult jogging for 56 minutes less per day than in the 1970s, which is unlikely.
There are two reasons why people may have underreported their calorie consumption. The first rationale is that this data is difficult to track, especially with snacking and eating out becoming more common. The second rationale is that people who say they want to lose weight are more likely to underestimate how much they eat, and since overweight people are more likely to say they want to lose weight, the rise of obesity has led to a growing tendency to underreport.
This should lead one to think about self-reported data in the context of wellness programs. Specifically, health risk assessments (HRAs) still remain popular with employer groups and health plans as a way to measure risk within a population and provide feedback to the respondent of the questionnaire. One of the many problems with HRAs is that it relies heavily on self-reported data, and since HRAs rely on this data to provide actionable intelligence, they are victims to the limitations of self-reporting. Similar to the LCFS challenges, many questions ask for information that respondents may not know because they are difficult to track. Also, respondents may have a tendency to misreport. For example, HRAs are victims of the Hawthorne effect, which is a type of reactivity in which individuals alter their behavior (most often in the direction they suspect the observers want them to) because they know they are being observed. In the case of HRAs, employees respond to questions knowing that they are being measured on their health and want to reflect a more positive health status. This also appears in HRAs where populations gradually improve their health over time (from HRA to HRA) because they are trying to show that their health is improving.
The study in the United Kingdom is not surprising but is interesting for those individuals in the wellness profession. It is a reminder of the challenges employers still live with today based on practices of the past. Employers should keep this in mind when making decisions based on results from their HRAs.
Last week, we blogged about vendors that employers should include at their company health fairs. The vendors listed in the post cost money so for the budget-constrained organizations, this post is focused on free vendors that employers can bring to their health fairs. One of the greatest things about health fairs is that you can get a lot of vendors willing to donate their time for a good cause – your health! We’ve done a lot of health fairs, both participating and planning, and these are some of the free vendors that we thought were most valuable in a health fair.
Department of Public Health
Contacting your local department of public health to participate in your health fair will allow your employees to be educated on ways to stay healthy within the community. Most departments are willing to donate their time for free or in exchange for your company participating in planned community service, which is another great team building activity. Some departments also have separate branches specifically for healthy living in the community so be sure to do your research on their website. Some great ideas on how to incorporate your local department of public health include:
- Safe bike paths in the community with maps
- Gardening techniques so employees can learn to grow their own food
- Ways to stay active in the community
- ealthy eating in the community
Health Insurance Provider
Many companies offer health insurance to their employees so why not provide education on how employees can best use these services. It is unfortunate that a lot of employees aren’t aware of many of the benefits they get with their health insurance. Having representatives from your health plan to educate employees about their benefits can not only be advantageous to them but also save your company money on costly premiums. Be sure your healthcare providers educate your employees about the following:
- Health benefits based on your insurance offerings
- Perks for exercise
- Perks for eating healthy
- Reimbursements for healthy living
- Reimbursements for gym memberships
- Coverage/Reimbursement for self-care (e.g., stress relief, fitness classes, nutrition programs, massage/acupuncture, etc.)
Gyms Or Fitness Clubs
Your local gym is a great way to get your employees active and healthy! Most local gyms are happy to host a table and talk to your employees about membership options as well as fitness tips. Make sure to check with your healthcare provider to see if there are any reimbursement options for memberships. There are also many corporate options at many gyms so speaking with a membership representative prior to your health fair may be beneficial. Your local gym can also do a multitude of other activities that can be very interactive for your employees and increase participation. These include:
- Fitness challenges
- Screenings (e.g., blood pressure)
- Safe workout ideas/demo
- Exercise demonstration
- Exercise classes
Health Food Stores
Think Whole Foods or any other local healthy store. These venues are usually happy to host a table and share their healthy eating tips! Be sure to be vocal about any allergies that your employees may have so everyone is safe and can benefit from a food tasting. Also, ask your vendors to provide recipe cards so your employees can enjoy these healthy foods at home. You may want to focus on foods that your employees can bring to work with them or make at work since that can be a big struggle. Some great ideas for tastings include:
- Healthy snacks
- Easy breakfast ideas
- Quick lunches
- Portable meals and snacks
Employee safety is very important. Utilizing the services of your local police or fire department can be very beneficial when it comes to safety in and out of the office. These officials can educate employees on public safety, fire safety, and even rules of the road. The following are some ideas that can be used toward the health and safety of your employees:
- Latest information on office safety
- Fire safety
- CPR/AED locations and trainings
- Road safety
- Disaster relief and planning
Having a health fair can be extremely beneficial for employees and does not need to cost too much. Leveraging free vendors and existing resources can create a great base to grow from. You may even want to check with your insurance broker or health plan. They may offer free credits to use to purchase a few vendors to augment the free ones you invite.
A large study of one million people quantified the cost of the “pandemic of physical inactivity” affecting countries across the world. According to the study, physical inactivity costs the global economy $67.5 billion a year in healthcare and productivity losses. This costs disproportionately impacts wealthier nations, but as poorer countries develop, the economic burden from physical inactivity is expected to increase. In addition to the financial impact, inactivity is also estimated to cause more than 5 million deaths a year, which is almost as many as smoking.
The good news is that researchers believe as little as an hour a day of exercise could largely eliminate most of the cost. It is important to note that this estimate is higher than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which is widely cited by other organizations across the world. To put it into perspective, one out of four of adults worldwide do not meet even the WHO’s recommendations.
The researchers found that sedentary lifestyles are linked to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, but basic physical activity, such as brisk walking, could counter the higher likelihood of early death linked with sitting for eight or more hours a day. Intense physical activity is not required. According to researcher Ulf Ekelund, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences and Cambridge University, “You don’t need to do sport or go to the gym…but you do need to do at least one hour a day.” He cited light physical activity, such as walking at 5.6 km an hour (km/h) or cycling at 16 km/h as examples of what was needed.
The study also found that people who sat for eight hours a day but were otherwise active had a lower risk of premature death than people who spent fewer hours sitting but were also less active, suggesting that exercise is particularly important, no matter how many hours a day are spent sitting. The greatest risk of premature death was for people who sat for long periods of time and did not exercise.
No matter how sedentary a job may be, employers need to encourage physical activity. Since light physical activity is all that needed, encouraging biking or taking public transit to work are easy ways to facilitate change in a population. Also, employers can increase access to activity at work by offering fitness classes and showers at each facility. Some forward thinking organizations have created onsite gardens so employees can be active in the garden and take home fresh vegetables (all while building camaraderie).
Health fairs are a great way to bring employees together and educate them on the benefits that your company can provide for them as well as enhance awareness about healthy living. This facilitates a culture of health in the workplace, which supports happier, healthier, and more productive employees. We greatly enjoy assisting our clients with their health fairs, so we thought we’d share some of our favorite vendors with you.
Let’s face it, sometimes we’re afraid to try new things, especially if they’re green! Having a food demonstration at your health fair can help bridge the gap between healthy eating and your employees. We especially love smoothie demonstrations because they’re easy to make at home or the office and are super healthy! Try having your vendor create two different types of smoothies so that all taste buds can be satisfied. We particularly like pairing a green smoothie with a fruit based one. Recipe cards are a great takeaway for employees so they can make these smoothies as a healthy snack or a great on-the-go breakfast. Other great demos include healthy snacks, quick breakfast ideas, or a big batch of healthy grains. A side benefit of food demonstrations is that having free food will help increase attendance at the health fair.
A health coach is a health professional that motivates individuals to cultivate positive health choices. Health coaches educate and support clients to achieve their health goals through lifestyle and behavior adjustments. Through guidance, motivation, and free resources, health coaches can provide employees with one-on-one meetings to discuss their goals, help them feel empowered, and foster the ability to take control of their health. Who knows, you may want to have them onsite more often!
Note: We recommend having a sign up process for the health coaching (preferably online) as it can be quite popular. Also, try to have these sessions in a separate room or space so employees feel comfortable sharing their personal goals with the health coach.
Your health fair isn’t complete without some exercise! Give your employees the opportunity to dive into some restorative relaxation by offering mini meditation or yoga classes. These classes can be geared toward relaxation and aren’t meant to be a sweat session – unless you want them to be. Stress can be a big part of the workforce so giving your employees a break during their day to relax and restore can be beneficial for them and their company! Both of these classes can be done in a small space, but we recommend having the class in a separate space so employees can reap the benefits of relaxing without much noise or distraction.
Major stress areas are the neck, shoulders, back, and wrists. Offering a 10- to 15-minute chair massages for your employees can assist them in relieving their stress and achy muscles. This can reduce injury as well as increase productivity and overall happiness. Similar to health coaching, we recommend having sign-ups for these as well. Make sure to enough masseuses to account for the number of employees taking advantage of the service.
A recent survey by One Medical Group found that two out of three full-time professionals prefer better health and wellness benefits than other types of perks. This means that employers looking to attract and retain the best talent should focus on expanding benefits in health and wellness before investing in other perks. The good news is that employers have lots of room to grow and differentiate themselves from other employers competing for the same human capital because 48% of respondents said they did not think their company was making sufficient investments in their wellness and preventative care. Also, only 25% of respondents said that their company’s health and wellness program is making them healthier.
The survey also revealed another challenge with employee wellness programs. It found that despite 64% of respondents saying they believe that keeping employees healthy should be one of the top goals of a company’s benefits program, only 49% of employees said this was the case at their organization. Nearly 70% believed that the priority was primarily focused on managing costs instead.
This is a common theme from employers and widely recognized by employees. This is why doing wellness for employees, rather than to them, goes a long way towards program success. The Global Wellness Institute’s Future Of Wellness At Work report found that “caring companies” boost worker health and productivity, not wellness programs. Without company leadership taking wellness initiatives seriously by doing it for the right reasons, employees will not see value in the program or think their employer doesn’t really care (they are just offering a wellness program to check the box or lower medical expenses).
Portion control continues to be a big contributor to the growing obesity rate. Restaurants over portion meals, dinner plates have gotten bigger, and meals have become supersized and prepackaged making them readily available within minutes in the microwave. How do we know how much we should be eating and what should our meals be comprised of?
Food guides developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), such as My Pyramid and MyPlate, have become excellent resources for individual consumers, health professionals, and nutrition educators. These visuals provide excellent guidance for the five major food groups, which are building blocks to a healthy diet. They also illustrate how much of certain foods we should be eating in order to maintain a nutritionally balanced lifestyle and stay healthy. As these illustrations have developed over the years we’ve been particularly impressed with Harvard’s version of the USDA’s MyPlate (Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate) created by experts at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School…and here’s why.
It’s A Plate – With Examples
Like MyPlate, Harvard’s illustration is something we’re all familiar with, a plate! The different food groups are color coded into portions within a standard sized plate so we understand how much of each food group to put on our plate. The visual indicates that half of your plate should be comprised of fruits and vegetables with the other half being lean protein and whole grains. What we like about Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate is that it takes this one step further and has brief descriptions associated with each food group. We need more information when it comes to what to eat besides shapes and colors. Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate not only shows the visual of what your plate should be comprised of, but it also gives you examples of each food group so you know what to put on your plate.
Emphasis On Whole Grains
MyPlate advises consumers to make at least half of their grains whole whereas Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate encourages that almost all of your grains are to be whole grains and also encourages limiting refined grains. Examples are given of what whole and refined grains are to reduce confusion. Making most, if not all, of your grains whole leads to a healthier lifestyle and helps control your weight.
Inclusion Of Healthy Fats
Contrary to popular thinking, fats (the healthy kinds like nuts and avocado) are really good for you, and your body needs them for optimal health. Unfortunately, this is not illustrated on MyPlate; however, it is on their website. Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate illustrates the inclusion of healthy fats with a bottle of olive oil indicating that one should include a variety of healthy fats in their diet. Examples of healthy fats are also given so consumers know what constitute healthy fats and what to avoid.
Water is so important for the maintenance of our health, and we like that Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate includes this in their illustration and encourages us to drink it along with other beverages that are water based with little to no sugar. Within this same category, they emphasize the importance of limiting dairy and avoiding sugary drinks, such as sodas and coffee beverages.
Addition Of Exercise
Movement is such an integral part of our health, which is why we love that it is shown on Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average adult needs 150 minutes of moderate-intense aerobic activity per week and strength training exercises on two or more days of each week. With the addition of a healthy diet, exercise helps us stay healthy and vibrant, avoid injury, and keep our bones and muscles strong.
A recent survey by the National Public Radio, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health revealed a number of insights on employees’ perceptions of health problems, experiences, issues, and challenges in the workplace. The survey focused on the United States and sought to answer seven questions:
- What relationship do adults see between their workplace and their health?
- What health benefits are offered to workers to improve their personal health, do workers use these benefits, and what are the reasons why they use or do not use these benefits?
- What are the experiences of those who are working while they are sick or are caring for sick family members?
- How does the workplace affect the health of different types of workers, including shift workers, workers in dangerous jobs, disabled workers, and workers in low-paying jobs?
- How do jobs impact workers’ levels of stress?
- How do adults rate their workplace in terms of supporting their health?
- How do paid vacation benefits in the U.S. compare to Europe?
The entire report is worth reviewing, but this blog post is going to focus on some of the interesting statistics around employee stress.
Workplace Stress Impacts The Majority
A majority of working adults (59%) said their current job has an impact on their stress. 43% said their job is bad for their stress level. Individuals working in the restaurant and medical fields were the most impacted by work stress with 54% and 52% reporting their job as bad for their stress level. Almost the majority of office employees (46%) reported similar feelings about their jobs.
Workaholics And Stress
A majority of survey respondents who work more than 50 hours per week (57%) said their job has a bad impact on their stress level, while 45% say it has a bad impact on their sleeping habits, and 43% say it has a bad impact on their eating habits. So why do these individuals work so many hours? A majority of these workers said they do so because it’s important for their career (56%) to work longer hours while 50% and 37% say they enjoy it or for financial reasons, respectively. Despite the amount of stress caused by excessive hours, 49% of those who work more than 50 hours per week said their workload made it too hard to take a vacation (or de-stress).
There are other great stress and non-stress related statistics in the document, and a review of the information will identify that work-life balance continues to drain our workforce. Regardless of the reason, “always on” cultures have employees working longer hours and never being able to disconnect from work. As a result, productivity worsens and turnover increases, both of which have large and very tangible impacts on business success. Employers often try to identify wellness programs to help employees cope or manage stress, but perhaps the solution is a culture change that allows employees to disconnect and recharge.
A survey from HUB International revealed that more employers ranked wellness (83%) and cost management (76%) as a top priority than ACA compliance (60%). The study focused on small and middle market companies by surveying 400 senior-level human resource and finance executives from companies with 50 to 1,000 employees. Broken down further by employer size, wellness and productivity is a top concern for 90% of organizations with 500 to 1,000 employees; 81% of those with 100 to 499 employees; and 78% of organizations with 50-99 employees.
With wellness in such high demand, the million-dollar question still exits: how do employers improve wellness
return on investment (ROI) value on investment (VOI)? According to the survey, the less tangible benefits of wellness programs have proven harder to measure. Just 35% of employers reported improved productivity and 35% cited improved morale. Employee turnover, absenteeism, and chronic disease management had even lower rates of measurable improvement. According to Linda Keller, National Chief Operating Officer of Employee Benefits for HUB International, “Those results are harder to measure. As employers are moving forward on wellness programs, they’re structuring them more around employee engagement, employee productivity, and employee morale.”
If more employers are focusing on employee engagement, employee productivity, and employee morale, why are more employers not dropping programs that don’t deliver directly on these specific benefits, like biometric screenings and health risk assessments (HRAs)? Specifically, legacy wellness programs do nothing to engage employees with the company or their colleagues. Also, these programs are one-time events so the concept of sustainable engagement does not even apply. To be fair, screenings and HRAs are precursors to other programs like health coaching, but these costly services often have limited employee engagement impacts as well.
Employers also need to think closely about how they measure the intangibles. At the very least, employers need to incorporate regular surveys throughout their program. Wellable initiates surveys after each challenge. Surveys can help capture the qualitative factors often unseen through traditional quantitative data, such as employee morale. Surveys also help identify areas an employer can improve their program going forward.
Companies enacting policies supporting an “always on” culture believe employee performance is tied to hours worked or email response time. Research continues to be published that contradicts this management style, including a study scheduled to be presented at this summer’s annual meeting of the Academy of Management. The study suggests that employers “damage their employeesꞌ well-being and work-life balance and weaken their job performance when they create expectations that work-related emails should be monitored and responded to during non-work hours.”
According to the authors of the study, “An ‘always on’ culture with high expectations to monitor and respond to emails during non-work time may prevent employees from ever fully disengaging from work, leading to chronic stress and emotional exhaustion.” Even if the amount of time to check and respond to emails is minimal, the expectation to do so creates anticipatory stress and prevents detachment from work, which is necessary for sustainable job performance. Ironically, the ability to disengage from work improves your ability to engage while you are there.
The study recruited and surveyed 600 working adults from a business school alumni association and LinkedIn interest groups. The participants worked in a wide variety of industries and organizations. The study conducted two surveys. The first survey captured amount of time dedicated to after-hours email, the degree of employer expectation to respond to these emails, psychological detachment from work, emotional exhaustion, and personal opinions on having to be connected to email 24/7. The second survey, which was given a week later, focused on work-life balance.
The study found that detachment from work was impaired less by time spent on after-hours email. Rather, the expectation from an employer to be constantly connected made it harder to disengage. This lowered ability to disconnect translates into poorer work-life balance and causes emotional exhaustion, which, earlier research has shown, negatively affects job performance.
The study also showed that the “negative effects of feeling the need to respond to emails during non-work hours was greatest on employees who strongly wish to keep their work and family separate. While these employees are generally more likely to detach from work than those who don’t care as much about work bleeding into their personal lives, the insistence on after-hours email availability upsets their ability to do so.”
A survey from TriNet revealed some interesting information about the differences that exist in paid time off (PTO) use and preferences amongst different age and income groups. The survey sought to gauge the impact of various PTO benefits on workers’ behaviors and their job performance and found that employees consider PTO a very important part of their job satisfaction. A whopping 89% of all employees surveyed consider PTO important to their job satisfaction and count PTO packages as an important component when evaluating a new position. Regardless of age, gender, or generation, this means generous vacation packages are no longer just considered a bonus; many workers see them as a necessity.
Differences By Income Levels
The survey found that nearly one-third of employees mainly take time off for medical emergencies, family obligations, or personal obligations. Employees who take time off for these reasons earn, on average, $22,000 less per year than those who mainly take time off for pleasure. This may be due to lower income individuals having to serve as caregivers for their loved ones while higher salaried employees may be able to afford support options to assist with certain situations. Employers must recognize that their employees need and deserve personal time off to recharge so that they can be effective at their jobs, and as such, addressing these challenges will be critical to business success.
Differences By Generations
The survey also showed that older workers expect more time off than their younger colleagues. Specifically, baby boomers were twice as likely (26%) to say they need four weeks or more off from work than millennials (13%). According to Tina Hawk, Director of Human Capital Services at TriNet, “baby boomers are usually making a little bit more, so they’re actually able to travel and get away from the office, and they’ve got families established. Millennials tend to take off in short spurts.” In regard to the ideal amount of PTO, the largest share of respondents in each age group, including baby boomers (46%), generation X (45%) and millennials (56%) cited two to three weeks of PTO as the ideal amount.
Difference By Gender
There were also gender differences identified in the survey. Specifically, 60% of women said they never check email while on PTO, compared to only 40% of men. The same percentages (60% vs. 40%) felt PTO was essential to their workplace happiness. As the importance of workplace diversity continues to increase, a shift in PTO benefits may also occur.