Category: Corporate Wellness

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.

Food Demonstrations
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.

Health Coaching
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.

How To Guide For Health Fairs

Chair Massage
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.

Category: Corporate Wellness

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).

Category: Wellness

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.

Encourages Water
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.

Category: Corporate Wellness

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:

  1. What relationship do adults see between their workplace and their health?
  2. 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?
  3. What are the experiences of those who are working while they are sick or are caring for sick family members?
  4. 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?
  5. How do jobs impact workers’ levels of stress?
  6. How do adults rate their workplace in terms of supporting their health?
  7. 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.

Category: Corporate Wellness

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.

Category: Facts and Research

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.”

Category: Wellness

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.

Category: Mobile Wellness

In a classic (and modern) story of unintended consequences, Pokémon Go may have become the next best health app by accident.  Before diving deeper into why, the obvious question of “What is Pokémon Go?” needs to be answered.

In simple terms, Pokémon Go uses a phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when a user is in the game and make Pokémon “appear” (on a phone screen).  A user’s goal is to go and catch the Pokémon.  As you move around, different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where a user is and what time it is.  The idea is to encourage users to travel around the real world to catch Pokémon in the game.  This combination of a game and the real world interactions is known as “augmented reality.”  The game is so popular that it’s on the verge of overtaking Twitter in terms of daily active users on Android.  Did we mention the game is a little more than a week old?

The game has become so popular that people are hunting down Pokémon on their office desks, in hospital rooms, and even in bathrooms.  One teenage girl even found a dead body while looking for Pokémon, and police in Missouri claimed that four suspected robbers lured in victims with the possibility of Pokémon.

So how is Pokémon a health app?  To hatch a new Pokémon from an egg, players have to walk one kilometer, as measured by the phone’s sensors.  Driving is out of the question, as users must stay below the 10 or 15-mile-per-hour speed limit.  For an addictive game, that means lots of walking.  One player even logged 24 miles over the course of a couple of days walking around San Francisco.  While the game has limited data due to its newness, anecdotal evidence shows that Pokémon Go could be a boon to an individual’s exercise and well-being.  Users are increasing their physical activity, getting fresh air and sunshine, and interacting with others.

Only time will tell if Pokémon Go is the best thing since sliced bread for the wellness industry.

Category: Regulatory

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published new rules on May 17, 2016 that will require employers that offer wellness programs that collect employee health information (such as through a health risk assessment or biometric screening) to provide a notice to employees informing them what information will be collected, how it will be used, who will receive it, and what will be done to keep it confidential.  Although programs like these should not be used by employers in the first place, employees will at least benefit from having more transparency into the process.  This does not prevent employers from creating onerous, near-mandatory programs that effectively force employees to participate in the program even though the information provided through the new ruling makes these individuals want to opt out of the program.  The new ruling takes effect at the beginning of the first plan year on or after January 1, 2017.

To assist employers in communicating information on health data collection and use, the EEOC provided a sample notice for employers to use.  Employers can customize the sample notice to fit their specific wellness program or create their own message so long as certain criteria are met.  For example, the employer will need to describe the type and amount of incentives to be provided in return for participating in the wellness program and the specific criteria that must be met to obtain each level of incentive.  The notice can be provided electronically and may also be incorporated into notice materials that an employer already uses to comply with the health-contingent wellness program requirements under HIPAA.

Category: Facts and Research

According to a new study from Independence Blue Cross, “enhanced” walking programs encouraged people to walk more and resulted in weight loss and improvements in mood, energy levels, and overall feelings of well-being.  Published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, the study comprised of 460 employees from six employer groups and analyzed results from standard walking programs relative to enhanced ones.  The standard program included resources such as flyers and posters for promoting the program, but employers could do as much or as little promotion as they wanted.  The enhanced walking program included incentives, coaching, feedback, competitive challenges, and monthly wellness workshops.

During the nine months of the program, participants in the enhanced walking program averaged 726 more steps per day compared with those in the standard condition.  A 1000-step increase in average daily steps was associated with significant weight loss for both men (3.8 lbs.) and women (2.1 lbs.) and reductions in body mass index (0.41 men, 0.31 women).  Higher step counts were also associated with improvements in mood, having more energy, and higher ratings of overall health.  The study concluded that “an enhanced walking program significantly increases participation rates and daily step counts, which were associated with weight loss and reductions in body mass index.”

One dynamic worth noting that is often the case in most walking or physical activity programs is the drop in engagement over time.  Since a wellness program’s impact is limited by the number of participants in the program, sustainable engagement is critical.  As highlighted in the exhibit below, both programs struggled to maintain engagement throughout the nine months.  However, the enhanced program did have significantly more engagement (40% vs. 24%) at the end of the program despite both groups starting at similar points.

Buyer Beware
Before everyone gets excited about the results, it is worth noting the shortcomings, some even noted by the researchers, of this study.  First, participants reported daily step counts rather than having these measured and verified.  As a result, there is no way to determine the validity of the steps that participants recorded, which increases measurement error and reduces the likelihood of finding statistically reliable effects of step counts on outcome measures.  Also, participants in the enhanced condition had higher average step counts at baseline.