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February 27, 2007

Trend watch: video resumes, caregiving, benefits, and teleworking

Video resumes - Are you ready for the video resume? In a series of posts covering the topic, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen of Time magazine's Work in Progress blog gives us the rundown. In her first post, she discusses the rise of the video resume and offers a good sample clip. In her second post, she tells us why many recruiters hate the video resume. Today's post offers a sampling of winning video resumes from a contest sponsored by the Vault, along with how-to list of the dos and don'ts for creating a good video resume.

Elder care - Mark Willaman of HR Marketer talks about a recent CBS segment on caregiving and the increase in the numbers of companies that are adding eldercare benefits similar to those that have been offered for child dependents. He wonders why many EAPs are slow off the mark in offering such benefits. (note: ESI offers both child and elder care benefits.)

Benefits - Diane Pfadenhauer of Strategic HR Lawyer offers Benefit Trends to Watch from Watson Wyatt.

Teleworking - Benefitnews looks at the recent results of a survey of federal managers on teleworking that demonstrates that most view teleworking favorably. Excerpt: "The majority of federal managers who oversee teleworkers found the concept favorable (63%) and rated teleworkers just as productive as their in-office counterparts."

How does the U.S. stack up in family-friendliness? - Brent Hunsberger of At Work posts some highlights from a report from Harvard and McGill Universities finding that the U.S. is failing working families. An excerpt: "The United States is one of only five nations surveyed that doesn't provide moms paid maternity leave. Nearly 170 countries do, and nearly 100 offer more than 14 weeks of paid time off to care for a new baby. Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland, along with America, don't. 66 countries extend paid leave to new dads."

February 23, 2007

You think your job is bad? Check out the worst jobs in history

You might want to bookmark this post and return to it anytime you have a bad day at work. As we've noted before, things could always be worse.

We were recently reminded how bad jobs could be when we stumbled on an amusing site featuring the Worst Jobs in History. The site is a companion piece to a British television series by the same name that ran through 2,000 years of horrifyingly bad jobs. You can learn about the jobs your ancestors held - Medieval leech collector, a Tudor groom of the stool, an Anglo-Saxon Guillemot egg collector, a Stuart plague burier, or a Victorian tanner. If you want to see which job you might have held had you lived 1,000 years ago, take the quiz in the career center.

Of course, you don't need to travel back in time to find some frighteningly bad jobs - there are many contemporary contenders for the titles. Here's a few nominations that we've found:

Business Week: Worst jobs with the best pay

Edugree: 5 worst jobs of 2006

Pop Science: Worst jobs in science

USA Today: 10 worst jobs in sports

CNN Money: America's most dangerous jobs

CNN Money: 5 Most dangerous jobs for teens

February 22, 2007

Chronic Pain in the Workplace

I shoveled quite a bit of snow this past week and my back is sore, my arms hurt and I feel like a real whiner, running to the medicine cabinet for another dose of aspirin. Just sitting at my desk hurts and I can't concentrate. Through this experience, I thought; how many people struggle at work each day with pain much worse and more chronic than mine? How do people balance taking pain medication with staying focused and productive? How do they keep going each day?

According to the National Pain Foundation, persistent pain is a quite prevalent in this country. More than 50 million people living in the United States suffer from chronic pain. Two thirds of pain sufferers have been living with their pain for more than five years and experience pain almost six days a week.

An organization called Pain at Work describes The Impact of Chronic Pain on the Individual this way:

  • Inadequately managed pain can produce anxiety, fear, depression, or cognitive dysfunction.
  • Chronic pain can increase disabilities of other disorders including depression and anxiety, and is a risk factor for suicide in depressed patients.
  • Chronic pain interferes with sleep and adversely affects the quality of life for people dealing with pain—both in terms of their day-to-day activities and their emotional well-being.

Results released this week from a 2006 national survey conducted by Harris Interactive(R) on "Pain in the Workplace" found that relentless, chronic pain has risen dramatically among full-time U.S. workers in the past 10 years.

  • In 2006, nearly 9 in 10 employees living with chronic pain (89%) reported that they typically go to work rather than stay at home, when experiencing pain.
  • Nearly half of employees living with chronic pain (46%) said their pain affected their ability to perform their job.

This sets up huge potential for presenteeism, employee mistakes and safety issues and concerns and possibly abuse of prescription drugs on the job. But most employers don't know about the employee's pain until it is quite severe. Employees fear discrimination or loss of a job if it's perceived that they are compromised by pain and many cut back on medication to be able to appear "normal". Unfortunately this leads to mismanagement of the pain and could exacerbate the problem and the associated emotional problems of anxiety and depression.

Company sponsored wellness programs and efforts by organizations to provide employees with healthy living resources are a good way to address this hidden problem but in 2006, only 22% of wellness programs included a component about preventing or living with chronic pain conditions.

In the next few weeks, I'll explore this topic in more depth, share some tips for the HR Manager and the supervisor as well as for the individual employee.

February 20, 2007

Short takes: Chocolate, A$&*@s, terminations, handbooks, meetings, and flus

Sweet news - If your wellness efforts led you to replace all the candy in your vending machines with more healthful choices such as yogurt, nuts and granola, you may want to rethink that decision. A recent study issued at the American Association for the Advancement of Science demonstrates that eating chocolate might sharpen up the mind and give a short-term boost to cognitive skills. Study results also show that cocoa flavanols found in chocolate might also offer vascular and heart benefits and help in reducing the effects of aging.

There's one in every crowd - Forbes asks an important workplace question: Are You An A$&*@^? In her article, Tara Weiss discusses people who go beyond mere jerkiness into a realm of meanness and cruelty that brings the whole office down and evokes strong feelings of dislike and disdain. She interviews author Robert Sutton, a professor at Stanford University who wrote the book The No A------- Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. Read the interview and then take the quiz to find out if you are an A$&*@^. Related: How one bad apple can create a toxic team

Handling terminations - We believe that with the right intervention by a good EAP, most employees can be salvaged, but occasionally, things just don't work out. Once that decision is made, your focus needs to switch to not why you are doing it, but how. A mismanaged termination can lead to problems and lawsuits. George Kittredge of Labor and Employment Law offers suggestion on how to handle an employee termination

Briefs - Attorney Jacqueline McManus discusses the Benefits of Employee Handbooks in the Montery Herald. The Chief Happiness Officer offers Five weeeeeeeeird tips for great meetings. Scientific American: Employers urged to plan for flu pandemic.

February 16, 2007

Wintertime stress, struggles and the EAP

Here at ESI we just completed our January statistics and, I noticed a big jump in utilization. That means that more people called us for help in January than most other months. So I did a bit of research to see if this is unique to our EAP or if it happens elsewhere. Everyone thinks of the holiday season as the most stressful time of the year but checking around, I found something different.

Dr. Cliff Arnall a psychologist from London devised a formula that calculates misery and found that in the UK, January 24th is the most depressing day of the year. Could this be the same in the US? He proposes that it's a combination of seven variables: weather, debt, monthly salary, time since Christmas, time since failed quit attempt (as in an attempt to quit smoking, drinking, eating poorly), low motivational levels and the need to take action. He states that the stress and struggle of all these variables culminate in the middle of January.

And how does that relate to the EAP? Depression and financial worries are two of the most common reasons employees call us. A Canadian based research firm recently conducted a study about the use of EAPs after the holiday season and found the following:

Post Holidays and the Broken Promise Effect—an EAP's Perspective, indicated that reports of mental health problems increased in January. Suicidal thoughts increased by twenty seven percent, feelings of anger augmented to fourteen percent, and depression increased by seven percent this January.

This research project examined Employee Assistance Program (EAP) access patterns for the month of January of 138,933 employees in 806 organizations.
The key findings of the report show that:

  • There are 15% more EAP contacts in January compared to the rest of the year (51% more than December alone).
  • January is associated with more reports of domestic violence (55% more) and other social health issues involving care giving (42% to 50% more), marriage and relationships (10% to 42% more), and family (14% to 37% more).
  • Reports of mental health problems also rise in January, including suicidal thoughts and feelings (27% more) anger (12% more) and depression (7% more).
  • Reports of physical health problems such as medical stressors (13% more) and weight management (10% more) rise in January.
  • Other January increases were found for reports of debt and credit (39% more), career (28% more), and life transition issues (15% more)

So I guess the message here is pretty clear. All these personal concerns are influencing the ability of your employees to do their work and this affects co-workers and the organization as a whole. If you don't have an EAP, consider contracting with one now, and choose one that offers the most comprehensive benefits to your employees.

If you do have an EAP, it's time to make sure you are promoting it to all your employees. Many organizations make the mistake of promoting the benefit only at open enrollment time or only to new employees at orientation. Unless promotional material such as posters, newsletters and brochures are readily available, employees forget they have this option when times get tough. Include your EAP resource in an ongoing conversation with employees and managers and help solve these problems today.

February 14, 2007

Cupid at work: office romance

About 2 out of every 5 workers has been romantically involved with a co-worker, according to a recent survey on workplace romance by Spherion. And despite 41% of the survey takers saying that they thought that a work romance might interfere with their job security or hinder advancement, nearly 2 out of 5 respondents said they would still consider becoming involved with a coworker.

While we hate to strike a sour note on this day of wine and roses, it's a simple fact. Work romance can be fraught with problems for the employer. Witness the sad spectacle of astronaut Lisa Nowak, an example of a work romance gone frightfully awry. While it is likely that Nowak's problems go far deeper than the romance, her employers at NASA must be wondering if there was anything they could have done or been alert for before things took such a terrible pass. (See What makes an astronaut crack?)

In Spherion's survey, 42 percent of workers said they conduct their romance openly, while 35 percent favor keeping things quiet. Whether overt or covert, there are many, many reasons why work romances can be a headache to the employer. In a large organization, the effect on coworkers may be negligible, but in a small workplace, romance between workers can hurt morale and cause discomfort, distractions, and conflict. Much worse can ensue if it is a relationship between a manager and a non-manager. And when romances hit the skids, even more problems can ensue - loss of valued employees and potential lawsuits due to harassment or discrimination, for example.

While most employers tend to discourage office romance, few out and out forbid it. In 2006, SHRM conducted a survey on workplace romance and that found that:

"Only 9 percent of HR professionals surveyed say dating among employees is prohibited, and in 2001 and 2005 more than 70 percent of organizations did not have formal written or verbal policies dealing with romantic liaisons between employees."

Rather than prohibiting dating or romance between co-workers, most employers seem to be taking things on a case-by-case basis. An article on office romance in Inc.com profiles one employer with this approach:

"We don't have a specific policy," said Lisa Stone, human relations director at New Media Strategies, an Arlington, Va.-based online marketing firm. "We have an environment that cultivates relationships, and every now and then, Cupid strikes."
According to Vault, 58% of companies will only interfere if the relationship has created a problem at work, similar to the approach New Media Strategies takes, according to Stone. On average, the firm's employees are 28 years old and work between 40 and 45 hours a week -- factors that have contributed to at least a handful of romances among the ranks of the seven-year-old company, including one engagement, Stone said."

Not all work romances are problematic—the Spherion study points out that twenty-five percent of workplace relationships eventually lead to marriage.

Related reading

Seven rules of office romance

Romance in the office can lead to marriage or to a lawsuit

February 12, 2007

Turn the lights up…effective treatment for SAD

Ten days ago, we were all heartened that when the groundhog tumbled out of his cozy den and looked to the sky, no shadow scared him back into his hole, saving us from six more weeks of winter. However, here in the northeast, the legend doesn't always live up to the reality, and many of us feel just like that groundhog from October to April.

In early January, I wrote about SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, and as the constant cold and snow seem to block our sun daily, I wanted to revisit the problem and offer solutions. A simple effective treatment that can be used in the workplace is Light Therapy. While many workplaces have become a cubicle landscape where direct day light is almost non-existent, high intensity lamps aimed at the employee will chase away the winter blues.

Light therapy has been proven effective in up to 85 per cent of diagnosed cases. Exposure, for up to four hours per day (average 1-2 hours) to very bright light, at least ten times the intensity of ordinary domestic lighting is the therapeutic dose. Ordinary light bulbs and fittings are not strong enough. Average domestic or office lighting emits an intensity of 200-500 lux but the minimum dose, necessary to treat SAD is 2500 lux, the intensity of a bright summer day can be 100,000 lux! Even changing a workplace setting to full spectrum lighting won’t do the trick.

Light boxes and lamps are easily available through the internet and with a prescription from a physician, an employee’s health insurance may cover the cost. A reasonable priced box with therapeutic levels of light would cost about $280. That’s a small price to pay for a happy and productive employee.

Light treatment should be used daily in winter (and dull periods in summer) starting in early autumn when the first symptoms appear. It consists of sitting two to three feet away from a specially designed light box, usually on a table, allowing the light to shine directly through the eyes. The employee can carry out normal activity such as reading, writing, eating and working at a computer while stationary in front of the box. It is not necessary to stare at the light although it has been proved safe.

Treatment is usually effective within three or four days and the effect continues provided it is used every day. Tinted lenses, or any device that blocks the light to the retina of the eye, should not be worn. Some light boxes emit higher intensity of light, up to 10,000 lux, which can cut treatment time down to half an hour a day.
Also daily exposure to as much natural daylight as possible, especially at midday may help. Encouraging employees to bundle up and get outside can be a great stress reliever, team builder and blues chaser.

February 9, 2007

A few items from the lighter side to end your week

What's in a name? - here's the most interesting new job title we've seen in awhile.

Grumpy workers rule! - you may want to think twice about telling people to improve their attitude in your next round of performance reviews. New research show that grumpy workers may be your most creative problem solvers. "It's the happy, cheerful folks who tend to think things are going well and that there are no problems to be solved, she said. They're less likely to be pondering potential pitfalls and often don't see problems until there is a crisis."

What about grumpy bosses? - This Inteview with an honest boss may shed some light.

Work environments - is your workplace a trifle too stodgy? Are you looking for a bit of an office pick-me-up to create a more stimulating environment for your employees? Here's an idea from London.

I see London, I see France... Too Much Skin 10 Taboos for Office Attire

Questions of the day - what every worker wants to know. Is it Friday? and is it 5:30?. Bookmark these vital links in case you get confused.

February 8, 2007

As an added bonus, you get to jump out of a plane: workplace rewards for the brave hearts

Have you ever been rewarded for a job well done and then just shrugged your shoulders and tossed the reward into a drawer? Or even worse, gotten angry because the certificate for Pizza and Wings was useless to you, a life long vegan? Employee rewards and recognition are tricky business and can sometimes create the opposite of the intended effect.

A recent article in the NY Times heralds a company for creative rewards:

"A few summers ago, Indu Navar, founder and chief executive of the Silicon Valley software maker Serus, paid for her employees to jump out of an airplane. None of them had sky-dived before, and Sumeet Haldankar, a program engineer, said the 14,500-foot plunge delivered such an adrenaline rush that people hugged and laughed giddily when they landed safely."

I'd have to question whether these employees hugged because they felt rewarded or just happy to be alive. The article continues with examples of other creative perks:

"Jil Wyland, founder and chief executive of Litigation Presentation, a company in Atlanta that makes graphics used in courtroom trials, said she offered perks because she wanted work to be fun. She has treated her employees to office massages, personal trainers and maid service. To help the staff through a particularly busy week, she took them to a Nine Inch Nails concert."

I believe in making work fun. Trying to break the monotony of the everyday grind is a worthy objective and creative perks often work better than cash in rewarding exceptional efforts or ideas. Employees typically use the cash to take care of mundane obligations, come to expect it as a part of their compensation package or, even worse, forget that they got it.

Make sure whatever you use as a perk is actually desired by the employee. Motivation is individual and not all employees respond to the same types of rewards. Surely jumping out of a plane is memorable but the question I always ask is, "will this sustain long term motivation and good work performance?" The answer is, probably not.

Perks and rewards have some affect on morale but the most sustaining effort is still creating an engaging respectful work environment where employees are routinely and consistently asked their opinions and recognized for their ideas and efforts. This costs little, depends greatly on skilled and effective supervisors and sustains motivation over the long haul.

February 6, 2007

Meet your work force: fatter, sicker, and less productive

Yesterday, PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute released a report that paints a bleak picture of an increasingly sedentary global work force and a rising tide of chronic diseases that are taking a toll on corporate productivity and profits. The good news is that business leaders appear to be among those in the vanguard in combating the growing and costly threat of chronic disease, which is debilitating workers and sapping productivity. The report notes that the world now has more people who are overweight than hungry and that poor diet, lack of physical activity, stress, and smoking are the biggest contributing factors to chronic disease. The U.S. has the dubious distinction of winning the global fatness award, with more than half of all adults overweight or obese.

The PwC report documents some of the business costs of chronic disease, and suggests that wellness programs are increasingly favored as a strategy to mitigate risk:

" ... PwC examines the challenges facing businesses as a consequence of the growing epidemic of chronic disease, and found that approximately 2 percent of capital spent on workforce is lost to disability, absenteeism and presenteeism (in other words, diminished productivity from ill employees who go to work but work below par) due to chronic disease. Combined, these indirect costs are more than the additional direct medical claim costs that some employers incur. In contrast, corporate wellness programs have been shown to provide a 3-to-1 return on investment.
"There are quantifiable benefits from using wellness programs to attract and retain talented, healthy employees," said Simon Leary, partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the UK firm of PwC and Health Research Institute Leader for United Kingdom/Europe. "You can improve the health and well-being of your workers while also bolstering your bottom line. The economic case for prevention is overwhelming."
Download a free copy of the full report, Working Towards Wellness: Accelerating the prevention of chronic disease. Free registration is required.

For more resources on preventing chronic disease, you may want to familiarize yourself with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. NACDD is a public health association comprised of chronic disease program directors of each state and U.S. territory. It was founded in 1988 to provide a national forum for chronic disease prevention, with the intent of mobilizing national efforts to reduce chronic diseases and the associated risk factors. Some of the specific conditions that the organization targets include arthritis, cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, health disparities, healthy aging, osteoporosis and obesity.

In addition to offering a variety of newsletters, reports, and case histories of success stories, the site provides an invaluable directory of Chronic Disease Resources - a great page for HR directors to bookmark - we've added it to growing list of links in the sidebar.

February 1, 2007

Wellness topics and observances for February

It’s a busy month for observance of health and wellness events, but with open enrollment and benefit fairs out of the way and budget preparation hopefully a few weeks ahead, HR managers may have time in February to promote these critical health concerns. Check below for links and available contacts. Remember, any event sponsored by your organization and engaged in collectively by your employees has a great chance to change behavior in a positive direction.

Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Awareness Month
Materials available
Contact: PBA Consumer and Patient Hotline

American Heart Month
American Heart Association
Materials available
Contact: Program departments or local chapters

National Children’s Dental Health Month
American Dental Association
Materials available
Contact: Department of Public Information

National Wise Health Consumer Month
American Institute for Preventive Medicine
Contact: Sue Jackson

Feb 11-17
Children of Alcoholics Week
National Association for Children of Alcoholics
Materials available
Contact: Gail Jordan

Feb 14
National Donor Day
Materials available
Contact: Division of Transplantation Staff

Feb 25 - March 3
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
National Eating Disorders Association
Materials available
Contact: Tonia Brown

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