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November 29, 2007

Employer obligations under new OSHA safety standard

As of May, 2008, employers must bear the cost for personal safety equipment (PPE) used by their workers. On November 14, OSHA issued a new rule clarifying employer responsibilities for payment of PPE, requiring that employers bear the cost of most PPE mandated by OSHA's general industry, construction and maritime standards. This rule had been in limbo since it was first proposed in 1999, and the current implementation is thought to be an effort to deter a lawsuit that was filed earlier this year by several unions. One of the controversies around the rule has been whether employers should be required to pay for prescription safety eyewear. The new rule exempts ordinary protective equipment such as prescription eyewear, safety footwear, protective clothing, and weather-related wear. The new rule does not expand the roster of PPE that is required.

OSHA estimates that implementation of the new rule new rule will reduce occupational injuries by as much as 21,000 per year, saving more than $200 million per year in medical and insurance costs. For more details, the full text of the rule is available here: Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment (PDF)

November 27, 2007

Stress at work affects employee retention

Are you having trouble retaining employees? You may want to check the stress level at your organization. When asked about reasons for leaving a job, stress was cited as the top reason by 37 percent of the employee respondents in a recent 2007/2008 Global Strategic Rewards study conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide and WorldatWork. Yet employers seem relatively oblivious to the role that stress plays in their employees' decisions to stay or leave a job: stress does not even make the list of the top five reasons cited by employers.

The purpose of the study was to examine how employers are tackling attraction and retention issues and reward management. The study encompassed nearly 1,000 companies in 22 countries, in conjunction with a survey of more than 13,000 workers at mid-size to large employers.

Two of three companies worldwide report difficulty attracting top-performing workers, while a full 70 percent reported that they have difficulty attracting critical-skill employees. At 11 percent, the U.S. has the highest median voluntary turnover rate.

Employee view - top 5 reasons
Stress levels - 37 percent
Base pay - 33 percent
Promotion opportunity - 26 percent
Career development opportunities - 23 percent
Work/life balance - 22 percent

Employer view - top 5 reasons
Base pay - 52 percent
Career development opportunities - 47 percent
Promotion opportunity - 5 percent
Relationship with supervisor/manager - 35 percent
Work/life balance - 24 percent

But the stress climate of an organization was not just a strong reason cited for turnover, an acceptable stress level was also cited as a reason for staying with an organization and recommending it to others:

The study found that when employees are satisfied with stress levels and work/life balance, 86 percent are more inclined to stay with their company (versus 64 percent when dissatisfied) and 88 percent are more likely to recommend it as a place to work (versus 55 percent when dissatisfied).

"Worldwide, the frenetic pace of modern business is taking its toll on employees," said Adam Sorensen, global total rewards practice leader at WorldatWork. "There's no question that employees are more likely to leave or speak badly of their workplace if they feel overburdened. Companies that take steps to ensure that stress levels are not onerous will save money in the long run by reducing attrition."

The survey notes that with such a misunderstanding of the actual reasons for dissatisfaction, some of the actions that employers are taking to attract and retain employees may be counterproductive.

Other study findings
The full report - Playing to Win in a Global Economy (PDF) - offers other findings as well. Results are segmented into global and U.S - specific findings. In addition to a disconnect between employers and employees in the reasons for leaving, some other key U.S. findings include:

  • Employers report difficulty in attracting and retaining employees—particularly, top-performing and critical-skill employees—for the fourth year in a row.
  • As employers continue to manage their cost structures, they are putting more money into variable pay and raising the bar for performance.
  • Merit-increase budgets for 2007 remained relatively stable, at an average 3.6 percent, and are expected to rise only slightly, to 3.7 percent, in 2008.
  • Highly engaged employees are more than twice as likely to be top performers than are other employees.

November 19, 2007

News briefs: Wellness programs, absenteeism, CDHPs, employee empowerment

Wellness programs - Michael Moore of Pennsylvania Employment Law Blog offers some helpful advice on how to stay within your legal limits when embarking on health incentive programs as part of your wellness program. See his blog posting Sizing Up Obesity: Can Wellness Programs Curb BMI ?

Absenteeism - A must read this week is Shirking Working: The War on Hooky - charting measures that some large employers are taking to manage absence. But do these programs go too far? For another perspective, be sure to read the comments at the end of the article. Also, Jon Coppelman at Workers Comp Insider takes one employer to task for absence management practices that terminated a disabled worker for repeated tardiness.

Health insurance - Are Consumer-Directed Health Plans (CDHPs) the wave of the future? Joe Paduda doesn't think so, and he discusses their limitations in a Business Week article entitled CDHPs: No Rx for Health Care. Essentially, he states that these plans may look good on paper, but explains why the financial burden on plan members is too high.

Management styles - Susan Heatherfield at about.com is always worth a read. One of her recent columns offered some insight on employee empowerment and motivating employees. She cites a study that suggests that different leadership styles might be appropriate for different phases and stages of an organization.

November 18, 2007

The lighter side: bad day at the office

Having a bad day? This short video clip (sound alert) compiles some of the classic "bad day" moments that have been circulating on the web. Clearly, some of these workplaces could benefit by anger management training—time to call your EAP! Also on the "bad day" theme, there are also a series of short ad spoofs about work frustrations that have been viral in their popularity: the attack of the pen, the attack of the envelope, and the attack of the elastic. These spots are reminiscent of the popular when office supplies attack page.

When all that work frustration just gets to be too much, here's a small antidote from some experts: the definitive guide to making paper planes.

November 14, 2007

Holidays and grief: helping the bereaved

For people facing a recent loss, the holidays can be anything but happy. Thanksgiving will kick off a 6 week season of holiday celebrations for many; for others, it will be a sad reminder of loved ones lost. For those who have suffered a recent loss, the wounds are particularly raw and painful, but the effects of loss and grief can recur for many years. Memories of past celebrations with the departed can rekindle the feelings of loss.

Supervisors and HR managers should be sensitive to the fact that this may be a difficult time of year for any workers who have experienced a significant loss within the last year and should watch for signs of depression. Nancy Schimelpfening of about.com offers a brief refresher on the various stages of grief, along with "do" and "don't" lists offering guidance in ways to be supportive to people coping with grief. The Hospice Foundation of America issues an annual holiday newsletter of tips for coping with grief (PDF), which can be ordered online. Single issues are available at no charge, and small lots can be ordered at a reasonable price - these might be handy to have available for employees. And managers should also be sure to keep the EAP telephone number handy - in fact, for those employers that have an EAP, it's a good time of year to issue a reminder that services are available.

We've found a few good articles on coping with holiday grief that might be useful in helping you to communicate with and support any employees who are coping with grief:

November 9, 2007

Workplace violence: HR lessons

In Small Business Times, Daniel Schroeder discusses human resource lessons learned form the Crandon shooting, answering the question "... what is a reasonable approach for a company that wants to make sure that it does what it can to minimize the chances of a violent act occurring?" We agree with his recommendations, some of which include:

  • Establish a policy against workplace violence.
  • Make screening for violence potential part of the employee selection process.
  • The wise course of action is to take all threats seriously.
  • Make use of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Shroeder offers more detailed recommendations in his article, which is well worth reading. For additional information on the topic workplace violence, see our prior posts:
Violence prevention in the workplace
Employers have a key role in curbing domestic violence

November 6, 2007

Quickly Treating Employee Depression Helps Workers

Depression takes a hefty toll on the U.S. workplace, affecting about 6% of employees each year while costing over $30 billion annually in lost productivity, according to research conducted recently by Harvard University. In most cases, the symptoms of depression appear gradually and the usual process of treating depression&mdas;taking stock of the situation, visiting one's personal care physician, obtaining a referral to a mental health professionaland then finally receiving treatment—can take months or years.

However, a recent study appearing in the September issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 298, No. 12) indicates that workers with "telephonic outreach" available, such as your 24-hour Employee Assistance Program, fare much better in accessing treatment and recovering, thus reducing lost time expenses for their employers. The NIMH-sponsored research was conducted by Dr. Phillip Wang who found that employees who obtained early and aggressive intervention experienced significantly less time away from work and significantly higher job retention than those who remained untreated or for whom diagnosis and referral were delayed. In fact, they missed two fewer work weeks per work year than the untreated group or those who took the slow, traditional route in search of relief.

Also, more workers in the early intervention group were still employed by year's end—93% vs. 88%—resulting in further cost savings for employers who thus avoided the expense of rehiring and training replacement workers. The research specifically concluded that employers who provided a "telephonic outreach and care management program," such as a professional Employee Assistance Program, realize a "financial value and positive return on investment" from their outreach initiatives.

The Mayo Clinic has isolated various symptoms that can indicate the early stages of depression. If you observe or learn of any employees falling into these patterns of behavior, consider referring them to your employee assistance program for early intervention:

  • Sleep disturbances including too much sleep, frequent awakenings or insomnia
  • Impaired thinking or concentration
  • Significant changes in weight, either increases or decreases
  • Agitation, including signs of irritability and annoyance
  • Chronic fatigue, which people sometimes describe as doing everything in slow motion
  • Low self-esteem, manifested by statements indicating worthlessness or guilt
  • A fixation on death, often accompanied by persistent negative expressions of self worth
  • Increasing detachment from friends and family
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol

November 1, 2007

November health and wellness observances

Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer's is the 11th leading cause of death for adults age 65 and older. It's estimated that 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease and, unless a cure or significant treatment is found, it's predicted that as many as 14 million will have the disease by 2050. Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging, it is a progressive and fatal brain disease. According to the Alzheimer's Association, it is the most common form of dementia, destroying brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. While there is no cure, there are treatments to mitigate symptoms.

American Diabetes Month - One in four Americans either currently has diabetes or are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. There are 21 million U.S. children and adults living with diabetes, and another 54 million people are at-risk. In some populations - such as Latinos and Native Americans, the news is even worse, with the rate rising to as much as one out of every two people. It's an illness that sas reached epidemic proportion, sometimes called America's quiet crisis, it is exacerbated by weight gain and lack of exercise. It is progressive and often fatal disease characterized by many serious medical complications, and as such, a prime contributor to the nation's rising health costs. Yet at least in terms of Type 2 Diabetes, behavior change such as a decrease in weight and an increase in exercise may help to prevent or delay the onset. This is an area where work-based wellness programs can have a positive impact. The American Diabetes Association offers tools, activities and resources for promoting Diabetes awareness and healthy lifestyles at your workplace.

And hand-in-hand with this focus on diabetes, November is also Diabetic Eye Disease Month

Family Caregiver Month - It is estimated that 50 million family caregivers across the country currently provide more than $306 billion in "free" caregiving services. We've previously discussed how caregivers are at heightened risk for financial, physical, and emotional problems. And according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, the cost of caregivers in the workplace may be as high as $33.6 billion a year in missed days, early departures, and on-the-job distractions. The National Family Caregivers Association offers a list of caregiving resources as well as a community message board.

Great American Smokeout - While the big day is November 15, it's not too early to start publicizing and gearing up - smokers often benefit by setting a target "quit day" in advance. Several sites provide resources and activities, including The American Cancer Society offers alternatives: Quit For You and another site with resources for smokers. They also offer a worksite toolkit. The Centers for Disease Control offers a few good posters along with other materials.

Epilepsy Awareness Month - According to the Centers for Disease Control epilepsy currently affects approximately 3 million persons in the United States and is characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. The Epilepsy Foundation, which is a great resource for information, resources and networking, offers this insight: Epilepsy is the most common neurological condition in children and the third most common in adults after Alzheimer's and stroke. Despite modern therapy, about one million people continue to experience seizures or significant side effects from treatment. An Epilepsy Foundation report published in 2000 revealed that epilepsy costs the nation more than $16.6 billion a year in health care and unemployment. One in 10 adults will have a seizure sometime during their life. One percent of the population -- more than 3 million Americans -- are treated for epilepsy, most commonly with antiseizure medications.

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