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February 29, 2008

Time to take a second look at EAPs?

We run into a fair number of folks who are living in the 1970s in terms of their perceptions of what an EAP is - a surprising number of otherwise savvy employers still think of EAPs as little more than substance-abuse referral programs. While it's true that most EAPs still offer traditional counseling and substance programs, today's top-tier EAPs are also about productivity, wellness, work-life balance, and myriad other issues that confront the modern work force. Take some of the realities of the day - when a financial crunch, a traumatic event or simply the day-to-day stress of family matters impinge on your employees, life can be tough for them and also for you as their employer. A good EAP is there not just for the big events and traumas but also to provide helps with managing the quiet crises and challenges of everyday life. And services shouldn't simply be all about problems, but also about life enhancement - things like wellness and nutrition, financial planning, and personal and professional development.

If it's been years since you've taken a second look at EAPs and how they can improve life for both you and your employees, it might be worth a few minutes of your time. This blog's sponsor, ESI Employee Assistance Group, has just had a web site face lift - it's brighter, better organized, and has more content. The site offers a good sampling of the extensive benefits and services that today's premier EAP can offer to employees and employers, alike. If your organization doesn't have an EAP or if you're still driving an '70s model, it might be worth a look - the Employer Brochure(PDF) offers a good overview.

February 26, 2008

Get Ready for March 25: Diabetes Alert Day

Here's a simple thing you can do to help improve the health of your work force: promote and encourage your employees to take the online Diabetes Risk Test on March 25. It's a simple thing to do, and you might save some lives. Why not encourage this in your next newsletter or intranet communication? The American Diabetes Association offers a full range of promotional materials in English and Spanish that you can use.

Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, but about one-third of them are unaware that they have diabetes. And about 54 million are estimated to be prediabetic. One in five Americans is at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

On Diabetes Alert Day, the American Diabetes Association urges the over 60 million Americans who are unaware they have diabetes or who are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes to take the Diabetes Risk Test, a imple seven simple question self-assessment about weight, age, lifestyle and family history -- all potential risk factors for diabetes. People scoring 10 points or more are at a high risk for type 2 diabetes and are encouraged to see a health care professional

Among the primary risk factors for type 2 diabetes are being overweight, sedentary, over the age of 45 and having a family history of diabetes. African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders are at an increased risk, as are women who have had babies weighing more than nine pounds at birth.

The American Diabetes Association offers a diabetes cost calculator by state, and offers the following national cost assessment:

The national cost of diabetes in the U.S. in 2007 exceeds $174 billion. This estimate includes $116 billion in excess medical expenditures attributed to diabetes, as well as $58 billion in reduced national productivity. People with diagnosed diabetes, on average, have medical expenditures that are approximately 2.3 times higher than the expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes. Approximately $1 in $10 health care dollars is attributed to diabetes. Indirect costs include increased factors such as absenteeism, reduced productivity, and lost productive capacity due to early mortality.

For another resource, see Diabetes at Work. The site offers a range of business-specific tools and resources to help you estimate the prevalence of diabetes in your organization and develop a diabetes prevention or management program. It includes some case studies of companies that have had successful efforts.

February 22, 2008

Short takes: religious accommodation, wellness, and cool tools

Reasonable religious accommodations - Lou Michels discusses reasonable accommodation and religious beliefs in the context of a recent decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. He notes that religious accommodation suits seem to be on the rise, and that " ...this decision provides some well thought out guidance on the limits of what an employer has to do to satisfy its obligations under the law in dealing with these claims."

A modern conundrum - When Work's Invisible, So Are Its Satisfactions - "In the past, people could see the fruits of their labor immediately: a chair made or a ball bearing produced. But it can be hard to find gratification from work that is largely invisible, or from delivering goods that are often metaphorical." (thanks to Race in the Workplace for the pointer.

Wellness compliance - Does your wellness program pass muster in terms of compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act? The Employee Benefits Security Administration has recently issued a Wellness Program Checklist to help you determine if your program is compliant.

An unhealthy duo - New research indicates that the combination of depression and hostility may be factors that contribute to a person's risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The study measured the levels of some inflammatory proteins that have been predictive of future heart disease, finding that those who reported feeling both depressed and hostile had especially high levels of the inflammatory proteins in their blood over the six year study.

Avoiding duds - Whether you are hiring for a HR Manager/Director position, or interviewing to become one, Kris Dunn offers helpful advice to help you avoid hiring or being an HR dud.

Your Rip Van Winkle moment - Wally Bock talks about the challenges of waking up as a boss - making the transition from being a worker to a manager after a sudden promotion.

A fruity idea - Employee Benefit News pointed us to a fun wellness resource - The Fruitguys, a service founded on the idea that bringing healthy brain food to the office can boost productivity and help companies improve their bottom lines. Their service allows you to have crates of mixed fresh fruits delivered to your workplace - a simple but great idea.

Cool work tools

  • PDF Hammer is a free online PDF editor that allows you to edit PDF documents right now inside your browser.
  • Marker board walls - nothing better for a brainstorming session than a big white board. Why not build a whole wall?
  • Ta-da lists is a free tool that allows you to create and share simple online to-do lists.
  • 10 smart and lazy ways to save your workday - some productivity tips from Lifehacker.
  • The printable CEO - be your own CEO with a series of printable forms that help manage the day-to-day chore of achieving your goals.

Hilarity break, or how to liven up the workplace

In the past, we've talked about various innovative ways to keep your sedentary workers fit - from treadmill desks to exercise ball chairs. Now, we have yet another alternative: You may have seen the infomercial for the Hawaii chair (video clip), which bills itself as a way to get fit while you sit. Could this be the key to a new healthier work force?

The verdict is in, it would definitely enliven your workplace. Watch as Ellen Degeneres reviews the Hawaii chair (video clip).

February 14, 2008

Employee satisfaction and the stock market

It's no secret that the stock market has traditionally seemed to favor tough employers. Wall Street often reacts favorably to news of a corporate layoff by rewarding the company with an uptick in the stock price. Firms like Costco that have a strong employee commitment and an employee-focused philosophy are often taken to task by analysts for being overly generous. Studies have also shown that CEOs who preside over layoffs are positively reinforced. A study of 229 firms that had layoffs by a University of Arkansas of Arkansas professor showed that CEOs of the firms with recent layoffs received 22.8 percent more in total pay than CEOs of firms that did not have layoffs.

To many, this type of market-driven people management is short-term thinking that flies in the face of the age-old mantra that "your people are your greatest assets." Now, a new study by Wharton finance professor Alex Edmans points to the fact that employee satisfaction is not just a nice thing, but an integral ingredient in financial success. His research analyzes the relationship between employee satisfaction and long-run stock performance, showing that intangibles matter and that "nice guys" do indeed finish first.

His research compared companies on Fortune's annual list of the "100 Best Companies to Work for in America" to the the overall market between 1998 and 2005, finding that the "best companies" returned 14 percent per year versus 6 percent a year for the market at large.

Edmans notes that while it may seem obvious that happy workers perform better, traditional management theories have actually treated workers like any other commodity.

Another, more subtle implication of the research, says Edmans, goes to the nature of short-term thinking among corporate managers. Even if managers believe employee satisfaction enhances long-term corporate performance, they may not act on their beliefs because investing in employees often reduces earnings in the short term.
"This is a large concern people have had for a couple of decades now -- that the American corporate system is short-term or myopic," Edmans notes.
That concern, he adds, is driven by managers who argue it is not possible to credibly communicate to investors that profits might be lower in one period in order to invest in employee satisfaction that may pay off in the future.

Edmans points to Google as an example of a company that vindicates the long-term approach of focusing on employee satisfaction. However, he does not think that research alone will result in changing the short-term, reactive focus to a more long-term one because manager compensation is often linked to share prices.

We're encouraged by this research because it validates something that we see in our practice over and over again: treating employees well is not only the right thing to do, it's usually the most profitable thing to do. Stress, burnout, resentment, and anger have a high price tag, something that employment lawyers and disability claims managers can attest to.

February 11, 2008

Four *new* HR blog finds

We're happy to see more and more blogs emerging that focus on human resources and the workplace. Here are a few blogs that we've been watching and will add to our blogroll:

Race in the Workplace - a blog that explores how race and racism influence our working lives. In addition to providing link roundups to good articles and links on diversity issues, the blog also features some thoughtful essays. Here are a few recent topics: politics in the workplace; why some people discriminate against people of their own race; and the corporate divide between black and white women

The Monster Blog - This is a blog written by staff of the online job giant, Monster. But the blog doesn't necessarily focus on finding jobs or finding job candidates. Rather, the team describes their effort as, "...a chance to write about an array of issues in a free-form style. Sometimes we'll talk about the day's big news stories and sometimes we'll muse about workplace microwave etiquette -- just depends on the day." A pretty good way to get a sense of what the Monster Blog is all about is to skim through their Top 12 Monster Blog Posts of 2007.

The HR Capitalist - not a newcomer to the field, this well-designed and interesting blog by Kris Dunn has been up and running since December of 2006. He describes his interests as " ...the intersection of the HR practice, technology and business results in today’s organizations. I have a strong interest in areas like recruiting and performance management, but keep an eye towards the thousand other areas that impact HR Generalists at every level." In today's post, he talks about why reading SHRM is like eating an unsalted cracker - suggesting that the organization needs to go beyond its meat & potatoes fare by offering customization and opinions - and hiring a few bloggers. He notes that, "Getting and keeping a seat at the table means you have opinions, even if they are unpopular. There's a name for people without opinions in our profession - they're called administrators."

Welcome to the World of HR - This is a blog by staff of Astron Solutions, an HR consulting and technology firm. It covers link roundups to HR news, as well as a series called "What I'm Hearing" where bloggers opine on various topics, such as workplace romance, executive compensation, and 401ks.

February 7, 2008

FMLA amended to include leave for military families; more changes pending

This week marks the 15 year anniversary of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was signed into law on February 5, 1993. FMLA requires employers of 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year for the birth and care of a newborn child, for placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care, or for the serious illness of the employee or of the employee’s child, spouse, or parent. D.O.L.'s FMLA Compliance Assistance page offers more detail and resources.

On January 28, the FMLA had its first major expansion when President Bush signed the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act into law, which, among other provisions, extends FMLA to family members of military personnel who are recovering from illness or injury. While regulations are still pending, the Department of Labor (DOL) states that the amendment to the FMLA allows a "spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin" to take up to 26 weeks of work leave to care for a "member of the Armed Forces, including a member of the National Guard or Reserves, who is undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy, is otherwise in outpatient status, or is otherwise on the temporary disability retired list, for a serious injury or illness."

More changes in the works
In addition, more regulatory changes to FMLA are forthcoming. DOL will be issuing recommendations for additional amendments on February 11. According to Human Resources Executive, it is expected that DOL recommendations might address the difficulties posed by intermittent leave and might strengthen the definition of "serious medical condition." It is also anticipated that employees will be required to request FMLA-related leave two days prior to taking time off, a change from the current system in which employees can be absent for two days before requesting the leave be designated as FMLA leave.

Once the new recommendations are issued, final regulations will need to be approved, a process that could take 90 days or longer. Once approved, Congress has up to 60-days to review the rules. As the HRE article points out, "That means a new Congress next year could reject what the Congress this year approved."

At least one of the authors of the original FMLA legislation would like to see even more changes. Senator Christopher Dodd wants to strengthen the law to give Americans 8 weeks paid leave after having a child or during a family illness. Dodd contends that millions of workers do not take advantage of FMLA because they can't afford time off without pay. He also notes that 128 countries provide paid and job-protected maternity leave, with an average paid leave of sixteen weeks. Dodd has made several prior attempts to expand FMLA to include paid leave but has met with little success. Time will tell whether a Congressional party shift and change in administration would create a more favorable climate for such a proposal.

Employer advice from legal experts
Meanwhile, legal experts are advising that employers act expeditiously to amend their FMLA policies and practices to reflect the changes. And the employment law firm Littler Mendelson also reminds employers that in addition to these changes, employers may face other obligations under state laws:

"Employers should be aware that time off under this new legislation may be in addition to family leave available under state law. Several states have now passed legislation providing their residents with unpaid family military leave. These states include California, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, and New York. Other states, including Hawaii and Wisconsin, have family military leave legislation currently pending before their respective state legislatures. Employers also should be aware of applicable state statutes and modify their leave policies as appropriate. The family military leave laws do not purport to affect an employee's right to any other legally-mandated leave or employee benefit, including the additional leave benefits now available to employees under the Amendment."

February 1, 2008

Superbowl Monday - brace yourselves for lower than average productivity

Not to be the fly in the punchbowl here, but if a recent survey by Harris Interactive and Kronos Incorporated is accurate, as many as 1.5 million people may be calling in sick on Monday. And if your workers aren't calling in sick, they may be late. Based on survey responses, it is estimated that as many as 4.4 million workers could be late to work the day after the Super Bowl. This on top of the productivity that's already been lost - Challenger, Grey, and Christmas, an employment consulting firm, estimate that businesses weather up to $848.5 million in lost productivity in the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

For most who miss work or arrive late, it will be due to temporary fatigue or spirited overindulgence. But for some, watching sports can be more hazardous. Experts caution against becoming a Super Bowl statistic* - a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine links the stress and emotions of watching sports to an increased risk for chest pains or cardiac arrest. The study tracked 4,279 Bavarian hear patients, and found that the rate of heart attacks was three times greater on days when the German national team was playing than other periods.

If you are celebrating on Sunday, here are 15 suggestions for a healthy Super Bowl party. Also, football great Joe Montana, who has worked to educate people about the dangers of high blood pressure, offers his own suggestions great heart-healthy Super Bowl recipes.

Unfortunately, we don't have any good recipes to suggest for any productivity headaches you may face on Monday. You might want to go with the flow and join the Make Super Bowl Monday a National Holiday crowd.

(*free registration may be required)

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