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April 30, 2008

The high cost of caregiving

In 2006, the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving coauthored a study entitled The MetLife Caregiving Cost Study: Productivity Losses to U.S. Business (PDF), which estimates that the average cost to an employer per 'employee caregiver' is $2,110 per year. The total estimated cost to employers for all full-time, employed caregivers is $33.6 billion. The study puts the number of full-time employed caregivers at close to 16 million, and growing.

The costs in terms of lost productivity are associated with:

  • Absenteeism and partial absenteeism (Coming in late or leaving early)
  • Workday interruptions
  • Crisis in care
  • Supervisory time
  • Unpaid leave
  • Reduction in hours from full-time to part-time
The study defines a caregiver as someone caring for a person over the age of 18. Typically, the person being cared for is over 50. The chances are very high that you have caregivers in your organization right now, whether you know it or not.

The term caregiving is a relatively recent one - it's not even in my spell checker - but the concept is certainly not new. Since the beginning of time, family members have been taking care of their sick or elderly relatives. What is new is the number of baby boomers in the workforce who have elderly parents, spouses, or children with significant health issues.

I speak from personal experience since I have dealt with elderly parents as well as with a child with a significant health issue health while working full-time. I know the amount of time and energy these problems can absorb. Even when you are at your desk, it's often difficult to focus on your job when people that you love are sick. At the time when these family health issues were on the table for me, I was unaware that my employer even had an EAP or that an EAP might be able to help me with support and services. At the time, I was under the misperception that EAPs are only for substance abuse or mental health issues. Many of your employees may be missing valuable support if they are also under this misperception.

Your EAP can help your employees with these caregiving issues. We have invested significant resources in training our counselors and staff to deal with the myriad issues that are part and parcel of caregiving. In fact, we added a specific Caregiver Resource benefit in response to the many member calls we noted around caregiving issues, from resource referrals to help dealing with all the associated emotions.

A benefit is only as beneficial as its utilization. Make sure any caregivers in your organization are aware of your EAP and publicize specifics about the type of support and services they can obtain from your EAP. Help and support services can be invaluable to your caregiving employees and can also help minimize the effects on your organization's productivity.

April 24, 2008

Long-term weight loss study: the right tools can help maintain weight loss

Almost every U.S. business is looking for ways to reduce the cost of health insurance. Clearly, obesity is a significant driver of health care cost as it often leads to diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and worse. As a result, here at ESI, we've added lifestyle benefits like nutrition counseling, exercise programs, and on-line personal trainers to our employee assistance program. A recent study on long-term weight control conducted by Duke University Medical Center shows we might be on the right track.

In what is being billed as the largest and longest study of weight loss maintenance strategies, researchers at Duke found that personal contact and computer-based support systems were helpful in keeping weight off.

Dr. Laura Svetkey and researchers at four institutions around the country studied 1,685 overweight or obese adults who were being treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or both. They asked these individuals to make lifestyle changes like reducing calorie intake, increasing activity, and to follow a healthy diet with a goal of losing at least 9 pounds in 20 weeks. 61% of the participants achieved the goal.

Those that achieved the goal were then divided into three groups: as self directed group; a personal contact group where they received coaching and support from a counselor; or a computer based, weight loss maintenance program that offered the same counseling that personal contact offered, but in a virtual, interactive format.

The results are impressive; more than 70 percent weighed less at the end of the 30 month study. Those with personal contact were the most successful with 77% maintaining some weight loss. At a 69% success rate, the computer-intervention group was slightly more successful than the self-directed group at 67%.

EAP provides comprehensive wellness benefits
Your employee assistance program should include a full complement of wellness benefits. Here at ESI, we offer many tools to our members to help reduce the high personal and work costs that obesity can incur. There are on-line health risk appraisals, discount gym memberships, on-line personal trainers, nutrition counseling, and discounts with Jenny Craig. In addition, members can talk to counselors to help address any issue including their lifestyle.

April 21, 2008

Spear phishing: Train your employees in e-mail security

Phishing is a type of email fraud in which the sender impersonates a trusted source to try to gain access to passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information. The victim is at risk of theft, identity theft, or contacting malicious computer viruses. Fraudulent e-mail is frequently disguised as a message from a bank or a trusted merchant. Scam e-mails often contain a link to a site that either requires the person to enter sensitive data or instructs the user to download a special program. These fake e-mails often look and sound very authentic - even experienced users can be fooled. But over time, consumer education has alerted many to the scams and most people know better than to give out sensitive information without vetting the source.

Spear Phishing
Scammers continue to up the ante. More recently, these fraudulent e-mail scams have gotten more sophisticated, targeting specific companies in a practice often called spear phishing, which is a more targeted approach. In these attacks, the phony e-mails masquerade as communication from within the organization - such as from the HR or IT department or from a specific manager. Last week, there was a report of spear phishing emails that targeted CEOS through emails disguised as court subpoenas.

Keep informed, educate your employees
Employers need to stay alert about new phishing scams and need to educate their workers about scams to protect the organization from vulnerabilities - it only takes one chink in the armor to launch an internal attack. Two good sources are the FBI e-scams and warnings update and the Anti Phishing Work Group, an organization which stays on top of the latest scams and is a good source of consumer information and education about phishing scams. In how to avoid phishing scams they offer consumer pointers, among them:

  • Be suspicious of any email with urgent requests for personal financial information
  • Don't use the links in an email, instant message, or chat to get to any web page if you suspect the message might not be authentic - call the company on the telephone, or log onto the website directly by typing in the Web adress in your browser
  • Avoid filling out forms in email messages that ask for personal financial information - you should only communicate information such as credit card numbers or account information via a secure website or the telephone
  • Always ensure that you're using a secure website when submitting credit card or other sensitive information via your Web browser
  • Consider installing a Web browser tool bar to help protect you from known fraudulent websites.
  • Regularly log into your online accounts (to ensure that there has been not fraudulent activity)
  • Ensure that your browser is up to date and security patches applied
  • Always report "phishing" or “spoofed” e-mails to the following groups:
    * forward the email to reportphishing@antiphishing.org
    * forward the email to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov

Make a policy that you will never ask for confidential employee information (passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers) via e-mail and publicize the policy widely. Use newsletters, company meetings, and bulletins to publicize security tips and to teach your employees that whether at work or at home, they should never share confidential information via e-mail. Here are a few consumer quizzes you can use to test their - and your - knowledge:

Phishing IQ Test
Catch a phish - take the quiz
On Guard Phishing Quiz (flash, sound)
Can you spot the phishing?

April 18, 2008

Florida law: It's now OK to keep guns in your car on work property

Many Florida HR managers will be needing to update their policy handbooks in the wake of contentious new legislation giving employees the right to keep a gun in a locked car at work. On April 15, Governor Charlie Crist signed the Preservation & Protection of the Right to Keep & Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008, which says that beginning July 1, employees with concealed weapons can keep a gun locked in their car at work, even on the employer's private property. Organizations that have polices banning weapons from company premises will need to revise those policies. The law pertains to both public and private employers with some few exceptions: aerospace, nuclear power plants, hospitals, schools, prisons and manufacturers that use combustible materials.

Many employers have been fighting this legislation for years under a coalition called Guns at Work. In reaction to the newly enacted legislation, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail Federation announced plans to file for an injunction in federal court against the legislation. Mark Wilson, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce stated:

"This law is unnecessary and a violation of the private property rights provided by the Constitution. We are taking this action to restore what 80 percent of Florida voters believe to be true—that a business owner should be able to decide if employees can or cannot bring guns on their property."
According to the Brady Foundation, the National Rifle Association has been lobbying heavily in many states to promote such legislation. (See Forced Entry: The National Rifle Association's Campaign to Force Businesses to Accept Guns at Work PDF) Several other states have passed similar laws - Alaska, Kansas, Minnesota and Kentucky. At least 13 other states have rejected such laws, and Oklahoma passed a similar law, only to have it recently overturned in the courts.

Oklahoma - similar measure overturned in court
Opponents have some grounds for hoping that this might be overturned. A similar measure passed in Oklahoma in 2004 in response to the firing of a dozen Weyerhaeuser employees in 2002 for having guns locked in their cars in the company parking lot. After wending its way through courts for a number of years, the law has been overturned. In October 2007, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern issued a permanent injunction against the law which prohibits employers from banning firearms at the workplace. The judge made his ruling based on the law's conflict with federal law, specifically, the 1970 Occupational Health and Safety Act, which preempted the Oklahoma law. OSHA requires requires employers to lessen hazards in their workplaces that could lead to death or serious bodily harm. OSHA also encourages employers to prevent gun-related workplace injuries.

For further discussion on this topic, see our prior post Should employers have the right to ban guns at work?.

April 10, 2008

Cancer in the workplace: resources for managers and colleagues

If you've ever managed a worker who has been diagnosed with cancer, you know the challenges that it can pose, both in terms of your own interactions with the person, and also in terms of supporting and managing concerned colleagues. It can be a difficult and delicate balance, offering support and flexibility for the employee while managing within the policies and needs of your organization. We've compiled some excellent resources from around the web that might be helpful to you and to your employees.

Managing Through Cancer Principles - offers a set of principles, resources and tools for organizations and managers that want to support employees with cancer and their co-workers. The site offers a set of principles along with manager/employee responsibilities and suggestions for developing supportive time-off policies, such as paid time off and leave banks. The site also discusses telecommuting and flex time options. While the guideline is specific to cancer and cancer treatment, most of the principles are applicable in managing employees with any life-threatening illness.

Beyond the matter of principles and policies, there is the very real matter of how managers and colleagues should talk to an employee who has been diagnosed with cancer or who is dying of cancer. Often, people who are grievously ill become isolated because friends and colleagues are uncomfortable and simply don't know what to say or how to deal with the person - so they simply avoid things. Here is a list of some very helpful resources offering guidance for how to talk to and interact with a person who has cancer.

Top 10 Dos and Don'ts when someone in you life becomes seriously ill is a short, practical guide with solid advice.

Supporting a friend who has cancer also offers Dos and Don'ts for things to say, along with a list of practical ways you might offer help and good gift ideas to show your support.

Quick tips for everyday situations offers suggestions for how colleagues and friends can be supportive of and respond to everyday situations, such as a coworker diagnosed with breast cancer, a relative with clinical depression, or how to offer help to a blind person in the gym.

How to talk to a friend with cancer is a discussion board thread that links to some very helpful articles, but more importantly, shares the real-life experiences of people who are living cancer and people who have lost loved ones to cancer. This is a rich, frank, and very touching discussion by and for the real experts - people who are living/have lived through real life situations.

Remember, these are the types of situations where your EAP can offer real support and resources - be sure to recommend the services of your EAP to both the person who is ill and their family members. Also, check to see if your EAP offers help and guidance for supervisors.

April 6, 2008

Short takes: free HBR, unpopular employees, FMLA, bullying, and more

Free Harvard Business Review in April - Thanks to Wally Bock's Three Star Leadership Blog for alerting us that Harvard Business Review is free during the month of April. He also reminds us that even if you don't have a subscription, it's worth checking back because there are a few feature-length articles available free each month.

Unpopular employees - The Chief Happiness Officer responds to a query about how to deal with unpopular employees - and he responds with a good question ... how did the situation manage to get that bad and why hadn't a manager dealt with the employee before it reached such an impasse? He notes that because one unhappy, unproductive employee can pull down the whole department , sometimes you have to send that worker packing. While we wouldn't disagree, we would suggest trying your EAP first - it's amazing how many employees can be restored when they identify and deal with problems that are at the root of performance issues.

FMLA - George Lenard at George's Employment Blawg has an excellent two part post on FMLA. Part one focuses on military family leave rights and in part two, he offers a summary of proposed revisions to regulations. The latter are in a
“notice-and-comment” stage of an open rulemaking process.

Bullying - Tara-Parker Pope of the New York Times Well blog discusses a recent research study which suggests that workplace bullying may be tougher on employees than harassment: "The researchers found that workplace aggression had severe consequences on employee well-being. Compared to employees who had been sexually harassed, bullied workers were more likely to quit their jobs, be less happy with their work and have less satisfying relations with their bosses. Bullied employees also were more likely to report job stress and be less committed to their jobs." She follows this post up with a second post featuring a Workplace Aggression Research Questionnaire. Also, see Erica Mauter of Race in the Workplace who also writes about the bullying study, noting that there are legal remedies for sexual harassment, while bullying can be more insidious.

Employee retention - Training Time cites a recent SHRM survey to discuss reasons why employees leave your organization. The main reason? Employees don’t see opportunities for advancement at their current employer.

Sample HR letters - Susan Healtherfield of About.com's Human Resources offers sample letters for common HR events such as job offers and employee recognition. She also links to other resources, such as sample policies, checklists, and forms. These can be great starter tools to provide a framework for developing customized letters and policies.

April 4, 2008

On the lighter side

A few humorous items that have passed by our desk of late:

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