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June 30, 2008

Short takes: extreme wellness, underwear, WARN, EEOC, results killers & more

Extreme wellness - Imagine this: before your workday starts, you line up all your workers and measure their waistlines. That's what employers and local governments in Japan must now do to comply with a new national law intended to reduce the prevalence of diabetes and vascular disease. The law sets thresholds on waistlines for people between the ages of 40 and 74. Those who exceed the limits - 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women - will either need to lose weight or be subject to dieting guidance. Governments and businesses that fail to comply with the new law could face financial penalties. Compliance entails not just measuring a certain percentage of workers and retirees in the target age group, as well as their family members; in addition, employers and local governments must find a way to get 10 percent of those above the threshold to lose weight by 2012, and 25 percent to lose weight by 2015.

Underwear alert - Now that warm summer weather is here, managers everywhere face one of their most daunting challenges: underwear in the workplace. Some employees push the boundaries of business casual when the temperature soars and this can make for a distracting, unprofessional environment - see 10 Crimes of Work Fashion for a listing of a few common violations. Susan Heathfield of Human Resources at about.com offers guidance on wording for summer dress codes, and suggests that managers may need to hold a difficult conversations on the topic. See her write up on tackling annoying employee habits and issues.

EEOC on Caregivers - In response to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's May 23 issuance of guidance on on unlawful disparate treatment of workers with caregiving responsibilities, Human Resource Executive offers a variety of online caregiver resources. HRE also provides copies of the EEOC's Enforcement Guidance (PDF) and Q&A (PDF) on this topic.

WARN refresher - Is there a staff reduction in your organization's future? Diane Pfadenhauer of Strategic HR Lawyer suggests a refresher of employer obligations under the Worker Adjustment Retraining and Notification Act (WARN) might be in order, and links to a good resource. She also suggests an overview of things an employer needs to address after notice is given.

Five results killers - Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership Blog says that one advantage of experience is that you start to notice common ways to succeed and common ways that people snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He offers concrete examples in his post Managers Behaving Stupidly: Five Results Killers.

California mobile phone law - If you are a California employer with workers who have driving responsibilities as part of their jobs, you will need to update your policy and procedure manuals. Beginning on July 1, California's new hands-free law will prohibit the use of any hand-held mobile phones while driving and offenders will be subject to fines. Speaker phones are allowed for drivers over the age of 18 as long as the driver is not holding the phone. As an employer, you would not be subject to a fine if one of your employees with driving responsibilities violates the law; however, some legal advisors suggest that you update your policies to explicitly prohibit the use of phones while driving to ensure that you are not held liable for costs in the event of an accident in which a phone was involved. (More info on the new law at California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Mean employer of the month - at least one employer in Florida isn't kidding when he says he wants his employees to get serious about their jobs. Workplace Prof Blog reports on the strange case of an employee who was fired for laughing.

By the numbers
8 things that employees want
8 foods you should eat every day
10 things that will get you in big trouble at work
52 proven stress reducers

June 27, 2008

Words to the wise

What's the best advice you've ever gotten? Fortune posed that question to 25 prominent business people, civic leaders and celebrities. The answers run the gamut from marketing mantras to life philosophies. Here are excerpts from some of the responses that we liked:

"I can't remember who told me this, but I certainly didn't grow up knowing it, so I must have gotten this advice at Salomon Brothers in the 1970s. The advice was, first, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking."
Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, founder of Bloomberg LP

My boss at the time, then-Maj. Gen. Jack Galvin, said "I think you ought to look for an out-of-your intellectual comfort zone experience." So that's what I did.
Gen. David Petraeus, Commanding general, multinational force - Iraq

"My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different."
Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, Pepsico

"Don't panic. It's from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. You have to be wary of emotion clouding your decision-making process - and of making a decision that you'll later regret."
Elon Musk, Founder and CEO, SPACEX

"The best advice I ever got came from my mother, Estée Lauder: She believed that if you had something good to say, you should put it in writing. But if you had something bad to say, you should tell the person to his or her face."
Leonard Lauder, Chairman, The Estée Lauder Companies

June 26, 2008

Mental illness and the workplace

The Globe and Mail of Toronto is featuring an excellent series of articles on the stigma of mental illness as told through the personal stories of people who suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. The stories also include commentary and insights from family members. It's a multimedia series, including videos, slides and text.

More than many other public health issues, mental illness is fraught with fear, guilt, and shame - often because there is a great deal of ignorance surrounding the topic. Family members who are caring for a loved one suffering from a mental health condition can feel particularly isolated and have difficulty knowing where to turn.

Employers are often in a position to be an 'early warning system' for mental health issues. Behavior changes can be more evident in a routine situation like a job. In one article in The Globe and Mail series, Bill Wilkerson, co-founder and CEO of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, answers reader questions about mental illness in the workplace. He makes an excellent case for why this should concern employers - one that we would like to share here:

Employers must care about the mental health of their employees for three reasons: one, health and productivity go hand-in hand - for employers, this is a matter of legitimate self-interest and huge costs to rein-in;
two, employers - through the climates they create in the workplace - can cause some of the risk factors which affect the well-being of people - chronic job stress, for example, can lead to burn-out and depression. Employers are increasingly being held accountable by courts and tribunals for their role in producing hazardous work climates so they need to protect themselves against these kinds of liabilities;
and three, a good employer is led by good people - by definition this is true - and most employers strive to be good employers. Which, in turn means, they can and must do the right thing by ensuring that human decency is part of their management credo. Without this, they will be hard-pressed to recruit and retain the best people and that goes to their competitive instincts as well.
I like to remind employers that when we hire someone we hire the whole person - vulnerabilities included. And if we didn't do that, we would have to recruit people from another universe because all of us vulnerable to one kind of illness or health problem.
He continues on to offer suggestions for how employers should deal with employees who are out on leave for mental health issues and how such employees should be integrated back to the workplace in return to work programs - much in the same way that any other disability might be managed. Yet despite the cost implications for employers and the prospects of a positive outcome when treatment is provided, frequently, mental health problems in the workplace are often quietly ignored.

The new wellness frontier?
In recent years, corporate wellness programs have firmly taken root as employers recognize the cost and productivity benefits of helping employees to stay well. Nutrition and exercise programs are now fairly common, as are programs to help people control risky behaviors like smoking and overeating. But physical well being is only one part of the equation - as many as one in five American workers suffer some form of mental illness. Because of this, incorporating good mental health programs into an overall wellness program can be highly beneficial. This might take the form of training supervisors to have a greater awareness and understanding of common mental health problems such as stress, PTSD, and depression, as well as conducting educational and awareness outreach programs for employees. As with many health issues, awareness and identification of a potential problem is the first step in getting help. Many effective, cost-efficient and scientifically valid treatments exist. Contrary to many myths, most mental health issues respond favorably to the right treatment. Your EAP is a good resource for addressing any ongoing behavior or performance issues that may signify an underlying mental health problem.

Mental health in the workplace - from Mental Health America (formerly known as the National Mental Health Association)
Mental Illness and the workplace - from the Center for Reintegration

June 22, 2008

Business jargon watch

There's nothing quite like work jargon, but we can't blame it all on U.S. business. It seems to be a global phenomenon, as the recent compilation of 50 phrases you love to hate in the BBC news attests. And be sure to play along with the Boss Speak Bingo Card (PDF). There aren't any prizes beyond the satisfaction of "gotcha" and you may want to keep that to yourself. The BBC seems to be on a quest to rid the world of the phrase going forward, which really seems to get under their skin.

If you want to keep your ear to the ground for new jargon, you might try MBA Jargon Watch. Most of the phrases in the list sound painfully familiar, but there are a few new fingernails-on-the-blackboard contenders, such as "eat your own dogfood" and "boil the ocean." Ouch, my ears! When it comes to office speak, I think we need to leapfrog into a paradigm shift - can I get any buy-in on that?

June 16, 2008

Short takes: caregiving, HR Blunders, wellness, sleep research

Free seminar on caregivers - If you have employees who are caregivers, their health is at risk, this free presentation by CMS entitled Health Implications of Caregiving may be of interest to you. It is geared to those who help caregivers identify and utilize resources that help them preserve and improve their own health including case managers, social workers, employers, health care providers and those in the aging network.
It is scheduled as a Satellite Broadcast - Wednesday, June 25, 2008, 1-2:30 PM, est - Register or learn more

HR media - An online publication that's become a daily read for many of us here at ESI is Hr Blunders, a combination blog and news aggregator covering a variety of HR-related matters from benefits and recruiting to legal matters and tech news. And of course, as the headline promises - lots of blunders, HR pitfalls, and tricky questions ... don't miss the HR Blunder of the Week, which includes items like new reference check scams even HR pros are falling for. We also like the dubious decisions category.

Wellness - Joanne Wojcik of Business Insurance informs us that National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) is developing a wellness accreditation and certification program for wellness service providers. Through June 30, NCQA is seeking public comment on proposed standards, which can be accessed at at the NCQA site.

Fatigue follow up - Last week, we featured an item on the high price of fatigue in the workplace. Over the weekend, we noticed an article in Time on the matter of how much sleep you really need. If you aren't logging your full 8 hours of sleep a night, don't stay awake fretting over it. While conventional wisdom has always said that 8 hours or more of sleep is a recipe for health, new research says that people who sleep in a range of 6.5 to 7.5 hours a night live the longest. Research is also showing that too much sleep (8.5+ hours) isn't much better for your health than sleeping too little.

June 13, 2008

The high price of fatigue

In April, our monthly newsletter authored by Bill Bowler focused on sleep deprivation and the toll that it can take on safety and productivity (PDF). He cited the frightening story of a calamity averted when two pilots who were commanding an airline were found asleep at the wheel. It seems there's been another recent case involving two pilots who flew past their destination in Hawaii because they were asleep at the controls. Scary much? According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), crashes linked to fatigue have killed 249 people since 1997.

NTSB will now be looking at making changes to regulations about how long pilots can fly and they will employ fatigue studies to assist in revising the regulations. Currently, the law allows pilots to work 16 hours a day, including 8 hours flying the plane.

While the issue of fatigue is of prime concern in any professions that entail responsibility for public health and safety - transportation workers, doctors and nurses, police, to name but a few - it should be of concern to all employers in terms of worker safety, product quality, and organizational productivity. A study by Caremark that appeared in Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine last year put the cost of worker fatigue at $136.4 billion annually in health-related lost productivity. Lack of sleep has been tied to increases in diabetes and heart problems. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that fatigue is responsible for 100,000 highway crashes and 1,500 deaths each year.

Being alert for worker fatigue
Sometimes, fatigue can be the result of organizational policies, such as work schedules and overtime hours, or a byproduct of the nature of the work itself, such as long hours spent on detailed or repetitive work. In such cases, fatigue must be addressed through organizational measures, such as changing schedules and implementing a program of breaks or job rotations.

Often, fatigue is more subtle and occurs on a worker by worker basis. Worker fatigue could be due to an illness or condition, a new baby at home, poor nutrition, too many demands on the worker's schedule, or simply the result of a late night out on the town.

The health benefits of good sleep habits should be addressed as part of an overall wellness program, including information that discusses the potential negative health effects of too little sleep. Supervisors should be trained in and alert for fatigue symptoms and should address repeated evidence of fatigue just as any other behavior that inhibits productivity would be addressed. While it's not appropriate for a supervisor to 'diagnose' the root cause of the fatigue, he or she may be in a good position to refer the employee on to an EAP or a physician so that the problem can be addressed appropriately.

The authors of the Caremark study believe that, " ...targeting workers with fatigue, particularly women, could have a marked positive effect on the quality of life and productivity of affected workers." They suggest increasing worker access to work/life programs and making health assessments available to see if fatigue is a symptom of an underlying health condition.

June 11, 2008

Unleashing creativity

Would you like to be more creative in your day-to-day problem solving and impress your boss with new ideas and concepts for tired old programs? Would you be interested in finding new ways to motivate and energize your work force to provide better customer service or enhance productivity? No doubt you would, but if you are like most people, you may be thinking there's barely enough time in the day to get through your task list, never mind finding the time for getting creative.

But experts suggest that creativity is a process that is teachable and trackable, and that there are techniques and tools that can foster a more creative approach to life. And being creative doesn't need to take a lot of time. But creativity does need to be continually nurtured and the creative impulse needs to be exercised regularly.

In a recent article in Scientific American, three experts - a psychologist, a poet/playwright, and a scholar - discuss the importance of creativity and the role that it has played in their lives and the lives of others, and offer ways that you can unleash your own creativity. They suggest that there is more to creativity than what some call "Big Creativity" or "Big C creativity" - big ideas and concepts with far-reaching impact. There is also "Small C creativity" that manifests itself in everyday problem solving.

The discussion suggests that there are four basic competencies or skill sets that are essential for creative expression:

"The first and most important competency is “capturing”—preserving new ideas as they occur to you and doing so without judging them ... There are many ways to capture new ideas. Otto Loewi won a Nobel Prize for work based on an idea about cell biology that he almost failed to capture. He had the idea in his sleep, woke up and scribbled the idea on a pad but found the next morning that he couldn’t read his notes or remember the idea. When the idea turned up in his dreams the following night, he used a better capturing technique: he put on his pants and went straight to his lab!
The second competency is called “challenging”—giving ourselves tough problems to solve. In tough situations, multiple behaviors compete with one another, and their interconnections create new behaviors and ideas. The third area is “broadening.” The more diverse your knowledge, the more interesting the interconnections—so you can boost your creativity simply by learning interesting new things. And the last competency is “surrounding,” which has to do with how you manage your physical and social environments. The more interesting and diverse the things and the people around you, the more interesting your own ideas become."
The article continues to suggest other ideas and techniques for fostering creativity. An important part of the creative process is simply unleashing or giving permission to the creative impulse. An all-too-frequent and unfortunate byproduct of the education process can be a stifling of our inner creativity. Children are naturally creative, but as part of the socialization process, that creativity is often suppressed. Experts in this article suggest that creativity demands a thick skin because rejection often goes hand in hand with creativity and the creative thinker often has to overcome obstacles to nurture a concept on to fruition.

June 9, 2008

Short takes: retaliation, common documentation mistakes, wellness, commuter benefits, global benefits

Legal matters: retaliation - We've often directed your attention to Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer where attorney blogger Michael Fox discusses legal issues related to employment law. Recently, he has featured a series of posts about recent court decisions on the matter of retaliation, a hot issue. First, he posted about the Supreme Court's recent decisions on retaliation. One case dealt with age and one with race. He next reports on a retaliation decision by a jury in Cambridge, Mass that resulted in a $4.5 million award being granted to the plaintiff. Finally, he deals with a case heard by the 5th Circuit related to retaliation under the FLSA.

Supervisor mistakes - HR Daily Advisor brings us more in the way of supervisor mistakes - this time, related to documentation. Part one deals with 6 Common Mistakes That Weaken Documentation and part two deals with mistakes that are easy to make but hard to defend.

Firefighter wellness program saves dollars - Orange County Fire Authority has seen a 90% participation level after instituting a comprehensive voluntary wellness program that includes disease screening, fitness testing, blood work, and other components. Since instituting the program, its workers' comp reserve has dropped by approximately $1 million.

Gas costs - We recently posted about the price of gas and its effect on worker productivity, along with some suggestions for employers to help mitigate commuter pain. Lydell Bridgeford of Employee Benefit News reports on SHRM research on enhanced commuter benefits that employers are putting into place. For example, 42% of companies increased their mileage reimbursement to the Internal Revenue Service maximum of 50.5 cents per mile, which is a marked increase over the 13% of employers who met the IRS mileage reimbursement cap last year. The research polled employers on other measures they are taking to help lessen the economic burden on commuting employees.

Global benefits - Employee Benefit News takes a look at employee benefits around the world - useful if you have global offices, but also interesting in examining benefit trends. For example, it is interesting to see that in Japan, the government is now requiring started requiring that companies scree employees aged between 40 and 74 years old for metabolic syndrome, a combination of medical disorders, including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and high blood fat levels.

June 3, 2008

Wellness programs on the rise

According to two recent surveys, more and more employers are implementing wellness programs. Human Resource Executive reports that surveys by both Aon Consulting and Watson Wyatt Worldwide / NBGH demonstrate that employers are ratcheting up initiatives designed to improve worker health.

The Aon survey, which polled more than 1100 employers of various sizes, found a dramatic threefold jump in employer initiatives. The Watson Wyatt survey, which focused on large employers, showed a 28% jump in the use of health appraisals since 2006. The increases were attributed to escalating medical costs and a global labor shortage that is forcing more reliance on an older population. Employers are seeking to reduce costs and to find ways to keep their workers healthy and active.

Despite these promising reports, other recent research indicates that small and mid-sized employers are significantly lagging behind larger companies in offering wellness initiatives. Joanne Wojcik reports on a survey conducted by Principal Financial Group in Workforce which showed that, when offered, wellness programs are very popular and have a high participation rate. But while 26% of employers with 501 to 1,000 employees offered wellness educational tools and discounts, only 12% of employers with fewer than 500 employees offered wellness programs.

If you are in a small organization that is not yet offering wellness benefits for your employees, what are you waiting for? Wellness programs can help to reduce the high cost of health care for you and your employees and can enhance your worker health, well-being and productivity. There are many inexpensive initiatives you can undertake to enhance worker health. Start with investigating the free or low cost alternatives available to you. Some top-shelf EAP programs offer wellness benefits as part of their package. Your health insurer may also have free or low cost options such as health screenings that could be incorporated in an annual health fair. Large national health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society offer free literature, programs, and resources. Other alternatives include implementing programs that will help employees change behaviors, such as launching walking or biking clubs, replacing junk food with healthier alternatives in the cafeteria vending machines, and offering employee incentives or discounts for participating in exercise or weight loss programs.

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