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June 29, 2009

Survey: Recession taking a toll on employee physical and mental health

Time to beef up that wellness program and up your communications about your health benefit programs and your EAP? That might just be a good idea, according to the results of a recent survey, which found that employee health care choices and behaviors are being affected by the tough economic climate.

Last month, the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) - an organization which represents 300 large employers that provide health care benefits to a combined 55 million workers, dependents, and retirees - reported the results of a survey conducted with 1500 employees between the ages of 22 and 69. The purpose of the survey was "to ascertain how the recession is affecting American workers (PDF) and to provide a snapshot about those areas where businesses should work more closely with their employees to help support them during a very challenging environment."

Among the findings:

  • More than one-in-four respondents - 27 percent - report forgoing health care treatment to save money on copayments or coinsurance costs
  • One in five respondents - 20 percent - skipped taking their prescription drug medication dosage as prescribed by their doctor; 17 percent split a prescription drug dosage in half to make it last longer
  • Many workers, particularly older workers (44 percent of those aged 45-64), report that their mental health has been negatively affected by the economy.
In addition, nearly three out of four employees said they have become more aware of the total cost of healthcare, more than half have become more aware of what they pay for insurance, and about one in four changed health plans as a result of this cost awareness. About two-thirds of all employees whose employer offers financial incentives indicate that it has motivated them to try to lead a healthier life.

NBGH sees the results of this survey as an opportunity for employers to help their workers cope and thrive. Here are some of their recommendations:

  • Use benefit statements to clearly articulate a commitment to wellness
  • Consider offering financial incentives to motivate health behavior changes
  • Emphasize that managing healthcare costs is not the same as foregoing necessary medical care and prescriptions
  • Reinforce that exercise is the best way to control costs, improve physical health, and reduce stress
  • Communicate aggressively about availability of financial counseling and mental health services available through stand-alone programs and Employee Assistance Programs(EAPs)
  • Help employees understand the link between mental health and the impact on future physical health
  • Ask your vendors to screen for depression and other stress-related health problems and behaviors

June 22, 2009

"Survivor Syndrome" after layoffs

Joanne Wojcik of Benefits Beat discusses a new report on post-layoff survivor syndrome. While the actual report is only available to members, the author suggests that managing survivor syndrome " ... is about taking a strategic approach before, during and after the downsizing so management teams will be able to extract greater employee motivation, engagement and productivity, and foster the performance of the business over the long term."

Once the dust has settled after a layoff, the remaining employees may run through a gamut of emotions. As a manager, you should recognize that the the five stages of grief and loss may be at work. Expect anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and eventually acceptance. It's common for surviving workers to have some or all of the following reactions:

  • Sadness at the loss of valued colleagues
  • Guilt that friends and colleagues are suffering hardship
  • Fear, anxiety, or worry that job loss could happen to them next
  • Anger at you or the company; mistrust, erosion of loyalty
  • Stress at having to assume a heavier workload or take on new duties
  • Lack of motivation or apathy

As a manager, you need to address these common reactions and find a way to move forward in a positive direction.

  • Recognize that people need to express their feelings of loss for valued colleagues.
  • Expect some venting. If employees express anger at you or the organization, don't take it personally and don't be defensive. Try to steer things in a positive direction.
  • Explain the business rationale for the cuts. Try to allay insecurity but don't offer any false promises or misleading statements about their future security.
  • Help people adjust to new work roles - offer support and encouragement.
  • Work to rebuild trust. Encourage teamwork, set positive goals. It might be a good time for morale boosters like extra training sessions, pizza lunches, and recognition for a job well done.
  • Communicate frequently and honestly.
  • Watch for signs of continued stress and refer employees to your EAP if signs of stress persist.

See our past guide on Coping with Tough Times where we provide more resources on survivor guilt and helping your employees cope with change. Also see our post on some good ways to deliver bad news.

June 15, 2009

Weblog Roundup: recent posts from around the blogosphere

At George's Employment Blawg, attorney Ellen Simon has a great post on stereotyping as discrimination. She notes that there have been numerous gender discrimination cases won by women and turns her sights to a recent, rare example of a successful gender stereotyping case filed by a male in Sassaman v. Gamache.

Fiona Gathwright at Corporate Wellness Insights posts about how Safeway's wellness program cuts costs - while other employers have seen premiums increase by 38% over the past four years, Safeway has held costs level over the same period. Related: HR Daily Advisor featured two recent tips on building effective wellness programs: Effective Wellness Means Branding, Integration and Corporate Wellness—Real World ROI of '4 Plus 5'.

Ah, we've just learned that Evil HR Lady has an alter ego at U.S.News, where she also posts - go catch up on some of her great articles over there.

Visit last weeks' Health Wonk Review over at Managed Care Matters to get a broad sampling of opinions on healthcare reform from the perspective of healthcare policy bloggers.

Ever had that disagreeable person in your group when you are giving a presentation or a training? Thoughts from Training Time offers some good tips on how to deal with disruptive trainees.

Wally Bock's Three Star Leadership Blog is a frequent source of good business links and this week, is no exception - he points us to: Employees linking work, social media, an article about how some employers are dealing with policies related to web-based social media, and a post from an organizing expert with tips for decluttering your life.

Jay Shepherd of Gruntled Employees offers a swine flu prescription for employers: eliminate sick days.

The tough economy is forcing employers to make tough choices when it comes to benefits. Jeffrey Hirsch of Workplace Prof Blog posts about what some might arguably see as the unkindest cut of all.

Resources for your wellness program: Healthy Eats - a blog by a team of team of culinary and nutrition professionals offering healthy tips, nutrition news, low-calorie recipes and more, and Balanced Health & Nutrition - a blog by a registered dietitian offering food, nutrition and exercise information.

June 13, 2009

New blog finds on benefits, law, work-life, prevention, and more

From time to time, we like to freshen up the blogroll by adding a few promising new blog finds and weeding out some blogs that are no longer active. Please check out some of these great new additions to our blogroll:

Benefits Beat - a new blog from Business Insurance editor Joanne Wojcik. See her recent post on the cost of depression in the workplace.

Minding the Workplace - blog by David Yamada, a law professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston and founder of the New Workplace Institute, a research and education center promoting healthy, productive, and socially responsible workplaces. Common blogging themes: dignity at work, workplace bullying, and psychologically healthy work environments.

World of Work - insight and commentary on labor and employment law from attorney Dennis Westlind.

Sloan Work and Family Research Network Blog - blog by Boston College's Alfred P. Sloan Work and Family Research Network, dedicated to providing resources and building knowledge for academics and researchers, workplace practitioners, state public policy makers, and interested individuals.

Minding Our Elders - blog by author Carol Bradley Bursack which focuses on support for caregivers and seniors.

Comp Time - another blog from Business Insurance, this one by Roberto Ceniceros, focusing on issues related to workers' compensation.

Prevention Matters - blog by Partnership for Prevention, an organization of businesses, non-profit organizations and government agencies dedicated to improving the health of the nation through policies and programs that prevent disease and promote health.

June 11, 2009

Spring can signal onset of Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Most of us are aware that the the winter months can trigger a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It is estimated that this condition affects about 5 percent of the population. But did you know that a smaller percentage of the population - estimated at about 1 percent - suffer from what is often referred to as reverse seasonal affective disorder, or RSAD? This is a condition which begins in the spring months and may continue throughout the summer.

The Mayo Clinic reports that in rare cases, people who suffer from RSAD can experience symptoms of mania or hypomania, a less intense form of mania, rather than the depressive symptoms that plague those suffering from winter SAD.

Because this condition is not as prevalent as winter SAD, there is less information on causes and treatment. Sara Ivry wrote an excellent article about Summer SAD a few years ago in The New York Times. She notes that:

As with depression generally, more women than men appear to suffer from this condition, at a ratio some estimates put as high as two to one. It is most common among women in their reproductive years, but its onset sometimes comes as early as childhood. Researchers think it may also have a genetic component; more than two-thirds of patients with SAD have a relative with a major mood disorder.

The symptoms of the two forms of the disorder often vary, heightening the confusion. People with the more common variety typically feel lethargic in the colder months, crave carbohydrates, gain weight and sleep excessively. Those afflicted during the summer often experience agitation, loss of appetite, insomnia and, in extreme cases, increased suicidal fantasies.

While winter SAD seems to be linked to low light levels and the body's melatonin level, the cause of summer SAD is less clear. As near as research can pinpoint, it seems to be linked to heat and tends to be more prevalent in hotter regions. "Epidemiological data in the United States have shown a higher proportion of people in the South depressed in the summer. The proportion rises as the latitude diminishes."

From an employer view, it is important to note any mood or behavioral changes in workers that affect performance, but diagnosing the reason for that change is not something that an employer should undertake. It's helpful if supervisors can be trained to be alert for common symptoms of depression and changes in work performance that might signify a problem, but leave the diagnosing and treatment to your organization's EAP or medical professionals.

June 5, 2009

Closing the barn door style of management

Your HR Guy has a great post on exit interviews, calling them "band aids on broken legs." Well written, and we couldn't agree more.

"Let's not fool ourselves: the best case scenario is your exit interview actually provides new information because your company management is inept at figuring out what should already be known. That’s the best case scenario!"

He makes the case that exit interviews are more of a feel-good device than a strategy that will yield fresh insight or actionable information to curtail turnover. This is partly because because many departing employees aren't open - they often don't want to say anything negative that will get back to the manager and burn a bridge. Also, he sees that because management training will rarely be cited as a problem, it will rarely become part of the solution.

The real solution?

"You need real managers. Ones that know their employees well, that have open lines of communication, that have some basic investigation and analytical skills, and don’t need an exit interview to be told why people are leaving."

We'd file exit interviews under the category of "retrospective management" and this just isn't a management style that cuts it. We sometimes see a similar dynamic with referrals to our EAP. Astute managers who make an EAP referral early on - either when they first observe a pattern of problematic work behaviors or when they see the manager-employee relationship breaking down - can often salvage the relationship with a strategic referral. More often than not, we are able to help the employee identify the root cause of the problem and develop coping strategies or problem resolutions - sometimes the underlying problem isn't even work-related, but simply spilling over into the workplace.

Unfortunately, all too often, the troubled employee isn't referred to us until the problem behavior has festered unaddressed for a period of time, frustration on all sides is high, and the situation is not salvageable. The good managers that we see have open communication with their employees, they spot problems early, they address problems frankly, and they know when to look for outside help. The less-than-ideal managers are the ones who are frequently trying to close the barn door after the horse has escaped ... problems aren't addressed until they are huge, often reaching a level of toxicity that makes it difficult or impossible to resolve. Cue up the exit interview.

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