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August 29, 2010

Health & Wellness resources for September

It's back to school month, which means back to the basics. As schedules change, it's a perfect time to re-establish and re-commit to healthy routines. Here are some seasonal health & wellness resources for you and your employees.

National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month - Recovery Month highlights the societal benefits of substance abuse treatment and promotes the message that recovery from substance abuse in all its forms is possible. It's a month to celebrate people in recovery and those who serve them. It's also a great reminder that addiction is a treatable disease. Treatment benefits not just the affected individual, but also their family, friends, workplace, and society as a whole. Educating the public reduces the stigma associated with addiction and treatment.

Leukemia & Lymphoma Awareness Month - Blood cancers such as leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma and myelodysplastic syndromes are cancers that originate in the bone marrow or lymphatic tissues. They are considered to be related cancers because they involve the uncontrolled growth of cells with similar functions and origins. The diseases result from an acquired genetic injury to the DNA of a single cell, which becomes abnormal (malignant) and multiplies continuously. The accumulation of malignant cells interferes with the body's production of healthy blood cells.Every 4 minutes one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer. An estimated 137,260 people in the United States will be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2010. New cases of leukemia, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma will account for 9.0 percent of the more than 1.5 million new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States this year.

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month - More than 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and approximately 15,000 women die annually from the disease. Unfortunately, most cases are diagnosed in their later stages when the prognosis is poor, but if diagnosed and treated early, when the cancer is confined to the ovary, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent. That is why it is imperative that the early signs and symptoms of the disease are recognized, not only by women, but also by their families and the medical community. Why not educate your employees about the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month - Prostate cancer is a disease of the prostate gland, part of the male reproductive system. It is a common, but typically slow growing cancer when compared to other types of cancer, and curable if caught in early stages. ZERO — The Project to End Prostate Cancer works to create public awareness to fight and end prostate cancer. Here's some information for employees about prostate cancer risk factors.

National Cholesterol Education Month - High blood cholesterol affects over 65 million Americans. It is a serious condition that increases the risk for heart disease. The higher the cholesterol level, the greater the risk. A person can have high cholesterol and not know it. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease. September is a good month to encourage your employees to have their blood cholesterol levels checked and to focus on food and lifestyle choices that minimize cholesterol. Here are more resources on cholesterol from Federal Occupational Health.

National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month - Atrial fibrillation (AF or afib) is the most common irregular heartbeat and is characterized by heart palpitations, dizziness, and shortness of breath. This progressive and debilitating disease can lead to stroke, heart failure, and Alzheimer's disease, and can double your risk of death. Afib takes a physical toll, an emotional toll, and a financial toll on those who are living with it—not just the patient, but the family, too. Here's a good Atrial Fibrillation Guide to learn more.

National Preparedness Month - It's fitting that a month in which two national disasters unfolded - The World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina - should be dedicated as month to encourage individuals and employers to take steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses, and communities. Whether natural or man-made, unexpected emergencies occur, and being prepared can help to mitigate problems.

September 5-11 - Suicided Prevention Month and September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day - In one of the most recent studies, suicide was the eleventh ranking cause of death in the US, and the third cause of death in the young. About every 15 minutes, someone commits suicide in the U.S., leaving survivors with a heavy burden of grief, guilt and unanswered questions. It's estimated that for every successful suicide, there are 25 nonfatal attempts. Some populations are at greater risk than others. Here's a list of links to professional organizations that offer more resources.

September 26 World Heart Day - This year's theme is "Workplace Wellness," offering an employer's resource guide, which includes ideas that can be implemented in the workplace (PDF), as well as case histories of wellness campaigns in some large corporations.

August 27, 2010

Smile or die

Author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich has an interesting take on the darker side of positive thinking, which is illustrated in an engaging fashion in the following 10-minute clip.

If you enjoyed this clip - the animation is quite excellent - you can see other animated talks from the RSA, the UK-based Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, an organization dedicated to developing and promoting new ways of thinking about human fulfillment and social progress.

August 22, 2010

Workplace fatalities: how many are homicides?

Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issues a report on the census of fatal occupational injuries. In the preliminary report of occupational fatalities for 2009, which was just issued last week, we learn that that 4,340 people died on the job last year. This is the lowest number on record since data began being collected in 1992, and it represents a dramatic drop from the 5,214 deaths in 2008. For comparison, it is better to measure in terms of 100,000 full-time equivalent workers (FTEs) - a drop from 3.7% to 3.3%.

It would be nice if the drop could be attributed to safer workplaces, but BLS points to economic factors: total hours worked dropped by 6%, and the drop was significant in dangerous professions, such as the construction industry, which historically account for a large percentage of fatalities. Plus, 2009 numbers are preliminary; some data may be delayed by fiscal constraints.

This number encompasses all causes of death, but there are 4 types of events or exposures that account for nearly 90% of all fatalities:

  • Transportation related (1,682 or 39%) - this includes all vehicles, including auto and trucks, farm-related, aircraft, boats, and trains
  • Assaults and violent acts (788 fatalities, or 18%) - this includes 521 homicides and 237 self-inflicted injuries resulting in death
  • Contact with objects (734, or 17%) - this includes being struck by objects or caught in machinery
  • Falls (617, or 14%) - this includes falls to a lower level and on the same level
Workplace homicides
The 788 assaults and violent acts in 2009 were down from 816 in 2008. Of the homicides, 420 were shootings and 48 were stabbings. In terms of sheer numbers, a worker has about the same odds of being killed from a fall as being murdered.

BLS notes that "Workplace homicides declined 1 percent in 2009, in contrast to an overall decline of 17 percent for all fatal work injuries. The homicide total for 2009 includes the 13 victims of the November shooting at Fort Hood. Workplace suicides were down 10 percent in 2009 from the series high of 263 in 2008."

Behind the homicide numbers
Because work shootings by disgruntled employees command such media attention, it's likely that this is the association most people make in their minds when they hear the term "workplace homicide." In reality, these incidents are relatively rare and the the vast majority of work-related homicides are the result of robberies in retail or service organizations. According to a recent BLS report on workplace homicide characteristics from 1997 to 2009, about 75% of work homicides fall into this category.

When talking about violence at work, the FBI offers four types or categories. Such distinctions, below, are helpful in terms of developing prevention strategies and risk management controls.

Type I
- Violent acts by criminals who enter the workplace to commit crimes without connection with the workplace. Typically, these events are robberies against retail establishments.

Type II - Violence directed at employees by individuals to whom their employer provides services (e.g., clients, customers, patients, etc). This would include police, correctional offcers, health care workers, teachers, and other public or private service provides who are assaulted while providing service.

Type III - Violence against organizational insiders by organizational insiders. The "disgruntled employee" type of situation that we saw in the recent Connecticut shooting would be included in this category. These type of events might include a fatal assault on one or more than one coworker.

Type IV - Violence committed by someone who is not an employee, but who has a personal relationship with a targeted employee. Typically, this is domestic or spousal violence that spills over into the workplace. It might be directed at one targeted person, or might also include others in the workplace.

In future posts on the topic of workplace violence, we'll talk about preventive and risk management strategies for the various types of workplace violence.

August 17, 2010

Workplace Violence - resources and tools

Today, as we write this post about workplace violence, there is a breaking story about a Texas college campus in lock down, with reports that a shooter is dead. It appears that this incident was short-lived and that no students or faculty were harmed. It is chilling, nonetheless, in the wake of two recent workplace shootings: at Manchester, Connecticut's Hartford Distributors, which killed nine and wounded several others; and at Albuquerque, New Mexico's solar manufacturing plant, Emcore Corp., which killed 2 employees and wounded several others. The CT rampage occurred after an employee had been fired; the New Mexico shootings were an instance of domestic violence being brought to the workplace.

According to the Department of Labor, there were 5,071 workplace fatalities in 2008, the last year of recorded statistics. Of those, just over 10%, or 517 were homicides. James Alan Fox, a Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University, sheds light on these numbers in his post about the risk of workplace homicide at Boston.com:

"The vast majority of the incidents involve robberies -- taxicab holdups, convenience store stickups and assaults upon police and security officers. Many others stem from domestic disputes that spill over into the office suite. The least common form of workplace homicide, claiming fewer than 100 victims per year, are the murderous acts of disgruntled employees and ex-employees seeking revenge over work-related issues. The term "epidemic," which has been used to describe the problem of workplace violence and murder, is more hyperbole than reality."
Fox notes - and we do too - that the purpose in dissecting these numbers is not to trivialize the horror of these events, but to offer some perspective about the level of risk. The effect that these shootings have - on the organizations and communities involved, on human resource professionals and managers, and on our national psyche - are another matter entirely.

As an EAP, we've dealt with various aspects of workplace violence. We've worked with employers to help diffuse potentially explosive or problematic situations, to craft zero-tolerance violence policies, and to train employers and managers in workplace violence prevention. And more times than we would like to recall or recount, we are called on scene to help organizations and their employees cope with the tragic aftermath of workplace violence.

Over our next few posts, we'll be focusing on workplace violence: what is it, advice from experts on what organizations can do to minimize risk; and ways that organizations and employees can work to recover in the aftermath of violence at the workplace.

In today's post, we offer a selection of resources and links on workplace violence:

  • OSHA - Workplace Violence - Statistics, risk factors, administrative controls, recommendations and training resources from OSHA.
  • Preventing Workplace Violence - A comprehensive guide and prevention program from the AFL-CIO
  • Centers for Disease Control - Occupational Violence - resources from the centers for Disease Control and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
  • Workplace Violence News - Brings together the the latest articles and resources on workplace violence, workplace bullying, healthcare violence, school & campus violence and stalking, including the most recent developments, best practices, training programs and published studies.
  • Active Shooter: How to respond - This pamphlet from the Department of Homeland Security provides guidance to individuals, including managers and employees, who may be caught in an active shooter situation, and discusses how to react when law enforcement responds.
  • Ready.gov for Business - Ready Business helps owners and managers of small- and medium-sized businesses prepare their employees, operations and assets in the event of an emergency. It is a cooperative initiative between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Advertising Council and various business organizations.
  • Violence in the Workplace - the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers guidance and tools for preventing workplace violence.
  • Workplace Bullying Institute - the Institute's stated goal is "To raise awareness of, and create a public dialogue about Workplace Bullying. To apply research, empirical and anecdotal, to solutions for individuals, unions, employers and public policy makers."

Domestic violence and the workplace

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline - operating 24 hours a day 7 days a week in 170 languages connecting people in crisis to more than 5,000 sources of help in local communities across the US, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
  • Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence - a national nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the costs and consequences of partner violence at work - and eliminating it altogether. From policies and programs to legal issues and legislation, CAEPV is a credible source for information, materials and advice.
  • Domestic Violence in the Workplace - a blog about domestic violence & its impact on the workplace as well as related topics.
  • Click to Empower Domestic Violence Survivors by The Allstate Foundation - The Allstate Foundation created the Economics Against Abuse program in partnership with the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) to spread awareness of domestic and economic abuse and empower survivors to lead financially independent lives. You can help by encouraging women and men to talk openly about domestic violence.
  • Sloan Work & Family Research Network - Domestic Violence and the Workplace - an overview of how domestic violence affects workers, offers strategies that employers can implement to address domestic violence among their workers, and explains how policies can mitigate the negative effects that domestic violence has on the workplace.

August 13, 2010

The Steven Slater saga - get that guy to an EAP!

Steven Slater catapulted from obscurity to national folk hero status in one fell swoop - in almost the literal sense of that phrase. The frustrated airline employee seems to have caught the imagination of everyone who has ever fantasized about a "mad as hell and not going to take it any more" moment - and who among us hasn't had one of those?

But where an overwhelming preponderance of the nation sees Slater as a working class hero, we see a desperate scream for help. We have a few words for his employer: get that guy to an EAP!

We kind of hate to be the grown up in the room when everyone in the world seems to be having so much fun with this story...and with other infamous "I quit" stories -- but we think it's important to take a more sober look. When employees exhibit explosive rage and poor impulse control, there is usually something else going on - and it's frequently a problem that is rooted in an employee's personal life that spills over into the workplace.

If emerging passenger reports are true, Slater's bad day may have started before he even got to the plane. Some passengers said that Slater came on board with the injury and that it didn't happen during the altercation with a passenger. Other passengers said his demeanor was "stern" and "rude" from the outset of the flight and said that he seemed distracted. Upon his arrest, police reported that, "His eyes were bloodshot, he smelled of alcohol and he was unsteady on his feet."

We can't ascertain these reports or the time line in the Slater incident, but alcohol abuse is certainly a common culprit in many instances of problem work performance. And in the case of an airline flight attendant, who would qualify as a "safety sensitive employee" under Department of Transportation rules, any use of alcohol within 8 hours prior to reporting for service would be prohibited; in addition, a safety sensitive employee must not report for duty or remain in service while under the influence of alcohol - and could be subject to random drug testing.

Caretaker fatigue?
News reports also indicated that the stress Slater exhibited may have been compounded by a truly difficult personal situation. Slater has been the primary a caretaker of elderly parents. A post on the parenting blog Strollerderby suggests that Slater may have been suffering from caretaker fatigue:

It has since been revealed that Slater’s mom is suffering from lung cancer and that the flight attendant had been commuting between his New York residence and her home in Southern California to take care of her. He was also a caretaker for his father, a retired airline pilot who died two years ago after a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

One of the major symptoms of caretaker or compassion fatigue is emotional outbursts and a high stress level. It sure sounds like Slater qualifies. Longtime family neighbor Ron Franz certainly seems to think so, telling reporters “He cared for his father during a protracted illness and here he is doing it again and trying to juggle that with a stressful job,” adding “I don’t know what his motivation was. I am just saying those are the conditions that may have influenced him.”

On Tuesday, mom Diane Slater, herself a former flight attendant, came forward to issue a statement of support for her son as she was leaving her house for chemotherapy, saying she would have "snapped worse."

This rings true to us. It's estimated that between 15 and 20 million U.S. employees are caring for aging parents and that caregiving results in more than $30 billion a year in lost productivity. We've frequently posted about the high toll that caretaking imposes on the employee and the employer alike.

How an EAP could help
Certainly, this situation seems benign relative to a horrifying recent instance of employee frustration, but poor impulse control and rage in the workplace really aren't matters to be taken lightly. Reports indicate that Slater has been suspended but not fired. JetBlue noted the incident on their blog and public comments on the post show there is widespread sympathy for Slater ("Give the guy his job back.") Of course, employee privacy would dictate extreme caution on the part of the company in any public statements about Slater or any other employee's performance.

JetBlue needs to make a judgment about its next steps based not on what will be popular with a bemused public, but on weighing and balancing its policies and principles, its duty to protect and serve the public, and its obligations to its employees. It could be that events have transpired too far for this employee to be salvaged, but we can attest that proper and timely referrals to an EAP can often help to salvage a long-term employee's position, even under some very difficult circumstances. The die may well be cast in this case, but the employer take-away should be to stay alert for signs of stress, burn-out, personal problems, substance abuse or other issues that may be impeding employee performance - and utilize your EAP!

August 8, 2010

News briefs: bereavement leave, lactation, creativity, picking fights, & more

Bereavement leave and family matters - Kudos to Texas Lawyer Michael P. Maslanka, who has penned a great bereavement leave policy for the 21st century. Simple and flexible, it reflects the changing view of "family" and gets our vote. And speaking of changes in the concept of family, Diane Pfadenhauer of Strategic HR Lawyer notes that the DOL is offering an expanded definition of son or daughter under FMLA.

Obligation to nursing moms - Workplace Prof Blog offers a reminder that the healthcare reform law includes a provision that employers must provide lactation breaks and space for nursing mothers and provides a link to a Department of Labor publication which explains the obligation: Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA.

Unleashing creativity - Looking for fresh ideas to unleash worker creativity? How about sitting int he CEO's office? Every summer, PR firm Conover Tuttle Pace holds a summer-long office swap - a fun idea that shakes things up and fosters more inder-departmental interaction. Leadership coach Mary Ellen Slayter might call this "getting out of your comfort zone," rule number one in her tips for unleashing your creativity.

A brave face - We've witnessed it time and again - the human spirit's incredible resilience in the face of overwhelming odds and the ability to survive and thrive after terrible catastrophe. In just such a vein, we were moved the story of Chrissy, gunshot wound survivor who recently got a new face, thanks to the miraculous and creative work of dedicated health professionals.

How to fight - In any organization, it's inevitable that there will be disagreements. Becoming a skilled fighter can take practice. At Harvard Business Review blogs, Robert Sutton offers tips for ensuring that dissension is handled productively in his post It's Up to You to Start a Good Fight.

Taking the pulse - What are your HR peers doing when it comes to issues like telecommuting, flextime and casual dress? BLR offers results from their survey of compensation and benefits professionals.

OSHA on safety programs - Does your company have a safety incentive program? If so, be aware that OSHA is scrutinizing safety incentive programs. They are looking for promotions that might discourage workers from reporting injuries. It might be a good time to review your policy. And speaking of OSHA, SafetyNewsAlert offers offers 10 dos and don'ts for OSHA inspections from 2 OSHA inspectors.

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August 1, 2010

Why are Americans so vacation-deprived?

We're midway in the heart of the traditional eight-week summer vacation cycle, so if you haven't taken any time off yet, we have a question for you. Why not? It might be that you are one of the 49.4 millions Americans who are "vacation deprived." According to an annual survey conducted by Expedia, about one-third of employed U.S. adults, or 34%, do not use all their allotted vacation days. That's up from 31% last year. And it's not like the time off isn't needed: About two in five employed U.S. adults (37%) report regularly working more than 40 hours per week.

And not only does a large percentage of Americans leave vacation days on the table, many don't leave the job behind even while they are on vacation. About 1 in four report that they check work email or voice mail while vacationing, and about 30% say that they often have trouble coping with stress from work at some point during the vacation cycle.

Expedia has been conducting this survey for 8 years, and during all this time, the U.S. has had the dubious distinction of being the country with the largest vacation deficit, averaging only 13 vacation days per year, some of which go unused. This year however, workers in Japan win the distinction for being the most likely to leave vacation days on the table with 92% reporting they will not use all earned vacation days.

Country - Vacation days / avg unused vacation days
France 38 / 2
Italy 31 / 6
Spain 30 / 3
Germany 27 / 2
Austria 27 / 4
Great Britain 26 / 2
New Zealand 21 / 3
Canada 19 / 2
Australia 19 / 3
Japan 15 / 7
U.s. 13 / 3

Why are we so vacation deprived?
Vacation serve as a release valve for stress and help us to recharge our batteries. Taking time away from work leads to a healthier, more balanced life. Time away from the job can also foster creativity and productivity. Author Scott Berkun comments that "It’s interesting how us Americans are fond of taking pride in our freedoms, yet when it comes to time off we are the least free for much of the Western world." In an essay on the topic of whether Americans should get more vacation time, he notes that "hours are a lousy way to measure value" and suggests that "All sorts of goodness happens when managers learn to reward results, not effort. And this starts but getting past the stupid pretense of effort known as hours." He discusses shifting the way we think about time vs results, and offers suggestions for variable approaches that employers might consider for vacation and unpaid leave.

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