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January 29, 2012

Health, safety & other handy web tools for you & your employees

We've gathered some handy tools and tips on family, health and safety issues. Many are great tools to use in your wellness program, your intranet, or your newsletter.

HD Care Compass - patient guides that show how to prepare for and what to expect when facing several common surgery or test types.

Calculator: Is your food spending normal - see how your spending stacks up with others of a similar age, gender, geography and income.

Sharing the road with snow plows & more winter driving tips - includes a handy reference chart that shows visibility lines.

Older Driver Safety Conversations - The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab created information to help families address sensitive subjects and foster meaningful family conversations about older driver safety.

Health Reform Source - an interactive tool from the Kaiser Family Foundation offers a variety of tools to learn about healthcare reform and the timeline of provisions. See How will coverage work, a new interactive feature that clarifies how individuals and businesses in a variety of situations could be affected by health reform.

Create Strong Passwords. use this tool from Microsoft - Check your password - is it strong? - to test the strength of your passwords. Related: See the 25 Worst Passwords of 2011. Also related, advice from the FTC on what to do if your identity is stolen.

True Cost to Own a Car Calculator - The Edmunds Inc. True Cost to Own pricing system calculates the additional costs you may not have included when considering your next vehicle purchase. These extra costs include: depreciation, interest on your loan, taxes and fees, insurance premiums, fuel costs, maintenance, and repairs.

Best Colleges of 2012 - the US News College Compass offers college rankings & lists, as well as offering a wealth of information on finding and applying to colleges and grad school. Also see the Most Expensive Colleges for 2011-2012 from CampusGrotto.

Free home inventory apps - Creating a simple home inventory helps you track exactly what you own and what it is worth, which is important if you ever need to submit an insurance claim. Free apps from the National Association of Insurance Commissioner make the job easier - take and store photos, and get help creating a good inventory. See other insurance advice from NAIC Consumer Insurance Resources.

SuperTracker - the U.S. Department of Agriculture site lets you create a food and nutrition tracker and get a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan. The site includes a Food-A-Pedia that lets you look up information on more than 8,000 foods, to track your food intake and physical activity over time, and to set and measure goals.

DuckDuckGo is an alternative search engine that respects your privacy. If you want an uncluttered search option or if you are concerned about tracking, advertising, and privacy, this is a good alternative. Be sure to check out the goodies page for some handy tools.

Grocery Sales Cycle - When do things go on sale - offers a month-by-month listing of what and when to pick up bargains.

State Laws on Distracted Driving - click on a state to get up-to-date information about laws related to cell phones and texting. Related: Gauge your distraction with the Texting While Driving Game.

January 28, 2012

Anthony Griffith: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

How do people come to work and function normally when a family member - particularly a child - has a life-threatening illness? In this powerful video, Comedian Anthony Griffith talks about a time in his life when his work success was peaking, but at the same time, he suffered an incalculable personal tragedy. In The Best of Times, The Worst of Times, he shares his emotionally charged story of how he dealt with his two-year-old daughter's cancer.

His story depicts the terrible pressure, conflict, grief, and financial strain that a family member goes through when faced with the illness and loss of a child. It's difficult to witness his raw pain, and to hear how he suffered. It's a reminder to us all that we never know exactly what private burdens people carry, a good reason to give people around us the benefit of the doubt in petty conflicts.

It's also a reminder to managers and supervisors that you can never issue reminders about an EAP too frequently. There are so many ways that a good EAP could help support a parent who is suffering such an ordeal. But day-to-day, people forget about the EAP as a resource, or underestimate the scope and range of services that may be available.

Griffith talks about how ill equipped he felt to deal with his daughter's illness: "there's no books, no home ed class to teach you how to deal with this" -- but also how he didn't or couldn't reach out for much-needed help in processing and dealing with his grief: "...and you can't go to a therapist because in the black world a therapist is taboo, that's reserved for rich white folks."

The cultural taboo that he speaks of can be a real one. See Why African Americans Avoid Psychotherapy and African Americans and Psychotherapy. Certainly, African Americans are not the only cultures who share this taboo... for example, Latino cultures can also be reluctant to seek out therapists. And men in general can be reluctant to seek counseling help for problems.

January 22, 2012

The supersizing of America: retooling for the obesity crisis

Early last year, we learned that the U.S. obesity problem was deemed large enough (ahem) to actually threaten passenger safety on city buses. To better balance capacity and weight loads, the Federal Transit Administration is evaluating the possibility of raising the current standard of 150 pound passenger and 1.5 square feet to 175 pounds and 1.75 square feet. The matter is under consideration and a new rule is expected by the spring. It's not just a matter for the feds - New York city has been factoring in the "tush tally" as it plans for the purchase of metro cars.

As the average American weight continues rising -- almost a third of the population now qualifies as obese -- manufacturers of all varieties are up-sizing products to accommodate the our new girth. See 6 everyday objects that are getting bigger and bigger for a few examples - our bigger butts are requiring many unusual products to be retooled.

Last year, the state of Texas issued a 50-page obesity report Gaining Costs, Losing Time (PDF) that documented obesity's costs to employers and businesses. The Comptroller's report estimated "obesity-attributable insurance costs at $1.4 billion in 2005 and projected costs of $2.1 billion in 2009. New Comptroller estimates show direct insurance costs to be $4.0 billion in 2009."

  • Snacking - more junk food and food between meals
  • Energy-dense foods - read "more calories" - fewer fruits and vegetables
  • Portion control - a huge increase in average portions consumed
  • Eating out more - plus, we eat larger portions when away from home
  • Physical inactivity - we aren't expending the calories we eat Increased portions

In addition to the obvious costs to businesses - healthcare costs and insurance and absenteeism - there are many hidden costs. For example, the study notes that the U.S. airline industry consumes 350 million more gallons of fuel at an extra cost of $275 million annually due to an increase in the average weight of passengers, and that passenger weight gain accounted for as much as one billion gallons of fuel consumed per year between 1960 and 2002.

The Texas report issues a variety of public policy recommendations for initiatives to fight obesity - everything from programs in the schools and public health arenas to the military and police settings. It includes an extensive section on worksite wellness programs (see page 23), which includes a variety of profiles of successful corporate wellness initiatives... a great place to get ideas for your program.

If you don't have a wellness program, check with your EAP. At EAP Employee Assistance, we believe in the importance of wellness strongly enough that we offer our employee members health risk assessments, discounted weight loss programs, nutrition counseling, gym memberships, and more. Does your EAP have any wellness tools that you can tap into? If not, you may consider switching to one that does.

Meanwhile, we'll try to help by offering wellness tools that you can share with your employees> Here are a few visual aids related to portion control.

WebMD offers a variety of handy tools, such as a wallet size portion control guide and the portion size plate, which offers visual guidelines comparing portions to every day objects.

For another visual tool, see what does 200 calories look like.

The Mayo Clinic offers a slide show Guide to portion control for weight loss

There are a variety of serving tools and gizmos that can help, such as scales and portion-control products like Meal Measure, EZ Weight Plate and other portion control serving ware.

January 15, 2012

Leadership Lessons: Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 83 years old today had his life not been cut short by an assassin's bullet. In commemoration of his life and legacy, his birthday will see the launch of The King Center Imaging Project, which will make thousands of never-before-seen documents and papers accessible online.

As one of the world's great modern leaders, we take a moment to look at leadership lessons that King offered.

Michael Hyatt offers Eight leadership lessons from Martin Luther King Jr. that he heard when re-listening to the I Have a Dream speech. We've summarized them here but click on the link for his full commentary.

  • Great leaders do not sugar-coat reality.
  • Great leaders engage the heart
  • Great leaders refuse to accept the status quo
  • Great leaders create a sense of urgency
  • Great leaders call people to act in accord with their highest values
  • Great leaders refuse to settle
  • Great leaders acknowledge the sacrifice of their followers
  • Great leaders paint a vivid picture of a better tomorrow

Professor at Columbia Business School Hitendra Wadhwa talks about how Martin Luther King wrestled with and controlled his anger an article entitled The Wrath of a Great Leader. Citing examples of how King channeled his anger to a higher purpose, Wadhwa notes that "Great leaders do not ignore their anger, nor do they allow themselves to get consumed by it. Instead, they channel the emotion into energy, commitment, sacrifice, and purpose. They use it to step up their game." Simon Sinek expands on Dr. King’s power of leading others by sharing his own beliefs. The result? “People who believed what he believed took his cause, and they made it their own."

Ted Talks compiled a playlist of videos that highlight Martin Luther King's visionary leadership. Three speakers talk about ways that King’s passionate style galvanized followers.

Leadership quotes from Martin Luther King

Nothing offers a better leadership lesson than King's own words. Here are a few quotations that exemplify his leadership.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."

"A man all wrapped up in himself is a mighty small package."

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle."

"All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem."

"Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."

"All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."

"Let no man pull you low enough to hate him."

January 12, 2012

New briefs: Shredding, Unlimited Vacation, Gender Gap & more

Grief & Health - The loss of a loved one is one of life's most stressful events. A new study shows us just how stressful it can be - particularly for those who have an existing health risk. A study of 1,985 adult heart attack survivors found that heart-attack risk spikes days after loss of a loved one, rising to as much as 21 times higher than normal within the first day after a loved one has died. See also Broken Heart Syndrome. Even for people who don't have presenting heart disease, grief is intensely stressful. If an employee suffers a loss, it's a good time for an HR director to send a sympathy card, and why not tuck a card or a number for your Employee Assistance Program with it.

Gender Gap - Are women themselves to blame for a gender gap in careers or is the system stacked against them? The conventional wisdom is that women "don't ask" but a recent study of the career experiences of thousands of MBA graduates from top schools around the world by Catalyst shows that women do indeed speak up to ask for raises and promotions, but they don't get the same rewards as men who ask. Moreover, the study found that, "Women who initiated such conversations and changed jobs post MBA experienced slower compensation growth than the women who stayed put."

Knock, Knock - DOL Calling - The start of a new year is a good time to make sure that your records are in good order so that if you win the Department of Labor audit lottery, you won't have to panic. Daniel Schwartz of Connecticut Employment Law Blog talks about what to expect when you’re expecting the Department of Labor, which suggests the information you should be tracking. He notes that what is said during DOL meetings can be used against you so you might consider consulting with an attorney early in the process who can coordinate the investigation and serve as a conduit between the DOL and you.

Shredding - How long should you retain files before you can feel safe in trashing them? Compensation Cafe suggests that you take a look at your retention policies and make sure they are up to date with federal and state laws before you break start feeding files to the shredder. They offer a handy list of federal records retention requirements for the IRS, DOL, FMLA, and FLSA.

Responding to Background Checks - When you're on the receiving end of a reference check, do you know what to say about your former employee? "Most states offer employers a "qualified privilege" to provide references regardless of how negative they may be -- but that won't protect an employer who provides misleading or false information about a former employee." Keisha-Ann G. Gray of Human Resource Executive offers an excellent overview of best practices in reference checking.

Unlimited Vacation - Michael Halberman of HR Observations Blog writes about unlimited vacation and asks whether it will work for your company. Not familiar with the concept? Go check out his post. Halberstrom likens it to ROWE, or Results Only Work Environments. While there are some compelling arguments in its favor, Haberman notes that it's a concept that will only work for companies with some pretty special circumstances ... so special that the field is pretty narrow. But it's something to think about. And as with many business concepts and trends, some morphed version often filters down to the everyday work world over time.

Unusual Workplace of the Week - No matter how much we like our jobs, few of us would call our workplace a wonderland. Except maybe the people at Davidson International. "Its interior, which followed a year-long, $5 million renovation, is intended to encourage creativity and a positive attitude among staff." Hat tip to The Future of Work for the pointer.

Quick Takes

January 8, 2012

The lighter side: The Employment (El Empleo)

The Employment (El Empleo) is a 6 minute animated clip by Argentinian animation studio Opusbou and director Santiago 'Bou' Grasso that has won more than 100 international awards. It offers quite a cynical but amusing view of the workplace!

January 3, 2012

Crystal ball for 2012

Last week, we brought you a wrap-up of 2011 - although we missed The Ten Most Annoying Management Terms of 2011 and it is worth checking out - if you still have 2011 bandwidth, there are some phrases you may want to internalize.

But now we are on to the new year. Here's a list of some brave souls who are making predictions about what you might expect:

30 Big Trends, Ideas & Predictions for 2012

Survey: Business Trends to Watch in 2012

10 Mega Business Trends To Watch For In 2012

The top 5 small business trends for 2012

12 Laws That Will Affect Your Business in 2012

Looking at the Future: Some Predictions for 2012

Looking to 2012: 14 HR Predictions, and Balancing the Global Workforce

Emerging HR Discipline Is Among 2012 Predictions

Talent Management Trends in 2012

2012 US Job Forecast - CareerBuilder (PDF)
Related: Hiring Outlook for 2012 Remains Cautiously Optimistic, CareerBuilder’s Annual Job Forecast Finds - Survey Reveals Four Employment Trends to Watch in the New Year

Glassdoor Unveils Employees' Choice Awards for Top 50 Best Places to Work in 2012

What Will 2012 Mean for Social Media?

What 2012 Holds for Social Media

5 Internet Marketing Predictions for 2012

Top 10 Privacy Trends for 2012

Deloitte Predicts the Top 10 Technology Trends for 2012

Information Week: Top 10 Health IT Predictions For 2012

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