« July 2012 | Main | September 2012 »

August 31, 2012

Cool Tools & Useful Apps

Here's our latest roundup of tools & apps that may be useful to you and your employees. Feel free to share them!

Nursing Home Inspection Tool - if you have an elderly relative, finding good elder care can be a daunting task. A new tool from ProPublica should help. Nursing Home Inspect is a tool that allows you to search more than 20,000 nursing home inspection reports, most completed since January 2011, and encompassing nearly 118,000 deficiencies.

Pre-existing Conditions Insurance Coverage (PCIP) - Find PCIP coverage in your state using this search tool from HealthCare.gov. Also, get information about who is eligible, how much it costs, and what benefits are available.

Treatment Locator App - The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Locator app enables patients, family members and professionals to have instant access to reliable information on nearby mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities, including those that provide specialized treatment for patients dealing with opioid drugs. With it, you’ll be able to access information from four different treatment locator databases.

Disaster Prep App - A free mobile disaster preparedness app from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) delivers checklists, communication tools and vital safety tips to prepare users for hurricanes, wildfire, severe winter weather, earthquakes and other disasters. Learn more about the Know Your Plan App.

Wellness - FamilyDoctor.org offers a variety of symptom checker flowcharts, which offer a series of interactive "if this/then that" charts that allow you to check symptoms against possible diagnoses. It's a handy little tool, particularly for things like skin rashes, but if you have persistent or serious symptoms, checking with a doctor is your best bet!

Education -
Explore free online courses from edX universities - EdX currently offers HarvardX, MITx and BerkeleyX classes online for free. These institutions aim to extend their collective reach to build a global community of online students. Along with offering online courses, the three universities undertake research on how students learn and how technology can transform learning – both on-campus and online throughout the world.

College Hi is a website "dedicated to help you find your best fit colleges, apply well, and pay the bill easily." It offers a search tool, college profiles, and a knowledge center.

Convertbot is an iPhone/iPad app that allows you to convert currency, time, length, and many more metrics. It’s even smart enough to convert between mixed units like Foot + Inches, Pounds + Ounces, Minutes + Seconds.

Byte Converter is a web reference tool that allows you to convert bytes to kilobytes to megabytes to gigabytes, and vice versa, or to learn more about bytes.

Emergencies - Wreck Check is a mobile app from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to take the guesswork out of a post-accident information exchange and to protect your security by ensuring you exchange only necessary information. Enter your vehicle information and info about your agent and insurer. If you are in an accident, launch the app, which will guide you through a step-by-step process to create an accident report and email yourself a completed accident report directly, as well as to your insurance agents.

Teleconferencing - We've previously featured FreeConferenceCall.com, which allows you to connect up to 96 callers. Once you register, there is no need to make reservations or engage in any planning - you have your own call in number to share 24/7. You can also get a free recording of the call. Long distance charges from your carrier might apply, but there is no charge for this service. And recently they also added free international audio conferencing to 20+ countries, so if you have offices or employees in offshore locations, this tool might be handy.

August 26, 2012

The Changing Face of Eating Disorders

Asked to describe a person suffering from anorexia, most people would describe a teen girl, but the typical profile is changing. Health experts are trying to dispel the myth that eating disorders are confined to teens and young adults - or even to women. In fact, people suffering from an eating disorder may not even be particularly thin. Stereotypes stand in the way of identifying, intervening, and helping people who suffer from eating disorders.

Amednews.com - the public access to the American Medical Association's news - recently featured a focus on eating disorders, with the cornerstone article discussing new research showing that eating disorders are an increasing problem in older women. A study of 1,849 women 50 and older published online June 21 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 13.3% of women 50 and older exhibited eating disorder symptoms. In addition, the Renfrew Center, one of the leading treatment centers for eating disorders, reports that over the past decade, there has been a 42% increase in the number of women over the age of 35 who sought treatment.

Study author Cynthia M. Bulik says that the health effects of eating disorders in older women can be severe: "While eating disorders can negatively affect the health of people of all ages, the impact can be particularly severe in older adults, whose bones and immune systems are weakened by age, Bulik said. She often sees severe osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems and gastroesophageal reflux disease in older patients with eating disorders."

Health experts stress the need to look beyond stereotypes to spot patients with eating disorders. In 2009, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality released data showing that:

"An estimated 23,807 people were hospitalized for eating disorders each year in 1999 and 2000. This amount jumped 18% to 28,155 both in 2005 and in 2006.
Women age 19 to 30 still make up the largest group hospitalized for eating disorders, but researchers found such statistics grew markedly among demographics not usually considered at high risk. Hospitalizations of boys and girls younger than 12 grew 119% from the 1999-2000 period to 2005-06, while admissions among men of any age jumped 37%. Hospitalizations of patients age 45 to 65 increased by 48%."

A related story, The changing face of anorexia, discusses demographic changes and sheds light on accompanying mental health issues.
Anorexia is often about control and emotion, and at its core are issues greater than food. "The general profile of the anorexic is a perfectionistic tendency," Dr. Woods says. "They are focused, organized and driven, and that goes into their attitudes about food. Anorexics are rigid, and they are preoccupied with weight, shape and size."
Some are dealing with old scars, fear of abandonment, distorted body image, feelings of inadequacy and not fitting in. For many, it is emotion management. "Their problems are often with living life, being in relationships," says Dr. Dennis of Timberline Knolls. Many anorexics also face comments from well-meaning friends, family and physicians -- "Why don't you just eat," or "Oh, it's not that bad, you look fine" -- that push them further into the disorder.
Anorexics come in many sizes. Some are able to not appear too thin. Others may be 5'4" and weigh 70 pounds. It is not only difficult to diagnose and treat, it has the highest suicide rate of mental disorders. About 5% of diagnosed patients fully recover, and 40% relapse in the first year. For 75%, it is a lifelong condition."

How employers can intervene
Employers can raise awareness about eating disorders as part of health and wellness programs. Human Resource staff and managers should be aware of the changing demographics of eating disorders, educated about symptoms and - as they would be with any issues - alert for employee changes in performance or behavior. In observing symptoms or behaviors that may point to eating disorders, managers should not try to be diagnosticians. Rather, in suspecting an issue or a problem that is interfering with work-life issues, managers should become comfortable in suggesting referrals to an Employee Assistance Program or other health or helping resources.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders
Academy for Eating Disorders
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
National Eating Disorders Association
Renfew Center
Something Fishy


ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resource for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

August 24, 2012

Danger - Women at Work

This World War II vintage clip was designed to instruct women about safe behavior as they joined the workforce to support the war effort. They are encouraged to leave jewelry and high heels at home, avoid the debutante slouch, and tuck loose locks into hairnets, turbans and snoods. It's a fun little time capsule offering a glimpse of how the work world has changed.

August 19, 2012

Are you taking advantage of everything your EAP has to offer?

If you are like most HR professionals, you are always working to maximize your employee benefit package while minimizing your costs. Ed Bray, the director of Employee Benefits for Hawaiian Airlines, has a suggestion for you: Show your EAP some love. Bray says that one theme has been consistent across companies in his decade of HR experience: organizations are not making full use of their EAP, a benefit they already have that can offer employees significant value. He offers his top 5 reasons why you might want to promote its use, which we summarize here:

1. Everyone loves free.
2. Your EAP probably offers elder care resource and referral services.
3. Particularly in the current tough economy, employees could use any financial and legal consultation services available through an EAP.
4. It is likely that your EAP provides referral services for reputable childcare facilities in your local area.
5. There is an excellent chance that your EAP has a website with a plethora of information available to your employees, including a list of all covered services and resources.

We couldn't have said it better! We can add to Ed's list. Here are 20 more benefits that your EAP should provide:

  • Access 24/7 counseling services for virtually any problem
  • Address family conflicts
  • Prepare for retirement
  • Decrease stress
  • Kick the smoking habit
  • Get help for depression
  • Lose weight and keep it off with exercise programs and fitness benefits
  • Adopt a child
  • Get discounts and savings
  • Create a will
  • Deal with substance abuse issues
  • Cope with grief and loss
  • Develop professionally through courses and training
  • Get help for consumer problems
  • Deal with mental and behavioral health issues
  • Balance work, life and job
  • Plan for college and tuition assistance
  • Access caregiver support and resources
  • Deal with debt and get help with debt restructuring
  • Get help for cancer, diabetes, and other health challenges

Benefits for HR practitioners and managers, too
Your EAP should provide resources and benefits to you, as an HR manager, and to your managers and supervisors. Your EAP is a critical tool to help you retain employees, reduce absenteeism, and improve productivity. Are you making full use of all the benefits and services available to you?

  • HR Consultation with SPHR professionals for difficult issues
  • Administrative referrals to address unacceptable performance issues
  • Pre-employment screening and background checks
  • Mediation services
  • Trauma Response services
  • Professional development and management training
  • Drug Free Workplace Programs
  • HR tools and resources for policies and compliance issues

ESI-Logo.jpg Does your EAP measure up? If you'd like to learn more about turbocharging your employee benefit package, reducing absenteeism, and enhancing productivity, call us today: 800-535-4841.

August 17, 2012

News Briefs: litigation costs, FMLA, Geographic Stereotypes & more

Litigation Costs - How much will you pay in employment litigation? It will depend on how many plaintiffs and how horrible the facts. Mark Toth of The Employment Blawg breaks down the numbers of what employment litigation costs in one handy infographic.

Geographic Stereotypes - What stereotypical assumptions are made about the state you live in? To answer this question, Renee DiResta turned to Google's autocomplete function to learn what the aggregate users think of each state. With the results, she produced a fascinating clickable map of state stereotypes. Hover over states to see the results. She says: "The single most common result of all was “boring,” which appeared for 18 states with no particular regional concentration. Other popular terms (returned for >10 states) were “humid”, “windy”, “expensive”, and “liberal”. Strangely, Connecticut and Pennsylvania both returned “haunted”; apparently there are a lot of ghost sightings (and related walking tours). My favorite result of all was “enchanting”: New Mexico is beautiful."

FMLA Case Law - Employment law attorney Jeff Nowak of FMLA Insights discusses the case of Scruggs v. Carrier Corp., in which the employee's claims of FMLA interference and retaliation were dismissed. Carrier Corp. had conducted surveillance on 35 employees suspected of FMLA abuse, part of an overall campaign to clamp down on excessive absenteeism. In the case of Daryl Scrugss, surveillance turned up suspicious and inconsistent behavior and the employer terminated Scruggs. In dismissing Scruggs' claims, the court pointed out that an employer can "refuse to reinstate the employee based on an ‘honest suspicion’ that she was abusing her leave." Nowak also points to two earlier posts that he made offering tips to combat FMLA leave abuse: Giants Beat Patriots in the Super Bowl! Can I take FMLA Leave Today? and As FMLA Absences Mount, the Employer Must Lay Down the Law

Balancing Act - Can You Be a Tough Boss Without Being a Jerk? - "You want your employees to perform at their best, but there's a fine line between being a tough boss with high expectations and being an unreasonable jerk. Business coach Mike Staver advises using these four rules to avoid crossing the line."

OSHA - Is a Bloodborne Pathogens Program Required For First Aid Providers? An employer asks, "We have employees who are designated to render first aid. Are they covered by the standard?" Response: Yes. Learn more about the requirements.

Medical Identity Theft - You've heard of identity theft, but are you aware of medical identity theft? Bloomberg's Tech Blog reports that hackers recently stole health care records and held them hostage. Records were stolen from a surgical medical practice in Illinois. The hackers encrypted the data and posted a "digital ransom note." Jordan Robertson, author of the news item, notes that, "... the spiraling cost of health care and lack of insurance for millions of people have made medical identity theft a growing problem. Security and privacy risks are also emerging with the creation of "health information exchanges," which are vast databases that states are setting up to handle all the electronic medical records."

Eating Disorders Affect Men, Too - On , Anny Ellen posts that men are stepping out of the shadows when it comes to binge eating.: "Mr. Walen is one of an estimated eight million men and women in the United States who struggle with binge eating, defined as consuming large amounts of food within a two-hour period at least twice a week without purging, accompanied by a sense of being out of control."
"While about 10 percent of patients with anorexia and bulimia are men, binge eating is a problem shared almost equally by both sexes. A study published online in October and then in the March issue of The International Journal of Eating Disorders found that among 46,351 men and women ages 18 to 65, about 11 percent of women and 7.5 percent of men acknowledged some degree of binge eating."

Swine Flu - The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that US Swine Flu cases are on the rise, saying that "this is not a pandemic situation." Most cases have occurred in children who have been at county fairs handling livestock. The CDC plans to monitor and offers tips and precautions for prevention.

More News of Note

August 12, 2012

Surviving an Active Shooter Event: Run, Hide, Fight

It's a sad reality. In the wake of recent mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin, mass shootings are on the minds of many. Although such events are relatively rare, they are frightening and command a great deal of media attention, which can distort the actual risk of such an event. Security expert Bruce Schneier talks about the five biggest biases we fall victim to in terms of how we perceive danger. These include the tendency to exaggerate spectacular and rare risks and downplay common risks and to estimate the probability of something by how easy it is to bring examples to mind. One other bias he points to is that we underestimate risks in situations we do control, and overestimate risks in situations we don't control. See his recent related essay on Overreaction and Overly Specific Reactions to Rare Risks.

Nevertheless, as employers, one key mission is the health and safety of employees. Company officials, risk managers and safety personnel need to plan and make contingencies for crisis-type events. In line with this, EHS Today posts advice on surviving an active shooter in the workplace, including a 6-minute video developed and released by the City of Houston Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security. Authorities say that survival may depend on having a plan, even a simple one - advice that is true in surviving any of a number of unplanned dangerous events such as fires and plane crashes. They suggest that the plan include a few basic components:

  • Run if a safe path is available - don't hesitate. Urge others to join you, but leave even if others insist on staying. Call 9-1-1 as soon as you escape to safety.
  • If you can't get out safely, find a place to hide, such as a room with a door that can lock or a closet. Barricade doors and silence your phone.
  • Fight. If escape is impossible, act with aggression, fight back, improvise weapons.

Trigger warning - Because the video is realistic dramatization and portrays a hypothetical situation as it unfolds, it may be upsetting to some..

A Spanish version of the video is also available: Corra. Escondase. Pelee. Sobreviviendo un Tiroteo

Related resources
Know Your Exits: Safety Advice Following the Colorado Theater Shooting

Violence Prevention in the Workplace

Workplace Violence: Resources and Tools


ESI-Logo.jpg We regularly help employees with counseling to help deal with the after effects of trauma and violence - including domestic violence. In addition, ESI EAP offers a variety of violence prevention resources to managers. We also have trained response teams for on-site trauma intervention. To learn more, give us a call: 800-535-4841.

August 11, 2012

Google's death benefit: financial support for families

When it comes to employee benefits, Google pretty much leads the pack. The tech behemoth's remarkable portfolio of perks earns the company a spot at the top of Best Companies to Work For lists year after year. Life in the Googleplex is indeed special.

Now we learn that life after the Googleplex is pretty special too. In an interview with Forbes Meghan Casserly, Googles's Chief People Officer recently announced that it now offers death benefits to its employees:

"Should a U.S. Googler pass away while under the employ of the 14-year old search giant, their surviving spouse or domestic partner will receive a check for 50% of their salary every year for the next decade. Even more surprising, a Google spokesperson confirms that there’s “no tenure requirement” for this benefit, meaning most of their 34 thousand Google employees qualify."

In addition to these benefits, "surviving spouses will see all stocks vested immediately and any children will receive a $1,000 monthly payment from the company until they reach the age of 19 (or 23 if the child is a full-time student)."

Casserly talks about this benefit and how it came about in greater detail, as well as offering more insight into the company's strong commitment to family-friendly benefits, such as generous paid maternity and paternity leaves. While these benefits are helpful in retention. the company says the real reason is that it's "... simply because it’s the right thing to do."

7 companies with unique employee health benefits - from autism therapy to an on-premise bowling alley

14 Companies with Incredible Employee Perks

Heartache leave - and 8 other unusual benefits

ESI-Logo.jpg If you are looking for ways to sweeten your employee benefit package but feel stymied but tight budgets, ESI EAP offers the most comprehensive employee assistance benefit package, with nearly twice the benefits of the average EAP. To learn about the many benefits that ESI Employee Assistance Program can offer your employees, give us a call: 800-535-4841.

August 5, 2012

Why We Lie, Go to Prison and Eat Cake: Dan Ariely

When it comes to honesty, ethics, and the dividing line between our values and our actions, we point you to Dan Ariely, best-selling author and professor of behavioral economics and psychology at Duke University. Wired editor Joanna Pearlstein recently posted a lively discussion she had with him at a business forum: Why We Lie, Go to Prison and Eat Cake: 10 Questions With Dan Ariely.

In the interview, Ariely talks about some of the issues that are in his new book, The Honest Truth of Dishonesty. He looks at such issues as how the chance of getting caught affects us, why the potential for even dire consequences may not deter us from lying or cheating, and how our "fudge factor" allows us to incrementally rationalize dishonesty. The crux of the interview and the thrust of topic of his new book can be summed up with a few lines from one of Ariely's recent blog posts: "Every day, people are finding new and more creative ways to cheat, and to justify their dishonest behavior, regardless of the negative impact their actions might have on others. What’s most worrying about this trend is that we still fail to grasp the extent of our dishonesty. But it doesn’t have to be like this. If, on a global scale, we worked to understand the root of our dishonesty, and motivated each other to overcome it, we could do much better."

Related to this interview, we point you to Ariely's engaging, amusing, and thought-provoking Ted Talk, Why We Think It's OK to Cheat and Steal (Sometimes). Ariely talks about many of his experiments testing the boundaries of honesty and cheating. Here's a brief description of the talk:

"One of the challenges of human life is what's good for us in the long term often doesn't seem good for us right now. Dieting, for example, is not so much fun now, but good for the future; the same goes for saving money or submitting to preventive medical tests. When we face such tradeoffs, we often focus on the short term rather than our long-terms goals, and in the process we get ourselves into trouble. But wait! There is hope. By understanding where we fall short, there are methods we can use to overcome our natural (and less than desirable) inclinations."

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

August 4, 2012

Keeping Silly Season Sane: Politics in the Workplace

Life might get a little more contentious at the water cooler over the next few months because we are officially in silly season. Wikipedia defines this as the time in the U.S. between early summer and early October in an election year. "Primary elections are over at this time, but formal debates have not started and the general election is still many weeks away. Issues raised during this period are likely to be forgotten by the election, so candidates may rely on frivolous political posturing and hyperbole to get media attention and raise money."

Expect that employees will be talking about politics in your workplace, and it's a topic that can incite passion. According to a survey on the issue of politics in the workplace, "36 percent of workers acknowledge discussing politics at work, while 46 percent say they plan to talk about this year's presidential election with co-workers. About 23 percent said chats about politics led to a heated debate or a fight with a colleague."

People sometimes misinterpret "free speech" to mean that they can say anything, anytime, anyplace. Not so. Private employers generally have the right to limit political discussion in the workplace -- but there are gray areas. In some instances, the NLRB protects political speech that relates to work-related issues . (See Can an Employee be Disciplined for Engaging in Political Speech in the Workplace?). And employers can't dictate the direction of conversations between employees who are on breaks or at lunch. When it comes to banning discussions about politics, the issue isn't quite so much a question of "can you" as "should you."

Instead of imposing restrictions, which may be difficult to enforce, some experts suggest that common sense should rule the day. Employers may want to establish some ground rules by re-emphasizing the values of professionalism, respect, and tolerance for others - including differences of political opinion. It may be a good time to dust off and circulate your organization's "code of conduct" from your Employee Handbook.

Focus on productivity - don't allow discussions of any variety to disrupt the workplace. Be prepared to intervene and nip things in the bud if things get heated or argumentative. And it should go without saying that, as an employer, you should avoid any adverse employment action related to an employee's political opinions.

For more, see our prior posts on politics at work

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.
eXTReMe Tracker