April 11, 2014

Boston Marathon Anniversary Resources

On April 15th, the city of Boston and the country at large will remember the tragic events that took place at the Boston Marathon one year ago. Events will offer tribute to the lives lost, those who were injured in the bombing and their families, the first responders and the witnesses. We will collectively mourn the loss and send our love and sympathy to Boston and everyone touched by the events of that day.

One week later, on April 21, the 2014 Boston Marathon will take place.

In a prior posts about 9/11 memorials, we talked about dealing with difficult anniversaries, noting that:

For many, public memorials and acknowledgments are therapeutic. They are a way to express and share grief in a communal way. They are intended to memorialize those who died and to offer support and comfort to those who survived.
But for some people, these collective outpourings can have unintended consequences. While the national mantra "never forget" may be intended to respect and memorialize the victims, it can also send an unintended message to survivors by trapping them in their grief. A goal of mourning should be for survivors deal with their loss and eventually move on with living productive lives. It is normal for survivors to come to grips with their loss and, at some point, to detach from the deceased without feeling disloyal or feeling that they are "forgetting" the decedent. It can be extremely difficult for survivors of very public tragedies to move on because they become inadvertent symbols of the event during anniversaries, whether they want to be or not. While offering support is important, we must allow people to mourn and memorialize in the way that works best for them.

Boston Marathon Anniversary Resources
The Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance, MOVA, is working with service providers throughout Massachusetts and the rest of the country to try to ensure that those who were affected by the bombings receive needed support and services on their paths to recovery and healing. To find out more about available services from MOVA, please call 617-586-1340, send an email to mova@state.ma.us, or visit www.mass.gov/mova/boston-marathon.

See the AEAP Fact Sheet January 2014 (PDF) for other resources.

Resiliency Forums - Starting in March 2014, MOVA will host “Resiliency Forums” for victims of the bombings and their families, caretakers, and significant others. These Resiliency Forums will provide victims with the opportunity to learn about the long term impact of grief, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), hearing loss, as well as long term strategies for resiliency and recovery. These forums will also serve as regular opportunities for victims to connect with one another and with providers to exchange ”best practices” regarding long term recovery and healing.

Resiliency Forums will only be open to victims and survivors and will be available via live secured streaming feed on the web. To receive further information about the upcoming Resiliency Forums, please contact Susan Vickers at 617-586-1352/617-549-9542 or via email at Susan.Vickers@state.ma.us


Marathon Recovery Resources

The One Fund

Post Traumatic Stress
Anniversaries of tragic or traumatic events can kick up memories, depression and stress for not only those who were involved in the events, it can also trigger reactions in anyone who has experienced violent or traumatic events.

The following are some of the symptoms of PTSD. If you or someone you know experiences several of these, it may indicate PTSD and professional help should be sought.

  • Recurring thoughts or nightmares about the event; "flashbacks," accompanied by painful emotions
  • Trouble sleeping because of nightmares
  • Anxiety and fear, especially when exposed to situations reminiscent of the trauma
  • Being on edge, being easily startled or overly alert
  • Feeling depressed, sad and having low energy
  • Feeling "scattered" and unable to focus on work or daily activities; difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling irritable, easily agitated or resentful
  • Feeling emotionally "numb," withdrawn or disconnected from others, and avoiding close emotional ties with family, friends and co-workers
  • Spontaneously crying, feeling a sense of despair and hopelessness
  • Feeling that danger is constantly near and being extremely protective of, or fearful for, the safety of loved ones

Prior related posts
Resources in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing


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ESI-Logo.jpg A good EAP is an important resource for helping people to deal with or cope in the aftermath of traumatic events, offering important support resources for your managers and help for troubled employees. In addition, ESI EAP offers trained response teams for on-site trauma intervention. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

March 11, 2014

26 million more reasons to ensure your organization does not discriminate by age

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It's generally not a good idea to refer to your older employees as "old coot" or "old goat" - it could cost you $26 million in an age discrimination suit.

This case is mainly notable in the size of the award. Age is one of the primary reasons that employees file discrimination claims - particularly since the tougher economy has prompted many companies to tighten their belts. When trimming payroll, many organizations tend to look to higher paid employees, many of whom are older - and that can be a problem. Courts have found that firing due to salary can be considered age discrimination. It's important to ensure that policies do not create a disparate impact for a protected class of workers.

With the aging of the Baby Boomers generation and the trend toward deferred retirement, this is an issue that is not going to go away any time soon. Employers would do well to ensure their policies are up to par, that they enforce a culture with zero tolerance for discrimination, bullying and harassment, and that supervisors and employees alike are trained about discrimination and harassment.

Take our 10 question How Well Do You Know Harassment Quiz to see how you fare. Try it out on your employees.

Additional resources

EEOC: Age Discrimination

DOL: Age Discrimination

AARP: Age Discrimination: What Employers Need to Know (PDF)


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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. Our EAP also includes no-cost training in harassment and various compliance issues. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

February 28, 2014

Is Your Organization Vulnerable to Employment Related Risks?

According to a recent report on a survey conducted by Chubb with private U.S. companies, the answer would be yes. Chubb says: "Even the best-run companies are vulnerable to EPL [Employee Practices Liability] charges because they engage in normal employment-related activities such as hiring, firing and promoting employees, all of which carry some EPL risk. And a company doesn’t have to do anything wrong to be sued."

This short video clip offers a good overview of employment-related risks - how pervasive they are, what they cost, why they happen and how employers can use insurance to help mitigate risk.

Download an Employee Practices Liability infographic from Chubb that summarizes many of the points discussed in the video. In 2012, there were nearly 100,000 charges filed with the EEOC - and they can be costly - as this excerpt from the infographic shows:

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You can also download a copy of Findings from the Chubb 2013 Private Company Risk Survey. The survey was conducted with decison makers at 450 private U.S. companies and covered a number of topics, including some that are of great interest to Human Resource managers: Employee fraud (page 7); Employment-related risks (page 13); Cyber Risk (page 16) and Workplace Violence (page 18).


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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.

February 16, 2014

What employers can do to address health & productivity issues related to depression in the workplace

In a recent column, Dr. Sanjay Gupta discusses depression and how employers can address the condition's toll on mental health and productivity. He notes that according to a recent Gallup poll, one in eight US workers has been diagnosed with depression, resulting in a loss of up to 68 million work days. But that may be the tip of the iceberg when also factoring in the diminished at-work productivity and ongoing toll on health. Studies have linked depression to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature aging. But there is good news: Treatment can help. "A study last year from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada found that people who were being treated for moderate depression were two-and-a-half times more likely to be highly productive than those not receiving treatment."

In fact, a recent depression study by researchers at the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis found that, " treatment of depression before any apparent signs of cardiovascular disease can decrease the risk of future heart attacks and strokes by almost half."

One of the primary barriers to people getting early treatment of depression is knowing and recognizing the signs of depression, which often go unnoticed. Learn the the signs and symptoms of depression.

What employers can do

  • Include depression and other mental health issues as part of your organization's ongoing health and wellness initiatives and focus. There can often be a stigma around mental health issues that serve as a barrier to getting help. Employees may also have fears about confidentiality and work status.
  • Raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of depression among employees and supervisors. Issuing basic information about mental health matters, such as checklists of signs and symptoms of depression in a company newsletter, can also be very beneficial to both employees and the organization's bottom line.
  • Train managers and supervisors to be alert for changes in job performance that may reflect common symptoms of depression. While it's not a manager's role to be a counselor, managers are in a position to refer an employee to professionals such as an EAP who can help to discover the underlying reason for the change in performance. Supervisors should know how and where to make a referral for help.
  • Promote the availability of confidential help: Your EAP 24 hour telephonic helpline is a start. Let employees know that they have access to depression screening, diagnostic and treatment services.
  • Worksite health & wellness initiatives that offer fitness and nutrition programs, help for stress reduction and programs for substance abuse can also be good adjunct programs in preventing and treating depression.

Related:
Workplace tools: Depression Calculator

Depression doesn't have to be unbearable for your employees

The Secret Men Won't Admit

Mike Wallace's battle with depression leading to a suicide attempt

Depression Screening


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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.

February 9, 2014

Violence Threat Assessment for Campuses and Businesses

The January 2014 issue of Nature features the article Workplace violence: Caught on campus, in which Brendan Mahar looks at how violent incidents at academic institutions have spurred universities to adopt formal procedures designed to keep campuses safer -- and offers an assessment of how these measures are working. The focus is on how educational institutions are responding to the increase in violent events but the article should be of interest to all employers. While there are environmental and structural differences between academic organizations and businesses, issues about threat assessment, planning, and training are not so very different in principle.

The article opens with a chilling real-life anecdote of a threat deferred. The success in intervening and preventing violence in this incident serves as an example of threat assessment initiatives that have been adopted by many educational institutions in response to the increasing frequency of violent incidents. Threat assessment is defined as formal procedures that organizations adopt to identify and mitigate a dangerous situation before it explodes into violence.

Part of the threat assessment process involves being educated and aware of potential signs or signals that may point to the potential for an incident:

"By studying past attacks through the lens of psychology, researchers have identified a range of behaviours and environmental factors that may conspire to trigger violence. Individuals may exhibit extreme or sudden changes in behaviour, alienate themselves or others, or adopt unhealthy interests in weapons or violent acts. Environmental factors may include a tolerance to aggressive interactions in a workplace, an unresolved conflict, or the existence of cliques or pecking orders. And there are often precipitating events. These could be personal conflicts or work-life pressures — such as not getting tenure or a key grant — that an individual has had trouble dealing with appropriately."

"...Empirical data on attacks suggest that there is a 'pathway to violence': there may be some form of grievance, the development of an intention to do harm, then research, planning and preparation."

Mahar also notes:

"Threat assessment works only when people have signalled an intent to do harm. Luckily, these signals often appear. In the 1990s, the Secret Service looked at 83 individuals who had attacked or come close to attacking a prominent public official or public figure. It showed that 63% had communicated some sort of threat in advance, although rarely to the intended target1. “The people who carry out these acts, they typically tell someone what they're planning to do,” says Randazzo. “We've seen many cases where they broadcast it on social media.”

These programs are not without limitations and concerns and, as with many types of prevention programs, it can be difficult to quantify a negative: how do you assess the violence that was averted? And there is the fact that, "threat assessment is only as good as the vigilance of a community, because it relies heavily on reporting." That points to the need for training and educating supervisors and employees alike.

If you would like to learn more about developing a threat assessment team model in your organization, we would point you to CPI's excellent and detailed article, which offers a good road map in its article, Taking Threats Seriously: Establishing a Threat Assessment Team and Developing Organizational Procedures

The article includes covers the role of policies and procedures, the role of the Threat Assessment Team (TAT), how to choose TAT members and what to cover in meetings. It also discusses incident reporting procedures, documentation, how to conduct investigations, how to assess and abate risk, and how to conduct interventions.

Your EAP should be a part of any threat assessment intervention and response plans and can also be a vital resource in defusing situations early. Be sure you know the scope and range of services that your EAP offers in violence prevention, intervention and response.

Additional Resources
Tips from an Expert: Warning Signs of Workplace Violence

Workplace Violence: Prevention & Preparation

Planning terminations that involve potentially violent employees

Violence prevention in the workplace

Employers have a key role in curbing domestic violence

Workplace Violence - resources and tools

Workplace fatalities: how many are homicides?


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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.

November 24, 2013

Beyond the headlines: the sad everyday realities of substance abuse

Substance abuse problems have been prominent of late with two examples of public figures whose drug-taking behaviors have played out in new headlines and have served as the punch lines for late night comics: Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford and Miami Congressman Marc Caputo. Of course, these are just a few of the latest and most public examples of a drama that plays out in millions of households every day. The CDC says that 8.9% of people over the age of 12 have abused illicit drugs in the last month, with another 2.7% engaging in non-medical use of a psychotherapeutic drugs. In addition, recent government statistics show a binge drinking rate of about 23%, with binge drinking defined as 5 or more drinks. Heavy drinkers - those who engage in binge drinking 5+ times a month - are estimated at 6.9%.

The conventional wisdom has long held that drug takers are seeking a high, but new research indicates that addicts may be seeking relief from emotional lows more than euphoric highs. Findings of recently published research from Rutgers University show that, "that the initial positive feelings of intoxication are short lived – quickly replaced by negative emotional responses whenever drug levels begin to fall." The study shows that drug abuse may be less about seeking euphoric highs as it is avoiding unbearable emotional lows.

As we listen to the late night jokes about Rob Ford, we are reminded of a segment by the comic and late-night talk show host, Craig Ferguson, who revealed his own struggles with alcoholism in a painfully honest and endearing monologue a number of years ago. He was moved to raise the topic some after watching Britney Spears engaging in very public drug-abuse behaviors. Where most comics saw Britney's behavior as fair game for lampooning, Ferguson saw the raw human pain of a fellow addict. If you've never seen it, it's worth the 12.5 minutes.

The sharing of personal testimonials and stories can be a powerful tool in recovery. Here are two other meaningful personal stories of addiction:

Recently deceased beloved film critic Roger Ebert: My Name is Roger, and I'm an alcoholic

A Toronto-based journalist offers an open letter to Rob Ford on the value of admitting to an addiction: From One Boozer To Another

The role of the employer
Substance abuse is an issue with high productivity losses and costs to the workplace. Even legal drugs are causing problems as prescription drugs become the new face of substance abuse and addiction. Because people spend more of their day at the workplace than any other place besides home, the employer can be a powerful ally in recovery. Maintaining gainful employment is often very important to a substance abuser, both for the ongoing income and also as a point of denial: "I go to work every day. I have no problems there."

Here are some things employers can do:

  • Consider implementing a drug-free workplace program if you don't already have one.
  • Talk about the prevalence of substance abuse at wellness and safety forums
  • Treat substance abuse issues like other illnesses. Make factual information available to employees, such as warning signs and confidential screening tests.
  • Publicize help, such as your EAP, and encourage and provide a path for self-reporting of problems.
  • Train supervisors and managers to recognize potential signs of substance abuse and how to refer potentially troubled employees for help.

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ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult issues. ESI EAP also 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 11, 2013

Why domestic violence victims don't leave

Leslie Morgan Steiner was in “crazy love” -- that is, madly in love with a man who routinely abused her and threatened her life. Steiner tells the dark story of her relationship, correcting misconceptions many people hold about victims of domestic violence, and explaining how we can all help break the silence. Leslie Morgan Steiner is a writer and outspoken advocate for survivors of domestic violence -- which includes herself

For a transcript and alternate source of the video, see this on the TED talk site.

Employers have a key role in curbing domestic violence
From a prior post on the topic, we note that because we spend so much time at work, colleagues and supervisors are often in a unique position to spot signs of domestic violence and employer can often play a critical role in directing the employee to help through referrals to an EAP or other community resource. In the past, the "none of my business" type of thinking often prevailed, but today employers know that problems at home rarely stay at home. All too often, domestic abuse comes right to the workplace:

  • Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.
  • Of the approximately 1.7 million incidents of workplace violence that occur in the US every year, 18,700 are committed by an intimate partner: a current or former spouse, lover, partner, or boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • Lost productivity and earnings due to intimate partner violence accounts for almost $1.8 billion each year.
  • Intimate partner violence victims lose nearly 8.0 million days of paid work each year - the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs and nearly 5.6 million days of household productivity.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund identifies an annotated list of seven reasons why employers should address domestic violence. Here's a quick summary:

  • Domestic violence affects many employees.
  • Domestic violence is a security and liability concern.
  • Domestic violence is a performance and productivity concern.
  • Domestic violence is a health care concern.
  • Domestic violence is a management issue.
  • Taking action in response to domestic violence works.
  • Employers can make a difference.

Some of the basic things that employers can do include:

  • Instituting a workplace zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence
  • Providing secure work environments
  • Raising awareness of the problem by educating your employee
  • Reminding employees that help is available for domestic violence
  • Training managers and supervisors to be alert for potential signs of domestic abuse
  • Having referral protocols and resources in place for employees who need help - preferably an EAP or a social service experienced in dealing with domestic abuse

Resources:
Workplaces Respond to Domestic & Sexual Violence - A National Resource Center project offers information for the benefit of those workplaces interested in providing effective responses to victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, dating violence and stalking. Resources include a Workplace Policy creation tool as well as employer-specific resources on training, a guide for supervisors, resources on threat assessments and safety and security and an extensive list of other resources for employers and for victims.

The Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence - the only national organization of its kind founded by business leaders and focused on the workplace. Since 1995, the Alliance has brought together dozens of progressive companies who exchange information, collaborate on projects, and use their influence to instigate change. The mission is to aid in the prevention of partner violence by leveraging the strength and resources of the corporate community.

For the Manager: How the Workplace can Increase Safety and Provide Support – A section from the US Office of Personnel Management’s Guide that offers advice on what to say to an employee who is faced with domestic abuse and steps you as a supervisor or manager can take to protect the employee.

Initiating a Training Program - Verizon Wireless shares its approach to educating employees about the impact of domestic violence in the workplace via a collaborative program that is accessible, cost effective and easily transferable to various company locations.

Domestic-Violence Policy - State Farm Insurance Co.'s policy on domestic violence defines the term and offers a number of ways the company assists its employees who are victims.

Warning Signs for Supervisors (PDF) Blue Shield of California Foundation has prepared documents that list some warning signs -- and some of the ways a supervisor or co-worker can help -- that indicate an employee is involved in an abusive relationship.

State Law Guides These guides track state laws and bills that can help victims of domestic or sexual violence maintain the economic security they need to address the violence in their lives

State & Territorial Coalitions Against Domestic Violence – find resources in your state.

Protecting Workers Who Are Victims of Domestic Violence

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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 10, 2013

Bad workplace of the week? Bullies with stun guns

Here's a new addition to your Employee Policy Handbook that you might have overlooked: "Don't bring tasers or stun guns into work and turn them on your coworkers." A Texas man has filed a civil suit against Fred Fincher Motors alleging that coworkers snuck up on him and zapped him with a stun gun on at least two dozen occasions over a 9 month period. Even more astonishing - he also alleges that his boss supplied the gun and filmed the incidents, which were later posted on YouTube.

(Alert: the following is a news clip so there may be ads before or after the clip)

Words fail. But we are very much in favor of bullies outing themselves by posting their malfeasance on YouTube (the hubris!) so evidence exists for the targets.

Is this a case of bullying? you be the judge - according to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI):

Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:
  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done

In a Business Week article last year, Taming the Workplace Bully, Adam Piore explores the topic of workplace bullying and includes this quote:

“In a lot of workplaces, it’s just considered part of daily workplace culture,” says Joe Grimm, professor of journalism at Michigan State University. “Browbeating, intimidation, cutting people off, and being the loudest in the room with an opinion.” In a recent book he edited, The New Bullying: How Social Media, Social Exclusion, Laws and Suicide Have Changed Our Definition of Bullying, Grimm reveals how bullying has some professionals living in debilitating fear of the office, which may sound familiar for viewers of The Devil Wears Prada, the thinly veiled account of working at Vogue, or the junior analysts at Goldman Sachs (GS) who were once forced to dress up like Teletubbies. “When bullies get out of school,” says Grimm, “they don’t stop being bullies.”

Other egregious behaviors in the news
It's been an active news cycle for bad bosses lately. We're not done processing the shocking sexual harassment charges filed against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner - at our most recent count, 14 women had come forward with charges. The accounts are stunning and one theme recurs: the initial reluctance of the targets to speak out. Among the reasons related for not having come forward before: they were humiliated and felt shame; they feared retaliation; they feared they might not be believed; they questioned if they had inadvertently sent signals that were misinterpreted; and they were concerned that bringing allegations might be more deleterious to their own careers than that of the offender. Some of the targeted women held power positions themselves - yest even with executive status, were reluctant to come forward. It's a living demonstration of how much courage it can take to come forward with sexual harassment charges in the workplace, and the dynamic for making charges of bullying must be similar: humiliation, fear of reprisal, concern that allegations will be made and nothing will be done.

With sexual harassment or discrimination, there is at least some legal recourse for protected classes. For targets of bullying, particularly targets who are not in a protected class, there may be little legal recourse: currently, there are no state or federal laws prohibiting workplace bullying. There are some initiatives trying to change that, most prominent being the Healthy Workplace Bill. Since 2003, 25 states have introduced the HWB. Although no laws have been enacted, 15 bills are currently active in 11 states.

Don't wait for a law or a lawsuit to come calling at your workplace: make sure that you have policies that reinforce a respectful work climate and prohibit harassment, discrimination, bullying, intimidation, violence, weapons, and fighting. Train managers and supervisors to recognize and deal with unacceptable behaviors - in themselves and those they supervise. In addition to policies and trainings. offer stress and anger management resources and enlist the help of your EAP in tackling these issues.


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esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

August 4, 2013

Firing 101

Fire in haste, repent at leisure. We are taking some liberties here in summarizing the first in a series of four excellent videos by HR Daily Advisor Editor Stephen Bruce. Together, they serve as a primer (or a refresher) on everyone's least favorite business responsibility: firing an employee. We were delighted to find these four clips on the blog, one of our regular reads. We've posted the first two here - you can click through for transcripts or to view the remaining two videos in the series.

HR Daily Advisor Firing 101 Part 1: Stop, Listen & Look
From a legal standpoint, terminations are the most dangerous actions managers take. In this video, HR Daily Advisor Editor Stephen Bruce talks about what you need to know to reduce your risk of lawsuits.

Transcript page: Firing 101 Part 1—Stop, Listen and Look

HR Daily Advisor Firing 101 Part 2—Investigate Before You Terminate

Firing an employee is a serious step. You may want to conduct an investigation to be sure of your position. In the second video of the Firing 101 series, Steve Bruce shares the key questions to ask. Look out for the next videos in our series: “Audit for fairness,” and “Let a group decide.”

Transcript page: Investigate Before You Terminate

Video clips and transcripts for parts 3 and 4 in the series can be viewed on the HR Daily Advisor site.

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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.

July 18, 2013

A Memoir from Inside Alzheimer's Disease

"I am writing this blog to dispel some of the fear and embarrassment that surrounds Alzheimer's."

David Hilfiker is a 68-year-old retired physician who lives in Washington DC with his wife. In September 2012, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He talks about the onset of his symptoms and diagnosis, his fears, and his coming to acceptance in a speech that he made at a medical conference: My Alzheimer's.

He also keeps a blog entitled Watching the Lights Go Out which, despite the gloomy title, is actually a very rich journey filled with honesty, love, and hope. Here is his description of his intent:

"This blog is the story of my day-to-day life with this illness and my reflections upon it. We tend to be scared of Alzheimer's or embarrassed by it. We see it as the end of life rather than a phase of life with all its attendant opportunities for growth, learning, and relationships. We see only the suffering and miss the joy. We experience only the disappearing cognitive abilities and ignore the beautiful things that can appear.
I will not sugarcoat my experiences, however. I wish I did not have Alzheimer's and would sacrifice a lot to be rid of it. But that's not one of the possibilities. So I will welcome this period of my life. Paradoxically it has so far been one of the happiest periods in my life."

Having been a doctor, he is an informed observer of his own condition. If you or someone you love suffers from Alzheimer's disease, his observations and thoughts might be helpful and inspirational. Viewing his illness as another phase of life to be experienced is a refreshing approach.

Can Alzheimer's Disease be prevented?
What if you or a loved one are experiencing some cognitive decline as you age? Well, some forgetfulness is par for the course. Our prior post Normal aging or dementia - how can you distinguish? talks about this issue and offers some articles and tools for learning more about both aging and Alzheimer's.

One thing is certain: Don't rely on online diagnostic tests, which are very unreliable. If you are concerned, visit your physician -- early detection can be beneficial - medications may be available to ameliorate symptoms, or there may be an opportunity to participate in clinical trials.Plus, it can be empowering to participate in planning family matters and later care options should the need arise.

Recent studies say that eating healthy and exercising both mind and body are the best preventative measures one can take. Some studies also suggest that keeping cognitively engaged through work and social activities can "help stave off degenerative disease." AARP suggest some best practices to Age Proof Your Brain. We all age so there's nos stopping that. And like it or not, we will all one day die of something -- but how we live until that point and choices that we make can determine the quality of those years.

Caregivers: If you are or know a caregiver you may find this post on Caregiver Resources helpful.


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ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources 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. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

July 3, 2013

Workplace Violence: Prevention & Preparation

HR managers seek help from our counselors for any number of employment practice issues, but one issue that surfaces frequently and that is much on the mind of supervisors and managers is workplace violence. Often, the topic centers around dealing with potentially violent employees, preparing for a difficult termination, or developing a violence prevention program. Sometimes, we are called in to counsel employees and supervisors alike after an incidence of violence.

We should note that violence by "organizational insiders" - usually an employee or ex-employee - is only one type of violence and it is not even the most common type of work-related violence. More common are violent acts perpetrated by strangers, such as robberies. Violent acts are also often perpetrated by people the worker is providing service to, such as might be encountered by police, healthcare workers, or teachers in the course of their work responsibilities. Domestic violence that spills over into the workplace is another type of work violence, and one that managers often have to deal with.

Recently, we found a found an excellent 4-part series by Laura Walter, senior editor of EHS on Practical Preparedness for Workplace Violence. Here are links and short summaries for each of the four installments.

Part 1: Warning Signs
Watch for these warning signs to protect your business from workplace violence.

Part 2: Disciplinary Mistakes
In the second part of this workplace violence series, an expert outlines six common mistakes employers make when disciplining or terminating employees.

Part 3: When Domestic Violence Becomes Workplace Violence
Domestic violence isn’t just a personal problem – it bleeds into the workplace, too. In the third installment of this workplace violence series, a legal expert explains why domestic violence is a threat to the American workplace.

Part 4: Top 10 Action Steps
In this final installment in EHS Today’s special workplace violence series, Brent O’Bryan shares 10 action steps employers can take to address workplace violence.

Prior related HR Web Cafe posts
These posts also focus primarily on prevention of violence by organizational insiders. To find resources for other types of workplace violence, use the search box in the right-hand sidebar.

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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.

June 23, 2013

Depression doesn't have to be unbearable for your employees

The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health has teamed up with Employers Health Coalition to shine a spotlight on depression in the workplace. The primary message: When you're depressed at work, it can feel like you're lost in the woods alone. But there's help, and you can find your way out." They've produced Right Direction, an informative and useful site that is worth sharing with your employees. And the site offers several reasons why you may want to do that:

"Did you know mental illnesses like depression cause more days of work loss and work impairment than any other chronic health conditions, including arthritis, asthma, back pain, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease?
Individuals with depression are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease, twice as likely to have a stroke – and more than four times as likely to die within six months of having a heart attack."

The site theme plays on the word "bear" using the animal as a creative theme. It includes a variety of plain-speaking tools to address the issue - among them, an an interactive map of common symptoms and a self-assessment tool. We liked the chart comparing how depression might feel to one who suffers from it vs. how that may be perceived by others:

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The site also includes FAQs, resources for how and where to get help (Note: among the help suggestions is using your company Employee Assistance Program), and resources for employers, including a "Field Guide" with communication materials, powerpoints, and an implementation plan to help you get the message out.

Prior posts on the topic of depression

June 16, 2013

Sleeping on the job

Last week, one of the alternate jurors in the Whitey Bulger trial became a Twitter sensation when he fell asleep during opening statements in the first day of the trial. He is not alone in nodding off on the job - in a recent article on workers falling asleep on the job, Quentin Fottrell offers more recent examples. He cites a 2011 Harvard Medical Study that puts the cost of insomnia at $2,280 per worker per year in reduced productivity, equating to 11 work days lost per worker.

He suggests that longer hours, staying connected 24/7 and stress are contributing factors to this problem. Family issues such as a new baby or caretaking may also contribute to fatigue. And of course, isolated incidents of sleepiness might just be the result of staying up too late - many employers gird for a drop in productivity with the so-called "Super-Bowl effect" on the Monday following the big game.

Fatigue may also be related to the nature of the work, such as repititious work, late night shifts, or long shifts. Experts refer to the syndrome of Shift Work Sleep Disorder and point to numerous high-profile fatal accidents in which sleeping on the job or sleep deprivation were cited as major factors. Sleepiness on the job may also be related to illness or a health condition, poor nutrition, lack of exercise.

Some companies are addressing the problem by having napping rooms or encouraging power naps. And the sleepy people themselves are concerned and grappling with the issue. Sleep seekers spend millions each year buying noise machines, pharmaceuticals and better pillows. What really works? 10 things the sleep-aid industry won’t tell you offers a fascinating and dare we say eye-opening look at these "solutions" and suggests:

"...doctors say some of the most effective techniques for improving sleep — such as exercising, not eating before bed, limiting screen time at night and getting natural light in the morning — are free. The Consumer Reports analysis also recommended behavioral therapy, including relaxation techniques and limiting time in bed, for people with chronic insomnia. “The best solution is to make sure that you follow the rules of biology,” says Dr. Larry Kline, medical director for the Viterbi Family Sleep Center at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego."


The prevalence of fatigue on the job is just another reason why wellness programs are so important. In addition to addressing contributing factors such as diet, nutrition, and inactivity, a good wellness program should also offer resources for stress reduction and relaxation.

For more resources on sleep and fatigue, see:



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ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources 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. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

May 30, 2013

Sir Patrick Stewart's powerful message about domestic violence

Sir Patrick Stewart is distinguished British actor, much beloved for his Star Trek and X-Men roles, among others. He's recognized for his strong and authoritative voice, a talent that has brought him into high demand for voice-over acting. Less well known but perhaps much more importantly, he has spent years lending his strong voice to the campaign against domestic violence - something that he himself experienced as a child and that in recent years he speaks about openly.

Recently, he was participating in an event called Comicpalooza when an attendee asked him about his work in the area of domestic violence. His response to her is exceptionally personal and moving - it's well worth a few minutes of your time to see it.

Stewart talks about how domestic violence colored his own life. Today, he speaks out about the topic for Amnesty International and for the United Nation's Million Man Pledge campaign to end violence against women. In Stewart's own words, "The people who could do most to improve the situation of so many women and children are in fact men. It's in our hands to stop violence to women."

Here are some other videos with Patrick speaking about his experiences with domestic violence.

He speaks about the way that in times gone by, this was a hidden problem - no one spoke up, there was an unspoken code of silence to ignore things. We've talked before about how domestic violence is an issue that frequently spills over into the workplace - we've spoken before about how employers can play a key role in cubing domestic violence.

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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.

May 21, 2013

Tornado Recovery Resources

Our hearts go out to the people in Oklahoma who are suffering such severe tornado damage. The people in these communities are no strangers to trouble - this tornado took a very similar path to May 3, 1999 tornado.

We've compiled some disaster response resources that may be helpful.

People search
Let people know you are OK, search for loved ones: Safe & Well

How to help

Sadly, there is no shortage of fraudulent opportunists willing to take advantage of people's generous nature. Be particularly careful of solicitations via phone, email, or social networking sites. The FTC Charity Checklist offers tips on how to avoid scams. You can also check out more a charity in advance through the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

Shelters & Housing
The University of Oklahoma is opening up spaces in Housing for the displaced families! Call 405-325-2511

To search for open shelters: text SHELTER and a Zip Code to 43362 (4FEMA)
For example, if you lived in Washington, DC you would text: SHELTER 20472
Before you go to a shelter, always check with your local emergency management agency for availability & services. Also: Search for Red Cross Shelters

FEMA Housing Portal - help for individuals and families who have been displaced by a disaster to find a place to live. The portal consolidates rental resources identified and provided by federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Veterans Administration (VA), private organizations, and the public, to help individuals and families find available rental units in their area.

Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC)
Search by texting: To search for open Disaster Recovery Centers, text: DRC and a Zip Code to 43362 (4FEMA). For example, if you lived in Washington, DC you would text: DRC 20472

DisasterAssistance.Gov - information on how you might be able to get help from the U.S. Government before, during and after a disaster. Learn what help you might be able to apply for from 17 government agencies in Spanish and English, apply for help from FEMA online, reduce the number of forms you have to fill out, shorten the time it takes to apply for aid, check the progress of your applications online and more. Fill out a questionnaire to learn which assistance programs you may be eligible for and apply for assistance.

Telephone Helplines
If your employer has an EAP, that's a good place to start. But if you or someone you know needs immediate help and you don't have an EAP, here are some resources:

  • SAMSHA's Disaster Distress helpline - Call 1-800-985-5990 or Text TalkWithUs to 66746 and TTY for Deaf/Hearing Impaired: 1-800-846-8517
  • Question about Government Services - Call 1-800-FED INFO (1-800-333-4636) if you have questions about government services, but don't know what agency to contact.
  • American Red Cross - Call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) for information on evacuation, shelter, and assistance.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish-speaking callers)
  • Clean-up hazards & safety - call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636), TTY 1-888-232-6348, for information on preventing illness and injury. Available 24/7 in English and Spanish
  • To report oil,chemical, or hazardous substance releases or spills, call the National Response Center 800-424-8802
  • Food Safety - Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at: 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or Email to mphotline.fsis@usda.gov
  • Lost Bank Records, ATM Cards, Reach Your Bank and More Call 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342) TDD 1-800-925-4618
  • National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline 866-720-5721 from the Department of Justice
  • Small Business Administration Business Disaster Loans
    Call 1-800-659-2955 TTY 1-800-877-8339 for business disaster loan program information.

Mental and Emotional Health
Coping with Disasters - The emotional toll that disaster brings can sometimes be even more devastating than the financial strains of damage and loss of home, business, or personal property. This FEMA resource offers information on understanding common human reactions to disaster events and recognizing signs of disaster related stress and strategies for easing stress. Also, information on helping lids cope with disaster and typical children's reactions to disaster by age.

Common Reactions After Trauma - Most people have some kind of stress reaction after a trauma. Having such a reaction has nothing to do with personal weakness. Stress reactions may last for several days or even a few weeks. For most people, if symptoms occur, they will slowly decrease over time. All kinds of trauma survivors commonly experience stress reactions. This is true for veterans, children, and disaster rescue or relief workers. If you understand what is happening when you or someone you know reacts to a traumatic event, you may be less fearful and better able to handle things.

Tips for Survivors of a Traumatic Event - Managing Your Stress (PDF) - When you are exposed to traumatic events such as natural disaster, be aware of how these events can affect you personally. Most people show signs of stress after the event. These signs are normal. Over time, as your life gets back to normal, they should decrease. After a stressful event, monitor your own physical and mental health. Know the signs of stress in yourself and your loved ones. Know how to relieve stress. And know when to get help.

Self-Care After Disasters - Natural and technological disasters impact survivors, bereaved family members, witnesses to the event, and friends of those involved. Rescue workers, emergency medical and mental health care providers, and volunteers are also affected. Disasters can also impact members of the media, as well as citizens of the community, the country, and the world. Disasters can cause a number of different stress reactions in those affected. There are many steps you can take to manage stress after a disaster.

Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions - When trauma survivors take direct action to cope with their stress reactions, they put themselves in a position of power. Active coping with the trauma makes you begin to feel less helpless.

Effects of Disasters: Risk and Resilience Factors - Learn about factors that make it more likely that someone will have more severe or longer- lasting stress reactions after disasters

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
An easy-to-read booklet on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that explains what it is, when it starts, how long it lasts, and how to get help.

Talking with kids about disasters
Dramatic images repeated on the news or talked about at school can be upsetting to adults, but even more so to kids who may not have the life experience to put things in perspective. This can lead to anxiety or fear about many of the things being discussed: natural disasters, disruption, loss, and death. We've put together a few resources for parents and teachers to help discuss these things with kids.

Other Practicalities
Medical Device and Hurricane Emergencies - During natural disasters, medical devices may be exposed to fluctuating power, contaminants, or unusual levels of heat or humidity. These resources offer information about using medical devices during and following emergency situations due to hurricanes.

Replace your vital documents - links to information about replacing military service records, passports, birth, marriage & death certificates, and other important records. It includes links to information about restoring damaged documents and money.

IRS: Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief for Individuals and Businesses - Special tax law provisions may help taxpayers and businesses recover financially from the impact of a disaster, especially when the federal government declares their location to be a major disaster area. Depending on the circumstances, the IRS may grant additional time to file returns and pay taxes. Both individuals and businesses in a federally declared disaster area can get a faster refund by claiming losses related to the disaster on the tax return for the previous year, usually by filing an amended return.

Disaster Recovery Scams – The FTC talks about common disaster recovery scams.

April 16, 2013

Resources in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

Google resources related to the Boston Marathon explosions

• Boston Mayor's Hotline for families of victims: 617-635-4500
• Boston Police line for witnesses who may have information: 800-494-8477
Red Cross Safe and Well

Live blog at the Boston Globe with news updates and information about closures

The Boston Marathon Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On

American Psychological Association - Managing traumatic stress: Coping with terrorism

Common Reactions After Trauma

Acts of Violence, Terrorism, or War: Triggers for Veterans

Talking to Kids

Guide for Parents and Educators: Tips for Talking to Children and Youth After Traumatic Events (PDF)

Children's Age-Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event

Talking with Kids about Tough Issues

First responders

Marathon medical tent ‘transformed into trauma unit’

Disaster Rescue and Response Workers

Rookie first responders traumatized by…trauma - Experience helps police officers, firefighters cope


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ESI-Logo.jpg A good EAP is an important resource for helping people to deal with or cope in the aftermath of traumatic events, offering important support resources for your managers and help for troubled employees. In addition, ESI EAP offers trained response teams for on-site trauma intervention. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

February 21, 2013

Planning terminations that involve potentially violent employees

In another sad chapter of Minnesota's deadliest workplace shooting, Accent Signage Systems is being sued by the family of one of its employees, a deceased victim, for being grossly negligent.

In October 2012, managers at Accent Signage fired employee Andrew Engeldinger, who then shot those managers and several other coworkers before killing himself. Six employees of Accent Signage - including the company owner - were killed in the rampage.

The lawsuit states that the events were "reasonably foreseeable based on Engeldinger's past incidents of employment misconduct and his known propensity for abuse and violence" and state that the company should have taken greater precautions when firing the shooter. Engeldinger's estate is also a party to the suit.

Looking back at a termination gone nightmarishly wrong, it's easy to point fingers or to say what should have been done differently. As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20 vision. Sadly, in this case, the people who made the decisions about how the termination was handled paid with their lives for those decisions.

As with any mass shooting, there's a lot of coverage of the event online - his parents said that they saw their son's descent into paranoia and mental illness, but were powerless to affect change or get help. Coworkers describe a moody, quiet loner. The victim whose family brought suit had spoken of his unease, saying that Engeldinger was his nemesis. At least one post-event report stated that a search of Engeldinger's work computer revealed he had done much of his research and shopping for weapons and ammunition while on the job - a chilling detail, if true. Yet the Star Tribune notes that, "Engeldinger's court and employment records show no history of physical threats or violence before the shootings -- only repeated warnings for being late to work and being verbally abrasive with colleagues."

There are so many issues involved in these cases: the plight of family members who watch a loved one's terrible struggle; the grief of survivors, and the long road of recovery for witnesses; the issue of mental illness and the way it is handled in the workplace and in society at large; the issue of guns, and the increase in laws that prevent an employer from forbidding that guns be kept in cars in a company parking lot; and the related legal issues, lawsuits, and human resource issues. For today's post, we focus on prevention. If we learn nothing from such tragic events, then they are doubly senseless.

Firing a volatile and violent employee
Firing an employee is never a comfortable event, not in the best of circumstances. Managers never truly know how someone will react. We've blogged about best practices for this tough responsibility before. When dealing with troubled employees, there are special precautions that should be taken - particularly if there is the merest hint that things could turn badly or violently.

Long before a situation reaches the level where a termination of a potentially volatile employee is required, there are steps that should have been taken. These start with best hiring practices and a widely promoted and well-enforced policy of zero-tolerance for violence.

In addition, from the outset of employment, managers should be alert for red flags that may indicate a propensity to violence. Some of these include:

  • A chronic inability to get along with fellow employees
  • Mood swings and anger control issues
  • Expressions of paranoia or persecution. Being a "victim"
  • A history of problems with past jobs and and/or personal relationships
  • An inability to get beyond minor setbacks or disputes at work
  • A fascination with guns, weapons or violent events
  • A sudden deterioration in work habits or personal grooming
  • Signs of stress, depression, or suicidal ideation
  • A major life problem, such as divorce or legal problems

If red flags surface, or at the first sign of any anger issues that do not rise to the disciplinary level of termination, an employee should be referred to the company's Employee Assistance Program for anger management counseling and for an assessment so that any underlying mental health or personal issues may be identified and addressed. A Fitness for Duty exam is another tool that might be used if behavior indicates potential mental health issues. (See the article by James J. McDonald in "Additional Resources" for more on this.)

Even when all best practices occur in hiring and ongoing supervision, a termination is sometimes inevitable. Minnesota labor and employment law attorney Marylee Abrams states that having a strategic plan when terminating an employee can minimize the risk of violence. She offers several good suggestions in her article.

Other suggestions we've compiled from various sources include:

  • Consider having a professional threat assessment performed
  • Consider using a neutral manager or outside security consultant to carry out the termination
  • If there is manager or supervisor who has been the object of threats or anger, that person should not be the person to conduct the termination
  • Have security nearby - not in the same office, but close enough to hear signs of a problem and to act
  • Do not take a break. There are numerous instances of an employee asking for a bathroom break or time to compose him- or herself, and using the break to retrieve weapons
  • Wait until the end of the workday to terminate, if possible. This protects the dignity of the person being fired and minimizes the number of employees on hand should a situation escalate
  • Minimize any reasons why the employee would have to revisit the workplace. Mail a check; have uncollected belongings sent to the person's home via a delivery service
  • Allow the person as much dignity as possible, but be brief and to the point. Do not get into a back and forth
  • Emphasize any severance benefits and outsourcing help that may be available. Some organizations decide they will not contest unemployment or offer the option of resigning.

Additional Resources
We offer a few resources that we think are particularly good on this important topic.

Terminating the Violent Employee (PDF) - by James J. McDonald, Jr., a partner in the Irvine office of Fisher & Phillips LLP. He offers a sample workplace policy and excellent advice rooted in the legal perspective.

Deadly Terminations and How to Avoid Them - IRMI article by James N. Madero, Ph.D. of Violence Prevention International. He presents deadly scnarios and ways that risk might have been mitigated.

Firing the Violent or Threatening Employee Without Being Fired On (PDF) - Ten pages of advice from Steven C. Millwee, author and expert on workplace violence.

Eight Tips for Meeting with a Potentially Violent Employee - these tips from attorney Robert Bettac are not necessarily aimed for a termination meeting, but offer good advice.

Prior Related Blog Posts

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ESI-Logo.jpg A good EAP is a vital component in your violence prevention program, offering important support resources for your managers and help for troubled employees. In addition, ESI EAP offers trained response teams for on-site trauma intervention. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

February 8, 2013

Blizzard 2013 - Emergency Resources

About 50 million people are in the path of what is being described as a potential record-breaking blizzard, one for the history books. Meteorologists are predicting that New England will be hit with one to two feet of snow, perhaps even more, between now and Saturday. Other northeast states - New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are also expected to have severe storm conditions. Coastal states do not need these woes so soon on the heels of super-storm Sandy.

Governors and state authorities are unified in their advice: unless you are an emergency worker, stay off the roads. More than 3,000 flights have been cancelled already, with more expected.

Hopefully, you are hunkered down safely at home. We've compiled some tips from the experts to help you weather the storm and stay safe.

State Offices of Emergency Management

Connecticut
Maine
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
Vermont

Weather.gov - Active Weather alerts - enter your zip code for local alerts

Before the storm

  • Have emergency phone numbers handy to report power outages, to call for emergencies.
  • Charge your cell phones, laptops, and any other chargeable devices
  • Have flashlights, batteries and emergency supplies accessible.
  • Have an emergency kit ready in case you need to evacuate the premises quickly.
  • Fill tubs with water for toilet flushing. Keep a bucket handy.
  • Store bottled water for drinking and washing
  • Be sure you know how to switch gas valves, water valves, and circuit breakers on and off.

In a power outage

  • Report the outage - don't assume your neighbors have done so
  • Use flashlights, not candles.
  • DO NOT use a generator or charcoal grill inside a home or garage - due to toxic fumes, these should only be used outdoors.
  • If using kerosene heaters, ensure they are ventilated to avoid toxic fumes. Keep heaters at least three feet from flammable objects. Do not refuel in the house.
  • Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing
  • Perishable items from the refrigerator can be kept cool for about 4 hours if the refrigerator is left closed.
  • Use refrigerated foods first, frozen foods second and non-perishable foods last.
  • Layer clothing to keep body heat.
  • To save heat. close off unneeded rooms, cover windows at night and stuff towels or rags in the cracks under doors.
  • To flush a toilet with a bucket of water, lift the lid and the seat, and pour an entire bucket of water in as rapidly as possible. The pressure should cause the toilet to flush

After the storm

  • Avoid driving unless you have to so that the roads can be cleared.
  • Help dig out fire hydrants and storm drains in your neighborhood.
  • Be alert for children playing or sledding in snow.
  • Ensure that your car's exhaust system has been cleared of snow.

Useful resources


December 28, 2012

First Responders – Stress & Grief in the Aftermath of Crises

The holiday season always presents special challenges for first responders but this December has been particularly difficult: first, the devastating horror and grief of responding to the Sandy Hook Elementary School followed by the senseless gunning down of firefighters responding to a blaze in Webster, New York resulting in the deaths of two firefighters and another two being wounded. Firefighters are certainly no strangers to Line of Duty deaths, giving their lives to save others – but being led into a violent ambush is indeed an uncommon and tragic occurrence.

Colleagues, communities, and surviving family members struggle to cope with the aftermath of these sad and tragic events. We've compiled support resources specifically aimed at first responders and their families:

Supporting Survivors During Line-of-Duty Deaths / Injuries

Rescuing the Rescuer: Critical Incident Stress Management

Remember to save yourself: The importance of managing critical incident stress (PDF)

Debriefing the Trauma Team: Taking Care of Your Own

Critical Incident Stress Management

Dealing with Workplace Violence: A Guide for Agency Planners

Rescue Workers – Psychological Aftermath of Disaster Rescue and Response

Dealing with the Death of a Co-Worker

Recovering from the Death of a Co-Worker

Grief in the workplace: Tips for supervisors

Complicated Grief

Sandy Hook Elementary School: Trauma Response Resources - Help for Parents, Teachers & the Community

National Center for PTSD
-- Common Reactions After Trauma
-- Acts of Violence, Terrorism, or War: Triggers for Veterans
-- Mobile APP: PTSD Coach

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Two Years Later: The Prolonged Traumatic Impact of a Fire Disaster

When Serving Becomes Surviving: PTSD and Suicide in the Fire Service

Support Networks
National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
-- Resources for Newly Bereaved Families of Fallen Firefighters
-- Fire Service Survivors Network

IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Family Support after Line-of-Duty Deaths Guidelines

First Responder Support Network (FRSN)

Green Cross – Academy of Traumatology

Survivors of Homicide

International Critical Incident Stress Foundation

The American Psychological Association offers the following tips for managing distress in the aftermath of a shooting.

You may be struggling to understand how a shooting could occur and why such a terrible thing would happen. There may never be satisfactory answers to these questions.

We do know, though, that it is typical for people to experience a variety of emotions following such a traumatic event. These feelings can include shock, sorrow, numbness, fear, anger, disillusionment, grief and others. You may find that you have trouble sleeping, concentrating, eating or remembering even simple tasks. This is common and should pass after a while. Over time, the caring support of family and friends can help to lessen the emotional impact and ultimately make the changes brought about by the tragedy more manageable. You may feel that the world is a more dangerous place today than you did yesterday. It will take some time to recover your sense of equilibrium.

Meanwhile, you may wonder how to go on living your daily life. You can strengthen your resilience — the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity — in the days and weeks ahead.

Talk about it. Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen to your concerns. Receiving support and care can be comforting and reassuring. It often helps to speak with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel so different or alone.

Strive for balance. When a tragedy occurs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance empowers you and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.

Turn it off and take a break. You may want to keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in whether it’s from the Internet, television, newspapers or magazines. While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress. The images can be very powerful in reawakening your feeling of distress. Also, schedule some breaks to distract yourself from thinking about the incident and focus instead on something you enjoy. Try to do something that will lift your spirits.

Honor your feelings. Remember that it is common to have a range of emotions after a traumatic incident. You may experience intense stress similar to the effects of a physical injury. For example, you may feel exhausted, sore or off balance.

Take care of yourself. Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest and build physical activity into your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress. In addition, alcohol and drugs may intensify your emotional or physical pain. Establish or re-establish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.

Help others or do something productive. Locate resources in your community on ways that you can help people who have been affected by this incident, or have other needs. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better, too.

If you have recently lost friends or family in this or other tragedies. Remember that grief is a long process. Give yourself time to experience your feelings and to recover. For some, this might involve staying at home; for others it may mean getting back to your daily routine. Dealing with the shock and trauma of such an event will take time. It is typical to expect many ups and downs, including "survivor guilt" — feeling bad that you escaped the tragedy while others did not.

For many people, using the tips and strategies mentioned above may be sufficient to get through the current crisis. At times, however an individual can get stuck or have difficulty managing intense reactions. A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living.

Recovering from such a tragic event may seem difficult to imagine. Persevere and trust in your ability to get through the challenging days ahead. Taking the steps in this guide can help you cope at this very difficult time.

This tip sheet was made possible with help from the following APA members: Dewey Cornell, PhD, Richard A. Heaps, PhD, Jana Martin, PhD, H. Katherine O’Neill, PhD, Karen Settle, PhD, Peter Sheras, PhD, Phyllis Koch-Sheras, PhD, and members of Division 17.

December 16, 2012

Fred Rogers talks about Tragic Events in the News

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

If you are trying to explain the terrible events of this past week to children, we've included several resources in the post below. But who better than beloved children's expert, Mr. Rogers? See more advice here: Fred Rogers talks about Tragic Events in the News

December 14, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary School: Trauma Response Resources

Help for Parents, Teachers & the Community

Our hearts go out to the people of Newtown who suffered such a horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The violence of events is terrible and made more so by the fact that most of the victims were children. Human-triggered disasters are particularly difficult to cope with and recover from.

While everyone is disturbed by such a sudden and terrible set of events, some may feel and react to the news more intensely than others. Reactions may be exacerbated as stories emerge about the horrific attacks and we learn more about the details of the violence and the personal stories of victims and their families. As memorials occur, we are exposed to the grief and raw reactions of survivors and grieving families. Events become more personal. Some of the people for whom this might trigger a heightened level of grief, stress, or anxiety include:

  • People who were involved in the event – Students, teachers, school staff, parents and relatives of those directly involved. That would, of course, encompass those who suffered the death of a loved one in the event. Children and classmates are also of particular concern.
  • People with a direct connection to the events – This would encompass townspeople and neighbors, and could also extend to any who have some personal association with Newtown, such as people with friends or relatives who live there or former students of the school.
  • People who have been a victim of violence themselves - This might encompass people who were prior victims of violence or assault, people who were held hostage, people who have been part of random shootings, or people who lost loved ones to random violence. The events might rekindle memories, grief, loss, fear and heightened anxiety.
  • People who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - This might include victims of 9/11, survivors of other shootings, veterans, or many others who experienced trauma and are not able to get beyond it. The events might trigger heightened memories, fear, anxiety, anger, stress, or disruption of eating or sleeping habits, among other things.
  • Children and young people. Violent events can be particularly frightening to children, and this event even more so because it included the specific targeting of children. The sudden and random nature of events may be terribly upsetting and threaten to a child's sense of security. Some children may be intensely fearful of their own safety or the safety of loved ones.

Responding to events

  • Be sensitive to others and how they experience events. People handle stress and grief differently, and we don't always know what experiences others have had that might intensify a reaction. While some may hear such news and move on, others need time to process and react. Don't assume everyone feels things the same way that you do - be sensitive to those around you and let them express their feelings.
  • Limit exposure to gruesome details in the news. The 24-hour nature of the Internet and cable news mean that we can be bombarded with nonstop news and images of a disastrous event. This continual exposure can exacerbate anxiety and fear, particularly for children.
  • Take positive action. When violent events occur, it can shake our faith and trust in our fellow man. Counter these feeling by spending time with family and friends. It can also help to do something to reduce the feelings of helplessness that many experience in the face of such events: Help others. Give blood. Organize of take part in a memorial activity. Write letters. Make a donation. Volunteer.
  • Consider counseling. If you or somebody else is having a particularly hard time coping with these events, counseling with a professional may be in order. Signs that you or a loved one may need help getting past this might include sleeplessness, heightened anxiety or phobias, and preoccupation with details of events.

Dealing with Children's Grief and Fear

In addition to the children who were directly affected by events, news of this frightening tragedy will be difficult for all kids to understand. The following resources offer some guidance.

Helping kids deal with the aftermath of difficult events

  • Limit your child's exposure to the news. Make sure that news about violent events is not playing over and over in the background on radios or TV. Watch news with your kids and discuss events and their feelings about things.

  • When frightening events occur, watch your own reaction when children are nearby. When adults react dramatically, emotionally or fearfully, it can be very unsettling for children, who take cues from adults. While you should be truthful in your feelings, be careful not to let your behavior shatter their sense of safety and security.

  • Give comfort and reassurance. Allow children to express fear and sadness, don't dismiss bad feelings. Encourage questions so you can understand their fears. They may be feeling vulnerable themselves, or they may fear losing parents or siblings that they depend on and love.

  • Emphasize safety. Let children know that while sad and bad things do indeed happen, they are rare events. Most people are good. Reassure them that you will take care of them and keep them safe, and that police and teachers will help to look out for their safety, too. Use this as a time to reinforce safety rules.

  • Channel things in a positive direction whenever possible. Point out good things, such as the heroism and bravery of police and doctors and the kindness of the people in the community. Use bad events as a springboard to reinforce gratitude and appreciation for life; the importance of kindness and empathy, the importance of helping others.

  • Take positive action. We all feel helpless in the face of terrible events, children even more so. Encourage your child to take an action, such as making a donation, writing a letter, going to a church service, or leaving flowers or mementos at a memorial.

  • Ensure that your communications are age appropriate. Young children don't have a clear understanding of death, even if they say the words, so events may not affect them much; teens might suppress reaction entirely in a misguided attempt to appear cool or jaded. See links below for more on age-related reactions and communications.

  • Keep an eye on things to ensure that they adjust. Watch for regression, clinging, hyperactivity in young children; at any age, kids who are anxious could exhibit sleep or eating disturbances. Teens or young adults may be obsessed with details of events, Watch how your kids play, how they talk about things to peers. If signs of disturbance persist, they may need the help of a professional so they don't stay "stuck" in anxieties or fear.

Dealing with Trauma

Grief in the workplace: Tips for supervisors
As an EAP, one of the most common situations we deal with is grief and loss. Everyone suffers death and loss at some point and everyone deals with grief differently. Grief can be all-consuming, an issue that spills over into the workplace long after the precipitating event has passed, particularly if the loss was of a child or a spouse. Supervisors and managers are often uncomfortable in dealing with an employee's grief and finding the right balance between being compassionate and maintaining work productivity.

Managers can play a key role in helping a person to heal. Resuming the normal routine of work is part of the healthy recovery process. Knowing something about the various stages or behaviors that are common in the grief process can be helpful in understanding how to support grieving workers. Here are some supervisor tips for dealing with grief in the workplace:

  • Make contact with your bereaved employee as soon as possible after you learn of their loss. Offer your condolences. Listen and respect confidentiality. Expect sadness and tears.
  • Be prepared. Know your organization's policy on bereavement and personal time and be ready to explain the policy to the employee.
  • Be as flexible and negotiable as possible in allowing your employee to have the time and space to deal with their loss.
  • Arrange for back-ups and replacements necessary to cover the person’s work during their absence. Ensure that phone calls and e-mail messages are re-directed. Get information on services, funerals and memorials to the person’s colleagues in a timely fashion.
  • If appropriate, help to organize some form of group acknowledgment to support the employee, such as issuing a card or flowers, or planning group attendance at a memorial ceremony.
  • Ensure that support continues when the person returns to work. The first few days may be particularly difficult adjustment.
  • Have back-ups or a buddy system in place when the employee returns to work to provide support and check in with the employee periodically to see how he or she is doing.
  • Consider adjusting the workload. Expect productivity, but be patient and reasonable in your expectations.
  • Be sensitive to the cycle of upcoming holidays or trigger points that might be difficult for the employee.
  • Recognize that other cultures may have customs, rituals or ways of dealing with loss that differ from those to which we are accustomed.
  • Watch for warning signs of prolonged grief and ongoing performance issues, such as poor grooming, severe withdrawal, substance abuse, or other uncharacteristic behaviors might be warning signs.
  • Offer resources for professional help. As a manager, you are in a unique position to observe a need for help and to recommend assistance through a referral to your EAP or appropriate community resources.

November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Recovery Toolkit

Shelters & Housing
To search for open shelters: text SHELTER and a Zip Code to 43362 (4FEMA)
For example, if you lived in Washington, DC you would text: SHELTER 20472
Before you go to a shelter, always check with your local emergency management agency for availability & services. Also: Search for Red Cross Shelters

FEMA Housing Portal - help for individuals and families who have been displaced by a disaster to find a place to live. The portal consolidates rental resources identified and provided by federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Veterans Administration (VA), private organizations, and the public, to help individuals and families find available rental units in their area.

State Specific FEMA Disaster Relief

Google Crisis Map - Map with power outages, shelters, weather and more

Food Bank Locator

Connecticut Hurricane Sandy - Major Disaster Declaration declared on October 30, 2012
The following counties under PA-B include direct federal assistance: Fairfield County, Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation, Middlesex County, New Haven County and New London County. See also: Connecticut Office of the Governor

New Hampshire Hurricane Sandy - Emergency Declaration declared on October 30, 2012

New Jersey Hurricane Sandy - Major Disaster Declaration declared on October 30, 2012
The following counties under PA-B include direct federal assistance: Atlantic County, Cape May County, Essex County, Hudson County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Ocean County and Union County. The New Jersey Hurricane Sandy Information Center offers news updates and alerts, hotlines and resources. See also The NJ Office of Emergency Management.

New York Hurricane Sandy - Major Disaster Declaration declared on October 30, 2012
The following counties under PA-B include direct federal assistance: Bronx County, Kings County, Nassau County, New York County, Queens County, Richmond County and Suffolk County. NYC.gov posts recovery updates and news, including information about food & water distribution points, shelters, school closures, and more. Also see the NYC Google Crisis Map and the NY Governor's Office

West Virginia Hurricane Sandy - Emergency Declaration declared on October 29, 2012

Other states - State Offices and Agencies of Emergency Management

Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC)
Search by testing: To search for open Disaster Recovery Centers, text: DRC and a Zip Code to 43362 (4FEMA). For example, if you lived in Washington, DC you would text: DRC 20472

DisasterAssistance.Gov - information on how you might be able to get help from the U.S. Government before, during and after a disaster. Learn what help you might be able to apply for from 17 government agencies in Spanish and English, apply for help from FEMA online, reduce the number of forms you have to fill out, shorten the time it takes to apply for aid, check the progress of your applications online and more. Fill out a questionnaire to learn which assistance programs you may be eligible for and apply for assistance.

Telephone Helplines
If your employer has an EAP, that's a good place to start. But if you or someone you know needs immediate help and you don't have an EAP, here are some resources:

  • SAMSHA's Disaster Distress helpline - Call 1-800-985-5990 or Text TalkWithUs to 66746 and TTY for Deaf/Hearing Impaired: 1-800-846-8517
  • Question about Government Services - Call 1-800-FED INFO (1-800-333-4636) if you have questions about government services, but don't know what agency to contact.
  • American Red Cross - Call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) for information on evacuation, shelter, and assistance.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish-speaking callers)
  • Clean-up hazards & safety - call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636), TTY 1-888-232-6348, for information on preventing illness and injury. Available 24/7 in English and Spanish
  • To report oil,chemical, or hazardous substance releases or spills, call the National Response Center 800-424-8802
  • Food Safety - Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at: 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or Email to mphotline.fsis@usda.gov
  • Lost Bank Records, ATM Cards, Reach Your Bank and More Call 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342) TDD 1-800-925-4618
  • National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline 866-720-5721 from the Department of Justice
  • Small Business Administration Business Disaster Loans
    Call 1-800-659-2955 TTY 1-800-877-8339 for business disaster loan program information.

Health & Safety Resources
Prevent and Treat Other Illnesses and Injuries After a Hurricane or Flood - Excellent information from the CDC about common post-disaster hazards and how to stay safe.

What Consumers Need to Know About Food and Water Safety During Hurricanes, Power Outages, and Floods -- info from the FDA.

Be Red Cross Ready - Flood Safety Checklist (PDF)

Recover after a hurricane. - EPA information on safety around generators, after flooding, mold cleanup and more, for homes, schools, and facilities.

Medical Device and Hurricane Emergencies - During natural disasters, medical devices may be exposed to fluctuating power, contaminants, or unusual levels of heat or humidity. These resources offer information about using medical devices during and following emergency situations due to hurricanes.

Mental and Emotional Health
Coping with Disasters - The emotional toll that disaster brings can sometimes be even more devastating than the financial strains of damage and loss of home, business, or personal property. This FEMA resource offers information on understanding common human reactions to disaster events and recognizing signs of disaster related stress and strategies for easing stress. Also, information on helping lids cope with disaster and typical children's reactions to disaster by age.

Common Reactions After Trauma - Most people have some kind of stress reaction after a trauma. Having such a reaction has nothing to do with personal weakness. Stress reactions may last for several days or even a few weeks. For most people, if symptoms occur, they will slowly decrease over time. All kinds of trauma survivors commonly experience stress reactions. This is true for veterans, children, and disaster rescue or relief workers. If you understand what is happening when you or someone you know reacts to a traumatic event, you may be less fearful and better able to handle things.

Tips for Survivors of a Traumatic Event - Managing Your Stress (PDF) - When you are exposed to traumatic events such as natural disaster, be aware of how these events can affect you personally. Most people show signs of stress after the event. These signs are normal. Over time, as your life gets back to normal, they should decrease. After a stressful event, monitor your own physical and mental health. Know the signs of stress in yourself and your loved ones. Know how to relieve stress. And know when to get help.

Self-Care After Disasters - Natural and technological disasters impact survivors, bereaved family members, witnesses to the event, and friends of those involved. Rescue workers, emergency medical and mental health care providers, and volunteers are also affected. Disasters can also impact members of the media, as well as citizens of the community, the country, and the world. Disasters can cause a number of different stress reactions in those affected. There are many steps you can take to manage stress after a disaster.

Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions - When trauma survivors take direct action to cope with their stress reactions, they put themselves in a position of power. Active coping with the trauma makes you begin to feel less helpless.

Effects of Disasters: Risk and Resilience Factors - Learn about factors that make it more likely that someone will have more severe or longer- lasting stress reactions after disasters

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
An easy-to-read booklet on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that explains what it is, when it starts, how long it lasts, and how to get help.

Talking with kids about disasters
Dramatic images repeated on the news or talked about at school can be upsetting to adults, but even more so to kids who may not have the life experience to put things in perspective. This can lead to anxiety or fear about many of the things being discussed: natural disasters, disruption, loss, and death. We've put together a few resources for parents and teachers to help discuss these things with kids.

Other Practicalities
Replace your vital documents - links to information about replacing military service records, passports, birth, marriage & death certificates, and other important records. It includes links to information about restoring damaged documents and money.

IRS: Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief for Individuals and Businesses - Special tax law provisions may help taxpayers and businesses recover financially from the impact of a disaster, especially when the federal government declares their location to be a major disaster area. Depending on the circumstances, the IRS may grant additional time to file returns and pay taxes. Both individuals and businesses in a federally declared disaster area can get a faster refund by claiming losses related to the disaster on the tax return for the previous year, usually by filing an amended return.

Ways to Help
Many who are not directly affected by a disaster want to find a way to help. It's important to use caution in making donations and to donate to legitimate organizations. If you want to help the recovery effort, here are some ways that you can do that.

Post-Disaster Charity and Home Repair Scams
Sadly, there is no shortage of fraudulent opportunists willing to take advantage of people's generous nature. Be particularly careful of solicitations via phone, email, or social networking sites. The FTC Warns Consumers: Charity and Home Repair Scams May Appear After a Disaster. See the FTC Charity Checklist to get tips on how to avoid scams. You can also check out more a charity in advance through the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

Disaster Recovery Scams – The FTC talks about common disaster recovery scams.

After a Disaster: Repairing Your Home - If your house has been damaged by a natural disaster, you may look for a reputable contractor to help with repair and restoration. Inevitably, the demand for qualified contractors after a disaster usually exceeds the supply. Enter the home repair rip-off artist, who may overcharge, perform shoddy work or skip town without finishing your job. This guide from the Federal Trade Commission the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers tips for consumers who may be facing major repairs after a disaster.

Disaster Fraud – The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud discusses post-disaster contractors and adjusters fraud.

Report Fraud: The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.


September 16, 2012

Poor Worker Health = $576 Billion

According to a recent report by the Integrated Benefits Institute, poor worker health and the related loss of productivity take an estimated $576 billion annual toll (PDF). This includes absences ranging from sick days to time lost to workers' compensation claims - see the accompanying chart. IBI researchers attribute 39 percent (or $227 billion) to lost productivity associated with poor health. They say, "Lost productivity results when employees are absent due to illness or when they are underperforming due to poor health (“presenteeism”—when employees are at work but not performing at their peak)."

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IBI researchers hope that these numbers will influence political candidates to see the link between worker health and economic health, issues that are "tightly coupled" due to the impact of health on productivity. They also note that investments in worker health can pay off:

Sean Nicholson, Ph.D., a Cornell University economist and a leading researcher on the link between health and productivity, stated, “The literature shows that employers can save an average of $3 for every $1 they invest in improving their workers’ health, so there are opportunities for companies to increase profits and wages while they improve worker health."

Researchers at The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) agree that a strong American economy depends upon an able, productive workforce, but they note that the challenges have never been greater: The American workforce is rapidly aging and is increasingly burdened by epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. Middle-aged and young workers are facing earlier onset of chronic health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes.

In response, they have introduced Total Worker Health, described as "a strategy integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being." As part of this initiative, they have compiled a comprehensive suite of Employer and Employee Wellness Resources. If you are looking to strengthen your workplace wellness program, that is a good place to start.


More resources
Building a Stronger Evidence Base for Employee Wellness (PDF)
New evidence that wellness programs yield high ROI
How healthy are your employees? Track via your state's Well-Being Index


esi.JPG Learn how ESI Employee Assistance Program can help address your employees' wellbeing issues - from a wellness benefits and help for everyday work-life matters to comprehensive assistance for a wide array of potentially disruptive issues and problems.

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.

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


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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 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


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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.

July 22, 2012

A tale of mental illness from the inside

Elyn Saks offers first-hand insight into schizophrenia from the vantage of the sufferer. Despite grappling with this through her lifetime, she is Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California School of Law. In 2007, she released her autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold, in which she reveals the depth of her own schizophrenia, now controlled by drugs and therapy. As a mental health law scholar and writer, she speaks for the rights and dignity of mentally ill people.

We've included two items about this courageous woman. Below is a 15 minute video, in which she shares her experience, and tells how the intercession of family, friends and colleagues have helped her to lead a productive and happy life. She credits three reasons: excellent treatment, the help and support of many close family members and friends who help her navigate her life in the face of symptoms, and an enormously supportive workplace. We also encourage you to listen to A Scholar's Memoir of Schizophrenia, a 20 minute interview with NPR. Both are invaluable in breaking down myths, giving hope to those with mental illness, and standing as compelling testimony for intervention, underscoring how essential it is for those of us who live and work with the mentally ill learn compassionate ways to help.

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ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers help and resources for depression and other serious mental health issues. If one of your employees is grappling with mental illness or a sudden alarming change in behavior, your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

July 21, 2012

Colorado theater shooting: How to talk to your kids about Batman and the forces of evil

Friday's late night tragedy in a Colorado cinema was a rerun of a horror movie we've unfortunately seen played out all too many times before - a burst of gunfire, leaving innocent victims in its wake. In a matter of minutes, a brutal event reminds us how quickly a beautiful day can turn ugly. It's never easy to face the deaths of young people, loved ones, community members - but it is made all the harder when it is the result of a senseless act of violence perpetrated by another human. It's a betrayal of our common humanity, a violation of trust.

As disturbing and horrifying as these events are to adults, they may hold particular terror for children. Sometimes horrible acts of violence don't really surface too prominently on a child's radar - but because this shooting involved an event related to beloved pop-culture icon - ironically, a superhero who is supposed to defeat the forces of evil - it is more likely than not that these events will not escape their attention. Add to that the fact the events occurred in a venue that is familiar and seemingly safe to children and that children and young adults were among the casualties. The sudden and random nature of events could be terribly upsetting and threatening to a child's sense of security. These events may trigger intense fears for their own safety or the safety of loved ones.

How we help children deal with difficult and traumatic events is an important topic, one that shapes and arms them for an emotionally healthy adulthood. We think it's important enough that we offer these tips and resources for parents everywhere who may be struggling to explain things to children.

Helping kids deal with difficult events

  • Limit your child's exposure to the news. Make sure that news about violent events is not playing over and over in the background on radios or TV. Watch news with your kids and discuss events and their feelings about things.

  • When frightening events occur, watch your own reaction when children are nearby. When adults react dramatically, emotionally or fearfully, it can be very unsettling for children, who take cues from adults. While you should be truthful in your feelings, be careful not to let your behavior shatter their sense of safety and security.

  • Give comfort and reassurance. Allow children to express fear and sadness, don't dismiss bad feelings. Encourage questions so you can understand their fears. They may be feeling vulnerable themselves, or they may fear losing parents or siblings that they depend on and love.

  • Emphasize safety. Let children know that while sad and bad things do indeed happen, they are rare events. Most people are good. Reassure them that you will take care of them and keep them safe, and that police and teachers will help to look out for their safety, too. Use this as a time to reinforce safety rules.

  • Channel things in a positive direction whenever possible. Point out good things, such as the heroism and bravery of police and doctors and the kindness of the people in the community. Use bad events as a springboard to reinforce gratitude and appreciation for life; the importance of kindness and empathy, the importance of helping others.

  • Take positive action. We all feel helpless in the face of terrible events, children even more so. Encourage your child to take an action, such as making a donation, writing a letter, going to a church service, or leaving flowers or mementos at a memorial.

  • Ensure that your communications are age appropriate. Young children don't have a clear understanding of death, even if they say the words, so events may not affect them much; teens might suppress reaction entirely in a misguided attempt to appear cool or jaded. See links below for more on age-related reactions and communications.

  • Keep an eye on things to ensure that they adjust. Watch for regression, clinging, hyperactivity in young children; at any age, kids who are anxious could exhibit sleep or eating disturbances. Teens or young adults may be obsessed with details of events, Watch how your kids play, how they talk about things to peers. If signs of disturbance persist, they may need the help of a professional so they don't stay "stuck" in anxieties or fear.

Good resources for additional help:

Guide for Parents and Educators: Tips for Talking to Children and Youth After Traumatic Events (PDF)

Age-Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event (PDF)

Talking with Kids about Tough Issues

Explaining Death in a Child's Terms

Anxiety, Fears, & Phobias

How to Help: Children's Grief Responses

Batman, kids and Aurora: How to talk to children about the Colorado movie theater shooting

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Colorado Theater Shooting

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ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers trauma response, grief counseling, help for PTSD, and other services to help your employees and their family members cope with difficult life events. We also offer help and support for managers and HR professionals. Your EAP is only a phone call away. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

July 1, 2012

When your employees stink

We've all had a "this job stinks" moment in our worklife, but what happens when it is literally true? Evil HR Lady Suzanne Lucas discusses whether you should you tell a job candidate about her body odor. She rightfully brings up the potential sticky discriminatory areas that this might open in the hiring process. What if the odor is related to a medical issue or a cultural issue? If you address it in the job interview and then don't hire the employee, might that lead to problems?

OK, when it's a stinky job candidate, you may simply be able to sidestep the issue, but what if the odor problem involves a current employee? A not insubstantial part of the HR manager's job is dealing with the delivery of bad news. When bad news involves policies, procedures, or performance, that's one thing and hard enough. But when it deals with personal issues like body odor, inappropriate dress, or annoying habits, these discussions can get distinctly uncomfortable.

Susan Heathfield offers some good advice on how to tackle conversations about annoying employee habits and issues. She notes that handling this by training the whole staff is not the best way to handle things: better to be direct, to the point, and tie the difficult conversation to a direct business purpose and how the behavior may be affecting the employee's career.
See her guidelines on How to Hold a Difficult Conversation.

Now if the body odor is related to hygiene or an excess of fragrance, a straightforward conversation may resolve things. But it's also possible that body odor may be a symptom of a more deep-rooted issue - particularly if it is something new with that employee, if it marks a change. If there has been a progressive deterioration in the person's personal hygiene, it might signify a more serious personal problem, such as depression, substance abuse, or physical illness. Has there also been a deterioration in performance or other potential signs of a problem? If the issue is potential substance abuse, you may note or coworkers may complain about an odor of alcohol.

If you have talked to an employee about personal hygiene issues but the issue is either not resolved or your discussion leads you to believe that there might be a more serious underlying issue, that might be a good time for a referral to your Employee Assistance Program. While performance issues are within a manager's bailiwick, it isn't a manager's responsibility to try to diagnose underlying issues or root causes of performance-inhibiting issues - that's when an EAP can be your best friend.

More resources:

Smell Ya Later, along with Seven Tips On Tackling Employee Hygiene Problems

Tough Conversations to Have with Your Employees—What to Say

‘Bob, you smell’: What to say to employees about embarrassing personal issues

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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.

June 16, 2012

Grace under pressure: Robin Roberts shares her MDS diagnosis

Earlier this week, Good Morning America's Robin Roberts announced that she is facing a battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), believed to be the result of the radiation therapy she received to treat her breast cancer five years ago. She'll be undergoing stem cell treatment and a bone marrow transplant from her sister, who is a match.

Her courage is once again inspirational. During her battle with cancer, she worked throughout and shared her breast cancer treatment and recovery with the public in intimate detail, keeping a public video journal that offered awareness, education and inspiration to millions. Her decision to publicly share her new challenge has already made a difference, motivating many to take action. We'll all be learning more about MDS, a relatively rare blood disorder, through her story and we'll be learning more about bone marrow transplants. Roberts was fortunate to have a marrow match in her sister. Every year, 10,000 patients need a marrow transplant, but only half receive one. African Americans have more of a challenge with a donor match - a 66% chance, versus 92% for Caucasians. Since her announcement, donor registrations have skyrocketed. You can register to donate bone marrow at the National Marrow Donor Registry at Be the Match. Learn more: What’s It Like: To donate bone marrow or blood stem cells.

Cancer in the workplace: supporting colleagues

One of the other striking things about Roberts' announcement is how she was surrounded and embraced by her colleagues. Their concern and support is readily evident, as it was throughout her breast cancer treatment and recovery.

Below, we are reprinting a post on Cancer in the workplace: resources for managers and colleagues.

If you've ever managed a worker who has been diagnosed with cancer, you know the challenges that it can pose, both in terms of your own interactions with the person, and also in terms of supporting and managing concerned colleagues. It can be a difficult and delicate balance, offering support and flexibility for the employee while managing within the policies and needs of your organization. We've compiled some excellent resources from around the web that might be helpful to you and to your employees.

Managing Through Cancer Principles - offers a set of principles, resources and tools for organizations and managers that want to support employees with cancer and their co-workers. The site offers a set of principles along with manager/employee responsibilities and suggestions for developing supportive time-off policies, such as paid time off and leave banks. The site also discusses telecommuting and flex time options. While the guideline is specific to cancer and cancer treatment, most of the principles are applicable in managing employees with any life-threatening illness. (This resource is part of a site called Cancer and Careers, which has many resources, tools, and a support network for empowering and educating people with cancer to thrive in their workplace - see the video clip at the end of this post).

Beyond the matter of principles and policies, there is the very real matter of how managers and colleagues should talk to an employee who has been diagnosed with cancer or who is dying of cancer. Often, people who are grievously ill become isolated because friends and colleagues are uncomfortable and simply don't know what to say or how to deal with the person - so they simply avoid things. Here is a list of some very helpful resources offering guidance for how to talk to and interact with a person who has cancer.

Top 10 Dos and Don'ts when someone in you life becomes seriously ill is a short, practical guide with solid advice.

Supporting a friend who has cancer also offers Dos and Don'ts for things to say, along with a list of practical ways you might offer help and good gift ideas to show your support.

Quick tips for everyday situations offers suggestions for how colleagues and friends can be supportive of and respond to everyday situations, such as a coworker diagnosed with breast cancer, a relative with clinical depression, or how to offer help to a blind person in the gym.

How to talk to a friend with cancer is a discussion board thread that links to some very helpful articles, but more importantly, shares the real-life experiences of people who are living cancer and people who have lost loved ones to cancer. This is a rich, frank, and very touching discussion by and for the real experts - people who are living/have lived through real life situations.

Remember, these are the types of situations where your EAP can offer real support and resources - be sure to recommend the services of your EAP to both the person who is ill and their family members. Also, check to see if your EAP offers help and guidance for supervisors.

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ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers 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.

June 9, 2012

Important Security Alert for LinkedIn Users: Change your Password Now

This past week, there was a security breach that exposed passwords for more than 6 million LinkedIn accounts. Passwords were accessed by hackers, and it is unclear if associated email addresses were also leaked. While the company says that no accounts were compromised, security advisors are united in recommending that you change your password. And if you used the same password on any other accounts, you need to change those, too. This is particularly important if any of those accounts are related to your financial data.

What can hackers do with that many passwords? They can sell them on the black market, they can add them to a phishing database, and they can try to access your accounts on popular sites using your same email/password combo. Accessing your email would be particularly damaging because criminals could potentially gain access to more sensitive information and data, and they could send emails out under your account to try to hook your colleagues, friends and family, who would think any emails were coming from you.

The practice of posing as you via emails is called spear phising. We encourage you to read and take action on our prior post Spear phishing: Train your employees in e-mail security. Even if you are secure, your organization can be exposed if one of your employees falls for this ruse.

In addition to the tips we offered in the spear phisihing post linked above, here are some additional security tips - please feel free to circulate all our tips to your employees.

  • Use separate passwords for your key accounts such as your bank and your email. Do not re-use those passwords on other sites.
  • Think twice about letting any person or any service have access to your email account. Today many social networks ask you to grant access to your address book. Hmmm. Maybe not such a good idea.
  • Create strong passwords. Microsoft Security Center offers simple advice on creating strong passwords, as well as a secure password checker, a tool that you can use to test the strength of a password. Also, see this article: Fix Your Terrible, Insecure Passwords in One Minute for a pretty good technique.
  • Change passwords regularly, particularly for key accounts.
  • Consider a password managing service. Services such as LastPass, KeePass, and 1Password help you to manage passwords securely.

Finally, beware of the opportunistic criminals who are taking advantage of this breach. If you get any emails that look like emails from LinkedIn inviting you to click to change your password, it is likely a trap. It's a good idea to get in the habit of hovering your cursor over links to reveal who they are really from before you click. This article explains: What does it mean to "hover over" a link to check it's validity?


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ESI-Logo.jpg If you are a current member of ESI EAP, sign in to access our Cyber Safety Resource Center - there are a wealth of resources and tools to share with your staff. If you are an employer and you do not have a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program with 24/7 member access, give us a call: 800-535-4841.

May 11, 2012

Avoid the Scourge of Harassment in Your Workplace

Minimize Your Risk
Negative perceptions are slow to fade and can seriously blemish the reputation and bottom line of an enterprise, large or small. But you can minimize the risk, expense and negative publicity of a harassment suit by taking a few proactive steps:

• Develop a clear and concise written policy against sexual and other harassment. Don’t attempt to write this on your own. A good labor attorney or human resources consultant will be sure that your policy is up-to-date and comprehensive.

• Roll out your harassment policy at a mandatory employee meeting and emphasize your commitment to eliminate such behavior in your organization.

• Conduct employee trainings that clearly explain the prohibited behaviors and the penalties that will result if they occur.

• Conduct supervisor trainings stressing the need to be vigilant in recognizing and stopping harassment.

You’ll need to be sensitive to the “bear traps” that frequently ensnare even the most well-intentioned business owner. These can be avoided by:

• Realizing and emphasizing in your trainings that sexual harassment isn’t limited to the way men treat women. All too often, the concept of “same-gender sexual harassment” isn’t explained and your employees (and supervisors!) may be left with the idea that as long as we’re all of the same gender, anything goes! But in 1998 the United States Supreme Court (Oncale vs. Sundowner Offshore Services) ruled that the humiliating behaviors that Joseph Oncale suffered at the hands of his fellow male employees wasn’t “just male horseplay” as the men and their supervisors claimed, but was indeed same-gender sexual harassment.

• Educating your supervisors to realize that smiling faces aren’t the determining factor. Victims often laugh along with their tormentors to mask the embarrassment and degradation they truly feel. Supervisors must step in and squelch the behavior regardless of the levity in the room. Many a court case has been lost because a supervisor “failed to take action.”

• By addressing allegations of harassment in a timely fashion. Postponing your investigation for days or weeks makes it appear that you are minimizing the situation. Most employers invoke the “two-hour” rule; i.e., if a formal allegation of abuse or harassment comes to your attention, take steps to initiate an investigation within two hours.

• Realizing that your employees can suffer harassment at the hands of customers and vendors as well as from co-workers. Even your best customer must be told to desist when they have crossed the line. Remember that when vendors or clinicians are performing work at your facility, protecting them from harassment while on-site becomes your responsibility!

• Ensure that victims and witnesses are protected from retaliation and intimidation during and after your investigation

By taking the necessary steps to prevent sexual and other harassment in your workplace, you’ll not only save time, money and your business’s reputation – you’ll also demonstrate to your employees that their dignity, self-respect and security is important to you.

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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.

May 6, 2012

Junior Seau's suicide raises the issue of traumatic brain injuries

This week, football great Junior Seau pointed a gun at his chest and killed himself. It is an unusual method of suicide, one that we saw in the death of another football great last year. Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bear, also shot himself in the chest, specifying that he wanted to preserve his brain for the study of head injuries. In recent years, two other players - Andre Waters and Ray Easterling - have commit suicide, and many others have died far too young under troubling circumstances.

While many were stunned by Seau's death, some had seen troubling signs in Seau's behavior in recent years... an arrest for domestic abuse, an accident where his car went over a cliff.

This inevitably raises the question of head injuries, concussions, and traumatic brain injury. These injuries often do not come into full evidence until years after the helmet is retired. The progression includes anger, stress, relationship problems, memory loss, personality change and dementia.

"Dr. Robert Cantu, of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, raised the possibility that Seau might be suffering from the disease during an interview with the Buffalo News a year ago, after the retired player’s car accident. Now, the sport of football must find out for sure. Seau may well have spared his brain for that purpose."

Both Seau and Duerson are dramatic examples calling attention to a problem. Many other retired players have lesser known problems playing out in depression, substance abuse, life-threatening weight problems, and the ravages of old injuries. Certainly, player safety is something that the sport and we as a society need to examine.

Seau's death is a public example of the the tragedy of suicide and the pain that it inflicts on survivors. Every day, about 89 people commit suicide, and few of those deaths command headlines. Suicide is common among people who are clinically depressed - an issue we discussed recently in our post about Mike Wallace's battle with depression leading to a suicide attempt. Depression is treatable and treatment is quite effective, but it often requires intervention by a loved one for the person to get help.

You don't have to play professional sports to suffer a traumatic brain injuries. Many of our military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have TBI; car crash and fall victims often suffer TBI. For more on preventing, treating and living with traumatic brain injury, see Brainline - here's a handy topic list, which includes sports injuries.

See also:
The secret men won't admit
Celebrity suicides highlight the heavy toll of depression

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ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers help and resources for depression and other serious life problems. If you or one of your immediate family members is suffering from depression, your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

April 15, 2012

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month: What employers can do

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. As an employer, what does child abuse have to do with you? That's a question that officials at Penn State might well answer for you. No doubt, they would approach the issue of child abuse differently if they had a do-over from last fall's child sexual assault scandal. Throughout the course of that sad series of events, many opportunities to intervene or investigate were missed.

The Legal Imperative
Depending on the work you perform, you may have reporting obligations under the law. In fact, since the Penn State scandal, several states have or are looking to strengthen reporting obligations. In most states, the following professions have legal obligations to report child maltreatment: social workers, teachers and other school personnel, physicians and other health-care workers, mental health professionals, child care providers, medical examiners or coroners, and law enforcement officers. Other states expand the mandatory reporting obligations to commercial film or photograph processors, substance abuse counselors, probation or parole officers, domestic violence workers, animal control or humane officers, court-appointed special advocates, and clergy.

In more than a third of all states, reporting requirements extend to any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report. See Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect: Summary of State Laws. This is a good guide, but because several state laws are currently under scrutiny, you may want to check with state authorities too.

The Moral Imperative
Regardless of legal obligations, all of us as a society have a moral imperative to protect children. Employers can play a key role in curbing child abuse and domestic violence. HR managers and supervisors are often in a position to spot signs of domestic violence and can often play a critical role in directing the employee to help through referrals to an EAP or other community resource. In the past, the "none of my business" type of thinking often prevailed, but today employers know that problems at home rarely stay at home.

What can an employer do? The following are steps that employers can take to address child abuse:

  • Know your state law and your reporting requirements
  • Participate in national and local prevention and education efforts
  • Donate to a local community prevention organization or sponsor a fundraising activity
  • Educate employees about recognizing and reporting child abuse
  • Sponsor parenting skills workshops as part of health fairs
  • Offer seminars in stress reduction and anger management
  • Use your Employee Assistance Program as a resource
  • Be a family-friendly employer (see suggestions below)

The Child First Advocacy Center of Vermont offers 10 Things You Can Do To Prevent Child Abuse, steps that any adult or organization can take to support children.

A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice offers primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention approaches that communities can and should take. Among the recommendations for various sectors of society, here are the recommendations for employers:

As the number of parents working outside the home continues to grow, the need increases for workplace policies that support family functioning and promote the prevention of child maltreatment. Family-focused initiatives for the workplace include:

  • Flexible work schedules and other "family friendly" policies that help employees to balance the demands of their work and parental commitments;
  • Parental leave policies that reduce stress on new parents and help facilitate positive attachments between parents and their infants;
  • Employer-supported child care;
  • Family-oriented policies that support healthy and humane working conditions and ensure adequate family income;
  • Employee assistance programs that can provide information on reducing stress.

For all working parents, a supportive work environment can help ease the stress of the dual responsibilities of work and family. For some already vulnerable parents, a supportive work climate may prevent family dysfunction, breakdown, abuse, and neglect.

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ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers help for parenting, childcare, domestic abuse, and other family and relationship issues. If you need help with a family matter, your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.


April 8, 2012

Mike Wallace's battle with depression leading to a suicide attempt

In one of the many online eulogies to the great newsman Mike Wallace, it was noted that he suffered from severe clinical depression when he was about 60 years old - an episode severe enough that he tried to end his own life. In an interview with psychiatrist Jeffrey Borenstein on Healthy Minds, Wallace and his wife Mary discuss his suicide attempt and his 20 year struggle with depression. He discusses the pain of depression and it was obviously deeply moving for him to speak of it, his difficulty is apparent. He and his wife also speak of the stigma and ignorance that often stands in the way of getting help. The first time he reached out for help to his family physician, the doctor was not helpful and displayed terrible ignorance about the disease by being dismissive and denying it.

Roughly 5% of the population experiences a major depression characterized by helplessness, hopelessness despondency, sleep disturbance, and the inability to enjoy anything. It is described as "the most awful feeling, worse than cancer" and it is frequently accompanied by suicide attempts, a significant aspect of the disease.

The interview segment stresses how vitally important it is for families and close friends to intervene and urge the person who is suffering to get treatment and help. Often, the person who suffers from depression does not have the wherewithal, interest or energy to cope. By the same token, Mary Wallace speaks about the out-of-control feelings, the guilt, and the isolation that a spouse might feel, and stresses that it is important for a family member of a person suffering from depression to also get help.

The key takeaway is whether it is you or a loved one suffering: get help. Depression is treatable and treatment is quite effective, but it often requires the agency of a spouse, friend or family member to intervene. Wallace talks about the incredible feeling of relief from pain when medication took effect. His episodes were in 1982, and he lived 30 years of happy, productive life after getting help.

One of the other important takeaways is to intervene. Many people, like Wallace's physician, have a tendency either to denial "You're OK" or to thinking they can shame ("don't be selfish") or jolly ("come on, cheer up") the person out of it, when that just adds to the burden of hopelessness the person experiences. As supervisors and people managers, if you see someone with a behavioral and performance change, you don't need to diagnose it or treat it -- and you shouldn't try -- you simply need to urge the employee to get help through the EAP.

Learn more:

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ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers help for depression for you or one of your immediate family members. If you are suffering from depression or you know someone who you think may be suffering from depression, your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

April 1, 2012

Are your employees stealing from you?

Employee theft is a workplace issue that our employers deal with all too frequently and - from our vantage - one that seems to have been exacerbated by a tough economy. It can range from the insidious and costly ongoing bleed of office supplies secreted from the workplace to a million dollar embezzlement by a long time trusted employee. What are people stealing on the job? According to lawyers and law firms on JD Supra, the shopping list is varied and can include such disparate things as intellectual property, trade secrets, wages, identities, merchandise, money, and productivity.

How common is employee theft? A pair of articles that recently passed our desk offers some perspective on scope:

Are Your Employees Stealing From You?

"Steven Wolf, the Executive Director at Capstone Advisory Group, says employee theft can involve more than just stolen physical equipment. He has dealt with cases of misappropriated funds, duplicate payments, kickbacks, and re-selling inventory owned by the company.

“The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) estimates that the typical business will lose an average of six percent of revenues from employee theft,” says Wolf, who advises companies to devote more funds to combatting theft in the workplace and developing policies. Employee theft, he says, accounts for one-third of all bankruptcies, according to the US Chamber of Commerce."

Employee theft costs retailers more than shoplifting, organized crime

"Thefts by employees accounted for about 45 percent of retail losses in 2010, according to the National Retail Security Survey. Shoplifting and organized retail crime made up about 31 percent of inventory shrinkage, the accounting term for loss of products between the point of purchase from a supplier and point of sale.

Administrative error accounted for 14 percent of shrinkage, vendor fraud accounted for 4 percent and the remaining 6 percent was attributed to “unknown” error. The shrinkage rate in 2010 was 1.49 percent."

Plugging the hole in the bucket: Preventing theft
We turn to a variety of experts to offer strategies for deterrence.

In writing about how employers are often blind to employee theft, business consultants Mary Goodman and Rich Russakoff offer the following tips:

  • Expect it. As Oscar Wilde said, "I can resist anything but temptation." People are human. We're sure your employees are likeable people, but no one is above reproach.
  • Make it clear you have a zero-tolerance policy. Whether or not you prosecute criminally is one thing. Continuity of employment will absolutely guarantee continuity of theft. Even more so, it will lower the bar (or open the vault) for every one else in the organization.
  • Put in place internal and external checks and balances. Always have a second set of eyes -- both inside and outside the company -- checking your numbers.
  • Know your margins. We can't stress this enough. Know what your margins should be, and if they're shrinking, find out why.

In Human Resource Executive, employment law attorneys discuss HR's role in curbing employee theft. They suggest that the first line of defense is at hiring and conducting background checks. They also discuss the importance of an employer creating "a perception of detection" - and offer suggestions of controls that can be put in place, from policies to audits, job rotations, and employee education.

In discussing the topic of employee theft during the holiday season a few years back. post on the topic of theft, John Hyman of Ohio Employer's Law Blog offered a sensible five-point attack for deterring employee theft. You should red the entire plan, it is simple and direct - but we offer the broad bullet points here:

  • Communicate: Employees need to know that theft of any nature and in any amount simply will not be tolerated.
  • Investigate: Proper investigation requires having the tools in place to detect theft or fraud and acting swiftly when misconduct is discovered.
  • Document: Once a theft is detected, a company has to act swiftly to complete a full investigation. This investigation includes interviewing any potential witnesses and gathering all necessary documents to support to a case against the employee.
  • Terminate: No other form or discipline should be an option. Theft is a serious offense. It represents a total breakdown of trust between a company and an employee.
  • Litigate: Employers have two choices – filing a civil lawsuit to recover the stolen funds or property, or seeking criminal prosecution ... litigation will not be appropriate in all cases of employee theft.

In a prior post here on HR Web Cafe, we discussed one employer's creative solution to deterring theft, which included such strategies as building an "equipment lending library" and offering amnesty programs.

In that post, we noted that:

Our experience shows time and again that employers who communicate often and well with their employees and who work diligently to maintain a healthy work culture experience fewer workplace behavioral problems than their mistrusting, suspicious counterparts. Keep things in perspective. Dishonest employees are in the minority so don't cast a pall of suspicion over everyone. Set the policy and the expectation, ensure that risk control measures are in place, and be fair and consistent in the way policies are enforced.

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ESI-Logo.jpg Employers: ESI EAP offers discounted background checks and pre-employment screening to member employers. And if you suspect a problem with a potentially disgruntled worker, a referral to your EAP can help to defuse a potential problem. Don't have an EAP? Call 800-535-4841.

March 25, 2012

The BYOD revolution: Why your own employees might be scarier than hackers

Is your workplace part of the BYOD revolution? With or without your approval, it probably is. BYOD is the abbreviation for "Bring Your Own Device," a reference to the proliferation of employee-owned smart phones, notebooks and personal computing devices used in the workplace. Even companies that supply devices to workers often find that their employees are replacing or supplementing company-sponsored tools with the faster, sleeker personal devices they favor.

Many companies are embracing the change. A survey by Citrix last year found that bring-your-own-device is quickly becoming an accepted business practice, with 25% of both large and small employers worldwide supporting the use of personal devices for business purposes, and many are reporting jumps in productivity associated with use of these devices. But dual-use devices are not without their problems and risks. According to the survey:

  • More than 67 percent of survey participants reported that they don’t have any policies, procedures or IT systems in place to manage the use of personal devices for business purposes.
  • Less than half of U.S. firms (46 percent) are aware of all the devices their staff are using for business purposes.
  • 32 percent of firms are most concerned over the security implications of allowing application and document downloads on personal devices
  • 23 percent are concerned over personal devices trying to get remote access to the corporate network.

Security is an enormous issue, particularly for any firms that have customer data privacy and security issues related to HIPAA or financial data. The average data breach costs a company $7.2 million, or $214 per breached record.

We have met the enemy and he is us
Many companies deploy substantial security resources to guard against hackers but are inadvertently leaving the back door unlocked. In a recent survey of IT managers, 72% of respondents said that careless employees have been a greater security threat than hackers.

Top factors IT pros cited include:

  • 62% - Lack of employee awareness about security policies
  • 61% - Insecure web browsing
  • 59% - Insecure Wi-Fi- connectivity
  • 58 % - Lost or stolen mobile devices with corporate data
  • 57% - Installation of corrupt apps
  • 53% - Lack of security patches from service providers

ZoneAlarm has a good infographic - excerpt below - which breaks down some of the numbers and stats on securing today's mobile workforce.

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Risk management: Best practices
This is not likely to be an issue that lessens in significance over time. Employers need to understand the risk and the exposure, and need to take steps to mitigate the risk. These steps will include a combination of well-crafted policies, safe computing training for employees, and technology solutions. Here's a toolkit of good articles to get you started.

HR Hero offers a series of posts from employment law attorney Taylor Chapman around the issue of dual-use devices. In her first post, BYOD - When Employees Bring Their Own Devices to Work, she discusses the trend of employees the real-world concerns associated with the practice, and different approaches employers can take to policies. In Managing the Risk of Employee Use of Personal Technology, she discusses the legality of accessing employees’ personal devices and how employers can mitigate the security risk that comes when employees use their own technology at work.

Roger Cheng of the Wall St Journal covered the topic about a year ago in his article How the smartest companies are letting employees use their personal gadgets to do their jobs. He offers approaches that several companies are using, from policies requiring the use of locks, an agreement that the device will be wiped if lost or stolen, the ability to wall off data, and virtualization.

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ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers resource centers member employees on many hot button issues, including Cyber Safety. Our Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) can also provide tools for HR policy development. For more information on these or other issues that we can help with, call 800-535-4841.

March 18, 2012

Prescription drugs: the new face of substance abuse and addiction

If you asked most people to describe an addict, they'd paint a dark portrait of a furtive heroin or meth addict in an urban street corner setting. But as deaths form drug overdoses outpace motor-vehicle related deaths in state after state, today's addict is more likely the face of your suburban neighbor, your soccer Mom sister-in-law, or your best employee. The street corner has been replaced by the medicine cabinet. And the modern pusher is more likely to be a friend, a relative or a workers comp physician.

Seemingly every day, states are issuing new reports about this rapidly escalating problem:

  • Overdose deaths are now the top cause of accidental deaths in Ohio. "In 2010, 1,544 Ohioans died from “unintentional drug poisoning” (overdose). That’s more than four a day, up from less than one a day in 1999." According to Tulsa World, drug overdoses now kill more Oklahomans than motor vehicle accidents — an average of two per day.. The state "...was ranked the No. 1 state in the nation in prescription painkiller abuse last year. They underscore a new reality for law enforcement authorities, health care professionals and public policymakers."
  • Prescription drug dependence is deemed epidemic in East Central Indiana - Since 2009, the drugs have contributed to more than 75 deaths in Delaware and Henry counties alone.
  • Florida is cracking down on pill mills - "Last year [2010], seven people died in Florida each day from prescription drug overdoses, a nearly 8 percent increase from 2009. This is far more than the number who died from illegal drugs, and the figure is not expected to drop much this year."
  • Report: Kentucky sixth in nation for overdose deaths. ""The last couple of years overdose deaths have outpaced motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in Kentucky."

A Centers for Disease Control Report -- Saving Lives and Protecting People: Prevention of Prescription Painkiller Overdoses -- paints a grim national picture. Overdoses of prescription painkillers have more than tripled in the past 20 years, leading to 14,800 deaths in the United States in 2008. Emergency department visits for prescription painkiller abuse or misuse have doubled in the past 5 years to nearly half a million.

What's causing this alarming epidemic? The Ohio report cited above says that part of the reason is that we are "swimming in opiates in all forms" and points to several factors: a shift in the philosophy toward pain management, the huge volume of direct marketing of drugs to consumers, the increase in avaialable varieties of opiod pain killers on the market, and the funneling of prescription pain killers for non-prescription use.

The Work Comp Connection
At least part of the problem may be one that you as an employer are financing. In workers comp, narcotics now account for about $1.4 billion, or a quarter of the annual drug spend. First, there is the increased reliance on narcotics. Workers with musculo-skeletal injuries are being treated with opiates once reserved for cancer patients. This might be partly attributable to the fact that drugs are generally reimbursed at a higher rate under workers comp than under group health. And there are few user disincentives to curb abuse under workers comp. Under group health, an insured is paying part or all of prescription drug costs, but under workers comp, the employer foots the entire bill. Finally, the payer - which is you (usually through your insurer or TPA) - is all too often asleep at the wheel. Physician prescribing must be carefully monitored.

At Managed Care Matters, industry expert Joe Paduda offers a post about how much opioids will really cost you. He suggests steps that payers must take:

Payers must work with their PBMs (Pharmacy Benefit Mangers) to dramatically reduce their exposure. This requires both parties to:

a) identify long-term users,

b) mine their data to determine which claimants may be abusing/misusing/diverting and involve SIU where appropriate,

c) channel appropriate claimants to addiction screening, allocate the resources necessary for weaning and recovery and recognize this will include behavioral therapy will find they can.

Se also: Workers Compensation Prescription Drug Study: 2010 Update from NCCI.


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esi.JPG ESI Employee Assistance Program can help address employees with substance abuse issues - whether problems stem from illicit or prescribed drugs, or any combination of drugs and alcohol abuse. We also offer Drug Free Workplace and D.O.T. compliance programs.

March 11, 2012

Do you have any "bad leavers" lurking in your midst?

Disgruntled ex-employees or soon-to-be-ex employees are nothing new, and if some recent studies are to believed, they are legion. Research from the Corporate Executive Board shows that 75% of departing employees are disgruntled. And because the bad economy may have kept disgruntled employees in place longer due to fear, there may be a high level of pent up frustration with grievances real or imagined.

Most disgruntled employees will simply dust off their resumes and take their leave at the first opportunity. This will generally be a quiet affair because most people are eager to move on with their lives in a positive fashion and with little drama. The Steven Slaters of the world are a rare occurrence.

The real worry for you, the employer, may lie in the malevolent rogue employee lingering in your midst who has plans to wreak some degree of havoc, whether for reasons of revenge, resentment, or potential (larcenous) profit. With powerful and concealable data storage devices and the ability to disseminate communications instantly through texting and email, rogue employees are technology-enabled in an unprecedented way.

In an article entitled Worker-Departure Disaster Waiting to Happen in CFO magazine, John Reed Stark terms these employees "bad leavers" and defines them as "... disgruntled employees who "leave" a company on "bad" terms and cause deliberate harm before or after they exit, typically in clandestine fashion." Such an employee might attempt to destroy, alter or steal information and a company must be prepared to detect, assess, and react quickly.

Stark discusses the need for employers to have established exit protocols, which would include the creation of an IT environment "conducive to locating the proverbial 'smoking gun.'" It may also be essential to bring in independent forensics experts to preserve and safeguard evidence that might be needed in litigation.

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers published a brief on Insider Security Threats (PDF). The report includes a discussion of malicious employees, as well as other internal security vulnerabilities, such as inattentive, complacent or untrained employees, and contractors and outsourced services. They classify the overtly malicious threats as:

  • The IT Expert with a Hacker Mentality
  • The Dissatisfied or Disgruntled Employee
  • The Terminated or Demoted Employee
  • The Fraudster Motivated by Financial Gain
  • The Employee Who Wants Unauthorized Access to Information

The article discusses various security measures for dealing with each threat, including those that might address a "bad leaver," which we excerpt below:

What’s in Their Background? Background checks of all job candidates, including interns and contractors, can identify those with a record of acting out inappropriately or using questionable judgment and could prevent their hiring in the first place. A credit and financial background check can help to identify job candidates in financial difficulty. They could have an incentive to use IT to defraud the state, especially if a position has financial responsibilities or access to financial IT systems.

Vigilance Pays Off: Management should be aware of the signs of a disgruntled employee who could cause damage with or to state IT resources.

Open Communication Channels with Management: A reporting system for employees who witness or know of a disgruntled employee with ill-intended plans can serve as an early-warning system to management. In addition, allowing employees an official channel for the expression of grievances may prevent them from taking their anger out behind management’s back.

Watch Them: For problem employees, managers may consider coordinating with state IT staff to monitor their access to email, the Internet and state IT systems.

The Value of Audits: Regular and ongoing audits may identify ill-intended behaviors of employees that management may not immediately recognize as disgruntled. Audits can include the review of access, activity and facilities logs.

The Exit Strategy: Employees who resign or are terminated may take one last swipe at their employer through sabotage or data theft. A formal and thorough exit process can prevent such occurrences. This includes cutting off access privileges before an employee is terminated or immediately after an employee resigns if the employee appears to be disgruntled and escorting an employee out of the office.

As with most things in life, a good offense is better than a good defense. Employers should be alert for changes in behavior to identify a potential disgruntled employee early. Signs might include a lack of motivation, a breakdown in communications, and a decline in performance. Training managers and supervisors in how to identify and act on changes in performance and behavior before they become problematic can allow for positive communication and intervention.


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ESI-Logo.jpg Employers: ESI EAP offers discounted background checks and pre-employment screening to member employers. And if you suspect a problem with a potentially disgruntled worker, a referral to your EAP can help to defuse a potential problem. Don't have an EAP? Call 800-535-4841.

February 16, 2012

The Dangers of Hoarding

You may be familiar with the popular reality show Hoarders. It’s a gruesome, can’t look away examination of what can happen when mental illness and our consumer driven society collide. While theories on why hoarding happens can vary, there is no controversy about the results: they are tragic. Hoarders often become literal prisoners in their own homes, trapped by their mountains of possessions. Unfortunately, hoarding is not uncommon: the University of California San Diego estimates that estimated up to 1.2 million people suffer from compulsive hoarding in the USA.

Professionals believe that most hoarding is an extreme form of obsessive compulsive disorder. It is unclear at this point whether compulsive hoarding is part of OCD or whether it is a separate disorder that is common in people who have OCD. It’s also important to remember that there are degrees of hoarding and not all hoarding is compulsive. Hoarding and saving behaviors can be seen in people with various neuropsychiatric disorders, such as psychotic disorders, dementia, eating disorders, autism, and mental retardation, as well as in people with no psychiatric disorder.

While hoarding is sad in and of itself, there are also hidden costs. Hoarders often neglect basic home maintenance and their own physical health. Over the years this neglect can culminate in large medical costs and tremendous increased costs for major home repairs. Due to their lifestyle, hoarders' homes are at a greatly increased risk for fire, collapse, flood, and infestation, and, understandably, they may have a very difficult time getting homeowners insurance. And hoarding can also cause stress, tension, and a breakdown in personal and family relationships, sometimes leading to increased isolation and depression.

What can you do if you suspect a friend, relative, acquaintance, or employee may be a hoarder? First, be kind. Remember, compulsive hoarding is not due to laziness, character weakness or simple disorganization. Rather, compulsive hoarding is the result of distinct brain abnormalities that will not improve without treatment. Encourage hoarders to seek treatment and help them receive it. Help is out there. The International OCD Foundation offers a checklist for suspected hoarders as well as a variety of helpful resources. The Massachusetts Department of Housing also has a long list of resources and information for hoarders and their loved ones. Hoarding can be treated.

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ESI-Logo.jpg Supervisors: If you suspect that hoarding could be an issue for one of your employees, remember - it's not your role to diagnose. When a personal issue spills into the workplace and impedes performance, the appropriate response is to focus on the performance and to offer resources to the employee to get help for any personal issues that impede performance. Your EAP can help. Don't have an EAP? Call 800-535-4841.

February 12, 2012

Cupid's arrow or sexual harassment?

Have you heard the one about the nurse, the social worker, and the exotic dancer who walked into a bar ... ?

But wait, there's one little twist... in this case, the bar was the plaintiff bar in a courtroom and the punchline was no joke for their employers. To commemorate Valentine's Day this year, employment Attorney Robin Shea offers a bouquet of sexual harassment cases. She describes the circumstances surrounding all three recent cases and offers morals and lessons for each.

There were 11,364 sexual harassment charges filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011, down from 15,889 in FY1997. Of that number, 16.3% of the charges were filed by males, up from 11.6% in FY1997. You can seem more info on Sexual Harassment Charges - EEOC & FEPAs Combined: FY 1997 - FY 2011

But when romance is in the air, what's an employer to do? Today's romance can turn into tomorrow's harassment. A few years ago, we discussed the pre-emptive strategy of so called Love contracts to limit employer liability for office romance. Mark Toth of ManpowerGroup Employment Blawg just posted results of a reader poll on the issue, finding there is no love for the love contract.

If an employee reports an incident, you need to take it seriously. Employment Law Attorney Jason Shinn of Michigan Employment Law Advisor offers An Employer's Playbook for Responding to an Allegation of Sexual Harassment.

Prior related posts
Taking the pulse about workplace romance on Valentine's Day
Cupid at work: office romance

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ESI-Logo.jpg. Supervisors of ESI EAP member organizations have telephone access to our Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHRs) who can discuss "best practice" scenarios or assist in researching the best strategies for addressing a myriad of employee dynamics. It's like having a coach on the team when managers or supervisors face difficult issues. Click to learn more about HR benefits.

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.

December 5, 2011

Bullied LGBT teens and how to help

This heart-wrenching video from Jonah has gone viral this week, with more than 2 million views. It's a poignant plea from an eighth grader who has been relentlessly bullied for being gay.

At least for this one case and for now, there is a happy sequel. Thousands of people on blogs, Facebook and Twitter, including celebrities like Perez Hilton and Rosie O'Donnell, have reached out and embraced Jonah. Hundreds of people have posted thoughtful video responses, in which they offer encouragement and share their own stories of surviving adolescent bullying. Jonah is responding and engaging with his supporters on Facebook and Twitter, and reports that things are getting better.

Not all such stories end well. Even with the support of loving parents and friends, it can be a continual struggle for kids. It can be a helpless feeling, as the parents of Jamey Rodemeyer attest.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our Bullying resources for parents and teachers and What Parents Need to Know About Teen Suicide

We'd like to add the following links to our bullying resources :

The Trevor Project - leading national
organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. The site has resources for parents and teachers.

It Gets Better Project - created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better.

Bullying, Harassment, School-based Violence - offers resources from the Safe Schools Coalition, an international public-private partnership in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.

LGBT Resources - from the CDC, offers resources for youth, educators, and parents.

Employers and Human Resource managers can help by establishing a strong anti-bullying climate in the workplace and by distributing anti-bullying literature. and resources to employees for their families. And get help from your EAP - make sure your employees know that it is available and that it can address a broad range of family issues, including teen bullying.

November 13, 2011

Lessons from the Penn State child sexual assault scandal

The terrible events of the past week at Penn State University have saddened and shocked the nation. Most of us think we would do anything we could do protect children if we witnessed abuse or assault - yet respected adults who held leadership positions are now being charged with turning a blind eye to the sexual assault of children; a respected educational institution is being shaken to its roots for a potential cover up and massive failure to protect young victims. Among those dismissed from their jobs and facing investigations are famed football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier. In addition, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz have also been charged with failing to report the suspected abuse.

As the scandal unfolds, we learn that many opportunities to intervene or investigate were missed. Perhaps one of the most puzzling and disturbing questions surrounds assistant coach Mike McQueary who witnessed the sexual assault of a 10-year old boy in a campus shower almost a decade ago. While he did report this the next day, many are left wondering why he didn't he act immediately to stop such a terrible thing.

In How adults justify not reporting child abuse the Washington Post's Janice D'Arcy looks at reasons why adults fail to report the sexual assault of children. She cites a Boston Medical Center research study that shows even some doctors, when confronted with clear signs of child abuse, did not report the injuries to protective services.

"The researchers concluded that the doctors had adequate training in recognizing abuse, but were not as well informed about why they should report it.

The story goes on: “Doctors may question their own judgment of whether an injury is enough to meet the standard of reasonable suspicion for abuse, the threshold for reporting in Massachusetts, Siegel said. Or they may worry that a parent will become angry or blame them.”

She also notes that in the Penn State scandal as in other scandals of this nature, the impulse appears to be to focus attention on the adults rather than the children.

This issue is thoughtfully explored from the viewpoint of the victim in an article on 1in6, a website devoted to helping men who were childhood victims of sexual assault: Why Do Adults Fail to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse or Exploitation?. This article seeks to help survivors understand the potential reasons why adults failed to help them.

"And yet, the sad truth: Millions of children have unwanted or abusive sexual experiences. Many of them believe, correctly, that someone else knows or should know about their situation, but does little or nothing to protect them. Some tell adults what’s going on, seeking protection and help, only to be met with disbelief, denial, blame, or even punishment. How can that be?"

Mandatory reporting laws
Whether adults are comfortable or uncomfortable about reporting suspected sexual assault of children is secondary to the issue that in most states, it is the law. In some states, this obligation is restricted to helping professions, such as teachers, healthcare workers, educators and law enforcement. In other states, reporting obligations are not restricted by profession. In an article about abuse reporting laws, AP reporter David Crary notes that, "In more than 40 states, the prevailing policy is that such reports must be made to police or child-protection authorities swiftly and directly, with no option for delegating the task to others and then not following through."

Here are some resources to learn about mandatory reporting laws:

State Laws on Child Abuse and Neglect - All States have enacted laws and policies that define State roles and responsibilities in protecting vulnerable children from abuse and neglect. Issues addressed in statute include mandatory reporting, screening reports, proper maintenance and disclosure of records, domestic violence, and other issues.

Mandated reporting of child abuse and neglect - Each State has laws requiring certain people to report concerns of child abuse and neglect. While some States require all people to report their concerns, many States identify specific professionals as mandated reporters; these often include social workers, medical and mental health professionals, teachers, and childcare providers. Specific procedures are usually established for mandated reporters to make referrals to child protective services.

Additional Resources
1in6 - Approximately one in six boys is sexually abused before age 16. This site's mission is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives. It also includes serving family members, friends, and partners by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community.

MaleSurvivor - resources and support for men who were sexually victimized as children, adolescents, or adults.

Sexual Abuse of Males - site by psychologist and therapist Jim hopper, which also includes child sexual abuse statistics, research and resources. See resources for parents & caregivers.

RAINN - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network - The nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. In addition to offering a National Sexual Assault Hotline and various resources, it also includes links to other resources on topics related to child abuse and sexual abuse.

November 3, 2011

November is National Family Caregivers Month

To commemorate National Family Caregivers Month, we are sharing some resources that we've found helpful and encourage you to share these with your employees.

ShirleyBoard is a free resource that gives you the tools to create your ow online community and to link all the people in your network and all those caring for a loved one. You can centrally store all important caregiving information, such as a patient journal, a list of medications, a directory of doctors, and a calendar. It allows you to give access to friends, family and healthcare professionals – and to establish permissions for what information they can and can't see. It allows you to keep an ongoing record, to access resources and tips, and to network with other caregivers.

BenefitsCheckUp - A service from the National Council on Aging. Many older people need help paying for prescription drugs, health care, utilities and other basic needs. Many are eligible for but not receiving benefits from existing federal, state and local programs. There are many public programs available to seniors in need ranging from heating and energy assistance to prescription savings programs to income supplements. BenefitsCheckUp includes more than 2,000 public and private benefits programs from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) is centered around the belief that it is better for the well-being of seniors with chronic care needs and their families to be served in the community whenever possible. PACE serves individuals who are age 55 or older, certified by their state to need nursing home care, are able to live safely in the community at the time of enrollment, and live in a PACE service area. Delivering all needed medical and supportive services, the program is able to provide the entire continuum of care and services to seniors with chronic care needs while maintaining their independence in their homes for as long as possible. Care and services include:

  • Adult day care that offers nursing; physical, occupational and recreational therapies; meals; nutritional counseling; social work and personal care
  • Medical care provided by a PACE physician familiar with the history, needs and preferences of each participant
  • Home health care and personal care
  • All necessary prescription drugs
  • Social services
  • Medical specialists such as audiology, dentistry, optometry, podiatry, and speech therapy
  • Respite care
  • Hospital and nursing home care when necessary

Aging Pro - bills itself as the best one-stop destination for a comprehensive set of caregiving tools, resources, community support information and access to professionals in aging on the Web. It is a resource for caregivers, professionals, and people planning their future.

Family Caregiver Alliance - Founded in 1977, FCA was the first community-based nonprofit organization in the country to address the needs of families and friends providing long-term care at home. Long recognized as a pioneer in health services, FCA now offers programs at national, state and local levels to support and sustain caregivers, including the Family Care Navigator with state-by-state help and the National Center on Caregiving, the policy and research center of FCA.

EEOC: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers With Caregiving Responsibilities and Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities

Additional resources:
National Family Caregivers Association
National Association for Homecare and Hospice
Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease: Your easy to use guide from the National Institute on Aging
Coping with cancer: For caregivers, family & friends
Miles Away: The Metlife Study of Long-Distance Caregiving (PDF)
Family Caregivers & Depression - Symptoms and Hope

Prior posts:
Resources for elder caregivers
Employer best practices for caregivers in the workplace
The high cost of caregiving
Caregiver employees are at heightened risk: how employers can help

October 23, 2011

Study updates costs, productivity losses related to excessive drinking

Excessive drinking costs the U.S. $224 billion per year, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first cost reassessment since the 1998 cost tally or $184.6 billion per year. The current tally breaks down to a cost of about $1.90 per drink or $746 per person. Losses break down to 72.2% from lost productivity, 11.0% from healthcare costs, 9.4% from criminal justice costs, and 7.5% from other effects.

Alcohol abuse is the nation's third leading cause of preventable death, resulting in an average of 79,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year - estimated at 2.3 million years of potential life lost. Researchers also site the following: "Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with multiple adverse health and social consequences, including liver cirrhosis, certain cancers, unintentional injuries, violence, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Excessive alcohol consumption also causes premature death, increased healthcare costs, property damage from fire and motor vehicle crashes, increased crime and criminal justice system costs, and lost worker productivity in the form of missed work, diminished output, and reduced earnings potential."

The report on this study, "Economic Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption in the U.S., 2006" is published in the November 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and is also available online.

Employer Resources
There are numerous screening tests that are available online that could be used in a wellness program - either as interactive online tests, or simple screening tools that could be rprinted in newsletters, benefit portals or other employee communications.

Alcohol Screening Test - a free service of Join Together, a project of the The Partnership at Drugfree.org and Boston University School of Public Health. The anonymous online test helps individuals assess their own alcohol consumption patterns to determine if their drinking is likely to be harming their health or increasing their risk for future harm. Through education and referral, the site urges those whose drinking is harmful or hazardous to take positive action, and informs all adults who consume alcohol about guidelines and caveats for lower-risk drinking. More than one million people have completed this screening questionnaire since the site launched in 2001.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism offers three common screening tests: The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and the mnemonic CAGE and T-ACE tests.

Other resources are available at the CDC: Alcohol & Public Health and OSHA's Working Partners programAbuse, and NIOSH.

And of course, if you suspect that alcohol or any other substance is affecting an employee's health or productivity, we encourage you to make a referral to your organization's Employee Assistance Program.

October 2, 2011

October 6: National Depression Screening Day

October 6 is National Depression Screening Day. More than 3,000 sites will be participating in screenings and events.

The following information from Mental Health America offers tips on why screenings are important, who could benefit from a screening and what you can expect from a screening.

Why Screen for Depression?

  • Clinical depression is a serious medical illness.
  • Clinical depression can lead to suicide.
  • Sometimes people with depression mistakenly believe that the symptoms of depression are a "normal part of life."
  • Clinical depression affects men and women of all ages, races and socioeconomic groups.
  • One in four women and one in 10 men will experience depression at some point during their lifetimes.
  • Two-thirds of those suffering from the illness do not seek the necessary treatment.
  • Depression can co-occur and complicate other medical conditions.
  • More than 80 percent of all cases of clinical depression can be effectively treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both.
  • Screenings are often the first step in getting help.

What Is a Depression Screening like?
Attendees at screening programs, which are free and confidential:
  • Receive educational materials on depression and other mental illnesses
  • Hear an educational session on depression.
  • Complete a written screening test.
  • Discuss the results with a mental health professional.
  • If necessary, learn where to go for additional help.

Who Should Attend a Depression Screening?
People suffering from depression often experience some of these key symptoms:
  • A persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood
  • Sleeping too little, early morning awakening, or sleeping too much
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression screening tests will not provide a diagnosis – for that you need to see a professional. But, they will help you identify you whether or not you have symptoms that are consistent with a condition or concern that would benefit from further evaluation or treatment.

Finding a screening
Employees and the general public: Check to see if your employer has an EAP - that's always a good starting point for help. If not, community based organizations nationwide are offering anonymous self-assessments for a variety of concerns that are often misunderstood or misdiagnosed. Take a screening online or choose your location from a clickable map to locate an event near you.

Students: Colleges nationwide are offering anonymous self-assessments for a variety of concerns that are often misunderstood or misdiagnosed. Take a screening online, or choose your location from a clickable map to locate an event at a local campus.

Military and their family members: Take an anonymous screening online or find screenings at local military installations. The screening questions are designed so you can review your situation with regard to some of the more common mental health issues including, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, alcohol problems and more.

September 25, 2011

Bullying claims another child's life

This is a terribly difficult issue for parents and communities to grapple with, and of particular concern to teachers and schools, who are on the front line. Last year, New York adopted a Dignity for All Students Act (PDF) but it does not go into effect until July 2012. The law forbids harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex. But at present, there are no laws on the books. Local authorities are looking at possible charges that could be brought against the bullies. Police said three students in particular might have been involved. The Amherst Police Department's Special Victims Unit is evaluating the potential charges of harassment, cyber-harassment or hate crimes.

It's all too easy to throw this problem in the laps of parents, teachers, or a particular community or school. But if the incivility of our public discourse and publiic culture is any measure, bullying has deeper and more insidious roots.

Here are some resources for your employees who might be grappling withchildhood bullying issues.

Bullying Resoutces for Parents and Teachers

What parents need to know about teen suicide

Creating a Climate of Respect

July 24, 2011

Tragedy in Norway: Violent events trigger anxiety, fear, grief for many

Our hearts go out to the people of Norway who suffered such a horrific national tragedy over recent days. The violence of events is terrible and made more so by the fact that so many of the victims were children and young teens. Human-triggered disasters are particularly difficult to cope with and recover from.

While everyone is disturbed by such a sudden and terrible set of events, some may feel and react to the news more intensely than others. Reactions may be exacerbated as stories emerge about the horrific attacks and we learn more about the details of the violence and the personal stories of victims and their families. As memorials occur, we are exposed to the grief and raw reactions of survivors and grieving families. Events become more personal.

Some of the people for whom this might trigger a heightened level of grief, stress, or anxiety include:

People with a direct connection to the events. That would, of course, encompass those who suffered a loss in the event. But it might also extend to any who have some personal association with Norway, such as people with friends or relatives who live there. Even people who developed an affinity for the country through studies abroad or travels might feel a heightened reaction.

People who have been a victim of violence themselves. This could encompass assault and rape victims, people who were held hostage, people who have been part of random shootings, or people who lost loved ones to random violence. The Norway events might rekindle memories, grief, loss, fear and heightened anxiety.

People who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This might include veterans, victims of 9/11, survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing, or many others who experienced trauma and are not able to get beyond it. The Norway events might trigger heightened memories, fear, anxiety, anger, stress, or disruption of eating or sleeping habits, among other things.

Children and young people. Violent events can be particularly frightening to children, and this event even more so because it included the specific targeting of children. The sudden and random nature of events may be terribly upsetting and threaten to a child's sense of security. Some children may be intensely fearful of their own safety or the safety of loved ones.

Responding to events
Be sensitive to others and how they experience events. People handle stress and grief differently, and we don't always know what experiences others have had that might intensify a reaction. While some may hear such news and move on relatively easily, others may need more time to process and react. Don't assume everyone feels things the same way that you do - be sensitive to those around you and let them express their feelings.

Limit exposure to gruesome details in the news. The 24-hour nature of the Internet and cable news mean that we can be bombarded with nonstop news and images of a disastrous event. This continual exposure can exacerbate anxiety and fear, particularly for children.

Take positive action. When violent events occur, it can shake our faith and trust in our fellow man. Counter these feeling by spending time with family and friends. It can also help to do something to reduce the feelings of helplessness that many experience in the face of such events: Help others. Give blood. Organize of take part in a memorial activity. Write letters. Make a donation. Volunteer.

Consider counseling. If you or somebody else is having a particularly hard time coping with these events, counseling with a professional may be in order. Signs that you or a loved one may need help getting past this might include sleeplessness, heightened anxiety or phobias, and preoccupation with details of events.

Resources

June 11, 2011

Coming to grips with post-disaster recovery

In the wake of devastation created by a particularly violent tornado season, communities from Missouri and Alabama to Iowa and Massachusetts and are coping with the aftermath and recovery from destruction. It's well known that people experience various stages of grief when coping with loss. What is less well understood are the stages that a community goes through in coping with and recovering from massive trauma. This two-page PDF discusses the phases of community adjustment after a disaster, offering a useful model for understanding the recovery process. Much like the grief process, the various stages can and do overlap:

Heroic Phase - occurs during and immediately after the event - attention is focused on survival.

Honeymoon Phase - occurring 1 to 6 months after the disaster. A sense of shared experience and purpose; influx of support services and anticipation of assistance.

Disillusionment Phase - from 2 months to 2 or more years. Anger and resentment at public relief agencies; Erosion of sense of shared community.

Reconstruction - several years following a disaster. People assume responsibility for their own problem-solving; gradual reaffirmation of belief in community.

Beyond the community level, there is an issue that is relevant to many of us in our every day work: coping with disasters on the organizational level, which presents another set of challenges. London-based psychotherapist Pauline Rennie Peyton writes about the effects of trauma at the workplace, noting that, "there is often little support for managers in their capacity as managers who, in the aftermath of trauma, are trying to get their workforce back to 'normal.'"

Businesses located in disaster zones are faced with the dual task of repairing and restoring their own functionality while coping with the losses and recovery of their workers. People all cope with trauma and grief differently and there is no pattern or timetable to the grief and recovery process. An organizational drive to expeditious business restoration may be perceived as hard or uncaring by some workers. Peyton says that managers who talk about what they see going on with their team are less likely to be shut out and treated as an uncaring alien. But therein lies the dilemma: many managers aren't trained in dealing with trauma, and may well be experiencing their own personal reactions. Peyton speaks of this:

I can never stress strongly enough that those people with either “Manager” or “Human Resources” as part of their title are not immune from needing outside help. If you yourself are experiencing not feeling “normal” or are aware of a colleague who is experiencing the effects of trauma, please seek help sooner rather than later. People in these responsible roles often take on the problems of their teams without the supervision and training that they need — yet they fail to notice when they themselves need help.

One way to help employees and managers alike is to bring in professional support, resources that are trained and experienced in dealing with crisis management and trauma. Often, this can be an Employee Assistance Program, or other community resources. Pre-planning for organizational emergency response should include identifying such support resources in advance as part of the crisis response team.

June is PTSD Awareness Month. We've compiled some post trauma recovery resources for managers and supervisors:

April 27, 2011

Facebook depression: a new parental challenge?

There's been a lot written about risks for kids and teens online - it's certainly on the minds of many parents we speak to, and one of the most researched topics in our online member help center. The threats sound ominous -- cyberbullying, sexting, texting, and id theft ... but have you heard the one about Facebook depression? It's been the news du jour, lately.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a terrific report entitled The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families (PDF) - there's a lot of good information about online risk to kids, and most of it makes good sense. The authors enumerate the benefits of social media - a refreshing point of view since so many stories of teens and social media emphasize the negatives. The report is balanced and also discusses some of the common risks:

"Recent research indicates that there are frequent online expressions of offline behaviors, such as bullying, clique-forming, and sexual experimentation, that have introduced problems such as cyberbullying, privacy issues, and "sexting." Other problems that merit awareness include Internet addiction and concurrent sleep deprivation."
If you're a parent (or an aunt or uncle, or a friend of a parent, etc.), we recommend giving it a read. Overall, it's a good report with a lot of information that should be helpful to parents, along with solid advice from study authors about the role pediatricians should play in supporting children, adolescents, and parents in coping with today's online challenges.

But in the seven page report, there is one paragraph that has been making news ... an item about a curious phenomenon called "Facebook Depression." Here's what the authors have to say:

"Researchers have proposed a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression,” defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression. Acceptance by and contact with peers is an important element of adolescent life. The intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents. As with offline depression, preadolescents and adolescents who suffer from Facebook depression are at risk for social isolation and sometimes turn to risky Internet sites and blogs for “help” that may promote substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or selfdestructive behaviors."
If you Google "Facebook depression," there are more than 400,000 results. In the relatively short time since the AAP report was issued, the media, which has never been able to resist a melodramatic sound bite, has had a field day with this. We think that is too bad. Not because there aren't risks on the web that parents have to deal with, but because this rather imprecise syndrome is sucking all the oxygen out of the air. It trivializes depression. It raises a monster where there likely is none, and it shifts the discussion from the real issues of online teen behaviors, parental guidance, and real clinical teen depression to this sort of squishy pop culture syndrome with a catchy name. Seeing the spate of ominous headlines warning parents about monitoring their kids for Facebook depression, one can't help but think the study authors might wish for a do-over.

Weighing in on the matter of "Facebook Depression" are Eugene Beresin MD, Director of the Center for Mental Health and Media at the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry and Associate Director Tristan Gorrindo MD. They are skeptics:

"... the term "Facebook Depression," confuses the real meaning of the term depression. A diagnosis of “depression” should not be based on the amount of time one spends with a particular media. Certainly, a student who practices piano five hours a day and then develops symptoms of depression, does not have “piano depression.” While it may be true that the excessive use of social media may be a form of an “addiction” or other “disorder” provided that it is dysfunctional and disrupts social, academic, or recreational functioning, these behaviors have not yet been formally labeled as disorders because careful research and clarification of these behaviors has not yet been completed – a similar process is needed before “Facebook Depression” can be deemed a valid disorder."
Later, they note:
"In our work with depressed teens and teens with problematic internet behaviors, we see a broad number of things that could be contributing to why a child is spending a lot of time online: social anxiety or social awkwardness, feeling unsafe at school, and depression, just to name a few. In fact, one could argue from the opposite angle that a teenager with severe social anxiety might attempt to combat the fear of interacting face to face with others using Facebook as a means of “opening a door” that is too hard to do in real time."
They go on to offer practical advice to both pediatricians and parents. Please do check it out, and don't miss the very good links they offer to sites that offer social media guidance for parents. We encourage parents to heed the common sense recommendations in this article, and much of what is contained in the AAP report. A Kaiser Family Foundation report says that children between the ages of 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours of electronic activity daily (this includes TV).

Now that's depressing.

April 22, 2011

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD)

Today, it's air traffic controllers sleeping on the job. It could be worse. A few years ago, it was pilots who were falling asleep at the controls. If you'd like to revisit those frightening episodes and get some prevention advice on addressing workplace sleep-related problems, view our post on the high price of fatigue. The recent spate of well-publicized incidents might make it seem like this is a new problem, but Time logs a history of many such asleep-on-the-job incidents.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has responded with new measures, which include disciplinary action and termination of staff, adding a second controller on the late-night shift in 27 towers, and adding an additional hour between shifts. The FAA is also conducting further investigations. But on one matter, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stands firm: "On my watch, controllers will not be paid to take naps. We’re not going to allow that."

Air traffic controllers and pilots aren't the only safety-sensitive jobs that work late night hours and convoluted shifts. How would you like to have your next surgery performed by a sleep-deprived physician?

While anyone who works a night shift can be subject to disruption of the body's natural circadian rhythms causing fatigue, sleep-related hazards can be even greater with shift work when schedules rotate . Sleep experts call the resulting problems shift work sleep disorder (SWSD). Symptoms of SWSD include insomnia, excessive sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, headaches, lack of energy. Consequences include increased accidents, increased work-related errors, increased sick leave, increased irritability and mood problems. etc.

Numerous studies estimate the cost to business, but to appreciate the stakes, one need only glance at a handful of well-known accidents where sleeping on the job or sleep deprivation were cited as factors in follow-up investigations:

1986 Chernobyl nuclear explosion
1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion
1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska
1999 American Airlines crash in Little Rock, Arkansas
2003 Staten Island Ferry crash
2005 BP Oil Refinery Explosion

These are the high profile really scary end of the spectrum, but there are every day, pedestrian incidents that cause smaller tragedies every day. Some estimate that the fatality rate and injury severity level of motor vehicle crashes related to sleepiness are on par with alcohol-related crashes.

A systemic approach to problem prevention needed - but can power naps also help?
The problem of SWSD needs to be addressed with a multi-faceted approach: examining work schedules, shifts, work hours, and staffing; implementing a staff awareness and training program; building in backups and safety checks for late night workers; and addressing fatigue and sleep deprivation through wellness programs. The latter might include health assessments for medical conditions such as sleep apnea, which are known to cause drowsiness. And we are not so quick as Transportation Secretary LaHood to dismiss naps out of hand. We agree that unsanctioned napping should be disallowed - but some research has shown that napping can be beneficial to shift workers and many organizations are signing on to the benefits of power napping.

More resources
Standard addresses workplace fatigue
Fatigue Management - from EMS World
40 amazing facts about sleep
NASA napping studies
A guide to power napping

April 18, 2011

Study shows discrimination against low wage caregivers

Despite the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) focus on an employer's responsibilities to caregivers, including last year's issuance of Employer Best Practices for Workers With Caregiving Responsibilities, a recent study shows that low wage workers are still facing discrimination. The Center for WorkLife Law has recently issued a report: Poor, Pregnant, and Fired: Caregiver Discrimination Against Low-Wage Workers (PDF). The report is a review of more than 2600 cases brought by low-wage hourly workers. The report notes that most media coverage and attention to the issue has focused almost exclusively on professional women and salaried workers, for whom hours and benefits may afford more flexibility. Authors say that policy efforts need to extend to middle- and low-wage workers.

Employees with low wage, hourly pay are more likely to need more than one job to make ends meet. They are less likely to have benefits such as paid sick days and flexible schedules. Plus, low-wage workers are often employed by smaller employers who are not covered by FMLA's 50+ employee threshold.

The report discusses six discriminatory patterns that emerged:

  • Extreme hostility to pregnancy in low-wage workplaces.
  • A near total lack of flexibility in many low-wage jobs.
  • Low-wage workers treated disrespectfully, or even harassed,at work.
  • Low-wage workers denied their legal rights around caregiving.
  • Hostility to low-income men who play caregiving roles.
  • Harsher treatment of mothers of color than white mothers.

Advice for employers
The report concludes with some advice for various stakeholders. We have reprinted the recommendations for employers below:

For employers, FRD (family responsibilities discrimination) lawsuits expose the need for consistent workplace policies and greater training at all levels of the organization. Front-line supervisors of low-wage workers need to be trained and supervised to prevent caregiver discrimination and harassment and to handle family and medical leave requests effectively. In addition, employers should consider policy changes where feasible to alleviate the most common conflicts for low-wage workers, especially where policies lead to high turnover—and lawsuits. Cases document that even small amounts of flexibility, slight changes to no-fault attendance policies, or allowing minimal adjustments for pregnant workers, could make a difference in keeping experienced employees in their jobs.
Note: Thanks to Workplace Prof Blog for the pointer to this study.

Prior posts on caregiving
The high cost of caregiving: what employers can do
7 blogs that focus on work-life issues
Caregiver resources
Resources for elder caregivers

April 10, 2011

"Status-blind harassment" aka "Bullying"

Currently 44 states have bullying statutes that apply to schools, says Michael Kaufman, a partner with Kaufman Dolowich Voluck & Gonzo in Woodbury, N.Y. "States are going to be addressing this' in the workplace also, he predicts. "It does look like there’s going to be a trend."
When it comes to employer liability for bullying, the jury may is still be out. There are no state laws covering private employers, but that may just be a question of time - currently, there are 13 bills active in 10 states: IL, MA, MD, NJ, NV, NY, UT, VT, WA, and WV, according to Suzanne Sclafane in her PropertyCasualty360.com article Do You Work With A Bullying Jerk?.

But just because laws don't exist now, employers aren't off the hook when it comes to bullying - there is nothing to prevent an employee from filing a complaint with a regulatory authority or filing a lawsuit, particular if they can establish some harm. Generally, an employer would be protected under employers professional liability insurance and insurers would handle claims much the same way they would harassment.

Wise employers are taking steps to stamp out bullying regardless of the status of legislative initiatives. Even if it never winds up in court, bullying is damaging and corrosive to overall employee morale and productivity. In the same publication, Sclafane has another article on What Employers Should Do About Workplace Bullying that frames the issue of bullying as "status-blind harassment. She says , "Experts use the term "status-blind" or "equal-opportunity harassment" to distinguish workplace bullying from harassment targeted at classes of workers protected under federal and state statutes, such as Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin."

She offers tips from experts on steps that employers can take to reduce the likelihood of bullying, including establishment of policies and expectations, training managers to recognize and be responsive to bullying, and using behavioral surveys during the interview process. (We'd suggest adding an EAP referral process in anti-bullying initiatives, too.)

It's also important to audit a workplace to ensure that the prevailing work culture isn't inadvertently fostering reinforcing bullying. Kathleen Long, one of the experts interviewed in the article, says that that there are two root causes to workplace bullying.

"One is that person who is hired is a bully already." The other is an environment that makes someone who might not normally bully fall prey to that kind of behavior. "Certain kinds of stresses put them in a situation where that comes up," she says, noting that economic stresses, highly competitive environments, or organizations that evidence unfair treatment or favoritism may nurture bullies and victims.

March 24, 2011

Tips from an Expert: Warning Signs of Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is a recurring issue, and one that is of great concern to the employers we work with. We've talked about it many time here on the blog, offering everything from resources and tools to strategies for prevention. We're always on the lookout for more information and more tools.

An article about the Warning Signs of Workplace Violence by Rich Cordivari caught our eye. As a senior executive at AlliedBarton Security Services, he is an expert on the topic. He kindly allowed us permission to reprint his article here. He notes that while many of these signs alone are not necessarily indicative of future violence, they are red flags. And we note that we would view many of these signs as being triggers that should generate an EAP referral.

The Warning Signs of Workplace Violence

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics more than two million Americans are impacted by workplace violence annually. There are behavior indicators often exhibited in the workplace that have been linked to workplace violence situations. According to a 2004 USA Today analysis of 224 instances of fatal workplace violence situations, the attacker had left behind clear warning signs.
Workplace violence is attributed to a broad range of behaviors falling along a spectrum that, due to their nature and/or severity, significantly affect the workplace, generate a concern for personal safety and can result in physical injury or even death.

While every situation and set of circumstances is unique, there are some warning signs that are commonly exhibited by individuals in need of assistance. If you are feeling uncomfortable in any situation with a co-worker, or noticing these warning signs, you should notify a manager or someone in a position of authority within your organization.

Remember that just because someone exhibits one of these behaviors does not necessarily mean they are prone to display an act of violence. It is when someone has a noticeable change in behavior, if these behaviors are observed in combination or if the behavior is displayed constantly that you should consider telling someone about the situation.

  • Excessive tardiness or absences – An employee who consistently leaves their workday early without authorization, or presents numerous excuses for shortening the work day, should set off an alarm. This is a significant sign if an individual is typically prompt and committed to a full work day.
  • Increased need for supervision – Generally, an employee requires less supervision as he or she becomes more proficient at their work. An employee who exhibits an increased need for supervision, or with whom the supervisor must spend an inordinate amount of time, may be an individual who is signaling a need for help. Managers should be alert to such a change and consider offering professional intervention if needed.
  • Lack of performance – If an employee who is normally efficient and productive experiences a sudden or sustained drop in performance, there is reason for concern. This is actually a classic warning sign of dissatisfaction and the manager should meet with the employee immediately to determine a mutually beneficial course of action.
  • Change in work habits – As in the case of reduced productivity, an employee exhibiting inconsistent work habits may be in need of intervention. If you think about your peers at work, they are typically quite consistent in their work habits. If habits change, the manager has reason to suspect the individual is in need of assistance and action should be taken.
  • Inability to concentrate – If an employee is suddenly unable to concentrate, this may indicate that they are distracted and in trouble. A manager should be notified to try and encourage the employee to seek assistance.
  • Signs of stress – If an employee who has traditionally adhered to safety procedures is suddenly involved in accidents or safety violations, stress, a significant contributor to workplace violence, may be indicated.
  • Change in attitude – A sustained change in behavior is often an indication of an employee in difficulty. People are typically quite familiar with the personalities of their peers and are often quick to notice significant changes. Your work environment should be managed in such a way as to ensure trust and open communication.
  • Weapons fascination – A classic behavioral warning sign is someone who is fascinated with weapons. This should be easily recognized and reported.
  • Drugs and Alcohol – Watch for changes in the person’s mood or character when drugs and alcohol are used. Often people who have substance abuse problems act out in the workplace and it’s important that every organization have some methodology in place to identify and assist victims of drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Not taking responsibility for their actions – A person who uses excuses and blames others is a classic behavioral warning sign that is easy to identify but just as often ignored by managers. A worker who engages in this behavior is typically signaling for assistance and may require counseling.

Remember that these are only a few of the possible warning signs of workplace violence. As with any work related issue, you should report unusual behavior to a manager or someone who has the authority to take action.
For more information on Workplace Violence Awareness, visit www.AlliedBarton.com/WorkplaceViolence.

About the author: Rich Cordivari is the Vice President of Learning & Development at AlliedBarton Security Services. AlliedBarton is the industry’s premier provider of highly trained security personnel to many industries including higher education, commercial real estate, healthcare, residential communities, chemical/petrochemical, government, manufacturing and distribution, financial institutions, and shopping centers.

March 13, 2011

Resources for Japan's earthquake & tsunami; tools for for explaining disasters to kids

Our hearts go out to the folks in Japan. You may have employees who are concerned about relatives or friends who are living, studying, or traveling in Japan. We've put together some resources that you might share with your work force.

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Resources
Google Person Finder: 2011 Japan Earthquake - available in English & other languages

Restoring Family Links - maintained by the International Red Cross in cooperation with the Japanese Red Cross and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Google Crisis Response - 2011 Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami - News, media, maps, and other resources from Google.

Translate Japanese text to English

U.S. State Department: Japan Earthquake & Pacific Tsunami

Sending money to U.S. citizens overseas

Ambassador John V. Roos Twitter feed - U.S. Ambassador to Japan has been posting updates.

Japan earthquake live report - Local news and emergency information for those in Japan

Some perspective on the Japanese earthquake - a no-nonsense primer on geography, what happened, and the aftermath.

Interactive before and after photos - Move the slider to compare satellite images, taken by GeoEye, from before and after the disaster.

How you can help
Tips for Giving to Earthquake Relief Efforts in Japan - follow these tips to avoid the scams that inevitably crop up after a disaster

Red Cross - Responding to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami. People can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to help those affected by the earthquake in Japan and tsunami throughout the Pacific.

Japan Earthquake: How you can help

Charity Navigator

Talking with kids about disasters
Even if you don't know anyone in Japan, there may be someone right in your own home who is having trouble coping with this disaster: your kids.

Graphic and dramatic images repeated on the news or talked about at school can be upsetting to adults, but even more so to kids who may not have the life experience to put things in perspective. This can lead to anxiety or fear about many of the things being discussed: natural disasters, radiation leaks, disruption, loss, and death. We've put together a few resources for parents and teachers to help discuss these things with kids.

Talking with kids about world natural disasters

Talking with Kids about Tough Issues: TV News and Accidents & Disasters

8 Steps To Explain Disasters to Children

Helping children cope with disaster

Explaining death to children

KidsHealth: Anxiety, fears, and phobias

March 5, 2011

The high cost of caregiving: what employers can do

If you have caregivers in your organization - and there is no doubt but that you do - they are costing your organization an 8% differential in healthcare costs per year over noncaregivers, according to a
study on caregivers conducted by Metlife and the National Alliance for Caregiving. The study also found that "younger caregivers (ages 18 to 39) cost their employers 11% more for health care than non-caregivers, while male caregivers cost an additional 18%. It also found that eldercare may be closely associated with high-risk behaviors like smoking and alcohol consumption. Exacerbating the potential impact to employers is the possibility that these medical conditions may also lead to disability-related absences."

The study encompassed more than 17,000 U.S. employees of a major multi-national manufacturing corporation. Nearly 12% of the participants reported caregiving responsibilities for an elderly person. And contrary to conventional thinking that this is an issue for older workers, younger populations such as employees in the 18-39 group are increasingly assuming caregiver responsibilities.

Caregivers face a number of life stressors that take a toll on their health - and their work performance. Caring.com addresses 5 of the biggest issues that sabotage family caregivers:

  • Lack of privacy - establishing boundaries and relief from 24/7 responsibilities.
  • Sleep deprivation - imperils the caregiver's mental and physical health.
  • Lone-soldier syndrome - failure to have emotional outlets can exacerbate stress.
  • Unpredictability - makes it difficult to make contingency plans.
  • Overwhelming tasks - sometimes the enormity of care demands necessitate nursing home placement, a wrenching decision.

What can employers do?

One of the single biggest things an employer can do is to address the issue and to make resources and support available to caregiving employees. This can be done through the Human Resources department, through a wellness program, or through an EAP, or by bringing an outside agency in to offer seminars and support.

One simple thing an employer can do is to compile and share a list of caregiving resources, both those available locally and online. Recent reports show that a high number of caregivers turn to online resources for peer-to-peer help, both with their own health issues and the health issues of loved ones that they have caregiver responsibilities for. Peer-to-peer programs can go a long way to diminishing the feeling of being alone and can help the caregiver to find and share practical support resources. We've compiled a list of online caregiver resources that might be helpful to your caregiving employees - feel free to share this page within your organization.

For additional ways that employers can support the caregivers in their workplace, here are some resources:

January 21, 2011

Retaliation topped EEOC filings for 2010

In 2010, EEOC reported that overall claim filings had increased, rising from 93,277 to a high of 99,992. But one charge in particular topped the charts: for the first time ever, retaliation claims surpassed race discrimination in the number of filings. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention - retaliation claims have been on the rise since a Supreme Court ruling in 2006. Allen Smith of SHRM discusses the EEOC report in greater detail in his article Retaliation Surpasses Race Discrimination as Most Common Charge. (Subscriptions required, or see the EEOC press release.)

Many legal observers attribute this increase to a variety of factors. Smith reports:

"The agency attributed the rise to multiple factors, including economic conditions, increased diversity and demographic shifts in the labor force, employees’ greater awareness of the law, improvements in the EEOC’s intake practices and customer service, and greater accessibility to the public."
Legal observers suggest that there is a lower bar for retaliation claims and that juries seem sympathetic. In an excellent article that first appeared in 2005, Robert M. Shea and Mark H. Burak noted the increase and discussed Why Retaliation Claims Are on the Rise and What Employers Can Do About It.

As with many issues, preventive measures are generally less costly in dollars, time, angst, and people power than defensive actions. We've gathered some tips from the experts on steps you can take to minimize the risk of retaliation claims.

Epstein Becker & Green: How to Stop a Retaliation Claim in Its Tracks

NOLO: Preventing Retaliation Claims by Employees

HR World: Preventing Retaliation Claims

HR Morning: How HR can stop retaliation claims in their tracks

January 16, 2011

Attitudes to mental illness are a barrier to help

Tuscon's horrific shooting a little over a week ago has launched national dialogues on several fronts: Does violent imagery and heated or threatening rhetoric in the public make it more likely that violence will occur? Do our public officials require more security and will they become less accessible to us? How can we be more civil to each other?

While the political angle has dominated the airwaves, psychiatrist Larry Wissow of Johns Hopkins makes the case that we should be shifting the conversation to how we ensure treatment for mental illness. He notes the troubling symptoms that Loughner exhibited, and while clearly stating that a diagnosis cannot be made via news stories, he points to patterns that would be familiar to any mental health professionals, particularly those working with the late teen to early twenties demographic, when serious disorders often first emerge: withdrawal, suspicion, mood shifts, statements that don't seem to make any sense, and behavior changes. Wissow says that many people notice these changes, but few act on it the way we might if we saw a friend rapidly losing weight or exhibiting signs of a physical illness. But symptoms of mental health disorders often result in avoidance rather than help. Wissow explains some of the reasons why:

"One big reason is that mental illness is among the most stigmatizing labels one can propose, and it is a huge barrier to getting care. Around the world, in nearly every society, people with odd and frightening behavior get hidden or risk being abandoned by their families — not only because they can't be controlled or trusted but because they are an embarrassment and make life difficult for everyone else. All too often, mental illness is still seen as a defect of character or upbringing."

To remedy this, Wissner calls for giving the issue of mental health a higher profile and priority. He suggests that "... we need much more widespread training for educators, employers and the public about the signs and symptoms of major mental disorders and what to do when it looks like someone might be ill. We need to make it a humane and nonstigmatizing standard to empathetically but effectively get someone to a source of care when the first concerns arise — when they are much more likely to agree to it."

In a subsequent interview with NPR, Wissow talks more about how people who are in a position to do so might asssist a troubled person in getting help. He also notes that Loughner is not and should not be viewed as the "poster child" or face of mental illness because most people who are mentally ill are more of a danger to themsleves to others.

Employers with EAPs are in a good position to note behavior and performance changes and to point an employee to help resources. Employers shouldn't attempt to diagnose - simply train supervisors to watch for changes in behavior and performance, and in how to make referrals to the EAP based on those behavioral or performance issues.

Unfortunately, Wissow's pleas come at a time of severe budget constraints on both the national and the state level. While The Mental Health Parity Act was a welcome step in the right direction, there's still a big battle in breaking down the stigma against mental health problems and in getting people timely help.

October 22, 2010

What parents need to know about teen suicide

Recently, teen suicides have been in the public spotlight - but sadly, this is not a new issue. We were in the process of compiling resources for parents when a very good newsletter on the topic of what parents need to know about teen suicide was delivered to our mailbox from Children's Friend. This is an excellent central-MA based nonprofit with a mission of "improving the lives of children and those who love them." The newsletter offers thoughts and advice on warning signs from Dr. Jennifer Denaro, who heads Children's Friend's Dialectical Behavior Therapy team. They would like this important information to reach as many families as possible so they've given us permission to reprint it here. You may want to share this with your employees.

WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TEEN SUICIDE
Children's Friend
Since Tyler Clementi, a brilliant, 18-year old violinist, took his own life in September, more stories of teen suicides have emerged and shocked people across the U.S. Tyler was the fourth gay teenager to kill himself within only a few weeks, and this past weekend it happened again in Oklahoma.

It would be a terrible mistake, though, to think that suicide is only a risk for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender young people (often referred to collectively as "GLBTQ"). While incidents of suicide and attempted suicide are more frequent among teens in sexual minorities because of the harassment and rejection they so often face, teen suicide is a much broader problem in our community and nationwide. At Children's Friend we regularly treat both GLBTQ and straight kids who have attempted suicide or injured themselves.

Dr. Jennifer Denaro heads Children's Friend's Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) team. Our DBT is a specialized outpatient program for adolescents who are at high risk of self-harm or suicide, and many of the teens in the program have histories of serious suicide attempts. We asked Dr. Denaro why a young person would try to end his or her life. Here's what she said.

"Most teenagers whom I have talked to after a suicide attempt report that they were feeling very depressed or felt that they couldn't tolerate an overwhelming event that happened, and they were trying to escape the situation or get relief from their feelings. Most kids who try to kill themselves don't want to die. They don't think about death as permanent and seem to be trying to escape feelings such as sadness, hurt, shame or loss. They often don't know what else to do about these painful emotions and feel completely overpowered by them. These emotions take over and result in impulsive behavior. Some teenagers also act because they feel unwanted and unloved."

How sad that young people with so much life ahead of them are in such despair. Most of the kids who take their own lives are probably loved, even if they don't feel they are. The brain of a child or teen isn't fully developed. What is clear and logical to you as a parent may not occur to a young person, so it's important not to ignore signs of trouble.

We thought parents might wonder what warning signs to watch for, so Dr. Denaro has put together the following list of behaviors that should put you on alert:

  • Changes in eating habits
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Social withdrawal (avoiding friends and family)
  • Dramatic mood swings (seems happy one minute, full of rage the next)
  • Increased iritability
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Loss of interest in school
  • Decrease in grades
  • Loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
  • Persistent boredom
  • Sense of hopelessness or guilt
  • Increased conflicts with peers
  • Unusual interest in death/dying
  • Writing poems, stories about death
  • Listening to music about death
  • Obsessing about the suicide of a famous person

Dr. Denaro emphasizes that there are some behaviors that are warning signs of more immediate risk and should trigger prompt action. If a young person:

  • Talks about committing suicide
  • Put affairs in order (for example, saying, "If something happens to me....")
  • Makes comments that suggest that he or she has been considering suicide (for example, says things like "I won't be a problem anymore...," "I'd be better off dead...," or "It's no use...")
  • Gives away favorite belongings
  • Writes a will
  • Writes a suicide note
  • Appears cheerful and at peace after a depressive period or
  • Shows signs of psychosis (for example, hearing voices, bizarre thoughts), then it's time to ACT.

What should a parent do?

  • First of all, take any comments about suicide or suggestions about suicide very seriously.
  • If your child shows warning signs, acknowledge his or her feelings and provide reassurance and love.
  • Listen carefully to what your child is saying to you.
  • Remind your child that even when things are overwhelming, they can and will get better.
  • Let the child know you want to help.
  • Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions, including, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?"
  • Ask about his or her suicide plans.
  • Get an appointment with a professional, licensed counselor in your area immediately.
If your family is entitled to mobile in-home crisis services, and you know you can keep your child safe till the crisis team arrives, contact your team. If your teenager seems in immediate danger, get to the emergency room at once, even if it means calling 911.

Professional help can make all the difference. Let's keep our kids safe.

October 17, 2010

More on bereavement and funeral leave

Betty Long talks about bereavement leave in Employee Benefit News, suggesting that issues related to grief in the workplace are likely to increase due to an aging workforce. She notes that this is an issue between employer and employee - there are no fair labor standards that require payment for funeral leave. Even the FMLA, which allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, does not encompass funeral or bereavement leave.

To our knowledge, there are no state laws mandating such a benefit. Recently, a proposed mandatory bereavement leave was vetoed in California. Rather, funeral and bereavement leave is a voluntary benefit that many employers extend to their employees on either a paid or unpaid basis. The article states:

"According to a 2007 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 69% of employees in the private sector get paid funeral leave. Among companies with 100 employees or more, the number rises to 81%, while only 57% of small businesses with workforces of under 100 provide funeral leave."
According to the 2010 SHRM benefits survey, at 89%, paid bereavement leave was the second most commonly offered leave benefit after holidays (97%). Employers that do provide for paid leave generally allow 2 to 3 days per year. Often, when employers don't offer paid leave, they may allow an employee to take unpaid time or may be allowed to use sick, vacation, or personal days.

Employers also frequently struggle with which family members should be covered by a funeral leave policy. Some policies make reference to "immediate family members," while others outline a complicated formula that applies a graduated number of days or hours, depending on the relationship. Once again, we point to employment law attorney Michael Maslanka's sensible suggestions for a bereavement leave for the 21st century

Given the business we're in, we see the devastating impact that grief can have on person, and how the intensity can vary based on the relationship with the decedent, the circumstances of the death, and the emotional and psychological makeup of the person who is experiencing the loss. While any policies and benefits need to be consistently applied, we favor flexibility in applying other leave - such as vacation or personal days. But helping an employee deal with grief is not all about time off - it's also how the employee is treated on their return to the workplace and the day-to-day routine. Employers and supervisors need to understand the grief process and should make outside resources like an EAP or counseling services available. The following tools also can be helpful to share with managers:

When an Employee is Grieving
Grief & Loss: Guidelines for Supervisors
Helping Colleagues Deal with Grief
The Bereaved Employee: Returning to Work

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.

May 2, 2010

Drinking Moms

Alcohol abuse is one of the most common issues we deal with. Whether people come to us via a supervisor's referral, a family member's referral, or their own volition, there is one unifying thread: alcohol is taking a tremendous toll, not just in the drinker's life, but in the lives of all the people around them: family members, work colleagues, and friends. And nothing is harder than when the drinker in crisis is a parent.

Drinking Moms have a particular stigma in society. Alcohol abuse in men is often shrugged off with a nod and a wink, while with women, it is perceived as unladylike and unfeminine. And when motherhood enters the picture, the stigma is intensified. Women face other unique challenges in overcoming addiction, as well. According to a recent Harvard Mental Health newsletter on Addiction in Women, men are more likely to be substance abusers than women, "But in other respects, women face tougher challenges. They tend to progress more quickly from using an addictive substance to dependence (a phenomenon known as telescoping). They also develop medical or social consequences of addiction faster than men, often find it harder to quit using addictive substances, and are more susceptible to relapse. These gender differences can affect treatment."

Some high profile, celebrity cases are bringing the issue of women and alcoholism to public attention. And this past week, ABC's 20/20 focused on alcoholic Moms. Several video clips from the series can now be viewed online.

Life for stay-at-home mom goes from Pinot in park to Merlot in morning (video)
Mom looks to rehab after hitting bottom (video)
Drunken moms: the fear of quitting (video)
'Cocktail Crusader' falls to earth (video)
Moms face uphill battle to stay sober (video)

Related stories
Mary Karr, alcoholic mother, recalls shame of addiction
Mom kept drinking a secret from loved ones
Children of Alcoholic Mother Open Up
Drinking Mom's Resource Guide

Resources
Alcohol, A Woman's Health Issue - from the NIAAA
Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol's Effects? - from NIAAA

February 28, 2010

Celebrity suicides highlight the heavy toll of depression

Three sad stories from the celebrity world drive home the heavy toll that depression can take and highlight the desperate plight of those who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Fame, fortune and the love of friends and family proved powerless in the face of the crushing weight of depression for three young men who recently took their own lives:

  • Celebrated 40-year old British fashion designer Alexander McQueen took his own life. His mother had died a few days before and his friends were concerned at how hard he was taking this loss.
  • 41-year old Andrew Koenig, best known for playing Mike Seaver's best friend "Boner" on the 80s sitcom Growing Pains was found dead in Vancouver after having been missing for several days. Family say that Koenig suffered from recurring depression.
  • Michael Blosil, the 18-year old son of Marie Osmond, took his own life after a battle with what friends and family members describe as severe depression.
In a heartbreaking video interview, Andrew Koenig's parents entreated people to be vigilant about the signs of depression in loved ones. "Don't ignore it; don't rationalize it...extend a hand." Walter Keonig cited the National Suicide Prevention Hotline as a resource.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), more than 33,000 people die by suicide every year in the U.S., making it the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years, and the 11th leading cause of death overall. More than 90% of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. Here are some facts about the role that depression and other psychiatric disorders play:

  • Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.
  • Depression affects nearly 10 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year, or more than 24 million people.
  • More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (17 million), cancer (12 million) and HIV/AIDS (1 million).
  • About 15 percent of the population will suffer from clinical depression at some time during their lifetime. Thirty percent of all clinically depressed patients attempt suicide; half of them ultimately die by suicide.
  • Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.

When You Fear Someone May Take Their Life
According to ASFP, 50% to 75% of suicidal individuals give some warning of their intentions. The most effective way to prevent a friend or loved one from taking his or her life is to recognize the factors that put people at risk for suicide, take warning signs seriously and know how to respond. They issue a one-page guide with signs of imminent danger of suicide and steps that can be taken to respond to these warning signs.

Many suicide prevention groups suggest an easy mnemonic to remember warning signs: IS PATH WARM
Ideation
Substance Abuse
Purposelessness
Anxiety
Trapped
Hopelessness
Withdrawal
Anger
Recklessness
Mood Changes

Employers can play a role in prevention
SPCR suggests that employers can play an important role in helping to prevent suicide. Because people spend a significant portion of their lives at work, employers have the opportunity to see changes in behavior, personality or mood. Training managers to be alert for and make referrals when they observe signs of depression and other early warning signs of problems may save lives.

If you observe warning signs or changes in behavior or personality, don't try to diagnose the problem or find the reason for the behavior changes, simply help the employee to find professional assistance through your EAP or an occupational health specialist. Work performance can be a great leverage for people who might otherwise be reluctant to seek help for a problem.

Additional resources
What Employers Can Do to Prevent Suicide
Preventing Suicide: A Resource at Work
Midlife Suicide Rate Spikes
Workplace tools: Depression Calculator
Mental illness and the workplace
Quickly Treating Employee Depression Helps Workers

January 28, 2010

Families in crisis: coping with domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues

Here in the Boston area, there's been a tragic story of domestic violence leading to death. The 70 year old father of celebrated Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan, Daniel Kerrigan died after an altercation with his adult son, Mark Kerrigan. The senior Kerrigan was found bleeding and unconscious on the kitchen floor of his home, passing away a few hours after being brought the hospital. According to police reports, his combative and intoxicated son Mark had to be forcibly removed from the basement of the home. He has been charged with assault, although further charges could ensue after an autopsy.

Mark Kerrigan is a veteran who has battled substance abuse and behavioral issues over the span of many years. He had been jailed numerous times for violent incidents, including assault on his ex-wife, Janet Kerrigan, who had told police that "Mark made statements that he was going to kill himself, if not by himself then by the cops."

In a series of video interviews with local station NECN, Janet Kerrigan talks of her ordeal as a victim of domestic violence, as well as the elder Kerrigan's attempts to help and support his son. She is frank in her assessment that his family was in denial about his problems and that the family did not believe or support her.

In a followup story, Boston Globe reporters Peter Schworm and Milton Valencia talk about the dilemma that families face in coping with adult children who have behavioral and substance abuse problems.

These weighty family issues are ones that surface every day among our clients' employees. While many people think that EAPs are for people who are experiencing their own substance abuse or mental health issue, we probably see or talk to almost as many people who are debilitated from coping with the effects of a family member's substance abuse, depression, or mental illness, or who are weighed down by the terrible burden of domestic violence. As Janet Kerrigan's interviews depict, such problems can be stressful and terrifying in the extreme. These are problems that can often tear families and lives apart. It can be very difficult for family members to know where the line is between support and enabling, the appropriate balance between love and tough love. The natural tendency - particularly for parents - is to protect and support their children, but the wrong type of support can actually help perpetuate a problem. There are no easy answers.

Our employer clients are often made aware of a terrible family issue by a change in employee behavior. A formerly conscientious employee suddenly has frequent absences and a change in demeanor: Anxious, distracted, stressed, moody, withdrawn. When spotting a change in productivity or work behavior, we recommend that employers don't try to diagnose the problem, simply to address the change in performance and refer the employee to resources for help - preferably to an EAP or other trusted resource. But we also encourage employers to offer help in other ways: as part of an ongoing wellness and HR communication effort, include information about community mental health resources in a newsletter; keep a list of helpful links on the company intranet; and invite representatives from various mental health support services to the annual health fair.

Resources
Families for Depression Awareness - a resource to help people in caregiver roles and people with depressive disorders understand the conditions, reduce stigma, and share issues.
NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness - a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.
Al-Anon and Alateen - offering strength and hope for friends and families of problem drinkers.
Mental Illness in the Workplace - a prior post on HR Web Cafe
Domestic Violence and the Workplace - a prior post on HR Web Cafe

January 14, 2010

Haiti resources for HR managers: finding loved ones; ways to help; managing trauma

We've received notice that several of our clients are concerned about relatives and loved ones who are missing in Haiti. Other clients have asked us about ways their organizations can help. We will use this post to link to helpful resources, and will update our list when we find additional resources:

Looking for loved ones in Haiti
The U.S. Embassy in Port Au Prince has set up a task force at the Embassy which is taking calls as conditions permit. The Embassy is working to identify Americans in Haiti who need urgent assistance and to identify sources of emergency help.

  • Americans are urged to contact the Embassy via email at ACSPaP@state.gov to request assistance
  • Americans in Haiti can call the Embassy’s Consular Task Force at 509-2229-8942, 509-2229-8089, 509-2229-8322, or 509-2229-8672.
  • The State Department has also created a task force to monitor the emergency. People in the U.S. or Canada with information or inquiries about U.S. citizens in Haiti may reach the Haiti Task Force at 888-407-4747. Outside of the U.S. and Canada, call 202-501-4444. Note: due to heavy volume, some callers may receive a recording.
  • To reach or find Haitian residents, the Red Cross recommends that callers continue to call or text family members who live nearby.
CNN ireport: looking for loved ones in Haiti - Are you searching for a family member or friend in Haiti? Upload his or her photo on CNN's ireport.

Family Links - The aim of the Family Links website is to accelerate the process of restoring contact between separated family members. It is managed by the ICRC, in cooperation with the tracing services of the Haitian Red Cross Society and of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies throughout the world. At this stage, the website offers the possibility for persons in Haiti and abroad to publish the names of relatives with whom they are striving to restore contact. It will progressively incorporate information offering responses to those queries. (Note: The ICRC has no means of verifying the information sent through the network. It is not responsible for any inaccurate information given through the services made available on this site.)

How you can help:
Red Cross: People can make an unrestricted donation to the International Response Fund at www.redcross.org , or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767). The public can also help by texting “Haiti” to 90999 to send a $10 donation to the Red Cross, through an effort backed by the U.S. State Department. This donation will be charged to your next cell phone bill. Funds will go to support American Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.

Clinton Bush Haiti Fund:

  • Online donations page
  • Text the word "QUAKE" to 20222 to donate $10 to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, charged to your cell phone bill
  • Mail to: Mail: The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund / c/o William J. Clinton Foundation / Donations Department / 610 President Clinton Avenue / Little Rock, AR 72201 - OR -
    The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund / c/o Communities Foundation of Texas / 5500 Caruth Haven Lane / Dallas, TX 75225

Other resources:

Scam alert
FBI warning of Haiti earthquake scams

  • FBI says don't click on links or files in unsolicited donation request e-mails
  • Do not ever donate cash; don't give your credit card info to people phoning for donations
  • Ask if charity is registered and what percentage of money goes to victims

News resources
Twitter

Managing trauma in the workplace
Workplace Critical Incident Resources from the Employee Assistance Professional Association. In particular, see their page on Haiti resources and the following information on traumatic events:

Also see our prior post: The aftermath of Katrina: HR lessons learned

January 5, 2010

Study: disability spikes in January-February

Now that the parties are over and the bills are coming due, your employees may be returning to work with a heavy load of stress, a case of post-holiday letdown, or a more serious case of depression linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Post-holiday malaise is as predictable as the swallows returning to Capistrano and while it will not affect all your employees, it will effect enough to make a serious dent in productivity. A recent study of employee disability claims by The Hartford offers further testimony to this matter. The study, which analyzed more than one million short-term disability claims filed from 2004 to 2008, revealed a seasonal pattern:

"Excluding pregnancy-related claims, the review found that short-term disability claims dropped to their lowest level in November and December. But the dip was followed by a surge in disability claims in January and February linked to depression, respiratory illnesses and injuries. The average time a worker took off work for a disability was about 60 days, not counting pregnancy-related claims."

"Glenn Shapiro, vice president for claims at the company’s group benefits division, said the pattern was not entirely surprising given that dreary and cold winter days had long been linked to depression, a higher risk of colds and flu and slipping and falling accidents."

Forward-looking managers should anticipate the increased risks for disability over the post-holiday season and plan accordingly. Here are some resources and tips that might help:

November 9, 2009

When your employees trash your organization online

Has this ever happened to you? You Google your company by name and right on the first page of results, there is a negative blog posting about your company authored by one of your employees. Or you find some inappropriate information about your company shared by one of your employees on Twitter or Facebook. Yikes, do you have any recourse?

Employment law attorney Keisha-Ann G. Gray has an excellent column in Human Resource Executive that tackles the issue of options available to employers when employees criticize the company online via a blog or other social networking site. While an employer's first inclination might be to react punitively, Gray advises employers to look before they leap because there are a number of state and federal laws that might protect the employee from any adverse action depending on where, when, and how the comments were made.

To prevent problems from occurring, Gray suggests that conscientious employers should have a social networking policy in place, and that such a policy may also serve as a defense against any potential wrongful discharge claims should action be taken against employees who violate the policy:

"Employers should take preventative steps by devising comprehensive, legally compliant policies that place employees on notice of what work-related matters are inappropriate to blog about (no trade secrets, defamatory/harassing comments regarding co-workers, etc.), and that blogging should not be done through company property or on company time."
She presents a list of guidelines for what should be covered and she also includes a helpful sample social-networking/blogging policy.

In addition to establishing an employee policy, there are other steps employers can take to protect their online reputation.

**Sign up for Google alerts to find out what's being said about you online. There are a variety of other reputation management monitoring tools that you can use to keep up on what's being said about your company online.

**Maintain a positive online presence for your company. Consider a blog and establishing a presence on popular social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. Update sites frequently with positive information about what your company is doing. (Here's a great example of an organization that has an employee-written blog: The Ambassablog).

**Keep internal lines of communication open. Ensure that you have a way for complaints to be heard and grievances addressed. Encourage managers and supervisors to take internal complaints seriously.

**Don't sweat the small stuff. There are a plethora of anonymous complaint boards and forums that allow the public to weigh in anonymously on various industry sectors and businesses. Focus on issuing your own positive, open communications rather than chasing around to put out small fires on low-traction blogs and forums. But for a serious breach by employees, act swiftly and get advice from your legal team. Case in point - this recent damage control tale from Domino's Pizza.

September 28, 2009

Dealing with grief in the aftermath of homicide

Last week, we posted about the violent death of Annie Le. Since that time, we learned about the horrific death of a part-time census worker in Kentucky, another person who met with a violent death on the job. While Bill Sparkman's death has not yet been ruled a homicide, like Annie Le's death, his death was a violent and sad event.

We've been thinking of the families and colleagues of these two folks and how they cope with the aftermath of such violent episodes. It's always hard to lose someone we love, whatever the circumstances - through age, through illness or through a sudden accident. But when the death is the result of a violent act, there is an added dimension to the death, insult added to the injury. It is often an event that is in the public spotlight and it can be extraordinarily difficult for survivors to achieve any closure.

"Violent dying is a human act, associated with human intention or negligence. Suicidal, homicidal, accidental or terrorist "killing" is followed by a socially proscribed inquiry to investigate and determine who is "responsible" because this is a dying that should not have happened. This intense inquest by the medical examiner, the police and sometimes by the courts socially reinforces the personal demand for investigation, and retribution if investigation determines that the deceased was the "victim" of a crime. Natural dying is rarely followed by such an inquiry, and it is not normative for grief following natural dying to include persistent thoughts, feelings or behaviors of retaliation or retribution or dread of its recurrence." Violent Death Bereavement Society
This lack of closure means that family and friends of the victims of violence are more likely to suffer from complicated grief, a type of grief that can be intense and prolonged, sometimes described as having aspects of both depression and post-traumatic stress disorder:
"The risk of developing complicated grief depends on both the immediate circumstances of the death and the background against which it occurs. PTSD is more likely to follow a traumatic experience if the person who undergoes it regards his reactions as a sign of weakness, fears that he will lose his sanity, or ruminates about how he or someone else could have prevented it from happening. These are also risk factors for complicated grief, and the disorder is more likely to occur after a death that is traumatic — premature, sudden, violent, or unexpected."
Often, the best source of support and solace comes from other family members who have lost loved ones to violent events. Eric Schlosser of The Atlantic wrote an excellent article on this topic entitled A Grief Like No Other - the article is about 15 years old, but is excellent for shedding light on a difficult topic.

Resources
We've previously posted Grief in the workplace - tips for supervisors - our advice there still stands.
Here are some other resources for managers in dealing with grief specifically related to victims of violence:
National Center for Victims of Crime
Friends and Families of Violent Crime Victims
Violent Death Bereavement Society
The National Center for the Victims of Violent Crime - Homicide Survivors
Survivors of Homicide - CT
National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children
Homicide Survivors - Dealing With Grief (PDF) - Prepared by the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime
Murder Victims - memorial to the many innocent victims of violent crime and a source for help for murder victim survivors

September 22, 2009

Death in the lab: workplace violence

If you were to ask someone to describe what comes to mind when thinking about workplace violence, most people would probably describe an enraged employee coming to the workplace with a gun and opening fire. The workplace would always be some "other" environment than our own: a manufacturing plant, a post office, a food processing plant. Most people probably wouldn't think of scientific lab. Most people wouldn't think of strangulation.

The tragic death of Annie Le in a Yale Lab was a jolt. From the setting to the victim to the alleged assailant - her death doesn't fit the stereotypical image of an enraged shooter that we have developed over years of sensationalistic reports of workplace homicides. Those reporting on the news look to make sense of it in ways that fit patterns: was this the result of some romantic relationship gone bad? Was this a boyfriend scorned and taking revenge on the eve of her impending marriage?

The reality is that being killed by a coworker is indeed atypical. Statistically, it's a relatively rare occurrence. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 517 employees were victims of homicide in the workplace last year, a number that has dropped by 52 percent from the high of 1,080 homicides reported in 1994. About three-quarters of all workplace homicides occur in the course of a robbery in settings where money is changing hands - taxis, grocery stores, and gas stations; other common scenarios include public safety workers such as police or home health nurses who are killed in the line of duty, or homicides that occur when domestic violence is carried into the workplace.

Perhaps the rarity of homicide by a coworker is part of what makes it so troubling and puzzling when it does occur. Often, in retrospect, neighbors and family members can point to clues leading up to the act: anger, frustration, or a sense of having been wronged on the part of the perpetrator. In this case, acquaintances express astonishment that lab tech Raymond Clark would be capable of such an act. His supervisor saw nothing in the history of his employment at the university that might indicate the potential for violence. There were a few hints of trouble: a matter of a former girlfriend who charged him with assault - certainly an issue of concern, but one that may not have been known in the workplace. Some coworkers say that he was "a control freak" about his work environment, but that fact alone doesn't seem to trigger concern - who can't point to a control freak at their job?

There is always an attempt to figure it out after work homicides occur, to make some sense of things, to spot signs, to find a profile or a pattern. To some degree, this is our very human way of distancing ourselves. It can't happen here.

Those of us who work in managerial or helping professions can only make sense of things by redoubling our efforts and our commitment to workplace violence prevention. This is always an issue, but perhaps even more so today when peoples' stress levels are high and nerves are frayed with the bad economy.

Here are some things that employers and managers can do today to honor Annie Le's memory and to help prevent violence in our own workplace:

  • Create a policy on workplace violence prevention and publicize it
  • Create a climate of respect and tolerance and ensure that your managers model this behavior
  • Have zero tolerance for bullying, bad language, intimidation
  • Take threats and talk of violence seriously
  • Teach people how to manage anger, conflict, and work disputes in productive ways
  • Provide a safe way for people to report incidents that make them uncomfortable
  • Give people an avenue to vent frustration or grievances
  • Train supervisors and managers to spot a change in work behaviors or symptoms of stress and anger
  • Use your EAP. Encourage managers to make referrals. Encourage employees to use EAP services for help with work/life problems.

August 16, 2009

Big-haired, smelly people who wear bells on their shoes: co-worker annoyances

It may not be the big things that send people over the edge at work, it may be the little things. In his poem, The Hollow Men, poet T.S. Eliot says that "This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper." When asked "what bothers you the most about co-workers" in a recent survey of 2600 hiring managers conducted by Career Builder, respondents revealed a quirky litany of petty annoyances and grudges ... from colleagues who "eat all the good cookies" and breathe too loudly to those with disconcerting habits like having big hair, checking co-workers for ticks or wearing bells on their shoes.

The list is amusing - it is easy to imagine the shudders and eye rolls that accompanied these statements. But are we wrong in wondering why many of these complaints seem singular rather than universal? Where were some of the stereotypical and ubiquitous cringe-worthy souls like the whistler, the bootlicking toady, the space invader, the loud talker, the loud eater, and the taker of the last cup of coffee without making more? We went looking for other surveys about co-worker complaints and found those and other petty grievances.

In a Forbes survey, noisy colleagues featured prominently in a list of top annoyances - loud office talkers, people with annoying ring tones, and those who talk on speakerphones. The kitchen is another source of contention: people eating smelly food, leaving dirty dishes or messes for others to clean up, or people who hog the best treats while never bringing in their own. In some "arm's length" research conducted by Brianna Raymond of Pongo Blog, gossip and eavesdropping were among the top coworker annoyances, along with "gross" behavior such as publicly clipping fingernails (or toenails) at the desk or sharing too much information about medical issues. Among those commenting on her post, there seemed to be a fair amount of coworkers who tell "poop jokes," and the consensus was that "poop jokes" are indeed annoying and don't belong in the office.

David R. Butcher of Thomasnet helpfully categorizes these annoying people into 13 Types of Irritating Coworkers. Where do you fall on the scale of things? When people think "annoying co-worker" does your name come to mind? Take the am I the annoying co-worker quiz to find out where you land on the scale of people who drive other people crazy. A few weeks after his list of 13 annoying coworker types, Butcher issued a second list: 13 Types of Coworkers We Like, with many traits we should all aspire to. Meanwhile, if in your role as HR manager some of these crazy-making behaviors wind up in your lap, John Baldoni of CIO suggests three tips for nipping workplace annoyances in the bud - being direct and specific in confronting the behavior, asking the offender to participate in helping to identify the solution, and following up to ensure resolution.

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 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.

May 19, 2009

Is employee theft on the rise? One employer's creative solution

As a side effect to the troubled economy, we're noticing more stories about an increase in employee theft. We haven't seen enough to know if this reputed increase is statistically true or anecdotal, but theft by employees is a massive problem that occurs in good financial times and bad. It stands to reason that there might be a spike when times are tough. It's a good time for employers to dust off and tighten up their loss prevention practices and policies - here's a checklist for preventing employee theft excerpted from the Small Business Fraud Prevention Manual issued by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

If indeed we are seeing a spike in employee theft, there may be other reasons to account for the increase than the economy and there may be other solutions to loss prevention than the traditional ones. For another perspective on employee theft, see Bob Sutton's recent post on an innovative employer approach to stopping employee theft . While there are various root causes of theft and need may certainly be one of them, Bob notes that, "The most extensive and impressive stream of research on employee theft has been conducted by Jerald Greenberg, who has done a host of laboratory and field studies (e.g, in manufacturing plants and retails stores) that show stealing is driven, in large part, by employees' desires to "get even" with companies and managers who treat them in cold and unfair ways."

While "the economy" and "getting even" may well be motives for theft, Bob goes on to cite a fascinating case of employee theft at a sawmill in which the underlying motive was largely "for the thrill of it." At this particular plant, organizational consultant and researcher Gary Latham worked with management to institute some creative measures to stop theft. The company introduced a "library system" where employees could borrow the type of equipment that was being stolen. Management also launched an amnesty campaign, during which employees could return any stolen goods under a no-fault, no-questions-asked system. The results of both measures were dramatic, with theft being virtually stopped in its tracks. This approach reminded me of a similar measure I witnessed a number of years ago when working at a manufacturing plant that assembled popular household goods and toys for large corporate clients. To mitigate employee theft, the employer sponsored a "company store" where employees could purchase the goods they produced at wholesale prices. This served the dual purpose of being a great new low-cost benefit and reducing theft significantly.

While we haven't witnessed too much in the way of for-the-thrill-of-it theft, revenge against perceived unfairness is certainly something we're familiar with - it surfaces as a motive for many work behavioral problems that our counselors deal with daily. And beyond specific grudges against specific employers, there is a more generalized sense of anger and outrage brewing, stoked by the daily barrage of headlines about corporate malfeasance and greed at the highest "leadership" levels of large corporations. It's pretty difficult to imbue high ethical standards when the people at the top are widely disrespected or engage in criminal behavior themselves.

Whether it be employee theft, runaway workers' comp costs or some other costly work problem, all too often we find that the problem is a symptom of a toxic work environment where mutual respect and trust have broken down. Prudent employers can and should enact preventive measures, but as we've previously stated, that may not be enough.

Our experience shows time and again that employers who communicate often and well with their employees and who work diligently to maintain a healthy work culture experience fewer workplace behavioral problems than their mistrusting, suspicious counterparts. Keep things in perspective. Dishonest employees are in the minority so don't cast a pall of suspicion over everyone. Set the policy and the expectation, ensure that risk control measures are in place, and be fair and consistent in the way policies are enforced.


April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Resources for Employers

We've compiled a list of swine flu resources that we think might be helpful to employers. We'll post more as we find them.

How Employers Should Respond to the Swine Flu Outbreak - the Workplace Safety Compliance Practice Group of the employment law firm Jackson Lewis suggests 8 steps for employers to take in responding to employee concerns.

PandemicFlu.gov - Workplace Planning - HHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed guidelines, including checklists, to assist businesses, industries, and other employers in planning for a pandemic outbreak as well as for other comparable catastrophes.

Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic - a new guide for employers from OSHA

CDC Swine Influenza - news, updates, and resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

WHO Swine Influenza - global updates and news from the World Health Organization.

MedlinePlus: Swine Flu - excellent page with news, articles and links to a variety of resources.

Taking Care of Yourself: What to Do if You Get Sick with Flu - from the CDC
Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home - from the CDC

Swine Flu Meets Workers Comp - Jon Coppelman discusses compensability issues related to work-related illnesses.

Maps
Global disease alert map from HealthMap
H1N1 Swine Flu

News feeds
CDC Emergency Twitter feed
What's new on the CDC Swine Flu page
CNN Health News
Y! Health Cold & Flu News

April 19, 2009

"Worst employees of the year" and a tough lesson in online PR

It may be too early in the year to assign this honorific, but it will be surprising if anyone manages to top this workplace "prank" run amuck. Our nomination for the worst employees of the year go to two employees of Domino's Pizza who thought that it would be fun to make videos of a food preparer doing horrifically disgusting things to food and then posting those videos on YouTube.

Apparently, the aggregate online tolerance for the idea of having food tainted with bodily fluids was low, but the disgusting videos spread virally, logging more than a million viewers before a shell-shocked management team at Domino's sprang into action a few days later.

Domino's had a harsh initiation to the world of user-generated content. At first, the management team thought they should just let the incident die down of its own accord. That's an old print tactic for handling PR - don't make a problem bigger than it needs to be through repetition. But the company quickly learned that in the online world, things can be harder to contain. Within a few short days, the videos managed to dominate Google search results and any online conversations about the company. They realized they had to act.

Domino's management team got some unexpected help from the online community. Commenters at consumerist.com used their sleuthing skills to help identify the offending employees, who were quickly fired. The two employees now face a variety of criminal charges for violating board of health standards and delivering tainted food. And the company faced the daunting task of rebuilding confidence in a badly damaged brand.

Domino's quickly posted a YouTube video apology and statement about what the company is doing to respond to this incident (re-examing hiring practices, beefing up auditors, etc.) by company president Patrick Doyle, and assigned staff to respond to viewer comments. (Reader alert: if you've never ventured into the YouTube comment area, be prepared for a bit of a culture shock. Comments are unedited, raw and generally "not safe for work.") They also launched a company Twitter feed to join the online conversation and engage their customers directly.

So far, the management team is getting high marks for its response to the crisis. The incident should serve as virtual seminar for other companies in the importance of being knowledgeable in and poised to manage an organization's online reputation. This incident certainly wasn't something the company could have predicted and management was forced into a crash course in online social media to respond to unfolding events. How ready is your organization should some unexpected and unflattering information hit the viral online circuit? In today's world, online reputation management is an important issue for organizations. It's equally important - if not more so - for individuals. A job-seeker may not have the same resources to deploy if they suddenly find themselves in the public eye.

April 13, 2009

Bully boss or victim?

We've frequently talked about bullying in the workplace - including research on the topic and discussions of how the bully boss takes a toll. Now, a new study by an Australian researcher looks at the topic of bullying from the perspective of the accused, finding that alleged bullies were just as affected by the experience as people she had interviewed for an earlier study on victims of workplace bullying.

Moira Jenkins, a clinical psychologist in Australia, is interviewing managers accused of workplace bullying. Jenkins found performance or behavioral issues with subordinates often appeared to trigger a bullying complaint against managers, sometimes giving rise to something that one accused called "upwards bullying." Jenkins notes:

"Bullying, when it does occur, is a serious problem. But some workers might be too quick to frame conflict as bullying. Human resources takes more notice when the word 'bullying' is used." She defines bullying as repeated, targeted behaviour towards somebody that is likely to humiliate them and undermine their confidence."

Does the term "bullying" get thrown around too lightly? Certainly, as with any other problem employment practice, such as harassment or discrimination, bullying accusations against managers may be unfair or mislabeled. Managers who were interviewed by Jenkins seemed to think that they were just doing their jobs in enforcing company policies. In some of the cited examples, it appeared that there was no suitable internal system of organizational conflict resolution or grievance procedures for the accused to address the charges against them. While some work cultures seem to actively foster bully managers, it may more often be the result of poor management skills or a lack of management training.

April 6, 2009

Some good ways to deliver bad news

The economy is forcing businesses to tighten belts and make tough choices. That means that managers and HR directors are left with the task of delivering bad news while simultaneously trying to keep morale high. The bad news might be layoffs or office closings, or it might be that raises or promotions are frozen, or that hours or benefits are cut. Communicating bad news is a daunting but very important task. If you're one of the people on the firing line, here are a few resources that might help you to prepare:

  • Leadership consultant John Baldoni thinks there is much that we can learn from the way that President Obama communicates. He discusses this in his Harvard Business blog posting How a good leader delivers bad news.
  • It doesn't get much worse than telling someone they have a life-threatening and potentially fatal disease. Dr. Robert Buckman is a cancer specialist who developed protocols for delivering bad news and he teaches doctors and business executives his methodology. He discusses his ideas about good ways to deliver bad news in this interview with Curtis Sittenfeld of Fast Company.
  • Laying someone off can be very stressful for the manager that has to deliver the news. In fact, some research studies demonstrate a relationship between this task and subsequent health problems, such as ulcers, headaches and heart trouble. Health reporter Kyung M. Song of the Seattle Times takes the pulse of managers and how they handle the task and offers some layoff "golden rules."
  • Also, see our prior post on coping with tough times for more resources on crisis communication and helping employees cope with change.
Preparing can help - but don't underestimate how stressful it can be for managers to deliver bad news . Your Employee Assistance Program is not just for employees - it's for managers, too. It's great to know when to refer an employee for help with stress - but don't forget to take care of yourself, too!

March 12, 2009

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you: guns in your company parking lot

As an employer, you have a right to set policy for your private property, right?

Apparently not when it comes to guns. An employer's private property rights are taking a back seat to employees' rights to keep loaded guns in their cars in workplace parking lots. At least that's the word from the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling is the latest development in a series of events that began in Oklahoma in 2002 when Weyerhaeuser employees were fired for having left firearms locked in their vehicles in the plant parking lot. In reaction to these firings, the state legislature enacted a law banning companies from restricting workers' ability to carry legal firearms in their vehicles. Many employers - Weyerhaeuser Corp., Whirlpool Corp., and ConocoPhillips among them - challenged the Oklahoma law on safety grounds. In October 2007, a U.S. District Judge issued an injunction against the law on the basis that it conflicted with an employer's legal obligation under OSHA to maintain a safe workplace.

In its decision, the appeals court noted that OSHA took a neutral stance on the law and, therefore, the law did not create a conflict.

Since this ruling, both Arizona and Utah legislators have made progress on enacting similar bills. In both places, there has been significant opposition to these laws, particularly from business and employer groups. But such opposition did not stop the passage of a similar law in Florida last year. Ironically, guns are not allowed in most of the chambers where such laws are decided. Guns are not allowed in most federal offices or in many state and municipal offices.

This decision is a substantial victory for the gun lobby of the National Rifle Association, which has been going state by state to promote such legislation. Employers are left with the burden of maintaining a safe workplace while being disallowed from establishing safety policies of their choosing for their own property.

While several such state laws have provisions that offer some thin liability protection to employers, there are other losses that could occur as a result of a gun-related incident at work. Such losses could include business interruption, loss of reputation, an increase in absenteeism, a decrease in employee productivity and morale, and increased disability and workers compensation losses. Waivers are also unlikely to protect an employer from employment suits such as negligent hiring or negligent retention. Is your business ready for the heightened security burden that this additional risk will impose?

The parking lot today, but one has to wonder if the next battle line will be the workplace proper. Will the NRA soon be lobbying for the right of employees to arm themselves at their workstations to be protected from co-workers who retrieve loaded weapons from the parking lot and begin a shooting rampage?

March 4, 2009

Data theft often accompanies layoffs

It's an unfortunate reality in today's tough economic climate: While many companies are finding creative ways to retain their workers, others are forced to thin their ranks. And many of the departing employees are leaving with more than just their severance checks: a recent survey of 945 people who were laid off, fired or quit their jobs in the past 12 months revealed that nearly 60 percent admitted to having stolen company data when they departed, and 67% reporting that they used confidential information to help secure a new job.

The study on data risk was conducted by Ponemon Institute, a Tucson based research group which focuses on information, privacy and security management practices in business and government. The survey revealed that e-mail lists were the most common data element taken from an employer (65%), followed by non-financial business information (45%), customer contact lists (39%), employee rcords (35%) and financial information (16%).

Another survey on data theft conducted by Cyber-Ark Software reveals that Information Technology (IT) employees are a particular risk. Its annual survey around "Trust, Security & Passwords" focused on 300 IT security professionals and revealed that 88 percent of IT administrators, if laid off tomorrow, would take valuable and sensitive company information with them. The target information includes the CEO's passwords, the customer database, R & D plans, financial reports, M & A plans, and most importantly the company's list of privileged passwords. The company's press release highlights several areas of "poor housekeeping" that make a company more vulnerable to this exploit. An article by Julia King in Computerworld suggests 5 steps a business can take for protection from angry ex-employees, along with a list of security tips.

While good data security practices are a vital discipline for every company in good times and bad, it's an area that bears particular attention when layoffs loom. However, all the best security measures in the world will be insufficient if the climate between employees and employers is negative, mistrustful, and toxic. Organizations that maintain a healthy and respectful relationship with their work force can better weather crises than those that do not. Here are a few steps we recommend:

  • Develop standards for privacy and confidentiality of company, employee, client and vendor information and records and communicate and promote those standards throughout the organization
  • Foster an atmosphere of trust, honesty and respect with employees through open communication
  • Promote high standards of ethics, honesty and integrity as an organization - this starts at the top
  • Discourage any unethical or borderline use of information obtained about competitors or vendors
  • When layoffs are unavoidable, ensure adherence to best practices for terminations and firings.

February 23, 2009

"Love contracts" may limit employer liability for office romance

Are water-cooler romances a big issue at your workplace? If not, your organization may be in the minority. Forty percent of U.S. workers have dated an office colleague, with 31 percent of those romances progressing on to marriage, according to a recent workplace dating survey survey by CareerBuilder.

When workplace dating takes a wrong turn, it can result in headaches for the employer ranging from decreased productivity and an awkward work environment to legal liabilities such as sexual harassment and retaliation. The stakes are particularly high if dating involves employees from different levels of the office food chain. A supervisor-subordinate relationship, publicized in both fictional films and all-too-real court dramas, is the classic example of potential jeopardy. In the not-too-distant past, workplace romance was generally considered taboo, but times are changing. Yesterday's employer policies banning or restricting workplace dating are giving way to the so-called love contract, a written acknowledgment that a workplace relationship is consensual. Generally, the terms of such a contract would involve both parties agreeing to abide by company policies, both while dating and should the relationship end. Employment lawyer Brian Finucane says such contracts are "...almost a get-out-of-jail-free defense, from a lawyer’s perspective."

Attorney Marilyn Sneirson cautions that while such contracts can help to limit liability, they should only be regarded as a supplement to a company's anti-harassment policies. She suggests several key elements that should be addressed in love contracts:

  • Any dispute arising from the relationship or contract will be resolved through arbitration
  • Employees may want to consult an attorney before signing the contract
  • Dating employees are expected to follow certain guidelines, such as refraining from displays of affection at work or work- related events
  • Either employee "can end the relationship without fear of work-related retaliation"
  • Dating employees agree to waive their rights to pursue a claim of sexual harassment for any event prior to the signing of the contract

February 7, 2009

Coping with tough times

Challenges to the HR professional's role in these tough economic times are rife. Many are dealing with difficult corporate decisions that may result in layoffs or plant closings. This entails managing those layoffs and dealing with the morale of the remaining work force. Many other companies are avoiding layoffs by reducing pay, reducing hours, or enacting other strategies that require creative solutions and communications from the HR team. And even in those companies that are fortunate enough to be weathering the storm relatively unscathed, the spillover effect on productivity can be substantial when employees suffer economic stress due to another family member's job loss or a home foreclosure.

It's hard for employees to be productive when their physical, emotional, or financial well-being is in jeopardy. Even for those who are not directly affected by economic turmoil, the anxiety factor of the unknown can be fairly intense.

We've found some good articles that offer advice on many of these issues. Some are designed for HR managers and some are tools and advice that might be shared with employees. As we find more resources on these issues, we'll continue to share them on the blog.

Helping employees cope with change - Lauren Keller Johnson of Harvard Management Update notes that managers face a daunting task in helping their organizations weather a downturn. "They need to ensure that employees fully buy into change initiatives and make the necessary alterations in their day-to-day behavior - at precisely the same time their employees are likely to be most anxious about, and resistant to, change." She discusses five phases of change.

Crisis Communication: Now More Than Ever, a Timely Topic - Knowledge@W.P. Carey notes that while the times appear perilous for corporate entities, crisis is inevitable and can occur at any point. The post reviews 5 rules of crisis communication.

Stopping Survivor Guilt - Rebecca Reisner of BusinessWeek says that it is a senior manager's responsibility to stave off survivor guilt before it lowers the morale and productivity of remaining employees. She offers concrete suggestions for how to do this. In a similar vein, see CC Holland's article How to Restore Morale After Layoffs from BNet Insight.

Step up your EAP communications in light of high financial stress - we would like to issue a pointer to this post that we made in October because we think it is of great importance. If you are not tapping into the resources available from your EAP, you are missing an important source of help for both you and your employees.

Tools for your employees
Helping Children Cope in Unsettling Times: The Economic Crisis (PDF) - you or your employees may be struggling with the effects of the bad economy at home - and it's vital not to overlook the anxiety that may be taking a toll on kids. The national Association of School Psychologists offers tips for parents and teachers to help reduce fear, anxiety and uncertainty that many children may be experiencing. And on the same issue, Paula Ebban of WBZ-TV discusses ways to help kids cope with the tough economy, including a suggestion for some kids' books that might help you to start a discussion.

Financial Survival Guide - from ConsumerReports

CPAs offer tips for managing money in down economy

Healthy Heart Tips for a Bad Economy - Don't let your body pay the price in uncertain times, experts say

10 Car Care Tips for Tough Economic Times

January 22, 2009

Are your employees suffering from midwinter funk?

If your work force is seeming a little sluggish lately, there may be good reason. The days are short, the nights are long. Cold weather and inclemency mean that more people spend more time indoors. Coping with snow, ice, and sleet make daily commutes longer and more treacherous, and child-care issues can become a serious problem. Throw in the scary economy and the "spent too much money last year" pre-tax-season blues for good measure. These factors can pile up, resulting in depleted energy in your workforce and a drop in productivity.

For most people, the winter doldrums are just that, a seasonal low point, but some of your employees may be suffering from a more serious malady called SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder - a very real type of major depression linked to lack of sunlight. Sufferers may experience depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, headaches, weight gain, and other symptoms. The good news is that with treatment, seasonal affective disorder can be managed.

As an employer, there are a variety of ways you can help your employees get through whatever seasonal downturn they may be experiencing. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Alert supervisors to keep an eye out for employee behavior changes that might indicate signs of SAD or other forms of depression - a referral to your EAP may be in order.
  • In your newsletter, through your wellness program, or by distributing a fact sheet, educate your employees about symptoms of SAD and what can be done to alleviate symptoms.
  • Promote your organization's nutrition and weight loss benefit programs, or any benefits that might be available through your health care provider or your EAP. Eating right and exercising can do a lot to alter the body's chemistry.
  • Consider flexible commuting policies during poor weather. This is a matter of safety and can have great benefits for employee morale. When possible, allow more work-from-home options and flexibility with stop and start times during bad weather.
  • Address your employees' financial stress. Post-holiday is usually a time when debt concerns are high. This year, with the added pressure of a difficult economy, many people are hurting. You can help alleviate some of this stress by pointing your employees to debt counseling and financial planning resources.
  • Increase the amount and source of light in your workplace during the winter. Add plants and greenery.
  • Introduce special internal promotions designed to build excitement, participation, teamwork and shared goals. Have contests around achieving target sales or production goals or attaining levels of development in certain skills.
  • Invite your employees to share their ideas for alleviating mid-winter blues. Have a contest for the "best tip to beat the mid-winter blues" and share suggestions in your newsletter or company intranet. A great prize would be a mid-winter weekend getaway.
  • Tap into all available resources for help. If you have a good, full-service EAP, you should be able to access help and resources for many of the items on this list. Call your EAP for help in planning communications programs for your employees so they will be aware of all available resources. Also, your health care insurers and other benefit providers may have programs, materials or resources that could also help you - most have good communication resources and programs available for employees.

December 8, 2008

Study puts workplace conflict cost in the billions

Recent research puts the cost of workplace conflict at 2.8 hours per week or about $359 billion in 2008 for U.S. businesses. CPP Inc., a provider of research, training, and organizational development tools, polled thousands of workers from nine countries across multiple industries on the issue of work conflict. In addition to lost time, the study found that one in three respondents (33%) said that conflict has led to personal injury or attacks, while one in five (22%) reported that it has led to illness or absence from work.

"... the study also uncovered a significant variance between managers' appraisal of their own ability to manage conflict and the observations of the employees under them. Nearly one-third (31 percent) of managers felt that they're skilled at dealing with conflict. However, only slightly more than one-fifth of employees (22 percent) said that their managers deal with conflict well."

The study also reported that positive outcomes are directly tied to conflict management training, with employers with a high incidence of training reporting more positive outcomes than those where training is less prevalent.

Additional resources
The full report from CPP: Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive (PDF)

Six tips to managing workplace conflict

Workplace conflict resolution: people management tips

Dealing with workplace conflict

Workplace Conflict Guide - this guide from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs offers a good model of a road map that organization's might use to map out their conflict resolution approach and process

September 29, 2008

When politics comes to work

Some call it silly season: the 4 to 6 weeks before the national election. In reality, there is nothing silly about it, beyond perhaps some of the candidates' campaigning behavior. Decisions in the upcoming election are of utmost importance, particularly as the nation faces serious issues such as the economy and the Iraq war. The stakes are high.

People can be very passionate about political issues and their candidates and there are many other underlying hot-buttons, such as abortion, gay rights, and religion, to name but a few. Add to that the fact that with a minority, a woman, and a senior citizen running for the highest offices, there's something to potentially offend everyone in the way the candidates are discussed. A conversation that starts with a little good-natured ribbing can quickly turn uncomfortable. Tempers can flare. Resentments can ensue.

Surveys reveal mixed attitudes on the part of employees about whether politics should be brought to work. In an American Management Association survey, more than one-third of the 700+ respondents said they were uncomfortable discussing political views with coworkers. But in a survey conducted by Office Team, 67 percent of the 500+ respondents felt that political debate in the workplace is okay in small doses; only 18 percent found such discussion "inappropriate."

Human Resource Executive (HRE) features a thoughtful article on office politics, which would be well worth your time. Here is an excerpt:

"You really have to be careful if you start this kind of dialogue, because people feel so passionately about politics and tend to get emotionally wrapped up in it," says Dawn Usher, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Silverado Senior Living Inc., in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. "As long as you're not offending anyone or trying to force people to your views, it's OK to have the conversation, but once it becomes intrusive, then it needs to stop."
That approach is right on track, according to Bruce Weinstein, a New York-based corporate consultant and ethics analyst known as The Ethics Guy. He likens talking politics in the workplace to talking about religion or sex -- two topics that are widely recognized as taboo.
"In most workplaces, these subjects not only have nothing to do with the work at hand, but because they're so controversial, engaging in discussions about them may very well impede one's ability to work well with other people," he says.

Our past post on the topic - when politics spin over into the workplace (note: some links in the article have expired) - includes a roundup of opinions on the matter of politics, with the consensus being "try to keep politics out of the workplace." But that may be easier said than done. In terms of employee rights to engage in political discussion or activities, the law firm Fisher & Phillips offers thoughts on what activity is protected and what isn't protected in their article Tis the Season: NLRB Clarifies Its Rules on Politics at Work.

The HRE article discusses various ways that actual employers handle politics in the workplace. One concept we liked was the idea of setting some ground rules of mutual respect. One commenter even suggested having employees sign a contract agreeing to respect other people's opinions. We like the idea of a "culture of respect" - it might be a good idea for management to issue communications setting that expectation should any political discussions occur. But it certainly sounds like a "culture of respect" is something you might want to foster at all times, not just during the political season!

September 13, 2008

Domestic violence and the workplace

We recently blogged about a spike in domestic violence as a side effect to the troubled economy, and how this "home" problem often has very real implications for the workplace, ranging from a loss of productivity to heightened security risks. Since this topic has been much on our mind lately, we were pleased to see that Human Resources Executive recently featured an in-depth series on the topic. It offers enough quality tools and resources that we thought the issue was worth revisiting again.

In the lead article, Violently Ill, author Jared Shelly notes that studies have shown that 84 percent of surveyed employees believe that employers should be involved in the solution to the problem of domestic abuse, while just 13 percent of executives think it's the company's job to help solve the problem. Yet the article quotes a 2003 CDC study that says that domestic violence accounts for nearly 8 million lost work days, the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs.

Beyond productivity, there are other reasons why domestic violence needs to command the attention of employers:

If an employer fails to recognize the warning signs of domestic violence, it could not only prove life-threatening for the victim, but the company could also be held liable. In the case of La Rose vs. State Mutual Life Assurance Co. in 1994, the family of Francesia La Rose filed a wrongful-death action against her employer after she was murdered by a former boyfriend at the worksite for failing to protect her after being notified of the specific threat. The case was settled for $350,000.
The specific laws on domestic violence vary from state to state. Several -- Florida, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, North Carolina and Washington -- force companies to allow workers to take leave if they are victims of domestic violence.
Some, such as Florida, which enacted its law in July 2007, mandate that companies with more than 50 employees must give three days of leave to victims during a 12-month period. The leave can be paid or unpaid.
The law in Washington, enacted in April, applies to public or private companies regardless of size.
The article also offers concrete suggestions for what an employer should do to face this issue, along with a case history from State Farm Insurance. Some of the steps that State Farm takes to help affected employees include referring employees to an EAP for counseling, offering safety tips, providing escorts in and out of the building, putting the abuser on a "Do Not Admit" list, assigning special parking spots, screening telephone calls, eliminating the employee's name from the automated telephone directory and having paychecks delivered to other addresses.

The other articles in the series offer practical tools, resources, and advice:
Initiating a Training Program - Verizon Wireless shares its approach to educating employees about the impact of domestic violence in the workplace via a collaborative program that is accessible, cost effective and easily transferable to various company locations.

Warning signs - offers guidelines for both supervisors and coworkers.

Domestic-Violence Policy - State Farm Insurance Co.'s policy on domestic violence defines the term and offers a number of ways the company assists its employees who are victims.

State Law Guide - State laws affecting victims of domestic violence vary. HRE provides links to resources that track the various state laws.

August 22, 2008

Side effect of an ailing economy: spike in domestic abuse

We are noting an unhappy trend in news headlines lately - we've seen an unsettling amount of news stories from various parts of the country reporting on an increase in domestic violence: California, Michigan, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Louisiana all report spikes in the number of reported cases of domestic violence. And in Pennsylvania, officials sound an alarm about domestic violence deaths - thirty such deaths occurred in the state during a 30-day period beginning June 22, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

These are just the few headlines we've gleaned from a Google search of news items in the last few weeks; no doubt, they are merely the tip of the iceberg. A correlation between the economy and domestic violence makes complete sense to most counselors and professionals who work with troubled people: when they economy falters, domestic violence rises. Money is one of the most disputed family issues in the best of times, but when pressures mount - job loss, home foreclosures, increased costs of living - frayed tempers often give way to violence.

A spike in domestic violence should be of concern to employers for a number of reasons. The health and well-being of workers is directly linked to productivity, and a problem as highly highly intense and disruptive as domestic violence leads to absenteeism, lower productivity, turnover, and excessive use of medical benefits. Researchers from the University of Arkansas found that women who were victims of recent domestic violence had 26 percent more time lost to tardiness and absenteeism than non-victims. And violence frequently spills over into the workplace. In a National Safe Workplace Institute survey, 94% of corporate security directors ranked partner violence as a high security problem.

From our vantage as an EAP, we see that employers can play a pivotal role in helping to curb domestic violence. That help may be as simple as being alert for warning signs and making referrals to an EAP to instituting a full workplace awareness and education program. One good resource that employers should know about is the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence. They offer an extensive library of resources ranging from educational materials and sample policies to practical dos and don'ts for employers. One resource that we find particularly helpful is the best practice library where programs from a few dozen of the nation's most prominent employers are profiled - it's a good way to get ideas for things you could do at your workplace.


Additional resources
Violence prevention in the workplace
Domestic Violence in the Workplace - a weblog by Kim Wells, Executive Director of CAEPV
Family Violence Prevention Fund
Intimate Partner Violence: Intervention - from the U.S. Department of Justice

July 22, 2008

Bullying at work

One of my new favorites in the HR blog world is HR Blunders. While it's unlikely any of the savvy readers of this blog would find themselves appearing on the pages of a story there, it makes for some interesting reading. In browsing some back issues, I came upon a post about bullying lawsuits that cited a recent survey putting the number of working adults who experience workplace bullying at 37%. That’s roughly about 54 million people.

Finding that statistic a bit surprising, I dug up more on the original Zogby survey on workplace bullying, which was conducted among more than 7,000 working US adults in 2007. Of the 37% who reported being bullied at work, 72% identified the bullies as bosses. Bullying is about 4 times more prevalent than illegal forms of "harassment." And the number one way that the bullying was stopped? The victims lost their jobs: 40% left voluntarily, 24% were terminated or driven out, and 13% transferred out of the department. Only 23% reported that there were any consequences for the harasser. Wow!

While there are a number of sources citing huge costs associated with bullying, it's hard to know how those estimates were derived or how accurate they are. Nevertheless, it is clear the costs to businesses are high. Certainly, turnover is costly and employment practices litigation is a cost that we all dread. But there are also many associated costs that are more difficult to quantify, such as stress related disease, disability, workers compensation claims, and damage to the organization’s reputation.

We periodically have a supervisor or coworker referred to us for counseling after incidents of inappropriate behavior, such as anger or gender-based harassment. An informal survey of our counselors tells me that addressing bulling through such interventions can be a very effective way of changing that behavior. Our chances of success increase dramatically if the referral is handled well at the start, and the highest rehabilitation success rate occurs when management and the EAP work together.

Kathleen Jahnke, our Clinical Director, makes the following suggestion for making such a referral to an EAP:

  • Prepare for the meeting. Call and talk to a counselor in advance to help you formulate your strategy for the meeting.
  • Stick to the facts. Focus on the inappropriate behavior that has been reported or observed.
  • Avoid trying to diagnose the problem or suggest the person needs counseling.
  • Advise the employee that the EAP will assist them with the tools they need to help them resolve their workplace issue.
  • Make your expectations for workplace behavior clear and outline the consequences for failure to meet the requirements.

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.

Resources
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 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.

April 21, 2008

Spear phishing: Train your employees in e-mail security

Phishing is a type of email fraud in which the sender impersonates a trusted source to try to gain access to passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information. The victim is at risk of theft, identity theft, or contacting malicious computer viruses. Fraudulent e-mail is frequently disguised as a message from a bank or a trusted merchant. Scam e-mails often contain a link to a site that either requires the person to enter sensitive data or instructs the user to download a special program. These fake e-mails often look and sound very authentic - even experienced users can be fooled. But over time, consumer education has alerted many to the scams and most people know better than to give out sensitive information without vetting the source.

Spear Phishing
Scammers continue to up the ante. More recently, these fraudulent e-mail scams have gotten more sophisticated, targeting specific companies in a practice often called spear phishing, which is a more targeted approach. In these attacks, the phony e-mails masquerade as communication from within the organization - such as from the HR or IT department or from a specific manager. Last week, there was a report of spear phishing emails that targeted CEOS through emails disguised as court subpoenas.

Keep informed, educate your employees
Employers need to stay alert about new phishing scams and need to educate their workers about scams to protect the organization from vulnerabilities - it only takes one chink in the armor to launch an internal attack. Two good sources are the FBI e-scams and warnings update and the Anti Phishing Work Group, an organization which stays on top of the latest scams and is a good source of consumer information and education about phishing scams. In how to avoid phishing scams they offer consumer pointers, among them:

  • Be suspicious of any email with urgent requests for personal financial information
  • Don't use the links in an email, instant message, or chat to get to any web page if you suspect the message might not be authentic - call the company on the telephone, or log onto the website directly by typing in the Web adress in your browser
  • Avoid filling out forms in email messages that ask for personal financial information - you should only communicate information such as credit card numbers or account information via a secure website or the telephone
  • Always ensure that you're using a secure website when submitting credit card or other sensitive information via your Web browser
  • Consider installing a Web browser tool bar to help protect you from known fraudulent websites.
  • Regularly log into your online accounts (to ensure that there has been not fraudulent activity)
  • Ensure that your browser is up to date and security patches applied
  • Always report "phishing" or “spoofed” e-mails to the following groups:
    * forward the email to reportphishing@antiphishing.org
    * forward the email to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov

Make a policy that you will never ask for confidential employee information (passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers) via e-mail and publicize the policy widely. Use newsletters, company meetings, and bulletins to publicize security tips and to teach your employees that whether at work or at home, they should never share confidential information via e-mail. Here are a few consumer quizzes you can use to test their - and your - knowledge:

Phishing IQ Test
Catch a phish - take the quiz
On Guard Phishing Quiz (flash, sound)
Can you spot the phishing?

April 10, 2008

Cancer in the workplace: resources for managers and colleagues

If you've ever managed a worker who has been diagnosed with cancer, you know the challenges that it can pose, both in terms of your own interactions with the person, and also in terms of supporting and managing concerned colleagues. It can be a difficult and delicate balance, offering support and flexibility for the employee while managing within the policies and needs of your organization. We've compiled some excellent resources from around the web that might be helpful to you and to your employees.

Managing Through Cancer Principles - offers a set of principles, resources and tools for organizations and managers that want to support employees with cancer and their co-workers. The site offers a set of principles along with manager/employee responsibilities and suggestions for developing supportive time-off policies, such as paid time off and leave banks. The site also discusses telecommuting and flex time options. While the guideline is specific to cancer and cancer treatment, most of the principles are applicable in managing employees with any life-threatening illness.

Beyond the matter of principles and policies, there is the very real matter of how managers and colleagues should talk to an employee who has been diagnosed with cancer or who is dying of cancer. Often, people who are grievously ill become isolated because friends and colleagues are uncomfortable and simply don't know what to say or how to deal with the person - so they simply avoid things. Here is a list of some very helpful resources offering guidance for how to talk to and interact with a person who has cancer.

Top 10 Dos and Don'ts when someone in you life becomes seriously ill is a short, practical guide with solid advice.

Supporting a friend who has cancer also offers Dos and Don'ts for things to say, along with a list of practical ways you might offer help and good gift ideas to show your support.

Quick tips for everyday situations offers suggestions for how colleagues and friends can be supportive of and respond to everyday situations, such as a coworker diagnosed with breast cancer, a relative with clinical depression, or how to offer help to a blind person in the gym.

How to talk to a friend with cancer is a discussion board thread that links to some very helpful articles, but more importantly, shares the real-life experiences of people who are living cancer and people who have lost loved ones to cancer. This is a rich, frank, and very touching discussion by and for the real experts - people who are living/have lived through real life situations.

Remember, these are the types of situations where your EAP can offer real support and resources - be sure to recommend the services of your EAP to both the person who is ill and their family members. Also, check to see if your EAP offers help and guidance for supervisors.

March 28, 2008

When it comes to alcohol problems, all industries are not equal

On average, about 9 percent of U.S. workers drink in ways that contribute to absenteeism, higher health care costs and lost productivity, according to an analysis of government data. But in some industries, the toll can be much higher. At 15%, hospitality tops the list of industries with a higher than average prevalence of alcohol abuse problems, followed closely by the construction industry at 14.7%, according to a new report on alcohol abuse by industry issued by Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems at The George Washington University Medical Center.

In addition, some demographics experience more problems than others. More than 18 percent of young workers between the ages of 18 and 25 have an alcohol-related problem, compared to just seven percent of workers 26 and older, and in every industry segment, men experienced more problems than women. For example, "Researchers found that men working in hospitality and construction are approximately 50 percent more likely to have an alcohol-related problem than women in the same industry. In wholesale trade, men are almost three times more likely to have an alcohol problem than women."

Prevalence of alcohol problems by industry segment
Hospitality.................Male 17.4%....Female 12.6%....Overall 15.0%
Construction................Male 15.2%....Female 10.0%....Overall 14.7%
Wholesale Trade.............Male 14.6%....Female 05.3%....Overall 11.9%
Professional................Male 13.3%....Female 07.1%....Overall 10.6%
Retail Trade................Male 13.4%....Female 06.2%....Overall 09.7%
Finance & Real Estate.......Male 11.2%....Female 07.6%....Overall 09.2%
Manufacturing...............Male 09.5%....Female 06.5%....Overall 08.6%
Transportation/Utilities....Male 09.1%....Female 04.8%....Overall 08.2%
Information/Communication...Male 12.7%....Female 04.8%....Overall 08.1%
Agriculture.................Male 08.7%....Female 01.9%....Overall 07.2%
Other Services..............Male 08.9%....Female 03.8%....Overall 06.4%
Education/Social Services...Male 09.4%....Female 04.3%....Overall 05.4%
Public Administration.......Male 06.4%....Female 04.1%....Overall 05.3%

Estimating costs by industry
Ensuring Solutions states that problem drinking is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing 85,000 Americans annually and draining $185 billion from the nation’s economy every year. Yet it is a problem that often stays under the radar with few of the problem drinkers identified for help. Researchers suggest this is a major public health issue, and one that employers should take the lead in addressing. similar to the way employers have led the way in addressing other public health issues such as obesity and diabetes. And as with most health problems, awareness, education, and early intervention are critical to changing behavior.

To help employers understand the workplace costs associated with alcohol abuse, Ensuring Solutions has devised a series of online alcohol cost calculators for businesses , for health plans, and for kids, as well as a return on investment calculator.

Using a hospitality industry example of 5,000 employees, here are sample results:

Likely number of problem drinkers in your workforce...458
Likely number of employees’ family members who are problem drinkers...621
Likely number of excess work days lost to sickness, injury and absence because of problem drinking ...159 Days Per Month
Cost of excess lost days per year...$266,052
Likely alcohol-related health care costs...$1,962,068
Excess emergency room visits...121
Excess days in the hospital...56
Emergency department and hospital costs...$441,383

Treatment options
Ensuring Solutions offers the full report in PDF: Workplace Screening and Brief Intervention: What Employers Can and Should Do About Excessive Alcohol Use. Their website also offers guidance and many resources for addressing alcohol abuse in the workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) also offers many tools and programs

And don't forget your EAP. DOL suggests that use of an EAP is the most effective treatment modality:

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are generally the most effective vehicle for addressing poor workplace performance that may stem from an employee’s personal problems, including the abuse of alcohol or other drugs. EAPs are an excellent benefit to employees and their families and clearly demonstrate employers’ respect for their staff. They also offer an alternative to dismissal and minimize an employer’s legal vulnerability by demonstrating efforts to support employees.

March 20, 2008

Planning for a recession

Economic news has been grim, heightening fears that we are facing a recession, if not already in one. It looks like we may all need to buckle down for the potential of a rough patch. Jared Bernstein, author and senior economist at Economic Policy Institute, offers a good explanation of what a recession is likely to mean to the folks on the ground in plain talk that everyone can understand:

But what does recession mean to folks on the ground? How bad is it, really?
Pretty damn bad. Given recent historical patterns, three million more people could join the unemployment rolls, and middle-income families, already squeezed, and with income levels still recovering from the last recession, could lose another $2,500.
Using historical data, he maps out what we might be likely to see ahead. To follow along with his thinking on this matter, you can read updates here.

Many workers are already facing an economic squeeze with the mortgage crisis, skyrocketing gas prices, ever-climbing health-care costs, general inflation, and the worry of the potential for layoffs looming. Plus, many people are burdened with too much debt - a heavy weight in the best of times and a potetialy crippling factor in bad times. Now might be a good time to try to reach out and help employees who may be experiencing debt pressure.

Economists are divided about how deep or how long our economic downturn may last. Here are some other resources for helping you, your employees, and your organization to weather the times.

Recession Planning for Employees - Susan M. Heatherfield of About.com's Human Resources offers excellent suggestions for concrete actions to take in planning for a potential recession. Her thoughts encompass planning for your organization's employees, for your Human Resources department, and for other departments within your business. Here are just a few of her suggestions:

Find ways to buffer your employees to minimize the impact of an economic downturn:

  • Have telecommuting policies in place.
  • Encourage employee carpooling.
  • Sponsor brown bag lunches and book clubs.
  • Provide training in-house minimizing the need for employee travel and inconvenience.
  • Effectively communicate the redeployment of any internal resources to minimize employee distress.
About.com also has an excellent section devoted to downsizing and layoff strategies. It's a directory of dozens of topics and articles on matters related to managers and employees alike.

George Lenard of George's Employment Blawg asks, Layoffs - are you next? - a question that may be on many minds. He offers a list of warning signs that may indicate vulnerability, and suggests ways to be prepared should the worst come to pass.

Newsweek's Patricia Kitchen suggests strategies for recession proofing your career - suggestions for managing both you represent and your future.

Cheap Healthy Good blog suggests some great strategies for recession proofing your diet - great practical tips designed to keep the rising grocery bills in line.

March 18, 2008

Midlife suicide rate spikes

When you think about a demographic with the highest suicide rates, the male teen to young adult group automatically comes to mind. Among 15- to 24-year olds, suicide accounts for 12.9% of all deaths annually. It's the second highest cause of death for males aged 25 to 34, and the third highest cause of death among males aged 15 to 24. Many suicide prevention programs are targeted to young males, and that's as it should be.

But recent data from the CDC tells us there may be other demographics that require suicide prevention efforts. According to a 5-year review of data from 1999-2005, the fastest growing suicide demographic is among adults aged 45 to 54. And among women in that age group, suicides jumped by 31%. Experts are stymied as to why a midlife increase in suicide is occurring - research is thin and theories are rife. But one of the most likely targets may be an increase in the use of prescription drugs:

At the moment, the prime suspect is the skyrocketing use — and abuse — of prescription drugs. During the same five-year period included in the study, there was a staggering increase in the total number of drug overdoses, both intentional and accidental, like the one that recently killed the 28-year-old actor Heath Ledger. Illicit drugs also increase risky behaviors, CDC officials point out, noting that users' rates of suicide can be 15 to 25 times as great as the general population.Dr. Dan Gottlieb who writes a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer states that midlife depression not unusual or incurable. He notes that he sees many middle-aged people who express feelings of lack of fulfillment or that their dreams have escaped them and it is too late to change. He cites a recent study that adds data to his observations:
Research published this month in the journal Social Science & Medicine found that the probability of depression rises around middle age, peaking around age 44. After studying data from 500,000 Americans and Western Europeans, the researchers discovered that psychological well-being is at its lowest during the middle of the life cycle regardless of gender or location.

What employers can do
As with any other major public health concern, the impact of suicide is felt in the workplace. According to the American Association of Suicidology, nearly two-thirds of all suicides occur among the nation’s work force, Americans ages 25-65, which translates to roughly 20,000 suicides a year. One of the first vital steps in addressing any problem is raising awareness, so the sharing of CDC data is significant in building that awareness. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) suggests that employers can play an important role in helping to prevent suicide. Because people spend such a significant portion of their day at work, employers have the opportunity to observe changes in behavior, personality or mood. Training managers to be alert for and make referrals when they observe signs of depression and other early warning signs of problems may save lives. SPRC points to the following warning signs:

  • Talking about suicide or death
  • Making statements like "I wish I were dead." and "I'm going to end it all."
  • Less direct verbal cues, including "What's the point of living?" "Soon you won’t have to worry about me" and "Who cares if I'm dead, anyway?"
  • Uncharacteristically isolating themselves from others in the workplace
  • Expressing feelings that life is meaningless or hopeless
  • Giving away cherished possessions
  • A sudden and unexplained improvement in mood after being depressed or withdrawn
  • Neglect of appearance and hygiene
  • Sudden unexplained deterioration of work performance or productivity

Many suicide prevention groups suggest an easy mnemonic to remember warning signs: IS PATH WARM
Ideation
Substance Abuse
Purposelessness
Anxiety
Trapped
Hopelessness
Withdrawal
Anger
Recklessness
Mood Changes

If you observe warning signs or changes in behavior or personality, don't try to diagnose the problem or find the reason for the behavior changes, simply help the employee to find professional assistance through your EAP or an occupational health specialist. Work performance can be a great leverage for getting people who might otherwise be reluctant to seek help for a problem. For an additional resource, the World Health Organization has a 32-page booklet on Preventing Suicide - A Resource at Work.

March 14, 2008

Employers' best practice guide for helping veterans reacclimate to the workplace

We've previously discussed the importance of helping the military to return to work. Of the 1.5 million troops that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, approximately one in every four is a "citizen soldier" serving in the ranks of the National Guard or the Reserves. In many cases, they will be returning to resume jobs at former employers.

As we've learned from the experience of returning vets in past wars, the transition is not always an easy one. Many who return are IED survivors with serious physical injuries such as amputations, burns, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Many others suffer from an array of behavioral health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One recent Pentagon study identified that as many as one in three returning troops have mental health problems six months after their return. The study showed that the transition is even harder for citizen soldiers than for active-duty soldiers: "About 42 percent of the Guard and reserves, compared to 20 percent of active-duty troops, were identified as needing mental health treatment in two screenings. The first testing was immediately upon return from Iraq and the second six months later."

Helping to ease the transition back to the workplace
The Disability Management Employer Coalition and several large insurers teamed up with military and veteran advisers to examine the challenges and opportunities facing returning veterans and to identify employer-based resources and strategies to help ease the transition. The group, calling themselves the Workplace Warrior Think Tank, has produced a useful guide for employers: The Corporate Response to Deployment and Reintegration Highlighting Best Practices in Human Resources and Disability Management * (PDF).

The following are among the group's most important best practice recommendations:

  • Establish a Military Leave and Return Policy covering employees who are members of the Reserves or National Guard. A key component of that policy is to communicate the range of benefits and programs that apply, including provisions of the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which requires job protection for all employees who are deployed regardless of the size of the employer.
  • Inform civilian employees (such as those who work for defense contractors) who are assigned to work with the United States military overseas of the benefits programs available to them. In particular, employees should understand the federal Defense Base Act, which will cover them during their overseas assignment.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and behavioral health services to help returning employees (including members of the military and civilian employees assigned overseas) who have been diagnosed with or who are exhibiting symptoms of major depression, generalized anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Use good general disability management practices that apply, including:
    - maintaining communication during absences;
    - celebrating employees’ return to work;
    - giving employees adequate information about benefits prior to deployment;
    - allowing time to reintegrate after an extended absence;
    - considering accommodations to assist the employee’s return to productivity;
    - recapping changes while employees were gone;
    - establishing red flags to help supervisors identify potential problems; and
    - obtaining commitment from senior management to ensure that programs are given strong support and a cultural presence.
  • Offer sensitivity training to managers, supervisors and co-workers on issues and challenges faced by civilian soldiers during deployment and post-deployment.
  • Provide mentoring programs to link returning civilian soldiers with veterans in the workforce. The commonality of military experience may forge bonds among colleagues to support the successful reintegration of returning workplace warriors.

EAPs identified as a vital resource
The Workplace Warrior Think Tank stressed the importance of employers having not just an EAP, but one that is well equipped to address the full spectrum of behavioral health issues that are common to re-acclimating veterans, particularly PTSD and depression. In addition, the EAP must be poised to address the many family problems and stresses that can surface both during and after deployment. According to congressional testimony by Todd Bowers, Director of Government Affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 27% of soldiers now admit they are experiencing marital problems, and 20% of deployed soldiers say they are currently planning a divorce. And a CBS investigation points to a veteran suicide rate that is twice that of average Americans.

Employers must train supervisors and HR staff to spot warning signs for problems early and must have resources in place for referrals to appropriate help and support services. For employers who will have returning citizen soldiers, the next EAP renewal might be a good time to kick the tires and ensure that it is up to providing the serious support and mental health services that will be needed. The transition will not be a once-and-done matter, but a long-term issue that America's employers will be dealing with over the next few decades.

*More information and a copy of the full Guide are available through the Disability Management Employer Coalition.

January 24, 2008

Heath Ledger's perfect storm

Fueled by nonstop media coverage, rumors and speculation abound about the untimely death of talented actor Heath Ledger. Autopsies and tests are being conducted, but the truth is, when drugs are involved, it may be difficult to arrive at a definitive conclusion as to whether his death was accidental or intentional. Many signs indicate that this may well have been an unintentional ingestion of a fatal pharmaceutical cocktail. Regardless, an otherwise healthy young man was cut down in the prime of his life. And as is often common in cases of self-inflicted, premature, or unexpected deaths, many of the decedent's friends, family, and colleagues will be left with a residue of guilt and uneasy questions as to whether there was anything they might have done to prevent this.

While those who knew him express shock and surprise at the news of his death, stories are peppered with what those of us in our line of work see as danger signs. Ledger had reportedly been battling substance abuse problems, and although most reports state that he had stopped drinking, those who know about substance abuse would see an abuser's use of any pills as potentially problematic. He was suffering from significant personal stress, having recently split from Michelle Williams, the mother of his two-year old child. He expressed distress and concern about the break up to his friends, as well as fears as to what the changes would mean in his relationship with his young daughter. He was also under significant professional stress, recently completing back-to-back roles in films. His role as the Joker in the new Batman film apparently exacted quite a toll. In a recent interview with the New York Times, he talked about battling exhaustion and sleep disorders during the making of the film, noting that he could only sleep two hours a night and had begun taking over-the-counter sleep aids. Self-medication, stress, and sleep disorders can fall into a self-perpetuating, cyclical pattern. Even prescribed drugs can be a problem without appropriate treatment for the root causes.

Personal and professional stress, sleep disorders, substance abuse - each one of these issues is a potentially debilitating problem in and of itself, made infinitely more complex by throwing pharmaceuticals into the mix, whether prescribed or over the counter. A perfect storm. For Ledger, the mix proved deadly.

Could anything have been done to prevent this death? Perhaps not. But for those of us in the helping profession, we will continue asking the question because Ledger's untimely death is another public reminder of the terrible toll that untreated personal problems can take. In cases such as this, there are often warning signs that are quite clear in retrospect - the mission we all have - for our loved ones and colleagues - is identifying and dealing with potentially harmful personal problems prospectively

January 8, 2008

Common supervisory mistakes

Ten Critical Mistakes Made by Supervisors Dealing with Federal Employees in Trouble at Work - This is an excellent article by Bob Gilson, a consultant and employee relations advisor who authors articles at FedSmith.com, an information portal for sources of information impacting the federal community. This concise and sensible list is one that should be mandatory reading for all with supervisory responsibility, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector.

Bob attributes many of the supervisory mistakes that he's witnessed to poor training, something we would concur with. He labels each item on his list as a "critical mistake" and elaborates considerably on each - but here is a summary of the ten mistakes that he identifies:

  • Failing to Set Clear Expectations or to Regularly Reinforce Them
  • Letting Problems You're Aware of Fester before Addressing Them
  • Failure to Communicate With People with Problems
  • Failure to Recognize the Importance of Due Process
  • Taking the Matter Personally
  • Moving Too Quickly to Formal Action
  • Playing "GOTCHA" With Troublesome or Difficult People
  • Waiting Too Long to Get Professional Help
  • Unwillingness to See a Problem Through to a Resolution
  • Worrying Too Much About Over-Touted Disincentives to Taking Action

This list is a follow-on to a prior article about Ten Critical Mistakes Made by Federal Employees in Trouble, a candid look at mistakes employees often make to aggravate their troubles when they have problems on the job - another article well worth a read. More articles authored by Bob can be found in the Federal Manager's Toolbox.

December 12, 2007

The Web as an addiction

Adrienne Fox has written an in-depth article on Web addiction for HR Magazine: Caught in the Web - employees who can't stop clicking. Her article discusses both general productivity issues associated with the Web in the workplace and the more specific issue of those people whose Web use goes far beyond garden-variety productivity matters into behavior that rivals that of many other addictions.

Many employers have been grappling with the matter of appropriate employee Web use. The efficiencies and benefits afforded by the Internet - e-mail, research ability, connectivity, etc. - cannot be overstated. Yet the flip side of the coin is the potential for abuse. Web use can certainly get out of hand - not unlike the telephone. In her article, Fox cites several studies pointing to loss of productivity, including a 2005 Gallup Organization report that found the average employee uses office computers for non-work activity about 75 minutes per day, an annual equivalent of $6,250 per employee at $20 an hour. Some estimates we've seen put the productivity drain higher, some lower. A University of Maryland study that we've cited puts the personal Web use during work time at an average of 3.7 hours a week. On the other hand, this study also found that employees are spending more time at home using the web for work-related matters—an average of 5.9 hours.

A secondary and related issue is arguably the more difficult one to address: employees who can't put the brakes on. Some call Internet abuse an addiction, although the American Psychiatric Association does not recognize it as such. The jury appears to still be out as to whether this is simply a bad habit, an addiction, or an impulse control disorder. Researchers at Stanford University have been and are continuing to study these questions. To date, they have found some number of people who identify compulsive and troubling trends in their own usage. In one nationwide telephone survey of 2,513, 13.7% of the survey participants said they found it hard to stay away from the Internet for several days at a time; 12.4% stayed online longer than intended; 8.7% attempted to conceal non-essential Web use from significant others; and 5.9 percent felt their relationships suffered as a result of excessive Internet use

While experts can quibble over the precise terminology, the fundamental question can be boiled down to this: Is Web use causing problems in that person's life? For many, the answer is yes, and the symptoms are not far different that they are for substance abuse, gambling, or any other addictive behaviors. Problem indicators include:

  • Covering up or lying about the extent of use
  • Jeopardizing relationships, work
  • Escaping problems and responsibilities
  • Losing interest in friends and hobbies
  • Trying unsuccessfully to control use
  • Being preoccupied with use
  • Losing sleep, skipping meals
  • Preferring to be online
  • Staying online longer than planned
  • Anticipating and planning next online session

If the issue of web usage surfaces repeatedly with a particular employee, deal with it as you would any other performance issue or problem. How would you deal with an employee who spent too much time on the phone or socializing with co-workers? If performance slips and you suspect there may be an underlying problem, such as Web addiction or any other serious matter, refer the employee to your EAP. As an HR manager you do not need to (nor should you) try to diagnose a problem - keep your eye on performance.

Establishing controls
As with many matters, we favor a moderate approach. Building restrictive Web policies that are skewed to the few problem users would be unfair to the lion's share of the workers who are not abusive and such a policy may hinder your brightest, most creative employees. On the other hand, having a policy that is too loose might leave you open to lawsuits if the tools you supply are misused under the company name. We favor leaning more heavily to the trust side than the mistrust side. Remember Ronald Regean's favorite adage: trust but verify."

Here are a few best practices we've seen:

  • Set clear policies for Web use and communicate the policies throughout the organization.
  • Give examples of what appropriate Web use is (research, industry publications, professional organizations) and what unacceptable use is (Chat rooms, pornography, games)
  • Tie Internet use to essential job functions and job goals
  • Show that you are paying attention. Discuss Web use in job evaluations and meetings. Ask employees how much they use the Web, what they use it for, etc. Work together to set time goals.
  • Be vigilant but not oppressive in monitoring usage. Have IT look for usage "outliers" and have discussions with the outliers to determine why. Use may be legitimate based on job needs; if not, handle as you would any performance issue.
  • Specify disciplinary actions for serious violation of policies. If certain actions will result in termination, be clear in stating this.

December 7, 2007

When an ordinary work day turns deadly

Our thoughts this week are with a human resource manager whose nights will be troubled for some time to come. Jodi Longmeyer spent a half hour crouching on the floor, cell phone in hand, relaying what she saw of the Van Mauer shootings to police dispatchers as six of her work colleagues were being gunned down. Longmeyer and other workers at the department store and the mall will now face the long, difficult road of dealing with grief, loss, and the terrible aftermath of a brush with horrific violence. There was no apparent reason why Van Mauer was targeted for this violence, but the retailer is now forced to deal with the aftermath. Providing access to experienced crisis counselors and EAPs will be critical to healthy recovery. Many of those involved - about 80% - will suffer acute stress disorder, exhibiting anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. For most, this will largely pass within a few weeks or months - especially if they have access to appropriate counseling. But for others, the effects may be more pervasive, debilitating, and life-changing. Some who have a brush with near-death, violence or other traumatic events will suffer post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that can often have a delayed onset of up to a year or longer, and is generally thought to affect up to 20% of those who experience traumatic events.

HR managers: a weighty responsibility
We also think of another HR manager who is in the shadows of this story, the unknown person who had just terminated shooter Robert Hawkin from his job. No doubt, this person is shaken by their inadvertent involvement in the terrible events. Disciplinary actions and job terminations are every day actions in the workplace. No one expects them to have such a horrific aftermath. Yet work-related disciplinary actions are a crisis point for many. We think of another holiday-season shooting a few years ago after HR managers broke the news to an employee that his pay would be garnished for back taxes.

Terrible events can and do occur, and no amount of pre-planning or second-guessing will change that. All employers and managers can do is be ever-alert and sensitive for signs of potential problems and events that could be flash points, and to steer troubled employees to appropriate channels for help. Serious disciplinary actions are one such potential flash point, and an appropriate time for a referral to an EAP. In our experience, many terminations can be avoided if employees with a work problem are referred to an EAP at an early sign of problems. Holidays are another time when problems can surface for troubled employees. Holidays can trigger depression and stress for many.

The Workplace Violence Research Institute lists a number of pre-incident indicators gleaned from more than 200 actual incidents of workplace violence:

  • Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs
  • Unexplained increase in absenteeism
  • Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene
  • Depression and withdrawal
  • Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
  • Threatens or verbally abuses co-workers and supervisors
  • Repeated comments that indicate suicidal tendencies
  • Frequent, vague physical complaints
  • Noticeably unstable emotional responses
  • Behavior which is suspect of paranoia
  • Preoccupation with previous incidents of violence
  • Increased mood swings
  • Has a plan to "solve all problems"
  • Resistance and over-reaction to changes in procedures Increase of unsolicited comments about firearms and other dangerous weapons
  • Empathy with individuals committing violence
  • Repeated violations of company policies
  • Fascination with violent and/or sexually explicit movies or publications
  • Escalation of domestic problems
  • Large withdrawals from or closing his/her account in the company's credit union.

In addition to these indicators, we would recommend:

  • Have a crisis management plan, including resources in place to provide post-trauma stress counseling
  • Be alert for disciplinary flash points
  • Be alert for signs of depression at the holidays
  • Encourage and make it easy for staff to report threats, violence, and incidents of unusual displays of anger
  • See this posting for more tips for violence prevention in the workplace

Additional resources
OSHA Preventing workplace violence
SAMHSA - Preventing Workplace Violence
Handbook on Workplace Violence Prevention and Response from the USDA

November 9, 2007

Workplace violence: HR lessons

In Small Business Times, Daniel Schroeder discusses human resource lessons learned form the Crandon shooting, answering the question "... what is a reasonable approach for a company that wants to make sure that it does what it can to minimize the chances of a violent act occurring?" We agree with his recommendations, some of which include:

  • Establish a policy against workplace violence.
  • Make screening for violence potential part of the employee selection process.
  • The wise course of action is to take all threats seriously.
  • Make use of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Shroeder offers more detailed recommendations in his article, which is well worth reading. For additional information on the topic workplace violence, see our prior posts:
Violence prevention in the workplace
Employers have a key role in curbing domestic violence

November 6, 2007

Quickly Treating Employee Depression Helps Workers

Depression takes a hefty toll on the U.S. workplace, affecting about 6% of employees each year while costing over $30 billion annually in lost productivity, according to research conducted recently by Harvard University. In most cases, the symptoms of depression appear gradually and the usual process of treating depression&mdas;taking stock of the situation, visiting one's personal care physician, obtaining a referral to a mental health professionaland then finally receiving treatment—can take months or years.

However, a recent study appearing in the September issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 298, No. 12) indicates that workers with "telephonic outreach" available, such as your 24-hour Employee Assistance Program, fare much better in accessing treatment and recovering, thus reducing lost time expenses for their employers. The NIMH-sponsored research was conducted by Dr. Phillip Wang who found that employees who obtained early and aggressive intervention experienced significantly less time away from work and significantly higher job retention than those who remained untreated or for whom diagnosis and referral were delayed. In fact, they missed two fewer work weeks per work year than the untreated group or those who took the slow, traditional route in search of relief.

Also, more workers in the early intervention group were still employed by year's end—93% vs. 88%—resulting in further cost savings for employers who thus avoided the expense of rehiring and training replacement workers. The research specifically concluded that employers who provided a "telephonic outreach and care management program," such as a professional Employee Assistance Program, realize a "financial value and positive return on investment" from their outreach initiatives.

The Mayo Clinic has isolated various symptoms that can indicate the early stages of depression. If you observe or learn of any employees falling into these patterns of behavior, consider referring them to your employee assistance program for early intervention:

  • Sleep disturbances including too much sleep, frequent awakenings or insomnia
  • Impaired thinking or concentration
  • Significant changes in weight, either increases or decreases
  • Agitation, including signs of irritability and annoyance
  • Chronic fatigue, which people sometimes describe as doing everything in slow motion
  • Low self-esteem, manifested by statements indicating worthlessness or guilt
  • A fixation on death, often accompanied by persistent negative expressions of self worth
  • Increasing detachment from friends and family
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol

October 23, 2007

Harnessing web communication technologies in a crisis: the San Diego fires

Our hearts go out to all the folks suffering in the terrible fires and related chaos in southern California. In the aftermath, there will no doubt be crisis-management lessons for employers in how to communicate with and support employees, just as there were HR lessons from Katrina.

Your technology and web staff should be front line soldiers in crisis planning and crisis management. The Web offers numerous tools that employers should learn to harness for both their public and Intranet sites in the event of natural or man-made emergencies. To learn more about these technologies and to view them in action, see Using Social Media Services to Track the California Fires. This article offers links and discussion about how Google, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia and del.icio.us are being harnessed to offer real time updates, news, and resources about the San Diego area fires.

Note: some of the following links may change or expire as the situation evolves.

Nate Ritter offers an excellent example of how one individual is providing an important public service via the text messaging tool, Twitter. News station KPBS also has a good Twitter news feed.

Some very interesting (and terrible) updates are being provided via Google Map mashups, which bloggers and programmers are cobbling together quickly. This KPBS News map displays fire burn areas, evacuation areas, evacuation centers, road closures, and more. This blogger is mapping the homes that have been claimed by fire in his neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo. His blog, And Still I Persist is an example of the valuable role that bloggers can play in a disaster.

As they were during Katrina, newspaper message boards become an important gathering point for local residents to share information, resources, and help to neighbors. The Union-Tribune's SignOnSanDiego wildfire forums have logged tens of thousands of messages since yesterday, grouped by geographic areas. Many distant folks have been reading these boards to keep track of areas where friends and family live.

And don't forget—one other vital employer resource during and after an emergency is an employee assistance program. Sadly, there will be many, many hurting people when this terrible fire has run its course.

October 17, 2007

Survey charts depression by occupational category

Depression is a major problem in the workplace. The economic toll of depression on U.S. Companies is estimated $30 to $44 billion dollars per year in lost productivity, employee absenteeism, and low morale. As part of its annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) includes questions to assess lifetime and past year major depressive episode (MDE) among adults aged 18 or older. Combined data from 2004 to 2006 indicate that 7.0 percent of all full-time workers aged 18 to 64 experienced a major depressive episode (MDE) in the past year.

Depression is higher in some occupations and industry classes than others. Survey data reveals that personal care and service workers experienced rates of depression that were more than 2.5 times higher than engineers, architects, and surveyors. Here's a list of job classes and the rates of depression from the survey:

10.8% - Personal Care and Service
10.3% - Food Preparation and Serving Related
9.6% - Community and Social Services
9.6% - Healthcare Practitioners and Technical
9.1% - Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media
8.7% - Education, Training, and Library
8.1% - Office and Administrative Support
7.3% - Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance
6.7% - Financial
6.7% - Sales and Related
6.4% - Legal
6.4% - Transportation and Material Moving
6.2% - Mathematical and Computer Scientists
5.9% - Production
5.8% - Management
5.6% - Farming, Fishing, and Forestry
5.5% - Protective Service
4.8% - Construction and Extraction
4.4% - Installation, Maintenance, and Repair
4.4% - Life, Physical, and Social Science
4.3% - Engineering, Architecture, and Surveyors

More detailed information about survey results can be accessed at SAMHSA's Office of Applied Studies.

Managers and supervisors should be trained to be alert for changes in job performance that may reflect common symptoms of depression. While it's not a manager's role to be a counselor, managers are in a position to refer an employee to professionals such as an EAP who can help to discover the underlying reason for the change in performance. Employers can also facilitate help for their troubled employees by making basic mental health information available through health and wellness programs. Wellness programs tend to focus on physical issues related to key health drivers, such as obesity, exercise, and smoking cessation. Issuing basic information about mental health matters, such as checklists of signs and symptoms of depression in a company newsletter, can also be very beneficial to both employees and the organization's bottom line. For a few resources that might be helpful to such educational efforts, check The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

September 11, 2007

9/11 and lingering PTSD

Six years after the events of 9/11, many Americans are still struggling with fear and anxiety and many are suffering from varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unsurprisingly, those who were in closest proximity are suffering the most. Researchers at New York University and the New York—Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center have conducted follow-up studies with adults who witnessed World Trade Center events and with children who lost a parent. The research shows enduring psychological and neurological repercussions, including an alteration in brain chemistry. The children in particular may be prone to developing other problems in later life, ranging from hypersensitivity to stress to actual physical manifestations, such as the development of diabetes or weak bones.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta discusses PTSD and some promising new methods of treatment. If there is any silver lining that can come from such a tragedy, it is in the potential advances that might come from studying survivors with PTSD and developing new treatments for dealing with this crippling affliction.

Of course, 9/11 is only one event that can trigger PTSD. Iraq and Afghanistan vets, post-Katrina survivors, and anyone who has experienced a fire, a violent assault, or a vehicular accident can also be affected by PTSD. After a traumatic event, Acute Stress Disorder is fairly common. This is a disruptive condition that can be marked by nightmares, anxiety, and general life disruption. Many people experience this but it is generally short term in nature. In contrast, a smaller subset will experience PTSD - some put that number at about 10%. It's difficult to know why some will experience PTSD and others don't. Some experts think that occurrences are more frequent and deep-seated in response to man-made disasters such as war or violence than in natural disasters. PTSD often has delayed onset, sometimes not surfacing for as much as 6 to 18 months or more after the triggering event. PTSD symptoms are generally much more severe than ASD and often quite debilitating. Some recent research, such as the studies cited above, seem to indicate a bio-chemical alteration in the brain that keeps a victim "stuck" in trauma mode and susceptible to repeatedly re-experiencing the traumatic events. Treatment is essential.

Meaningful commemoration
While on the topic of 9/11, we learned about what we think of as a fitting way to memorialize that terrible day. Many people think that the best way to commemorate 9/11 is to reclaim the day and dedicate 9/11 to positive action, such as doing good deeds or performing acts of kindness. A focus on national service does honor in a meaningful way to those who perished and is particularly poignant way to remember public servants who gave their lives in an attempt to save others. This might be a healing way for an organization to mark the anniversary of any severely traumatic event that has affected a number of employees.

PTSD Resources:

August 20, 2007

Top work distractions are costly

According to an article in Business Week, workplace distractions are costing $650 billion a year in lost productivity. It's hard to know exactly how they came up with that dollar amount, but there's no disputing the issue. It's harder and harder to stay focused in the workplace. The article is accompanied by a slide show depicting a dozen of the most frequent work distractions. Some involve non-work related matters, such as weather, news, and socialization, but even so-called productivity enhancers can be culprits: employees are drowning in a high volume of e-mails, phone calls, and "snail" mail and are addicted to cell phones, PDAs, testing, instant messages, and all the other "helpful" tools that keep us connected 24/7.

To protect productivity, you may need to help your employees to remove the most common distractions. First, try to analyze what the most common distractions are in your organization - the above list might be a good starting point. Get managers together to brainstorm creative strategies to help employees avoid such distractions.

We've come across some good ideas for reducing distractions. Here are a few suggestions from the mundane to the creative:

  • Teach workers how to create and prioritze to-do lists, and to tackle the major priorities that relate to job goals before addressing the smaller or discretionary items.
  • Minimize meetings and keep them short and focused. Some companies only conduct meetings while standing up.
  • Suggest that workers open emails only a few times a day. Batching distractions can be a good way to deal with them. Some companies program incoming mail so that it is only be delivered to the desktop at certain intervals.
  • Give people "do not disturb" signs they can place at their workstations; encourage "quiet periods" or "quiet zones" - times or places in which silence is encouraged.
  • Consider supplying people with inexpensive personal printers and online fax services to lessen the need for walking to and waiting around central printers and faxes.
  • Establish a mandatory visitor check in at a central point. This is not only a good security measure, it also discourages frivolous visits and cuts down on distractions.
  • Establish a library for shared work subscriptions and resources. This is not only economical, it will limit distractions and provide a central place for research and professional development.

When real life problems are the distraction
While many of the distractions discussed above revolve around the work environment or work tools, we would expand the list by including distractions that arise from outside the workplace but that are brought in, such as home and family matters. These can range from juggling the normal demands of family life - children, school, aging parents, moving, etc - to more serious life problems, such as mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and legal or financial problems. When extreme stress, fear, or anxiety are at play, it's nearly impossible for an employee to check these issues at the door and be fully engaged and productive in their work day. If you've ever experienced a life crisis like an elderly relative with Alzheimer's, a spouse with a life-threatening illness, or a runaway teen, you quickly learn the difficulty in keeping a firewall between work and the job.

That's when a good EAP can come into play, by offering the worker help to resources targeted to work-life issues, as well as help for the more serious and weighty problems that may be interfering with work, health, and emotional well-being. A good EAP will offer access to a variety of treatment options and resources for virtually any type of problems that a person might face. A good EAP could arguably be the single most effective productivity enhancer that an organization could invest in.

July 27, 2007

Caregiver employees are at heightened risk: how employers can help

We recently came upon a great LA Times article by Melissa Healy on the topic of caregivers
and the high toll they pay for the role they play
in supporting family members. This is a topic that interests us greatly—our EAP deals with an increasing number of workers who are dealing with the stress or strain of caring for an ill, elderly, or special needs family member. According to the article, about one in every six people is a caregiver and as the Baby Boomers advance in age, that number is expected to increase. Add to that the numbers who will be caring for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many profoundly injured either physically or mentally. The scope of the caregiving issue is significant enough that it prompted the EEOC to recently issue new caregiver guidelines for employers. Many caregivers are elderly themselves—about 30% fall in this category. Many others are sandwiched between caring for elderly relatives and providing child care, a double burden. Most caregivers are employed and the weight of their responsibilities takes a high toll on many aspects of their lives, including their work. Caregiving is an issue employers need to tackle head-on—according to a survey by The MetLife Mature Market Institute, which tracks aging, retirement and elder-care issues for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., the cost of caregivers in the workplace may be as high as $33.6 billion a year in missed days, early departures, and on-the-job distractions. The heavy responsibilities of caring for ill or elderly family members also increases the chances that the caregivers themselves will experience financial, physical, and emotional problems. Many are forced to put their own career goals on hold or work reduced hours, and the health risks associated with caregiving are high:

"A 2003 study found that family members caring for those with dementia suffered suppressed levels of immunity for three years following their stint of caregiving, raising their risk of developing a chronic disease themselves. Other surveys have found that compared with the general population, caregivers—especially those with intensive caregiving demands and those already in fair or poor health—are less likely than their noncaregiving peers to attend to their own healthcare needs, less likely to exercise or see their doctor regularly and more likely to eat poorly and drink alcohol excessively."

How employers can help
Many companies are experimenting with innovative approaches to supporting caregivers. Many large organizations, such as IBM and Raytheon, are offering caregiver wellness programs focused on teaching caregivers how to effectively cope with their responsibilities and maintain their own physical and mental health. Here are some of our suggestion for things that employers can do to support the caregivers in their workplace:

  • Assess the issue in your work force. Take a survey to learn the extent of the caregiving responsibilities in your workplace so that you understand the pressure points and can plan the most appropriate response for your employees.
  • Train managers and supervisors to be sensitive to and alert for workers with caregiving responsibilities and to direct these employees to appropriate support resources, such as an EAP.
  • Learn about and publicize local caregiving resources that can provide practical assistance, such as meals on wheels, transportation services and and adult day care. Publicize these resources in your organization's newsletter or intranet.
  • Examine your organization's policies on flexible work hours and work-at-home options. Consider offering your employees more options on when, where, and how they accomplish their work responsibilities.
  • Consider expanding work/life benefits. If you don't have an EAP that offers work/life and caregiving resources, consider adding one. Research benefit options, such as access to temporary emergency dependent care or paid leave for caregivers that goes beyond FMLA standards, or voluntary time banks where other workers can donate unused sick or vacation time to to caregiving or ill co-workers.

July 11, 2007

Turbo-Charging your Workers Comp Program with your EAP

If you ask employers to describe an employee assistance program, they'll usually talk about resources and services to solve employee personal problems. They'll describe it as an employee benefit. And if they've had occasion to use the services of an EAP, they'll probably tell you that it is a very valuable benefit.

What you won't hear is any reference to workers' comp. Few employers talk about how an EAP can be an effective tool to reduce workers' comp and disability costs or how an EAP can support employees during the recovery process to ensure they get back to their normal life as quickly as possible.

But those of us at ESI Employee Assistance Group believe that we have cracked the code and figured out how to insert the EAP into an organization to help the employee expedite recovery while also helping the organization reduce overall comp costs.

The Problem
Let's start with the fundamental reason why organizations opt to have an employee assistance program. It all revolves around that fact that 1 out of every 5 employees face some sort of significant personal problem in any given year. Those problems impact their lives and their productivity at work. A good EAP can go a long way toward addressing these problems and helping these employees get back to full productivity.

When it comes to workers' comp, the fundamental problem is two-fold. First, too many people are injured on the job. And when injured, employees are frequently away from work far longer than the injuries require.

And that's where the EAP and workers' comp connect.

The EAP—Work Comp Connection
Anyone who is familiar with workers' comp knows that there are three key elements to an effective cost containment program:

  • An aggressive injury prevention effort
  • Immediate medical treatment by quality providers who understand workers' comp
  • An active return to work and transitional duty program

What we've learned at ESI, is that it is possible to utilize the EAP to essentially turbo-charge this sort of program.

Start with how injuries occur. While some injuries are the result of work site hazards, many injuries—arguably the lion's share—are the result of unsafe behavior. Relevant data clearly indicates that personal issues are the single most significant cause of unsafe behavior. The U.S. Department of Labor's data suggests that upwards of 40 percent of all workplace injuries have alcohol or substance abuse as the key contributing factor. And if you add other personal problems to the mix—depression, stress, medical issues, etc. — it is clear that employee problems are at the root of many workplace injuries. An effective EAP can head off many of these problems before they result in harm to the employee, to coworkers and to your organization.

And if you examine why injured workers have extended disability, all too often unresolved personal problems rather than medical problems are sabotaging the person's recovery. Personal issues are frequently barriers that keep people from returning to work and resuming their normal life in a timely fashion. Issues such as depression, family problems, debt and, once again, alcohol and substance abuse are the main contributors to extended disability. By helping employees tap into the services of the EAP, these barriers can be knocked down and recovery and return to work can be expedited

Why don't more employers use this cost reduction tool?
Properly used, an effective employee assistance program can address both the pre- and post-injury issues. So why aren't organizations using their EAPs more effectively?

First, responsibility for the workers' compensation program and the EAP almost always reside in different parts of the organization. The human resource department is responsible for the EAP, while risk management or the CFO is responsible for comp. Rarely is there one person or one department handling both. Add to that the fact that most EAPs are not attuned to the opportunity to impact workers' comp and disability. And, finally, the EAP is generally viewed as a nice benefit, but not a strategic business partner; and not as a strategy for turbo-charging prevention and return to work programs

To ensure an effective program, a couple of things have to happen. HR and Risk Management need to work together to promote the EAP, not only as a benefit for employees, but also as a tool for pre- and post-injury management. Next, employees must be made fully aware of the benefit. Supervisors must be trained to identify problemed employees and how to steer employees to the EAP. And, finally, the organization needs to select an EAP provider that is up to the task: one that fully understands work site productivity demands and complex issues such as disability prevention, as well as the counseling needs of employees.

Over the years, we have seen many employers integrate the EAP into their risk management efforts with extraordinary results. One large self insurance group has experienced an overall drop of more than 40% in claims. We believe that we have just begun to scratch the surface of how to make the EAP an effective cost containment tool and are working to make it even more effective.

Clearly, an EAP can be an effective tool in your overall workers' comp program. You and your EAP just have to know how to do it right.

June 28, 2007

Employers have a key role in curbing domestic violence

Lately, there's been a spate of grim headlines about domestic violence resulting in deaths: the professional wrestler who killed his wife and young son and then himself, and the pregnant Ohio mother who was murdered, allegedly by the father of her child. Domestic violence is certainly nothing new but, occasionally, high profile cases such as these bring the issue to the forefront.

Because we spend so much time at work, colleagues and supervisors are often in a unique position to spot signs of domestic violence and employer can often play a critical role in directing the employee to help through referrals to an EAP or other community resource. In the past, the "none of my business" type of thinking often prevailed, but today employers know that problems at home rarely stay at home. All too often, domestic abuse comes right to the workplace:

  • Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.
  • Of the approximately 1.7 million incidents of workplace violence that occur in the US every year, 18,700 are committed by an intimate partner: a current or former spouse, lover, partner, or boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • Lost productivity and earnings due to intimate partner violence accounts for almost $1.8 billion each year.
  • Intimate partner violence victims lose nearly 8.0 million days of paid work each year - the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs and nearly 5.6 million days of household productivity.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund identifies an annotated list of seven reasons why employers should address domestic violence. Here's a quick summary:

  1. Domestic violence affects many employees.
  2. Domestic violence is a security and liability concern.
  3. Domestic violence is a performance and productivity concern.
  4. Domestic violence is a health care concern.
  5. Domestic violence is a management issue.
  6. Taking action in response to domestic violence works.
  7. Employers can make a difference.

The site also offers an excellent list of case histories of what some progressive employers are doing to combat domestic violence and suggests a site with actions that both large and small employers can take to combat domestic violence.

Some of the basic things that employers can do include:

  • Instituting a workplace zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence
  • Providing secure work environments
  • Raising awareness of the problem by educating your employee
  • Reminding employees that help is available for domestic violence
  • Training managers and supervisors to be alert for potential signs of domestic abuse
  • Having referral protocols and resources in place for employees who need help - preferably an EAP or a social service experienced in dealing with domestic abuse

Some other good resources include:
American Institute on Domestic Violence
Safe@Work
Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence
The Corporate Alliance to End Domestic Violence

May 16, 2007

Wearing diapers in casinos - a sure sign of a gambling problem!

Diaper wearing adults may be the year's most obvious warning signs of deep-seated personal problems. First we saw diaper wearing on the part of Lisa Marie Nowak. It was difficult for an amazed public not to get caught up in the humor provoked by the absurdity of the situation, but those of us who work with troubled people saw the raw and painful reality of a troubled employee.

We thought that would likely be the year's only story involving diapers and troubled people, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we once again find diapers and problems converging. This time, diaper-wearing is an indicator of gambling problems.

The story came to light when Professor Tim Pelton of the University of Victoria's Centres for Addiction Research was conducting a study with casino staff to assess the extent of the youth gambling problem. In the course of this research, a troubling theme emerged:

The survey of casino workers found many workers polled said they regularly see problem gambling up close, including people wearing diapers so they don't have to leave the machines to use the washroom.

Could this be true? Apparently at least one company is marketing an Adult Incontinence Reusable Cloth Diaper (warning: photos of adults in diapers) as being "perfect for ... Gamblers all night in the casino."

This marketing ploy troubles Professor Pelton, and we are with him on that one. In our experience, gambling is right up there with any of the other highly damaging addictions that we see, causing untold harm to the addict and the addict's family and close friends. Yet compulsive or pathological gambling (and we would lump diaper-wearing gamblers in that category) is often called "the hidden addiction."

The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery offers excellent information and resources on gambling addiction, including a list of warning signs to help identify problem gambling in the workplace:

  • Excessive use of telephones (to call bookmakers, stockbrokers or to obtain credit)
  • Taking the company vehicle to the race track, card room, casino, etc. (parking tickets near gambling locations are a "red flag")
  • Absences from work, often for part of the day (typically after lunch)
  • Arriving late for work (related to all-night card games, casino trips, anxiety-related sleep disturbances)
  • Vacation days taken on isolated days rather than in weeks (or vacations taken to gambling locations on a regular basis)
  • Sick days taken immediately or ahead of time
  • Failure to take days off (obsessed with getting money to pay gambling debts or afraid to take a day off because of a fear that embezzlement or fraud will be discovered in their absence)
  • Changes in productivity (which seem to be related to mood swings)
  • Organizing office pools and gambling junkets
  • Borrowing money from co-workers or arguing with co-workers over failure to pay debts
  • Embezzlement, defrauding customers or engaging in employee theft for resale

As with any other addiction, HR managers and supervisors don't have to diagnose or treat the problems, merely to be aware of early problem indicators as evidenced by performance and behaviors. Suspected addictions should be referred to EAPs or other qualified help resources.

Additional resources:
National Council on Problem Gambling
Gambler's Anonymous
Wikipedia on Problem Gambling

May 8, 2007

Study points to mental health issues as leading cost and absence drivers

According to a recent survey of HR professionals and senior managers, mental illness is "the leading cause of indirect costs associated with lost work time." And although both the prevalence and cost of mental health issues in the workplace are viewed as problematic, employers are not effectively grappling with the problem.

The study, "Innerworkings: A Look at Mental Health in Today's Workplace," was conducted by Employee Benefit News in conjunction with The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP. The study encompassed more than 500 HR-benefits professionals and senior executives representing more than 50 business segments from across the country.
This study reveals that mental illness is exacting a high economic toll in the workplace:

HR-benefits directors say mental illness has far more impact on the indirect costs associated with lost productivity and absenteeism than physical problems. Nearly one-third of the survey respondents (31%) believe mental illness has the greatest adverse impact - more than twice the number who blamed back problems (14%) and three times the number identifying substance abuse, asthma/allergies and smoking as the culprits.
Their rankings are supported by other studies showing the cost of mental illness in the workplace. For example, a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that a worker with depression averaged 27.2 lost workdays annually due to absence or poor functioning on the job, and an employee with bipolar disorder averaged 65.5 days.

The good news: many benefits in place
HR managers and employers report that the availability of benefits designed to address mental health issues is high: 90% of the respondents cite mental health insurance coverage, 76% cite employee assistance program (EAP) availability, and 63% have return to work programs for disabled workers.

The bad news: benefits are not fully utilized
Despite treatment availability, respondents point to low utilization, citing a variety of factors. Common employee factors hindering utilization are lack of awareness of available help and the stigma and shame associated with mental health issues. In addition, respondents indicated that managers and supervisors may be part of the problem because they often fail to encourage benefit utilization. Fewer than 25% of respondents felt that managers understand the scope of the problems that mental health issues pose, and only 15% of the respondents had training to help managers recognize problems and point employees to help.

This study mirrors much of what we see in treating troubled employees. We strongly believe that line managers are often pivotal in spotting at-risk employees early and directing workers to help before problems are exacerbated. But because good training is often unavailable, supervisors and managers are often ill-equipped to identify and address problems effectively. Particularly when issues appear to be related to non-work matters, supervisors can be reluctant to address problems, either because they don't know how to or because they think it is not their business. Therefore, problems are often ignored until they rise to the level of a crisis. Yet our experience and numerous studies show that early intervention can help to effectively resolve problems. Supervisors should know that they do not need to (and should not) attempt to diagnose or treat personal or psychological problems, but should understand the importance of identifying employees who may be at risk and referring these employees on to HR managers and the benefit programs that can provide help or treatment.

Liberty Mutual recently studied mental health disability claims and issued recommendations for best practices for managing claims involving psychological issues. These include:

  • Quickly involve the experts
  • Know what's happening at work
  • Make sure physicians communicate
  • Manage the condition

The cited article discusses each of these practices in greater depth, and states that employers implementing these practices have cut the number of disability claims related to psychological issues by as much as 10 percent.

April 27, 2007

New research sheds light on bullying in the workplace

A recent survey on workplace bullying conducted by scientists at the University of New Mexico found that nearly 3 in 10 U.S. workers are bullied at work, but only about 1 in ten would self-identify as being the victim of a bully. The survey authors listed a set of negative acts and asked how frequently respondents had experienced those acts in the past six months. Bullying was defined as experiencing "at least two negative acts, weekly or more often, for six or more months."

Survey authors attributed the discrepancy to several things:

"Bullying, by definition, is escalatory. This is one of the reasons it's so difficult to prevent it, because it usually starts in really small ways," said study team member Sarah Tracy, director of the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University.

Another factor might be that bullying is a phenomenon just creeping into people's vocabulary as the research and education on the topic burgeons. For instance, Tracy explained, before the term "sexual harassment" was in the American lexicon, people didn't identify the behavior as such.
Until recently, the term "bully" has been used to describe the schoolyard tyrant, which is kid stuff. So identifying yourself as a victim of a playground act can make a person feel weak and childish.

The survey also addressed the matter of witnesses to bullying behavior. Participants were asked if they had witnessed bullying behavior, learning that those who had found the experience to be very stressful:

"Witnesses describe seeing others psychologically terrorized as the equivalent to watching a mugging every day and being unable to stop it," Lutgen-Sandvik told LiveScience. "They feel deep pain for their colleagues. Some get involved and try to help and are either targeted as a result or feel deep disappointment, anger, and shock that little is done to stop the abuse."

Study authors suggest that the best way to fight back against a bully is to learn how to tell a compelling, detailed story about the behavior so that it can be reported to human resources or other managerial staff. LiveScience.com features a detailed article that lists 8 Tactics to Bust the Office Bully. These tactics were developed by Sarah Tracy, director of the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University, after analyzing narratives told by bully victims. Although these tactics are aimed at employees, HR managers might find both the tactics and the research helpful to use as a methodology when investigating worker complaints.

April 18, 2007

Violence prevention in the workplace

The nation mourns for the Virginia Tech students and teachers who have been killed and wounded in another horrifying and senseless act of violence. While we can't add much to the wall-to-wall news coverage, we thought it might be fitting to use today's post to reprint an article on workplace violence prevention that was written by Bill Bowler, our Senior Vice President of Client Services. The article originally appeared in Small-Biz, a publication by the Support Services Alliance, Inc. (SSA).

Bullet proofing your workplace
Taking steps to prevent violence in your business is not only good policy – it’s the law. That’s because the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) general duty clause, which says “an employer is obligated to furnish its employees a workplace free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death and/or serious physical harm,” has been interpreted to include preventable workplace violence.

But isn’t workplace violence unforeseen and random? It may seem that way, but if your workplace is prepared for any eventuality, your valued employees will most likely survive any unforeseen event because they will know how to handle themselves. And it’s up to you, as the business owner, to set the stage for safety.

Consider the following checklist:

  • Draft and enforce a written workplace violence policy that prohibits physical and verbal violence among your employees. Include a statement of consequences “up to and including termination.” Take time to pass it out and explain it to your employees in a dedicated meeting.
  • If your business is retail in nature, be aware that nearly 40% of all workplace homicides occurred last year in that environment. Educate your employees to comply, comply, comply if a robbery occurs. The graveyards are filled with would-be heroes.
  • Train your managers/supervisors to intervene properly if employees are caught fighting. An overly aggressive, “hands-on” approach only escalates the hostility and violence.
  • Consider adding an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) to your benefits mix. Many employees who resort to violence at work are often stressed out by personal, family, financial and legal problems which their EAP can address in a dignified, confidential manner.
  • Although most workplace violence stems from angry current (or former) employees and/or robbery scenarios, be aware of and address potential dangers posed by “outsiders” such as jealous boyfriends or girlfriends, stalkers and angry family members of your employees. Create a secure work area and don’t hesitate to contact the local police to discuss these situations.
  • Teach your employees to be management’s “eyes and ears” and to report threats of violence to you immediately! No one likes to squeal or “rat” on a fellow employee. But, when it comes to reporting statements of this nature, they may be saving lives. Ask them to think of how badly they will feel if the perpetrator takes action that could have been prevented.

Clearly, we live in a time where violent workplace occurrences are common. But you can take charge and take positive steps to bulletproof your business.

April 6, 2007

Should employers have the right to ban guns at work?

Does your organization allow workers to keep guns in locked cars on company premises? Legislation pending in several states would abrogate your right to set such a policy. The National Rifle Association is waging a state-by-state battle to stop employers from making or enforcing such policies at their workplaces.

Michael Fox at Jottings By an Employers Lawyer discusses the issue of guns at the workplace, referencing a recent New York Times editorial about Workers’ Safety and the Gun Lobby. The editorial talks about the contentious battle that is being waged between many of the nation's employers and the formidable gun lobby of the National Rifle Association. The editorial states that "Bills to deny this common-sense right to workplace safety were initially approved in three states. But they failed last year in such gun-friendly states as Florida, Georgia, Indiana and Virginia after business interests rose up in active opposition."

This issue gathered steam in 2002 when Weyerhaeuser fired a number of its workers for having guns in their cars on company property in direct opposition to company policy. In Workplace Right or Workplace Danger, the Christian Science Monitor discusses the aftermath:

Oklahoma's debate over guns at work got its start in 2002, when Weyerhaeuser employees were fired for having left firearms locked in their vehicles outside the plant. The state legislature, in overwhelming support of the workers, banned companies from restricting workers' ability to carry legal firearms in their vehicles.

Almost a dozen companies, including ConocoPhillips, filed a federal lawsuit to block that law. It is still tied up in court, but Mr. LaPierre says three of the companies have backed out after NRA pressure: "I think they realized that they had gotten into a gun crusade that has nothing to do with their bottom line, shareholder value, or the mission of their companies."

Since the Oklahoma law passed, similar legislation has been introduced in several other states, but increasingly, employers have been pushing back and defeating legislation in many states. For more on the issues involved and past legislative battles, see Employers Fire Back at Law Making it a Felony to Ban Guns on Company Premises from the January 30, 2006 issue of WorkForce.

SHRM has consistently maintained the position tht this matter " ... is best left up to the individual employer to decide whether or not to restrict weapons from the workplace. SHRM is tracking this issue closely and is working with its local affiliates on advocacy efforts to oppose any legislation that seeks to impose such mandates." The Brady Center has also been active in monitoring this issue, and its 2005 report Forced Entry: The National Rifle Association's Campaign to Force Businesses to Accept Guns at Work (PDF) was deemed instrumental in the defeat of some legislative initiatives.

Michael Fox's post updates us on legislative bills pending in Texas, and SHRM has a recent update on legislation in Utah. Legislation is also pending in Georgia. To follow current legislative initiatives, bookmark The Brady Center's guide to States with guns in the workplace bills.

March 28, 2007

Public lives, private dramas - cancer in the headlines

We have two very public stories playing out in national headlines that deal with public figures coping with cancer. The news that Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer had spread was piggybacked by news that Tony Snow's colon cancer had also returned and spread. Both are terribly sad stories - both Edwards and Snow are parents in the prime of their lives and both are people who live lives in the glare of public scrutiny.

There are several life lessons to be learned, not the least of which is the value of early cancer detection and the importance of cancer screenings. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a month dedicated to reminding us that colorectal cancer is thought to be 90% preventable and one of the most treatable forms of cancer if detected early. And while breast cancer screenings are not as fail safe, the importance of early detection and preventive measures cannot be disputed. The personal health dramas of both Edwards and Snow will be catalysts for thousands to call their doctors for screenings. Often, public figures who share their experience can cut through our all-too-human tendencies to denial and procrastination and can also offer inspiration and hope to those who cope with their own or a loved one's cancer.

Work-life balance
These stories also have brought the issue of work/life balance center stage as we watch the very different approaches that people and families take in addressing a major health crisis. When Elizabeth and John Edwards announced the return of her cancer along with their decision for John Edwards to continue in his quest for the presidency, it spawned a national debate that is spilling out in newsprint, talk shows and online message boards. Their choice has met with both accolades and criticism, and while much of the commentary may be colored by political partisanship, it highlights the very different approaches that people take to a life-threatening health crisis. Some would retreat to spend time with family and focus exclusively on health; some would focus on fulfilling lifelong dreams; some would quietly continue putting one foot in front of the other, living life with as much normalcy as possible.

One of the matters that is put in high relief in the case of Elizabeth and John Edwards is the concept of the value of work and a purpose-driven life. Obviously, both the Edwards have a passion for their mission and their life's work. Elizabeth's choice is viewed by many other cancer survivors as life-affirming. Regardless, people and families must decide their own best approach. It is never wise to let the court of public opinion be a determinant of how we should live our lives.

Quiet dramas
In the workplace, quieter but no less compelling dramas are playing out every day as workers cope with their own cancer or life-threatening cancer suffered by loved ones. For many people, the high cost of health care dictates response simply because the job is the key to paying for care. For most, life goes on. As managers and colleagues, the most important thing we can do is offer a constructive support that is based less in sympathy and more in respect and regard for the person's inherent dignity. The American Cancer Society offers these basic do's and don'ts for dealing with a coworker who has cancer:

Do:

  • Take your cues from the person with cancer. Some people are very private while others will talk more about their illness. Respect the person's need to share or their need to remain quiet.
  • Let them know that you care.
  • Respect their decisions about how their cancer will be treated, even if you disagree.
  • Include the person in usual work projects and social events. Let him or her be the one to tell you if the commitment is too much to manage.
  • Listen without always feeling that you have to respond. Sometimes a caring listener is what the person needs the most.
  • Expect your colleague to have good days and bad days, emotionally and physically.
  • Keep your relationship as normal and balanced as possible. While greater patience and compassion are called for during times like these, your colleague should continue to respect your feelings, as you respect his or her feelings.
  • Offer to help in concrete, specific ways.
  • Check before doing something for them, no matter how helpful you think you are being.
  • Keep them up-to-date with what's happening at work.
  • Send cards, and include anecdotes about why he or she is missed. If interested people send individual cards, they may have more impact.

Don't:

  • Offer unsolicited advice, or be judgmental.
  • Assume that he or she can't do the job. Your co-worker needs to feel like a valuable, contributing member of your company or department.
  • Feel you must put up with serious displays of temper or mood swings. You shouldn't accept disruptive behavior just because someone is ill.
  • Take things too personally. It's normal for your co-worker to be quieter than usual, to need time alone, and to be angry at times. These feelings are normal, so don't worry.
  • Be afraid to talk about the illness.
  • Always feel you have to talk about cancer. Your colleague may enjoy conversations that don't involve the illness.
  • Be afraid to hug or touch your friend if that was a part of your friendship before the illness.
  • Be patronizing. Try not to use a "How sick are you today?" tone when asking how the person is doing.
  • Tell your co-worker, "I can imagine how you must feel," because you really can't.

March 15, 2007

Grief in the workplace: Tips for supervisors

As an EAP, one of the most common situations we deal with is grief and loss. Everyone suffers death and loss at some point and everyone deals with grief differently. Grief can be all-consuming, an issue that spills over into the workplace long after the precipitating event has passed, particularly if the loss was of a child or a spouse. Supervisors and managers are often uncomfortable in dealing with an employee's grief and finding the right balance between being compassionate and maintaining work productivity.

Managers can play a key role in helping a person to heal. Resuming the normal routine of work is part of the healthy recovery process. Knowing something about the various stages or behaviors that are common in the grief process can be helpful in understanding how to support grieving workers.

Here are some supervisor tips for dealing with grief in the workplace:

  • Make contact with your bereaved employee as soon as possible after you learn of their loss. Offer your condolences. Listen and respect confidentiality. Expect sadness and tears.
  • Be prepared. Know your organization's policy on bereavement and personal time and be ready to explain the policy to the employee.
  • Be as flexible and negotiable as possible in allowing your employee to have the time and space to deal with their loss.
  • Arrange for back-ups and replacements necessary to cover the person’s work during their absence. Ensure that phone calls and e-mail messages are re-directed.
  • Get information on services, funerals and memorials to the person’s colleagues in a timely fashion.
  • If appropriate, help to organize some form of group acknowledgment to support the employee, such as issuing a card or flowers, or planning group attendance at a memorial ceremony.
  • Ensure that support continues when the person returns to work. The first few days may be particularly difficult adjustment.
  • Have back-ups or a buddy system in place when the employee returns to work to provide support and check in with the employee periodically to see how he or she is doing.
  • Consider adjusting the workload. Expect productivity, but be patient and reasonable in your expectations.
  • Be sensitive to the cycle of upcoming holidays or trigger points that might be difficult for the employee.
  • Recognize that other cultures may have customs, rituals or ways of dealing with loss that differ from those to which we are accustomed.
  • Watch for warning signs of prolonged grief and ongoing performance issues, such as poor grooming, severe withdrawal, substance abuse, or other uncharacteristic behaviors might be warning signs.
  • Offer resources for professional help. As a manager, you are in a unique position to observe a need for help and to recommend assistance through a referral to your EAP or appropriate community resources.

Other resources
Here are some articles from various sources to offer further exploration on the topic of grief in the workplace.
Helping employees cope with grief
In times of need: Responding when grief strikes
Dealing with death and grief in the workplace
Grief in the Workplace

March 6, 2007

The Secret Men Won't Admit

Sadness isn't macho – this Eric Weaver knew. When depression engulfed this veteran police sergeant, it took a different guise: anger. To the former SWAT team leader, it was manly and easy to be mad.

The father of three, then in his early 40s, stewed in a near-constant state of anger. "One minute I'd be okay and the next minute I'd be screaming at my kids and punching the wall." My kids would ask, "What's wrong with daddy? Why is he so mad all the time?" As he revealed to author Susan Freinkel in the January, 2007 issue of Reader’s Digest (The Secret Men Won't Admit), the possibility that he was depressed never occurred to him until the angry facade began to crumble, leaving him with no feelings except utter despair. The tears finally came one night when he admitted to his wife the painful truth: "I've thought about committing suicide just about every day lately."

Sgt. Weaver's confusion about what affected him was not unusual. Roughly one third of the 18 million Americans who suffer depression each year are men. Yet all too often, men fail to recognize the symptoms and get the treatment they need. “Men don't find it easy to ask for help when they desperately need it," says Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. In an effort to redress that masculine blind spot, NIMH has launched an educational campaign featuring real men talking about their depression. Their stories are markedly different from women's.

For years, studies from around the world routinely concluded that twice as many women as men suffered from depression. In fact, depression was frequently considered a "woman’s disease." But practitioners such as psychologist William Pollack, Director of the Center for Men at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, is leading the charge against this well-entrenched gender gap. In fact, Dr. Pollack argues that just as many men suffer from depression as women — it’s just that depression simply "looks different" in men. Indeed, University of Iowa psychologist Dr. Sam Cochran concedes that "Men don’t come in talking about feeling sad like women do. Rather, they come in complaining about problems at work or their performance on the job." Instead of being weepy, men are more apt to be irritable and angry — moods that aren't included in the classic diagnostic assessments.

Organizations such as the Mental Health Association of Greater St. Louis have recently issued symptomatic guidelines that now include different criteria for diagnosing depression in men. These include:

  • Increasing feelings of irritability, anger and frustration
  • Gradual loss of interest in family, friends and hobbies
  • Noticeable changes in weight or appetite
  • Pronounced changes in sleeping habits — sleeping too much or inability to achieve restful sleep
  • Inability to concentrate, remember or make decisions
  • Constant fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of guilt or hopelessness
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death
HR directors and managers should be educated about and familiar with these symptoms. When an employee (of either sex) demonstrates pronounced work performance issues, personality changes, anger or apathy, these behaviors should be triggers for a closer look. That's not to suggest that managers should try to play the role of counselor or be burdened with trying to understand or diagnose the root problem behind the behavior. Rather, such situations present the perfect opportunity for managers to make an administrative referral to the EAP. There may be any number of reasons for these behaviors, which include depression, substance abuse, or a temporary or situational problem, such as debt. Regardless, experienced counselors at the EAP can offer an array of helpful resources and appropriate treatment options.

January 17, 2007

Financial stress comes to work

Did you know that it takes 40 years to pay off a credit card debt of $5000 if you pay only the minimum payment on an account with 17% interest? I didn’t and most people don’t. Few of us realize the impact of using the credit we’ve so freely been given by the credit card companies. Many working individuals, if they budget at all, base their financial plan on what their monthly bill obligation will be rather than their total debt load. Credit cards are easy to get, companies raise the credit limit at will and with low monthly payments and longer term loans for cars and mortgages, a family can easily dig a deep hole.

January is a time when we see many employees stressed because they overspent during the holiday season, and the reality of their debt situation is now clear and frightening. Problems related to financial difficulties account for 25% of the calls we get at the EAP and, when we dig deeper into other problems such as relationship conflict, we often find debt problems there too.

As with most personal difficulties, financial stress shows up in the workplace in several ways and the HR Director should be ready with resources and advice as well as clear understanding of company policy. Employees may find their way to your offices with troubling stories and a dire need for cash.

Employees with debt problems may ask for advances on pay or loans from the company. Very often employees will ask coworkers for small loans, for lunch money or money for their childcare. Pilfering materials from the office for kids who need school supplies is another way strapped employees sometimes try solve financial stress. In the most desperate cases there is theft and fraud. Even if an employee is not asking for money or help, he or she may be getting calls at work from creditors. This kind of distraction is difficult to ignore.

DebtAdvice.org is a great comprehensive resource for anyone who needs to understand more about how to manage money. There is education as well as support available for the struggling individual.

There seems to be loads of tips for managing spending on the web. I found Ten Resolutions to Trim Spending and Reduce Financial Stress offered by a credit union that is practical and sound advice.

In the next few days, I’ll continue to research resources and post again with links for you and your employees.

December 1, 2006

Study links work stress and burnout to an increase in type 2 diabetes

Job stress might be right up their with weight, smoking and lack of exercise as a high risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study. Researchers from Tel Aviv University's medical school tracked 677 working adults over three to five years. Roughly half of this group reported high stress on the job, and the high-stress group was 1.8 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, even when factoring in age, sex and obesity.

According to Samuel Melamed, one of the researchers, a workers ability to cope with job stress is also a significant factor.

"It is possible that these people are prone to diabetes because they can't handle stress very well," Melamed said. "Their coping resources may have been depleted not only due to job stress but also life stresses, such as stressful life events and daily hassles."
Stress can disrupt the body's ability to process glucose, especially in people whose genetics make them vulnerable, said Richard Surwit, chief of the Division of Medical Psychology at Duke University Medical Center.

This provides yet another indicator of the importance of Work/life balance and the preventive benefits of wellness and stress reduction programs in the workplace.

Diabetes: An epidemic in the making
Many health practitioners are alarmed at the spike in the prevalence of diabetes and see it as an emerging epidemic. According to a New York Times in depth-series on diabetes earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control puts the numbers of diabetics at 21 million, with twice that number as "pre-diabetic" meaning they are on a path to developing type 2 diabetes unless they take lifestyle and health steps to mitigate their risk.

Employers need to care about this. A 2004 study by UnumProvident found that the number of workers filing disability claims for Type 2 diabetes doubled between 2001 and 2003 (PDF). The costs to employers? As much as $33,495 per diabetic claimant, as well as increased disability duration.

The UnumProvident study offered the following recommendations for employers, all the more relevant in light of the recent Israeli research:

Employers can play an important role in helping diabetic employees through a number of intervention strategies:

  • worksite health promotion/disease prevention programs that focus on fitness, weight loss and diet, as well as diabetes self-management education (DSME) for employees who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
  • an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides access to community resources for DSME
  • healthcare plans that incorporate disease management and case management for type 2 diabetes to help ensure high quality healthcare outcomes

October 13, 2006

Drug Free Work Week

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced the first-ever Drug-Free Work Week is scheduled for October 16 - 22. The stated purpose is to educate employers, employees and the general public about the importance of being drug-free as a component of improving workplace safety and health and to encourage workers with alcohol and drug problems to seek help.

We recently discussed the high toll that substance abuse can take in the workplace, and the importance of implementing a drug-free program. In fact, certain employers are mandated by law to implement a drug-free workplace. Failure to have such a program can be costly for both employers and employees alike:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse cost the nation $246 billion annually, or nearly $1000 each for every man, woman and child.
  • Substance abuse problems cost American business an estimated $81 billion in lost production.
  • Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and nearly half of all industrial injuries can be linked to substance abuse.
  • One in five workers report that they have had to work harder, redo work, cover for a co-worker or have been put in danger or injured as a result a fellow employee's drinking.
  • Substance abuse is estimated to cause 500 million lost workdays annually.

The DOL offers an extensive variety of suggested activities and programs that employers can implement at their work site, with links to other resources. Below, we are excerpting a few that we see as vital.

Implement a Drug-Free Workplace Program—Drug-Free Work Week is the perfect time to launch a Drug-Free Workplace Program if your organization does not already have one. Such programs are natural complements to other initiatives that help protect worker safety and health. To learn more about them, visit DOL's Working Partners Web site. In particular, the site's Drug-Free Workplace Advisor Program Builder offers detailed guidance on how to develop a Drug-Free Workplace Program, starting with the first step: a written policy.
Promote your Drug-Free Workplace Program—If your organization already has a Drug-Free Workplace Program, Drug-Free Work Week is a logical time to ensure the program is adequate to meet current needs and to remind employees about its important role in keeping them safe while on the job. One way to do this is to distribute to all employees a copy of your drug-free workplace policy, along with a positive message about valuing health and safety, and then provide an opportunity for them to ask questions about it, perhaps through an open forum or privately.
Train supervisors—Supervisors are the individuals closest to an organization's workforce. As part of Drug-Free Work Week, organizations can conduct training to ensure supervisors understand their organization's policy on alcohol and drug use; ways to deal with workers who have performance problems that may be related to substance abuse; and how to refer employees to available assistance. Working Partners offers more information on Supervisor Training, including ready-to-use training materials.
Educate workers—To achieve a drug-free workplace, it is critical that an organization educate its workers about the nature of alcohol and drug use and its negative impact on workplace safety and productivity. Drug-Free Work Week is a natural time to step up such efforts through training sessions, guest speakers or brown-bag lunches. Working Partners offers more information on Employee Training, including ready-to-use training materials. If employee education is already a regular activity, a Drug-Free Work Week program could be offered on a specific timely topic such as the abuse of prescription drugs or methamphetamine.
Remind employees about the availability of EAP or MAP services—If your organization has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Member Assistance Program (MAP), Drug-Free Work Week presents a perfect opportunity to remind them of its availability. Such programs offer free, confidential services to help all employees, including supervisors, resolve personal and workplace problems, such as substance abuse. They also offer confidential substance abuse screenings as well as brief intervention, if warranted, and help employees locate local treatment resources. Working Partners offers more information about EAPs.

October 2, 2006

Thou shalt not steal at work

If you think that your employees are above stealing from your organization, you may want to rethink things.

Making the headlines this week are two priests from Delray Beach, Florida who have been accused of stealing more than $8 million from their parish. Monsignor John Skehan, pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church for four decades, and Reverend Francis Guinan, who succeeded Skehan as pastor, three years ago, were both charged with theft going back to 2001. Among other things, funds were allegedly used to support an "intimate relationship" with a bookkeeper, and to finance gambling trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas. So much for "Thou Shalt Not Steal." Apparently Fathers Guinan and Skehan weren’t in class the day they covered the seventh commandment back at the seminary.

The point here is that if even a couple of priests can allegedly stoop to stealing from the church, it’s a sure bet that every employer is at risk for employee theft.

There are some startling statistics concerning employee theft that every HR professional should know. A number studies have been done to better understand this issue. The landmark study* conducted some twenty years ago by researchers at the Universities of Minnesota and Florida indicated that as many as 4 out of 10 employees admitted to occasional theft. In addition, those who steal were more likely to exhibit counter-productive traits, such as sloppy work and breaking work rules. Other research by the US Chamber of Commerce estimates that the cost of employee theft falls someplace between $40 and $50 billion per year.

Most thefts involve petty items such as office supplies. But every employer is at risk of significant loss if proper precautions aren’t taken. Don't rely on your instincts. Many employers make the mistake of thinking that their managers or higher paid professionals wouldn't steal. Wrong. While larcenous employees may be a small minority, they cut a wide swathe across all jobs, ages, incomes, races, religions, and sexes.

Loss prevention: Managing your risk
If your organization doesn’t have an anti-theft policy and program, run don't walk to develop and introduce a written theft policy that outlines your organization’s commitment to honesty and integrity. The policy should clearly spell out any consequences for any employee caught stealing. Communicate this policy during employee orientations, in employee newsletters, and on bulletin board announcements. Organizations that establish and communicate a policy tend to have less theft.

Background checks also go a long way in terms of deterrence. Screening will identify some bad apples before you hire them and prescreening sends an indirect message that your organization is concerned with ensuring the highest level of integrity and security.

Finally, reduce the opportunity for theft by maintaining a regular audit program that checks all of the potential areas of loss. Build in checks and balances and paper trails. Trust, but verify, as the saying goes.

Our experience shows time and again that employers who communicate often and well with their employees and who work diligently to maintain a healthy work culture experience fewer workplace behavioral problems than their mistrusting, suspicious counterparts. Keep things in perspective. Dishonest employees are in the minority so don't cast a pall of suspicion over everyone. Set the policy and the expectation, ensure that risk control measures are in place, and be fair and consistent in the way policies are enforced.

* Deterrence in the Workplace: Perceived Certainty, Perceived Severity, and Employee Theft by Richard G. Hollinger, University of Florida and John P. Clark, University of Minnesota (available for purchase or through free trial subscription).

September 26, 2006

Boomers’ Drug Use Increasing as Teen Rate Lowers

Some moms and dads might want to take a lesson from their kids: Just say no.

The recently released National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that 4.4 percent of baby boomers ages 50 to 59 admitted that they had used illicit drugs within the past month. This marks the third consecutive yearly increase recorded for that age group. Meanwhile, illicit drug use among young teens decreased for the third consecutive year - from 11.6 percent in 2002 to 9.9 percent in 2005.

“Rarely have we seen a story like this where one generation exits stage right while entering stage left is a generation that somehow learned a lesson and is doing something very different,” says David Murray, Assistant Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The annual survey interviewed 67,500 people and provides an important snapshot of how many Americans drink, smoke and use drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines.

Overall, drug use remained relatively unchanged among Americans 12 and older in 2005. About 19.7 million Americans reported that they had used an illicit drug in the past month, which represents an increase from 7.9 to 8.1 percent. The increase was not only due to the boomers - an increase was also seen among those 18-25. Among the 18-25 group, drug use rose from 19.4 to 20.1 percent. “This contrast between young teens and baby boomers is a culture change and welcome news for our nation’s well-being,” said John Walters, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “However the real test will occur when these younger teens enter that dangerous 18-25 year category.

The boomers’ statistics is further complicated by a recent study published in the Journal of Labor Research, which finds that adult drinkers earn 10 to 14 percent more money at their jobs than their non-drinking colleagues. “Social drinking builds social capital,” says lead researcher Edward Stringham. “Social drinkers are networking, building relationships and adding contacts that result in bigger paychecks.” But critics have been quick to attack the study’s conclusion. “It’s not the drinking that gets more money - it’s the socializing,” is the primary retort.

August 28, 2006

Domestic violence - a workplace issue

We received a call from a troubled HR Director last week, the partner of an employee was stalking her in the parking lot and threatening to come into the office and “take care of things once and for all” The employee was ashamed , the whole staff, terrified.

Domestic violence is often considered a tragic but personal problem that does not affect the workplace. Many victims suffer silently and function at work as best they can. But current research indicates that domestic violence has strong ramifications in our workplaces, schools, and communities. It produces a costly, risky work environment and threatens the safety of all employees.

The American Institute on Domestic Violence estimates that employers lose between $3 and $5 billion annually for increased medical costs associated with battered workers, and $100 million in lost wages, sick leave and absenteeism. Homicide is the leading cause of death to women in the workplace. Partners and boyfriends commit 13,000 acts of violence against women in the workplace every year. Such attacks increase the threat of violence for all workers. These statistics only begin to express the devastation to families. While 95% of violence victims are female, males do suffer battering and abuse.

Certain employee behaviors could indicate domestic violence including: visible physical injuries, stress-related illnesses; marital or family problems; depression, absenteeism, lateness, and leaving work early; difficulty concentrating, repeating errors, and slower work pace; unusual or excessive number of phone calls from family members, or disruptive personal visits to the workplace from employee's present or former partner or spouse.

Because the employee may feel shame and fear about the situation, intervention by the company or co-worker is tricky. Companies can construct a Domestic Violence Policy to protect victims and send a clear message to the abuser that assaults in the workplace will not be tolerated. They can also provide training to raise awareness of the problem. Concerned co-workers or supervisors can approach the employee respectfully, in private and ask direct questions such as “is someone hurting you?” Respect the victim’s privacy and comfort level with the intervention, don’t be pushy. Be prepared with phone numbers of professional community resources. Know how to get help in a crisis Offer to accompany the person to make the first phone call; it may be the significant first step. Strong support and understanding is better than advice.

August 8, 2006

Helping the military return to work

Even as the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts continue, many Military, Reservists and National Guard are returning home to family life and jobs. The job market is proving tough for many, but for those who do find jobs, this transition to normal life can be joyful and challenging at the same time. As a manager or HR professional, there are issues to be aware of and things you can do to help the transition. Most military personnel left behind relationships, families and jobs when they were deployed. Many things have changed while they were gone and coming back into the work environment can be a culture shock for the vet.

What is the Law
Understanding the law governing their return may be helps ease the transition. Military personnel are protected by the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) that applies to all employers regardless of their size, and protect those in the reserve forces of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard, and Public Health Service Commissioned Corp. It's worth checking the regulations when an employee leaves for service so you can be prepared for their return.

Tips for Employers
If you are a supervisor or employer of an individual returning from active duty, here are some tips you can use to ease his or her transition back into the workplace.

Create a welcoming environment: Prior to the employee's return, meet with his or her colleagues to discuss any concerns they have about the impact on their responsibilities, as well as to promote the importance of being supportive as their colleague readjusts. If appropriate, consider organizing a welcoming event, such as a breakfast or cake break.

Update the employee: As soon as possible, meet with the employee to update him or her about the status of the workload, policy and personnel changes, and any other changes that occurred during the absence.

Give the employee time to readjust: Be aware that some people may need a little time to get back into the swing of their former routine. Encourage them to ask for the guidance or support they need.

Support the employee if transition proves difficult: If an employee is having significant trouble readjusting to the workplace, you can note and discuss changes and expectations in work performance, as well as listen to the employee's response and concerns. If you think there are personal issues, including anxiety or depression, related to the transition back to work, do not diagnose a suspected mental health problem--refer. Suggest that the employee seek consultation from your organization's EAP. Reminding the employee of available benefits provided by your organization at this time can be helpful as well.

Returning military may feel that no one except another vet can help so it's important to have local numbers for Veterans Outreach Programs which are located across the country. Help the employee understand that everyone needs help from time to time in dealing with the stresses of life. It is best to act on these problems as early as possible. He she may have many options to choose from: support groups, anger management classes, a service chaplain, or a mental health professional. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

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