Posted August 30, 2012 by Megan DiMartino
By Amanda Mcgrory, benefitspro.com
More than ever, employees are struggling to manage the pressures between work and life, and when that balance slips, productivity often falls with it.
But if an employer is open to flexible working arrangements, it can avoid a decline in productivity while improving employee engagement, argues Carol Sladek, partner and work-life consulting lead at Aon Hewitt, a human resources consulting firm in Chicago.
For some employees, shuffling children to school can cause them to be late while other employees have to look after older parents. Employee demands can vary, but they exist for almost every type of employee, Sladek says. By having a plan in place that allows employees to adjust their schedules, they can accommodate those challenges but also have the time to finish their workplace responsibilities.
“Everybody has a component of their lives that they’re trying to juggle with work and having flexibility in the hours that you work or the place that you work gives you that much more control in terms of how you integrate all those components in your life,” Sladek says.
Flexible working arrangements are also attractive to employers because they are an inexpensive benefits option, Sladek says. While health care costs continue to sky rocket, employers can offer flexible working arrangements as another benefit without much of a budgetary effect.
“An employer can offer flexible work arrangements without really any cost or very little cost, depending on the arrangement and it’s a huge benefit to employees,” Sladek says. “It’s a big bang for very little buck from the employer’s point of view.”
In some cases, employees prefer traditional work hours in the office environment, but just having the option available is a morale booster, Sladek says. Those employees may not take advantage of the flexible work arrangement on a consistent basis, but there are occasions when the option is useful.
“When we’ve done surveys and focus groups of employees who are in flexible work arrangements, they tend to report higher engagement scores and higher satisfaction scores,” Sladek says. “I do believe that it’s in part because you’re giving those employees more control over how they run their lives overall. It can be casual flexibility that isn’t on an assigned scheduled or used every day. That still improves morale.”
Moving forward, Sladek expects to see flexible working arrangements continue to grow in popularity. Just in the past four or five years alone, flexible working arrangements have exploded in the benefits world as they are helpful to both employers and employees.
Posted August 23, 2012 by Megan DiMartino
By Michelle Conlin
The health nags in human resources have exhausted every possible idea to goad you into good health. At several large corporations, they’ve realized it’s no use turning employees into vegan hardbodies if their dependents—also on the company health insurance plan—are gorging on trans fats and becoming regulars at doctors’ offices.
That’s why the next front in the Wellness Wars is not about you. It’s about your husband, your wife, and your kids. While most big companies already have employee wellness programs, the newest trend is expanding those efforts to include dependents, says LuAnn Heinen, director of the National Business Group on Health, a Washington-based health-care think tank. If you can get your family on its corporate wellness program, Aetna (AET) will give you a $1,200 reward. JPMorgan Chase (JPM) offers health coaches to family members in its plan. This month IBM started sending out cartoon-adorned plates to teach kids about portion control. At Dell, spouses get discounts on medical premiums.
In Washington, legislators have been working to give companies more power to tie healthy behavior to financial rewards. The Senate’s health-care bill would increase the amount companies can dole out as health incentives to as much as 50% of the total premium from the current 20%. Not everyone supports the proposal. The American Heart Assn. is mounting a full-scale offensive, saying the rewards could make health care less affordable for the very people who need it the most.
Obviously, this battle is about more than slimming down and lowering blood pressure. Many policy experts believe that workplace wellness programs have great cost-cutting potential. A recent meta-analysis of existing studies by two Harvard professors published in the February issue of the journal Health Affairs found that for every dollar companies spend on employee wellness, medical costs fall an average of $3.27. Such savings are a big reason President Barack Obama met last spring with executives from companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft, which both say their initiatives save them millions annually.
In 2008, IBM became one of the first companies to roll out a children’s health rebate. Doris Gonzalez, a senior manager in IBM’s corporate citizenship department, says she was calorie counting during the workday, but when she returned home to her three-year-old, Milena, the 51-year old single mother felt wiped out. The dinner time tableau featured mother and daughter zoning out in front of the TV and ordering pizza, pasta, or fried chicken from the Dominican joint down the street. “Milena maybe watched a little bit more TV than she should have,” she says.
Now Gonzalez limits takeout to twice a week and restricts TV to weekends. Mother and daughter cook dinner together from the weekly menus IBM drops into Gonzalez’ in-box. Gonzalez has lost 10 pounds, Milena snacks on fruit and pita instead of gummy bears and chips, and each receives a $150 annual rebate. IBM says nearly two-thirds of the kids participating in the program have lost weight.
Jennifer Lechman, an Aetna benefits consultant, told her husband and three kids they would get a cut of the $1,200 incentive if they joined her company’s program. Now the kids try to out-fruit one another. After dinner the family takes walks or jumps on the trampoline. “This outsources the management of it to them,” says Lechman. “I don’t have to nag.”
Posted August 20, 2012 by Megan DiMartino
By Denise Mann, WebMD Health News
Sitting Less Than 3 Hours a Day May Add 2 Years on to Our Lives
Sitting too much is a serious health threat, a new study suggests.
But keeping “down time” to less than three hours a day might make us live an extra two years. And cutting TV viewing — which most of us do while sitting — to less than two hours every day might extend life by almost 1.4 years.
The new findings appear in the online journal BMJ Open.
American adults spend on average about 55% of their time being sedentary, or inactive.
Being sedentary, which can include sitting for long periods of time, has been linked to diabetes and death from heart disease or stroke. The new study takes it a few steps further by showing just how much we can benefit by sitting less frequently.
“Sitting is a risk factor, not a disease,” says Peter Katzmarzyk, PhD. He’s an associate executive director for population science at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University System in Baton Rouge, La. “It’s comparable to obesity, and it’s almost to the level of smoking,” he says.
“We sit to eat and don’t tend to stand up a whole lot,” he says. “We need to turn that around and engineer sitting out of our lives.”
Sit Less, Move More, Live Longer
What would a world with less sitting look like?
Some companies are replacing standard desks and chairs with treadmill desks or standing desks, Katzmarzyk says. “Rather than emailing a colleague, go talk to them,” he says. Walking meetings can also take the place of sitting around a table.
The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for 2005-2006 and 2009-2010 to see how much time U.S. adults spent watching TV and sitting down. They also analyzed five studies of 167,000 adults that looked at sitting time and deaths from all causes.
They estimated the theoretical effects that a factor such as sitting would have at a population level.
The new findings add to a growing body of literature on the possible health problems that occur when we sit too much, says Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C.
“Independent of weight and independent of physical activity and all of these other things that can lead to long-term health problems, the more we sit, the more likely that bad things happen in the body,” he says.
Garry Sigman, MD, director of the pediatric obesity program of Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., agrees. “We evolved from a place where we needed to walk around a lot and not sit still to survive, and now in modern society, there is more opportunity where we sit and that is not healthy for more than one reason,” he says.
“When we move, we feel better,” Sigman says. His advice: If you have a desk job, take a walk during lunch hour. “If you are sitting because of your pastimes, try to adopt and enjoy a more active pastime like walking or bicycling.”
Posted August 16, 2012 by Megan DiMartino
Over the last few months at AP Benefit Advisors, LLC, we’ve covered a number of pertinent topics in the fields of workplace wellness, preventive care, and benefits administration. Strategies for improving employee wellness and employee benefits serve to increase company productivity and morale, entice prospective employees, and control your costs. Here are a few of our most popular recent benefits & wellness blogs:
Posted August 10, 2012 by Megan DiMartino
By Lauren Weber
Jake Sanders knows it is healthy to get up from his desk during the workday. But a quick stroll around the block isn’t terribly practical in Tempe, Ariz., where summer temperatures regularly top 120 degrees.
Now, the 31-year-old data analyst at American Traffic Solutions Inc. and his co-worker do two miles a day on an indoor track that wends around the offices and break room right on his floor. Marked with a few posters, arrows and signs painted on the walls, the path measures about 1/17th of a mile.
“It started out as a nice relaxing stroll, but now I use it to get my heart moving. I clock myself and I can do a lap in about 70 seconds,” Mr. Sanders says. He credits the track with reviving his workout routine, and overall he’s lost more than 20 pounds.
That’s a success story in the eyes of Adam Tuton, the ATS executive who pushed for many of the company’s wellness programs. “You have to make these opportunities very, very easy and accessible,” he says. “Not everyone wants to take a boot-camp class.”
Companies have long sought to engage employees in wellness activities, partly in hopes of putting the brakes on skyrocketing health-insurance costs. While corporate gyms are helpful, research shows that only about a quarter of workers join them. So companies are targeting a broader group of workers, thinking up clever ways to get people moving without cutting into busy workdays or donning a stitch of Spandex.
“The important thing is to increase activity on a day-to-day basis,” says Brent Densford, director of well-being and innovation at health insurer Humana Inc. Mr. Densford has overseen projects like indoor walking tracks and attractive stairwells designed to entice employees to skip the elevator. He’s also seen the installation of treadmills that double as work stations.
These new initiatives work especially well at a time when employees feel stressed and believe they can’t afford an hour for an on-site yoga class. The message: It is OK to move and work at the same time.
Even subtle alterations to the physical workplace—such as turning a hallway into a walking path by simply painting a few arrows on the wall—can deliver incremental health benefits, says Kevin Volpp, director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Changing the environment and changing some of the behavioral defaults embedded in the workday increases the likelihood that people will make healthier choices,” he says.
Walking tracks, in particular, are gaining traction with some companies because they are inexpensive to install. TOPS Club Inc., a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that sets up weight-loss chapters in communities and workplaces, turned one of its square-shaped hallways into a walking track by calculating the number of “laps” in a mile and then taping some posters to the walls. The total cost? A few dollars to print the posters, says Maggie Thorison, the organization’s wellness manager. She says that eight or nine employees out of the 25 at headquarters use the track daily.
Some of Humana’s buildings were designed around wellness goals, with stairwells placed on the periphery to take advantage of natural light and views. And it has installed about 40 Walkstations—treadmills with laptop hookups—so that employees can get moving while reviewing a report or returning calls. The machines are usually placed around the perimeter of the workspaces, always in sight and a few steps away.
Michele Koch, 49, a human-resources manager at Humana’s Louisville, Ky., campus, used to belong to the firm’s gym, which was a three-minute walk from her office. But a combination of family and work responsibilities cut into her morning workouts. Now she’s on the Walkstation nearly every day. “Some days if I’m working on a presentation or taking conference calls, I can walk three or four miles on it,” she says.
Humana’s Mr. Densford says since the treadmills arrived in 2008, his office has been inundated with requests for them. The company hopes to triple the number of machines, which cost about $4,000 each from Walkstation maker Steelcase.
Slow or not, the treadmills, walking tracks and stairwell programs are, literally, small steps that help workers get moving.
“When you’re sitting at your desk all day long, it feels good to get up and stretch your legs,” says Mr. Sanders of ATS.
Posted August 7, 2012 by Megan DiMartino
Though we tend to associate flu symptoms with chilly winter days, we are unfortunately at risk for disease year round! In fact, late summer illnesses often carry greater consequences in the workplace because people merely treat their uncomfortable symptoms with over-the-counter meds instead of resting at home.
Onsite immunization programs are a great way to prevent illness and boost productivity throughout the year. The vaccine that individuals receive in the early fall months covers them through the most vulnerable days of winter, into spring, and can even carry over into the summer months. Overall, the flu vaccine protects employees from getting sick for about six months after the shot. The newer nasal spray, or “flu mist” as some describe it, can protect against influenza for as many as nine months.
Why is it so important to keep employees healthy? Besides lower healthcare costs, healthy employees take fewer sick days and are less likely to suffer from presenteeism (when they’re at work, but unfocused and unproductive). Often, unhealthy employees will show up, coughing, sniffling, and running a fever just so they don’t use up a vacation day, but virtually no work is accomplished and they put others at risk for catching their bug.
An onsite flu clinic makes the vaccine available to employees who otherwise wouldn’t schedule a visit to the doctor. On average, the vaccine prevents contagion with the seasonal flu virus 7 out of 10 times. And, those who do catch what’s going around typically report lessened symptoms and return to work sooner than their un-vaccinated colleagues.
The flu vaccine is the single best way to prevent the flu, and vaccination is the main tool used to protect people from influenza.
Posted August 1, 2012 by PHaynes
Francesca Lynch, a sales executive with AP Benefit Advisors, LLC, recently participated in a healthcare roundtable for SmartCEO magazine.
Posted August 1, 2012 by Megan DiMartino
By Connie Cass, Associated Press
The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health care law, including the most disputed part: the mandate that virtually all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine. The mandate was upheld under the federal government’s power to levy taxes.
The ruling put some limits on the law’s plan to expand the Medicaid insurance program for the poor, a joint effort of the federal government and states. It says the U.S. government cannot threaten to withhold a state’s entire Medicaid allotment if it doesn’t participate in the expansion.
Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s four liberal justices — Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — to form the 5-4 majority.
The decision affects nearly every American and marks a major milepost in a century of efforts to make health care available to all. The law is President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement and perhaps the most polarizing issue of his re-election campaign. His Republican rival Mitt Romney and GOP lawmakers have promised to repeal Obamacare.
The 2010 health care law will continue phasing in as planned. It’s expected to bring coverage to about 30 million uninsured people, so that more than 9 in 10 eligible Americans will be covered.
Some parts are already in effect: Young adults can stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26. Insurers can’t deny coverage to children with health problems. Limits on how much policies will pay out to each person over a lifetime are eliminated. Hundreds of older people already are saving money through improved Medicare prescription benefits. And co-payments for preventive care for all ages have been eliminated.
Starting in 2014, almost everyone will be required to be insured or pay a fine. There are subsidies to help people who can’t afford coverage. Most employers will face fines if they don’t offer coverage for their workers. Newly created insurance markets will make it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy affordable coverage. And Medicaid will be expanded to cover more low-income people.
Insurers will be prohibited from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging those people more. They won’t be able to charge women more, either. During the transition to 2014, a special program for people with pre-existing health problems helps these people get coverage.
An assortment of tax increases, health industry fees and Medicare cuts will help pay for the changes.
IS THE ISSUE SETTLED NOW?
Not necessarily. Although the court found it constitutional, the health care law still could be changed by Congress. Romney and Republican congressional candidates are campaigning on promises to repeal it if elected in November.
Some parts of the law are popular, but others — especially the mandate that virtually everyone have insurance coverage — are not.
Also, an estimated 26 million people will remain without health coverage once the law is fully implemented, including illegal immigrants, people who don’t sign up and elect to face the fine instead, and those who can’t afford it even with the subsidies.