Category Archives: Wellness

No Laughing Matter

little child babyHow many times have you heard that laughter is the best medicine?  Nothing can lighten up a bad day better than a good joke, a favorite TV sitcom, or a comedy movie that puts you in stitches every time you watch it.   Sometimes just surrounding yourself with “everyday comedians” can make a long day seem much shorter.  Speaking of, when was the last time you had a really good laugh at work? That’s right – work!  After all, who can really make it through the day without a little bit of laughter. The water cooler, e-mail, lunch breaks, and happy hour are all great ways to chuckle and unwind. If you, your co-workers, or employees for that matter, are continuously stressed out, those vibes will ultimately filter out to your customers and clients.  That’s certainly not the idea or message you want to send about your business.  So before you start to laugh at such an idea, take a good look at what some of the research has to say.

  • One reported study conducted at Canadian financial institutions, found that managers who facilitated the highest level of employee performance used humor most often.  Something tells me that does not involve telling employees that they’re fired, only to then say, “Gotcha!”
  • William Fry, MD, of Stanford found that laughing 200 times burns off the same amount of calories as 10 minutes on a rowing machine. Laughing will never be a replacement for exercise, but catching a Seinfeld episode will beat 10 minutes on a rowing machine any day.
  • Another study found that after a bout of laughter, blood pressure drops to lower, healthier levels. Exercise, good eating habits, and laughter are easier, cheaper, and safer alternatives to expensive medication for decreasing blood pressure.
  • Laughter also oxygenates the blood, thereby increasing energy levels; relaxes muscles; works out all major internal systems, including the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.  All of the benefits are cardiovascular exercise without the sweat.  Not a bad idea.
  • Lee Berk, PhD, of the Loma Linda School of Public Health in California, found that laughing can make the immune system grow stronger; the body’s T cell, natural killer cells and antibodies all show signs of increased activity.  I always knew that the sick and miserable could benefit from a daily dose of laughter.

As it turns out, laughter truly is the best medicine.  So lighten up and try to use your sense of humor more on the job.  In addition to the many health benefits a few chuckles can foster, you’ll feel happier and your co-workers, customers, and employees will sense the positive energy.  And that is no laughing matter.

Featured in May 2005 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Managing Stress

images (2)Riddle.  What does everybody have, nobody wants, and follows you wherever you may go. Give up? It is STRESS.  The word itself causes anxiety and uneasiness.  We are surrounded by stress every minute of every day, from the ultraviolet rays of the sun (or fluorescent lights if you work indoors), to driving in traffic, meeting deadlines, etc.  If you are not careful, stress can consume your life and even worse, it can destroy your health.  What most people do not realize is that all stress is not necessarily bad for you.

There are two types of stress: eustress, or good stress, and distress, or bad stress. Good stress comes from things like exercise, taking a vacation (although packing and traveling can be stressful), but when people refer to the word stress they usually mean bad stress – stress from work, the boss, the spouse.

Here are some helpful ways to deal with stress in any form:

  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: The easiest, cheapest, and best way to combat stress immediately is to practice this form of breathing.  Taught in yoga/tai chi classes, diaphragmatic breathing is done by breathing deeply through the nose, focusing on trying to draw the air deep within the abdomen.  Then breathe out slowly and continuously through the mouth.  With each breath, try to breathe in deeper and exhale longer.  Three of these focused breaths are usually all that is needed to calm our nerves down and clear the head.  Diaphragmatic breathing is also very effective in helping to alleviate feelings of nausea or dizziness.
  • Take a hike! As simple as it may seem, simply walking away from your desk or work station can help alleviate loads of stress.  Take a walk over to the water cooler, go outside for a breath of fresh air, or even something as basic as going to the bathroom.  Anything you can do to put your mind at ease, even if temporary, can have huge pay offs.
  • Listen to music: Music can have powerful effects on our mood (Ever listen to speed metal?).  That is why choice of music is just as important.  Listen to whatever makes you feel good but try and keep it to yourself.  You do not want to stress out others.  For those of you glued to your computer all day, there are a vast array of internet radio stations playing everything from Top 40 to reggae.
  • Yoga / Tai Chi / Pilates: These three types of group exercise classes have been all the rage within recent years, especially yoga and Pilates.  Without getting into too much detail, all three are effective at stress reduction through improved body awareness, increased flexibility, inner peace, and deliberate breathing.
  • Exercise: All forms, all types, and all kinds.  Whether you enjoy a nice walk, throwing around some iron, or hitting a heavy bag, exercise can do a lot more for you than just improve your physical fitness and self-confidence. The “perfect” stress release because it turns negative energy into positive energy.
  • Massage: Probably the best feeling method to alleviate stress.  You owe it to yourself to have a massage regularly, if not every month.  Massages come in all different varieties from Swedish to shiatsu and can be done in as little as 15 minutes up to an hour and a half, on a chair or table, in your home, office, health club, or spa.  A massage will only cost you the same amount a dinner out will cost you.

Featured in September 2004 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Employers Incentivizing For Health and Wellness

images (3)It has always been amazing to me to think that people need to be incentivized to be healthy.  Despite all the studies on the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle; the number of preventable diseases prevalent in today’s society; the growing evidence that we are a civilization in physical peril, and people still don’t feel that the investment in themselves is not important or valuable enough. That is unless of course, there is an incentive for them to do so. Worse yet, they blame their poor health and poor choices on other circumstances, some of which they claim to be beyond their control. Get real and take responsibility. What has happened? When did we lose sight that are life, our health, is the most precious thing we have in this life?

We all get one and one shot only. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? That is just one of the questions a lot of big U.S. corporations are starting to take on themselves. If their employees aren’t motivated enough to invest and take care of themselves (which in turn protects their bottom line), might as well give them a little push. According to a recent survey by the ERISA Industry Committee, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and IncentOne, the number of major US employers using incentives to promote employer-sponsored health and wellness programs rose from 62 percent to 71 percent between 2007 and 2008.  Responses revealed a wide range in the value of incentives offered for a host of programs. For example, incentives for weight management programs ranged in cash prizes from $5 to $500, and incentives for smoking cessation programs ranged from a low of $5 to a high of $600.  The average value of incentives per person per year ranged between $100 and $300, with an overall average of $192 per person per year. But are cash prizes really the trick and do they seem to work the best?

“Trinkets and t-shirts aren’t enough to motivate employees for the long term,” said John Engler, president and CEO of NAM.  “Employers are keenly interested in innovative ways to lower costs and enhance productivity.  Incentives are proving to be an effective tool to engage employees and keep them interested in these programs.” Employers are continuing to experiment with the types of incentives they offer, sometimes offering different incentives and amounts for different types of programs. “Three out of four major employers are using health and wellness programs in an effort to rein in costs that continue to soar year after year,” says Engler. Results of last year’s survey showed a skew towards offering premium reductions over other types of incentives. Gift cards came out on top in 2008 as the most popular incentives employers offer, with premium discounts and cash incentives following close behind.

The survey, which included 225 major U.S. companies employing 7.6 million employees, delved into employer expectation for ROI for health and wellness programs, finding that 83 percent of those who have measured returns are seeking program returns of better than break even.  The findings – the percentage of employers who have successfully measured ROI for their health and wellness programs almost doubled since last year, but still remains less than 30 percent. Employers are using other measures to evaluate program success, such as completion of health risk assessments and program participation.  When it comes to incentives, employers are much more likely to reward program participation and completion than to reward employees for meeting specific program goals, such as smoking cessation or losing weight.

Bottom line: whether you are an employee or an employer, take responsibility and protect your bottom line.  Even in a time of economic despair, there’s one guarantee and that is that you have complete control of your health.  And that’s one investment that you can never lose, despite what happens on Wall St.

Featured in November 2008 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Wellness in the Workplace. Can Your Company Afford to Ignore It?

shutterstock_63994297Affordability.  In today’s economic state, it is a term that has become more common place in business than growth and prosperity. Businesses today are asking themselves: “Can we afford advertising?; Can we afford to hire more staff?; Can we afford to keep operating at the same costs and still turn a profit?”  In a time when things may be grim for a lot of businesses, the only ones that are going to survive are the ones who make an effort now to turn things around.  And to turn things around they need to focus on what’s most important instead of focusing on the negative.  Often, one of those overlooked items is the wellness, both financial and physical, of their business.

What exactly is wellness?  Websters defines wellness as: 1) the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, esp. as the result of deliberate effort, and 2) an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases. Most people look at wellness simply as the absence of any apparent or disabling illness. And companies generally look at the wellness of their business from the financial side of things.  How “well” is the business doing?  The reality is, there is a very direct correlation between a company’s financial wellness and its physical wellness, namely the wellness of its employees. Why is wellness so important to a company and why should employers be concerned about their employees’ wellness?  Here are a few statistics that put it in perspective:

  • American employers lose over 300 billion dollars of productivity annually due to illness, sick days, absenteeism and sub-par performance or “presenteeism” (showing up to work but not actually doing anything productive).
  • The average employee misses 8.4 days annually due to illness or injury, totaling over $63 billion nationwide.
  • The employee with a serious or chronic condition (diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, cancer, etc.) misses 72 days annually, and works at diminished capacity when present.
  • Nationwide, over 2.5 billion work days are reduced or lost completely. Can your business afford this reduction in productivity?
  • Between the times employees spend at the doctor’s office, the time they spend out sick, and the time they are working at less than full speed, employers are losing an average of $2,000 to $2,800 per employee per year due to illnesses. These numbers do not include the healthcare costs or workers compensation costs incurred due to illness.
  • For every dollar an employer spends on salaries and wages, they spend a minimum of an additional 10 cents on health insurance and workers compensation costs.
  • Those who suffer from GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) suffer decreased productivity so severely that a recent study by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders has calculated that over $2 billion is lost in productivity each week due to the disease.

Everyone gets sick from time to time, but which would you rather have? A workforce of vital, energetic hard-working individuals focused on results and available to work when and where you need them? Or a workforce of average individuals who use up most of their sick leave, and come to work dragging their heads and underperforming? Wellness in the workplace has many benefits, and employers who have tracked their employees’ wellness, as well as those who have contributed to their employees’ wellness, have enjoyed increases in productivity, decreased healthcare costs, decreased workers compensation costs, and increased employee loyalty and higher morale.

Although good health and vitality benefit an employee in every aspect of his or her life, they also specifically benefit the employer as well. Just as investing in an employees’ training provides a better, more valuable resource, investing in their health will provide an employer with a more effective and consistently available resource. The costs of unhealthy employees can be staggering. “Soft costs” such as absenteeism and reduced productivity are calculated as costing four to seven times the amount that employers pay in health insurance premiums and workers compensation premiums combined.

The American population as a whole is sadly unhealthy. So if your employees are average, in terms of their health, they are most likely overweight, 30% of them are obese, many are at risk for or already have diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory compromise, and/or heart disease.

If you look at the life insurance weight tables, you’ll see numbers that reflect the average of what people actually weigh, which is not the same as the weights recommended as healthy. The casual observer believes that if their weight falls within those on the table, he or she must be “okay.” That is not the case. It just means that he or she is within the statistical norm. The same disconnect exists in our perception of the health of those around us (and ourselves!). We become used to what’s the norm, not what’s actually healthy, and we use “normal” as the benchmark for “healthy.” It’s not. Vitality, energy, stamina, and systemic strength are what’s healthy. Chronic disease, even low-level, missed work, repeated colds, sore throats, sinus infections, headaches, etc. are all signs of an unhealthy body and life. And they will all respond to wellness intervention if the employee is willing to participate.

Many think that other illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke are just bad luck, and it’s a shame when they happen to someone, but they can be prevented. For those who wish to take the steps, the incidence of such diseases can be radically minimized by living a fit and healthy life. Of the top six causes of death, (heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes, accidents), five are what we call “lifestyle diseases”. This means that they are caused by a person’s lifestyle choices, at least in part, if not in whole.

From a humanitarian viewpoint, of course you would want the best for your employees, and you would want to see them free of illness and disease. However, there is also the very practical matter of your business’s bottom line that gives you a vital interest in your employees being free of disease and a wellness program quickly becomes something your company can afford not to avoid.

Featured in November 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor