Tag Archives: employee health

A Flexible Workplace Has Health Benefits For Workers

We spend nearly a third of our time in our jobs. Many occupations require a longer time commitment in their professions. Meeting deadlines and trying to satisfy the needs of customers can create stress for employees. Concerns about possible layoffs and a down turn of business in a slow economy can also contribute to tension.

A study published in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior shows that a workplace that encourages flexibility for employees improves productivity, enhances sleep and contributes to overall better health. Researchers looked at data collected from 608 employees of an organization before and after a flexible workplace initiative was implemented. They examined changes in behaviors and health outcomes among the employees participating in the program compared to those who did not.

Among the study results:

•Employees participating in the flexible workplace initiative reported getting almost an extra hour of sleep on nights before work.

•Employees participating managed their health differently.  Individuals were less likely to feel obligated to work when sick and more likely to go to a doctor when needed.

•Employees felt more control of schedules and reduced  work-family conflicts. Overall they improved their sleep quality, energy levels, and health while reducing  exhaustion and  distress.

Workplace flexibility can be different for each employer. Not every job can be done remotely and flexible work arrangements must be handled in different of ways. By finding ways to create flexibility, benefits can result for employer and worker.    

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Sickness In The Workplace

Most people recognize the symptoms. You wake up with a scratchy throat. Maybe your head hurts a little as you are making your morning coffee. It may be a runny nose developing. It could be the beginning symptoms of a cold or the flu.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the season for flu starts from October to early spring. The peak time for the flu is in January and particularly in February.  During a 35-year period of tracking flu data the agency found  flu activity most often peaked in February  46% of the time followed by January with  20% of the time. Unseen costs could affect employers.

Facts About The Flu

Each year between 5% and 20% of Americans get the flu. People who call in sick result in approximately  70 million work days missed each year. These could indirectly cost employers between $3 billion to $12 billion a year. In close quarters of the workplace, viruses can spread quickly through contact from sneezing or coughing. Touching objects by an infected person can also spread contagious diseases.\

Prevention

There are simple ways to avoid spreading germs in the workplace.

1.  Flexible Leave Policy. Most workers dread the feeling onf taking a day or two off and coming back to a backlog of work. In the long run, it is better to stay home so illness does not spread. 

2.  Promote Good Hygiene. Simple things like covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing or frequent washing of hands can make a big difference.

3.  Encourage Wellness Programs. Getting the flu or a cold may not be avoidable. An active lifestyle and proper diet can encourage prevention and increase recovery time.           

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Working And Your Health

February is American Health Month, an event designed to recognize the problem of heart disease and related health problems nationwide and encourage support of programs to help prevent and solve the problem. On February 3, people will wear red to raise awareness of the event and the problem.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans and accounts for $1 out of every $6 in health care. Stress at work and in our daily lives can contribute to health issues. Better awareness and taking advantage of programs that help and individuals well-being can help prevent these health issues.

Work and Your Heart

In a down economy people may work long hours or an extra job to maintain their jobs and income. However, one health study showed that people who work an average of 11 or more hours per day have a 67% higher risk of suffering a heart attack or dying from heart disease than people who work a standard seven- to eight-hour day. Factors such as job satisfaction and career fulfillment can make a difference.

Other Health Problems

One study of men who did not have a history of heart disease or heart attacks found that men who  experienced psychological stress at work were about 1.4 times more likely to have a stroke than others who did not. Findings were based on 5000 men age 40 to 59.For many of the participants, risk of stroke increased 38 percent among those who reported experiencing stress at work.

Wellness Programs Help Costs

A recent study by the Principal Financial Group found that people who enrolled in health and wellness programs reduced their health care costs. It also helps with retention and absenteeism. According to the study medical costs improve an average of $3.27 and absenteeism costs improve by an average of $2.73 for every dollar spent on wellness. Of the 1,121 wellness program participants surveyed, over half said they are more productive and 40 percent were encouraged to stay with their employer through the programs.  

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Flexible Workplace Benefits

Any HR professional knows that allowing employees to enjoy the benefits of a flexible workplace can lead to happier and more satisfied employees. Now, however, new information indicates that flexible workplace policies can actually have an impact on the health of employees and improve overall well being.

New Information on Workplace Flexibility

The new information on workplace flexibility was presented at the Work Life Focus: 2012 and Beyond Conference held on November 9, 2011 in Washington D.C. A chief medical officer and Vice President of Prudential Financial in New Jersey named Dr. Crighton and Prudential’s vice president for health, life and inclusion named Maureen A. Corcoran presented the information at the conference, which was co-sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and by the Families and Work Institute.

According to the information presented at the conference, the data is just starting to come inbut already it is becoming clear that there is a possible link between health- defined as physical, financial, familial, spiritual and emotional well being- and having a more flexible working environment. The impact of flexible workplace policies may be related to three primary areas that affect health adversely- stress, depression and obesity- all of which can be increased by an inflexible and overly burdensome work schedule that doesn’t leave time to tend to taking care of yourself or your family.

A report available for download from the Families and Work Institute website, also indicates that there is a great deal of employee demand for flexible working environments, with 55 percent of employees surveyed in a 2002 study indicating that they did not have enough time for themselves.

How to Become More Flexible

There are a number of different options for making your workplace more flexible and the Families and Work Institute website analyzed five different types of workplace flexibility to consider. These include:

  • Flex-time: Employees can select their hours within a range of times and can choose to work more hours on some days and work fewer hours (or even take whole days off) on others.
  • Flex-leaves: Flex leaves involve taking time off during work days when necessary to meet family and personal needs.
  • Reduced time: Reduced time means working only part of the time, or working less than the full year Flex-place:
  • Flex place means working somewhere other than the main place of business for part of the time Flex career:
  • Flex career means having the opportunity to enter and exit the workforce more easily.

Which of these options, if any, is right for you will depend on your business structure. It’s important to remember as you consider the options that choosing one or more flexible workplace measures can help to increase employee health and perhaps increase productivity and your bottom line by extension.

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 It is generally accepted as a good thing when employers take steps to try to promote healthy behavior among employees. The CDC, the American Cancer Society and numerous other organizations encourage employers to offer healthy food choices, encourage exercise and provide insurance coverage for people who want to stop smoking. Working towards healthier employees can reduce sick time, reduce the cost of insurance, make employees more productive and save your business money. However, like all good things, an effort to ensure that employees make healthy choices can sometimes be taken farther than many think it should. Just ask the Michigan employees who the Associated Press reported were told at the end of August that they had to get a flu shot before the 31st of December or lose their jobs.

The Flu Shot Mandate

The flu shot mandate came from a large health care group in Northern Michigan, which justified its policies by saying that non-vaccinated employees were putting patients at risk. Officials who put the new policy into place did so because they report that voluntary compliance with flu shot requests has not ever topped 65 percent. The CEO, Kathleen McManus believes that the non-vaccinated nurses and staff are a danger to patients and that the requirement is justified.

Employees, however, disagree.  Many are protesting, signing petitions, taking steps to rally the community behind them, and attending meeting of a vaccine choice group called Michigan Opposing Mandatory Vaccines.   Nurses and nursing administrators have also indicated that they will let the company fire them before they will submit to the forced vaccine, believing that they should have a choice about what they put into their bodies.

The Legality of the Requirement

While some employees are asserting that the flu shot requirement is a violation of their civil rights, whether or not the company’s specific behavior is legal has not been addressed by any previous legal cases in Michigan. Michigan, like all states in the US, is an employment-at-will state, which means that employers have the right to fire employees for any reason or for no reason, as long as they do not violate the civil rights of their employees.

While some rights to privacy and to make ones own medical decisions have been found in the Constitution, most of those rights prevent the government from imposing its will on medical choice, and not private employers. As such, it is not necessarily a given that the Michigan employer is violating the law with their vaccine mandate.

HR Advice

While it may not necessarily be illegal to require your employees to get a flu vaccine, the Michigan organization with the vaccine mandate is certainly generating some bad press and employee ill will. Employers should always tread cautiously when interfering with the personal decisions of employees and, in this particular case, may have been better served by considering alternate ways to encourage employee compliance with flu shot programs or to protect patients who were at risk.

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