How Summer Vacations Boost Workplace Engagement

Family at the beach.As the summer vacation season kicks off, now is a good time for HR to be reminding employees and managers about the value of time out of the office.

Vacations are critical to the emotional and physical health of your workforce — and new studies show that they build a far more engaged, happy, and productive workforce.

Unlike other developed countries, the United States has no mandated number of days off for employees. A quarter of Americans have no paid vacations at all. This has an impact on wellness. 

A 2017 CareerBuilder survey revealed that 61 percent of workers self-identified as burned out in their current job, with 31 percent reporting high or extremely high levels of stress at work. A third of all workers (33 percent) said they had not taken nor were planning to take a vacation that year.

Why aren’t people taking time off?

A survey from Project Time Off in 2017 reveals a key reason why people are avoiding vacations: they think it makes them look like a less committed worker. Thirty eight percent of employees wanted to be seen as “a work martyr by their boss”. Yet as the report states: “What those nearly four-in-ten employees do not understand is that work martyrdom not only does not help them advance in their careers; it may be hurting them.

“These self-proclaimed work martyrs are less likely (79 to 84 percent) to report receiving a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who do not subscribe to the work martyr myth. When it comes to promotions, they are no more likely to have received a promotion in the last year than the average worker (28 percent), showing that the work martyr attitude is not helping anyone get ahead.”

Melinda Gates addressed this topic in her first LinkedIn post after Microsite acquired the platform in 2017 — pointing out how this workaholic culture can be particularly damaging for women. “The American workweek has soared from less than 40 hours to nearly 50 in the time since that issue of Fortune was published,” she wrote. “Technology has made it harder to pull away from our jobs, and easier to wonder whether a night off or a long weekend is damaging our careers.

The benefits of the summer vacation

New data from a O.C. Tanner survey shows a clear correlation between those who take regular vacations and their overall emotional health and happiness on the job.

Sixty six percent of respondents said they regularly take a vacation that’s at least one week or longer during the summer months, and nearly the same percentage (67 percent) said it is somewhat or extremely important for them to do so. This is what they then found in the regular vacationers:

  • Dedication to the Job: 70 percent of respondents say they are highly motivated to contribute to the success of the organization, as opposed to only 55 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • A Sense of Belonging: 63 percent of respondents say they feel a sense of belonging at the company where they currently work, as opposed to only 43 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • Loyalty: 65 percent of respondents say they have a strong desire to be working for their organization one year from now, as opposed to 51 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • Viewed as a Good Employer: 65 percent of respondents say their organization has a reputation for being a good employer whose people do great work, as opposed to just 46 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.

In another example discussed in Harvard Business Review, one company implemented a mandatory week off once every seven weeks for all staff. The result? “Creativity went up 33 percent, happiness levels rose 25 percent, and productivity increased 13 percent.” The company concluded that once every seven weeks was perhaps excessive, but nonetheless the sheer productivity and creativity that came from having a rested and recharged workforce benefited the entire organization.

So the next time you hear a manager complain about a worker requesting a vacation, show them the data. And if you haven’t already, now is the time to be instituting a positive and proactive vacation policy.




Why Disability Insurance Matters

Person with broken arm typing on laptop.This article originally appeared in Human Resource Executive. 

Throughout my career, I have usually been the interviewer, but occasionally I’ve also been the interviewee. Whichever side of the table I have sat on over the past three decades, my least favorite question is always: What keeps you up at night?

I spent the early part of my career in healthcare, first working with Olympic and elite athletes, obese children, pregnant and post-natal women and the apparently well general community; and then running industrial medicine programs. The only thing that keeps me up at night from either a work or personal standpoint is if someone is hurt, suffering or dead on my watch. That’s the gift working in healthcare gives you—lifelong perspective.

So, for me, the sleepless night query is a lazy question. It’s generally code for something along the lines of: “What big problem are you working on?” or “What do you believe is the most challenging issue for employers today?”

Neither of those questions, however, stimulates me to give the interesting answer the person is seeking. But this one does: What distracts you during the day?

When I am trying to solve a problem for which there is no easy solution, almost everything I read or hear causes me to consider how that information might relate to my problem.

Whether working in healthcare, for an insurance company, consulting with employers or running a nonprofit, the basic and vexing problem I’m trying to solve is behavior change and how, ultimately, human beings evaluate and respond to risk.

Here’s what I’ve learned. Essentially, we’re baked and done at approximately 18 years of age. Around that time, your body executes an efficiency review. Any neural pathways your brain hasn’t used are trimmed away. (Note: We have also learned, however, that if you need a pathway back after something traumatic such as a stroke happens, it can regrow with dedicated rehabilitation.)

What is the impact of this spring cleaning of the brain? The person you were as an 18-year-old is, in some ways, your setpoint. If you exercised, ate seven to 10 fruits and vegetables a day, were the right weight for your height, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink more than one alcoholic beverage a day, always wore a seatbelt, saved money for a rainy day, did the healthcare and dental visits recommended for someone your age, etc., you’re set up for a reasonably good physical and fiscal life. Even if you stray from these behaviors due to changing life circumstances, it is easier to get back to these habits because the neural framework is there to support you.

But if your 18-year-old self had some room for improvement, you can undergo changes as you become older and wiser. It will be simply more difficult for you to execute, since you will be working against your neural wiring.

So what does this background have to do with employee benefits?

The longer I work in and around employee benefits, the more I’ve come to appreciate that there are enormous advantages to health- and financial-benefit programs that either a nation or an employer selected and paid for.

Unfortunately, most adults evaluate hazards differently than risk-considering people like me, HR executives or actuaries.

When Texas cattle producers sued Oprah Winfrey for creating “a lynch-mob mentality” among viewers during a 1998 episode on beef safety at the time of the mad-cow-disease scare, a risk-communications consultant named Peter Sandman described a formula for how people evaluate risk: Risk = Hazard + Outrage. Sandman wrote (bracketed words are mine):

“To the experts, risk means expected annual mortality [or financial ruin]. But to the public (and even the experts when they go home at night), risk means much more than that. Let’s redefine terms. Call the death rate (what [many] experts mean by risk) “hazard.” Call all the other factors, collectively, “outrage.” Risk, then, is the sum of hazard and outrage. The public pays too little attention to hazard; the experts pay absolutely no attention to outrage. Not surprisingly, they rank risks differently.”

During and following World War II, when most developed nations chose to provide its residents with healthcare and financial benefits, they unconsciously acknowledged our frailty as humans in evaluating risk.

On Jan. 11, 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt attempted to persuade Congress and the nation of the value of a “second bill of rights” (also known as an economic bill of rights) during his State of the Union address. Included on the list were the right to adequate medical care—and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health—and the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment. Several of FDR’s rights were addressed in programs such as Social Security. But employers continued to bear some of the onus they picked up during World War II by not abandoning employee benefits such as healthcare coverage.

As employee-benefits costs—led by healthcare expenses and poor pension investments—began to incur precipitous financial consequences for businesses during the 20th century, employers began the shift to cost-sharing with employees. (It’s a trend that continues today.) The advent of this change, coupled with the rise of cafeteria plans, put workers in the risk-assessment driver’s seat. They often made selections that make me shudder.

The latest information that has me losing some proverbial sleep at night is this: An analysis of economic research by a New York Times reporter that showed a trip to the hospital can mean a permanent reduction in income for a substantial fraction of Americans. Some people bounce right back, but many never work as much again.

To read the rest of this post, please click here.




5 Qualities of The Most Successful HR Leaders

Team of people, with people at center shaking handsVisionary human resource leaders are in strong demand. 

The Mercer Global Talent Trends 2018 Study argues that as organizations accelerate their transformation efforts, ”putting people at the heart of the change makes HR pivotal.” Gallup meanwhile calls HR leaders the “stewards and keepers of the culture of an organization.”

Gallup shows the numbers behind this claim: “Just four in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that the mission and purpose of their organization makes them feel their job is important. By doubling that ratio to eight in 10 employees, organizations could realize a 41 percent reduction in absenteeism, a 33 percent improvement in quality, or in the case of healthcare, even a 50 percent drop in patient safety incidents.”

So their impact can be change-making. But what makes a HR leader truly great?

Here are five qualities:

They’re coaches.

As an industry, HRs benefit the workforce by acting as coaches and relationship-builders.

In 2015, the professional services firm Zenger Folkman analyzed 360 degree feedback data on 2,187 HR leaders around the world. The findings were published in an article in Harvard Business Review. “One of the most positive areas for HR leaders in general was that they were truly concerned about developing others,” the article explains. “This set them apart from leaders in other functions, who did not score highly on this skill. They were also rated positively on providing coaching, acting as a mentor, and giving feedback in a helpful way.”  

They’re rich in knowledge.

HR leaders need a deep well of knowledge to draw from about everything from labor laws to benefits. This is something we’re particularly aware of at The Council for Disability Awareness. As benefits become important markers of a strong company culture—and voluntary or worksite benefits in particular rise in popularity—HR leaders need to be fluent in explaining the entire range of benefits. This is particularly true when it comes to knowing lesser known benefits like disability insurance.   

They see the forest for the trees.

A sports coach keeps their eye on the upcoming game as well as never losing sight of the championship. The same is true of the best HR leaders—they’re strategic. They have an ability to focus on the immediate problems while continually moving the organization towards long-term goals. This helps them drive business strategy and activate real change.

They know their metrics and analytics.

Metrics are vital to the HR function, from employer turnover rates to calculating the cost/benefit analysis of a financial wellness program. But you also need to know how to use those numbers.

“Most people use data the way drunks use the lamppost: for support rather than for illumination,” says Alexis Fink of Intel in a brilliant article about this by SHRM. Fink explains this further: “HR metrics are operational measures, addressing how efficient, effective and impactful an organization’s HR practices are. Talent analytics, on the other hand, focus on decision points, guiding investment decisions” that impact the workforce and related matters.”

They’re great humans.

Finally, this is human resources after all. Matthew Chapman, CEO and Executive Chairman of ChapmanCG, told Boss Magazine: “It may sound obvious, but fast-rising HR leaders are great humans. They look to make a connection, and because of that, they are respected by the business, their HR colleagues, their direct teams as well as their leaders.”




Educating Employees About Disability Insurance? Ask Them 5 Questions

HR leader educating a group of employees.Employers are offering more and more voluntary benefits—and workers want these benefits. A 2017 study showed that nearly one third of eligible employees were signing up for voluntary offerings (that’s a higher participation rate than in earlier years). 

Amy Hollis is the national leader of voluntary benefits for HR consultancy Willis Towers Watson. She recently spoke to Workforce about their recent survey. It shows that 70 percent of employers claim voluntary benefits will be an important part of their value proposition in coming years. “Companies are using voluntary benefits to enrich their offerings without additional cost,” she said.

While there is a win-win element to this—it’s a good economic choice for both employers and employees—the story finishes with a stark warning. Rob Shestack, chairman and CEO of the Voluntary Benefits Association in Philadelphia says that HR teams need to be ready to educate. “The most frustrating thing is when HR makes the effort to provide these programs then does passive enrollment,” he says. “It’s like saying you don’t care if people use them or not.”

When it comes to disability insurance, education is that much more important. James Reid of CDA member company MetLife argues something similar in a story in Benefit News:While employees have a general idea of the benefits they use most often (medical, dental or vision), they don’t always grasp the value or need for some of the other benefits which may be available to them (disability or accident insurance, for example).”

Disability insurance is one of the most critical forms of coverage for working Americans—and one of most overlooked. Part of the problem is that people simply don’t understand how relevant it is for modern life

Here are five questions you can ask as a framework for understanding what disability insurance is: 

1. What does disability mean in this context?

Many people hear the word disability and assume it only means catastrophic health issues. In fact, disability can refer to a broken leg from a skiing accident, a pulled back while cleaning out your garage, a cancer diagnosis, or a pregnancy that can put an employee out of work for days, weeks, or months at a time.

Share the five most common reasons that keep people out of work for long periods: Pain in the back and neck, cancer, complications from pregnancy, and mental health issues all rank before accidental injuries, which many assume is the leading cause of disability. You can also share infographics.

2. What are the statistical chances of becoming disabled?

Eighty percent of us live with optimism bias. That’s to say we don’t have a realistic understanding of the risk of becoming ill or injured. This is particularly at work with the younger generations who have grown up with some of the most supportive parents in modern history.

These are the numbers: According to the Social Security Administration, more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will be out of work for a year or more for a variety of reasons before they reach normal retirement age. This includes common health conditions such as knee, shoulder, or back injuries, cancer, heart problems, or depression.

Add to that the fact that nearly six percent of workers every year will experience a short-term disability due to illness, injury, or pregnancy. Three quarters of these claims last up to two and a half months, and the rest can last for up to six months or a year.

3. How would you pay your bills?

Ask rhetorical questions as you educate: Will an employee be able to pay their mortgage, phone bill or contribute to their health insurance or retirement plans should a pregnancy, illness, or injury take them out of work for a few days, weeks, or more? This is about laying the foundations for their long-term financial stability.  

Data from the Federal Reserve shows that 40 percent of Americans do not have enough savings to pay for an unexpected $400 bill. Disability insurance pays a portion of someone’s salary when they need to miss work due to an illness, injury, or having a baby. For those who are single, disability insurance is the second most important insurance they can carry after health insurance. And if employees have a family that depends upon them, this insurance gives them an income stream if they need to leave work.

4. What does Workers’ Comp and SSDI cover?

Employees need a realistic understanding of the various safety nets that are in place should they become ill or injured—so they can make an informed decision:

  • Workers’ Compensation: Workers’ Comp only applies to accidents done on the worksite. Disabling illnesses or injuries are much more likely to be non-occupational in origin, which would rule out that coverage.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): The Social Security Administration provides Social Security disability benefits for eligible individuals who have a disability that lasts for one year or longer. Many applicants are denied due to a lack of work history, lack of medical evidence, the temporary nature of their condition, or the fact that people may still be able to work outside of their profession. There are three important things to bear in mind: 1) workers who become disabled off-the-job won’t always qualify for SSDI, 2) they can face average wait times of 600 days for a hearing (that’s nearly two years), and 3) if they do eventually get benefits, the monthly amount (averaging around $1,200, based on the most recent data) probably isn’t enough to help them keep up with their ongoing expenses.  

5. If you want to start a family—what is your financial plan for maternity leave?

If your company doesn’t offer paid maternity leave, this is an important point to raise with women in the workforce. Disability insurance is a critical benefit for many new mothers in the U.S. Indeed, pregnancy is the most common cause of short-term disability (STD) claims. Plans typically cover two weeks before and six weeks after a routine pregnancy. 

Here’s an important note: One of the major differences between pregnancy and other types of disability claims is predictability. For a healthy woman, purchasing coverage through their workplace in anticipation of a planned pregnancy can be a fairly easy transaction. The key is that they buy coverage before they become pregnant. This way there is little risk of underwriting issues or denial of their claim due to a pre-existing condition limitation. (Read more on this here.)

By asking these questions, you can broaden the minds of your employees and give them the larger context of how disability insurance works in real life. That way, it isn’t just vague words on a list in a company intranet.  

To learn more about disability insurance, or to offer your colleagues further reading, guide them to our new consumer microsite: RealityCheckup.org  




How Should HR Leaders Approach Mental Health in the Workplace?

Man looking to side.This article originally appeared in Human Resource Executive in the summer of 2017 — we’re reposting it as May is both Disability Insurance Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. 

This column is not the one I planned for you to read today. A computer-system update gone wrong drove me to write a new post on a different topic (since my electronic notes perished as well). But I’d like to believe I would have asked my editors to allow me to switch topics at the last minute even if this didn’t happen.

Why? Because on 20 July 2017, Chester Bennington, the ferociously-talented lead singer for the rock band Linkin Park, committed suicide. The act was made more poignant since it’s thought Bennington mimicked the recent death of his close friend (singer Chris Cornell) on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday.

Bennington wasn’t alone in his desperation. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, approximately 121 people in the United States died by the same method that day – and 3,025 people attempted suicide.

Depression — the usual precursor to suicide — is the leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. In the U.S., depression is a top-five cause of both short- and long-term disability absences. (Musculoskeletal claims are the leading cause of long-term disability.)

In an interesting comparison, Ian Bridgman of The Claim Lab indicates that in Canada (where long-term disability policies do not carry a 24-month-mental-health limitation) mental health diagnoses are the number one cause of employee absences lasting more than three months.

How should HR respond to mental health issues?

Given all this information, I find myself reflecting upon whether I’ve done enough to reach people who struggle with depression or anxiety disorders – or, as importantly – HR leaders who can make a difference every day in employees’ lives.

While I share a great deal of information about mental health via social media channels, I realized the last time I covered the topic here was in 2011. That column was in response to the Screen Actors Guild abandoning mental-health benefits for its members.

I doubt I’ve saved or comforted a single soul by posting the phone number for the suicide-prevention hotline on my Facebook wall or in my Twitter or LinkedIn feed, and something similar can be said about companies that simply offer an employee-assistance program and consider the topic addressed.

So, what’s an HR executive supposed to do about the workplace and mental health?

Normalize the conversation

We can look for guidance from people like Ben Congleton, CEO of Olark Live Chat, whose support of employee, Madalyn Parker (who took two days off from work to focus on her mental health) went viral.

Congleton seemed astonished by the response, and used his momentary fame to articulate the opportunities offered to employers on how to “normalize mental health” as a general health issue.

  • Build a safe space for employees where they can feel vulnerable and are willing to share any issues, whether they are related to mental health or not.
  • Reflect on how your company’s values support this safe space for your employees – one in six of whom is taking a psychiatric drug for a mental health issue.
  • Provide paid leave for mental and physical health issues – whether it’s in the form of traditional sick leave, salary continuation, paid time off, or short-term disability.
  • Take time to express gratitude to your employees.

Parker presents two additional considerations that are helpful from an employee perspective:

  • Offer flexible work arrangements.
  • Educate staff through training programs like Mental Health First Aid at Work to increase understanding and supportive behaviors about mental health in the workplace.

HR offers a first-line of assistance to employees

I’ll end with a few thoughts of my own:

  • Consider providing a more generous bereavement policy for employees who lose a loved one for any reason. Two or three days of paid leave is barely enough time for a worker to bury a loved one, never mind recover from the experience.
  • Keep in mind that your employees are also impacted when their dependent or loved one is suffering from mental health issues. Contemplate ways to assist employees, especially if a dependent dies by suicide.
  • If your company offers an EAP, stay updated on the utilization rate. I led a research project on the impact of employee assistance programs on absence and return-to-work rates. We found the only time EAP made a statistically-significant difference on the length of an employee absence was when the overall company utilization rate was over 10 percent.

Mental-health issues are pervasive throughout the U.S. and global populations. Employers, and HR leaders, are a first-line of assistance to the nearly 150 million working Americans.




What to Do Now to Prepare for a Smooth Maternity Leave

Mother with her newborn baby.

Has the latest mommy blog replaced the Wall Street Journal as your go-to online reading? Congratulations! There’s no more exciting time than when you’re expecting a baby. But, along with the anticipation comes some worry — about your baby’s health of course, but also smaller things, like will you ever learn how that car seat works (yes); will you ever get a shower again (yes); and…how can you prepare for a smooth maternity leave? We can’t really help you with the first two, except to assure you that you’ll be fine, but here are some pointers to help with the third.

Check on your insurance coverage.

Now’s the time to find out exactly what your benefits are, from confirming what hospitals and services are covered to making sure baby is added to your policy.

Check your company’s maternity leave policy to see what coverage you have, which could fall under paid or unpaid family leave or short-term disability coverage. Yes, believe it or not, pregnancy is included as a disability — in fact, it’s the No. 1 cause of short-term disability claims.

Short-term plans typically cover you from the date your physician tells you to stop working before delivery (this can vary based on your particular situation) until six to eight weeks after delivery, depending on plan specifics. And there usually will be a short “elimination period” before benefits are payable. In the event you have pre- or post-partum complications and your doctor determines it’s best for you to be out of work longer, your short-term plan will usually cover the additional time — up to what’s called the “maximum payable period” or MPP for the plan (usually six months, although it can be as short as three months). Anything beyond the MPP would have to be covered by your long-term plan — if you have one.

To get short- or long-term disability coverage through your employer, you may have to sign up for it either when you first become eligible for benefits or during the annual open enrollment period. Keep in mind that you need to sign up for it before you become pregnant. And once you’ve got it, remember that other, unexpected, health events could keep you from working in the future, so it’s to your advantage to maintain continuous coverage (more on that here.)

Line up daycare.

In some areas, it can seem as tricky to get into a top-flight daycare center as to get into the college of your choice. The time to get on the waiting list is the minute you know you need to

Of course, there are numerous childcare options, from nannies to nanny shares to family members, so take the time to talk through the pros and cons and find the one that best suits your familial and financial situation. In addition to giving you peace of mind, having your daycare situation handled presents the solid message to your workplace that you are indeed intending to return. 

Tell your boss before social media.

Even if you’re not “friends” with your boss, social media news travels incredibly fast and your manager might not appreciate finding out your exciting news after your Twitter followers and Facebook friends do. 

Of course you’re going to break the news to family and IRL friends, but offer your boss the courtesy of letting her or him know before you post to the wider world online. Hopefully they will be happy for you, but remember, this might cause your manager some anxiety, too, so don’t be offended if the first reaction isn’t what you’d hoped for. 

Develop a plan.

You might use the first meeting to assure them that you’ve got your leave handled, but press for a separate meeting to go over the details. You’ll want to give them a chance to get over their shock and get some questions ready. 

Create a plan that includes as many details as you can about your planned leave and return, such as important upcoming events like client reviews or sales meetings, along with a preliminary idea of how you see those duties being handled. Naturally you can’t anticipate everything that might arise, but an initial plan will give your manager the added confidence that nothing is going to fall through the cracks. 

Document everything.

When you think about it, a lot of what we do every day is just second nature. Reports go to this client this day. That client prefers invoices in this format. You always give an end-of-week sales update to this person.

As you prep for your leave, look at the cadence of your days, weeks, and even months and figure out what types of details you can leave that will make the break seamless for your clients and your “replacement,” whether that’s one person or several dividing up duties. 

Then develop a “cheat sheet” that shows what dates each day or month certain activities should happen, and include a template, if possible, for agendas, reports, proposals and the like. The more your team knows, the smoother your leave — and your eventual return — will be. 

Don’t commit to too much availability until you know.

You might think you’ll be totally into a Monday morning sales call, until you spend all Sunday night soothing a fussy newborn. Beware of biting off more than you can (or want!) to chew and give the office some very loose guidelines, such as that you’ll check email once a week and respond to anything crucial, or if someone texts you with an urgent manner, you’ll respond as soon as you are able. 

Make sure your email and voicemail messages steer correspondents to other resources to avoid too many questions or issues, and then plan to play it by ear to determine what works best for you and baby. You may find that it’s a nice respite from “Goodnight Moon” to talk marketing, or you might want nothing to do with the office update. 

But above all else, enjoy every minute with your newborn. All too soon you’ll be back at the office and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at how little has changed (except you!) 




3 Ways to Reduce Cancer Risks in the Office

Woman sitting at desk with plants around her.

If someone were to ask you about the level of pollutants in your daily environment, you’d probably think about your home, your city or town. But if you have a full-time job, what about the health of the workplace you spend most of your waking hours within?

One third of most people’s adult lives will be spent at work. Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute estimates more than 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in 2018. According to the most recent data from the US National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database, American adults have a one-in-three lifetime chance of being diagnosed with cancer.

If you have a full time job and spend a large portion of your days in an office, here are some areas to be aware of:

Be mindful of the indoor air quality.

The air we breathe every day directly impacts our health, even though we are often unaware of its influence. Poor air quality has been recognized as a carcinogen linked to lung cancer, heart disease, and other respiratory conditions. These health concerns develop from exposure to toxins in the air, including particulate matter and specific types of chemicals.

Air pollution issues are typically associated with being outside, but indoor air is often far more polluted than outdoor air. A person also typically spends about 90 percent of their time inside, so any toxins that are present have a tremendous impact due to the length of time a person is exposed. If there are pollution sources near a building, toxins from the outdoor environment may be pulled inside through the mechanical ventilation system. Other biological toxins, like bird droppings or insects, can enter a building if the ventilation system isn’t properly maintained.

The materials used during a building’s construction can also be sources of pollution, especially when those materials are disturbed during renovations. Older buildings may have been constructed using toxins like asbestos and lead, both of which can be broken down into microscopic particles and swept into the air. Inhaling asbestos is known to cause a devastating form of cancer while exposure to lead causes a variety of complications throughout the body, including impaired kidney function and behavioral changes.

Depending on the toxin, employees can take action to combat indoor air pollution. Ask for transparency from management and the facilities team about building maintenance or renovations. Smaller steps include introducing plants into the office — which may remove some pollutants from the air.

Make time for exercise.

Exercise has been shown to have numerous benefits in preventing cancer, including regulating hormones, lowering body fat, and reducing inflammation. If you work full-time, it can be a challenge to make it to the gym after a long day in the office, so look for ways to infuse exercise into the very fabric of your days.

Try going for a walk or attending a fitness class at a nearby gym during lunch. And why go it alone? Having a gym partner or workout buddy helps people maintain their motivation to keep working out over the long haul. You can also make changes to your desk itself, for example by bringing in an under the desk bike or yoga ball to strengthen cardio health and balance.

Don’t forget sunblock if you sit near a window.

Dermatologists recommend you apply sunscreen every day you’re outside, even during the winter. Sun exposure can even occur indoors or in a car since most glass windows do not offer full-spectrum protection from the sun’s radiation. There is evidence of a correlation between people who spend a lot of time in the car and incidences of skin cancer on the left side of the body, coinciding with the driver’s side of a vehicle.

The American Cancer Society notes the risk of UV radiation through windows would pose a problem only for those who “spend long periods of time close to a window that gets direct sunlight.” If that applies to you, use sunblock each day, reduce the direct sun coming through the blinds, and cover any exposed skin with extra clothing helps create a barrier between your skin and harmful UV rays. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States with one in five Americans expected to be diagnosed at some point in their lives.

Cancer is the second most common cause for long-term disability claims. Do you have a disability insurance plan in place at work? To learn more and the sorts of questions you can ask HR, visit RealityCheckup.org.

 




Disability Insurance Can Be An Important Part of a Pregnancy—But It’s Much More

Pregnant woman holding a baby

Disability insurance — also known as income protection coverage — is one of the most important and overlooked pillars of financial planning.

Think about it. The average person is so dependent on their ability to earn a living, they couldn’t continue their lifestyle if they missed even a single paycheck.

The Federal Reserve asked adults in 2016 how they would pay for a hypothetical emergency expense that would cost $400. This amount is approximately the cost of an unexpected car repair, appliance replacement, or medical bill. Forty-four percent of people said this kind of bill would be hard to handle, and that they either could not pay the expense or would borrow or sell something to do so.

When people buy insurance, most choose some form of health, life, car, and homeowners’ or renters’ insurance. All of these purchases have one common denominator; the premiums are paid with your income. When you think about it, it seems foolish to forget to insure the one thing that lets you pay for everything else — your paycheck.

The connection between pregnancy and short-term disability

There are many types of accidents and illnesses that prevent people from working for a period of time: back pain, depression, heart disease, cancer, auto accidents, and so on. Yet many people don’t think of having a baby when they think of “disability.” Yet pregnancy is the most common cause of short-term disability claims.

Women are typically paid eight to 10 weeks of disability benefits when they take time off to have their child (two weeks before their due date and six weeks afterward). The duration can vary based on cesarean-section deliveries or other conditions that may require the claimant to limit work activities or work exposure.

One of the major differences between pregnancy and other types of disability claims is predictability. The timing of pregnancy for many can be the result of planning. For a healthy woman, purchasing coverage through their workplace in anticipation of a planned pregnancy can be a fairly easy transaction. The key is that you buy coverage before you become pregnant. This way there is little risk of underwriting issues or denial of your claim due to a pre-existing condition limitation.

Pregnancy and long-term disability insurance

Most long-term disability insurance offered through your workplace will also pay benefits for pregnancy-related complications if you can’t work for more than 90 days.

If you purchase individual disability coverage through a broker or agent, most insurance carriers will cover complications of pregnancy if your policy has a waiting period of longer than 90 days. (The waiting period — also called the elimination period — is how long you have to wait to receive benefits after you become disabled from work.)

The advantages of continuous coverage

Some consumers will purchase disability insurance in anticipation of a pregnancy and cancel the coverage after delivery. It’s also not uncommon to see ex-participants re-apply while planning a subsequent pregnancy. While this purchasing pattern is not illegal or unethical, it’s a risky approach to insuring your income, and it’s certainly not a pattern that disability insurance coverage was designed to endure.

So, what is a win/win for the carrier and policyholder? Maintaining continuous coverage.

It’s important to remember that disability insurance is designed to protect you against the unexpected loss of your work capabilities due to an accident or illness. While pregnancy is a common reason to file a claim, you always have additional risk for many unexpected events.

It’s also important to remember that voluntary coverage that you buy at work is often subject to underwriting guidelines. Your ability to obtain coverage could change at any time if you have an accident or develop a newly-diagnosed health condition. Trying to time when you have disability coverage is similar to trying to time when you invest in the stock market, and could easily leave you uncovered at an inopportune time.

None of us are immune to accidents or illnesses. They can strike at any time. It’s important to make sure that you’re covered. And once you’re covered, it’s important that you stay covered, regardless of the original reason you applied for your disability insurance. Get it, keep it, and rest easy knowing that you planned ahead.




Why Disability Insurance Should Be Part of Your Paid Leave Strategy

Benefits are becoming a key differentiator in the job market. A 2017 report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that nearly one third of organizations increased their benefit offerings over the past 12 months. The leading reason? To remain competitive in the talent marketplace.

Amid all the benefits being offered today, from pet insurance to unlimited time off, disability insurance remains one of the most critical forms of protection that employers can offer. Disability insurance protects someone’s ability to earn an income should illness or injury arise. At a time when emergency savings are shrinking and medical costs are rising, that safety net is becoming vital to an employee’s financial wellness.

Here are five reasons to consider offering this benefit to your workforce:

It’s the foundation of your employees’ financial security.

Without income protection the effects of not having an income become very real, very fast. An employee may not be able to pay their mortgage, their phone bill or contribute to their health insurance or retirement plans should a pregnancy, illness, or injury take them out of work for a few weeks or more.

Without it, the effects can be devastating.

By offering disability insurance, employers can avoid having the heartbreaking conversation about what to do after paid leave or sick leave ends (if it is even available). A 2017 CareerBuilder survey showed that nearly eight out of ten Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Data from the Federal Reserve in 2016 showed that nearly half of consumers said they couldn’t pay an unexpected $400 bill without having to take out a loan or sell something. 

It retains talent.

Not only does short- and long-term disability insurance help people feel more secure in their jobs, your employees are also more likely to return to work if they have this coverage. SHRM estimates that replacing an employee can cost 60 percent of their annual salary — so retention has a major impact on the bottom line.

It’s affordable.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average cost of providing both long-term and short-term disability coverage in 2016 was approximately 10 cents per hours worked, or $205 per year. In contrast, the average employer contribution to health insurance averaged $2.86 per hour worked, or $5,725 per year. 

It’s a family-friendly benefit.

Short-term plans typically cover two weeks before and six weeks after a routine pregnancy. Unless you’re one of the few employers who offer paid family leave, disability insurance is a critical financial benefit for women in the workforce. 

To learn more about how disability insurance works, visit www.RealityCheckup.org




Genetic Testing at Work

DNA strandsDo the rewards of genetic testing of employees outweigh the possible risks it presents to their financial stability?

This article by Carol Harnett, president of The Council for Disability Awareness, was recently published in Human Resource Executive.

I became intrigued with genetics in sixth grade. I still recall being fascinated when Mrs. D’Amato described Gregor Mendel’s work with pea plants that allowed him to unravel the fundamental laws of inheritance. Her introduction of the Punnett square, with its dominant and recessive alleles, and monohybrid and dihybrid crosses had me running home to decipher the keys to my ancestry with my parents.

Over time, I discovered that the MC1R gene was responsible for my red hair and freckles, and those traits, in combination with my blue eyes, placed me in the rarest of the ginger categories: a tribe that makes up less than 2 percent of the world’s population.

Genetics continued to grab my interest over the years, but that curiosity started to package itself with concern as more became known about human DNA. The first big pause I took to contemplate the impact of genetic information came when 23andme—one of the first direct-to-consumer genetic-testing companies—invited me to participate in a beta test.

It was 2008 and I was about to attend my first TED conference. The company invited the 1,000 participants to learn about their genetic profiles. I let the 23andme package sit on my desk for about a week. My internal debate revolved around whether I wanted to know if I had a genetic susceptibility for which there was currently no treatment. I finally caved in to my scientific interest, spit in the tube, sealed the envelope and overnighted my DNA to the company.

The results were anti-climactic. It turns out I have a remarkably solid set of inherited “wellness” characteristics. Or, at least I think I do.

The other traits the initial report listed (and still lists over the 10 years of updates) were laughingly off, including that I most likely don’t have freckles or red hair. And this gives me some pause as to whether my reported wellness variables are, indeed, correct.

I began to consider writing a column about genetic testing when someone passed me a copy of a survey of 14 disability carriers regarding whether they would pay the claims of women who underwent procedures associated with testing positive for inherited mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. (Approximately 72 percent of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and about 69 percent of women who inherit a BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by the age of 80, while about 44 percent of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and approximately 17 percent of women who inherit a BRCA2 mutation will develop ovarian cancer by the age of 80.) Experts often recommend that women who carry these mutations consider both preventive bilateral mastectomies and removal of their ovaries and fallopian tubes by their mid-30s to early 40s.

There was wide disparity in the carriers’ responses to how they would process claims. Some considered bilateral mastectomies associated with a positive genetic test to be related to a pre-existing condition and, therefore, not payable. Others believed that preventive mastectomies related to a mutation of BRCA12 were elective procedures. As a result, the disability claim was not compensable under the elective-procedure provision. Still others would deny disability associated with subsequent breast-reconstruction surgeries under the elective-surgery and/or cosmetic-surgery provisions.

The range of answers and the logic applied by some providers regarding BRCA12 mutation carriers were shocking to me. But, there was a moment of hope when I reviewed a similar question asked about disability claims related to organ donation.

When I first joined the disability-insurance industry in the late 1990s, an organ donor’s disability claim was denied under the elective-procedure provision. Almost 20 years later, all but one carrier stated they would approve an organ donor’s claim—and the one carrier that wouldn’t pay the claim indicated it often made an administrative decision to approve the claim despite the contract.

As genetic testing becomes more common, I believe the carriers will rethink their positions (at least as it relates to women who learn they have genetic mutations after they enroll in disability coverage), or employers self-insured for short- and long-term disability will instruct the carriers or third-party administrators to pay these disability claims.

But here’s the catch that is up for debate: If people find out they carry a genetic mutation before they sign up for life, disability or long-term-care insurance, are they subject to denial of coverage due to a pre-existing condition, even though the genetic mutation may never “express itself?” The answer may be a qualified yes, depending upon the carrier and/or the state in which the person lives.

The Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits employers and health-insurance companies from discriminating against people due to genetic information. However, when the act was passed, life, disability and long-term-care insurance were consciously omitted. This omission allows life and disability insurers to legally discriminate against people with genetic conditions or risk factors that predispose them to diseases—which brings me back to direct-to-consumer genetic testing.

There is a new trend among D2C companies such as Color Genomics, which wants employers and HR leaders to offer genetic testing to employees as an employee benefit. And while I, like many with my background, see the power of genetics as it relates to precision (or personalized) medicine, I’m incredibly concerned about how employers could inadvertently destabilize their employees’ financial wellness.

If employees do not currently carry individual life, disability or long-term-care insurance prior to participating in genetic testing, and they find out they possess a genetic abnormality, they may never be able to enroll in this coverage in the future. Even if you provide employer-paid life and disability coverage to your workers, if they leave your employment, they may not take their life insurance with them—and their disability coverage is not portable…

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