Celebrate National Coffee Day

Sept-coffee-imageMore than half of American adults drink at least one cup of coffee each day. If you aren’t one of them, you may want to consider giving it a try. Although for years doctors warned people about coffee, those concerns were based on flawed, decades old research. Current studies have shown a broad range of health benefits associated with drinking coffee in moderation.

 

Whether you drink it hot or cold, at home or on the go, that cup of joe provides more benefits than you may realize. Unique elements in coffee have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and the benefits may start as soon as you open the bag of fresh beans and first smell the aroma. And that’s reason to celebrate.

 

1. Improved Heart Health

Apart from a morning boost to get your day going, regular coffee drinkers have a lower risk of heart failure than those who don’t drink the java. Results show that two 8-oz. cups of coffee a day would be associated with an 11% drop in heart risk. Drinking less than that showed a lower risk reduction. But you must be moderate — over five cups and risk increases.

 

2. Coffee Drinkers Live Longer

Studies have been done in both the U.S. and in Europe, following the coffee-drinking habits of over 700,000 people, focused on African Americans, Japanese Americans, Latinos and whites. The risk of dying early was lower for coffee drinkers than non-coffee-drinkers. Good news whether you drink one cup or four cups a day across all populations, whether people drank caffeinated or decaf.

 

3. Live a Happier Life

While a fresh cup of java obviously makes a dedicated coffee drinker happy, there’s scientific research that backs up that feeling. Yes, the caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, but it also may act as a mild antidepressant by increasing production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine. In fact, a study showed drinking several cups of coffee daily appears to reduce the risk of suicide in both men and women by about 50 percent.

 

 

Additional benefits include protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. So, make sure to raise a glass — or a mug — to celebrate today’s holiday, and toast to coffee and good health.

 




Unseen Employee Disability Costs, Part 2

8-16-unseen-costs-imageIn last month’s blog post, I wrote about how the non-occupational disabilities covered under salary continuation or disability insurance plans are more common than the occupational disabilities covered under workers’ compensation. I suggested that your benefits team should be as focused on managing the costs of non-occ disabilities as your risk management team is on keeping WC costs in line.

That means looking not just at the direct costs of disability (how much you’re paying in wage replacement benefits, either directly or through premiums for an insured plan) but also those indirect costs that, like the invisible parts of an iceberg below the waterline, can sink your ship if you’re not steering carefully.

Opportunity Costs of Employee Absence

When your employees can’t work because an illness or injury, your business takes a hit in ways that don’t immediately show up on the financial statements: Products and services don’t get delivered and sales don’t get made. Temporary replacements have to be brought in, and they may not be as skilled as the absent workers, or they may cost more—or possibly even both! Maybe other employees will be asked to take on absentees’ duties in addition to their own, in which case they could wind up doing two jobs at sub-par productivity (not to mention increasing their risk of burnout).

The Integrated Benefits Institute estimates these opportunity costs of disability amount to an additional 38% of absent workers’ wages for the U.S. workforce as a whole. And IBI notes this percentage (the “absence multiplier”) will be higher for jobs where:

  • It’s not easy to find an equivalent substitute to replace an absent worker
  • Work is highly time sensitive
  • People work in tightly-connected teams

Ease of Substitution

In one of my previous jobs, I consulted with employee benefit plan sponsors on what was driving their short-term disability claims experience and what they could do about it. One of my clients was a retail chain that also had a significant pharmacy operation. While their STD incidence was higher for the retail operation, they were more concerned about their pharmacists’ claims experience. Why? Because at the time the demand for trained pharmacists was extremely high, while the supply was low. For this job, ease of substitution was very low.

Time-Sensitivity of Output

In that same job, I also helped out a colleague who was consulting with a mid-size regional airline. They were especially focused on pilots’ and flight attendants’ disability claims, even though other jobs such as baggage handlers or aircraft mechanics might have had higher incidence rates or longer average claim durations. Why? Because an aircraft couldn’t take off without the required number of pilots and crew members, and if the aircraft couldn’t take off the flight would have to be cancelled. For these jobs (pilots and flight attendants), time-sensitivity of output was very high.

Tightly-Connected Teams

Another client I worked with was an academic health system that had a keen interest in reducing incidence and duration of disabilities for its nurses, especially those in the emergency department, intensive care unit, and operating room. Why? Because they worked as part of a closely-knit team, and in their absence the effectiveness of their physician and surgeon co-workers could be seriously diminished. For this particular hospital, the specialty nursing jobs required higher than average teamwork.

Putting It All Together

So, are you ready to take a look at what non-occupational disabilities are costing you, both directly and indirectly? If you are, consider starting with IBI’s Absence Cost Estimator, a tool that models your overall absence costs (wage replacement plus lost productivity), lost workdays (in total and per full-time employee), and potential health-related absence reduction savings.

The ACE draws on IBI’s benchmarking database as well as research on the opportunity-cost factors we’ve looked at in this blog post. You need to be an IBI member to access it—but the good news is, if you’re an employer, membership is free (see here for details).

Next month, we’ll look at the question that most employers ask once they’ve taken a look at their cost of absence: “What can I do about it?”




Do You Really Need Eight Hours of Sleep?

Sept-8hrs-sleep-imageSleep is one of the most important factors that can play into one’s overall health and wellbeing. With more than 20% of Americans suffering from chronic sleep loss or other types of sleep disorders, however, sleep deprivation is a real problem that threatens to disrupt our lives. Weight gain, depression, headaches and more can manifest as a result of not getting enough sleep on a nightly basis, which is often defined as eight hours. But do you really need eight hours of sleep, or has this claim simply become overblown at this point?

A Full Night’s Rest, or Just Advertising?

Millions of Americans have been told for decades that they’re depriving themselves of sleep if they aren’t getting a full eight hours. In reality, though, research indicates that eight hours may not be the right amount for everyone. The claim was born in large part out of advertising campaigns promoting the sale of over-the-counter sleeping pills and other types of sleep medication.  Research supporting the need for eight hours of sleep each night doesn’t exist.

Most people sleep between six and a half and seven hours each night, even though many believe they should be getting at least eight hours of sleep. While a certain threshold for the right amount of sleep does exist, it differs for each individual person—eight hours is not a hard and fast rule.

Quality Over Quantity

For many years, the conversation around sleep has focused mainly on how much we actually need. As the eight hour myth continues to be questioned, it’s becoming more and more clear that the quality of our sleep matters more than the number of hours we get each night. There are several factors that can influence quality of sleep, and those who toss and turn for a full eight hours may end up getting less sleep than someone who sleeps soundly for five. There’s even research showing that too much sleep increases the risk of several significant health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

So, how can you improve the quality of your sleep? Here are just a few things you can do starting right now:

  • Get Plenty of Exercise: Physical activity can have a profound impact on sleep quality, with as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise each day being enough to make a difference. The more you can do to tire yourself out throughout the day, the better you’re likely to sleep.
  • Avoid Alcohol Before Bed: Alcohol may offer relaxing qualities when consumed in moderate amounts, but it actually disrupts the body’s ability to enter into REM sleep. If you have a big day coming up, avoiding alcohol is a good idea.
  • Wind Down Appropriately: Simply jumping into bed at the end of the night may not be enough to allow you to truly wind down. Turn off the blue screens, dim the lights and perhaps read or listen to music for the last hour of the night—and don’t lay in bed unless you’re actually trying to go to sleep.

 

Sleep clearly has a strong impact on quality of life, but it may not be the eight hour rule you’ve always heard about. Focus on improving the quality of your sleep, and it will become clear in time how much of it you actually need to feel your best before heading out the door each day.




Is Autumn Making You S.A.D.? Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sept-S-A-D-image

For many, the first day of autumn kicks off a season of apple picking, foliage tours, and evenings by the fire pit. But for others, it signals the beginning of a months-long struggle with depression, brought about by a significant reduction in sunlight.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is a form of depression triggered by seasonal change. For the majority of those impacted, depression begins to set in in late autumn, as the amount of sunlight each day is reduced, and continues through winter. Symptoms are similar to those of other types of depression, and include a change in appetite, weight gain, loss of energy, and irritability.

It’s estimated that 10-20% of people in the U.S. struggle with at least mild Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), and as many as six percent of the population experiences significant winter depression. The shorter autumn days can disrupt your body’s Circadian rhythm, cause a drop in serotonin levels and an increase in melatonin levels, and cause a decrease in vitamin D. Taken together, these changes can lead to feelings of lethargy and depression.

SAD is significantly more common the farther north you go, as the days get even shorter compared to those to the south. For example, it affects only 1% of Florida residents, but 10% of Alaskans. The condition impacts four times more women than men, and generally becomes noticeable in our early 20s.

 

Prevention and Avoidance

There is no known prevention for S.A.D., but it’s believed that a family history and other depressive disorders increase the risk. Talking with your doctor before the darker seasons begin may be helpful, and many take advanced action to mitigate the impacts of winter depression.

 

Treatment

Treatments range from light therapy and anti-depression medications, to lifestyle changes, to alternative medicines.

  • Light Therapy is perhaps the most common and recognizable treatment option. Light therapy boxes vary is size, style, and intensity, but all create artificial light that simulates sunshine. The output dictates how long each light session should last–higher output, or Lux, requires shorter sessions. When effective, people generally starting feeling the impact within a few days.
  • Anti-depressant medication might be called for when symptoms are more severe. Bupropion, commonly used for other forms of depression, as well as a smoking cessation aid, is commonly prescribed for S.A.D. sufferers. It’s a slow-release medication and treatment is most effective when started before the onset of symptoms.
  • Environmental and lifestyle changes have also been shown to mitigate the impacts of winter depression. Opening curtains to allow more light in, getting outside to soak up whatever sunlight is available, and regular exercise have all been shown to improve peoples’ moods and boost energy levels. And a well-balanced, nutritious diet is known to help reduce symptoms of depression.
  • Suppliments, such as St. John’s wort and melatonin, have become more popular in recent years, as interest in natural remedies grows. There’s little scientific research on the effectiveness of supplimets on S.A.D, but many people report significant improvements in their symptoms. It’s important to consult with a physician, however, before starting a regimen; some supplements are known to interfere with other medications.

 

As we head into autumn and winter, now is the time to make a plan for getting through the darker days to come. There is no cure for S.A.D. or winter depression, but with the right tools and a well defined plan, these conditions can be managed. Talk with your physician, let as much light into your home as possible, and adopt healthy habits. You might even find that the coming months can be exciting and enjoyable!

 




Minimizing Call-outs and Sick Days

Sept-managing-sick-leaves-imagePeople get sick. And it can happen at the most inopportune times, often delaying projects and timelines to the point where catching-up can be a project in and of itself. While the average person that has been at their job between five and 10 years takes about eight sick days each year, it’s not always clear that an employee is truly ill when taking time away from the office.

The reality is some employees may be “playing the system.” And if these sick days are paid, they’re costing you money. Fortunately, there are a handful of things your managerial staff can do to help limit call-outs.

Promote a Healthy Office Environment

Some employers have strict policies around sick time, simply because they think it makes it less likely that employees will take advantage of it. It’s worth considering, however, that two-thirds of the total costs of worker illness is due to people going to work when they’re sick, which is why it’s important to promote a healthy office environment whenever possible. When an employee is sick, you don’t want them showing up to the office. Allow people the space they need, and take other measures to promote a healthy office environment, such as installing hand-sanitizing stations and allowing time for mid-day exercise.

Clarify Your Policies

The company that offers unlimited sick days and other perks that seem too good to be true may be attracting the wrong talent. Over time, it can backfire on any organization, especially as employees begin to take advantage of the fact that actual policies are missing entirely. When it comes to paid sick leave, the details should be spelled out and clarified as much as possible.

Offer Remote Work Opportunities

If you’re inflexible about having people come into the office to get work done, you’re going to have to expect sick days to happen. One way to curtail lost productivity, however, is to allow your employees the opportunity to work from home when not feeling well. Many people call out of work simply because they don’t feel well enough to leave the house and deal with the hustle and bustle. But if you can take commuting out of the equation by allowing them to work remotely, they may still be able to complete a good day’s work—even if they’re at home sitting on the couch.

Step In When Necessary

Over time, it will likely become clear which of your employees are taking advantage of sick leave and which are not. While talking to an employee about abusing sick days can be an uncomfortable conversation to have, it can also be an important step to take and ultimately less stressful than having to terminate their employment. After all, you value their work—you just want them to actually do it. Make this clear, and chances are you’ll witness a change in attitude.

Call-outs and sick days are to be expected, but if they’re derailing your business, they need to be addressed. By taking steps to minimize call-outs, you can manage a more tightly knit workforce without having to worry about hours of lost productivity.




Tips for Managing Fall Allergies

Sept-fall-allergies-imageWhen the summer heat begins to give way to lower temperatures and the days get shorter and shorter, the onset of fall tends to make itself known seemingly overnight. It can be an exciting time of year; finishing summer vacations, getting back to school, preparing for winter. But for many people, it also signals the start of an annual battle with allergies. If stepping out the door leads to itchy eyes, a scratchy throat and constant sneezing, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone—hay fever affects more than 17 million adults and over 6 million children. And while allergies may seem harmless, they can be debilitating in some cases, even leading to potentially dangerous sinus infections that can keep people out of work for weeks at a time.

Fortunately, fall allergies can usually be managed with a little bit of effort, and if you’re suffering on a daily basis, it’s worth taking the extra steps to mitigate them.

 

1. Dehumidify Your Home

Turning the home into an allergen-free zone should be one of the first rules to follow for those who find themselves suffering from seasonal allergies. One way to kick-start the process is by purchasing a dehumidifier. Contrary to what many people believe, dehumidifiers are actually more effective than humidifiers when it comes to improving indoor air quality for those who are particularly sensitive to dust and mold. This is a quick, relatively low-cost way to help reduce the severity of seasonal allergies, and most units last for a long time, if properly maintained.

2. Shower Often

One of the easiest ways for pollen to travel is via your skin and clothing, especially if you find yourself going outdoors in a high pollen zone. To help reduce the amount of pollen entering the house, it may be beneficial to avoid wearing outer layers into the living area of your home and shower as soon as you’ve returned from outside. It can be a bit of an extra hassle, but keeping yourself clean can play a key role in helping to keep your home’s indoor air clean, too.

3. Change Your Central AC Filter Monthly

You have your air conditioner to thank for keeping you and your family cool and comfortable throughout the summer and fall, but what if it’s actually contributing to your seasonal allergies? Central AC units pull in air from outside the home prior to conditioning it, and when operating properly, the air is filtered of any contaminants that might be present. Your AC’s air filter can become clogged over time, however, eventually reaching the point where contaminants make their way into the home. Fortunately, you can help avoid this problem simply by changing out the filter on a monthly basis.

 

If seasonal allergies have got you down, it’s time to take action. Take the right steps, and you can kick your allergies to the curb this fall!




New to Running? Avoid These Common Mistakes!

Sept-new-to-running-imageIt’s well known that regular exercise plays a key role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. And running is without a doubt one of the most popular ways to stay fit, with over 64 million Americans logging at least one run every year. While running can be an extremely healthy and holistic exercise, it can also be dangerous if bad habits are adopted along the way.

 

If you’re new to running, you’ll do yourself a favor by knowing what mistakes to avoid making—here are three of the biggest to beware of.

1. Going “All-in”

Kicking off a new career in running can be an exciting experience. Since many people use apps meant to lead them from being sedentary to running a road race in just a few months, there’s often a goal in mind before one runs takes their first 10 steps. Following a prescribed program can be a helpful way to get started, but it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach to running. If you try to run your first race before you truly feel ready, you may in turn set yourself up for disaster.

2. Wearing the Wrong Shoes

The importance of purchasing a good pair of running shoes before you begin training cannot be overstated. Mid-sole foot cushioning specifically tends to be a major element incorporated into most pairs of running shoes, which typically lacks in shoes that are designed primarily with walking in mind. Besides helping to avoid painful conditions such as plantar fasciitis, a well-fitted pair of running shoes will keep those dreaded blisters at bay. Don’t be afraid to spend upwards of $100 or more on your first pair—you often get what you pay for when it comes to athletic footwear.

3. Resuming Before an Injury Has Been Given Time to Heal

No matter how careful a runner you happen to be, you put yourself at risk of injury every time you tie your shoes and head out the door. Fractures, sprains and more can occur with little to no warning, often sidelining the runner for a lengthy period of time. While falling out of a routine can be extremely difficult to adjust to and may go against the goals you’ve set for yourself, rushing to jump back into running before an injury has fully healed is a recipe for disaster. Re-injuring yourself will just further delay your ability to resume running, which is why it’s essential to follow your doctor’s orders and avoid taking matters into your own hands.

 

So get out there and hit the pavement—just be sure you’re conscious of how you’re doing it.




Ergonomics in the Workplace

Sept-ergonomics-imageToday’s companies and organizations demand more from employees than ever in the past. With Americans working as many as 499 additional hours each year than those in other developed countries, the need for a healthy & productive work environment is increasingly important. Workplace ergonomics can have a huge influence on overall health and can even contribute to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which account for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases. Modern offices are beginning to catch on to the need, but there’s still plenty of work to do for most organizations in terms of creating a more ergonomic environment.

 

Looking to see firsthand the benefits of making your workplace more ergonomic? Here are a few ways to get started.

1. Start with Proper Display Height and Distance

One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to set up a desk comes down to the distance and height of their computer display. A workspace that has been set up with strong ergonomic principles in mind will not require the person to tilt their neck up, down, left or right in order to see the display, regardless of how large or small it happens to be. The monitor should sit roughly at an arm’s length, with the top of the screen meeting (or falling just slightly below) eye level. When placed in a relaxed position with hands on the keyboard, an employee’s arms should sit at a 90% angle.

2. Consider Implementing Standing Desks

The standing desk is perhaps the biggest catalyst for overhaul to hit workplace ergonomics since people began discussing the topic. A 2012 study found that reducing sitting to less than two or three hours per day could help to boost life expectancy by a whopping two years, and considering the long workweeks that many people consider the norm, standing desks can make a significant impact on health and wellness when used regularly. Because standing desks have risen in popularity in recent years, they’ve dropped in price—a win-win situation for both employers and their staff alike.

3. Bring in the Help of a Professional

When attempting to improve workplace ergonomics, it’s helpful to remember that no two employees have the same set of needs. Managers and HR directors often go to great lengths to help their employees set up the perfect workspace, yet the vast majority of people in these roles lack true expertise in ergonomics. This is just one reason why it can be helpful to hire a professional ergonomics consultant who can work with each of your employees on a case-by-case basis, which can be highly beneficial in boosting workplace productivity and overall health and wellbeing among employees.

 

The importance of creating an ergonomic work environment isn’t going to decrease over time. Do your part, and your employees will repay the favor with focused, productive work.




Home Ownership and Disability: What You Need to Know

Sept-homeownership-imageBuying a home can be one of the most exciting experiences that life has to offer, especially when all the stars seem to align. As consumer confidence continues to build and mortgage rates continue to fall, the housing market is seeing an uptick—especially among millennials. While buying a home can surely be an exciting experience, it can also result in a great deal of stress and anxiety. Add to this the potential that you or a spouse may become disabled, and it becomes clear that the joys of home ownership often come along with a cluster of downsides that cannot go overlooked.

Not sure how disability could potentially affect home ownership? Here are a few things to bear in mind.

 

The Risk of Disability with Home Ownership

As people mature and responsibilities begin to grow, it eventually becomes clear that at least some amount of focus needs to be placed on the protection of assets. Whether it be bank accounts, physical belongings or otherwise, most people take steps to ensure that they’re covered in the event of an emergency. While this is generally recognized as a positive approach to life, it doesn’t take into consideration the importance of protecting the income that allows said assets to exist in the first place.

For various reasons, many people simply don’t realize just how much of an impact an illness or injury may have on their income. While being out of work with the flu may be enough to derail things for a short period of time, a lengthy absence of three months or more can be disastrous, as mortgage defaults and bankruptcies often come as a result of not being able to make a living due to disability. In fact, according to the U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency, nearly half of all home foreclosures are due to disability and and loss of income.

Add to this the fact that one-third of all 30 year olds will experience a disability that affects their career for at least three months, and the reality of the situation becomes impossible to ignore.

 

What You Can Do

No one wants to spend their life worrying about potentially losing their home due to illness or injury. But playing it overly safe and never taking risks may not be realistic, and avoiding sharp turns in life is nearly impossible. Fortunately, disability insurance can help to alleviate these anxieties and protect your home should you ever experience a significant disruption in work. For most, It’s one of then most realistic ways to defend against the randomness of life.

Home ownership is a dream for millions of people throughout the world. The more you can do to protect you and your family after closing, the more likely it is you’ll experience peace of mind and enjoy turning your house into a home.




When Back Pain is a Sign of Something More Serious

Sept-back-pain-imageIn the U.S. alone, some 31 million people find themselves dealing with lower back pain at any given moment. Worldwide, low-back pain is a leading cause of disability, as well as a common reason for otherwise healthy people to miss work. While back pain may be a result of poor posture, muscle injury or obesity, it can also mean that something more serious is going on. With this in mind, no back pain is safe to ignore until you know the source of it.

 

Have you been having back pain on a regular basis? Here are just a handful of conditions that may require medical attention, as well as some warning signs to watch out for.

Herniated Disc

Herniated discs are quite common, typically affecting those between the ages of 30-50. Males are twice as likely as females to be diagnosed with a herniated disc, which results from disc material moving outside of the intervertebral disc space. While herniated discs do not always cause symptoms, those located near nerves are capable of irritating them, which typically leads to muscle weakness, pain and spasms. These symptoms often travel from the back to an arm or leg, which can be disconcerting.

Though dealing with a herniated disc can be incredibly painful, symptoms typically subside within six weeks when treated by a medical professional.

Spinal Stenosis

As the human body ages, it undergoes a vast array of changes, some of which occur in the spine. Over time, the spine begins to narrow, eventually leading in some individuals to what is called spinal stenosis. Derived from the Greek word for “choking,” a stenosis quite literally results in the compressing of spinal nerves, resulting in lumbar pain as well as pain in the legs that typically occurs with exercise. In severe cases, spinal stenosis can affect bladder and bowel control. If suspected, a visit to your general practitioner should be scheduled immediately to rule out a potential stenosis.

Systemic Infection

Anyone who has ever had the flu knows that back pain is often part of the equation. Most flu viruses run their course within three to seven days, however, back pain that persists and is accompanied by fever should be brought to the attention of your doctor as soon as possible. These may be signs of a systemic infection, which could affect the bladder, kidneys or other vital organs. Seek medical attention if back pain comes on suddenly and symptoms do not improve within a few days.

 

Back pain is often considered a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean it’s always normal. Listen to your body—your health and your paycheck may depend upon it.