14 Cheap but Fun Ideas for a Valentine (or Any Time!) Date Night

Love isn’t free…that is, if you are trying to prove your love with an extravagant Valentine’s Day gift. In fact a survey from the National Retail Foundation found that Americans are expected to spend a record amount on Valentine’s Day this year…an average of $161.96, which is up 13 percent from the average in 2018.

Think quick: Where did that money go last year? We bet you don’t even remember because it was probably either wasted on an overpriced, mediocre meal at a crowded restaurant or spent on a “meh” gift like a stuffed animal or chocolates. This year, instead of spending money on stuff you don’t want or need, why not create some real memories with an activity that is both frugal and fun. Here are 14 choices we love.

  1. Get physical. Come on; we’re talking exercise. There’s not much that’s more romantic than working out with your partner—think about it; you’re in close proximity, you’re dressed down, and you’re doing something that will help you live an even longer life together. A class like yoga or Pilates can be a good choice with its relaxing combination of mindfulness and stretching, but you could also take a romantic stroll or go ice skating or roller skating. Don’t forget to hold hands during couples skate. 
  2. Cook at home. This is a no brainer…cooking together doubles as an activity and a meal. Since Valentine’s Day is the second biggest restaurant day of the year (after Mother’s Day), there’s no reason to go out with the masses when you can cook a perfectly fabulous steak or other luscious delicacy at home. 
  3. Dine out for dessert.  If you really want to eat out, your best choice is a sweet treat…you’ll spend far less than you would forking out big bucks for overpriced pasta. Less money, far more fun. Find a bakery that has your favorite desserts or go to the nicest restaurant in town and eat something decadent a deux, with a price tag that’s pretty sweet. 
  4. Sing karaoke. If there’s ever a night that calls for a power ballad duet, it’s Valentine’s. Find a local hotspot and sing your heart out to your beloved. 
  5. Go window shopping. Honestly just looking and trying on is half the fun. Go to a posh boutique or specialty store and indulge your inner fashionista by trying on clothes and shoes you’d never buy—and maybe would never even wear outside the dressing room. Or go to a thrift store and pick out comical options for your partner.
  6. See a production at a local community theater. Seek out free or low-priced local shows to have a Broadway-style evening at an affordable price.
  7. Get your paint on. Whether painting a keepsake piece of pottery or attending a “wine and paint” night where an instructor helps you create a masterpiece, getting arty together makes for a fun evening—and you’ll get to bring a souvenir home.
  8. Visit a museum. Fun fact: Many libraries have culture passes that offer free or reduced admission to local museums. 
  9. Babysit for a friend or relative. This maybe doesn’t count as the most romantic night ever, but you’ll feel good letting them have an evening out—and you can see whether parenthood appeals.
  10. Plan your dream vacation. Get on your devices and research a place you’ve always wanted to visit—or that you think your partner has always wanted to visit—and create an itinerary. Dare to dream.   
  11. Have a scavenger hunt. Make clues based on special places the two of you have been and hide them around town. Or if the weather is bad, take it indoors to a mall. 
  12. Participate in a trivia night. Many restaurants and pubs host trivia nights; make it a double date or join with some others and make a team for an information-packed night out. 
  13. Find a bar with free music. Check out the local arts paper to find a place or two that offers free music. Don’t forget to tip the musicians, though. 
  14. Huddle in with board games or a movie. Light some candles, open a bottle of wine…what more would you need? 




Resolution Reboot: Ditch the February Funk and Recommit to Your Resolutions

When February rolls around, some of us fist pump the air. “Yay! A whole month with my resolution.” Others (a larger amount, by the way) think, “Ugh. I have already failed.” Here’s the thing: February is a great time to reboot your resolution. In fact, ANY TIME is a great time. There is nothing magical about January 1.

As author and behavioral scientist Daniel Pink shares in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, “imbuing an otherwise ordinary day with personal meaning generates the power to activate new beginnings.”

That means that while January 1 carries a weighty significance as a change catalyst, we really could choose any day as that ideal day for new beginnings. So, why not today?

Here are three common resolution fails, along with reasons why now is the perfect time to start back up.

 

  1. Your gym membership is already gathering dust.

If you were one of the hordes who enthusiastically joined a gym at the beginning of the year, you are far from alone. If you are one who quit going by February 1 (or earlier!), again, far from alone. In fact, one survey found that nearly half of Americans had given up their exercise resolution to hit the gym by the end of January. Some felt judged; others found a gym membership too pricey; and still others couldn’t find the time.

But February is actually a fantastic time to give the gym one more shot—precisely because so many people have abandoned it, thus negating at least one of the reasons mentioned above. Of course a gym can feel intimidating when it’s overly crowded; you can feel as though you’re not getting your money’s worth when every station is in use or you’re turned away from class; and it can be extra hard to fit into your schedule when you have to wait to get a parking spot or time on the machines.

And remember, a gym isn’t the only place to get your sweat on. Temps are starting to climb from the polar freeze of January, and February is a great month to try snow shoeing or ice skating or even a walk outdoors to spot those crocuses pushing through. Or, you could commit to using your Netflix for something other than binge watching and find an exercise video to try.

 

  1. You gave up eating healthfully.

Here’s something that people don’t always realize: Winter fruits and vegetables aren’t always that exciting. In fact, it can be far easier to start a healthy eating plan as you head toward spring and the promise of berries and tomatoes. Alas, we’re not there yet, but you can still make strides in that direction, incorporating frozen fruits into smoothies, or trying a new recipe with a winter veggie, knowing that more choices are around the corner.

And remember that eating well doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even making small changes—forgoing that afternoon vending machine cookie or after-dinner ice cream—can add up to big results when done consistently, and is often far more palatable than making a drastic change that’s hard to sustain.

 

  1. The clutter has piled up—again.

Did you join the Marie Kondo bandwagon? The pressure to decide if your items “spark joy” can be intense. But what many would-be organizers don’t realize is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A better strategy if you want to keep your house a little more organized is to adopt some daily habits that keep clutter at bay. For example:

  • Handle the mail and recycle liberally every day so it doesn’t pile up. (Bonus: You’ll never get hit with a late fee if you take care of paying bills as soon as they come in.)
  • Create a system to deal with jackets, shoes, mittens, etc. You might be surprised at what the calming effect of a clutter-free entry. This change alone can make your house feel less disorganized.
  • Run your dishwashers every night and empty it every morning so dishes don’t pile up in the sink.

There! With these three small changes you’ll be back on track…and you can tackle those drawers and closets at your leisure.

(And if you want to feel a little better about not getting rid of everything in your house, consider this story of a mom who inadvertently gave away one of her son’s mugs, which unfortunately was crammed with cash. No joy there!)




Keeping Your Office Healthy: Five Ways to Keep Germs at Bay

It used to be that one sign of a good worker was just powering through the day, even if you felt crummy. Now, the opposite is true, as workplaces get wise to the fact that a sick employee isn’t likely to get much done—except potentially spreading their germs to the rest of the team.

In fact, those coughing, sneezing coworkers can be a health hazard to everyone around them—just by breathing. One study estimates that more than 60 percent of people with flu symptoms admitted to leaving their house—presumably many of them to head to work—while they were sick. And that’s a lot of germs being passed around, infecting even healthy people.

Here are some ways that the HR team can contribute to a healthier workplace.

 

  1. Offer sick days

 

Many employees come to work sick because they think it’s expected. But creating a relatively lenient sick day policy might actually save you money in the long run, if workers stay home and keep their germs to themselves. One study found that “presenteeism,” the lack of productivity in workers experiencing health problems, can cost U.S. companies up to $150 billion annually.

 

Sick days can help stem the tide of germ-sharing in the workplace, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Researchers found that flu cases dropped in cities that adopted paid sick-leave mandates.

The key is to make sure employees know the policy and the protocol for calling out sick (see below for more on helping them telecommute.) And be aware of the duration of the illness; you might need to touch base with an employee if a spate of sick days is stretching into a case for when short-term disability insurance should potentially kick in.

 

  1. Create work-at-home protocols.

 

When deadlines loom, many employees might feel that taking a sick day will just make things worse when they return. According to one study, more than 40 percent of employees said that was the reason they came to the office while sick—to avoid future work overload.

 

But the truth is that many employees can do key parts of their job remotely—even if it isn’t feasible all the time. However, that can raise the question of whether the employee has actually taken a “sick day” or not, which can impact their compensation. That’s why you might want to consider implementing a policy that covers some of those issues, such as how their time will be tracked and how many “work-at-home-while-sick” days each employee can take.

 

Having a clear policy can protect your company so you can verify that work is actually being done, while avoiding the risk of having employees spreading germs to others.

 

  1. Encourage your team to get flu shots.

 

Of course it’s best to get the flu shot earlier in the season, but it’s never too late to help prevent an office epidemic. In fact, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout flu season.” And since flu outbreaks happen at different times in different communities, you may still have time. If yours hasn’t hit yet, getting vaccinated pronto could help keep people safe from it.

 

  1. Kill workplace germs as fast as you can.

 

It’s amazing how fast a virus can move in an office,” says Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and coauthor of The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu. “If one person comes in with the cold or flu, he can infect as many as one-third of his fellow office mates within a day.”

 

Pay special attention to wiping down objects in community areas like the printer, copier, refrigerator handles, and door handles—and don’t forget the coffee pot. And encourage employees to wipe down their stations frequently also.

 

  1. Encourage healthy habits.

 

One of the best ways to build immunities that help stave off illness is to adopt healthy behaviors, such as getting adequate sleep, eating well and exercising regularly.

You can play a role by sharing articles with healthy tips (such as those found on this site) or by encouraging employees to sip water and munch on healthier choices, if your workplace offers snacks at meetings.

 

With these tips, a healthy office can be within reach.




5 tips to prevent the spread of an infectious superbug

In the winter, we tend to be in closer quarters indoors and constantly around friends and family. It is important to be conscious of infectious diseases, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which are spreading rapidly among public places like gyms and schools. MRSA prevention should continue at home, especially for groups at higher risk, like student athletes.

Taking simple measures at home and on-the-go can help you to protect and safeguard your health, environment and family from dangerous bacteria and viruses, including MRSA, this season. Jeanine Thomas, MRSA survivor and founder of MRSA Survivors Network; former NFL player Brandon Noble, who has been personally affected by MRSA; and Saskia v. Popescu, hospital epidemiologist and infection preventionist all share the following tips to preventing the spread of the superbug:

1. Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds – the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice – or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. “Winter is a prime season for stomach bugs and diarrheal illness, so it’s important to stay vigilant with hand hygiene,” said Popescu. Be extra cautious in public settings like gyms, locker rooms, households and schools, where these viruses are increasingly spreading.

2. Keep to yourself and do not share personal items, such as towels or razors, which contact bare skin. MRSA is easily spread by skin-to-skin contact or touching contaminated items or surfaces. It is also resistant to many antibiotics, making it difficult to treat.

3. Act fast and take care of cuts and open wounds by covering them up with a clean, dry bandage until healed. Seek a medical professional if the wound worsens or doesn’t heal quickly. “When I contracted MRSA, it changed my life. I had no idea such a disease existed and would pose as a threat to my career, health and overall well-being,” said Noble.

4. Use a barrier, such as a towel or clothing, between skin and shared equipment at the gym. MRSA prevention should continue at home, especially for groups at higher risk like student athletes, as MRSA bacteria can remain on surfaces after someone touches them, making it possible for someone else to pick them up.

5. Regularly clean countertops and other surfaces in your home. “Keeping your germs at bay in the kitchen is easy,” said Thomas. “Just mix 1/2 cup bleach with one gallon of water, wipe surfaces and leave solution on for 5 minutes and then rinse.” The CDC recommends disinfecting surfaces which are likely to contact skin with an EPA-registered disinfectant, like Clorox Regular Bleach with Cloromax.

MRSA is one common superbug that can be potentially deadly. Caused by a type of staph bacteria often found on the skin and in the nose, MRSA is easily spread by skin-to-skin contact or touching contaminated items or surfaces. It is also resistant to many antibiotics, making it difficult to treat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 72,444 infections and 9,194 MRSA-related deaths each year in the U.S alone.

“In 2000, I had ankle surgery and ended up infected with the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA. The infection spread to my bone marrow and bloodstream and required many surgeries and rehabilitation,” said Thomas. “Since then I have been dedicated to advocating for patients and families to help inform them and bring awareness of the disease and prevention measures to the general public.”

“I wish I had known the simple ways to prevent the spread of this disease, like I do now, as that could have made all the difference,” said Noble. As germs and illnesses spread quickly, especially in close-proximity areas, taking proactive steps to prevent common viruses and bacteria from spreading in the home, at schools and in locker rooms is more important than ever.




The top 10 health and nutrition trends to look for in 2019

Health and nutrition trends come and go, and 2019 is guaranteed to bring about some interesting changes to keep an eye on. Natural Grocers surveyed more than 70 of the company’s nutrition experts and identified the top 10 trends in health and nutrition in 2019.

  1. Mitochondrial optimization will keep healthy fats in focus. Microbiome has been a buzzword for the past few years, but this year, it is mitochondria. Mitochondria convert oxygen and food into the energy, and when your mitochondria are dysfunctional, but you can become vulnerable to degenerative diseases like heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. In 2019, expect to hear more about mitochondrial health and look to see brands embracing more high-fat focused and ketogenic products to support optimal mitochondrial function.
  2. Collagen and bone broth are easier than ever.  Collagen has gained mainstream interest over the past year. In 2019, as more collagen and bone broth products enter the market, so will convenient opportunities for consumers to take collagen on a daily basis. Companies are looking for unique and simple ways for consumers to try out bone broth, including bone broth protein bars, pre-made soups and even bone-broth infused coffee.
  3. Say goodbye to sugar. Consumers are continuing to stay aware of how much sugar is added to almost everything they eat. This year, nutritionists are urging consumers to learn how to break up with sugar, claiming once you become a savvy monitor of added sugar, it will become easier to avoid it.
  4. A mushroom boom.  Mushrooms hold the power to support the immune system, blood sugar balance, brain health, liver health, respiratory health, hormone balance and can even boost energy levels. In response to the growing mountain of research promoting the health benefits of mushrooms, the supplement, grocery and even body-care industries are introducing more ways to introduce mushrooms to consumers. We’ll continue to see the category grow, with more mushroom teas, tonics, broths and coffees making an appearance in 2019.
  5. Nootropics + neuroplasticity Neuroplasticity is the now proven principle that we can change the structure and function of our brains throughout our lives and that our thoughts, emotions and behavior are the primary means of doing that. The discovery of neuroplasticity has led to the explosion of natural nootropics. Nootropics are substances that can be taken to improve mental performance in healthy people, and they are most often used to boost memory, focus, creativity, intelligence and motivation. Nootropics may also reduce age-related declines in brain function. Look for more brain-boosting formulas on the supplement shelves in the coming year
  6. Promoting the body’s ability to heal itself. We will see companies meet the demands of consumers who want to swap their use of over-the-counter (OTC) meds and prescription drugs for natural remedies that support the body in healing. Instead of opening the medicine cabinet, people will use a combination of lifestyle choices, herbal remedies and vitamin supplementation to support the body in times of discomfort. Immune support remedies like mushrooms, elderberry, manuka honey throat sprays and natural zinc lozenges will dominate.
  7. Green beauty boom. Consumers are becoming more aware about the slew of chemicals that come from body care products, including ubiquitous endocrine disruptors, and are looking for products with ingredient lists that don’t require a chemistry degree to understand. In 2019, expect companies to offer a wide variety of clean body care products with simple, natural ingredients that work.
  8. Ingredient lists over nutrition facts.  In 2019, expect to see nutrition labels demoted and instead, consumers will read and make food choices based on ingredient labels. Rather than glorifying macronutrient logs and adhering to extremely strict dietary guidelines, 2019 will foster a friendlier relationship with food that focuses on simple, clean ingredients in products made with whole, real foods.
  9. Lutein reigns supreme over blue light. Blue light—from our smart phones, tablets, computers, TVs and even light bulbs—has become ever-present, and a growing body of research is showing that all of this blue-light exposure can damage the retina of the eye and can lead to age-related macular degeneration1 Enter lutein. Lutein preferentially accumulates in the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision, where it filters damaging blue light and increases macular pigment density. In 2019, lutein will solidify its role as protector of the eyes and the brain.
  10. Love your liver. In 2018, research showed millennials were getting fatty liver disease faster than any other age group. According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 40 percent of U.S. adults have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In 2019, it’s expected that consumers will clean up their diets, and there will be an increase in sales of herbal supplements that support liver health, like milk thistle and berberine, as well as MCT oil.

 




Feeling strain from the holidays? Try some magnesium

Getting an adequate dose of magnesium could help relieve some stress this holiday season, according to Atlanta physician Dr. Bindiya Gandhi. And according to Gandhi, almost 68 percent of Americans don’t get enough magnesium — a stat that tends to increase during the holidays.

Diets rich in magnesium, along with supplements and Epsom salt baths, can both relieve stress and promote muscle recovery. Stress also depletes magnesium levels, which makes an increased effort to intake more especially critical this time of year.

Studies show taking magnesium at night not only helps alleviate anxiety, but helps you get a better night’s rest,” said Gandhi. “Magnesium has a relaxing effect and helps convert tryptophan to serotonin, which is why it helps with anxiety.”

Gandhi added that people can boost their magnesium levels by soaking in Epsom salt, which is actually magnesium sulfate, or taking magnesium supplements orally.

She also suggests bolstering your diet with foods rich in magnesium, including nuts, seeds, chocolate, tofu, beans, avocados, bananas, figs and green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach.

“Stress can be seen in many forms, including irritability, feeling overwhelmed, symptoms of sadness, teary eyes, heart palpation, headaches, stomach upset and more. It’s different for different people,” said Gandhi.

Besides magnesium, Gandhi said meditation and breathing techniques to help cope with stress. “We can’t always change our stress in life,” Gandhi says, “but we can learn to change how we react to it.”

Increasing your body’s magnesium levels can also help jumpstart your New Year’s fitness resolutions. Gandhi says people starting new workout routines, especially high-endurance workouts, could recover faster with Epsom salt baths and other forms of magnesium.




Millennials more mindful than their parents during the holiday season

Millennials have a more defined vision of kindness and thoughtfulness during the holiday season compared to other generations, according to new research conducted by Lovepop, a maker of handcrafted 3D paper cards.

According to a national study that questioned more than 850 people, all generations tend to agree on the “true meaning” of the holiday season, with 93 percent saying they consider “kindness” the most important aspect.

However, millennials tend to go above and beyond when it comes to demonstrating thoughtfulness during this time of year and creating new memories. According to the study, 60 percent of millennials think their definition of thoughtfulness is different than older generations, and 91 percent are more likely than any other generation to say they are “more thoughtful than their parents.”

Additionally, 80 percent of millennials say thoughtfulness means making an effort to spend time with friends and family, while 66 percent say its about creating shared experiences and another 70 percent saying its about making an effort to acknowledge the everyday efforts of those around them.

Across the study, millennials were the only generation to statistically agree they are nicer than their parents. In fact, 60 percent are more likely to put in an effort to show they care than boomers. In addition, more than half – or 54 percent – of millennial parents say they make more of an effort to teach their children kindness than their parents did for them.

The research also proves just how above and beyond millennials are going this holiday season. About 68 percent of them will travel to be with loved ones, and they will spend 44 percent more on travel than any other generation.

In addition, 25 percent of millennials plan to cover travel expenses for loved ones to be with them, while 85 percent are adopting what they deem a “difficult schedule” in order to be with loved ones.




12 ways to mitigate stress during the holidays

The holidays can be stressful — whether it’s gift buying, balancing party commitments or entertaining family, this time of year can put a strain on your mental health. In addition, the holidays can sometimes be a time of increased depression and anxiety. However, there are a few practical steps people can take to reduce stress during this time of the year, according to Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., a Manhattan-based psychiatrist and President and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

“We can learn to recognize holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, and combat them before they lead to a meltdown,” says Dr. Borenstein. “With a little planning and some positive actions, you can find ways to enjoy the holidays.”

Here are 12 ways to reduce your stress during the holidays:

  1. Know the holidays don’t have to be perfect. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. If, for example, your adult children can’t visit, celebrate together in other ways, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  2. Acknowledge your feelings.If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. “It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season,” Dr. Borenstein explains.
  3. Connect with people you trust.If you feel lonely, seek out trusted friends, if possible, or attend community, religious or other social events that offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is another good way to lift your spirits.
  4. Try simple activities that make you feel better. “Exercise, for example, is a natural antidepressant that can lift your mood by boosting endorphins—natural chemicals in the body,” says Dr. Borenstein. Exercises like running and aerobics also boost norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood. “Even a casual walk can help a great deal to reset yourself,” he says.
  5. Take a breather.Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that clears your mind, slows your breathing and restores inner calm.  Examples: step outside to look at the stars; listen to soothing music; or read a book you’re interested in.
  6. Set aside family differences.Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  7. Stick to a budget.Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.  Also, try alternatives, like donating to a charity in someone’s name, giving homemade gifts or starting a family gift exchange.
  8. Learn to say no.By saying yes when you should say no, you can feel resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. And if your work is unyielding during the season, try to remove something else from your agenda to give you more time for yourself.
  9. Plan ahead.Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. And make lists. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling. And ask family or friends ahead of time to help with party preparation and cleanup.
  10. Stick with healthy habits. The temptation to cope by self-medicating, binge eating or excessive drinking coincides with the party spirit of the holidays, which can exacerbate negative feelings. So try not to over-indulge. “Alcohol, for example, is a depressant and can actually increase feelings of depression, stress, anxiety, and guilt,” says Dr. Borenstein.
  11. Make realistic New Year’s resolutions.  Most people don’t keep the resolutions they’ve made the year before.  “If you make a resolution, pick something realistic and short term ­– maybe something you can handle in the month of January – a simple goal you can achieve without adding more stress to your life,” suggests Dr. Borenstein. “Life is stressful enough without contributing to it unnecessarily.”
  12. Seek professional help if you need it.Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad, anxious, irritable and hopeless, unable to sleep or face routine chores. “If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional who know how to help you,” says Dr. Borenstein.



Beyond medical: How supplemental benefits help attract and retain talent

By Phil Bruen, Vice President, Group Life and Disability Products, MetLife

As the annual enrollment period takes place in workplaces around the United States, human resources teams and employees have benefits on their minds. During this time, it’s important for employers to educate their workforces on how the benefits they provide can help workers achieve their short- and long-term financial goals.

To do this, employees should use the information their company provides related to benefits and also seek guidance from those they trust most. Doing so, even more so than a major life event, can cause individuals to not just evaluate, but act on benefits that meet their needs.

Employers who are competing for the best talent find that providing benefits to support the financial well-being of their workforce is necessary. According to MetLife’s 16th Annual Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS), less than half of workers believe their employer understands their personal financial pressures.

The benefits offered to employees during their annual enrollment period go well beyond basic health insurance. Products such as dental and vision insurance, accident and critical illness coverage, and disability insurance provide additional financial support for costs beyond what medical insurance covers. Workers need to view all employee benefits as a critically important part of their health and financial wellbeing. Their benefits package is necessary to protect employees’ life goals, such as purchasing a home or sending children to college.

Why peace of mind matters

The recent MetLife study revealed that employees use their benefits to fulfill a need greater than a visit to the dentist or a more affordable way to get glasses. On the whole, today’s workforce relies on their benefits as a financial safety net—benefits give them peace of mind.

For example, 71 percent of employees say their benefits help them worry less about unexpected financial or health issues. Additionally, 65 percent say their non-medical benefits help limit their out of pocket medical expenses. Understanding these deeper advantages of benefits helps HR leaders serve employees better. It also pays off for companies as well as our research shows that benefits increase employee loyalty, engagement and even productivity.

But for many companies, the big question is how to offer more benefits without incurring outsized expenses. The answer rests in creating options for employees to customize their benefit offerings. The good news? Employees are ready to help, since 60 percent said they’d like their employer to offer a wider array of benefits that they can choose to purchase.

Getting beyond medical

When you think outside of the traditional health insurance box, some of the most important and sought after benefits fall into these three categories:

1. Disability insurance and income replacement. More than one in four adults who are currently 20-years-old can expect to be out of work for at least a year because of a disabling condition before they retire.[1] And yet less than half of Americans report they have enough savings to cover even three months of their living expenses.[2] Providing an option for short- and long-term disability insurance offers employees a simple way to keep unexpected events from turning into financial disasters.

2. Supplemental health benefits. Today’s employees want and need a solid health insurance plan. But for most individuals and families, that’s only a component of their overall healthcare. For example, 53 percent of employees consider dental insurance a “must-have,” and 37 percent say the same about vision care. Other key offerings that employers can consider include hospital indemnity, critical illness, and accident insurance, all of which supplement health plans, and provide employees with additional financial resources when they may need them most.

3. Retirement and financial wellness. Nearly three-quarters of employees report that saving for retirement is a priority—and nearly half say they’re already concerned about outliving their savings, according to the 2018 MetLife research. Traditional employer-sponsored retirement plans certainly provide the financial security and savings that employees want. But additional benefits such as lifetime income solutions, life insurance products and financial planning, and education services work to strengthen overall benefit plans and give workers additional ways to prepare for retirement.

In an increasingly competitive job market, employee benefits truly help elevate companies in the minds of their current employees—as well as the people businesses want to attract and retain. As HR executives find creative ways to build out their benefits, they also prepare their businesses and workforce for a better future.

[1] Disability Statistics, The Council for Disability Awareness, http://disabilitycanhappen.org/overview/ accessed September, 2018

[2] Chances of a Disability, Ibid, The Council for Disability Awareness, http://disabilitycanhappen.org/disability-statistic/ updated March 28, 2018

Looking for more information on supplemental benefits? Join Phil Bruen and Carol Harnett as they discuss consumer strategies this open enrollment season on the CDA’s BlogTalkRadio.




Why you should get the flu shot this year (Even if you usually don’t)

Aches. Fever. Fatigue. If you’ve been bit by a flu bug, you know it. And believe it or not, these uncomfortable symptoms that typically accompany the flu are those that are experienced by the “lucky” ones.

That’s because rather than just sending you to bed, severe flu can hospitalize or kill you. In fact, the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst on record, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting 180 pediatric deaths, exceeding the previous record of 171 during the 2012-2013 season.

Although deaths for adults aren’t tallied, one measure of the severity of last season came from the Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network (FluSurv-NET), which found that overall hospitalization rates for all ages were the highest ever recorded.

Flu shots protect

Make no mistake: Flu shots are your best protection against the influenza respiratory infection. In fact, the CDC found that approximately 80 percent of last year’s pediatric deaths occurred in children who had not received a flu vaccination.

During the 2016-2017 flu season, the CDC estimates that the flu vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits and 85,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.

Each year the vaccine is formulated to protect against the viruses that research shows will be most common during the upcoming season and is designed to protect against three flu viruses–an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus.

Although vaccines are recommended for nearly everyone over the age of six months, those who are most at risk are pregnant women, those over 65, those with health conditions that make them more susceptible to the flu and children.

Disadvantages of the flu shot

In rare cases, the flu shot is not recommended, so check with your doctor if you are allergic to eggs (flu vaccines contain a minute amount) or have had a bad reaction to a flu shot in the past. Virtually everyone else is a candidate.

The downsides are minimal: Contrary to popular belief, a flu shot cannot cause the flu as it is made up of flu viruses that have been killed or made unable to replicate in humans. At the most, you may experience muscle aches and fever for a day or two after the vaccine, which is likely a side effect of your body producing protective antibodies.

In addition, in some years the vaccine that is developed may not match the viruses that are most prevalent that season. But even if it is less effective, the shot still might offer some protection.

Finally, remember there is a two-week window before the vaccine takes effect so if you get sick before that, you were likely infected prior to receiving the shot.

Just say yes to a flu shot

If you’re thinking about getting a flu shot this year, even if you usually don’t, you are not alone. In fact, a survey from CVS finds that 22 percent of consumers who didn’t get a flu shot last year are more likely to be vaccinated this year based on the devastating 2017 flu season.

According to manufacturers, this year’s vaccine began shipping in August and will continue throughout October and November until all vaccine is distributed. And this year the nasal spray FluMist, an excellent alternative for those who cower from needles, will be back after a two-year hiatus, says the CDC.

For greatest protection, eligible adults should receive their shot by October, recommends the CDC. Many places, including local pharmacies and doctors’ offices, may offer the vaccine free of charge. Be sure to check with your human resources department to find out what coverage your company might offer.

Protecting yourself now is a gift that will keep on giving.