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.


Yes, your family can get back on a regular sleep schedule before school starts

It’s almost that season—time for school buses and alarm clocks. And if you’re like most families, you’ve probably been letting your sleep schedule slide in favor of late evenings spent enjoying the extra hours of daylight with a bike ride or the glow of a backyard fire pit in the warm night air.

We don’t want to cut into any of your much-deserved summer fun, but that early morning alarm will come as a huge shock if you don’t start preparing for it as summer winds down. And it seems like every day we are learning more about the health benefits of sleep—from improving our memory and creativity to helping us maintain a healthy weight.

But getting back on a regular sleep schedule might be easier than you think with these tweaks to your routine.

Start gradually.

No, your kids are not just going to all of a sudden fall into bed at 7:30 p.m. if they’ve been used to hitting the hay at 10. Better to ease into it If the change is minimal, say an hour, or you have ample time before the first school day, try moving up the bedtime in 15-minute increments each night. But if you’re trying to make a drastic change and school starts in five days, you might want to speed that up to 30-minute increments.

Power down.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) finds that the blue light emitting from our devices can interfere with the release of melatonin, which helps us sleep. So skip the tablet and try a printed book for kids who like to decompress by reading in bed. And, it’s also smart to start a habit of leaving devices in a central “charging area” rather than in room so that kids (and adults!) aren’t lured into checking their snaps or messages when they’re supposed to be sleeping.

Light up right.

Turns out that your lightbulb can actually interfere with your sleep, too, finds the NSF. The worst kinds? Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFBs) and light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs), which also give off that dreaded blue light. Of course, they are also among the most energy efficient, so you still may want to use them elsewhere in the house, but for best sleep quality, your choice should be—you’re never going to guess this—a red bulb (pink works too). So get out that holiday “mood lighting” you use and stick a red bulb in bedroom lamps or night lights.

Create a restful bedtime routine.

Having an evening routine can signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. In the summer, your kid might just be crashing because of a day spent swimming and running around, but they might not be totally zonked yet if you’re aiming for an earlier bedtime. The start of the school year is the ideal time to start new habits, so consider creating a routine that will carry you through the year. Depending on your patience it can be elaborate as your child chooses, or you can scale it back to a few simple yoga stretches, a book and a round of goodnight kisses.

Eat for sleep.

Big meals right before bed can be hard to digest so if your child needs a before-bedtime snack, choose something light, such as yogurt, fruit, applesauce or toast. Coincidentally, those foods also won’t require you making a mess in the kitchen to prepare them.

And of course limit caffeine after noon—and likely before noon, too.

Set a good example.

If you’re out roasting marshmallows (or just hanging out around the fire pit which might make your child think you’re making treats), it’s going to be hard for them to settle down. And, let’s be honest, it likely wouldn’t hurt you to get a little more sleep, too. So take this as your cue to curtail your evening activities…curl up in bed with a magazine or book and see how much better you feel in the morning yourself. After all, back-to-school can be stressful for parents too, so easing into the routine well-rested yourself can only help.


Employee retention: 6 low-cost perks your employees will love

Looking to compete with the firms that can offer on-site chefs and massages? The truth is that most companies can’t afford to offer the perks common among the buzziest names in high tech, and yet while you might already have the basic covered—from health and disability insurance to retirement savings—many employees today are looking for a little “sizzle” in their perk program. In fact, a recent study by recruiting site Glassdoor found that 63 percent of applicants focus on available benefits nearly as much as salary.

The good news is that not every shiny perk has to break the bank. Here are six low- or no-cost perks that your employees will totally love at a price tag that will make you happy, too.

  1. Offer flexible hours. (Cost: Free)

This is frequently the No. 1 perk that employees covet, and the good news is that it is totally free to implement. The key is to make sure that you have an environment that allows for flexible hours to work; i.e. you won’t be sacrificing customer service or inhibiting team meetings. Once you’re figured out if flexible work is appropriate for your team, set some parameters about what’s acceptable and fine tune as needed.

  1. Let your employees bring their pet to work. (Cost: Free to nominal for cleaning fees)

This “pet project” has gained prominence in Corporate America, moving past something that’s critical for those with certain disabilities to a benefit for the entire team. In fact, with more than 80 percent of dog owners claiming their pet provides companionship, love, company and affection, that can translate into more productive workplaces. One survey finds that 88 percent of employees and a corresponding 91 percent of HR directors agree that a pet-friendly workplace leads to improved morale.

Of course you’ll need to make sure no one in your office is allergic, and then set guidelines about only bringing healthy, trained, friendly pets into the office.

  1. Set up a volunteering program (Cost: Free to a small investment in program materials and marketing)

The opportunity to volunteer is important to employees: A Deloitte survey found that nearly 90 percent of employees think that companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better working environment. It can help more than the outside community, too; another study found that 64 percent of respondents agreed that volunteering together strengthens relationships among colleagues.

Talk to your team about a cause that interests them or settle on a few. Maybe you collect mittens during the next cold snap and help landscape a school when spring arrives. The choices are endless.

  1. Create a walking club or other health activity.

Wellness programs have been shown to reduce absenteeism—up to one additional productive day per month per employee, finds one study. But while professional onsite classes or underwriting a fancy gym membership might be out of your budget, any workplace can help facilitate group activities like a walking or hiking club. Check around; you might have someone on staff who would love to lead a lunchtime Cross Fit group or can teach yoga fundamentals.

  1. Brew up better coffee (Cost: Low-cost)

Employees boycotting your coffee in favor of pricey lattes down the street? These side trips add up—not just for your team’s wallet but in lost work time as they continually leave to get their caffeine fix outside your four walls. Rather than offering a watery subpar beverage, invest in a good system that will make café-quality coffee and then stock up on the add-ins your employees prefer, from oat milk to flavored creamer. If you really want to score bonus points, consider ordering in lunch or dinner for teams that are working late now and then. Sometimes the unexpectedness of a perk like that can make it seem even more noteworthy.

  1. Give them their birthday day off. (Cost: No cost – sort of; employees aren’t all that productive on their birthdays anyway!)

Birthdays just aren’t as much fun as when we were kids, when everyone made a big deal over our big day. While you probably do a small staff celebration (and if you don’t, you should!), giving employees their special day as a day off can build incredible goodwill. Naturally you’ll want to put some common-sense rules around it—for example your accounting team lead can’t have April 13 off. But in most cases you can let employees know to make a wise choice on a day that’s around their birthday and use it as they see fit, whether it’s binging on Netflix or riding the Ferris wheel and eating all the ice cream like back in the day.

Make fall foolproof — Save money by tackling winter house maintenance now

winter home maintenance

As we bask in the lazy days of August, there are subtle reminders that the change of seasons is around the corner – from the school supplies clogging the shelves of big box stores to that one tree whose leaves are reddening prematurely.

Before the first pumpkin spice latte hits the neighborhood coffee shop, take a weekend afternoon to knock out these cold weather household chores while it’s still nice out. You’ll save time – and money – when fall rolls around.

Clean your gutters

Yes, they will likely soon fill up with fall leaves, but now’s the time to remove any debris that may have built up over the past season. Clogged gutters can cause long-lasting, expensive issues around your property – water spilling over can damage your foundation, and heavy gutters can sag and break.

Inspect your roof

Even if you don’t want to climb up on your roof (and if you do, be very careful, as falls are a leading cause of disability), now is the time to do a visual check before the roof becomes hidden by leaves or snow. Use binoculars to get a closer look and note any missing, damage or slipped shingles that should be further investigated by a roofing professional before the rain and wind arrive.

Check your trees

Loose limbs can become hazardous in storms; they can knock out windows – or people passing underneath them, in the worst-case scenario. Cut back branches that are listing or that are too close to power lines or the roof.

Tidy up your landscaping

You might still be enjoying your summer flowers and by all means, continue to. But while you’re in your garden, pull weeds and rake up needles and leaves before the chore gets bigger in the fall.

Organize your garage

Late summer is the perfect time to try out those bikes and see if they are still the right size, or determine that no one is ever going to play ladder ball. It’s much easier to make a decision on what to get rid of when you know for a fact that no one has touched it all season. And there’s still time to hold a garage sale and make a little back-to-school cash.

Have your heating system checked

Need to service your furnace or heat pump? Now’s the time…before everyone else realizes they need to, too. Ditto your fireplace and chimney. You’re guaranteed to get faster – and probably cheaper – service from a repair person who’s not being pulled in a dozen different directions as other homeowners realize their heating element isn’t working up to par.

Get your back-to-school system in place

The night before school starts is not the time to remember that you never cleaned out last year’s backpack. Before the stress of September rolls around, take the time to fill out the paperwork that came in the mail earlier in the summer, sign up for music lessons, create a paper filing system – all those organizational chores that will make your fall less harried.

Coordinate your emergency supplies

What better time to establish your emergency kit than as you’re stowing your camping gear from summer getaways? Rather than relegating it to the attic or a hidden shelf, make an organized plan to have it ready should you need it if the power goes out or there is another weather emergency. Change the batteries in your flashlights and lanterns; wash and store the sleeping bags; replenish the waterproof matches and first aid supplies. While you’re at it, add a stash of non-perishable foods and an extra deck of cards – just in case.

Hang your holiday lights

Seriously…your future self will thank you – the one that’s not standing on a ladder as the wind gusts and the rain pelts. Of course you don’t have to turn them on – in fact, please don’t – but it’s nice to know they are ready and waiting for when the holiday spirit strikes.

And now that your house is ready for fall, enjoy that warm summer evening in your newly prepped yard. You deserve it!