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.




How Employers Can Support Caregivers

Sept-caregiver-imageDoes your company have a comprehensive “Family Caregiver Leave” policy in place? If not, it might be time to start thinking about one. 44 million family caregivers currently reside in the U.S. providing care for ill and disabled loved ones – tasks may include everything from transportation to doctor’s appointments to providing more skilled nursing care like administering medicine and dressing wounds.

As the second largest generation, Baby Boomers, ages into the post-retirement bracket, the responsibility of their care in old age and in ill health will fall to more and more of their children, the people who make up the largest percentage of the workforce. Don’t miss these four key ways to support and empower family caregivers in your company:

Paid Leave

Microsoft was in the news recently when they announced on LinkedIn a transition from a 12 weeks unpaid family caregiver leave policy to a four weeks paid and eight weeks unpaid policy.  This not only helped bolster their company’s image, but follows industry trends that reflect a new understanding of what is coming down the pipeline when it comes to employees needing to take on caregiving roles. Previously, companies like Deloitte and Facebook had announced updated caregiver leave policies for more paid time off to care for a sick relative.

Paid Family Caregiver Leave policies are intelligent reactions to what employees are asking for – better work life balance and the ability to work remotely when needed at home. Acquiring top talent and the best employees for your team may come down to the benefits you offer, and this isn’t just maternity and paternity leave anymore, but family caregiver leave as well.

Provide Better Telecommunication

If an employee needs to work remotely from their home while providing care for a loved one, it is critical to set communication pathways in place that keep the whole team united and in touch. There are a host of free and low-cost tech tools that are answering this call for virtual connection:

Instant messaging and conversation tools like Skype and Slack help team members stay in constant chats, share files, and more.

Conference call services like Join.me, Zoom, and UberConference help employees hold virtual meetings with call-in lines and the ability to share screens.

Live video chatting platforms like Skype, Google+ Hangouts, and Viber let team members call in and hold meetings where they can see themselves and share screens.

Emotional Intelligence

What makes your employee a loyal family caregiver could possibly be what makes them a top contributor to your company – dedication, work ethic, empathy, and detail orientation. Recognizing these qualities and molding your own response to their leave (be it for a death in the family or a traumatic emergency like a parent having a stroke or heart attack) can make a huge impact on the experience they have with your company.

Going the extra mile for employees by sending flowers to their loved one in the hospital, donating to a related charity with the loss of a family member, and checking in regularly to ask how they are doing and if they need anything, speaks volumes. If you’re not sure what comes with caregiving duties for an aging parent, ask! For example, an elderly parent returning from the hospital may require more in-home safety equipment, and having a new shower chair or step stool delivered for them on behalf of the company shows that you get it.

Understanding your employee’s new schedule and the balancing act required when working and caregiving as well will help you avoid misconceptions and missed opportunities to foster a team-first environment.

Don’t Forget Other Benefits

Perks that may seem like simple additions to a job description to help your company find top tier talent can also benefit employees who are family caregivers. Benefits like contributing to student loan repayment can help off-set burdens that millennial caregivers often face in losing money, time, and career freedom to help care for an ill loved one. Reimbursements for fitness programs and gym memberships also prioritize employee health and can encourage family caregivers who so often put their needs last to take care of themselves and exercise on the company’s dime.

When it comes to speculating about the future of company growth and employee retention, keeping family caregiver needs in mind is a must.




Your FMLA Roadmap: Three Steps to Managing Employee Leave

8-30-FMLA-imageSince the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) passed in 1993, employers have struggled to meet its regulatory obligations. Although it’s been nearly 25 years – the challenges employers are dealing with haven’t gotten any easier. Leave requests can be very complex – and can distract employers from the underlying compliance requirements. These three key steps can keep you on track and support consistent FMLA administration.

 

Step 1: Determine Eligibility

The first step includes determining:

  1. If the employer is subject to the FMLA, and
  2. If the employee is eligible for leave

Focusing on the private sector, an employer is subject to FMLA regulation if it employs 50 or more employees in 20 or more work-weeks in the current or previous calendar year.
Employees are eligible to take leave if they meet all three of these requirements:

  • The employee has worked for his or her employer for a minimum of 12 months (does NOT need to be consecutive),
  • The employee has worked for his or her employer for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months immediately preceding the start of the leave, and
  • The employee works at a location where at least 50 employees are employed within 75 miles when the leave is requested

 

Step 2: Consider Qualifying Leave Reasons and Relationships

If the employee is eligible for leave, employers must then determine if the request falls into one of the FMLA’s qualifying leave reasons and/or covered relationships.

Qualifying leave reasons include:

  • Absence due to the employee’s own serious health condition, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition
  • To bond with a newborn child or after the placement of a child for adoption or foster care
  • Qualifying military leave when the employee’s parent, child, or spouse is called to active duty
  • To care of an injured service member

If the leave falls into any of these categories associated with caring for another person, the employer must then check if the person for whom the leave is being taken is a covered relationship/family member.

Covered relationships include:

  • Biological, adoptive, step or foster parents, or someone who was a parent-figure or guardian (referred to as “loco parentis”) to the employee. NOTE: This does not include in-laws.
  • A spouse, defined as those recognized as such in the state where the individual was married. This includes individuals in a same-sex marriage or common-law marriage.
  • Biological, adopted, step or foster children, or a person of whom the employee is a legal guardian or is currently standing in “loco parentis” for – this can be a child under 18 or a person 18 years of age or older who is incapable of self-care due to a mental or physical disability.
    • Please note the definition of a child for FMLA military leave is slightly different because it includes coverage for a child of any age. Military caregiver leave is accessible to employees who are parents, spouses, children or next of kin of a service-member.

 

Step 3: Certification

The last stop on your roadmap is certification. If the person is eligible AND has a qualifying leave reason and covered relationship, the employer may require certification to finalize approval of the leave. Certification forms for absences taken for the employees’ own serious health condition, bonding, and to care of a family member are populated by the Employer, Employee, and the Heath Care Provider. Military Exigency and Care-giver forms require completion from the parties involved in the absence. Forms should be submitted to the employer within 15 days.

Please remember that leave can be taken continuously, intermittently, or on a reduced schedule and this information should be provided within the certification.

Certification comes with its own set of timelines and notices. No need to reinvent the wheel, simply use the DOL certification forms provided here: https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/2013rule/militaryForms.htm. And be aware of the timelines for designation, re-certification, and options for second and third options, as outlined in The Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act contained within here: https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/employerguide.pdf

 

Finally, state leave laws vary in eligibility, leave reasons and covered relationships, and certification requirements. Build and apply a roadmap tailored to each leave for which the employee may qualify. When facing a complex situation, make the investment of consulting with counsel.




Three Natural Alternatives to Antidepressants

8-28-alternative-antidepressants-imageDepression is one of the world’s most misunderstood mood disorders, affecting people from all walks of life. While mild depression can make getting through the day more difficult than it should be, major depressive disorder—affecting roughly 6.7% of the population—can actually put you out of work. It’s a leading cause of disability worldwide, and no one is immune to the risk. Many turn to pharmaceutical antidepressants such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) for relief of symptoms, but these types of medications don’t work for everyone, and the associated side effects can be intolerable for some individuals.

Fortunately, there are a handful of natural supplements that can help to combat symptoms of depression in certain people—here are three of the most well-known options to consider.

1. St. John’s Wort

A plant first discovered by the Ancient Greeks, usage of St. John’s Wort to fight depression has has spread throughout the entire world and experienced significant growth in popularity in recent years. Studies have shown that St. John’s Wort is more effective than placebo in treating mild-to-moderate instances of depression, and side effects tend to be far less prevalent than with prescription medications. That said, St. John’s Wort (which is actually in the MAO inhibitor family) may interact adversely with tyramine-containing foods, such as red wine and aged cheese—dietary caution is advised for those who take the supplement regularly.

2. SAMe

S-Adenosylmethionine, commonly referred to as “SAMe,” is a naturally occurring molecule that is not only used to regulate mood, but has also shown efficacy with treating pain and inflammation in numerous clinical trials. While St. John’s Wort is typically reserved for treating low-grade depressive symptoms, the energizing effects of SAMe may help target stronger symptoms of lethargy so often associated with mood disorders. Though typically more expensive than other natural alternatives to antidepressants, it comes along with few side effects, aside from potential gastrointestinal distress.

3. 5-HTP

Found in Africa, the Griffonia simplicifolia plant is not exactly a household name. It does, however, hold a unique substance within its seeds called oxitriptan, which forms the basis of a depression-fighting supplement known as 5-Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP. Because Hydroxy L-tryptophan is a direct precursor to serotonin, 5-HTP is thought to work by boosting levels of the chemical within the brain when taken consistently. Though effective for some when taken on its own, 5-HTP should never be taken in conjunction with SSRI medications, as a dangerous condition known as serotonin can potentially occur in such a scenario.

 

Depression can at times make it seem as if there’s no escape, but with the right approach, it’s a highly treatable condition. Always discuss treatment options with your doctor, and consider mentioning one of the natural SSRI alternatives listed above.




Workday Workouts

8-25-workday-workout-imageFor many of us, finding the time to workout can be as challenging as actually working out. Maybe your life outside of work is consumed with kid schedules or other responsibilities. Or maybe your job requires long hours, which leaves little energy to exercise once you’re off the clock.

 

So how do you stay fit?

Even in the busiest work places, you can find opportunities to do some mini-workouts in the office. A few short workout breaks can help make strides in your fitness. But to get the full benefits of a gym workout or a run during work hours you need a plan. Most companies encourage employees to stay healthy. Working out is one of the healthiest ways to boost productivity. However, most companies don’t have or provide gym facilities or shower areas for employees.

 

Start with a schedule

If you’ve got a lunch hour, you’ve got a gym or outdoor exercise hour. Trading lunch for a workout a few times a week is one of the best trade-offs you can make. One of the most effective ways to make sure it happens is to schedule your workout on the calendar. Treat it like an important meeting and schedule your workouts a week in advance.

 

Keep a gym bag nearby

Even with a schedule, the hardest part of working out is simply getting to the gym. Once you’re in your exercise clothes, the rest will be easy. With your gym bag ready to go, working out for 30 minutes won’t require a long trip home first. If 30 minutes sounds too short, rethink how you’re spending your time in the gym or getting ready to run. When you plan your workout ahead, you can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.

 

Maximize your workout time

With limited time, you’ll want to quickly get right to the gym floor or out the door in your running shoes. To make the most of your limited gym time, watch the clock. Time your rest periods to no more than two minutes, shorter if you’re trying to lose weight. And when possible, do more standing exercises. You’ll get more total body engagement and less temptation to rest compared with exercises seated on a machine.

 

Be flexible, be fast

If your gym is crowded at lunch, see if you can more your lunch-workout hour to another time. Avoiding peak hours isn’t always possible, so be prepared to do something else if your favorite machines or weights aren’t available. If you have to wait a few minutes for a machine or station, try some high-intensity activities like jogging in place or multitask your muscles doing crunches on a stability ball. When you mix things up, your muscles will thank you for challenging them.

 

Power shower

When every minute counts, have a plan to get in and out of the locker room fast. Saying “hi and bye” to friends will keep you on track to make a beeline into the shower. Bacteria like to breed in sweaty clothes so a thorough shower and dry off are important. If you’re really pressed for time, you can occasionally skip a shower as long as you have clean, dry clothes. Sanitize with an alcohol-based sanitizer or disposable body wipe if possible.

 

The benefits add up

When you make time for a work day workout, you’ll discover that even just 20 minutes will pay off. You’ll not only improve your fitness and health, you get emotional benefits too. Working out at lunch could improve your mood, reduce stress, and increase your activity level. While a short workout may not seem like much on its own, every a little bit adds up.




Take Control of Your Paycheck!

8-21-paycheck-imageEveryone looks forward to payday, but for some, the excitement is tied more to being able to make rent than the gratification of a job well done. Living paycheck-to-paycheck is something that most people go through at one point or another (half of Americans find themselves in such a situation), and it can be a difficult cycle to get out of. With a little bit of effort, though, you can take control of your paycheck and stop stressing out about your financial responsibilities—even on a relatively limited salary.

Tired of worrying about your paycheck? Here are a few things you can do to protect your money and secure your financial future.

 

1. Set Spending Money Aside

One of the biggest misconceptions about being financial responsible is that it’s important to stop spending money on things you enjoy. Cutting spending “cold turkey” can feel great at first, but it’s not sustainable to deprive yourself of fun and entertainment. Spending money isn’t inherently bad—it’s losing track of how much you’re spending on things like hobbies and dining out that can be a problem. By putting a set amount of spending money aside each pay period, you can practice discipline without the risk of eating into your paycheck.

 

2. Pay Your Bills First

If you’ve ever had to wait until the last minute for a check to arrive before you could pay your rent, you know how stressful a scenario like this can be. We often create this type of situation for ourselves, and in many cases, it’s easily avoided. Every time you receive a paycheck, take a close look at the bills you have due within the next 20-30 days, and pay as many as you can without coming up short—the peace of mind alone is worth it.

 

3. Consider Disability Insurance

No one ever expects to encounter a disability; many even believe injury is the only cause. But the fact is, 90% of disabilities are actually a result of illness, such as cancer or musculoskeletal disease. Accidents only account for a small percentage of cases, and while playing it safe may seem like a good way to avoid the threat of a disability, there are absolutely no guarantees in life. Since only 50% of Americans would be unable to make ends meet after going just one month without a paycheck, there’s good reason for considering disability insurance.

 

4. Take Advantage of 401(k) Matching

When you’re struggling to keep the lights on, retirement is likely to be the last thing on your mind. But ignoring the future just because you’re living in the present is a risky tactic, and retirement planning is something that people in all financial situations need to consider. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan with matching, you should do everything possible to contribute the maximum that a match will be allowed for—often 4% of your paycheck. Why? It’s free money, and it helps secure your financial future.

 

5. Build an Emergency Fund

Just about everyone knows emergencies can arise, but how many people actually focus on creating an emergency fund? 60% of Americans lack enough savings to cover a $500 emergency, which doesn’t even take into consideration major, costly scenarios. Building an emergency fund to cover one-to-two-month’s expenses can take time, willpower, and a whole lot of budgeting, but it’s a crucial part of safeguarding your financial health.

 

That paycheck? You earned it, so don’t take what you do with it lightly! Focus on building new habits, and watch as your financial stress begins to melt away.




Unseen Employee Disability Costs Can Sink the Ship

8-16-unseen-costs-imageI’ve held a variety of jobs during my post-college career. One of the more interesting ones was when I was a safety and environment consultant in the risk management department of a large insurance company.

Our focus was on controlling the costs of our workers’ compensation program. Our WC costs weren’t as high as those of employers in the manufacturing or other manual-labor sectors, because we worked in an office-based industry. Still, the expenses were significant enough to watch closely — and people worried that increased use of office technology and tech-driven job stress might start to ramp up costs. And, besides, we were also a workers’ comp insurer, and actively provided loss-control services to our clients. This meant we needed to show them we managed our own WC exposure as diligently as we were prodding them to manage theirs.

Direct Disability Costs are the Tip of the Iceberg

One of my responsibilities was to do awareness training around safety and loss-control issues for line managers throughout the organization. My manager was big on communicating the bottom-line business value of workplace safety programs. So, we spent a lot of time pointing out how the direct costs of workplace accidents or illnesses were just the tip of the iceberg. The real impact of a WC case was the business disruption that followed in its wake.

As this illustration from a slide deck developed by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) puts it: “Unseen costs can sink the ship!”

Sunk the Ship

Indirect Non-Occupational Disability Claim Costs

When I took a job with a disability insurance carrier about a decade later, I realized I could apply the iceberg analogy to non-occupational disability, too. The “below the waterline” costs we focused on in WC risk management are just as important— and maybe even more so — when it comes to understanding the impact on short-term disability. The fact is non-occupational disabilities are a lot more common than the occupational disabilities covered under workers’ compensation insurance.

To show you what I mean, let’s look at incidence rates, that is, the number of claims divided by a defined number of people (usually 100 employees).

Comparing WC and STD Claim Incidence Rates

The go-to resource for occupational disability data is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Every year, they produce a report on workplace illness and injuries based on employer data submitted to OSHA. One of the measures they track is “cases with days away from work” per 100 full time workers— a good surrogate for WC lost-time incidence rate. According to the most recent report (reflecting 2015 data), that rate is 1.0 case/claim per 100 workers across all employment sectors.

On the non-occupational side, there isn’t a data source with the same breadth and depth as BLS. But, the benchmarking database maintained by the Integrated Benefits Institute is a decent alternative. Among other metrics, IBI tracks claims incidence per 100 covered employees for short-term disability programs that, in most cases, cover only non-occupational disabilities due to illnesses, injuries, accidents, or pregnancies.

The most recent database (reflecting 2015 claims activity) contains incidence-rate calculations for over 13,000 employers. The overall average is 5.6 claims per 100 employees. That’s a lot higher than the average 1.0 claim per 100 rate for occupational disabilities.

IBI also provides percentile distributions— just like you see for things like test scores or annual household income. When you look at those, you can see the “sweet spot” found in the 25th to 75th percentile range runs from 2.3 to 7.1 claims per 100 employees. That, too, is higher than the occupational-disability incidence rate of 1.0 per 100.

The Impact of Non-Occupational Disability on Business Operations

So, if the “unseen costs that can sink the ship” are a motivator for your risk management team to address the costs of occupational disabilities, they should be even more of a motivator for your benefits team to address the cost of non-occupational disabilities.

In my September blog post, I’ll share some research-based insights that can help you estimate just how big of an iceberg your company might need to address.




11 Ways to Burn Calories and Lose Weight at the Office

8-14-stairs-imageLooking to transform your sedentary lifestyle to a healthy and active one? For people who spend most of their waking hours sitting at a desk each work day, regular exercise and healthy eating pose even more of a challenge. Check out these 11 clever ways to boost activity levels, eat healthier, and burn calories at the office:

 

Take the Stairs

Yep, even if your office is just on the second floor, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Active body movement multiple times a day will help get your heart rate up, boost blood flow, and promote alertness. While you’re at it, consider walking or biking to the office if possible, and if not, park further away in the parking lot so you’re incorporating minutes of energetic walking time into your daily commute.

 

Get Up

Sitting for extended periods of time can put added compression on the spine, tugging at important back, hip and leg muscles and resulting in achy inflammation. A sore back can then lead to unhealthy behaviors like skipping workouts and poor eating choices. If you’re spending hours a day sitting at a desk, make sure you get up every 20 or 30 minutes for a quick walk or stretch.

 

Stay Hydrated

It’s easy to confuse hunger for thirst, especially when you’re stressed out or struggling to meet a tight deadline at work. Keep a reusable water bottle full and at your desk throughout the day to remember to drink water regularly – it can help fight off dehydration headaches, prevent midday fatigue, and help you feel full. Plus, getting up to regularly refill it encourages you to get more steps in and avoid sitting for too long.

 

Pedal Exercise

Score a leg workout with a mini pedal exerciser that sits right under your desk. Small, portable and similar to a stationary bike, pedal exercisers are easy on the joints and offer a low-impact exercise you can complete while typing, or even on a conference call. Pedal exercisers strengthens legs and feet, collapses for easy storage, and even displays activity metrics for you to keep track of your progress.

 

Sit On A Stability Ball

Ditch the old swivel office chair for an exercise or stability ball that promotes balance, better posture, and core strength. While the scientific community is still out on a verdict of whether extended sitting on stability balls conclusively helps you lose weight, it is believed that they help with posture and caloric burn. Because you are constantly making tiny, possibly imperceptible, adjustments to remain balanced and steady while working on your stability ball, you are engaging groups of muscles regularly you wouldn’t otherwise.

 

Make Your Own Lunch

So your company has a great perk of buying your team lunch every day. By the time you’ve skipped breakfast and sat through 3 painstaking meetings, you’re going to be clamoring for anything and everything when it comes to ordering lunch or popping out to grab a bite. Packing your lunch in the morning when you are not overcome with cravings helps you make healthier choices, control the calories you consume, and prioritize whole, healthy foods instead of processed ones.

 

Skip the Junk Food

“Yay, someone brought in donuts!” “Oh it’s brownie Tuesday!” Office workplaces always seemed to be packed with sugary, processed snacks (hello vending machines!) that seem so accessible and convenient. Skip the junk food and stock up on your own healthy snacks that won’t cause blood sugar spikes and energy deflation. Think protein-rich nuts with dried fruit, fresh veggies with hummus, or whole grain tortilla chips with guacamole.

 

Tackle Desk Exercises

A variety of simple, unnoticeable exercises that help tone abs, calves, and more can be done right from the comfort of your desk.

 

  • Contract and release glute muscles as you sit, do 10 reps at a time.
  • Sitting down (with plenty of legroom), extend one leg at a time and bring to hip level, feeling the burn in the top of your thigh (your quadricep). Do 10 – 15 reps at a time.
  • Energize your abs by contracting and releasing them regularly, sucking your belly in towards your spine and holding for 10 seconds at a time.

 

Practice Deep Breathing

Emotionally overeating at your desk? A natural response to stress and emotional situations, eating can be a dangerous coping mechanism. One way to suppress emotionally-driven cravings is to fight stress in the first place. Induce natural stress relief and deliver an oxygen boost to your body with at least 10 seconds of deep breathing. Belly breathe in through your mouth to fill your belly up, and breathe out slowly, repeat 10 times. Or breathe in deeply through your nose to feel your entire chest expand, and slowly release through your mouth, repeat 10 times.

 

Get Your Smell On

Introduce subtle but helpful aromas to your workspace with a small aroma diffuser or a scented lotion. Lavender and bergamot aromas can aid with stress relief and helping you feeling calm and relaxed, peppermint has been shown to reduce feelings of indigestion and upset stomach, and grapefruit is believed to stimulate endocrine glands to aid in metabolism and appetite suppression.

 

Stand at Your Desk

Standing desks have trended in the office space in the past handful of years largely because of their physical benefits. Not only do you practice better posture when you’re standing to work, but you can burn more calories, tone muscles, and even increase blood circulation around the body. Go a step further with a treadmill desk that lets you walk and work at the same time, probably best for ‘work from home’ employees.

 

When it comes to investing in a healthier, happier you at work, small, manageable steps, from drinking more water to taking the stairs can quickly add up to a big difference. Download helpful apps like MyFitnessPal or invest in wearable fitness trackers like FitBit to turn your new healthy habits into trackable progress towards your weight management goals.




Stand Up Paddling: Fun and Fitness on the Water

8-11_paddleboarding-imageWherever there’s a lake, ocean bay, or placid river, you’re likely to see people on stand up paddleboards (SUP). This fast growing sport let’s you cruise or even surf on the water while standing at your full height. It’s a great way to explore the natural world.

Paddle boarding offers a complete body workout that can help improve balance, core strength, cardio fitness, flexibility and overall body tone. The secret to learning is technique, not strength. With some basic gear and simple instructions, you can start enjoying this fun way to be on the water.

 

What You’ll Need:

The best way to get started is to take lessons and rent equipment from a SUP retailer or rental store. They’ll show you how to use the gear and make sure you have the right sized board and paddle, and they’ll make sure you know the essential skills for being safe on the water. If you don’t have a shop nearby, have an experienced friend take you out on the water or take advantage of the many online videos and SUP introduction tutorials. Be sure to start out on very calm water, on a day with little or no wind. As with any new sport, start out easy and take time to build up your skill and conditioning.

 

Paddle Board:

Many rental shops will provide you with a stable, larger beginner board for your first time on the water. Renting a board is a good way to learn the basics before buying your own. The size of the board is determined by your size, weight, and skill. Board shapes and sizes also vary by the kind of water you want to paddle on – from calm lakes to ocean surfing or river whitewater. High quality, inflatable paddle boards are also increasingly popular for people who don’t want to transport a board on roof racks.

 

The Paddle – Use Your Core:

Unlike canoe or kayak paddling, you paddle a SUP standing upright. To paddle efficiently, don’t rely on your arms. Instead, you’ll keep your arms straight and use your torso to do most of the work. Simply using your arms won’t provide much power and could be very tiring. With practice, you’ll discover it’s easy to paddle in a relatively straight line by alternating strokes and learning to use your core.

 

PFD (Personal Flotation Device):

Stand up paddle boards are classified as vessels by the U.S. Coast Guard, so you are required to always have a PFD with you, except for ocean surfing. Today, many SUP paddlers use a fanny pack or over-the-neck, inflatable style of PFD. The pack has a single-use Co2 cylinder that is inflated when needed by pulling a cord. If you prefer using a more traditional flotation vest, there are many adjustable vests that have no bulk at the sides to make paddling easy. Whichever style you choose, make sure it’s comfortable so that you will wear it!

 

SUP Clothing:

You’re going to get wet so wear a bathing suit, or quick drying shorts and t-shirt in mild conditions. Avoid cotton clothing because when wet, it can rob heat from your body. In cooler conditions, wear a wet suit rated for the water temperature you’ll be paddling in. Remember that weather conditions can change quickly even on a small pond, so dress in multiple layers. If you plan to be on the water much longer than thirty minutes, have a small water bottle or hydration system with you.

 

Leash:

Your SUP can also be an important flotation device and a leash will keep you tethered to it when you fall off. SUP leashes are designed for different water uses, so chose a leash that’s specific to flat water, rivers, or surf.

 

Sun Protection:

Water resistant sunscreen and sunglasses (polarized is best) with a lanyard should always be worn. Wear a hat with a visor and use lip balm with sunscreen, too. You may also consider a lightweight rash guard to minimize sun exposure.

 

What’s Next?

Once you’ve learned the basics, there are many ways to enjoy stand up paddling. If you’re ready to buy a paddle board, you’ll find SUPs designed specifically for all-around paddling, fishing, doing yoga, touring long distances, ocean surfing, and even racing. When buying a board, be sure to consider how to safely transport on your car or truck and where to store it when not in use. Your board and paddle are made for the water, but are more fragile if tossed around on land.

 

Start Paddling!

Cruising a lake, stream, marsh, or ocean bay offers you a way to be surrounded by nature and to enjoy a moment alone. But SUPs are also a great way to share the outdoors with friends and family members of all ages. No matter where you go paddling, you’ll discover it’s one of the most enjoyable ways to have fun, relax, and improve your health and strength.




Three Tips for Improving Employee Engagement

8-9-employee-engage-imageAccording to a recent Gallup poll, only 34% of the American workforce feel engaged in the workplace. The Engagement Institute estimates that disengaged employees can cost organizations between $450 and $550 billion every year. Fortunately, improving employee engagement doesn’t have to be an overwhelming challenge. Here are three essential tips to get you started, each of which can result in a more productive and engaged workforce.

 

1. Be an Example for Your Team

As a manager, CEO, or other person in a leadership position, few things can have quite as profound an impact on employee engagement as setting an example for the entire team. Successful leaders are those who are willing to get their hands dirty, asking as much of themselves as they do of their staff. They strive to make themselves available and create clear lines of communication throughout every level of the organization. Leaders are most respected when they work alongside and listen to their teams, rather than passing each week behind closed doors. Exemplifying the qualities you’re looking to get out of your staff will almost certainly cause a ripple effect.

Tip: Good health and fitness are often overlooked. But, according to the American Heart Association, employees feel it’s important for their managers to set a healthy example. Leaders who take care of themselves have more energy and help to encourage a healthier workforce, beneficial for employees and employers alike.

 

2. Offer a Comprehensive Benefits Package

Securing great talent and keeping your employees happy means offering something more than competing employers. One way to do so is to provide a comprehensive benefits package. Options for retirement, health, and vacation time can all go a long way with the modern professional. For some, benefits may even be higher on the list of importance than salary. MetLife’s annual benefit trends study found that 74% of employees say customized benefits are important when considering a job offer; and 72% state having individualized employee benefits would increase their loyalty to their current employer.

Tip: Disability insurance is an often undervalued add-on to a benefits package that can sway great talent in your direction, while also protecting your company’s investment. One in four of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before they retire, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration. An insured employee is protected from the risk of complete income loss, and often able to recover and return to work.

 

3. Encourage Autonomy

Some employees are happy to simply follow directions and a set schedule throughout the day—many even thrive off of this degree of structure. Others, however, prefer a more autonomous work environment, in which they’re given the space and flexibility they need to get the job done. Research shows that when employees are given the freedom associated with autonomy, job satisfaction increases, along with productivity. Some may wish to work from home on occasion, while others may find a flexible schedule allows them to be more efficient. By working with your employees and helping them settle into a groove that suits both their needs and those of the organization, you’ll effectively be creating a more engaged and committed team, increasing happiness and productivity, while decreasing turnover.

Tip: It is possible to offer too much autonomy. Success depends on an appropriate level of oversight; too little direction from management may be seen as disorganization, rather than freedom.

 

Great leaders want their teams to succeed. After all, success for employees means success for the employer. Making staff feel engaged and appreciated leads to greater productivity, satisfaction, and ultimately a more successful business.