Go Take A Hike – For Mental and Physical Health

Nov-hiking-imageIf you’re in front of a computer or smart phone reading this, you’re clearly doing a poor job of celebrating National Take A Hike Day!

Established by the American Hiking Society, Take a Hike day aims to encourage families, friends, and individuals to get away from their routines and experience nature while improving health. The time spent outside promotes feelings of happiness and a sense of well-being, while burning calories and strengthening our bodies. As a bonus, we get to use that expensive GORE-TEX and fleece clothing tucked away in the back of the closet.

 

It’s Really Just Walking, but on Rougher Terrain

Unlike jogging or running, with hiking one foot is always on the ground, meaning less impact on joints and fewer risks of injury. But unlike walking on sidewalks or treadmills, hiking takes you into nature, on uneven ground, often up and down hills and mountains. And the benefits of the whole experience are more numerous than one might expect.

 

Let’s Start with Weight Loss

A hiker weighing 160 pounds, can burn nearly 450 calories in an hour. At 200 pounds, one can expect to burn up to 550 calories. Add a lightweight backpack to increase the calorie burn by 50-100 each hour! The hourly burn rate may seem low, compared to running or jogging. But hiking for many is a full day activity. Spending more time on the trail and burning more calories than you might in a shorter run.

And the benefits continue long after you finish the trail. Those who hike at higher intensities for at least 45 minutes, will continue to burn calories the rest of the day. In fact, a strenuous hike increases your metabolism, causing calorie burn to continue for as long as 14 hours!

Want to boost the weight loss potential even more? Head for the mountains! Research indicates elevation contributes to weight loss. The thinner air of altitude is believed to be a contributing factor, as your body releases more leptin, a hormone that’s known to curb appetite, when exposed to lower oxygen levels.

 

What Goes Up Must Come Down

And the good news is, hiking downhill, while it might seem easier, is twice as effective at removing blood sugars and improving glucose tolerance. This could be great news for diabetics or others with blood sugar and glucose-related difficulties. Cool, right? Both up and downhill hiking help to reduce cholesterol levels.

 

A Full Body Workout

Hiking may also help to strengthen parts of your legs that aren’t used so much for running or walking on level ground. The up, down, left, right motion of hiking engages and strengthens more tendons in your knees and feet. In addition, as you’re constantly working to maintain balance over rough terrain, hiking strengthens core muscles and even boosts bone density.

Adding trekking poles brings upper body muscles into the exercise, helps with balance, and makes for a stronger cardio workout.

 

Improve Brain Power

Research shows that people who spend more time in nature, and less time with smart phones, computers, and other technology, are up to 50% more creative when it comes to problem-solving tasks. And hikers tend to have greater attention spans and better memories, when compared to those who don’t often spend time in the outdoors.

And while just about any exercise has been proven to boost cognitive function and alleviate anxiety, a hike through nature is even better when it comes to fighting common mental health issues like stress and depression. Measurable benefits have been proven when those struggling with severe depression and hopelessness go for a hike. For many the experience helps to encourage a more active lifestyle, which further promotes healthy, positive feelings.

 

Whereas running may be viewed as a chore, hiking is a pleasurable activity. A day on the trail is more than burning calories. It’s an opportunity to look around, explore, commune with nature, and spend time with friends and family.




Measuring Workplace Productivity

Nov-productivity-imageIt’s been said many times that a company can only be as successful as its employees are productive, and there’s a lot of truth to this idiom. A productive workforce isn’t necessarily one that works nonstop, but rather a group of employees who have learned how to maximize their time and energy while working together. For managers and HR directors, learning how to measure productivity in the workplace can be extremely beneficial, and it’s not as difficult as you might think.

 

Ready to gain a better sense of how your staff is performing? Here are three ways to start measuring workplace productivity today.

1. Measure By Objective

One of the most important things that managers and HR directors can do when attempting to measure workplace productivity is to avoid using subjective metrics of any kind. Many people who find themselves in managerial positions try out numerous different techniques before settling upon one of the most effective— managing by objective. When objectives are clearly laid out and organized in a way that both the employee and manager can always be on the same page, measuring productivity becomes effortless, as the person has either done the work or they have not.

2. Measure By Time

While measuring by objective is typically the most effective way to to gain a high-level sense of how well your employees are performing, there are certain circumstances when it will be necessary to measure productivity based upon time. As with measuring by objective, measuring by time can actually be quite easy so long as your employees are inputting their hours in a time-tracking system of some sort. There are instances of software available that allow time tracking to occur in real time and be monitored by management, which can actually help to boost productivity when properly utilized.

3. Measure By Sales Activity

If sales productivity is a primary concern, it may make sense to use sales activity as a metric. In such a case, it is essential that every employee track things such as number of sales completed in a specific time period, total amount of sales in dollars, number of calls made to current and potential customers and other factors. While numerous factors can come into play that affect sales at any given time, you may be able to discover patterns by tracking these metrics over a year or longer that will give you a sense of how each and every one of your employees are performing.

 

It takes effort to measure workplace productivity, and there will be times when things simply are not as clear as you’d like them to be. By identifying goals and using the proper metrics to see that your staff are working in the right direction, however, you’ll be doing your entire organization a huge favor for years to come.

 




How to Reduce Daily Eye Strain

NovBlog-eyestrainToday’s office environments rely more heavily than ever before on technology for managing daily activities. While computers, smartphones and tablets have surely impacted the ways in which many businesses operate in overwhelmingly positive ways, plenty of repercussions have come along with the benefits of technological advancements. For modern professionals, one of the biggest complaints is in relation to eye strain, which is often a direct result of too much “screen time” at work and at home.

 

With studies indicating that 50-90% of computer users suffer from “computer vision syndrome” to some extent, everyone who works in front of a computer should do whatever possible curb eye strain—here are just a few ways to get started today.

Start with an Eye Exam

If you’re experiencing eye strain of any kind and can’t remember when you last had your eyes examined, now’s the time to schedule an appointment. Computer vision syndrome can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms to arise, but eye strain may also serve as a warning sign of a developing problem. Rather than simply assuming your eye strain is due to too much time on the computer, your best bet is to schedule an appointment with an eye doctor to ensure that an underlying medical condition isn’t causing your symptoms.

Change Your Lighting

Many people don’t realize that the lighting in their office may actually be contributing to eye strain due to computer vision syndrome. Overhead fluorescent lighting, for example, can add excessive amounts of bright light to a workspace, thus making the problem worse for those who are already starting at a screen for hours throughout the day. If at all possible, petition to change the lighting where you work if you find the current setup to be obtrusive. Full-spectrum fluorescent lighting may provide additional benefits, such as enhanced mood during dark winter months.

Tweak Your Display Settings

You can get quite a bit of mileage out of adjusting your computer’s display settings, which may not be optimized for preventing eye strain currently. Settings such as brightness, contrast, font size and more can all be adjusted to best match your personal preferences—you can even adjust color temperature to ensure you aren’t getting too much blue light exposure throughout the day.

Get Rid of Glare

Glare is one of the top factors that can contribute to eye strain, and it can come in a variety of different forms—on walls/finished surfaces, off windows and—especially—on your computer screen. Short of painting the walls of your office a different color, reducing ambient glare may be a real challenge. You can start, however, by installing an anti-glare screen on your computer monitor, which can sometimes make a world of difference for those who have been suffering from eye strain.

 

Eye strain can lead to headaches, difficulty concentrating and sensitivity to light among other unpleasant symptoms. Take action, however, and you can reduce your chances of having to deal with this unpleasant side effect of office work going forward.




5 Tips for Boosting Employee Health

Nov-PilatesBall-imageLooking for creative and sure-fire ways to boost employee health? Whether you’re looking to decrease sick days or increase office morale and loyalty, don’t miss these smart and healthy ideas.

 

Ditch the Chairs

A new comprehensive study out from the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that prolonged sitting, even if you exercise regularly, increases risk for early death – specifically sitting for 60 to 90 minutes at a time. If your employees spend most of their time during the day at a desk, find ways to reduce the amount of time they actually spend sitting. You might think about:

  • Investing in standing desks that mechanically rise and fall to allow for more standing work
  • Taking conference meetings on the go – do laps around the building instead of sitting around a table in a conference room
  • Offering stability balls for working on instead of chairs
  • Requiring 5 minute stretching sessions intermittently throughout the day
  • Moving the water cooler/snack area further away so it requires a longer walk

 

Reimburse for Fitness

Whether your company offers health benefits or not, you might also think about reimbursing for fitness expenses. This latest trending perk is especially hot with millennials and may be just the motivation your employees need to seek out regular exercise. Reimbursement might come in the form of a gym membership, payment for a class like yoga or SoulCycle, or even sponsoring an employee in a charity run. Routine physical fitness, roughly 30 minutes a day for adults, has been shown to strengthen the immune system and lower risk for everything from high blood pressure to diabetes and even Alzheimer’s.

 

Limit Vacation

This tip might seem antithetical – vacation is important to employee stress management and health right? Absolutely. In fact, one study even found that risk for heart disease increased 30% in men who didn’t take a vacation for five years vs. those who took one week off a year. Regular vacations help boost office morale, make people less likely to quit, and keep them happier and more engaged with their jobs.

The problem with the trending employee perk of “unlimited vacation,” however, is that research is showing employees are less likely to take vacation when they don’t have a set number of days allotted to them out of concern about taking too much vacation. Tips for addressing this type of unintended consequence include:

Set up a FAQ to provide a framework for an unlimited vacation policy so your employees feel more reassured about their choices
Higher level employees and CEO’s should take vacation as well to set an example for the rest of the team
Avoid letting people take “working vacations” where they are off but still plugged in and on tap for work, this negates the benefits of what a vacation can offer

 

Modify Work Environments for Disabilities

Complying with ADA regulations comes with it’s own legal obligations, but modifying the office environment for temporary disabilities like an employee with a broken leg is different. Not only does going the extra mile (by moving their work area closer to the door and clearing trip hazards like waste baskets and cords from common walkways) show the employee that you recognize the difficulties and want to help, but your entire team will notice as well.

For employees on crutches or using a knee scooter for a lower leg injury, for example, you might even purchase helpful accessories like crutch bags, a knee scooter basket, or cup holders that make their work day that much easier.

 

Prepare for Cold and Flu Season

When it comes to helping employees stay well and make it into work regularly, most challenges will present themselves during cold and flu season. Roughly 5 to 20% of the population may contract the influenza virus each year, with outbreaks peaking between December and February according to the Centers for Disease Control. Protect your office from the flu by:

  • Encouraging employees to get the flu vaccine by reimbursing them for it
  • Stocking the office with hand sanitizer and tissues to prevent germ spreading
  • Tracking flu outbreaks in your area with apps like FluView from the CDC
  • Allowing employees to telecommute if they feel under the weather

 

Final Considerations

It goes without saying that one of the best ways to influence employee health in a positive way is through the nutrition offered at the office. Salty, sugary processed snacks from a vending machine have no place in an environment where you expect mental clarity, focus, and productivity. Offering weekly catered lunches with healthier options, or simply stocking healthier snacks like fresh fruit, granola bars, whole grain crackers, guacamole, hummus, and veggies in the break room can make a big difference in achieving your team’s health goals.




5 Ways to Boost Cognitive Function at Work

Nov-OfficeExerciseFun-imageMost people can agree that there are times when getting through the workweek can be a true challenge. Whether it be a lack of sleep, stress at home, or a workload that just seems unmanageable, there’s an endless list of factors that can get in the way of productivity at work, setting us up for increased stress and anxiety as we face the looming threat of unfinished work.

 

Tired of, well…being tired at work? Here are five ways to boost cognitive function at the office, all of which can help bring you peace of mind at the end of the day.

1. Start Exercising—Outside of Work

While many people focus on the things they can do at work to boost productivity levels, the real efforts come outside of work. Exercise—particularly aerobic exercise—can play a key role in overall brain power, and there are plenty of different ways to get the cardio you need to experience these effects. Studies have shown that certain hormones released during exercise can actually serve to boost memory levels by a significant degree—something that could mean enhanced productivity at work.

2. Consider Your Workload

Some people are naturally more prone to experiencing issues with cognitive function as the day winds down—all of us deal with this to some degree or another. In certain cases, however, a lack of brain power may come down to an inherent disinterest in the workload at hand. It’s only normal to nod-off when faced with work that bores you to tears, so be sure to speak to a manager or supervisor if you feel that the work you’re doing is no longer challenging. You never know—it may be the perfect opportunity to consider taking on new, more rewarding responsibilities.

3. Take Five Minutes Every Hour

Working yourself to the bone may seem like the best way to get through your workload, but it will do inevitably result in burnout and typically isn’t sustainable. Those who sit and work in front of a computer for a living owe it to themselves to get up at least once every hour for five or ten minutes at a time to stretch, walk around, and take a break from eye-strain. It’s amazing what just a bit of added blood-flow can do for one’s mood and state of alertness—a crucial boon to the workday that not nearly enough managers are putting emphasis on.

4. Don’t Overlook the Importance of Self-care

If you’ve ever gone to work with a virus, you know just how hard it can be to perform basic daily responsibilities. How we feel throughout the day can have a clear and dramatic impact on our overall productivity levels—even when we’re healthy. This is where the importance of self-care comes in, as getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and making time for relaxing hobbies are all crucial elements in helping us re-energize for another workday.

5. Collaborate with Others

One thing that easily cause “brain drain” at work is the threat of siloing. Many people thrive on the ability to perform good work on their own, but some experience lack of focus and even alienation from working by themselves all the time. Collaborating with others on projects or brainstorming sessions can help to reinvigorate the mind when there’s very little brain power left, not to mention the potential for creating new ideas and solutions you might not otherwise come up with on your own.

 

Keeping your mind sharp at work can certainly be challenging. By practicing good habits, however, you can enjoy the benefits of approaching the workday with a clear, sound mind.




Setting the Clocks Back: Bracing for the Darkness

Nov-TimeChange-imageThe coming weekend is one that many have looked forward to since March! It’s not relief that Halloween is over, or excitement for the upcoming holiday season. It’s not breaking out the autumn sweaters and warm boots. It’s not even the oversized mug of pumpkin spiced latte they’re planning. It’s the extra hour of sleep!

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, the clocks go back to standard time, which means an extra hour to snooze. That is, unless you have a three year old who doesn’t care where the clock’s hands are, and decides to wake you up, as usual, at 5:00am…only now it’s 4:00am!!!

For those without three year olds, the extra hour might be welcomed. But the disruption in sleep patterns does put a strain on the body, and can contribute to a variety of concerns.

 

The Circadian Rhythm

Our internal sleep/wake clock, or circadian rhythm, regulates our alertness and works most reliably when we maintain regular sleep habits. This built in process is controlled by the hypothalamus, which releases melatonin in response to darkness. Melatonin is a hormone that makes us feel less alert, and helps explain why we get sleepier when night falls. Throwing our circadian rhythm out of whack, whether it be from jet lag, insomnia, or changing the clocks, has impacts on our awareness and can make it hard to pay attention and function normally. Whether we spring forward or fall back, a disruption in sleep patterns is potentially dangerous.

 

Risks Associated with Setting the Clocks Back

Though setting the clocks ahead in spring raises more obvious concerns–sleep deprivation accounts for a marked increase in car accidents, heart attacks, and more–the extra hour of night we get each autumn also contributes to some of the same problems. The additional early morning sunlight may help us wake up and prepare for the day ahead, but the earlier sunset means sleepiness will kick in sooner.

  • Traffic accidents increase, as evening commuters have not yet adjusted to the darker drive home
  • A study by Carnegie Melon University found that pedestrians are three times more likely to be hit by a car in the days following the time change
  • For those impacted Seasonal Affective Disorder,  the annual struggle with “winter depression” intensifies
  • Despite gaining an hour of night this weekend, insomnia and other sleep difficulties increase in the days following the return to standard time
  • Children get less exercise–a study out of Great Britain indicates that vigorous physical activity among kids is reduced by nearly two minutes per day; this doesn’t sound like much until you realize they only engage in this level of activity for 30 minutes

 

Why Do We Change the Time?

We can thank (or blame) Benjamin Franklin for promoting the idea of changing the time by an hour each spring. But it didn’t actually become common practice until 1918, as a way of helping to save fuel during WWI. It was abolished at the end of the war, but reestablished at the outbreak of WWII, also to help conserve fuel.

In the years since WWII, most of the country has continued setting the clocks forward and back each year (Hawaii and Arizona being exceptions), though calls to end the practice are getting louder. As newer technologies have made energy use more efficient, the argument that an extra hour of daylight has a meaningful impact on fuel consumption is being challenged. Perhaps one day this biannual disruption will be a thing of the past. But for now, make the most of the extra hour this weekend, and get ready for the darkness.

 

And for those crawling out of bed at 4:00am Sunday morning to whip up some oatmeal for a wide awake three year old, take heart. A little coffee will help, and your circadian rhythm will adjust in a few days.

 

 

 

 




Is Siloing Causing Brain Drain?

Oct-BrainDrain-imageGrowth can be a beautiful thing for an organization to experience. Whether it be in the form of new contracts or a pressing need to take on one new employee to help with increasing demands, a business which undergoes growth is generally one that’s moving in the right direction. With growth, however, comes an entirely new set of challenges that can create roadblocks along the way. As new departments and teams begin to form, so too does the issue of “siloing.”

 

What is siloing, exactly? It’s more of a mentality than anything else, often characterized by the mindset that only one’s own immediate work matters—detrimental to the big picture philosophies that so many CEOs and managers strive to foster among employees. Often, though, siloing is more a result of one’s work environment and adopted processes than their own work style. With 39% of surveyed employees complaining of a lack of collaboration within their organizations, the problem is becoming noticeable on all fronts.

 

So, how can CEOs and HR directors break down the silos between departments and create a more holistic workforce? Here are just a few things you can do now to start moving things in the right direction.

Discourage Cross-Department Negativity

When was the last time you heard someone complain that they haven’t been able to complete their current task because the job is being held up by someone in marketing or accounting? Delays happen, and it’s easy to place the blame on another department when you’re confident that you’ve been holding up your end of the bargain. Negativity in the workplace does very little to foster teamwork or break down silos between departments, however—if anything, it serves as a reason to put up walls.

 

HR directors should make it a point to discourage cross-department negativity in any circumstance, no matter how stressful the scenario at hand may be.

Incentivize

There’s virtually no end to the number of factors that can encourage siloing, but one of the most common across organizations is a lack of incentive to take extra steps. If an employee believes their job exists within a rigid set of guidelines and sees no real purpose in extending themselves beyond what has been delegated, he or she will likely contribute to the siloing issues your organization may be experiencing. Incentivize, however, and you’ll likely see a shift in attitude across your entire staff. Be creative with how you incentivize—there’s more to showing your appreciation for a job well-done than extra PTO.

Implement Collaboration Software

The quickest way for departments to become siloed from one another is to stop paying attention to each other’s work. This is where collaboration software (also referred to as “Enterprise Resource Software”) comes in. The benefits of collaboration software are innumerable, ranging from happier employees to markedly increased productivity across departments. At its very core, however, collaboration software gives your employees a daily snapshot of things that are happening throughout the organization, enhancing communication and adding context to what might otherwise look like a myriad of unconnected tasks.

 

HR directors and CEOs alike owe it to themselves to de-silo their organizations. Once the walls come down, the benefits arrive in short order.




More than Just a Scary Face: The Health Benefits of Pumpkin

Oct-pumkpin-imageCarved into faces and lit from within, pumpkins have protected homes from the mythical “Stingy Jack” for centuries. But this humble squash, packed full of nutrients to benefit your heart, bones, eyes, and skin, is good for so much more than scaring off evil spirits. So before the neighborhood teenagers swipe it from your front porch and smash it in the street, scoop out the good stuff and reap the tasty health benefits of the big orange superfood.

 

Just a Few of the Benefits Pumpkins Offer

  • A single cup of pumpkin provides 200% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, as well as carotenoids, both known to help protect eyes and boost vision.
  • Pumpkin is high in fiber and low in calories, helping to keep you feeling full, without concern of weight gain.
  • Pumpkin is rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant believed to help fend off certain types of cancer.
  • A cup of pumpkin has more potassium than a banana, great for helping restore energy after a hard workout.
  • And don’t forget the seeds! Like other nuts and seeds, those found in pumkins contain phytosterols, known to help reduce “bad” cholesterol. They also contain tryptophan, which is needed to produce seratonin, helpful in promoting a good mood.

 

Making the Most of It

Pumpkin pie and pumpkin spiced lattes are everywhere from October through the end of the year. But there are countless other tasty ways to enjoy the healthy benefits. Clever culinarians have created everything from pumpkin butter, to pumpkin skin chips, to pumpkin pickles. Here are a few easy recipes to try:

  • Pumpkin lasagna. It’s vegetarian and easier to prepare than you might expect. This recipe calls for canned pumpkin, but you can certainly substitute fresh.
  • Pumpkin risotto. Use canned or fresh pumpkin for a new twist on a fall favorite.
  • Pumpkin pancakes. Muffins aren’t the only way to enjoy pumpkin for breakfast.
  • Pumpkin corn chowder. It’s hard to beat soup, or chowder, on a cold autumn day. This recipe swaps out sweet potatoes for pumpkin (or try it with both!).

 

 

Rich in dietary fiber, which slows the rate at which your body absorbs sugar, and with no saturated fats, the low calorie pumpkin is an excellent vegetable to aid in weight loss. And with all its nutritional impact, this roly poly gourd offers more than a haunting glow on your porch at Halloween. This year, while you’re waiting for trick-or-treaters to clean out the candy bowl, whip up a few gallons of pumpkin soup or freeze some pumpkin puree to use in upcoming holiday desserts, and hunker down for the cold, dark months ahead.




5 Ways to Embrace the Danish Concept of Hygge

Oct-hygge-imageHygge may not be a household world in the States quite yet, but it’s currently experiencing a popularity growth spurt and influencing the way many Americans live their lives. With origins in Denmark, the word—pronounced “hoo-gah”—roughly translates to “coziness” in English, although most Danes will argue that hygge has more to do with well-being than anything else. It’s thought to be associated with a number of different health benefits, including reduced stress, promotion of exercise and reduction in obesity, and it’s not just a concept isolated for the Scandinavians—everyone can enjoy the benefits of hygge with a little practice.

 

So, how can you incorporate elements of hygge in your own life? Here are just a few ways to embrace the Danish way of stress-free living.

1. Start with Exercise

Physical activity is a central aspect to hygge, allowing the body to properly manage stress hormones like cortisol and unwind at the end of the day. 20% of all commuting trips in Denmark involve bicycles, for example, and the Danes tend to be adamant about maintaining a regular exercise regimen. By incorporating exercise into your life, you can not only help to fight-off the onset of disease, but you’ll likely notice a pronounced boost in feelings of relaxation once the evening arrives.

2. Take Time for Yourself

So much of the day is devoted either to working, caring for family, or performing menial tasks that it’s easy to lose sight of one’s self. This does nothing to promote the concept of hygge, and you can get a lot of mileage out of actively allowing yourself to take an hour of each day to work on personal projects, embrace new hobbies, or simply read a book. Note that spending time surfing the web or mindlessly scrolling through social media does not count—focus on activities that promote growth and enrichment.

3. Share Chores

Hygge is all about experiencing a shared relaxation with those who are close to you, and most people can agree that it’s not easy to relax when there are chores to be done. By sharing these activities with family members, however, you not only generate a sense of equality, but you’re also helping to maintain strong, healthy relationships. If there’s work to be done, do it together whenever the situation allows.

4. Maintain Balance at Work

Approximately 65% of workers attest to feeling at least a small degree of stress due to their profession. Workplace stress is a common problem felt across all industries, and in many cases, it can result from situations that are out of the person’s control. By taking steps to maintain a better balance while on the job, however, you can leave your work-related stress behind as you make your way home. Be sure to step away from your work for at least 5-10 minutes every hour, which can boost mental clarity and prevent “burnout” from occurring.

5. Get Cozy

The “coziness” aspect of of hygge may only be a part of the concept as a whole, but it’s a large part that shouldn’t go overlooked. Relaxing in front of a warm fire with a loved one as the evening winds down can be highly beneficial when it comes to boosting mood and reducing stress, and this is just one of countless ways to get cozy. At the very least, shut your computer down for the night and take in a moment of stillness—whatever it takes to put a relaxing cap on the day.

 

Taking the time to incorporate elements of hygge into your life is certainly worth a shot, especially for those who experience significant amounts of stress. As the Danish say, “slap af” (relax)!




Unseen Employee Disability Costs, Part 3: What Can You Do?

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

 

Last month, I wrote about the “opportunity costs” of disability and how you could estimate how much they were taking away from your bottom line. Research suggests these costs can amount to nearly 40% of absent workers’ wages for the U.S. workforce as a whole.

 

For the final post in this series, let’s answer the question most employers ask once they’ve taken a look at their cost of disability-related absence: “What can I do about it?”

 

Return to Work (RTW) Programs

 

RTW programs have long been a fixture of workers compensation programs. Their focus is to return a disabled worker to the workplace as quickly as possible, in a medically safe manner. They can include a variety of strategies such as:

  • Part-time work
  • Remote work
  • Light/restricted duty
  • Workplace or work process modifications to accommodate employees’ recovery

They’re widely recognized as having measurable benefits for employees, employers, and the community in general.

 

More and more employers are offering RTW programs for non-occupational as well as occupational disabilities—a smart move, given how non-occ disability cases are more prevalent than occ cases.

 

Stay at Work (SAW) Programs

 

In the 1990’s, I worked at a large multi-line insurer whose coverage offerings included WC; I was part of the unit that did WC loss control for the company’s own employees. We realized many of the same workplace accommodations that helped people return to work after a disability could alsoi keep them from going out on disability in the first place. So, we developed what we called an “early intervention” program.

 

Nowadays, this kind of program would be styled a “stay at work” program. And it’s not uncommon to see SAW and RTW programs combined into a single bundle.

 

Sources of Guidance and Expertise for SAW/RTW Programs

 

SAW/RTW programs cover a lot of ground and can have many moving parts. But the good news is you can draw on many helpful sources of guidance and expertise when setting up and running such programs:

  • You can start with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Check out ODEP’s Return-to-Work Toolkit for Employees and Employers here.
  • Another great resource is the Job Accommodation Network, a technical assistance center funded by ODEP. JAN not only provides resources on setting up RTW (or SAW) programs, but also provides a comprehensive toolkit for workplace accommodation.
  • Your peers—other employers who are looking to control the hidden costs of disability—can be a valuable source of practical insight on tools and tactics for SAW/RTW. The Disability Management Employer Coalition is a premier organization for providing education, networking, and related resources in this subject area. (The Council for Disability Awareness is a DMEC affiliate partner.)
  • And finally, insurance companies and third-party administrators that sell or service group disability benefits are a valuable source of expertise on RTW, SAW, and related matters. If you provide group STD or LTD benefits on a fully-insured basis (or if you rely on a carrier or TPA to administer a plan that you self-insure), you should make your vendor an essential partner in your efforts to keep those hidden costs of disability from sinking your business.