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February 27, 2014

Are You Ready for a Vacation?

I remember as a child returning to school after summer break.  It was so exciting because on the first day of school, as a method for young students to get to know each other, the teacher would ask what we did on our summer vacation.  We would then share our stories with all the other students of our visits to Grandma’s house, our trip to Mexico, playing outside in the hot summer sun, and swimming every day possible.  Summer vacations as a child were really a lot of fun!

This made me wonder why so many employees find it hard to take time off from work for vacation.  It could be a number of reasons.  Heavy workloads may place added pressure on an employee, the boss’s negative attitude toward those employees using their earned benefit, and the squeeze of the economy could all add to an employee’s hesitance to take their time off.

According to a survey by U.S. Travel Association, “Americans left an average of 3.2 PTO days on the table in 2013, totaling 429 million unused days among U.S. workers.”  The survey went on to say that “nearly 34 percent of employees indicated that their employer neither encourages nor discourages leave, and 17 percent of managers consider employees who take all of their leave to be less dedicated.”  (Fortunately, that leaves 83 percent of managers who do not feel that way!)

In fact, most employers recognize the importance of providing time off for employees to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate.  Employees personally and physically benefit by disconnecting for a short time and companies enjoy happy, more engaged workers and increased productivity.  When vacation time is encouraged by management, it works as an excellent retention tool as well.  So, what are your vacation plans?


Source:  U.S. Travel Association.


October 16, 2013

Please, Don’t Email Me!

Filed under: Wellness10:30 am

What would you do if your employer told you it was okay to unplug your company email?  Well, in so many words, that is just what the CEO, Dan Calista, of Vynamic, a healthcare consulting firm, did.  In response to their annual employee engagement survey, where employees reported high stress, the company implemented a new email policy.  The policy reads in part:  “To promote better balance, employees are to refrain from sending non-urgent emails to other employees between 10pm and 6am Monday through Friday, all day Saturday and Sunday, and all Vynamic holidays.  In urgent matters, call or text is preferred over email.”

Wow!  Drastic?  At first glance, it is a curious strategy.  To ensure it would work as designed, though, the company had their managers test the new ‘zmail’ policy.  After a month of successful testing, the managers seemed to like it; so, they introduced the idea to employees.  More than six months into zmail, employees report it has been helpful in reducing some of their stress.   Obviously, no one will be fired for violating this policy, but for their own benefit, it is pretty well self-regulated.  Of course, clients do not suffer from this organizational decision, because Vynamic personnel tell their clients to call if they have urgent matters that need attention.

Generally speaking, technology is in everyone’s hands.  It makes work from anywhere, anytime possible and deceptively productive.  Unplugging can be good for our mental and physical well-being.  We come back to the table feeling refreshed, better focused, and able to meet challenges with a positive outlook.  Calista stated, “Just knowing that your employer is not expecting you to be online between those hours is liberating.  It allows you to mentally disconnect for a few hours.”  What do you think?  Could this be your next wellness initiative?


Vanderkam, Laura, “Should Your Company Use “Zmail”?  The Case for Inbox Curfews.” Fast Company, October, 9, 2013.  Available online here.

Lucas, Suzanne, “Wellness Programs that Work for Small Businesses.”  Inc., May 6, 2013.  Available online here.


March 7, 2013

Daylight Saving Time . . . Again!

Filed under: Wellness6:01 am

Yes, that is grammatically correct!  It is daylight “saving” time, not “savings.”  Most people say it incorrectly, because “savings” really does slide off the tongue better!  The time to set your clocks forward one hour is Sunday, March 10, 2013, at 2:00 a.m.

Have you ever wondered why we set our clocks forward?  The short answer is that it moves an hour of daylight to the evening, thus allowing us to make better use of the daylight time.  The long answer is that Benjamin Franklin at the age of 78 and living in Paris wrote a humorous, and sometimes referred to as whimsical, piece titled The Economical Project.  He noted that Parisians, including himself, weren’t early to bed down, nor were they early to rise up.  He fancifully posed an interesting concept that if Parisians were staying up late, they needed more candlewax to light their homes for their evening activities.  If they would rise with the sun, they would have more daylight.  Alternatively, if they went to bed earlier, with the sun, they would save candlewax, thus a savings in energy and money!  As you may have guessed, his idea didn’t catch on right away with the Parisians!  Franklin was a little ahead of his time, but ironically, his imaginative idea did finally rise in popularity.

Similarly today, daylight saving time is recognized as an energy saver and the extra daylight is usually welcome.  It does come with a few demands, though.  This is the time of year to check and change the batteries in our smoke detectors and other home safety devices.  All the non-automatically adjusted clocks in our homes will need to be adjusted.  Probably the most difficult thing to we will need to adjust in relation to daylight saving time is our circadian rhythms – we are all going to lose one hour of sleep!  It doesn’t sound like much, but the Society of Human Resource Management said that according to a 2009 study published by the Journal of Applied Psychology, “losing just an hour of sleep could pose dangerous consequences for those in hazardous work environments.”  It takes most people several days to recover from that one hour loss of sleep.

Besides encouraging employees to be more careful working and driving on the Monday after, employees working overnight  March 10, will only work 7 hours.  Employers are only required to pay the number of hours worked, but may celebrate the extra hour of daylight and pay them for 8 hours just for fun!


November 7, 2012

Open Enrollment Is Just Around the Corner

Filed under: Benefits,General HR Buzz,Insurance,Wellness — Tags: 6:00 am

Benefits open enrollment is usually a very busy and stressful time of year for HR professionals.  It requires much more time and thought than many in an organization realize.  Whether your open enrollment plan year is on the calendar year or on another fiscal year, there are several things to consider when preparing for open enrollment.  Following are some suggestions:

Plan Ahead – - – Begin communicating with your broker or other insurance provider at least three months prior to the plan year.  This will allow them to gather the necessary information on your current plan along with the new proposed costs, so that you and your executive team will be able to make informed decisions whether to continue the current plan, make changes to it, or shop for other options.

Make a List – - – Put your wish list in writing!  If you want to propose additional insurance coverage, such as adding a High Deductible Health Plan with a Health Savings Account option, dental insurance, vision or supplemental insurances, now is the time to do it.  Make sure you have thoroughly prepared and you have the numbers to support the reasons why you have proposed the changes and how they will satisfy your employees’ insurance usage needs.  An employee benefits survey can be of great value in this area when it is completed in the “off” season.

Decide if wellness initiatives will be included in helping employees offset some of the cost of their ever increasing premiums.  Educating them in a healthier lifestyle and teaching them the long term benefits of changing their behaviors can have lasting value.  Assisting employees to make the connection between health care costs and their health can have a huge positive impact on their dollar.  Thus, it is a win-win for both employee and employer.

Communicate with Others – - – Always remember that HR is usually on a different planning schedule than other departments.  Arrange open enrollment meetings with that in mind.  Inquire of managers and make sure your open enrollment meetings won’t interfere with the organization’s other key business plans.  You will gain their support and they will know they have yours!

Keep It Simple – - – Whether you have paperless enrollment or not, communicate any changes in insurance programs to your employees early and educate them as to where they can find answers to their questions.  This will help them to understand how the changes will affect them and their dependents.   Publicizing open enrollment early, will encourage the mindset for employees to begin making their choices in coverage.

Ask for Help! – - -You don’t have to go it alone.  Use other team members to review all documents and communications before publishing to employees to make sure all the information is correct.  This will save lots of time and hopefully keep you from making apologies and corrections later!  Utilize your broker and any representatives from your insurance companies that can be available onsite for interaction with your employees and allow employees to ask them specific questions.

Once the rush is over, keep good notes for the next year to map your strategy.  Record what went well and what needs to be creatively adjusted.  And, by all means, give yourself and your team a pat on the back!


October 22, 2012

Take a Stand – Improve your Health and Efficiency!

If you watched the Presidential debates last week, you probably noticed that President Obama and Mitt Romney stood during the Town Hall meeting format. It seemed the debate had a faster pace and exuded more energy than the previous debates. Whether or not they took the lead from a concept at Ohio State University is unknown, but it is certainly something worth noting.

Based on research that links too much time in the chair to poorer health, leaders at Ohio State University launched a campaign to encourage more stand-up time. As part of the project, 50 sit-stand desks will be installed by year’s end. Other initiatives include more standing at meetings or while answering the phone, and walking to communicate with coworkers rather than picking up the phone and dialing.

What are the benefits? The study published in 2010 in the American Journal of Epidemiology found significant links between sitting and increased risks in cardiovascular health, back strain, and negative impact to metabolism. The simple act of standing tends to promote productivity and an action-oriented environment. Companies who have initiated standing into their culture often find meetings are completed in half the amount of time as usual. With the addition of a standing conference table, the additional expense of chairs can be eliminated.

Whether your motive for incorporating standing into your culture is for health, cost-savings, or productivity, it’s worth a try. We’d like to hear how it works for you!


October 3, 2012

Flu Season: How to Stay Healthy

Filed under: General HR Buzz,Safety,Wellness6:00 am

It’s that time of year again!  Flu season!  In the close quarters of most offices, anytime someone coughs, sneezes, or blows their nose everyone cringes!  How can we protect ourselves and our co-workers from getting sick?  The website encourages annual flu vaccines and touts this as being the best way to protect yourself from the flu.  Flu vaccines are recommended for most individuals, ages six months and older.

Here are some other ways to avoid getting the flu and passing it to others:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Practice good health habits (get adequate sleep, exercise, eat healthy, and drink plenty of fluids).
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • If you have the flu, stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever has returned to normal without the use of fever-reducing medications.

This is a good time to review your Attendance Policy to make sure that you have guidelines in place so your employees know when to go home if they feel ill to prevent an outbreak in your workplace.  You may wish to seek medical advice, and legal advice, too, when making such changes to your policy.

For more information click here.


August 22, 2012

No Butts About It – There Are Still Smokers Out There!

There has been a lot of emphasis in the news lately about the growing epidemic of obesity.  We cannot deny that Americans are getting fatter.  The fact remains however, that cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the US each year; accounting for 1 in 5 deaths, or approximately 443,000 lives.

The statistical information cited by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that in 2010 slightly more men (21.5%) than women (17.3%) smoked.   And (alarmingly so), 20.1 percent of adults aged 18 to 24 are reported as smokers; that is roughly 1 out of every 5 recent high school graduates and college students smoke!  Adults with a college degree are less likely to smoke as are Asians and Hispanics.  States with the greatest number of smokers are found in the Midwest and Southeast; specifically, the lowest prevalence of smoking was found in Utah (9.1%) and the highest in West Virginia (26.8%).

While employers are concerned about smokers and the impact on the organization, the choice to invest in smoking cessation strategies can vary.  The use of penalties (such as increased health insurance premiums) to smokers is rising.  In general, employers are starting to talk openly about smoking and the health risks it presents.   In a report published by entitled, “The Burden of Tobacco Use”, they have put together a list of 50 ideas for helping employees in their efforts to quit smoking:  ideas ranging from how to create a smoking cessation program within your company to implementing a non-smoking policy.  It’s a terrific resource and worth checking out.

What are you doing in your company to help people quit smoking?  Let us know . .  .

Look for the full report CDC Report at:


August 15, 2012

Obesity: How Does Your State Weigh In?

This week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released revised1 data showing rates of obesity in the US by state.  Here are some of the key findings directly from the CDC brief:

  • By state, obesity prevalence ranged from 20.7% in Colorado to 34.9% in Mississippi in 2011. No state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. 39 states had a prevalence of 25% or more; 12 of these states had a prevalence of 30% or more: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.
  • The South had the highest prevalence of obesity (29.5%), followed by the Midwest (29.0%), the Northeast (25.3%) and the West (24.3%).
  • See the map of the US with percentages by state.


  • Among non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American men, those with higher incomes are more likely to be obese than those with low income.
  • Higher income women are less likely to be obese than low-income women.
  • There is no significant relationship between obesity and education among men. Among women, however, there is a trend—those with college degrees are less likely to be obese compared with less educated women.
  • Between 1988–1994 and 2007–2008 the prevalence of obesity increased in adults at all income and education levels.


  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
  • In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

1    Changes to the CDC’s BRFSS and to exclusion criteria result in a new baseline for estimated state adult obesity prevalence starting with the 2011 data. Because of these changes, estimates of obesity prevalence from 2011 forward cannot be compared to estimates from previous years.    Shifts in estimates from previous years may be the results of the new methods, rather than measurable changes in the percentages. The direction and magnitude of changes in each state varies. These variations may depend on the characteristics of the population


July 24, 2012

Is Your Wellness Budget Alive and Kicking?

Filed under: Benefits,General HR Buzz,Wellness10:19 pm

As you begin to work through the annual budgeting process, you are often confronted with the question: Are we going to continue to put money into this program or not? Those decisions are tough; everyone wants to believe their program is adding value to the organization. One program I wanted to consider today was wellness.

According to participants in a survey recently released by Virgin HealthMiles (, 32 percent of those offering a wellness program indicate they will be increasing their investment in the program by as much as 10 percent. Why are employers offering wellness programs? The number one response was to “reduce healthcare costs” followed by “creating a culture of health”.

Wellness experts agree that achieving return on investment in a wellness program requires consistency and a long-term outlook; realizing healthcare savings takes longer than expected. Flu shots and cancer screenings are typically viewed as cost effective because healthcare savings can be shown in a short amount of time. Yet these types of activities do not require employees to actually change behaviors. The programs’ ability to change employee behaviors as well as the ability to measure the programs’ true impact are top concerns voiced by employers when considering the viability of a wellness program.

What is your organization doing with its wellness program budget this year? How are you measuring your return on investment, in the short-term and the long-term? Let us know your thoughts.


April 6, 2012

HR Fact Friday: How Flexible Is Your Workplace – Part 2 of 2

Filed under: General HR Buzz,Wellness,Work/Life Balance6:00 am

Following is Part 2 of 2 from HRN”s March HR Industry White Paper. Part 1  posted on Friday, March 30.

Typically HRN refrains from posting our White Papers on our HR News & Views blog but this one is just too good not to share. Thanks to our very own Joyce Campbell for doing the research and writing.

To receive quality HR topical content like this each month [for no cost!] simply sign up at: .

How Flexible Is Your Workplace?
Work-Life Balance as an Effective Tool for Retention – Part 2

Other findings from the 500 HR professionals and WorldatWork members surveyed include prevalence of flexible work initiatives in cultures that are in the “development” phase, vs. cultures that have “established” practices throughout the organization.

  Prevalence in Developing Flexibility Cultures Prevalence in Established Flexibility Cultures
Teleworking on an ad hoc basis 81% 94%
Phased return from leave 56% 71%
Compressed workweek 44% 70%
Part-time schedules 83% 92%
Flex-time 79% 97%
Combination of programs tailored to fit employee’s need 42% 74%


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