“My Boss Is Killing Me”: Why this just may be true

Bad bosses can kill you.  Even more so than factors such as whether the employee smokes, exercises, or has weight problems. The data comes from a four-year-long study in Switzerland and was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Workers who were subject to inconsiderate and uncommunicative bosses were about 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition.  Employees who had strong leaders as bosses, on the other hand, were roughly 40% less likely to suffer heart emergencies. 

Got boss troubles?  Check out these posts:

How Crazy Is Your Boss? No, really, how crazy?

15 Things that Jerks at Work Usually Do

Inside the Mind of a Super Jerk

5 Costs of Coworker Bullying

And In This Corner. . . Susan From Accounting. Office Rage in the Ring

Top 5 Lessons to Be Learned from the Jerk at Work

Workplace bullying

You Know You’re a Bad Manager When. . . Mutiny at the Post Office

Bosses Aren’t the Only Workplace Toxins: What to do with toxic employees?

Employee Handbook Policy #502: Respectful Workplace

Everything You Needed to Know About Your Toxic Boss

Will President-Elect Obama Be Charged a Smoker’s Premium for His Health-Care?

Employers want healthy employees. Employee wellness programs are as hot as ever.  Employees who smoke, on the other hand, aren’t very popular.  Employers point to well-known statistics to support a variety of smoke-free policies.  Many companies have implemented bans on hiring smokers.  Others have taken to charging a “smokers’ premium” on health insurance.  Smokers’ premiums are a surcharge added to the health-care premiums of smokers, typically between $15 and $30 extra per month.  image

The idea of “punishing” employees for what they do in their non-working time does not sit well for some.  Others raise questions about enforcement–how will the employer know if the employee claims not to smoke but does so “socially” or even secretly.  Should closet smokers be able to avoid the smokers’ premiums by hiding what they do outside of the office?  

Our future President may be sympathetic to this secret society of smokers.  He is, after all, a card-carrying member.  Obama has admitted to being a former smoker but, in an interview with Tom Brokaw on political talk show, Meet the Press, the President-Elect admitted that he’s “fallen off the wagon” on more than one occasion and did not deny that he’d avoided Barbara Walter’s questions about whether he’d kicked the habit for good. 

In light of his penchant for lighting up, will the country’s next President really support the current employee wellness programs sweeping the nation? 

Can Desk Treadmills Help Employees Walk Away From Cancer?

Employee wellness programs are great.  Employers like the cost reductions in insurance and related health-care costs.  Employees like to be able to shoot hoops at lunch or take a yoga class on-site after work.  But what about wellness while you work?  The idea of the treadmill-desk is one I’ve posted about before.   (See These Pumps Were Made for Walkin’).  “Walkstations,” as they’re known, have been touted as the missing link between a truly obtainable harmony between wellness and the daily corporate grind. Walking At Work: The Best Medicine

Now, the makers of Trekdesk claim that the benefits of walking while you work are even more substantial.  According to a promotion for the company, you can walk your way to thinness by losing one to two pounds per week, or more, without dieting.  It can help you sleep through the night, help correct back problems, improve your mood, and even reverse and delay aging.  And, according to the manufacturer, “Walking has been shown to prevent colon, prostate and breast cancer along with a multitude of other diseases.”  Hence, employees who walk will be helping to prevent cancer.  Pretty lofty claims.

In the end, I am more than a little skeptical of the validity of these expectations.  But, I’m not skeptical about the potential impact on productivity and general health that can result from regular exercise.  Not that I’m committing to the purchase of a TrekDesk quite yet–after all, there are no prices listed on the manufacturer’s website.  But I’m willing to keep an open mind. when it comes to wellness.

Delaware’s ING DIRECT Invests in the Health of Its Employees With Remarkable Returns

Delaware’s ING DIRECT’s employee wellness strategy and approach has been discussed in earlier posts.  The background of the wellness program was the subject of Part I of this post.  In Part II, we reviewed the principals underlying the corporate health and wellness program that shape the company’s various health-centric initiatives.  In this final part, we’ll look at the Returns on Investment ING DIRECT has seen since first implementing its wellness program.

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High-Energy Initiatives at The Energy Zone

At the core of the ING DIRECT wellness program is The Energy Zone. The Energy Zone, is the company’s on-site exercise facility, which opened in March 2005. The facility is expansive, sprawling across 10,000 square feet of the company’s Delaware location. The Energy Zone is fully equipped with all of the cardiovascular and strength-training equipment found in a membership-based health club, including full shower and locker room amenities. These conveniences represent substantial time savings for associates. In turn, employees, who pay just $10 per month in dues, are more motivated to participate, in part, because of the ease of access to the exercise infrastructure.

And, once associates make their way to the fitness center, they can expect to have some company. The Energy Zone is staffed with a team of professionals dedicated to the promotion of health and wellness. The team offers members guidance on general fitness principles and the value of making healthy lifestyle choices. Nutrition counseling is available as an important auxiliary benefit to ensure associates are able to maximize their efforts in the gym. The Energy Zone staff is an enthusiastic group, implementing a number of interactive and motivational programs to get associates excited about wellness and to keep that enthusiasm in high gear on a long-term basis.

So how well has the Energy Zone worked? The gym sees, on average, approximately 150 employee-members per day. This number represents an increase in attendance by more than 70% since 2006. There is little seasonal fluctuation in attendance numbers. The Energy Zone’s attendance rate has virtually no decline in November and December—a time when the busy holiday season is historically linked to low attendance.

The Doctor Is In

What separates the ING DIRECT model from even most its highly regarded competitors is its on-site medical care. Employer-sponsored health clinics have experienced increased popularity over the last several years. And, as is not uncommon with this front-running company, ING DIRECT was one of the first large organizations to recognize the concept’s many values.

Until recently, the number of employers that provide on-site health clinics has been tiny. A recent study, though, found that 32% of all employers with more than 1,000 workers either have an on-site medical center or plan to build one by 2009. Again, ING DIRECT is far ahead of its peers.

The medical facility offered at ING DIRECT is available for associates on an appointment and walk-in basis. The facility is staffed by a board-certified family physician, and a registered nurse, both of whom are accessible to associates via phone and e-mail. The availability of on-site treatment for routine, as well as urgent issues, resulted in a direct and immediate savings of more than 1,300 working hours in 2006 alone.

Results and Returns

For many businesses considering a health and wellness offering, the lingering question remains, “Will it work?” Contributing to this question are a number of other questions such as, “How do we define success?” and “What will be the net gain?” All of these inquiries are legitimate and arise, and each arises in the context of keeping in mind the best interests of the business.

ING DIRECT has addressed the questions in a number of ways. First, ING DIRECT set clearly defined long-term objectives, such as reducing the cost of health care to its associates and to the productivity of the organization as a whole. With those objectives in mind, it was able to create a set of short-term goals, such as decreasing the number of tobacco users and increasing the amount of cardiovascular activity associates participate in on a regular basis. And, with these targets in mind, it set to work to get results.

And results have happened—far beyond the optimistic goals set by the program’s director, Don Baag, M.D. For example, one of Baag’s early initiatives was a campaign to decrease the percent of ING DIRECT employees who smoke by 5%. By all accounts, this is an admirable goal, and even more so in light of the fact that participation was entirely voluntary—no carrot or sticks required.

To measure the company’s effectiveness, a health survey was distributed to employees, who were selected at random at the beginning and end of the campaign. The results were remarkable. In a mere five months, the percent of employees who smoked decreased by 24%. Regardless of how “results” are defined, there can be no doubt that such a remarkable accomplishment is, by definition, a success.

The results of the wellness program also can be evaluated by referencing enrollment statistics. If associates are enthusiastic enough to enroll in continued short-term programs, they’re more likely to sustain a long-term lifestyle change. In this category, as well, the ING DIRECT wellness program sets the standard high. For example, in the first year it was offered, nearly 20% of employees participated in the company’s flu-shot program. Additionally, for employees who are not members of the on-site fitness center because of residency and traveling issues, ING DIRECT offers up to $40 per month in gym-fee reimbursement. Nearly 200 employees are enrolled in this program, which requires participants to provide proof of attendance at least eight times a month.

Third Circuit Rules on Payment under Bloodborne Pathogens Standard

The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (BPS), was issued by OSHA as a measure to protect employees who are at risk for exposure to viruses caused by bloodborne pathogens, such as HIV and Hepatitis.  For more background on what exactly the BPS requires employers to do, see our prior post on the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.

In a recent decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court with jurisdiction over Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, the procedures requirements of BPS were put under the spotlight—with interesting results.

In Secretary of Labor v. Beverly Healthcare-Hillview, the Third Circuit was asked to interpret what it means to provide the necessary testing “at no cost to the employee.” In that case, two employees suffered needlestick injuries while at work. They sought treatment after the shift at the hospital’s designated medical facility. They subsequently returned to the facility for periodic treatment as prescribed. All of the treatment occurred during their non-working time. Beverly paid the cost of the treatment but did not compensate the employees for the non-working time they spent in treatment.

Beverly was cited by OSHA for failing to provide the testing and treatment “at no cost to the employee.” The citation was appealed to an administrative judge and, subsequently, to the Third Circuit. The appellate court held that the language of the applicable BPS provision relating to “at no cost” was ambiguous, which gave the Secretary of Labor the authority to interpret the provision. OSHA interpreted the language to include compensation for travel time and non-working time when the employees sought follow-up care. In short, the court’s decision means that employers must compensate employees for time spent and costs expended while seeking post-incident evaluation and treatment.

The ING Direct [Role] Model for Wellness Programs–Part 2

The background of the ING DIRECT model for its employee wellness strategy and approach was the subject of Part I of this post.  In this part, we’ll review the principals underlying the program that shape the company’s various health-centric initiatives. image

Philosophical Underpinnings

Baag reports that, although it can be tempting to follow the current wellness trends as many companies have, the ING DIRECT culture demands something different. And something better. The goal is to effectuate deep-rooted and sustainable behavioral change without intruding on personal privacy and without monetary incentives, at least overtly. This means that wellness will have to appeal to employees with minimal emphasis of the traditional ‘carrot and stick’ model, if at all.

The principal underlying ING DIRECT’s wellness program is, at the same time, both obvious and complex. The philosophy that motivates the course of the wellness program can be described as, “The cost of providing health care to the workforce is higher than ever but the price of an unhealthy workforce is even higher.”

This philosophy reveals the company’s established recognition that health-care absorbs a substantial portion of the resources that can be allocated to employees as benefits. This is not so unusual. What differentiates the ING DIRECT methodology, though, is an equally well-established recognition of the very real costs associated with employees who are not able to perform at their best level. In other words, the company employs an organizational appreciation for the power of full engagement. ING DIRECT’s goal, then, is to promote well-being among employees while still preserving the integrity of its low-cost business model.

Caution: Obstacles Ahead

And, as formidable as that challenge may seem just by itself, there is another ever-present obstacle–the modern health-care system. Baag is often left to pick up the pieces as ING DIRECT employees make their way through a system that inefficient, slow, and without sufficient value placed on the needs of the individual patients. The ING DIRECT wellness program plays a double role as its members are frequently called on to be advocates for employees–intervening on their behalf when needed.

In developing ING DIRECT’s program, Baag first looked at the business costs of the health-care crisis. He then turned to the root causes of that crisis to determine what factors had the greatest impact on the cost of health care. The wellness program directly targets those root causes.

It is no secret that the cost of employer-sponsored health plans has skyrocketed. In turn, many employers have had to pass some of this cost along to employees in the form of higher premiums, increased copays, and deductibles. But the cost of health care itself is not the only cost that businesses must absorb.

Productivity is directly affected by the health of the organization’s employees. Absenteeism is an obvious drain on resources. Equally destructive is the cost of “presenteeism,” which occurs when employees attend work but are less productive due to illness or mental duress. In other words, they’re showing up but not much more. According to some accounts, presenteeism accounts for 20-60% of the total economic health cost incurred by employers. And one study found that the loss of productivity due to illness and sub-par performance in 2003 was approximately $260 billion.

The culmination of this data was a health-care paradox. On the one hand, employers cannot afford to have anything less than a healthy workforce while, on the other hand, the current state of modern health care is unaffordable. The next step in Baag’s analysis was to identify the main factors that had caused the cost of health care to become so unattainable.

One of the most significant factors is the cost of chronic medical conditions. They account for nearly half of the total health care expenditures in the U.S. The preventable conditions that ING DIRECT chose to target included heart disease and stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, work-related stress, obesity, and conditions caused by smoking.

In the next post, we will look in detail at the various measures ING DIRECT has implemented to help achieve its goal of workplace wellness. We will also evaluate the benefits ING DIRECT has been able to realize through its wellness program and whether its initiatives can be replicated by other employers.  In the meantime, you can have a look around some of the other wellness-related posts at the Delaware Employment Law Blog.

Third Circuit Issues Opinion on OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard

OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard is common to many of you.  Workers in a variety of different occupations are at risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens, which also includes exposure to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.  Employees in healthcare, housekeeping, health clubs and gyms, dentistry, funeral homes, law enforcement, and first-aid and emergency responders are some of the most commonly affected. 

OSHA issued the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (“BPS”), in 1991.  BPS was intended to protect workers from the risk of exposure to bloodborne Pathogens and, in turn, to the associated viruses.  In 2001, in response to the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, OSHA revised the BPS. The revised standard addressed the need to select safer needle devices and the importance of involving employees in making those selections.  The updated standard also imposes recordkeeping requirements for injuries relating to contaminated sharps.

Pursuant to BPS, employers must identify the job duties or tasks and the job classifications where occupational exposure to blood occurs.  The list must be put into writing and it must not take into consideration whether the employee would likely be wearing personal protective clothing and equipment.  Then, armed with that information, employers must create and implement standards and procedures for evaluating the risk involved in the identified circumstances.  The plan must be accessible to employees and available to OSHA.  The written plan must be revaluated annually, or earlier if conditions require.

In addition to the recordkeeping and procedures-based requirements, BPS also imposes requirements relating to the rights of employees.  Employees must be given training in accordance with BPS requirements.  They are also entitled to receive certain notices, and access to the policies that are being implemented and reviewed.  All employees who risk exposure to hepatitis B must be offered vaccination. 

Finally, BPS also mandates certain procedures in the event of an exposure incident.  Employees must be provided with a post-exposure evaluation and follow-up must be provided to all employees who have had an exposure incident. The follow-up testing must be provided at no cost to the employee. 

A Role Model for Wellness Programs: ING Direct

Delaware is one of several states that have implemented wellness and prevention programs.  State employee wellness programs are often launched as pilots for broader health initiatives and as examples of best practices that it is hoped the private sector will follow.  image

DelaWELL, Delaware’s pilot wellness program, was designed to set an example for private employers to follow, as well as to demonstrate the possible ROI.  Delaware employer, ING DIRECT, is unusual in that it adopted its own wellness program shortly after Delaware first began its wellness program. ING DIRECT saw so much intrinsic value in the wellness philosophy that it began to implement a full-fledged wellness campaign long before the state program could return any substantial ROI data.

In this multi-part post, we’ll look at the ING DIRECT program as a model for other businesses who are considering making the wellness investment.  In this post, we will focus on guiding principles that have directed the program’s priorities and initiatives, the real-world data that was used in assessing the potential value of the program, and goals the program is hoped will obtain.

Next, we’ll look to the various facets of the wellness program as it has come to be developed, an assessment of those initiatives, and the direction the program can be expected to take over the next several years. Undoubtedly, ING DIRECT has taken its own distinct path in implementing its deeply rooted wellness philosophy. As a frontrunner in the area of workplace wellness, other state employers can gain valuable insight from the ING DIRECT example.

ING DIRECT’s Arrival in America

ING DIRECT was born in Canada in 1997, a subsidiary of Dutch giant, ING Group. In 2000, several executives came to the U.S. to replicate the Internet bank’s Canadian success. By late 2003, ING DIRECT USA had acquired 1.5 million customers and had grown to employee more than 800 people. Realizing the potential implications of such sudden growth, CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann directed the company’s efforts towards creating a culture that valued work-life balance.

Kuhlmann’s strategy was influenced by The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr, Ed.D. In his best-selling book, Loehr advocates that individuals must manage their energy–not their time–in order to reach their full potential. Only by focusing on sustained performance can individuals maximize their health, happiness, and work-life balance. For Kuhlmann, the connection between a healthy workforce and a productive workforce was an easy one to make and he set off to create a working environment that would support this connection.

The Doctor Is In

In 2004, Kuhlmann approached Don Baag, M.D., with his ideas. Kuhlmann described his vision–to have a doctor-in-residence on the ING DIRECT campus–not just to tend to the daily healthcare needs of employees, but to address the overall health of the corporate culture. And just how was Baag to implement such an esoteric strategy? With a wellness program.

Intrigued by the opportunity to directly impact an entire workforce on a permanent level, Baag agreed. Kuhlmann offered no instruction or specific strategy–just to create a department that’s entire focus would be on the well-being of employees in whatever format Baag saw fit. Baag had never before developed a corporate wellness program. In fact, he’d never worked in a company that had one. But the absence of prior experience is not out of place in the ING DIRECT culture, which has found great success by innovating new experiences instead of copying the experiences of others.

To Be Continued . . . But, for now, here are some earlier Employer Wellness posts:

  1. State Employees Will Go From Fat to Fit–Or Else
  2. Health vs. Privacy: Employers Continue to Juggle Both
  3. What Does It Take to Be “Best Place to Work”?
  4. Three Days of the Bar Exam and the Next Great Wellness Benefit
  5. These Pumps Were Made for Walkin’
  6. Are Employers Getting Pushy About Weight Loss?
  7. Employers Should Know that Cancer Screening Saves Lives . . . And Money
  8. More Employers Giving the Gift of Wellness–via gift cards
  9. Employee Blogs as Part of Corporate Wellness Programs?
  10. Employees, Prepare to Get Healthy, Like It Or Not!
  11. DelaWELL, Delaware’s Health-Management Program for Public Sector Employees, Wins National NASPE Award
  12. DOL Offers Compliance Checklist for Wellness Programs
  13. Are Today’s Wellness Programs Running Out of Steam?

State Employees Will Go From Fat to Fit–Or Else

Get Fit or Get Fired? No, but if you’re employed by the State of Alabama, you’ll have to pay higher insurance premiums.

Fat employees, beware. The State of Alabama has issued an official “crackdown” on unfit employees. That’s right. The state has issued a get-fit mandate. Employees have one year to “see the light,” so to speak. Either get moving towards thin or face a bulging health-care premium. Employees who fail to trim their waistlines will pay $25 a month for insurance that will be free to their leaner coworkers. piggy

Alabama is the first state that has elected a “stick” approach to motivating employees to get healthy. There are a few states that offer rewards (i.e., carrots), to employees who make healthy lifestyle changes. Like many other employers, both public and private, Alabama already charges a premium to employees who smoke.

So what exactly is required? According to the New York Times article, Extra Pounds Means Insurance Fees for Ala. Workers, beginning in January 2010, state workers will be required to undergo health screenings—or face a monetary penalty if they refuse. If the screening reveals problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, or obesity, they are given one year to shape up or ship out. At a follow-up screening after twelve months, they won’t face the $25 charge.

And what will qualify employees for a passing grade when they take the screening test next year? Employees with a Body Mass Index (BMI) lower than 34 will be exempt from the “obesity charge.” A BMI of 30 is considered the threshold for obesity. And if you fail the screening? Other than being required to “make progress,” the State has not yet determined exactly how “progress” will be defined.

Maybe the most obvious question is just how the State of Alabama thinks that its out-of-shape employees, many of whom have been battling their weight, cholesterol, or other health issues for years, will suddenly develop the motivation, knowledge, and skills to make these changes. Deeply rooted lifestyle changes are not made because of an HR initiative.

If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. When employers stopped hiring smokers and charging employees who smoked, I was skeptical. Although there are obvious and undisputable benefits to a tobacco-free workforce, I worried that the proffered motivation was a bit too “glossy” to be true.

I also wondered how long it would be until there weren’t enough smokers left to make them a valuable target. At that point, what group would be the next to be targeted? I suspected it would be obese or overweight employees. It seems my prediction has come to fruition. At least for overweight government employees in a state where 30.3% of citizens are obese.