February is a month traditionally associated with Valentine's Day. To mark the occasion, many give loved ones heart-shaped gifts filled with candy or chocolate to mark the occasion. While the candy may be a nice treat, it might be more thoughtful to share tips to keep someone's heart healthy -- after all, February is also Healthy Heart month. In both Canada and the US, many public awareness campaigns are dialling up to promote heart disease and stroke prevention this month.
9 in 10 Canadians at risk
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Statistics Canada, every seven minutes, someone in Canada dies from heart disease or stroke while an estimated 1.6 million more are living with the devastating effects from these diseases.
What's also alarming is that 9 in 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor, such as high blood pressure, obesity, tobacco use, lack of physical activity and diabetes.
Who is at risk?
The more the population ages, the greater the risk factor. Many Canadian workers also suffer from sedentary lifestyles and all too often, they make poor dietary choices.
Sitting disease may sound like a funny, not-real condition, but according to Dr. Mark Tremblay, of CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa, adults spend three-quarters of their waking hours sitting or reclining each day. When sitting for too long, cholesterol levels increase, metabolism slows, and the potential for diabetes and heart disease also dramatically increases.
Already more than 2 million Canadians have diabetes and those numbers continue to rise. In addition, 14 million Canadians or 40 percent of the population, report being overweight or obese.
What are the facts?
The Government of Canada website shares that heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. It is costly too. Every year, there is more than a $20.9 billion price tag to be paid by the Canadian economy in order to deal with cardiovascular disease.
What can employers do?
The good news is that heart disease is preventable. Healthy lifestyle behaviours can prevent up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke. Because so many Canadians need to work and for the majority of their lives, the influence of work-based wellness campaigns to promote heart health and stroke prevention is tremendous. Workplace campaigns that help employees understand the risk factors may help to positively influence the choices their workers make.
Three low to no cost workplace campaigns
1) Leveraging wearable fitness technology to combat sitting disease. Start up or rekindle a walking program with a daily step challenge. Employees can use a pedometer or their wearable fitness technology (e.g. FitBit, Smartphone app) to track steps and monitor progress. Sometimes a challenge with a little healthy competition can be enough of a motivation to get people up and moving. Walking is great for stress management, heart health and overall well-being too.
2) Remind employees about free resources and trusted online information.
Websites like the American Heart Association at www.heart.org or Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation www.heartandstroke.ca have valuable resources that can be directly accessed from their websites. Including links to their articles along with reminders about ways to spot a stroke provide life-saving tips.
3) ParticipACTION 150 Playlist. In keeping with Canada's 150th birthday, ParticipACTION has identified 150 activities that define the nation. By bringing awareness to employees about this nation-wide campaign, they are invited to complete activities to earn contest entries. Great prizes like gift cards, trips for two or a new vehicle could be won.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it provides a start for ways to build awareness with little need for a special wellness budget. We continue to look for creative ways to support client workplace goals. We invite you to contact us. As always, we are here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
A great deal of attention is being paid to Millennials (born between 1980-2000) and for good reason. By the year 2020, they will represent approximately 50% of the North American workforce. Their views toward debt management and saving for retirement are important considerations as they begin to dominate as consumer and workplace influencers.
What about the other demographic cohorts in the workforce?
While Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1965) are still part of the workforce, we see their numbers continuing to decline even though Canada has one of the highest percentages of working age people of all G8 countries at 68.5% (age 15-64), according to Catalyst.org.
While their numbers might not be as plentiful, Baby Busters, also known as part of Generation X - the core of them born between 1966 and 1971, represent 2.8 million people in Canada, according to information provided by Statistics Canada (www.12.statcan.gc.ca).
Economic challenges face each workforce demographic, but GenXers have lived through unprecedented economic transformation with large swings in the job market and, since the elimination of mandatory retirement, need to redefine the timing of their own workforce exit strategy. As a result, Baby Busters don't have the same sense of career and retirement as the generations preceeding them. With the impact of larger economic forces, GenXers developed less confidence in their ability to save for the long-term. With so much vying for their dollars earned (mortgage, loads, credit card debt, emergency funds, child's education savings), other financial needs simply take priority over saving for retirement.
With RRSP season upon us, there tends to be an influx of savings-related surveys published annually by various financial instituations to help assertain savings patterns and consumer behaviour. Recently, TD announced the results of their latest survey, which highlighted that more than two-thirds of Canadians between the ages of 35-54 (Gen X) say they're not saving enough for retirement. It is this cohort that says they really need help meeting their financial goals and they feel guilty about not saving enough.
Don't expect to retire on time.
In addition, 25% say not being ready for retirement is keeping them up at night. Also, the majority of this Baby Buster-GenX cohort report that they don't expect to be able to retire on time and 29% anticipate working in some manner during "retirement."
The TD survey sites savings barriers resulting primarily from GenXers' everyday financial demands such as: living expenses, mortgage or rent, as well as childcare costs (61%). These Baby Busters also said they struggle with paying down exsiting debt (42%) and other major unexpected life events like divorce or death of a spouse (19%).
While Millennials (born between 1980-2000) expressed similar worries to those of the Baby Busters, the Millennials or Generation Y have a longer savings runway with peak income earnings years still upon them even though they may feel that saving for the long-term, given all the economic turbulance, seems somewhat less reasonable.
Mindsets and intrinsic motivation
What does all this survey information mean when communicating the importance of saving for retirement and engaging employees in participatory pension and savings programs? It means that demographics influence an employee's personal finance mindset and their attitude toward savings habits.
If Traditionalists (born before 1946) could advise GenXers, they would likely tell them to spend less than they make because after all, "a penny saved is a penny earned". Even though this historically thrifty cohort enjoyed the opportunity for long careers with one employer, they might tell this generation that spending less might mean cutting back on day-to-day expenses. They might encourage them to find a way to contribute regularly to their retirement savings and share that doing something now is better than feeling overwhelmed and giving up on building a nest-egg. They might also reinforce the need to manage both sides of the balance sheet.
It is the simple wisdom of those who travelled the road ahead who can look back with clarity and offer up insights that are tried and true. This approach also works for workplace communication strategies -- look closely at what intrinsically motivates each generation in order to help them better prepare for their financial future, today.
These topics along with others pertaining to workforce trends and their influence on group benefit and pension programs remains an important area of focus for us. We invite you to contact us with questions. We are here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
You've likely seen it, the commerical for a prescription medication that depicts a person living a happy and careful free life now that they are taking the featured medication. Then just at the commerical ends, a long and frightening list of potential side effects is read aloud by a voice-over actor. The result -- a growing fear of medication side effects. In fact, this fear of side effects is one of the primary reasons people don't adhere to the prescription medication protocol prescribed them.
Why aren't you taking your pills?
As researchers begin to take a closer look at the issue of medication non-adherence, the reasons bubbling to the surface for not taking or finishing their pills includes
1) symptoms disappear and the patient stops taking the medication
2) can't afford the medicine
3) just forgot to take them
4) instructions for taking the medication are too complicated (taking it with food or after a meal or more than once a day at different times)
5) difficult to get the "child proof" cap off the medication
6) experiencing side effects
7) patient motivators and triggers
Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, medication non-adherence is a serious issue. The findings in a recently released study by the Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP) and Shoppers Drug Mart revealed that "50% of Canadians with chronic diseases are non-adherent to their medications" and that one in three prescriptions go unfilled, and even when then are filled, they are not taken.
The survey says...
Medication non-adherence costs the patient in terms of overall health and recovery, and it also costs our public health care system. This same CARP and Shopper's survey reported that "69% of medication-related hospitalizations were due to non-adherence to prescription protocols." The associated cost to Canada is estimated between $7 and $9 billion annually. Additionally, the survey found that 50% of people with chronic diseases didn't follow the prescription protocol outlined by their doctor thereby not even giving the medication a chance at being effective.
Aside from the impact to the patient and to our public health care system, when an employee is medically non-adherent, they cost their employer through increased absenteeism, disability claims and increased extended health claims; especially for high cost drugs.
What can be done to remedy the situation?
Employers can help employees understand what information and support is available to them as patients.
- Inform employees about the potential health implications of non-adherence.
- Share with them about the convenience of mail-order pharmacies to support those with chronic conditions requiring maintenance medications.
- Provide information about ways pharmacists can help including consultations and follow-up calls to remind them to pick up refills. Additionally, pharmacists don't require an appointment in order for a consultation to happen, particularly if there are concerns about possible side effects.
- Inform employees of pharmacies that provide medication organization packs, pill cards for taking multiple medications, and locations for 24 hour pharmacies.
The issue of medication non-adherence is one that can be addressed through education, awareness and perseverence. The more informed you are, the more opportunity you have to effect positive outcomes. We invite you to contact us to discuss available insurer-generated data to identify opportunities to promote adherence, reduce absenteeism and gain productivity. We're here to help so you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.