Employees spend an average of 40 hours per week working for their employer. If you do the math, that equates to approximately 80,000 hours at work per year minus at least 2 weeks paid vacation. This means that employees spend much of their waking hours at work in an environment that can be a hub for increased sources of pressure, stress, and health inhibitors.
Increasingly, there are articles and reports that highlight the harmful effects of prolonged sitting, lack of hydration, poor nutrition, regular exercise and sleep deprivation -- all habits that can be perpetuated in a work environment.
Research conducted by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that 59% of working adults feel their job has an impact on their stress level. As seen in this video by asapSCIENCE, stress has an impact on mental health, mood, weight, aging, chronic disease and sleep.
The Conference Board of Canada recently released a report highlighting that 27% of Canadians reported feeling tired most days or every day during the work week. From a blog I wrote in 2015 on productivity costs associated with employee sleep deprivation, we learned that sleep deprivation costs employers close to three-quarters of a billion dollars in lost work hours. Due to the importance of employee and its direct links to productivity, benefit costs, employee engagement and customer experience, I've written on related topics with a specific focus on workplace stress as well as sleep deprivation. I invite you to read these posts if you haven't done so already.
How is sleep deprivation affecting workplace productivity?
Tips and resources to address sleep deprivation in the workplace.
Stress in the workplace.
While workplace wellness programs continue to grow in prominence, the emphasis and initiatives associated with these programs vary significantly. Wellness efforts aimed at keeping employees healthy would benefit from a continued focus on prevention awareness tips and resources. These include, but are not limited to:
1) Policies regarding vacation entitlement and encouraging employees to take their full vacation each year. The National Public Radio report indicated that while 75% of respondents aid their workplace offers the paid vacation days, 31% used only some of it and 17% used none of their paid vacation days in the past 12 months.
2) Promote the opportunity for flexible work schedules if this is available with management taking an active part in leading by example.
3) Create regular reminders with realistic examples of how and when employees may wish to use the confidential employee assistance program.
4) Promote the use of health risk assessments and free online resources that help employees self identify any potential health concerns.
5) Dial up the link between health and overall well-being beyond nutrition and exercise directly to the importance of sleep in order better manage their emotions, reactivity and judgement.
Given the amount of time spend at work, employers have the ability to considerably influence the choices their employees make and the resources readily available to help them embrace a healthier and more stress-free lifestyle.
By providing regular reminders in a way that makes sense for them and are tailored to their preferences and behaviour patterns, employers can limit their exposure to high claims costs and the avalanche of poor health conditions that have the potential to negatively impact their group benefit plan experience.
With over two decades of industry experience, we've built up trusted relationships with service providers and clients alike. We understand the triggers that affect health outcomes and influence plan costs. We invite you to contact us to discuss additional ways to bring health awareness to your employees. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
I've written on a few occasions over the last few years on the topic of absenteeism in the workplace.
What is absenteeism costing you?
What is absenteeism costing you - Part 2?
HR Lens - Presenteeism in the workplace
Why? Because it is an issue that continues to plague employers as they search to find ways to improve productivity and reduce the number absences they continue to see surfacing year over year.
Many employers have tried varying methods to address the reasons workers are absent. For a long period of time, the emphasis on addressing absenteeism involved tracking lost time and enforcing requirements for doctor's notes along with reprimands by supervisors for too frequent requests for unscheduled time off. While most employers have introduced some form of absence tracking or elaborate attendance management systems, their results with haven't proven that tracking alone triggers a reduction in missed time.
With absence tracking, employers have been able to capture trends when higher percentages of absences occur. This can provide helpful when looking to staff up and manage customer service or project scheduling. According to CareerBuilder, January to March saw 34% absenteeism with July through September coming in a 30%. The lowest percentage applied to the months of April to June at 13% and October to December at 23%.
Employees are notifying their employers of their absence via a phone call ( 84%), email (24%) and text messages (11%). Some of the most frequent reasons for absences include excess work pressure leading to stress, personal problems (marital or involving childcare), serious illness or accident, lack of engagement in work (not happy with current job role), workplace conflict, issues with managers, and commuting challenges.
Several reasons employees give for their absence are quite diverse. CareerBuilder.com shared results of their recent survey highlighting some of the most unusual excuses for missing work:
1) Employee’s 12-year-old daughter stole his car and he had no other way to work. Employee didn’t want to report it to the police.
2) Employee said bats got in her hair.
3) Employee said a refrigerator fell on him.
4) Employee was in line at a coffee shop when a truck carrying flour backed up and dumped the flour into her convertible.
5) Employee said a deer bit him during hunting season.
6) Employee ate too much at a party.
7) Employee fell out of bed and broke his nose.
8) Employee got a cold from a puppy.
9) Employee’s child stuck a mint up his nose and had to go to the ER to remove it.
10) Employee hurt his back chasing a beaver.
11) Employee got his toe caught in a vent cover.
12) Employee had a headache after going to too many garage sales.
13) Employee’s brother-in-law was kidnapped by a drug cartel while in Mexico.
14) Employee drank anti-freeze by mistake and had to go to the hospital.
15) Employee was at a bowling alley and a bucket filled with water crashed through the ceiling and hit her on the head.
Regardless of the reason for the absence, many research and wellness providers believe that absences boil down to work-related stress. That hypothesis makes sense from many perspectives. When work is going well, everything seems easier to manage, but when there are challenges; be it workplace culture, manager or colleague conflict, task-related pressure, commuting or a dislike of the role itself, it all generates additional stress. Stress is what leads to physical illness accordingly to Stanford School of Medicine's Center on Stress and Health. Chronic stress wears down the immune system and that can trigger an avalanche of illness leading to chronic disease.
While attendance tracking helps to monitor trends and workflow scheduling, it doesn't address the individual root causes of absenteeism or get at the heart of workplace culture and the influence of employee engagement on missed work time. (Read my blog on top employee engagement tips). Many studies show that when employees are truly engaged in their work, they miss fewer work days.
Along with an existing war on talent, employers are looking for more ways to improve the absence management results and drive better outcomes for group benefits extended health claims costs. Contact us today. We are your well equipped resource ready to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
There was a time when top health issues in Canada were more physical in nature and relatively easy to identify. They ranged from musculoskeletal disorders to high blood pressure. In the last few years, more discrete and difficult to easily identify illnesses such as depression, anxiety and stress disorders top our country’s health issue charts.
When Morneau Shepell conducted their second annual national mental health survey in the fall of 2015, they received responses from over 1000 employees, 100 employers and 100 physicians. The report revealed that mental health issues and extreme stress — both workplace and personal — negatively impact an employee’s work.
The facts pertaining to mental health in the workplace continue to demonstrate staggering financial implications. In 2013, the Mental Health Commission of Canada reported that of the total economic burden caused by mental illness in Canada, $20 billion of the $51 billion per year relates directly to workplace losses due to disability claims, absenteeism and lost productivity. This data also highlights that 500,000 Canadians are unable to work in any given week due to mental health issues with 20% wrestling with mental health issues in any given year. The Morneau Shepell report highlights that mental health absenteeism is significantly underreported. This means that 500,000 Canadians unable to work in any given week due to mental health issues might actually be significantly higher.
Knowing the facts is important. It generates the need for further conversations about what is actually happening in the workplace and the importance of understanding organizational culture. Culture isn’t something you can see on the surface, it is felt and experienced by the employees who work in an organization. Similarly, workplace stress might not appear like a broken arm or someone recovering from surgery. It can be more difficult to identify. The Morneau Shepell report highlights that 60% of respondents said emotional/interpersonal issues were a source of workplace stress; these issues correspond directly to workplace culture. In the past, leaders were trained to bring greater attention to ensuring workers have a safe environment to work and the right equipment to do their jobs effectively. While these needs remain important, they ranked only at 14% as a cause of workplace stress in the Morneau Shepell report.
Emotional/interpersonal workplace stresses may also be triggered by the behaviour of the person’s direct supervisor, their colleagues as well as feelings of isolation. Perhaps surprisingly, these stressors proved to be far more prominent than any stress generated by deadlines or a dislike for one’s job.
As workplace stress and mental health issues continue to rise, action can be taken to stem the tide. The 2015 Morneau Shepell report demonstrates that employees would benefit from managers knowing what to do when an employee shows signs of distress.
Leader training on mental health can address the fear employees have about bringing their issues forward. Many report fearing the existing stigma associated with mental health. Removing the unhealthy barriers preventing services from being accessed and much needed help provided can be achieved through this type of specific management training.
Equipping front-line supervisors can be achieved through the implementation of an in-house program or through working with external vendors who provide the framework and/or the training itself.
The key components to a leader’s mental health training program include:
Training and educating leaders is an action organizations can take when looking to reduce absenteeism, turnover, disability duration and frequency. Doing so helps to create healthy conduits for employees while enabling them to connect with much needed stress management and mental health resources.
If you are looking to positively impact your disability management outcomes as well as increase productivity through employee engagement, please contact us — we have the resources and expertise to support your goals.
We’re here to help so you can focus on what you do best.
Last month I blogged about the cost of sleep deprivation in the workplace. This topic is becoming more of an issue with the prevalence of stress in the workplace, people feeling overly connected to their mobile devices, along with a demographic cohort caught in the sandwich generation -
- those caring for children and aging parents.
Sleep researchers tell us that getting 8 hours a night of sleep is optimal for our health, but why? Is it just because we've read that sleep helps us with our memory? No, it is far more involved. Sleep plays a key role in the brain's physiological maintenance. When you sleep, the brain acts as a mental janitor and sweeps away all the junk like the protein beta-amyloid that has been accumulated throughout a day's worth of thinking.
Whether from a stressful week with tight deadlines or after pulling an all-nighter; the results of sleep deprivation aren't fun -- you struggle to focus, your reaction time is impaired, your short and long term memory is compromised, and it becomes more difficult to make decisions. Now, imagine the long-term outcomes of sleep deprivation. Picture someone suffering from insomnia or a shift worker. They have a greater tendency to experience a degeneration of key neurons responsible for alertness and cortical function. Getting less than 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night over long periods of time also speeds up the aging process, causes high blood pressure and can lead to obesity. Often workplace environments don't promote the importance of sleep. Work demands pile up and being 'plugged-in' and available 24/7 to meet the needs of a truly global workforce result in meetings happening late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.
Dr. Czeisler, a leading authority on human sleep cycles, says that to raise performance on the job, leaders should pay attention to the effects of sleep deprivation. This includes the consideration of:
1) creating a corporate sleep policy. There are policies for non-smoking and anti-discrimination. Why not have one for sleep?
*limiting scheduled work to no more than 12 hours a day with at least 11 consecutive hours of rest every 24 hours.
*Shift workers should not be permitted to work more than 4 or 5 consecutive days with at least one day off.
* For business travel: avoid taking red-eye flights and if overnight travel is required, a day should be given to adapt to sleep deprivation and a possible new time zone. If the meeting must be scheduled after an overnight flight, a taxi or car services should be arranged to prevent a sleep deprived worker from driving.
* provide an annual screening for sleep disorders to help identify those at high risk (i.e. narcolepsy)
* training for supervisors and managers in sleep and fatigue management
2) Educate employees: instead of creating a sleep-culture where those who work crazy hours are seen as heroes or martyrs, educate employees about the link between sleep, health, and workplace safety.
* sleeping in a darkened and quiet room free of electric devices.
* avoiding drinking alcohol before bed as it acts as a stimulant rather than a sleep-aid.
* avoiding drinking caffeine late in the day (after 4pm) as it lingers in the body for several hours.
* promoting regular exercise of at least 1.5 hours per week
* trying a sound machine with white noise to keep the brain focused on the task of sleeping.
* keeping a journal beside the bed to help you write down your thoughts that may be worrying you and keeping you from drifting off to sleep.
* contacting your doctor who can help diagnose the root cause of your sleep deprivation issues.
Employees are often kept awake by several issues that may not appear to be related to employees with sleep deficits, but upon closer examination, they uncover their co-relation. We have a host of resources to help employers provide current and relevant tips for employees on this topic. The following list is only a sample of what might be helpful to explore.
This topic will continue to cause challenges in the workplace. The more employers promote ways to address the issue, the more workers will be encouraged to make quality sleep a priority. I invite you to contact us. We have a dedicated and experienced team here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Work-life balance, flexible hours and up-to-date technology top the list of employee requests when it comes to an ideal work environment.
Increasingly, Canadian employees are feeling burnt out and stressed. According the *Staples Advantage Workplace Index Report, employees are working long days where 4 out of 10 work weekends at least once a month. Employees are taking fewer breaks if any at all and often eat lunch at their desk.
With the rise of mobile technology, workers are never far away from the latest text, email or social media news feed. They feel 'always on' and inundated with inboxes filled with unnecessary emails and attend meetings that they believe aren't productive -- all which take away from the ability to complete work assignments.
Employees are looking for fewer distractions so they don't feel they need to bring their unfinished work home with them. They believe many of their emails and meetings are disruptive and add to their already overfull workload. The report also indicates that 37 percent of workers say more workplace flexibility would help their output. In an age where employers are looking for methods to increase productivity and engagement, flexibility appears to be a solution worth exploring.
The issue of flexibility cannot be undervalued as work-life balance continues to bubble to the top of requirements employees are looking for from potential employers. As the war for top talent continues, eliminating the concern around work-life balance remains a critical consideration. In fact, the report reveals that 1 in 5 employees state work-life balance as a reason for considering a job change and 4 in 10 employees listed it as a leading factor in their loyalty to their current employer. In some case, it is turning out to be more important than an increase in salary.
The report also makes it clear that employers who provide current technology create a work environment where employees can do their work more effectively and efficiently. The by-product for the employer is higher engagement and retention scores. The bottom line appears to be that employers wishing to maintain their competitive advantage must keep pace with technological changes.
In a study by BMO Financial Group focused on Canadian women, the findings indicate that only 47 percent of women feel they have achieved the right work-life balance. The respondents indicated that employers could help women balance their lives more effectively by offering better benefits (27%), providing flexible time (24%) and increasing or providing sick/family emergency days (21%).
It isn't easy to keep ahead of all of the findings and reports that reflect employee needs particularly when operational aspects of the business compete for attention. I invite you to consider contacting us. We're always here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
*download a copy of the Staples Advantage Workplace Index Report
The month of January is in full swing. Early in the month, many employees made resolutions that they sincerely hope to keep. According to a University of Scranton survey, resolution themes fall into four main categories:
At least 24% of people who make resolutions fail to achieve them each year. What can be done in the workplace to support employees with their new year's goals? People leaders can help employees have a greater success rate with accomplishing their resolutions through increased communication, leading by example, and introducing simple and cost effective solutions.
Here are five tips for creating a workplace environment that gives employees a helping hand with keeping those resolutions:
This list of tips certainly is not exhaustive, but it does create opportunities for leaders to support the goals and resolutions that many employees dearly wish to honour throughout the year. To explore these tips in greater detail or to discuss other group benefit-related solutions for your workplace, we invite you to contact us. We're here to help so you can focus on what you do best.
December is an extra busy time of year. With hosting and attending Holiday parties and kids' events, travelling and work, schedules quickly becomes condensed.
Work demands still prevail.
So how do you help employees stay motivated and keep focused? Here are 5 tips for leaders to help employees keep focused and well positioned to successfully greet the new year:
May you look back on this year and reflect on your achievements with pride and may you take time to enjoy the simple pleasures this festive season holds. On behalf of my entire team and my wife, Jill, I wish you and yours all the best for a wonderful Holiday and a healthy and happy new year.
Financial Literacy month is an important time to discuss ways to encourage short and long term saving goals. Perhaps even more relevant is the need to address debt management tactics.
Based on Statistics Canada results, Canadians' ratio of household debt to personal disposable income was 66 percent in 1980. Fast forward to recent findings and that ratio has reached 163 percent. This increase translates into households owning more than $1.63 for every dollar of disposable income.
Canadians on a whole are tracking higher debt to income ratios than U.S. or British counterparts. Somewhat insulated from the intensity of the 2008 economic downturn, Canadians have taken advantage of low interest rates. In a recent Bank of Montreal study, 20 percent of Canadian said that if the interest rate on their mortgage increased by just 2 percent, it would put them out of their homes as they wouldn't be able to afford it.
Canadians continue to spend and have suffocatingly high unsecured debt issues. Our comfort in carrying high amounts of unsecured debt is staggering. Currently, there is 50 billion dollars owed in unsecured debt and loan payments.
Did you know that a university graduate carries $28,000 in unsecured debt. Canadians aged 50 or older owe $84,000 in unsecured debt and 47 percent of this cohort have saved less than 25 percent of their savings goals. Those aged 30-49 owe $67,000 in unsecured debt.
An even more alarming debt statistics involves retirees. Owing $69,000 in unsecured debt, with $37,000 related to credit card balances, it must be immensely difficult for retirees to implement effective repayment plans while operating on a fixed income.
Although current interest rates remain low, at some point they will change -- meaning -- they will increase and when they do, will Canadians be ready?
Here are some practical tips to address debt reduction in realistic and practical ways before the situation becomes almost unmanageable:
For questions about ways to save or to build financial literacy awareness, please contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
In Part 1 of Stress in the Workplace, I addressed ten steps that employers can take to help employees on their journey to identifying signs of stress and how to manage it. In Part 2, we'll explore the impact of stress as well additional ways employers can promote healthy mental and physical lifestyles.
Many employees face stress for various reasons. About 33 percent of employees report high levels of stress. In addition to personal stressors, workplace stress can be a harmful physical and emotional response when the match between job demand, resources and needs of the employees is misaligned.
In today's workplace, 75 percent of employees believe they have more job stress than a generation ago and 25 percent feel their jobs are the number one stressor in their lives.
Some major causes of workplace stress include:
When stress goes unchecked and untreated, it can lead to both mental and physical disabilities. In a report by the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health, the total cost of both diagnosed and undiagnosed mental illness is approximately $51 billion annually.
As of January 2013, the new Canadian Standards Association's National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the CSA Standard) has been released. The purpose of the CSA Standard is intended to help promote psychological health and safety (PHS) in the workplace. On a voluntary basis, employers are encouraged to implement new policies, procedures and practices to promote PHS; it is commonly referred to as P6. These policies and procedures are to be considered for inclusion above and beyond existing Workers' Compensation and Human Rights requirements. Basically, it is a framework that overlays what employers hopefully are doing already.
Employers can access the CSA Standard without charge from the CSA website for the first five years following its release. The CSA Standard or P6 provides employers with an infrastructure made up of six parts: policy, planning, promotion, prevention, process and persistence.
The American Medical Association has noted that stress is the basic cause of more than 60 percent of all human illness and disease. The reality is that our body doesn't discriminate between a big or little stress. If unchecked, stress can age us prematurely, impair our cognitive function and drain our energy leaving us struggling to focus and feeling further and further behind in our work.
If you have questions about the CSA Standard and the services available within your group benefits plan to help employees deal with stress-related issues, please contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Most people would agree that some forms of stress are healthy and help us stay productive when we're pushed just slightly outside of our comfort zone.
It's easy to feel stressed in our world. We're pushed to do things faster and better all the time. While advances in technology have done much to make our lives easier and provided efficiencies we never dreamed possible, it also created a great deal of stress. Billions of people use smartphones now to stay connected and as a result they feel the need to be 'plugged-in' all the time. People are seen texting while driving, eating, watching television and walking.
We can accomplish only so much in a day yet find ourselves frequently lamenting the challenge in achieving work/life balance. We're strained thinking about not being able to do everything on our ever growing list. There are many other stressors including: financial worries, relationship woes, eldercare challenges and increasing job demands that add to our stress levels. Employees can't be expected to check their stressors at the door before entering the workplace. They carry their emotional burdens with them and when job demands heat up, the work setting becomes a pressure cooker bubbling with mental and physical health issues aggravated by stress.
What is the cost of stress in the workplace and how do we measure the harm it causes? Dr. Martin V. Cohen called stress "the silent killer" in his article on stress management. With one in five Canadians facing the potential of experiencing a mental health issue in their lifetime, dealing with stress has become a major concern for employers. The results of the 2013 Sanofi Canada Healthcare survey indicate that employers plan to introduce more wellness programs and ways to protect employees' physical and mental well-being. Not only do they say it is the right this to do as a responsible employer, but they believe it will have a positive impact on reducing disability claims and increasing overall productivity and engagement.
In part 2 of this series, I'll explore many ways employers can effectively help employees manage stress in the workplace. Employers can begin by promoting the following the 10 steps that Dr. Cohen recommends:
By sharing tips that employees can use at home, they begin the process of effective stress management and help employees develop habits that will build a healthy path on the road to mental and physical well-being.
For questions about what tools and resources are available through service providers to support employees dealing with stress and mental health issues, contact us. We're here to help so that 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.