(This post is about a 4-minute read)
This years’ Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey showed that benefit plan sponsors are dealing with many different types of challenges as they try their best to deliver high-value programs to their employees. Sponsors are on the lookout for low-cost, low-effort solutions where they can realize big returns; improving productivity, morale, and overall focus within their organizations. Backed by numerous scientific studies, and emerging as more mainstream in North American culture, mindfulness is a highly credible practice that workplaces can embrace to see profoundly positive rewards.
Wellness program fatigue
In recent years, the focus may have been on expanding or promoting services within the scope of formalized wellness programs. Various forms of discussion-based therapy, nutritional counselling, and exercise would have been touted as essentials to help an employee smooth the edges of life’s rough patches. While these are valid, proven, and practical, the Sanofi report revealed that engagement in these kinds of offerings was plateauing. It argued that it was time to put the brakes on trying to bring in more wellness bells and whistles.
Create a shift in culture
A better approach would focus on looking at the underlying beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, and behaviours that form the backbone of a company’s culture and introduce programming that would support the creation of a healthier, more pleasant environment that’s supportive and minimizes stressors. This is where mindfulness is quietly showing its strengths. Mindfulness programs that are endorsed by employers and work to normalize meditation and deep breathing techniques – two hallmarks of a mindfulness practice -- are seeing astounding results with a trifecta of positive physical, emotional, and psychological changes.
Start small. Share. Support
So how can an organization start down the path of incorporating mindfulness into their culture? It’s easy if they consider one of the fundamentals of mindfulness itself: paying attention to the present time and place. Start small and gauge interest, finding people who have already developed a personal practice and who are more than willing to share their knowledge as advocates. They will help introduce and model the principles. The potential for grassroots involvement is big if it has the right support from leaders and influencers within your company.
Introduce focussed and balanced breathing exercises at the beginning or end of team meetings. Share the science and results. Create space by inviting people to attend a short, five-minute group meditation session, at least once a day. Make work a safe place for people to recognize the need for balance and help them achieve it.
What are the gains?
When someone is mindful, they become more keenly aware of how they choose to interact with the world. They develop a better sense of how they process information. More importantly, they learn how they react to different sources of stress. Mindfulness gives them a chance to observe the direction that they naturally lean to when responding to situations. And consequently, they can make more thoughtful, conscious choices. This kind of insight comes with practice, and of course, a strong personal commitment.
When a business creates space within their culture to support mindfulness, they gain employees who feel more in control of their personal well-being. They will start to see reductions in interpersonal conflict because of reduced stress, increased empathy and higher degrees of emotional intelligence. Creativity, community and loyalty flourish. As the employee population becomes healthier all around from the shift in support of mindfulness in the workplace, these positives and others will begin to show up as better outcomes for benefits programs
Connect with usif you would like to discuss mindfulness at work or any other topic. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
We all know we need to get up and move to stay healthy, but with the pace of work these days, it can present a real challenge for the average person in their workday. One of the best ways to improve physical and cognitive health and well-being, plus give productivity a pick-me-up is to take advantage of beautiful weather and get outside!
Despite the popularity of fitness trackers, pedometers and mass PR campaigns about getting in your 10,000 steps a day, a multitude of studies show that in reality, office workers move very little during their 8-hours at work. In fact, the average seems to fall in the neighbourhood of between 3000 and 4500 steps. With busy families and other commitments outside of work, it seems that despite our best efforts, not all of us are able to make it to the gym regularly.
So, how much should we be moving?
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 get 150 minutes – or 2.5 hours -- of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. We shouldn’t feel overwhelmed that we have to do it in one session either. Every minute of movement counts. In fact, it might be easier to break it up into shorter ten-minute segments.
Let’s also clear up what constitutes moderate-intensity aerobic activity. The Agency states that “Moderate-intensity aerobic activity makes you breathe harder and your heart beat faster. You should be able to talk, but not sing.” (Government of Canada. Physical Activity Tips for Adults 18-64.) That means that walking, bike riding and skating are all good.
Movement benefits the general health of our entire bodies and addresses looming health risks of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and dementia. But we’re obviously conflicted about focusing time to get in our RDAs – that is, recommended daily activitie
A prescription for your health doesn’t have to be a tough pill to swallow
One way around our sedentary tendencies might be for physicians to write out prescriptions for exercise, not just medication, as part of an official treatment plan. People tend to fill their prescriptions because they’re written with authority – often to improve or even save lives. Following your doctor’s orders, as prescribed, takes on new meaning. It could be a wakeup call for some who may have been content in the past to share that their doctor has said they should take better care of themselves. Shifts in commitment and better results show that this may be one of the most effective strategies to use to change behaviour.
In the meantime, before you ask your doctor for a prescription, think about a few of the ways that you can easily find ways to be more active during your workday. Walking is one of the best forms of activity that that gets full marks for being able to be done in short intervals and with little to no equipment. All you need is footwear to start. You can add a refillable water bottle to the list to keep you hydrated along the way. And if you wanted to infuse some hi-tech, you can always look at fitness tracking, either through an accessory or via an app on your mobile device.
Walk and talk
Getting active for as little as ten minutes at a time provides cumulative benefits over the course of a day. It aligns perfectly with the time you might take for a coffee break – but the boost you get is from the exercise, not the caffeine and snack that may have formed part of your routine before. You’ll also have greater success in the long run if you start small. Once you notice your body responding, change up your new routine by increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of your walks.
Parking at the back of the lot, reserving time in your lunch break for a short walk after you’ve finished eating, or even inviting your colleague to a “walking meeting” – inside or outside – these are all ways you can easily step-up to challenge yourself to get more active during the day. Whatever you do, use a calendar to keep a record of your activity. It will make you more aware of what you need to do the commit to making a change.
If you have questions about this topic or what can be done to manage your benefits program better, please contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
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.
In the last few years, there has been a growing number of fitness trackers and fitness apps filling the market and all designed to motivate and encourage healthier lifestyle choices through increased physical activity. The idea of rewards for activity, growing an online community, and the fun of gamification elements, reveal that wearable fitness tech has caught on like wildfire in the workplace and with consumers in general.
There was a time in the not so distant past when only athletes were able to access biometric data and technical equipment through advanced training centers to help them assess nutrition, body fat, sleep patterns and workout progress.
Today, wearable fitness tech is no longer expensive, unattainable or reserved for professional athletes. The research company, Tractica, predicts that more than 75 million devices will be deployed in the workplace by 2020.
There are so many apps and devices to provide us with helpful personal biometric data. Fitness Trackers and smart clothing interact with Smartphones and track workouts and progress through an accelerometer as well as monitor heart rate through a gyroscope. Many wearable fitness trackers also replace watches as they include a time telling feature.
Examples of fitness trackers include Apple Watch, Fitbit and Jawbone. They monitor sleep patterns, nutrition, activity levels, offer challenges, rewards and can make fitness fun. Smartwatches are quickly taking a leading position in the category of workplace wearables.
In addition, there are many free motivating audio apps to encourage fitness including Nike +, Training Club, Sworkit, FitStar Personal Trainer, Rockmyrun and PaceDJ. The last two, match music to your workout tempo.
Wearable fitness tech offers a huge boost to corporate wellness programs. Employers who offer voluntary campaigns or promotions that involve wearable tech gently encourage employees toward healthier lifestyles. In so doing, they are also positively nudging the needle toward greater productivity outcomes where healthier employees equal healthier bottomline results.
Companies like BP received a lot of attention for their "Million Step Challenge" as they partnered with StayWell and offered employees -- on a voluntary basis-- a free Fitbit tracker and with every million steps an employee walked, they earned 500 wellness points, which accounts for 50% of their annual target. There are other ways this campaign encouraged wellness, but the emphasis shows the influence of wearable fitness tech in the workplace as an embedded component of the company's wellness and benefits program.
What's ahead for wearable tech in the workplace?
As wearables become more accessible and commonplace, employers will increasingly look for ways to integrate them to improve morale and productivity. While big data has many upsides, there remains a realistic point of caution. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing so much data with an employer about their activity, sleep patterns and nutrition. Maintaining confidentiality and employee trust about the way data will be used -- if harvested through a company workplace program -- should be clearly identified and communicated to employees upfront.
Wearable fitness tech will continue to evolve, and it is clearly becoming an integral part of wellness initiatives for companies throughout the world. Understanding how to optimize the effectiveness of wearables to meet the needs of employees and employers will be an ongoing challenge.
Staying on top of the trends and discussing the implications for you and your company is something we're excited to do. Please contact us. We're here to help so you can focus on what you do best.
Of the generational cohorts, Millennials - those born between 1980 to 2000 --will make up 50% of the world's workforce by 2020. Where Baby Boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- drove so much of the decision-making, leaderships and consumer purchasing factors until now, it is clear there is another key influencer taking over this role, the Millennials or Generation Y.
Company HR departments, recruiting firms, ad agencies and just about any business looking to drive market share and hire rising star talent are bringing their attention to answering the questions: "What do Millennials want?" and "What will attract Millennials?"
It is with these questions in mind that I share the high-level summary of a recent project conducted by Bentley University called PreparedU. The infographic featured as the image in this blog reveals what Bentley's PreparedU project found out about Millennials.
1) There are some misconceptions about how they work and think. It has been generalized that they tend to hide behind technology with a preference for communicating via text or phone. The result? 51% of Millennials prefer to communicate face-to-face and in person. Email at 19% and text at 14% came in a distant second and third.
2) Another generalization that may be falsely anchored was that Millennials are not loyal to employers and would likely have a dozen or more jobs throughout their career. The Bentley survey showed that Millennials are more loyal than was assumed with 16% of respondents indicating that they saw themselves staying with one employer for their entire career and 80% of surveyed Millennials believing they would work for 4 or fewer companies throughout their career.
3) What may have been validated through the Bentley survey is the assumption that many Millennials have a poor work ethnic. Millennials agreed with 55% of respondents saying that they are unprepared for their first job and 66% of them said that the workplace should limit their use of social media to help address their ability to get work done and limit these online distractions.
4) How does the normal workday look for Millennials? According to the survey, the traditional concept of working 9 to 5 is over with 77% of respondents sharing they would be more productive if they were allowed flexible work hours.
So how does preparing for the influx of Millennials impact talent and shape benefit plans in the future?
1) Employers are looking to focus on introducing wellness programs that show their commitment to the mind, body and spirit of their employees. There is more of a focus on fitness reimbursement programs that aren't just for gym memberships, but for other cardio-related activities such as rowing clubs, Frisbee and baseball leagues. What is offered in vending machines and cafeterias is also being given closer examination. Living a healthy lifestyle includes the food choices made readily available to employees.
2) Companies are looking to introduce voluntary benefits with pet insurance and there is more interest in coverage for identity theft and other on-line related employee concerns. Employers are also incorporating coverage for naturopathic medicine and mental health counselling,
Providing benefits that the Millennials actually value and find of interest is a key question. As this generation continues to chance the face of the modern workplace, more pressure will be placed on finding answers that suit their preferences. Being prepared for Millennials means developing strategies to address these questions now before being forced to do so later.
To discuss workforce planning and considerations for your benefits and/or pension plan, please contact us. We stay on top of the trends with a practical awareness that comes from over two decades' industry experience. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
To learn more about this survey and to hear from Millennials on these topics, please watch the YouTube video from the PreparedU site called, "The Millennial Mind Goes to Work."
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.
March is National Nutrition Month and a great time to ramp up the importance of fostering a healthy lifestyle. It is an opportunity for more than wellness practitioners and dieticians to dial up a greater awareness of healthy eating for employees.
The old adage, "you are what you eat" remains true to this day. While it may seen like overkill or a commonplace reminder, the reality is that many Canadian adults don't meet the minimum servings recommended in Canada's Food Guide on a daily basis. Nutrition awareness campaigns, along with healthy eating reminders are not only helpful, but necessary.
Many employees spend a great deal of time sitting at work. Compound what is becoming coined as a sitting disease with poor dietary choices, and we increasingly see employees with reduced energy, distracted attention and growing health concerns, These contributing factors generate a costly emotional and physical toll on employees. In addition, employers feel the effects in terms of greater incidents of workplace illness and disability claims. The workplace therefore becomes an important place to promote healthy eating.
Many employers may approach March, or any other month for that matter, wondering where to start and how to begin promoting healthy eating and nutrition in the workplace. Fortunately, there are a number of useful and free resources available online. I've included a list of links and brief descriptions of each.
Tips for promoting March's Nutrition Month - check out the Dieticians of Canada website.
Healthy Eating at Work, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety. A soup to nuts resource to guide employers in the development of a healthy eating program.
Healthy Eating in the Workplace Guide - prepared by the Nova Scotia Public Service Commission. This is a comprehensive guide with tools and activities for managers and wellness committees alike.
Healthy Eating Toolkit - a resource to help employees make better food choices.
Looking for ideas for healthy food choices in vending machines?
Healthy Eating - Heart and Stroke Foundation. Learn about the steps ensure a heart-healthy diet.
Good nutrition is an integral component of leading a healthy lifestyle. One's diet, along with moderate physical exercise for 40 minutes, 3 times per week, can help attain and maintain a healthy weight and prevent the risk of chronic disease. The Mayo Clinic reminds us that eating a healthy diet as well as exercising may lead to a better physique and that often triggers a boost in confidence and self-esteem.
Looking for additional resources to bolster healthy eating in your workplace and to promote better benefit plan results? Contact us, we're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Aside from celebrating Valentine’s Day, February is a time when people either embrace winter sports or look to venture to warmer climates to escape snow and cold temperatures.
It is also Heart Health Month and one that finds the Heart and Stroke Foundation busy promoting its mission to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery. Did you know that heart disease and strokes cost the Canadian economy more than $20.9 billion each year in physician fees, hospital costs, lost wages and decreased productivity?
Employers who focus on heart health — whether through their wellness program or otherwise — can make a huge contribution toward awareness that creates a heart smart work environment. Up to 80 percent of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable by adopting healthy behaviours.
Sometimes I believe we think we’re making healthy choices without realizing our own negative contributing factors. Weekend health warriors who enjoy an oatmeal breakfast or a fruit smoothie may be tricked into believing they are heart healthy. What happens consistently during the work week can make the biggest difference.
Employees who sit most of the day and find themselves hunched over a computer and who are dealing with high levels of daily stress are not doing themselves a favour when it comes to heart disease and stroke prevention.
Helping employees pay attention to the benefits of a healthy weight and an awareness regarding managing their blood pressure can delay the onset of heart disease or stroke by as much as 14 years. Top heart smart tips include being active on a regular basis, maintaining a healthy diet and reducing levels of ongoing stress.
While some think it is difficult to be active at work without changing into fitness clothes, there are plenty of opportunities that don’t require a change of clothes such as taking stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible, parking a car at a distance that maximizes exercise on the way to and from the office or walking around the workplace during a short 15 minute break. Starting a casual walking group or a more formal and larger scale one can make a positive impact on both workplace health and employee engagement.
Tackling a healthy diet involves planning ahead and avoiding quick, convenient, processed sources of food. Encourage employees to introduce five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and if a workplace cafeteria exists, ensure that the menu supports a heart healthy meal plan.
Stress reduction can be encouraged by promoting time management best practices, regular daily breaks and the introduction of mindfulness exercises and ways to effectively communicate work expectations, project roadblocks and deliverables.
While there isn’t a one size fits all approach to creating a heart-healthy workplace, focusing on a few that you know your organization will value is key. There are number of free resources available including a cardiovascular risk assessment through the Heart and Stroke Foundation. We are focused on helping companies find ways to encourage employees to put their health first. We invite you to contact us to find out what other heart-healthy resources are available. We’re here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Are sideburns in or out? Are skinny jeans still in fashion or not? These are not topics that preoccupy my thoughts, but I do regularly contemplate trends when it comes to the benefits industry. It is an area of importance for my practice and particularly for how I consult with my clients.
Strategy involves being aware of and remaining ahead of the curve. With that said, this post relates specifically to what I consider to be some of the top trending topics in the realm of Canadian employee benefits. Since my first post in October 2012, I've blogged about each of these 5 areas on more than one occasion. For ease of reference, I've included a link to some of my past posts within each trending topic.
1) Employee Wellness: increasingly, employers are looking for ways to dial up productivity and engagement levels and in so doing, they recognize the need to consider the employee from a holistic perspective. More and more companies are embracing wellness programs and determining the baseline metrics to establish success criteria. Whether it is something as simple as supplementing worksite vending machines with healthier food options or hosting wellness fairs, it is time to consider what wellness programs can do to add to the overall staff experience while driving success for better employee health outcomes.
2) Mental Health: Whether via mega employers like Bell Canada through their mental health anti-stigna "Lets Talk" campaign, or Great West Life's Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, the focus is consistent because the statistics are staggering -- mental health issues are a real concern in Canada. According to the CMHA, 20 percent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime and approximately 8 percent of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
Back in January 2015, I wrote about mental health indicators for Canada and how they influence group benefit plans. At that time, a national commission had just been released regarding a compressive study on the state of Canada's mental health. Mental health claims represent approximately 12 percent of disability claims according to CMHA. Many employers see dips in productivity well before a disability claim surfaces through sporadic absenteeism, workplace safety, and more regular issues of lack of focus and emotional reactivity among colleagues.
3) Prescription Drugs: Weighing in at 13 percent of total health expenditures in Canada, prescription drugs have been an area of focus for a long time. Costs are high especially when specialty drugs factor in the the equation -- just as I wrote about with new hepatitis C short term treatments. Cost management trends include ways to mitigate these risks through pay-direct cards, mandatory generic substitution, dispensing fee caps, preferred pharmacy networks and prior authorization.
4) Financial Literacy: November is financial literacy month and with it comes many reminders of free online tools available to help Canadians manage their money and save for retirement. These reminders are important as employees continue to experience stress due to financial woes. Many Canadian struggle to make optimal financial decisions and don't have more than $2000 in an emergency fund. When employees are stressed about their finances, it impacts their ability to focus and be productive at work. Increasingly, employers are placing more emphasis on providing financial educational opportunities as part of wellness programs.
5) Benefits Communications: Whether designing a benefits plan or making tweaks to an existing arrangement, the need for excellence in benefits communications is ever present. Driving up plan member pension participation rates or gaining appreciation for the value of the total compensation package, employers continue to seek ways to catch employee's attention.
Considering the demographic changes and the life cycle of the workers moving along the employment continuum are also areas of focus for our firm as we address trends with our clients. As Wayne Gretzky said, "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." We believe the same concept holds through in the benefits industry. We invite you to contact us, we're watching where the benefits 'puck' is going to be so that you can continue to focus on what you do best.
Lately, the buzz words at benefits conferences and in many employee-centric articles tend to be aimed at "workplace wellness".
A consistent goal for many plan sponsors also involves their ability to effectively keep a lid on employee benefits costs while at the same time, ensuring they offer programs that are in high demand. Managing benefit plan costs while addressing talent attraction and retention strategies can be challenging. It may also appear somewhat philosophically at odds.
The 2014 Towers Watson survey reported that 76% of employers plan on increasing their investment in the benefit plan within the next few year. Where are they placing this investment? It is primarily centred on specialty wellness programs designed to support employee awareness and to prevent health conditions. Employers seem to be dialling into the correlation between prevention and savings. The Towers Watson survey also reports that employers are introducing biometric screening, on-site medical services, and physical exercise programs.
The demand for specialty vendors creates the opportunity to offer additional services, but it doesn't necessarily help with streamlining the experience for the employer or the employee. When service providers work together to ensure the employer gets a clear big picture of what's happening in the benefits plan, everyone wins. This integrated concept isn't easily coordinated, but it becomes more manageable when the employer enlists the help of a trusted advisor who can work with the various providers to ensure the employer has the information needed to make the most proactive strategic decisions regarding the plan's future. This holistic undertaking involves an overall plan review where claims history, absenteeism trends, and other productivity drivers are analyzed and then synthesized.
Statistics, surveys, and research reports beat home the message that employers can positively effect benefit plan costs when they take a proactive and integrated approach. This includes looking ahead at potential as well as known benefit plan cost drivers. When an employer looks upstream to influence plan member behaviour, there is an increased opportunity for the shift toward prevention and early intervention. This shift may result in fewer claims and lower plan costs and it happens when an employer has the full plan picture.
Understanding what triggers plan costs now allows decision-makers to recognize what preventative measures are necessary. The more employers do to integrate their benefits program and establish workplace policies with incentives to promote physical and mental wellness, the more opportunity there is to create a wellness-based culture. Based on the findings from a 2013 Gallup survey, employers that adopt an integrated approach to employee wellness experience 27% lower absenteeism, 41% few product recalls and 25%-65% lower turnover.
Changing employee behaviour isn't easy. One of the major wellness program hurdles involves finding ways to help employees see and believe the need for change in their lifestyles as well as building awareness that prevention is key to helping them avoiding chronic illness. If nothing is done to move the needle on these points, we'll continue to see medical costs related to chronic diseases escalate in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year.
Having a roadmap that allows an employer to make better decisions based on existing claims patterns and trends is a step in the right direction. Plan sponsors are not in this quest alone. 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.