Managing Stress

The harsh realities of today’s economy means we all are expected to do more with less, both on the job and at home.  How can companies help their employees cope with increased stress?  In the past emphasis has been placed on individual stress management, often focused on reaction to a singular event.  


One alternative is stress resilience.  It involves a new mindset, “looking for a way to build stress into a normal life as opposed to keeping it away from the normal life.”  Stress resilience helps individuals anticipate stress and how to respond.  This helps them stay calm and better able to mitigate the stress.  Yoga and other calming tools replace the fight-or-flight model.


Another approach promotes building capacity for stress.  This requires managing energy rather than time.  Providing opportunities for renewal is crucial, whether that be deep breathing exercises, taking a walk outdoors, calling a supporter or loved one, or taking 5 minutes to listen to music.  This renewal then helps funnel and renew energy into high performance.


Unfortunately, often the workplace has worn down its employees.  Policy and personnel changes, benefits and salary cuts, increased workloads, layoffs, longer hours, increased insurance cost-sharing – all have added to employee stress.  Helping employees have some control, such as flexible work schedules, can help.  Also, organizing a lunch-time walking group or yoga sessions can be beneficial.  Employers need to show they care.


From Employee Benefit News, January 2012 issue, pp. 10-11.






Adapting Safety Programs for the Aging Workforce

“The health and safety of the rapidly growing number of older U.S. workers demand employer attention to reduce injury-related losses. . . . Health care costs, workers compensation spending and worker productivity are factors employers must consider as the nation’s population and its workforce age.” 


U.S. workers aged 55 and older numbered about 15 million in 1988, approximately 18% of the nation’s workforce.  That number increased to 28 million in 2008 and is expected to swell to nearly 40 million by 2018, nearly 25% of the workforce, when all of the baby boomers will be 54 or older.


People are working longer for a variety of reasons.  First, adults are living longer and are healthier than previous generations.  Financial considerations are also a significant factor, whether because retirement preparations are inadequate or because of increasing medical costs.  Companies benefit from mature workers’ knowledge and experience.


The physical condition of older employees, such as deterioration caused either by age or chronic disease, can affect how they respond to potential workplace hazards.  While older workers are less likely to suffer workplace injuries, it takes longer for them to return to work if they are injured.  Better lighting, slip-resistant floors and chronic disease management programs benefit workers of all ages, and are well worth the investment.  Job duties may be modified as workers age to reduce overhead lifting or other repetitive motions.  Stretching routines before starting a work shift may reduce injuries and claims.


From Business Insurance, April 9, 2012 issue, pp. 3-4.


Effective steps for reducing accidents, injuries involving older workers:



Screen for vision impairment

Provide adequate levels of light

Consider the size of signs, controls and displays

Use color contrast in signs to help identify potential hazards



Screen for hearing loss

Minimize exposure to loud noise

Minimize background noise


Cognitive Ability

Minimize tasks requiring quick decisions

Reduce distractions and simultaneous demands

Provide opportunities for practice and time to develop task familiarity


Movement Control

Minimize tasks that require quick reactions

Allow additional time to perform manual tasks

Consider good ergonomic design by limiting the number and weight of lifting tasks

Install skid-resistant material for flooring and stair treads


Based on tips from the American Society of Safety Engineers and the National Safety Council.  Quoted from Business Insurance, April 9, 2012 issue, Work Place Safety Poster.

Revisions to Health Care Reform’s Summary of Benefits and Coverage

Group health plans are required to provide a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (“SBC”).  They were to have been required by March 23, 2012.  However, final rules now require the SBC to be distributed to employees for plan years that begin on or after September 23, 2012.  For example, if a plan year begins on January 1, 2013 and open enrollment is from October 1-November 1, the SBC must be available by October 1.

The SBC will have specific important questions enrollees may have, the answer, and explanations about why this matters.  Another section will outline common medical events, services which may be needed related to that event, costs for each service and any limitations/exceptions. 

Information about two specific situations must be included:  having a baby and managing Type 2 diabetes.  For each example, employers will need to use a government provided number for the amount owed to the providers.  The company then can fill in how much the employee and the plan would pay.  Other sample care costs, such as initial office visits, radiology, lab tests and hospital charges, must be added.  At the bottom of each example, under the heading “You Pay,” dollar figures would have to be provided on deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and limits or exclusions. The requirement to include a third example, the cost of treating breast cancer, was dropped. 

The new regulations also make clear that new employees do not have to receive paper SBCs for every plan into which they may be eligible to enroll.  Instead they may be viewed (or downloaded) electronically.  For existing employees, the SBC will only need to be provided for the plan s/he is in.  However, an electronic link must be given to view other available plans.  Employees can request paper copies.

Although many insurers plan to provide SBC brochures, the Department of Labor has provided a template for employers to generate their own SBCs.  It is available at www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/SBCtemplate.pdf.

From Business Insurance, August 22, 2011 issue, pp. 4 and 21, and February 13, 2012 issue, pp. 4 and 18.

Communicating Benefits with Technology

Social media and other tools are changing the way we communicate with the world.  Some companies are embracing these tools to engage employees in health and benefits decisions.  One such company (which administers benefits for 550,000 employees, retirees and dependents) decided to cut back on their printed publications, kept some key mailings, but expanded its reach through email, YouTube videos and Facebook postings.  It reported that one result showed increased use of generic drugs, saving money for both employees and the company.

Besides email and intranet communication, how else can employers effectively communicate with and engage employees?

Social media can be very helpful getting people to join together for a common goal, even if they are geographically diverse.  Fitness “teams” don’t have to live/work nearby in order to participate.

Blogs are a great way to educate people by giving small amounts of information over time.  Various vendors and carriers have content available online to help get one started.

Video clips can be made with many smart phones and are easy to post.  Perhaps someone from HR can walk around, talking to various people about a subject.  Employees may be interested in what their colleagues are thinking and saying.

Games can be created to provide both education and entertainment.  A texting game may require employees to “scavenge” key information about their benefit plan.

Quick response code readers are commonly available as smart phone apps.  Add codes to printed materials so interested employees can receive additional product information or coupons, for example.

Text messages are great tools for reminders or reiterating information which has already been given out.  However, they are not practical for introducing large changes.

From Business Insurance, February 13, 2012 issue, pp. 9-11.

Raising the Security Bar

There is no way for companies to completely eliminate the risk of data breaches and cyber attacks.  However, there are steps they can take to reduce potential losses, and they aren’t terribly expensive or terribly difficult.

 First, involve leaders from different departments (e.g. information technology, risk management, legal, finance, human resources, marketing or public relations) for discussions on cyber liability issues.  If possible, involve third party business partners and vendors as well. 

Prepare an organized and comprehensive data breach response plan, including individual and departmental responsibilities.  The team must respond quickly to mitigate damages.  Include plans for public relations, as reputational harm may prove more costly than direct financial losses.

Evaluate the data collected and stored on your system.  If there is a lot of information collected but never actually used, consider getting rid of it.  It poses a 100% risk with a 0% value.

From Business Insurance, March 12, 2012 issue, pp. 4 and 18.