Why you might consider a “Dry July”

I enjoy a drink to unwind or in social situations as much as many other people, but I also have a healthy respect for what alcohol can do to my body, and as such, embrace periods of non-consumption.

For some, this past holiday weekend may have been a little indulgent. Despite already being a few days into July, it’s not too late to think about making the remainder of the month a “Dry July”.

I’ve borrowed this term from an Australian foundation that promotes Dry July as event and challenge to raise money for those affected by cancer. You can check out it’s origins and information about the work they do here.

Despite its Aussie roots, there’s no reason it can’t be embraced wherever you may be.

Here’s a little bit of info about what alcohol does to your body, and a couple of specific reasons why you might consider taking a break – either short or long-term.

1. Sleep

Many people think alcohol helps them sleep. This is a misunderstanding. Alcohol is a depressant, and yes, in the short-term, it can initially make you feel sleepy or help you fall asleep quicker; however, it is more disruptive to sleep later in the night. During the night, your body goes through a number of sleep phases – each of which has a very specific purpose and contributes to key functions like immunity, memory and brain function, cell repair and body maintenance. When you have alcohol in your system, it specifically disrupts the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of your sleep cycle. You’ll likely experience a more restless sleep and not feel as well restored the following day. Everyone seems to be exhausted all the time as it is, why exacerbate that by knowingly disrupting your sleep quality?

2. Core Health Functions

Alcohol consumption is known to weaken your immune system. It can also cause changes in blood pressure and potentially increase triglycerides, both of which are key markers of cardiovascular health. More recently, there are associations with impaired brain and memory function. Perhaps these are related to the poor sleep that alcohol induces, or perhaps there are other mechanisms. Either way, alcohol can impact many elements of our short and long-term health with the impacts often more significant with higher levels of intake.

3. GI and Inflammation Issues

I haven’t collected empirical data, but from most anecdotal and general media sources, the number of Americans suffering from digestive issues is rising. There are most likely a combination of factors including diet, stress, fatigue, and inflammation as well as our population’s high use of medications. But for anyone who does experience GI issues, you may be interested to know that alcohol can also contribute. Alcohol can irritate GI tissues and contribute to both gut and systemic inflammation. It can also alter or disrupt the balance of your microbiome and can contribute to bloating and other GI distress.

Summer is a traditional time to take a vacation, hit the beach, do some grilling, go camping, or just get together with your friends and family. Often, alcohol tags along for the ride. But recognizing that so many of us are, or have been struggling with managing our stress, fatigue, and health in the wake of the pandemic, perhaps you might see a benefit to enjoying some time this summer without alcohol. You can still have plenty of fun, and just maybe, you might feel a little better while doing so.

HBD provides the industry’s best total population workplace health and wellbeing programs. We create programs for the real world, integrated into your workflow to more naturally engage your employees, providing relevant and progressive health education. From general wellness to mental health and ergonomics, we can create comprehensive health solutions or targeted interventions. If you want to experience the benefits of a healthier and more engaged workforce, then get in touch with us today.

Fulfilment from work in the age of Pandemic Burnout

Evidence suggests we don’t work only for the money. Billionaire moguls boast intense work hours, individuals with high earning potential spend less time on leisure, and children of rich parents are twice as likely to have summer jobs. On top of this, people often say the stakes of their job is more than just their income; people are searching for careers that impassion them and contribute to a greater meaning than just a wage. But is it healthy to tie our sense of identity to our work and work achievements?

COVID-19 rapidly disrupted our regular nine-to-five and for many, called into question the relative significance of our work in the world and whether the long hours and constant connectedness had real meaning.

The result of this emotional questioning layered with disrupted schedules and an overlay of excess community stress and anxiety? Burnout. Associated with exhaustion, feelings of negativity, and reduced professional drive, burnout has become exacerbated by the added pressures brought on by the pandemic. Burnout is a psychological phenomenon that has defined our working age, resulting from the chasm dividing what we hope to get out of work versus what we actually get.

The mythology that drives us to the point of burnout is the promise that if we work hard, we will be fulfilled and self-actualized. Before 2020, this has for the most part rung true – when engagement in work was high, so was the wellbeing of the worker. This also interacted in an additive manner, where if a worker was both engaged and thriving at work, the possibility of burnout decreased and overall productivity increased.

However, a Gallup poll revealed a paradox in the COVID-19 workspace: as engagement in work increased, the wellbeing of the worker decreased. Working during COVID-19 is associated with an intensified level of engagement but with correlated levels of negative emotions such as stress and worry. Consequently, we are seeing high levels of work engagement, which would normally be associated with fulfilment and wellbeing, but is instead causing stress, anxiety, and negativism.

So how do we navigate this Engagement-Wellbeing Paradox in 2022 and beyond? The greatest concern is that, once workplaces return to some form of normalcy, many employees will be approaching burnout. While part of the onus is on the workplace to ensure they are appropriately caring for their employees (see: The Great Resignation and re-imagining the work environment), possibly there are steps to be taken at an individual level to reduce chance of burnout and improve wellbeing.

First, it is important to get an understanding of what purpose in the workplace can look like, and how it relates to an individual worker’s strengths. What motivates you most about work – do you like solving problems, or seeing a difference you make on another person? How are these motivators entrenched in the company’s mission and vision? Workers can actively look for ways to pursue these actions and values in everyday work, even if implemented at a small scale.

Additionally, a way to improve wellbeing from work is to change your perspective in how you find purpose. Attributing a sense of purpose from work is often the result of three main elements: feeling connected to something bigger than yourself, knowing your work matters, and understanding how your work affects others, both within the organization and the greater community. Workers can connect what they do to the bigger picture, linking their work to values which matter most to them.

Another way to improve worker wellbeing is to be empathetic and positive to other colleagues. Sharing positive narratives with other colleagues, such as commending someone’s presentation or work progress, helps shift a collective attitude to positivity and growth. This is the belief of “social contagion” – where behaviors and attitudes can be spread throughout social networks and influence the cultural mindset. Not only does praising others improve their own sense of self-efficacy, but it feeds into this contagion effect of high productivity, high sense of fulfilment, and community value.

Finally, what the pandemic has taught us is that our total sense of fulfilment does not need to stem from work alone. Where our work ethos was previously obsessed with striving for notable achievements, we have reached a point where we must ask, “what are we trying to prove?”. When focusing intensely on professional targets, we can forget that there are other aspects of life which provide fulfilment and self-actualization. Having a sense of purpose outside of your nine-to-five can actually help enrich your work with more meaning. By evaluating what you prioritize in a holistic sense – whether it is family, friends, community, or work – you are more likely to be left satisfied as a whole, as you are finding fulfilment through a multitude of facets.

2020-21 has demonstrated that we can no longer rely on intense work engagement to gain a sense of purpose. Instead, we must seek out purpose beyond our regular working hours, using each sector of life to enrich our sense of fulfilment. The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity where we can deconstruct how we shape our purpose – whether it is through connecting to the bigger picture, having a positive impact on others, or finding meaning outside of work. We can hope that this shift in work ethos in 2022 and beyond will help restore the path to self-actualization.

If your team is struggling with burnout, HBD can help! We provide specialty team, or individual level programs, grounded in neuroscience, that he

lp employees understand the interplay between physiology and psychology, and provide unique strategies to build health and resilience so that your team can remain healthy, motivated, and productive.

From Languishing to Thriving: Do you need a Mental Health RTW strategy?

Most employers recognize the massive impact of poor mental health on costs and performance but it’s a challenge to feel equipped to confidently and proactively manage them. Most companies have robust workplace injury and return to work policies to mitigate the impact of lost time, but mental health has traditionally been more reactive and less openly addressed. A broken bone, a laceration, or a joint sprain is clearly defined; it either exists or it doesn’t and there is clarity when it has healed. Mental health and trauma are anything but clear. They are concealed and far more challenging to determine when, if ever, they are “healed,” but that certainly doesn’t make them any less real.

 

During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, data from the CDC revealed a three-fold increase in mental health problems relating to depression and anxiety, with almost half of some population groups reporting symptoms.

 

While the pandemic continues to burden us in waves, for many, much of the initial shock and anxiety has waned, only to be replaced with enormous mental fatigue and a still present overlay of anxiety and pessimism. You’ve probably heard your friends and colleagues describing their symptoms, probably feel them yourself: it’s not quite burnout; you still have energy. It’s not really depression; you don’t feel hopeless, and yet you are still not well and thriving. You’re somewhere in the middle, just being… but somewhat joyless and aimless. A recent NY Times article by Adam Grant described this brilliantly, and the term for what many are feeling is: languishing, and I believe it’s a key driver of the “Great Resignation.”

 

I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Great Resignation.” But do you understand what’s driving it? Initially, many pegged the phenomenon as a battle over flexibility, and people threatening to quit if they were required to return to the office. But it’s far deeper than that. In the face of monumental events in the world around us – the pandemic, climate change, social and political movements – many are simply questioning their priorities and the purpose or value of their work. When we’re stressed by external stressors, people are left questioning whether there’s enough meaning or enough personal and emotional payback to add work stressors into the mix. Sadly, many are finding there isn’t enough meaning or emotional reward.

 

There has never been a more important time to ensure your employees feel connected to their purpose, connected to their peers, and empowered to manage their personal energy. This requires deliberate reflection, clear connection of daily work to greater goals, and education for individuals to learn meaningful personal strategies for managing energy and their work-life balance. Checking these items can bridge both personal and professional development and can help people reconnect with the emotional value they find through work.

 

In the immediate short term, as we all try to productively negotiate the emotional long-haul induced by the pandemic as well as limiting the impact of the “Great Resignation”, perhaps you should consider approaching it like a “Mental Health Return To Work” plan. Draw a line in the sand. Will your organization suffer the lagging impact of post-traumatic stress, or emerge stronger, primed for post-traumatic growth? Ignoring your people’s struggle to thrive will turn them away. Embracing a culture of acceptance, support, and a vision forward will give you more resilient people, and ultimately, a more resilient business.

 

Do you recognize that your team or your people need help? Don’t know where to start? We’d love to introduce you to HBD’s unique, and extremely timely health and high-performance programs. Please reach out to us and we’d love to learn about your team and your needs.

Flipping the Focus Towards Prevention in Corporate Wellness

For decades, the promise of corporate wellness programs has been to promote positive health and control health and associated corporate performance costs. In reality, the majority of the wellness industry has failed to achieve the levels of engagement necessary to achieve that promise.

 

HBD recently hosted a webinar with Shortlister to discuss the gap between this promise and what is widely being delivered, and subsequently presented an overview of the pathway that’s required to close that gap. You can view notes and a video of that webinar here.

 

Given the ongoing pandemic and the knowledge that pre-existing conditions make people more susceptible to significant illness, the case for prevention and indeed the benefits realized for those who were already ahead of the curve prior to the pandemic has never been more compelling.

 

The biggest barrier to reaching the benefits of prevention is engagement. As most vendors provide niche products in the wellness space, most companies are forced to try to build a comprehensive program from a group of individual pieces. They end up with programs that compete for employee attention and dilute total population engagement across multiple sub-programs. Employees end up with a bunch of puzzle pieces, but rarely a clear picture.

 

In recognition of companies struggling to properly reach across their total population, most companies fall back on trying to target the low-hanging fruit of identifying and managing their high risk and highest cost employees. Ah, the rise of “disease management” programs. While we totally get the appeal and quick-wins associated with cost efficiencies in this very high-cost group, it’s an unsustainable approach, as it doesn’t prevent the next wave of people within your population from becoming high risk. Established literature indicates that only around 3% of the U.S. population is currently “healthy”, and most populations, without intervention, will have an annual 2-3% migration towards high risk. If you can’t more effectively engage more people and stem that flow, you will never get ahead. For every high-risk person whose costs you improve, another person drops into that high-risk and high-cost bucket to replace them.

 

A far more sustainable cost management strategy is to still identify and aim for efficiencies in the high-risk and high-cost group, but concurrently seek early, proactive intervention across the remainder of the population, that is, the entire population. Avoid or slow their progression towards high-risk and high-cost. Data from Dee Edington during his time at the University of Michigan (refer to his exceptional book, Zero Trends, 2009) established that you actually save 40% more by preventing a health risk than you can save by reducing or properly managing that health risk once it’s reached. 40% more!

 

The added benefit of being able to more successfully engage the total workforce in a more proactive wellness program is that you get other benefits in workforce performance (like absence management, job engagement, productivity, and injury prevention), adding to the value proposition and sustainable workforce cost management. While many people tout these as added benefits of wellness programs, most programs don’t achieve the reach necessary to properly realize these benefits. It is estimated by leading researchers (Goetzel, Edington etc) that to achieve the greatest financial returns from wellness programs, you need to achieve sustained engagement from at least 60% or more of your total population.

 

Across our book of business, HBD averages sustained engagement from over 95% of the total workforce annually (over 85% of the total workforce in a sustained and routine nature), without major participation incentives. With that captive audience, the door opens to significant group behavior change and measurable shifts in group health and performance.

 

Average Workplace Health Outcomes Across our Book of Business:

With these outcomes, the conversation can truly flip towards prevention. With this consistent reach across the population, you still identify and help manage those already at high risk, but you concurrently intervene and stem the flow of the rest of the population towards high risk.

The Pathway to Prevention:

How do you get there? Instead of trying to “best fit” a bunch of independent programs to your people, we start from your people, your unique culture, and operational logistics, and then build a program to fit them.

 

Interventions must be structured in a way that makes engagement EASY and ROUTINE. Whenever you put programs in the periphery and wait or try to nudge people to seek them out, you will immediately reduce your reach and begin to limit the programs to those who specifically know they need them, or who have an existing interest in them. That immediately erodes your opportunity to achieve prevention.

 

Secondly, the content is critical. It must be RELEVANT and ACTIONABLE. Most people have a basic sense of what they’re “supposed” to do to be healthy (eat better, exercise more, etc), and yet so few people actually do it. It’s not a lack of information or incentives, it’s a lack of compelling actionable knowledge. People don’t know how to fit the generic recommendations to their personal routines or they don’t have a compelling personal value proposition to bother. However, for behavior change to occur and stick, they need both.

 

Finally, the program must be nimble and adaptive. Employees need to keep getting personal value from the program long-term, even as their health, needs, or interests change. If the program is stagnant and generic then attrition becomes the rule rather than the exception.

 

The real value of corporate wellness isn’t unattainable, but it’s also not quite as simple as selecting a few flashy plug-and-play solutions and trying to nudge people towards them with gift cards. It requires purposeful structure and adaptive content that can truly reach and engage your entire population – regardless of their existing risk or stage of readiness.

 

To learn more about our global best practice methodology, or if you are interested in truly starting to get ahead of the cost curve with your people’s health and performance management, then we encourage you to hit “contact us”, reach out – no obligation – to at least learn about the type of program we could build for you.

Heart Month: Focus on Blood Pressure

In honor of American Heart Month, we wanted to explore blood pressure – what is it, and how can you manage it?

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against your blood vessel walls. A blood pressure reading has two numbers. The top number (systolic) is the force on your blood vessel walls while blood is being pushed through your arteries during a heart contraction, and the bottom number is the force remaining in the vessels at rest, between heartbeats.

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure (systolic greater than 130, or diastolic greater than 80), is when the force that the blood pushes against your blood vessel walls is consistently high. This can lead to serious health complications, such as increased risks of developing heart disease and kidney disease, as well as being a leading risk factor of stroke. These conditions are serious, and are collectively excellent reasons to try to avoid high blood pressure, or identify and properly manage high pressure if it exists.

The good news is that healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk of developing hypertension or help you manage hypertension if you have it.

Let’s break down some of the healthy choices you can make to reduce your blood pressure risk.

 

1. Engage in Physical Activity

Firstly, the research in this area is very strong. Basically, any regular movement and exercise are better than nothing, and it all gives you a multitude of benefits. To reach a level that is recommended, guidelines suggest we aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week, or a combination of both. The key point is to do it regularly and accumulate active time throughout each day and your week.

 

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Start slowly and gradually. For example, add 5 minutes to a walk once a week.

  • Make it fun. Engage in activities that you enjoy.

  • Make it social. Tell friends and family what you are doing, organize for them to join you, or have virtual challenges to keep each other accountable.

  • Find ways to squeeze in physical activity. Try 10-minute workouts, play with your children or pets outside, do a 10-minute workout during a television show.

  • Try Mind and Body exercises. Mind and body exercises, such as tai chi and yoga, involve mind, body, and breathing. You get a 2 for 1 deal because it helps with both relaxation and physical fitness.

  • Moderate or Vigorous? Research indicates that the effects of physical activity on blood pressure showed that moderate physical activity (ie, light walking) produces as many blood pressure benefits as vigorous activity (ie, running, biking, etc).

 

Important note: If you’re living with a chronic condition like heart disease; type 2 diabetes; osteoporosis; arthritis; COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), high blood pressure, OR if you are unsure if you can begin exercising, consult your doctor or a health professional before starting a new exercise regimen.

 

2. Choose Healthy Foods and Beverages

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to stop hypertension) has a positive effect on the prevention and control of hypertension. The DASH diet consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grain; low-fat or non-fat dairy; along with poultry, fish, and plant-based proteins such as dried beans, seeds, and nuts. It’s low in total fat and saturated fat and limits red meats, sweets, and high sugar beverages.

 

Research has found that individuals with hypertension who adopted the DASH diet saw a reduction of 11.4 mmHg systolic blood pressure and 5.5 mmHg diastolic blood pressure.

 

Try these tips:

  • Eat foods rich in potassium. Eating more potassium-rich foods, such as sweet potatoes, yogurt, white beans, and other fruits and vegetables can help counteract high sodium levels.

  • Plan ahead. Meal planning can make you feel more accountable, but also can help you save some time and money.

  • Create a healthy plate. Make your plate at least half fruits and vegetables; choose whole grains and lean or plant-based proteins; if having dairy, pick nonfat or low-fat products.

  • In sight and in the mind. Keep fruits and vegetables visible and convenient. Having a bowl of fruit out or pre-chopped vegetables can give you that healthy reminder and convenience.

 

3. Cut Back on Salt

Sodium is essential but the human body can adequately conserve sodium, so we only need a little in our diet. When you eat more sodium than your body requires, your body reacts by holding onto water so it can dilute the sodium. This water retention leads to an increase in fluid in your blood vessels, so blood volume and blood pressure increase, which leads to an increased workload for your cardiovascular system.

 

If you need to cut back on your sodium intake, try some of these tips:

  • Make sure to read the nutrition label. Look for ‘sodium’, and aim for less than 1500mg per day.

  • Try adding natural flavor enhancers to your dishes and even some drinks, such as herbs and spices instead of salt.

  • Choose more whole foods, processed food tends to have more sodium.

  • Reduce processed foods, like frozen meals, or choose foods labeled as low-sodium.

  • Cut back sodium levels slowly (tip: mix low-sodium and reg sodium items)

  • Research showed that after 2-3 months of consuming less salt, people noticed that they were more satisfied with the flavor and they became more satisfied with low-sodium foods.

 

4. Maintain a Healthy Weight

If you have a BMI of 25 or higher, you may have accumulated abdominal fat which has been shown to be damaging to the heart. Weight loss and reducing that abdominal fat can lower blood pressure and improve your health.

 
  • Choose foods cooked via healthy cooking methods (i.e. avoid fried)

  • Know your portions. Choosing the right amount of food and beverages is all a part of a healthy eating plan.

  • Read the Nutrition Facts label.

  • Use measuring cups and measuring spoons.

  • Eat from a bowl or plate. It is easier to eat more than one serving if you are eating directly from the package.

  • Choose healthy snacks and beverages. Limit foods and beverages containing high amounts of sodium, refined sugar, and fat.

5. If you Smoke, Quit

Tobacco use, whether it be smoking, chewing or vaping, increases the workload of the heart by constricting small blood vessels. This is due to nicotine. Since the heart has to work harder to circulate blood, heart rate increases making blood pressure increase. Did you know that a smokers’ heart rate and blood pressure can drop in as little as 20 minutes after quitting?

 

Try some of these tips for cutting back:

  • Find your reason to quit. It is important to choose a motivator to help you quit. Whether it is family, cost, or your health, focus on your motivator.

  • Build confidence. Set small, attainable goals for yourself.

  • Learn your triggers. Most triggers are social, emotional, withdrawal, or pattern. Being able to identify these triggers can help you deal with them.

  • Next time you are craving tobacco, try exercising or breathing exercises.

  • Grab a straw (or try this cool “Ziggy Stick”). Keep it handy and next time you are craving a cigarette, grab a straw or tube and instead use it for mindful breathing.

 

6. Lower Your Stress Levels

When you encounter a stressful situation, your sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight or flight response to prepare your body for action. When stress hormones are released, heart rate increases (in turn blood vessels become narrower, resulting in higher blood pressure), your breathing increases, and blood is sent to muscles and organs. Stress is useful by keeping your body alert, but chronic stress can hold negative long-term effects, which include sustained high blood pressure. Although we can’t always control stressful situations, we can try different coping mechanisms that are best suited for our lifestyles.

 

Here are some tips to help manage stress:

  • Build strong social support.

  • Try new relaxation techniques. Try meditation, breathing exercises, yoga or tai chi. These techniques can help slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.

  • Sleep well. Getting adequate amounts of sleep helps with your energy levels. This can help you feel more confident in dealing with an unexpected stressor.

  • Exercise. Exercise can help to reduce stress and decrease risk of becoming depressed.

  • Focus on your nutrition. Eating balanced meals gives you more energy and provides better fuel for your mind and body.

  • Smile and laugh. Look through pictures of pets, family or friends. Watch a quick funny video or read a funny joke.

  • Make time to do something you enjoy. Let your creativity shine or relax in nature. Even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes.

  • Consult a health professional.

 

Blood pressure is a critical health metric that deserves your attention. If it is high, it’s important to get it under control, and regardless of your current blood pressure level, being mindful of healthy lifestyle practices that can help maintain a healthy blood pressure is important for us all!

 

Resources:

Resilience: Short-Term Need, Long-Term Advantage

Anyone familiar with HBD will know we think a whole lot about the advantages of companies who are proactive. We truly believe in the adage “A penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and that shows in our workplace program’s consistent ability to achieve significant reductions in workforce population health risks, injuries, or improved performance measures such as absence rates and engagement scores.

Why be proactive? Innovation and agility are synonymous with modern business success. If your business is always reactive, you’re too slow to capitalize on new opportunities and competitive advantages. I believe this to be true not only in a business’s products or services but also their people management. In order to be innovative, you need healthy and engaged people.

Of course, we didn’t know 2020 was going to turn out the way it did. It had a profound impact on people’s personal and professional lives. Many companies and industries have shown enormous courage and resolve, but what will the longer-term fallout be? How long will shear grit allow some to hang on?

There’s no doubt that resilience has never been more relevant, and while it’s never too late to start, don’t you wish your organization could have had a head start in prioritizing more proactive resilience and mental fitness strategies a year ago?

It’s no surprise we’re seeing a spike in demand for resilience training and services, no doubt you’ve talked about it in your organization (is it too early to call the #1 buzzword for 2021?). But is now a good time to implement a resilience program, or have you already missed the opportunity for it to provide the best benefit?

Spoiler alert: It’s definitely not too late.

Resilience is a process, specific mindset, and habits that improve someone’s ability to bounce back. It’s not something that just happens or that someone just learns or activates, it’s something that needs to be built and practiced over time. While we couldn’t have anticipated precisely how tumultuous 2020 was going to be, I think it’s fair to say that given the rate of change and prevalence of stressors in modern business, the need for (and therefore benefits of having) a more resilient workforce isn’t going away even once the pandemic wanes.

Implementing a successful long-term plan to build employee resilience and mental fitness most certainly shouldn’t be considered a fad or something that is too late to implement. Sure, it would have been great to get on top of it a couple of years ago, but you can still get ahead by using the pandemic as a catalyst for buy-in. Having a more resilient workforce will continue to pay dividends as we move forward. I encourage leaders not to consider it as a “quick-fix”. There’s not a lot you can do right now that immediately “fixes” everyone anyway. What should be implemented now is something that lays the foundation for a healthier and more productive pathway forward. Something that gives people strategies they can begin to implement immediately for a short-term benefit, but also something that helps them build on those strategies moving forward.

The danger of simply seeking a quick-fix is two-fold. Firstly, quick fixes rarely make a significant impact on long-term outcomes. It may achieve a short-term boost and people may appreciate the sentiment, but we know that the effectiveness of one-off training and short-run campaigns on people’s long-term behavior and skill development are minimal.

Consider Figure 1, representing the concept of memory decay theory. We are bombarded with so much information there’s no way we can retain it all. When we hear something once – even something useful and motivating – unless we practice and reinforce it, the unfortunate reality is that we will rapidly forget it.

Figure 1. Memory Decay Theory

The second potential problem of a “quick-fix” or one-off reactive training option is that your employees may see it as tokenistic. To build real engagement, employees want to be valued and they want genuine personal and professional development. Giving everyone a quick “stress management training” probably doesn’t achieve this. But providing a plan for a progressive program that more genuinely aims to help people build resilience is far more meaningful.

Why should you bother? The modern business landscape is ever-changing, fast-paced, and stressful. Your people face relentless internal and external pressures. Resilience isn’t about ignoring or avoiding stressors, it’s about being able to better adapt to them. But resilience isn’t only about our reactivity to stress or negative events – it’s so much more powerful than that. It actually enables a much more positive approach to normal work (and life), which in turn enables better problem-solving and helps maintain motivation. Aren’t those qualities you want in your workforce long-term?

Yes, the need for helping employees learn and implement strategies that can improve resilience now is immediate, but the mentality shouldn’t be a “one and done” model. Instead, seek an approach that can build long-term skills and behavior change. This requires an approach that progressively educates and reinforces strategies for implementing new behaviors.

When education is structured and you use approaches such as information chunking and spaced learning then people are more likely to retain information (see Figure 2.) and by extension, become more equipped to make the changes necessary to become more resilient.

Figure 2. Memory Retention with Spaced Learning

HBD has a number of behaviorally focused resilience, mental fitness, and health and high-performance programs. Our approaches to health and wellness programming achieve some of the highest rates of behavior change and measured risk reduction outcomes globally. Learn more here, or hit the link above to contact us.

Images in this post were obtained from an open-source document on SlideShare and were not referenced. The Decay Theory originates from Ebbinghaus and is sometimes referred to as “the forgetting curve”. You can find more information about it with a web search.

Top Tips For A Healthy Festive Season 2020

Make some time for shut-eye

When stress and anxiety mount during the festive season, it can be hard to fall or stay asleep. But good quality shut-eye can calm frazzled nerves. After the year we’ve had, using this little break as an opportunity to promote recovery is a great idea.

Put your worries out of your mind before you climb into bed. At least an hour before bed:

• Make a list of any worries or concerns

• Write down the tasks that you’re worried will go undone

• Put the list in a safe place until morning

Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night for good physical and mental health.

Go easy on the alcohol. Sure, a drink might help you “unwind”, but be aware it can also disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling foggy and fatigued the following day.

Christmas weight gain is rarely lost

Researchers have identified that weight gained over the holiday period is rarely lost. According to a 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average American’s weight increases by 0.4 percent over Christmas and 0.2 percent over Thanksgiving, with the majority of the weight gain occurring in the 10 days following Christmas.

Make the most of a “different” Christmas

For most, holiday gatherings will be limited or non-existent this year. Use that as a good excuse not to over-indulge and instead use this holiday season as a period for quiet, healthy recovery. Be grateful for the extra time with your family and make the most of the time-saved from less traveling or socializing.

Healthy Christmas eating tips

The festive season is a time for celebrating – particularly after this year! However, totally disregarding good nutrition can negatively impact your health and leave you feeling exhausted and run-down. The holidays should be used for rejuvenation, not to feel more worn-out! If you are attending any holiday gatherings this year, or just if you are celebrating at home, keep these simple tips in mind to stay healthy during the festive season:

• Avoid going to parties hungry. Before the party eat something light. Think apple, yogurt, or wholegrain sandwich.

• Don’t try to lose weight over the Christmas season. Instead, aim to maintain your current weight.

• Watch your portion sizes. If your willpower is weak and you know you will want to finish everything in front of you, use an entrée plate instead of a dinner plate. That way you are sure to eat less.

• Mainly fill up with healthier whole-foods (like vegetables, fruit, legumes, and wholegrains), and just enjoy smaller portions of your favorite couple of treats or sides.

• Watch what you drink. Mixer and alcoholic drinks can have a lot of calories that don’t provide you much benefit. So keep tabs on how much you are drinking and be aware of the extra calories.

Keep on moving

Currently, there is no other ‘medicine’ with greater benefits for the body than physical exercise. This party season, balance any indulgences with some physical activity. Try to exercise in the morning, before gatherings start, so you can relax and enjoy the day. If you’re ready to help your team start 2021 in the healthiest way possible, send us a message and we’d love to talk. We have a wide range of online and on-site programs, workshops, and services available to help you and your team have your healthiest and most productive year yet.

 

From all of us at HBD, we wish you a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season.

Wellness Program Management Lessons from the Global Pandemic

I find closing out the year offers a wonderful opportunity for reflection and learning. What did you do differently this year that you want to make a core part of your operation moving forward? What mistakes did you make, or more importantly, what lessons can you take from those mistakes?

No person, organization, or community is perfect. But if we move through life together with an optimistic and growth-oriented mindset we can learn from mistakes and seek continual improvement.

As part of my reflection, I feel there are some poignant management lessons that can be taken from this pandemic, particularly the mismanagement that has occurred in the United States.

A goal in managing people or projects is to create trust and nurture a strong culture. People who share collective beliefs and purpose, and who feel supported by those around them, are more likely to collaborate and collectively be innovative and productive. In contrast, a lack of clear direction or purpose and inconsistent messaging results in distrust and disengagement. People become more focused on protecting their own interests as opposed to contributing to greater goals.

As we stand now, about 9 or 10 months into this pandemic, the key thing that stands out to me from a public health standpoint is the damage of mixed messaging. This, in my opinion, is one of the key lessons for anyone managing a population health promotion program.

 

What we have seen in some countries is an alignment between public health experts and governments, where governments defer to subject matter experts and then echo key messages or implement policies based on their recommendations. Key messages and actions are consistent. What’s the outcome? A much stronger collective impact on the population’s behavior has resulted in significantly less burden from this virus. People are engaged and there seems to be trust in the information and process.

In stark comparison, here in the U.S., we see a population that is very divided. There is distrust between the government and health authorities and a significant lack of centralized or coordinated leadership. This is ultimately a result of not simply inconsistent messaging, but outright contradictory and misleading messaging. The politicization of the pandemic created a significant lack of clarity in purpose, and sadly, the results have been devastating.

This is by no means supposed to be a political discussion – in fact, I try hard to stay out of politics. But it does highlight a really important lesson, one that we’ve come across in real organizations when it comes to people management and management of population health, safety, and wellbeing programs.

Several years ago, I was delivering an ergonomics program for a transportation group. While showing an employee a safer way to perform one his work tasks, he shared his sense of frustration with me, indicating that while he appreciated what I was trying to teach him, he ultimately felt the program was for show and that he believed his management really didn’t care about his personal wellbeing. When I asked why he felt that way, he provided a number of excellent examples of clear inconsistencies between the organizations’ messaging and their operational expectations. On one hand, they would tell employees that safety was a priority and that they wanted everyone to actively assess workplace hazards and take their time to perform jobs safely. Yet at the same time, they were exerting significant time pressure and had productivity-based incentives, essentially promoting and rewarding rushed (and in this case riskier) work behavior. There was a contradiction between messages from different leadership groups and it led to distrust and disengagement.

This is not an isolated example. Many times, I have worked with organizations who say they prioritize employee health and wellbeing while seemingly simultaneously indicating otherwise through their actions and work practices. Most often it’s not out of malice, but rather an accidental misalignment between what is promised and talked about versus actions that are displayed or encouraged – like telling employees that you promote work-life balance and then sending them emails after hours or on weekends.

As we look towards a new year, employee wellbeing is fragile and in genuine need of support. The anxiety and uncertainty of 2020, the dramatic shift to remote work, and the intrusion of work into our home and family life have left many burned out. While we can be optimistic about 2021, the reality is that the initial vaccines will not immediately end the pandemic. We need to understand that the fatigue, anxiety, and many of the same challenges we’ve been faced with will continue significantly into next year.

With that, here are some ideas for learning from mistakes in 2020 and heading into 2021 with the goal of improving our management of people and our population’s health:

Reestablish your Purpose: Why are you in business? How important are your people to that mission and why is it critical for you to genuinely nurture their wellbeing? This is about more than creating a catchy tag line, the purpose should define the values you promote and embody on a daily basis. For some wellbeing programs that we manage in 2021, our theme is “Navigate Your Health”. This idea is centered on a fundamental principle that each person’s journey towards good health is different. Everyone is starting from a different point and the steps each person takes to navigate towards improving their own health are more important than the destination. It allows for people to feel supported in establishing their own goals and progressing at their own pace.

Create Consistency and Clarity in Communications: This will only work if all stakeholders agree with the purpose. Unfortunately, it’s often the part where many groups fail. Things often launch with a lot of fanfare, and then habits revert to “business as usual”. No wonder employees feel disparaged. It is really challenging to be successful when some internal groups are onboard while others don’t share the same sense of urgency or alignment with the values required to achieve the goal.

Lead by Example: People in positions of authority can exert significant social influence on those around them. Again, this is why it is critical to have all stakeholders buy-in to the purpose. Leaders should be strong advocates and consistently reflect the core values, standards, and behaviors that are desired. It’s not about reciting the mission all the time, but instead, striving to demonstrate a genuine passion and belief in the mission. It won’t help if members of leadership are routinely straying from the standards or expectations you demand from everyone else. By no means do leaders need to be perfect. In fact, being transparent and vulnerable in admitting when mistakes are made or on things they themselves are actively working on humanizes them and can build trust.

If you want your businesses and your people to thrive, you need to work hard to create a culture and environment for that to occur. Tokenistic wellness programs will not build loyalty and engagement and they will not significantly improve your group’s health or health behaviors. Programs that are more genuinely aligned with operational values and supported by leadership will be far more credible and ultimately be more successful with enhancing your employee health and their employee experience.

HBD manages total population health promotion programs that maintain the wellness industry’s highest levels of sustained, non-incentive driven engagement, and the industry’s highest measured total population health outcomes. To learn more about our programs or have us review your existing programs, please contact us.

Why 2021 Corporate Wellness Initiatives Need to Center on Mental Fitness.

Updated: Jan 1, 2021

  • Smart organizations will put proactive mental health strategies at the core of their 2021 employee wellbeing initiatives.

  • Psychological models indicate we are likely in the midst of our lowest emotional points in relation to the pandemic.

  • While optimism grows in hopes of the coming vaccines, the reality is that the vaccines will not mean an immediate return to normality.

To say 2020 and the pandemic have taken a toll on mental health is obvious. As our optimism for 2021 grows on the back of promising progress towards a vaccine, we would be remiss in thinking that the need for mental health support will wane anytime soon.

The truth is, the worst mental health impact from the pandemic is likely still to come. Psychological models (see Figure 1, indicating we are likely in the early and lowest stages of “disillusionment”; read full details here) mapping the emotional toll of significant community disasters suggest we are just now likely hitting the low point, from which it will take some time, likely a majority of 2021 to emerge.

Throughout 2020 we’ve had ups and downs, but the prolonged nature of the pandemic and resultant delayed onset of burnout is now hitting home. The double whammy that may occur over the next couple of months is that the build-up of pandemic fatigue is coupled with the emotional toll of what is predicted to be our biggest and most severe surge, capped by an inability to share normal holidays with friends and family.

 

You’re probably familiar with (or sick of hearing about) the rates of anxiety and depression having tripled in 2020 (this is from multiple sources, the most recent being this study from BU). Overcoming that doesn’t just happen with a new year’s resolution. It takes a deliberate approach to manage thoughts and behaviors along with clinical intervention where warranted.

 

In the meantime, businesses absorb the brunt of the cost impact. According to the WHO, “Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.” Bear in mind that is assuming rates of depression and anxiety that are pre-pandemic… that is, three times lower than they are right now.

 

Much of the cost burden is silent. It’s estimated as many as half of people suffering from mental health illnesses do not seek help. However, the WHO also suggests that “Workplaces that promote mental health likely reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.” While many people may not admit to struggling mentally, it is almost certain that your collective workforce is currently performing at a sub-optimal level. Do you simply ride it out, or do you take action to fast-track the recovery process and gain the economic advantage sitting in between?

 

What does supporting employee mental health mean though? For most organizations, it simply means campaigns and awareness-raising for clinical interventions. Trying to reduce stigma and urge people who identify symptoms to seek help. For sure, that’s important, but it doesn’t maximize the true value. The real potential is not just reducing the impact of the worst illnesses in some of your population, but instead promoting the potential gains of optimal mental health across the majority of your population. Particularly now, when more employees than ever are suffering varying degrees of fatigue and burnout. While some likely need clinical intervention, there is also a huge proportion who don’t need clinical intervention but could still improve significantly with deliberate proactive resilience and mental fitness activities. Instead of just trying to plug the leak of clinical-level burdens, why not lift the performance of your entire workforce?

 

In modern business, mental focus, innovation, and creativity are fundamental to success, making it critical to have employees who are engaged, enthusiastic, and invested in their work. This can’t be achieved unless people are healthy – both physically and mentally – as well as feeling a strong connection or sense of purpose linked to their work. Overtly showing that your organization and its leaders care for your people can significantly enhance these foundations of optimal engagement and performance.

 

While most organizations have some form of health and wellbeing program, very few have programs that effectively engage their population or effectively link and support true physical and mental wellbeing. Most organizations offer health programs in the periphery, afterthoughts, rarely engaging more than 20-30% of their workforce. To be genuine, you need to bring these programs out of the shadows and help employees understand the clear alignment between optimally functioning people and sustainable high-performance. Make it a collective vision that your organization’s growth will be underpinned by growth within your people.

 

Regardless of the type of health and wellbeing program you have in place, now is the time to ensure that the promotion of proactive mental fitness and resilience becomes a core, consistently reinforced component of your 2021 strategy.

 

If you need assistance with lifting the performance of your health promotion and workforce wellbeing initiatives, HBD is the industry leader in sustained health program engagement and measured behavior change. We have a number of dedicated programs that specifically target mental fitness, resilience, and high-performance for both executive teams as well as total work populations.

For Healthier Holidays, Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude

To say 2020 has been a challenging year is an understatement. For many, this winter and holiday season will be incredibly difficult. We don’t want to diminish that in any way, and for anyone who is truly overwhelmed, please reach out to people you trust and seek help.

 

From challenging and unusual circumstances also comes opportunity. Why not take the opportunity of a different looking holiday to create a new tradition? For many, traditional holidays are actually incredibly stressful. Rushed and busy travel, short work deadlines, expectations of extravagant meals and entertaining, hosting responsibilities, strained family relationships… there are numerous circumstances that rob the joy of the holidays for many. Perhaps the circumstances we find ourselves in for Thanksgiving 2020 is an opportunity to decompress a little, a chance to truly take a few days to rest and recover and work on self-care.

 

Perhaps one of the best things you could do this year is practice Thanksgiving in a literal sense. Stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and burnout have all become hallmarks of 2020… the “Year of the Pandemic”. Research consistently shows that practicing gratitude can have a significant positive impact on our health and wellbeing. Our physical and mental health are intricately intertwined. It’s difficult to thrive on one side without the other. To take care of ourselves physically we need psychological energy and motivation.

 

Cultivating optimism is good for your health. This article in Psychology Today indicates a significant body of research that says optimistic people are healthier and live longer. They have better cardiovascular health—even after risk factors are controlled for, stronger immune function, and lower levels of stress and pain.

 

Given the multiple stressors that many have endured this year, it’s understanding that some people are feeling more pessimistic and find themselves stuck in a loop of negativity.

 

While it’s certainly not as simple as just saying “snap out of it”, the deliberate practice of mindfulness and gratitude can go a long way towards helping shift your inner attention back towards things that are more positive. It can be empowering to actively challenge your own thoughts – asking yourself if certain thoughts are productive – and combine that with making a choice to practice positive reflection and gratitude.

 

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor E. Frankl

 

Practicing gratitude is about looking to appreciate what you have instead of always reaching for something new. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to cultivate gratitude. Turn away from all the negative attention surrounding 2020, and try noticing the goodness in your life.

 

Harvard researchers suggest some simple ways to practice gratitude, and we encourage you to adopt some of these this holiday season:

 
  • Write a thank-you note: This not only makes you happier, but it also has a positive impact on others and strengthens your relationship.

  • Thank someone mentally: While this doesn’t have the same benefit for others, even mentally thinking about thanking someone can help foster feelings of gratitude in yourself.

  • Keep a gratitude journal: Make a habit to write down or share with loved ones your thoughts about positive things and gifts you receive each day.

  • Make a gratitude wall: In your home or office, designate a board or small space where you can write or stick things that remind you of things you are grateful for. Routinely change and update your gratitude wall so that it remains fresh and meaningful.

  • Count your blessings: Pick a time each week to sit down and reflect on what went right or what you are grateful for. Pick a number – maybe three or five things to try to identify and write down each week.

  • Pray: If it’s meaningful for you, this is a good way to express your gratitude.

 

There are many ways to express gratitude. Feel free to leave a comment and share how practicing gratitude helps you promote your own wellbeing.

 

The whole HBD family wishes everyone a safe, healthy, and enjoyable Thanksgiving. If we can help you promote mental fitness and wellbeing in your workforce, please reach out.

Survive then Thrive Part 4: Nutrition

If you’re interested in the first few posts in this series, you can find them here, here, and here.

In this post, we focus on nutrition, specifically in relation to stress, anxiety, and energy management. We humans have a strange relationship with food. For many species, it’s simply a means of fuel and survival. For people, it’s far more complex and layered with cultural, psychological, and social significance. We eat to celebrate. We eat to mourn. We eat for fuel. We eat to excess, and then we restrict and starve ourselves. Why have we overcomplicated it so much?

When it specifically comes to stress and burnout, food can have significant physiological and psychological effects that can help or hinder how we manage and recover from stress and fatigue. From a physiological perspective, food can impact brain chemicals that influence our thoughts and mood. For example, the neurotransmitter, serotonin, can help us feel calm, secure, and focused, whereas another neurotransmitter, dopamine, may increase feelings of anxiety. Complex carbohydrates will prompt the brain to make serotonin, whereas caffeine will increase dopamine levels. [Side note: You can learn more about brain chemistry and its impact on health and performance through our Chemistry for Success program.]

Other foods can cut levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol. By choosing healthy foods that support our immune system, lower blood pressure, and counter some of the impacts of stress, we can help to not only physically feel less stressed, but also decrease some of the negative impacts on our health that is caused by sustained stress and compensating behaviors.

Sleep is commonly disrupted by periods of high stress. Studies have recently shown that disturbed sleep and disrupted circadian rhythms can alter hunger and satiety hormones, meaning we crave hyper-palatable (i.e. “comfort”) foods. Often these foods are highly caloric and not great for sustaining energy. You can immediately begin to recognize the potential negative cycles of sleeping poorly, feeling fatigued, consuming excess caffeine and comfort foods, potentially feeling guilty about the comfort foods, and potentially further impacting sleep with excess stress and caffeine… leading to poor mood, more stress, and more poor sleep and fatigue. It’s surprisingly common, and a challenging loop to break.

So, what can we do? First, the insights above are incredibly important. Of course, the notion that the fuel we choose for our bodies has a direct impact on how we feel, perform, and recover is intuitive, but for many, particularly under periods of stress, anxiety, and fatigue, it’s really easy to forget. While simply saying “eating healthier will make you feel better” seems simplistic and foolhardy, making the conscious and deliberate recognition is the first step to counter-balancing. Otherwise, it’s surprisingly easy to inadvertently feed the negative loops of stress and fatigue.

· Complex carbohydrates: As noted above, carbohydrates tend to promote serotonin. But be wary of simple carbs and sweets that you may be craving if you are under-slept. They only promote short-term boosts and may lead to over-eating or negative feelings after. Some sources suggest that sugar and processed foods can contribute to inflammation which may contribute to mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. In contrast, complex carbohydrates will promote satiety and more sustained energy in addition to the serotonin boost. For the best impact, have complex carbohydrates on their own or two hours after your main protein meal (if you consume with protein, the effects on serotonin will be impacted). Try starting your day with warm oatmeal and fruit.

· Healthy fats: Fatty fish, avocado, and small servings (1/4 cup) of nuts can provide healthy fatty acids which may reduce surges in stress hormones. Aim for fish twice a week and a small handful of walnuts, pistachios, or almonds daily. An added bonus is the health benefits and positive impact on cholesterol and inflammatory markers.

· Vitamin-rich foods: Studies suggest vitamin C can curb levels of stress hormones (citrus, kiwi). Vitamin E (almonds) can help support your immune system and B vitamins, particularly B12 (salmon, Greek yogurt) can help boost energy.

· Consider reducing caffeine: Or, you could switch from coffee to tea. One study compared people who drank 4 cups of black tea daily for 6 weeks with people who drank another beverage. The tea drinkers reported feeling calmer and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after stressful situations.

· Fruits, fiber, and food for gut health: Research is continuing to emerge regarding the importance of cut health and the microbiome for several aspects of health, including mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, gut bacteria contribute to producing a number of neurochemicals. It is believed that up to 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin (mentioned above) is produced by gut bacteria. Fresh fruits, fiber, fish, and fermented foods can help support thriving gut bacteria.

 

Food alone isn’t likely to eliminate stress. It will be more powerful if paired with other practices like exercise and sleep, however, it is becoming more and more clear that it plays a significant role in promoting mental health and resilience. Fueling your body in a smart and healthy way, in combination with exercise and healthy sleep will certainly reduce the impact of stress and risk of burnout.

 

For information on effective programs to promote mental fitness and resilience across your workforce, or within target executive and high-performance groups, please contact us!

 

Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-b-foods#TOC_TITLE_HDR_13

https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-diet-for-stress-management

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/03/02/468933610/sleep-munchies-why-its-harder-to-resist-snacks-when-were-tired

https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/nutrition/eating-well-for-mental-health

Survive then Thrive Part 3: Sleep

“There does not seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough).” – Matthew Walker, neuroscientist, UC Berkley

 

If you missed Part 1 or Part 2 of this series, you can find them here and here.

 

Before we even start talking about sleep… I know. I know saying “get more sleep” is much easier than actually making time to get more sleep. But compelling recent and emerging research is making it more difficult to ignore the fact that we simply have to find a way to prioritize sleep if we want to optimize our health, longevity, resilience, and performance.

 

Our modern cultural concept that exhaustion is some badge of honor is treacherous. People seem to think that being “busy” equals being important or successful. It doesn’t. What it really equals is burnout and inefficiency. We’ve all heard about celebrities or successful business people who brag about getting up at 4 am or who say sleep is wasted time and …. Yawn… it makes me tired to even write about it.

So instead of getting into a conversation about celebrity life-hacks, let’s instead focus on a few facts. Lack of sleep:

 
  • Amplifies emotional reactivity (or should we say over-reactivity?) by 60%

  • Significantly suppresses your immune system (those who sleep less than 7 hours a night are 3 times more likely to catch a cold than those who sleep 7-8 hours… not a good thing during a respiratory virus pandemic)

  • Disrupts hormones which help regulate appetite and satiety (ahem… #quarantine15)

  • Increases the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, potentially cancer, and is linked to early death

  • Increases the likelihood of depression and potentially dementia or Alzheimer’s disease

  • Reduces cognitive function and decreases memory functions and ability to learn or retain new information

If you haven’t heard or read his work before, you should watch this TED talk by UC Berkley neuroscientist, Matthew Walker (if you’re short on time even the first 30 seconds might be enough to convince some… did he say smaller testicles 😮).

 

Many people have convinced themselves that they “only need” or “function fine” off of 5-6 hours of sleep. Matthew Walker unequivocally says that is not true. While there are some genetic exceptions that seem to allow some people to remain healthy off less sleep, they are so rare that the probability you are one of them is almost none. Sure, we can certainly become conditioned to chronic sleep deprivation and we can seemingly get-by. But for most, it’s simply because they don’t know how much better they could feel or function if they actually improved their sleep. They essentially have a stunted sense of “normal” as their baseline. The truth is, you will feel better, be healthier, and function more effectively if you improve the consistency of healthy sleep.

 

Right now, as a population, we are stretched thin and incredibly stressed and anxious. For a lot of people, traditional work hours were hijacked by this pandemic. But working late into the night and rising early with your kids day in and day out will ultimately lead to poor effectiveness with your work, emotional dysregulation, and strained relationships with your loved ones. It is unsustainable and leads to poor physical and mental health. This completely belies what we actually need at this moment, which is to diligently protect our health (physical and mental), strengthen and appreciate our family relationships, and be as efficient as possible with the time we have available for work. Prioritizing sleep is far from being lazy; it’s actually an investment in your health and performance.

The science recommends 7-9 hours of sleep. For many, that would mean carving out a sleep window of at least 8 hours daily. This is NOT wasted time; this is a NECESSARY INVESTMENT in yourself.

 

Practical tips for improving your sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (or as often as you can), even after a bad night’s sleep and on the weekend.

  • Keep your bedroom temperature cool (Walker recommends about 65 deg F). Wear socks if your feet get cold 😊.

  • An hour before bedtime, dim lights and turn off all screens. Blackout curtains are helpful and necessary for shift workers who routinely need to sleep during daylight hours.

  • If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing (avoiding screens) until the urge to sleep returns. Then go back to bed.

  • Avoid caffeine after 1 pm and avoid alcohol. Alcohol disrupts sleep cycles and reduces the effectiveness of sleep, including specifically suppressing REM sleep.

  • Regular exercise can also improve sleep quality

Like I said at the start… I know. I know that creating extra time for sleep isn’t easy. But the payback in terms of health, emotional balance, and productivity is worth it. Now more than ever.

 

If you’d like to support your employees with science-driven approaches for promoting health behaviors, including resilience and high-performance programs, please reach out and let us share some of our unique and industry-leading health, mental fitness, and high-performance solutions. Be well.

Survive and Thrive Part 2: Exercise

If you missed the introduction to this series, you can read it here.

 

Today the focus is healthy movement to reduce stress and burnout. The cruel irony when it comes to stress and health behaviors, particularly exercise and sleep, is that the people who need them the most are usually the ones who find it most difficult to do. Why is this true of exercise and not as much as, say, nutrition? One of the greatest perceived barriers to participating in regular exercise is time. When people need it the most is precisely when they perceive they have the least opportunity.

For that reason, it’s critical that right now, we consider exercise in simple forms that can be efficient but still provide benefits. Don’t worry so much about breaking personal records or crushing the latest 30-day fitness fad. Focus less on quantifying your activity and more on enjoying the positive mood it brings.

The World Health Organization describes burnout as feelings of energy depletion, exhaustion, increased mental distance from or feeling negative about one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. Couple burnout with stress and anxiety (which an alarming proportion of our population is currently feeling) and we get a pretty bleak picture of the daily struggle many are going through right now.

 

Luckily, cardiovascular exercise has been found to increase well-being and decrease psychological distress and emotional exhaustion. It improves mood and confidence while also reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Resistance training also shares some of these benefits, namely increasing well-being, personal accomplishment, and reducing perceived stress.

 

But all these benefits are useless if people don’t do it. It must be emphasized that you don’t need to engage in intense or lengthy workouts to achieve these positive outcomes. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, as little as 5 to 10-minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

Here’s where I think there’s a lot of opportunities right now. Many people tend to sit at the extreme ends of the exercise continuum; they’re either at the “Exercise? You’re kidding right.” end or they’re at the “How much do you bench, Bro?” end. Exercise seems to have become one of those polarizing things where you either don’t do it, or you go all out.

 

On one side you look at the rise in participation in marathons, triathlons, ironman, CrossFit, and adventure races and think we’re becoming a country of athletes. But this remains at odds with CDC and HHS data that continues to show that somewhere between a half and two-thirds of our population falls short of appropriate levels of regular exercise.

Perhaps a factor that is contributing to this divide is that through social media, apps, and devices, the “glamorous” side of fitness is being portrayed as the norm. That can be incredibly daunting and intimidating for beginners or people who are less enthused about exercise. It potentially feeds a concept of “all or nothing” where unless you’re training for a marathon, the CrossFit Games, or to be an Instagram influencer, then there’s no point. Even for those who do (or at least did prior to COVID) exercise regularly, there’s a sense that if you don’t have the time (or equipment) to do a “full” workout then there’s little point in lacing up your sneakers.

Our recent fitness culture has become dominated by a desire to self-quantify and compete. Wearables, apps, and social networks that try to leverage gamification and competition for motivation may have inadvertently made exercise more of a chore and a disappointing pursuit of unrealistic perfection. If people aren’t setting PR’s, beating friends, or earning points and badges then they feel they’ve underachieved. At best it’s probably helped push and motivate some people, but at worst, it’s sucked the joy and purpose out or exercise. For many, it’s even created anxiety about exercise – which is completely the opposite of what we need! (Here’s a great little discussion about that).

 

It’s not realistic or practical to try and set a personal best every day. Not only does this take the mental joy out of exercise, but it also encourages people to over-train. Ever heard of the concept of a “dose-response?” Just like medication or spending time with your socially inept uncle… the right amount is tolerable and potentially beneficial, whereas too much becomes detrimental (I can handle a holiday or two with uncle Eddy each year… but lock me in an apartment with him for quarantine? Heck no!).

 

Exercise is similar. Doing some is better than none, but at a certain point, too much has diminishing benefits and can potentially become detrimental. Too much exercise can increase your risk of injury. It can also impede your immune system, lead to fatigue, and if it’s done over a significant period, may cause excess wear and damage that could potentially shorten your lifespan. (Here’s a great TED talk explaining the Here’s a great TED talk explaining the dose-response of exercise.)

 

What does all this mean? It means that in our current situation it’s OK not to strive for lofty athletic outcomes. Instead, you should be proactive in prioritizing the basics that support your physical and mental health. Promote regular and consistent (ideally daily) moderate exercise that boosts your mood and contributes to your energy and wellbeing.

It doesn’t need to take a lot of time or be significantly difficult. The pay-back of the time investment in a daily walk (or a couple of shorter walks if long periods of time are difficult to schedule) in terms of reduced stress, improved sleep, and improved cognitive function should make other parts of your day more efficient (not to mention more tolerable and enjoyable). It can help improve the work-life balance and help maintain good physical and mental wellbeing during this challenging time.

 

If you think your people or your organization could benefit from learning skills to be more resilient, please contact us. We have a number of class-leading resilience and mental fitness initiatives for both population health management, and workforce high-performance.

Your Pandemic Survival Guide: “Survive and Thrive”

I have two boys; three and five. My wife is an essential medical worker and while I also have a full-time job, let’s just say that’s been challenging to focus on considering I’ve had 4 days of child care in the last 17 weeks. Like so many of you, when this thing emerged, I tried to have the attitude of just taking it one day at a time… rolling with it… no sweat, I got this! Am I right? Ask me how I’m feeling now 😊

 

We can weather a storm for a little while, but eventually, it will wear us down. Fatigue and burnout are real. As are anxiety and depression. None of these are weaknesses or shortcomings. A large part of them is physiological and they are the reality of relentlessly stressing our bodies without appropriate recovery. The key to sustaining high energy and performance is learning to oscillate between peak output and appropriate recovery. It’s pretty clear this pandemic is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s time we became smarter with managing our energy, emotions, and expectations.

 

If any of you are feeling the same way, and if the prospect of potentially having no school or an on-and-off-again school schedule has you wondering how feasible it is to not only work, but more importantly be productive, then I hope you’ll find this series of posts beneficial. Today I’ll introduce and explain the concept, along with noting the four key pillars. In the coming posts, I’ll address each of the pillars more specifically.

 

“Survive and Thrive” is a critical concept we use within our corporate health, energy, and high-performance programs. Change and adaptation are hard. Whether we are talking about making (and sticking to) significant health and lifestyle changes or whether it’s implementing new work practices; there are times when energy and motivation are high and gains can be made, and there are other times when “life” and disruption get in the way and maintaining those intentions becomes incredibly challenging. Unfortunately, when many people attempting to make change encounter adversity, they give up. Worse still, this creates a chain reaction of negative reinforcement and a sense of failure that lingers in the shadows of people’s psyche and can actually make it harder for them to achieve future goals (check this post out to explore more about the psychological impact of failure).

 

How do we combat this? First, we need to understand that the pathway to success is not a straight line. There are forward and backward steps, periods of steep gain, and periods where progress plateaus. When formulating an action plan to achieve goals, you not only need actions and strategies for what you’ll do when things are going according to plan, you also need fallback strategies that will still allow you to feel like you are accomplishing something even when the world pushes back. When attempting change, too many people have an “all or nothing” mindset. If they can’t achieve the whole step, then they perceive it as a failure. But there is an intermediary phase… the “holding pattern”. Where you may not be making significant progress, but you also haven’t regressed. This is what we term “surviving” … productively treading water and awaiting your next opportunity to advance.

 

Why is this so relevant? Right now, there are many people in crisis. According to CDC data, as many as 1/3rd of U.S. adults are currently experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders. That’s TRIPLE the rate of 11% recorded in the first half of 2019. For many people, now is a time to focus on “surviving” and maintaining critical health, immune function, and energy in order to best manage productive work while also staying healthy. While work-life balance has been somewhat challenging in recent years, it’s been completely obliterated in the past few months. Do we give up? No. We double-down on proven strategies to maintain health and energy and put ourselves in the best possible position to work through this. How do we go about it? We go back to basics and we work on these four key pillars:

 

1. Exercise (but not too much). The internet is blowing up with 30-day fitness challenges and remote fitness fads. My advice? Ignore the hype. If you need motivation and you find guided workouts are the only thing that keeps you active, then go for it. As for fads, now is probably not the time to try and find your six-pack or train for your first marathon. The goal right now should be exercising to optimize your health and energy (both physical and mental). For most people, that’s frequent, but moderate exercise (e.g. walking, hiking, low-intensity jogging or cycling, and low-intensity resistance or body-weight training). The benefits of exercise fit a bell-curve. Too little and you don’t get the benefit, but too much, and you can also do damage. Increased risk of injury, elevated cortisol (stress hormone), impaired immunity and even cardiovascular damage can all result from extended excessive exercise. I’m not saying you should never try to get stronger, improve your fitness, or set goals to complete an athletic event… but under the circumstances and considering the other stressors in our lives right now, perhaps now is not to the best time to pursue those things.

 

2. Prioritize sleep. Easy to say… harder to do. With a finite time to fit everything in to our day it can be challenging to allow a solid 7-9 hour sleep window. However, the importance of sleep for our immune system cannot be understated. In addition, sleep is imperative for memory, learning, and creativity. Poor sleep leads to increased stress hormones, increased fatigue, and also reduces our ability to regulate emotional reactiveness. In short, while we may think that we need to work late, the reality is, the quality of your work (along with your physical and emotional health) will be compromised if you aren’t getting adequate sleep. Perhaps productive quality is more important than work quantity, at least for now.

 

3. Smart nutrition. What we eat fuels our bodies. To put it simply… eating junk makes you feel like junk. Some studies indicate that healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Given the alarming rise in these conditions in the past few months, this should be reason enough to ensure you’re eating fresh. But of course, there are all the other benefits of nutrient-rich diets that help our immune system, ward off inflammation, and of course, reduce risks for almost all chronic health conditions. So yeah. Diets are always important… but especially right now.

 

4. Proactive mental and emotional health behaviors. The three pillars above can all positively impact our mental health and emotional wellbeing. However, under current circumstances and given the impact of this pandemic on our mental health, both immediate and predicted long-term (learn more by requesting a copy of our whitepaper here), some easy to implement and deliberate strategies for practicing gratitude and mindfulness will go along way.

 

While I’m sure these four pillars may seem obvious, the content and conversation we will have within them will help you understand their necessity. These aren’t just things you should “kind of know” and be trying to implement in order to be healthy in general, there are specific strategies and benefits within each of these pillars which are critical to optimizing physical and mental resilience during this pandemic. Beyond that, they can also help you build behaviors and a foundation from which to grow and thrive when we all emerge from the other side.

 

If you found this post helpful and wish there was something you could do for your employees, then why not contact us and ask about our resilience and other health and wellness programs?

Could the Pandemic Help Us Become Healthier?

Emotion, relevance, and a sense of urgency can be powerful motivators.

 

Diligently living a healthy lifestyle is a challenge for many. It’s estimated that less than 3% of the U.S. population live a “healthy lifestyle” (defined as not smoking, following proper dietary guidelines, getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, and maintaining a healthy body weight). How can that be? Given how much we know about health and disease and our abundance of resources, somehow we neglect these seemingly simple things that we know are necessary to live and perform at our best. This despite almost half of all U.S. worksites stating they have a health promotion or wellness program (CDC, 2019).

 

Many employee wellness program models, while well-intentioned, unfortunately, have under-delivered. Programs are often generic and disjointed, requiring employees to be proactive and specifically seek and sign-up for varying program elements in order to tick boxes or gain points for incentives. Employees often either don’t engage in enough of the program elements or don’t engage in a single program element consistently enough to elicit behavior change. Programs don’t adapt quick enough to keep people engaged, resulting in most employees sporadically engaging in one part of the program, or passively “participating” in “one item from each tier” just to receive their incentive. This doesn’t provide people with value and therefore they don’t continue. Ultimately most employees feel that programs don’t work for them or that they’re just not relevant. In fact, a perceived lack of relevance is the number one reason people don’t participate in employer wellness programs or only participate at minimal levels.

 

But what if all of a sudden it was relevant? What if there was a contagion that acted as an overt reminder that maintaining strong base health and preventing chronic conditions is critical to health and longevity as well as improving our chances of surviving those “what if” and unplanned moments in life? This pandemic has created a window where people have strong emotions and high levels of personal relevance as well as a strong sense of urgency. These are catalysts that create a significant opportunity to motivate people to improve their health behaviors.

Giving employees the right information at this time could be a game-changer in both helping the employee make significant improvements in their health and health behaviors, but also providing affirmation of the care and value of their employer. Improve health AND boost engagement: Isn’t that the goal of most workplace health programs?

 

So how do you do it? It’s not a time to keep pushing the same old generic programs. There’s a reason people haven’t responded to those in the past It’s a time when employers can step-up and show their employees they care and value them as assets, but more importantly as people. Providing programs which layer more personalized connections and guidance ups the perception of relevance by ensuring people understand their individual risk, understand how the actions they are being given will directly benefit those risks, and that they are given actions and guidance they are confident they can implement – three critical elements of the “health belief model” which predict the likelihood of a person engaging in health behavior.

 

Health coaches, like the ones who anchor many of HBD’s industry-leading programs, have the unique ability to “meet people where they’re at” and provide information in context as well as actions that can realistically fit an individual’s real-life – both now, and post-pandemic. Employees don’t need (and actually don’t want) to be given a free wearable or told to get 10,000 steps a day or 8 hours of sleep. What they want and need is to be shown how meaningful and consistent lifestyle changes will directly impact their individual health (physical AND mental), energy, and work performance and be provided with the personalized pathway and accountability to make it happen. Some may think this level of personalization is a pipe dream or unaffordable. Not at all true. For around a QUARTER of the value of the average companies wellness incentive, you could provide coaching and comprehensive programming which returns outcomes that MORE THAN DOUBLE wellness industry averages. The question really is, given how we’ve harshly been reminded of the vulnerabilities of those in poor health, as well as grappling with rapid adaptations to balancing work and life, how can you not afford to? If you’ve ever thought you needed a more effective and consolidated employee health program, it’s quite possible there’s never been a better time to explore one.

Do More Than Just Wearing Red

Today, Feb 7th, is Go Red for Women day, an American Heart Association initiative designed to increase awareness, fundraise, and promote change to improve women’s health (learn more or donate here).

 

While awareness and education are fundamental, a once a year event is too often acknowledged and then forgotten…unfortunately probably replaced by next week’s inevitable “celebrate with cake day” or “national donut day” or “eat as many chicken wings as you can” day. Promotional and awareness days compete for our attention. But let’s pledge to ourselves to make the important ones stick. To make them more than a once-a-year reminder and instead use them as a catalyst to commit to change.

 

HBD is all about positive health behaviors. Understanding that much of the controllable aspects of our health are the collective result of daily lifestyle habits and choices, we educate and empower populations to make small and sustainable changes that help them live their best version of life.

 

So today, we’d like to challenge you to not only #WearRedDay but commit to doing at least one thing that benefits your health. Beyond that, make today the day that you find someone else wearing red (or better yet, reach out to someone not wearing red) and invite them to join you in participating in a heart-healthy activity today. Perhaps you might even commit to making today’s healthy activity a part of your regular routine – offering to keep each other accountable for continuing the change for the rest of February… and hopefully beyond.

 

Changes don’t have to be dramatic. They might simply be a switch from an existing habit to a healthier version, or finding an opportunity to take even 5-15 minutes from your day to focus on you. Here are some suggestions:

 

Eat fish today: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna have omega-3 fatty acids which have been extensively studied for their heart health benefits. For a lasting change, don’t just choose fish today, but aim to include it in your diet a couple of times per week.

 

Jog for 5-10 minutes, or walk for 15-30 minutes: Ever heard of the term dose-response? It’s a concept often used in connection with medication, where you need a certain amount to reach a threshold where it’s effective, but if you increase it too much, it can become risky or detrimental. There’s some suggestion exercise may be similar. The good news is, the “effective dose” is basically anything above zero! Doing any is better than none and it’s been suggested that bouts as little as 5-10 minutes can have significant heart health benefits – even at low intensity – with greater benefits if these bouts are very frequent. There’s also some evidence that repeated extreme and high-intensity exercise may not be ideal for most people. That’s good news for most of us, knowing that you don’t have to feel guilty if you’re not an “athlete”… but just moving regularly can have amazing benefits. Can you find 5-15 minutes today… and most days? (watch this great TED talk).

 

Call an old friend: When life is busy, we often focus on what’s immediately in front of us. We kid ourselves into thinking we’re “staying in touch” by quickly scrolling our Facebook feed, but let’s be honest… a couple of “like” clicks isn’t productive social interaction. Studies have suggested strong social connections can impact longevity on par with things like not smoking and controlling your blood pressure. They positively impact both physical and mental health. It’s also been shown that it’s much easier to reconnect with an old acquaintance than to try to establish a brand new friendship from scratch. So dust off your roller deck (if you’re under 35, trust me… it’s a thing) and call up an old friend.

 

Have an early night: The modern world is fast-paced, but the need for our body to get good quality regenerative rest hasn’t changed. Much of the modern pace and “busy-ness” is merely a perception. As a culture, we’ve linked a sense of being busy with being important. I urge you to reflect on your week or your month… think of everything you’ve been consumed by and rushed to fit in. How much of it is actually important and productive? Think of the evening or weekend work and screen time… does it actually make a significant productive difference if it’s completed at 10pm at night, or would it be just as productive if it was done at 9am the next morning? There is clear and compelling evidence that people who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for heart disease (learn more from the CDC here). Make a commitment to switch off, read a book, and get some quality Z’s tonight. See how much better you feel tomorrow.

 

Be mindful of this weekend’s cocktails: It’s easy to use the often quoted headline that moderate drinking might be good for heart health as an excuse to indulge in a few. But… similar to the “dose-response” mentioned above, we need to be cautious and not generalize this idea of “drinking is good for you”. While moderate drinking may not be detrimental to health, and for some people, maybe somewhat healthy, it’s certainly not a reason to start drinking or an excuse to have another. Many people underestimate their alcohol intake. “Moderate drinking” is defined as one drink for women, and two drinks for men. A “drink” is 5oz of wine, a 12oz beer, or 1.5oz of liquor. With our huge wine glasses, bars and restaurants commonly overpouring, beer commonly being served in pints or the latest trend for higher alcohol craft brews… many people have significantly more than “one drink” for every, well, one drink. Often that “one drink” is actually 1.5-2.5 standard drinks. Where light and moderate drinking – which really isn’t very much – may have some benefits, heavier drinking appears to be detrimental for many aspects of health (learn more of the specifics here). Alcohol also impacts sleep quality, which for many is already compromised. So there are many reasons to consider cutting back or limiting the weekend cocktails this week, and every week.

Promoting and supporting heart health is a great initiative. We hope everyone reading this today has opted to #WearRed, but we also hope that many of you will do more than promote awareness and actually take the next step towards positive action… not only for yourself, but also encouraging and challenging those around you. Share with a comment on what you plan to do today, or better yet, make a public pledge to make this change a regular part of your ongoing routine!

New Mindset. New Outcomes.

By Kathleen, one of our talented workplace health promotion coaches.

I know it’s not exactly the “new year” anymore, and for many, while we had good intentions of using the new year for a fresh start… the unfortunate reality is that most people have abandoned their resolutions by now. Why do so few people stick with their goals throughout the year? Life happens. Sometimes we make excuses to justify delaying or abandoning goals and resolutions but that’s not the reason we quit, these are just mechanisms to avoid the guilt or sense of worthlessness that can follow.

 

What if we could learn to stay more motivated to achieve our goals? It all begins with our minds, and sometimes, a relatively simple change in perspective or our self-talk can have a significant impact on the outcomes. First, let’s consider the things that get in the way. The barriers, or hurdles we need to overcome. Brene Brown, a researcher who studies shame, empathy and vulnerability, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”. For example, you are running late to work or an appointment because you stayed up late binge-watching Netflix. You missed your alarm and are flustered. As you run out the door you spill coffee all over your clothes… What would your self-talk be? Do you blame yourself as a person, or do you blame the behavior and situation? It’s subtle, but it makes a huge difference!

 

Shame negatively focuses on self, making the action or situation a generalized negative reflection of personal flaws, for example, thinking “I am stupid. Why did I stay up so late and make myself late?” Compare that self-talk to: “I did something stupid, but I’m human, I’ll try to move past this and learn from it.” The first example is shame and lowers self-worth, almost making the negative behavior seem inevitable because you couldn’t expect any better. The second example is guilt, which focuses on the behavior, which can more easily be changed than an apparent inherent personality flaw. Subtle changes in self-talk can be a very powerful tool for our confidence!

 

It is important to keep in mind that thinking leads to feeling, which leads to behavior, and most health goals (and let’s be honest… also our parenting, relationship, professional, and basically all our goals) are about implementing consistent positive behaviors. So, what is the recipe for a successful healthy mindset? Well, I wish it was that easy, but I will say, it will take a little time and is a journey. I think a good starting point is talking about vulnerability. Brene Brown describes vulnerability as “the center of difficult emotion but it is also the birthplace of every positive emotion that we need in our lives, [for example] love, belonging, joy, & empathy”. What if vulnerability was the key to unlocking a more positive mindset?

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can open the door for many new and exciting things. Letting go of the negative aspects of our lives and cultivating the positive aspects starts with being vulnerable.

 

Brene Brown explains that courage, compassion, and connection are needed to let go of negative aspects and cultivate positive ones. Practicing tools of courage, compassion, and connection can be difficult at times and is certainly a process rather than a checkbox to scratch off the list of things “to-do”; but it is a very rewarding process.

 

Being vulnerable helps us be persistent in taking small steps towards our goals. Having the strength to say “I am not perfect, it might take time to reach my goal, there will be hurdles, but I will learn from setbacks and fight my way towards those goals. I got this!” We also need to remember that taking small steps to reach our goals is effective because it helps us build confidence through the success of achieving each small step. Small success builds momentum to achieve more challenging changes. If your goal is to eat more balanced, healthy meals, maybe making a goal for cooking at least 2 days out of the week would be a great start. Or if your goal is to get more exercise maybe start with: “I will take 10 minutes on my lunch break to move”. Even planning to start practicing courage or gratitude daily might be a good start point.

 

As for me, my goal is to take 2-5 minutes at the end of my day to write in a 5-year, one-line a day journal. The goal is to write one line about a positive part of my day. Whether it be gratitude: ”I am grateful that my out-of-state family was able to visit this week”; or, how I overcome a challenge or struggle, like competing in my first mountain trail race post-pregnancy; or, a joyful moment in my life: such as watching my daughter take her first steps. Yes, I may not get to write in my journal every single night, which is OK. But on the nights when I say “I don’t have time” or “I’m too busy”, that is when I need to watch my self-talk and ensure I tell myself “I didn’t find the time or didn’t make the effort last night. I’ll make more of an effort tonight because this is important to me”, instead of self-talk like “I’m useless. I can’t even find 5 minutes or think of one positive thing I did today.” See the difference? See how one acknowledges a slip in behavior but allows me to continue the journey whereas the other slowly chips at my confidence and self-worth? I will challenge myself to grow by taking that time daily, but maintaining an appropriate perspective when I don’t. I will grow each day by practicing gratitude, creativity, and self-love so that next year, I can look back at all my accomplishments, joyful moments, and challenges that I overcame throughout the year which will simply help to strengthen my new positive mindset and help shift away from shame and personal blame. Will you join me on that journey?

 

Want to learn more or hear directly from Brene? You can check out her TED Talks via this link or visit her website at brenebrown.com. Tell us what you think!

High-Tech or High-Touch?

30-second key point summary for those who are time-poor… People versus Tech can:

 
  • · Make a real difference! Personality and relevance can sustain wellness program engagement and achieve measurable health outcomes that more than double current industry averages

  • Separate your benefits and boost company engagement with program satisfaction and demonstrating a sense of genuine care-factor recognized by the total workforce

  • Allow an agile program structure that can instantly adapt content and address the changing needs of both individuals and your population as a whole

The more detailed version for those of you with 5 minutes…

A couple of years ago I wrote a simple article called “Back to the Future”, in which I discussed that in our modern tech-driven world, the value and impact of personal interactions were rising. With what I see in the wellness industry today, I’m more convinced that point-solutions and incentive-driven tech-delivered information is a genuine risk to the sustainability of effective health promotion. The information is generic. The games and incentives quickly lose luster. The buzzes and alerts become annoying and, in the end, it just becomes another modern hassle rather than a benefit.

 

Most tech-driven wellness initiatives lack personality and presence. They are too easily put in the background and thus become reliant on incentives, which undermine their true value.

 

If you don’t really believe in wellness or you have a wellness program simply to tick the box because everyone else has one, then your content, structure and delivery method probably doesn’t matter much. However, if you are actually trying to make an impact and shift the needle on the health status of your population – then read on.

 

The number one reason employees do not participate in workplace wellness programs is a perceived lack of relevance. A fancy “health score”, buzzing wrist-reminder, gimmicky games or simply providing access to information (regardless of how “personalized” the suggested reading list is) does not tell your employees you care about them. They basically just become hoops to jump through in order to get a premium discount.

It’s not a lack of access to information or an inability for employees to find health information that’s the problem. On the contrary, data overload and filtering information to what’s most relevant and most important is our biggest problem – and that’s why trying to force employees to participate in generic programs is ineffective, whereas engaging with someone who can give you relevant information and advice can have more value. A real person who can connect with your people (they’re real too you know) and can show your workforce genuine care-factor. There’s no app for that.

Our lives are increasingly saturated by technology and there’s a growing body of research indicating that this is having negative effects on our mental health and our sense of “connectedness”. Having a brief encounter with a real person is refreshing and meaningful. I don’t know about you, but to me, a 10-minute conversation with someone is far more memorable and impactful than 10 emails.

 

I recently saw an article from a prominent health promotion stalwart discussing how health coaching was only useful or viable for a small percentage of a workforce because of their “stage of readiness”. With all due respect, I think that’s absolute garbage, and the very reason why so many workplace wellness programs do not provide value and measurable impact at the population level. It’s a failure of the health industry and approaches to public health in the sense that we too often only cater to people who are ready to take action. Likewise, too many wellness models only cater to those who are “ready”, whereas the true value in improving health at the population level comes from engaging more people at earlier stages of readiness. It’s not that coaching is ineffective or not viable, but the model in which most programs offer coaching that is not viable. Traditional models of “opting-in” or offering dedicated inbound health coaching simply caters to people who are already motivated to change. The people you could benefit more from engaging are the people less likely to opt-in, as they are the people who often need the coaching the most.

 

Understanding behavioral readiness and being able to adapt information to make it relevant is the difference between an average program and an exceptional program. Forcing people at the early stages of readiness to have a lengthy interaction with a health coach or incenting a certain number of coaching sessions isn’t efficient or effective. But having health coaches meet them where they’re at and simply deliver small nuggets of relevant information (low volume, high frequency) IS highly effective in progressively educating a population and shifting more people to stages of action and change. While a majority of a population are not proactive enough to seek-out health education or guidance that’s offered in the periphery, almost everyone values their health and often appreciates timely and relevant tips and information that can help them on a personal level.

 

Opt-in coaching models generally see between 5-15% utilization whereas effectively integrating small coaching encounters into your operational workflow sees consistent engagement of 80-90% of most populations and sees significant resultant shifts in total population health awareness and measurable health markers.

But don’t take my word for it. Let me share a snippet of my job that I really love – all the unsolicited “thank-yous” and hearing about small progressive changes that have made a meaningful impact on people’s health and lives over time – especially from populations who never engaged with traditional wellness models.

“I want to thank you for coming here, to where we work and ‘being in the trenches’ with us. You see how we work, you understand our environment and you can give us information that’s relevant. Those old programs where we could call a coach were useless. They didn’t know us and they didn’t know the situation we were in.”

“It’s great you come to meet the workers where they’re at. I’ve seen other models where coaches are available for people, and they simply didn’t utilize them.”

“Do you know how much people in the office keep talking about the things you talk about after you leave? I never thought I’d see young people paying attention to their health like your program has prompted them to.”

“We’ve had a wellness program for years. People will go through the motions for a financial incentive, but it’s something entirely different to offer a program that truly engages them. Simply going through the motions doesn’t lead to sustainable results. Now we see results and real change, and it has been a breath of fresh air when the organization really needed it.”

These are just a couple of literally thousands of comments I could share – from both organizational management and from individual employees from the companies we work with. The bottom line is: while a “turn-key” tech-solution is appealing because it’s easy; it’s actually really difficult to get significant measurable and sustainable outcomes long-term. Like any website, app, game, or new device; after the initial fanfare, it simply fades in the crowd of technology competing for our attention. A program with a face, personality, and presence, a program where the content and delivery are agile and relevant at the personal level is far more engaging, sustainable, and effective. Don’t do more of the same. Do something that actually matters.

We Are Real People Inspiring Your People

Did you know that HBD’s workplace health programs are global best for total population health and wellness improvement? In the general population, estimates suggest less than 10% of people are successful in achieving sustained health goals. Comparatively, almost 80% of the work populations we service report actively making changes to improve their health. That’s not a typo… trust me, I triple-checked it 🙂

 

Most people want to be healthy, but it’s complicated. It requires consistent effort which many simply don’t commit to. However, when people are engaged appropriately, in a non-invasive manner by real people who really care, they can quite successfully be guided towards meaningful, fulfilling (and most importantly, sustainable) health and lifestyle change.

Websites and wearables look cool and have plenty of health information, but they lack something magical: Empathy. You can’t fake human to human connection or emotions and accountability. You can fake it with gamification and incentives, but they are rarely sustainable. But the appropriate mix of personal interactions and using technology for efficiency where it allows can be incredibly powerful. Life-changing in fact.

 

It’s the “real life” understanding that people in our client populations appreciate and respond to. It’s what allows us to inspire tens of thousands of people to live healthier lives.

 

We have empathy because we’re real people. Real people with a passion for healthy living. Real people with a passion to help your people. Here’s an example of how we “walk the walk”, a simple story of one of our health coaches and her passion for finding balance in her life through exercise. It’s people like this working directly with your people who inspire health, optimism, and positivity in the populations we service.

 

Coach Wendy’s Story:

How exercising got my life moving: A personal journey from anxiety and depression to a more balanced life.

 

My life changed during a summer visit to a cousin who encouraged me to just run around the block with her one day. I remember the fear of pain and failure as I laced up my shoes. All the failed attempts to get started sat heavy. I made it around that block. I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt. I decided to go again the next day and then the next. After two weeks, I had lost a small amount of weight and had a new sense of purpose. I was actually good at running. From there, I was able to find new ways to look at all the things that brought me down and life became brighter day by day.

 

We’ve all heard that exercise is good for you. Most of us recognize the impact on our heart and our waist-line, but did you know that it’s one of the best things you can do for your mental health and wellbeing?

 

When you think of exercise, what comes to mind? For many, exercise is something we’ve been told we need to do, but it seems like more of a burden than something good. The word “exercise” conjures up images of long hours in a sweaty gym and spandex shorts. The good news is that for health benefits, you only need to move. How you choose to do it depends on what you’re looking to gain.

 

Sure, if you want large muscles, lifting heavy weights will probably be in order. But, if you are simply looking to feel better and more on top of things, being active is very doable. First, it is important to understand what is gained and how you’ll benefit.

 

Mental wellbeing encompasses the overall sense of feeling positive about oneself; having purpose and the ability to deal with the ups and downs of life. So, how does exercise play a role in our mental wellbeing? Research shows that regular physical activity has lasting psychological benefits such as improved self-esteem and sense of accomplishment, mental clarity, increased energy, improved mood, and healthy coping with life’s stressors.

 

Stress affects our physical and mental wellbeing. When events occur that make us feel threatened or upset our balance in some way, our body’s defenses create a stress response, which may make us feel a variety of physical symptoms such as chest tightness, pounding pulse, gastrointestinal issues, and insomnia. We may also experience emotions more intensely. Research shows that exercise releases natural endorphins that relieve physical and mental symptoms.

 

Additionally, exercise is an antidote for common mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety. Research indicates exercise can be as effective against mild to moderate depression and anxiety as prescription medication without the side effects and may have positive effects on treatment-resistant depression when used in combination with talk therapy and medication.

As a health coach, I’m passionate about exercise for all the benefits it provides. I have experience and understanding of the barriers to starting something that feels out of reach. I have lived with the debilitating effects of anxiety and lack of motivation which started in my early teens. I was overweight, suffered low self- esteem, struggled to make friends, and barely met the basic requirements of school. My go-to was a bag of Cheeto’s and the couch where I would escape in episodes of Dallas. I found myself in a constant loop of overeating and fatigue. The thought of change overwhelmed me.

 

Thinking back to that fateful summer, I didn’t follow a linear path to fitness. I had to learn how to keep going when my inner critic told me not to. Anxiety doesn’t go away. It shows up when life gets hard. I’m so grateful for my ability to go outside and burn all that stress off. For me, when I’m stressed and go for a run, my stomach settles, heart rate calms, and I feel l can take on those problems. Running is my favorite, but any movement creates a calm in the storm and gives me a fresh perspective.

 

So, how much activity is recommended? According to the Mayo Clinic, thirty minutes of exercise of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking for 3 days a week, is sufficient for these health benefits. Three 10-minute walks are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk.

 

If you have never exercised or it’s been a while, don’t fret. Start small. Just add a little bit to what you’re currently doing. If you’re stuck on the couch, just walking down your street each day is a great start. Try to find a good time each day and be consistent. Look at your daily routine and consider ways to sneak in activity here, there, and everywhere. Cleaning your house with quicker movements, push mowing your lawn, gardening, throwing a frisbee with your dog all count.

 

I’m not that young girl anymore but life sometimes hits me like everyone else, and my urge is to find that couch, chips, and Netflix – and that’s ok sometimes. I just know I need to get back on track the next day. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but understand that a conscious decision and just a little effort can pay you back with amazing benefits.

 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495

Don’t Ignore the COVID Aftermath

When the immediate sense of crisis and urgency from the COVID-19 outbreak dies down, don’t be fooled into thinking the impacts won’t linger in its wake. We are continuing to learn about apparent ongoing physical complications associated with those who have had the virus, but relevant to all are the wide-reaching impacts on our fragile mental health.

Stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and substance abuse could be argued as the defining burdens of our generation. They were a silent and growing cost for businesses long before the epidemic with significant direct and indirect costs relating to absences, turnover, disengagement, low productivity, fatigue, injury, as well as driving excess medical costs. A recent Forbes article included U.S. cost estimates for employers in the hundreds of billions annually and as much as a trillion globally.

Remember, that was before we had the overlay of anxiety and stress of a global epidemic where people’s lives and livelihoods were threatened, and where our already delicate work-life balance was basically erased.

 

This is not something that just goes away. What it requires is a genuine acknowledgment and a proactive approach to helping people build (or rebuild) their mental and physical resilience. I believe resilience is a skill that can be learned. Some will always be more resilient than others, that’s a given, but I think we can all improve from our baseline as long as we understand it and nurture an optimal physical environment from which we can mentally thrive within.

If you are interested in more, please visit this page to request a free copy of our recent COVID-19 Mental Health Whitepaper.

5 Tips to Improve Gut Health

 

Gut health, microbiome, gut bacteria, microbes. You have probably heard these terms popping up everywhere. Gut health is continuing to emerge as a leading marker in our health; and it’s not just a fad. With continued science-based research, doctors and scientists are discovering WHY and HOW gut health is linked to our overall wellness.

What does gut health even mean?

Gut, is short for gastrointestinal tract, which is where your food is processed and digested. Digestion begins in your mouth before continuing in your esophagus, stomach, and finally your small and large intestine. 200 trillion tiny bacteria and microbes live along our digestive tract! These 200 trillion bacterial microbes are considered the core-disease fighting systems of the human body.

Research has shown that 70% of our immune system lives in our gut.

We all know those people who seem to be sick, or under the weather every time we see them. A contributing factor may be sub-optimal gut function. Your gut not only helps boost your immune system but also helps properly digest foods, produce essential vitamins, combats harmful organisms, and reduces inflammation in the body.

The good and the bad

There are good gut bacteria, and then there are bad gut bacteria. What we don’t want is an overgrowth of the bad bacteria. An overgrowth of bad gut bacteria can lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut syndrome, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Have you ever struggled with constipation, heartburn, acid reflux, or bloating? According to The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 61% of Americans are struggling with one or more of these symptoms. These are all potential signs of an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria.

A bad gut microbiome may not only lead to gut diseases, but research is finding correlations or contributions to these diseases as well:

● Diabetes

● High Cholesterol

● High Blood Pressure

● Obesity

● Heart Disease

Basically, we don’t want the bad guys to win! We need to start eliminating the overgrowth of bad gut bacteria and start building up good bacteria.

How do we get more good bacteria?

1. Eat Probiotics & Prebiotics

Probiotics provide good, live bacteria and yeasts for your gut. Probiotics can be very effortless to fit into your routine as they are found in food. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and yogurt (with no added sugar) are the optimal sources of probiotics.

* Aim for 1 billion to 10 billion live bacteria cultures, or roughly 5 servings of probiotic rich foods a week.

Prebiotics are food for probiotics and good bacteria. Eating foods high in prebiotics allow the good gut bacteria to flourish and grow. Asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, bananas, sweet potatoes, and berries are all great sources of prebiotics.

* Aim for 5-20 grams of prebiotics a day.

2. Eat More Fiber

Females should be obtaining roughly 25 grams of fiber a day and males should be getting approximately 38 grams of fiber a day. The average American does not even come close to the recommendations and consumes just 15 grams/day. Studies have shown that the more fiber individuals consume directly correlates with an increase in anti-inflammatory acids in the gut. Fiber also allows the good gut bacteria to flourish and multiply. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, oatmeal, brown rice, peas, lentils, broccoli, & potatoes.

* Aim to include a good source of fiber at each meal.

3. Get Adequate Sleep

Sleep distributions and poor quality of sleep has been shown to negatively impact your gut microbiome. Up to 90% of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for sleep, happiness, mood regulation, and memory is stored in the gut. This link could be a possible explanation for the connection but more scientific research is currently needed to further understand this link.

* Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep

4. Limit Artificial Sugars

In the same way good gut bacteria feeds off of prebiotics, bad gut bacteria feeds off of foods containing artificial sweeteners. Think of it like this: Every time you consume an Oreo, a bad bacterium is growing strong and rejoicing! Limiting processed foods with artificial sugar such as baked goods, candy, cookies, and sweetened beverages is a great start towards reducing bad gut bacteria. Foods such as BBQ sauce, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, yogurt, granola, chocolate milk all seem “healthy” yet may be loaded with added sugars depending on the variety you choose. Check how many grams of sugar (especially added sugar) are in each serving.

* Aim for consuming less than 25 grams of added sugar a day for women and less than 37 grams for men

5. Manage Stress

Poor coping mechanisms to stress can negatively impact your gut health as well. If you struggle with anxiety or high stress in your life, talk with a psychologist to find ways to help you cope with certain stressors in your life. The International Journal of Preventive Medicine has shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy, exercise, yoga, and meditation are positive ways to reduce stress (and improve sleep quality), thereby improving gut health.

* Aim to include at least one stress reduction activity each day (even if it’s only 2-3 minutes of quiet deep breathing!)

As you can see, gut health has many benefits, but it’s also very multi-faceted. Improving gut health can help individuals, but also significantly help reduce health burdens across a population. Like many elements of health (physical, mental, and emotional) it is not optimally improved by a single health behavior or health program. It is optimally improved through an understanding of how many health and lifestyle behaviors interact and build on each other. Health programs that can concurrently help individuals improve across multiple areas of their health and lifestyle (like those provided by HBD) can provide significantly better value than singular focus disease management programs.

For the gut: Nutrition, sleep, and stress management all play a significant role in positive, or negative health outcomes. Let us lean toward the positive side by taking small steps to implement the 5 tips above. An understanding of each of these elements, coupled with action, could not only prevent gut disease, but could elevate and enhance your overall health if you choose.

 

Post contributed by Coach Meredith.

Check this out if you want more information or to do some additional research:

https://isappscience.org/for-consumers/learn/probiotics/

Article Information Sources:

https://www.practiceupdate.com/content/prevalence-of-gastrointestinal-symptoms-in-the-general-population-of-the-united-states/74968

Am. J. Gastroenterol 2018 Oct 15;[EPub Ahead of Print], CV Almario, ML Ballal, WD Chey, C Nordstrom, D Khanna, BMR Spiegel

Yano, Jessica M. and Yu, Kristie and Donaldson, Gregory P. and Shastri, Gauri G. and Ann, Phoebe and Ma, Liang and Nagler, Cathryn R. and Ismagilov, Rustem F. and Mazmanian, Sarkis K. and Hsiao, Elaine Y. (2015) Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis. Cell, 161 (2). pp. 264-276. ISSN 0092-8674. PMCID PMC4393509.

Anderson J, Carroll I, Azcarate-Peril M, et al. A preliminary examination of gut microbiota, sleep, and cognitive flexibility in healthy older adults. Sleep Med 2017;38:104-107.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection

Safety Beyond Compliance

Honored this past week to be invited to speak and share best practices at a European Union OSHA event on effective safety communications and behavior change. It’s always nice to have your work recognized for effectiveness and innovation and to share or collaborate with like-minded people.

 

In the early days of workplace safety, assessing risk, engineering controls, raising awareness and enforcing compliance made great gains on injury incidence and severity. However, in many industries, while there are still opportunities to utilize technology and continue to implement job controls, injury rate reductions appear to be plateauing, and in some industries, rates are beginning to creep up again. We also continually hear concerns from safety managers about the “frustrating ones”… wondering how they can make a difference on what appears to be silly mistakes and behavioral errors.

 

As safety has become such an expected and routine element of the modern workplace, the risk of desensitization and “going through the motions” has become an increasing issue. In addition, we face an aging workforce and a younger generation who is, in general, in poorer physical health than the previous generation. That is, the physical capacity of our workforce and resilience to injury is decreased, while we also face new challenges of a more stressed, chronically under-rested and less attentive population.

 

The structure of workplace health and safety initiatives has never been more critical. While safety has done incredibly well in terms of embedding itself in company culture, where it potentially could still be improved is in the type and structure of communications at those regular touchpoints. Many safety models have a range of elements – from toolbox talks, to safety shares, tips of the day, audits & observations, annual training revisions and so on – the problem is that many of these elements are independent in nature, or they are campaign based, meaning that they push a singular focus for a short period before switching to a new focus at the expense of reinforcing the previous one. To be stronger from an educational perspective, and to have a greater impact on employee behavior, the structure of these programs and communications could be improved to be more consistent, provide a more tangible value proposition for employees to change (that is, be more purpose-driven rather than mainly warnings or reminders of rules).

 

I think there are incredible opportunities for safety to broaden their perspective and consider more comprehensive initiatives that help address not only work task behaviors and ergonomics, but also improved resilience to injury through promoting meaningful maintenance of physical capacity and meaningful education and mitigation of poor engagement, focus, fatigue, and mental health concerns. Workers on auto-pilot will inevitably cause errors. Workers who come to work in poor physical and mental condition are not only under-productive, but they are at risk. More effective integration or safety and broader elements of health also provide more personal benefit to employees – bridging that gap between personal and professional gain – which are likely to improve their perception of, and engagement in the organization.

 

I was particularly buoyed by a presentation from a multi-national software company, who is thinking of using worker happiness ratings as a leading indicator of risk. It’s one simple example of how stepping back and thinking beyond traditional engineering, PPE, risk assessments and audits could open the door to more effective interventions.

 

If you’d like to learn more about HBD’s award-winning and industry-leading approaches to health and safety behavior change, including programs that achieve an average of 30-60% reductions in MSK injury, hit the “contact” link and send us a note.

Disconnect to Connect

Did you know today the #InternetTurns30? (Just for giggles, here’s the first web page. Go on, check it out, you know you’re curious… It’s OK, I’ll wait). Boy, how our world and culture has changed since then!

 

While the internet and technology have opened the door to seemingly limitless opportunities and information; it’s also created overload. Never have we been so connected yet simultaneously so lonely. “Communication” is not the same as social interaction and connection. Connectedness, social interaction, interpersonal relationships, and support are all critical to our wellbeing.

 

Among the thousands of emails, tweets, pokes, swipe rights, newsfeeds, likes (and not to mention actual work) that people partake in every day, is it really any wonder that companies struggle to get employees to engage with their wellness web portal? #HeckNo

Wellness programs structured primarily as a web portal, an app, a device, a challenge, or counting points… or even a seemingly “comprehensive combination” of these things (read: Achieve Incentive Level 1 by doing a screening, logging in to the web portal once, and registering for one challenge; Achieve Incentive Level 2 by doing all of the above, plus do an even more generic challenge, run around the block backwards and chug a glass of water; Achieve Incentive Level 3 by completing all of the above plus learning the secret handshake and… WTF?…Seriously? That is not making me healthy!). At best, they tick the box and provide some resources for the small portion of your workforce who are specifically interested in managing their own health… ahem… sorry, that’s only about 3-30% of your population. At worst, they become a chore, a process employees begrudgingly comply with simply to receive their premium discount. Yes, that’s right – they can actually be dis-engaging (#gasp!).

 

A client recently articulated it quite well:

We soon learned it’s one thing to offer a good wellness program, but it’s another to offer a program that truly engages the workforce. People will go through the motions to gain financial incentives, prizes, or discounted insurance premiums, but simply going through the motions doesn’t lead to sustainable results.

Some think that on-site coaching isn’t effective, or that it’s too expensive (sorry to burst your bubble… it’s cheaper than the hundreds of dollars of incentives you are using to coax people to participate in things that are less effective). Real people meeting employees where they’re at – actually connecting with them, listening, and guiding long-term positive improvement is so refreshing in our modern connected world that it’s increasingly more effective. While tech is often “sexy” and coaching might feel antiquated…(you mean they come and talk to me. with their mouth. more than 240 characters. using full sentences and punctuation. OMG LOL). It shows your employees a genuine level of commitment and care. It also conquers the number one reason why employees don’t participate in wellness programs: a lack of perceived personal relevance. What could be more personal than someone working with you on your own specific goals?

 

Imagine if more than 80% of your total workforce was engaged in your wellness program – ongoing, without incentives. (Is that even possible? #HeckYes!) Imagine if more than 2/3rds of your workforce were actively improving their health and lifestyle behaviors. That’s what can be achieved when you provide a program where employees actually get inherent value.

Programs that are campaign-based or comprised of a bunch of individual (but independent) elements will always struggle to gain employee attention, sustain high engagement or lead to anything other than short-term shifts in behavior.

Programs that have a strong foundation in routinely connecting with employees within their regular workflow, checking-in, and providing content that’s relevant and progressive will be far more effective at sustaining the interest of employees and influencing more sustainable behavior change.

 

So while the internet has changed our world in amazing ways, it’s also created a whole host of new-world problems. Sometimes the best way to truly connect is actually by disconnecting. #MindBlown

 

Interested in learning more about health, wellness, high performance, and safety programs with results that more than DOUBLE industry averages? Check out www.hbdinternational.com. I’d say just PM me if you have questions… but that might be hypocritical given the content of this article… so maybe you should call instead 🙂

Make a Quantum Leap in Wellness Engagement

“Organizations that can prove they are adding value to people’s lives will continue to grow and thrive.” Tim Rath

 

In an unregulated industry with no clear definition of “engagement,” the door is wide open for results “cherry-picking” or claiming high rates of success for what is largely meaningless contact. Trying to determine the average engagement in corporate health programs is actually very difficult. Industry reports do exist, but many reported rates of “engagement” may be inflated as they count a one-time incentive-driven screening as “engaged.”

To properly define engagement, it’s best to work backward from the goals or type of outcomes you want to achieve and then determine what level of participation is most likely to achieve those goals. If you simply want to raise awareness, have a bit of fun, or check the box in order to promote that you “offer a wellness benefit”, then isolated, incentive-driven one-time participation may be completely fine.

 

However, if you want to actually make a measurable impact on your employee experience, employee health, and organizational performance, then sporadic short-run engagement is insufficient.

 

In this area, an overwhelming majority of corporate “wellness” programs are vastly underperforming. They are one-dimensional or focus too heavily on specific generic actions, occur in the periphery, and may create a burden for employees (penalties, require proactive opt-in, logging points, etc). Comprehensive program reviews have found that less than 7% of programs are comprehensive enough to have a significant sustained positive impact on individual health or organizational performance (Goetzel & Ozminkowski, 2008).

In order for people to make sustainable and meaningful change, they need to be consistently and actively engaged in the process: actively participating, learning, and progressively implementing actions. Therefore if measurable change and genuine employee value is the goal, the only real way to define engagement is by the sustained, repeat, and ongoing participation – ideally without incentives.

Comprehensive & personalized programs are more effective than incentives To take your health program engagement and effectiveness to a new level, you would be much better served by investing in a more comprehensive, personal-level program rather than trying to add or modify incentive strategies. Incentive strategies, in reality, are “let’s try to make marginal short term gains for a program our employees are clearly not responding to” strategies. Recent evidence (NBGH) suggests the major reason employees do not participate in corporate health programs is because they lack “personal relevance.” Is that really surprising when you consider the one-dimensional, dictated prescriptive nature of most programs? In addition, a 2014 RAND study found that engagement in comprehensive programs more than doubled the rates of engagement in more limited traditional programs and outperformed the impact of adding incentives to those programs by around 30%.

Programs will only have a positive impact on an employee’s job satisfaction if they provide value, and they will only provide value if they help people improve. This only occurs if employees clearly see personal relevance and remain voluntarily and continually engaged long term.

 

Are you comparing apples to apples? It’s common for vendors to report engagement or satisfaction only from participants, or based on the largest attended (and often incentivized) event. For example, we recently consulted for a company of 20,000 employees who reported a “health program participation rate” of around 60%. When we dug deeper, we determined they had 60% of their employees “opt-in” and participate in an annual screening – primarily based on incentives and plan design. However, they only had 2.5% of their population complete follow-up coaching or any meaningful change intervention. So is their engagement really 60%, or more like 3%? Another client’s vendor reported employee satisfaction from a recent challenge as “96% would recommend the program to a friend and would choose to participate again next year.” That sounds impressive, but when you read the fine print, that percentage is only from a subgroup of respondents who “completed the entire challenge and both the pre-and post-challenge survey”. That clearly creates a response bias to the few people who were really into the challenge, and it represented less than 5% of this employer’s total workforce.

 

At HBD, our mission is to help people change and enhance their lives by changing their health habits and behaviors. This is only achievable when people are effectively and consistently engaged. That’s why we monitor and report our non-incentivized participation back to our clients as a proportion of the total workforce, monthly. By watching sustained high average monthly engagement (in excess of 80% of the total workforce monthly), we know the majority of people are routinely and consistently engaged on an ongoing basis. This is what creates a platform that allows us to help individuals on an effective and sustainable personal pathway to change. We aim to lift the curtain on vendor reporting and provide an easy, transparent view of a program’s success.

 

So with that context, let’s take a look at our engagement numbers in comparison to the industry:

– Average one-time engagement in wellness programs: 20% – Average one-time engagement in health programs with incentives: 40% – Average engagement in “comprehensive” health programs: 52%

Average sustained month-to-month engagement in HBD’s programs without incentives: 82%

 

*Level of engagement considered optimal for achieving the best program outcomes and returns for an organization >60% (Goetzel & Ozminkowski, 2008).

The type AND frequency of engagement matters if you hope to provide employees value and achieve sustainable health and wellbeing improvements. Our methodologies which include integrating consistent engagement into an employee’s workflow, and providing personal level contact and coaching help us create some of the highest performing programs globally.

 

If you are seeking to make a quantum leap in the effectiveness of your workplace health programming, please contact us to discuss your unique workforce and challenges.