When it comes time to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones, there’s nothing quite like cake, but a new toolkit issued recently by Business in the Community and Public Health England is recommending that UK employers seek healthier alternatives for celebrations in the workplace. The Independent highlighted the toolkit’s recommendations earlier this month:
“Employers have a responsibility to provide safe workplaces that do not damage an employee’s health and environments that support healthier lifestyle choices,” the guide reads. “Healthy employees drive a healthy business.” … Instead of bringing in treats with a high sugar content, the guide proposes offering free fruit and vegetables around the workplace for people to take at their leisure.
Public Health England has calculated that the cost of an unhealthy workforce costs the UK taxpayer more than £60bn a year, which is why it is crucial that employers take better care of the health of the individuals in their workforce.
The organizations’ suggestions caused some controversy after some media outlets erroneously reported that Public Health England had banned cake in the workplace (it hasn’t). This is not the first time UK employers have been urged not to let them eat cake, as it were: Last year, the Faculty of Dental Surgery warned that the abundance of sweets in the workplace could be hurting productivity, along with employees’ physical and dental health. As People Management‘s Georgi Gyton reported at the time, office cultures that encourage unhealthy snacking could be having a negative impact on employee wellbeing at the precise moment employers are being called upon to do more to promote it:
For a growing number of US employers, the answer is “no,” Rebecca Greenfield and Jennifer Kaplan report at Bloomberg, pointing to organizations like Excellence Health, a 6,000-employee company which stopped testing candidates outside safety-sensitive roles for marijuana two years ago and now no longer bothers drug testing them at all:
We don’t care what people do in their free time,” said Liam Meyer, a company spokesperson. “We want to help these people, instead of saying: ‘Hey, you can’t work for us because you used a substance,’” he added. The company also added a hotline for any workers who might be struggling with drug use.
With marijuana becoming legal in more states, a historically tight labor market, and rising rates of illegal drug use (particularly cannabis) causing the number of candidates who can pass drug tests to dwindle, more employers are finding that a zero-tolerance approach to drugs is no longer effective. Like Excellence Health, many have shifted their policies on drug use toward helping employees who struggle with abuse and addiction instead, treating drugs primarily as a health and safety issue rather than a legal issue.
This is particularly true for employers in states that have legalized marijuana, such as Colorado, Greenfield and Kaplan note. Others are moving in the same direction, however, though some are not eager to advertise their softening stance on drug use. Amid a rise in the number of American adults who use drugs and a growing recognition that smoking pot doesn’t disqualify an employee from most jobs any more than drinking alcohol does, pre-employment drug testing “is no longer worth the expense in a society increasingly accepting of drug use,” they write:
Employee wellness or wellbeing has become a growing focal point of many organizations’ rewards programs, in an effort to help employees better maintain their physical, mental, emotional, and financial health. A new survey from Willis Towers Watson, however, suggests that most employees don’t think these programs are really encouraging them to live healthier lifestyles, with only 32 percent of employees agreeing that they were, compared to 56 percent of employers. David McCann recently covered the survey at CFO:
If you believe employers’ claims, they’re more concerned with their workers’ health than the workers are. While 87% of participating employers claimed that increasing employee engagement in health and well-being is a top priority, a substantially lower proportion (65%) of employee respondents rated managing their own health as a top priority.
Indeed, a majority (54%) of workers think their employer should financially reward them for living healthy lifestyles. And employees increasingly say they would participate in health and wellness programs only if offered incentives; 46% of them said so in 2017, compared with 35% in 2011.
Our own research at CEB, now Gartner, has also shown that employers are still working to achieve the right balance of features in their wellbeing programs and maximize their impact on employee engagement. In a peer benchmarking session at the CEB ReimagineHR summit in Washington, DC, last October, more rewards leaders said they expected wellness or wellbeing to be their number one area of change in 2018 than healthcare or retirement. Budgetary allocations for these programs are not growing, however, meaning HR leaders are being asked to do more with less.
The wearable technology company Fitbit, known for its ubiquitous fitness-tracking bracelets, announced on Tuesday that it was acquiring Twine Health, a cloud-based health coaching platform designed to help employers manage chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension in the workplace and aid employees in lifestyle changes such as weight loss and smoking cessation. The company describes the move as an expansion into the workplace wellness space:
With this acquisition, Fitbit further extends its reach into healthcare and lays the foundation to expand its offerings to health plans, health systems and self-insured employers, while creating opportunities to increase subscription-based revenue. The acquisition will combine the power of the Fitbit platform to drive lasting behavior change with Twine Health’s clinical expertise and proven ability to help patients better manage their care through a highly scalable platform and coaching model. In the longer term, Fitbit will have the opportunity to extend the benefits of the Twine platform to its more than 25 million users and expand into new condition areas.
As the leading manufacturer of fitness tracking devices, Fitbit was already a significant figure in the growing drive to incorporate these technologies into workplace wellness programs by collecting employee health and fitness data and using it to target interventions. The company has been sharpening its focus on this market for some time now, Paul Sawers observes at VentureBeat:
The US is currently suffering through the worst flu season since 2009, with the highly virulent H3N2 strain, which first emerged in the deadly “Hong Kong flu” pandemic of 1968-69, sending Americans to the hospital in great numbers. Making matters worse is that the flu vaccine this year is only about 30 percent effective against the H3N2 virus, though doctors still recommend that adults get themselves vaccinated.
Between employee absences, lost productivity, and the risk of the disease spreading in the workplace, a harsh flu season is extraordinarily costly to employers. The outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tallies the economic impact of the flu each year, originally estimated that this year’s virus would cost the US $9.4 billion in lost productivity; in a press release issued on Wednesday, Challenger more than doubled that projection to $21.4 billion, based on updated information from the Centers for Disease Control suggesting that approximately 25 million American workers will have caught the flu by the time the season is over.
Challenger also ventured the theory that the open-plan offices adopted by many US organizations in the past decade could be exacerbating the impact of this particularly virulent flu in the workplace:
“The flu season is still going strong and workers continue to fall ill. One potential driver of the spread of the flu could be the open office trend that so many companies implemented in the last decade,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “When you take away walls, workers are in near constant contact with one another. During an aggressive flu season, this could affect entire companies, especially for the small and mid-size firms and start-ups that so often utilize this concept,” said Challenger.
Challenger recommends that organizations treat common spaces “as gyms treat exercise equipment”: clean them daily with disinfectant and make sure to keep a steady supply of soap and hand sanitizer available.
In the US, the 2017-2018 flu season is not even over, but it’s already the worst in nearly a decade, the New York Times reported last week:
Nationally, the number of people falling ill with flu is increasing. More worrying, the hospitalization rate — a predictor of the death rate — has just jumped. It is now on track to equal or surpass that of the 2014-2015 flu season. In that year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, 34 million Americans got the flu, 710,000 were hospitalized and about 56,000 died.
While the 2009 pandemic of the H1N1 strain of influenza (known as “swine flu”) caused more people to fall ill, Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the CDC’s influenza division, told the Times, the dominant virus this year is the H3N2 strain, which first emerged in the deadly “Hong Kong flu” pandemic of 1968-69 and was also responsible for the high numbers of flu victims in the 1997-1998 and 2003-2004 seasons. A disconcerting feature of this year’s flu is that an unusual number of hospitalizations are occurring among middle-aged patients:
As is typical, people over 65 are the most likely to be hospitalized. But in an unusual twist, those aged 50 to 64 — rather than infants — are the age cohort right behind the elderly. … Hospitalizations and deaths among people in that age group can hurt the economy more than deaths of the elderly, he noted, since they are in their peak earning years and often in supervisory positions.
Business in the Community, a nonprofit organization in the UK, and Public Health England, a government agency, have launched a toolkit for employers to use in their efforts to reduce the impact of sleep deprivation on their workforce, Ashleigh Wight reported last week at Personnel Today:
Their Sleep and Recovery Toolkit encourages employers to create the right sleep culture in the workplace. This includes measures such as providing access to natural light, introducing flexitime for employees who travel or work across different time zones, and avoiding or reducing the frequency of emails sent outside of working hours
The toolkit also provides steps for early intervention before sleep deprivation becomes a problem. These include signposting information that may help employees get a better night’s sleep, redesigning individual workers’ jobs if it becomes apparent they could be tired, and encouraging staff to speak up about issues with sleep. A number of measures to aid with recovery are also suggested, such as making sure employees stay hydrated, take screen breaks and use all of their annual leave entitlement.
While sleep deprivation has been a workplace problem at least since the dawn of the modern era and the advent of shift work, advances in neuroscience have enabled researchers in recent years to pinpoint exactly how not getting enough rest makes us worse at our jobs. In addition to diminishing cognitive function and performance, sleep deprivation can harm emotional intelligence, making us more prone to interpersonal conflicts, while leaders who neglect sleep are less charismatic and have a harder time inspiring their teams.