With summer comes outdoor activities and plenty of fresh air. But really, how fresh is the air we breathe if we’re wearing a mask? When asked this question in a recent Facebook Live event, a specialist in charge of infectious disease at a Midwest-based healthcare system said wearing a mask outside is fine and there’s no reason to be concerned about breathing too much of your own carbon dioxide.
While this is one of several myths circulating on social media networks, Dr. Robert Citronberg said there is no scientific evidence showing that wearing a mask can be harmful, even for long periods of time. He went on to confirm that wearing a mask is still one of the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.
In mid-March when Discover Financial Services made the decision to put safety first, it meant quickly devising a plan to move 8,000 call center agents from their cubicles in 4 different regional facilities to their homes. Infrastructure services and customer service teams worked 24/7 to develop work-from-home kits consisting of monitors, keyboards and cables, then arranged drive-thru operations at each location, enabling agents to easily transfer the equipment to their cars. In all, 1,900 agents per day were equipped and ready to work off-site. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, Discover’s largest call center in Utah was forced to cope with a 5.7 magnitude earthquake.
While few companies have to mobilize thousands of workers in just a few days, businesses large and small have been forced to establish a plan, communicate it effectively and go remote during the coronavirus outbreak. Experts say communication is key to maintaining positive morale while still getting the job done. A few best practices may include:
- When possible, adopt a beginning and an end date to the arrangement or adhere to a state or locally mandated stay-at-home order, making adjustments if needed.
- Depending on normal work styles, try to establish consistent work hours, including times when people should be around their desks or be available to collaborate with their teams.
- Take advantage of the flexibility a remote arrangement can provide. Trust and safety should yield greater peace of mind and empower people to get the job done with minimal supervision.
While many Discover employees were accustomed to working remotely, it will be new to many businesses. Many will find that for employees in appropriate positions, working remotely can increase both employee engagement, workplace productivity and job satisfaction.
Water may be the beverage of choice for health and wellness lovers, but using your reusable water bottle multiple days in a row without washing it and allowing it to dry completely can lead to bacterial growth and sickness. Infectious disease specialists recommend that, at a minimum, pouring water out of your reusable bottle at the end of each day will eliminate some germs. Getting rid of the bulk of bacteria and decreasing the likelihood of a stomach bug requires scrubbing the entire bottle, including the lid and straw and letting it air dry completely after each use. A bottle brush is good for tall bottles with thin necks and dish soap or a bleach-based cleanser labeled safe for drinkware is best.
The College of Sports Medicine, in ranking fitness trends for 2019, concluded that millennials enjoy being part of a community that will cheer them on when they do a good job and perhaps push them a bit harder when they don’t. Other popular fitness trends include wearable technology, high intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga and more personalized exercise programs designed specifically for members of the baby boomer generation.
Investment bank Morgan Stanley recently hired a Chief Medical Officer. General Motors made the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System the only in-network option for 24,000 salaried employees in southeast Michigan. And, Apple joined many other large employers in using on-site clinics to provide more personalized care. These tactics are being used to address a combination of risk factors contributing to costly chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Filling Voids in Wellness Programs
We all know how hard it is to change lifestyle habits. While traditional wellness programs can offer great tools and improved access, more and more employers are realizing that to boost engagement and keep it from fading over time, you must tailor a program to the needs of each individual.
This level of involvement, sometimes referred to as condition management, includes more personal involvement and communication. Providing guidance and support on nutrition, exercise, stress management and other concerns can help at-risk employees overcome the challenges that have kept them from enjoying their best life.
In order to address a sleep shortage that is hurting productivity for U.S. businesses, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has introduced an online wellness program to help employees track the quantity and quality of their sleep. Employees log their time online or upload data from a fitness tracker such as a Fitbit. With the CDC linking sleep to chronic illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and depression, researchers hope to help employees set a goal and improve the quality of their sleep.
Technology giant Apple reported recently that thousands of hip and knee replacement patients are using Apple Watches and a new health app, MyMobility from Zimmer Biomet, to share health data with their surgeons during treatment and recovery. The app is being used to provide physicians with data about the patient’s heart rate, number of steps taken and time spent standing continuously, rather than having to rely on traditional in-person visits.
Health and wellness are integral to employee performance, which helps explain why employers are investing more in their employee benefit offerings.
In June of 2018, the average cost of benefits rose by 2.9%, while wage costs rose by 2.7%, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also on the rise is paid leave, which has seen a 4% cost per employee increase since 2017. This includes paid parental leave, which allows time off for a birth, adoption or foster placement of a new child.
Responding to an anticipated shortage of cardiologists and other specialists, Mayo Clinic is using a $3.3 million charitable grant to conduct a preclinical study enabling doctors working at a remote location to use telemedicine to place heart stents by guiding a robotic arm. The study, being done in collaboration with a robotic equipment manufacturer, is being referred to as “telestenting” because it takes telemedicine to a new level.
According to preliminary government data, U.S. deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids fueled a 21% jump in annual drug overdose deaths during 2017. The increase from 9,945 opioid deaths in 2016 to 20,145 during 2017 reflected the sharpest one-year increase since the U.S. began experiencing a widespread opioid addiction. CDC data shows that deaths involving heroin and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, are also increasing.