Fall Means FLU (shots)

It’s Time to Schedule Vaccine Clinics and Educate Employees

 Imagine Hit me with your best shot, the unofficial theme of every employer flu shot clinic, playing on a loop while every employee receives a flu vaccine. It’s heartening to see so many coworkers opting for the latest flu protection; every jabbed arm represents one less worker potentially sidelined by fever, nausea, headache and more.

Influenza (flu) is getting second billing on the vaccine front because of sickness star COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Here’s why the workplace should embrace the availability of the latest flu vaccine and how you can either schedule a successful flu shot clinic at your place of business or promote receiving the vaccine off-site.

Influenza is serious.

These days, it seems as if you can’t turn on the news without learning about the latest COVID-19 vaccine. The novel coronavirus and its Delta variant may hog the spotlight, but a nasty viral veteran awaits to emerge in the Fall with fury. Influenza (commonly called flu) is exceedingly worse than a typical cold. It can demand weeks of recovery. In some cases, it can cause death.

But don’t worry – there’s a shot for that. And though it’s not 100% effective, opting for the flu shot in 2021 could be an especially good idea. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Hospitals still need to dedicate resources to treating those who suffer from severe cases. An onslaught of flu victims could result in an overwhelming influx of patients and not enough medical professionals or equipment to adequately help them.

But what’s the big deal? How much absenteeism does the flu really cause?

What this question really hides is dollar signs. Related to the queries Will the cost of an employer-led flu clinic be worth it and How much productivity can I lose to the flu, that number varies. However, flu is highly contagious and can spread through an office like wildfire. Imagine just a few employees sidelined perhaps for weeks, and the effect usually becomes apparent. A flu vaccine is likely much less expensive to offer to employees. Plus, a clinic is often included in your health plan. It’s a win-win for employers.

It’s impossible to do anything but estimate the cost of absenteeism related to the flu, but according to flu.gov, it’s estimated that 111 million days of work are lost each year due to the virus. That amounts to approximately $7 billion in productivity loss. These are staggering numbers, to be sure – and they can be lowered through vaccination.

But what if the vaccine isn’t formulated to address the latest strain of flu?

For those workplaces returning to some semblance of water cooler chatter after so many months of remote work, the comments about flu vaccines run the gamut from believer to passionate objector. I get the shot every year, and I’ve never gotten sick is a popular refrain. So too is I’ve never gotten that shot, and I’ve never had the flu either.

The truth is that no flu shot is going to be 100% effective. The vaccine is formulated based on the best data scientists gather about the three or four strain most likely to win “Most prevalent of the year,” and it’s never simple to guess. Even a strong hypothesis can miss the mark. Still, when the strain of prevalent flu matches the vaccine, the shot is extremely potent.

That means the coworker strutting around saying I’ll never get that flu shot might be living on borrowed time. This could be the year he catches the flu, misses weeks of work, and decides that opting for a flu shot would have been a supremely good idea.

Are there side effects from the vaccine?

Here’s side effect number one: You’re likely protected from contracting a nasty virus. Other side effects that can occur with the flu shot (according to the CDC) include low grade headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches, fatigue, and soreness at the point of injection. Severe reactions are extremely rare.

 Who can benefit from the flu shot?

Nearly everyone aged six months and older can benefit from the flu shot. Pregnant women are often recommended to receive it because it does double-duty; the vaccine actually offers their unborn baby limited immunity upon birth. Vaccinated children have a much lower chance than other children of dying from influenza. The elderly are at higher risk for serious flu complications; therefore, the flu shot is a sound idea for them as well.

Is there a special flu shot for people over the age of 65?

There is. It’s called the trivalent flu vaccine, and it’s extra-strong in terms of creating an immune response. However, older adults in this age category can also opt for the normal flu shot. Learn more about the high-dose one here.

Is there an option other than the shot?

For the needle-averse, there’s good news: There is a nasal flu vaccine that, according to WebMD, can work just as well as the syringe method. However, those under the age of 2, over the age of 50, and pregnant women are not advised to vaccinate in this manner. It may not be available as part of your on-site flu shot clinic, either. Be sure to ask before you tell employees that it will be.

What does the CDC say about the flu vaccine?

Get it. That’s the main message from the CDC, which looks at the risk versus reward of contracting the flu compared with receiving the shot. Rare exceptions occur, but on the whole, most of the population can benefit from the vaccine.

Tell me about this year’s vaccine.

The CDC continually updates its information about this year’s vaccine to make it the most accurate possible. Any licensed vaccine provider is fine, they say, including approved vaccines not made with any eggs (good news for people with allergies). Note that the CDC does declare that getting vaccinated too early is a no-no; therefore, don’t opt for the vaccine in July or August. September and October are prime time vaccination months, but even stragglers can see benefits all the way through January.

In 2020, only about half the U.S. population opted for the flu shot. Therefore, manufacturers did not manufacture enough vaccine for every single American. Demand is expected to soar in 2021 thanks to COVID, so opting for your flu shot in that September-October time span is a sound idea.

It is possible to be infected with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

You read that correctly. And though at this moment it is believed that COVID-19 may be ultimately deadlier than the flu, having both simultaneously is both dangerous and likely exceedingly uncomfortable.

You’ve convinced me. How do I set up an effective flu shot clinic?

Do you work with a wellness coordinator? If so, call that person and ask how much guidance they can offer. Some will schedule the entire event; others will give you resources to do so yourself. A few elements are crucial for a successful workplace vaccination program:

  • Select the vaccine administrator. Will an outside provider pay a visit to your office, set up in the break room and start vaccinating? A community immunizer is an option as well. Find one of those here.
  • How will employees pay for the flu shot? Communicate in a clear, concise manner if employees are responsible for some or all of the cost. Note: If you can fund the flu shot clinic in-house, that may encourage more employees to vaccinate.
  • Schedule the clinic for an opportune time – preferably before late October. Fall is prime time for flu season.
  • Still mostly remote? Discover where your employees can receive the shot off-site and offer an incentive for those who select it. Effective rewards include time off of work to obtain the shot, department contests, etc.
  • Gain buy-in from multiple departments and C-suite members.
  • Advertise, advertise, advertise. The CDC has some informative flyers here.
  • Make sure employees know whether their dependents are also eligible for free or reduced-cost flu shots.

Dangers from COVID-19 and the flu are real and often preventable. Making sure your employees are educated regarding the facts of both vaccines and the viruses will help them make informed decisions. You don’t have to do this alone, either: for questions regarding health and vaccine clinic events, contact W3 wellness coordinator Trish Blocker at 727-522-7777 or tblocker@w3ins.com.

Here’s to a flu season where more people than ever before choose vaccination. The double-dose of COVID and flu viruses make it more important than ever.

Have Computer, Need Therapy?

Mental Health Awareness Via Screen: Sharing the Teletherapy Lowdown with Employees

The doctor will see you now has taken on new meaning during this pandemic, as social distancing necessitated a pivot from classical in-person sessions to online screen appointments. The therapist’s couch is now the living room loveseat, or the kitchen chair, or the breakfast nook — any place, really, that promises solid Internet access.

Teletherapy, also known as online therapy or e-therapy, is a secure, often-effective way to utilize therapy services. The client makes an appointment with a therapist, logs on at a precise moment, and voila! Professional help is there. In a world that often offers instant gratification in the form of computerization, therapy this accessible can be extremely effective.

Here’s the downlow on the virtual therapy office: It’s a way for people to seek help anytime, anywhere. Need last-second appointments? Real-time advice dealing with stressors? Just a sympathetic listener? Teletherapy provides all of the above. For those who may have been reticent about reaching out for mental health services, the computer screen offers a welcome buffer. Instead of gearing up for a potentially emotional experience throughout the continuum of scheduling, transportation to the appointment, and sitting in a foreign room with a stranger, teletherapy brings treatment to the patient on his or her terms.

It’s this stark difference to in-person therapy – along with other, notable advantages – that indicates teletherapy is here to stay. It was here before the pandemic, of course, but the uptick in virtual services currently being offered shows no sign of slowdown. It’s time to get on the teletherapy wagon, so to speak. Read onward to learn more about the virtual therapy session and how to share this safe, efficient and cost-effective solution with your workforce.

  • Many medical carriers offer the option through telehealth providers – Check with your carrier. Have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? There’s a solid chance therapy appointments are part of that. Remember: Your employees aren’t going to utilize services they know nothing about. It’s up to you to publicize what is available to them. The EAP may even extend to dependents.
  • If teletherapy is not covered under either your standard employee medical plan, consider sharing other resources with employees. Meditation, for example, has been shown to reduce stress levels, and while it isn’t a direct substitute for therapy, it has proved beneficial for centuries. Apps like Headspace that offer guided meditation are inexpensive or free.
  • Virtual therapy is safe and private – In fact, whether a therapist meets with a client at the office or via Zoom or another online portal, they are bound by the same laws of confidentiality. For a person to glean the most benefit from therapy, it’s important that the client offer full disclosure to the therapist. He or she is not going to turn around and tell the employer about the discussion. This is not a ‘Big Brother’ situation; it’s simply a way to nurture behavioral and mental health.
  • Bringing others into the therapy room is a seamless endeavor with teletherapy. A marked advantage of video conferencing software is its ability to bring people together with just a few clicks. For families that require group therapy, sessions via a screen connect grandpa in Idaho, say, with the rest of the grandkids in Tampa, et cetera.

Just as with everything in life, teletherapy won’t work for everyone, but it’s definitely worth educating employees about what is included as part of their work benefits. This safe, private and cost-efficient option offers potential peace of mind and help – all just a click away.

For more information about telehealth, visit here or contact W3 Insurance Wellness Coordinator Trish Blocker at 727-522-7777.

Be Well, St. Pete!

Defining and Achieving Wellness: Tips from a Wellness Coordinator

I like to say that wellness is the ‘fourth W’ at W3 Insurance. As the wellness coordinator for the St. Petersburg-based company, I spend my days helping clients achieve healthy workplace outcomes. That includes my own employer, which was recently named a Healthier Together Gold Partner, and it means something different to each employee group. Throughout my years crafting programs to nudge people toward healthier lives, I’ve gathered an advice tidbit or two (or four, of course). Whether you are part of a workplace that could use a revamped wellness focus or you’re simply an individual who wants to be healthier, read onward.

Here’s how to be well, St. Pete – from a veteran wellness coordinator’s perspective.

  • Repeat after me: Wellness is not synonymous merely with weight loss or fitness.
    Too often, people see ‘wellness program’ and immediately think their employer is going to sanction a Biggest Loser competition or yank the break room pastries in favor for apple baskets. Both are solid ideas, but do they address a business’s unique challenges? Do they address yours?W3 Insurance client populations vary too much for such a general definition of wellness to apply. A manufacturing plant, for example, may see musculoskeletal issues among employees and need a strategy to address them. Office employees tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety; they benefit from coping strategies. A workplace that struggles with smoking cessation needs exposure to quitting tools.
  • Focused efforts are always more helpful than general initiatives.
    Wellness consultants are by nature strategists. When I work with one of our benefits clients, for example, I look at claims data and listen closely to the HR department’s assessment of needs. How can we help people with high blood pressure and other risk factors?  Perhaps we survey the employee population, anonymously: What do you need help with? What would you like to see as part of the company wellness program? Instead of being a generalist, I try to be specific and ask how I can assist this particular group with its wellness roadblocks – and then, I make a plan with the employer.Individuals striving for wellness should be similarly specific. What are you hoping to achieve? How will you get there? Make a plan – and follow it.
  • Help is widespread.
    Once it’s clear where the wellness focus needs to be, it’s time to find resources. Luckily, they’re widespread. If you’re an individual seeking wellness assistance, take a good look at your insurance program. It may include more help than you ever believed possible. Often, the insurance carrier has plenty of informative materials. Many carriers offer free programs for weight loss, diabetes prevention, stress management, health coaching and mindfulness. Carriers may even offer incentives to employees who embark upon exercise plans, for example, or points to redeem for merchandise as part of activity program participation.
  • Regularly take stock of what’s working – and what isn’t.
    Once I help an employer develop a plan to address the wellness concerns of their employee population, I help to promote that plan through multiple media sources. We decide on budget for the program and include any incentives. Quarterly, we review the data together and adjust as necessary to keep moving toward our goals.This review strategy works for the person looking to achieve wellness on their own as well. If you feel as if what you are doing is not moving you forward toward desired wellness outcomes, take stock of how you’re going about the journey. It may be time to pivot.

I’ll leave you with this truism: Wellness is not one-size-fits-all. Every employer population, and each individual person, has their own journey to travel in order to achieve it. Good luck to you as you embark upon your wellness quest!

Trish Blocker recently celebrated eight years at W3 Insurance. She has been in the employee wellness space for eleven years and loves her job of helping clients help their employees. She enjoys spending time with her family, whether that means boating, golfing or attending her son’s lacrosse games. On weekdays she starts her day off with an early morning bootcamp class, She also meditates, if even for five minutes, during her lunch break.

Workplace COVID-19 Challenges

Answering Questions About Face Masks, Vaccination Liability and More

Welcome to Workplace Version 2021: Cubicles stand emptied of their former occupants, who gather from home on laptop Zoom calls. The remaining office workers wouldn’t dream of leaving a communal birthday cake in the breakroom. Where did you get your latest mask? is standard water cooler banter (though everyone totes their own pre-filled water bottle these days). So much has changed in such a short amount of time; it can be tough for employers and employees alike to know what is admissible in the workplace.

Employers have questions:

  • Can I require employees to elect the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • What do I do if an employee refuses to wear a face mask?
  • Are there privacy issues as we track employees who receive the vaccine?

Employees have questions:

  • What if my child’s daycare or school closes or my child becomes quarantined? Can this affect my employment?
  • If I have a disability, can my employer still require me to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • Is my employer required to let me work from home?

W3 Insurance and Janet McEnery, a labor and employment attorney with Stearns Weaver Miller, have answers. During a February 17 virtual webinar entitled Workplace COVID-19 Issues in 2021: Vaccinations, Face Mask Challenges, Extended Work from Home Orders and Incentives, Ms. McEnery, JD will address some of the frequent questions employers and employees are asking. These include (but are not limited to) the following queries:

Can I require my employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Total workplace vaccination seems like a reasonable request. Everyone vaccinated means everyone back to the office, right? According to the Society for Human Resource Management, many employers can reasonably require employees to be vaccinated. Loopholes exist for the disabled and for those who harbor sincere religious objection. Depending on the daily work situation, mandatory vaccination may make total sense – as it does with health care workers or others who come into contact with the public often – and less sense if all or the majority of employees work remotely.

Keep in mind that when the vaccine becomes widely available, employers could be liable if they do not require it. The employer must provide a safe and healthy work environment, as spelled out by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. If an employee does contract COVID-19 and believes it is due to their employer’s lax vaccination stance, the employer may face legal action.

Am I able to require proof of COVID-19 antibodies?

This is a ‘hard no.’ The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employer-mandated antibody testing as a requirement for return to workplace activities.

What about a face mask mandate? Am I able to require them in the workplace?

Protective gear, social distancing and face masks: they’re the triumvirate of pandemic control. They’re also an employer’s right to require, but with caveats. For example, employers can require said gear and adherence to certain social distancing mandates. The OSHA recommendation is that employers encourage face coverings in the workplace, though in some situations they are not feasible (in an environment where chemicals may collect within the mask, for example).

If an employee states a religious reason or reports that disability prevents such an election, the employer must provide another option. This does not mean an employer has to drastically change workplace protocol, as any action that represents ‘an undue hardship’ is not required.

What do I do if an employee refuses to use a face mask?

Look to the root cause. Is it because the employee has a serious health condition that is covered under FMLA or a disability covered by the ADA? The employer can require the employee provide FMLA certification (this is completed by their health care provider) showing they are not able to perform the functions of their job with a mask as a result of their health condition. Reasonable accommodation under the ADA is also a feasible argument for anti-maskers. The employer may ask for reasonable documentation from the employee.

Florida follows the at-will employment doctrine; if an employee does not give sufficient proof that they are unable to wear a mask because of a valid reason, the employer is within their legal grounds to terminate.

Am I able to ask employees if a family member has COVID-19?

No. GINA (The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) prohibits this.

If an employee misses work and I suspect it is because of COVID-19, can I ask them why they were absent?

If an employee misses work for any reason, you are within your rights as an employer to ask the cause.

What if an employee states a religious reason for their reluctance to vaccinate?

If the religious reason is sincere, the employee may not be required to vaccinate. An employer may ask for proof, but this will open them up to potential legal action from the employee. Keep in mind that an employee who states that they just do not believe in vaccines cannot submit this belief as a valid reason not to vaccinate.

Still have questions about COVID-19 and how to make the right decisions regarding work life? Register for the upcoming webinar here.

Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace?

An Employer Guide to Handling Substance Abuse

Substance abuse numbers are staggering: According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, more than 70 percent of those who abuse illicit drugs also work. That means substance abuse is widespread and affects people across all demographics. Perhaps it’s the person in the cubicle down the hall who has challenges with binge drinking; then again, it could be the C-Suite employee in the corner office who seems to be a tireless workhorse.

Without solid proof that an employee is abusing a substance, there’s no need to start pointing fingers. This isn’t a blog designed to teach you how to merely recognize and respond to an addicted person with penalties. Instead, we aim to share resources to help those caught in a trap of addiction break free. And if you do suspect that an employee has a problem with an illicit substance, there are certain steps you can take to legally protect your organization.

 

What’s the big deal?

Being high on the job doesn’t lead to high performance. The U.S. Drug Test Centers states that $81 Billion in lost productivity occurs every year due to drug abuse and addiction. That’s healthcare costs and productivity down the proverbial drain. It’s an even bigger deal if the person impaired operates heavy machinery or is similarly engaged.

Some substance abusers argue that they can function at an optimum level even while impaired. Perception in this case is not necessarily reality. They are likely incorrect – and they are likely not very healthy. It’s most definitely a big deal to abuse drugs or alcohol at work, but most people would likely agree that it’s at least not a benefit.

 

What should an employer do?

Take a look at your employee handbook. It should state in very clear terms that alcohol use is not permitted during work hours. Catch an employee sipping a lager while on the clock, and you very well could proceed with standard company disciplinary procedures. However, this situation demands common sense. If a salesperson is entertaining a client at lunch and happens to order a glass of chardonnay, that is obviously a different situation than that of the cubicle worker taking covert sips from a whiskey bottle hidden in their top desk drawer.

 

What if I think an employee has a problem but I’m not sure?

Don’t trust office gossip. Instead, if you believe someone has a problem but do not know for sure, share resources that could help that individual – but do it collectively. For example, all employees benefit knowing that their EAP may include therapy sessions and other such wellness tools. Help with alcohol or drug addiction is yet another highlight of an EAP, which will point those in need toward organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Perhaps your workplace has offerings through the health insurance carrier for behavioral health. This assistance can be beneficial, and it is not as intense as rehabilitation center scenarios. Assistance comes through health coaching; some even have access to counselors via virtual visits. This is a solid start for those afraid to take the next step of in-person rehab.

Performance discussions are one way to proceed. Let’s assume an employee has been missing deadlines and coworkers describe them as scattered and confused while at work. Management could address these concerns and ask if there is anything they can do to alleviate the situation.

This discussion opens the door toward revealing the truth. Perhaps the person has a newly diagnosed health condition and is adjusting to new prescribed medication. The workplace has a duty to make reasonable accommodation for this situation. It could be that they are experiencing turmoil in their daily life that is hampering their work. Or the person could deny any issues, and thus the employer can proceed as they normally would if an employee is not achieving desired outcomes.

Expectations should be discussed going forward and any continuing conduct or work-related issues pertaining to the employee should be clearly documented. If the employee does admit to substance abuse, consideration of a few factors should occur. How has this situation been handled in the past at this workplace? Will the employee be given time off to attend a rehab center program? Will they simply be directed to the EAP?

Keep in mind that if a workplace has a ‘no tolerance’ policy for alcohol and/or drug use, they may immediately terminate the individual. Proper documentation of the work issues leading up to that moment should occur, however. Employers who are not sure of the right course of action should seek legal counsel.

 

What about offering help?

We mention the EAP multiple times because these programs are so comprehensive. However, other resources exist that can prove helpful to a person struggling with addiction. For example, addiction experts across the United States agree that a vast majority of people who need treatment for substance abuse disorders do not seek it. Though many barriers exist to discourage people from obtaining needed help, cost is a significant factor. Help.org created a guide that provides comprehensive information on topics like available care options, financial support, and free resources available in Florida.

These guides are available at no cost and are viewable at the links below. Share these with employees. Post them on the company Intranet. And know that someone who needs help with a dependence challenge may well change their course of living because of it.

https://www.help.org/drug-and-alcohol-rehab-centers-in-Florida/

https://www.help.org/drug-abuse-hotline/

We recognize Operation Par on the list; located in Clearwater, this facility is a W3 client that specializes in treatment for substance abuse and mental health.

Learn more about recognizing and reacting to drug and alcohol use in the workplace by reading this comprehensive article from SHRM.

20/20 Vision Advice for 2020

Warning: prepare for plenty of eye-related puns in this post about vision benefits. Consider this an eye-opening reminder to check your benefit details before the end of the year. Use those dollars to pay for a much-needed eye exam. Purchase that annual supply of contact lenses or add a stylish new pair of glasses to your wardrobe. You’ll likely need to use your benefits before 2020 is over – and that means making an appointment now.

When you make that appointment, you’ll likely encounter a choice that is a relatively new option as part of the annual exam: a no-dilation glaucoma test. That’s right: no drops needed! No waiting for the dilation to decrease before you drive home from the optometrist; no waiting extra time for the drops to take effect before an exam can occur.

Introducing the Optomap, a painless diagnostic protocol that takes a picture of the retina. Contact your carrier before the visit to check if insurance covers this service; if not, the added cost is usually small.

Why consider the Optomap instead of a standard dilation exam?

Dilation allows the doctor to view a select spot of the retina; Optomap reveals the majority of the retina. The digital capture is painless and non-invasive; it also allows for an instant reveal of the image. That means you and your doctor can go over the results immediately. While it is a personal decision whether or not to ‘opt’ for the Optomap, certain elements should be considered before making the selection.

Benefits of the Optomap include:

  • Time savings – From start to finish, the dilation process is about 45 minutes.
  • Comparison ability – Because the Optomap generates a comprehensive digital picture of the retina, that picture can be compared to others in subsequent years to monitor any changes in eye health.
  • No sensitivity issues – That uncomfortable numb feeling caused by dilation is not an issue with Optomap, which requires no desensitization. Note: Optomap is also an ideal alternative to dilation for those who experience a vasovagal episode as a result of the numbing agent. (These select few faint or feel uncomfortably woozy after the eye drops are inserted).
  • More comprehensive view of retina – The classic dilation test reveals a sliver of the retina, while the Optomap engages ultra-widefield retinal imaging to showcase a much wider surface area.

How to Decide Whether or Not Dilation or the Optomap is Right for You

Three words are sufficient here: Ask your doctor.

This has been a tough year all around; at the very least, you can begin 2021 by seeing clearly, no matter which type of test you select. In addition to ensuring your vision benefits do not expire, it’s important to be aware of ‘pandemic eye strain.’ Yes, as if COVID-19 didn’t give us enough to worry about, it’s doing a number to our eyes. The good news is that your peepers don’t need a mask in order to find protection. Lessen eye strain caused from all that remote work.

COVID-19 is Leading to Eye Strain. Here’s What to Do.

1. Tip One: Realize that the eyes aren’t meant to stare at a computer screen for hours on end.

  • Most Americans (70%, as reported by The Vision Council) don’t believe they’re susceptible to eye strain. News flash: They’re wrong. With so many of us sitting in front of dimly lit screens for 4-6+ hours each day, eye strain is inevitable.

2. Tip Two: Identify whether you are experiencing eye strain.

  • Are your eyes sore or tired? Burning? Those who have dry eyes, blurred vision, increased light sensitivity and/or difficult focusing are prime eye strain candidates.

3. Tip Three: Make a plan to lessen the strain.

  • Cut down on the screens. This can be easier said than done; so many adults are working remotely during these pandemic times, and children engaged in digital learning find themselves glued to the screen for hours on end. Even those heavy screen users can employ simple strategies to lessen the strain.

There are many ways to combat the effects of screen time on your eyes. They include the following practices:

  • Decreasing the glare – How bright is that monitor? Go darker. Head to settings and turn the monitor brightness factor down.
  • Dimming that lighting – Glare is a prime cause of eye strain, so consider a little ‘mood lighting’ when you’re working on a screen. It’s nice to have natural light filtering through the home, but consider moving away from a window. Your eyes may thank you for it. An anti-glare filter for the monitor is a solid idea as well.
  • Getting comfortable – How are you, ergonomically? The screen should be in front of the face just below the eyes. Place the computer about an arm’s length away.
  • Making those letters huge – Increasing font size will lessen your squint. We’re not talking size 36 times new roman, but a little increase can make a huge difference!
  • Purchasing stylish computer glasses – You can choose ugly ones, but why? There are so many stylish, affordable glasses available today that filter out the blue light that’s so damaging to the peepers.
  • Don’t forget to blink – Really. We know you’re focused on that report, but blinking is an absolute necessity.
  • Live by the 20-20-20 rule – Every 20 minutes, glance away from your screen at something else for at least 20 seconds. Those of us working from home as our children learn remotely at home are likely having no problems with this one. The rest of us may need to consciously remember to do it.
  • Read a physical (paper) book – It had to be included in the list. After all, going from computer work all day to e-reader at night is not going to help reduce eye strain.

As with any vision problems, consult your doctor if you have any concerns at all. Your sight is too important and valuable to gamble with. Abide by the suggestions listed above and read this Healthline article for even more options.

Here’s to better eye health and an overall better outlook for 2021! For more information about vision benefits and wellness benefits in general, contact W3 Wellness Coordinator Trish Blocker at tblocker@w3ins.com.

‘Tis the Season for Flu Shots: Tips for Employers

Encourage employees to vaccinate with (or without) an onsite event

It’s time to get shot; make sure your employees don’t miss out. We’re talking of course about the flu vaccine, that yearly preventative measure that today is more important than ever. The prospect of contracting both COVID-19 and this year’s flu strain is too potentially dire to imagine. Can you imagine enduring the ‘twindemic’ triggered by a dual diagnosis of COVID and influenza?

All together now: SHUDDER.

As an employer, you can inspire members of your workforce to choose vaccination and thus take a proactive step that can lead to lower absenteeism rates companywide. Like COVID, influenza is not welcome in the workplace. Unlike COVID, there’s something we can do as a society about contracting influenza. That begins and ends with the flu shot.

But how effective really is the flu shot at preventing influenza – and who should make absolutely sure to receive it? Dispelling the below myths will give your employees the confidence they need in order to stick those arms out (literally).

Myths surrounding the flu shot include:

  • We don’t know which strain of flu will be most prevalent, so the flu shot likely won’t be that effective. While it’s true that different strains of flu exist and that it’s difficult to state for sure which will be the most dangerous year-to-year, getting the flu shot is a solid idea because, according to the Centers for Disease Control, each vaccine includes immunity against four strains. That’s a decent gamble!
  • I don’t get sick a lot, so I don’t need this shot. This has always been a very loose argument because it only takes one time contracting the flu to change one’s mind forever. The flu can be extremely serious. Thousands – in fact, tens of thousands die of the flu each year. Even in mild cases, it wrecks a person’s week (or even two weeks).
  • My kids get the shot, so I don’t need to. Who is going to take care of said kids if you’re laid up because of the flu? Enough said.
  • My child is too young to get the flu shot. Babies aged 6 months and older can receive the flu shot – and they may be eligible for the nasal vaccine. That means no needles involved!
  • I always get sick from the flu shot. While some people have mild symptoms they attribute to the flu shot, those symptoms are much less serious than those that can potentially occur with the full-blown flu. The virus contained in the flu shot vaccine has been inactivated. Any side effects from the shot should be mild.
  • I hate needles; if I can’t get the nasal vaccine, I won’t do it. For those aged 2-49, the nasal vaccine is often an option. Those who are pregnant should opt for a syringe instead. If a person really can’t stand needles, he or she should talk with a medical professional regarding the positives and negatives of that year’s nasal version.

Now that we’ve dispelled those myths, let’s be clear: there’s an extra reason to make sure everyone eligible receives the flu vaccine this year. A twindemic of COVID/INFLUENZA is threatening our nation. Employers can help in the fight to prevent a ‘twindemic’ outbreak. Make sure your workers understand the benefits of the flu shot and where to receive the vaccination. Used to hosting an annual on-site clinic but forced to skip it this year? Motivate your workforce in ways other than shot proximity. We know this is a very real challenge; about 30% of our clients who host onsite clinics have had to cancel due to an inability to meet on-site minimums.

There’s no cure yet for COVID; it’s time we get creative and inspire those around us to take healthy inoculation initiative. We’re all hoping for an end to COVID. In the meantime, here’s how to motivate your staff to inoculate against the malady we often can prevent: flu.

  • Tell everyone how to get the shot. For free. The flu shot is a preventative service. It’s covered at 100% when the member visits a participating pharmacy or retail location. With social distancing recommendations still in effect in many states, look for more drive-through opportunities.
  • Be transparent regarding where people may not want to receive the shot. Be sure to share the possibility that a primary care physician may possibly charge a copay for an office visit if they choose to go that route. Sharing this information is similar to that of advising those who opt to visit the emergency room for every sniffle to choose a primary visit or walk-in clinic instead. When cost is an issue, information is invaluable.
  • Got a shot? -You get a smoothie! (Hopefully the employee will choose the Vitamin C-rich option over that chocolate brownie peanut butter bomb on the menu). Grocery gift cards make a great reward as well. Consider gifting wellness baskets stocked full of wholesome goodies: oranges, hand sanitizer and tissues are favorites. While you’re at it, print out some flyers about flu shots, telehealth, and EAP. Stuff those in the baskets – people need something to read while they’re eating those orange segments.
  • Post signage – If you do have employees on-site, put informational signage in well-trafficked areas. Download free flyers from the CDC here: https://bit.ly/2H0GNNW.
  • Educate, educate, educate – Influenza and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses. Consider the decision to vaccinate this way: We do not, at the time this blog was written, possess a vaccine or powerfully effective treatment for COVID-19. We do, however, have the flu shot. Not electing to receive the flu shot leaves an individual doubly vulnerable.

Most onsite clinics are already scheduled, so that route may be out of the question for this year. Go ahead and mark your calendar for Summer of 2021 as the pivotal moment you reach out to schedule the next one, however. Hopefully by then we will have an effective vaccine for COVID-19 as well.

We understand that in this current health climate it can be especially overwhelming to guide your employees toward healthy decisions like vaccination. Need assistance motivating employees to receive the flu shot? Not sure where to start? Usually have an onsite clinic but not hosting one due to a remote worker shift? -I’m here for you. Contact me (Trish Blocker) at 727-522-7777.

Pandemic Pragmatism: Return To Work Advice for Employers

This is a message to employers who look out upon a sea of empty cubicles and yearn for normalcy. We understand the temptation to welcome employees back in droves. Business is not as usual, and we all feel it: no sector is immune to the effects of COVID-19. As we grapple with our ‘new normal,’ it is imperative that employers handle the return of employees to the physical workplace with proverbial ‘kid gloves.’

Here are some safeguards to consider as you reopen your doors to the employee population:

  • Constant vigilance is key. That employee who tested negative yesterday could arrive at the office this morning as a COVID-19-infected individual. Therefore, daily health checks are necessary, and the EEOC has ruled that employers may ask workers whether they are in fact suffering from COVID-similar symptoms. *Compliance with the ADA is still mandatory; any medical information gleaned from such daily checks becomes part of the individual’s confidential medical record.
  • Thanks to human ingenuity, we already have multiple options for these checks, including:
    • COVID-19 and antibody testing – Antibody testing is not, at this moment, FDA approved. It demands a blood draw and can take days to reveal results. A person may test negative for COVID-19 one day and positive the next, making such testing an unlikely option for regular use.
    • Medical screenings conducted by medical personnel – In this scenario, employees stay in their vehicle while a medical professional takes their temperature and administers a brief questionnaire. Anyone with a temperature at or below 100.4 is cleared to enter the building.
    • Non-contact thermometer at building entrance. Not every person infected with COVID-19 has a fever. However, the thermometer check will identify some infected individuals.
    • App use requiring daily report of symptoms, exposure, and temperature – Responses are recorded. If suspected COVID-19 is identified, correct company personnel is notified.
  • Remember that discriminatory practices are not admissible just because a pandemic is at large. However, individuals aged 65 or older may be given more flexibility than compared with your younger employee population. Those within the older age group are at higher risk to suffer complications from COVID-19. Treatment of demographic groups such as pregnant women and those with family responsibilities is discussed at length here.

Return to work symbolizes a return to normal, and that is what we as a society yearn for during this age of uncertainty. Still, don’t rush the Welcome Back celebration. Work with your HR department to outline clear and concise policies that protect the health of everyone in the organization. For assistance, contact W3 Benefits and Wellness Strategist Trish Blocker at tblocker@w3ins.com or 727-522-7777 x173.

Put Down the Snack Cakes – National Nutrition Month

Welcome to National Nutrition Month! Grab an apple, take a crunch, and read onward as we share healthy workplace outreach strategies. No, you can’t snatch Twinkies from desktops or institute a “no fries” rule in the employee manual. However, by sharing reputable dietary information and committing to fostering a healthier workplace environment, you can make a real dent in that employee pizza habit.

First, remember that you are not the Food Police. A healthy diet should contain a variety of foods from different sources; that means those diets composed of one or two items are not advisable. Who remembers the grapefruit diet (shudder)? Healthy eating is not just a bandwagon – it’s a lifestyle that allows for plenty of choice.

Plenty of medical evidence exists to prove that a healthy, well-rounded diet leads to better health outcomes. You can tell people that – but it won’t matter if they haven’t eaten since yesterday and there’s a box of donuts beckoning in the breakroom. You can get your employees to ‘buy in’ to the nutrition data without causing a run on the last cruller. Here are a few ways to nudge your employee population toward healthier choices.

  • Just say ‘no’ to the following: donuts, cronuts, croissants, muffins….you get the picture. But no one wants healthy birthday cake! We agree – so choose your battles. Healthy birthday cakes can be a real bummer. Instead of providing one for every birthday, why not celebrate employees monthly with a communal cake? And replace those donuts with ingredients for serve-yourself yogurt parfaits. Low fat yogurt, granola, fresh fruit and chia seeds make for a healthy, filling breakfast.
  • Look at your catering menu. When you order food for meetings, are you offering gluten-free and vegetarian options? The classic ‘sub sandwich ring’ is likely not going to be the number one choice. Remember that adage ‘An army runs on its stomach’ and take it to heart. Your employees and clients may be satiated by the double chocolate cookies you purchased for dessert – or they may be so drowsy that they fall asleep. We dare you to take this moment to ask for the sale.
  • Now for an examination of the vending machine. Can you replace those sugary, preservative-filled candy bars with high quality dark chocolate options? Are there baked options for the chips that everyone seems to be crunching at 4pm? Is there room in the company budget to simply stock a bowl with fresh fruit and invite employees to eat it free of charge? It doesn’t take huge gestures to nudge an employee population to make better nutritional choices.

Workplaces that go above and beyond the everyday nutritional hacks may opt to invite an organization like Weight Watchers to host meetings at the office. They may hire a nutritionist to do a lunch and learn presentation – complete with a healthy gratis menu. Whatever you decide, know that a healthier workplace is possible. For more tips, put down the snack cakes and contact W3 Wellness Coordinator Trish Blocker at 727-522-7777 ext. 173 or tblocker@w3ins.com.

Find more information here: https://www.eatright.org/

New Year, No Alcohol? Embracing Dry January in the Workplace

After all the holiday toasts, hot toddies and themed party cocktails, is it time for your workplace to go dry? The movement dubbed Dry January ironically stems from a land full of pubs and pilsners; since 2013, England has spread its message of New Year, No Alcohol worldwide. It’s catching on, and breweries are noticing; according to CNBC, many are now promoting low alcohol or even no alcohol alternatives.

To jump on the no alcohol bandwagon and encourage employees to put down the pints (at least for a while), consider the following strategies:

  • Find a Dry Champion. Have you heard anyone talking about going dry? Ask them to lead the campaign and recruit others.
  • Design a pledge-signing event and make it a focal point in your break room. Those who sign the pledge will have a visible reminder from Monday through Friday about their commitment to forgoing alcohol.
  • Circulate a quiz to help employees identify how much they are actually drinking. Heavy drinkers can see definite benefits from going dry, including decreased liver fat and lower cholesterol levels. Others report better sleep and concentration – both which could affect workplace performance.
  • Consider crafting a self assessment to showcase how alcohol changes the body. It’s very possible that your workforce doesn’t know how many drinks can result in impairment; usually, it’s fewer than people think. Share this article from Good Morning America to illustrate the health connection.
  • Organize a tasting for your employees – a sort of happy hour that involves plenty of ‘mocktails.’ Have a resident mixologist who’s always the life of the party? Ask him/her to judge the competition. Employees can feature their best creations (pineapple and orange juice with a splash of cherry juice is a great place to begin).
  • Have a competitive employee roster? Give incentives. Who can stay dry the longest? Hand out mocktail ingredients at the kickoff party. There are so many ways to be creative about going dry. Tailoring your strategy to what works for the individuals involved is always a great idea.

Take January to dry levels, and you could see a more productive workplace. For more information about how you can help your workplace go try, call W3’s wellness coordinator Trish Blocker at 727-522-7777.