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Woman with insomnia

Want Better Employee Health? Help Them Get Better Sleep.

Chances are there are employees in your workplace right now bragging about how they can get by on four to six hours of sleep. They may need to find something else to brag about. They may think they’re getting by, but a lack of sleep causes a wide range of changes in the body, both physical and mental. Beyond the reduced productivity and increased burden on healthcare expenses, these changes can affect your employee health in dramatic ways, including causing premature death.

How Long Should You Sleep?

A 2010 article covering 16 years of research and 1.3 million people concluded that both too little and too much sleep can serve as significant predictors of early death. Those who slept less than five to seven hours a night were 12% more likely to die prematurely. And those who slept more than eight or nine hours were at an even higher risk: 30%.

The sweet spot? Seven to eight hours per night.

Woman with insomnia

Health Risks from Insufficient Sleep

Study after study has found that sleep issues are linked to everything from weight gain to high blood pressure to diabetes. The website Healthline recently described 10 major areas affected by too little sleep.

  • Memory

When you sleep, your brain forms connections that help you process and remember information. A lack of sleep can affect both short-term and long-term memory.

  • Mood

Too little sleep can do more than make you moody; it can lead to anxiety or depression.

  • Thinking & Concentration

Getting enough rest is important for creativity, concentration and problem-solving skills.

  • Accidents

Drowsiness anytime besides nighttime can lead to falls, car accidents or worse.

  • Immunity

Your immune system needs its rest, too. If your defenses are down, you’re more likely to get a cold, the flu or almost anything else.

  • Blood Pressure

Sleeping less than five hours a night has been shown to increase risk for high blood pressure.

  • Diabetes

With too little sleep, your body’s natural release of insulin is affected, raising your blood sugar levels.

  • Weight

When you’ve eaten, chemicals in your body tell your brain your full. Without enough sleep, these chemicals go off balance, leading to overeating.

  • Sex Drive

If men don’t get enough sleep, it may lead to a drop in testosterone levels – and a reduced sex drive.

  • Heart Disease

Along with increased blood pressure, too little sleep may increase release of the chemicals that lead to inflammation. Both play roles in heart disease.

Why Can’t You Sleep?

Reasons for poor sleep vary. There may be physical factors, such as sleep apnea, or issues related to your sleep habits.

Sleep apnea can be a very serious sleep disorder affecting both the quantity and quality of sleep. If you snore when you sleep, it’s likely that sleep apnea is a factor and you should get medical attention. Sleep apnea has been linked to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

However, poor sleep can often be traced to bad sleep habits. Fortunately, as with other bad habits, there are things you can do to improve.

Getting Your Sleep Back on Track

An article in Psychology Today several months ago suggested several ways people could improve their sleep habits. Making these positive changes can improve your sleep and have a great effect on improving your overall health. Here are the four approaches they suggest:

  1. Quantity or Quality?

Are you not getting enough hours of sleep, or are you not sleeping very well? Improvements in either can make a big difference. Suggestions for improving your quantity of sleep include relaxing before bedtime or meditating. Reducing nighttime light exposure and eliminating computer and smartphone usage within an hour of bedtime may also help. You should also avoid eating high-fat or high-sugar foods, and drinking sweet, caffeinated or alcoholic beverages shortly before bedtime.

  1. Sleep as a Skill

Sleep should be more than just crashing when you’re tired. When you consider sleep as a skill, one that you can improve with learning and experimentation, bedtime becomes a whole different animal. Try and learn new routines and habits until you find what works best for you.

  1. Find Your Inner Child

For most people, their best sleeping experiences were as a child. There are, of course, good reasons for that – besides the lack of adult-world stress. You had more consistent sleep schedules. Your parents may have read to you before bedtime. You may have listened to music. Go ahead and find your inner child – and childhood sleep strategies. It could make a big difference in your adult sleep patterns.

  1. Check Your Attitude

Don’t think of sleep as a waste of your valuable time, or something that gets in the way of your productivity. As you’ve read in this article, sleep is crucial for good physical and mental health. It should be treated as something valuable and a precious time in your life. In fact, a good night’s sleep is the most important thing you can do for your health and happiness.

The Role of Coaching in Better Employee Health and Better Sleep

At Espyr, we know how poor sleep affects employee health – both physical health and psychological health. Our certified, professional behavioral health coaches are trained to discover the often-hidden factors behind physical and psychological health issues. As it relates to sleep, our coaches know that weight gain is often directly linked to sleep issues. This connection has been recently verified in research published in the June 10, 2019 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. This study of 43,000 women found that exposure to artificial light at night predicted weight gain over five years of follow-up.

Our coaches also know how sleep problems can contribute and exacerbate issues of anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that when those suffering with anxiety or depression were asked to describe their sleeping habits, most reported sleeping for less than six hours a night.

About Espyr

Our comprehensive EAP and portfolio of innovative behavioral coaching programs are designed to help people and organizations achieve their full potential. To learn more about how Espyr can improve employee health at your workplace, please call 888-570-3479.

 

 

 

Workplace Drug Use: Think It’s Not A Problem For You?

If today’s employers are finding that employee engagement is especially low, it may be because some of their employees are high. A new study released this summer by Quest Diagnostics, a provider of diagnostic information services, reveals that workplace drug use is the highest it’s been in more than a decade.

While prescription opioid rates have declined sharply across the nation, the on-the-job use of cocaine, amphetamines and marijuana has risen sharply, especially in certain regions. Here are a few specific findings from the Quest Diagnostics study:

  • Cocaine use has increased for the fifth consecutive year, including double-digit year-over-year increases in Nebraska, Idea, Washington, Nevada, Maryland and Wisconsin.
  • Between 2013 and 2017, methamphetamine use has increased 167% in parts of the Midwest, 160% in parts of the South, 150% in areas of the Northeast and 140% in the Southwest.

If you still think drug use has yet to reach your employees, consider these disturbing stats from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence:

  • 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.
  • Of those 70%, more than 42% admit that their work productivity suffers due to their use.

“The significant drop in opiate use is a promising sign,” said Matt Nieman, General Counsel, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace. “Yet, the ten-year high rates serves as a stark warning that efforts to prevent substance abuse in the workplace are as important today as ever.”

The Opioid Problem is Not Over

The drop in opioid use doesn’t mean the opioid problem has gone away. Opioid prescriptions have nearly quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the drugs legitimately help people manage pain, they are also still very addictive. The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides plenty of scary facts to illustrate our point:

  • Roughly 21 to 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8 and 12% develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4 to 6% who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.

Drug Use is Expensive, Too

These trends aren’t just disturbing on a human level. They’re costing employers – and society at large – a lot of money. Crain’s Detroit Business points out that, in 2013, opioid abuse alone cost businesses $16.3 billion just in disability claims and lowered productivity.

Tess Benham, of the National Safety Council, reminds us there’s also a high cost in absenteeism. Where the average worker misses about ten days per year, those abusing pain medication or using heroin miss an average of 29 days of work per year.

When you consider the combination of lowered productivity, higher health care, substance abuse treatment costs and missed work, you have a total economic burden of $78.5 billion, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Curtis S. Florence, who led the research, adds, “And that’s definitely a conservative estimate.”

What Can Employers Do to Help?

Common sense says that employers need to be part of the solution. First, however, they need to admit there’s a problem. In a survey by the National Safety Council, seven in ten employers reported on-the-job drug abuse issues ranging from absenteeism to overdose. Yet, only 24% said it was an issue.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence  has some clear, practical advice for employers, all centered on encouraging and supporting treatment. Here are some specific ways they say employers can address substance use and abuse in the workplace:

  • Implement a drug-free workplace and other substance abuse policies.
  • Offer health benefits that provide comprehensive coverage for substance use disorders, including aftercare and counseling.
  • Reduce the stigma of getting help through education and communication. You can read more about steps we’ve seen work in this blog on Reducing The Stigma Of Mental Health.
  • Educate employees about the health and productivity hazards of substance abuse through company wellness programs.

While all these policies and programs will help, the NCADD has one strong recommendation. “ “Without question, establishment of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is the most effective way to address alcohol and drug problems in the workplace,” says the NCADD. “EAPs deal with all kinds of problems and provide short-term counseling, assessment and referrals for employees with alcohol and drug abuse problems.”

At Espyr, we also understand the power of EAPs. But as a leading behavioral health company we’re continuously innovating to find new solutions to behavioral health issues. For example, we’re leading the way with a suite of coaching programs to encourage employees to ask for help when they need it or when traditional counseling isn’t required. We’ve developed innovative new approaches like Spotlight™, a behavioral health coaching and proprietary data analytics platform. Spotlight is able to proactively identify and aid employees (and their dependents) that may need assistance with drug abuse and other healthcare issues. It can more than pay for itself in reduced absenteeism, increased employee engagement, increased employee retention and a reduction in healthcare costs of up to 20%.

Espyr is offering Spotlight with partners such as Fairbanks Employer Services, one of the oldest and most highly regarded alcohol and drug treatment centers in America. With this new marketing partnership, Fairbanks will offer this technology to their portfolio of client companies under the name Fairbanks Spotlight™.

For more information on how Espyr can help you achieve a drug-free work environment, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

10 Ways To Protect Your Child On Social Media

Way back (in digital time) in 2011, The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a comprehensive study on the impact of social media on children, adolescents and the family. In those kinder, gentler days of social media the AAP study pointed out that for adolescents there were many positive aspects to social media, though, yes, there were negatives too.

How times have changed, or so it seems. Today, we see a steady stream of new studies, opinions and statistics about social media and its potentially harmful impact on adults as well as adolescents.

Of course, today’s social media world is a bit more adventurous and alluring than 2011.  When the AAP study came out there was no Snapchat, the most frequently used social media site for teens today where you can say and do whatever you want and it disappears in 10 seconds. Salacious apps like Tinder probably existed, but were less visible and maybe less accessible to those underage. Anonymous messaging apps like Whisper and Ask.fm weren’t around and hidden apps like Calculator% and Calculator+ hadn’t made the teen scene. These latter apps cleverly look like regular calculators to the uninitiated, but entering a passcode reveals a secret back storage area for private photos.Instagram website on a smartphone

To be fair, there are positive aspects to social media for adolescents. Social media enables communication with family and friends, particularly those that live far away. It can be a rich source of information, news and current events. You can meet other people with similar likes and hobbies – digital pen pals if you will.

On the other hand, the allure of the forbidden and anonymous virtual world can be extremely powerful to an adolescent. Unfortunately, for parents of pre-teens and teens, the ability to ensure your child is using social media wisely is becoming increasingly difficult. Consider these social media statistics.

  • 55% of teens have given out personal information to someone they don’t know, including photos and physical descriptions.
  • 29% have posted mean information, embarrassing photos or spread rumors about someone
  • 29% have been stalked or contacted by a stranger or someone they don’t know
  • 24% have had private or embarrassing info made public without their permission
  • 39% think their online activity is private from everyone, including parents

In many ways, the impact of social media usage on adolescents is just being recognized. A recent UK study in Reuters Health suggests, “Young girls, those aged 10, who are more interactive with social media have lower levels of wellbeing by age 15 than their peers who interact with social media less at age 10,” said lead author Cara Booker, a researcher at the University of Essex.Teenage girls looking at their cell phones

Prompted by another study, The Children’s Commissioner of the UK issued a stark warning that 10-12 year olds are increasingly anxious about their online image and “keeping up appearances”. The study suggested some children are becoming almost addicted to “likes” on Facebook and Instagram as a form of social validation. This can be made worse when they start to follow celebrities and others outside of close family and friends, whose social media accounts can undermine children’s views of themselves.

Ana Homayoun in the NY Times last year noted, “Many people — adults and kids alike — view likes, loves, comments and followers as a barometer for popularity, even within a smaller, closed group. Teens can quickly get caught up in the feedback loop, posting and sharing images and videos that they believe will gain the largest reaction. Over time, teens’ own values may become convoluted within an online world of instantaneous feedback, and their behavior online can become based on their “all about the likes” values rather than their real-life values.”

Victoria L. Dunckley in Psychology Today described the many reasons why social media is a particular problem for pre-teens. She points out that a tween’s underdeveloped frontal cortex can’t manage the distraction or the temptations that come with social media use.

  • A tween’s “more is better” mentality is a dangerous match for social media. Do they really have 1,456 friends? Do they really need to be on it nine hours a day? Social media allows (and encourages) them to overdo their friend connections like they tend to overdo other things in their lives.
  • Social media is an addictive form of screen entertainment. And, like video game addiction, early use can set up future addiction patterns and habits.
  • Social media replaces learning the hard social “work” of dealing face-to-face with peers, a skill that they will need to practice to be successful in real life.
  • Social media can cause teens to lose connection with family and instead view “friends” as their foundation. Since the cognitive brain is still being formed, the need for your teen to be attached to your family is just as important now as when they were younger. While they need attachments to their friends, they need healthy family attachment more.

Two boys looking at their cell phones

What should you be doing as a parent of an adolescent? Here are ten suggestions to consider.

  • Delay access for pre-teens. No one under 13 is allowed on Facebook, yet according to statistics posted on GuardChild, 38% of Facebook users last year were under the age of 13; 25% were under the age of 10. The longer parents delay access, the more time a child will have to mature so that he or she can use technology more wisely.
  • Limit social media usage to large screens kept in a central location in your home. Limiting usage to a kitchen or family room, in the open, will reduce the time spent on social media, as well as the potential for misuse compared to the privacy of their room or on a smartphone.
  • Keep track of the time spent on social media. The average teen spends nine hours a day connected to social media. Social media is an entertainment technology. It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for real life or a future job; nor is it necessary for healthy social development. Social media time is lost potential during key periods of your child’s brain and social development.
  • Encourage face-to-face time with their friends.  Help them learn how to plan real, in-person, social gatherings. They may roll their eyes at first, but not for long.
  • Spend more real non-tech time together. Teens who are strongly attached to their parents and family show more overall happiness and success in life. They still need their parents even as teens, and in some ways more then than ever.
  • Talk to your kids about online dangers. Parry Aftab,noted online safety and privacy expert and Executive Director of WiredSafety says“Who’s a stranger online? Everyone is! You need to remind your children that these people are strangers and that the standard rules always apply.” Urge your kids to avoid questionnaires, free giveaways and contests even if forwarded from a friend. Let them know that pop-up ads to “win a free iPad”, though tempting, are simply an attempt to gain personal information.
  • Teach your kids about online reputation and help them realize that their online and real-life experiences are more intertwined than they may think. You might cite current events, like an incident at Harvard last year when the university revealed that it had rescinded admissions offers to at least 10 students who shared offensive images within what they thought was a private Facebook group chat. The students posted memes and images that mocked minority groups, child abuse, sexual assault and the Holocaust, among other things. Remind adolescents that nothing online is ever completely private and talk to them about the ways private information can become public.
  • Follow their accounts and check privacy settings. Nothing is private in the digital world, and so it should not be private to parents. Make sure privacy settings are in place, but know that those settings can give you a false sense of security. Encourage your teen to have private conversations in person or via a verbal phone call instead if they don’t want you to read it on social media. Monitor the pictures your child posts online.
  • You might consider apps available to monitor your child’s social media use.   Apps like Net Nanny enable parents to block porn sites, manage time online and monitor social media activity. Bark, an app that monitors accounts on 20 different social media platforms, along with iOS and Android texting and email accounts, alerts parents to potentially risky behavior. TeenSafe links teens’ phones directly to their parents’ phones, and allows supervision of phone calls, emails, texts and social media use. Keep in mind though that such aggressive monitoring runs the risk of breaching trust with your child at a crucial developmental time.
  • Last, set the right example. Tweeting and updating your Facebook page at a stop light and taking every opportunity to make sure you haven’t missed an important post sets the wrong example that will surely be followed my your child.

Ana Homayoun stated it well, “Helping children think through how they might react or behave in certain scenarios can give them the confidence to make better decisions under pressure. Because in the end, teens’ online life choices can have real-world outcomes – as those students whose admittance at Harvard was rescinded learned the hard way.”

At Espyr we help client organizations and their families with behavioral health issues, including how to help adolescents use social media responsibly. If you’d like to know more about how we can help your organization give us a call. You can reach us at 866-570-3479 or at espyr.com .

 

 

 

 

Health and Wellness: Revealing Trends In Benefits

The numbers don’t lie. The inclusion of new, innovative health and wellness offerings and initiatives as part of a company’s benefits package is increasing dramatically. In a survey by WorldatWork, the leading nonprofit professional association in compensation and total rewards, 900 respondents across the country described some of the ways companies in 2017 are taking better care of their employees than they were in 2016. In this article, we’ll take you through the most impactful changes.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – Up 20%

According to the WorldatWork survey, 80% of the respondents’ companies offered an EAP in 2016. In 2017, that number went up to 96%. This should not come as a surprise. A comprehensive EAP program, implemented correctly, can improve employee retention, reduce absenteeism and help produce a happier, more productive workforce. Increasingly, employers and employees are recognizing the value – even as a recruiting tool. On their 2018 list of ten perks that attract and retain employees, BenefitsPro.com places EAPs just behind Snacks and Coffee, Flexible Work Schedules and Working from Home.

Behavioral Health Plans – Up 17%

Offered by 78% of the surveyed companies in 2016 and 91% in 2017, behavioral health plans and services are quickly becoming the norm. While engagement in these plans has been an issue historically, it’s important to have the resources in place for those who might need them. The other good news? More companies are making efforts to demystify these programs and remove the associated stigma. By making behavioral health part of a company’s culture and involving senior leadership, more and more employees are taking advantage of these services.

Another trend that will help: an increase in coaching vs. counseling. While the best coaches receive training and education comparable to counselors, the idea of coaching is something that is inherently more approachable.

Wellness Incentives – Up 18%

By providing rewards other than wellness itself, incentive programs can be very effective, and have increased in use from 56% in 2016 to 66% in 2017. Incentives could be anything from blue ribbons to free or subsidized health club memberships, often landing somewhere in the middle – cash, gift cards, event tickets and health insurance discounts.Fitness class

When combined with simple, short-term prizes, wellness incentives provide employees with enough motivation to get the wellness ball rolling until they begin to feel the internal benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Outcomes-Based Wellness Programs – Up 33%

All wellness programs are, of course, outcomes-based in that they hope to achieve better health outcomes for as many employees as possible. Outcomes-based wellness programs, however, are simply incentive-based programs designed to achieve a certain outcome, like not smoking or losing weight.

According to WellSteps, an employee wellness solutions company, an outcomes-based wellness program will increase program participation and effectiveness. A combination of data feedback and healthy activities can encourage desired health behaviors while giving employees many different ways to qualify. If you treat people with respect and don’t force them to participate, WellSteps points out, your employees will love your wellness program and employee morale will get a big boost.

Health Coaching – Up 14%

As mentioned earlier, counseling can still carry a stigma that keeps some people with behavioral health issues from seeking help. Also, people may need advice, direction or just someone to talk to, and don’t have the need for formal counseling. This is where health coaching can help. With more of a positive connotation than counseling, more employees will seek the help they need.

And it’s working. According to the International Coaching Federation, 86% of companies who implement a coaching program feel the ROI was valuable.

Financial Wellness Services – Up 10%

In their 2017 survey on corporate health and well-being, Fidelity Investments® and the National Business Group on Health® revealed 84% of companies now offer financial wellness services, such as access to debt management tools or student loan counseling, an increase from 76% in 2016. As more employers recognize the impact of financial wellness on employee health, a growing percentage of companies are expanding their well-being programs to include employee financial security.$100 bill puzzle

As programs, services and offerings continue to evolve, employers are embracing a broader definition of well-being, one that leads to increased participation and engagement among their workforce – and greater productivity. “Today’s programs take more of a ‘health meets wealth’ approach,” said Adam Stavisky, senior vice president, Fidelity Benefits Consulting. “They reflect a blend of financial, physical and social/emotional programs to provide maximum support for members.”

If you’d like to learn how your company can catch up to the trends in wellness – and improve the happiness and productivity of your workforce – call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or click here.

A Surprisingly Effective Solution for Stronger EAP Engagement

One of the most common criticisms of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) is the low level of employee engagement. The National Business Group on Health estimates that only 5% of employees use their employer’s EAP annually. This estimate is consistent with other sources, which quote utilization in the single digits. Of course, this low engagement estimate includes employers who have signed up for “free” EAPs bundled in a disability insurance plan. These employers may only be interested in an EAP in order to check a box, so they’re not aggressively promoting their programs. In fact, providers of these “free” EAPs are banking on low utilization in order for their economic models to work.

There are many ways to increase EAP employee engagement, and a good EAP provider should be very willing to assist you with your efforts. Examples of some important tactics include:

Building better awareness – Awareness of EAP plans and the breadth of services offered tends to be very low in many companies. More and better communication of the EAP and the services offered is one of the highest impact steps an employer can take.

Customizing the EAP – Comprehensive EAP providers should work with you to customize the services they offer, as well as how those services are delivered, to meet the unique needs of your company and your employees.

Senior leadership engagement – When employees see their leaders are “walking the walk” by engaging with their EAP, it adds credibility and legitimacy.

Make it part of the company culture – Progressive employers recognize the importance of behavioral health, yet most employer wellness programs only focus on physical health. Your EAP and behavioral health services should be integrated across benefit programs.

Overcome the stigma – Sadly, many employees who would most benefit from the services of an EAP refrain from doing so because of the stigma often associated with mental health and EAPs. Making it part of the culture and having senior leadership set the example will help break down the stigma and increase engagement.

Emphasize Coaching to Help Overcome the Stigma

Another potentially more powerful way to overcome the stigma associated with EAPs is to get employees to think of their EAP in a different light. Yes, EAPs are designed to address critical behavioral health conditions like substance abuse or depression. But today’s EAPs offer so much more. Often, employees need advice, direction or just someone to talk to; they don’t need formal counseling. What they need is a coach.

Progressive EAPs offer a broad array of coaching services. And, while EAPs may have a negative connotation to some, coaching is generally always viewed positively. That means more of your employees will seek the help they need.

Don’t be confused and think that coaches are the JV team. Good coaching programs from comprehensive EAP providers will be selective about their coaches, only hiring those that are mental health professionals with master’s degrees.

Types of Coaching Programs

Coaching programs can effectively address the most common issues facing your employees every day – relationship issues, financial concerns, difficulty transitioning into a new position or new location, and leadership issues. Any one of these issues can effect job productivity, engagement levels and job performance. Examples of the types of coaching programs available include:

  • Personal Coaching – Helps employees through issues or events that are impacting their lives in some way. These could be relationship issues that are personal or work-related.
  • Health Coaching – Helps employees through health issues such as having trouble sticking to a diet, handling stress or quitting smoking.
  • Financial Coaching – As earnings or saving issues leaves more employees stressed and looking for help, the need for financial coaching becomes increasingly relevant. Financial coaching can help them with personal money management and related financial issues.
  • Leadership Coaching – Helps managers and supervisors recognize and address the behavioral health issues that are creating barriers to advancement or greater leadership success. Leadership coaches in a comprehensive EAP program will help managers identify those issues and guide them in developing and sticking to an improvement plan.

If you’d like to know more about how coaching programs can help your company, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go click here.