Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Tag: workplace tips (Page 1 of 2)

Employer considerations for COVID-19 vaccines

The speed and efficacy with which COVID-19 vaccines have been developed is a testament to human ingenuity and the drive to create a safer world for us all. The three vaccines that are widely available in the U.S. (Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson) have all received emergency authorization by the FDA after demonstrating both efficacy and safety, but there are still some points you may want to consider when deciding on how your company should approach a vaccine policy.

What are my options as an employer?

There are three main courses of action you could take when it comes to employees and vaccines:

  • Do nothing. This means choosing not to implement a company-wide vaccine policy and not advocating for and encouraging vaccinations. Doing nothing may not be the optimal choice from a public health perspective, but it’s certainly a valid one from a legal standpoint. Mandating or incentivizing vaccination could help to reduce increased costs or absenteeism from employees, but it can also expose your company to legal liability depending on how such policies are implemented (and how litigious employees are).
  • Encourage and incentivize vaccination. This is a gentler approach than outright mandating vaccinations as a condition of continued employment. Encouraging employees to get vaccinated is legally safe, although it may run the risk of upsetting employees who don’t believe in vaccination, who have concerns about vaccine safety, who have health considerations that keep them from getting vaccinated or who simply don’t like feeling pressured when it comes to managing their health. Incentives, such as offering paid time off or a bonus to employees who get vaccinated, must be carefully implemented, however. Aside from the cost considerations that comes with bonuses and incentives, you may find yourself legally liable for any issues that arise if you implement on-site vaccinations.
  • Mandate vaccination. This is an aggressive option, but it’s certainly the most effective from the point of prioritizing the health and safety of employees. Mandating that employees get vaccinated is generally legal (although it may not be in some states), but it’s possible that some implementations of such a policy could put you at legal risk (for example, setting up on-site vaccinations or inquiring about employees’ personal health to determine their eligibility for vaccination).

Which employees should get vaccinated first?

Until vaccines become more widely available, it’s best to prioritize employees who are most vulnerable to exposure and at greatest risk of complications from COVID-19. Of course, in health care and senior care industries, everyone with regular contact with the ill and elderly should be vaccinated. Outside of these industries, consider prioritizing:

  • Employees who work in close physical contact
  • Employees who have regular exposure to customers and other members of the public
  • Employees who have regular exposure to heavily trafficked enclosed spaces, food products or other settings where infection may be a risk
  • Employees who are 65 or older
  • Employees who are 16–65 with underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of life-threatening COVID-19 complications

What are the risks of implementing a vaccine policy?

You could get into legal trouble if pre-screening vaccination questions aren’t job-related and consistent with the requirements of your business. To avoid this outcome, make sure that any pre-screening questions are related to the job and that you can prove that unvaccinated employees pose a direct threat to the health and safety of other employees. Similarly, you could get into legal trouble if you attempt to prevent workers’ concerted activity, such as expressing opposition to mandatory vaccines.

Make sure to follow state and local laws, as well. Some locales may have prohibitions against mandating vaccines that aren’t required by state or federal law.

Setting a policy and moving forward

Before settling on the policy that’s best for your company and your employees, there are a few final things to consider.

  • Make sure you follow all federal, state and local laws. You don’t want to put your organization at risk of legal exposure. Do some research to make sure you stay up-to-date on the latest laws and regulations.
  • Get a sense of how employees feel. If you have employees who feel very strongly about vaccines, either adopting a mandatory policy or doing nothing may cause disquiet. Taking surveys of employee sentiments can be a good way to decide how to craft your message.
  • Identify who should be doing the communication. Figures like respected managers, team leaders and union officials can be excellent ambassadors for your company’s policies, especially in larger organizations where employees may not have personal relationships with upper management.
  • Be transparent. As always, communication is key when it comes to rolling out new policies that can affect employees’ work lives. Let employees know both what your COVID-19 vaccine policy is and how that position was reached. Be sure to listen to and address employee concerns, even if your policy remains firm.

Regardless of what policy you decide to implement, wearing masks and respecting social distancing will stay important aspects of infection management. Even as vaccines become more readily available, maintain practices and procedures to minimize the chance of infection and help your entire organization stay healthy.

Remote work and employers: what are the pros and cons?

In 2020, we all learned just how fast the world could adapt to new measures. In the workforce, this has meant relying on coworkers and employees to bring their work home without missing a beat. With a year passed since COVID-19 changed the world, it’s time to reflect on the first year as full-time remote employers, what has been learned from it, and how to continue to adapt moving forward.

Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of remote working:

Pros

Flexibility

Working from home is far from a new concept. In fact, it’s often touted as a job perk by hiring managers. For employees, it often comes down to flexibility. Working remotely can be an opportunity schedule quick errands, focus in a less distracting environment or even to enjoy more time with the pets while still accomplishing the tasks at hand. The freedoms of remote work can be a major morale-booster. A study by PwC recently found that 55% of would like still to keep working from home at least three days a week once it’s safe to return to the office.

Lack of commute

Who wouldn’t choose walking to their living room over an hour commute on an over-stuffed train? Eliminating this often stressful part of the day saves time, money and headaches. It also takes more cars off the road, meaning less air pollution. In November, NASA announced that global nitrogen dioxide concentrations had been reduced by nearly 20% since February of 2020.

Larger pool of candidates

Eliminating a tough commute can also mean a more competitive job market. When people can work from anywhere, it widens the pool of potential candidates. For permanently remote jobs where location isn’t a requirement, employers can reap the benefits with a larger number of viable applicants.

Saved money

Less people in an office means a smaller office space, fewer everyday office expenses like supplies and cleanup, and less utilities at work. These kinds of savings aren’t just beneficial during uncertain times — they can be lucrative to new businesses trying to grow.

Cons

Blurred work/life balance

One of the more complicated issues to arise from remote working has been the stress of balancing a regular workday with our rapidly changing world. When the physical barrier of an office is removed, the lines between professional and personal lives can get a bit fuzzy. While flexible work hours may be a pro, they can become a slippery slope of overtime and burnout if left unchecked. In fact a recent Gallup poll showed that 29% of people who always work from home feel burnt out “very often” or “always.”

Encourage your staff to set up a corner of their home just for work if they can and to stay online for office hours only. Check in regularly to make sure that they feel heard and supported in their work endeavors.

Internet complications

We’ve all heard the horror stories: Someone forgot to mute themselves in a meeting or couldn’t figure out how to turn a Zoom filter off. In 2020, the learning curve got a bit steeper as our toolboxes grew along with our reliance on technology.

A little bit of training and empathy can go a long way in these cases. As expectations change, offer learning guides, webinars and other resources to help employees with the learning process. Additionally, understand that complications can occasionally arise when employees are at the mercy of Wi-Fi, laptops, and other far-from-perfect technologies.

Less organic opportunities for connection

With no watercooler to gather around, those little day-to-day opportunities for staff to connect can be tougher to find. Don’t let it wedge a gap between the team.

Schedule a little time for virtual team-building opportunities, be it a lunch meet-up or a Friday game hour. Take this time to focus on company values and consider how you can foster trust and communication.

As the world continues to change, take some time to reflect on how much you and your team have already adapted and give yourself credit where it’s due. Creating a culture of openness and empathy will help address issues as they arise and keep you connected to your team.

6 strategies to ease employee stress and create a happier workplace

4‑minute read

Stress is costly. From teeth grinding to high blood pressure and anxiety, our bodies often pay the price. Just reading this list of 50 common physical and mental symptoms of stress is stress-inducing itself! But the effects of stress go beyond health — it can even take a toll on your business. In fact, a recent study found that businesses lose billions in productivity due to employee stress. 

Take a deep breath. We’re here to help you with proven strategies to help reduce stress in your workplace (and even have some fun)!

Harness the power of good (deeds)

Volunteering is one of the best ways to combat stress. Research shows that volunteering has many health benefits, including stress reduction.

Volunteering can also give your employees a sense of purpose and appreciation, strengthen relationships and even encourage exercise — all great ways to lower stress. One study even found that people who volunteered for at least 200 hours in a 12-month span were less likely to develop high blood pressure (a common symptom of stress) than non-volunteers.

If your company offers a volunteer time off (VTO) benefit, you can organize events and activities that encourage employees to attend together. If VTO isn’t an option, you can share local volunteer events with employees that happen outside of work hours. Bonus points for including volunteer events with dogs (keep reading to see why)! 

Fight stress with fitness

Exercise is a stress triple threat. Why?

  • Increased happiness: Exercise boosts the body’s natural production of endorphins. This perky chemical has been proven to boost happiness.
  • Positive outlook: Concentrating on your body’s movements — like achieving that perfect push-up form — helps shift focus from life’s stressors to a calm, more positive energy.
  • Improved sleep: Various studies suggest that exercise improves sleep. Poor sleep can increase cortisol levels, which is often referred to as the stress hormone 

To get employees moving, try organizing an intramural-style team sport or sponsoring a race for your company. If you’re not sure what types of activities your employees might enjoy, send out a survey to find out. 

Laugh it off! (And no, we don’t mean ignore it)

Stress is no laughing matter. Or, is it? Are you familiar with the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine?” When it comes to fighting stress, laughter may be an effective remedy. Studies show that laughter can relieve some of the physical symptoms of stress by stimulating circulation and muscle relaxation. Over time, “positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses,” according to Mayo Clinic.

Don’t worry — there’s no need to host a daily comedy hour at the office. But taking a moment to share a funny story or keeping a joke book on hand may be a good idea. To really get the workplace rolling, why not try a group outing to a laughing yoga class? In addition to getting the giggles, you get a wonderful opportunity to encourage employee bonding and create endorphins.

Create a serene space

Is there a big deadline coming up? Holding a wellness fair soon? Consider contacting a local pet therapy organization that can bring in dogs to interact with employees. Multiple studies suggest that dogs can lower our stress levels — oftentimes even more than a supportive friend according to new research. Plus, dogs can help fulfill our longing for human touch, which can boost dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin (aka our feel good hormones). 

Let’s start with color. For centuries, people across the globe have believed that certain colors can affect mood. In 2003, a Minnesota State University study actually found that subjects placed in a red room gave higher stress ratings than subjects placed in green and white rooms. Why not pick up a paint brush or add some calming accents of green and white to your office space?

Beyond color, research continues to show that exposure to nature can alter mood. A 2018 study even suggests that just visiting a natural environment can reduce stress levels. If your office is in a natural setting, encourage employees to get out and enjoy it during breaks. If a concrete jungle is your landscape, consider organizing nature walks for employees at a nearby park. Adding plants and nature-inspired artwork may also help! 

Send in the dogs

Not only can these furry visitors perk up your workplace, but they can also help employees feel more comfortable connecting with each other. Win-win!

Check stress levels and offer support

With the rise of telecommuting, face-to-face interaction with employees might not be as regular as it was in the past. However, that doesn’t mean we should be less connected! Sometimes just acknowledging employee stress can provide relief. Remind managers to check in on employees’ stress levels regularly, not just when there’s a big project on the line.

In addition to using the stress-busting strategies in this article, encourage managers to stay current on the types of services your company offers to help cope with stress. And, if it seems like employees are feeling more than situational stress, it may be time for them to seek professional help.


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5 ways to transform your commute from pain to gain

4‑minute read

Do you live in a metropolitan area in the United States? If you don’t walk or bike to work or exclusively work from home, we bet we can guess how you feel about your commute. Let’s take a look at average commute times by some major metropolitan areas:

  • New York City — 34.7 minutes
  • Washington, D.C. — 32.8 minutes
  • Chicago — 30.8 minutes
  • Oakland — 29.9 minutes
  • Atlanta — 29.2 minutes

Let’s simplify by supposing the average person’s commute time is 30 minutes. You’re looking at an hour-long commute if you go both ways without making any stops. No stopping for gas, no picking up the kids or grabbing the groceries you forgot over the weekend. That’s an hour that you’ve potentially wasted.

But it doesn’t have to be wasted time. In fact, you can even get a jump start on your workday with these tips for making your commute more productive — grouped by drivers and public transit commuters.

For drivers (listening activities only!)

Did you know talking on a hand-held cellphone is banned in 16 states, plus Washington, D.C.?  Hands-free driving is not only safe — in many states it’s also the law.

Here are some commute productivity tips for drivers:

  • Listen to a podcast. These days there’s a podcast for everything. If you’re looking for business insights or news to inspire your workday, check out this guide to the best business podcasts. For those wanting to boost their health or fitness, this comprehensive list has a podcast to help you reach just about any wellness goal. If you prefer using your commute to catch up on life outside of the office, here are some great suggestions to keep you updated on news and current events.
  • Listen to an audiobook. If you’re trying to escape reality on your daily commute, audiobooks are a great option (just don’t get so engrossed you forget you’re driving!). There are far too many to parse out a complete list of suggestions, but we’ll take a shot at naming a few standout titles from recent years. Some popular fiction titles include All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. In the comedy genre, try Calypso by David Sedaris for some serious laughs. For more suggestions, here are 101 more titles you can check out.

For public transit commuters (who have their hands free) 

For commuters who are able to use their hand-held devices, there’s a little more room for productivity. Here are a few tips for those riding to work on public transit:

  • Set your priorities. Try a productivity app like Wunderlist, Evernote, MindMeister or Pocket. The functions vary by app, but in general they help you organize lists, tasks, ideas and resources. You can organize your thoughts, bookmark things to read later, or create a collaborative grocery list.
  • Get your mind right. It may seem counterintuitive, but more screen time may just help ease stress, anxiety and other mental health ailments. Headspace and Calm help ease stress and anxiety with guided meditation, breathing exercises and soothing sounds. Stigma is a journaling and mood tracking app that can help those who suffer from anxiety or mood disorders to identify trends, and even connect with peers through a messaging function. And for those who don’t wish to (or can’t) go to counseling or therapy, Talkspace offers an affordable, convenient solution.
  • Learn a new language. Want to add a skill to your résumé or CV? Duolingo and Rosetta Stone make it easy to learn a new language on the go, with guided lessons and assessment tools.

We hope these tips help make your commute a pleasure rather than a pain by increasing your productivity, delivering a laugh, helping you administer some self-care or just providing some entertainment. Have any suggestions, or want to share your progress? Send us a quick email at newsletters@delta.org.

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4 ways to create a motivating workspace

2‑minute read

Earlier this year, we shared how celebrating your employees can boost happiness and productivity. While showing appreciation for your employees is key, it’s not the only way to inspire your workforce. Designing the right work environment — from paint colors to plants — can also help motivate your employees. Check out our tips below to learn how the right office décor can uplift and encourage your team.

1. Don’t fear color. What color are the walls in your workplace? Are you surrounded by neutral tones or bold color? Research suggests that certain colors can affect a person’s productivity. If you want to spark some creativity in the office, try incorporating the color purple. If a laid-back vibe is what you want to evoke, try adding more blue and green to your surroundings. If you don’t want to saturate your entire workplace in color, consider painting a couple rooms to match the energy you’re after.1

2. Bring the outside in. You know how we just said green is a calming color? This is great news if your workplace has a view — nature is full of it! Try arranging your employees’ desks in a way that maximizes their view of the outdoors. What if your windows look out to a concrete jungle? Create your own lush landscape by decorating the office with plants and hanging artwork inspired by nature.

 3. Let there be (sun)light. While we all know too much sunlight can be harmful, sunlight in moderation can have mood-lifting benefits and may even help your employees stay focused.

“Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused.” – Healthline Media2  

Keep the blinds open to let as much natural light in as possible. If your workplace lacks natural light, resist the urge to crank up the overhead lights, which can be a nightmare for migraine sufferers. Instead, try providing individual desk lamps so your employees can adjust lighting to meet their own preferences.

4. Live your brand. A great way to get your employees excited about your business is to put it right in front of them. Why not display your mission statement on the wall? What about painting accent walls or providing office supplies in your brand colors? By immersing your employees in your brand, you’re helping them become invested in the business, its goals and its success.

 

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1 http://www.arttherapyblog.com/online/color-psychology-psychologica-effects-of-colors/#.W4Qt5cJry01

2 https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight

7 ways to make workplace meetings more productive

Are you regularly engaging with your team members at work? Whether you’re an individual contributor or in a leadership role, refresh your knowledge on the advantages of team meetings, including building trust, fostering innovation, sharing feedback and celebrating successes.

Brainstorming Meeting

Whether staff meetings are common practice at your organization or you’re considering implementing team collaboration, here are a few tips for making the most of your time:

  1. Make it a routine

Start by making your meetings an expected — almost natural — part of your team’s work schedule. Add a recurring appointment on your calendar or set reminders for team engagement so people anticipate the meeting and prepare properly. (More on preparation in a bit.)

  1. Consider location, location, location 

It may sound odd, but the popular real estate mantra also applies to team meetings. Did you know that factors like room temperature, the amount of natural light and even the color of walls can affect how productive or focused people are at work?

You may even consider taking your meeting outside the office. Depending on the occasion, you may meet to plan a project at a local coffee shop, discuss goals and progress over lunch, or celebrate a big win with a round of miniature golf.

Wherever you decide to meet, ensure the setting is appropriate and suited to optimize your team’s focus.

  1. Present information in a way that resonates

Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, recently revealed that the company’s meeting culture is “the weirdest […] you will ever encounter.” And that may not be a bad thing.

The CEO cited the way information is presented at executive meetings — as six-page narrative memos — as an example of said culture. This style could help foster better reading, writing and listening skills among meeting participants. And it forces meeting attendees to do the required reading. (Anyone getting flashbacks from their high school or college English instructor?)

Bezos’s presentation style may not work for you, but carefully consider the best way to share information with your team. It may be a presentation, a video, a list of references to consider, etc. If you really want to up the fun factor, consider some of these innovative ways deliver engaging meeting content.

  1. Prioritize preparation and set an example

Speaking of doing the required reading, you should make preparation a key requirement for meetings. Send a detailed agenda with any supporting resources beforehand, and don’t skimp on said resources. If your team needs a report, statistics, contextual information, etc. to be productive during the meeting, provide it in advance.

During the meeting, reinforce how crucial preparation is. You may even ban “thinking out loud” unless the meeting is primarily focused on brainstorming.

  1. Encourage creative development

A meeting where attendees are not allowed, or encouraged, to think creatively, offer suggestions and provide candid feedback will most likely not lead to innovation and improved trust. But don’t take our word for it — here are tips from 15 members of the Forbes Coaches Council on promoting creativity at work.

  1. Facilitate compromises when necessary 

We know that a culture promoting collaboration and candor can also lead to creative conflict. Be prepared to facilitate professional disagreements by encouraging compromises during meetings.

One of the most important tips in compromising is a classic — choose your battles. Know what your team’s goals are, communicate them effectively, and know when to compromise based on your objectives.

  1. Cancel if you need to

Even though it’s important to make team engagement a regular part of your work schedule, it’s definitely acceptable to cancel a meeting here and there. In fact, in some cases it may be for the best. If you don’t have much to discuss or work through, don’t meet for the sake of meeting.

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