Tag Archives: workplace

Should You Allow Bowser in the Office?

More employers than ever are allowing dogs into the workplace. Big companies like Google and Amazon allow employees to bring their dogs to work – as do 8% of American workplaces, according to a 2015 Society for Human Resource Management survey.

Because this decision brings risk into the workplace, it’s a good time to revisit the issues employers face when making this choice. Every year, National Dog Bite Prevention Week is “celebrated” to educate and remind us about how our furry friends conduct themselves around humans. The Insurance Information Institute also published recent dog-bite statistics. Any employer making a decision on pets in the workplace should consult both of these resources.

My Experience With Dogs in the Workplace

The publication of this data reminds me of an event that is permanently etched in my memory. A while ago, I was introduced to business owners by their CPA. The owners were dissatisfied with their current insurance broker relationship and were considering a change. We set an appointment so I could learn more about their business and their needs.

When I walked through their office door, I was immediately met by two medium-sized pit bulls. Both were showing their teeth, growling and barking at me in a very aggressive manner.

See also: A Proposed Code of Conduct on Wellness  

I have always been a dog lover. I’ve had two pet dogs who became loving members of our family. When meeting dogs for the first time, I’m usually successful in establishing a rapport with them, but this meeting required the owner’s immediate intervention.

The employees in the office reacted with smiles and remained seated at their desks. My guess is that this type of greeting was common.

Why Employers Allow Dogs in the Workplace

In my discussions with employers, they cite the following as reasons why they or their staff bring pets to the workplace:

  • The pet experiences anxiety by being left at home alone
  • Dogs provide additional protection for the employer and employees
  • The pet is a “service animal” to assist the employee with mental or physical disabilities
  • They just like having the dog around them

The dog-bite statistics tracked by the Insurance Information Institute show the total number and cost of dog bites, but they don’t include dog-bite incidents or injuries in the workplace.

This lack of business-specific data certainly doesn’t detract from the potential legal and financial issues employers can create for their businesses if they allow dogs on their premises.

What Can Go Wrong?

A look at the statistics shows how dog bites continue to be an expensive problem. At least 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs annually, resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries that require medical attention. Those numbers increase each year.

The problem also affects employers who send their employees out into neighborhoods or homes with unrestrained dogs. For example, the employees of the U.S. Postal Service who deliver mail continue to have problems with dog bites, and they are usually armed with a spray to protect them from aggressive dogs.

Commercial insurance carriers typically don’t ask whether dogs will be present at a business, unlike the personal insurance companies that provide homeowners insurance. However, if you’re an employer considering allowing dogs in your workplace, it’s a good idea to consult a list of some “unacceptable” dogs that personal insurance companies frequently refuse to insure. You’ll notice some familiar breeds here, including pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, huskies and malamutes.

Considerations for Employers

Before you allow dogs into your workplace, take the following into consideration:

  • If it isn’t necessary, why create more potential liabilities for your business? There are many workplace hazards that can cause injury to your employees. Why bring in another opportunity for injury if that can be avoided?
  • Be aware of those dog breeds that have a history of aggressive behavior.
  • If an employee requires a “service animal,” and you have confirmed the animal is truly a “certified service animal,” you will most likely need to accommodate your employee. To confirm certification, have the employee provide a letter from a doctor. Work with your HR professional so the process of consideration and accommodation is performed in accord with employment laws.
  • Dogs can be a distraction and slow efficiencies in your company’s workflow.
  • Some people have a fear of dogs. How are you going to deal with this issue?
  • Some people have allergies that can be aggravated by the presence of animals in the workplace before, during or after the employee’s work hours.
  • When the dog bites an employee, in addition to reporting this to your workers’ compensation company and getting medical treatment for the employee, you must decide what to do with the dog and how to manage employees’ perceptions of this event and possible future incidents?
  • Do you want customers and other guests to potentially experience what I did when they come to your business?

If you do decide to allow dogs in the workplace, your HR professional will need to update your employee manual. Set guidelines as to how and where the pet may be located. Set guidelines for acceptable animal behavior. Create clear guidelines about the owner’s productivity and responsibilities. Establish how other employees may interact with the pet.

These are just a few of the questions you’ll need to answer before implementing any new policies.

See also: States of Confusion: Workers Comp Extraterritorial Issues

With the potential risks involved in workers’ compensation, HR and general liability, should dogs really be in the workplace?

Language and Mental Health (Part 2)

[Part 1 of this series focused on why language matters in mental health advocacy and on suicide prevention in the workplace. This article explores wording related to suicide that we want to see change. Part 3 will look at wording related to mental health.]

We are often asked: What is the best way to talk about suicide?

“Died by suicide”

Much of the language related to suicide death comes from a stigmatizing history. The term “committed suicide” originated when suicide was thought of as a sin or a crime, instead of as a fatal outcome of a set of thoughts, often a result of a mental health condition. The phrase is still the most common way for people to describe a death by suicide in the general public, the media and even in the mental health sector. We can ask ourselves: Does someone die by committing a car accident? By committing cancer?

Certain terms are commonly used to describe whether a person has died or not: People talk of a “successful” suicide or an “unsuccessful” attempt. The use of the word “successful” is highly insensitive to the tragedy of a death by suicide. Similarly, we hear the term “completed suicide” to refer to a death by suicide. In North American culture, we place a positive value on success and on completion, so we suggest a certain amount of good when we refer to a suicide as successful or complete.

When talking about suicide in general, test language by substituting the word “cancer” for the word “suicide.” If the result sounds odd, chances are the phrase has come from a stigmatizing origin. For example, we wouldn’t say “the cancer was successful”; we would say “a person died from cancer.” Thus, “died by suicide” is the best option we have to describe suicide death.

See Also: The Daily Grind is Good for the Mind

We should talk about suicide by viewing it through the same lens we use to look at cancer, car accidents and other causes of death. We can seek to apply a public health advocacy approach, rather than a blame-the-victim approach, which is a result of the use of archaic language.

“A person who is thinking of dying by suicide”

When we label people, and group them according to an identifier, we are seeking to simplify who they are. It is a short-cut language strategy that also short-cuts understanding and connection. In suicide, there is often a label: “a suicidal person”; “he is suicidal.” Using our rule about swapping “suicide” for “cancer”: Are you cancerous, or are you a person who has cancer? We prefer:a person who experiences suicidal thoughts,” “a person who is thinking of dying by suicide.”

For most who die by suicide, we believe their choice would have been to live if they could have found a way out of the mindset of dying. Unbearable psychological pain may be accompanied by very strong internal commands to die. This experience is not the usual type of rational choice in the way we commonly think about choice. People often say “a person chose to die by suicide.” Inside this thinking, there is a sense of absolving of responsibility anyone other than the person who died, which we understand. It is very difficult to grasp that a person has died by suicide, and we often seek solace in language that implies that the person acted completely freely. We wish to undo this type of phrasing that implies that true “choice” is part of the picture. We prefer that people do not use the word “choice” when talking about a death by suicide.

Also in the language of suicide, we find phrases that imply that a person who has made a suicide attempt is manipulative and is just “seeking attention.” The phrase “suicide gesture” has an implication that intent is not genuine. We prefer: “an action with suicide intent.”

“Precipitating events”

When a person dies by suicide, and we wish to talk about what led up to their death, we often talk about “triggering events.” The word “trigger” is problematic because of its strong connection to firearm use. Also, by calling something a triggering event, the phrase denies an opportunity for people to have mastery over the impact of the event. It is preferable to use a more objective term to describe prior events and challenges. We prefer: “precipitating events.”

Clarity around “survivor”

The term “suicide survivor” is confusing. Depending on how it is used, this phrase may mean a loved one left behind when a person dies by suicide. At other times, the term means someone who has survived a suicide attempt. Thus, the preferred terminology for people who are left behind is: “a person who is bereaved by suicide,” or “a person who is surviving a suicide loss.” People who attempt suicide but do not die can be referred to as: “a person who attempted suicide and survived.”

In addition, the field of suicide prevention also seeks the expertise of people who have lived through a suicide crisis and did not have an attempt. Sometimes these folks are included under the umbrella of “people with lived experience of suicide.”

In conclusion, “messaging matters” in suicide prevention and suicide grief support. For more best practices, review “The Framework for Successful Messaging by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention”: http://suicidepreventionmessaging.actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/.

Managing Behavioral Health at Work

At the RIMS 2016 Annual Conference, Kimberly George, senior vice president of Sedgwick, and Scott Daniels, director of disability for Comcast, discussed an approach to managing mental and behavioral health in the workplace. The discussion focused on how Comcast deals with these issues. Comcast has a very diverse workforce, owning a cable company, multiple television networks and even theme parks.


Behavioral health claims not only affect your employees directly, but they also can have a significant impact on your business. According to a recent study by IBI, four of the top six employment-related concerns of employers related to the health of their workforce. The study also found that mental health was the second-highest duration of disability diagnosis for their short-term disability programs.

Comcast has had 1,300 to 1,600 behavioral health claims per year, paying millions of dollars in benefits. One area of concern for the company is that 60% of those being treated were not being seen by licensed behavioral health experts. Instead, they were being treated by general practitioners who lacked the expertise to adequately address the issues. Comcast is trying to focus on being an advocate for its workers on health issues, and part of that includes assisting them in being treated by the appropriate medical providers.

See Also: A New Focus for Health Insurance

Comcast’s program is currently focused on the group benefits side. The company hopes to someday expanded to workers’ compensation. If employees have a behavioral health diagnosis, they are required to treat with a practitioner specifically licensed in that area. Comcast does not direct to specific providers but instead work with the employee to help identify providers in the network. The Comcast employee assistance program (EAP) comes into play as the employee can receive a certain number of behavioral health visits under this at no cost to the worker. The program has been in place less than a year, but Comcast is already seeing  significant decreases in duration of disability for behavioral health claims.

There is hope that this program can have a positive impact on workers’ compensation claims, as well. Under the EAP program, Comcast can provide the behavioral health treatment outside the workers’ compensation claim to help address the psycho-social issues that could have an impact on the claim. This approach recognizes that you must treat the whole person to effectively manage workers’ compensation claims, and you cannot ignore psycho-social issues that may be affecting the case.

One of the first resources that Comcast tapped into in developing its program was its EAP provider. The  provider offers a variety of resources to the workforce, not just in the area of behavioral health but also with a variety of lifestyle issues. The EAP was being underutilized before this program started, but the change in focus helped employees to fully understand the benefits under their EAP.

Resilience is a also very important issue that can affect both disabilty and workers’ compensation claims. Comcast is working with a vendor partner to assist employees in developing coping skills and being more resilient. Comcast feels that by strengthening the resilience of its workforce it can significantly reduce all disability in the workplace.

Comcast is also using more telehealth, which is yielding positive results. It makes it easier for the employees to receive medical care in a timely manner. This has been especially useful with behavioral therapy.

The company is also hoping that the focus on getting the employee the proper care will decrease relapse in disability. Oftentimes, relapse is driven by the employee’s not receiving the appropriate treatment.

The overall focus at Comcast is establishing a culture of health for the workforce. The company wants employees to engage in the healthcare experience and become educated consumers. The hope is this culture will ultimately lead to healthier employees, which will result in fewer disability and workers’ compensation claims.

What Loneliness Does to Your Health

One of the myriad reasons workplace wellness is not performing well is that all humans have about 100 risk factors, of which obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are only four. If those four are in pretty good shape but the other 96 are out of whack, don’t expect good health results.

Further, putting bandages on symptoms of metabolic disease has limitations. Such bandages do not address the root causes of metabolic syndrome. According to Wiki, “Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving used for identifying the root causes of faults or problems. A factor is considered a root cause if removal thereof from the problem-fault sequence prevents the final undesirable event from recurring; whereas a causal factor is one that affects an event’s outcome but is not a root cause. Though removing a causal factor can benefit an outcome, it does not prevent its recurrence within certainty.” [Emphasis mine.]

One thing sorely missing from most modern wellness methods is RCA. Unless one deals with RCA in metabolic syndrome, it will continue to recur.

Some other huge health risks factors are job misery, terrible marriages, very poor money-handling skills, envy, general lack of contentment in life and loneliness. Another health risk is how far you live from a “dial-911 first responder.” Yet another is how safe your neighborhood is. I could go on and on. Worksite wellness does nothing to address the vast majority of personal health risks. My book, An Illustrated Guide to Personal Health, elaborates on such health risks.

This article will cover just one of those risks, loneliness, which among other things is a root cause of metabolic syndrome. (Let’s hope this information does not inspire true believers in wellness penalties to look for ways to charge lonely employees higher payroll deductions.)

Loneliness harms your immune system, makes you depressed, diminishes cognitive skills and can lead to heart disease, vascular disease, cancer and more. Loneliness is roughly the health risk equivalent of being a diabetic who smokes and drinks too much. Read on.

An article from the National Science Foundation explores the health hazards of loneliness. According to this article, “Research at Rush University has shown that older adults are more likely to develop dementia if they feel chronic loneliness.”

Moreover, John Cacioppo, neuroscience researcher of the University of Chicago, says of loneliness, “One of the things that surprised me was how important loneliness proved to be. It predicted morbidity. It predicted mortality. And that shocked me.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently wrote, “The combination of toxic effects [of loneliness] can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system and increase the risk for vascular, inflammatory and heart disease.”

According to studies in Europe, loneliness has about the same health risk as obesity.

An article in Caring.com says, “A 2010 Brigham Young University review of studies involving more than 300,000 people concluded that loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.

This is a headline in the U.K.’s Express: “Loneliness is as big a KILLER as diabetes.” The article describes how loneliness is like a deadly disease that decreases life expectancy and makes you more susceptible to cancer, heart disease and stroke. The study behind that conclusion was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Here are some personal observations:

Why do many people have so few friends as they age?

  • Maintaining long-term friendships takes a lot of work and investment of time.
  • Don’t let your career stand in the way. Don’t wait for someone to befriend you; reach out.
  • Some people have invested their time and energy solely in a spouse, who may predecease them by 25 years, or in children, who fly the nest in time.
  • Many people have invested much in work-related friendships, which, while genuine at the time, can wilt almost immediately when they retire or move on.
  • In friendships, one has to give more than he takes. Make yourself likable. Who wants to spend time with someone who complains all the time? People like that are often avoided by people around them.
  • Be a good listener.
  • If you’re lonely, try joining something…a place of worship, a book club, a hiking club, anything. In every community are places where everyone is welcome.

In the end, a true measure of your wealth is the number of lifelong friends you have. Having lifelong friends is a joy and a perfect cure for loneliness.

How to Address Eating Disorders at Work

In America, 30 million people will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their life. With statistics this high, it is likely that someone you know, or perhaps even you, has struggled with this mental health issue. Family members, friends and even coworkers can struggle with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Despite their prevalence, eating disorders are treatable. It is important to know the signs and symptoms as well as what to do if someone you know is at risk—especially in the workplace.

Our workplaces are often a source of stress. Deadlines, long hours and strained relationships can leave us feeling tired and vulnerable. When we feel down, we can be more susceptible to mental illness, including eating disorders, and stressful times can exacerbate existing conditions. With eating disorders, as with most illnesses, early intervention is important.

Businesses are in an excellent position to help employees who may be struggling with an eating disorder. Wellness programs can help raise awareness and encourage treatment. And anonymous screening programs can be an effective way to assist employees.

Anonymous and confidential mental health screenings are designed to help individuals examine any thoughts or behaviors that may be associated with eating disorders. After completing the self-assessment, users are provided with helpful resources and treatment information, if necessary. Although the screenings are not diagnostic, they will determine if someone is exhibiting symptoms associated with an eating disorder and if that someone should seek help.

Some common eating disorder signs and symptoms include:

  • Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight
  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and the control of food are becoming primary concerns
  • Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
  • Hiding body with baggy clothes
  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods or lots of wrappers and containers indicating consumption of large amounts of food
  • Maintaining an excessive, rigid exercise regimen—despite weather, fatigue, illness or injury—because of the need to “burn off” calories
  • Drinking excessive amounts of water or using excessive amounts of mouthwash, mints and gum

If you are concerned that a coworker may have an eating disorder, there are things you can do to help. Rather than focus on issues related to their physical appearance, let your coworker know you have noticed a change in their behavior. Perhaps the quality of their work has suffered or their mood has changed. Let them know that you care and offer helpful resources. If your workplace offers a wellness or screening program, share that information. Anonymous eating disorder screenings are always available at MyBodyScreening.org. Be sure to follow-up with the coworker to see how they are doing. Support systems are important as they work toward recovery.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is a public-private partnership advancing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, put forward by the U.S. surgeon general. The alliance supports mental health and suicide prevention programs in the workplace and endorses mental health screenings as part of those programs. Screenings can make a difference in mental health and suicide prevention.

As millions of adults struggle with eating disorders, workplaces can make an impact by spreading awareness, offering screenings and encouraging treatment. It is in the best interest of an employer to help workers stay healthy and productive. Wellness and screening programs are a proven way to do this.