August 16, 2014

Life Lessons from Robin Williams

Psychologist Sherrie Campbell has written an excellent essay on Robin Williams: Life Lessons He Left Us With. It's a thoughtful piece, well worth a read. Here's an excerpt:

"Robin taught us that adult laughter and comedy were healing. He could, just by being him, make any topic, dark or light, somehow hysterically funny. We were all enamored with him because he reminded us to see the humor. Humor is an incredible way to cope when we are feeling down.
Robin taught us of vulnerability and depth. So many of his roles were touching upon the deepest pains of being human. He was able to reach into our hearts with his roles in Patch Adams, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, and What Dreams May Come. He was able to feel these vulnerabilities so deeply in his own heart that when it came to putting them into his craft, he was able to reach into and touch our own fears and vulnerabilities making us feel normal in our own humanity."

Here are a few other life lessons from Robin Williams' body of work:

Dead Poet's Society - 'Carpe Diem' from Sam on Vimeo.

esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

August 15, 2014

Robin Williams' death puts a spotlight on depression

People the world over mourned the death of popular comedian-actor Robin Williams after his sudden and shocking suicide this past week. It left many asking: how could someone so beloved and with such success, wealth and fame be driven to such a desperate act?

The answer comes down to one word: depression. This depression was something that he tried to drown or mask with substance abuse, a lifelong battle for the actor, but his bouts with substance abuse only intensified his depression. He also had recent medical complications that likely aggravated his depression: major heart surgery in 2009 and the news that he had been recently diagnosed with early stage Parkinson's disease.

In our society, we tend to equate depression with sadness. We all use the word indiscriminately to describe small daily defeats and moods, yet the reality is far different. Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, affecting an estimated 1 in 10 adults.

One of the most effective descriptions of depression that we've seen was newscaster Mike Wallace's candid discussion of his own near-suicide. In an interview with psychiatrist Jeffrey Borenstein on Healthy Minds, Wallace and his wife Mary discuss his suicide attempt and his 20 year struggle with depression. He discusses the pain of depression he and his wife also speak of the stigma and ignorance that often stands in the way of getting help.

Depression is treatable and treatment is quite effective, but it often requires the agency of a spouse, friend or family member to intervene. In Robin Williams' Death Is a Wakeup Call for Mental Illness, Jonathon Cohn notes some of the barriers to help:

"According to government statistics, compiled in 2010, 60 percent of Americans with mental illness got no treatment within the previous year. People reported a variety of reasons—they couldn't pay for it, they thought they'd be fine, they didn't want others to learn about it."

Depression doesn't have to be unbearable for your employees. Employers that offer an EAP have access to a powerful tool for their employees that makes counseling affordable and accessible. The key is in publicizing information about depression, as well as disseminating frequent information about the availability of help through the EAP.

Here's a start: why not share this short video on depression from the World Health Organization with your employees, along with a reminder about access to the EAP?

Other tools for help
The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health has teamed up with Employers Health Coalition to shine a spotlight on depression in the workplace. The primary message: When you're depressed at work, it can feel like you're lost in the woods alone. But there's help, and you can find your way out." They've produced Right Direction, an informative and useful site that is worth sharing with your employees. And the site offers several reasons why you may want to do that:

"Did you know mental illnesses like depression cause more days of work loss and work impairment than any other chronic health conditions, including arthritis, asthma, back pain, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease?
Individuals with depression are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease, twice as likely to have a stroke – and more than four times as likely to die within six months of having a heart attack."

The site theme plays on the word "bear" using the animal as a creative theme. It includes a variety of plain-speaking tools to address the issue - among them, an an interactive map of common symptoms and a self-assessment tool. We liked the chart comparing how depression might feel to one who suffers from it vs. how that may be perceived by others:


The site also includes FAQs, resources for how and where to get help (Note: among the help suggestions is using your company Employee Assistance Program), and resources for employers, including a "Field Guide" with communication materials, powerpoints, and an implementation plan to help you get the message out.

Looking for the most comprehensive and effective wellness program for your employees? ESI TotalCare Wellness pairs Behavioral Health Clinicians with certified Wellness Coaches to provide employees and their families with the help, motivation, tools and support to make changes and improve their lives. Call 800-535-4841 for more information.

August 10, 2014

Workplace Stress: A vicious cycle

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, CEO of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, poses the question: Stress Making You Sick? Sickness Making You Stressed? She notes that the World Health Organization (WHO) has called stress "the health epidemic of the 21st century," and she makes the point that stress and health are inextricably linked: "All of this stress is also making us sick: 74 percent of respondents said their health was affected by stress, while 43 percent said that a health concern is a leading cause of stress. And it’s a vicious cycle-- 80 percent of people in poor health reported that their health problems increased their stress levels."

Employers and employees agree that workforce stress is an issue, but disconnect on its causes, according to the Tower Watson 2013-2014 Staying@Work Report. See the infographic below (click for larger) and for more on stress, see the American Psychological Association's Stress in America report.


Looking for the most comprehensive and effective wellness program for your employees? ESI TotalCare Wellness pairs Behavioral Health Clinicians with certified Wellness Coaches to provide employees and their families with the help, motivation, tools and support to make changes and improve their lives. Call 800-535-4841 for more information.

August 9, 2014

News Roundup: Honda Case History,Marijuana, Obesity & More

How Honda Drives Its Workforce- from Jeffrey Rothfeder, Newsweek
"One reason for the success of Honda as an automobile maker in the US is its unconventional approach to hiring key executives. In this excerpt from his new book, Driving Honda: Inside the World’s Most Innovative Car Company, Jeffrey Rothfeder describes how Honda concluded that a former Marine Reservist would make a great manager."

Should Managers Focus on Performance or Engagement? -Annamarie Mann and Ryan Darby, Gallup Business Journal
"What we discovered is that managers don't have to choose between creating strong, positive teams or focusing on high performance and accountability. High-performance managers do both. They are strengths-based, engagement-focused, and performance-oriented. They develop deep interpersonal relationships with their employees and focus on performance. Managers who emphasize one approach while ignoring the other risk alienating their team members, lowering engagement, and damaging performance."

Drug-Free Workplaces In The Era Of Medical And/or Legal Marijuana Use - Alexander P. Berg of Kollman & Saucier, P.A.:
"This post is designed to provide a basic snapshot of the current state of the law, and the prominent issues that employers face. As detailed below, employers are generally blanketed by the protections of the at-will employment doctrine, as the vast majority of state marijuana laws alter only the criminal sanctions facing those who legitimately use and possess medical marijuana."
Related: Medical Marijuana 101: Doctors, Regulators Brace For ‘Big Marijuana’

Obama signs executive order protecting federal contractors' employees
"President Obama signed an executive order on Thursday designed to protect employees of federal contractors. The order will require contractors to disclose any violations of labor law within the last three years before receiving new federal contracts, and it will adjust procurement procedures to protect contractors with no record of violating the law. "We expect our tax dollars to be spent wisely on these contracts," the president said. "Our tax dollars shouldn't go to companies that violate workplace laws, they shouldn't go to companies that violate workers' rights."

Firefighter obesity a big problem - Astead Herndon, CNN
"More than 70% of domestic firefighters are overweight or obese, a rate slightly higher than the general population, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ....Those extra pounds are taking a toll.
Cardiovascular events account for nearly half of the deaths of on-duty firefighters, and obesity has been linked to an increased risk of job-related disabilities, according to the CDC."

Obesity Linked to Increased Fatigue in the Workplace
"U.S. workplaces may need to consider innovative methods to prevent fatigue from developing in employees who are obese. Based on results from a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH), workers who are obese may have significantly shorter endurance times when performing workplace tasks, compared with their non-obese counterparts."

LinkedIn’s $6M FLSA settlement provides a good lesson to employers (updated) , employment law attorneyJon Hyman of Ohio Employer's Law Blog says that "LinkedIn will pay nearly $6 million in back pay and liquidated damages to 359 current and former employees following a Department of Labor investigation, reports the DOL." He offers two lessons for employers drawn from this suit.

Distracted and Overwhelmed Employees Are Costing You Big. Try These 3 Fixes.
Terri Egan and Suzanne Lahl, Entrepreneur
"The Deloitte research found that “this constant and frenetic level of activity costs money, perhaps $10 million a year for mid-size companies. More than half (57 percent) of interruptions at work resulted from either social-media tools or switching among disparate standalone applications.”
What’s more, more than half of the respondents to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends survey believe “that their organizations are not doing a good job helping workers address information overload and today’s demanding work environment.”

Online Breaks Enhance Productivity
Rick Nauert, PsychCentral
"The study suggests that managers consider organizational policies to tap into the positive potential of online work breaks but also establish policies encouraging responsible behavior, such as providing limits on the time spent on online breaks, or holding training on effective strategies that bring benefits from online breaks."

News Briefs


ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

August 3, 2014

Speak so people want to listen; Learn to listen better

Sound expert Julian Treasure offers a pair of short TED talks that will enhance your communication skills, whether you are the speaker or the listener.

How to speak so that people want to listen
Have you ever felt like you're talking, but nobody is listening? In this useful talk, Julian Treasure offers the seven deadly sins of speaking and demonstrates the how-to's of powerful speaking — from some handy vocal exercises to tips on how to speak with empathy.

For alternate video source and transcript, access this talk at TED

5 ways to listen better
In our louder and louder world, Julian Treasure says, "We are losing our listening." In this short talk, he shares five ways to re-tune your ears for conscious listening — to other people and the world around you.

For alternate video source and transcript, access this talk at TED

August 2, 2014

Health & Wellness Focus for August

We kick off August with National Farmers' Market Week, August 3-9. This is a perfect opportunity to:

  • Promote access to fresh, nutritious food
  • Support healthy communities
  • Support local farmers and farmland
  • Stimulate local economies
It's a great week to highlight the benefits of healthy eating and the importance of fresh vegetables and fruits to your employees. Why not encourage employees to visit local Farmer's Market on their lunch break? Here are some resources to find a farmers market near you:
USDA National Farmers Market Directory
Local Harvest

National Immunization Awareness Month
Each year in August, National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) provides an opportunity to highlight the need for improving national immunization coverage levels. Activities focus on encouraging all people to protect their health by being immunized against infectious diseases. The National Immunization Awareness Month Communication Toolkit developed by NPHIC in collaboration with CDC, focuses on four weekly themes:
Aug. 3-9: A Healthy Start
Aug. 10-16: Back to School
Aug. 17-23: Off to the Future
Aug. 24-30: Not Just for Kids

National Breastfeeding Month 2014
Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Health Care Reform), amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), or federal wage and hour law. The amendment requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom place for nursing mothers to express breast milk during the workday, for one year after the child’s birth. The new requirements became effective when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010. Visit the "Workplace Support in Federal Law" page to learn more.

Children's Eye Health and Safety Month
Prevent Blindness has declared August as Children’s Eye Health and Safety Awareness month to inspire parents to make their child’s vision health a priority - it's a good time for an eye exam before school starts. To commemorate the month, Prevent Blindness offers children’s eye health programs and tools to help parents, teachers and kids save sight.

Back to School Month
National Safety Council reminds us that "As summer draws to a close, back-to-school season is in full effect. Safety should be a priority for every family as children return to classrooms this fall. It is important for parents to stay up-to-date on the proper safety precautions and share this information with their children to keep them safe throughout the school year." The site offers a variety of tools ranging from transportation safety to bullying prevention and playground safety, as well as a Back to School Checklist.

Other observances, resources for August

August is Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month

August is National Water Quality Month

August 3-9 - International Assistance Dog Week

August 21 - National Senior Citizens Day

U.S. Drought Portal

Lyme Disease

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

National Hurricane Center

Looking for the most comprehensive and effective wellness program for your employees? ESI TotalCare Wellness pairs Behavioral Health Clinicians with certified Wellness Coaches to provide employees and their families with the help, motivation, tools and support to make changes and improve their lives. Call 800-535-4841 for more information.

July 27, 2014

Thwart cyber security threats through employee training

Cyber security and data integrity are growing problems for organizations of all sizes - spurring a huge demand for cyber insurance to minimize any losses associated with data breaches. While much attention is focused on thwarting damage by malicious hackers and cyber criminals, the point of greatest vulnerability is often overlooked: your own employees. Any good security plan focuses on plugging internal leaks by training employees in keeping computers, devices and networks safe. And one common threat continues to be vulnerability to phishing scams - which can open access to your entire organization.

The Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) recently released its Phishing Trends Report for Q1 2014. Some key findings:

  • The number of phishing sites leaped by 10.7 percent over the fourth quarter of 2013.
  • The number of brands targeted by phishers was up, from 525 targeted in the fourth quarter of 2013 to 557 in the first quarter of 2014.
  • The number of phishing attacks observed in Q1 was 125,215. That is the second-highest number of sites detected in a first quarter, eclipsed only by the 164,032 seen in the first quarter of 2012.
  • Payment Services continued to be the most- targeted industry sector.
  • 32.7 percent of personal computers around the world were infected with malware, aware, or spyware.

In light of this report, we are updated our prior post on Spear Phishing

Phishing is a type of email fraud in which the sender impersonates a trusted source to try to gain access to passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information. The victim is at risk of theft, identity theft, or contacting malicious computer viruses. Fraudulent e-mail is frequently disguised as a message from a bank or a trusted merchant. Scam e-mails often contain a link to a site that either requires the person to enter sensitive data or instructs the user to download a special program. These fake e-mails often look and sound very authentic - even experienced users can be fooled. (It should be noted that phishing can happen by phone, too - every year, the IRS warns about phony calls from scammers posing as tax collectors) While consumer education has alerted many to the scams and most people know better than to give out sensitive information without vetting the source, millions of people are victims each year.

Spear Phishing
Scammers continue to up the ante. More recently, these fraudulent e-mail scams have gotten more sophisticated, targeting specific organizations in a practice called spear phishing, which is a more targeted approach. In these attacks, the phony e-mails masquerade as communication from within the organization - such as from the HR or IT department or from a specific manager. One pernicious example came in a report of spear phishing emails that targeted CEOS through emails disguised as court subpoenas.

Keep informed, educate your employees
Employers need to stay alert about new phishing scams and need to educate their workers about scams to protect the organization from vulnerabilities - it only takes one chink in the armor to launch an internal attack. Two good sources are the FBI e-scams and warnings update and the Anti Phishing Work Group, an organization which stays on top of the latest scams and is a good source of consumer information and education about phishing scams. In how to avoid phishing scams they offer consumer pointers, among them:

  • Be suspicious of any email with urgent requests for personal financial information
  • Don't use the links in an email, instant message, or chat to get to any web page if you suspect the message might not be authentic - call the company on the telephone, or log onto the website directly by typing in the Web adress in your browser
  • Avoid filling out forms in email messages that ask for personal financial information - you should only communicate information such as credit card numbers or account information via a secure website or the telephone
  • Always ensure that you're using a secure website when submitting credit card or other sensitive information via your Web browser
  • Consider installing a Web browser tool bar to help protect you from known fraudulent websites.
  • Regularly log into your online accounts (to ensure that there has been not fraudulent activity)
  • Ensure that your browser is up to date and security patches applied
  • Always report "phishing" or “spoofed” e-mails to the following groups:
    * forward the email to
    * forward the email to the Federal Trade Commission at

Make a policy that you will never ask for confidential employee information (passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers) via e-mail and publicize the policy widely. Use newsletters, company meetings, and bulletins to publicize security tips and to teach your employees that whether at work or at home, they should never share confidential information via e-mail. Here are a few consumer quizzes you can use to test their - and your - knowledge:

Phish Bowl: Fraudulent email examples
Catch a phish - take the quiz
On Guard Phishing Quiz (flash, sound)
Can you spot the phishing?
Anti-Phishing Phil

July 26, 2014

Lighter side: Corporate jargon watch

There are two items on corporate-speak that came to our attention this week and we think both are worthy of note. The first is an article by Josh Kovensky on The Most Absurd Job Titles in America. Hint: "Digital Prophet" isn't even the worst one.

In the intro to his offering of 15 job titles, Kovensky says:

"In a bid to achieve maximal hipness and happiness, companies, particularly in the tech world, have collectively begun to create bizarre new positions or to attach peculiar names to the same old corporate paper-pushing nine-to-fives. A lot of these jobs have a bizarrely spiritual flavor—“evangelists” and “prophets”—while others try and infuse excitement where there is none—“Jedis” and “heroes.” Much of this might be a way of skirting around the grim reality that life in a cubicle is neither exciting nor godly, or that work on the retail line often lacks excitement and moral stakes."

The next item is a musical entry. "Weird Al" Yankovic's new album features Mission Statement -- an anthem for our times that shows Al is quite conversant in the latest corporate lingo.

July 17, 2014

The Case for Charging Smoking Employees Higher Insurance Premiums

A report in the Wall Street Journal reminds us that America's smokers are still 40 million strong, despite a dramatic drop from half a century ago. And the report notes that there are still "pockets of growth and opportunity that are generating great interest in the tobacco industry." In addition to stepping up marketing for some of the more popular options like menthol cigarettes, smoking rates also vary regionally. "Kentucky, a major tobacco producer, had the highest smoking rate in the country last year at 30.2%, followed by West Virginia and Mississippi, according to a Gallup poll. Utah had the lowest rate, at 12.2%, followed by California and Minnesota."

Employment law attorney F. Kytle Frye III of Fisher & Phillips LLP Contact examines the issue of linking insurance premiums to smoking in a recent Labor Letter at JDSupra Business Advisor. He lists a shocking litany of business losses related to smoking.

".. A study of 20,000 employees revealed that smokers had more hospital visits per 1,000 (124 vs. 76), had a longer average length of stay in the hospital (6.5 vs. 5 days) and made six more visits to healthcare facilities per year than non-smokers.

Another recent study found that smokers missed an average of 6.16 days of work per year as opposed to the 3.86 days missed by non-smokers, and that a smoker taking four 10-minute smoke breaks actually worked one month less over the course of a year than a non-smoking employee. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that each smoking employee costs a company an additional $3,391 per year – including $1,760 in lost productivity and $1,623 in excess medical expenses. So, smoking employees seem to be an excellent target to help an employer manage its costs, and not just the cost of providing healthcare."

He notes that some employers are charging smokers higher insurance premiums while others refuse to hire smokers entirely. He examines several of the issues related to raising premiums for smokers, such as HIPAA and ADA concerns: is nicotine an addiction? Can smoking be be deemed a disability?

If you are considering a premium differential, Frye offers a checklist of 6 steps and considerations that employers should process before such any implementation. One important consideration is your state laws about smoking. While roughly half of all states have comprehensive smoke free laws, many others afford smokers various degrees of protection.

July 16, 2014

The problem(s) with meetings

When business meeting really click, they can be a thing of beauty, but all too often, they are the bane of corporate existence. - the communication tool we all love to hate. Bad meetings can be very costly - use this simple meeting ticker for a rough cost - or get the Cost of Meeting App (COMA). It can help to analyze common reasons why meetings fail and study experts for tips for more effective meetings.

We think we have found the ultimate cure for the bad or wasteful meeting.

The following infographic offers some ugly truths about meetings -- and of course, we had to follow it with the video clip, Conference Call in Real life (which, if you haven't seen it, well you simply must.)

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