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November 2008 Archives

The economy is tanking, unemployment is affecting friends and family, and the gray skies of winter are upon us. Add to the mix stress over the upcoming holidays and it’s easy to see how these pressures weigh you down with reasons not to exercise, especially when your gut is telling you to work longer hours than ever to keep your competitive edge, if not your job. But don’t listen to the instinct to hibernate or overwork – cutting back on exercise is not the answer.

Even though times are tough, it’s important to stick with your exercise routine and if you don’t have one, there’s no better time to start. It might seem counter-intuitive to take time out of your work schedule to sweat, but the benefits of fitness, such as extra energy, more restorative sleep, and increased feel-good endorphins are worth it. Instead of focusing on the work you could be doing, look at that time as an investment in yourself, a strategic memory-booster, or a break to get your creative juices flowing. You’ll return to your work with a renewed energy and focus, and may also find that your healthy behavior at the gym rubs off in other areas of your life, like eating healthier and being more conscientious of how you spend your time.

It’s more challenging than ever to reach goals at the office right now – projects are on hold, uncertainty abounds, people everywhere are stressed, and the lack of control we can feel is incredibly frustrating and depressing. When it comes to your personal fitness though, you are in charge. Since you can’t always control what’s going on around you, setting your own exercise goals will help you manage stress and reap immediate and long-term satisfaction from meeting, or surpassing your expectations. Whether your goal is to lose five pounds or thirty, to run three miles without getting winded or run the Boston marathon, meeting those goals will make you feel invincible, and during stressful times, who couldn’t use an extra boost?

There’s no better time to sign up for that exercise class you’ve wanted to try. I did! As a competitive athlete who enjoys most outdoor sports, I recently tried something different, figuring it would help me adjust to the impending winter months and spice up my workout routine. Zumba is a fun, aerobic dance class that results in a lot of laughing, which helps burn even more calories. Even though it’s only 45 minutes twice a week, it’s a major stress reliever. And trust me, if I can get the moves down, anyone can, but remember that it’s important to set goals that fit you personally, so take some time to figure out if you’re a runner, rock climber, or more the yoga type and dive in! Set realistic goals and keep setting more as you go.

Since we don’t all live in the healthiest city in the U.S., here’s some advice for setting workout goals and sticking to them: find something that works for you, add it into your planner (with pop-up reminders) and stay committed to exercising, but remain flexible in the type of exercise, time, location, etc. Consider what works best for your body, fits your schedule, and the type of atmosphere you prefer. When (note I say when, not if) you cheat or fall off the wagon, give yourself a break and get moving again as soon as possible. Keep up with fitness, even through the holidays or when there’s six feet of snow outside, by remaining flexible. If you can’t stick with your regular routine because you’re traveling, pack a Pilates mat or practice meditation instead. You can fit in 15 minutes of abdominal exercises anyplace, anytime and you’ll feel better doing some exercise than staying sedentary. Flexibility is good in two ways – it helps you stick with your goals and variety is better for getting in shape, since your body eventually stops working as hard to burn the same amount of calories.

As my family comes together for the Thanksgiving holiday, I know I won’t be able to resist my aunt’s pecan pie, but at least I can look forward to shakin’ off those extra pounds with my newly acquired dance moves, instead of doing the dreaded avoidance dance with the treadmill. Make the investment in yourself, identify exercise you enjoy, find the optimal place and time in which to do it and just go for it. The results you’ll see in yourself will make you feel great, no matter what’s going on in the economy, and reaching your goals will give you the increased confidence and competitive edge you need to kick butt at work.

In this era of increased healthcare costs, many organizations are beginning to shift to so-called high-deductible plans or consumer-driven healthcare plans. Various constituents banter about the advantages and disadvantages of such plans, some driven by a particular agenda. I am by no means a healthcare expert, however, one thing is for certain when it comes to these high-deductible plans. Employees are required to be knowledgeable about health and healthcare.

Unfortunately, employees may not have sufficient knowledge to be able to make truly informed choices about how they spend their healthcare dollars. A recent issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest highlights the problem: the vast majority of people are not qualified to interpret statistical results regarding different drugs, testing procedures, and other key health decisions. What’s worse is that doctors tend not to be much better. For example, the article reports on a study of gynecologists. Only 21% of them could accurately explain the probability that a positive mammogram result actually indicated that a woman had breast cancer. I don’t know about others, but that certainly does not give me much confidence.

Of course, a lot of the problems surface because everything gets reported in relative percentages. This drug cuts your risk of stroke by 50%...lose 25% more weight with this diet drug…cut the length of a cold by 10%. What do these percentages mean? Absolutely nothing, because these percentages are all relative! If the odds of suffering a stroke go from 2% to 1%, you have cut your risk of a stroke by 50%. But, is it really worth taking an expensive drug with 15 possible side effects so that your odds of suffering a stroke can go down by 1%? Most people would at least think twice before taking such a drug. Yet, because the benefits are inflated with relative percentages, most people have no idea. If doctors themselves have trouble sorting through all the spin, what are the odds that the average person with no medical training will be able to accurately interpret the results? I wouldn’t want to bet on those odds! Until people become more educated consumers (and that includes an ability to see through the spin and understand the statistics), then healthcare costs will continue to rise, resulting at least in part from people’s dependence on costly and yet unnecessary drugs and medical procedures. Call me cynical, but that is not a consumer-directed healthcare plan!

So many websites, organizations, foundations, and consulting firms have been devoted to the issue of wellness in the workplace. The key assumption is that wellness drives so many costs for an organization that the employer needs to make workers healthier.

Yet, a report that will soon be published by Mercer indicates that healthcare costs are not the primary issue that employers are facing. Instead, planned and unplanned absences may cost as much as 36% of total payroll, according to a briefing published by the Society for Human Resource Management. That means absenteeism would be costing an organization about twice as much as healthcare, with the bulk of those costs coming from planned absences, such as vacation and other scheduled time off.

So, what does this mean? Healthcare costs organizations millions of dollars and these organizations respond by relying on plans that cost employees more, incentives to encourage healthier behaviors, and penalties for unhealthy behaviors. If absenteeism is costing them twice as much, what will the response be, especially given that millions of Americans do not even use the full amount of their time off? Will we see penalties for taking time off, incentives to avoid taking vacations, and recognition for perfect attendance? If so, what will that do to employee stress and consequently to employee health?

Perhaps the answer lies with workplace flexibility. Offering more flexible options for when, where, and how employees interact with their work responsibilities can allow employees the flexibility to have some time off without negatively impacting organizational performance. Although I am not advocating a complete trading of the physical office for the virtual office, which was recently recommended in Wired Magazine, there should be a greater emphasis on workplace flexibility within an organization’s culture. This would permit employees to take time out from work, without an all-or-nothing approach. Given that most Americans don’t use their entire vacation time and tend to “dig themselves out” afterward anyway, such an approach would seem to represent a win-win for the organization and its employees.

However, this approach does not come without accountability and responsibility. An organization has to be willing to allow employees the real flexibility they need to get away from work, manage non-work demands, and yet maintain productivity. This means providing managerial support for flexibility, as well as working out arrangements that will be genuinely beneficial for both the organization and the employee. Employees, on the other hand, would have to learn to manage themselves outside of the workplace in a way that allowed them to maintain their productivity in the face of other distractions. So, both the organization and employees would need to learn a new style of the work-employee interface. The question is: Will that happen?

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2008 is the previous archive.

December 2008 is the next archive.

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