Thursday, March 11, 2021

Let’s talk about substituting holistic solutions for traditional EAPs

As a female entrepreneur, I often think about those who supported me along the way to a now 20 year successful business venture. That's why I like to give back and help other women working to have a long entrepreneurial career as well. Meet Amy Denney who is a locally owned small business owner focusing on helping others. She feels strongly that HR professionals can include her services in their overall employee assistance programs. Help me help her by giving the following a read from this "guest blogger".
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Let’s talk about substituting holistic solutions for traditional EAPs

By Amy Denney

There’s a tragedy in Employee Assistance Programs currently: they are underutilized AND they rarely even do what they promise.

This wellness model is intended to give employees access to needed support in the midst of personal life issues and crises. The EAP is often the system of choice for many employers, who struggle because it’s both underutilized and under appreciated by employees.

A 2016 study by Chestnut Global Partners found anywhere from 1.8 percent to 6.9 percent of employees utilize the EAP at all.

It could be because employees are calling the hotline and failing to get support or because many models contract with therapists who aren’t even accepting new patients, according to a Jan. 19, 2021 Forbes article entitled, “Is it Finally Time to Reconsider Employee Assistance Programs?”

Thankfully many employers are seeking out other solutions in addition to their EAP, in part due to the pandemic, though the Forbes article suggests it is simply time to ditch the EAP altogether.

What are the other solutions that are trending? What could take the place of the EAP and provide the needed help in times of crisis?

Anything that emphasizes the mind-body connection is bound to be more effective than simple “talk therapy.” While therapy has its place, in situations of trauma (which can include chronic stress), effective solutions have a physical component.

Holistic approaches to mental health are rooted in science, and addressing both the body and mind in a healthy environment for employees can have a positive ripple effect across the workplace.

Many trauma-informed experts agree that bottom-up approaches (training the body before or alongside the brain) more effectively retrain thought patterns, and can have tremendous impact on the quality of life (and work!) for your employees.

Bottom-up approaches involve a physical element such as movement (yoga/stretching), breathing or meditation. Its impact on the nervous system is tremendous. The heart rate lowers and the body and brain respond with calm and balance. Art, pet therapy and theater can all generate a similar response. These ideas are considered in trauma expert Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s bestselling book, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma.”

It’s pretty darn hard to talk the brain out of ingrained anxiety patterns. But the body can be more easily and gently coaxed.

Another option is science of photobiomodulation (PBM) that impacts the parasympathetic nervous system by releasing nitric oxide, a messenger molecule that promotes vasodilation of blood vessels and mediates communication between nervous system cells. PBM improves the body’s resilience to stress while at the same time elevating focus, improving sleep and giving energy levels a boost.

This is pretty exciting when we also consider stress is at the heart of 80 percent plus of all disease and illness. For employers, it impacts productivity in the workplace, sick days and staff turnover. Consider these statistics from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and business.com:
  • 40 % of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful.
  • 100 million workdays are lost due to stress
  • 75% of employees believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago
  • Job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than financial or family problems
While the science of PBM for mental health is incredible, there are dozens of issues that it can help with — most involving some kind of pain. The Nobel Prize winning science of nitric oxide is touted for improving circulation and immunity.

It’s worth pointing out that pain is another workplace problem. An American Osteopathic Association survey found that more than one-quarter of office workers lose two or more hours a month on work-related tasks because of pain. Overall, according to the Institute of Medicine, the annual cost of lost workplace productivity due to pain is over $297 billion. Opioid use and addiction is another layer of concern that can enter the workforce, both rooted in pain. Getting ahead of addiction is in everyone’s best interests.

Amy Denney is owner of Shine Light Therapy and a certified Holy Yoga and trauma-sensitive Holy Yoga instructor. She has published a white paper on five uses of light therapy in the workplace that can be found at www.shinelighttherapy.com.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

THE ELECTION IS OVER What is in store for HR/Management professionals going forward?

When a survey reports 83% of employees have been talking politics at work, you must be relieved that now some work can get done. So, what should be top of mind for employers to get employees back to work after a pandemic practically lifted life out of employers and employees alike. And, it is not over yet.

The priority is to evaluate how you have done as an employer adapting to the COVID-19 situation and comparing that to what employees think. 

According, to almost 20k local government employees only 75% of essential workers and 89% of remote workers think you’ve done a good job. A good 1/3 or so think the job has increased after COVID-19. Both situations do not bode well for employee morale and job satisfaction and can lead to increased turnover and low employee engagement. Currently, 51% of employees are looking to leave jobs which increases the stress on HR and hiring managers. Do not forget they can burnout too! 

In my experience democratic administrations issue more workplace rules and regulations to follow which in some cases require training, administration and documentation. President-elect Joe Biden vowed to issue mandatory safety rules in all workplaces which will be one of the first things to watch for in 2021. So far, depending on the governor, states have been free to manage COVID-19 the way they saw fit. While most follow CDC workplace guidelines, they are not necessarily required to do so. It is likely that OSHA will be put in charge for ensuring employers follow the laws. 

While OSHA is primarily focused on the private industry, the Illinois Workplace laws require every employer to follow OSHA requirements, local government included. While this might seem like a minimal requirement to follow it has major impact when not followed and employees report the organization. The maximum penalty is $134,937 or $13,494 per infraction. 

Ensure your management team understands how to administer the Victims Economic Security and Safety Act Leave. Why, because this not as popular of leave as FMLA, PTO, etc. and the usage has been increasing due to the pandemic. Domestic violence incidents are increasing, and some have the possibility of doubling up as FMLA leave in addition to VESSA. Knowing the details and how to address issues in the workplace will give employers a leg up on those that are now being fined or facing lawsuits for not administering correctly. 

Stop saying “sorry” all the time. 

Just because you must implement a policy, conduct a required training, or require managers to document performance discussions that employees of all levels don’t necessary like doesn’t mean you should be sorry your doing it. Are you sorry? No, most likely you are just doing your job. Does your accounting department say they are sorry every time they ask for a receipt to pay an expense? Does IT say sorry every time they shut down the computer to install a new spyware software to protect the employer’s computer systems? No they do not. So stop saying “sorry”. Perhaps, I understand, or I feel your pain but do not apologize for doing your job. 

Finally, as we watch the COVID-19 case numbers likely increase due to Thanksgiving gatherings, take this opportunity to suggest alternative Christmas and New Years celebrations that will minimize the risk in early 2021. Take time to thank your management team and staff especially those that have been on the front lines. While they are your rock stars they too are vulnerable, stressed to the max and may entertain an invitation to move to a position where they can have a better mental and physical outcome. Retention should be key in this environment and doing what we learned in kindergarten such as saying please and thank you is the easiest thing you can do to help this very volatile workplace situation we are in.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Sexual Harassment Training Deadline of 12/31/20 is Looming

Remember when the "Fifty Shades" book series came out in 2015? Remember the memes like this one pictured? Would that book or this meme be appropriate in the workplace today?

No!

Why, because it would be considered discussion around the topic of sex or sexual nature and can possibly substantially interfere with an individuals work performance or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.  

This is just one example of a topic discussed in the State of Illinois Sexual Harassment Prevention Training now required by all employers with one (1) or more employees.  The fine for not training is $500 for employers with 1-3 employees and $1000 for employers with four or more employees.  With tomorrow being the first day of Q4 we have three months left to get into compliance yet some are still kicking and screaming that this is required!

With the IL Workplace Transparency Act training deadline at the end of this last quarter of 2020 employers are asking for an easy way out.  Some of the out’s I have seen are employers registering their employees and allowing them to leave or pop in and out of the training for a few minutes but not enough to absorb the information or earn the certificate of completion that is required for employer documentation purposes.  Others are asking if they can hand the slide deck out and let the employees read it and sign off on their own certificate of completion.  Reading is not the same thing as training.  The last thing I hear regularly is that business owners are not employees and therefore not required to take the training.  While that has yet to be clarified by lawmakers, it would be very important for them to take the training to understand what their responsibilities are as the employee’s supervisors.  More importantly, the law specifically outlines that employers are required to report and provide an independent review of allegations of sexual harassment made against the employer. Business owners would surely want to prevent being personally named by being in the know of what is contained in this training.

Remember, this is both a federal and state liability that every employer is responsible to both prevent and handle should it occur in your workplace.  Honestly, the best easy way out is to just do the training.  If the $500 or $1000 fine for not training employees in the workplace is not enough to incentivize employers, the risk of a minimum average $75-$125k claim settled out of court should be.  Ultimately, it is just the right thing to do to let your employees know you care about their well-being and safety which leads to retention and minimizes recruiting costs.  It is an investment in a positive and healthy workplace culture. The reason there is a fine range depends on number of employees.  Businesses with one to three employees will be charge $500 fine for not training their employees.  Those business who do not train employees and have four or more employees (no top end limit) can receive a $1000 fine.

In a February blog post I covered the details of the requirements.  However, that was prior to the late April release of the sample presentation which is available 24/7 on the IDHR site.  Many had hoped there would be an easier way of handling both the training and documentation than was released.  As we all know, the pandemic hit just before that release and the state had more critical things to be worried about.  The main point is to train your employees by year end then annually thereafter.  If new employees are hired in between the annual training, they must be trained within 90 days of their hire date.

My advice is to maintain an overall roster of who was trained to use as an audit document against your payroll list.  That way you can schedule a small group or one-on-one training for anyone who missed the annual training.  According to the FAQ IDHR site: “Employers are required to keep a record of all trainings. Such records must be made available for IDHR inspection upon request. This record may be a certificate or a signed employee acknowledgement or course sign-in worksheet.  The records may be paper or electronic.”  The slide deck developed by IDHR contains a sample certificate of completion on the very last page.  That can be the “certificate” mentioned above. 

Keep in mind a sexual harassment hotline has been set up for employees in Illinois since 2018 and has been widely publicized.  If an employee learns of this training requirement they can anonymously report the employer for non-compliance. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

2021 ATHENA Award Nominees Announced by IWIL

I am so very honored to be among some of the very best names in Springfield's history.  It is such an honor to be nominated for next years award.  Thank you in advance to those who nominated me!

This award is sponsored by the Illinois Women in Leadership (IWIL). The definition of the award from their site is as follows: The ATHENA Leadership Award® was inspired by the goddess of Greek mythology known for her strength, courage, wisdom and enlightenment -- qualities embodied in the ATHENA Leadership Model®. The Award is unique in both scope (local, national and international) and the ATHENA mission upon which it is based. The ATHENA Leadership Award® is presented to a woman or man who is honored for professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills. Since the program’s inception in 1982, more than 7,000 exemplary leaders in over 500 communities have received the prestigious ATHENA Award in the United States, Bermuda, Canada, China, Greece, India, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. By honoring exceptional leaders, the ATHENA Leadership Award® Program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.

THE ATHENA LEADERSHIP AWARD® CRITERIA

ATHENA Leadership Award® Recipients are individuals who: 
  • Have achieved the highest level of professional excellence.
  • Contribute time and energy to improve the quality of life for others in the community.
  • Actively assist others, particularly women, in realizing their full leadership potential.
  • Reside in Sangamon or surrounding counties.

Announcing the 2021 ATHENA Nominees

2020 is a different year from our usual normal, but for some this frame has not permitted them to be anything less than great!  Below is a list of women who have not allowed our current state to allow them to be less to their peers, coworkers and community. We will be highlighting each of these nominees in our newsletters to come! So please be sure to stay tuned! Our 2021 ATHENA Awards are scheduled for July 15th, 2021!

The IWIL ATHENA Committee is proud to announce the 2021 Nominees:

  • Amy Beadle, Springfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
  • Karen Davis, LISC Central Illinois
  • Lisa Hammons, Springfield Electric
  • Dr. Diane Hillard-Simbell, MD; Springfield Clinic
  • Dr. Susan Hingle, MD; Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
  • Tiffany Mathis; Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois
  • Dr. Dora Ramos, MD; Central Counties Health Centers
  • Donna Rogers Skowronski; Rogers HR Consulting
  • Debbie Thompson; Horace Mann Educators Corp
  • Val Yazell; City of Springfield

Past ATHENA Leadership Award®  Recipients

2019 - Dr. Tanya DeSanto
2018 - Karen Hasara
2017 - Margaret Ann Jessup
2016 - Sheila Feipel
2015 - Grace Luttrell Nanavati 
2014 - Dr. Linda Jones & Kim Leistner (tie)
2013 - Gail Lorenzini 
2012 - Darlene Weaver 
2011 - Sarah Mackey 
2010 - Deb Shultz 
2009 - Evelyn Brandt Thomas 
2008 - Lisa Pierce 
2007 - Linda Dillon 
2006 - Alison Novak 
2005 - Amy Hagen 
2004 - Cindy Davis 
2003 - Judith Teller 
2002 - Sue Myerscough 
2001 - Linda Waldron 
2000 - L. Gay Davidson 
1999 - Desiree Logsdon

IWIL IS THE PROUD PRESENTING SPONSOR OF THE SPRINGFIELD AREA ATHENA LEADERSHIP AWARD®

Monday, July 27, 2020

Transgender Drug Testing

Recently, a client asked me if they needed to adjust their drug testing policy so a transgender employee could choose the gender of the person observing them urinate for a test. Obviously, the person wanted the employee to feel comfortable with who was in the room with them.

First of all, having another employee watch you urinate can be uncomfortable for anyone, for any reason, but it is a requirement for some drug tests in order to ensure that the testee doesn’t bring
in a bag of someone else’s urine to exchange as their own. If the reason is not obvious, it is so they do not test positive when they know they have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
So, I did some research and thought it would be good to share this information for other employers, managers, small business owners and HR managers who may have similar questions.

What are the requirements to be an observer for a direct observed collection?

According to the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs, the Health and Human Services Department evaluated comments and agrees that all observed collections must be conducted in a professional manner that minimizes discomfort to the donor. The Department has revised Sections 4.4(b), 8.1(b), and 8.10 to allow the donor to be observed by a person whose gender matches the donor's gender, which is determined by the donor's gender identity (defined in Section 1.5). The donor's gender identity may be the same as or different from the donor's sex assigned at birth. The Department also revised Sections 8.1(b) and 8.12 for monitored collections, to allow the donor to be monitored by a person whose gender matches the donor's gender, unless the monitor is a medical professional (as described in Section 8.12). The Department disagrees with the suggestion to allow an individual to serve as an observer based solely on their credentials as a physician or health care professional. Such credentials alone would not guarantee that these individuals could appropriately perform the functions of an observer (Section 4.4).

Here are some sample language examples:

  • The procedure for direct observed collection is the same as that for a routine collection except an observer (i.e., of the same gender as the donor) watches the donor urinate into the collection container. Source: SAMHSA.gov
  • The donor is to be observed by a person whose gender matches the donor’s gender, which is determined by the donor’s gender identity. The donor’s gender identity may be the same as or different from the donor’s sex assigned at birth. For monitored collections, to allow the donor to be monitored by a person whose gender matches the donor’s gender, unless the monitor is a medical professional.

Obviously, this is a sensitive topic but like all HR topics, it is important to get it right the first time around to avoid discomfort and risk for the organization.


Additional resources include:

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

HR Training Over Lunch ONLINE in July

I will be co-hosting with the UIS Continuing & Professional Education department a summer HR Workshop Series.  Each week a different topic will be presented covering COVID Workplace topics the first three weeks with the last two weeks focusing on helping employers meet the Workplace Transparency Act compliance training requirement by year-end.  Here is what is in store for the next five weeks for all those who register, grab a lunch, and sit down at their home or office computer.

COVID Training

  • Thursday from Noon-1p.m. 7/9 - Noon -1pm HR2033 Encouraging and Maintaining Remote Employee Engagement – COVID 19 sent over 68% of employees home for at least two months and many of them are still there working day in and day out either permanently or until there is an antidote for the virus.  So in the meantime, what is a manager to do when it comes to keeping those employees motivated, productive, and engaged in the workplace? We will discuss many options that can be incorporated into your workplace that have been successful in others.
  • Thursday from Noon-1p.m. 7/16 HR2031 Managing & Recalling Employees During COVID – It has been a day to day, week to week task to stay up to date with the challenges of COVID-19 in all aspects of organizational management.  Employment issues related to COVID-19 are no exception.  This session will include up-to-date suggestions on topics such safety and health of employees, layoffs and furloughs, time off, and employee documentation requirements.

  • Thursday from Noon-1p.m. 8/6 HR2032 FMLA Do’s & Don’t to include Pre & Post COVID – The Family Medical Leave Act has never been a walk in the park to understand all provisions and amendments but now it’s even more confusing.  In this session we will cover the differences between what you knew about FMLA before COVID and what you should know after COVID (at least through December unless extended) and how it all works! Unofficially Rescheduled from 7/2 so it may not be available for registration yet.

IL Workplace Transparency Act Training

  • Thursday from Noon-1p.m. 7/23 HR2034 & 7/30 HR2035 - Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (IDHR Compliant for All Employees) – The EEOC has strongly encouraged sexual harassment prevention training for all employers for decades.  However, in most recent years many states had now made it a requirement of all employees.  This training will cover the required training and provide a sign off sheet at the end that the employee can sign and submit to the employer for maintenance as proof of attendance in case the employer is audited by the state human rights agency.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

2020 Motto: Be Prepared! Violence, COVID-19, Disasters...It's All About Safety These Days

    A year of turbulence, caution, and weariness is how I would describe 2020 so far and its only June!  If you are not dealing with employees coming or going related to COVID-19, your hearing unrest due to violence in the news involving nationwide protests, rallies, looting and social media opinions running rampant.  
    
There is so much out there going on it is difficult to keep your employees engaged, focused on performing their job and safe in today’s environment.  However, all those things are still our top concerns as managers and human resources professionals.  
    
    This year has brought safety to the top of that list almost daily.  So instead of talking about safety related to COVID-19 pandemic, I’d like to focus specifically this month on a topic that is in large part a major concern for business in one of our bigger cities in America as I write this article and has the potential to spread as it has done before.  That is the topic of VIOLENCE.  

    Preventing Violence in the Workplace or at least managing it if something does break out in your workplace.  

    As a Human Resource Manager, I know I have personally experienced threatening violence involving guns and actual fist fights in the workplaces I have been in before, so violence is not just a problem for urban areas.  It does happen in small towns too.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), of the 5,147 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the US in 2017, 458 were cases of intentional injury by another person.  About two million people each year report some type of workplace violence.  It is estimated that 25% of cases goes unreported. 

    The people the employer serves is the greatest threat.  This cost employers 130 billion dollars a year.  That is why we can never let our guard down.  I have visited many county courthouses who have security and bag check but others who do not.  This is one example of a corrective measure that is obvious.  However, there are others that are not so obvious.

    I know with COVID, many employers are heeding CDC advice and taking safety measures to keep employees and patrons safe by cleaning, putting up sneeze guards to keep everyone safe.  Additional, corrective prevention measures could include the following:

  • Establishment of a clear workplace violence policy
  • Clear communication regarding protections for whistleblowers
  • Encouragement for employees to report incidents of bullying, harassment, threats, & violence
  • Develop, Implement, Communicate & Maintain Accountability for a Security program in the Workplace
  • Train all employees on the proper security and safety responsibilities regarding this plan
  • Affirm & hold management just as accountable to all the above as every other employee.  Management above all should walk the talk for any new initiative to work.

OSHA did come out and say that all known COVID-19 cases that occur because of contracting the virus at work is a recordable incident on the Form 300.  

    The Safety Coordinator who typically handles these forms can establish a safety committee who can assist with a violence in the workplace strategy as outlined above since all these responsibilities relate to each other.  That safety committee can conduct a workplace analysis and keep records to determine where the biggest areas of concern are and creatively come up with ways to counter the problems.  Getting employees involved at all levels is another key to getting total buy in to a program like this.

    So whether its an employee or a resident getting worked up about the riots, how the employer is handling COVID, or they are just having a bad day, you should have a plan to deal with it safely.