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14
Dec

Stress Management Tips for the Holiday Season

While most of our blog posts are geared toward Human Resource Managers and company owners, we feel this blog has tips that  can be useful for employees as well.  While the holiday season can be a time of joy and celebration, it can also be an extremely stressful time of year for others.  While some people can celebrate and engage in parties and family get togethers, others struggle with depression, addiction, financial difficulties or family problems that can be intensified over the holidays.  Some employees  may have suffered a loss of a loved one or gone through a divorce during the year which can make the holidays very difficult.  Employers should be sensitive to theses issues and ensure that employees are aware of the Employee Assistance Program which can offer them resources, brief counseling and support during tough times. If you feel stressed out by the thought of holiday chores, obligations, and the clan dropping in for a spell—or if this year’s circumstances make the holiday season difficult for whatever reason—start preparations now to manage your holiday stress.

The following tips were written by Dan Feerst, LICSW-CP of WorkExcel.com .

Holiday Myth Busters —Along with good tidings come high expectations based on the commercialization of the holiday season, past childhood memories we may long to duplicate, and the expectations of others.

If family members count on your “holiday magic” to make every year special—the cooking, cleaning, baking, decorating, and gift-wrapping—you face a bigger challenge letting go or finding balance.

Here’s how to cope better with expectations, demands, and added pressure during the holidays.

We wish all of our clients and their families a very Happy Holiday Season.If you are interested in learo

Decision Time —Make a decision to take charge and tackle holiday stress. This mentally prepares you to enjoy the time while facing demands of the season with better endurance.

Your Priorities —Decide on your priorities to make the season meaningful. Did you miss the tour of homes last year because the Waltons next door had their open house on the same day? The idea here is to plan a few “non-negotiable” events for yourself.

 Now the Rest —What activities are important to your brood this year? Seek to trim the “idea tree” to reduce stress from trying to fit it all in. A family meeting to gather ideas can work, and chances are activities you thought everyone still wanted are no longer of interest.

Avoid the Rush —Are holiday lights on the house critical? If yes, go for it, but if it seems more like a “chore” than a pleasurable task, that’s a clue about its priority and importance to you. Activities that feel like chores get delayed. Pay attention to procrastination. It is insight to help you decide whether it’s thumbs up or down on something that seems desirable.

Fight the Blues —If the holidays are a sad time of year because of difficult memories or because a loved one can’t be there, then develop a personal intervention strategy. Volunteering for a local charity is an interactive experience, and those who’ve tried it claim it works to lift one’s mood. You’ll feel empowered and more positive, and the experience of helping others anchors you to a memory that lasts.

Navigating Family Conflict —If you can’t avoid holiday gatherings with family members who experience feuds and conflicts, try discussing with kin your desire to avoid conflict. Be up front and ask that differences be set aside. Older adults criticizing teenagers is a famous trigger. So are statements from in-laws that appear critical, interfering, or meddlesome. Self-awareness is power, so you stand a good chance of at least minimizing this behavior.

Take Care of Yourself —What improves your mood—exercise, positive affirmations, alone time? During the year, have you been promising to do something for yourself, but keep putting it off? Do it. The holiday season is a perfect time to reaffirm your love, not only for those you care about but also for yourself.

 EAP Can Help —Holiday stress affects everyone differently, so suggestions here may not match what’s unique for you. Don’t face the stress alone. Instead, call Fully Effective Employees, assistance program. The EA professional will help you find the resilience and strength you need to face any challenge the holidays may bring.

We wish all of our clients and their families a very happy holiday season and all the best for the coming year.

If you would like to learn more about how Fully Effective Employees can help your business and your employees, please contact us at audreyr@fee-eap.com or 425-557-0907

Copyright 2011 WorkExcel.com

 

5
Dec

Hosting Safe Holiday Parties at Work

As the holiday season quickly approaches, many businesses are starting to plan their holiday social events.  Many employers use the holidays as a time to reward their employees, to socialize and to provide a positive experience for everyone.  The majority of companies serve alcohol at holiday parties and events.  Individuals who drink too much during a company event can do things to jeopardize their health, safety and their careers.  When people drink, their inhibitions decrease and they may do and say things they would never dream of during a regular work day when not under the influence of alcohol.  Employers should also consider that not everyone drinks; some choose not to drink, some are under age,and others may be in recovery from addictions and be particularly vulnerable to temptation during the holidays.  Employers should be aware of the issues that can arise as a result of office parties where alcohol is served.

The U.S Department of Labor Working Partners for an Alcohol and Drug Free Workplace offers the following tips to minimize the negative consequences of alcohol consumption at your holiday party.

1. Be honest with employees.  Make sure employees know your workplace substance abuse policy and that the policy addresses the use of alcoholic beverages in any work related function.

2. Post the policy. Use every communication vehicle to be sure your employees know the policy. Before an office party, use break room posters, payroll stuffers and email to communicate your policy and concerns.

3. Reinvent the office party concept.  Try something like an indoor carnival, volunteer opportunity or group outing to a sporting event or amusement park.

4. Make sure employees know when to say “when”.  If you do serve alcohol, make sure all employee know they are welcome to attend and have a good time but that they are expected to behave responsibly.

5. Make it the office party of choice. Be sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages.

6. Eat.. and be merry!  Avoid serving lots of salty, greasy or sweet food, which tend to make people thirsty. Serve foods rich in starch and protein- that stay in the stomach longer and slow down the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream.

7. Designate party managers.  Remind managers that even at the office party, they may need to implement the company’s alcohol and substance abuse policy.

8. Arrange alternative transportation. Anticipate that some partygoers may drink too much to drive safely.  Make special transportation arrangements in advance (ie shuttles or taxis to public transportation). Encourage all employees to make use of this service.

9. Serve none for the road. Stop serving alcohol before the party officially ends.  Employers should review their policies regarding alcohol consumption and enforce these policies at all company celebrations.

 

16
Nov

PTSD in the Workplace

PTSD stands for post traumatic stress disorder. According to the National Center for PTSD, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a person has been through a traumatic event.  A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that one witnesses or is involved with.  During this type of event, the individual may think that his life or others’ lives are in danger.  He may feel afraid or feel that he has no control over what is happening.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, symptoms are grouped into three main categories.

1. Re-experiencing symptoms which include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Scary and recurring thoughts

2. Avoidance symptoms

  • Staying away from certain situations or places
  • Feeling emotionally numb, guilty or depressed

3. Hyperarousal symptoms

  • Easily starled
  • Feeling tense
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Angry outbursts

While many mililtary vets have PTSD, it can occur in non-military employees as well. They may have been in an accident, witnessed a fatality or serious injury at work, or been a victim of a natural disaster or war.  Due to the nature of the profession, PTSD tends to occur more in the medical field, fire fighters,  police officers, and the construction industry.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employees are not required to disclose a diagnosis of PTSD, however they are required to disclose their condition, if or when they need accomodation to perform the essential duties of the job.  PTSD can negatively impact memory, concentration, time management and organizational skills and more.

The Job Accomodation Network is a great resource that provides suggestions for employers to consider when accomodating employees.

While some employees have been diagnosed and are being treated for PTSD, others may not be aware they have it. If you are concerned about an employee who may be displaying or experiencing some of the above symptoms, it is a good idea to refer them to the EAP. If there are no performance issues, you can suggest they contact the EAP and emphasize that all contact with the EAP is confidential. If however, there are performance issues, you should refer the employee to the EAP for the performance problem and you can certainly share your concerns about the possiblity of PTSD or emotional issues with the EAP counselor who will conduct a thorough assessment.

If a traumatic event such as a sudden death, injury or serious accident occurs at work, you should contact the EAP about the possiblility of conducting a critical incident debriefing. Allowing employees the opportunity to discuss what they saw and their reactions to the event, can help them process their feelings and prevent PTSD.  The EAP also offers education about the symptoms of trauma and helps normalize their reactions to an abnormal event.

 

 

3
Nov

Critical Incident Debriefing

This week we were asked to conduct critical incident debriefings for two different companies, after both had an armed robbery in the same week. The event reminded me how important a message it is to employees that their employer cares enough to give them time and resources (the EAP counselor) to process their feelings about these traumatic events.
A critical incident can be defined as a situation beyond a person’s usual realm of experience that overwhlems his or her vulnerability and lack of control. This event can cause changes in a person’s emotional, behavioral and cognitive functioning. In general, most people feel that work is predictable and safe but when that sense of security is shattered by a violent act, serious accident or even a fatality, it can have a significant emotional impact on the lives of employees.

A critical incident debriefing allows individuals impacted by a critical incident to process their thoughts and feelings with others who have experienced the same thing. We remind individuals that their reactions are a NORMAL reaction to an ABNORMAL event. The critical incident debriefing also provides education about the signs of cognitive, behavioral and emotional symptoms commonly experienced after a traumatic event. The EAP counselor will also discuss self-care techniques and when to determine if professional help is necessary.
Some people have unresolved personal losses or traumas that can surface at the time of a critical incident which can make their reactions to the new event even more intense. The EAP counselor can also provide individual counseling if needed.  Allowing employees the opportunity to share their feelings and reactions in a confidential environment which is supported by the employer, can prevent individuals from experiencing post traumatic stress disorder and allows employees to feel validated, supported and loyal towards their employer.

Critical incident debriefing is an important part of the employee assistance program. The EAP counselor can help the employer determine if it is appropriate to conduct a debriefing or if other forms of intervention may be more beneficial.

25
Oct

Dealing With Breast Cancer at Work

A cancer diagnosis can be terrifying and overwhelming on many levels.  The employee must determine her medical benefits and treatment options as well as define how her treatment may affect her work.  It can be very difficult to share the news with one’s  boss and co-workers.  There is no correct way to disclose the diagnosis of breast cancer and it is important for employees to choose the way that feels best for them. Remember that while supervisors have a legal obligation not to disclose confidential employee information, co-workers do not.  Employees may wish to inform management first, while other times, they are the last to know. While telling co-workers is not necessary, they can be a source of support both emotionally and with personal assistance.  Some colleagues organize meal prepartion, asisstance with chores, fundraising or donating their sick days to the individual who has breast cancer.

Employers are required by Federal law to provide “reasonable accomodations” for anyone with a disability.  According to the Americans wth Disabilities Act (ADA) cancer qualifies as a disability when the disease or its effects of treatment hinder an individual’s “major life activities”.  These accomodations can vary greatly, depending upon a person’s need.  According to the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), examples of accomodations include:

  • Time off for physician appointments and to recover from treatment
  • Short breaks during the work day to recover
  • An altered work schedule
  • Temporarily assigning some job tasks to another employee
  • Changes to the workplace environment, such as temperature changes or workstation changes to insure comfort
  • A work-from home arangement

According to the EEOC, the word REASONABLE is key. Employees with breast cancer can’t make requests of their employer that would cause them “undue hardship”. The term “undue hardship” is different for every company. Smaller companies who have more difficulty operating without a key individual for a period of time and someone with unique or very specific skills who is not able to be at work regularly could pose a problem for some employers.  However, most employers are willing to provide accomodations as much as possible.

Under the ADA, cancer qualifies on a case by case basis.  The act protects individuals from losing their jobs due to disability and sets guidelines for employers regarding required accomodations.  The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also protects the jobs of people with a cancer diagnosis, however not everyone qualifies under FMLA.  An employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months prior to the FMLA request and have worked more than 1250 hours in that calendar year. In addition, employers who have fewer than 50 employees do not have to follow FMLA regulations.

Source: About.com

If you have an employee with breast cancer, it may be very helpful to ask her what she needs or wants. Does she want her colleagues to know? Does she want to take time or off or work reduced hours? What kind of accomodations does she need? As treatment progresses, she may have a better idea of how she feels or if she is responding to treatment. Employers need to be flexible with the plan whenever possible as the employee’s needs may change. The EAP can also be a great resource for the employee both by providing emotional support and brief counseling and also locating other resources to help her.

Sometimes an employee does not respond to treatment and the disease spreads or becomes very aggressive. Some employees choose to work until they are very ill, others do not. At this point, co-workers may be very upset about a friend and colleague’s deteriorating condition and may begin anticipatory grieving if she is terminally ill.  While it can be very helpful and healing to meet as a staff group to process feelings, employers should be careful how this is handled.  A group meeting could either be very helpful to the ill employee or perceived by her as inappropriate and make her very uncomfortable.  It may be helpful to consult with the employee assistance program about the best course of action depending upon the situation.  If an employee does pass away, the EAP can be very helfpful by assisting with a grief group and helping employees process their feelings in a confidential and safe environment.  The EAP can also help the employer reach out to the family and plan a memorial at work if desired and appropriate.

 

10
Oct

Six Bomb Proof Workplace Relationship Skills for Employees

Are you a master at managing workplace relationships so they become valuable resources rather than sources of irritation, frequent conflicts or personality clashes that derail a good day?

Practice the following six relationship skills and you’ll be a happier, healthier and more productive employee: investment skills, receptivity skills, connective skills, impression skills, empathy skills and repair skills.

1. Investment skills build up or nurture workplace relationships.  These can include telling others they did a good job, praising your co-workers, or including them in social events.

2. Receptivity skills include being a good listener; maintaining eye contact;asking for opinions;thanking coworkers for feedback;acknowledging that a co-worker helped save you time, energy, embarrassment, etc.

3. Connection skills include telling coworkers you appreciate them, encouraging coworkers, or hooring others; choices or deferring to that they want or would like to do.

4. Impression skills get you rememebered. They are positive behaviors others don’t particularly practice. These can include sending a hand written thank you note; taking the lead to a birthday; or sharing a skill or resource to elevate the effectivementss of a co-worker, even if you create your own competition.

5. Empathy skills include the ability to recognize others’ emotions and identify unmet needs- need for a break, need for recognition, need for validation, need to be heard, or even a need for a helping hand.

6. Repair skills include the willingness to discuss your relationship, cear the air or :check in” to address misunderstandings and obstacles that prevent feeling good about the relationship.

Source: Frontline Employee reprinted with permission

23
Sep

Employee Engagement and Retention

I attended an HR Roundtable sponsored by Resourcefulhr in Seattle today.  A group of HR professionals met to discuss challenges and ideas for enagaging and retaining employees.

The major topics that we discussed included:

  • Finding certain specialized talent in the high tech fields where the larger companies are able to entice employees with large salaries, benefits and the prestige of the big name corporations.
  • Retaining employees in companies where the hourly salary is very low due to economic constraints.
  • Engaging employees and keeping them loyal and happy.
  • Dealing with generational differences including things like social media, work ethic, expectations and more.
  • Work life balance.

Research has shown that unless the salary is very low, financial incentives are not always the way to reach the hearts and minds of employees.  Appreciation, acknowledgement, and recognition will go a long way towards keeping employees motivated to perform. A sense of belonging to the community in which they work, feeling valued and supported by their employer are important to keep employees loyal to. Low- cost benefits like health club membership discounts, wellness and worklife programs and employee assistance programs can be implemented for a great return on investment.

The members of the roundtable discussion offered some great ideas that worked for their workplaces. Some of these included:

  • Hosting a community garden which provided a place for employees to plant, tend, weed and water flowers and vegetables and then reap the rewards of the garden by picking flowers for the workplace or making a salad with the fresh picked vegetables.
  • A monthly theme such as wellness or “stress less”, where speakers, massage therapists and other professionals were brought in to assist with the theme and provide benefits for employees.
  • A “Rock Star” program where decorated rocks with positive sayings would be passed to deserving employees who were nominated for certain acts of kindness, good performance or when they were going through a tough time.
  • A book club meeting weekly to read and discuss books relevant to the workplace or personal interests.
  • Webinar trainings or onsite trainings on new technologies such as Linked in, Facebook and Twitter, for the older generations to help bridge the generational gap.
  • Social media policies to clarify the use and time spent on social media in the workplace.
  • Nominating employees for exceeding performance, helping others, etc and then entering the nomination into a monthly drawing for a prize.
  • Host meetings to listen and hear employee concerns and to solicit ideas for improvement, change, etc.

All of these are fabulous ideas for keeping employees engaged. We all know the cost of recruitng and retraining new employees, so we need to be sure we keep our current employees happy.

Do you have any other ideas to contribute to this list?  We would love to hear from you!

 

15
Sep

Medical Marijuana and the Workplace

A couple of months ago, Fully Effctive Employees  held a free one hour seminar on Medical Marijuana and the Workplace in Bellevue, Washington.  We invited guest speaker, Laurie Johnston, an employment attorney and partner at Gordon and Rees, P.S. to speak about the State law which was passed by the Supreme Court of Washington in June 2011, referring to the Medical Use of Marijuana Act (“MUMA”).  MUMA does not require private employers to accommodate an employee’s off site use of medical marijuana.  The Court further held that MUMA does not create a public policy that would support a claim for wrongful discharge.  What this means is that employers CAN terminate an employee who tests positive for marijuana even if it is used for medical purposes.

What this means is that employers CAN terminate an employee who tests positive for marijuana even if it is used for medical purposes. While medical marijuana is readily available and many
employees are using this option to argue the cause for a positive drug test, it is still an illegal drug according to Federal law and if an employer does have a drug testing policy, the employer is not required to accommodate for this drug.  There is no legal prescription for medical marijuana- a letter from a doctor or what is commonly referred to as a “green card” just states that an individual can use a certain amount for a particular diagnosis which can range from chronic, severe pain to minor skin ailments or anxiety.  Marijuana is not approved by the FDA because it cannot be regulated and the carcinogens from the smoke and other additives cannot be evaluated as medically safe.

Laurie Johnston advises that it is wise to treat all employees the same, regardless of whether or not they work in a safety sensitive position.  If an employee who works in a “safety sensitive position” tests positive for marijuana due to “medical reasons” refuses to cease use, an employer should treat him that same as someone in a desk job, even though safety may not be an issue.  Ms. Johnston pointed out that if the employer asks the employee in the desk job to run an errand during company time and that person gets into an accident and it can be proved he has marijuana in his system, there could be liability for the employer.  In addition, there may be other protected class or discrimination claims.  Ms. Johnston recommends that if an employer chooses to keep an individual who uses medical marijuana solely because the position he works in is not a safety risk, there should be clear policy and documentation to that effect.  The employer may be subjecting itself to increased risk and the potential for lawsuits by other employees.

It should be noted that marijuana stays in a person’s system for a long time and someone who has been using it for a while may have to be off of work for up to thirty days until it no longer shows on a drug test.  Due to the cut-off levels that the lab uses, trace amounts of the drug can show up but not be considered a positive drug test, therefore “passive inhalation” or second hand smoke would not create a positive drug test.  In addition, if the employer is using a SAMSHA certified lab (which they should use) rather than instant tests purchased on line or at a drug store, any substance that one ingests to “pass the test” will result in an “adulterated” sample which would be considered a positive.  This is no way to “beat” a drug test if the test is done properly.
While there may be legitimate situations in which medical marijuana is an appropriate option for a physically ill person such as someone who is suffering from a terminal disease or severe pain. In these situations, the person would not be in the workforce or causing a safety risk to himself or others.  If employers choose to drug test, they should be aware that they will eventually have an employee who tests positive for medical marijuana and a clear policy and training of all personnel is vital.

We will disucss how the EAP works with employees who test positive for drugs in another post. Stay tuned!

If you have questions about drug testing in your workplace, feel free to contact us.

 

 

25
Aug

Prepare Your Employees and Your Workplace for a Disaster

Since it is hurricane season, we thought this article might be timely.
Barely a day goes by when the news isn’t covering a horrific national or local disaster. Survivors are interviewed looking for loved ones, possessions and shelter. Some things can be learned from their experiences, such as a disaster can strike suddenly and without warning and what a person can do to prepare in advance. Below are some steps you can follow to prepare your company for a disaster:

Determine what kind of disasters are common to your area from the local Red Cross. For example if you live in Alaska, you don’t have to worry about hurricanes but you should be ready for an earthquake. In the Northwest, we should all be prepared for an earthquake, especially after seeing the devasting and catastrophic effects of the earthquake in Japan.
Designate an out of state partner or branch company you can use to deseminate information to family members, clients or customers about your status.
Be sure employees know where fire extingushers are and how to use them if you don’t have an overhead sprinkler system.
Have an evacuation plan and assign a company individual to bereponsible for the plan and it’s a good idea to conduct a drill ocassionally so everyone is aware of the plan and procedures.
Stock emergency supplies, water and a first aid kit; enough for all employees for at least two days. Replace these items before the expiration date.
Have employees bring in extra medications, foods they eat, eye glasses or extra contact lenses and and a warm sweater and pair of gloves.
Have members of your company learn first aid and CPR.
Be aware that some individuals may be very traumatized especially if they have experienced a previous traumatic event or if they lose their homes or loved ones.
After a disaster, employers can provide critical incident debriefings conducted by the EAP. Some companies will provide meals and other services to employees in the short term to help them recover and get back on their feet.
The EAP can be a helpful resource both before and after a disaster. Preparation is key!

 

16
Aug

Why Should a Small Business Have an EAP?

While smaller companies have fewer employers and therefore lower utilization of an EAP program, small employers with employee problems may suffer the effects   of  those problems more. Decreased performance and productivity will hurt a smaller employer’s bottom line faster.  Workplace negativity can spread like wildfire in small company and if employees leave on masse, a small company could be damaged beyond repair.  As a result, an employer that provides a high quality, personalized, full service EAP (Core-Technology EAP)  can help both the employer and employee by decreasing liability and risk, reducing accidents and improving employee morale and loyalty.  Employees who feels supported by their employer will be far more enagaged. The EAP helps a small employer decrease the stress small business owners encounter when managing a lot of responsibilities with little support.  Small businesses with a high quality EAP will find the EAP is a partner in helping them with issues such as change, lay-offs,  employee personal and work problems and potential serious employee problems such as intoxication on the job, recipients of domestic violence, threats of workplace violence, allegations of sexual harassment, death or serious injury at work and more.  No business is immune from human problems, regardless of their size.

The Core-Technology EAP that deals with employee problems, (and those employees who may have problems with management), is often the first to learn of an employee’s intent to sue their employer.  They may tell the EAP counselor, “I am upset with my supervisor because…and I am thinking of suing”.  If handled properly, the EAP can be a front line defense against employment claims and related lawsuits.  Professional EAP counselors help employees to seek alternate solutions to personal problems and more constructive alternatives to meet their needs.  Some options would be to refer them to human resources, provide mediation or conflict resolution services or other dispute resolution channels.   When employees have a safe, confidential place to process their anger or feelings they can be defused enough to work toward a resolution or in some cases, the employee can be coached to pursue employment elsewhere which may be the best course to avoid the pursuit of a lawsuit, while making the employee happier.

EAP’s can help save employers money by preventing lawsuits including harassment, wrongful termination and hostile workplace allegations. When the EAP is well promoted and troubled employees are encouraged to contact the EAP in order to get their needs met in appropriate ways, they are less likely to sue.  In addition, managers should be taught to consult with the EAP as soon as they are aware that an employees is disgruntled or troubled.

Employee assistance programs that prevent Employment Practices Liability and loss prevention may far exceed health insurance cost containment.  According to  Dan Fuerst,  www.workexcel.com, the average jury award for wrongful termination is $500,000 with out of court settlements averaging $100,000.  The low cost of a fee per employee based program is so minimal compared to the potential risk employers face by being sued by their employers.

The Core-Technology EAP is one that is not a “free” program that is embedded in an insurance or disability program but one that not only provides assessement, referrals, counseling and case management, but also provides training, management coaching and consultation and ongoing support to both the employer and employee.

For more information about how we can work with small businesses, contact us at audreyr@fee-eap.com