January 31, 2014

How Heather Faces Her Fear

Today, my guest blogger is Heather Von St. James. I received this email from Heather and wanted to share it with all of you:



My name Heather and I am an 8-year survivor of mesothelioma – a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. When I was diagnosed at the age of 36, I had just given birth to my little girl and was told I had 15 months to live. After undergoing a risky surgery, which required the removal of my left lung, I beat the odds and created Lung Leavin’ Day as a way to commemorate this day that changed my life forever.

Lung Leavin’ Day is now used to encourage others to face their fears! One important thing cancer taught me is the importance of acknowledging these apprehensions that prevent us from living life to the fullest extent. Each year on February 2, friends and family gather at my house for a bonfire where we write our fears on plates and smash them into the fire.

This year, we are asking you to face your fears and raise awareness of this event by virtually participating in Lung Leavin’ Day! I have created an interactive page that tells the full story of this special day, and allows all of you to face your fears and virtually smash them. The website can be found here: Lungleavinday


January 24, 2014

Do employers care about your stress?

Stressed worker

I received an interesting email in response to my article and blog post on companies encouraging mindfulness at work. (Mindfulness is a stress-busting technique that focuses on being reflective rather than reactive) The email came from a reader who believes companies don't care at all whether their workers are stressed out.

Here's what reader Julio Ugarte wrote to me:

"Maybe a few businesses are willing to practice this (mindfulness) but the majority of Corporate America is not in that bandwagon. Have you checked the Post Office lately? How about all the retail businesses? What has to happen is that not only they practice "mindfulness" but also "COMPASSION". Starting from the CEO on down. Apply this to their WORKERS! After all how are you going to change Corporate America when they are making the biggest profits in years treating their workers like GARBAGE!"

He continues...

"I wish what you write becomes true. I can only pray that it will happen. But that is not what is happening now in Corporate America."

Julio, you have a point. As a nation, our job-related stress levels have soared. People feel under pressure if the demands of their job are greater than they can comfortably manage. Other sources of work-related stress include conflict with co-workers or bosses, constant change, and threats to job security.

Businesses are making efforts to promote wellness, which in the end enhances their bottom line by reducing health care costs and curbing absenteeism. But do you think employers realize their workers are stressed out? Are they reading the signs such as aggression, depression, impatience and even physical illness?

Employers could help reduce stress if they wanted to. Just to start, they could make sure workers are properly trained for their jobs, provide an outlet for communicating grievances, and staff appropriately.

Julio convincing argues that businesses don't care about their workers' stress levels. Readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts...  Is interest in helping workers reduce their stress levels isolated to a few employers? 


January 22, 2014

Mindfulness in the workplace

My column today in The Miami Herald delves into a workplace trend that peaked my curiousity. If you're looking to reduce your stress and improve your work life balance, you might want to consider practicing mindfulness in the workplace.

Working with ‘mindfulness’ reduces stress in the workplace

A few years ago, when Miami attorney Paul Singerman received a hostile email from opposing counsel, he would react with an immediate terse response. Not anymore. “The first thing I do is nothing,” he explains. Then, he says, he takes a deep breath, processes both his mental and physical reaction, and thinks carefully about how to stop the negative dynamic taking shape.

For Singerman, reflecting before reacting is the first step in practicing mindfulness — a stress-busting technique quickly spreading in workplaces across the country. In the rush to accomplish multiple tasks or respond to job pressures, people often lose connection with the present moment. They stop being attentive to what they’re doing or feeling, and react from a place of stress. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing awareness on the present moment.

Teaching and encouraging mindfulness in the workplace has become a part of corporate efforts to reduce the stresses that can lead to burnout. Increasingly, the practice has gone mainstream, buoyed by the recent endorsements of CEOs, educators, actors, and politicians who link mindfulness to improved psychological and even physical health.

Singerman said not only is he working on mastering mindfulness, his law firm, Berger Singerman, has sponsored workshops for clients, employees and colleagues. “I really believe mindfulness can make you more effective and enhance your prospects for success,” he says. Singerman’s own experience with mindfulness has been cultivated over 2 ½ years and has helped him become a better listener and more observant person, he says.

Businesses have bottom-line reasons to embrace it. Using mindfulness at work can make for a happier employee, according to Sharon Salzberg, author of the book Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement and Peace. Salzberg believes mindfulness can be applied in any career and says once an employee trains his mind, all kinds of conscious moments of awareness start seeping into the workplace. For example, practicing mindfulness at work could be pausing and planning before picking up a phone, or taking a deep breath and focusing on the desired outcome during a contentious meeting. “It’s a great tool for coming back to the moment and remembering your intention,” she says.

According to the World Health Organization, the cost of stress to American businesses is as high as $300 billion — a cost estimate that includes healthcare and lost productivity because of diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses. For businesses, stress reduction and mindfulness have become a key part of wellness efforts.

Mindfulness programs in the workplace typically involve multiple sessions that teach meditation techniques, such as controlled breathing and bringing thoughts back to the present. They also include exercises for toning down mental chatter and improving listening skills. Employees learn how to apply the techniques in their daily routines on the job and in their personal lives.

At Aetna, more than 49,000 employees have access to three different wellness programs that incorporate mindfulness. Paul Coppola, director of wellness-program strategy at the insurance company, says about 13,000 have participated either in person or virtually. “Classes always fill up quickly,” he says, mostly because word of mouth has increased interest. Coppola says employees who have participated report a decrease in stress levels and more awareness of triggers. Employees who participated in a 12-week program saw increased productivity and even improvements in physical health, such as lower blood pressure and weight loss. Aetna also offers two mindfulness programs to its employer customers; some are offering it through one-on-one coaching.

Other big companies that have offered mindfulness programs include Google, General Mills, Nike and Proctor & Gamble. Media mogul Arianna Huffington, a proponent of this stress-busting technique, has referred to mindfulness as “a proven competitive advantage for any business that wants one.”

Kelley McCabe Ruff runs eMindful, a Vero Beach company that puts on virtual workshops for businesses, including Aetna. Myriad timely factors are bringing attention to mindfulness, she says, including high, job-related stress levels, an increasing corporate interest in wellness, an explosion of research on the neuroscience behind the technique, more data on its effectiveness, and more buy-in from corporate leaders. She has been able to tie mindfulness programs to results, showing that these tools support behavioral change that leads to physical changes, such as reduced cortisol levels and lower blood pressure. “We actually supply employers a return on investment calculation.”

Life coach Judy Martin, founder of Work Life Nation, says she now includes mindfulness in her consultancy toolkit. “It makes sense that we’re seeing more interest in mindfulness. If workers are worried about past projects that weren’t stellar or a future deadline creeping up, how can they be creative and focused on the work at hand?’’ Martin says she teaches her clients that even lunchtime can provide mindfulness moments: mindfully eating a meal, noticing the scent of your food, the colors and texture of the food in your mouth. She also recommends talking a walk outside and being aware of the weather, the trees, the colors of the flowers, the warm sun.

At the University of Miami, associate psychology professor Amishi Jha has delved into brain research on the link between mindfulness, productivity and health. She says the science behind mindfulness training shows it can build resilience, and enhance memory and concentration. “Just as physical exercise is critical for our body’s health, mental exercises, such as mindfulness training, are necessary for our psychological and brain health.”

One profession where mindfulness has gained particular traction is law. University of Miami professor Scott Rogers pioneered a Mindfulness in Law course, introducing more than 700 students to the technique during the past five years. He isn’t alone; at least 50 faculty members at 25 law schools have introduced mindfulness to law students. Now, he says, mindfulness workshops are offered at law firms and at judicial and legal conferences.

Lawyers like Singerman, who apply mindfulness in the legal setting, are able to gain more control during heated disputes, Rogers said. “They are more clear about what’s taking place so they can be more effective in those moments,” he explains.

Columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, a provider of news and advice on work/life issues. To suggest topics or provide comments, connect with her at www.workinglifebalancingact.com or balancegal@gmail.com

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/21/3884295/working-with-mindfulness-reduces.html#storylink=cpy


January 20, 2014

Want a better work life balance? Exercise.


Today, I have a lot on my plate  -- work deadlines, kids home from school, my parents coming over for dinner. I just don't have time to workout in the gym, even though I made an exercise schedule and I should be sticking to it. When I'm stressed and feeling overwhelmed, I usually give up exercise to get more done. 

Now, I'm rethinking my behavior.

Researchers have found that exercise empowers people to feel they could better manage their work life balance. People who exercised regularly were more confident they could handle tough tasks. They felt better prepared for the challenges of the interaction of their work and home life and were less likely to be stressed at work, researchers found.

"The idea sounds counter-intuitive," admits Russell Clayton, assistant professor of management at Saint Leo University and lead author on the research report. "How is it that adding something else to our work day helps to alleviate stress and empower us to deal with work-family issues?"

However, Clayton said,  "We think exercise is a way to psychologically detach from work -- you're not there physically and you're not thinking about it either -- and, furthermore, it can help us feel good about ourselves." 

The study's researcher believe the findings suggest employers can help employees with work life balance by encouraging them to exercise. I think we are seeing many employers move in this direction. We definitely have seen more of an emphasis on wellness in the workplace. 

As the new year arrived, many of us made resolutions to exercise more and take better care of ourselves. Our motivation might have been the physical benefits but now we know there are mental benefits, too. As researchers put it, "an hour of exercise creates a feeling that lasts well beyond that hour spent at the gym." 

So, I guess I have to break the habit of blowing off exercise when my plates start overflowing with to-dos. This research is just another nudge to get moving. 

As Clayton put it:  "If you have been feeling torn between resolutions to exercise more and to be a better working parent or spouse, then this should come as great news: You can do both. Here’s to your success and happiness in 2014."




January 15, 2014

Should you tell a sick co-worker to go home? Flu season hits the workplace...

I woke up this morning with a terrible cold. I'm convinced I jinxed myself by talking to so many people with the flu last week. When you work from home, you can be sick and it doesn't affect anyone. But when you work in an office, going in with the sniffles and a cough can lead to others getting sick. So which is the better route...to brave through it and get work done...or to stay home and keep the germs contained?

I tackled the topic in my Miami Herald column today:


Should sick workers stay home?


Bringing flu and other communicable diseases into the workplace can significant hurt business. But many employees are reluctant to stay home.
Flu is expected to hit especially hard nationwide this year, with tourists sure to bring germs to South Florida. Local workplaces will surely face the question of whether to ask sick employees to stay home.
Flu is expected to hit especially hard nationwide this year, with tourists sure to bring germs to South Florida. Local workplaces will surely face the question of whether to ask sick employees to stay home. 




After four days in bed with the flu, Cindy Papale returned to her office only to have a colleague come in sniffling and coughing, touching common surfaces and spreading germs. Within a few days Papale was out again with a fever. “If people would stay home, then the rest of us might not get sick, too,” she said.

Flu season is here with a vengeance and it can be tough on the workplace, creating resentment among co-workers, testing flexibility policies and putting the boss in awkward situations. Whether motivated by fear of losing their jobs, a desire to look responsible, a need for income or reluctance to give up vacation days, employees inevitably come to work sick. Some even put up a fight when colleagues or a boss suggests they go home.

“When you work in a close environment, if someone is not telling you to go home, they’re thinking it,” explained Papale, an administrative assistant in a Miami-Dade office. “We’re all just trying to stay well.”

Experts are calling this flu season the worst in a decade, predicting that at least 20 percent of the population has fallen or will become ill. In the last few weeks, odds are that if you haven't had the flu, you know someone who has had it.

For businesses, a single flu-struck worker can have a domino effect. According to a new survey from the office supply company Staples, nearly 90 percent of office workers come to work even when they know they are sick. California-based Disability Management Employer Coalition estimates that employees who come to work with the flu increase lost workdays by 10 percent to 30 percent.

Still, some workplaces seem blind to the potential cost. One non-profit employee complained that in her workplace, if you call in sick, the boss treats you like you're a slacker and even compliments the work ethic of those who come to the workplace sniffling. Others say they are given a cold shoulder by fellow workers when they ask to work from home.

Office manager Rosie Toledo doesn’t agree with that line of thinking at all. “You have to think about the whole office,” she said. Toledo, who manages a Miami medical office, said she has no qualms about telling sick employees not to come in, or to go home if they come in ill.

“If you work somewhere with little interaction with others and can quarantine yourself, then it’s understandable to come in,’’ said Toledo. “But we interact with patients. I’d rather struggle without a person than have someone sick in the office.”

Toledo says she will allow an employee to work from home doing what they can and take a partial sick day. “I try to be flexible. It is tricky. Some people will question, ‘are they really that sick?’ ” Toledo notes that an employee at any workplace who comes in under the weather, typically fails to be productive, anyway. “When you are sick, you’re not fruitful anywhere you are at.”

Of course, some hourly workers come in sick because they need the income. More than 70 percent of low-wage workers get no paid sick days at all, according to the recently released Shriver Report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink. Others save their time off to care for sick children.

Salaried workers who do get paid sick days say their behavior stems from dedication or fear. Research suggests businesses should be doing more to curb employees’ perceived workplace obligation to be at the office. “It’s rare that you have a manager who tells an employee who is sick to get his butt to work unless there’s a pattern of abuse of sick days,’’ said Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the national Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

As flu season drags on, bosses often find themselves in an awkward quandary. They need work completed, but they also want to avert widespread absenteeism.

At a restaurant, if a dishwasher stays home sick, that’s a hole in a key position. But the alternative could be worse. “If someone is on the edge and comes in, it can be devastating if they take out two or three other employees,” said Abe Ng, CEO of Miami-based Sushi Maki and Canton Chinese Restaurants, which has 15 locations. “It’s hard because some on the team are hourly, and they want to work.”

Telling a worker – or forcing them– to go home can be problematic. Ng tries to use diplomacy. “They understand when I explain the bigger picture. If they tough it out and get really sick, they will be out longer. If I am down one sushi chef, no big deal. But if I am down three, I’m in trouble. I try to put it in context for them. “

Increasingly, bosses say they get pushback from employees who insist they are well enough to be present.

“It comes down to counseling the employee and letting him know he really should go home,” said Elliott of SHRM, who has told employees to go home. Still, he says, “I would caution managers that if the employee says he is fine, leave it. You might want to monitor his activity though, and if it is way off, talk to him about taking tomorrow off.”

Some businesses try to curb flu outbreaks in their workplace by administering vaccines. Others rely on an effective leave policy and encourage workers to step up hygiene efforts.

Elliott said he has seen a definite return on investment for employers that offer flu shots in terms of lessened absenteeism. “It’s a proactive approach.”

This year, the Miami Dolphins took that proactive approach and gave its players and office workers flu shots. Some sports teams have gone as far as to quarantine players with flu symptoms to prevent contaminating teammates.

DHL, with 600 employees in Plantation, encourages flu shots by reimbursing the cost at 100 percent and emphasizing preventative care. The company allowsworkers to accrue sick time by hours worked from their first day on the job. And it separates paid vacation time off from sick time to encourage its use.

Most importantly, says Mari Toroker, senior manager of H R at DHL Express Americas, “We’re a tight environment, a cubicle environment, and we encourage anyonewho is sick to work from home. We really promote that internally.”

In the workplace, the flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces like keyboards and desks for up to 48 hours. But the most common way flu virus is spreadin offices is through person-to-person contact and airborne from coughing, said Giorgio Tarchini, an infectious disease doctor with Cleveland Clinic in Weston.

Often, he notes, people go back to work too soon. “They should wait 24 hours with no symptoms,” he said.

For those who have yet to get a flu shot, there still is time and reason to do so, said Tarchini. Flu season peaks in January and February and runs through April.

Now that she’s feeling healthy after two bouts of the flu, Papale is taking precautions by wiping down her work area and telephone. She hopes others in her office will do the same, that feverish co-workers stay home and that the flu virus is finally behind her -- at least for 2014. 


October 17, 2013

Is this all there is? How to find more fulfillment in life

Have you ever asked yourself, "Is this all this is?"

My guest blogger today, Gayle Carson, noticed that people hit their 50s and often start asking themselves that question. So, she began working with boomers on reinventing themselves from the inside out, in both their personal and business lives to help them feel more satisfied. She now has two different radio shows--"Women in Business" and "Living Regret Free." Her website is www.spunkyoldbroad.com.

If you find yourself asking "Is this all their is?" then Gayle has some advice that should help.


GCarsonwebAfter five decades of business success, I was hit with a 10-year span of unbelievable challenges. I had built a business from nothing to seven offices and 350 people. I sold that and embarked on a magical speaking and consulting career with 1,000 clients in 50 industries. I worked in 50 countries and 49 states. Then I co-founded an internet information marketing association and now, I am working with boomer women and beyond on the joy of living.

During this time, I raised three children, helped my husband develop a real estate business and volunteered and led many professional and community organizations.

I had a wonderful life. And then—-everything changed.

 In a 10-year period, I lost a son, a husband, had my third case of breast cancer, custody of a grandchild, and my 16th surgery. To make it even worse, almost to the day my husband died, the real estate market collapsed.

Yet, people kept remarking that I always seemed happy and had a smile on my face. They questioned why I wasn’t depressed or feeling sorry for myself.

To me, it was simple. You have choices in life, and mine was to be happy. 

But that's when I began to notice that women in the 50 to 65 age range were expressing emotions of being invisible and feeling incomparable stress from being responsible for elder care and having older children come back home to live.

I kept hearing thee phrase “Is that all there is?” over and over again and this was from homemakers, business women and society people. As I listened more and more, I realized this was a very common problem.

No one seemed to know how to deal with it.

It became my mission to work with this population to show them how to live a regret free life. I developed what I call “The 9 Secrets to Living Regret Free” and started speaking and writing about them wherever I could. 

Here's a glimpse at my nine secrets:

#1 Attitude and Spirit

We know that your mindset has to be right for you to live a life without regret.

#2 Fit and Fabulous

We are aware that the benefits to being healthy and a lifestyle of wellness pays off with big dividends.

#3 Uniqueness

Most people don’t think they’re unique. But I know you are. I know it sounds scary, but writing your own obituary will enlighten you.

#4 Energizing Your Life

I believe everyone should wake up with a smile on their face and go to sleep in peace. Discovering what you love to do will make all the difference in how you live your life.

#5 Power Relationships

I know you’re aware that everyone is supposed to be just six degrees away from Kevin Bacon. Well even if you don’t have a high level job or are the King or Queen of Society, you can have power relationships.

#6 Personal Growth

 Keeping your mind active and alert is important for your mental and spiritual growth

#7 Taking and Keeping Control

You must control your life if you want to change it.

#8 Balance

Everyone talks about balance, but how many people practice it. Are you one who does?

#9 Plan for Daily Living

It all comes down to having a plan. Whether it’s in business or your personal life, you need a plan.


If you are unhappy with your situation, you need to change it and live out your dreams. What have you done lately to move yourself in that direction?



October 08, 2013

Time with kids -- exhausting or rewarding?

Tired mom

My fellow mothers, here's what a new survey says about us. 

We're exhausted.

When my kids were younger, I definitely found going to the office, some days, was more relaxing than being with my kids. Sitting at my desk, clacking on my keyboard, was a piece of cake next to dealing with temper tantrums. Now that my kids are older, spending time with them isn't as physically exhausting but with teens, it can be mentally exhausting.

I may be exhausted, but spending time with my kids also brings me intrinsic rewards I don't get from work. Do you feel the same way?

According to a  new Pew Research Center analysis of government data, mothers report feeling “very tired” in 15% of child-care activities, compared with 6% for fathers. Mothers also report a higher level of fatigue than fathers did in paid work, housework and leisure time.

I think this survey reflects what Katrina Alcorn  asserted in her recent Time Magazine article, Motherhood Gave Me a Nervous Breakdown. She says women are more at risk for the health effects of stress and fatigue because we're juggling so darn much and we're tired. Very tired.

Yet, even though we're tired, we're finding meaning in what we're doing -- at home, with our kids, and at the office.

Pew says mothers are more likely than fathers to feel what they are doing is highly meaningful when they are taking care of the house or engaging in leisure activities. Mothers rate 46% of their housework activities as “very meaningful,” while fathers do the same for 28% of their housework activities. Likewise, mothers rate 63% of their leisure time as highly meaningful, compared with fathers at 52%.

Mothers and fathers are about equally likely to find meaning in caring for children: 63% of child-care activities are “very meaningful” to mothers, compared with fathers at 60%. Paid work has similar meaning to fathers and mothers as well.

Not only do we find meaning in what we're doing, we're happier than fathers when taking care of our kids. Some 37% of mothers’ child-care activities were “very happy” moments, compared with about 29% of fathers’ child-care activities.

So, we may be tired, but I think this survey reflects what most moms believe: we love being working moms!

August 26, 2013

Can you work yourself to death?


Last week, I cringed when I heard the tragic story of a 21-year-old Bank of America intern. The poor young guy, an intern in the bank's Merrill Lynch investing banking unit was found dead in his London apartment after allegedly working round the clock for three days in a row. 

The incident has created a lot of buzz about work life balance and whether it's possible to work yourself to death. It also has raised questions about whether employers need to play more of a role in discouraging an unhealthy work pace.

Bank of America has said  it would be studying how to improve the work-life balance of the institution’s junior staffers, a week after the summer intern unexpectedly died.

Right after the death was announced, an intern at a different investment bank described the toll his daily 12 to 13 hours on the job had taken on his personal life and health: “I don't have time to do much else after work, and when I have a little rest over the weekend, I can feel my heart pumping faster than usual. A standard 6-hour sleep is considered decent around here.”

While it may still be a badge of honor to show such commitment to work, I think employers have a duty to step in when someone puts in night after night of work, with little sleep.

About a year ago, I wrote about a law associate who also appeared to have worked himself to death. The 35-year-old passed away at home after working "maniac hours" at his regional law firm the week before. While the cause of death was not certain, his friends said he was gunning for partner and had been billing over 20 hours a day for multiple days in a row prior to his death. No one had stepped in to stop him. 

There's a reason we are seeing so much conversation around the need for work life balance. There are plenty of workplaces with hard-charging, competitive cultures. But we are seeing that maniac work schedules can't be sustained. You CAN die of overwork.

To its credit, Bank of America isn't taking this death lightly. It has told The Huffington Post  it will be looking at, among other things, whether its interns and other junior employees are encouraged to work overly long hours or are pushed into unhealthily competitive environments as they vie for a limited number of jobs.

Someone needs to teach young workers that it's a combination of work ethic and results that count -- and that there are ways to impress with quality, over quantity.

Nathan Parcells of InternMatch.com, an online community that links employers and potential interns recommended Bank of America give interns and young employees more access to senior mentors: They can still remain a very competitive culture, and provide better expectations and goal-setting, and maybe show interns how to manage so that they can get the work done in 80, instead of 100 hours." 

To me, the death of this young intern is a real tragedy, but also a wake up call. If it really causes management introspection, then maybe this tragedy can be the springboard for change. Do you think some corporate cultures encourage overwork at the expense of employee health? If so, what would it take to change the culture other than a tragic death?



July 17, 2013

Is your office making you fat? How to eat heathier at work

At most of my workplaces, my co-workers have gained weight and I take full blame. I have huge chocolate cravings around 4 p.m. and I like to include my co-workers in my indulgence. Most of us spend more time at work than at home and what we eat in the office can destroy our diets if we let it. Fortunately, some employers are trying to help their employees get trim and fit by giving them healthier options at work. My column below tackles the topic.


South Florida companies trying to trim workplace junk food



Even as you hit the gym, trying to look respectable in your summer shorts, the junk food in your workplace might be pushing you toward extra pounds. From bags of chips in the vending machines to trays of cookies at meetings, offices have become a calorie minefield. Many of the most health-conscious employees find it daunting to resist the high-calorie treats lurking in the lunchroom and office cubicles.

Changing the culture, though, isn’t easy. It’s often the candy bar or Dr. Pepper that sustains us when we’re feeling the stress of scoring a sale or hitting a deadline. And sharing sugary treats often is a way for co-workers to bond. “Our culture is to celebrate office birthdays with cake and ice cream, not with apples,” says Lindsay Scherr, president of Endlessly Organic, a South Florida organic buying club. “That’s the challenge that employers come up against.”

While plenty of employers have hosted health fairs and launched wellness programs, only now are they focusing on workplace eating habits. Businesses are swapping out offerings in vending machines and rethinking meal choices in the company cafeteria. Some even have implemented policies that require healthier food options be served at staff meetings or employee events.

Baptist Health South Florida, one of the area’s largest private employers, has been working to change the workplace eating habits of its employees for more than seven years. It started with introducing healthier meals in the cafeteria. Low-fat, low-calorie meals are not only marked as more nutritional, they’re cheaper for employees.

From there, Baptist Health moved on to replacing up to half of the high-fat, salty, and sugary items in vending machines with more nutritional choices. Water has replaced soda as the prominent option in the beverage dispenser and is sold at a lower price point. “From time to time the changes are met with grumbles but we’re not removing choices entirely, we’re just giving healthy options,” says Maribeth Rouseff, who oversees employee-wellness initiatives at Baptist Health.

The hospital system has also brought in produce-buying clubs and onsite farmer’s markets. Even more, it has created a policy for what can be served at company meetings (no pizza or chips) and mandates managers use approved vendors who have agreed to abide by the nutrition policy. Most employees understand the personal benefits of the changes, said Rouseff. For every dollar the company spends on wellness, it saves almost $6 in health costs.

Of course, changes are met with some push back. Employees willingly attend onsite health fairs and will even participate in screenings. But wellness directors say they don’t dare take the Coca-Cola out of vending machines or remove the office candy bowl.

Employers have found nutritional education plays a big role in how well changes are accepted. Illinois-based Earth Friendly Products started with health days once a year to emphasize nutritional eating but ramped up food education as its workplaces underwent a nutrition overhaul during the past three years. The eco-friendly, cleaning-products company has 250 employees in five divisions, including 26 at its plant in Opa-locka.

Nadereh Afsharmanesh, director of sustainability at Earth Friendly Products, says she has removed all sugary soda and high-fat snacks from workplace vending machines and made a daily piece of fruit and herbal teas free and available to every employee. She also requires the food trucks that sell to its warehouse workers to provide more healthy options. “We’re serious about our workers’ health and well being.”

Much like Baptist Health, the company has a policy for what food can be served at internal events and it has instituted Meatless Monday, encouraging workers to avoid eating meat at the office one day a week — even giving out samples of meatless foods. The next phase: giving every employee a juicer, with recipes, and encouraging them to bring their fresh juice to work. “It’s something our CEO came up with,” Afsharmanesh said.

Afsharmanesh says she accompanies changes with an intense educational component, explaining how and why to eat well at work and home.

She continuously speaks to employees, invites them to workshops, and sends out articles on how to improve their diets and increase their physical activity.

Since the program began, company health premiums have dropped 13 percent, she says. “When we started, there was so much resistance. Now that [employees] know why the changes are good for them and they feel a difference, they have come around.”

Many small businesses also are interested in creating opportunities for workers to improve their health, but they don’t know where to start, research by the National Small Business Association shows.

Small-business owner Carol Brooks mounted her healthy eating campaign with a comprehensive approach. Almost daily, Brooks, co-founder of Continental Real Estate Companies in Coral Gables, wards off unhealthy afternoon snacking by organizing smoothie breaks for employees. During staff and client meetings, she serves fresh fruits and vegetables and the latest in organic drinks, including coconut water and green tea.

Brooks also has created a Facebook page for her company’s wellness initiative, where employees post pictures of their healthy lunch options. “For many employees, the office is a second home where they spend anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of their waking hours. Why not introduce wellness principles like healthy eating where they stand to benefit most?” she says.

Camaraderie plays a role, too. Fighting the snack attack is much more effective with a squad of co-workers, says Carmen Diaz, a South Florida dietician. On their own, staffers might grab that bag of salty goodness lurking in the depths of a desk drawer. But if an office creates a share shelf or bowl stocked with whole grain crackers, fruit, and granola bars, it becomes a lot easier to avoid a 4 p.m. onslaught of junk food, she says.

For one employer, healthy eating starts with creating a space for employees to share conversation and a nutritious meal — an onsite café. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables has made changes to its cafeteria to encourage employees to grab healthier meals at work. The attraction recently rolled out a new menu at its renovated café with healthier dishes that include organic and locally grown food. Employees pay $8 for a lunch that includes a nutritious meal, drink, and fruit — a discount of 20 percent.

Meanwhile, Scherr is riding the corporate-wellness wave by delivering organic fruits and vegetables to businesses whose employees have joined her buying club. Her customers include big companies, such as Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and smaller businesses in downtown office towers. Scherr says workplaces become the drop-off location for employees who buy a share of crops to take home. Employers often buy a share for office use — stocking lunchrooms and fruit bowls with healthy snacking options.

“In the office, people will grab whatever is free and convenient,” Scherr says. “Business owners are starting to understand that and make healthier choices available.”

Scherr says employees who resist workplace bans on treats or a new office-wide emphasis on trimming waistlines tend to give in once they see co-workers looking and feeling better. “That’s a process that takes time and motivation but eventually it becomes a culture.”


May 30, 2013

Summer is here! Finding a gym that works with your life

Raise your hand if you are you dreading summer swimsuit season and wishing you had made more time in your schedule for working out? Ugh, my hand is up! Lured by "special deals" I now belong to two gyms and rarely go to either one. Whenever my work life balance gets thrown off kilter, exercise is the first to go.

BrettBrett Graff, author of The Home Economist, knows all about squeezing exercise into a busy day. Brett is a mother of two, a former US government economist who today writes about how economic forces affect real people. Her column - The Home Economist - runs in newspapers nationwide. Brett  provides great advice for saving  money and finding a gym that works with your life. If you're thinking of joining a gym to get into swimsuit shape fast before you head off on summer vacation, here are Brett's suggestions for what to ask:

1) Do you have to pay extra for classes? It’s hard enough putting on spandex and looking at yourself in the mirror for an hour. But force us to pay an extra $25 for the privilege and suddenly, breakfast sounds like a better idea. Make sure yoga or spinning or whatever is included.

2) What’s the number of members? Many gyms set no membership limits. It might not be crowded when you visit, but be packed during peak hours or after a membership drive. The most honest answer comes from yourself after you make a surprise visit at the time you plan to work out.

3) What are the hours of operation? Because you can’t burn calories if you get there when the place is closed.

4) What’s the cooling off or trial period? Because even if it costs a little more each month, if you’re not enjoying the membership or using it as much as you planned, you will have saved yourself years of payments.

5) When does the special introductory rate end? Make sure you know exactly when the discounted stops and the amount of the price hike taking it’s place.

6) Can I take the contract home? If someone’s pressuring you to sign on the spot, you may wonder why.


ExerciseAccording to Statisticbrain.com people spend an average of $55 a month on gym memberships. The average amount of gym membership money that goes to waste is $39 a month. Are you participating in that ugly trend?

If you really want to work out and think you might not stick with it, look for gyms that offer pay-as-you-go memberships or short-term passes. Of course, a walk around the block is a cheap way to get started and can fit into almost anyone's schedule. As Nike says, just do it!