Health inSite: A Salutogenic Workplace

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Let’s dig a little deeper into the concept of Salutogenesis and what it might mean at your workplace.

The River

Antonovsky’s explanation of Salutogenesis was well depicted by a river.  His concern with the current model of health (Pathogenesis) is that it’s generally believed that we are healthy from the beginning but that because of environmental / circumstantial events, we become sick.  Antonovsky expressed this as a river, where all healthy people stand on the bank, safe from the raging river’s flow.  Once one stepped into the river – got sick – then something needed to be done.  Salutogenesis, however, sees all people already in the river; but at different distances from the mouth.  General resistance resources (GRRs), a term Antonovsky used as well, are the supportive mechanisms that make it possible to engage in their health generating activities.  These allow for someone to swim against the current or maintain a position against the current.  The result of thinking this way is the freedom to abandon the bias that one has failed at being healthy, but rather that they are always working at generating more health.

Sense of Coherence

Antonovsky’s continued his explanation of Salutogenesis as hinged on a Sense of Coherence.  Sense of Coherence is defined by three major parts:

  1. Comprehensibility (I get this).  The ability to understand one’s circumstances.  If you look back at some of my previous postings on Cognitive Bias, we are unable to fully comprehend our experience because, as Kahneman has pointed out in Thinking Fast and Slow, we are subject to a number of biases including base rate neglect (not having the ability to assess, objectively, where things are from the start before making an opinion of what is possible).
  2. Manageability (I got this).  The ability to assess resources for dealing with one’s circumstances.  “The right tool for the right job” comes to mind here.  To adequately meet the needs of Manageability, one must not only have the resources available, but the knowledge that they can be used.
  3. Meaningfulness (I’m good to go).  The ability to comprehend the anticipated results as helpful.  We oftentimes recognize that there is a change to be had, but taking that step can be difficult without a fire under your bottom.

Taken together, these three points sit at the nexus of the ability for any given person to be able to effectively engage with their health.  When all three are maximized for performance, individuals can effectively mitigate the potential of their circumstances.  Education obviously plays a big role in the process of becoming healthier, but education alone cannot make people healthier.

Your role as a benefits provider

As someone that is providing benefits to a group of people, you have a key role in the ability to help those covered to become healthier; to actually create health.  It’s easy to provide a benefit that is available when it’s needed and provided by an external vendor, but that doesn’t have to be the end.  Visionary organizations are engaging their population in small, but every day, ways.

What can be done

Engagement is key.  First off, you have to take on an organizational wellbeing plan in earnest.  If you’re willing to put in the effort, your population will be more likely to stay engaged.  If you’re not behind it 100%, they probably won’t be either.  But what can be done to engage in health more actively in the worksite?

Let’s look at some of the GRRs that Antonovsky identified and where they may occur in the workplace.

Money: Money enables us to purchase services and products that can enable health generating activities.  It can also be used to incentivize or disincentivize activities – the so-called carrot and/or stick approach.  But, money also has some significant impact on engagement.  When individuals make a purchase, they are actively exchanging the value of their dollar for the value of what is being purchased.  If you’re familiar with the concept of Behavioral Economics, this might include devaluation of a certain program because it is provided for free.  Instead, incentivizing purchase of products or services that help in the generation of health means personal investment in its use.

Knowledge: You know that conference or meeting room that is usually set aside for meetings with clients, or teams within your organization?  It may also be a great location to have a training or two related to health generating activities.  Including helpful information in your break room, like healthful recipes, may be a continual reminder of what your population is putting into their bodies.

Commitment: Commitment may be especially easy to generate in the workplace because you’re already showing an investment in those you provide benefits for.  Showing your commitment to the program can help create mutual investment, as well!

Social Support: Encourage people to support each other in your health generating activities by rewarding employees who provide assistance or encouragement in the health of other employees.  This creates a social structure for engaging in health, and we know that community is the key to health.

Taken together, this is a powerful recipe for getting the kind of motivation needed to stay actively engaged in your population’s health.  And, the long-term benefit of a healthier and happier workforce is what drives productivity and profitability.

To our health,

Ryan Lucas
Marketing

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Health inSite: Bring Your Own Health

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Blended, not segmented

In an increasingly interconnected world, the rift between the person and the role within the workplace is diminishing.  Again, highlighting a moment from our presentation at the EAPA 2011 Conference back in October, we provided a brief demonstration of the change that is coming with the introduction of smart technology that is cheap, intuitive, and pervasive.  We added many of the ingredients of our everyday lives – personal photos, TPS reports, business cards, a beer (non-alcoholic, of course), and some others – to a blender.  After pureeing the ingredients, we had the mish mash of our lives in a soupy representation of its non-segmentation.  Slowly, but surely, we continue to blur the lines between our personal and professional lives.  The generation entering the workplace today, as well as the mavens that have been productively using social media over the past decade, are contending with very significant issues when it comes to their personal versus professional circles.

Which is perfectly fine for them as, characteristically, they are less concerned about the space between work and personal that has existed in previous generations.

But it does bring up a new combined reality wherein the interconnectedness of all things plays a new role, e.g., less applying for jobs and more networking with previous co-workers and current friends.  This is a powerful change in the culture of hiring as we can rely more on data points that are trusted, rather than on the various axes we might consider from an interview.

We’ll have chips, you bring the dip

This is further aided by the number of devices (and the consolidators like cloud computing and apps) on which we can maintain a seamless online life.  Our ability to share, connect, and compute through these various devices has led to a revolution for some workplaces.  We’ve gone from intentional VPN connections on desktops into the workplace, to push-based access to email on our phones.

Enter BYOD.

Now we have the opportunity for individual employees to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).  Gone are the days where individuals carry two phones, or a personal phone and a work laptop.  A new tide is rising where an employee can use their personal device to connect to work.  This has obvious implications associated with it.  In my last blog, I walked through some of the changes in the landscape regarding social media in the workplace and its potential for the leaking of PCI (a play on Private Health Information, Private Corporate Information).  Imagine the concerns regarding that PCI on a device that can literally be left on a street corner!  Consider data from Lookout Security (a mobile app that tracks lost phones) alone: 9 million lost phones in 2011.  By the way, if you have employees using mobile devices for work purposes, either company owned or personally owned, you should have a solution like Lookout or iOS’s Find my iPhone in place.  It’s just another thing to add to the technology section of your HR manual.

We can access statistics and reports from virtually anywhere with a WiFi or data signal, and we can do it on the same devices as our social media and personal activities.  This means increased efficiency for some, and others less so as there are more distractions on the same device; however, it also means being less tied down to a workstation.  Enabling employees to function in their role fluidly and dynamically means a potential for faster response rates and less commuting or booting (as in booting up a computer) time.  So long as you are not also operating in System 1 by multi-tasking.

What does this have to do with health?

I’m so glad you asked.  The mobile revolution has another impact on our lives: the ability for our physical wellbeing to be more social and integrated with our daily activities.  For an employer, this can mean increased health outcomes to decrease premiums as awareness of one’s health can increase attention to keeping oneself healthier.  Integrated with Social Media, this also allows for real time feedback from our social network, encouraging and assisting in the process of growing our health.  And since we spend 1/3 of our week working, ignoring this time because it’s “work time” is simply the wrong way to go about creating a healthier workforce.  Population health strategies necessitate an integrated approach to health – and even more so when you are self-insured!

If that’s not interesting enough, using both hardware and software, new tracking of the quantified self enables a feedback system that helps provide data to be reviewed by System 2, resulting in increased awareness of our current health status.  Knowing your heart-rate through events, in real time, allows for biofeedback-based solutions to situations.  Literally translated, our at-the-moment health can enable greater productivity at work – whether that’s at a coffee shop, your home, or at the office.  As these pieces of technology become cheaper and more precise, BYOD might one day allow for the inclusion of health devices for work too.

To our health,

Ryan
Marketing

Health inSite: Social Media Access at Work

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Let’s take a moment to discuss the great ‘Social Media at Work’ debate.  You’re familiar, I’m sure, with this concept.  It starts with a question like this:

“Why would we allow our employees to spend ‘work time’ doing things other than work?”

or another popular alternative,

“Do we want to allow employees to engage in social networking where they could release PCI (a play on PHI in the health world, Protected Health Information: Private Corporate Information).”

or the myriad other great arguments for canning social media in the workplace.

In 2011, MINES had the great honor of presenting at the EAPA International Conference on Wellness Programs where we posited an alternative to traditional wellness programs that relied on the value of social media with employees as a means to increasing adoption, bolstering adherence through social relationships, and positioning health as a social venture where people are spending increasing amounts of their free (and yes, even work) time engaging in health.  The core of most Wellness programs is similar to that of traditional EAP; a sort of ‘we’re there when you need us’ or ‘wait-and-see’ approach.  Wellness programs, however, often incentivize participation through monetary carrots or sticks.  This is a one-to-one approach to health.  Those of you that get to play with relational databases, however, recognize that there are many ways to connect entities (data, people, sites, etc.).

Social Media has the ability to act in a many-to-many way; that is, connecting me to my friend, and my friend’s friend, and all of us to an expert (be it a website, user, resource, or anything else) to engage on a topic.  This is an extremely powerful tool that is starting to be leveraged by a handful of companies – similar to the group therapy model where part of treatment is engaging with other individuals that are currently in treatment, rather than solely with the doc, therapist, CAC, or sponsor.

At the conclusion of our presentation, an attendee posed the following question during the Q and A:

“My company doesn’t allow access to Social Media at work, what recommendation do you have for a company that wants to consider leveraging Social Media but its’ employees don’t have access to it.”

The answer from our CEO went something like

“At MINES, we’ve created a culture wherein every employee is expected to do their best.  I trust that my employees are doing just that and see that they do their best every day and until I see different results, I trust my employees to not abuse the system.”

Let me take a quick moment to highlight this infographic from the University of Melbourne (et. al.) which highlights some of the points on this subject.  Restricting Social Media at Work has many great arguments on its side; potentially lethal viruses, decreased bandwidth (the tech kind, not the personal productivity kind), and even legal concerns regarding PCI.  Productivity is a really common go-to, however, and the others are extremely valid.  Further, I don’t have good arguments against them (besides increasing your company’s bandwidth, installing good anti-virus software, and educating your employees on safe browsing habits), so let’s talk about the increased productivity experienced by those with unfettered access to Social Media.  Could these quotes be right?

“Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days’ work, and as a result, increased productivity.”

That’s pretty interesting and kind of common sense when you think about it.  Looking to an interview with the guru of productivity, Tim Ferriss, on LifeHack is the argument that we should…

“Take frequent breaks and strive to constantly eliminate instead of organize.”

So, despite all of the many reasons to not allow employees onto these Social Media sites, here we see the interplay of increasing productivity by taking breaks, and Social Media as an opportunity to boost creativity and rest the mind.  It’s certainly interesting.

Keep in mind; we’re not suggesting that every company, organization, or government entity allow unfettered access to social media sites.  We recognize that many of the groups that we work with each day have significant and valid arguments to be made as to why they do not allow access from a workstation provided by their IT department; but most arguments are worthy of reexamination as new information becomes available and the growing trend in BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) will have significant consequences as well when it comes to the Social Media, or WILB (Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing), debates – a topic we’ll tackle in the next iteration of Health inSite.

To Our Health,

Ryan
Marketing