Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore Nature in The Workplace
By Angela Baker, Employee Benefits Account Manager
When I started my working life, the only plants in the office were the occasional dusty, limp palm. In recent years it seems as if every new office, café, and public building has a green wall. The research shows this is not just another office design fad. There is a budding business case for bringing a plethora of flora into the office, in terms of reduced costs, increased employee wellbeing, and happiness.
Studies have shown that simply adding some greenery in the form of indoor plants can have major positive benefits for employees and their organizations. The same goes for remote or home workers, too.
Why does having a plant in the office increase productivity? The answer is simple:
People like plants.
We enjoy being among nature. Humans have an innate desire to be connected with the natural world, which scientists call “Biophilia”. Unfortunately, the spaces we tend to spend most of our days in – workplaces – tend to be weeded of much of this connection to the natural environment. Some workplaces can feel sterile and subconsciously unsettling.
Office plants help to bridge the gap between the green environment we crave and the utilitarian commercial setting. Plants make your office feel more like a place your employees would enjoy being in, such as a garden.
When our RISQ Consulting employee benefits office relocated last year all the office plants were lined up in the new office for the taking. Everyone was calling dibs on plans for their desk, and it was like diving for the hot new toy for Christmas. Not quite that crazy, but close! Good thing we all like each other.
I found this great article (below) from the BBC website that really took root in my mind. Check out why you shouldn’t shrug at shrubs, or frown at ferns! Learn why showering your workspace with flowers will help your productivity grow.
- Published in Blog
Furloughs and Layoffs
This article is from RISQ Consulting’s Zywave client portal, a resource available to all RISQ Consulting clients. Please contact your Benefits Consultant or Account Executive for more information or for help setting up your own login.
The last thing employees and employers want is lost jobs. It means financial uncertainty for everyone involved, which is why most employers do everything they can to prevent downsizing or prolonged closures.
However, reality sometimes forces the situation, as is the case with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Many businesses without the ability to have employees work from home have been ordered to close by the government, compelling employers to make tough decisions—namely, whether to lay off staff or furlough them.
What are furloughs?
Furloughs are periods where employees are not working nor getting paid. Essentially, workers are placed on temporary unpaid leave until the business reopens. Often times, furloughed employees retain their “employed” status and continue to receive their benefits. Depending on the employer (and potential contract or union stipulations), employees may even be allowed to work for other businesses while on furlough from their primary employer.
What are layoffs?
Whereas furloughs are temporary arrangements, layoffs are permanent. Layoffs are mass firings of employees, sparked by a need to cut expenses to save an organization in crisis—not typically due to employee performance. Unlike furloughed employees, laid-off employees no longer have access to their employee benefits. However, they are typically entitled to unemployment assistance.
Pros and Cons
Laying off employees might seem like an enticing option to an employer who needs to save money, but it may not be the right decision in every situation. Here are some other considerations to keep in mind when determining whether a furlough or a layoff is the best option:
- Laying off most or all of the workforce would necessitate recruiting, hiring and training a similar number of people once the ordeal is over. This can be extremely costly and time-consuming.
- Employers may still be obliged to provide benefits to their workers during a furlough. This can be too much of a burden in itself and force an organization into a mass layoff anyway.
- Furloughing some employees enables employers to keep a “rotating” schedule, where everyone has reduced hours instead of only a few having full hours.
- Layoffs immediately free up lots of money, in terms of benefits and salary payments.
- A furlough or layoff may trigger bargaining obligations, depending on the business.
- Furloughs enable employers to resume operations quickly after the situation changes.
- Furloughed employees may, in certain instances, still be able to use paid time off, reducing cost savings for employers.
- Furloughed employees may resent the business if they don’t receive any compensation (e.g., paid time off, health benefits or reduced hours) during this period. Disgruntled workers may not be eager to be productive when they return.
- Furloughed employees are generally still eligible for protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Laid-off employees are not.
- Furloughed employees may be entitled to health benefits under some provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Making the Decision
At the end of the day, employers should do what’s right for their business. Even if that means layoffs, employers should handle the situation with tact. Here are a few tips for navigating this tough decision:
Develop a Plan
Be it a furlough or a layoff, employers must decide how they will handle an impending crisis. This could mean a limited staff reduction or something more severe. In the case of a furlough, employers should try to be as accommodating as possible. If only some workers must be furloughed, a rotating schedule may be a more equitable decision.
Regardless of what an employer chooses, transparent communication is crucial. Let employees know that this situation is not a result of anything they did. Employees should also know that the precipitating factor was outside of the employer’s control (as opposed to mismanagement).
Be sure to clarify the benefits situation of employees as well. Furloughed employees may still have access to some of their benefits, unlike those who were laid off. Laid-off employees will want to know about any severance they’re entitled to.
Keep in Touch With Furloughed Employees
Employees on furlough should not conduct any work whatsoever. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t stay in contact with their employer or co-workers. In fact, occasional check-ins are encouraged to help workers maintain a sense of normalcy. Through email or text, employers should keep workers updated on the status of the business and when to expect resumed operations.
Employers should consult with their legal counsel prior to laying off or furloughing employees, as employers must ensure compliance with all applicable state and federal laws. The following are just a few laws to consider:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
Title VII protects against employment discrimination. When choosing which employees to furlough or lay off, employers must avoid basing decisions on protected statuses, like race, religion, gender or age.
The WARN Act
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act entitles workers to 60 days’ advance notice of impending layoffs. Employees typically must be made aware if the layoff is permanent or, in the case of a furlough, when they can expect to return. Note that there are also state-specific nuances associated with the WARN Act, and some exceptions apply, so employers would do well to consult with legal counsel prior to acting.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) distinguishes between “exempt” and “nonexempt” employees. It is important to note that the FLSA requires exempt employees be paid their full salaries for any workweek in which any work is performed, even when their hours are reduced.
Deciding whether to lay off or furlough employees is not an easy task. Employers must weigh the welfare of their employees against the financial realities of running a business. In these situations, transparency is key for a smooth transition.
- Published in Blog
Can We Change The Lens We View Our World Through?
By Natasha Kwachka, Employee Benefits Service Manager
Taking the road less traveled has always been my specialty (insight into why some days I literally look as if a train may have run me over). I’m a mom of four and a full-time working professional, a modern feat for sure. And let me tell you, working mom life can be rough. Have you ever tried to round up four spectacular, amazing, beautiful children at 5am, all on different scales of the growth chart? This is not for the faint of heart. Somedays it sounds and feels a whole lot like Jurassic World right at the crack of dawn. Herding cats is an understatement.
As a mom, I have found the confines of traditional work models to be an uphill battle that I have struggled with most of my life. I know there are more than a few of you that can relate to this. Traditional work hours of Monday – Friday, 8am-5pm, make it very difficult to accommodate the average school drop-off and pick-up. Now factor in before school and after school programs for each kid to get the extra 1.5 hours of work time, which can cost a fortune. This is not a debate article on finances, nor is it negating the fact that those programs are necessary and worth the cost. In my opinion, those who care for other people should be the highest paid members of society… but that is a conversation for another day. So, let’s keep reading to find out just where we are headed. It’s good, I promise.
Take parent life out of this equation for a second. Do you ever have days where you open your eyes, and as your eyes slowly open you know immediately your day, on every level, would go so much better with just one, tiny, extra hour of sleep? Days where you struggle to keep your mental focus because you are stuck adhering to a traditional work model. Where did this model even originate from? My 10-year-old son has asked me countless times over, “Who even decided you should go to work at 8am mom? Why can’t you go at 9am or 10am?” When he is the President one day, I have high hopes he will investigate all of this (wink wink).
Having worked in the traditional setting year after year, where life just felt hard for countless reasons, I am happy to say there are employers out there that will value you. There are leaders that will see you as an individual and evaluate your needs. I have been seen in this way, and now I am blessed with the flexibly to better balance my work and mom duties. If you can do the job (and do it well) does it really matter if you are logged in at 8am or 9am? Of course, there are some people that must be present for the front lines. Clients coming into the office or calling the phone lines must be attended and I am not here to argue that fact. I am not saying that you should have a free for all, but what’s wrong with flexing schedules? That is where teamwork makes the dream work. Working together as a team to make sure phones and clients coming into the office are being greeted appropriately leads to happy employees that want to show up for their employers. Employees who deliver an excellent client experience every time there is an interaction.
Flexibility can come in so many forms. It could be 2 months that you came into the office at 7:30am so you could leave by 4:30pm to take your little one to basketball practice and finally be present. Do you know what a relief it would be to not be the mom always asking another parent to give their kid a ride because you will be working? Even though you are working you still want your child to have the opportunities to participate in their interests. They are only kids once!
Even having the ability to work remote while your 4 year old is running an extreme temperature would make all the difference. Especially when all she really needs is Mommy next her while she sleeps. Let’s be real, mommy can work on the computer 90% of that time and only breaking when she needs to be the bridge carrying a popsicle from the freezer to her sweet child’s hand. Fun fact, endless supplies of popsicles always come with a cold at my house because they magically relieve sore throats in the 10 min period my kiddo is awake. Kids are so resilient!
Do you know the emotional and mental stress parents can go through in these instances? Do you know what I would have given to be able to show up for my oldest son like this? To have had this flexibility at work allowing me to be more present for him? How many professionals are fighting this same uphill battle?
Rocky starts make for magnificent stories, I am told. We will see how that all shakes out. My rocky start has been softened by my employer’s recognition that flexibility is key. To be present and know your child can look to the sidelines and see you smiling back at them. To be present and know your child feels safe despite their sickness just because you are there. That, my friends, is absolutely priceless. These small things make a huge difference to the most important people in your life. The people you go to work to support, your family. These people are the sun in my world and my world does not spin without them.
I am not saying that our traditional work setup or work values are wrong. But I do wonder, is there a future world where more people can have better work life balance? Can we change the lens we view life through? When I think about what I want in life, two things come to mind. I really want to be a Rockstar Mom and I would really love to be a Successful Professional at the same time. Showing up for my kids and family, AND contributing to my work in a meaningful, valued, and productive way is something I feel strongly about.
A world where your employer sees you, sees you alone, sees you as a valued member of their team, sees you as the amazing person you are and wants to support, uplift, and encourage every part of you, all while working together rocking the professional world… well, that world is by far one of the coolest places I have ever been. I can confidently say that I will show up for my employer on sick days, after hours, and any day of the year if they need me. Why? Because my employer heard my needs.
- Published in Blog
You’re Not Stressed… You’re Afraid
By Jennifer Outcelt, Creative Content Architect
I was a bit stressed starting this blog post.
You see, I follow this AMAZING podcast called Ologies, by Alie Ward, which explores the study of anything that can be studied with an -ologist of that field. Their tag line is, “Ask smart people stupid questions.” I’m a huge advocate for lifelong learning and continuous curiosity and this podcast meets all my needs. I was stressed because I wanted to do this podcast (and these specific episodes) enough justice that it didn’t end up buried in the “unsolicited podcast suggestion” graveyard.
The episodes that I want to share with you are called “Fearology” and they cover the nature of fear and our human fear responses. It’s a scary good, two-part episode with the fearologist, Mary Poffenroth.
The most notable knowledge nuggets that I walked away with were:
- There are two types of fear, and your amygdala (which controls your stress response) can’t really tell the difference between them.
- Factual fears – actual threats to your life that are happening in a shared reality.
- Fictional fears – everyday fears that are not actual threats to your life (AKA most of the stupid stuff you stress on constantly).
- There are two categories of fictional fears
- The fear of being not enough.
- The fear of not being in control.
- Researchers analyzed the vocabulary of super successful people and found that they used the terms “fear” and “afraid” most, as compared to less successful people who used the term “stress” most.
I desperately want you to love Ologies for two reasons:
- I want you to be part of the community that appreciates and talks about this mind-blowing content.
- I want your life to be better and if you just listened to this podcast then I swear it would change your life and you’ll have a newfound love for all the wonder of the day to day and please, please, PLEASE, just listen to it!!!
Interestingly, my stress around sharing this post played their parts perfectly within my reasons listed above. I desperately want you to love Ologies because I want my interest to be validated in your eyes, AND I want to exert a small amount of control over what you listen to because I think it’s in your best interest. I was afraid of rejection and lack of control. My stress about sharing this was not stress at all… it was FEAR!
These “Fearology” episodes opened my eyes to how I miss identify fear as stress. They also gave me some great tools for owning and managing my fears. Here’s a yummy slice from the episode to wet your palate. I hope you give the full episodes a listen (or read; episode 1 & episode 2). And heck, while you’re at it… Give all the rest of them a listen too.
“In western society, we have this stress ‘badge of courage’. When you ask someone how they are: “Oh my God, I’m so stressed!” “Like, Oh my God, me too! There’s the kids and there’s the work and there’s the other things!” So we feel confident talking about stress because we can commiserate, but we don’t feel confident talking about the ‘f-word’ because there’s so much shame associated with fear in our society, and we are never taught how to deal with fear in a healthy way. When looking at fictional fears, most fictional fears will fit into one of two categories: either the fear of being not enough, or the fear of not being in control. So if you can kind of go back to that and say, “Okay, which category does this fit in?” Sometimes that will Name it to claim it. Identify it so the power goes away. Just [fingersnap] click you right out of the fear response. [Alie gasps] Yeah, it’s so fun because humans love to pigeonhole. We have an entire store called The Container Store [Alie laughs] because we love boxes so damn much!”
“Fearology” Episode 1: https://omny.fm/shows/ologies-with-alie-ward/fearology-pt-1-fear-with-mary-poffenroth
“Fearology” Episode 2: https://omny.fm/shows/ologies-with-alie-ward/fearology-pt-2-fear-with-mary-poffenroth
ALL Ologies Episodes: https://www.alieward.com/ologies
- Published in Blog
I’m a FRAUD! – Imposter Syndrome Blues
By Jennifer Outcelt, Creative Content Architect
I must admit something to everyone here… I’ve been worrying about this for some time and the immense fear of being exposed has led me to take control and expose myself.
I’m a FRAUD.
I have no idea what I am doing. I have no special skills. I’m not qualified enough for anyone to listen to my opinion. I’m not deserving of my recent position shift. AND, it’s only a matter of time before everyone in the office realizes that I’m a big phony-baloney, covers me in fireweed honey and dogwood pollen, and sends me shamefully out into the wilderness to be ravaged by bears (or particularly aggressive beavers).
So, I actually know that none of the above is true. Or at least the left side of my conscious brain is aware that these feelings are the representation of a commonly experienced phenomenon known as Imposter Syndrome.
A psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.1
I’ve had a recent Baader-Meinhof experience with the concept of Imposter Syndrome. I first mentioned my feelings of inadequacy in a meeting with my new RISQ Servant Leader. The next day I confided in my therapist about my Imposter Syndrome feelings, and she was able to empathize from her own experiences. Later that night my husband watched a YouTube video from one of his favorite hobby artists about the topic. The day after that, my best friend brought it up in conversation about her recent shift to self-employment.
It’s everywhere! Everyone seems to be in a self-delusional state of inadequacy.
It’s surprising to know that even the smartest, most talented, uber successful people we can think of are also fraught with feelings of fraud. Albert Einstein, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, and Tina Fey are just a couple of objectively accomplished individuals who have been victims of their own Imposter Syndrome. Even more surprising is that the chances of experiencing Impostor Syndrome increase as your successes increase. Bummer, right? You spend all this time working towards a goal, whether it be theory defining science, worthy art, social change, or fame, just to chalk it all up to dumb luck and an unintentionally successful societal swindle. My, we humans can be unkind to ourselves!
So what’s the big deal here? Everyone doubts themselves. Why is this so bad?
For me, I’m trading anxiety, fear, and increased burnout for a flawed version of humility. I spend a lot of mental energy contemplating why what I do is not that unique, not that creative, not better than other’s work, and not particularly worthy of the praise it receives. Heck, it took me years to just accept a complement flat out (and even now it’s mostly to avoid making the conversation awkward). For those who know me personally this might come as a surprise, as I’m generally considered to be a confident individual. What’s that saying, fake it until you make it?
But I haven’t been faking it! I’ve been working and learning and growing and trying and failing and trying again. There is nothing wrong with that path. So why does it feel so wrong to acknowledge it and praise it? It’s that darn humility thing again! For some reason I feel like if I were to accept my successes as completely deserved, it would make me a pretentious jerk. And once I become a jerk, people will look closer at my so-called successes and realize they are not actually mine to tout. Even announcing that I think I struggle with Imposter Syndrome gives me fraud like feelings! “Oh, you think you’re so successful and there is so much for you to feel like a fraud about? HA!”. It’s a vicious cycle… but is that really what humility should cost?
I ask a lot of questions, huh?
I don’t have answers to most of them. I’m sorry.
Given the prevalence of Imposter Syndrome, we can now conclude that ALL of us are frauds, right? Umm, NO. But what we can learn is that this feeling is common. We can look to others (who we think totally deserve their recognition) as evidence that we too are worthy. Deep down I know my accomplishments are mine, even if I find myself under a wave of doubt at times. I’m not alone. You’re not alone. We all need to examine the pressure we put on ourselves to not only be a success, but to own our success.
But again, who am I to talk? What do I know? Probably nothing.
1 “Imposter Syndrome.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2011. https://www.merriam-webster.com (11 August 2021).
- Published in Blog
How to be More Productive When Working From Home
By Jessica Carlson, Account Executive
Since March 2020 with the beginning of the Pandemic and the world shutting down, working from home has become more and more common. Even as we’re coming out of the pandemic more employers are not only allowing working from home, but some are requiring it. If you are like me, you struggled to be productive amid endless distractions. Dog must go out or will not stop barking, kids need to be fed, neighbors with people going in and out all day long, cats jumping in your lap in the middle of a zoom meeting, and the list goes on.
As soon as we could go back into the office I jumped at the chance, even if there was no one else there. But there are still days that’s it’s more convenient to not have to drive across town; so how have I been able to be productive on those days? I scoured the internet for tips and tricks. Some of the more effective tips I have listed here.
Set Up a Workstation
It’s important to have a space that is dedicated to work and only work. Try to find a spot that is away from the busyness of family life as they can distract you from focusing. You’ll want to make sure that you have all of tools you would normally have at the office, such as extra monitors. It is really difficult to go back to a single laptop monitor. And you will need to get a comfortable chair. After about a week of sitting at my table with a hard wood dining chair I borrowed my chair from the office. It was a life saver.
Stick to a Schedule
It is easy to log in early when all you have to do in the morning is turn on the computer. Or log off late when you do not have a commute home. For your own mental health, establish a routine and stick to it. Shut down your computer instead of leaving it on to check “just one more time”. Do not respond to emails when you’re watching a movie with your family. These boundaries are extremely important to separate your work and home life.
When you are in the office it’s easy to get up from your desk and have a quick walk about the office. When you are at home and a coworker needs you but you’re not readily available it’s easy to feel like people think you are slacking or not doing your job because you were not sitting at your computer at that exact moment that they tried to call you. If you do not take breaks you will start to feel worn down and fatigued. Get up! Take a walk. Go on a quick bike ride during lunch. Even if it’s just going outside for a few minutes of fresh air, do something to avoid the burn out.
The last, and possibly most important thing to help with productivity, is keeping connected. Communication can be difficult to maintain when your whole team works remotely. Schedule regular check in meetings. This has become a lot easier since Zoom and Microsoft Teams have come into play, since you can still meet face to face even if you’re not in the same place.
- Published in Blog
Getting Smart About Your Risk
By Joshua Weinstein, Employee Benefits President
Without risk, life would be a drab. Without the opportunity to fail, success, and even life, loses its luster and meaning. For example, if a cliff dive ensured absolutely no harm, would it be quite as thrilling or appealing? If presenting in front of others had a 100% chance of going flawlessly, what significance would your preparation and “learning from mistakes” have? Life is not defined by the easy, but rather by slogging through some suffering. That being said, humanity can generally plan toward good outcomes by acknowledging and addressing life’s unseen, “slippery banana peels” as best as possible. Risk isn’t an inherent problem. It’s not unexpected. It’s quite manageable, and it can teach all of us boatloads. The best run businesses have figured out how to manage risks so they can focus on growth and not on threats.
RISQ Consulting will help you be smart about risks through our proprietary Business HealthIQ™ (BHIQ) process. The BHIQ is a collaborative journey that assesses and inventories your organizations risks across key areas, such as: workforce, compliance, technology, employee benefits, and general risk management. You will be working with a strategic consultant, and a plan will be constructed that encompasses the goals of your organization in conjunction with the most suitable approaches to address risk wisely.
Want to learn more? Try out a mini, self guided, version of the BHIQ to see how the planning begins. You’ll get a summary in a few minutes that provides some tangible next steps on how to be strategic with your risks.
We can mutually decide how best to prevent the unwanted things from happening, such as high rates of employee turnover.
We can mitigate risks such as data loss and errors by advising on consolidated technology platforms and tools that are right for your industry and mission.
We might choose to transfer risks, to a third-party, when doing so adds efficiencies, reduces exposures and costs, and improves your ability to focus on your business’ core mission
Sometimes, retaining or assuming risk is the smart play, even up to a specified amount. Keeping some liability on your financials can reduce premium costs and often improves leadership involvement in creating great outcomes for your business.
- Published in Blog
Plants and Productivity
By Elva Perez, Account Specialist
Have you ever walk into someone’s home or office and see they have beautiful greenery and wished you had a green thumb?
Below is a list of the top ten plants that require little attention but have great benefits to have around your home or office:
- Snake Plant
- African Violet
- English Ivory
- ZZ plant
- Rex Begonia
- Tillandsia (air plant)
- Lucky Bamboo
House plants do more than just look pretty, there are numerous health benefits as well. They can help reduce stress, sharpen your attention, are therapeutic, can allow you to recover from illness faster, boost your productivity, improve your whole outlook on work, and improve air quality.
According to this Heathline article
“Multiple studies have found that plants in the workspace increase both productivity and creativity. One frequently cited study from 1996 found that students in a campus computer lab worked 12 percent faster and were less stressed when plants were placed nearby.
In a 2004 study, researchers challenged people to make creative word associations. They performed better when a plant was in the room with them.
And a 2007 study, showed that people with more plants in their workspace took fewer sick days and were more productive on the job.”
For the past 10 years I have been working on turning my home into a mini jungle. Every day, I walk into my house and I instantly feel the fresh air in my lungs and can’t help but feel stress-free!
- Published in Blog
A Guide to Tattoos in the Workplace
By Shayla Teague, Individual and Family Benefits Consultant
In 2005ish my husband was denied a job at a movie theater because he had a visible nautical star tattoo. Nautical Star tattoos are one of the oldest tattoo symbols and have been around for over a century. Sailors used to use the stars to navigate their ship. The tattoo started as a superstition and tribute to the stars getting them home safely. The nautical star, still to this day, is representative of finding your way in life or being positively guided into the future. Like my husband’s tattoo, many people’s choice to get ink is symbolic of their life experiences.
Tattoos in the workplace have always been taboo, but is that changing? There is a new generation in the workforce and with that comes a change in culture. According to “History of Tattoos,” 36% of Americans between the age of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo. Additionally, 69% of people don’t see people with tattoos any more or less deviant than people without tattoos.
Although so many Americans in the workforce have tattoos, majority of them are hidden. According to AIMS Education, as of 2015 76% of employees believed tattoos and piercings hurt job interview chances. However, 73% of people say they would hire staff that had visible tattoos. I thought those were some interesting statistics considering the contradiction.
While tattoos are becoming more and more accepted, employers can still enforce a dress code that require them to be covered up. This can be based on personal views or values. It can also be based on public contact. I think we will continue to see shifts to this as people become more and more open to the idea that tattoos express creativity and individuality.
For now, if you have tattoos or are thinking of getting a tattoo, we still must be mindful of the perception and acceptability of them. Here is a great article from Indeed to help navigate having, or not, tattoos in the workplace.
- Published in Blog