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Day 2 at the Employee Benefits News Forum & Exhibition

September 10, 2012 - The second day of the Employee Benefits News Forum and Expo and the Employee Benefit Adviser Summit began with the presentation of the awards for all-around "Adviser of the Year," along with awards for Adviser of the Year in both the health care and retirement categories.  This was followed by a keynote address by Dr. Gail Christopher from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  In her address, Dr. Christopher spoke of the obesity crisis in America being a result of several relationships. 

One is the relationship of obesity to chronic stress.  Referring to science and several pieces of research, she spoke of how the most dangerous fatty tissue around our waists ("adipose tissue") creates the risk for "37" different chronic conditions.  In the research cited, very often, the underlying issue that leads to obesity is ongoing stress. 

The second relationship centers around the private sector and communities.  Here, Dr. Christopher talked about how our food system is broken, the need to address toxicity in our soil (especially in urban areas), and the imperative to work together to address these deficiencies, focusing not only on nutrition, but on the actual food that we grow.  

The third relationship is about the individual and our own bodies, and the need to invest in prevention and respect the human body.  For example, introducing more "bio-active foods" (e.g. fruits & vegetables) into the diet, and instead of focusing on exercise, let us focus on "movement."   We need to simply build movement into our daily activity.   Dr. Christopher cited a statistic that compared sitting at a desk for long periods of time as creating the same level of risk as smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes. 

The rest of the presentation discussed the elements of a well-designed employer wellness program, overcoming the barriers to implementation, and mitigating some of the symptoms of chronic stress.  Deep breathing exercises and meditation techniques were highly recommended for stress reduction.  Additional suggestions for the workplace to incorporate movement, included more walking meetings, more stadning at your desk, and attempting to build some level of movement into every hour on the job.  

I had the opportunity to attend several other general sessions and workshops on a variety of topics, including best practices for benefits communications, mobile applications for benefits and employee wellness, the use of HR and benefits portals for open enrollment and other online benefits self-service, health-care reform, and consumer transparency models and tools.  Lots of great information that I will share with you in future blogs! 

Two items that seemed to come up over and over again throughout the day was the importance and the need to engage employees.  It seems that the lack of employee engagement exists not only with employee benefits, but on a variety of organizational levels.  The other topic was moving towards a greater use of behavioral economics principles to achieve greater and more effective employee engagement levels.  It was clear from several presenters that employers need to change their approach in order to truly change employee behaviors and impact outcomes.

It was great to see some familiar faces at the conference!  It was especially nice to finally meet and speak with in-person, WorldatWork friend Jennifer Benz from Benz Communications.  Jennifer delivered two presentations at the event, one regarding health savings accounts and a keynote session on benefits communications with a panel of employers.  I will address the keynote presentation in a future blog.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of WorldatWork.

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