Notebook: August 2020

News briefs from across the industry and beyond. This month’s articles include: Canine laser therapy for degenerative myelitis, Dogs can detect trace amounts of gasoline, 5 ways leaders accidentally stress out their employees, IRS allows mid-year changes to benefits, AHI pays $52 million in animal drug fraud case, multiple generations in the workplace, working parents can help each other recharge, COVID 19 and mental health, study finds CBD discrepancies, and UC Davis Vet Med researchers receive grant to study inflammation.

Working Parents Can Help Each Other Recharge

It’s not always easy for working parents to communicate their own needs, but it’s worth discussing with your partner how you can each make time for self-care. Before having the conversation, take a few minutes to make a list of what would most benefit you. Is it taking 15 minutes after work to decompress before jumping into childcare responsibilities? Maybe it’s enjoying a couple of hours on a weeknight to read a novel. Choose one or two things that are feasible and would truly recharge you.

When it’s time for you and your partner to talk, make sure you’re both free of distractions, relatively calm, and not overtired. During the conversation, remember that you’re playing for the same team. Use “I feel” statements that focus on your own experience instead of accusatory “You always” statements. Listen to your partner’s needs and be willing to make concessions. You’ll both benefit if you approach the conversation with empathy and an open mind.

This tip is adapted from the Harvard Business Review’s “How to Communicate Your Self-Care Needs to Your Partner” by Jackie Coleman.

NB_02.jpgDogs Can Detect Minute Traces of Gasoline

Trained dogs can detect fire accelerants such as gasoline in extremely minute quantities, according to new research by University of Alberta chemists. The study, published in the journal Forensic Chemistry in May 2020, provides the lowest estimate of the limit of sensitivity of dogs’ noses and has implications for arson investigations.

“During an arson investigation, a dog may be used to identify debris that contains traces of ignitable liquids—which could support a hypothesis that a fire was the result of arson,” explained Robin Abel, graduate student in the department of chemistry and lead author of the study. “Of course, a dog cannot give testimony in court, so debris from where the dog indicated must be taken back to the laboratory and analyzed. This estimate provides a target for forensic labs when processing evidence flagged by detection dogs at sites of potential arson.”

The study involved two dog-and-handler teams. The first was trained to detect a variety of ignitable liquids, while the other was trained primarily with gasoline. Results show that the dog trained on a variety of liquids performed well detecting all accelerants, while the dog trained on gasoline was not able to generalize to other accelerants at extremely low concentrations.

The researchers said the dogs in the study were able to detect down to five picoliters, or one billionth of a teaspoon of gasoline.


“The best way out is always through.” ­

—Robert Frost

5 Ways Leaders Accidentally Stress Out Their Employees

In one of a series of stories from the Harvard Business Review on “managing in an anxious world,” the Manpower Group’s Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic reports how leaders can influence their employees’ stress levels.

The Use of Negative Language

Refrain from using negative words (for example, horrific, shocking, or dangerous, as well as euphemisms such as challenging, problematic, and undesirable).

Unusual or Erratic Actions

Provide a clear structure to your meetings and communications, sharing expectations up front, avoiding last-minute changes and cancellations, and, wherever possible, continuing with the same routine you had before the crisis or big change.

Emotional Volatility

Your team is looking to you for stability and guidance amid the chaos. If you are typically calm and stable, try to remain so as much as possible. If your natural style is volatile and reactive, you may be better off projecting an aura of calmness and composure, as if you had just taken up meditation.

Excessive Pessimism

Even when you cannot find reasons to project optimism, you should still refrain from displaying outright pessimism. Even if your natural response is to feel pessimistic, projecting this onto others may further their anxiety. Remember that leadership is not about you; it’s a resource you provide to help others.

Ignoring People’s Emotions

Perhaps the biggest mistake you can make during stressful times is ignoring your team’s emotions. This error often occurs when a leader is hyperfocused on dealing with their own emotions. The key here is empathy: You will only succeed if you are focused on the people around you, not on yourself.

During difficult times, it is more important to monitor people’s affect, mood, and stress rather than check on their work performance, productivity, or task management. Have more one-on-one meetings with team members, increase the frequency of your communication, ask open-ended questions that invite people to engage, and show empathy whenever possible. As Dale Carnegie put it, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”


AHI Pays $52 Million in Animal-Drug Fraud Case

A Colorado corporation that distributes prescription drugs for animals to veterinarians, farms, feedlots, and other facilities has been sentenced on charges of introducing a misbranded drug into interstate commerce.

Animal Health International (AHI) was sentenced after pleading guilty to charges this past February. Additionally, AHI’s corporate parent, Patterson Companies, entered into a nonprosecution agreement in which it committed to enhance its compliance program and fully comply with the law, the US Food and Drug Administration says. Court documents state that, between 2012 and 2018, AHI distributed prescription veterinary drugs from its wholesale locations to unlicensed individuals. Two of them previously pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

AHI has been ordered to pay a forfeiture of more than $46 million, along with $1 million to the Virginia Department of Health Professionals and a $5 million fine. Additionally, the company has been placed on probation for one year.

NB_04.pngIRS to Allow Midyear Health Plan Changes

BenefitsPRO reports that when employees made their annual health plan enrollment decisions last fall, no one was expecting the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many consumers are rethinking the choices they made, and, in light of the current situation, the IRS is giving employers and employees a one-time do-over.

The IRS recently announced that it would allow employees to make changes to their health plans for the remainder of 2020. Those who originally opted not to enroll in a plan can now do so, or those who are enrolled in a plan can drop it, provided they have alternative coverage options. Alternatively, an employee can decide to switch from one type of plan to another. The latter could be particularly meaningful to employees who are dealing with a significant decrease in their income and are looking for a cheaper alternative.

In addition to changing their health insurance coverage, employees will also be able to change their FSA contributions. Unused FSA contributions are forfeited at the start of the next plan year, which could be a problem for consumers who had previously budgeted for elective care but are now putting it off until the pandemic has subsided. The IRS is also allowing employers to increase the carryover limit from $500 to $550—or 20% of the maximum FSA contribution limit—and also offer an extended grace period for employees to use up their 2019 carryover balance.

None of these changes are mandatory, and it’s up to an employer to decide whether they will offer any or all of the increased flexibility options to employees. The latest updates follow other tweaks to FSAs and HSAs included in the CARES Act, which expanded eligible items for use with these accounts to include over-the-counter drugs.


COVID-19 Takes a Toll on Employees’ Mental Wellbeing

Between 22% and 35% of US employees often experience symptoms of depression as they live through the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research by the Society for Human Resource Management.

The survey of 1,099 employees found that women, younger workers, and people living with at least one person who is a member of a vulnerable population—such as a healthcare worker or someone with a compromised immune system—were affected the most. Nearly two-thirds of respondents who said they felt like a failure lived with a member of a vulnerable population.

Among the Findings

Of service-based workers, 38% report feeling tired versus 31% of knowledge-based workers and 26% of physical-based industry workers. Additionally, 55% report often having little interest or pleasure in doing things since COVID-19 began.

A generation breakdown showed that 29% of Generation Z employees (the oldest are age 23 in 2020) said they often felt depressed or hopeless, compared with 22% of millennials (ages 23 to 38 in 2020) and Generation X workers (ages 40 to 55 in 2020), and nearly 16% of baby boomers (ages 56 to 74 in 2020). More than one-third of all respondents said they have not done anything to cope with their feelings; only 7% had contacted a mental health professional.

What Employers Can Do

Prioritize mental health in your benefits plan and remind employees of offerings that may be especially helpful. Employers can offer health coaching, health and wellness tips, online courses, and health challenges to help employees who are struggling with loneliness, anxiety, or depression.

Use technology to offer mental health resources. Employees may not know that their company offers comprehensive mental health resources.

Stay in touch. Administer small surveys frequently to gauge how employees are feeling and identify shifts in attitude so you can adjust communications plans accordingly. If staff is working from home, reach out with regular video conferences, daily email updates, or a communication app such as Slack.

Offer emotional support. “Let your employees know that you recognize this is a time of great stress and uncertainty. Offer a list of resources for mental health support or community programs that may help to ease the burden on your staff during this time,” said Rob Wilson, president of Employco USA, a provider of employer management and HR outsourcing.

NB_06.jpgLaser Therapy Combination Aids in Canine DM Treatment

New research published in the peer-reviewed journal Photobiomodulation, Photomedicine, and Laser Surgery reports that the addition of laser treatments to traditional rehabilitation therapy could help dogs suffering from canine degenerative myelopathy (DM) lead longer, healthier lives.

The study looked at data taken from the records of dogs who had received intensive rehabilitation therapy and one of two laser therapy protocols over a nine-year period at a single facility. Information on the disease’s progression and survival was analyzed to determine differences in outcomes between the two treated groups and historical data expectations. The authors found significantly slower disease progression and longer survival times for dogs treated with a combination of physical rehabilitation and laser therapy, as opposed to physical therapy on its own.

The study’s authors, Lisa Miller, DVM, CCRT, and Deb Torraca, DPT, MSPT, DABPTS, CCRP, say that while further testing is needed, the initial results suggest hope for the potential treatment of the disease.

“Given the lack of other effective treatments for dogs with degenerative myelopathy and the safety of the regimen outlined in this study, we are excited to share this published information with our colleagues as an option for treatment consideration for DM patients,” Miller said.

ElleVet Sciences Study Finds CBD Pet Product Formulas Misleading

Cannabidiol (CBD) pet wellness company ElleVet Sciences recently announced results from a study of 29 hemp pet products. The study was conducted in partnership with the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and ProVerde Laboratories, and the CBD pet product report was published in the journal Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports.

Report data showed that 10 of the 29 products tested were within 10% of the CBD concentration stated on their label. Heavy metal contamination was found in 4 out of 29 products, and 18 of the 29 products were labeled accurately and in accordance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supplement guidelines.

“There are many companies out there trying to jump on the CBD bandwagon, but the reality is that their products may not help your dog at all,” study author Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, said in a press release. “Consumers deserve to know that what they are getting is right for their dog, what is actually in the product, and if the dosing is appropriate and safe for their pets.”

Though hemp and hemp products were decriminalized with passage of the Farm Act of 2018, the FDA has not yet created standards and regulations specifically for hemp or infused CBD products. Research and clinical trials for CBD and other cannabinoids, as well as medicinal CBD and CBD-infused wellness products, have been delayed by hemp’s illegal status before 2018; now, researchers are working to document data that will contribute to standards and guidelines.

Meeting the Needs of Multiple Generations in the Workplace

According to a study from Optum, when it comes to health and wellbeing, employees between the ages of 55 and 64 prioritize benefits related to physical health, while younger employees care more about social and mental health.

“The one-size-fits-all approach to communication, benefits, and services needs to evolve,” said Seth Serxner, chief health officer at Optum. “The challenges a 35-year-old woman with young kids has is very different from a boomer or an empty nester who [is] dealing with other issues, so the life circumstances are very different.”

Expanding family-friendly benefits, employee assistance programs, and flexible work arrangements is just one way employers can reduce stress for their employees, says Serxner. Employers should look toward implementing a personalized communication strategy, or even hyperpersonalized benefits related to life cycles.

Technology is another area of great discrepancy in the workplace age gap. Serxner says understanding how millennials or younger generations think about text messaging compared with how older generations think about it can help employers rethink how they’re utilizing technology and what impact it has.

It’s critical that employers learn and understand the makeup of their workforce and tailor their communication strategy to their needs, Serxner says. Employers can drive up engagement and participation in their benefit offerings.

“I work with one digital communications company that’s more than 70% millennial, and all of their outreach, benefits, and promotions are phone based,” Serxner said. “I have other older energy and utility companies where they still do big pool meetings, and hand out brochures and packages, where they have individuals explaining the benefits. So the employers tend to have a sense of who their populations are, and tailor their approaches accordingly.”

UC Davis Vet Med Researchers Receive Grant

Professor Nicole Baumgarth, DVM, PhD, and Associate Professor Colin Reardon, PhD, from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine received a $300,000 grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to further basic research on the role of inflammation in disease.

They are among 29 interdisciplinary teams supported by a total of $14 million in funding to explore emerging ideas regarding inflammation. Baumgarth and Reardon’s application focuses on novel processes that regulate the immune system in the lung during viral influenza infection. Their research is expected to make findings that can also be applied more generally to better understand immune responses to other viral lung infections, including COVID-19.

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