Corporate Stress Impacts the Bottom Line

I recently had a very engaging conversation with teacher, psychotherapist, and life coach, Jeff Levin about our culture’s need to constantly be plugged-in to technology and the anxiety and stress this is promoting in kids, families, schools, businesses and communities.  From device addiction to the opiate and vaping epidemics to what we call Outcome Fever, to insanely busy families never having dinner together, we see a generation of anxious, non-resilient, distracted, over-stimulated, i-kids.

The consequences of stress on business environments aren’t fully understood; however, one thing I think we can agree on is this: stress in corporate America is costing billions of dollars and deeply affecting workers and their families.  From a 50% divorce rate to the pressures of paying for increasingly less reassuring college diplomas for their kids, business people are suffering from stress on and off the job, and it is surely affecting individual and group performance.

Corporate leaders are beginning to talk about strategies to create calmer, more connected teams and communities in the workplace.  Mindfulness trainings are springing up everywhere and training around life-work balance is as popular as ever.  People want and need solutions to the Stress Problem.

What’s Missing?

In our respective careers spanning nearly 40 years; Jeff and I have learned five very powerful facts:

  • As mentioned, here in Digital 2018, almost everybody is stressed: too many emails, not enough time.  Too much to do, not enough unplugging. The fabrics of connection in the office and at home in every employee’s life might have begun to fray a bit.  No one’s exempt and, in some business environments, no one’s talking about it, let alone solving the problem.
  • Companies can’t begin solving the stress problem without naming it!  We have to admit we have a problem in the cultures of our companies.
  • The ability to shed stress and connect deeply with oneself and colleagues can be taught.
  • Kindness, connection and civility in any group help the people involved feel welcomed, cared about and safe, and in that social environment, the bottom line gets happy.
  • There are relevant “secrets” known to psychotherapists and savvy corporate leaders which, when de-mystified and taught in business settings, free people via powerful “Aha” experiences and provide them with tools to be happier and more connected at work and home and to behave with the kind of civility that creates company unity and productivity.

A good first step for corporate leadership is simply courage: find the courage to raise the subject of stress at your next in-house leadership meeting.  Divide the meeting as follows: half the time will be devoted to discussing and venting about the stress and disconnection people on your leadership team are experiencing and that which they’re observing on their respective teams.  The second half of the meeting must be devoted to brainstorming solutions: all comments, no matter how silly on the surface, will be accepted.  This two-part process will begin opening people’s minds and hearts. You, the company’s leadership, have demonstrated the courage to name the elephant in the room, stress, and you have also demonstrated the willingness to do something about it along with your leadership team.

What pans out from there is the exciting part.  Whatever you do, keep the process moving.  Many business leaders, educational leaders, even parents feel stuck for not having named the Digital Age Stress Problem, let alone begun to solve it.  By doing so in your company, you’ll find you have a marvelous leg up on things – doors will open, and you’ll access the creative juices of your people.  Why?  People crave connection, and they’re not getting it.  You’ll find them extremely interested in this conversation and the creation of nurturing solutions for all concerned.

Tom Raffio and Jeff Levin

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Insurers should care about the opioid crisis

The drug crisis continues to take hold in New Hampshire, with more than 400 deaths from drug overdoses in 2017.  With Congress’ recent approval of almost $23 million in funding to support efforts specifically to combat the opioid crisis in New Hampshire, I wanted to provide my thoughts as to why insurers should invest in and truly care about combatting the opioid crisis.

Dentists, physicians, oral surgeons, and general surgeons all have the authority to prescribe pain medication which is sometimes necessary to relieve the patient’s pain.  Alternatives such as over-the-counter medications (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen), are often now recommended as the best option and first-line of defense to relieve pain after surgery, etc.  Because pain thresholds vary by patient, prescription pain medication frequently goes unused and is saved by the patient “just in case” they need them, you know, someday. By doing this, patients are putting themselves, their family members, and friends at risk.

In an effort to combat this “just in case” mentality, Jim and Jeanne Moser of East Kingston formed an awareness campaign called Zero Left, after losing their son, Adam, to a fentanyl overdose in 2015.  Granite Health expanded Zero Left’s campaign in 2017, following a three-prong approach to prevent harm from opioid misuse with support from Northeast Delta Dental and our medical insurance partner in New Hampshire, Tufts Health Freedom Plan.

As a tri-state and not-for-profit organization, Northeast Delta Dental’s commitment doesn’t end in New Hampshire. We have also provided support to the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance for a collective impact approach to combat the epidemic in Vermont.  We also sponsored a safe prescribing training through the Vermont State Dental Society and we plan to support efforts in this arena through the Maine Dental Association as well.

Opioid misuse and drug addiction have negative effects on physical and mental health, all of which, from the employer perspective, can impact an employee’s ability to perform at their best.  I have spent much time with The Honorable John T. Broderick, helping to increase awareness of the signs of mental distress through The Campaign to Change Direction, and we recently hosted a forum with his colleagues at Dartmouth-Hitchcock to open the dialogue about mental health, substance abuse, and how these topics intertwine and impact the workplace.

Those who abuse heroin, opioids, or other drugs are also more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease. From Northeast Delta Dental’s perspective, we know that you cannot have good overall health without good oral health, and as a large employer in New Hampshire, we know that we cannot ignore this health crisis.  The private, public, and nonprofit sectors should continue to work together to generate positive change in this area.  Northeast Delta Dental is committed to doing our part to end the opioid crisis in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont.

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Books I’m Reading: ALONE Together, Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other

How we communicate with each other impacts business, community relationships, goals, and the sustenance of clarity. Author Sherry Turkle, is the Abby Rockefeller Mauze’ Professor of Social Studies and Technology at MIT. She has conducted various studies and interviews regarding the way people communicate through technology and her view of an increasing lack of human interaction and use of robot technology.

Although electronic communications and popular technology may seem to take over your day, many Northeast Delta Dental colleagues attend various events, meetings and communicate in person. It is important to us that we make a conscious effort to have in-person communication. This develops trust, camaraderie, and respect, maintains integrity, produces quality results and activates teamwork within our organization; all of which are part of our mission and core values.

Technology serves our business well, however, integrating a balance of communication methods keeps us motivated to achieve honest and responsive performance committed to our short-term and long-term goals; ultimately delivering the best of ourselves for an industry that consistently demands more.

Perhaps you will find another avenue of communication that intrigues you after reading ALONE Together.

Alone Together

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Books I’m Reading: The B Corp Handbook

I recently attended a discussion with other CEOs at the New Hampshire Business for Social Responsibility’s (NHBSR) annual conference. Many attendees came from companies that are Certified B Corporations. Author, Ryan Honeyman said it well in his introduction of The B Corp Handbook; “the B stands for “benefit”, and as a community, B Corporations want to build a new sector of the economy in which the race to the top isn’t to be the best in the world but to be the best for the world”.

This book provides testaments of Certified B Corp companies who make a long-term commitment for positive social impact that benefits everyone. I had the pleasure of listening to Senator Jean Shaheen’s short address to a crowd of 300 attendees. Afterwards, a panel of Certified B Corp CEOs answered various questions about their actions of social responsibility and leadership in their communities, explaining how they are making changes.

Various efforts made by Certified B Corporations have already been implemented by all of us here, at Northeast Delta Dental. We have installed energy efficient lights inside of our buildings and in our parking lots, our purchase of the Angwin Property behind our One Delta Drive location preserves the nearby ecosystem reminding us of the geese that find refuge on Horseshoe Pond every spring along with the duck population throughout the summer, and provides our employees with Nordic ski trails in the winter months to continue promoting health and wellness. My colleagues take part in assisting disadvantaged individuals by having regular volunteer presence at The Friendly Kitchen in our neighborhood, and save money by implementing electronic claims submissions making processing faster and easier.

Much like Certified B Corporations, my leadership role with Northeast Delta Dental has been a long-term vision as a business stakeholder invested in cultivating “the best for the world”. I encourage you to read The B Corp Handbook to see how your business can take part in The Certified B Corp Global Movement.

B-Corp Handbook Cover

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Books I’m Reading: What School Could Be

I enjoy serving as Chair of the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education leading critical educational efforts such as 65×25, which aims to have 65% of New Hampshire’s 25 to 64 year old population hold a post-secondary degree or relevant credential by 2025.  This is very important to the future of New Hampshire’s workforce.

Ted Dintersmith, a former venture capitalist and a generous educational philanthropist, invested the entire academic year from 2015 to 2016 traveling the country to learn more about what our nation’s schools are doing.  He documented his travels in his new book, What School Could Be.  During his journey, Ted visited more than 200 schools.  His original mission was to increase awareness for the need for innovation in education to position students for a successful future in the fast-paced, competitive, workforce.  Instead, he was inspired by teachers everywhere who are already helping their students through innovative and unique lessons.

When Ted visited New Hampshire, I had the pleasure of speaking with him and sharing my experience.  One of my personal goals during my time as Chair of the NH State Board of Education was to improve student engagement and to this day one of my favorite components of my leadership in the education of our state’s young minds is learning from teachers and sharing best practices.

If you would like to be inspired by the important work of our country’s teachers, I highly recommend reading Ted’s book.  You can find the section on New Hampshire on page 186.


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Books I am Reading, February 2018

I am reading four books, but each one mindfully (based on my own new book on Mindfulness), capturing my passions:

The first book is So You Think You’re A Boston Red Sox fan, by Bill Nowlin.   This book is a nice read for any Boston sports fan as it is filled with fun facts about the Red Sox and it definitely tests your Sox history and trivia.

The second book is Race Everything, by Bart Yasso, which explains how to complete any race regardless of the distance, in any environment and, most importantly, how to have fun while running!  I have found that Yasso’s latter point (having fun) is truly the key to sustained long term running.

The third book, Aged Healthy + Wise, by Coventry Edwards-Pitt which features lessons from qualitative research with inspirational elders regarding how they arranged their lives in their golden years.  As I’m getting up there, I need to learn these lessons.

And, finally, I have been enjoying Not Without Peril, 150 years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire, by Nicholas Howe.  Climbing is fun, and I enjoy hiking as it is very effective cross-training for running; however, it can be dangerous.  Some of Howe’s stories, make you a bit more cautious about tackling a mountain.  Preparation is key!

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Please Be Mindful this Year

A few years ago, I joined a teleconference on my Bluetooth and I drove the entire 12 minutes home.  When I pulled in to my driveway, I didn’t even remember driving home.  This realization shook me, and from that moment on, I decided that I would no longer engage in important phone calls (on my Bluetooth) while driving.  I learned that “uni-tasking” is much more effective than “multitasking.”

Think about it, can you really give 100% of your attention to everything at the same time?  The answer is no, although much of corporate America prides itself on “multitasking.”  I don’t think multitasking is effective or anything to brag about.  I think this is how mistakes are made.  Human beings are binary — many people (including me) are guilty of multitasking, but actually when we are emailing or texting, at that moment we are not paying attention to the person on the phone, in our office, or whatever else we may be doing.  This includes catching up on emails while on a conference call, texting or catching up on emails during in-person meetings, etc.

Unitasking instead of multitasking can be carefully guided by the concepts of mindfulness, a special kind of attention that requires devoting of our conscious attention, to one task at a time.  My favorite recreational activity is downhill skiing because to ski fast, and safely, down the mountain, I must be completely focused and present.  If I am not paying attention, I run the risk of hurting myself or others.  This conscious focus certainly takes discipline; however, organizations who have embraced this concept, like Northeast Delta Dental, have noticed a real change.  We all have a lot of work to do; however, instead of giving less of our attention to multiple things, it is far better to give all of our attention to one thing.

Following this mindfulness mantra, I recently co-authored a book with organizational leadership expert, Annabel Beerel, PhD.  The book titled, Mindfulness. A Better Me. A Better You. A Better World, will be available on Amazon in the coming weeks.

I challenge all of you to try to be a little bit more mindful this year.  Again, mindfulness is a discipline that must be practiced; however, this book will provide readers with a framework and a history of successful mindfulness practices that we hope will be a helpful resource on you mindfulness journey.

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