Biz P.O.W.E.R. Conference Homes in on Employee Wellness

Biz New Orleans magazine held its first Biz P.O.W.E.R. conference yesterday at the Metairie Country Club. The half day event featured two keynote speakers discussing employee wellness and how it can reap benefits for organizations willing to make the commitment.

The “P.O.W.E.R.” acronym, as explained by managing editor of Biz New Orleans Kimberley Singletary, stands for “Protecting Our Workforce from Emerging Risk.” To that end, the theme of the morning was “Cracking the Code: Understanding the Links between Wellness, Safety and Maximum Productivity.”

The first speaker, Debra Lerner, MS, PhD, of Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts Medical Center’s Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies, gave a detailed presentation of her work exploring “presenteeism” – the phenomenon in which an employee is at work but is not performing work duties at the optimal level. Explaining that “too many employers just look at absence data,” Lerner gave attendees a walk-through of the program she developed at Tufts called the Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ), which uses roundabout questions to determine whether or not someone is experiencing health-related problems while at work.

According to Lerner’s research, emotional and psychological illnesses (depression being the most common) compete with and sometimes surpass chronic physical illnesses for their effect on presenteeism and diminished productivity.

“Doing this for so long, I can tell almost immediately if someone is depressed,” she said. “The biggest thing is that people [with depression] lose the ability to pivot – they can’t switch from task to task and adapt like they used to – and that is a major impediment in the workplace.” Lerner uses the WLQ to provide employers with intervention solutions, which she says have halved depression scores in some cases.


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Cesar Gomez (lft) and Jay Jodah (rt) of LCI Workers' Comp


The WLQ has become an industry standard, and Lerner has received grants from both the CDC and the National Institute of Mental Health for her work on depression in the workplace.

The second keynote speaker, David Bowman, CEO of Knowledge Vine, built on Lerner’s presentation but focused on high risk industries and injury prevention. Bowman explained his method of creating a “Highly Reliable Organization,” or HRO, based on contrasting his experiences working at a refinery versus his experience at a power plant.

According to Bowman, refineries had a “get it done fast” attitude, in which methods were not adequately emphasized, whereas power plants avoided accidents and created a safety culture by encouraging openness about process issues and constant vigilance. His method at Knowledge Vine mimics that of successful power plants – minimizing human error by engaging employees and circumventing natural human tendencies to become complacent and distracted.

The key to that level of engagement? Bowman says it comes down to supervisors. “Supervisors are it,” he said. “When an employee needs knowledge, needs help, he’s going to the supervisor, not the CEO. It starts there.”

Hub International; Assurant Employee Benefits; Carr, Riggs & Ingram CPAs and Advisors; and Netchex were platinum sponsors of the event.


Editor’s Note: LCI Workers’ Comp, which sponsors Louisiana Comp Blog, was also a sponsor of the Biz P.O.W.E.R. Conference.

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