February 23rd, 2009
01:59 PM ET

Promoting good health with transparency

By David S. Martin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

It’s hard to turn on the television, pick up the newspaper or go online without reading about massive layoffs at a U.S. company: GM, Caterpillar, Bank of America. That has a lot of workers wondering if they’re next, and that’s stressful.

Lincoln Industries in Lincoln, Nebraska, is trying to keep that anxiety down with something that sounds simple - openness. The reasoning: uncertainty breeds stress. We’ve reported previously on the company’s ambitious wellness program. The company gives workers quarterly checkups, monitoring their blood pressure, body weight and flexibility; offers discounts at local gyms, rewarding workers when they reach fitness goals; and lets employees take paid time away from work to enroll in smoking cessation classes. Now, the company is tackling anxiety during the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, trying to calm employees’ fears before they build.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” says Marc LeBaron, Chairman and CEO of the privately-held company, which polishes and plates chrome parts for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and does other metal fabricating and finishing. “Uncertainty always creates more anxiety.” LeBaron says the company’s management communicates information about the business to employees through newsletters, company-wide e-mails, roundtable meetings and an open-door policy. And when he walks across the plant, LeBaron says he’s often quizzed about how the economic news of the day will affect Lincoln Industries.

“We’re very transparent,” LeBaron said. “If there’s bad news, let’s get it out there on the table.” When Harley Davidson cut back on its orders recently, a company-wide e-mail informed employees right away.

Openness is the right corporate prescription for holding down worker stress in uncertain times, says Dr. David Ballard, who manages the Psychologically Healthy Workplace program at the American Psychological Association. “Transparency is really the key," he says. Allowing employee stress and anxiety to rise can hurt a company’s morale and productivity, he adds.

In addition to a corporate culture promoting communication up and down the chain of command, Ballard says companies should also offer wellness programs that help employees identify and manage stress more effectively, and health plans that include mental health services.

With the economic downturn, Lincoln Industries has allowed its workforce to decrease through attrition and eliminated most temporary workers, shrinking its workforce from 560 to 480. The 56-year-old company has never laid off a worker.

What, if anything, has your company done to reduce (or increase) your stress and anxiety in this economic slump?

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. DTS

    This is one area where transparency and some involvement would help...lately there have been some wonderful research done that can be followed up on many pub med and hemotology/oncology sites that reveal a synergstic use of herbs and supplements with chemo therapy ..some of this research dates back to 1987....why isn't this approach being more widly used now as it seems those who have utilized this approach have had good results with less chemos side effects..........it seems also having really good nutrition is also a another factor that is not applied.........

    February 24, 2009 at 03:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Steven Kaplan

    From the United Cancer Foundation: EARLY DETECTION SAVES LIVES!
    The latest statistics concerning cancer are that estimates for 2009 suggest a staggering 500,000 people will be diagnosed with Breast or ProstateCancer (resulting in approximately 75,000 deaths). The general consensus and belief of all Oncologists is that: Early detection truly saves lives. "When cancer is found early, most patients will live much longer than other patients whose detection occurred in a later stage. Early detection and treatment greatly increases survival rates to the extent that these patients usually will pass from natural causes other than cancer." Unfortunately, many Americans not only fail to receive regular screenings, they also lack the insurance coverage and the funds to access proper medical care.

    February 24, 2009 at 08:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Alex Lickerman

    I think this post raises a truly excellent point: anxiety comes about mostly from uncertainly lying in the future and is often worse than the experience of the most feared outcome actually coming to pass. This is certainly true when patients are waiting to receive test results and are worried about what terrible disease they might have. Even if the final answer is "you have cancer" or "you're being fired" at least once you know you can devote your energies to taking positive steps to deal with the news rather than sit in a state of fear in which you have no effective action to take. The way bad news is delivered is critical. As a physician myself I'm well aware that people often remember how bad news was delivered the rest of their lives.


    February 24, 2009 at 09:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. sean brizendine

    dr.gupta just say its a prelude to universal health care, which we all need and deserve, but unfortunately its gonna tread on our freedoms where at our work place the health care insurers will mandate us to be checked on our weight, blood pressure and anxiety levels and our eating habits and exercise regimen, they will tell us what we need to do to be healthier and when we dont do it they will insult us segregate us and penalize us with higher premiums, so beware america its a two edged sword and you know it.
    "sean in santa rosa"

    February 24, 2009 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Aimee Stern

    Many companies that have created health plans with high deductibles (the average is $1,000 and still climbing) are focusing on educating their employees about how the health care system works. Their goal is pricing transparency – to help people get the care they need at a price they can afford

    Services like http://www.healthcarebluebook.com provide prices showing the average price health plans pay their doctors in their markets. There are also databases that can be found online to give pricing information for hospital costs.

    They are providing them better information about how to shop around for health care as there can be enormous variations in pricing for treatments, surgeries, etc. even within the same health plan. And if a good chunk of that comes out of their pocket employees need this information.

    March 4, 2009 at 10:41 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.