More employers offering mental exercises in wellness programs
San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 10/02/2012 -- When Jeanne Siersdorfer finds herself distracted at work, she turns to virtual basketball to pull herself out of her cubicle neighbors’ conversations.
“I catch myself and say, ‘focus, focus, focus,’” said the 59-year-old government relations specialist at Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, Ohio. “I visualize that crazy basketball and trying to balance it and the next thing I know, I’m back in my zone at work,” she says.
But unlike many office workers who hide their solitaire or Angry Birds activity, Siersdorfer is open about her online basketball playing. Nationwide actually urges her to play online games as part of its employee wellness plan.
Produced by a firm called Brain Resource, the games are part of a collection called MyBrainSolutions. They are designed to impart concentration and stress management techniques to enhance memory and executive function, increase positive thinking, and meet other cognitive improvement goals.
With more jobs based on creativity and communication skills, workers must be mentally sharp, emotionally present, and distraction free. Brain training is becoming more and more popular among employers as a means of ensuring that is the case with their personnel.
“The brain, we’re finding out, is much like muscles in the body. If you exercise it, it gets better. You actually grow neurons,” said Gregory Bayer, chief executive of Brain Resource, which created MyBrainSolutions. “If you can teach people how to manage those multitasking and stressful environments optimally, you’re going to preserve their health.”
Each MyBrainSolutions user starts with a brain assessment to create a baseline along four axes: emotion, thinking, self-regulation, and feeling. Relying on that profile, the software suggests certain games to help each participant strengthen their weaker areas of cognitive functioning. The program then monitors each user’s progress, awarding points for playing time and badges for achieving benchmarks along the way.
Electronic medical records provider Cerner Corporation of Kansas City, Mo., launched MyBrainSolutions among its United States workforce of 9,500 as a pilot program this summer. It may eventually implement the program throughout its global operations, including in India where it is a stigma to seek mental health care.
“Usually, people don’t engage in this type of activity until they’re not functioning well; they’re headed toward a diagnosis,” said David Nill, vice president and chief medical officer at Cerner. “Brain Resource brought on an ability for consumers to engage any time, any place, on their own terms without having to talk to anybody.”
Within the first two weeks the program was offered at Cerner, more than 1,000 employees signed up. Now the firm has 2,500 users, which is more than Nill expected. He said the company is particularly interested in the program’s effect on staff since behavioral health issues, including depression and anxiety affect 30% of Cerner’s employees and family members and cost about $2 million in health expenses. About 5% of Cerner’s workers suffer from stress-related conditions, which are the most expensive to treat, he added.
“I’ve been aware of the science for quite a while. It’s very compelling,” Nill says. “It’s cognitive behavioral therapy; you’re just doing it without them having to sit in a therapist’s office.”
The concept of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and self-help is not new. “Wide spread use of CBT computer programs does have the potential of helping people who do not have psychiatric illness but could benefit from the practical strategies of CBT to enhance problem solving, stress management, etc.,” wrote Jesse Wright, a psychiatry professor at the University of Louisville, in an email. “A caution is that people with real problems such as depression would likely need genuine, well-constructed help programs to relieve symptoms.” A Brain Resource white paper cited Wright’s research on computer-assisted CBT.
Nationwide commissioned a case study that discovered workers who routinely participated in mental games increased their positive thinking by 5%, their social skills by 8%, and their emotional resilience by 9%.
The progress also positively affected the company’s bottom line, with brain game playing employees experiencing an 8% increase in work productivity and a 7% decrease in absenteeism.
Meanwhile, the games are designed to help participants reach other health milestones such as losing weight, beginning an exercise program, or quitting smoking. The MyBrainSolutions software allows them to track their progress with these goals.
“The best outcomes are when people are doing this along with another program,” said Kathleen Herath, associate vice president for health and productivity at Nationwide. “If I’m trying to do a weight loss program, learning what motivates my brain and how my brain functions is the key to helping change my behavior.”
The pairing of MyBrainSolutions with existing company wellness offerings appears to be working: Nationwide’s%age of obese and overweight workers declined between 2010 and 2012.
“In 2012, for the first time more than 70% of the (workforce) population is low risk,” said Herath. “Our high-risk population is at an all time low of 7%. This is a great mechanism to do by itself. It’s a great mechanism to do with counseling. There are applications to it that run across the gamut from our most healthy to our most critical.”
WebHangman.com (http://www.webhangman.com/) is a website offering online games for one ore more players. It features Classic Hangman, Extreme Hangman, High-Score Hangman, and Hangaroo as well as word search, crossword and scramble games.
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