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How you can encourage wellness in the workplace ahead of self care month

September is self care awareness month, and there are ways to encourage wellness in the workplace — no matter the size of the company. Tom Merton/Getty Images

September is self-care awareness month. The purpose of the awareness campaign is to remind Americans that it is necessary to mindfully and purposefully care for yourself. Not only can individuals take steps toward self-care, but employers can play a role, too. Many employers are focusing on employee wellness, including financial wellness, realizing that when their workforce is happy and healthy, productivity rises, and their business grows.

Many innovative companies today offer wellness benefits, such as in-office yoga, massages, and acupuncture. Additionally, some companies encourage outside fitness by reimbursing gym memberships, organizing sports leagues, and coordinating classes at boutique studios.

While physical fitness is key to a healthy workforce, so is mental health. Employers have been known to provide meditation and napping rooms within the office, team trips, and flexible PTO. A wise employer will insist their employees use their PTO to refresh and decompress before returning to work with a new vigor. Several tech companies have even made confidential health assessments available and made gaining access to mental professionals easier.

As part of their wellness benefits offerings, companies should encourage financial wellness for their employees. One common contributor to our physical and mental stress is our finances. An American Psychological Association survey found that 62 percent of Americans count money as a stressor. Additionally, a Morgan Stanley study found that 78 percent of employees who report high financial stress say that their financial stress is a distraction at work.

Financial self-care involves assessing a person's financial situation and how their money is fitting into their life. As an employer, you can help your employees find the right balance in their financial life and provide them with the tools to help with their financial wellness.

Start with reviewing the retirement plan available to your employees. If you do not have a retirement plan instituted already, you will find that setting up a 401(k) is relatively easy and relatively low cost. Plus, it provides your employees with the power of saving for their retirement. This year, the IRS allows employees to contribute up to $19,000 in pre-tax dollars, $25,000 if they are 50 or over.

In addition to offering them a savings vehicle, consider providing 401(k) matching funds. For example, you may match 50 cents for every dollar they contribute. Even if an employee is not contributing to their retirement plan, an employer can still contribute money to their employees' retirement funds as a benefit of employment. Generally speaking, the limit on total employer and employee contributions for 2019 is $56,000, or 100 percent of employee compensation, whichever is lower. What better way to help your employees mind their financial self-care than to actively help them save for a secure future?

As an employer, you may go beyond retirement plans and offer other financial self-care benefits such as help with emergency savings, financial coaching, and student loan repayment. Currently, only four percent of employers offer student loan repayment programs, but that number is growing as a popular benefit for recruitment and retainment. Under this benefit, an employer may pay down a portion of the employee's student debt over a period of time. Of note, there is no tax benefit for a debt repayment benefit, and the money is taxed as income.

This September, take the time to assess the benefits you are offering to employees. Do not forget to include financial wellness as part of your overall plan, benefiting your employees and your business.

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Claudia Mollerup-Madsen is vice president and a financial adviser with the Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley in Houston.

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Houston-based imaware, which has an at-home COVID-19 testing process, is working with Texas A&M University on researching how the virus affects the human body. Getty Images

An ongoing medical phenomenon is determining how COVID-19 affects people differently — especially in terms of severity. A new partnership between a Houston-based digital health platform and Texas A&M University is looking into differences in individual risk factors for the virus.

Imaware, which launched its at-home coronavirus testing kit in April, is using its data and information collected from the testing process for this new study on how the virus affects patients differently.

"As patient advocates, we want to aid in the search to understand more about why some patients are more vulnerable than others to the deadly complications of COVID-19," says Jani Tuomi, co-founder of imaware, in a press release. "Our current sample collection process is an efficient way to provide longitudinal prospectively driven data for research and to our knowledge, is the only such approach that is collecting, assessing, and biobanking specimens in real time."

Imaware uses a third-party lab to conduct the tests at patients' homes following the Center for Disease Control's guidelines and protocol. During the test, the medical professional takes additional swabs for the study. The test is then conducted by Austin-based Wheel, a telemedicine group.

Should the patient receive positive COVID-19 results, they are contacted by a representative of Wheel with further instructions. They are also called by a member of a team led by Dr. Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist and laboratory scientist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, to grant permission to be a part of the study.

Once a part of the study, the patient remains in contact with Fischer's team, which tracks the spread and conditions of the virus in the patient. One thing the researchers are looking for is the patients' responses to virus complications caused by an overabundance of cytokines, according to the press release. Cytokines are proteins in the body that fight viruses and infections, and, if not working properly, they can "trigger an over-exuberant inflammatory response" that can cause potentially deadly issues with lung and organ failure or worse, per the release.

"We believe strongly in supporting this research, as findings from the field can be implemented to improve clinical processes-- helping even more patients," says Wheel's executive medical director, Dr. Rafid Fadul.

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