Open enrollment is often one of the busiest times of the year for most benefit professionals. After finishing all of the plan updates, budgets and the communication strategy, we have the open enrollment meetings. With any luck, you won't find yourself in a crowded room of people at the height of flu season. For those of you not lucky enough to escape air travel, late nights and multiple meetings, here are some tips for staying healthy during open enrollment time.
1. Get your flu shot early. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends the flu shot for everyone 6 months and older. Nothing is worse than traveling while sick. While the flu shot doesn't guarantee you won't get the flu, it does increase the chances of avoiding it and is considered to be the best preventive measure against it. Since flu season starts in the fall, the beginning of it often coincides with the beginning of open enrollment. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to be effective so plan on getting your shot at least two weeks before you plan any travel.
2. Wash your hands. Antibacterial soaps and sanitizers are not necessary - just regular soap is recommended. In between hand-washing, make an effort to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to minimize the spread of any germs.
3. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water to help keep your throat hydrated to avoid losing your voice. If your voice is starting to fail you, try gargling with salt water. About half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water may help an irritated throat. Try to minimize alcohol intake prior to a presentation as it can dehydrate your body, including your vocal chords.
4. Stay rested. Try to get some sleep. It's not always easy when you're jumping time zones and away from home. No matter where you are, relax before bedtime, step away from the screens at least 30 minutes prior to going to sleep. Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m. to minimize its ability to keep you awake. Bring some soothing music that you can play to help you ease into sleep. Try to get at least six-and-a-half hours of sleep each night.
5. Eat healthy and exercise. People often wait until the New Year to make resolutions to eat healthier and exercise but you can start at any time. Just take small steps and make one healthier choice or do a little bit of exercise each day. Not only will this help with your overall immunity, it may help you sleep better as well.
6. Manage stress. There will be people who forget open enrollment despite tons of email reminders, flights will be delayed or cancelled, and you will still have your routine work to get done. But take the time to really work on managing your stress by whatever means works for you - deep breathing, meditation, journaling, exercise or reading. Having good stress management coping mechanisms in place before open enrollment will help you manage and will keep your body healthier as a result.
7. Have a backup plan. Sometimes the best-laid plans can fail and you can get sick. Make sure you have a backup plan for the worst-case scenario. Nothing is pleasant about having a presenter who is coughing, sneezing and blowing their nose every 10 seconds - particularly if you are talking about wellness! Make sure that you have an understudy who can either conduct a meeting by phone or in person should you not be able to make it. Also, have someone available who can answer questions in your absence. If there is no one else to rely on, then make open enrollment an extra week as an alternate plan.
Last year, both my coworker and I - who were handling most of the open enrollment presentations, as well as being the ones who handled the plan design and enrollment systems - got quite sick in the midst of open enrollment. We didn't have a backup plan so when we returned to the office it was to mountains of problems, system errors and employee inquiries. It was so overwhelming that I ultimately lost my voice and my coworker got sick a second time. So, take a lesson from us and take the time to have a backup plan ready!
Contributing Editor Shana Sweeney is a self-proclaimed geek and political junkie with degrees in politics and human resources. She is an SPHR with more than a decade of experience working in various industries, including high-tech, utilities, manufacturing and health insurance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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