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Published on: March 27, 2013
During the last 3 years, an increasing number of employers have been using brain health programs to reduce employee stress and its associated costs, and interest in brain health is expected to rise significantly over the next few years.
n fact, brain health will likely become mainstreamed in corporate America within 5 to 8 years, says Alvaro Fernandez, CEO of SharpBrains, an independent market research firm that tracks brain health innovation.
“Brain health is not just about disease. It’s not just about depression or anxiety,” says Fernandez, who is coauthor of The SharpBrains’ Guide to Brain Fitness: How to Invest in Your Brain to Maximize Mental Performance for Life, which was scheduled to be released in March. Instead, this new phenomenon focuses on making sure employees can adapt and thrive in their jobs, helping them make good decisions, and making them feel as productive as possible, he says.
For example, a stressed employee might make bad decisions. But if that employee is able to gauge his or her stress level and then modify it to reach an optimal mental state, then he or she is likely to think creatively and make better decisions, he says.
Brain health is being used as part of employers’ overall wellness programs—in an effort to reach as many employees as possible—but also solely in leadership development programs at some companies, Fernandez reports.
Organizations are starting to see the benefits of brain health training. Fernandez says the primary benefits include reduced absenteeism, reduced presenteeism, and increased employee satisfaction, productivity, and wellness.
Employers are “piggybacking” on available technologies (e.g., elearning courses and wellness portals) to deliver that training—and give employees real-time feedback, Fernandez explains.
There are two primary technology segments for brain health applications: software (i.e., applications that users can access via computers or mobile technology that is “designed to monitor, assess, enhance, or repair neurocognitive functions”) and biometrics (i.e., applications that “measure a physiological response linked to neurocognitive outcomes, primarily heart rate variability (HRV) and electroencephalography (EEG)”), SharpBrains states in its recent market report, “The Digital Brain Health Market 2012–2020.”
For instance, employees at some companies might complete an online assessment and perform targeted training exercises to increase their brain health and make them more productive. Others might monitor changes in their heart rate, use a program to determine whether they are experiencing high levels of stress, and practice exercises or play computer-based games that help them learn to regulate their stress.
“Brain health” advice
Fernandez offers the following advice to HR professionals who want to use brain health tools in the workplace:
Conduct a pilot program. “Always test it first,” he says. He recommends running a pilot with a group of executives before rolling it out to the entire organization. Executives would benefit from such a program given the level of stress and information overload they face on a daily basis, and, once they see the program’s value, they would be more likely to support offering it to other segments of the workforce.
Choose a vendor carefully. SharpBrains does not endorse vendors or products, but Fernandez says that only two of the nearly 200 vendors of brain health applications have made significant inroads in selling to corporations: HeartMath® and Brain Resource®. When selecting any vendor, he recommends looking for one with experience offering brain health programs to companies similar to yours.
Give employees time to practice. Just as athletes must practice to increase their physical strength and agility, employees must exercise their brain to achieve maximum results. “To benefit the employee, it has to be intensive in the first 4 or 5 weeks,” he says. During that time period, he says employees should spend 20 to 30 minutes on brain health two or three times per week, so they can internalize their new skills. He suggests having them practice once every 2 to 3 months after that.
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