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Updated 10:00 AM February 2, 2009




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Scholarship & Creative Work

Special workplace benefits help relieve stress, improve bottom line

While thousands of American workers are losing jobs these days, many more are stressed out.

For those fortunate to still have jobs in this down economy, however, companies can help alleviate workplace stress — and possible violence — by providing complementary alternative benefits, business professors say.

"We encourage business to consider offering employee benefits packages that sustain the health, reduce the stress and improve the camaraderie of its work force," says Cindy Schipani, professor of business law at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Prior research has shown that about 75 percent of Americans list work as a significant source of stress and more than half say their work productivity suffers due to stress. Workplace stress is estimated to cost U.S. businesses about $300 billion a year through absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover, and direct medical, legal and insurance fees.

In a new study, Schipani and colleague Norm Bishara, assistant professor of business law and business ethics, examined companies on the Forbes magazine list of the "best companies to work for" that offer complementary alternative benefits — those benefits above and beyond traditional benefits that "create value in the workplace by implicating employee stress reduction and positively impacting health."

Complementary alternative benefits may include flexible work hours and working from home; onsite fitness centers and medical and dental clinics; paid leave time and special services for new parent employees; laundry and dry-cleaning services, valet parking and grocery delivery; and discounted tickets to after-hours social activities, such as movies, plays, museums, sporting events and amusement parks.

In addition to helping lower employee turnover, increase worker productivity, reduce employee health care costs and promote healthier and less stressful lifestyles for employees, complementary alternative benefits nourish a sense of community among workers, the researchers say.

Most inactive physicians retain licenses, return to practice without review

One-in-eight physicians have been inactive in the state where they are licensed for at least a year, and most states do not require them to undergo competency tests or retraining when they return to actively practicing medicine.

Because of the lack of regulation, patient safety could be compromised in some instances, say researchers at the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit and the American Board of Pediatrics.

"Studies have shown that even once-competent physicians may be at risk of losing diagnostic and procedural skills during a period of inactivity," says Dr. Gary Freed, the lead author of a pair of studies in the new issue of the journal Pediatrics. He also is chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Health System.

In one of the new studies, about 12 percent of responding physicians indicated they had periods of clinical inactivity of at least a year. Women were most likely to cite caring for their children as a reason for an absence, while men most often had made a career change to a non-clinical position.

In the other study, researchers found most states allow physicians to hold or renew an active license, even though they may not have cared for a patient in years and only the District of Columbia requires a minimum number of patient visits to maintain an active license.

In addition to Freed, authors of the study in which state boards were surveyed were Kelly Dunham and Leah Abraham of the CHEAR Unit. Co-authors of the paper in which physicians were surveyed were Dunham and Kara Switalski, also of the CHEAR Unit.

Family support lowers depression among girl sin juvenile justice

Family support can help prevent depressive symptoms among girls in the juvenile justice system, many of whom have experienced abuse, a new study indicates.

These family interactions, such as girls hearing from people that believed in or loved them, may help create positive coping strategies to keep youths from getting into trouble, say researchers from U-M and the University of Pittsburgh.

"An absence of family support and experiences of physical and emotional abuse were direct predictors of depressive symptoms," says Mary Ruffolo, an associate professor in the School of Social Work.

Researchers analyzed data from surveys of 186 girls in the juvenile justice and alternative programs. They were asked about family risk factors, protective factors, coping strategies, delinquent behavior, substance use and mental health.

When the girls felt stressed, they sometimes coped by not talking to anyone, avoiding their problems, or acting out by throwing or hitting something, the research indicated.

Girls who lived at home or in community-based residential programs were less likely than those in closed residential placement — where girls are considered to be a medium security risk and their activities are monitored by staff 24 hours a day — to use negative coping strategies.

Researchers noted that girls with close female friends tended to have more positive experiences and behaviors, including supportive family environments, positive coping strategies and less likelihood of gang and drug involvement.

The other authors are Deborah Bybee, an assistant research scientist, and Rosemary Sarri, professor emerita, both from the School of Social Work.

The findings appear in the recent issue of Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice.

Researchers unravel protein's role in lymphoma

Using cancer cells that were originally isolated from an anaplastic large cell lymphoma patient, two researchers from the Comprehensive Cancer Center have identified a novel regulatory mechanism in inflammatory signaling of immune cells that may prove beneficial in treating the disease.

The researchers wanted to better understand how the membrane protein, CD30, contributes to lymphoma. CD30 is a cell surface receptor that communicates signals from the extracellular environment into the cell resulting in a cellular response. It has been recognized since the early 1980s that CD30 is present in very high amounts in certain lymphomas and leukemias — much more than in normal cells.

"This makes CD30 an attractive therapeutic target," says study author Casey Wright, who conducted the research while at U-M. Wright now is an assistant professor of pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin.

In the study, the researchers uncovered an unexpected partner protein that interacts with CD30. This protein, known as ARNT, is best characterized for its role in mediating the metabolism of environmental toxins and also for mounting the hypoxic response in cells exposed to low oxygen levels.

"Our research describes a novel role for ARNT, which had never been implicated in the signaling pathway of a membrane protein like CD30," says Wright, who conducted the study as a research fellow at the Medical School. His co-author is Colin Duckett, associate professor of molecular medicine and genetics and of pathology at the Medical School.

The study was published in the Jan. 9 issue of Science.

U-M-Dearborn Innovation Index sees slowdown

Innovative economic activity in Michigan fell slightly during the second quarter of 2008, according to an innovation index developed by scholars at the U-M-Dearborn School of Management. The index fell to 95.0 in the second quarter, down from 96.0 in the first quarter of the year.

Despite the drop, innovative activity in the state is still significantly higher than it was in the last quarter of 2007, when the index tallied 89.9.

The quarterly index, a project of U-M-Dearborn's Center for Innovation Research, or iLabs, provides a summary measure of economic innovation activity in the state of Michigan. The index tracks economic innovation in Michigan based on calculations of employment of innovation workers, trends in venture capital, trademark applications, incorporation activity, small business loans and gross job creation. Of the six indicators, three rose and three fell in the quarter.

"The Index began to show the effects of the national financial crisis in the second quarter," says Lee Redding, associate professor of business economics and director of the Innovation Index at the School of Management.

The positive indicators included venture capital, employment of innovation workers, and the number of trademarks applied for in the state.

"Venture-capital activity rose for the third straight quarter, adding 2.0 points to the Innovation Index," Redding says. The proportion of innovation workers, or those employed in engineering or science fields, also grew slightly, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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