Compassion in the Age of Uncertainty
It is the political season, so we hear many different plans for fixing the economy, creating jobs and other aspirations.
Here is one we can’t forget about.
While we host some of the leading health research and medical facilities in the world, the decline of our population’s health is one of our most pressing issues.
Recently, we were saddened to learn of research by Drs. Meara and Case, reported in the New York Times, demonstrating an increase in mortality among middle-aged (45-54) white Americans. The trend was most severe among those with just a high school education.
Economic uncertainty is strongly correlated to the increase in mortality rates.
This is a reversal of decades of improvement in American mortality rates. Thankfully, that improvement continues for all other population groups and ages.
Workers in this age group, at the height of their careers, could be considered the backbone of our American economy.
As employers and experts in risk and health, we’ve learned about co-morbidities such as diabetes and heart disease and how they dramatically add complexity, length of treatment, and cost to worker injuries.
Yet, the cause of the increased mortality in this group, according to the research, is a dramatic increase in substance abuse, including prescription drugs and heroin, in addition to alcoholic liver disease and suicides.
The linkage between prescription drug dependence and workers’ compensation injuries and treatment is well known, but what about those other causes?
In this segment of 45-54 year old whites with no more than a high school education, significantly more pain was reported than in the past. Fully a third of this group reported chronic joint pain over the 3 year period, and those with the least education reported the most pain and the worst health generally.
Other research has demonstrated that the US has fallen behind other wealthy nations in life expectancy, which brings us back to the economy.
Economic uncertainty is strongly correlated to the increase in mortality rates. In fact, those individuals with the least education who reported the most pain and worst health also reported the greatest financial distress.
During this period of 2011 to 2013, household income for households headed by a high school graduate fell by 22 percent, when adjusted for inflation. The explanation for the increase in mortality attributable to suicide and substance abuse is a combination of pain with mental distress!
What can we take from this to help us be more compassionate employers? The most influence organizations can have on employee well being is through the work culture and environment.
Well being and engagement drive business results. Wellness is a combination of physical and emotional health, financial well being, and positive social connection.
Where once wellness initiatives were limited to the corporate offices, we’ve found that employers have expanded initiatives throughout their operations. All around us, wellness programs and opportunities are being expanded to financial well being and employers have long encouraged positive social interactions at work.
Wellness is a critical and urgent imperative for our times, improving health while saving employers on costly worker injuries and health care and improving productivity and results. This will go a long way toward making the overall economy healthier.