Right now, life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.6. Last year, it was 78.7. Those are basically the same, right?

Wrong. It's part of a trend: American life expectancy has been falling slowly every year since 2014. As a Quartz article pointed out in November, the last time death rates fell so steadily was between 1915 and 1918 (which included World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic).

The life expectancy figures come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also reported a few causes for the decline. Among them were drug overdoses, suicides, and a more subtle reason--a lack of balance in today's culture.

As a 2007 article from the American Psychological Association puts it, there are two contributing factors to Americans being affected with their long-term health:

  • "Americans' long work hours leave us more stressed and less healthy."
  • "Americans may feel friendless and isolated due to social stressors created by our country's widening income gap."

That article is from more than a decade ago. Think about how much worse it's gotten since then.

A big shift in the paradigm starts at the workplace, where we spend a huge portion of our lives. Workplace cultures hugely influence almost every other area of our lives, so developing a more holistic approach to wellness in the workplace is important. Specifically, there are two key fundamental actions that businesses can do to play a part in making society and their employees healthier.

1. Encourage and prioritize restoration.

Being a go-getter and operating with an extreme work ethic is met with a badge of honor. It also causes you to ignore rest and recovery--both sleep and areas concerning mental and emotional health.

Everything in life is a stressor. It's necessary for growth. Much like the stress of lifting more weights leads to progress and improved muscle tone, the stress of making more sales calls often leads to a larger bottom line.

However, for maximum growth to happen, you need rest. Encourage and even demand that team members take more time off for themselves with no associative guilt. Encourage and designate rooms for meditation to help promote mindfulness and stress management. 

2. Implement, commit, and teach financial wellness.

Even if your employees are drinking their smoothies and doing their high-intensity workouts, money can still be an omnipresent issue.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found in a 2016 study that a majority of HR professionals believed employees' financial health was only fair. 17 percent said many employees were not financially literate.

It's not only about how much you make. It's also about how much you keep. Being in tough financial constraints leads to people cutting back in other critical areas. One of which often times is prioritizing personal well being.

As you integrate financial wellness into your company's DNA, an annual lunch-and-learn event won't be enough. You need to create lasting change by offering access to experts, online tools, and consistent exposure to education.

Building a culture of health starts by shifting the values, attitudes, and actions that happen in the workplace. This change will trickle down into improving each person's life--and the average American will start living longer.

Published on: Dec 26, 2018
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