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2001 Clemson graduate and 2010 MBA from UCLA Anderson. She is Sr. Director of BD for Helios Interactive, a Freeman Company.
The kids are not okay.
Is that so suprising, though? Vaccines are finally here but so still is the pandemic. American politics and cryptocurrency remain volatile and exhausting with still uncertain returns. Calls for much-needed social justice reform monopolize social media and news outlets, climaxing recently with the verdict of George Floyd’s convicted killer, Derek Chauvin, that was viewed by well over 18 million people in real time. The supermoon on May 26th was a full moon, a blood moon, and a lunar eclipse — and even if you don’t know or care what those mean, there is a millennial or Gen Zer in your life that does and would argue that it is yet another signal of impending paradigm shifts for which we may or may not be prepared.
It has been a year of relentless stimuli and forced adaptation for everyone, and it is showing.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), between January and September of 2020, more than 315,000 people have taken an anxiety screen offered by MHA. This was a 93% increase from 2019. Additionally, reported thoughts of self-harm and suicide have become most frequent since the MHA Screening program’s launch in 2014.
A recent study published by PNAS reports that an estimated nine people will be bereaved by each Covid death, which recently topped 600,000 in the U.S.
But the impact on our future leaders is perhaps the most acutely visible and certainly one of the largest threats to collective wellness and, in turn, economic success.
According to a recent study, one in three millennials has a medical condition that will impact their life expectancy and quality of life. Due to the freqency of claims from these medical conditions, health insurance costs are rising. More than 40% of this generation has been diagnosed with at least one chronic health condition such as migraines, major depression, eating disorders and neurodevelopmental disorders. It can be posited that they are not seeking proper preventative care even in these dire straits because they cannot afford it or their employers are not providing means to it.
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And yet, employers truly cannot afford to ignore these mental health issues in the young workforce any longer. As Integrated Benefits Institute reported in September 2020, depression can be more costly to productivity than cancer. Anywhere between 9% and 13% of youth have been diagnosed with depression, and employee screenings remain, by and large, not mandatory. Wellness treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation and breathwork remain uncovered by most insurance and ignored as viable options for preventative care.
Employers can elect to go rogue, though, and I highly suggest that they do given the numbers. Our parent company, Freeman, recently implemented a flexible paid time off policy that effectively allows employers on an individual basis to take the time they need for wellness, within reason, without penalty. After a near-death experience, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini instituted in-office yoga, resulting in increased productivity and less stress and pain reported by participants. Stanton Kawer, CEO of Blue Chip Marketing Worldwide, has referred to the results of offering yoga classes to employees “nothing short of remarkable.”
This shift in importance of lifestye balance will also open the door for lucrative partnerships between businesses, especially small businesses that may have suffered greatly during the pandemic. Employers can seek out local accredited yoga teachers to teach classes remotely or with social distancing. Massage therapists or breathwork artists can be given the office of a remote worker a few days a week for employees to book with and decompress. Employees can be explicitly encouraged to record a certain number of “personal time” hours so that they are not concerned with blowback for using the provided services when needed. Additionally, this approach will encourage employees who may simply need to take a walk for their wellness to get up and get moving with implicit approval.
I recently embarked on a wellness journey following two bouts of cancer and can vouch for the benefits and balance that yoga and breathwork have brought to me. But waiting for individual near-death experiences of CEOs or employees is too late; the American health insurance industry will not be setting a global gold standard for wellness anytime soon. The companies that will win the lion’s share of millennial and Gen Z productivity, as well as the loyalty that retains key intellectual capital, will absorb the costs of employee wellness measures to reap the rewards of a generation that can be more optimally equipped to handle whatever the 2020s throw at us next.
And if you do track to astrology, you know that this week’s solar eclipse happening during Mercury retrograde will engender strong movement toward transformation of all kinds, so transformational workplace wellness has never been more timely.
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Author: Elizabeth Jean Poston, Forbes Councils Member
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