Enhancing employee wellbeing by connecting to the future self

A focus on injury prevention, psychological first aid and financial solvency has big implications for health, happiness and finances

Science writer David Robson invites us to take a moment to imagine ourselves in 10 years. Depending on your age, you might have a few more grey hairs and wrinkles, and you might hope for some changes to your material circumstances, too. But does the person you imagine feel, fundamentally, very close to the person you are today? Or do they feel like a stranger?” One piece of technology that might encourage people to think more carefully about their future wellbeing is photo editing apps that allow you to prematurely age your selfies.

Applied to EMS, this simple exercise can lead to some compelling reflections on the hiring, retention and satisfaction of long-term employees.

Ask any young, new paramedic or dispatcher where they imagine themselves being in 10 years, and you’ll get a variety of answers. For some, paramedicine is where they want to be, and where they want to stay. Others see it as a starting place for their career, perhaps in another area of medicine. They have a goal of gaining some experience before going back to school and moving on to another field. Or they may be exploring, with no clearly defined path beyond the immediate future, but excited to be providing a much-needed service in their community.

The more we can do to support and enhance employee wellbeing, the better off we – and the communities we serve – will be.
The more we can do to support and enhance employee wellbeing, the better off we – and the communities we serve – will be. (Photo/Getty Images)

Apart from any specific career goals, though, is the sense to which people identify with their future self. Some imagine themselves 10 years into the future as being very close to the person they are today; other struggle to see their future self as being a continuation of the person they are today. Those differences make a big difference in one’s sense of wellbeing, and there are ways to strengthen your connection to the person you will become – with big implications for health, happiness and finances.

Strengthen connection between new employees and their future selves

For example, people who identify more strongly with their future self tend to be more consistent with diet, exercise and physical activity. The idea is that we are more willing to look after ourselves to make sure that we continue to enjoy better health in the future. A 10-year study tracking 4,000 people found that our perceived future self is a strong predictor of future wellbeing. Research suggests that people who score highly on the future self-continuity measure have higher moral standards than the people who struggle to identify with their future selves.

The implication for EMS is that when we think about our future wellbeing, we think more carefully about our present. We want to enjoy better health, avoid injury and have enough in our 401(k) to be able to afford retirement. All of these will enhance the wellbeing of current employees. The new EMT who has dreams of completing paramedic school is someone with a vision for their own future. The new EMT who isn’t sure, but is open to whatever the future brings, still has a motivation to take care of their health and contribute to their retirement savings account.

And there are ways to strengthen the connection of new employees to their future selves. Young paramedics and dispatchers can be encouraged to seek out a mentor who has managed their career well. This would be someone who can tell them what it’s like, and what they have to look forward to, one or more decades into the future. Likewise, it is important to provide beginning EMS professionals with eyes-wide-open education about the stresses of working in a field where they will be exposed to trauma. Leaders trained in psychological first aid, peer support, chaplaincy, information about therapists specializing in the care of public safety personnel and other resources are integral to their long-term career success. Financial counselors can provide valuable education about savings programs and employee matches available.

In a field with an average length of service of between 5 and 6.5 years, the future self of any frontline professional is less than a decade away. Where do we imagine ourselves being in 10 years? It’s not a rhetorical question. The more we can do to support and enhance employee wellbeing, the better off we – and the communities we serve – will be.

Watch for more: How to create a mental health-friendly environment at your service

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