How HR leaders can help address social determinants of health

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  • Date posted

    Aug 17, 2022

Check your personal life at the door. Personal issues have no place in an office... Sounds wrong, doesn't it? A good people leader (or any employee for that matter) would hear these antiquated phrases—and run swiftly in the opposite direction.

Each employee’s lived experience has an impact not only on their personal life, but the way they show up at work and their overall health and wellbeing. That’s why it’s important for employers to understand the barriers to better health and how to help their people overcome them.

First things first. What are social determinants of health?

Social determinants of health look different for each person or population. They are the conditions in the places we live, learn, work, and play that affect our overall health, quality of life, and other outcomes. According to the CDC, social determinants of health can be grouped into five domains: Economic Stability, Education Access and Quality, Health Care Access and Quality, Neighborhood and Built Environment, and Social and Community Context.

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Social determinants of health and the workplace

Social determinants of health can have an impact on employees across multiple areas of wellbeing. Consider this: A member of your team finds themselves constantly lacking childcare due to high costs, a lack of community support, or a lack of transportation. They're now forced to push back basic care and preventative visits. The result? Higher healthcare costs for the employee (and for the employer) in addition to risking their personal health. This single problem has now harmed their physical, mental, and financial health in one fell swoop.

80-90%

of a person’s health is determined by non-medical factors.

1 in 4

Americans deferred care for a serious condition in 2019.

And that is just one scenario. Other social determinants of health include reoccurring instances of racism, discrimination, and violence; access to nutritious foods, physical activity, and natural spaces; air and water quality; language and literacy barriers, and more. All of which can lead to dangerous (and costly) chronic conditions.

90%

of U.S. health care expenditures go towards chronic conditions.

$6k

A patient with a chronic disease pays an average of $6,032 on annual healthcare costs.

6 in 10

adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease.

What employers (and HR leaders) can do to help

Every people leader can help their employees overcome these barriers to essential care. The best place to start? Connect your employees to the benefits you already have either manually or with the help of a configurable wellbeing program.

Perform an audit of your offerings. What are people using? Where is there room for improvement? This is the first step to creating an engagement strategy that realigns your employees with the benefits they need—but aren’t aware of. For example, we use our Navigate Pulse Surveys to check the “pulse” of our employee population (see what we did there?) and get a better handle on their specific needs.

When you’re ready to move beyond existing benefits, consider this:

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Remove the barriers you can control

It's important to consider how you can make an employee's work experience more accessible. Can you encourage a more flexible work schedule? Offer transportation assistance programs? Get creative and be sure to consider the needs of your specific population through methods like the Pulse Surveys mentioned above.

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Leverage the power of community

Encouraging community among your employees is a powerful tool for addressing social determinants of health. But in the era of hybrid or remote work structures, connection can be a challenge. To combat this, consider team wellbeing challenges, virtual book clubs, support groups, or any number of community-building activities to encourage healthy behaviors. Also be sure to create space for minorities to share their experiences with leadership and enact change should a harmful situation arise. Listening without action can be demoralizing and damaging to an entire company's culture.

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Consider opportunities for growth

What do your employees really want and need? Collect HRA or employee survey data before you determine your benefits. This helps you spend your resources in the right place with benefits that hit the mark and address social determinants to your employees' health. During the data collection process, it's important to consider all the possibilities—even if you never would have considered it in the past (e.g. caregiving assistance, fertility benefits, pet insurance, etc.)

Looking for more ways to reduce costs—and boost employee retention in the process? Hint, hint: It doesn’t take buckets of money to save money. Let’s talk about it in our next blog.

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