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Social Drivers of Health 101

Read Time: 3 minutes

Summary: Social drivers of health impact your employees’ well-being and productivity. Learn some ways your business can provide resources to help them live healthier and improve your bottom line.

Social Drivers of Health 101

Your employees’ life circumstances make a difference in their health and productivity on the job. In fact, healthcare professionals say that up to 80 percent of well-being is influenced by “social drivers of health,” also known as determinants of heath. They include:

  • where they live
  • the stores and resources in their communities
  • their social circles
  • their education
  • their job and workplace
  • and their access to various types of healthcare resources.

These factors, along with an aging workforce, chronic conditions and additional factors can all impact employers’ medical costs as well as employees’ productivity, and morale.

Your company’s policies and benefits also affect your employees’ health. When you understand how these factors interconnect, you may be able to provide better support and resources for your team.

The community impact on health

Where your employees live affects their access to:

  • healthy food
  • exercise and recreation
  • healthcare
  • childcare
  • transportation and commute options

Consider if many of your employees live in an area where resources that support healthy living are limited. You may try to offer resources at the workplace or partner with other nearby businesses.

For example, food insecurity and poor nutrition are key social drivers of health. They play a major role in conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

More than 37 million Americans experience hunger because of food insecurity. They may have a hard time getting nutritious food because it is not available or is too expensive. Certain neighborhoods are considered “food deserts,” lacking stores with affordable quality fresh food. This makes buying ingredients for nutritious meals difficult. Nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population lives in an area the Department of Agriculture classifies as a food desert.

Exercising regularly can be tough if employees live in places without safe or appealing spaces for recreation. Employees also may lack the time to exercise, especially if they have a long commute and other responsibilities at home.

Local public health agencies know the health-related challenges their communities are facing. They may have turnkey resources you can use. Community organizations may also have programs and resources that influence health. You could consider a partnership with these organizations.

If you are not sure what your employees would like help with, consider an anonymous survey. The results can help you figure out some quick wins and longer-term opportunities.

Social drivers and the workplace

Understanding social drivers of health allows you to see the bigger picture of your employees’ health. This can help boost productivity across the workplace.

Creating a “culture of health” in the workplace can give employees access to options they may not have at home. You can fill in some gaps by offering:

  • healthy food,
  • time and a place to exercise,
  • preventive health screenings and related programs,
  • and an employee assistance program (EAP).

Is your company offering or considering a healthy eating campaign? Having affordable healthy food options available in the workplace can make a difference. This could include meals for meetings and snacks in break rooms or vending machines.

Offering time and space to exercise in or near the workplace can help employees be more active.

Some workplace policies may impact employees differently depending on their situation. For example, requiring use of paid or unpaid time off for medical appointments. This may discourage some employees from getting preventive or routine care. Employees who must travel farther to get to medical appointments have to take more time off than those who live closer to their doctors. And employees that do not have reliable transportation or rely on public transportation can find it even more difficult.

As you consider health plan options, you may want to take into account location. How broad is the network and where are in-network doctors and facilities located?

When implementing programs or making changes, think about what your company will be able to commit to over time. It is a good idea to check in occasionally with your employees to see if the changes have made a difference.

Even with programs in place, employees may face challenges due to:

  • time,
  • money,
  • access,
  • and competing priorities.

Removing or minimizing barriers can help. Simply offering more flexibility to your staff is an option. Small steps can add up to big improvements.

Research indicates employers who prioritize the health of their employees can increase workforce productivity and employee engagement. They can also decrease absenteeism and lower healthcare costs.

Understanding how your employees’ circumstances influence their health, you can find ways to help them — and help your business’ bottom line.

Access to healthy food, exercise and recreation opportunities, access to health care, availability of child care, access to transportation