Patricia Chaney

Wellness in the Urban Workplace: Strategies for Keeping Your Workforce Healthy

Your employees’ health — and the way they use their insurance — is in many ways shaped by the region they live in.
Typically, urban access to health services far surpasses that of rural areas. But that doesn’t mean that city dwellers don’t face their own challenges and have unique support needs.

The Health Benefits of City Life

Research suggests that the health advantages of living in urban areas are very real — overall, people living in urban areas have better access to health care and live healthier lives than people in rural parts of the nation.

The North Carolina Rural Health Research Program’s 2017 Rural Health Snapshot found that urban areas boast 24.2 more primary care physicians and 78 more mental health providers per 100,000 people than rural areas, offering many more options for urbanites seeking medical help.

In addition, people residing in metropolitan areas are less likely to be heavy drinkers, less likely to be food insecure and more likely to be physically active than their rural peers. These factors contribute to a lower overall mortality rate in urban areas than in rural areas.

Health Challenges in Urban Areas

Urban life isn’t perfect, unfortunately. Although some chronic conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, are mostly related to genetics and behavior, people in cities experience many health issues stemming from their living environments. Drexel University details the following health issues more common in cities.

  • Infectious diseases. With large numbers of people living closely together, communicable diseases can spread more quickly and affect more people.
  • Exposure to toxic elements. Many cities, especially those in which people rely heavily on cars, have higher rates of air pollution. Poor air quality can lead to higher rates of respiratory illnesses and can have a particularly negative impact on those with asthma or compromised immune systems.
  • Mental health issues. People in cities may experience more social isolation and less exposure to nature. Urban dwellers have also been found to have higher rates of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

And despite having significantly more health care providers available, people in urban areas face their own health care access issues, particularly when it comes to making doctors’ appointments. In 15 of the country’s major metropolitan areas, patients have to wait an average of 24 days to get a doctor’s appointment. Long wait times can cause people to miss out on timely care for illnesses or feel pressured to visit a more costly location like the emergency room to receive care. They may also skip out on preventive services if it’s too inconvenient to get an appointment.

How Employers Can Help

Employers in urban areas can focus on educating and supporting employees in three key areas: wellness, vaccines and mental health.

There are several effective ways to go about doing this, including offering on-site screening services and sharing information with workers about the importance of primary care. It also helps to educate employees about more cost-effective alternatives to the emergency room — for instance retail clinics or urgent care — when they have a minor medical issue like a cold. Although these options aren’t necessarily a substitute for visiting a primary care physician, they can be a good way for employees to recieve quick and affordable treatment.

Spreading illness through close contact is a concern in any workplace, but businesses in urban areas should take particular notice of the overall health of their employees during cold and flu season. Encourage employees to get vaccines, and consider either setting up flu shot clinics in the office or giving employees the option of taking time off of work to get their annual flu shot.

Finally, be sure to promote a working culture that is supportive of mental health issues. Recognize employee stress and seek ways to help reduce it. Actively try to combat aspects of city life that can have a negative impact on mental health — for example, organize occasional social gatherings to counter urban social isolation. Additionally, take time to educate employees about depression, anxiety and stress, and let them know about the mental health services that are covered by their insurance.

Cities foster unique health problems that require innovative and thoughtful considerations on the part of employers. With education and planning, you can help your workforce make the most of their urban access to health services.

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