How Addressing Social Drivers of Health Can Improve Employee Well-Being

Jun 27,2022

Read Time 3 Minutes

When it comes to your employees’ well-being, good health isn’t just influenced by genetics or how much they exercise. Their neighborhoods, social networks, and access to nutritious food and reliable transportation also play a big factor in their overall wellness — and the health of your organization.

Where we live, learn, eat, work, and play — these are what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes as social determinants of health (SDOH), also known as social drivers of health. When an employee is stressed about how to pay for child care or doesn’t have a dependable way to get to work, these immediate concerns take precedence over caring for their health. Over time, these barriers can lead to a wide range of health risks and less favorable outcomes. As employers consider a focus on whole-person health, here’s how employers can influence social drivers of health for the better.


Understanding Who Is Impacted


Employees can be a company’s greatest competitive advantage. Yet older workers, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and people of color are more likely to experience discrimination and be impacted by social drivers of health. According to the CDC, interpersonal and structural discrimination can negatively affect mental and physical health, preventing individuals from attaining their highest level of health and productivity. 


Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in every aspect of your business can help you better understand and respond to the needs, expectations, and challenges of your employees. Leveraging the talent of your employees with varied perspectives can lead to more creative thinking, open communication, and team engagement — all of which are good for business.


Exploring Integrated Solutions and Proactive Care Efforts


Organizations are recognizing that a narrow focus on physical health does not address multiple factors that should be included in holistic well-being efforts. Various initiatives are underway to connect employees to proactive whole-person care that includes physical and mental health resources, specialty care, advocacy, and family support. 


For example, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has published several educational tools to help doctors and other healthcare professionals provide culturally competent care. The Center for Community Investment recently launched Accelerating Investments for Healthy Communities, an initiative to help health systems and hospitals gather resources to increase affordable housing. Efforts like these demonstrate how vital it is that health systems, employers, and communities all work together to proactively remove barriers to care.


Supporting Whole-Person Care


The whole-person approach to care recognizes that good health includes meeting individuals’ physical, behavioral, and social needs. As an employer, you can help address whole health by:

  • Encouraging employees to take advantage of an employee assistance program (EAP) that includes resources to navigate various social drivers of health — and providing the necessary time off to do so.
  • Offering quality medical benefits that include diverse provider networks to give employees access to personalized care in a virtual visit or an in-person setting that work best for them. 
  • Integrating core benefits with supplemental health and financial solutions, many of which are no cost to employers but can help provide employees with necessary services outside typical health plans.
  • Exploring solutions that help solve for basic needs such as food, shelter, transportation, job training, and support groups.

As an employer, you can play an essential role in addressing the social drivers of health that support employee well-being. By prioritizing wellness and inclusion at work, it’s possible to cultivate a culture where employees feel and perform their best. Offering affordable, quality benefits with diverse networks empowers more personal, culturally relevant care. And providing resources to help with everyday needs supports better health outcomes and advances health equity for all.