After examining well-being in one of the most challenging years for community health, recent findings from Sharecare’s Community Well-Being Index reinforced the strength of the connection between where an individual lives – their housing, neighborhood, physical environment – and their health.
In 2020, the top-ranking quintile of metro areas not only experienced lower measures of individual well-being risks – 1.2 times lower risk for severe depression, 1.5 times lower rates of tobacco use, and 1.8 times lower rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – but also built environments that are optimized, giving their residents nearly 1.5 times more parks per square mile and nearly three times more MDs per 1,000 people.
This analysis underscores what’s coming into focus for organizational leaders as their responsibilities for our health undergo rapid changes: With environmental factors so deeply impacting our individual health, the role of social determinants of health (SDOH) is uncompromisable in any effective well-being strategy.
How can employers impact SDOH?
Once the connections between social and environmental factors and overall health within a population are established, organizational leaders can seek opportunities to address the larger context in which employees spend their lives.
Four guiding principles distinguish any comprehensive well-being program that’s poised for success and impact:
- Ongoing measurement is critical. Surveys that comprehensively assess the five domains of individual well-being – purpose, physical, social, community, and financial – should be paired with analyses of SDOH where individuals live and work to establish a baseline. Given that social factors define up to 80% of health outcomes, developing a deep understanding of the communities where employees live is key to success. How do employees commute? Do they have access to healthy foods and produce nearby? Are local resources – like schools and healthcare – supporting diverse populations equitably? Does it align with the makeup of the community? Answers to these questions help define target areas.
- Communication can be a difference-maker. Transparent communication with employees about well-being risks that hide within their own communities and environments can make a big impact. Context and relatability also are important keys. As examples, instead of talking about “social determinants of health,” employers can anticipate greater reception and response by educating their workforces on how to commute mindfully, offering helpful information about skyrocketing interest rates and ways to manage your mortgage, and amplifying a diverse set of expert voices that align with the target population.
- Taking action is always within reach. Employers are well positioned to invest in interventions and benefits frameworks in their workforce’s greater communities. And if you think this means donating a wing to the local hospital, think again – there are ways to address social risks in smaller, yet highly impactful ways. For example, if a sizable number of employees live within food deserts, providing healthy food options onsite or rewarding positive behaviors with nutrition-conscious food incentives can spark meaningful lifestyle changes. A shortage of mental health providers in the area can be alleviated by digital therapeutic programs for anxiety and addictive behaviors. And as companies bring employees back to the office, verifying worksites for health security to mitigate public health threats provides a sustainable foundation for any employee well-being strategy.
- Celebrate, but keep improving. With every targeted effort, follow-up analyses should be conducted to measure impact. This includes continual monitoring and assessment to determine which measures are working or require recalibration, and using this information to drive future investments in people and their communities.
Through these efforts, we can develop a workforces and communities that are holistically productive and well.