Beginning early in life, challenges can become embedded in people's lives that may continue to hinder their ability to thrive at home and at work.
Social determinants of health (SDOH), also known as social drivers of health, are conditions present in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age. And they're linked to a range of risks and outcomes related to health, functioning and quality of life.1
Interest in the connection between these drivers and employee wellbeing is growing, now that the concept of wellbeing has expanded beyond physical health to embody the emotional, financial and career aspects.
Disparities in access to resources for health and wellbeing in the context of SDOH include such basics as nutritious food and safe housing. Beyond immediate needs, equitable access to opportunities such as education and jobs is a key factor for sustained improvement.
SDOH-focused initiatives offer help to all employers — not just the largest or most innovative — looking to compete more successfully for talent. In fact, multiple studies indicate that a demonstrated commitment to social fairness and equity can provide a sizable advantage. One survey found that perceptions of a more fair employee experience improve employee performance by up to 26% and employee retention by up to 27%.2
An organization's selection of compensation, benefits and personalized support services can strongly influence workforce wellbeing, which naturally carries over to productivity and healthcare cost trends. What's also important to consider is that employer decisions have a wider reach — they affect the experiences not just of employees, but also their families and the communities where they work, live and serve.
From an SDOH standpoint, a clear and complete view into these experiences and the underlying circumstances requires a rigorous review to identify risks and unmet needs. This information helps to redirect priorities and investments to continuously improve outcomes. Intentional listening efforts that capture employee feedback through surveys and data analysis, and consideration of external factors, will help employers understand where to start and how to make a difference.
The importance of sincerity and substance
Integrating SDOH goals and objectives into the organizational strategy establishes a better framework for optimizing total rewards. And communicating this focus contributes to a durable brand identity in the minds of prospective as well as current employees, customers and business partners.
A visible commitment to investing in solutions to SDOH challenges is much likelier to return the best results. But making realistic commitments, and then honoring them, is essential.
Empowering employees with clear and meaningful benefits information and access
A solid understanding of benefits among the workforce sets the foundation for an effective employee value proposition. From evaluating options to enrollment decisions and appropriate utilization, people require different levels of support. Providing benefit tools that assist with a range of needs, along with communications that help engage employees and their dependents in the process, promotes the value of these benefits.
Wage-based cost sharing and health plans that account for individual challenges to saving for medical expenses consider the interests of lower-income employees. Health savings accounts (HSAs) can be a strong asset when consumer-directed health plans are offered. Informing members about funding, expense eligibility and tax advantages encourages enrollment. But underfunded or underutilized HSAs can lead to care avoidance, which puts employees at greater risk of increased costs from more advanced health issues.
Employee navigation tools and decision support are designed to boost healthcare literacy, influencing choices that optimize the patient care experience and health outcomes. Once appointments are made, providing medical transport services helps to ensure they're kept.
Proactive health management can contain costs by curbing the need for care. Efforts to keep health plan members up to date on preventive measures are one example that has significant downstream savings potential. Likewise, the availability of expanded coverage for mental and behavioral health services promotes earlier intervention.