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Community and Social Barriers Impact Employee Health

employee health
  • Published
  • 28 February 2024
  • Category
  • General

In real estate, it’s all about location. As it turns out, location also plays a critical role in the health status of employed Americans.

A comprehensive analysis of social determinants of health (SDoH) – the conditions in which people live, learn, work, play and worship – indicates that community and non-clinical social barriers have a much more profound impact on workforce health than previously recognized, according to Community insights: Key factors that influence employee health, a newly published white paper by the Health Action Council and UnitedHealth Group.

The study of medical claims in a population of 217,000 covered lives provides valuable insights for companies. Ultimately, the white paper’s authors say, a better understanding of population health determinants will help employers improve benefit plans, employee health status and productivity regardless of community or social barriers.

For the study, community heath factors involve socio-demographics, health status/quality of life, health risk and health resources. SDoHs are defined as financial, food and housing insecurity, and social isolation. Researchers found that employees who experienced disproportionate challenges or risks:

  • Were less likely to participate in preventive care or wellness visits.
  • Used hospital emergency rooms for care 41 percent more often.
  • Were more likely to receive a behavioral or mental health diagnosis.

Community Divides

Among the findings, researchers found disparities in mortality rates among employees who work for the same company but live in different states. For example, employees in South Carolina were 55 percent more likely to die before age 75 than their co-workers in California. According to America’s Health Rankings, about 66 percent of Health Action Council members live in the nation’s 20 least-healthy states. If they lived in the 20 healthiest states, total expenditures would be reduced by $61 million, or 7 percent.

The study also found:

  • 30 percent of adults are at risk for social isolation, which has been shown to increase risk for dementia, heart disease and stroke.
  • Adults diagnosed with a condition such as diabetes or depression have higher rates of food insecurity and social isolation, respectively.
  • Millennial employees (born between 1981 and 1996) have the highest rates of SDoH risk across generations; 13 percent have three or more risks.


The paper’s authors encourage employers to:

  1. Educate employees about when and where they can access care, including in-person and virtual care, the benefits of developing a primary provider relationship and the value of preventive care.
  2. Become familiar with local and state public health policies and priorities that may affect the health of employees, their access to care and related costs.
  3. Understand differences between urban, suburban and rural communities and related workforce demographics in order to develop relevant health improvement strategies. This includes identifying sub-populations for targeted clinical and communication programs.
  4. Facilitate social connections by providing access to local health resources and encouraging in-person engagement by offering communal dining areas, in-person meetings and team-building exercises.
  5. Engage and collaborate with health care professionals to address specific disparities and health care needs in working populations.

How WorkCare Can Help

WorkCare helps employers prevent and manage work-related medical conditions in all types of settings across the country. Our occupational clinicians approach each encounter with the understanding that human beings are multi-dimensional, and that employees can benefit from a cross-disciplinary approach to health and safety in the workplace, at home and in their communities.

Our onsite and virtual occupational physicians, nurses, athletic trainers and allied professionals educate employees about ways to better protect their health so they can be productive and enjoy a good quality of life. Our Wellness Solutions team focuses on occupational factors and seven other dimensions of wellness – social, physical, environmental, spiritual, emotional, financial and intellectual – because each domain contributes to overall health and well-being.

In some cases, WorkCare physicians provide guidance to help address both primary medical symptoms and secondary gain. For example, an employee may unconsciously use work-related physical pain to get attention, sympathy and support; be excused from responsibility, an obligation or challenge; or to gain a sense of control. The ability to identify and counteract secondary-gain behaviors helps reduce the likelihood of delayed recovery and prolonged absence from work.

To learn more about how WorkCare protects and promotes employee health, contact us: