Low education levels may be hurting employers

Employers in states with some of the country's lowest education levels may want to consider how to boost education among their workforces.

Education has a profound impact on one’s life. With more education comes higher earning potential and decreased instances of unemployment.1 Increasing levels of education are even associated with improvements in life expectancy. 2

Consequently people with lower levels of education tend to also have lower levels of health literacy,3 or the ability to understand information as it pertains to their health. This can prevent employees from taking full advantage of their health plan, leading to poor health management.4

Lower levels of health literacy may impact more than just the individual — they may also create ripple effects for employers. For instance, if an employee doesn’t have the ability to make informed health decisions based on their level of education or understanding, they may experience worse outcomes and be less productive at work. In fact, more than 45% of people struggle with at least 1 unmet social determinant of health (SDOH), such as access to education, which can result in them having:

  • Significantly larger gaps in care and a higher likelihood to report poor physical health5
  • 2x the emergency department utilization as those with no SDOH risks6
  • 5x higher likelihood to report mental health issues5
  • An average of 6 or more days of missed work in the past 12 months5

Since educational attainment is a strong predictor of future health,7 employers operating in states such as North Dakota, New Mexico and California may want to consider investing in ways to support and advance the educational opportunities that exist for employees, their families and those living in these communities where educational attainment is some of the lowest in the country.8

Encouraging education

The first step to addressing SDOH is to understand which factors, such as one’s level of education, may be impacting an employee’s overall health and well-being and then develop programs or benefits that help support their needs.

For instance, UnitedHealthcare leverages data to pinpoint these opportunities and then works with employer groups to help create programs that engage employees, improve outcomes and manage costs. In addition, employers can invest in programs that use predictive analytics to proactively identify employees who may be dealing with social issues..

“Employers are a taking a closer look at their benefits package, providing more flexibility during the workday or adding services to address identified needs in their populations,” says Craig Kurtzweil, chief analytics officer for UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual.

To address low levels of educational attainment within a workforce, some employers may elect to offer their employees regular time off to pursue continuing education. Employers with more resources may even help subsidize education for their employees with a tuition reimbursement program. There are also employers who work to make education more accessible or affordable within broader communities because they recognize that encouraging education among younger generations is an investment in their future workforce.

When an employer invests in an employee’s education — or the education of communities — it may result in more loyal employees and a stronger employee retention rate, not to mention a highly skilled workforce.

Boosting health literacy

Because one’s education level is connected to their ability to understand and manage their health, it’s important for employers to educate their workforce about what their health plan offers and how it works. In fact, 2 in 3 employees surveyed said they wanted better and more consistent benefit education throughout the year, not just at open enrollment.9

To help improve health literacy among their employees, employers can hold educational sessions, whether in-person or virtually, with their health plan representative, broker or consultant, or share content and materials provided to them on a regular cadence. For instance, with the UnitedHealthcare Employee Engagement Planner (EEP), employers can send timely, relevant materials to their employees on topics ranging from reminders about flu shots to information about digital tools.

Employers can also encourage the formation of health and wellness committees, which can work to fill in health literacy gaps, host wellness fairs, provide on-site clinics or even develop health and well-being challenges.

“This is the future of health care. We’re using a whole person approach to care for each member which includes understanding their social needs and their life experiences,” says Dr. Cyrus Batheja, national vice president of enterprise transformation and strategic solutions for UnitedHealthcare. “It moves us beyond just medical approaches. We know broader understanding is ultimately the key to putting members first and improving well-being.”

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