How everyday factors may affect employee health

It’s not a shocking statement but perhaps more eye-opening than once considered: Where your employees live — and therefore, the factors that may influence their overall health — can make a big difference on their life expectancy, social barriers to well-being and their health care costs.

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the conditions in which people live, learn, work, play and worship that may affect their quality of life and a wide range of health outcomes. These include everything from access to healthy food, safe and stable housing, educational opportunities and transportation. All of these factors are not separate from one’s health — in fact, over 80% of a person’s health is determined by what happens outside a doctor’s office.

But what does this mean for employers who are looking out for the health of their employees, while also striving for affordability and value? The Health Action Council, a nonprofit organization representing large and midsize employers, recently released a white paper with UnitedHealth Group, examining how social determinants of health affect employees.

The white paper “Community insights: Key factors that influence employee health” examined claims from over 217,000 members and painted a picture of how social determinants of health can have an impact on not only employee well-being and life expectancy, but also overall health care spend.

The findings revealed a startling look at employee health:

  • 52% of all adults are facing at least one SDOH risk
  • 41% of children has a parent facing a high-risk SDOH hardship; these children had an increased prevalence of suicidal ideation, depression and ER visits
  • 30% of adults are facing social isolation, which can be detrimental to both one’s mental and physical health
  • Millennials have the highest rates of SDOH risk across all generations; 13% face three or more SDOH risks
  • Employees living in less healthy states have higher health care costs

Much of this has to do with geography, and where a person lives, which can have a massive impact on health-based outcomes from an insurance plan. The disparities happen between communities that might not have the same access to stable housing, transportation and food security (for example, living in a food desert). The white paper found that those living in the 10 least healthy states are 13% more likely to face high-risk social determinants of health.

The next question becomes: What can employers do to tackle these social determinants of health and invest in a healthier workforce? The paper points towards three potential solutions:


Employees need to be empowered in order to make choices that can help them proactively manage their health. Providing timely and helpful health care information, including the benefits of engaging with a primary care provider and the importance of regular screening can go a long way in fostering a culture of health awareness. 

Comprehensive analysis

Sometimes, analyzing existing data through a health equity lens can yield insights that you might have otherwise missed. Broaden your outlook on workforce health by including geographic location and SDOH risk factors. You can use this data, with state health rankings, to analyze how location may impact health outcomes and costs — and use more targeted interventions. 

Tailored solutions

This requires active listening of your employees and figuring out what kinds of unique solutions and tools can help them with their overall health. With a diverse workforce, a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution is often ineffective. 

There is no single solution that will address these disparities. Rather it takes a shift in perspective, as well as a sense of collaboration between employees, employers and the communities in which they live and work. Both have a voice in creating a greater sense of wellness and more positive health outcomes.

Visit the Health Action Council’s website to read the full white paper

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