By Andi Campbell and Dr. Wayne Rawlins, WellSpark Health
As we reach the two-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., it’s clear that many aspects of our lives are forever changed. When it comes to the workforce, the pandemic has uprooted work-life balance as more and more people are feeling stressed, overworked, and burnt out – and leaving their jobs in record numbers as a result.
While employers should strive to create an equilibrium for their employees’ personal and professional lives, there is much more to creating a healthy and equal workplace than simply offering employees more flexibility and time off. Health disparities amongst employees have become more glaring and can no longer be ignored by employers moving forward.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines health equity as being achieved when everyone can “attain his or her full health potential,” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”
Employers have a unique opportunity to promote health equity within their workplace, making a difference in individuals’ lives and addressing more significant public health issues as a whole. Employers provide health insurance to nearly 50% of the American population, which puts them in a position to create an environment that highlights access to care for traditionally underserved individuals across their organization. However, to really improve healthy equity, employers must focus on all people in their workforce, including those that are not benefit eligible.
For workplaces that have not previously taken proactive steps to address health disparities their employees face, it might seem like a daunting task. Company leaders with the desire and determination to actively promote health equity can use the following approach as a guide to get started.
Get to know your workforce and identify disparities
The best place to begin is identifying and measuring specific disparities across your workforce. Team members at every organization are different, so it’s essential to understand the identities and backgrounds that impact how your employees view and receive healthcare services.
To do this, you should create an overview of your employees’ socio-economic and cultural demographics, and engage with them to learn more about their history and other factors that might contribute to health inequity. Your health plan and broker should be able to provide you with data to assist this process for those employees enrolled in health insurance benefits.
Take steps to address inequities and monitor their impact
Once you have a broad understanding of your workforce, including their backgrounds and unique health needs, it’s time to take actionable steps to remove barriers to health equity at your organization. Work with your leadership team to develop and implement a plan with specific actions to carry out within a certain timeframe.
The American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable on “Driving Health Equity in the Workplace” offers valuable insights about different strategies to achieve health equity. It is a great place to start on the path toward positive health outcomes for your employees.
To further engage with employees and socio-economic factors relevant to their situations, consider reaching out to local neighborhood groups, community leaders, and business alliances for ideas on how to bring about meaningful change at your company.
Once you’ve taken steps to address disparities at your company, it’s critical to evaluate and measure your success. To do this, you must first define what success looks like. Achieving health equity at your organization could be based on whether your employees gain a better understanding of the importance of health and wellbeing, engagement in wellness programs, or changes in self-care and wellbeing behaviors. Remember, each organization’s workforce is different, so your success might be measured differently than your peers’ success.
If you’re looking at short-term results, don’t define success as reduced medical costs for your employees. Addressing disparities often leads to increased primary care visits, use of maintenance medicines, and getting lab work done, which could increase short term costs that are covered under an employer-sponsored health plan. However, efforts to promote a healthier workforce often result in fewer medical bills in the long run.
Be transparent and update your strategies as necessary
Be sure to maintain transparency with your employees during this process. It’s essential to communicate your intentions. Utilize your company’s usual internal communication channels, including town halls, meetings, leadership calls, newsletters, etc. to share your goals and the strategies used to achieve them, and report your findings across your organization. If you’re not satisfied with the results of your efforts, you can always adjust your approach as needed to generate a more substantial impact.
Over the past two years, the U.S. healthcare system has been under a microscope, with a spotlight on unequal access to care. Addressing health disparities and promoting health equity is a vital action needed for our country to experience lower healthcare costs, increased workforce productivity rates, and improved health outcomes for vulnerable populations. Employers are uniquely positioned to make significant advances for health equity for all of their employees, including the benefit eligible and non-benefit eligible, by utilizing both wellbeing and diversity efforts to create positive changes throughout their domains and beyond.
About the Authors
Andi Campbell is Chief Growth Officer and Dr. Wayne Rawlins is Chief Medical Officer at WellSpark Health, a national wellbeing, disease prevention and management company that moves disparate, long-tenured employee populations along a path toward a more enduring well.