Companies should never underestimate the physical and psychological toll economic and social conditions can have on their employees. Employees' backgrounds can impact how they navigate through different aspects of their life, including the workplace. Full-time workers spend an average of five days a week and one-third of each day at work. Their livelihoods can affect their morale, productivity and retention.
Businesses have worked for decades to improve employee health through worksite wellness initiatives and programs, but they have yet to master the concept of catering to employees' needs. Some lack the understanding of how various social determinants of health can negatively affect their employees' livelihoods. HealthyPeople.gov defines social determinants of health as "conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks." Some examples of social determinants of health include race, education and the environment.
Let's explore how these factors can affect employees' health and mentality in the workplace below.
Race and Ethnicity
Race and ethnic discrimination are among the vital issues that affect how workers navigate in society and in the workplace. Every racial group has different values and backgrounds that shape how they interact with others, which may cause them to face some form of discrimination. Some may deal with issues in their neighborhood and public places that may cause intentional or unintentional harm, such as being treated with less respect than other people, offered limited access to resources or harassed. Both forms can cause stress on an individual, which can cause physical and emotional effects on the body, such as anxiety, depression or an irregular heartbeat. These effects can lead to long-term illnesses.
Companies should be more informed about the unfair treatment their employees may face outside the workplace. They can gain more awareness about their employees' livelihoods by interacting with them to learn how to meet their needs. Doing so will help their workers be comfortable and work more efficiently in the workplace.
Employees deal with various environmental and social conditions outside of the workplace. Healthypeople.gov reports that "polluted air, contaminated water, and extreme heat are three conditions that can negatively impact population health." An individual's geographic location, socioeconomic status and other factors determine how these environmental conditions can affect their health. People who have a low socioeconomic status tend to live in poor-quality housing and have more exposure to contaminated water and low-air quality.
To help address some of the issues their employees may face, companies can offer their employees' well-ventilated offices to work in and clean water.
An individual's education level can affect the type of work that they do and the income they earn. Educational opportunities can cause stress and other socioeconomic issues, which have short- and long-term effects on their livelihood and quality of life. Some workers can't afford to attend college to obtain degrees, which limits their access to job opportunities. Workers without degrees tend to deal with harsher work conditions that can impact their health.
Employers need to be aware of their employees' potential risks while at work and research ways to create a safer work environment. They can also be more proactive about offering resources, such as educational programs so they can be eligible for promotions and other career opportunities at the company.
What employers should do to address social determinants of health
There are various ways companies can address the social determinants of health to create a positive work environment for employees. Some recommendations from Quest For Health include:
Creating policies that allow employees to take time off from work for health-related issues without the fear of losing their job.
Provide healthy food options in the workplace and addressing food security by offering a workplace food bank.
Educating companies and managers on social determinants of health and how they can affect workplace performance.
Offer inclusive workplace initiatives and programs focused on health.
These approaches are a few ways employers and companies can evaluate their bottom line and improve their work environment. Although additional research is needed to address employment and health disparities, these are significant steps to take to help employees.
To learn more about how The BIA Collaborative can help your company with this process, visit here.
This blog post was written by Brianna Rhodes, the founder of the writing and editing platform, Brianna Rhodes Writes. To learn more about her services, please visit here.