Community Is Critical to Workforce Health

By Vera Oziransky, Alexandra Luterek, Derek Yach

A healthy workforce is integral to the business bottom line: employers not only shoulder healthcare costs, but depend on their human capital for productivity and innovation which drives business profitability. Nearly 80% of US employers offer workplace health promotion programs. No one would argue that workforce health is influenced solely by the office, warehouse, or store environment. Community factors – access to healthy food, education, and safe neighborhoods – are equally if not more important to health.

Failing to address the environmental and social drivers of workforce health at the community level is a major barrier to the effectiveness of workplace health promotion initiatives. The Vitality Institute (the Institute) report “Beyond the Four Walls: Why Community is Critical to Workforce Health” takes a deep dive into the relationship between business profitability and community health.

To start, we know that across industries – from manufacturing to arts or technology – workers have varying rates of health outcomes such as smoking, diabetes, and obesity. Health outcomes also vary across counties. But are certain industries more likely to be located in counties with poor health, and if so, how does this impact workforce health? Until now, this relationship was not explored.

To address this knowledge gap, the Institute analyzed health data across 21 industries and 3,100 US counties and found that certain industries are indeed more likely to be located in counties with poor population health. Previous research points to many of these same industries employing unhealthy workforces, demonstrating the link between community and workforce health.

At a time when companies like Starbucks and General Motors announce they spend more on employee health benefits than on coffee and the steel they use to make cars, employers cannot afford to ignore the link between workforce and community health.

“The factors affecting workforce health go far beyond the jobsite, the individual employee, and availability of employer-based health insurance.  Investing in wellness efforts that reach the whole family and leverage community resources is more likely to improve employees’ physical and emotional well-being, benefit the community,  improve productivity, and reduce health care costs.“–Michelle Probert, Manager of Integrated Health Services for General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

Having made this link, how can we act? Over the past year, by conducting over 70 interviews nationwide the Institute also identified strategies businesses use to invest in community health and learned how community groups engage local businesses. Our report shows how cross-sector collaboration can create shared gains for business and population health. We present guidelines for employers to develop quality community investments and include 9 case studies of businesses and community groups (with another 11 to be released online over the next few months).

Extending the reach of workforce health promotion initiatives beyond the four walls of the workplace can simultaneously improve population and workforce health, resulting in employees taking less time off to care for sick dependents, lower turnover rates, and a greater level of productivity at work. Our hope is that communities and businesses, will leverage the business case for community health promotion to create a nationwide culture of health.

How does your community work with the private sector to promote a “Culture of Health”? Are you a business that invests in the health of your community to improve workforce health? We’d love to hear from you, either below or on social media at @VitalityInst and using #Beyond4Walls


Interested in finding out more? Watch our video, read the Press Release about this report, visit the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation webpage, or read the LinkedIn Pulse piece on the topic.

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