Industry Voices—To pursue health equity, start with your own employees

Health systems and hospitals provide extensive resources to improve the health of the communities they serve. Tactics like mobile health clinics, expanded office hours and partnerships that connect patients to social services advance health equity, giving everyone the opportunity to attain their highest level of well-being. 

But many may be overlooking or under-prioritizing health equity in a critical population: their own employees. As evidenced by the burnout epidemic plaguing front-line healthcare workers, there is significant work to be done to improve their health and well-being. 

A reimagined workplace wellness program, built on the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion, is a great starting point for provider organizations to create motivated and healthy workforces. 

Whole-person wellness 

Most workplace wellness programs are built to be equal—giving everyone the same resources or opportunities to be healthy. Features like a one-size-fits-all nutrition program or on-site gym memberships are typical examples of this approach. 

But that can lead to low uptake and decreased impact on well-being among many employee groups. For instance, shift workers may not have time to access an on-site gym, and employees may not use recipes from a basic nutrition program because the recipes weren’t created with different cultural preferences in mind. 

Instead, workplace wellness programs need to be built on the principles of diversity, inclusion and equity—recognizing that individuals have different lived experiences and may need different resources to reach the same outcome. 

What’s more, wellness programs need to address the six dimensions of whole-person wellness to truly support all aspects of employee well-being, instead of focusing on physical health alone. The six dimensions of whole-person wellness are: 

  • Physical 
  • Emotional 
  • Social 
  • Occupational 
  • Financial 
  • Purpose 

How to make it happen 

The two keys to building a DEI-informed wellness program are dialogue and data. 

Listening is the first step. Allowing employees to voice what they want from a wellness program and what they are currently lacking provides the framework for strategic decision-making. It is especially important to pay attention to traditionally underrepresented groups of workers. Employee resource groups are valuable in this exercise, as they are typically created to provide a psychologically safe community for specific subpopulations. 

Quantitative data should also be used in a wellness program makeover. Absenteeism, health risk assessment data and medical expenditure data can all be used to identify health and wellness trends in employee populations and where help is most needed.

Nurses, doctors and other providers and administrative staff are the backbone of the American healthcare system, supplying the front-line work to advance health equity. They deserve an equitably built workplace wellness program so they, too, can have the resources they need to attain their highest level of health.

Neepa Patel is the CEO of WellRight. Vanessa Guzman is the president of SmartRise Health.