Understanding Social Determinants of Health

Aerial view of Residential district with Woodward avenue in Detroit Michigan

To improve health outcomes in Southeast Michigan, business, community, and legislative leadership must consider what determines health.

Many people face challenges and dangers they can’t control, such as unsafe neighborhoods, discrimination, or trouble affording necessities. These challenges can have a negative impact on an individual’s long-term health and well-being.

Ninety percent of what drives health throughout life comes directly from one’s social and physical environment.

Social Determinants of Health chart on a piece of paper

What are social determinants of health?

Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments where people live, learn, work, and play that impact a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.

These conditions are out of the individual’s control and influence all aspects of well-being. The five domains of social determinants of health include:

1. Economic stability: Education, job opportunities, and income.

2. Access to quality education: Language and literacy skills.

3. Access to quality health care: Access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities.

4. Healthy and safe environments:

    • Safe housing, transportation, and neighborhoods
    • Racism, discrimination, and violence
    • Polluted air and water

5. Positive and supportive relationships: Positive relationships at home, work, school, and in the community

Social determinants of health also contribute to health disparities and inequities. For example, individuals without access to grocery stores and fresh produce are less likely to consume a healthy diet, resulting in increased risk of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.


The Employer’s Role

While many of these conditions are beyond the control of employers, understanding the impact of social determinants on health can lead to a more empathetic and inclusive workplace. When business leaders and managers understand the needs of employees, they can develop strategies to meet those needs.

A stable job and safe workplace are areas employers can directly influence.

“By reducing risk factors and promoting protective factors, employers can ensure that the work environment is both informed by an understanding of social determinants of health and is a positive influence on mental health,” writes Garen Staglin, cofounder of One Mind and diversity, equity, and inclusion contributor at Forbes.

  • Watch for signs of burnout. Burnout happens when employees feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet demands. Employees need time to recover from stress in their personal and professional lives. Without this time, exhaustion, burnout, and mental health challenges can set in. Managers should have a pulse on how employees are doing with their current workload and offer support where needed.

employee burnt out

  • Lead with empathy. The ability to listen and respond with empathy is one of the many traits that make a good leader. Companies that focus on empathy within the organization, as well as on customers, have a 400% higher stock price on average, according to a recent analysis. Managers support their teams when they recognize that employees’ thoughts, feelings, and overall well-being are influenced by a set of factors out of their control.

conversation between manager and employy

  • Celebrate employees and life beyond the workplace. Employees are 64% more likely to say their company is a good place to work if they are very or somewhat satisfied with how life events are celebrated, according to a SHRM survey. Workplaces that encourage staff to share personal successes give them the confidence to express their full, diverse selves, and can create an environment that supports positive mental health outcomes.

new dad showing baby to coworkers on zoom call

To improve health outcomes in Southeast Michigan, employers must understand everyday conditions employees face that impact their overall health and quality of life. When business leaders and managers fully understand the needs of their employees, they can develop supportive solutions.