HEROForum19 panel: It’s all about community

At the HEROForum19 conference, I met with two health and benefits leaders to talk about culture of health and well-being at their respective companies. Our main topic was on the importance of community health in well-being programs as well as other issues, such as mental/emotional health and the role of loneliness.

I was surprised to hear from both leaders that their companies are already focused on community health initiatives and that these initiatives are driven by their employees. Historically, when addressing chronic conditions and cost drivers, I’ve talked a lot about things like Centers of Excellence, narrowed networks, condition management and advocacy programs. I didn’t consider community issues like housing, food, security and transportation.

Many employees live in an unsafe environment or don’t have access to transportation or affordable healthy food. These circumstances don’t go away just because an employee is at work. In order to properly take care of employees and their families, we need to invest in community health.

Community health: A win-win for employees and employers
Employees don’t need to be asked to engage in community health. They’re already doing it by volunteering in schools, food kitchens, homeless shelters and other environments in need of support.

My peers from the panel are dedicated to helping their employees in their community efforts, as are the other employers I’ve talked to about this topic since the panel. One of the best ways employers can engage their employees in these efforts is by joining in. A few key steps in doing this include:

  • Giving employees time off to volunteer
  • Making a donation to where the employees are volunteering
  • Promoting the opportunity company-wide so other employees can join in and have an even greater impact

Combating loneliness with community health
One of the other big topics at HERO was around mental health and well-being, in particular the topic of loneliness. Symptoms of loneliness include:

  • Feeling less engaged at work
  • Having more health issues
  • Sleeping poorly
  • Experiencing more anxiety

Unlike clinical depression, loneliness is subjective and modifiable. There’s a lot we can do to combat it, including helping the person feel connected to a community.

Many employers are using both worksite and community health efforts to help their employees who experience loneliness. Some employers assign new employees onboarding buddies so the employee has a connection point from day one. Other employers also encourage their employees to post information about themselves so their peers can get to know them better.

Employers also focus on normalizing loneliness by making it part of the conversation and empowering employees to seek help. They also offer mental health programs and services available and encourage their employees to access them.

Measuring the success of community health
So how do employers measure the success of community health efforts? First, they can talk to their employees directly via employee engagement surveys. Some questions that can help measure success include:

  • How loyal am I to my employer?
  • How much do I care about my employer?
  • How much do I think my employer values me?
  • Does my employer support my community?

Second, employers can measure the percentage of the population making wise health decisions for their individual circumstances. They can look at prevalence and use of services by geography to understand the variations between different groups to determine how we can best support them.

Other key panel topics
During the panel, we also discussed the “Ten Years of Health and Well-being at Work” study, which includes responses from more than 500 U.S.-based employers, related to workplace well-being. I learned that both these leaders’ experiences around behavioral health, chronic conditions and technology align with the study’s trends and findings.

  • Behavioral health: Both companies are focused on normalizing the conversation around behavioral health. They hope to create more access and a better experience for employees seeking support.
  • Chronic conditions: Both companies are furthering their focus on condition management. They’re also dedicated to better understanding and addressing employees with comorbidities, such as diabetes and depression.
  • Technology: Both companies are looking for more ways to use technology to help their employees with program engagement.

To learn about other well-being at work topics, including behavioral health, chronic conditions and technology, download the “Ten Years of Health and Well-being at Work” study e-book.


About the Author

SerxnerSeth - Full shotSeth Serxner, PhD, MPH
Chief Health Officer, Optum
Seth Serxner, a national expert on behavior change, program design and measurement, brings the breadth of his experience in academia, industry and consulting to his role as chief health officer at Optum.
His versatile skill set ensures processes and outcomes that improve health for clients in all markets. His deep knowledge of behavior change, population health and measurement allows him to visualize and deliver on program innovation.
He is a published author with over 25 years of experience in health and productivity management. He holds a master’s in public health and a doctorate from the University of California, where his research focused on health promotion and disease prevention in social ecology.



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