Social Determinants: Acting to Achieve Well-being for All

Addressing social determinants of health—the circumstances in which people are born and live—is a business and moral imperative


June 15, 2021

Addressing social determinants of health - the circumstances in which people are born and live - is a business and moral imperative.

Addressing social determinants of health—the circumstances in which people are born and live—is a business and moral imperative. These complex and interconnected factors impact our physical and mental health, our ability to be productive at work and our overall quality of life. They include early childhood experiences and educational opportunities; employment status and livable wages; housing, food, water, transportation, public safety, gender and racial equality; and of course, health care. It is time for large employers to look beyond individual behavior modification and consider ways that benefits and well-being initiatives can be expanded to address the underlying conditions that impact the health of employees and their families.

This Business Group on Health resource is for benefits and well-being leaders who are passionate about making a meaningful change in their organization and beyond. This resource covers the following:

  • What social determinants of health are and how to strategically align them with business priorities;
  • Actions you can take to identify the social needs of employees, connect them with community resources and fill gaps with internal benefits and programs; and
  • Information that will a deepen your understanding of seven prominent social determinants impacting vulnerable employees today with actionable solutions for employer implementation:


Access to Health Care Services


Food Access and Insecurity


Housing Insecurity


What are Social Determinants of Health?

Social determinants of health are the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age that influence our physical health and well-being. They include complex and integrated social and economic factors like socioeconomic conditions, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment, social support and access to health care.1

An important distinction for benefits and well-being leaders is the difference between social determinants of health and social needs. As noted above, social determinants are the underlying social and economic conditions within a community (e.g., lack of grocery stores or quality schools) that influence health. According to experts, social needs, on the other hand, are the immediate needs of an individual that relate to these conditions.2 Addressing social determinants of health requires systemic changes at the community level, while meeting social needs involves individual-level solutions to mediate the effects of community conditions.Both social determinants and social needs are important to address in order to be successful in improving population and individual health, as failing to identify and account for them may reduce the impact of investments in employee health and well-being.2

Examples of Social Determinants of Health

  • Income
  • Access to safe and affordable housing
  • Food access and insecurity
  • Access to playgrounds, parks and sidewalks
  • Availability of transportation
  • Public safety
  • Social cohesion
  • Racism and discrimination

Social needs are the downstream manifestations of the impact of the social determinants of health on the community.

Brian Castrucci, CEO of the deBeaumont Foundation & John Auerbach, President & CEO of Trust for America's Health

Addressing Social Determinants Requires Strategic Alignment

Corporate social responsibility and diversity and inclusion initiatives are essential and impact company cultures and the lives of individuals. Still, they may not address the impact of social determinants of health on your employee population. To make a meaningful difference, companies will need to identify unmet community needs and strategically align corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion and internal benefits and well-being initiatives to address these community needs. It’s critical to remember that community health positively influences economic activities, labor force participation, and of course, employee health.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Business intiative to address social and environmental concerns in business operations and interactions with stakeholders; often focuses on sustainability across a "triple-bottomline"—people, planet, profits


Corporate well-being aims to enhance the physical health, emotional health, financial security, job satisfaction and social connectedness of employees through programs/initiatives, benefits, policies, culture, built environmental and leadership

Diversity & Inclusion

Efforts to build and leverage a diverse and inclusive workforce through a culture where all individuals feel respected, are treated fairly and have the opportunity to excel; often requires ensuring diversity is represented at all levels of the organization and benefits, policies and programs are inclusive of all employees

Shared Goals

  • Strengthen brand and company reputation
  • Enhance potential talent pool
  • Improve employee retention and satisfaction
  • Improve current/future workforce health and well-being
  • Improve productivity and performance
  • Increase customer and employee loyalty
  • Enhance moral and job satisfaction
  • Reduce business costs
  • Improve community relations
  • Advance inclusion
  • Recognize and leverage differences diversity

More Topics

Articles & Guides icon_right_chevron_dark Social Determinants of Health icon_right_chevron_dark Community icon_right_chevron_dark Health Equity icon_right_chevron_dark
More in Well-being and Workforce Strategy


  1. What are Social Determinants of Health?
  2. Addressing Social Determinants Requires Strategic Alignment
  3. More Guide Sections