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It's Time to Synchronize Your DEI and Wellbeing Strategies

It's Time to Synchronize Your DEI and Wellbeing Strategies

by Ellyn Maese and Camille Lloyd

Story Highlights

  • Race and ethnicity factor into healthcare access and experience
  • Health and wellbeing extend beyond the doctor's office
  • Combining wellbeing and DEI strategies requires listening and reflection

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and wellbeing are top priorities as leaders navigate the disclosure economy, the "Great Resignation" and a competitive talent market.

But many leaders are treating DEI and wellbeing as two distinct initiatives, despite the fact that they are fundamentally connected. You can't improve either in isolation, and leaders who attempt to do so are probably getting both wrong.

Organizations need wellbeing strategies that are equitable and inclusive of diverse employees, as well as comprehensive DEI initiatives that deliver a consistent employee experience for everyone. At the same time, leaders need to recognize that diverse employees' experiences and needs related to wellbeing can differ dramatically. No employee can do their best work if they are struggling in their health and wellbeing -- and their needs vary.

To fully meet the needs of every employee, leaders need to synchronize their DEI and wellbeing efforts.

Integrating DEI and Wellbeing

There are three target areas leaders should focus on to align their wellbeing and DEI strategies:

  1. Your employees have different access to health and wellbeing resources.
  2. Your employees have different experiences with healthcare systems.
  3. Your employees have different daily experiences that affect their health and wellbeing.

A recent survey of more than 9,500 U.S. employees, conducted by Gallup's Center on Black Voices, reveals persistent racial and ethnic disparities in each of these areas among employees.

Understanding your employees' unique and varying needs related to health and wellbeing is a critical first step in integrating DEI and wellbeing. Perspective informs action.

Understanding Access to Health and Wellbeing Resources

It is all too easy for employers to overlook disparities in access to health and wellbeing resources. After all, it is tempting to think that simply providing benefits such as health insurance or an employee assistance program (EAP) is enough to ensure equal, fair access for all employees. In reality, offering benefits is not the same as ensuring equal access.

Even among U.S. workers, there are substantial differences in access to health-related services. Gallup finds that 13% of White employees are currently dissatisfied with the availability of quality healthcare in the area where they live; among Black and Hispanic employees, about one in five are dissatisfied (21% and 22%, respectively).

Similarly, ease of access differs. Factors related to transportation and community planning can contribute to vastly different experiences in trying to get to available resources. While nearly half of White employees (46%) say it is very easy to access high-quality healthcare, only about a third of Black (34%) and Hispanic (36%) employees say the same.

Understanding Experiences With Healthcare Systems

Once employees have accessed health or wellbeing resources, their experiences with providers differ significantly. These differences can affect important health and wellbeing outcomes and behaviors, such as whether and where employees choose to seek care, the quality of the care they receive, and to what extent their health and wellbeing needs are ultimately met.

Black and Hispanic employees tend to be less satisfied with basic elements of the patient experience. For example, Gallup finds that while 65% of White employees agree or strongly agree that they are satisfied with the amount of time healthcare providers spend with them, that figure slips to 60% among Black employees and to 52% among Hispanic employees.

Even more strikingly, Black and Hispanic employees are far more likely to perceive discrimination based on race or ethnicity in the healthcare system: 65% of Black employees say it occurs very or fairly often, as do 51% of Hispanic employees. Only 44% of White employees report the same degree of frequency.

This perception of discrimination manifests in a range of specific experiences in which Black and Hispanic employees report generally more negative experiences.

Employees' Experiences With Healthcare Providers, by Race/Ethnicity
In the last three years, have you ever felt that a doctor or healthcare provider ... ? (% Yes)
White employees Black employees Hispanic employees
% % %
Didn't believe you were telling the truth 18 22 22
Didn't listen carefully to you 29 32 34
Refused to order a test or treatment you thought you needed 13 15 18
Refused to prescribe pain medication you thought you needed 13 14 17
June 17-July 9, 2021

Employees' Dissatisfaction With Healthcare Providers, by Race/Ethnicity
Thinking about your experience with healthcare providers (e.g., doctors and nurses) over the past 12 months, please rate your level of agreement or disagreement with the following statements. (% Strongly disagree/Disagree)
White employees Black employees Hispanic employees
% % %
I am satisfied with the amount of time healthcare providers spend with me during visits. 9 11 12
Healthcare providers provide the preventative care I need to stay healthy. 8 10 10
Healthcare providers provide me with the education and services I need to effectively manage my health. 9 12 12
Healthcare providers listen carefully to my concerns about medicines or treatments. 7 9 12
June 17-July 9, 2021

These inequitable experiences ultimately undermine employees' trust in providers. While 71% of White employees trust their healthcare provider to make good decisions about their health, only 61% of Black employees and 62% of Hispanic employees say the same. That 10-percentage-point disparity has serious real-world implications: It could be the difference between choosing to seek care or not, or between choosing to follow a doctor's advice or not.

Once employees have accessed health or wellbeing resources, their experiences with providers differ significantly. These differences can affect important health and wellbeing outcomes and behaviors.

Understanding Relevant Experiences in Daily Life

Health and wellbeing go far beyond the doctor's office. Employees' experiences in their daily life have important implications for health and wellbeing and follow them to work each day.

Black and Hispanic employees are far more likely than White employees to report experiencing discrimination, harassment and microaggressions in their day-to-day life. Some of these microaggressions occur at work -- one in four Black and Hispanic workers have experienced discrimination at work in the past 12 months. These experiences are associated with lower levels of employee engagement and wellbeing.

Employees' Negative Experiences in the Past Week, by Race/Ethnicity
During the past seven days, have you had any of the following happen to you? (% Yes)
White employees Black employees Hispanic employees
% % %
You were treated with less respect than other people. 22 30 33
People acted as if they were afraid of you. 12 23 19
You were discriminated against. 12 22 21
June 17-July 9, 2021

Employees' Negative Experiences in Daily Life, by Race/Ethnicity
In your day-to-day life over the past 12 months, have you had any of the following happen to you? (% Yes)
White employees Black employees Hispanic employees
% % %
You were treated with less courtesy than other people. 28 43 40
People acted as if they thought you were not smart. 25 39 34
People acted as if they thought you were dishonest. 16 30 25
People acted as if they were better than you. 33 47 42
You were called a name or insulted. 19 20 24
June 17-July 9, 2021

Even when discrimination, harassment and microaggressions occur outside of work, those experiences still affect overall wellbeing. The "whole person" comes to work -- and employees' experiences outside the office inevitably affect not only their wellbeing but also their performance on the job.

Integrating DEI and Wellbeing: A Practical Guide

Step 1: Gather input. No two workforces are alike -- and it's incumbent on leaders to discover where their employees are struggling and thriving when it comes to wellbeing and experiences with DEI. Ask your employees to provide feedback in team meetings, town halls or anonymous pulse surveys. Talk to employee resource groups. By taking the time to understand your employees' experiences and needs, you can tailor the resources you provide and signal to workers that you care.

A comprehensive approach -- with quantitative and qualitative employee feedback -- can give leaders the full picture of employees' experiences. For instance, leaders should collect insights about enrollment in various EAP offerings and health plans. Leaders should also determine how differences in access to health and wellbeing resources, in experiences with healthcare systems, and in daily experiences affect:

  • where employees get health-related information
  • where and how often they seek healthcare
  • what kind of healthcare they receive and how effective it is
  • what kind of support they have in their wellbeing and overall wellness, in addition to challenges they face

Step 2: Reflect. To act on their discoveries, leaders should think critically about possible solutions in the following domains:

  • benefits package and EAP
  • workplace wellbeing/wellness programs
  • policies on workplace flexibility and work-life balance
  • workplace culture
  • conversations between managers and employees

Addressing diverse needs may seem overwhelming, but solutions can be quite simple. For example, offering health plans with a wide breadth of coverage for providers and services allows employees to choose the care that is right for them. Some solutions -- like flextime -- can be readily adapted by employees to meet their own needs.

Step 3: Plan. Make sure you have the right foundations in place. Consider structural changes to facilitate the integration of health and wellbeing and DEI into your organization. For instance, leaders should encourage cross-functional relationships and collaboration between wellbeing leaders and teams that champion DEI initiatives. Hold these teams accountable for their efforts and empower them to work in lockstep.

Equip employees at all levels with the tools they need to provide equal and fair access to support resources. Upskill your managers, leaders and HR professionals in cultural competence, and prepare them for having conversations with employees that address the "whole person" -- including aspects of health and wellbeing.

Importantly, spread the word about DEI and wellbeing efforts. Tell managers and HR professionals what resources are available and how to share those with employees, and hold them accountable for doing so.

Now, Get Started

Ask yourself these questions and commit to finding the answers:

  1. Ask: Are our health and wellbeing benefits and programs equitable and inclusive?

Follow up: How are we making sure?

  1. Ask: Are our managers equipped to have culturally competent conversations about wellbeing?

Follow up: Are those conversations actually taking place? Are they having a positive impact on employees?

  1. Ask: How can we support the unique health and wellbeing needs of our employees?

Follow up: How are we finding out what those are and adapting as they change over time?

Keep in mind that employees' needs will continue to shift in the days ahead; be careful not to settle into the status quo or make assumptions about employees' needs for support. Instead, continually ask questions and stay in the know about employees' needs. When you do, you can achieve an inclusive culture of wellbeing that leverages all the benefits that diversity can offer.

Create a thriving organization centered on inclusivity and wellbeing.


Ellyn Maese, M.A., is a Research Associate at Gallup.

Camille Lloyd is a Senior Consultant for Gallup, Director of the Gallup Center on Black Voices and cohost of the Cultural Competence podcast.

Bailey Nelson contributed to this article.

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