Bridging the Gap: Communicating about Public Health to Employers

Nearly 50 percent of Americans receive their health care coverage through their employer making the business community well positioned to help combat the growing costs related to managing and preventing chronic disease in the American workforce (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2019). With the cost of health insurance premiums and employee medical claims at all-time highs and continuing to rise in the United States (NCCDPHP, 2020), we know major contributors to these costs are preventable chronic conditions, such as heart disease and stroke. Knowing what messages resonate with employers to invest in chronic disease prevention and management for their employees can help public health practitioners better engage businesses as partners.

At the CDC Foundation we are engaging with the business community to support the health promoting work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2020, we set out to discover how private sector employers address prevention and management of chronic disease in their workforce and what can be done to support employers in this area.

In April 2020, the CDC Foundation partnered with a public opinion research and message development firm to conduct a message testing project with HR decision-makers. The purpose of this effort was to explore the most effective messages for motivating organization decision-makers to offer chronic disease prevention and management benefits and programs. The primary audience for the inquiry included human resources professionals and C-suite executives who were involved in choosing and designing employee health and welfare benefits programs. We asked over 300 Human Resource decision-makers to select the top messages that most resonated with employee health and wellness benefits.

The strongest messages focused on three major themes: the influence of COVID-19, altruism and showing concern for employees. The top three messages were: 

  1. COVID-19: “People with chronic diseases may be at higher risk for diseases like COVID-19.  Preventing and managing chronic disease could help make an organization’s workforce less vulnerable to new and emerging diseases.”  
  1. Altruism: “Employers have an obligation to look out for the best interests of their employees.”  
  1. Concern for employees: “Showing a genuine concern for employees’ health and well-being increases their morale and commitment to the organization.”    

Overall, the study found a strong and growing awareness of the importance and value of helping manage the health and well-being of employees—read a summary of the study. The messages that resonated most with human resource professionals had to do with taking care of employees’ health not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it improves employee morale, job satisfaction and makes the workforce more resilient to new and emerging diseases.

When communicating about health to the business sector, we found taking a two-pronged approach is helpful.

First present the information in a way that appeals to the “heart” of the decision-makers and focuses on how this information affects employees and their families. Communicating the positive outcomes such as increased morale, improved teamwork and social connectedness that are achieved when their employee health is prioritized resonates with employers.

Second, present the information in a way that appeals to the “head” of the decision-makers, articulating how employee health and wellness affects their business. Employers want to verify that any health messaging they relay to their employees is scientifically sound and valid. The CDC Workplace Health Resource Center is a one-stop shop for workplace health promotion that gives employers resources to create a healthy work environment. Taking this approach not only increases the likelihood that your public health messages are heard, but perhaps even more importantly, that they inspire action from employers.

Today, employers have a lot to juggle, from reopening plans for bringing employees back into the workplace to fostering a culture of workforce health, all of which will help them reach their business objectives. Sharing messaging insights on how to reach employers regarding these topics is crucial for both public health professionals and business decision-makers. The CDC Foundation is pleased to help contribute to this critical body of work and encourages collaboration between the public and private sector to ensure organizations are less vulnerable to inevitable future pandemics and existing comorbidities.

This publication is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $200,000 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.   

Michele Bildner- Headshot
Michele Bildner is a project manager for non-infectious disease programs with the CDC Foundation.