Liability Insurance Contributing Columnist


Addressing the Talent Shortage: Using Social Determinants of Health to
Attract Worker

Jen Pino-Gallagher
Director of Food & Agribusiness Practice
M3 Insurance

September 17, 2021


The following statement will not come as news to anyone in the dairy industry – dairy processors are facing an employment crisis.

Even as skilled workers head back into the workforce and the weight of the pandemic lessens (Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is hovering around 3.9 percent as of July 2021), dairy processors are not seeing an increase in candidates for their open positions.

This challenge was made clear in the last Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association workforce development committee meeting I attended.
The human resource managers in the virtual meeting expressed the same challenges – getting applicants in the door and then keeping them once hired.

In a recent Food Engineering article, Dan Crist, vice president of operations for AM King, is quoted as saying, “Like many other industries, workers that were laid off during this period did not return to their jobs as the economy recovered.”

The talent shortage is not just affecting the food processing industry – according to a recent study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled by 2030.

Dairy processors can’t control the shifting supply and demand within the workforce. However, innovative employers can make themselves a workplace of choice through adjustments to a few factors that are well within their control.

Understanding your employee demographic to build benefits
It’s important, first, to understand that every employee in every industry does not want the same thing from their employer.

While higher pay is a desire across the board, each industry’s employee demographic operates with unique characteristics that influence their needs and desires from an employer. Dairy processors can consider their employees’ social determinants of health in order to build a customized incentive, compensation, and benefit plan that fits their needs.

When these factors are taken into account, benefits programs better reflect the employee population that they’re serving – and make your company a magnet for the exact workers you’re looking for.

What are social determinants of health?
Social determinants of health is the concept that says the conditions in the place where people live, learn, work, and play affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. (Source: CDC)

The concept is important for employers to understand, as it highlights the areas in which they need to adjust benefits (beyond wages and health insurance) to positively impact their specific employee population, encourage tenure, and promote a healthier work environment.

Social determinants of health can generally be categorized into four buckets:
1) Social and economic factors (local cost of living and wage adequacy, societal norms)
2) Health behaviors (likelihood of chronic disease, local diet)
3) Clinical care (quality of care available)
4) Environment (pollution, ergonomics, etc.)

Today, creativity is necessary to get people in the door to apply for open roles. In a societal moment where dairy processors are struggling to find employees, addressing social determinants of health through a total compensation plan can help employers meet workers where they are.

How do employers address social determinants of health with
benefits and compensation?

Social determinants of health do not have a one-size-fits-all solution. The solutions are determined by the different social factors employee populations are experiencing.

My recommendation is to work with an insurance consultant who understands your industry, how it’s changing, and your unique culture – one who can also analyze your population health data and bring forth opportunities for improvement. Below are a few examples of how dairy processors can supplement their benefits based on the social determinants of health of their employee population:

Emotional Health
Employee assistance programs (EAP) that are coordinated with health, wellness, and workers’ compensation (safety) programs; Mental health benefit via telehealth; Mindfulness or meditation education and support

Financial Health
—Tuition assistance
—Earned wage access
—Offering a stipend and/or group rates for cell phone, auto insurance, etc.
—Budget and financial planning assistance Physical Health
—No deductible health coverage
—Integrating workers’ compensation, disability, and FMLA
—Encouragement or rewards for annual physician visits, wellness programs, and virtual visit promotion (a low cost alternative)
Social/Spiritual Health
—Matching mission with culture
—Team building & resilience training
—Establishing mentorship programs
—Diversity, equity and inclusion plan

Key Takeaway
Employers seeking to increase talent attraction and retention during current employment crises must re-evaluate their benefit and compensation programs to ensure they assist their employee population with issues that matter to them

Jen Pino-Gallagher is director of the food and agribusiness practice at M3 Insurance. M3 Insurance offers insight, advice and strategies to help clients manage risk, purchase insurance and provide employee benefits. The views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Reporter. You can contact the columnist by calling (800) 272-2443, or by visiting


Jen Pino-Gallagher

Jen Pino-Gallagher is a Director of Food & Agribusiness Practice at M3 Insurance. M3 Insurance offers insight, advice and strategies to help clients manage risk, purchase insurance and provide employee benefits.
For more information, call (800) 272-2443 , visit

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