- Health issues are prevalent: Almost half of the UK population has a long-standing health problem.
- Ill health has a human and financial cost: It impacts an individual’s quality of life, a business’ profits and the overall economy.
- Employers can proactively support employee health: Effective processes, a safe working environment and relevant benefits all contribute to good employee health.
In 2021, approximately 149.3 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the UK. And while 80% of workplace sickness is short-term, it’s worth noting that approximately 46% of men and 50% of women have a long-standing health problem.
Employee ill health can cause significant upheaval, both to the lives of employees and their employers. For example, ill health can affect employee productivity, cost businesses in sick pay and temporary cover, and reduce morale and motivation across the workforce.
It’s therefore important for employers to be aware of and support employee health. Businesses can take steps to promote good overall employee health at a companywide level by implementing effective processes, ensuring the working environment is positive and safe, and providing employee health and wellbeing benefits.
At an individual level, an employer may not always know what health issues, if any, an employee has (and there are regulations around asking an employee about their health to consider). However, if an employee confides in their employer about a health condition, adequate support should be given.
This article outlines some of the most common employee health issues in the workplace. It includes information on their prevalence among UK employees and what employers can do to support employees with the listed conditions.
Allergy is the most common chronic health condition in Europe, affecting up to 20% of the population. For example, an estimated 2 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with a food allergy and 600,000 with coeliac disease.
Allergy symptoms range dramatically, from sneezing and itching eyes, to skin rashes and vomiting. Severe allergic reactions, however, can be life-threatening and this reality causes fear for many of those that suffer from allergies.
Employers can support those with allergies in the workplace by implementing an allergy policy, ensuring other staff know about any allergen restrictions, maintaining high standards of cleanliness and making reasonable adjustments for individuals, such as their own desks and fridge.
Nearly one-third of the UK population have musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions such as arthritis or back pain, and they result in 30 million lost working days per year. MSK conditions can cause a range of symptoms including stiffness, movement limitations and disability.
Employers can reduce the likelihood of musculoskeletal injuries occurring in the workplace and support those with MSK conditions through:
- Regular risk assessments
- Maintaining adequate staffing levels
- Adopting a personalised approach to the working environment and equipment
- Signposting to guidance on MSK conditions
- Promoting regular exercise and movement
- Providing access to physical and occupational therapies
Mental health conditions
An estimated 1 in 6 adults report experiencing symptoms of common mental health problems, including stress, anxiety, and depression, in any given week in England. Focusing on mental health in the workplace, 822,000 people suffered from common mental health problems due to their employment in 2020/21 and an estimated 300,000 people with mental health problems lose their jobs each year.
Creating an understanding, inclusive and open company culture can help support employee mental health. In addition, offering flexibility, investing in training and implementing mental health policies and benefits can all make a positive difference.
Approximately 1,000 people receive a cancer diagnosis each day in the UK. Of those living with cancer, 36% are of working age and for people in employment when diagnosed, 85% feel it is important for them to continue working.
However, cancer doesn’t just affect those who receive a diagnosis. It also has an impact on their family and friends. In particular, those who care for them as they navigate treatment and recovery. In fact, 50% of the 1.5 million cancer carers in the UK are in employment, meaning they juggle work and providing care.
Businesses can support their employees by raising awareness of cancer in the workplace, keeping communication open, making reasonable adjustments and providing tailored employee benefits such as Perci Health’s cancer support.
More than 4.9 million people have diabetes in the UK and there are a further 13.6 million people who have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can cause a range of major health complications including amputations, sight loss, heart disease and nerve damage.
Due to diabetes being a long-term health condition, it is nearly always covered by the Equality Act 2010 as a disability. This means that employers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for those employees with the condition.
Employers can further support employees by promoting a healthy lifestyle, providing resources about preventing and living with diabetes, and undertaking staff training about how to respond if someone is having a Hypoglycemic attack.
5.4 million people in the UK live with asthma and of those, around 1 million have ‘difficult’ asthma. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness. This means that, for some individuals with the condition, everyday tasks such as walking up stairs or manually carrying a load are more challenging or even impossible.
Certain working situations, such as exposure to particulate substances, can cause asthma or make it worse. Employers must abide by Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations as a preventative measure. They should also undertake health surveillance, regularly looking for early signs of work-related ill health to monitor and protect the health of individual employees.
Around 1 in 7 heterosexual couples have difficulty conceiving. What’s more, homosexual couples and single individuals wishing to become parents often face barriers when seeking fertility assistance.
For those wanting to expand their family, an infertility diagnosis can be incredibly upsetting and affect their mental health. If they are unable to access NHS treatment, they are left with the option of private treatment. However, this isn’t feasible for everyone due to its high cost.
Employers can support employees navigating infertility through the provision of education, fostering an empathetic working environment and offering inclusive fertility benefits.
High blood pressure
In the UK around 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure, yet approximately half have not been diagnosed or are not receiving treatment.
High blood pressure is responsible for more than half of all strokes and heart attacks, and was responsible for 75,000 deaths in the UK in 2015. It is one of the most preventable and treatable health conditions but is often symptomless.
To prevent and reverse high blood pressure among employees, employers should support a culture of healthy lifestyles in the workplace. They should signpost employees to informative resources and facilitate regular blood pressure checks.
Fortunately, there are a range of specialised employee health benefits that can help employees with health issues. Perci Health is a pioneering virtual cancer clinic that connects those affected by cancer with professional support including psychotherapists, dieticians and life coaches. If you’re an employer looking to support employees living with cancer, book a demo to see how you can make a difference to the people within your business.
‘UK health indicators: 2019 to 2020’, ons.gov.uk, February 2023, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandlifeexpectancies/bulletins/ukhealthindicators/2019to2020
‘Costs to Great Britain of workplace injuries and new cases of work-related Ill Health – 2019/20’, hse.gov.uk, February 2023, https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/cost.htm
‘Sickness absence in the UK labour market: 2021’, ons.gov.uk, February 2023, https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/labourproductivity/articles/sicknessabsenceinthelabourmarket/2021
‘What Are The Effects Of Sickness Absence On Your Workplace?’, ohbm.co.uk, February 2023, https://www.ohbm.co.uk/what-are-the-effects-of-sickness-absence-on-your-workplace/
‘Food hypersensitivity’, food.gov.uk, February 2023, https://www.food.gov.uk/research/food-hypersensitivity
‘Allergy Prevalence: Useful facts and figures’, allergyuk.org, February 2023, https://www.allergyuk.org/about-allergy/statistics-and-figures/
‘How to Handle Allergies in the Workplace’, thrivelaw.co.uk, February 2023, https://www.thrivelaw.co.uk/2019/10/30/how-to-handle-allergies-in-the-workplace/
‘Musculoskeletal health’, england.nhs.uk, February 2023, https://www.england.nhs.uk/elective-care-transformation/best-practice-solutions/musculoskeletal/
‘Mental health statistics’, priorygroup.com, February 2023, https://www.priorygroup.com/mental-health/mental-health-statistics
‘Cancer Statistics for the UK’, cancerresearchuk.org, February 2023, https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics-for-the-uk
‘Diabetes statistics’, diabetes.org.uk, February 2023, https://www.diabetes.org.uk/professionals/position-statements-reports/statistics
‘Difficult and severe asthma’, asthma.org.uk, February 2023, https://www.asthma.org.uk/support-us/campaigns/publications/difficult-and-severe-asthma-report/
‘About asthma’, hse.gov.uk, February 2023, https://www.hse.gov.uk/asthma/about.htm
‘Infertility’, nhs.uk, February 2023, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/infertility/
‘Blood pressure facts and figures’, bloodpressureuk.org, February 2023, https://www.bloodpressureuk.org/news/media-centre/blood-pressure-facts-and-figures/