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16 Apr 2024

Chronic health issues in the workplace are rising: here's what you can do

As the population ages, older people, often with long-term health issues, are needed to stay in the workforce

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With an ageing population and falling birth rates in the UK, the number of working-age adults is declining.

To make up for the shortfall, many people need to work for longer - which means more people in the workforce are living and working with chronic health issues.

In 2019, the Department for Works & Pensions reported that 12.8 million working adults in the UK – more than 31% of the working population – had a long-term health condition.

A 2023 analysis by the Health Foundation REAL Centre in partnership with the University of Liverpool projected that 9.1 million people in England would be living with major illness by 2040, 2.5 million people more than in 2019.

This is an increase of 37%, nine times the rate at which the working age population (20-69 year-olds) is expected to grow over the same period (4%).

Cost of poor health

This is a cause for concern, for not only the people of the UK, but also employers. Poor employee health costs the UK economy an estimated £138bn per year due to absence and affect on productivity, according to recent Vitality research.

The annual Vitality Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey 2023 found UK workers lost an average of 6.1 days a year due to formal absence, with most lost working hours due to employees not working effectively as a result of ill-health.

As the number of employees living and working with chronic health issues grows, there will be a greater need for employee health and wellbeing support.

Here are 4 ways employers can support employees with chronic health issues:

1) Flexible Working Act

The Flexible Working Act came into effect on 6 April 2024, and will greatly benefit employees with chronic health issues.

Being able to access flexible working arrangements ensures their participation and progression in the labour market, opening up employment and promotion opportunities for everyone, regardless of age, gender, disability or location.

However, embracing the Act is about more than just compliance; it’s about cultivating a work environment that promotes employee wellbeing, productivity and inclusivity.

Employees with long-term health conditions can continue to work while managing their health conditions.

Although employers will have the final say about flexible working arrangements, catering to the flexible working needs and requests of employees will position your organisation as a caring and inclusive place to work.

2) Private healthcare

More than half of the UK workforce (51%) want access to private healthcare via their workplace, amid growing concerns about the availability of NHS healthcare.

Hospitalisation insurance is particularly high in demand among UK workers, with 59% of workers wanting this in 2024.

By offering private healthcare and specialised healthcare benefits, organisations can cater to the needs of employees with chronic health issues and the wider workforce too.

3) Access to training or reskilling

For employees with chronic health issues, a change in role or new skills could be their saving grace at work.

Access to training allows workers with chronic health issues to expand their capabilities, offering them an opportunity to change roles or move into another area of the business that can better accommodate their condition.

Not only will employees grow professionally – which will benefit an organisation from renewed skills – employees will continue to feel comfortable and capable in their role and remain in the workforce for longer.

4) Create a wellness action plan

Employers and employees with chronic health issues can collaborate on a wellness action plan (WAP) to help create open dialogue between the employer and employee.

A WAP ensures an employee is fully supported in their role and that employers make all necessary and reasonable adjustments to help employees thrive at work.

The personalised and practical tool encourages regular wellbeing meetings and reviews with employers and employees, which, even when short, give organisations the opportunity to address any early warning signs and ensure adjustments are regularly reviewed.

In conclusion

The importance and impact of facilitating a healthy workplace, one that acknowledges employees’ mental and physical health needs, cannot be ignored.

Employees need to feel their wellbeing matters and be provided with available tools to support them.

Managing the health needs of employees with chronic health issues – and the wider workforce – will increase employee retention and attract the skills of prospective future employees.

In partnership with KareHero

The UK’s No1 adult caregiving support service' for employees. Helping families understand, find and fund elderly care.

Contact us today