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27 Jan 2022
by Dawn Lewis

REBA Inside Track: increasingly complex health needs require careful workforce planning

It's no secret that people are living and working for longer, thanks to healthier lifestyles and advancing healthcare. However, have employers truly considered what this means for their workforce?




Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) include an array of conditions from cancer and heart disease, through to diabetes and obesity. Figures from the World Health Organization showed that 67% of premature deaths worldwide can be attributed to NCDs. In the UK alone, Office for National Statistics figures from 2016 revealed that out of an employed population of 26 million people, 6.5 million have a long-term condition.

With such a high percentage of people working with an existing condition it is surprising that few employers view NCDs as a significant business risk.

Our The Workplace Physical Wellbeing Dilemma (2021) research found that just 15% of employers consider NCDs as a high risk, while 33% thought it was low risk and 52% viewed it as a medium risk.

Similarly, Aon’s UK Benefits and Trends Survey (2022) also found that fewer than 50% of employers are concerned about heart-related conditions, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. The report noted: “This is somewhat concerning as heart disease remains the number one cause of death for males in the UK, and poor lifestyles giving rise to these health issues are risk factors for a multitude of other conditions.”

The risk of overlooking or dismissing these health issues cannot be underestimated, especially as the number of people living and working with these conditions increases. Employers will not only need to consider how their health and wellbeing benefits can support those with existing health concerns, and can help to prevent other health issues from arising, but also consider how it may impact the workforce as a whole.

Here are my top three things to ponder on:

  1. The shift towards hybrid working is likely to continue to gather momentum. Working with a chronic condition means that employees will need flexibility to attend medical appointments or to simply work at a time that best suits their health. Employers need to consider how jobs can be redesigned to better support these needs to help retain key skills and knowledge.
  2. The International Longevity Centre-UK has warned that the UK economy will see a shortfall of 2.6 million workers by 2030 – this is thanks to many older workers approaching retirement and fewer younger workers joining the workforce (the pandemic, poor health and caring responsibilities, and reduced migration are also influencing this shortfall).

    As a result employers need to consider how they can retain talent. Be it through more innovative and personalised working patterns, more supportive health and wellbeing benefits, or re-skilling employees, the strain on recruitment is unlikely to go away for the next few years.
  3. Physical wellbeing should remain a focus for all wellbeing strategies, especially given the significant physical, emotional and financial impact long-term conditions can have for the individual and in the workplace. All of these factors need to be taken into account when designing a wellbeing strategy fit for the future workforce.

This may all sound a little negative, but it really isn’t. Thanks to advances in healthcare those wishing to remain in the workplace are able to do so – benefiting both the individual and the employer.

Over the next few years, I believe reward and employee benefits professionals will need to play a bigger role in workforce planning to ensure that employees, regardless of their health status, are retained and supported in the workplace to the benefit of all.

The author is Dawn Lewis, content editor at REBA.