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More employees living with 'work-limiting' health conditions

Stressed woman sitting at her laptop, with city view outside the window

Poor physical and mental health affect a significant proportion of the workforce.

From musculoskeletal and cardiovascular conditions, to work-related injuries, to stress and mental ill-health, millions of employees are living with a health condition that limits their abilities at work.

An analysis by independent charity the Health Foundation found that 3.7 million people -- 12% of the working age population -- who are currently in work have a 'work-limiting' health condition that restricts the type or amount of work they can do. This number has risen by 1.4 million over the past decade and almost matches the number of people with work-limiting conditions who are not in work.

Health pay gap

The biggest driver behind the rise in work-limiting conditions is a sharp increase in mental ill-health, particularly among those aged 16-34. In 2023, a worker in this age group is now as likely to report a work-limiting condition as someone in work aged 45-54 was a decade ago.

Across the workforce, musculoskeletal conditions (such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis) and cardiovascular conditions (such as heart disease) remain the most common forms of work-limiting health conditions.

The data shows an earnings gap between those who report work-limiting conditions and those who do not. The "health pay gap" for full-time workers amounts to £2.50 per hour, which means that people with a work-limiting health condition earn on average 15% less.

The government and employers need to find new and better ways to encourage people to return to the workforce and help employees remain at work and in good health, the Health Foundation said.

"The impact of poor health on individuals and their families, whether they are in work or not, is considerable," said Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation. "And for the country poor health in the working age-population will drag down productivity, the economy and add a huge avoidable burden on public services and employers."

Work related ill-health

An estimated 35.2 million working days were lost in 2022/23 due to ill-health or injury directly related to people's jobs, including work-related stress, depression and anxiety, according to data published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The statistics reveal that 1.8 million workers reported they were suffering from work-related ill-health in 2022/23, with an estimated 875,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety -- higher than the pre-pandemic level.

HSE chief executive Sarah Albon commented: "Preventing or tackling work-related stress can provide significant benefits to employees, improving their experience of work and their overall health; and also to employers including increased productivity, decreased absenteeism and reduced staff turnover."

'Look at the basics'

Employers have a role to play in helping their employees improve their health and wellbeing, for example by:

  • maintaining a safe working environment
  • ensuring employees feel comfortable in reporting issues or concerns
  • identifying the risks of stress and addressing the causes
  • promoting a good work-life balance
  • encouraging a healthy lifestyle (e.g. subsidised gym membership and healthy snacks in the workplace)
  • offering flexible working to help employees with long-term health conditions stay in work
  • providing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), giving staff access to counselling, practical advice and referral services to help deal with personal and work-related issues

"HR need to look at the basics," said Karl Bennett, chair of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA).

"That means paying attention to employee experience and making sure there is a balance, that roles are designed for real lives, with reasonable demands and targets, routines include plenty of opportunities for social interaction, where there is always a sense of control and belonging.

"This needs to be backed up with real support for wellbeing as part of the culture -- particularly when it comes to early recognition and prevention around stress, anxiety and depression."

Posted by Fidelius on December 18th 2023

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