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Employee Support. Good Business Sense.

Dame Carol Black

15 May 2012

Today’s ( 15 May ) summit on Managing Long-Term Health Conditions in the Workplace held by the Work Foundation has gathered over 80 representatives from a range of forward-thinking UK organisations. The interactive event provided HR practitioners and those responsible for employee health and wellbeing with practical tips on supporting those with chronic disease in employment.

In England, there are currently around 15 million people with at least one long-term condition. Already by 2013 the number of people with two or more long-term conditions is expected to increase by 60 per cent. The rise in over 65-year-olds that will occur by 2050 is projected to increase the number of people with long-term conditions by 252 per cent.

This means that already one in three employees in an average company is either living with a long-term condition, or is caring for someone with chronic disease. For UK employers that means £9 billion annual loss in the costs of absence. More worryingly, as many long-term health conditions force individuals between the ages of 20 and 40 out of work, UK organisations may be losing even more on the investment in training and development of these employees.

For people with a long-term health condition, work – if it is good work – can help prevent co-morbidities and assist recovery. Many employers are already doing a lot to support individuals with long-term conditions in employment: today the audience heard from organisations like EDF Energy and BT on their health and wellbeing strategies.


What is often missing though, is a match between employer’s support in the workplace and appropriate health care interventions. Early diagnosis, plan of intervention and appropriate treatment – including occupational rehabilitation – are essential for job retention and return to work: These rely on GPs and hospital specialists to be delivered at the appropriate time. Some employers may find it difficult to interact with health care professionals. However, line managers are well placed to spot the early signs of declining wellbeing and prevent under-performance. They should become familiar with and make good use of the guidance on managing long-term conditions available from the patient groups and the Department of Health .

Likewise, employers must take the lead in educating their staff about the impact of chronic disease, emphasising that it can and should be managed without compromising individual’s employment status. Employees need to learn how to best communicate their needs to their doctors and managers in order to be provided with the right type of support both clinically and at the workplace. Similarly, employers should encourage co-workers of those living with long-term conditions to combat the yet prevalent stigma around chronic disease.

It is clear that acting alone employers cannot relieve the burden of long-term conditions in the UK. What they can and must provide is the environment for a joined-up action from the line managers, health care professionals and the individuals themselves to identify and accommodate the employee needs. Equally, trade unions and occupational health professionals are crucial partners in improving the lives of those with long-term conditions.

Presentations from the summit will be available to download shortly.

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