Fuelling the workforce - Employee wellness programmes

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What do employers worry about when it comes to their staff? Staff absence? Staff productivity? Attracting and retaining key staff? All of the above?

Clearly, medical insurance products have an impact on all these through getting employees back to work faster after recovering from illness.

However, organisations also often look towards wellness programmes to address these issues through prevention of ill health.

Chronic diseases are heavily influenced by people’s lifestyles.

Three risk factors (low physical activity, poor diet and smoking) account for four diseases (cancer, diabetes, lung disease and heart disease) that account for more than 50% of deaths worldwide.

In the UK, 78% of all years of productive life lost due to disability are accounted for by chronic disease.

The number of adults living with a chronic disease is 17.5 million, while six in ten report some form of chronic health problem.

Going forwards, this is set to increase even further. The Foresight Report estimates that more than half of the UK adult population could be obese by 2050.

BUSTING MYTHS

There is a common perception that disability from chronic disease occurs in old age.

However, nearly 60% of all years of productive life lost due to disability from chronic disease occur in the working age population.

As a result, the burden of chronic disease to business is significant, both in terms of sickness absence and sickness presence attending work with reduced ­productivity due to sickness.

Dame Carol Black’s review estimated that on average, seven days are lost each year per employee due to sickness absence, amounting to 175 million days across the country annually.

Overall, sickness absence costs the UK economy £100bn per annum.

In terms of sickness presence, it has been estimated that up to 11% of the working population consider themselves in ill health, and employees in poor health are estimated to be three times less productive than those in good health.

Sickness presence is estimated to cost UK employers 1.5 times more working time lost than sickness absence.

Thus, businesses need to find effective solutions for improving the health of their employees to reduce these losses.

On top of this, the UK population is ageing. For the first time in history, we will soon have more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 16.

Just as the UK population in general is getting older, so too is the working population.

The proportion of older age groups (50-64 years old) working has increased from 70% in 1996 to 73% in 2008 for men and from 61% to 70% for women.

 Going forwards, the mean age of the workforce is expected to increase from 39 in 2007 to 43 by 2025.

Furthermore, retirement ages are likely to continue to rise. In 2006, the Age Discrimination Act made it illegal for an employer to force an employee to take compulsory retirement before the age of 65, and gave workers approaching that age the right to request continued employment beyond 65.

The government currently has a consultation paper out to remove the default retirement age of 65 altogether.

In addition, the age at which a state pension will begin to be paid will be equalised between men and women by 2018, and in 2020 the qualifying age will rise again to 66 for both men and women.

This further increases the number of people in older age groups continuing to work.

With the ageing workforce comes increased prevalence of chronic disease. Between the ages of 55 and 65, both the likelihood of diagnosis with cancer and suffering a stroke doubles.

Hence, an ageing workforce poses a considerable challenge to employers to keep that workforce in good health.

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