Three wellbeing challenges employers will need to tackle in 2023
A proactive approach is needed to address wellbeing challenges including soaring cancer rates, increasing work-related illness and NHS delays.
With more employees having to live with long-term health conditions, due to rising cancer cases and NHS delays, helping people to manage these conditions is a new priority.
Add to that soaring rates of work-related ill-health, primarily due to work-related stress and MSK issues, and there are three new challenges employers will need to tackle in 2023.
Imogen Cardwell, our clinical operations director, explores the challenges and how to get started when it comes to tackling the choppy waters ahead.
Challenge 1: Supporting terminally ill people to stay in work
Data released in the last few weeks shows that 40% of cancer patients are now having to wait more than the 62-day target to receive life-saving treatment. This has contributed to a 17% increase in cancer deaths, as cancer cases become more entrenched and less treatable.
As a result, more employers will need to support terminally ill employees to stay in work, so long as it’s safe to do so. Not only to meet their legal duty, under the Equality Act 2010, but also as a moral duty. Also, many people with cancer don’t want to be wrapped in cotton wool and want to remain a valued member of society for as long as possible.
Integral to this is supporting employees by making the reasonable adjustments needed to allow them to remain in work, at a time when more than half (58%) of the employees with cancer say they have been forced to change their employment.
For example, someone experiencing tiredness due to hormonal therapy might need to work more flexibly for a time. Whereas someone going through chemotherapy might have an increased risk of infection that requires them to work different hours, so they can travel to and from work at quieter times.
An occupational health clinician can advise managers and HR on appropriate adjustments and keep them updated on important milestones in the individual’s recovery, or progression of cancer, and act as key part of the employee’s wider support group.
Challenge 2: Ongoing NHS delays
The NHS backlog, which has increased to more than 7.2 million people, is not just affecting cancer patients. Delays ranging from cancelled operations to long waits for mental health support means one in five employees (19%) impacted by the NHS backlog say their work has been affected. Leading more than one in ten (15%) to become long-term sick.
Before the pandemic, if someone needed a knee operation and was struggling to work, they would typically get signed off work by their GP until after they had been treated and had some post-surgery rehabilitation.
That might have been OK when they only had to wait six weeks, but it's unacceptable if it's going to be a year. Not least as there is a risk of financial hardship, and long-term absence has been shown to lead to lack of confidence, isolation and an increased risk of future worklessness.
Again, reasonable adjustments to help keep people in work, whereas previously there might have been a perception that they shouldn’t be in work, will be critical going forward. If there are underlying issues causing the problem, such as weight gain putting excessive pressure on joints, Occupational Health might also be able to support the individual lose weight to reduce their joint pain and need for an operation.
Critical to supporting people to stay in work is the use of the biopsychosocial model that looks at the biology, psychological impact and social impact of, and on their health condition. Pain is linked to our perception of what we can and can’t do, so if individuals are helped to do more, this can reduce the psychological and physical impact of their condition and their pain threshold.
Challenge 3: Soaring work-related illness
Work-related ill health is set to continue to soar during 2023, after more than 30 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health over the past year. At a cost of £11.2bn.
According to data from the Health & Safety Executive, there were more than 1.8 million work-related ill health cases – new or longstanding – in 2021-22, with the primary causes of ill health being work-related stress, depression or anxiety (914,000), musculoskeletal disorders (477,000) and exposure to coronavirus at work (123,000).
Although trade unions are calling for statutory sick pay (SSP) to be increased in response, a far more proactive approach would be to review data to understand the underlying causes driving so much work-related ill health.
Employers should review their health data, including referrals to occupational health and health screening insights. As well as conduct ‘employee listening’ with surveys designed to uncover the root causes of work-related stress, in particular. As this can often be addressed with workshops and manager training based on the HSE’s Management Standards for reducing stress, which look at everything from workload to working relationships.
In the case of soaring MSK issues, workplace risk assessments can be used to identify where employees are setting themselves up for future injury. While body mapping workshops, where employees place stickers on body maps to reveal where they have injuries or niggles, can also be used. These encourage employees to share tips and advice with one another on how they’re using the same equipment, or doing the same job, in a way that prevents injury.
Free Webinar: Supporting employees with cancer
As we approach World Cancer Day, join our free webinar (at 9.30am, 2 Feb 2023) where our medical director, Dr Bernard Yew, will be discussing how to support employees with cancer to stay in work.
We will explore what’s driving the cancer crisis, how to go about making reasonable adjustments and the role of the manager for supporting those affected.