03 April 2019

Employers can lead the prevention march, helping to tackle employees’ ills

With the UK being the most overweight nation in Western Europe,* and obesity being the biggest cause of cancer – second only to smoking,** there are significant health issues in the country that need addressing and employers could be part of the solution.

Prevention is central to tackling many health concerns that individuals in the UK face, with diet and exercise just two crucial factors that can prevent people from getting ill in the first place. And there are numerous ways that employers can promote prevention, from educating staff, to advocating the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise, to offering medical screenings which help employees keep tabs on their health.

Health screening

Health screening is a great tool for prevention. And if a company offers it, it’s vital that they actively promote it as a benefit. It can help detect health issues before they become problematic, by checking vital statistics such as blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels. Advice can then be provided about implementing a healthier lifestyle, for example, helping employees to change habits and tackle a health issue head on before it becomes a serious problem.  

As some health issues are hard to detect, with warning signs such as fatigue, headaches or gradual changes in health potentially being ignored as result of the demands of modern life, health screenings can literally be a life-saver in identifying a concern and enabling the individual to take action. Rather than getting used to living with the warning signs, health screenings can detect an issue which can then be dealt with appropriately – preventing anything more serious taking hold. Simple examinations, such as finger-prick blood tests, can even be carried out within the workplace – making it more accessible and convenient to employees.

Appropriate tests

Dependent on age and lifestyle, health assessments and screenings can be tailored for employees’ specific needs. For example, assessments focusing on breast and gynaecological health can be offered to women, and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests can be offered to men to test for prostate cancer - the most common type of cancer for men in the UK.*** If an employee were to be referred on to a GP or a consultant on the basis of their health screening results, and a cancer diagnosis was subsequently confirmed, private healthcare and protection insurances can offer access to specialist oncologist teams or to clinical second opinion services– providing a variety of treatment options.

Employers that offer health and wellbeing benefits need to communicate them effectively, as they can be extremely valuable. Not only does the individual benefit from early intervention, increasing the chances of a positive outcome, but employers can maintain a healthier workforce – which is less likely to require prolonged treatment or long-term sick leave. It also sends a strong message to employees that their health comes first, with access to quality and timely treatment should it be required. It can help aid engagement and loyalty to the business too, with employees knowing that they are protected should their health be compromised.

Body and mind

We know that physical and mental health are inextricably linked. So, if a condition is taking its toll on physical health, it is likely that mental health will be affected too. There is still a long way to go with workplaces fully understanding and supporting mental health, with research finding that British people rank as the most depressed in the western world**** making it even more important for benefit packages to include provision for mental wellbeing. There is a wealth of support available to help employers support this; private medical insurance (PMI) and group risk insurance policies can include access to mental health nurses for example, helping to treat the psychological impact of dealing with an illness, and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and wellbeing apps can also include access to counselling. Such support is important so that recovery is holistic, and a physical illness isn’t treated in isolation.

Brett Hill, distribution director, comments: “As a nation, we have various health concerns that need immediate attention if we don’t want to continue topping polls where first place is undesirable. But more importantly, employers play a significant role in ensuring that they maintain a healthy – and potentially more productive – workforce.

“Preventing health concerns from taking hold, or occurring in the first place, is integral to creating a healthy workforce. There are many options available to employers to help keep their employees healthy, which should be thoroughly researched and then robustly executed within a business. If an employee does fall ill, having a suite of options available to look after their mental and physical health will not only help them to feel looked after – but it also sends an important message to other colleagues that they too will be supported in times of need, which reflects well on a paternalistic organisation.”

* https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/uk-obesity-rate-rising-overweight-worst-country-western-europe-world-us-ranking-oecd-research-a8049451.html

** https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/risk/overweight-and-obesity

*** https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/

**** https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/british-people-depression-west-mental-health-uk-oecd-europe-scandinavia-women-more-men-a7945321.html