Employers concerned about long-term illness

A fifth of employers are concerned about employees living with long-term chronic illnesses, according to research from industry body Group Risk Development (Grid).

As of July 2023, Office for National Statistics data found 2.6 million of the 8.78 million economically inactive people in the UK stated long-term sickness as the reason they are not in work.

Grid recommended organisations reevaluate their support for employees. 

Benefits including fast-track vocational rehab, talking therapies, virtual GP and health apps can all be vital in helping employees back into work, it argued.  

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said staff resignations due to chronic illness are not inevitable.

Read more: Chronic illness leaving employees £1,400 out of pocket

She said: “Employers who have support in place and are prepared to be flexible and accommodating can successfully retain those who live with long-term illnesses.”

Moxham encouraged employers not to wait for future government guidance on chronic illness, and instead work with employees to offer reasonable adjustments and flexibility.

Grid also called for more support for HR teams and line mangers who have staff with chronic conditions, including HR and legal helplines and help with mediation.

Paula Coffey, director of claims, rehab and medical services at Unum UK, said long-term sickness of four weeks or more can harm physical, mental and financial wellbeing and social inclusion.

Read more: Work-related stress guidance published as sickness rates increase

She said: “Long-term sickness can have terrible costs to individuals beyond loss of income. 

“Yet at the same time, it’s never beneficial for someone with a disability to feel forced to work.

“This pressure whilst feeling too unwell to work can actually be harmful and make a long-term condition worse.

Coffey recommended HR to create wellness action plans (WAP) for employees to to feel empowered to continue working.

She added: “A WAP ensures they have what they need from their employer to remain jobs whilst feeling as healthy, happy and productive as possible.

“It can also facilitate vital employer-employee dialogue about how employers can reduce triggers for flare ups of conditions, reducing the risk of people becoming too unwell to work.”

Grid’s research was conducted by Opinium from 9-22 January 2023 among 503 HR decision-makers at UK businesses and from 10-13 January 2023 among 1,212 workers.