Employers Guide to Employee Health in 2022
Employers have a duty of care for all their employees. They must create and encourage good health and safety practice and support staff appropriately whenever a health issue emerges.
However, supporting employee health fully must always mean more than simply creating safety nets. It’s not just about reactive support such as Occupational Health and Employee Assistance Programmes.
To keep workforces in good shape, employers should also promote good health, with appropriate surveillance. Managers need support to identify health issues fast and enable timely intervention.
Encouraging awareness of common employee health concerns, conditions, and topics is vital. It helps managers and employees alike to spot warning signs. It also enables managers to engage more effectively, so they can direct staff to the right support.
Employee Health Awareness Engagement Calendar
Health concerns can happen at any time of year – and so can awareness-raising. Employers can take advantage of many awareness campaigns to help them do this. Here are some important health topics and opportunities to engage and educate during the first half of 2022:
November-December-January – ALCOHOL AWARENESS
Pre-Christmas celebrations can mean alcohol issues become front of mind long before the event. Perhaps that’s why Alcohol Awareness Week happens 15th-21st November 2021. However, the impacts of over-indulgence and binge drinking can manifest well into January and beyond.
Even short-term abuse can impact employers. They experience sickness absences and under-performance, as well as strains on workplace relationships.
Differentiating between overindulgence, dependence, or misuse of alcohol is important. Employers must strike the right balance of positive employee health support and any other actions, such as disciplinary measures.
Employers must be aware of the warning signals. They include signs of alcohol misuse, or that someone has a dependence problem, is over-drinking or binge drinking regularly. Long-term impacts of alcohol over-consumption affect the entire body and brain. It is linked to increased blood pressure and high cholesterol, thus increasing the risks for heart disease.
February – CANCER AWARENESS
Cancer is all too prevalent, so it is an issue that most employers will encounter with one or more staff. World Cancer Day occurs on 4th February 2022. Macmillan says that a third of the 2 million people living with cancer at any time are of working age.
Cancer may also become a growing challenge for employers as a result of COVID. The attention of doctors was diverted, and many people became reluctant to visit health professionals. It has caused delays in initial diagnosis and treatment plans, which may unfortunately lead to worse outcomes for many people.
Cancer can be a highly emotive and distressing issue. Not just for those with cancer but for their colleagues. The impacts can start at diagnosis, extend through treatment, and be severe in the event of a death.
It is vital that employers understand and engage effectively around cancer, and support and train managers in holding cancer-related conversations. Supporting employees during treatment, or managing a return to work following cancer must be handled with care and attention.
Cancer is regarded as a disability from the point of diagnosis onwards. Cancer is also a factor to consider when formulating healthcare and protection benefits.
The team behind World Cancer Day provide lots of materials including a Workplace action kit. We also recommend this as well as this important IOSH advice for employers on managing returns to work after cancer.
March – OBESITY AWARENESS
Spring can often be a time when people’s attention turns to weight and fitness. World Obesity Day happens on 4th March 2022 – and is a great excuse to raise awareness in the workplace too.
The working age population is getting fatter and the obesity epidemic is touching every workforce. The latest Health Survey for England data suggests that 27% of men and 29% of women are now obese.
Every employer should be concerned about obseity. It is linked to reduce life expectancy, a complex range of chronic diseases, many cancers, and now to increased COVID-19 risks. It is known to relate to increased sickness absence and associated costs, and to measurable productivity impacts.
Obesity is a topic around which many managers find hard to engage. They can worry that genuine offers of support may be perceived as judgement and criticism. Training and support for them is important. Helping employees make informed food and lifestyle choices is also supportive – but it is not enough on its own.
March – SLEEP & FATIGUE AWARENESS
Employers need their workers well rested if they are to work effectively. World Sleep Day occurs on 18th March 2022.
Fatigue is a well-known issue for shift workers and night staff. Yet, poor sleep, insomnia and resulting fatigue can affect any employee, including those working from home.
Fatigue is not just a drag on productivity, however – it can be the cause of work-related accidents. Tired workers make mistakes, lose concentration and can misjudge risk. These might be in relation to driving at or for work, or working with equipment. It can reduce care with handling chemicals, or even cause slips, trips and falls.
Fatigue has emerged as one of the most common symptoms of long-COVID. It is therefore more important than ever as a potential employee health impact.
Every manager should be encouraging good sleep hygiene and watching for signs of staff fatigue.
The HSE page on Fatigue as a human factor is informative. You can also explore this BITC toolkit about Sleep and Recovery. Those suffering from insomnia or sleep issues may find help from the MIND page on Sleep and Mental Health.
April – STRESS AWARENESS
There is strong evidence that stress has been a real side effect of the COVID pandemic.
Although stress is not an illness, it can cause illness, and has long been a concern of employers.
The Stress Management Society suggests that 65% of adults felt more stressed in the wake of the pandemic. Stress Awareness Month starting on 1st April 2022 gives employers a great way to get involved.
May – MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS
Mental health has risen rapidly up the priority list for many employers since the pandemic began. However, it has always been a very important topic.
UK Mental Health Awareness Week, which will start on 9th May 2022, has been running for several years.
Mental health issues are diverse. They can range from stress to depression, anxiety, and more severe conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Any of these could potentially be considered a disability under the law if they are severe. They can have a significant impact on an employee’s quality of life and ability to work.
Managers can find depression a particularly loaded topic to deal with. It is an important area of education and awareness due to its link with suicide prevention.
May-June – ASTHMA & ALLERGIES AWARENESS
It matters for employers in relation not just to asthma in general, but also around occupational asthma. This can be caused within or by the work environment. Exposure to chemicals and cleaning products, working in fridges and freezers, and other workplace factors can be causes of asthma.
Symptoms include wheezing and coughing, tightness around the chest, shortness of breath, conjunctivitis, and rhinitis.
Becoming educated about allergies and how they can affect employees is important. Workplace exposures can also trigger allergies.
Allergies can cause not just asthma-type symptoms but dermatitis and other skin reactions, which can be severe on occasion. They may be considered a disability in law, requiring employers to make reasonable adjustments to avoid exposure.
June – DIABETES AWARENESS
Diabetes is a growing issue for employers in a country where the working age population is not just ageing, but also getting fatter. It is a topic around which every employer should become more aware and encourage the same with managers and staff.
Obesity and inactivity are known to be contributing factors for development of Type II diabetes. Educating employees and managers around these causes is helpful. So is building an awareness of the signs of hypo- and hyperglycaemic attacks. You can educate on appropriate responses, and when to call in emergency help.
Diabetes Week will come around again on 13th June 2022 and is a great opportunity for this kind of education.
Employers should be aware of how diabetes is viewed under their duty of care. It makes individuals clinically vulnerable, requiring appropriate risk assessment and potential adjustments.
Planning employee health for 2022 and beyond COVID
The pandemic meant that many of the above long term conditions which may have been neglected, or gone unrecognised. They occur throughout the population, and therefore will be present to some degree in every workforce.
They are among many factors that should play into employee health management strategies.
Among other health conditions, they form the landscape for the provision of all supportive services and schemes. These range from Occupational Health provision to Employee Assistance Programmes, Group Income Protection schemes, and business healthcare insurance.
Of course, individuals bear some responsibility for their own health too. This was why the Self Care Forum was established. There is also no shortage of excellent NHS self care advice on a vast range of health conditions.
However, there is no doubt employers play a vital enabling and connecting role. This spans creating awareness and wellbeing initiatives in the workplace, and taking a proactive stance on employee health management.
Empactis helps employers of all sizes to support managers with the information they need, including engagement checklists and workflows. It enables effective engagement, better employee support, and helps to track and progress individual health cases. It connects to all other workflows strongly associated with health issues, such as HR case management and absence management. Discover Empactis Health Manager.