The estimates of numbers of UK adults with high blood pressure, or hypertension, are startling. The NHS estimates 1 in 4, while Blood Pressure UK’s estimates are even higher at 1 in 3 adults. It is a health condition which majorly impacts both employees and employers. Health consequences of high blood pressure can include increased risks of heart attacks, stroke and kidney disease.
These conditions can lead to long term work absences as well as serious life changes for employees. Yet, two thirds of UK adults with high blood pressure remain unaware of their condition – and this makes increasing awareness vital.
Employers can make a massive difference in the health and future wellbeing of their staff by highlighting awareness of high blood pressure and helping them take appropriate action.
In this article we discuss ways employers can get engaged around this important issue.
1. Support awareness initiatives each year
Know Your Numbers week runs every September. It is a great opportunity for employers to highlight the importance of healthy blood pressure, as part of efforts to create a health-positive workplace culture. Employers can promote the campaign, take advantage of posters and other resources, and help employees locate the free tests provided countrywide during this week each year. The Know Your Numbers initiative is run by Blood Pressure UK – visit their website for more information and access to resources. The NHS blood pressure page is another valuable resource page which can help to ensure staff understand the importance of the condition and interpret their results if they are puzzled by the numbers.
There’s a second chance each May to focus on this important issue, with World Hypertension Day. This initiative, which has run since 2005, provides information globally to help raise awareness, and is another source of powerful resources such as infographics, that employers can utilise.
2. Help boost awareness and encourage staff to get regular blood pressure checks
Lots can be done to reduce the impacts of high blood pressure, but it often goes undetected for years. Testing for high blood pressure is really important, and the only way to diagnose the condition. Employers can also do great work to help employees discover their status, and to avoid some of the risks in the first place, by taking simple actions such as:
- Encouraging staff and their managers to be health-aware and take up opportunities for checkups when they are made available, whether this is at their GPs or via the employer’s private healthcare policy provider
- Providing time off for essential checkups, without asking staff to take this time as unpaid leave or work time to ‘make up’ afterwards
- Demonstrating good heart-health check behaviours by getting senior leaders to get tested and being transparent about this experience
- Make sure line managers are briefed about the links between work stress and other drivers to high blood pressure risks – and are encouraged to share this with their teams
Some employers go even further and organise a blood pressure check day in the workplace. That makes it even simpler for your employees to access checks as well as showing that you take the matter seriously and want to help employees stay healthy. Helping to make blood pressure checks as quick and simple as possible could massively improve take up, ensuring that none of your workforce suffer from an undiagnosed blood pressure problem.
3. Support a culture of healthy lifestyles in the workplace
There are many lifestyle changes that can help employees mitigate some of the risks of developing high blood pressure, as well as reducing symptoms if they have been diagnosed. As an employer, you can help reduce your staff’s risks by actively encouraging healthy lifestyle choices in your workplace. Consider whether you can:
- Reduce salt in onsite canteen food
- Encourage drinking of non-caffeinated hot and cold drinks
- Involve staff in healthy eating campaigns and provision of healthier on-site choices
- Develop a bike or cycle to work scheme
- Provide onsite exercise options
- Encourage staff members to start sports teams or take part in local exercise events
Taking the management and reduction of workplace stress seriously is of course an important part of the story too.
It is an unfortunate reality that high blood pressure can be exacerbated by high levels of work stress, especially on top of employees increasingly busy modern lives.
Monitoring, mitigating and managing work stress is an important employer responsibility. This is a huge topic in its own right, but it is worth reflecting on around the issue of high blood pressure. Stress must be an open topic, which line managers are encouraged to keep front of mind. Supporting them to ensure realistic workloads, encourage openness and discussion around work challenges, and asking for feedback about work stressors and difficulties are all important.
Employers can make a huge difference in reducing the risks and managing the impacts of high blood pressure among their staff. From highlighting the importance of getting tested, to introducing a culture of healthy living and taking work-stress seriously, employers have many ways to contribute to employee health and wellbeing.
Creating a healthy workplace culture, empowering line managers with the right information and tools with which to sustain it, and engage employees around essential health subjects like blood pressure, goes a long way towards that overall goal.