Plan sponsors miscalculate how many of their employees have chronic diseases, which suggests they may also underestimate these diseases’ impact over time.

This gap in awareness is among numerous findings that point to a growing need for employers and benefits providers to do more to support health management, reports the 2015 edition of The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey.

Read: Employers focus on chronic disease

According to the survey of more than 1,500 plan members, 56% of employees have been diagnosed with a chronic disease or condition, such as diabetes or high cholesterol. That jumps to 78% among employees aged 55 and older.

Plan sponsors, meanwhile, estimate that 26% of their staff has a chronic disease or condition. Such a disconnect is likely a reflection of the fact that “many of these diseases are not obvious. People work through them,” notes Chris Bonnett, president of H3 Consulting and one of three members of the report’s advisory board to present highlights to a gathering in Toronto on June 3. However, the “silence” of these diseases masks the fact that many struggle to manage their conditions, which can lead to reduced productivity, additional illnesses that require additional medications, and absenteeism.

Read: Chronic diseases taking a toll on Canadians

Keeping in mind that the incidence of chronic disease climbs with age, the survey found that only 19% of plan sponsors are concerned that too many of their baby-boomer employees will be in poor health as they approach retirement. Forty-four percent are not concerned at all about the issue of baby boomers and health benefits, and 18% have not thought about it. “This indicates a bit of a head-in-the-sand approach,” cautions Godfrey Mau, co-presenter and pharmacy consultant, group benefits, at Manulife.

Reporting may help put chronic disease management on the agenda. Currently only 14% of more than 500 surveyed plan sponsors strongly agree with the statement that they know the top disease states in their workforce. As well, 76% would like a better understanding of how benefits affect health outcomes, productivity and absenteeism.

Read: Employers and employees not on the same benefits page

The survey also examined how workplace conditions can help, or hinder, employee health. For example, 20% of plan members report their current workload has caused them to regularly eat unhealthy foods, increasing to 43% among those who describe their current health as poor. And 47% of all respondents do not take breaks while eating lunch.

Twenty-one percent say their workplace is a barrier to reaching personal health or fitness goals. Lack of time is the biggest barrier. “These results tell us that workplace flexibility and work hours can be perceived as a benefit,” says Marilee Mark, co-presenter and vice-president, market development, at Sun Life Financial.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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