Employers need to get proactive if they hope to prevent or slow the progress of chronic diseases in their workplaces.

That was the message from Jennifer Elia, assistant vice-president of client experience, integrated health solutions, at Sun Life Financial during a session at Benefits Canada’s Chronic Disease at Work 2017 conference in May.

The problem, according to Elia, is that benefit plan design has historically been “responsive in nature.”

“We need to do something radically different,” she said, warning that a failure to do so could prove disastrous.

Federal public health officials have already pegged the economic cost of lost productivity directly or indirectly attributable to chronic diseases at $122 billion annually.

“This is driving costs out of our benefits plans that may not be sustainable over the longer term,” Elia said.

Read: Rising diabetes cases signal need for more workplace screening

However, she also had some words of encouragement for employers: “We have the ability, through health and wellness programs that are proactive in nature, to really get ahead of a lot of the risks that are impacting chronic disease.”

The first step for a company that wants to make a change in its approach is to gather data on the current state of its workforce. Elia said doing so is particularly important given the disconnect a recent study found between the views of employers and their workers on the prevalence of chronic disease. 

While management estimated on average that 32 per cent of their employees suffer from at least one chronic condition, 57 per cent of workers in the same survey reported having one.

Elia said the insights gleaned from multiple employer and employee data sources should form the basis of an action plan to meet the company’s unique needs.

Read: Pharmacies touted as key partner for managing drug plans

“Armed with a plan, you can move forward. Perhaps what’s needed is a wholesale change to culture or specific programs and tactics to target a health issue the data says is prevalent among your employee base and affecting their work. It could be a number of different combinations,” she said.

The key to a company’s success, said Elia, is knowing and understanding the drivers of workplace health and what it wants to achieve, recognizing that a healthy workplace is good for business.

“Once we know our objectives, we have an opportunity to set benchmarks and track progress, so we can demonstrate the value of the time and energy and any funds we’re putting towards employee health,” she said. “If we can prevent a long-term disability claim or slow the onset of a chronic condition, our investment pays off in spades while increasing employees’ goodwill towards their employer.”

Read: Comorbidity a growing concern as Canadian workforce ages

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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