Employers are so focused on managing and supporting stress and mental ill health in the workplace that they risk overlooking heart-related health conditions, a study has argued, even though heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death in the UK.
The UK Benefits and Trends Survey 2022 from professional services firm Aon found that just 44% of employers were concerned with managing and supporting heart disease in the workplace, compared to 96% who said the same about stress.
According to the British Heart Foundation, coronary heart disease is one of the UK’s leading causes of death and most common cause of premature death. It is estimated to be responsible for around 64,000 deaths in the UK each year, an average of 175 people each day, or one death around every eight minutes.
Moreover, the pandemic has led to people either putting off coming forward for heart treatment or procedures or stuck on waiting lists to be seen, treated or operated on. It has also become increasingly recognised that Covid-19 can often lead to lasting or long-term heart complications.
The Aon study, an annual poll now in its twelfth year, surveyed 253 HR, employee benefit and reward professionals.
It found that, after stress, depression and anxiety was the issue of next biggest concern (89%), followed by women’s health (73%), musculoskeletal conditions (67%) and men’s health (also 67%).
By comparison, heart-related conditions, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes were all relatively low down the pecking order, at 44%, 40%, 36% and 33%, respectively.
Heart health and Covid
Mark Witte, principal, health and risk, at Aon, said: “It isn’t surprising that stress is the highest concern for employers, given the increased pressures people have faced at home and work over the past two years.
“At the other end of the scale, employers are less concerned about heart-related conditions, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. This is somewhat concerning as heart disease remains the number one cause of death for males in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics, and poor lifestyles giving rise to these health issues are risk factors for a multitude of other conditions,” he added.
The survey also highlighted a growing trend among UK employers to focus on preventative health measures. A total of 78% of employers polled said they were focusing their spend on prevention, half (50%) said the same about detection of ill health and early intervention, 43% were more focused on access to treatment and just 23% on long-term support.
When it came to what they included within an employer health and wellbeing programme, 73% said they focused on communications, 69% on mental health awareness training and 63% on mental health first aid training.
“General wellbeing appears lower on employers’ list of priorities, with fewer supporting employees in areas such as physical activity (48%), nutrition (44%) smoking cessation (25%) or weight loss programmes (16%),” Witte said.
“Improving lifestyle behaviours and detecting the early signs of ill health deserve parity with other dimensions of wellbeing. In our view, physical wellbeing should remain a focus for all wellbeing strategies, especially given the significant physical, emotional and financial impact conditions can have for the individual and those around them both at home and in the workplace. A holistic approach to wellbeing will be most effective in building a resilient workforce,” he added.