A fifth (21%) of employers say they are concerned about employees living with long-term chronic illnesses (such as diabetes, certain types of cancer or multiple sclerosis) according to research commissioned by GRiD, the industry body for the group risk sector. In line with current government focus, GRiD stresses the importance of retaining employees and facilitating their continued employment to improve the UK’s productivity but also because crucially, it is good for their employer and the individual too.

As of July 2023, 2.6 million of the 8.78 million economically inactive people in the UK stated long-term sickness as the reason, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said: “Staff resignations due to chronic illness are not inevitable. Employers who have support in place and are prepared to be flexible and accommodating can successfully retain those who live with long-term illnesses.”

Good work is good for people

It is widely recognised that good work is good for people. It can provide a social environment, a salary, contribute to a sense of self-worth and provide satisfaction: all helping an individual’s wellbeing. The opposite can also be true that when someone’s ability to remain in a stimulating work situation and the ability to support themselves financially is removed, the individual’s mental and physical health can deteriorate.

What robust support looks like

There are a number of ways for employers to consider if their support serves their employees and their organisation.

As well as offering preventative support, employee benefits should help employees back into work when they have had time off ill. Access to fast-track vocational rehab, talking therapies, virtual GP, second medical opinion services and health apps can all be vital in helping an employee return to work. Such support can also help employees feel part of the team and cared for.

Once they have returned, support also needs to help staff stay in work. This may involve helping them manage symptoms, and might include reasonable adjustments, flexibility, or other more specialised interventions to enable them to continue working.

Support should also be available for HR teams and line managers who have staff with chronic conditions, and can include HR and legal helplines as well as help with mediation.

Employee benefits such as employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness – collectively known as group risk benefits – offer a powerful solution that encompasses all such support.

Katharine Moxham said: “What ‘good work’ looks like may differ for an employee before and after the diagnosis of a long-term illness. And while the government is considering different ways to reduce the UK’s economically inactive population, we would encourage employers not to wait to see what solution is suggested. Support is already available, and those employers who make the most of it will be the winners.”