As Irish employment numbers continue to rise and economic recovery continues to take hold, the issue of health and wellbeing in the workplace is increasingly in focus.
Employers of all sizes seeking to attract and particularly retain talent are working to create environments in which employee welfare is prioritised and health and wellbeing is openly encouraged and supported.
Not only does this create a positive atmosphere, it boosts productivity, reduces recruitment costs for businesses and helps position the company as an employer of choice.
This year the Pfizer Health Index 2017, which is a nationally representative study on health and wellbeing, demonstrates that although there are high incidences of health conditions in Ireland with significant levels of cardiovascular disease, chronic pain and diabetes for example, as a nation, we generally tend to rate our health as very good to excellent.
This year, the study also focuses particularly on workplace health and wellbeing, and in this sense, the same positive trends are apparent. 80% of Irish employees tend to rate their work-life balance as very good or better, 88% of people find the content their job interesting, and 92% of those surveyed rated their relationships with colleagues as good to excellent.
These findings marry with the latest Eurobarometer figures that demonstrate 80% of Irish workers view their working conditions as good and 88% are likely to discuss work-related problems with colleagues.
The soundings are therefore positive. However, while positive, this optimistic worker outlook belies the fact that almost 3 in 10 workers have a health condition — such as high cholesterol, high/low blood pressure, asthma, arthritis or chronic pain.
Nearly two-thirds describe their work as stressful to very stressful and three-quarters of workers have not discussed a health issue with their employers, fearing negative impact on their career prospects or indeed because of simple embarrassment.
Thus, while workers’ positive attitudes may not reveal the true extent of health issues and health condition incidence amongst Irish employees, there are clear issues to be addressed.
In fact, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) estimates that musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and stress, anxiety and depression (SAD) are the most common workplace health issues in Ireland.
The Institute’s research found that over the period 2002 to 2013, these two types of illnesses accounted for 68% of work-related illness in Ireland. MSD accounted for 50% and SAD for 18%.
In addition, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work estimates that around half of European workers consider stress to be common in their workplace, and it contributes to around half of all lost working days. Beyond the workplace, worker health and wellbeing has a wider national economic and social impact.
Although it is challenging to specifically quantify the costs, the figures on disease-specific expenditure help to paint a picture. For example, incidence of cardiovascular disease is estimated as equating to 6% of the national health spend and rheumatoid arthritis costs approximately €1.6bn per annum. Thus the knock-on economic impact of ensuring occupational health and safety at work, where around two million of Irish people spend the majority of our time, is clear.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a healthy workplace one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and wellbeing of all workers.
The Pfizer Health Index 2017 shows that employers are focusing on this area with 73% of respondents agreeing their employers are committed to health and wellbeing and one in five respondents having taken part in a workplace health and wellness initiative in the past three months.
But, there is an appetite for more. Almost 90% of respondents said there is a need for greater emphasis on worker health and wellbeing, and that more needs to be done.
At a national level, it is positive to see Government prioritising workplace health, through development of the Healthy Workplace Framework, and the Healthy Ireland Network, of which Pfizer is a part..
Employee health and wellbeing is a topic that will continue to be increasingly relevant, as more and more people enter, remain in, and return to, the workplace in Ireland. At Pfizer, we are glad to add further insight on the topic through this, the 12th year of our research and to continue to support a national conversation on the health priorities of Irish people.
Paul Reid is managing director of Pfizer Healthcare Ireland.
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