Chronic diseases – a growing problem in the workplace
Adjusting the workplace pays off.
SW – 11/2019
About a quarter of the
working population in the European Union (EU) reports suffering from a chronic
disease. This represents an increase of eight percentage points from 19% in
2010 to 28% in 2017, a trend that will be exacerbated by demographic change,
with workers over 50 more than twice as likely to have a chronic disease than
people under 35. However, according to the European Foundation for the
Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), the proportion of
younger workers aged 16-29 who report having a chronic illness has also
increased, from 11% in 2010 to 18% in 2017.
a policy brief,
Eurofound examined the extent to which adjustments in the workplace contribute
to making the work of employees with chronic illnesses more sustainable, that
is, help them cope with their illness. Sustainable work means that people can
continue to work despite their illness or, if after a period of absence due to
illness, they can return to work.
illness impacts the sustainability of work, as affected people are more likely
to leave the labour market and become inactive. More than 40% of workers who
report having a chronic illness say that they will not be able to continue
working until they are 60.
the working environment to the needs of workers with chronic illnesses could
have a significant impact on their job quality and the sustainability of work.
One fifth of workers with a chronic illness report that their workplace or work
activity has been adapted to their health problem. Among those whose daily
activities (including work) are limited due to their illness, only 30% benefited
from adjustments to their workplace. Two-thirds of workers with impaired health
do not receive such support.
can be physical in nature, such as accessible workstations, a height-adjustable
desk or other technological aids such as voice-recognition software. However, workplace
accommodation can also include adjusting working times or providing the option
to work from home.
most common chronic diseases are musculoskeletal disorders, followed by
cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and mental
illnesses. It should be noted that chronic diseases may or may not be caused
(or exacerbated) by work. Prevention therefore also plays an important role in
reducing the development and impact of chronic diseases in the workplace.
The growing number of
people with chronic illnesses increases the urgency to address how those
affected can work sustainably. This is all the more true if the cost of absenteeism
and early retirement are taken into account. As poor health is one of the main
reasons for an early exit from the labour market, a holistic, lifecycle
approach is needed to prevent chronic diseases and to ensure effective retention
and reintegration of chronically ill people in the labour market. This should
cover the policy areas of health, OSH, social protection and employment, as
well as be integrated into labour law and non-discrimination legislation in an
overall strategy that manages demographic change.
Social Questions Working Party is currently working on a set of draft Council
conclusions on a new EU strategic
framework on health and safety at work.
draft conclusions note that current work practices and methods often do not
make it possible or attractive for older workers and people with partial
disabilities or chronic illnesses to continue working or return to work. A
longer career must be promoted in order to make use of all available workers,
including a growing number of older workers. Member States should be encouraged
to maintain and improve the ability to work through national health and safety
policies and measures in order to achieve a working life that is inclusive for
all ages and for people with health problems and disabilities.