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How can employers support workers with long-term health conditions?

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Approximately 15million individuals in the UK have a long-term health condition and it’s estimated that around half of the UK workforce will have at least one long-term health condition by 20301. Sickness absence alone costs employers and taxpayers an estimated £22 billion a year2.

Workers with long-term health conditions and disabilities are at risk of leaving work, experiencing long-term sick leave, working part-time and retiring early3 which can lead to financial strain, debt and further ill-health.

For organisations, absenteeism results in reduced productivity, the need to reallocate work tasks and recruit new staff. In recent years, sickness presenteeism (working while ill) has been the subject of increasing attention, with research focussing on negative outcomes, such as the economic costs to organisations and the wider economy4.

On the other hand, government rhetoric suggests presenteeism should be encouraged and that returning to work while not fully fit benefits employers and helps workers recover5.

But what are the experiences of employers in practice? Do employers perceive presenteeism as a problem for their organisations, but preferable to absenteeism? Should workers stay at home until they are fully recovered? What are the barriers to implementing workplace adjustments to support workers? 

Invitation to attend a knowledge exchange workshop Dr Paula Holland (Lecturer in Public Health) and Dr Alison Collins (Lecturer in Organizational Health and Wellbeing) at Lancaster University are keen to explore employers’ perspectives on these issues. While research is important in identifying the difficulties facing workers with long-term conditions, employers’ perspectives are crucial in identifying barriers to the implementation of workplace adjustments and the types of support employers themselves need.

The workshop will explore a number of issues, including: - What kind of support and information do employers needs to employ and retain workers with long-term health conditions or disabilities? - Should early return to work from sick leave be encouraged to reduce sickness absence and help retention? - What are the circumstances in which workplace adjustments are implemented? What are the barriers to their implementation and how might they be overcome?

Participants will be invited to suggest practical solutions to the issues raised and identify recommendations for employers, line managers, HR professionals, and government.

Who should attend? Employers, line managers and HR professionals keen to share their experiences of supporting workers with long-term health conditions or disabilities, or who are concerned about how they might cope if they find themselves in this position.

All experiences and information offered by workshop participants will be treated confidentially and the Chatham House Rule will be in operation throughout the event (https://www.chathamhouse.org/about/chatham-house-rule)

What are the benefits for businesses in attending? Participating in the workshop is an opportunity to contribute to the work of the Arthritis Research UK/Medical Research Council National Centre of Excellence for Musculoskeletal Health and Work. The issues raised will feed into research on employers’ experiences of supporting workers with long-term conditions and disabilities.

Date and venue The workshop will be held on Friday 8th July at the Lancaster House Hotel, Green Lane, Lancaster LA1 4GJ.

The event will start at 12.30pm with a hot lunch and will end at approximately 4.30pm. If you are interested in attending, please email Paula Holland for more information: p.j.holland@lancaster.ac.uk


  1. Vaughan-Jones H, Barham L. (2010). 
  2. Healthy Work: Evidence into Action. http://www.theworkfoundation.com/assets/docs/healthy-work-evidence-into-action-report.pdf 2. NHS England. (2014). Five Year Forward View. http://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/futurenhs/#doc
  3. Nathwani T, Birkin G, Cheng Z, Brazier J, Roberts J, Rice N, Bowes L, Higton J. (2015) Employment outcomes for people with long-term conditions: a rapid evidence assessment. Leicester: CFE Research. http://cfe.org.uk/dl.php?file=123Emp_outcomes_for_people_with_LT_conditions_REA.pdf
  4. Hemp, P. (2004). Presenteeism: At work—but out of it. Harvard Business Review 82:49–58.
  5. Black C. 2008. Working for a healthier tomorrow: Dame Carol Black’s review of the health of Britain’s working age population. London:TSO. www.workingforhealth.gov.uk

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