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Long-term conditions at work: What is a Wellness Action Plan?

Although long COVID currently dominates headlines, there’s a huge array of long-term, chronic conditions people have lived with for years.

That’s not to dismiss long COVID. It can of course be debilitating. It’s simply to use the platform this particular long-term condition currently has during World Health Day to promote awareness of other long-term conditions and that people living with them need support to thrive — both personally as well as professionally.

What is a long-term condition?

Long-term conditions, also known as chronic conditions, are those which currently can’t be cured. The condition and its symptoms can only be managed with drugs and treatment rather than cured entirely.

Blood pressure check

How many people live with long-term health issues?

The last time the government published major research into long-term conditions was in 2012. This found 15 million people in England living with long-term conditions in 20111 — 28% of the total population.2

The ten most common long-term conditions were:

  1. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  2. Depression
  3. Asthma
  4. Diabetes
  5. Coronary heart disease
  6. Chronic kidney disease
  7. Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  8. Stroke/transient ischemic attack
    (TIA, also known as a ‘mini stroke’)
  9. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  10. Cancer.1

Other chronic conditions include epilepsy, mental health problems other than depression, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and more.

Long-term conditions in the workplace

In 2021, 8.8 million people in the UK working population aged 16-64 lived with a disability3 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).4 Of these 8.8 million people, more than 5 million were economically active5  and therefore able to work despite their condition(s).4

Given there were 32.5 million economically active population in the UK aged 16-64 in 2021,6 the 5 million economically active people with disabilities account for more than 15% of everyone who is either employed or currently seeking a job.

With 15% of the workforce living with some form of disability, it’s vital that employers know how to best support these employees. This is especially true given the nature of long-term conditions, which can involve overlapping issues relating to physical, emotional and cognitive health. As such, it can be difficult for employers to unpick the specific needs of their employees with long-term conditions.

What is a Wellness Action Plan?

Employers and employees can collaborate on a Wellness Action Plan where there are ongoing health issues or a recurrence of symptoms is likely.

These facilitate open dialogue between employers and employees with long-term conditions to ensure employees are fully supported in their role and employers are making all necessary reasonable adjustments so employees can continue thriving at work.

Building a Wellness Action Plan

The Wellness Action Plan encourages regular reviews with employers and employees to ensure it stays fit for purpose. Unum provides blank Wellness Action Plans to our Group Income Protection (GIP) customers, which offer helpful guidance and suggestions for you and employees who might benefit from one to fill in together. This includes:

  1. 1

    The 'Wellness Continuum'

    Employees can share what their condition looks like when they’re at their best, having a flare up or have become unable to work

  2. 2

    Workplace adjustments

    Lets employers know what employees living with disabilities need to support them in the workplace

  3. 3

    Condition-related absence management

    For example, how employers will manage time off for treatment/medical appointments or absences directly related to the condition

  4. 4

    Return to work support

    How employers will support a return to work after a condition-related absence where possible

  5. 5

    Discussion points

    Topics each party will discuss during their regular meetings to ensure the Wellness Action Plan still works for all.

Wellness action plan iPad

How can a Wellness Action Plan help?

We offer Wellness Action Plans alongside our absence management support. This covers all stages of employee absence — including preventative measures.

For instance, our absence management team supports employees covered by our GIP who are currently working but struggling with reasonable adjustments to help them stay well and in work. It can also provide assistance during sickness absences with practical support and plans to support employees to return to work where possible.

Understandably, disabled people are twice as likely to move out of work as non-disabled people.7 In March 2022, ONS figures report 2.3 million workers in the UK aged 16-64 were economically inactive because of long-term sickness (with a long-term health condition that’s lasted at least 12 months).8 That’s more than 5% of the total population aged 16-64.6

Yet the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) finds long-term sickness absence (4 weeks or more) harmful to physical, mental and financial wellbeing, as well as social inclusion.9 Long-term sickness can have terrible costs to individuals beyond loss of income. 

It’s never beneficial for someone with a disability to feel forced to work. This pressure whilst feeling too unwell to work can actually be harmful and make a long-term condition worse. We do not advocate this at all.

Indeed, we’re proud to provide financial security in paid claims to insured employees worth an average £7 million per week, including to those who cannot work through long-term conditions.

Instead, a Wellness Action Plan is about ensuring people with long-term conditions who do feel able to work and want to work are empowered to do so. It ensures they have what they need from their employer to remain well and in their jobs. It can also facilitate vital employer-employee dialogue about how employers can reduce triggers for flare ups of conditions, reducing the risk of people becoming too unwell to work.

"Given NICE finds long-term sickness absence detrimental to physical, mental and financial wellbeing, taking appropriate steps to avoid it where possible are crucial to support employees living and working with disabilities when they need it the most."
Beth Husted
Wellbeing and Customer Experience Operations Manager

More information

1 Long-Term Conditions Compendium of Information (Third Edition), Department of Health (May 2012), p.5
2011 Census: Population and Household Estimates for the United Kingdom, ONS (December 2012)
3 The Government Statistical Service Harmonised Standard ‘core’ definition of disability. This is people who report a current physical or mental health condition(s) or illness(es) lasting or expected to last 12 months or more and that their condition(s) or illness(es) reduce their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
Labour market status of disabled people, ONS (February 2022)
5 Economically active means either employed or classed as unemployed (although the definition of ‘unemployed’ is being without a job
but actively seeking work in the last 4 weeks and available to start work in the next 2 weeks; or out of work but have found a job and are waiting to start it in the next 2 weeks). ‘Economically active’ therefore includes everyone currently able to work.
Summary of labour market statistics, ONS (March 2022)
The Employment of Disabled People, Department for Work & Pensions and Department of Health & Social Care (March 2020), p.4
Economic inactivity by reason, ONS (March 2022)
Workplace health: Long-term sickness absence and capability to work, NICE (November 2019), p.41

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