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The Impact of Chronic Illness on Canada’s Workforce

November 2, 2023 from Pivotal Solutions


A recent survey has revealed that over 50% of individuals covered by benefit plans are struggling with at least one chronic health condition. This alarming statistic underscores a growing concern within Canada, as the prevalence of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, and mental health disorders continues to rise. The impact is felt not only by individuals but also places substantial stress on both employees and employers, creating challenges within workplaces and straining healthcare systems.


Chronic illnesses, characterized by lasting for a year or more, encompass a range of conditions including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. The World Health Organization identifies chronic illnesses as the primary global cause of death and disability, and this trend is on the rise in Canada, aligning with the global scenario.


Delving into the specifics of the 2023 survey, it was found that 54% of individuals enrolled in benefit plans in Canada are grappling with chronic illnesses. The breakdown of prevalent ailments includes mental health issues affecting 18% of respondents, arthritis in 12%, hypertension in 10%, and chronic pain in 1%. Diabetes was reported in 10% of individuals which can result in kidney, eye, nerve, and heart complications. 12% of respondents reported having high cholesterol, which is a significant risk factor in heart disease.


Notably, employers tend to underestimate the magnitude of chronic illness, with their estimation of the affected workforce rising from 32% in 2016 to 43% in 2023, still significantly underrepresenting the actual situation.


The impact of chronic pain affects 10% of benefit plan participants and significantly hampers productivity, with one-third of individuals struggling to be productive on a daily basis. Additionally, 22% of respondents claim to be affected 1-2 times a week, and when the pain is severe, over 25% require several days off, while 13% need at least a few hours off. This not only results in increased absences but also gives rise to presenteeism, higher benefits costs, and decreased motivation.


Effectively managing chronic illnesses involves a multifaceted approach, encompassing medication, lifestyle strategies, and self-care. Employers play a crucial role by encouraging healthy lifestyles, supporting workplace wellness, and investing in comprehensive coverage and assistance programs.


Employees, on the other hand, are urged to prioritize lifestyle adjustments, understand risk factors, and make use of workplace services. Even small changes in stress management, exercise, and dietary habits can have a substantial impact on managing chronic conditions.


In the face of these challenging figures, a proactive approach from both employers and employees is essential to effectively address and manage chronic illnesses, ultimately paving the way for a healthier and more sustainable future.




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