Over the past 10 years, in many countries including the UK, Canada and Australia there has been considerable attention on understanding the health of the working age population and in particular the identification of risk factors for short and long term workplace absence. In 2008, Waddell, Kendall and Burton completed a systematic review on vocational rehabilitation and concluded that common health problems such as mild to moderate musculoskeletal and mental health conditions were the main causes of workplace absence.
Since then, much progress has been made in evaluating the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing incidence and duration of workplace absence for these conditions. Many of these interventions seek to prevent people who are off work from transitioning from short to long term absence. Some argue that this is too late and that it is more effective to prevent absence in the first place through strategies such as educating line managers to identify signs of stress. However, even these earlier stage strategies are still reactive; perhaps there should be more focus on proactive approaches that improve overall worker health particularly in thinking about the aging workforce.
The recently published 2010 Global Burden of Disease study provides an estimate of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). DALYs are a measure of life years lost due to premature death and health loss. The 2010 study compared the main causes of DALYs with the same estimates completed in 1990 and concluded that at an aggregate level there was a reduction in mortality but an expansion of disability and particularly for non-communicable diseases such as mental health and musculoskeletal conditions which have moved up the rankings.
So, on the one hand, we have an aging population and one that will need to work for longer to fund their older lives while, on the other, during those working years many will have health conditions that potentially impact on their ability to work. We can implement interventions to enable people to continue to work with health conditions, such as flexible working or job modifications but it is also important to consider how we can encourage healthy aging and prevent health conditions or minimise the severity of health conditions at older ages. This prevention would need to start early in our working life and involve many stakeholders including the government, health care providers, employers and insurers.
To fund longer lives perhaps we should be looking at strategies to encourage healthy aging workforce rather than waiting to manage illnesses once absence occurs.
Category: Funding longer lives