Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility How meaningful employment can support better health - Impact on Urban Health
People working

Multiple long-term conditions

How meaningful employment can support better health

18 September 2019
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3 min read

The relationship between employment and health is well established. Yet, less is known about what interventions work. Portfolio Manager Matt Towner, and Charlotte Wu from Rocket Science share the research we commissioned into the potential role that work can play in slowing people’s progression from one long-term condition to many.

Matt Towner
Matt Towner
Portfolio Manager (paternity leave)
Charlotte Wu
Senior Consultant, Rocket Science

We are exploring the potential role that work can play in slowing people’s progression from one long-term condition to many.

The relationship between employment and health is well established. We know that having a low or no income can contribute to poor health outcomes. But, work also meets psychosocial needs in societies where employment is the norm and central to social roles and status.

Yet, we know less about what interventions work. That’s why we commissioned research into existing interventions which we could learn from.

 

The national picture of work and health conditions

The relationship between work and health is gaining increasing visibility and emphasis nationwide. In 2017, the government published its Work, health and disability green paper. It pledged to halve the employment gap for people with disabilities and long-term conditions. Around 15 million people in England currently have a long-term condition. But, only 8% of employers reported that they had recruited a person with a disability or long-term condition in the previous year. 

As life expectancy increases (with the retirement age set to rise to 68 by 2037), the workforce is ageing along with society. Long-term conditions are understood to not only affect older people. In Lambeth and Southwark, around a third of people with multiple long-term conditions are diagnosed under the age of 65.

It means employees will increasingly be dealing with health issues while at work. Employers, too, will need to respond to these changes and adapt to support their workforce. For example, by providing support to manage conditions and investing in preventative measures.

 

What we’ve learned about work and health

We sought to understand how work-related activities can boost confidence and motivation. And, how they can support people to increase their resilience and ability to manage their conditions.

Rocket Science, our research partner, helped us to review over 100 interventions. Our aim was to understand how purposeful activities can support people health conditions. Also, how these activities might delay their progression to many.

We found that improving self-management can be a ‘gateway outcome’. It can build people’s confidence and motivation. Both can help those to manage their conditions better but also move closer to the labour market.

The relationship between employment and health is well established. We know that having a low or no income can contribute to poor health outcomes. But, work also meets psychosocial needs in societies where employment is the norm and central to social roles and status.

Matt Towner Portfolio Manager

While work and health are correlated, some forms of work can also have a negative impact on health outcomes. In Lambeth and Southwark, many residents work in low-paid sectors. Jobs which are low-paid, precarious or insecure can, in fact, exacerbate the development of health conditions. 

For example, construction workers experience high rates of risk and injury. It can often lead to chronic pain and musculoskeletal disorders (MSK). We see an opportunity for employers to provide support for health management at the workplace itself. Such support can be tailored to specific industries and conditions, as well as help promote early intervention.

How employers recruit, and the working culture, is fundamental to whether a person is able to access or remain in work. Certain factors can help prevent people from entering unemployment or long-term workless. First, a workplace environment that encourages staff to be open about their health. Secondly, one where employers respond with appropriate adjustments to people’s needs. 

There are ways a working culture could be made better for those with health conditions. For example, by improving access to guidance and support for managers. Such should focus on creating working environments that reduce the incidence of ill-health. And, training to overcome stigma or unconscious bias. 

 

How we’re using the findings

The findings from this work offer an important guide for us. We aim to explore this potential with a group of local employers who offer interventions that support residents’ health, autonomy and resilience.

Our ambition is to drive change and build the evidence base around the impact and opportunities of purposeful activity in tackling progression to long-term conditions. We want to fund successful interventions and learn from initiatives to create workplaces that promote health.