What are the impacts of invisible disability on business and the economy?

If you manage more than a handful of employees, chances are that some of them are challenged by a chronic disease or invisible disability. In fact, we know that one in three workers have at least one chronic health condition.

 A recent study in Great Britain indicated that most employees with invisible disabilities do not properly maintain their health at work. This may be due to a number of factors, ranging from the stigma attached to illness to a lack of flexibility in their jobs.  As chronic health conditions become more prevalent in our society, it is crucial that the workplace provides a supportive atmosphere that allows employees to both maintain their health and take advantage of resources such as wellness programs and flexible work arrangements.

A flexible, understanding culture, which allows employees to perform at their best, will ultimately reduce costs such as absenteeism and presenteeism (employees who show up to work but are not fully functional). As you will soon see, these costs are a lot higher than you may think.

How widespread are invisible disabilities?

57.3 million working-aged Americans, 33 percent of the working-aged population, have at least one invisible disability.

Center for Studying Health System Change 2009

Chronic health conditions cost the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion a year, a figure that could jump to nearly $6 trillion by 2050.  

Milken Institute. An Unhealthy America: The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease

More than half of Canadians live with an invisible disability. 

Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century

Worldwide, chronic diseases have overtaken infectious diseases as the leading cause of death and disability. In Ontario, chronic diseases account for 55% of direct and indirect health costs.

Ontario (Canada) Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care May 2007 

The economic burden of chronic diseases has been estimated at over $150 billion in direct and indirect costs annually. The cost of lost productivity due to short-term and long-term disability alone represents close to 30% of total costs. ($50 billion)

Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control.  Public Health Agency of Canada 

96% of people with chronic illness show no visible symptoms. These people do not use a cane or any assistive device and may look perfectly healthy.
United States Census Bureau 2002 

Depression is 15-20% higher for the chronically ill than for the average person
Rifkin, A. “Depression in Physically Ill Patients,” 1992

In 1999, the Employers Health Coalition in Florida analyzed seventeen diseases and found that lost productivity from presenteeism was 7.5 times greater than productivity loss from absenteeism. For specific problems, like allergies, arthritis, heart disease, hypertension, migraines, and neck or back pain, the ratio was more than 15 to 1.

The Changing Face of U.S. Health Care: Employers Health Coalition Inc; 1999. 

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