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PH Work Public Health and Work Promoting Healthy Work for Employees with Chronic Illness

General aim of the project:
– identification of good practices implemented in the workplace

Expected impact:
– to raise awareness of the possibility of maintaining employment and return after a long break due to illness,
– improve the quality of health strategies implemented in the workplac,
– improve the functioning of the workplace on return to work and its maintenance as a result of the development of appropriate methods of communication, cooperation, and building cooperation between health centers and workplaces.
Project`s brochure: PH Work - brochure

In Europe, we live in a context of demographic change and recent economic downturn, with a working population that is rapidly ageing, which - amongst other things - will cause a shortage of skilled labour in the long run. Additionally, up to 23.5% of the working population in the EU-27 reported to suffer from a chronic illness and 19% stated to have long-standing health problems. These conditions therefore affect a relatively large part of the European workforce. Examples of chronic illnesses are: diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, cancer, heart failure, musculoskeletal disorders, hepatitis, HIV, depression, alcohol and drug abuse etc.

Because of the predicted labour market shortages and the high percentage of workers suffering from health problems and chronic ilnesses, it is important to increase sustainable employability in order to optimally use the potential of all employees. Strategies aimed at increasing sustainale employability should stress the potential of workers with chronic illnesses and focus, not only on their current employability, but also on their prolonged employability.

Since people spend a lot of their time at the workplace, it is the perfect setting to promote a healthy lifestyle and contribute to an improved health status among the workers of a company. Even more so, because the economic performance of many companies - and by extension, the overall economy - depends on a motivated and healthy workforce!

Chronically ill employees however often experience great difficulties, either to stay at work or to return to work after a long period of absence. Until now, more often than not, this meant that they move into disability or early retirement and thus are excluded from the labour market. In 2010, an OECD report stated that too many workers leave the labour market permanently due to health problems or disability, and too few people with reduced work capacity manage to remain in employment.

The project itself revolves around operational integration management (Return to Work/RTW), and is neither differentiated by type of disease or the person's age nor the duration of working life. Out of the resulting plenitude of concepts and approaches concerning "Return to Work", three had been identified as central.

1. The idea is to prevent chronic diseases in an occupational setting or detect it at an early stage. In order to make this happen, certain risks are ought to be reduced whilst health promoting resources are being strengthened and the health expertise of employees is being increased. The access and the focus on workplace health promotion are relevant at this point.

2. It is a matter of reintegrating/keeping those people in the process of work, who have suffered/are suffering from a chronic disease. In case of occurrence of these circumstances, the general conditions are being adapted so that the affected can actually return to work. This access is known as workplace integration management.

3. The main task is to integrate those people into work processes, who hadn’t been able to be involved due to health restrictions. The prospects and approaches of the so-called inclusion paradigm are seen to be appropriate at this point.

These three points are supposed to be understood as a concept, which understands prevention itself as a package of measures of primary, secondary and tertiary approaches in a continuous process. Only a holistic perspective and an overall concept of all accesses are considered as expedient in order to reduce chronic diseases significantly and to sustainably enforce the European economic area in the long term. Insofar it is not necessary to explain in more detail that the members did not restrict to target groups or classes of diseases within the project.

One of the major product of the project is a guide entitled "Promoting healthy work for workers with chronic illness. A guide to good practice". This Guide to good practice is primarily aimed at employers and managers who are faced with the challenges and opportunities of managing workers with chronic illness and supporting them to stay at work; or to assist in the process of returning to work after a period of absence. Many workers who develop and present with chronic illnesses have a valuable contribution to make to the European workforce which should not be overlooked.

Promoting healthy work for workers with chronic illness. A guide to good practice

Project partners have developed recommendations for public health politicians and employers. Recommendations are available here: „Recommendations from ENWHP`s ninth initiative”

You can also find leaflet with a summary of the key recommendations: “Recommendations from ENWHP`s ninth initiative-leaflet”.

Project manager: Elżbieta Korzeniowska, PhD

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