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Informing Policy

The relationship between chronic conditions, missed workdays, and associated costs

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In 2011, Canadian full-time workers missed an average of almost eight workdays due to illness or disability. The cost of absenteeism to the Canadian economy in 2012 was estimated to be $16.6 billion. A recent study led by Dr. Wei Zhang, CHÉOS’ Health Economics Program Head, with CHÉOS Scientist Dr. Mieke Koehoorn as a co-author, has highlighted the impact of different chronic health conditions on missed workdays and employee productivity in Canada.

Dr. Wei Zhang

The research, supported by CIHR and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, used 2010 data from the Canadian Community Health Survey, a yearly health-related survey conducted by Statistics Canada. Included in this survey are variables such as missed workdays due to any health problems, chronic conditions, demographic information, socioeconomic status, occupational data, and health and lifestyle factors.

Associations between chronic conditions and the number of health-related missed workdays in the previous three months were measured. A total of 16 chronic conditions were considered: asthma, fibromyalgia, arthritis, back problems, migraine, COPD, diabetes, heart disease including stroke, cancer, ulcers, urinary incontinence, bowel disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivities, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders.

The researchers found that 10 of 16 chronic conditions (asthma, arthritis, back problems, diabetes, COPD, migraine, heart disease, cancer, mood disorders, and bowel disorders) were associated with absent workdays. Of these ten, mood disorders, back problems, and bowel disorders had the strongest association with missed work and productivity loss. Absent workdays for workers suffering from mood disorders were over double that for those without mood disorders. Across Canada, these three conditions accounted for over $1 billion in productivity loss over a 3-month period in 2010: back problems ($621 million), mood disorders ($299 million), and migraine ($245 million).

The study authors urged employers, employees, and the government to recognize the workplace as playing a significant role in health and well-being.

“This study’s findings suggest that it could be worth employers or government investing in effective programs such as workplace accommodations for employees with chronic conditions to reduce work disability and retain them in the workforce,” said Dr. Zhang.
Research of this kind will help employers prioritize health conditions and design and implement successful programs to manage chronic disease, workplace disability, and missed workdays.

Zhang W, McLeod C, Koehoorn M. The relationship between chronic conditions and absenteeism and associated costs in Canada. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2016 Aug 11 [epub]. doi:10.5271/sjweh.3583.