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An employer’s role in cancer prevention

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Employees are the human capital that drives the success of any business and losing a member of the team can cause a significant impact on an organization. Cancer is one of the top three medical expenses for many employers and the leading cause of long-term disability among employees.

Many employers have embraced a sense of corporate responsibility when it comes to helping employees stay healthy and productive on the job. The growing incidence of cancer, along with more accurate and early detection, better treatment options, and improved survival rates, have increased the likelihood that many individuals will still be working when they, or a family member, get diagnosed and undergo treatment.

Effective prevention strategies

Without question, the first line of defense should be prevention. There are many modifiable lifestyle factors that contribute to cancer, including tobacco use (the most important), obesity, and lack of exercise.

To help employees decrease their risk of cancer, consider the following workplace strategies.

Educate employees on cancer risks.

By educating employees about cancer risks, preventive screenings, and early signs/symptoms, employers can empower employees to be proactive about their health. Demonstrating a commitment to employee health and wellbeing can also improve morale and productivity.

Encourage and promote good habits.

Employees should be encouraged to take time off for their annual physical exam. One way to encourage this in the workplace is to provide a paid day off that is specifically dedicated to this purpose. Health fairs and biometric screenings are a positive step but should never take the place of an annual preventive exam. Some employers offer an incentive to employees who receive a yearly physical examination.

Counteract stress.

Finding creative ways to decrease stress and anxiety in the workplace will not only encourage higher productivity but may reduce healthcare costs. Many diseases, including cancer, have been linked to stress. Offer employee assistance programs, online resources, coaching, and behavioral health options for stress management.

Create a smoke-free environment.

Nicotine is related to a number of illnesses, including lung disease and many forms of cancer. Current and former smokers make up 90% of all lung cancer cases. Health care costs for employees that smoke are about 12 times the costs for non-smokers. Consider a tobacco-free environment, provide tobacco cessation resources, and if possible, an incentive/reward for those employees who are tobacco-free. And remember, nicotine is disguised in many forms, including edibles, liquid, and vapor. Providing a tobacco-free environment will also give an employer an advantage when negotiating health, life, and disability insurance rates.

Go green.

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) can be a cause of illness for many employees. Even a new building can cause employees to feel ill due to their choice of cleaning products. Harsh cleaning chemicals can lead to indoor air pollution and potentially cancer or lung disease. An environmental assessment should be completed and, where possible, the use of green cleaning supplies, paints, and carpeting should be implemented.

Promote healthy nutrition.

Good nutrition is the first line of defense against disease. Where possible, employers should encourage good nutrition in the workplace and in their cafeterias. Bringing in a nutritionist to explain how nutrition can play a role in cancer prevention could be a benefit to an organization.

Communicate cancer resources.

Most health plans provide specialty case management and other cancer resources for members impacted by cancer. Be sure employees are aware of these resources.

Lead by example.

Good health starts at the top and gains momentum as it spreads through the company. Executive physicals are a great way to raise awareness and educate top talent about their own health. The leadership team should also be trained to encourage employees at all levels to obtain routine health services, starting with preventive health screenings.

Making a difference

Employers have a great opportunity to make a huge impact on the health of their employees. Small things can make a big difference in the prevention of cancer and other illnesses. Savvy employers will take proactive steps to protect their biggest investment ­ their employees.

Buck’s Health Intelligence Practice clinicians help our clients to stay abreast of health-related issues and their impact on the workplace. We can help your organization develop customized solutions to promote employee wellbeing while reducing medical costs. For more information, please contact us.

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