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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Office working linked to increased cancer risk

UK employees in open plan offices are more likely than those in other working environments to have unhealthy habits that lead to cancer, according to research by Canada Life Group Insurance.

Workplace environments "cultivate behaviours with real health risk implications" ©Shutterstock
Workplace environments "cultivate behaviours with real health risk implications" ©Shutterstock

It shows that poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking or drinking alcohol are overall more common for open plan office workers, and on average least likely to be found in people who work from home, demonstrating the influence of working conditions on health.

With cancer accounting for 69% of critical illness insurance claims, and most employees spending the majority of the week at work, the research aims to highlight the need to prioritise improving workplace health as a key concern.       
Canada Life Group, marketing director, Paul Avis, said: “Half of us will get cancer at some stage in our lives, and this disease is by far the most common critical illness claim we receive.

“With employees spending the majority of their week at work, the habits we develop in the workplace can have a real impact on our long-term health.

“Although this is partly down to workers’ own health choices, some workplace environments are more likely to cultivate behaviours with real health risk implications than others.”

The research shows that a third of open plan office workers smoke, 14% drink alcohol with colleagues three to four times a week or more, and 48% claim to overeat or eat unhealthily due to workplace stress.

A snapshot of UK employee health by type of work environment is shown below:
Source: Canada Life Group Insurance
Source: Canada Life Group Insurance

In addition, it was found that office workers are most likely to spend the majority of their day sitting down, are least likely to exercise during the week because of their job or commute, and most inclined to believe that their boss would not approve if they used their lunch hour to exercise.

There are now calls for employers to do more to create healthy working environments, which could consequently result in more productive employees.

“Employers can alleviate the issue of poor workplace health by communicating positive health and well-being messages to staff. Employee Assistance Programmes, such as those included alongside most group income protection products, are a vital tool in maintaining a healthy workforce,” Avis continued.

“These services can help promote healthy actions and support employees should their well-being begin to suffer. All employers have a duty of care towards their employees, and regularly communicating the importance of health and well-being will result in a happier, and ultimately more productive, workforce.”