A cancer tsunami is approaching South Africa and could have a devastating impact on workplace productivity. However, Regard Budler, Managing Executive: Momentum Corporate Client Solutions says that proactive action by employers and their financial advisers can help to reduce the impact.
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), 1 in 4 South Africans are personally diagnosed or have a loved one, family member or friend/colleague with cancer. This suggests that up to a quarter of South African employees will be impacted by cancer, either directly or indirectly.
Momentum’s disability claims experience over the last five years shows that cancer-related disability claims accounted for 43% of five major claims causes and 15% of total claims, and increased on average around 6% each year.
In the mining sector, declining claims for HIV-related disability have been replaced by aggressive increases in cancer-related claims. White-collar industries have also experienced a steady increase in cancer-related claims, which Budler believes is largely lifestyle-related.
The rise in cancer-related claims is unlikely to abate any time soon, according to a study published by medical journal Lancet which predicts that South Africa could see an increase of 78% in the number of cancer cases by 2030.
Budler says, “Although cancer is increasingly being seen as a manageable chronic disease, the complexity of treatment and range and depth of intense emotion associated with the disease means it has a profound impact on the physical, mental and emotional health of the patient and their family. This inevitably has a knock-on effect on absenteeism and levels of engagement while at work.”
The impact of cancer on productivity is evident in the results of a study across employees in the US, which reported that working cancer patients missed 26 workdays because of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and 18 days because of treatment of side effects. Patients with more side effects missed significantly more workdays.
“Companies should ensure employees have access to a wellness engagement programme which is underpinned by proven behavioural economic principles and encourages employees to make lifestyle choices that reduce the risk of cancer. Research shows that members actively engaged in Multiply, Momentum’s wellness and rewards programme, are 4 times less likely to make a disability claim due to a chronic lifestyle-related condition like cancer, than members who do not engage with the programme.”
“Initiatives to demystify cancer, educate employees and encourage regular health screening for cancer risk factors will also help to reduce the cancer stigma and facilitate earlier detection and treatment, which generally leads to more positive health outcomes,” says Budler.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) around 19% of all cancers are attributable to the environment, which includes the work setting. Budler says, “Legislative requirements aside, a safe and healthy workplace simply makes good business sense. We believe this so strongly that we have a programme which offers companies financial rewards for having a safe workplace and addressing employees’ financial and physical health needs.”
Budler concludes, “Cancer is already impacting on workplace productivity. However, proactive action by employers can mitigate the risk the rising incidence of cancer poses to their workplaces.”