San Francisco, CA, February 7, 2017 -- About one in four employees in a cohort of 408,000 US workers took a temporary leave of absence from work because of illness or injury over a five-year period—but they accounted for over half (about $4.7 billion) of health care payments and another $1.8 billion in lost productivity. A new study by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) reveals this dramatic disparity in the economic burden of illness and injury.

Conditions such as back problems, muscle and connective disorders, and sprains were found to be among the most common reasons for disability leave. However, compared to other employees, leave-takers were more likely to have serious chronic conditions—particularly high cholesterol, hypertension, arthritis, and depression. These chronic issues not only drive up the costs of care, but also complicate employers’ and occupational health specialists’ efforts to help employees recover and return to work after an episode of leave.

With two out of every five working-age adults suffering from one or more chronic conditions, employers and public health professionals should be concerned about the growing impact of illness on productivity. As the workforce ages, disability leave will become even more costly, as older disability claimants tend to have longer leaves than their younger counterparts.

Employers and employees alike are burdened by lost productivity costs—employers forgo returns on wages while employees generally receive only partial wages when on leave. Society at large also stands to lose out on the economic benefits from productive activities, such as taxes on earnings and revenues. By implementing public health initiatives aimed at promoting care and lifestyle management, in tandem with providing employees with primary and preventative care resources, employers and other stakeholders can decrease lost productivity from injuries and illnesses.

The study will be featured in a special thematic issue of Health Affairs focusing on the relationship between work and health. The issue is funded by Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), Sedgwick and UnitedHealth Group, with additional support from Pfizer and Pinnacol Assurance. The journal will discuss strategies and barriers to building healthy and productive workforces. To showcase these and other study findings, Health Affairs will hold two briefings—one in Washington, DC, and the other in San Francisco—featuring authors from the journal.

About The Integrated Benefits Institute:

IBI is the leading not-for-profit research organization in health, wellbeing and productivity. The Institute provides the data, research and tools professionals need to make sound decisions in how they invest in the health of their workforces. Since its inception in 1995, IBI has been an independent nonprofit and currently serves more than 1,200 members and their 20+ million employees. For more information, visit Follow IBI on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

Gia Harris
Communications Lead
Integrated Benefits Institute
(415) 222-7230