Why should employers care about their employees’ blood pressure?

Unhealthy lifestyle choices in the UK today mean that the many issues surrounding high blood pressure can become a real problem in the workplace.

Employee blood pressure

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • High blood pressure is the most common health complaint in the UK today, with 30% of the population suffering from it.
  • It is referred to as the ‘silent killer’ because its symptoms often go unnoticed and it can lead to some serious health problems.
  • With regular checks it is easy to detect and can be treated by medication or various lifestyle changes.

As a nation, Britons are adopting some unhealthy habits. According to government research [titles and publication dates to come], obesity figures continue to rise, the sale of vegetables has steadily fallen since 2009 and only 40% of us are getting the NHS recommended amount of sleep every night.

These factors have led to 30% of the UK population living with hypertension (high blood pressure), many of whom do not know they have it. While high blood pressure can be due to genetics, it is often linked to poor lifestyle choices.

Tim Woodman , medical director at Bupa , says: “Hypertension is caused by the usual suspects: smoking, lack of exercise, being overweight, drinks with a high caffeine content, poor diet and particularly a high salt diet. They all upset the body’s regulatory mechanisms.”

The many risks of hypertension

High blood pressure is a very common health condition. However, it often goes untreated because symptoms can be hard, or virtually impossible, to detect without regular blood pressure checks. Dr Lori Stetz , a senior medical director at international health insurance provider Aetna International, says: “[It is referred] to as the silent killer and it can really creep up on people. There’s the potential for major consequences and it really does increase the risk of heart disease, kidney disease and strokes.”

While these serious conditions can result in lengthy staff absence , the more subtle ailments connected with high blood pressure can drastically affect an employee’s productivity. Woodman says: “Some of the less obvious symptoms, like headaches, can affect performance and concentration. People may then take painkillers, which can also reduce performance. If high blood pressure is teetering on the point of giving [someone] a headache, then sitting in front of a computer all day will most probably make it worse.

“Employers should care, because high blood pressure is often an indicator of underlying stress at work or lifestyle deficiencies. It is like a canary down a coal mine and often an indicator that there are things people need to adjust. One of those can be stress. Long-term stress will undoubtedly make blood pressure go up.”

Employers therefore need to take a holistic look at the working environment and work pressures to assess if they are causing undue stress to their employees. They should also take heed of information from their occupational health service if, for example, it flags-up high blood pressure as an issue within the workforce.

Blood pressure checks are cost-effective in the long-term

Blood pressure checks are relatively cost-effective and are non-invasive. Mike Blake, compliance director at PMI Health Group, says: “Arm cuffs can be found for a reasonable price at a high-street chemist. The big expense would be to pay for a nurse to use the equipment.

“To check an organisation of 100 people would take around two days at a cost of £700-£800, but what [employers] would be paying for is the nurse to give advice to staff, who, in turn, are more likely to listen and see their GP if told to do so.”

Given that a healthy workforce is likely to be more productive and have lower absence levels , investing in blood pressure checks for employees could have clear business benefits. As Stetz explains: “Most employers want the best things for their employees, but it’s also a matter of economics.

“High blood pressure is one of the most expensive health conditions for employers overall. It’s one of those things that’s hard to convey the importance of, but it really does have a big impact.”