Strokes under 35: workplace implications

03 October 2016 MMI Corporate and Public Sector
Elna van Wyk, head of Group Disability and Underwriting at MMI’s Corporate and Public Sector

Elna van Wyk, head of Group Disability and Underwriting at MMI’s Corporate and Public Sector

A worrying trend in the risk cover environment is that some diseases previously considered common among older employees are becoming increasingly prevalent among younger staff members. A prime example is strokes.

Elna van Wyk, head of Group Disability and Underwriting at MMIs Corporate and Public Sector – the division within MMI Holdings that services large and medium sized businesses through the Momentum, Metropolitan, Multiply and Guardrisk brands says strokes have grown markedly more prevalent in young South African adults during the past two decades and, in the last two years alone. The percentage of claims in this segment has risen from 5% to 6.4%. Van Wyk believes the primary causes of this spike are an increase in work and financial related stress coupled with obesity stemming from unhealthy lifestyle choices". 

There are significant implications for employers in this trend and the issue should be tackled holistically to achieve a healthier and more productive workforce. 

The obvious first step is to ensure that the right critical illness cover is offered for all employees, young and old, and that you partner with an insurance provider who takes proactive risk management seriously and helps pick up warning signs. 

Van Wyk says that as many as 80% of strokes are preventable through lifestyle choices regarding diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol; “Supporting suitable critical illness cover with rewards programmes like Multiply help to incentivize the right behaviours to drive employee wellness. Employees should also be encouraged to make small lifestyle changes such as taking the stairs instead of the lift and using lunch breaks to get active, even if it is a short walk around the office park.  

Stress is also a major causal factor and she urges employers to be conscious of stress levels in the workplace; Watch for signs of anxiety or tension so that you can take steps early on to alleviate the problems where possible.” 

“Employers also need to realize the effect of indebtedness on employee stress levels – and subsequently on employee productivity – so that they can take steps to alleviate this,” says van Wyk. "According to the MMI Unisa Consumer Financial Vulnerability Index, the financial vulnerability of South African consumers worsened in the second quarter of 2016, particularly in the area of debt servicing," says van Wyk – a finding supported by the latest NCR data indicating that as many as 40% of credit active consumers having impaired credit records. "Employee indebtedness leads to presenteeism in the workplace as people are preoccupied with their financial burdens – ultimately this leads to a decrease in productivity. Workplace financial literacy programmes and access to financial advice are practical way of helping to relieve this stress."

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