What can employers do about hypertension in the workplace?

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a condition in which the blood vessels have persistently raised pressure. The high prevalence of hypertension, particularly in Asia, has contributed to the present pandemic of cardiovascular disease and death. The total number of patients with hypertension is likely to grow in the next few decades as the population ages and the prevalence of obesity and diabetes increases.

Hypertension, as a major modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease, results in more deaths than any other risk factors, including diabetes and cigarette smoking.

Among other complications, hypertension can cause serious damage to the heart, resulting in chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat or stroke. Moreover, hypertension can cause kidney damage, leading to kidney failure.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 2000 and 2025, the number of patients diagnosed with hypertension will increase from one billion to 1.5 billion globally and Asia will contribute a large proportion of this patient population. As compared to Caucasian populations with a comparable BMI, East and South Asian populations are subject to a relatively greater risk of developing hypertension.

In highly populated developing Asian countries, such as China and India, the total number of hypertensive patients is expected to increase to more than 500 million by 2025.

Risk indicators for hypertension in most countries in Asia include:

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Sedentary behaviour

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Higher social class

  • Salt intake

  • Smoking

Stalking the Silent Killer

Hypertension is often dubbed the silent killer because it is largely a symptomless condition. What companies can do is to promote awareness of hypertension and highlight the importance of high blood pressure as part of their efforts to create a health-positive workplace culture.

A variety of drill-down strategies can be used to get more employees screened, better identify those at risk and drive healthier outcomes by pushing high-risk employees to get the care they need as preventative measures.

  • Encourage employees to be health-aware and make the most of opportunities for check-ups

  • Demonstrate good heart-health check behaviours by encouraging senior leaders to get tested and being transparent about the experience

  • Make sure managers are briefed about the links between work stress and other drivers of high blood pressure risks – and are encouraged to share this with their teams

  • Organise “blood pressure check day” in the workplace

Promoting awareness and encouraging participation

The use of greater financial incentives – rewards or penalties (such as higher premiums and deductibles) and biometric outcomes-based health-contingent targets (such as for blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index – to hold employees accountable for better health measures, have proven successful in some companies that conduct health risk appraisals.

While increasing participation in health screenings is the key first step to discovering a problem, running health programmes for employees promoting better nutrition, exercise, weight loss and stress relief methods can be effective in reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

  • Encourage drinking of non-caffeinated hot and cold drinks

  • Involve employees in healthy eating campaigns together with provision of fruits and veggies in the workplace

  • Provide onsite exercise options

  • Encourage employees to organise sports teams or take part in local exercise events

Reduce workplace stress

The reality is that high blood pressure can be exacerbated by high levels of work stress, especially on top of employees’ increasingly busy modern lives.

Stress must be an open topic, which companies are encouraged to keep front of mind. Supporting your employees by ensuring realistic workloads, encouraging openness and discussion around work challenges, and asking for feedback about work stressors and difficulties are all important.  

There is a lot more that can be done to reduce the impacts of high blood pressure. Companies can make a massive difference in the health and future wellbeing of their employees by boosting awareness of high blood pressure and helping them take appropriate action.

If you would like to learn more about ways employee benefits can contribute to a value-added programme for your business, please contact:

Rhea Ablan, Head of Employee Benefits, Philippines | +632 811 0388 | rhea.ablan@lockton.com

Stella Sung, Head of Benefits and Health, Greater China & Korea | +852 2250 2831 | stella.sung@lockton.com

Rachael Tay, Regional Head of Benefits, Asia Pacific | +65 8869 8592 | rachael.tay@lockton.com