Insight into absenteeism. That matters more.

Early recognition of signs helps prevent long-term absenteeism caused by psychological factors

Are you worried, lethargic, stressed? Then alarm bells should ring.

Being worried, lethargic and stressed are the three important predictors of an employee's potential sick leave. Based on these three signs, employers can assess whether an employee is in a danger zone even before he/she calls in sick. This emerges from the doctoral research project Stress and Absence due to Illness; Predictive Factors and Mechanism of Absenteeism Caused by Psychological Complaints by Marieke van Hoffen, medical officer at HumanCapitalCare. On Friday 26 November 2021, she received her doctorate from the Free University (VU) Amsterdam. Absenteeism due to psychological factors often lasts a long time, but can be prevented by targeted help and professional support.

Duration of absence is strongly on the rise 

Data from HumanCapitalCare shows that the average duration of absence due to psychological factors has strongly increased. In 2005 this amounted to only 87 days, while between 2015 and 2021 the average absenteeism increased from 186 to 237 days. Besides the personal distress, this also led to enormous costs. These are estimated at 3 to 4% of the Gross National Product: around 28 billion euro on an annual basis in the Netherlands (source: OECD/OESO).

Emotional load at work is an important trigger for absence

The research study of Van Hoffen shows that the degree of worries, lethargy and stress is a strong prediction for an employee's potential sick leave. High work pressure is certainly a trigger, but when developing psychological complaints, it is mainly the emotional load that plays an important role. For example, in healthcare or in education, the emotional load is often high.

Provide room for a sufficient recovery period

Complaints of stress are the first early signs that an individual is not doing well. It is therefore important to be alert to these. This applies not only to the employee who experiences this stress, but it also helps if the manager recognises these initial signs. At an early phase, taking simple measures, such as arranging for a sufficient recovery period, can already be adequate for eliminating the complaints.

Early recognition of signs helps prevent long-term absenteeism

With additional knowledge about the 'predictors’ of sick leave due to stress and psychological factors, risky situations can be noticed much earlier and, with the right attention and targeted intervention, can even be prevented. This is good for the employee and results in shorter average sick-leave duration and lower absenteeism costs for the employer.

About this doctorate 

Marieke van Hoffen received her doctorate on 26 November 2021 in the auditorium of VU Amsterdam. The complete dissertation can be obtained by sending an e-mail to