Flu outbreak pushes absenteeism up further 

Staff absenteeism doubles due to flu in December

Son, 19 January 2023 - In December 2022, the average rate of absenteeism in the Netherlands rose to 5.1% (compared with 4.8% in November 2022). This rise can mainly be attributed to the latest flu outbreak. In December, this resulted in a doubling of flu-related absenteeism compared with the previous month. That was revealed from statistics from health and safety services ArboNed and HumanCapitalCare, both part of HumanTotalCare and serving around 1 million employees. Actual absenteeism is expected to be higher. This is because part of the flu outbreak coincided with the Christmas holidays. People who become ill during their holidays do not always report this to their employer.

Impact of the flu outbreak

Peak absenteeism was in week 51, the week before the Christmas holidays. At that time, flu was the reason for nearly 40% of staff absenteeism. That was also the week when RIVM declared a flu epidemic. Although absenteeism fell during the Christmas holidays, the total number of absences reported to ArboNed and HumanCapitalCare rose in the month of December. For every 1,000 employees, there were 78 new absences (compared with 74 in November 2022). ‘It illustrates the impact that the current flu outbreak is having on the working population in the Netherlands,’ says Jurriaan Penders, company doctor and medical director at HumanCapitalCare. ‘Normally, holiday periods tend to mean lower staff absenteeism. Partly because employees are less inclined to call in sick during their holiday, partly because employers report absences later or not at all.’ Because companies with more than 250 employees report short-term absences more often, there was a bigger difference with SMEs in December. Among these big companies, the number of absences reported was nearly twice as high as in SMEs.

Trends 2022: considerable increase in short-term absenteeism

Short-term absenteeism drove the high absenteeism figures in December. The monthly statistics also reflect the trends relating to absenteeism in 2022. The average rate of absenteeism rose from 4.4% in 2021 to 4.8% in 2022. The most striking developments of the past year were the return of flu after the Covid pandemic, with flu outbreaks in March and in December. The fluctuating influence of Covid on absenteeism, which declined after the peak in early October. And finally, the increase in absenteeism caused by mental health issues, which tends to be long term in nature. An employee suffering burnout is usually absent for around 279 days.

Looking ahead together

‘Both short-term and long-term absenteeism requires employers and employees to talk to each other,’ says Penders. ‘By looking ahead together at what needs to be done, you will find better solutions faster. In the case of flu, we advise employers to consider measures to limit the risk of infection on the work floor. Think about coming to work or not if you have symptoms, working at home for those who can, and in some cases offering the flu jab to employees in the autumn. The effect of a simple measure can have a very positive effect, especially in the current tight labour market. An occupational health and safety service can support an employer in conducting such conversations and drafting a health and safety plan to prevent absenteeism.’