Absenteeism rate has halved in first months of 2021

Mental/emotional related absenteeism remains high. Insight into the risks and focused action helps employers to prevent absenteeism.

Approximately one year after the first Covid-19 sick reports, the absenteeism rate has decreased in the first months of 2021 to 4.3%.  Although this is only 0.1% below the normal level, the absenteeism rate has halved compared to January and February 2020, prior to Covid-19. Nevertheless, the absenteeism rate in the Netherlands remains high and the long-term effect of Covid-19 on absenteeism is yet uncertain. After a year of living with Covid-19, many employees have pushed themselves to the limit and there’s no drive left in them. In order to prevent long-term absenteeism as a result of mental /emotional complaints, occupational health & safety services HumanCapitalCare and Arboned call on employers to keep an eye on their employees who are now running the risk of reporting sick.

Increase in absenteeism rate due to Covid-19 has not materialised

Truus van Amerongen, medical officer and director of medical issues at ArboNed: “I think we are actually not doing so bad when it comes to absenteeism. After a year of Covid-19, the average absenteeism rate in the Netherlands has increased only slightly from 4.0% in 2019 to 4.2% in 2020. With 4.3%, the absenteeism rate in the first months of 2021 has even been lower than in the same period the year before, prior to Covid-19, with the exception of a few specific groups of employees; the absenteeism rate in the healthcare sector continues to be the major outlier and a point of concern.”

Sick less often, but for a longer period

In January and February 2021, HumanCapitalCare and ArboNed—which are both part of the HumanTotalCare group and jointly work for approximately 1 million employed persons— received only half the number of sick reports that is usual during those months. Van Amerongen: “And this despite the fact that absenteeism in the winter months is usually the highest. The reason might be that due to the lockdown we did not experience a regular influenza wave. In April 2020, we witnessed a comparable 50% decrease after the beginning of the first lockdown. However, people are sick for longer periods. Also in 2020, we witnessed that employees from all sizes of companies reported sick less often, but that recovery took longer.”

Focusing on healthy and safe work environments

Most of the employees who have reported themselves sick at ArboNed and indicated to have probably contracted Covid-19, recover within 2.5 weeks. When the recovery takes longer than that, employees who report they have contracted Covid-19 are absent on average for 55 days. Van Amerongen: “This puts pressure on the group of employees who have to deal with the absence of the sick employee. In addition, a day of absence costs on average 250 euros.
Consequently, creating a healthy and safe work environment in order to prevent infections is not just better for the health of employees, but also reduces absenteeism costs. The Risk Inventory and Evaluation (RI&E) helps in doing this. The RI&E has been supplemented with a Covid-19 module, allowing employees to continue carrying out their work in a healthy and safe way.”

Mental/emotional absenteeism remains high

Van Amerongen: “In addition to the physical symptoms of Covid-19, there are also signals of Covid-19 taking a mental and/or emotional toll among employees. We don’t know yet what kind of long-term effect this will have on absenteeism. Also, we have not yet witnessed this increase in the current figures, but the number of mental/emotional absenteeism cases remains high with 29%. Especially in the sectors healthcare, education and public administration. In addition, the number of days that someone stays home with mental/emotional complaints has drastically increased in the past years. For example, recovery from a burn-out takes on average 290 days. Of course, this is something you want to prevent.”

Better absenteeism prevention through insight and focused action

“Many companies don’t know yet how to deal with the new reality,” says Van Amerongen. “This uncertainty creates stress. We know that many employees have pushed themselves to the limit, they have had enough. It is important that employers gain insight into the risks of absenteeism, especially now. A good way of gaining a picture of how employees are doing is the Preventive Medical Examination (PME). When employers know where the risks are, they can take focused action in response, even before someone reports sick. Our advice remains to organise individual attention. Keep a close eye on signs of stress and create sufficient room for things that give employees energy. And deploy help. We support employers and employees in various ways to prevent absenteeism and long-term absenteeism, such as through our Digital Home-Workplace Check and Remote Coaching for employees and managers. That prevents a lot of headaches later on.”