Insight into absenteeism. That matters more.

Sick leave increases: observing the measures and the 'runny nose' protocol prevents absenteeism during the flu season.

In September 2021, the average absenteeism rate in the Netherlands rose to 4.2% (in comparison to 3.9% in August), among other reasons, due to a rise in the number of respiratory complaints. This emerged from figures from HumanCapitalCare and ArboNed, both part of HumanTotalCare and jointly serving around one million working people. In view of the coming flu season and the rise in the number of corona infections, the occupational health & safety providers are stressing the need to observe hygiene measures, to maintain distance, to work from home and to get tested in case of symptoms. According to Truus van Amerongen, director of medical affairs and a medical officer at ArboNed, "A 'runny nose' protocol can help prevent a sharp increase of absence during autumn and winter." 

‘Runny Nose’ protocol

Increased absenteeism in September is an annual seasonal trend: the holidays are finished and the flu season is just around the corner. “Last year was an exceptional year,” says Van Amerongen. “Due to all the corona measures, such as keeping distance and working from home, the influenza season was alleviated. The expectation for this year is completely different. Observing the basic measures is the best and the easiest way to prevent absenteeism. Therefore, wash your hands, maintain distance, stay at home if you have symptoms and get tested. A 'runny nose' protocol can help employers achieve this goal. This type of protocol clarifies to the employees when they can come to work and when to stay home. If people come to work with a runny nose, even if they have a negative test, then they infect their colleagues and consequently everyone needs to be tested. To prevent this domino-effect, you have to return to the basics: if you have symptoms, then stay at home.”

Working people are sick less often, but for longer periods

Although the average sick leave is again on the rise, the number of new sick-leave notifications that occupational health & safety providers received in September is still lower than normal for this time of the year. “This is a trend that we have already seen throughout the year. Although there are fewer people sick, the number of people who were sick for longer than six weeks in the past year is substantially higher," continues Van Amerongen. “Out of every 100 sick-leave notifications, there are 15 persons who are home for longer than six weeks. Last year, that figure was 10 persons out of every 100. The impact of this is tremendous. Not only for the employees themselves, but also for the employer who has to ensure that his business remains operational besides the worry and the costs related to a sick employee. With the scarcity in the labour market, this causes extra stress.”

No peak in psychological absenteeism

“Out of the total number of absence days, 30% result from psychological problems. Such employees are absent on average 237 days and those with burnout even 293 days,” Van Amerongen states further. “That cuts in deep, certainly when you realise that every sick-leave day costs an average of 250 euro. During the past year and a half, the mental/emotional pressure – also due to corona – was an important point for attention. Here you see a clear difference between a group that has found better balance through hybrid work, compared to a group that suffers from extra pressure due to the lockdown. In sectors such a care and education, psychological absence is still the highest. Yet contrary to expectations and what you hear or read in the media, our figures show that up until now there is no explosion of psychological problems.”

Stay alert to signs of stress

Van Amerongen: "For an employer it remains extremely important to recruit help on time and to stay alert to signs of stress in his employees. Provide sufficient space for things that give people energy. Also figure out what is the ideal mix of working from home and at the office. This is different for every person and depends on one's personal motivation. Therefore, leave room for self-management.”