Dutch employees taking fewer sick days

Dutch employees took an average of 7 days off work in 2010, according to the latest figures from Mercer 2010 Pan-European Survey on Employer Health Benefits Issues,

The survey was fielded in 8 languages in 14 countries across Europe; 556 employers participated. More than half the respondents have at least 5,000 employees.

Grappling with the problems of ageing populations, increasing demand for healthcare, rising medical costs and competition for tax revenues, many European governments are shifting more of the responsibility for healthcare – and the rising costs – to employers. About two-thirds of respondents (66%) believe that European health reform will increase the pressure on employers to provide private health benefits. Employers can mitigate the risk of increased cost by implementing solid absence and health management plans. Good recordkeeping is the essential first step.

“Employers need information on workforce health in order to implement effective wellness programmes that will help manage cost growth over time,” said Paulo Fradinho, Principal at Mercer, “In the US there is a clear move towards companies monitoring more closely the health of their employees with a direct impact on absence rates and health care costs. In Europe, state health systems have tended to blur that link but this is changing. The financial threat to companies prompted by European healthcare reform is very real, yet fewer than half of the survey respondents say that implementing policies to help them manage future absence levels is a priority. This should be a cause for concern for any cost-conscious business.”

According to Mr Fradinho, the cost savings from absence management programmes are not immediately obvious so it can be difficult to gain internal support. While European companies overall have had limited success in addressing the issue, the data revealed significant differences from one country to the next in data collection and monitoring and addressing employee absence.

“HR departments in Germany and France are not permitted to see the medical causes of absence or illness, only the duration and absence pattern, “said Mr Fradinho. “It’s not surprising that they rank low in terms of data on causes of absence. However, the overwhelming impression from out data analysis is that across the region companies fail to maintain good absence management policies.

Respondents from Austria reported the highest absence rates in this year’s survey, an average of 9 days per employee per year. Respondents from Germany and France each reported an average absence rate of 8 days. Companies in Poland and the Netherlands reported an average of 7, the Czech Republic and Italy (6 days for each), UK (5 days), and Ireland, Portugal and Spain (4 days for each). Most respondents (73%) stated that absences tended to be short frequent absences but 27% stated that these were absences of 8 days or greater. While 20% of respondents did state that absence rates had over the past 3 years, this was balanced by 27% who stated that rates had decreased and 32% who stated that they had stayed the same. Companies in the Netherlands (55%), Ireland (54%), Austria (50%) and the Czech Republic (42%) had the highest levels of decreased absence rates. An additional 21% didn’t have the information available on which to base a response, consistent with inadequate data collection abilities.

Causes of Absence
In regards to long-term absence, musculoskeletal (excluding back pain), mental health and cancer were commonly cited by respondents as being among the top three causes. However, the most notable figure to come from the report was that 65% of companies had no idea what the top three causes of absence were at their organisation. Polish companies (71%) and Italian and French companies (65% for each) showed the least amount of information about the causes of long-term absence.

“Many expected that the economic downturn would have decreased the number of absences as employees made every effort to prove their value to their employer,” commented Mr Fradinho. ”However, respondents actually reported negligible changes to absence rates over the last three years.”

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