Staff absenteeism remains pressing issue

Levels of employee absenteeism among companies in the Netherlands continue to be an issue, as reported by Dutch insurance company Interpolis and Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Ill health and work overload are among some of the main causes.

One in five business owners of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have expressed concern about rising levels of absenteeism among their staff. This was one of the results revealed by the Interpolis Business Monitor of December 2022, for which more than 500 self-employed people and owners of SMEs participate on a monthly basis, providing information about the most pressing issues in their business. Some of the key problems mentioned were staff shortages and increasing stress and workload. Further apprehension about a potential negative ripple effect on business growth in 2023 was also recorded.

‘When it comes to absenteeism,’ an Interpolis spokesperson told Holland Times about the recent findings, ‘Interpolis has been seeing for some time that in addition to short-term absenteeism, due to a flu virus, for example, there has also been an increasing number of long-term absenteeism, caused by, for example, burnout or physical complaints due to an incorrectly-equipped workplace.’ Absenteeism is a persistent problem, says René Voets, director of Interpolis, in response to the findings, adding that long-term absenteeism in particular seems to be a simmering problem for which there are no immediate solutions.

Reflecting on the Interpolis findings, Dutch media have also picked up on the increasing trend of working from home, and, although the insurance company says it recognises the advantages of this way of working, it has also pointed out that when people do, they tend to work on while they are sick. This can have a knock-on effect, and ‘can ensure that minor complaints of illness can grow into long-term complaints, resulting in long-term absenteeism’, Voets warns in an article on business news platform Business Insider Nederland in March. Trade union CNV too has expressed concern that more people are continuing to work instead of letting their sickness run its course, and that high staff shortages mean that employees often feel guilty to call in sick.

Whilst Interpolis gauges the state of business among self-employed individuals and SMEs, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) assesses levels of absenteeism in all sectors, from health to education and farming, and in the fourth quarter of 2022 it found overall levels of sickness absence to have risen again. This quarter is considered the time of the year when absenteeism is traditionally at its highest, and this was particularly the case in the healthcare sector, as CBS reported in a press release.

According to CBS, by the end of 2022 absenteeism due to illness stood at 5.6 percent among surveyed employees, which, it explained, means that 56 out of every thousand working days were not worked due to illness. CBS asserts that this figure was almost as high as in 2000, when the highest levels of absenteeism ever were recorded. Reflecting on the recent CBS findings, Business Insider Netherlands too indicates that absenteeism due to being sick has been ‘approaching record levels’, and further points out that the recent figures show the sharpest increase in the public administration sector.

However, since the causes of these levels of absenteeism are not entirely clear, solutions are difficult to find. So, Union CNV advises that in future, business owners should aim for a decrease in workload, with less administrative burdens and fewer meetings. Interpolis has advised SME entrepreneurs to make sure they keep communicating with their employees about any issues they may have, as the best way to help ‘distribute the workload and prevent long-term absence’. Whether this is enough remains to be seen.

Written by Femke van Iperen