In sickness and in health

How many employers believe their staff are genuinely ill when they call in sick? According to a survey of businesses in Europe, a lot of bosses assume they are usually lying about it.

by Mercer
Last Updated: 09 Jun 2016

The survey by Mercer Human Resources Consulting of 380 European companies found that 27% of companies offer some kind of incentive programme to reduce the number of sick days taken by staff and 49% use health initiatives and benefits to reduce rates of absence. Health screening was the most popular initiative, with 60% of companies offering it, rising to 76% in eastern Europe, and falling to 49% in northern Europe. However, some employers, particularly those in the UK, feared that incentive schemes to cut days off would encourage 'presenteeism' among the genuinely sick.

A significant number of employers assume that in most cases, members of staff are just taking illicit time off when they call in sick. The survey found that more than a quarter of employers believe that less than 20% of staff absence is sickness-related.

Some firms are far more trusting: a quarter of employers believe that more than 80% of absence is genuinely due to sickness. For most organisations, frequent short-term absence is a bigger source of lost days than long-term sickness.

Steve Clements, principal at Mercer, said many companies still do not have reliable data on the causes of employee absence, so there may be a gap between perception and reality. "While there are clearly legitimate reasons for taking days off other than ill health, the data suggests some employers are questioning how much employee absence is due to genuine causes," he said.

More than one in five employers were concerned that EU directives on age, sex and disability discrimination made it difficult for them to tackle absenteeism, because of inconsistencies in implementation of the directives at a national level. "This has caused a lot of confusion for employers," said Clements. "When evaluating absence cases, many employers feel they have to check and double-check where they stand from a legal perspective before they take any action to get employees back to work. More guidance from government would go a long way to helping companies untangle the complex web of legislation."

The rising average age of employees across Europe is also raising fears that healthcare costs will rise over time as state pension provision becomes more restrictive.

Source: Mercer Human Resource Consulting

Review by Joe Gill

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