1. 'Absenteeism is not an issue in my organisation'

Bart Teuwen: 'Belgian absenteeism rates are steadily increasing year in, year out. Overall absenteeism rate increased from about 4% to almost 6% between 2008 and 2019. This percentage represents the ratio of sick days to workdays. Our country is also listed in the Top-10 European countries with the highest sickness absence.'

Tabel verzuimpercentage

'These general figures may not necessarily apply to your organisation. Which is why it is more interesting to look at the numbers per company size and sector and compare them to your own numbers. In any case, it's more than likely your absenteeism rate also increased in recent years.'

SD Worx, HR service provider, uses the Employment Tracker to monitor interesting data, such as the number of days worked and different forms of sickness absence for a variety of sectors and company sizes. View the report from early 2021 here.

2. 'An absenteeism policy is only relevant in companies with a lot of physical work'

Bart Teuwen: 'Absenteeism occurs not just because of physical problems. In fact, mental issues are on the increase more than physical ones. These are increasingly the reason for absence, especially among white-collar workers and public employees. When you examine the numbers for local authorities, you can be sure that the highest absenteeism rate is not always found in field services or other workplaces with a lot of physical work.'

'The absenteeism policy of organisations or departments with mainly physical work are best served with a different emphasis than in office environments. For instance, for blue-collar workers, it is more relevant to focus more on safety, whereas for civil servants and white-collar workers, it is resilience that is a concern more than ever before.'

'An absenteeism policy is a matter of efficiency. Organisations have often already set up numerous individual initiatives, but lack an overarching policy.'

3. 'You must invest heavily in an absenteeism policy'

Bart Teuwen: 'A sound absenteeism policy is a matter of efficiency. Organisations have often already set up numerous individual initiatives, but lack an overarching policy. Every company – even the smallest SME – has an HR strategy and/or an overall business strategy. Integrating absenteeism into the strategy does not require a major additional investment. Absenteeism rates are also easy to check at your personnel and payroll administration agency or via your absence software.'

'Further steps may require somewhat more effort. For example, managers can learn how to conduct absenteeism interviews and HR staff can learn how to analyse absenteeism rates that cost time and money. Indeed, when you calculate the return on investment, the investment is more than worth it.'

4. 'The more absenteeism, the more impact'

Bart Teuwen: 'Small successes often work better than significant initiatives. When you see a specific action bearing fruit, it fuels enthusiasm and can create a positive impression. So start with a pilot project in one department or team to get some staff on board and then scale up.'

'Wanting too much right away is not a good idea. Moreover, in most organisations, an absenteeism policy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. An initiative that works for one department may not necessarily have the same effect with a different team. Closely follow up on the results and reactions and adjust as needed. In other words, an absenteeism policy is never 100% finished.'

'Small successes often work better than significant initiatives. A specific action bearing fruit fuels enthusiasm and can create a positive impression.'

5. 'Doctor's notes are the mainstay of my absenteeism policy'

Bart Teuwen: 'A doctor's note provides clarity, but shoves absenteeism – unjustly – completely into the medical domain. This sets up a binary situation… sick and cannot work or not sick and can work. In practice, employees' circumstances are often much more nuanced.'

'Will sickness absence skyrocket if you eliminate the need for doctor's notes? The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries did this some time ago and just saw the numbers drop. An absenteeism policy without written proof opens the door to more contact between employer and employee. And that warm-business dialogue is the starting point for a positive, sustainable absenteeism policy.'