A survey by Mensura and Certimed shows that 8 out of 10 employers are aware that their organisation's policy has an impact on employee absenteeism. However, this awareness does not necessarily translate into practice. Four out of 10 organisations deal with absenteeism in a purely administrative way. No policy has been worked out and absenteeism figures are not monitored.

Bart Teuwen, absence expert at Certimed and Mensura: "The mental health of many workers is currently under pressure, just think of those who work in care or from home. If no structural focus is paid to this via culture and policy, the risk of missing signals and possible drop-out is many times greater."

Procedures and agreements

Just under 30% indicate there are clear agreements and procedures about absence and that everyone is monitored for compliance. Almost 1 in 3 (30%) organisations have a policy that focuses on employability and is, to a greater or lesser extent, aligned or even integrated with, the health and safety policy. Structural attention is paid to preventive and reactive actions, the ratio of workload to strain, and reintegration of long-term sick people.

Bart Teuwen: "A clear absence policy, tailored to the organisation, has a broad, positive impact on the absence and reintegration of employees. In addition to clear procedures and agreements on absenteeism, a welcoming business dialogue particularly is a foundation for a positive absence policy. With this in place, the manager and employee can actively work together to find solutions in which the employee can remain (partly) employable.

Absenteeism figures often turn out to be question marks

The structural monitoring of absenteeism figures is key to success in reducing absenteeism. However, almost a quarter of employers say they don’t do this. The main reasons for this is that they do not see the point or simply do not have the right tools. 44% of organisations do work with absence figures, but do not succeed in doing so regularly or in a structured way.

Bart Teuwen: "The fact that almost 70% of Belgian organisations indicate that they do not structurally follow up on absence figures, or even at all, is quite problematic. In the fight against absenteeism, they are working blind for the most part. Absenteeism figures provide important information, i.e. not to monitor absent colleagues and call them to account, but to detect and prevent any problems or difficulties early on. If an employee is absent for several short periods, it is often a sign of a more serious problem. It could indicate a burn-out or other mental health issue. By detecting this in time, a long-term period of absence can be prevented."

Abolition of sick note puts ball in employer's court

The announcement that employees of large companies will soon be able to call in sick for one day three times a year without a sick note only reinforces the need for thorough monitoring. "The monitoring moves into the hands of the company itself, and more specifically the manager. He or she will have to talk to the absent colleague. Our research shows that there is still room for improvement in this area. Less than half of employers (42%) offer training to managers on how to conduct an absenteeism interview.

Some organisations fear that the partial abolition of the sick note will open the door to more short-term periods of absence. But this is unjustified, according to Bart Teuwen: “Provided there is a clear policy, procedures are known to everyone and managers know how to discuss them. If these things are in place, the abolition does not lead to more absenteeism, but rather encourages a more proactive, preventive approach."

* Independent absenteeism survey conducted between 5 March 2021 and 23 March 2021 by research agency Indiville on behalf of Mensura and Certimed among 511 employees (HR professionals or others involved in absence policies). The data are representative in terms of sex, age, region among employees, and company size among employers.