Reducing absenteeism: 7 effective tips for employers!

In this news article, more on sick leave, reducing sick leave, preventing sick leave and practical tips for employers.

1 What exactly is sick leave?

What exactly is sick leaveOne definition of absenteeism is: absence from work due to illness. So, in fact, the word is not quite right. There is no neglect to be sick but neglect to work. Work absenteeism or absence from work would be a better wording than the word sick leave. Moreover, the word sick leave is often used as one word because it is assumed that you cannot work if you are sick. Yet it is better to separate the words illness and absenteeism. In many cases, absenteeism makes sense because someone is sick. But not necessarily. Even if there is illness, that does not automatically mean it is a solution for the employee to call in sick, let alone for the organization to grant sick leave. Managers need a lot of insight when it comes to illness and absenteeism. Sometimes illness is cause for absence and granting sick leave is necessary. Sometimes there is illness but by definition no reason for absence (further analysis is then needed).

1.1 What absenteeism types are there?

There are three different forms of absenteeism that all need their own approach. Those different forms are named with a “color”; white, gray or black absenteeism. Absenteeism in the Netherlands costs employers over 11 billion euros annually (TNO Monitor Labor, Arbo balance 2016). Reducing absenteeism therefore provides a substantial potential cost reduction. The absenteeism types:

Black absenteeism: black absenteeism is actually a form of fraud. An employee reports sick, but is neither sick nor disabled. It is estimated to be less than 10% of total absenteeism.

White absenteeism: white absenteeism exists when an employee is sick and is also disabled as a result of that illness. Examples include surgery, serious injury, heart attack, etc. It is estimated that this accounts for about 30% of total absenteeism.

Gray absenteeism: in gray absenteeism, there may be illness, but there are work opportunities despite the illness. Here, an employee has a choice whether or not to call in sick. So here lies the important task for supervisors to make a good assessment when calling in sick:
– For white absences, no discussion the employee is granted sick leave;
– With black absenteeism also no discussion, the employee does not get sick leave (he probably does get a conversation about work motivation);
– With gray absenteeism, the supervisor examines what work opportunities do still apply and ensures that those opportunities are actually used.

1.2 This year has the highest absenteeism rate ever (absenteeism in health care)

Absenteeism among business and government employees rose to 6.3 percent in the first quarter of 2022. CBS figures show that. This is the highest percentage ever measured by the statistics office. In the same period of 2021, absenteeism was 4.8 percent. In the health and welfare industry, workers had the highest absenteeism rate (8.9 percent).  Absenteeism among workers in health and welfare is significantly higher than in other industries. Average employee absenteeism across all industries was 4.8 percent in the second quarter. This means that out of every thousand days to be worked, 48 were absent due to illness.

Within the health and welfare industry, the percentages range from 4.5  to 7.9 (nursing, care and home care). Employee absenteeism is usually highest in the latter industry, but for the first time since 2014, absenteeism in nursing, care and home care was not higher in the second quarter than a year earlier.

Of all health and welfare industries, the difference from last year is greatest in child care and general practitioners and health centers. To what extent the corona pandemic contributed to absenteeism cannot be inferred from the figures available to CBS. Even before the corona crisis, there was an upward trend in health care absenteeism.

2 Managers: what can you do about absenteeism / what are preventive measures for absenteeism:

What to do about sick leave: the cost of sick leave can be significant. As an employer, you are obliged to continue paying wages. On average, the costs are twice as high because in addition to wages, you also have to deal with indirect costs, such as costs for absence counseling and temporary replacement of your sick employee. Fortunately, you can influence absenteeism yourself. With proper absence counseling, sick employees can quickly reintegrate and return to work faster. And investing in good prevention (a good preventive absence policy) can even prevent employees from getting sick. The following measures help prevent absenteeism:

1: A (good) absence policy focuses on preventing and reducing absenteeism within a company. The absence policy details how you and your employees handle absence and what rules apply;

2: Recognize signs of absenteeism and act accordingly: various signs may indicate future absenteeism. Think reduced productivity, forgetfulness and employee fatigue. If left unaddressed, these signs can lead to forms of absenteeism, such as burnout. So take the signs of absenteeism seriously and offer timely information and help. Panthion can certainly help and support you with this;

3: Ensure a healthy workplace: it is important that the workplace is safe. Accidents can lead to long-term absenteeism. There are factors that work well for every employee anyway, such as adequate fresh air and good ergonomic work posture. And do your employees work in an office? Research shows that office plants improve mood, reduce fretting and reduce absenteeism. In addition, the RI&E is a useful tool for identifying risks of accidents and unsafe situations. Workplace examinations or medical health checks also show what can and cannot work. In addition, you can, for example, discuss during a work meeting what your employees themselves perceive as risks;

4: Encourage a healthy lifestyle: by living healthy, employees are in better shape: physically and mentally. You can encourage this by providing a healthy lunch or providing the cafeteria with a fruit basket. Encourage employees to bike to work, offer discounts for sports activities and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Take a walk during your lunch break. A healthy lifestyle prevents absenteeism and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease Ask your employees what “health” means to them and what you can contribute. Together, choose healthy goals: exercise more while working, lose a few pounds or smoke less. Two small steps add up to one big step;

Two more tips for reducing absenteeism /  how to deal with absenteeism:

5: In an open corporate culture, employees feel free to express their opinions and/or share personal feelings. If your employees can be themselves, they are more likely to raise the alarm when there is an excessive workload, difficult personal circumstances or other problems;

6: Show your appreciation: In practice, it is often easy to mention what is not going well, and less easy to mention what is going well. Too bad, because a compliment boosts productivity at least as much as negative feedback. With a heartfelt thank you or small surprise, you can set a good example for your employees. You improve the atmosphere and ensure a healthy workload. It doesn’t cost anything. Give your employees the opportunity to develop in their jobs or the company. If your employee does not feel that he or she can progress, it can cause frustration and lead to absenteeism. As a rule, a satisfied employee is a vital employee. Therefore, make job satisfaction negotiable. During a performance review or out of the blue, if you see that your employee is not feeling well. State what stands out to you and let your employee tell his or her story. This helps to reach a solution together and prevents unnecessary absenteeism.

2.1 Roadmap to reduce sick leave: what do I need to arrange as a business owner?
What measures can and should I take to reduce absenteeism? Absenteeism, what should I arrange as a business owner?

A sick employee needs counseling. As a business owner and employer, what exactly should you do during absenteeism and reintegration? And who or what can help you with this? Follow these 10 steps for correct absentee management by the employer.

The phone rings. Your employee calls in sick. That sucks. You wish him well. But now what? Just waiting for him to get better? What does the law say about absence counseling? As an employer, you must ensure proper absence management. You follow the guidelines from the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Gatekeeper Improvement Act:

    • The occupational health and safety law says you must provide a safe and healthy workplace as well as expert support in the event of absence.

    • The gatekeeper improvement law contains all the steps that need to be taken when an employee is (long-term) sick.

2.2 Absence counseling in 10 steps

Good support for a sick employee begins with the very first phone call: the sick call. All sorts of steps to be taken after that as well. Namely:

1. Communicate sick leave
If your employee is sick, report it to a health and safety service or company doctor. By law, you must do this within one week . If you have sick leave insurance, you often have to report it to the occupational health and safety service on the first day of illness;

2.     Problem analysis
If your employee has been sick for six weeks, the occupational health and safety service or company doctor must conduct a problem analysis. This states why the employee can no longer work, what his or her potential for recovery is, and when he or she expects to be able to resume work;

3.     Plan of Action
Within eight weeks of reporting sick (no later than two weeks after the problem analysis), you as an employer must make a plan of approach . You do this in collaboration with your sick employee. In this plan, you describe specifically what you and your employee will do to resume work ;

4.     Progress calls
Every six weeks, as an employer, you must discuss progress with your employee. By the way, you don’t have to do all that yourself. As an employer, you can choose a “case manager. This is someone who guides and monitors the implementation of the Plan of Action;

5.     Reintegration file
If there is an imminent threat of long-term absenteeism, then you need a maintain reintegration file. All emails, forms and documents you use in these steps constitute the reintegration file;

6.     Reporting sick to UWV
Is your employee sick for 42 weeks? Then you must report this to the UWV. You can do this online, through the employer portal;

7.     Annual Review
Between week 46 and week 52 after reporting sick, there is a first-year evaluation. You and/or your case manager, together with your employee, then look back on the (almost) past year. You also determine what reintegration result you want to achieve in the second year of illness and how you will go about it;

8.     Adjusting work and workplace
After one year of illness, you as an employer are required to modify the employee’s work, workplace and/or work equipment, if necessary. This may of course be done earlier, if it is possible and desired by both parties;

9.     Reintegration Report
If your employee is still not fully employed after 20 months, you will make a reintegration report. You do this in consultation with your employee. This contains all the agreements and concrete results of the planned work resumption;

10.  WIA applications
If your employee is unable to return to work after 87 weeks, he will receive a WIA application form from the UWV. He must return this form to the UWV within three weeks. If the legal conditions are met, the WIA benefit will start for your employee. 

3. Assistance with absenteeism

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. Indeed, when assisting sick employees, it is mandatory to be assisted by experts. In any case, you are required to a company doctor. In addition, it is helpful to choose a case manager and possibly other employment experts.

3.1 Engage company doctor

You engage a company doctor through your occupational health and safety service or yourself, if you have an agreement with a company doctor. The company doctor helps you implement your absence policy correctly.

3.2 What does an occupational physician do? 

For example, your company doctor reviews your employee’s sick call. He focuses on the employee’s performance and not the complaints. He looks as much as possible at what your employee can still do, despite his limitations. 

3.3. Appoint case manager

When supervising a sick employee, you can appoint a case manager. That’s someone who supports you and your employee in all the steps that need to be taken around sickness and absenteeism. A case manager can take a lot of work off your hands. You can choose your own case manager. An absence coach is often available through your insurer or health and safety service who can take on this role.

3.4 Employing labor experts

 Through your occupational health and safety service, you can often employ other experts and labor experts in addition to a company doctor or occupational physician. For example, a confidant or a mediator, because absenteeism can also be related to a labor dispute or an incident at work. Experts are also available through other agencies. You have experts from the 

3.5 Benefits of good absence management

Good absence management is very important for your business. Why is that so? Key benefits at a glance: 

    • You avoid unnecessary absenteeism
      Because the process is set up properly, your employee will not be likely to call in sick unnecessarily. Therefore, with proper guidance, frequent absenteeism is less likely to lead to long-term absenteeism;

    • You limit long-term absenteeism 
      By helping your employee reintegrate, you may be able to get him back to work faster. Especially with mental illness, such as burnout, much can be gained by the right approach and use of experts;

    • You save time
      At first, proper absenteeism counseling may actually seem to cost you time, but with the right help, focused on rapid reintegration, it can save you a lot of time in the long run;

    • You save money
      A sick employee costs you on average 260, – euros per day. Through proper absence management, you can significantly reduce the number of sick days and thus save money;

    • You have less stress
      A good approach gives peace of mind. It prevents stress for you and your employee. And the last thing you want is a disrupted working relationship, with all its consequences.

    • You get a good reputation
      Taking proper care of your people earns you the reputation of a good employer. Both within your company and outside it. Because your employees hear of the good approach and in turn share it with others. With that, you can even attract new employees and new customers.

3.6 Questions about absenteeism counseling 

    • What is absenteeism? Absenteeism is about caring for a sick employee. As an employer, you have a responsibility to help your employee during his absence and reintegration. You will follow the gatekeeper improvement act and work with a company doctor.

    • Is absenteeism support mandatory? Yes, according to the arbowet you, as an employer, must provide a good absenteeism policy and expert absenteeism support. It also fits the obligations you have from good employment practices.

    • How do I arrange absence counseling as an employer? You are required to use a company doctor when counseling a sick employee. In addition, you can also appoint a case manager to help you take all the mandatory steps in absenteeism and reintegration. You take care of this, for example, with a absenteeism insurance with health and safety services.

    • What is the cost of absence support? Most companies subscribe to a health and safety service The cost depends on the support you choose. On average, a health and safety service costs between 100 and 150 euros per employee per year. If you purchase absence insurance, the insurer often offers you a favorable opportunity to combine it with a contract with an occupational health and safety service.

    • When do I get a wage penalty? If you fail to fulfill your duties in reintegrating your employee, you may receive a wage penalty penalty) from the UWV. You often then have to continue paying your sick employee’s wages for another year. Your employee can also receive a wage penalty if he fails to cooperate in his reintegration.

4. 7 effective tips for entrepreneurs

How can you structurally reduce absenteeism within your company? We give you seven concrete tips.

4.1 Provide a good absence policy

An absenteeism policy focuses on preventing and reducing illness. A good absenteeism policy requires, among other things, work on prevention. How?

    • Together with your prevention officer, create a safe and healthy work environment;

    • Create a strong absenteeism protocol. This contains the ground rules that apply during illness, for example about reporting sick or contacting the occupational health and safety service;

    • Ensure proper recording of absenteeism and reintegration counseling. A health and safety service will help you in this area.

4.2 Pay attention to the signs of sick leave

Absenteeism sometimes comes as a total surprise. Yet it need not always be so if you pay attention to the signs of absenteeism. If you recognize them early, you can work with your employee to find a solution and prevent dropout. Identify work stress: for example, an employee at risk shows signs of work stress: 

    • Being irritable;

    • Seems to have lost track;

    • Does not make a sleepy impression;

    • Has difficulty concentrating.

By the way, these signs do not always have to indicate impending sick leave, but they can mean that something is going on.

4.3 Make absenteeism negotiable

Sick leave is a hot topic for many employers. They find it difficult to broach this topic in conversations with employees because it quickly touches on the private sphere. Yet with the right approach, bringing up sick leave need not be a problem. If you notice that your employee is sick often, you can start a absence conversation and show genuine interest. (Sick) employees like it when you are genuinely interested in how they are doing. You show this interest when you sincerely ask about this without immediately offering solutions. In doing so, give room for a response by separating the issue from the employee’s performance.

4.4 Be flexible

More flexibility at work can reduce absenteeism. Consider the ability to control where and when someone works. That way you can enable working from home. For employees who work from home, absenteeism is about 0.5 percentage points lower. In addition, you can give employees more control over their working hours with the help of self-rostering, for example. As a result, work and personal obligations are more closely aligned and you reduce the chances of dropping out due to an excessive workload.

4.5 Invest in training

It pays to invest in training opportunities for your staff. A higher training budget can lead to lower absenteeism. It does not matter the sector or the average age of the workforce. Possibly this has to do with the appreciation you express when you allow employees to take training. In addition, you increase job satisfaction by preventing employees from falling behind in their professional development. This allows them to do their jobs better (and thus with less frustration). This increases job satisfaction, which is the best medicine against absenteeism.

4.6 Collaborate with other parties

Small businesses often have fewer (financial) resources for prevention. Fortunately, you can collaborate with other parties. So you can work with area businesses to build healthy and vital employees. For example, by organizing a corporate tournament or offering staff a discounted gym membership together. There is increasing attention from employers to encouraging healthy lifestyles. What is the employer’s role in this? Keep the following aspects in mind:

    • Realize that for many employees, exercise and sports is not something that comes naturally. Behavior change creates a different lifestyle and healthier lifestyle but this is not a short-term thing, repetition is important. Involve possibly a: personal trainer, a dietician, coaches or a psychologist;

    • As an employer, make an analysis of what factors play a role in the change in lifestyle, consider a combination of: too much drinking, unhealthy diet, little exercise, troubled home situation, etc;

    • Gain an understanding of the role and importance of exercise in relation to absenteeism.

The challenge for the employer lies primarily in finding a balance in this guiding role. The responsibility ultimately lies with the employee. In addition, your absence insurer may offer access to a preventive medical examination. This includes providing employees with a periodic health check.

4.7 Point out each other’s responsibilities

With sick leave, the responsibility lies with two parties. On the one hand, as a good employer you must give due consideration to a sick employee.Conversely, you should expect an employee to show good employeeism. This means that he has to honor agreements made, including sick leave. After all, you have a contract with each other, which entails duties as well as some rights. In conversations with your employee, you can point out this shared responsibility.

5.0 How can we help!

From Panthion and ViaMensa, we believe in a multidisciplinary approach. From different specialties, we look at the questions that are on your mind as an employer or employee. Following a customized approach, we offer (preventive and distinctive) solutions for people and organizations. From guidance around absenteeism, vitality and work stress to career advice and shaping the employee journey. Panthion is your total provider for HR, career and absence issues. We are happy to help you and your organization. Feel free to call, email or app us with any questions!


Share this post

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date on HR developments, open positions and training and workshops.


Responds within an hour

How can I help you?