Sickness absence rate dips to lowest level since 1996

30/03/2015 15:00

The sickness absence rate among employees in the Netherlands has fallen to 3.8 percent in 2014, the lowest rate since 1996. Possibly, there is a relation between the low sickness absence rate and the poor economic situation. Another factor, which contributed to the low sickness absence rate is that the flu epidemic at the beginning of 2014 was mild.

Fewer people report ill, partly due to a change in legislation

Last year, 38 in every thousand employees were absent from work due to illness. The sickness absence rate has not been this low since 1996. In 2002 - after the introduction of the Gatekeeper Improvement Act - sickness absence started to decline. Under this Act, employers are fully responsible for the monitoring of their sick employees and legally bound to work towards a speedy reintegration. Between 2002 and 2004, the rate dropped to 4.2 percent and subsequently remained all but stable until 2011. Over the past three years, the rate declined further to below 4 percent in 2014. Two relevant factors in this respect are the economic situation and the fact that people are apprehensive about losing their jobs.

Most sick employees down with flu

Absence from work due to sickness shows a obvious seasonal pattern. In autumn and winter, the absence rate is significantly higher than in spring. Flu is the main reason for employees to report ill. This is confirmed by data on cases of influenza reported to GPs. In the winter of 2013-2014, there was a mild flu epidemic, which accounts for the low sickness absence rate in the first quarter of 2014 and kept the average absence rate over the entire year 2014 low.

Small firms have lower sickness absence rates

On average, the sickness absence rate is higher in large companies. In small firms with fewer than 10 employees, the sickness absence rate was 1.6 percent in 2014. In medium-sized businesses with a workforce between 10 and 100 employees, the rate was more than twice as high (3.3 percent) and in large companies with more than 100 employees, the rate was nearly three times as high (4.6 percent).
Sickness absence has fallen across the entire private sector in recent years, irrespective of the number of employees. The rate declined most notably in large companies where sickness absence decreased by 2.5 percentage points during the period 2001-2014. In smaller firms, the rate fell by 1.3 percentage points.

Sector hotels and restaurants has lowest sickness absence rate

The sickness absence rate varies by sector. In 2014, the sector hotels and restaurants had the lowest rate. This sector includes many small businesses and has the youngest workforce. Age indeed also affects sickness absence: older employees are more often absent from work for reasons of health than their younger colleagues. In agriculture and financial services with many small businesses, the sickness absence rate was also relatively low.
In the sectors education, public administration and health care and welfare, the rate was relatively high. These sectors include many large institutions and many older employees.