The fifth edition of the work stoppage barometer has just been published. This survey is carried out by BVA and Workplace Options (Gerep’s partners in its GPS, well-being and prevention initiative) and sets out to obtain a better understanding of absenteeism and how this issue is viewed by companies. Even though all this has been in the limelight for many years, several of the survey results do surprise us and call into question some generally accepted notions

Fewer employees take leave (but work stoppages last longer)

Between 2016 and 2019 the number of employees taking sick leave declined from 40% to 36%. Nevertheless, whereas the number of absences reduced, those absences lasted longer. Over the last three years, the number of work stoppages lasting more than one week has risen from 36% to 43%. As a result: the rate of absenteeism reached 3.9% in 2019 compared to 2.8% in 2014, which means that over the last five years the rate of absenteeism has risen by 6.85% annually.

These figures back up the findings of the Berard-Oustric-Seiller report which found that the rise in absenteeism was due to: long-term work stoppages. This finding is quite worrying because the more an absence drags on, the harder it is to get back to work. As regards sick leave of over 15 days, France is among the worst players in Europe. When the French take sick leave, it goes on and on…

Burn-out: not an epidemic but a smouldering disease

Common illnesses and musculoskeletal disorders are, unsurprisingly, the leading causes of sick leave. Job exhaustion takes third place. 7% of employees declare they have had to take time off for burnout. This is not really a marginal figure when you take into account that only 36% of employees took sick leave last year. Of these, 23% cited reasons linked to their work. If anxiety at the workplace is talked about a lot, this is not because of an explosion in the number of burnouts due to brutal deterioration in working conditions but more just to belated awareness. Anxiety at work or job exhaustion are important drivers of absenteeism that are well within an employer’s ability to act.

A majority of HR managers have absolutely no idea of the cost of absenteeism!

Promoting quality of working life (QWL) means accessing now sources of efficiency and cost savings for the company. Absenteeism cost money! Yet, 59% of HR managers have no idea of the cost of sick leave in their company. Only 16% say they have a clear idea. Should this be seen as a source of blockage? Probably. It is difficult to invest in workplace well-being when one has no clear idea of what the return on investment could be.

Less than one in two HR managers has taken PSR / QWL initiatives

Companies are adopting compliance with the law very much at their own pace. Most of them have implemented the DUERP (Single Occupational Risk Assessment Document) which has been mandatory since 2002. Questions concerning work-station ergonomics, arduousness of work or prevention of musculoskeletal disorders have largely been taken into account. Yet, less than one in two HR managers has taken QWL (Quality of Working Life) initiatives. Even so, this is a legal obligation ever since the 2017 Labour Law which requires a certain number of issues to be dealt with during the Compulsory Annual Negotiation. In addition, in the event of accusations by an employee, the employer must prove that they have made sufficient preventive efforts in the area of psychosocial risks.

Occupational healthcare services acclaimed!

For 72% of HR managers, the occupational healthcare practitioner is the most appropriate contact person to discuss work stoppages. Only 12% of HR managers use companies specialising in prevention. These figures indicate a “defensive” and individualised vision of risk prevention. While HR managers are gradually becoming aware of the issues surrounding absenteeism, they are all too often content to react in response to identified crises or problems. There is still a long way to go before the QWL approach is seen as a tool for performance.

Damien Vieillard-Baron