Mercer research: Most European organisations measure the length of employee absence

The majority (82%) of European organisations measure the length of employee absence while 35% record the causes of absence and 27% measure the costs.

The Pan-European Survey on Employer Health Benefits Issues, conducted by Mercer in 14 countries across Europe with 556 employers, found that 29% of respondents in France, 23% in Italy and 25% in the UK do not keep any type of sickness absence data at all.

About two-thirds of respondents (66%) believe that European health reform will increase the pressure on employers to provide private health benefits.

Respondents from Italy (56%), Portugal (55%) and Ireland (52%) are the most likely to have access to information about the causes of absence with Germany (15%) trailing.

Measurement of the cost of absence is most common among respondents in Spain (50%), Ireland (48%) and the Netherlands (42%). Only 12% of respondents from organisations in Italy and 8% in France are able to measure the cost of absence.

Respondents from Austria reported the highest absence rates with an average of nine days per employee per year. Meanwhile, respondents from Germany and France each reported an average absence rate of eight days.

Organisations in Poland and the Netherlands reported an average of seven, the Czech Republic and Italy reported six days each, the UK reported five days, and Ireland, Portugal and Spain reported four days each.

Most respondents (73%) stated that absences tended to be short frequent absences but 27% stated that these were absences of eight days or greater. While 20% of respondents did state that absence rates had increased over the past three years, 27% stated that rates had decreased and 32% stated that they had stayed the same.

Organisations in the Netherlands (55%), Ireland (54%), Austria (50%) and the Czech Republic (42%) had the highest levels of decreased absence rates. An additional 21% did not have the information available on which to base a response.

In the UK, 73% of respondents monitor the length of employee absences with 43% collecting information on the cause of absences and only 19% able to measure the cost of absence.

Musculoskeletal (excluding back pain), mental health and cancer were commonly cited by respondents as being among the top three causes of long-term absence. However, 65% of organisations had no idea what the top three causes of absence were at their organisation. Polish firms (71%) and Italian and French firms (65% each) showed the least amount of information about the causes of long-term absence.

Despite these figures, 66% of respondents stated that their organisations have absence policies and procedures in place. Only 45% of respondents’ organisations hold return-to-work interviews to assess employees’ fitness for work, 54% have sick pay arrangements, 23% said their organisation offers attendance incentives, 55% provide case management/occupational health services, 38% offer employees access to treatment at the employers cost, 39% offer rehabilitation services and 33% include absence records in employee performance appraisals.

When asked their top priority in health benefit management over the next few years, respondents in the Czech Republic (35%), Germany (38%), Italy (52%), Poland (33%), Portugal (39%), and Spain (41%) stated that employee engagement and satisfaction was their greatest priority. Respondents in France (47%) and the UK (36%) rank cost control top, while in Austria (60%), Ireland (33%) and the Netherlands (31%) prevention of ill health and health promotion was ranked a the greatest priority over the next few years.

Paulo Fradinho, principal at Mercer, says: “Employers need information on workforce health in order to implement effective wellness programmes that will help manage cost growth over time.

“In the US there is a clear move towards organisations monitoring more closely the health of their employees with a direct impact on absence rates and healthcare costs. In Europe, state health systems have tended to blur that link but this is changing.

“The financial threat to organisations prompted by European healthcare reform is very real, yet fewer than half of the survey respondents say that implementing policies to help them manage future absence levels is a priority. This should be a cause for concern for any cost-conscious business.

“Good absence management benefits the organisation’s bottom line and helps control costs while the provision of private medical cover helps with employee satisfaction and engagement.

“While the cost benefits can be difficult to calculate, it is a worthy exercise as the whole organisation benefits. Despite the obvious flaws in absence management methodologies, the future looks unlikely to see any major change.

“The irony here is that while organisations acknowledge that these areas can deliver a benefit to their bottom line, few of them have the systems in place to be able to effect real change.”

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