Healthier at work in the long term

Sibille Allgayer, Human Capital and Finance Manager, AmCham Belgium

On Tuesday, October 27, the second event of our Year of Healthcare took place, a collaboration between AmCham Belgium’s Innovative Healthcare and Human Capital and Talent Committees, looking at healthy working and absenteeism in the workplace.

Rates of long-term absenteeism from work have doubled in the past 20 years, often at a significant cost to employers. With the exact cost of absenteeism, be it short and repetitive or long-term, varying from industry to industry, employers may wish to draw patterns and conclusions within their own business in order to better understand and address the problem. In this regard, it is important to not only look at the person-hour cost of the absent worker, but also the cost of training someone else or having another worker take on replacement duties as well as the degree of specialization of the position, which will impact not only the ease of finding a replacement, but may also result in a temporary lack of expertise in the team.

The likelihood of absenteeism is influenced by both personal and work context factors. While personal aspects such as age, overall wellbeing and lifestyle can all play a role, work context and interpersonal relationships at work are also important factors contributing to, or reducing, the likelihood of an employee being absent from work.

Putting the ball in the employer’s camp

High workload and poor work-life balance, restructuring and other disruptions, as well as open plan offices are all factors that are likely to increase workforce absenteeism. Certain types of jobs, such as low-skilled manual work and, on the other side, high stress functions such as healthcare or dangerous professions, are also more at risk of absenteeism.

In addition, interpersonal relations at work play an important role. The relationship with one’s direct supervisor as well as support, both practical and emotional, from colleagues are the two most important aspects to consider in this context, having a major influence on mental wellbeing and stress.

According to research carried out by AG Insurance, job demand interventions, such as reducing workload, clarifying roles and goals, noise reduction and job safety measures have shown mixed results depending on the work context.

In most cases, a multi-faceted workplace program that addresses lifestyle, physical and mental wellbeing as well as the work context is more likely to show positive results, according to the same AG Insurance research.

Employers can introduce initiatives to reduce sedentary behavior and encourage movement throughout the day, stimulate healthier food choices in the workplace, as well as campaigns that directly impact health, such as flu vaccination and hand hygiene. Psychosocial initiatives, such as access to counseling but also training in stress management, relaxation skills, mindfulness or other behavioral and cognitive techniques, have also been shown to reduce absenteeism significantly.

When implementing a multi-faceted workplace program, information campaigns are a crucial success factor, together with providing opportunities for employee self-screening and assessment. Programs that offer a range of training and educational materials, from self-learning and apps to group sessions, are also more likely to succeed, as are those that regularly offer organized activities.

What about COVID-19?

Taking aside sick leave of workers who have contracted COVID-19, the virus’ impact on absenteeism is still unclear and difficult to assess. With a large portion of people working from home, the impact on work-life balance may be better for some workers who have the liberty to organize their day in a more organic way, yet worse for others who cannot sign-off at the end of the day or have children at home needing their attention throughout the day. In the same way, while workers may get less sick from colleagues who come to the offices unwell or from contamination in public transport, people may become isolated and miss the social aspect of work, leading to potentially better physical health but decreasing mental health.

With thanks to the speakers of the October 27 event “Healthy Working: tackling long-term absenteeism” (in alphabetical order): Ellen De Vleeschouwer (General Manager at AG Health Partner), Olivia Natens (Country Director BeNeLux at Medtronic and Chair of AmCham Belgium’s Innovative Healthcare Committee), Bram Smolenaers (Head of Market & Product Development Health Care at AG Employee Benefits), Cédric Velghe (Vigor Unit – University of Ghent spin-off) and David Webber (Senior Partner at Odgers Berndtson and Chair of AmCham Belgium’s Human Capital and Talent Committee)

About the author

Sibille Allgayer, Human Capital and Finance Manager, AmCham Belgium

As well as ensuring that colleagues have a pleasant and motivating work environment, Sibille keeps an eye on AmCham's finances. Enjoys crafting and collecting indoor plants.

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