Introduction Since 2001, Belgian absenteeism has increased steadily, especially long-term absenteeism. In 2016, the percentage of employees on sick leave for ≤1 month was 2.13%; the percentage of those on sick leave for >1 month was 5.13%. Consequently, absenteeism has become an important element in the human resources (HR) management strategies of many organisations. The aim of this study was to describe sick-leave policies of Belgian companies.
Methods A questionnaire was developed by a team of experts in the field of occupational and organisational health to assess sick-leave policies and HR management strategies. The questionnaire included four main topics (33 items): company characteristics (e.g., absenteeism rate), organisational features (e.g., hierarchical structure), sick-leave policy (e.g., presence of a procedure to stay in touch with absentees, possibility for adjusted work), and communication (e.g., communicating absenteeism rates to employees).
Companies were randomly selected by sector from a database of 49 852 companies affiliated with Mensura Occupational Health Services (Belgium). An external research agency phoned those responsible for HR in each company.
Results From January to March 2017, 2230 companies from nine sectors, were phoned. Most companies had 0–20 employees (n=1807), 388 had 21–200 employees, and 35 had >200 employees. More than half (55%) didn’t know their absenteeism rate. Only 34% had strictly defined procedures and agreements concerning absenteeism. In 22% of the companies, policies on prevention and protection at work were defined; these policies were linked to sick-leave policies in only 40% of these companies. In 62% of the companies, there was no possibility for adjusted work.
Discussion The results of this study provide a solid basis for performing targeted actions to raise awareness of the importance of a well-established sick-leave policy. To increase return-to-work chances for employees with long-term absenteeism, sick-leave policies should be integrated in companies’ overall health, safety, and well-being policies.
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