Reducing sick leave? Tips and facts to keep you going

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24 November 2022 Hygiene

Reducing absenteeism does not have to be difficult, and at the same time it can save a lot of money (and stress). Because absenteeism is anything but nice for companies and institutions. The problem is often underestimated and people do not look for an effective solution to reduce absenteeism sufficiently.

In the first half of 2022, there was a record number of sick leaves in Europe. The main reasons for sick leave were respiratory illnesses such as influenza, colds and covid.

Reduce absenteeism in the long run

We generally see that when short-term sick leave is reduced - after taking various measures - the focus within organizations weakens afterwards. While reducing absenteeism only really pays off in the long run. Because of the corona virus, it is now even more important to keep a close eye on absenteeism and to take measures.

This article consists of eight elements in which we answer questions and share tips & facts:

  1. What does a sick employee cost?
  2. How contagious can someone be?
  3. Four facts about hand hygiene in the workplace
  4. What is the importance of washing & drying hands?
  5. Eight facts about bacteria in the workplace
  6. How do other employees get infected?
  7. Does a clean workplace affect absenteeism?
  8. What needs to change to reduce absenteeism?
Medewerker ziek thuis met kruik

1. What does a sick employee cost?

A sick employee can cost the employer double the daily salary. Not only must salary continue to be paid, depending on the specific rules in a country, but replacing staff, reduced production and counseling the sick employee also cost money. A reasonable estimate of the cost of this in Europe is about 2.5% of GDP.

Average sick leave

The average sick leave rate in Europe, according to research by Eurofound, is between 3% and 6% of working time. Every year in winter, flu, colds and other respiratory diseases prevail. Corona has also played a major role for several years now. Around this time of year, therefore, a peak in the number of absenteeism is visible.

Of course, being sick is very unpleasant for the employee, but also as an employer you would obviously rather not have this happen. It costs a lot of money on an annual basis and of course you prefer to see your employees healthy. That is why reducing sick leave is important.

2. How infectious can an employee be?

The importance of good workplace hygiene is underestimated. An employee who is sick stays home. But does this mean that he or she cannot infect other employees? The answer to this question is: no. This employee may have already infected others because people with flu are contagious for about 6 days.

Infectivity before symptoms of illness

The chance of infecting others begins at least one day before symptoms appear. The employee in question then does not know himself to be sick, even though he is present in the workplace. This can easily infect other employees. Preventing infection is therefore the best solution.

Hand hygiene is most effective

It is advisable here to emphasize and improve hand hygiene. Good hand hygiene is the most effective way to prevent flu and many other diseases. Keeping one and a half feet away from each other also helps prevent the spread of illness. When reducing absenteeism through hand hygiene, consider using automatic soap dispensers or disinfection dispensers, as well as installing non-contact sensor faucets.

Verkouden vrouw met griep snuit haar neus

3. Four facts about hand hygiene in the work environment

Fact 1

Only 33% of men and 64% of women use soap to wash their hands after visiting the toilet.

Fact 2

Hand-to-hand contact accounts for 80% of all diseases spread.

Fact 3

When hands are moist (e.g., not properly dried), up to 1,000 times more bacteria are transmitted.

Fact 4

The keyboard has the highest density of bacteria in the workplace: 20,000 per cm2.

4. What is the importance of washing and drying hands at work?

Personnel come into contact with bacteria and viruses throughout the day. This starts on the way to work, for example on public transportation. But stair railings and door handles are also culprits here. During the workday, employees regularly visit the restroom. After visiting the toilet, there are about 200 million bacteria on your hands.


Preventing infection

When people do not wash their hands, but then touch their nose, eyes or mouth, bacteria and viruses have the opportunity to enter the body. This can lead to infection, resulting in colds, flu or covid.

Proper hand washing by employees is important because it helps prevent infections. Harmful bacteria are removed from the hands with soap. Furthermore, the chance of cross-contamination is reduced. Reducing sick leave succeeds by reducing the reproduction factor (R). With coronavirus, the government aims for an R number below 1.

Not only washing hands with soap is important, drying hands is at least as important. Drying hands properly also significantly reduces the risk of infection. Wet hands spread a thousand times more bacteria compared to dry hands. it is also wise to provide disinfectant gel at entrances and exits, but also for example in the toilets.

In recent years, the incidence of infectious diseases has increased by 10 to 15%.

Woman washing her hands in a public bathrom with a cloth towel dispenser

5. Eight facts about bacteria in the workplace

1. Bacteria can survive as much as 48 hours on a surface.

2. 47% of illnesses can be prevented by washing hands.

3. The computer mouse contains an average of 10,000 organisms per square centimeter. 

4. If one hand is contaminated with bacteria, these bacteria can be spread to 14 other employees and 5 new objects.

5. An office employee comes into contact with more than 10 million bacteria every day.

6. A hot air hand dryer results in an increase in bacteria rather than a decrease.

7. Soap pumps are full of bacteria. A solution to this is a (non-touch) dispenser.

8. A soap dispenser with a sensor eliminates the need for contact between object and hand. This, of course, also applies to a sensor faucet.

6. How do other employees become infected?

As indicated earlier, employees can infect other colleagues before they themselves realize they are getting sick. An important question to answer in the context of reducing absenteeism is: How can co-workers become infected?

Direct contact

One way to become infected is through direct contact: coughing, sneezing, talking or touching someone in close proximity. This involves direct transmission of bacteria. This is difficult to prevent, except by not getting too close to another person when you know you are suffering from a cold or sense that you are starting to get sick.

Indirect contact

It is also possible to transmit bacteria indirectly. This happens through a variety of objects touched during the day. Some examples of indirect sources of contamination in the workplace are:

  • Faucet knobs
  • Door handles
  • Keyboard and mouse
  • Coffee machine
  • Buttons in elevators
  • Handrails of stairs

These objects are used and touched regularly during a workday. In many cases, hands are not washed afterwards and bacteria are therefore easily spread. This also applies when you have sneezed or coughed yourself. It is best to immediately wash your hands with soap or disinfect them before touching objects again.

Händehygiene Händewaschen

7. Does a clean workplace affect absenteeism?

American research shows that staff can get sick from bacteria on a mouse, keyboard, and the telephone. The focus of this study, which followed 1,600 employees, was on workplace hygiene. Among other things, employees were given an understanding of the risks of bacteria and their effect on health. In addition, cleaning was improved.

Research results
In all measured areas, contamination levels had been reduced by 33% and absenteeism among the 1,600 employees had decreased by over 13%..

A clean workplace and increased awareness of hygiene among employees has a positive impact on absenteeism.

8. What needs to change to reduce absenteeism?

It has been shown several times that hygiene in the office lags behind hygiene in the healthcare and food industries. It goes without saying that more attention is paid to hygiene in those sectors, but in fact this should be the case in the office as well. Starting to improve basic hygiene is a good first step. This will help reduce absenteeism.

Improve basic hygiene

These include changing trash cans in a timely manner, vacuuming and mopping rooms. In most cases, this is already in place and taken care of by a professional cleaning service. However, if we look at keeping office keyboards, mice and phones hygienically clean, they are generally rarely cleaned. As a result, many bacteria are left behind.

Research shows that, on average, there are more bacteria on a keyboard than on a toilet seat. A toilet is cleaned regularly, but why not a keyboard? Just a quick wipe over it is not enough. Ensure the presence of appropriate hygiene products and encourage employees to regularly clean these types of objects on their desks. 

Flexible workplaces

When there is a flexible workplace, an employee who has used it should leave it clean. It is also better not to eat in the workplace and certainly not above the keyboard, which leaves crumbs that are difficult to remove.

Hygiëne flexibele werkplek

Creating awareness

The problem is mainly that employees do not give enough thought to hygiene. Many people know about the risks of bacteria and viruses, but unconsciously little is done about it. Awareness must be created and eventually a change in behavior. This can include the internal distribution of information about the importance of hygiene and the measures to promote it.

Absenteeism rates are related to staff awareness of the importance of good hygiene. It is therefore advisable to improve and promote hygiene, but especially awareness (for example, through toolboxes), which will reduce absenteeism.

Active approach

It is important for an employer to pursue an active approach to reducing absenteeism. It should not be thought that there is nothing to change. And the idea that if staff absence occurs, the other employees should just work more and harder is obviously not the solution. For example, ask employees to voluntarily get vaccinated against the flu virus and be reimbursed for the cost.

There are also plenty of other measures that are quite simple and have a positive impact on reducing absenteeism. It is especially important that staff become more aware of hygiene in the workplace, with a focus on hand hygiene. At the same time, sufficient resources should be available such as disinfectant gel, soap and hand towels for drying.

Ultimately, millions of euros can be saved. Increasing hygiene also comes with a price tag, but these costs are many times lower.


Conclusion lowering sick leave

Many areas for improvement

We can conclude that there is much improvement to be made with regard to hygiene in workplaces and especially in the office. With higher hygiene awareness, absenteeism decreases. As a result, employers incur significantly lower costs.

If the tips in this article are applied properly, it is relatively easy to take concrete steps and achieve your goal of reducing absenteeism.

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