The number of cases of short-term sick leave fell by 16% following the lockdown in March and April, compared to the same period in 2019, according to a survey carried out by HR consultants Acerta.
Short-term sick leave covers an absence from illness lasting for one month or less. Acerta says the decrease from May, after the end of the generalised lockdown, can be attributed to the widespread adoption of teleworking.
“Belgians are taking sick leave less often because they can organise their working hours more comfortably in a home office, and have less stress related to travelling to work,” the study says.
During the lockdown in March and April, sick leave was higher as a result of the climate of anxiety caused by the mounting infection numbers. Those companies that did not introduce teleworking immediately faced the problem of workers calling in sick instead rather than venture out.
By May, the initial conditions had relaxed, more companies were using teleworking, and employees no longer had to resort to sick leave as a precaution.
As a result, the month of May itself saw a 40% drop compared to May 2019, with only 1.4% of working days lost to short-term sick leave.
The survey looked at information from 30,000 companies, filtering out those workers who were on temporary unemployment but may have been sick at the same time.
“We see that, even if we relate the days of short-term absenteeism to the number of working days excluding the days of temporary unemployment, the share of short-term absenteeism in this corona year is still lower than in 2019,” said Miet Vanhegen, manager at Acerta Consult.
“That leads us to conclude that temporary unemployment alone is not an explanation for the drop in short-term absence,” she said.
• In related news, an online survey by Acerta, KU Leuven and HR Square of 575 employers found that teleworking has become much more popular than before the pandemic. Four in ten employees are now able to work from home, compared to 27.4% before the outbreak.