Slight increase in sick leave at UT

| Jelle Posthuma

Absenteeism at the UT has shown a slight increase in 2021, but remains low overall. Such is stated in the annual report of the UT’s occupational health service ‘Arbo Unie’. Psychological complaints are the main cause of long-term sick leave at UT.

Until the last months of 2021, there were remarkably few sick days, as stated by the report. It was only in the last quarter that figures shot up due to the Omnicron variant. At 3.1 per cent, the full-year sick leave rate is relatively low compared to the national average, but rising slightly compared to 2020 (2.9 per cent). Sick leave is highest in support services, with Finance and Human Resource leading the way.

The reporting frequency - how often employees report sick on average in a year - is also low at 0.64 in 2021. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Union, this can be in part explained by the fact that a lot of people were working from home. 'It is likely that reporting discipline was lax and employees, to a greater or lesser extent, just kept working.' The report also contains further comments on the low figures. Due to lockdowns, other waves of illness were absent, while employee productivity also has not been taken into account.


Mental health complications are the leading cause of long-term sick leave at the UT, constituting 40 per cent of all cases, which is also a slight increase compared to 2020. Employees with mental issues are out of the running for an average of 98 days. A new cause for long-term absence is long Covid. Put into perspective however, its contribution is marginal: only 2.5 per cent of sick leaves consists of employees with long-term corona complaints. Young UT employees in particular struggle with mental problems, while physical complaints are dominant among older employees.

Among long-term sick leave, 13 per cent are work-related. The report cites work pressure at the university as a potential cause. A recent welfare survey showed that 40 per cent of those surveyed consider the workload at UT to be (significantly) too high. The majority of employees with a high or very high workload do not report sick, according to the health and safety report. This is known as 'presenteeism' (being sick but still working) and is a possible explanation for the low amount of sick live at UT.


Finally, observations by occupational health physicians show the impact of the corona pandemic. For some UT employees, the lockdowns led to a disruption of the work-life balance and caused loneliness, especially among young employees. Working from home also negatively affected employees' well-being in some cases, for instance due to poor ergonomic conditions. The Occupational Health and Safety Union recommends a study to identify the risks of working from home.

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