By IESE Insight
Spain’s uptick in absenteeism, which began at the end of 2013, has become more pronounced — reaching a rate of 4.7 percent in 2015. As a result, the Spanish social security system lost 5.1 billion euros in direct costs, while its companies lost 3.9 billion. The estimated opportunity costs, in terms of the goods and services that ceased to be produced, are estimated to be 52.4 billion euros.
These are some of the numbers crunched in Adecco’s Report on Absenteeism, now in its fifth edition, prepared in collaboration with IESE, Garrigues, AMAT, FREMAP, University Carlos III of Madrid, and the Spanish government’s National Institute for Health and Safety in the Workplace.
The study also indicates that leaves from work due to minor ailments are almost five times more prevalent than those caused by work-related accidents. Moreover, women tended to be absent more often than men and, when they were, took more days of leave, on average.
The Balearic Islands, Madrid, Galicia, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, and Murcia are, in that order, the regions in Spain with the most hours actually worked.
Three diagnoses — those of musculoskeletal, psychological and trauma disorders — were cited as the cause of about 57 percent of leave days. As such, workers’ health programs in Spain should focus on addressing these ailments in order to reduce absenteeism effectively.
Changes Over Time
The advent of the crisis caused absenteeism to drop slightly from 2008 to 2011 (to 4.7 percent). The downward trend became more apparent in 2012 (4.3 percent) and 2013 (4.1 percent).
The year 2014 was a turning point: absenteeism rose for the first time in six years. The upturn became more pronounced in 2015, reaching 4.7 percent.
A sector-by-sector analysis of recent years reveals that absenteeism increased sharply in the realm of services — from 4.2 percent in 2013 to 4.9 percent in 2015 (the peak was 5.1 percent back in 2007). Over the same period, the rate for the industrial sector rose from 4.1 to 4.6 percent (its peak was 5.5 percent, also in 2007). Meanwhile, construction’s rate inched up more modestly: from 3.0 to 3.2 percent.
Hours actually worked (per employee) fell by 8 percent between 2000 and 2014, with a particularly sharp drop of 2 percent in 2009. Whereas in the year 2000, workers logged 1,684 hours on the job, by 2014, that figure had dropped to just 1,550.
About 90 percent of Spanish companies control absenteeism by requiring a doctor’s note or other type of written justification for an employee’s excused absence or leave. Only 3 percent offer annualized hour schemes or flexible work hours — aka flex time — which are conducive to achieving a work-life balance.
These figures illustrate a pressing need to rationalize work schedules and to improve the systems and practices of flexible time on the job in order to encourage a tenable work-life balance.
Experts agree that the institutional framework establishing work leave (and the quantity of red tape required) is key to absenteeism rates. More generous leave and fewer bureaucratic hoops result in higher absenteeism rates. In fact, an international comparison suggests that absenteeism runs higher in those countries with more generous social protection systems and less red tape.
Specifically, the study compares data in Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Australia, Canada and the United States. Of the group, Finland and Switzerland tend to have the highest levels of absenteeism, with Spain close behind.
Checking in on Presenteeism
The report also notes that presenteeism (being physically present in the workplace, yet spending this time on non-work-related matters) dropped from 2008 to 2011, but increased between 2012 and 2015. Two very different types of workers are the most likely to practice presenteeism: those that feel very secure in their jobs (and therefore unworried about the consequences of tending to personal matters on the clock) and those that feel very insecure in their jobs (and therefore avoid asking for an absence when necessary).
Spanish companies tend to counter absenteeism with controls and restrictions, which doesn’t encourage responsible behavior among workers. In fact, 88 percent of Spanish companies apply control methods to their employees’ work hours and only 34 percent offer flex time to at least a quarter of staff. This lack of flexibility is more pronounced in SMEs than it is in large companies.
Presenteeism rates depended most on the type of job and the type of contract (full-time regular employment vs. temporary or part-time). This leads the researchers to conclude that institutional factors predict rates of presenteeism much better than any individual characteristics, such as age or gender, which were found to barely matter.