Research: higher absenteeism among healthcare staff with a small contract

Healthcare staff who work relatively few hours a week report sick relatively more often than staff with a contract with many hours. That appears from an analysis of absenteeism data commissioned by pension institution PGGM by Vernet.

This company keeps track of sick reports for the majority of Dutch healthcare institutions. For this study, data was used from 546,510 employees of hospitals, care for the disabled, mental health care, care, nursing and home care.

Higher than average

The so-called absenteeism rate is highest among healthcare staff with a contract of 18 to 21.6 hours a week, at 8.4 percent. The absenteeism percentage indicates the percentage that has not been worked due to illness at a company or institution.

The Dutch average is 4.7 percent, according to the most recent figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Absenteeism is higher in healthcare, according to Vernet’s research. Only in the group of healthcare workers with a full-time contract, the absenteeism percentage is 4.9 percent close to the Dutch average.

The fewer hours someone has to work according to his or her contract, the higher the absenteeism, according to the research. Only healthcare workers with a contract for less than 14 hours are an exception to this trend.

Three possible reasons

The researchers give three possible reasons as an explanation. In recent years, healthcare has increasingly been designed to work as efficiently as possible. Personnel are therefore deployed at times when they are most needed, often in the morning and evening.

Schedules for healthcare staff have been adapted to this, for example by allowing them to work very short shifts, but sometimes several in one day. This may be useful from a cost point of view, but it creates extra stress for staff. And high stress leads to more sick reports.

Double burden

Another possible cause is that the women who work at home with a small contract are expected to do more with household tasks, care for the children and informal care. This so-called double burden can lead to ‘a (too) high burden, which can contribute to higher absenteeism’, according to the researchers.

The higher absenteeism due to smaller contracts can also be caused by the financial consequences of working less hours. Stress due to financial problems also leads to extra absenteeism, according to research by budget information organization Nibud.

Financial worries

Due to the combination of small contracts in the care sector and the already relatively low salaries in the sector, there are more than 300,000 care employees who earn less than 1410 euros net per month, the researchers estimate.

That amount is the minimum to be financially independent. The 100,000 healthcare workers who fail to achieve this are vulnerable if they lose their jobs or end up in divorce. And that in turn leads to extra stress and more absenteeism.

“A larger contract could even provide relief,” the researchers said. They argue for a ‘turnaround in thinking and acting’ in healthcare institutions. The fact that she only wants to give staff slightly larger contracts for fear of more absenteeism is ‘a missed opportunity’.

The shortage of healthcare personnel will only grow further, to more than 100,000 by 2030. This can be partly solved by giving healthcare personnel larger contracts. This also saves on costs, because less expensive flex workers need to be hired.

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