What to do when the sickness rate is too high? Which measures help and are also financially worthwhile?

Evaluate sick leave correctly and reduce it effectively

For many companies, personnel costs are one of the largest cost groups of all. The proportion of total costs can vary greatly depending on the industry, but on average they account for 30 to 40 percent. In the case of retail and service companies, however, they can be as high as 60 percent. Employees are therefore the biggest cost factor for many companies, but at the same time they are also the most valuable resource. Because companies can only remain competitive in the long term if they have qualified, healthy and productive employees. To ensure this, a company must create working conditions that promote the well-being of employees. If this is not achieved, absenteeism will increase and productivity will suffer. How you can reduce the sickness rate and what you need to consider, we show in the following. 



High sickness rate as a warning signal

If a company offers poor working conditions, this is reflected in high absenteeism. A distinction is made here between incapacity to work due to illness or absenteeism due to a lack of motivation and a poor relationship with the employer. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, the latter amounted to an average of €1,199 per employee per year in 2009. By contrast, the costs of sickness-related days lost are much higher, amounting to €129 billion for companies in the same year. In addition to the direct costs, companies also incur costs for the loss of value added, which amounted to €225 billion.


What are the costs of high sickness absence at the company level?

The sickness rate of German companies is 4.23% on average. A company with 100 employees and personnel expenses of €41,000 therefore has sickness-related costs of €173,430.

However, if we now assume a company with a sickness rate of 6%, it already bears costs of €246,000. This example refers only to costs for sickness-related days of absence.

Another cost factor is presenteeism. This refers to the fact that employees come to work even though they are sick. Presenteeism also causes costs because sick employees perform less and make more mistakes. The costs of presenteeism are difficult for companies to determine, but amount to an average of €2,399 per employee. The cost of absenteeism, which companies can calculate using the sickness rate, is therefore only part of the cost, which means that many companies include an incorrect value in their calculations.

The costs for companies can therefore be immense, which leads us to the question of how to reduce the sickness rate.

How to reduce sick leave?

The previous example makes it clear that it makes perfect sense to keep visible sick leave (absenteeism) and non-visible sick leave (presenteeism) as low as possible. To do this, it is first important to ensure transparency. Only when it is clear which circumstance or circumstances are endangering the health of employees can appropriate action be taken. To this end, companies can carry out a risk assessment. This provides a fixed structure for possible causes and contains dimensions such as mental and physical stress or various stresses caused by the working environment. Concrete causes include poor workplace design, too much (performance) pressure or poor room ventilation.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution here, since BGF and BGM measures must always be adapted to a company. In addition, the success of any measure to reduce sick days depends heavily on how many employees participate.  

However, most days of absence can be attributed to musculoskeletal disorders, i.e. diseases of the musculoskeletal system. According to the DAK Health Report 2021, these account for 24.1 percent of the days lost in companies. In second place are mental illnesses with around 17%. 

In general, days of absence can be avoided by promoting exercise and avoiding stress..

  • Exercise has many other benefits besides maintaining health, reducing stress, increasing performance and creativity
  • Stress is largely determined by corporate culture. Companies with a culture of error and open communication mean less stress for employees.
  • The management style in the company has a significant influence on the well-being of employees and therefore also has a great influence

Costs & benefits of prevention measures differ significantly

Over the years, many preventive measures have been established to maintain health, but studies show that many do not deliver what they promise. Studies on the effectiveness of preventive measures for musculoskeletal disorders show that the continuity and long-term nature of measures are crucial. A seminar on stress prevention, a company run or a simple back school are therefore not enough. In addition, the effect of preventive measures always depends on how many employees are reached and activated.

This can be achieved through targeted communication of your health promotion measures. Would you like to know how to do this? Read our article on successfully communicate health promotion measures.


Reduce sick days economically through MSK prevention

The literature distinguishes between four common variants for reducing days of absence due to musculoskeletal disorders. We will show you what these are in the following.

1. Shooling & training (e.g. back training or dealing with stress)

Scientific literature suggests that prevention measures that rely only on knowledge transfer & information dissemination are not effective for reducing sick days due to musculoskeletal diseases or shortening lost days. The results of several studies indicate that symptoms and the duration of complaints are not sufficiently reduced.

Therefore, “some authors even speak of moderate to strong evidence that educational programs are inappropriate for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders”.

2.Exercise program

Physical activity programs are those that serve to increase the physical resilience, improve the mobility and increase the fitness of employees. Such health promotion programs can be effective in reducing absenteeism. The literature suggests that physical activity programs are the single most effective method for reducing absenteeism.

According to Lühmann et al., the effectiveness of physical activity programs depends to a large extent on the regularity and long-term nature of measures.

3.Technical aids

Ergonomic aids such as mouse and keyboard do not show a clear effect on reducing absenteeism. Studies by Eerd et al. suggest that “ergonomic mouse models” show slight evidence for reducing neck and shoulder problems. However, like Lincoln et al, they find no scientific evidence for reductions in absenteeism due to these.

4. Multi-component programs

Programs that combine preventive measures such as training or exercise programs with technical aids, i.e. ergonomic office equipment, have one of the greatest effects on reducing absenteeism. However, the actual effect on the reduction of absenteeism depends on how actively employees participate in the programs. In addition, the intensity and continuity of combination programs are also decisive for the health effect..

When is it financially worthwhile to reduce sick leave?

Ten studies from the USA show consistently positive cost-effectiveness. The cost savings for companies result from sickness costs and sickness-related days of absence.

According to an extensive evaluation by Chapman, it was found that BGF measures can reduce sickness costs by an average of 26.1% and absenteeism by 26.8%.

According to Kreis and Bödeker, the return on investment (ROI) for sickness costs is “1:2.3 to 1:5.9” and for “absenteeism, figures of 1:2.5 to 1:10 can be found”. Accordingly, every euro invested in workplace health promotion pays off at least twice as much again


Movement exercise is guided by AI health coach
  • Hignett S (2003) Intervention strategies to reduce musculoskeletal injuries associated with handling patients: a systematic review. Occupational and Environmental Medicine und Maher CG (2000) A systematic review of workplace interventions to prevent low back pain. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy 46 (4):259–269
  • Lincoln AE, Vernick JS, Ogaitis S et al (2000) Interventions for the Primary Prevention of Work-Related Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 18(4), supplement 1:37–50 und van Eerd D, Brewer S, Amick BC et al (2006) Workplace interventions to prevent musculoskeletal and visual symptoms and disorders among computer users: A systematic review. Institute for Work & Health, Toronto
  • Lühmann D, Burkhardt-Hammer T, Stoll S et al (2006) Prävention rezidivierender Rückenschmerzen. Präventionsmaßnahmen in der Arbeitsplatzumgebung. Deutsche Agentur für Health Technology Assessment des Deutschen Instituts für Medizinische Dokumentation und Information
  • Chapman LS (2005) Meta-evaluation of Worksite Health Promotion Economic Return Studies: 2005 Update. The Art of Health Promotion Juli/August:1–11
  • Kreis J, Bödeker W (2003) Gesundheitlicher und ökonomischer Nutzen betrieblicher Gesundheitsförderung und Prävention. Zusammenstellung der wissenschaftlichen Evidenz. IGA-Report 3.
  • Badura B, Schräder H, Vetter C (2008) Fehlzeiten-Report, Betriebliches Gesundheitsmanagement: Kosten und Nutzen