Ill-health and absenteeism is extremely costly to employees, employers and insurance companies. It has a direct impact on national economies, given the medical and social security costs and the loss of output resulting from a reduced labour force. It is only relatively recently, however, that the issue has begun to be seriously addressed. The Foundation's research project: Ill-health and workplace absenteeism: initiatives for prevention highlighted the need to give it a higher priority, focusing on health as well as on financial and economic aspects.

Employers' efforts to reduce absenteeism tend to concentrate on tightening up procedures and checks on absent workers. Preventive activities are not very common and are generally limited to training and information, the use of protective equipment and stress management, rather than targeting work-related causes of ill-health and accidents.

Key findings & recommendations

The essentials of a sucessful prevention strategy are based on:

  • adopting a systematic approach
  • creating a coordinating project team
  • allocating clear tasks and responsibilities
  • ensuring the active support of senior and line management
  • involving employees actively
  • involving the personnel department, company medical service or external guidance.

It was recommended that:

  • SMEs, which are particularly vulnerable and often lack the resources and skills to prevent absenteeism, must be supported and encouraged in order to reduce ill-health.
  • There is a need for standardised data at both national and EU levels; and
  • governments, employers and trade unions should work together to establish national action programme.


Existing data on absenteeism was analysed for patterns in different EU Member States, sectors and demographic groups. National reports from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the UK focused on prevention strategies. Case studies provided examples of good practice.