Sweden: Combating rise in sick leave and investing in work environment training

Both the government and social partners have recently announced new initiatives to improve the health of Swedish workers.

Reducing sick leave

The last quarter of 2015 saw many discussions about the sharp increase in absence from work due to sickness (in Swedish). In September, the Minister for Social Security, Annika Strandhäll, proposed an action programme for improved health and reduced sick leave (in Swedish). The programme consists of seven areas to be developed to increase health and stabilise sick leave rates. The seven focus areas are:

  • increased gender equality;
  • better working environment;
  • better use of people’s work capabilities;
  • measures for rehabilitation; 
  • adapting healthcare to support people with mental health problems and chronic pain;
  • improved knowledge of sick leave practices and the sick leave process;
  • better conditions for young people with a disability and illness to return to work.

In addition, the government aims to reduce the average number of days of sick leave to nine days by 2020, which is approximately a third below the current prognosis and corresponds to a reduction in expenses of SEK 17 billion (about €1.8 billion as at 29 January 2016) and 80,000 fewer sickness cases. The new measure also includes increased budgets for primary care and the Social Insurance Agency.

Work environment training

However, the government is not alone in attempting to improve working conditions in the Swedish labour market. The Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), the Council for Negotiation and Cooperation (PTK) and the Confederation of Swedish Enterprises (Svenskt Näringsliv) have decided to invest SEK 75 million (about €8.1 million) in work environment training. The investment takes the form of a three-year project, in which private sector employers are able to apply for funding for training. The training can cover topics such as physical and psychosocial working conditions, chemical health risks and other health factors in the workplace. The aim is to give both managers and safety delegates the opportunity to broaden and deepen their knowledge on preventive work environment management. The social partners are eager to follow up the investment and the project will therefore be evaluated continuously during the three-year period.

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