Manager absenteeism reaches an all-time high in 2023

The change in managerial practices lies at the core of the aspirations of both employees and executives.

“Workplace absenteeism due to illness is significantly on the rise in France, reaching record levels. The trend indicates that this phenomenon affects a wide variety of groups and sectors, raising crucial questions about the health of workers and workplace culture.

The “Absenteeism Barometer 2023” reveals that one in two employees has been prescribed sick leave, with a notable increase of 10 points over the past decade. Absenteeism has reached nearly 6% in the private sector and 9% in the public sector in France, and the trend is deteriorating. Only 48% of employees consider themselves to be in good mental and physical health, marking a 6-point decrease since 2022. The study, conducted by IFOP for Malakoff Humanis, surveyed 2,000 employees, 403 executives, and 200 treating physicians, and notes that the average number of days prescribed for long-term sick leave is 111 days. Despite the end of the health crisis, the trend in sick leave prescriptions has been on the rise for the past three years.

Notable sectoral and demographic differences are particularly evident. Women and blue-collar workers are more affected, with rates of 55% and 57%, respectively. Small businesses (10-49 employees) have seen a significant increase in their absenteeism rates. Surprisingly, while large companies were historically more affected, mid-sized companies (ETIs – Intermediate-sized Enterprises) are now leading the way. The healthcare sector has the highest absenteeism rate at 63%, and the industry has experienced the most significant growth, while the transportation and construction sectors have relatively low rates.

As a result, companies are facing a significant challenge in terms of direct and indirect costs.”

Managers, Unhappy Champions of Absenteeism

A staggering 13% increase in sick leave prescriptions from 2022 to 2023! A whopping 53% of managers received such a prescription, compared to 40% just a year earlier. The population of managers holds the unfortunate top spot in this ranking compared to the rest of the employees. Managers are thus doubly affected, both as team leaders and as employees themselves.

Let’s face it, the role of a manager in the post-Covid era borders on an unsolvable equation, as the variables have multiplied. How does one manage employees’ individual aspirations regarding the location, subject, and timing of work and reconcile them with the imposed or at least necessary collective aspects? Today, the manager resembles a true maestro, regulating rhythms, composing collective and individual quality times, and balancing the hierarchies within the organization. The number of managers deciding to throw in the towel or take on a non-supervisory role has never seen such a surge.

Top Priorities: Transforming Work Organization and Managerial Practices, Increasing Employee Engagement

Psychological disorders, on the rise, now rank third among the reasons for sick leave at 15%, behind common illnesses and Covid. 31% of long-term sick leaves are due to psychological disorders, a significant increase from the 14% figure in 2020. These are generally not isolated incidents; warning signs precede them, such as excessive fatigue or stress related to workload. These signs are particularly noticeable among managers and middle-level professionals.

Employees point to their work environment and managerial practices as the main causes of these disorders. Employee aspirations are becoming increasingly clear. Personal involvement emerges as the primary lever to combat absenteeism. To unlock this, 34% of them call for a change in work organization, greater involvement (27%), and an evolution of managerial practices (24%).

These needs for employee involvement and changes in managerial practices also rank high on the agenda for executives. They also emphasize the importance of raising employee awareness about absenteeism.

In this context, the importance of listening and prevention becomes evident, especially because most employees who experience long-term sick leave had shown early warning signs. It also becomes necessary to consider employees’ personal life issues, as they have an impact on their professional performance.

It has become urgent to take action based on a rigorous diagnosis.

The conclusion is clear: the situation is very concerning. The debate should first focus on understanding the underlying causes of these absences rather than primarily on addressing abuses. Stereotypes that absenteeism is a deliberate behavior are at the very least inadequate. The majority of employees are seriously questioning their relationship with work.

Urgent action is needed. Existing dashboards are ineffective at preventing absenteeism. Ignorance of the root causes appears to be a major problem. It is therefore crucial to train managers in early recognition of burnout and to raise their awareness of the importance of vulnerability and active listening. Thus, the urgency seems not only to understand the problem in all its complexity but also to take action.

At NextGen, we help companies diagnose their entire organization or specific teams quickly. We deploy the OpenDecide assessment in a week through its anonymous and secure online questionnaire. Based on this, we can map the situation of teams with dysfunctional, functional, and optimal dynamics and focus our initial support on the teams facing the most difficulties. After assessing hundreds of teams in recent years, we can attest to the emergence of workplace issues and a rise in absenteeism within teams categorized as “dysfunctional” in the OpenDecide framework, as well as to a lesser extent in those positioned in the lower third of the functional zone, which we refer to as “fragile.”

As seen, the return on investment for such action is evident and actionable in the short term. The goal is not only to improve the company’s performance but also to strengthen the bond between employer and employee for better mutual collaboration and long-term engagement.

An interview by Luc Bretones, Founder at NextGen