French Study Finds 39% Increase in the Employee Absenteeism Rate

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Christian Mainguy
+33 (0) 1 42 91 85 03 / +33 (0)6 87 86 76 75

Paris, France (September 13, 2019)

For the fifth consecutive year, REHALTO – a Workplace Options company, has published a major study on workplace absences. The survey of French workers, conducted by the BVA Institute, included 301 Human Resources directors and 1,505 employees. In addition to identifying the rate of absenteeism, the survey highlights the reasons for absences, duration, impact on companies, and companies’ actions to minimize absences.

Christian Mainguy, Senior Vice President of Strategic Relationships for Workplace Options, shares, “Absenteeism remains an important issue for companies. This survey serves as a barometer to help us better understand the causes of workplace absences and identify the opportunities to help improve employee health and working conditions.”

Survey results show that over the past five years, there has been a 39 percent increase in the absenteeism rate, with an average annual growth rate of 6.85 percent. The 2019 survey found that in the previous 12 months, 36 percent of employees had been absent at least once. On average, employees were absent 14.1 days. For companies with more than 50 employees the absenteeism rate was 3.9 percent.

Significant Variances by Age, Job Category 

Consistent with previous years’ results, the average rate of absenteeism varied significantly by employee age and job category. Absenteeism rates were highest for employees age 50 and older (4.4 percent), blue-collar workers (6.5% percent) and employees in the industrial sector (4.8 percent). In contrast, absenteeism rates were lowest for employees under the age of 30 (2.8 percent), executives (1.4 percent) and commercial employees (2.2 percent).

Lengths of Absences Increasing 

While 6 out of 10 periods of absence were less than three months, the duration of absences is on the rise. Long-term absences lasting more than three months now represent 9 percent of all absences. Additionally, long-term absences are considered the costliest.

Emotional Health Issues the Leading Cause of Absence 

Excluding common illnesses like a sore throat or cold, emotional issues are now the leading cause of workplace absences (29 percent) compared with musculoskeletal disorders (27 percent). Looking closer at the types of emotional health issues, 19 percent were related to burnout and 10 percent were identified as psychological disorders.

Employees Reluctant to Take Sick Leave

Beyond the statistics, and contrary to popular belief, this study confirms the reality of presenteeism, described as the lack of productivity experienced when employees who are distracted or ill come to work. The study found that 34 percent of employees faced with a difficulty requiring sick leave go to work. Another 10 percent prefer to use their annual leave allowance. Two potential explanations here are: concerns over a drop in income (especially among blue-collar workers) and a heavy workload (especially among executives).

Job Issues Cited for a Quarter of Absences 

In the study, 23 percent of employees who had been absent cited job-related reasons. Difficulties related to managerial practices was identified by 12 percent of employees as the reason for their absences.

More specifically, 7 percent of employees who had been absent had been placed on sick leave in the past 12 months for burnout. Women (9 percent), the youngest (9 percent of those under age 30) and those working on fixed-term contracts (11 percent) were more likely to experience this type of sick leave. Also of interest, 22 percent of employees surveyed were caregivers and the rate of burnout climbed to 14 percent when there is a dependent in the employee’s home.

Negative Impact on Companies 

For the majority of HR directors, absences have a negative impact on their companies (75 percent) and on economic performance (58 percent). Common struggles related to absenteeism included difficulties finding replacements, production shortfalls, and delivery delays.

Return-to-Work Considerations 

In the survey, 84 percent of employees considered returning to work after a long period of absence (more than three months) to be a distressing event. Of those employees who had been absent for a long period of time, 62 percent expressed the need for support from their company. The type of support desired included attention from their manager, administrative support, and flexibility regarding positions and working conditions.

Companies are taking a number of actions to better manage and prevent workplace absences including the establishment of a quality work environment (80 percent), flexible working times and schedules (65 percent), reinforcement of the team of the absent employee (62 percent) and support for employees returning to work (59 percent).

Teleworking, One Way of Reducing Absenteeism? 

According to the study, 21 percent of companies allow teleworking. Teleworking, even on an occasional basis, seems to have a strong positive impact on absenteeism rates. The absenteeism rate for employees with teleworking options is 2 percent, and it is 1.2 percent for those who can telework occasionally. This is in comparison to a 4.3 rate for employees who do not have teleworking opportunities.

Health and Wellbeing Programs Not Widespread

The study revealed that 28 percent of companies had shared information with employees to encourage physical exercise, 25 percent had promoted a balanced diet to maintain health and 25 percent offered a telephone line to provide psychological counseling and support.

HR Directors Face Many Challenges

Among the main concerns, three out of four HR directors considered changes in the company as a challenge, 83 percent expressed a need for the skills required to carry out their job, and 25 percent of them reported feeling stressed. The survey also revealed that one in two HR directors devotes at least 10 percent of their working time to the prevention and management of human and social risks.


Réhalto, a human and social risk consultancy, is a Workplace Options company.

 Backed by its considerable experience in the management of workplace absences, Réhalto has developed solutions in health and quality of working conditions.