Sick leave requests in Germany fall to all-time low

Sick leave requests in Germany fall to all-time low

Sick leave requests in Germany fall to all-time low

Despite (or perhaps because of) the coronavirus pandemic, employees in Germany have taken less time off for health reasons in the first quarter of 2020 than they have in the previous 13 years.

Less sick leave in 2021

Employees in Germany have taken less time off work due to illness in 2021, despite the country still being gripped by coronavirus. Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) evaluated data from around 5,4 million employees covered by their health insurance, to discern how much time had been taken off for health reasons. It found that the sickness rate among its insurants was at 3,8 percent. This percentage indicates the amount of time taken off work due to sickness, compared to the total time the employees were scheduled to work.

The sickness rate for the first quarter of 2021 is the lowest it’s been in the past 13 years. This can be attributed to the restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus in Germany. Fewer people travelling on public transport, working from home and an aversion to going to the hospital have all lead to a perceived decline in other infectious ailments, like the flu.

"It turns out that the distance and hygiene rules, as well as the limited contact options, also prevent the spread of other infectious agents," said TK chairman Jens Baas. "The number of days absent has decreased in almost all diagnoses, especially colds."

Despite this indirect impact, coronavirus itself had very little direct effect on people taking time off work due to illness. Of the 1,08 million people taking sick leave, only 9.381 were infected with COVID-19.

Risk of a rise in chronic diseases

AOK, another German health insurance provider, has also recorded a significant decline in the number of people taking sick leave. AOK recorded a sickness rate of 5,1 percent in the first months of 2021, which again denotes the number of days taken off work.

Another health insurance provider, Barmer Krankenkasse also recorded that, in the first quarter of this year, only 18 percent of its insurants took at least one sick day. This is down from 30 percent in the first quarter of last year.

"We suspect that many employees have refrained from visiting a doctor for fear of infection," said Helmut Schröder, deputy MD of the AOK’s scientific institute. Experts worry that this could lead to an increased risk of spreading infectious diseases, as well as delayed diagnoses. "Due to the corona pandemic, for example, thousands of cancer cases are discovered too late or not at all in Germany," said a spokesperson for Barmer.

There is also evidence that people who work from home will continue to work with mild symptoms to avoid having to call in sick. This increases the risk of chronic diseases in the long run.

The problem with working from home

According to health insurance companies, working from home can have a serious impact on employee health. For example, employees have recently been taking more time off due to back pain and other musculoskeletal diseases. Days off due to mental health have also increased. “We have to put a stronger focus on health in the home office," said Andreas Storm, the chairman of health insurance provider DAK-Gesundheit.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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