Spain doubles sick leave due to temporary disability since 2013 and leads work absenteeism in Europe

Spain doubles sick leave due to temporary disability since 2013 and leads work absenteeism in Europe


In the middle of the debate over significant increase in the bill faced by Social Security In temporary disability benefits (IT), mutual insurance companies and economic researchers come together to analyze the causes and consequences. Putting the data on paper, Leaves due to temporary disability have doubled in Spain during the last decade: they have gone from representing 2% of the total employed in 2013 to 4.1% in 2023. With this rate, Spain, together with France and Portugal, leads the ranking of work absenteeism due to temporary disability among countries of the EU.

The cost of sick leave due to common illnesses, which amounts to 1.4% of GDP, is in the eye of the storm, as reflected in the ‘Socioeconomic study on the evolution of temporary disability and accident rates in Spain’, prepared by Umivale Activa and the Valencian Institute of Economic Research (Ivie). As the minister of the branch, Elma Saiz, advanced, Social Security will collaborate with mutual insurance companies to improve the management of common illnesses due to temporary disability (TI)essentially in those of traumatological origin.

Both entities have launched a project to analyze the determinants of work absenteeism due to temporary disability in Spain and by autonomiesdue to common and professional contingencies, which they will carry out during 2024, as reported in a joint statement.

These are data extracted from the Active Population Survey (INE) where two “very differentiated” phases are observed in the period between 2007 to 2023 with a turning point in 2012. In the first phase (2007-2012), the Absenteeism rate drops from the initial 2.8% to a minimum of 2% in 2012. However, from that year onwards, a period of uninterrupted growth, accelerated by Covid-19, until reaching 4.1% of employed people in 2023.

These absences from work due to temporary disability have a “negative and direct” impact on the workers who are affected, but also on companies and society as a whole. The economic impact of sick leave benefits due to IT represents 1.4% of Spain’s GDP (more than 18.8 billion euros taking GDP at current 2023 prices). This percentage is above the EU average (1.2%) and represents a growth of 0.6 points since 2014.

All regions without exception present levels higher than those of 16 years ago. The communities that top the ranking in 2023 coincide with those that have experienced the greatest increase: Basque Country, which occupies first position with a rate of 5.8% (+2.1 points since 2007), followed by three northern regions peninsular, Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria, all of them with a rate above 5% of employed people and with increases of more than 2 points since 2007.

At the other extreme are Madrid, the Balearic Islands and Aragon, with rates below 3.5% and more moderate increases, below 1 percentage point. The Valencian Community is within the national average, with a weight of work absences due to IT of 4% and an increase compared to 2007 of 0.9 percentage points.

This is Europe: upward trend

Along these lines, the data from Eurostat’s European Labor Force Survey show its “generalized” nature among EU countries, but also a “very different” intensity. As stated in the study, the latest homogeneous information available, referring to the year 2022, indicates that the percentage of employees who were absent from work due to illness, accident or temporary disability During the week in which the survey was carried out, it is situated for the EU as a whole at 2.5%.

However, this rate presents “marked heterogeneity.” In some countries the values ​​are very low and less than 0.5% (Greece, Bulgaria and Romania), while in others they show levels close to or greater than 4%. Spain, with a rate of 4.1%, belongs to the group of countries with the highest rates, along with Portugal and only behind France.

On the other hand, the percentage of absenteeism shows a “worrying growing trend in most European countries”, highlights the analysis. Between 2014 and 2022 there is an average increase of 0.6 percentage points in the EU as a whole (a growth of 30% in eight years).

Only four countries experience declines (Bulgaria, moderately; Luxembourg, Netherlands; and Germany, more intensely). The rest register increases that are “especially pronounced” in Portugal, Slovenia, Cyprus, Latvia, Spain and Estonia, all of them with increases of more than 1.5 points. The case of Spain is notable, since it is experiencing a growth of 2.1 points, which represents doubling its rate from eight years ago.

Study project

Given these “worrying and accentuated” levels in recent years, Umivale Activa and the Ivie have launched a project to study the determinants of work absenteeism, both in Spain as a whole and in its autonomous communities with the aim of “investigating the factors that affect this phenomenon in order to be able to confront it and draw up the best strategies to prevent it.”

The study It will be developed throughout 2024 and its results will be disseminated periodically in a series of short documents. The first of these reports quantifies the problem, as well as its evolution in recent years, allows the comparison of data with the EU and shows that there are “regional differences.”

Although the percentage of employees who are absent due to accident, illness or temporary disability from their job has increased in all autonomous communities, regional differences are “marked.” The evolution between autonomous communities is “heterogeneous”, with a dispersion in absenteeism rates due to IT that is more pronounced today than in 2007.

The team in charge of carrying out the analysis is made up of members of the two entities. From Umivale Activa, Juan Miguel Mesa and Marija Davcheva work on the project. On behalf of the Ivie, José María Peiró, Francisco J. Goerlich, Lorenzo Serrano, Consuelo Mínguez and Fernando Pascual participate.

“Multiple factors” influence IT, such as working conditions, company culture, and human resources policies and practices. But also “external” factors to work such as the family situation or the social and cultural context. Thirdly, factors related to the health system, legislation or even judicial processes are also important, the study points out.

“Temporary disability responds to a complexity of factors that require a rigorous diagnosis of the problem. With this study we seek, on the one hand, to understand the causes of the worrying escalation of IT, and on the other, to be able to lay the foundations to achieve structural changes in its management,” highlighted Juan Miguel Mesa.

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