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Why is absenteeism dramatically increasing – and what can companies do about it?

Sep 15, 2020.

Absenteeism has been increasing in Switzerland for years. Staff absences also mean higher costs for SMEs. In this article we look into what is causing this and what preventative measures you can take to protect your company.

Virtually no business plan includes them. They also rarely play a role in the risk assessment of corporate loans. And yet they are among the largest cost factors in the operating cost mix: lost employee hours or “absences”.


“If employees are absent, the organisational and financial costs are high. It can also mean rectifications or warranties are not carried out in time. The consequential costs are an additional burden on a company.” In a nutshell: each loss of an employee causes extra costs. “On average, we are talking about a thousand francs," explains Joël Dos Reis. Read our article about professional liability.  


According to surveys by the Federal Statistical Office, around 70% of all absences were actually caused by illness or accident. In absolute numbers, that was an impressive 197 million hours in 2019. Overall, the number of hours of absence increased from 2019 to 2020 by 48 million to 217 million hours and the trend is increasing.


Analyse absences online

Would you like to know the status of the absences in your own company compared with your industry in Switzerland as a whole?


Use the online Generali absence calculator to quickly find out the absence rate for your company with just a few clicks.

Absences due to illness

Burnout and allergies are at record levels

The Swiss Federal Statistical Office (FSO) conducts a representative survey on the health of the population every five years – most recently in 2017. One of the questions the interviewers put to the 22,131 respondents: “In the past 12 months, have you had any of the following illnesses or health problems?”

The most frequent mentions:

  • Allergies (24%)
  • Arthrosis/arthritis (14.5%)
  • Depression (6.6%)
  • Asthma (5.1%)
  • Urinary incontinence (4.5%)
  • Osteoporosis (3.1%)
  • Chronic bronchitis (2.4%)
  • Cancer (1.7%)
  • Heart attack (0.5%)
  • Stroke (0.4%)


The provisional findings of the statisticians: “The population is most likely to suffer from chronic non-communicable diseases. But infectious diseases have not disappeared either.” However, the increases here are likely to have undergone a huge change since Covid-19 appeared.


Stress and exhaustion increase

What the surveys also show is that the health consequences of stress in the workplace are steadily increasing. Almost a quarter (21%) of those surveyed by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) in 2017 stated that they “tend to suffer from stress more often at work. Five years earlier it was 18%. According to the FSO, half of all employees were exposed to at least three of a total of nine types of “psychosocial risks” (see diagram) – an increase of 4% compared to 2012. The FSO:


“Psychosocial conditions are conditioned by the organisation of work and arise, among other things, from heavy time pressure, little room for manoeuvre, lack of support from superiors or employees, discrimination or violence as well as fear of the job and stress.”


You can find the “Psychosocial Risks at Work” survey by the FSO here.


Almost half of the very often stressed people (49%) felt emotionally exhausted, according to the survey. The Federal Statistical Office warns: “Emotional exhaustion is a sign of a high risk of burnout and is related to a poor state of health.”

Compared with purely physical illnesses such as back pain or flu, mental illnesses involve particularly long periods of downtime. “Companies that want to improve the performance of their employees would do well to analyse and reduce stress factors in the workplace,” recommends Hansjörg Huwiler, Head of Corporate Health at the AEH Centre for Occupational Medicine, Ergonomics and Hygiene in Zurich. The expert advises companies on corporate health management.


Find out more about solutions against stress and burnout on our website in the “Prevention” section.


Part-time workers are less stressed

The chart shows how much part-time arrangements affect downtime. It reveals there are fewer employees who work less than 90% of the usual weekly working hours than full-time employees. “A clear signal that less strain and stress also mean lower costs," explains Hansjörg Huwiler from AEH.


Absences in the period from 2010


Home office – the new sick maker?

The business magazine Saldo estimates the likelihood of falling ill is eight times greater than suffering an accident. There are no reliable figures on this as the surveys by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office do not differentiate between the two main causes of absences. But comparative figures from BKK (German umbrella association of company health insurance funds) show that illnesses actually lead to lost working hours more often than accidents.


The latest “Health Report 2019” by the BKK paints a clear picture of absenteeism in Germany. It reveals only 7.2% of all incapacity for work in the last reporting year of 2018 was due to accidents or poisoning.


The following health issues were far more commonly diagnosed:

  • Respiratory system: 30.3%
  • Muscular and skeletal system: 15.6%
  • Infections: 15.2%
  • Digestive system: 9.2%


Statistically, mental disorders only accounted for 5.5% of the total incapacity for work, but were responsible for 15.7% of all days of absence. Together with musculoskeletal and respiratory diseases, psychological stress is one of the top causes of absence days in Germany. Hansjörg Huwiler explains how this applies to Switzerland: “In this country we can say that in addition to non-occupational accidents, mental illnesses, musculoskeletal disorders – such as back problems, for example – and respiratory diseases, including classic flu, are among the most important reasons for absenteeism.”


Another aspect is important to the experienced coach, who also supports Generali’s business customers in our prevention academy with active health management: “It is not only in the internal workplace where there are health hazards lurking such as psychological stress or postural damage due to unergonomic framework conditions. The home office can also cause health problems.” The expert says this because there is often a lack of suitable rooms at home that allow for quiet and concentrated work. “Other unfavourable factors are unsuitable furniture, insufficient self-organisation skills, the double strain of dealing with children and partners, and the difficulty of switching off properly in the evening.” You can find out more about working from home here.




“Companies that want to improve the performance of their employees would do well to analyse and reduce stress factors in the workplace.”


Hansjörg Huwiler, Head of Corporate Health AEH

Employee absences due to accidents

Most accidents happen during leisure time

In addition to illnesses of various types, accidents have a big impact on the absence statistics at the workplace. But the number of occupational accidents has been stagnating for years. In 2018, the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) recorded around 273,000 industrial accidents in Switzerland. In 2014 there were around 268,000. The most common causes of occupational accidents are slipping (27.6%), mechanical shocks (25.6%) and cuts (19.7%). These figures were determined over a period of five years.

In contrast, the number of non-occupational accidents has risen sharply in recent years. Based on around 513,000 leisure accidents in 2014, the curve rises continuously. In 2018, 565,000 non-occupational accidents were reported. The 52,000 cases represent an increase of almost 10% (9.2%) within just five years.


At 36%, by far the largest proportion of accidents outside of the workplace are incidents involving sports and games, which mainly affect younger women and men.

“Besides paying insurance benefits, a key part of our mission is giving support to the insured in serious accidents.”


Joël Dos Reis, Director Claims Centres Bodily Injury

Prevention is the best protection against absences

Prevention is better than cure. This also applies to health protection in the company.


Generali supports companies with information material, workshops and internet seminars. Here is a selection of our topics:


Occupational health management (BGM)

How can preventive health protection be implemented successfully? How can psychosocial and physical stress in the company be identified and an appropriate set of measures developed? What else should managers know about OHM?



What influence does the design of the workplace have on back pain, headaches or concentration problems? What are the important points to bear in mind regarding screens or when doing manual work? How can existing complaints be alleviated?


Mental health

The numbers of those unable to work due to mental illness is steadily increasing. Burnout, addiction problems and mental disorders are already the most common causes of disability in Switzerland. Employees and management learn how the psychological constitution in the workplace can be strengthened and protected in comprehensive workshops and online seminars.


Exercise, relaxation and nutrition

This programme ranges from health checks to nutrition, fitness and relaxation advice.


Occupational safety and accident prevention

What basic knowledge do managers and employees need to have about accident prevention measures? How important are regular audits and employee surveys in the operating rooms? What role do accidents play in leisure time?


Absence management

Correctly record and analyse absence times. Systematic absence management helps curb absences in a targeted manner.


You can find more information about Generali occupational health prevention here.


A concluding thought from Generali expert Joël Dos Reis: “Every year absences cause immense damage to Swiss companies. Protect your employees and your company from the consequences with a thorough analysis of the causes, suitable preventive measures and financial protection through tailored insurance solutions. We will be happy to advise you.”

About the authors


Joël Dos Reis is Director of Claims Centres Bodily Injury at Generali Switzerland. As a specialist in handling complex insurance claims, he advises business customers on all matters relating to personal injury and related claims.

Hansjörg Huwiler is Head of Corporate Health and an Ergonomist Eur.Erg at AEH Corporate Health Experts (, which provides Generali with occupational health management assistance.

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