Wageningen University & Research has been struggling with rising sickness absence since 2015. In five years, sickness absence has increased from 2.6 per cent to 4.5 per cent at the university, a rise of 75 per cent. The rate increased by a quarter at Wageningen Research (from 3.7 to 4.7 per cent), according to the recent Rathenau report ‘Science in Balance’.
This issue has been the focus of attention for a while, says Micheline Horstman, Vitality and Health HR adviser at WUR. She calls the figures concerning. Work pressure and overtime are key causes. The Rathenau study gives average overtime for researchers at a quarter of their official working hours.
In 2017, WUR drew up a plan to tackle work pressure. For example, chair groups were given more scope to hire additional lecturers, and various vital@work courses were introduced aimed at reducing work pressure or helping staff cope better.
Of course everything has changed with people working from home due to the coronavirus crisis. After an initial peak in sickness absence, the crisis led to falling figures. Horstman thinks WUR’s flexible leave scheme is one reason for this.