Last year, German employees were absent sick for an average of 19 days. That is a new record. Colds in particular have increased. For the economy, this means an enormous loss of productivity.
With 19 sick days per employee, the year 2022 set a negative record. The number comes from preliminary data from the Health Report 2023 by Techniker Krankenkasse. According to this, employees in Germany were absent due to illness 4.5 days more than in 2021. However, due to the corona restrictions and the resulting lack of waves of flu and colds, this was also a particularly low value. The previous record was from 2018 with 15.5 days absent.
The reason for the sharp increase in 2022 is more frequent respiratory diseases. These include the various corona waves of the year, but also an increase in flu, bronchitis and normal colds. That doesn’t come as a surprise. The distance, mask and hygiene rules of the two Corona years have also limited our contact with such viruses, so that our bodies are more susceptible to them again in the first year without Corona restrictions. The number of days absent due to respiratory diseases rose from 1.8 to 5.7.
The figures from the Techniker Krankenkasse only represent a part of the total number of cases of illness. After all, the health insurance company can only produce statistics about its members. However, with a total of 11 million members and 5.5 million employees, TK is Germany’s largest statutory health insurance company. The numbers also allow conclusions to be drawn about the entire population. The much smaller commercial health insurance company also reported a similar trend in sick days in 2022 last week.
First of all, more sick days are bad for everyone who is affected. After all, no one should have to lie at home or in the hospital suffering. Sick days also cause financial and thus social damage. This can be quantified. The Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Baua) estimates this every year. There are two metrics.
First, the production loss costs can be calculated. These are quite simply the wage costs that sick employees continue to be paid without being able to actually work during this time – i.e. wages without equivalent value in the form of work. For the year 2021, Baua put the production loss costs at around 89 billion euros, although in their model they assumed 17 sick days per employee and not 15.5 as reported by TK.
There is still no corresponding estimate for 2022, but you can easily calculate it yourself using the Baua methodology. Assuming that the number of people in employment increased by around 1.2 percent last year and that if the average wage per employee remained the same, around 2.2 million working years would have been lost through illness in 2022. That corresponds to wage costs of a little more than 100 billion euros. That in turn is a 2.6 percent share of gross domestic product (GDP).
Secondly, it can be calculated what loss of work productivity the sick days mean. The Baua uses the gross value added (GVA) of Germany as an indicator. The GVA denotes the added value that is generated within an economy, i.e. the difference between the selling price of a good or service and its preliminary products and preliminary services. Roughly speaking, GVA is the profit generated by an economy.
Every worker creates significantly more gross value added than they get in wages. This is hardly surprising, given that this is how companies make profits and the state’s tax revenues. The Federal Statistical Office gives the value for 2021 as 80,100 euros per employee and year. Based on 17 sick days in the same year, Baua calculated a loss of labor productivity of 153 billion euros. Extrapolated for 2022, the value would be 173 billion euros. That would be 4.5 percent of German GDP.
Theoretically, this number could be significantly reduced. However, most companies would have to take appropriate measures for this. Theoretically, employees can catch a cold, flu or Covid-19 anywhere. Companies that encourage their employees to stay home and recover with symptoms of illness are making sure that employees do not infect each other.
In addition, respiratory diseases led the statistics last year with 5.7 days absent, but physical complaints of muscles and bones as well as mental disorders are still widespread. This can also be countered from a company perspective. Companies could counteract physical complaints with their own health care, ergonomic office workplaces and less strenuous physical work, mental illnesses by reducing stress and a pleasant working atmosphere.
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