Demographic forces driving up absence rates: Report

Females, older workers reporting more days off
||Last Updated: 09/25/2013

Demographic forces are helping drive up the Canadian workforce's reported absence rates owing to illness, according to a study released by the C.D. Howe Institute.

"Over the past 30 years, absence rates have risen in Canada's workforce, overall, raising important questions about why days lost owing to reported illness are climbing," said Finn Poschmann, co-author of Absent With Leave: The Implications of Demographic Change for Worker Absenteeism.

Among the findings of the report:

As the demographic weight of Canada's population shifts from younger to older categories, reported days lost rise. Males aged 45 to 54, for example, report an average of 1.3 more days lost due to illness than do males 35 to 44, according to Statistics Canada.

• Absence rates for female versus male workers of all ages and types have diverged over the course of the last few decades, with females reporting more days off and men's rate showing little change. The figure for females was 6.4 days per worker per year in 1987, which closely matched the 6.5 days for males that year. Male absence rates remained steady (6.5 days in 2011), but female rates had increased to an average of 9.5 days by 2011, according to Statistics Canada.

• Public sector employees report more workplace absences than private sector employees.

•Workers in unionized settings, in which female participation has grown tremendously, take more sick leave days than those in non-union settings.

“Taken together, demographic ageing and the rise in female labour force participation in the unionized sector largely explain the rising rate of aggregate workplace absences — perhaps in concert with social and family demands, in part owing to rising employment among single parents,” said authors Poschmann and Omar Chatur.

Workplaces and government practices and policies must adjust to these realities, through a combination of accommodation, flexibility and planning, concluded the report.

“Suitable personal and family leave provisions may take pressure off employees to record days as sick when family responsibilities dominate, as when ageing workers find themselves providing care both for parents and for children. Lining up expectations on the part of employees and employers may limit unplanned and unwanted spillover of reported absences from one category to another, aiding in work and family scheduling and financial planning.”

For the report, go to C.D.Howe.

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