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Swedes at the top

| Text: Ulla Kindenberg, Photo: Janerik Henriksson

In the ongoing debate, Swedes tend to be portrayed as suffering from illness most often, compared to the rest of Europe. “That’s totally wrong!” says Paula Liukkonen, Senior Lecturer of Business Management, who has carried out extensive research on personnel policy and working environment.

“Swedes are not any more ill than e.g. the Finns, with whom they are often compared. The statistics show different issues. If Swedish and Finnish figures for absence due to

sickness were calculated in the same way, the conclusions would be quite different. In some cases, the Finns might even appear to suffer from illness more often.

The long-term sick leaves which weigh heavily in the Swedish statistics constitute a major source of error. Sweden is the only country in Europe to register long-term absence year upon year. Other countries have established time limits for sickness absence over extended periods.

In Finland, this limit is set at 300 days. By that time, an assessment is made of the absentee’s ability to work which may lead onto early retirement, unemployment or retraining.

Simultaneously, however, Finland offers compulsory health service in every company along with an highly developed system of rehabilitation. Another basis for erroneous analysis is the fact that the Swedish workforce includes a high number of elderly people, women and part-time employees, and all absence is counted in days off work irrespective of whether an individual works full-time or part-time.

Paula Liukkonen“If all absence was registered as the hours lost, we would have a different picture altogether,” says Paula Liukkonen. She finds it hard to believe that so little effort is being made to get the true picture of the rather worrying state of affairs. Correct figures are indeed essential to create the structures that may pick up any signals about ill health, to allow the implementation of appropriate measures both before and after the event.

In her view, it is just as incomprehensible how easy it is for Swedish employers to avoid the costs of sick leave, early retirement and rehabilitation compared with other countries.

Liukkonen further believes that the debate on sick leave in Sweden may lead to other problems:

“Most people have a keen sense of duty. They go to work even though they are ill. They cannot perform their best but get paid anyway. That way, attendance may prove even more expensive than absence!”

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