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Sick leave down in Finland despite pandemic

Issues related to mental health were the main reason for absence from work during 2020.

Tumma naisen hahmo katsoo ulos ikkunasta maisemaa.
The number of sick days in 2020 were down on previous years. Image: Jarkko Riikonen / Yle

The amount of compensation for sick leave paid out by Finland's Social Insurance Institution (Kela) declined by about 5 percent last year, as Finland saw a big drop in the number of work days lost to illness despite the coronavirus epidemic.

The social benefits agency added that the majority of benefits paid out for illness-related work absences last year were for mental health issues.

However, according to Kela data, mental health-related conditions have been the most common reason behind sick leave since 2018, but that increase levelled off last year.

"Telecommuting and the shutting down of society contributed to a reduction in sick leave," Kela’s Research Manager Jenni Blomgren wrote in a blog post.

The amount of sickness benefit claims reimbursed by the agency initially rose sharply at the beginning of the pandemic, but then saw an even steeper decline, Blomgren added.

Women took more sick days than men

Kela’s data found that in 2020 the agency paid out an average of 4.5 days of compensation for sick leave for every person aged between 16 and 67 living in Finland.

On average based on head of population, women were paid for 5.1 sick days last year while men were compensated for 3.9 days.

For both men and women, issues related to mental health were the main reason for missing work, but Blomgren said it was difficult to assess the impact the epidemic had on these figures.

"It is impossible to know exactly how the coronavirus epidemic has affected the changes. Of course, it seems clear that the epidemic contributed to the reduction in absenteeism last spring when telecommuting became more common and movement and gatherings were restricted," Blomgren said, adding that the figures showed issues such as perseverance and fatigue remain a concern for both employers and workers.

"There has been an indication from the occupational health companies that mental health issues have increased towards the end of the year. This is quite possible, as the data for the end of the year always comes a little late, because claims are made with a delay," Blomgren noted.

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