Fifty-two percent of employees say the main reason for the last time they missed work was not because of illness, finds a Morneau Shepell survey of workers, employers and physicians.

Employees who reported time off work due to non-medical reasons were more likely to report higher work-related stress.

“It is evidence that work absence is a work issue. Yet a very common practice in organizations is to require a medical note to validate absence, with little if any other intervention,” says Paula Allen, vice-president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell. “This really does not solve the problem, and may actually create different problems.”

Read: Workplace stress is killing employees

At the same time, 33% of employers did not list illness as one of the top three reasons why their employees are absent.

The survey also indicates that 81% of employers address the issue of absenteeism with performance management (e.g. issuing warning letters, etc.), and the majority indicated that unscheduled time off is a serious or extremely serious issue for their organization.

“Employee responses may give some indication of the need to take a more solution-focused approach and address the root cause of absence instead of only policing it,” she adds.

Read: How employers can address mental health issues

The physician respondents indicate there’s limited value in providing medical notes. Only 5% of physicians commenting indicate that medical notes reduce unnecessary absenteeism.

When it comes to managing longer-term leave, Morneau Shepell’s research finds almost half of physicians do not feel comfortable commenting on how health conditions impact work performance.

At the same time, about three out of every four physicians indicated that workplaces need to do a better job in understanding this very issue and how they accommodate the limitations of employees with serious or chronic conditions.

“This points quite clearly to a need for specialized expertise in workplace accommodations for employee health issues,” says Allen. “Overall, the survey provides a clear message for employers that they would do well to rethink previously accepted practices in absence and disability management, and to leverage more workplace problem-solving and accommodation planning resources than relying so heavily on the family doctor.”

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Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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