Businesses are turning to older workers to fill employment gaps and a University of Iowa researcher says they take fewer sick days in countries that spend more on health care.
Monday, December 4, 2023

Yiduo Shao, assistant professor of management & entrepreneurship at the Tippie College of Business, says countries with higher per capita health care spending don’t see a significant difference in sick days between younger and older workers. That means older workers in countries like Norway and Switzerland, which have higher health care spending, are less likely to take sick days as they age than workers in countries like Albania or Macedonia, which don’t spend nearly as much.  

Shao looked at data from the U.S. and EU countries and said that workers in Albania—which had the lowest per capita health care spending—are estimated to take 4.6% more sick days than they did ten years earlier. But in Switzerland, which has the highest per capita health care spending in the survey, workers were estimated to take roughly the same number of sick days as they did ten years earlier.  

Shao said sick days are reduced because older workers in countries with higher health care spending are less likely to experience health deterioration that leads to sick leave when they age.  

She said businesses should protect these older workers by encouraging them to engage in healthy habits that keep them energized. Given the need of many businesses to retain older workers, Shao said businesses can increase vacation time, provide exemptions from overtime for older workers, and arrange flexible work arrangements that increase older workers’ ability to perform. Intergenerational work arrangements may also help to energize workers of all ages. 

Researchers suggest policymakers consider public health campaigns to increase personal health care literacy and the availability of health care resources.