Sickness absence drops by 50 percent in four months

At Joriel School in southern Stockholm, sickness absences dropped by 50 percent in four months during the 2019 spring term. From 10.3 percent in December to percent in May.

“Much of what we have done is about consideration and job satisfaction. It has touched on everything from people, to work environment,” says Cecilia Hansen, Principal at Joriel School.

Joriel School is a compulsory school and school for students with learning disabilities, with 61 students. The school has 70 of its own employees, and several hundred personal assistants. There is little statistical data, but sickness absence figures have remained the same for some time and the trend here is clear: our efforts have had an impact.

The school is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It was established in 1999 by two parents whose children had neurological disabilities. The school’s name is derived from the children’s names – Joakim and Gabriel – Joriel.

It is possible to divide the measures that Cecilia Hansen introduced to reduce sickness absence into a few different groups. The first is maintaining continual contact with colleagues who are ill. Everyone receives a text message or phone call on the first day of sickness and on the third. This is done out of consideration for others.
“It’s about colleagues knowing that I care and want to do what I can to ensure they return as soon as possible,” says Cecilia Hansen. If someone is ill for more than five working days, Cecilia Hansen schedules a meeting for their first working day after sick leave.

Finding the right balance

“In these meetings we discuss the reason for the sick leave and what we can do to find a constructive way forward. It might concern stress-related issues, a normal cold or something else. Everyone appreciates having the time to talk and together we are trying to create a work environment that is sustainable, with the emphasis on everyone finding a good balance.”

The other area that Cecilia Hansen has worked on is psychosocial work environment. This is another area where consideration for others is key. A rearranged staff room with different areas for socialising and relaxation is one of the measures implemented.

“Being able to choose between being sociable or being able to retire to an armchair and put your headphones on is vital. We also have an area where you can be quiet or just have a few people. I’ve also bought back and foot massage machines, which have been very popular.” There’s always fresh fruit in staff meeting and work rooms, and the storeroom has a small but tasty selection of biscuits and sweets for when people fancy a treat.

Helping heavy lifting

The third area is the physical work environment and physical well-being. A lot of heavy lifting goes on at this unit, so two employees attended a course so they can train people in correct lifting techniques. The aim has been to reduce physical strain for everyone. The trial has been so successful that more people will now attend the training course. On Wednesdays there is fitness (tabata or yoga) for anyone who wishes to attend, and every meeting at school also includes movement and ergonomic exercises.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a staff meeting for everyone, a team meeting or a management group meeting, we need to make sure we move. It’s gone really well, and is both a really popular and fun aspect of all meetings,” says Cecilia Hansen.
The fourth and final area is organisation. Almost all Joriel School’s students have significant medical needs. A stress factor for many employees has been some uncertainty over what each of them needs to do and sometimes how this needs to be done. So the school has assigned a medical coordinator who has an overview of contacts and ensures that all guidelines are followed and that everyone who works with students has adequate knowledge and feels confident.

Vital self-care

“We have a lot of self-care for our students that could be vital for them, so the medical coordinator is hugely appreciated,” says Cecilia Hansen. Other measures to boost security and safety include an expansion of the school nurse service and improvements to documentation at the school.

“The risk in an operation like ours is that things become dependent on individuals, with one or two people knowing all the routines needed for a particular student. If they aren’t present, everything needs to be written down, we need written procedures and documentation so that several people cover for each other if necessary. That’s how things are now organised.
“This has allowed me to be more involved as a teaching manager, which is my main role. While the students at Joriel School

have some disabilities, we need to focus on students’ learning rather than their disabilities. They have their specific needs, but our task is to provide them with education of equal value as they have the same rights as everyone else to a quality education,” says Cecilia Hansen.

Cecilia Hansen’s approach involving lots of small measures in a number of areas has had a major impact. How does she know what’s most important? What does she need to do more of, what does she need to do less of?
“I think the overall impact is what’s important. You can’t just work on organisational actions or documentation; those little everyday things are also important. Obviously it’s time consuming to always contact employees who are on sick leave, the concern is that you might miss someone, which would send a terrible message, but it’s worth the time. Everyone needs to know they are important, that’s what we’re trying show,” says Cecilia Hansen.