A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Helsinki, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, and Tampere University has found that healthcare workers born abroad have fewer sick days on average than those born in Finland. The study compared sick leave among healthcare workers born in Finland and those born outside the country.
During a three-year follow-up period, 35% of healthcare workers born in Finland had at least one sick leave period lasting over ten days.
The lowest risk of sick leave was observed among healthcare workers who had moved to Finland from non-European Union countries. About 21% of workers who had migrated from Africa, Asia, and Latin America had at least one sick leave period lasting over ten days.
The study, which used comprehensive registry data, was the first of its kind in Finland and internationally to compare sick leave among healthcare workers born in different countries.
Healthcare work is known to be highly demanding, and this is reflected in the high levels of sick leave across the sector. However, it was surprising that healthcare workers born abroad had lower rates of sick leave, given that they tend to work in more demanding roles than their Finnish-born counterparts.
"We know that healthcare workers born abroad often work in roles that are even more demanding than usual for healthcare workers. This would be expected to increase the risk and frequency of sick leave," said Antero Olakivi, a lecturer at the University of Helsinki.
One explanation for the lower rates of sick leave among healthcare workers born abroad could be that workers who migrate to Finland are generally healthier than the native population. It is also possible that those who are already experiencing health problems may not be able to find work in Finland, reducing the likelihood of sick leave periods.
Additionally, it is likely that healthcare workers born abroad underuse their right to take sick leave. Previous research has shown that insecure employment and working in demanding conditions, where it is difficult to find substitutes, increase the risk of healthcare workers persisting in their jobs while unwell.
"These risks may be even more pronounced for healthcare workers born abroad. Among them, there are also workers whose residence permits depend on meeting employment requirements. This increases concerns about the continuation of their employment and dependence on their employer, which, in turn, increases the risk of working while sick," explained Ari Väänänen, a research professor at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
The researchers have called on employers and managers in the healthcare sector to ensure that healthcare workers born abroad are aware of their right to take sick leave and to provide adequate support to enable them to do so.
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