Absenteeism is a habitual pattern of absence from a duty or obligation. Traditionally, absenteeism has been viewed as an indicator of poor individual performance, as well as a breach of an implicit contract between employee and employer; it was seen as a management problem, and framed in economic or quasi-economic terms. More recent scholarship seeks to understand absenteeism as an indicator of psychological, medical, or social adjustment to work.
High absenteeism in the workplace may be indicative of poor morale, but absences can also be caused by workplace hazards or sick building syndrome. Many employers use statistics such as the Bradford factor that do not distinguish between genuine illness and absence for inappropriate reasons. In 2013 in the UK the CIPD estimated that the average worker had 7.6 sick days per year and that absenteeism cost employers £595 per employee per annum.
As a result, many employees feel obliged to come to work while ill, and transmit communicable diseases to their co-workers. This leads to even greater absenteeism and reduced productivity among other workers who try to work while ill. Work forces often excuse absenteeism caused by medical reasons if the employee provides supporting documentation from their medical practitioner. Sometimes, people choose not to show up for work and do not call in advance, which businesses may find to be unprofessional and inconsiderate. This is called a "no call, no show". According to Nelson & Quick (2008) people who are dissatisfied with their jobs are absent more frequently. They went on to say that the type of dissatisfaction that most often leads employees to miss work is dissatisfaction with the work itself.
The psychological model that discusses this is the "withdrawal model", which assumes that absenteeism represents individual withdrawal from dissatisfying working conditions. This finds empirical support in a negative association between absence and job satisfaction, especially satisfaction with the work itself.
Medical-based understanding of absenteeism find support in research that links absenteeism with smoking, problem drinking, low back pain, and migraines. Absence ascribed to medical causes is often still, at least in part, voluntary. Research shows that over one trillion dollars is lost annually due to productivity shortages as a result of medical-related absenteeism, and that increased focus on preventative wellness could reduce these costs. The line between psychological and medical causation is blurry, given that there are positive links between both work stress and depression and absenteeism. Depressive tendencies may lie behind some of the absence ascribed to poor physical health, as with adoption of a "culturally approved sick role". This places the adjective "sickness" before the word "absence", and carries a burden of more proof than is usually offered.
Evidence indicates that absence is generally viewed as "mildly deviant workplace behavior". For example, people tend to hold negative stereotypes of absentees, under report their own absenteeism, and believe their own attendance record is better than that of their peers. Negative attributions about absence then bring about three outcomes: the behavior is open to social control, sensitive to social context, and is a potential source of workplace conflict.
- Hanebuth, Dirk (2008) "Background of absenteeism" in K. Heinitz (ed.) Psychology in Organizations - Issues from an applied area. Peter Lang: Frankfurt. p. 115-134.
- Johns, Gary (2007) "absenteeism" in George Ritzer (ed.) The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
- Mc Clenney, Mary Ann, "A Study of the Relationship Between Absenteeism and Job Satisfaction, Certain Personal Characteristics, and Situational Factors for Employees in a Public Agency" (1992). Applied Research Projects. Paper 241
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