Absenteeism is a very expensive problem for businesses. By “absenteeism” it is meant as Cascio’s (2000) explanation: “any failure to report for or remain at work as scheduled, regardless of the reason”. Annual Absence & Labour Turnover Survey 2008 by the CBI and insurer AXA revealed that of the 172 million sick days lost to absence in 2007, more than one in ten (12%) are thought to be non-genuine. These 21 million “sickies” cost the economy ï¿½1.6bn. Some employees’ absences cannot be avoided of course, such as in the cases of serious personal or family member illness.
These times of missed work can often be recognised as long in duration (defined as more than 1 or 2 days) on review of organisational records. However, research also indicates that an estimated 52% of total employee absences are discretionary in nature. These absences are the result of factors such as stress, personal needs, and entitlement mentality (VanDerWall, 1998).
Companies are addressing the money-drain of absenteeism in various ways. Some are introducing rewards schemes for employees not failing to come into work.
General Motors implemented such a system some years ago and were not so satisfied with the results (Sadri, 1995). Whilst policies on the matter are important, one should ask whether cultural, organisational and management issues might be lurking behind high absenteeism rates.
When it comes to dealing with absenteeism at an organisational level, the first thing that is likely to be considered is the management approach used globally in the organisation in question. Is the level of absence due to an environment that might be seen as too lax in where a human relations approach is being used to excess? This is certainly not what Elton Mayo hoped for when interpreting the results of the famous Hawthorne experiments which produced the human relations approach.
Or is it due to a more classical verily scientific management style where everything is regulated and might be perceived as dictatorial by some employees who are dreaming for more independence in their working environment? Buchanan, D. and Huczynski, A. 2004 (2004) would most likely share this opinion whilst surely Frederik Winslow Taylor would disagree considering that he developed his theories bearing in mind people’s well-being while maximising productivity and quality of work.
Although this latest approach is still being used today, particularly in manufacturing or jobs requiring repetitive tasks in administration for instance, it is considered obsolete and precarious in most modern working environment. It is indeed highly unlikely to find such a management approach in a financial services company for instance. The contingency approach is by far the most commonly used today as it adapts itself very well to the dynamic and multi-functional environment most businesses now operate in. As such it emphasises the need for flexibility which in the case of absenteeism is much needed to ensure maximum fairness between all employees and their particular case for presenteeism and their occasional lack of it. Nemiroff and Ford (1975, 1976), Porter, Lawler, and Hackman (1975), and Pierce, Dunham, and Blackburn (1979) have proposed contingency models which seek to make explicit predictions for employees reactions to various combinations of job attributes, individual needs, and social system structure. The unpredictability of the absenteeism matter makes this approach in the context of the papers written by the authors mentioned here rather attractive.
In a contingency approach framework whereby situational factors dictate the organisational structure and design to adopt, it is important to identify what these factors are to categorise the current structure and design used within the organisation. The type of organisation and its purpose, power and control, history; skills, abilities, expertise of the employees; preference of top management and culture; size, technology, environment; all these aspects influence the pattern of relationships among positions in the organisation and among its members, defining tasks and responsibilities, work roles and relationships as well as channel of communication at all levels. The structure and design can vary between departments but must remain organised at all times to ensure organisation stability. The fundamental aspect of managing absenteeism relies on trust, which can only be achieved with a strongly established organisation structure and design. As Carolyn Taylor from Mettle Group (2005) rightly declared “The quality of the relationship between line and functional managers lies at the heart of achieving both compliance to rules and an ability to work the principles behind them. If the relationship is good, and trust and respect high, then both sides understand the importance if each other’s role… Line management knows they will always be pressing to drive harder on performance, but understand the functional roles are there to help crate, and strengthen, the boundaries they must not cross.” Having a clear hierarchy also makes it easier in terms of pin-pointing a possible failure in a specific department. The number of employees taking sick days in each department might enable management to spot a possible problematic work and address the issue with the specific manager.
It is agreed that there is no management structure or design to be favoured over another in terms of achieving results. May it be horizontal, matrix or hybrid; complex, horizontal or bureaucratic – they all have can share the same successful policies to combat absenteeism fairly.
McLean’s definition of organisation culture is very descriptive: “the collection of traditions, values, policies, beliefs, and attitudes that constitute a persuasive context for everything we do and think in an organisation”. The reason for this topic to be addressed in this essay is due to the fact that the organisational culture of a company largely influences employees’ behaviour. It dictates to them what is acceptable and not acceptable, what behaviour and actions are encouraged and discouraged. Management must therefore sway their organisational culture so that faking sickness is considered as intolerable and is recognised to be against the core values of the employees. Ethnographic interviews can be carried out to explore the organisational culture of a company. It identifies what makes the organisation unique, recognising the artefacts and behaviours, values and ideology as well as the more complex assumptions and beliefs.
It is a useful tool to identify problems. An understanding of culture, and how to transform it, is a crucial skill to achieve strategic outcomes. It is possible to modify and create strong cultures by providing vision with clear goals and guidelines on how to achieve them. A careful recruitment selection and the introduction of induction and training programmes highlighting the company’s culture are all working towards the aspired of goal. Encouraging, praising and recognising appropriate behaviour while emphasising on individual contributions will provide clarity on the desired culture employees should adopt. People tend to be led by example, it is therefore crucial that managers and executives demonstrate the core values and embrace the corporate culture adopted by the company at all times through all types of communication and interaction with all members of staff. A strong leader will highly influence its company’s culture via personal characteristics, attributes and behaviour (Giberson, 2009).
There is an obvious link between organisational leadership and employees’ behaviour. By definition, leadership is the relationship through which one person influences the behaviour or actions of other people (Mullins, 2007). A transformational leadership for instance is likely to engender subordinates’ satisfaction, motivation and inspiration and will encourage them to be present in their workplace whenever possible. Leader communication tactics are effective management tools in the reduction of discretionary absenteeism. Self-management training and goal setting have both been recognised in studies as feasible interventions. And leader initiated feedback on absenteeism behaviours of followers showed promise in the same vein (Frayne & Latham, 1987; Gaudine & Saks, 2001; Unckless et al., 1998). Good leaders pursue their purpose with passion, practicing solid values, leading with heart, establishing enduring relationships and demonstrating self-discipline. The effective leader reinforces subordinate behaviour that leads to achieving organizational goals, and punishes the subordinate for behaviour that does not achieve such goals.
Whilst t is clear that the leadership style largely influences staffs’ will and want for coming to work, it must not be forgotten that it also needs to be adapted not only to each individual but also to the situation or objective at hand. The situational leadership model is a very effective way to ensure staff satisfaction which is likely to reduce absenteeism. Indeed providing the right level of support or direction at the right time for the right task will make employees feel valued, resulting in a mutual trustful relationship between employer and employee.
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