Academic journal article Indian Journal of Industrial Relations

The Determinants of Sickness Presenteeism

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Industrial Relations

The Determinants of Sickness Presenteeism

Article excerpt


Sickness presenteeism (SP) can be defined as a state in which employees turn up for work in spite of being sick. Although presenteeism is a subject of vivid interest to scholars in occupational medicine, few organizational scholars have extensively worked on the subject. One of the reasons that could have ignited interest in researchers is the growing concern among organizations about how presenteeism leads to lower levels of employee productivity (e.g., Collins et al, 2005) and there are reports of many other hidden costs as well (Goetzel et al, 2004; Hemp, 2004). Ailments commonly associated with SP include headaches, migraines, allergies, depression, gastrointestinal problems and asthma/ breathing difficulties. These are often deemed as benign illnesses that do not force a person to stay away from work, but reduce his/her productivity (Ceniceros, 2001; Goetzel et al, 2004). The present study is aimed at identifying the determinants of SP at work. It retro-flexed some of the existing results relating to SP as well tested new hypotheses that have only been hinted in the literature.

Hypotheses Development

Johns (2009) has traced the first use of the word "presentee". According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online, the word "presentee" was first used by the famous American humorist and author Mark Twain in his famous Book, The American Claimant in 1892. Thereafter though there have been occasional use of the term, however it was not until the early 1990's that the term was used in a defined connotation. Presenteeism in earlier times was only defined as opposite of absenteeism, but gradually more refined forms of definition of presenteeism with defined constructs were available. SP has been defined by Aronsson & Gustafsson (2005) as "the phenomenon that people, despite complaints and ill health that should prompt them to take rest and take sick leave, go to work in any case". They have distinguished between 'work-related demands for presence' and 'personally related demands for presence'. Johansson & Lundberg (2004) have defined presenteeism in the same way as above. According to them, when a person attends to work in spite of being ill or under circumstances which would ideally require leave for e.g. child care. However, we have limited our discussion to cases when employees turn up for work in spite of suffering on health grounds only and does not extent to other reasons like child care. In this study, we categorized determinants of SP broadly into three categories such as work related factors, personal circumstances and personality of the employees. The study also examined the relational influence of the above three categories of factors on SP.

Work Related Factors

There are certain factors which compel the job incumbent to attend work even when sick. Organizational policies for example might not have flexi working hours which might affect an employee's decision to work. Work related factors can be further classified into factors which can be controlled by the employee and some others which are beyond his control. It can be derived that when factors are under the control of an employee, he would have the freedom to choose when to go to work and when not to and hence is expected to report lesser SP than employees who are devoid of sufficient control over tasks.

Irreplaceability can be defined in simple terms as the availability of any other worker to replace the incumbent when the latter is sick. According to Bockerman & Laukkanen (2009), worker's replaceability can be seen from an economic angle. In case a worker can arrange for a replacement when he is absent from work, he would choose to avail of a sick leave when he is ill. On the contrary, if there are no available replacements for a worker and in case of his absence, he has to come back and finish up his pending work, then he would be less likely to take a sick leave. Hence in the second case, the indirect costs of being absent are more for a worker and under such circumstances, he would choose to attend to work when sick. …

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