Socio-Demographic Predictors of Secondary School Teacher Absenteeism in Trinidad

By Balwant, Paul Tristen | International Journal of Employment Studies, April 2016 | Go to article overview

Socio-Demographic Predictors of Secondary School Teacher Absenteeism in Trinidad


Balwant, Paul Tristen, International Journal of Employment Studies


INTRODUCTION

Absenteeism can be defined as 'the lack of physical presence at a behaviour setting when and where one is expected to be' (Harrison & Price 2003:204). Absenteeism is linked to various undesirable consequences. First, absenteeism is reported to be negatively associated with productivity and supervisory ratings of performance (see meta-analysis by Viswesvaran 2002). Second, absent employees may adversely affect their colleagues because these latter employees may have to substitute for their absent co-workers (Martocchio 1994). Subsequently, the employees who show up for work may experience overload and stress (Shirom & Rosenblatt 2006). Finally, absent employees may determine absence norms within the organisation, and thus influence their colleagues' shirking behaviour (Bradley et al 2007).

While excessive employee absences are troublesome for any organisation, absences in a labour-intensive field such as education are of particular concern. In Trinidad's education sector, secondary school teacher absenteeism is increasingly becoming problematic. Connelly (2015) reports that approximately 600 teachers in Trinidad are under investigation, primarily for absenteeism issues. Teacher absenteeism is particularly problematic for numerous reasons. First, hiring substitute teachers can be difficult and costly (Shirom & Rosenblatt 2006; Woods & Montagno 1997) and these substitutes are likely to be less qualified than the regular teachers (Rosenblatt et al 2010). Second, absent teachers' classes may be cancelled and this can lead to disruptions in their colleagues' teaching. Third, teacher absenteeism may have adverse effects on students' achievement, especially when these absences are unanticipated (Miller et al 2008; Woods & Montagno, 1997). Finally, students may regard their teachers as role models and thus imitate their absence behaviour. Ehrenberg et al (1991) empirically support this notion, showing an association between teacher absenteeism and student absenteeism.

Trinidad's government has been seeking ways to remedy the problems associated with teacher absenteeism. A decade ago, the country's Education Minister threatened to cut salaries for absent teachers (Mohammed 2005). However, these threats have yet to materialise. Today, teacher absenteeism is continuing to create problems for secondary schools and their students. Yet again, disciplinary solutions are to be determined (Connelly 2015). Evidently, governing bodies seek to address absenteeism via a broad-brush approach that involves penalties. This study offers a more focused alternative. The approach is to minimise teacher absenteeism via the implementation of policies based on the socio-demographic factors that are associated with teacher absenteeism. To do so, within the Trinidadian context, Rosenblatt and Shirom's (2005) study is partially replicated. Rosenblatt and Shirom focused on teacher absenteeism in the Israeli public education system, and found that prior absenteeism, age, education, and supervisory position were significant predictors of absence frequency. Correspondingly, prior absence behaviour and socio-demographic characteristics are examined as predictors of secondary school teacher absenteeism in Trinidad.

Like Rosenblatt and Shirom (2005), prior absence behaviour is controlled when investigating the potential effects of socio-demographic factors. A longitudinal research design by Breaugh (1981) showed that prior absenteeism was a better predictor of current absenteeism than work attitudes such as job involvement, work satisfaction and supervisory satisfaction. Ivancevich (1985) provided further support for Breaugh's (1981) work, showing that prior absenteeism is a strong predictor of future absenteeism. Therefore, prior absenteeism in this study is controlled, and subsequently the upcoming hypotheses reflect the residual change in absences from one year to the next (Rosenblatt & Shirom 2005). …

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