Dangerous Jobs: A Reason to Play Hooky? (IO Psychology)

Topic: Leadership, Culture, Health & Safety
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (JUL 2012)
Article: Aversive workplace conditions and absenteeism: Taking referent group norms
and supervisor support into account.
Authors: M. Biron, P. Bamberger
Reviewed By: Ben Sher

Why do people play hooky from work? The stress-free paradise of a day at the beach, great seats for a baseball game on a perfect summer afternoon, that irresistible allure of Olympic equestrian as it airs live on TV… these are all possible reasons. But what
about workplace dangers? Is it possible that people avoid work because they are afraid of getting injured while doing dangerous jobs? Actually, research has found mixed results. Sometimes workplace danger means more absenteeism and sometimes it means less absenteeism. What explains this? Recent research by Biron and Bamberger (2012) has provided an interesting answer to this question.

The authors first discuss the mixed results of past research. When workplace danger
was associated with increased absenteeism, researchers explained that employees
avoid work to avoid injury or to recuperate from past injuries. That certainly makes
sense. When workplace danger was associated with less absenteeism, researchers
explained that these dangerous jobs provide extra pay to offset potential danger, or
attract and retain the kind of employees who are unfazed by danger. That makes sense

So what determines whether danger will lead to more or less absenteeism? The
authors conducted a study of transit workers in a major US city, and found that two
factors influence this relationship. The first factor is the perception of “permissive
peer absence norms”. This means the general attitude that an employee’s closest
co-workers share regarding the acceptability of absence. When co-workers think
occasionally missing work is acceptable, dangerous work conditions are associated with more absenteeism.

The second factor is the perception of supervisor support. When employees feel that
their supervisors support their role at work, dangerous work conditions are associated
with less absenteeism. Why would this happen? The authors say that employees who
feel supported might experience greater organizational commitment, and be reluctant to do anything which could harm the organization. Additionally, they might have greater access to training that could make the workplace safer.

Finally, the two factors of peer absence norms and supervisor support work
together. When supervisors were more supportive of employees, peer acceptance
of absenteeism was not as likely to cause actual absenteeism. This follows social
psychology research that says cultural influence from peers is subject to competing
influences, such as influence from organizational leaders.

This study highlights the importance of positive organizational culture and proper
supervisor support. If these factors help influence whether people in physically
dangerous jobs show up for work, certainly they can help positively influence employees doing jobs with less apparent danger.

Biron, M. & Bamberger, P. (2012). Aversive workplace conditions and absenteeism:
Taking referent group norms and supervisor support into account. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 97(4), 901-912.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



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