Gender Differences in Employees Working While Sick

Topic(s): citizenship behavior, gender, health and safety
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior
Article: Gender differences in the relationship between presenteeism and extra-role behaviors
Authors: A. Luksyte, K.L. Unsworth, D.R. Avery, J.L. Cordery, J. Seah
Reviewed by: Grace Cox

Presenteeism occurs when employees come to work despite having an illness, injury, or other medical condition. More often than not, this produces negative outcomes, such as undue employee stress or the increased risk of getting others sick. While anyone can engage in presenteeism, researchers (Luksyte et al., 2023) find that there are important differences in how men and women choose to engage in presenteeism.


Over the course of three studies, the researchers recruited 570 participants from a variety of companies and cultures to complete surveys on presenteeism, extra-role behavior (voluntary behavior that goes beyond the formal scope of the job), and the motivation for employees to protect their health.

They found that when sick or injured, men tend to focus their time, energy, and limited resources into protecting their job performance and participating in extra-role behaviors, even if their health suffered. On the other hand, women had higher motivation to protect their health, so they did not participate as often in extra-role behaviors. The one exception to this finding was when women felt extra pressure from their workplace to engage in extra-role behaviors. In this case, women were more likely than men to conform to the behavioral expectations.


Although there could be theoretically beneficial outcomes of presenteeism, overall, the practice is detrimental to employees, especially when they feel extra pressure to conform to behavioral expectations. To protect employees, organizations should do the following:

  • Establish clear illness policies and strategies. If employees are sick, they should be focused on recovering. By providing clear directives and support, employees will feel more confident in taking the time they need. They will also not feel the need to engage in presenteeism or push themselves to perform extra-role behaviors.
  • Create boundaries that work against established gender stereotypes surrounding presenteeism and extra-role behaviors.
  • Clarify extra-role expectations for all employees, irrespective of gender. Ensure that policies and procedures are clear and easily understandable and not based on gender stereotypes.


Luksyte, A., Unsworth, K. L., Avery, D. R., Cordery, J. L., & Seah, J. (2023). Gender differences in the relationship between presenteeism and extra-role behaviors. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 44, 957-972.

Image credit: istockphoto/Lyndon Stratford