Is it possible that people avoid going to 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 (Biron & 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 too.
ATTITUDES OF PEERS AND SUPERVISORS
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 that 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.
BOTTOM LINE FOR ORGANIZATIONS
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.