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  • 1. Absenteeism: A Social Fact in Need of a TheoryAuthor(s): Dagfinn ȦsSource: Acta Sociologica, Vol. 6, No. 4 (1962), pp. 278-286Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.Stable URL: 23/09/2010 01:51Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non- commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Publications, Ltd. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to ActaSociologica.
  • 2. Absenteeism - a Social Fact in Need of a Theory') by Dagfinn As In sociological and social psychological studies of work behavior, measures of absenteeism have often been used in the analysis. Most often the measures have been looked upon as dependant variables; indicators of the effectiveness of the organization or also indicators of satisfaction and adjustment of the employees. Some studies have had as their explicit goal to find correlates of absenteeism and spell out the causal relationships; thereby making it possible to improve the situ-ation, that is, to reduce the degree of absenteeism.1) We would like to state here at the outset that absenteeism is not necessarily an unquestionable evil. For the absentee personally it might often be psychologically important to take the day off, and in many cases will a certain degree of absenteeism fit the particular organi-zation and even have specific positive functions. In studying the various reports from studies of absenteeism, however, one is struck by two phenomena: first the multitude of factors that seem to be related to absenteeism 2), and secondly the number of contradictions that appear when a comparison of the findings are performed. In order to cut through this chaos and construct a model for research on absenteeism there is first a need for grouping of the factors and weeding out the irrelevant ones in order to be able to handle a particular study. Secondly we need more work on finding and defining broad conditional or situationalv ariablest hat might explain the contradictionsb etween the findings. In a recent article John B. Knox 3 has suggested a first grouping of deter-mining variables into categories that he calls "incentives to continue employment", "barriers to adjustment", and "barriers to attendance". The inclusion of any one variable into these categories - or rather the relevance of the variables in studies of industrial absenteeism - will depend upon the degree to which the particular variable clearly impinge upon the tie between the employees and the company, or his tendency at any given morning to appear at work. This argument correspond to the general conclusion drawn by Hill and Trist 4) in their excellent study of industrial accidents and absenteeism. They conclude that their data "suggest that ) "The data reported on in this paper originate in a study of organizational behavior and change performed under the auspices of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan where the author stayed in 1958-59 under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. 278
  • 3. absence phenomena reflect the quality of the relationship of the person to the employing institution". Not only is this plausible, but it is our argument that the inclusion of the psychological tie between the person and the company indeed is necessary for a full understanding of the psychological process that accompany going absent. A certain barrier to attendance will have different effect upon a person feeling committed to, or identified with the company, than upon a person attending because of fear of loosing his job. The second task, that of defining the broad conditioning variables that might explain the so far contradictoryf indings must be attackedb y a gradual building up of interpretations from different studies in different industrial concerns and different cultures. To make such studies comparable they have to have certain similarities in their design and orientation. This might be obtained by accepting as a frame for thought that absenteeism is a result of certain psychological forces within the individuals. This process come about as the incentives to continue em-ployment and the barriers to adjustment interact with the commitment to the company that stem from the employment contract; to produce a tie (of a certain kind and strength) between the person and the company. This will consequently produce a tendency for the employee to go to work or not. The barriers to at-tendance will accordingly "tip the weight" in favor of attendance or absenteeism. Comparative studies will be made possible if sufficient attention is given to the problem of specifying the kind and the strength of the tie with the company. The before-mentioned broad conditional variables might accordingly be obtained by concentrating on the factors that specifically produce ties of particular kinds and strengths. Absenteeism cannot be explained by simple causal relationships. Most of the Figure 1. INCENTIVES BARRIERS BARRIERS TO CONTINUE TO TO EWLOYMENT ADJUSTMEN ATTENDANCE CONTRACT FEELING OF______ WITH_CTMMITMENT Tendency to COMPANY Tie with company FEAR OF appear at work I apr at wrLOOSINGJO Bk rLEAVERSI [UABSENTEES 279
  • 4. variables listed as casual ones in other studies do not deserve this name. They must be looked upon as conditioning or intervening ones as they operate to in-fluence or change the tie between the persons and the company. This way of structuting the situation can best be illustrated by the following diagram where we have utilized the categories suggested by John B. Knox. In studying absenteeism we must for the persons induded in the sample, postulate a minimum tendency to appear at work, or else the employees would belong to the category of "leavers". Further, according to this model, a person will be absent on a particular day dependent upon the relative strength of the tendency to appear at work and the barriers to attendance. In a study concerned with causes of absenteeism we do not propose that the analysis should be restricted to these latter forces. In such a study the total model will be involved. The schematic model presented should in order to be complete contain a more complex set of "arrows" and also "boxes". This however, is not needed at this stage as the model is meant more as a guide for thinking rather than an instrument of research. From the data obtained in a study at a Midwestern manufacturing company we have results that illuminate certain sections of this model. This particular study was not designed according to the model presented above, but the study is relevant as it will illuminate the problems involved in specifying the kind of tie that exists between the employees and the company. This study concerned organi-zational behavior and change, and in course of the study we obtained from the IndustrialR elationsD epartmenti n the companys tatisticso n absenteeismo f the fol-lowing kind. 1. Instancies of absenteeism, not specified with respect to whether it was caused by sikness or not. 2. Instancies of appearing late for work. 3. Instan-cies of leaving early, i. e. before official quitting time. For all these measures we computed indicies based on one month (Nov. 1958): Number of instancies of absenteeism/appearingla te/leaving early per number of employees in the work group. In the analysisw e utilized 18 workgroupst hat representeds hifts of workers working under different first line supervisors. These measures were obtained to be used, among others, as indicators of organizational effectiveness. In the study by Katz and Hymon 5) various measures of satisfaction were found to be associated with absenteeism in the way that low degree of absenteeism could be said to be an indicator of high satisfaction and morale. A common inter-pretation of such a finding is either to look upon absenteeism as an avoidance- mechanism: to go absent represent an easy way out of situations of conflict, or to look upon absenteeism as a more active action: to go absent represents a sanction on part of the employees in response to some irritating incident at work. In our study we postulated a similiar relationship and consequently related our measures of absenteeism to certain measures of satisfaction. We have here selected five variables of satisfaction that will illustrate our findings. 280
  • 5. Var. no: 19, Attitude toward own workgroup (Index based on six interrelated questions) Var. no: 73, Attitude toward own foreman (Index based on seven interrelated questions) Var. no: 53, General satisfaction with the company as a place to work (Index based on four interrelated questions) Var. no: 54, Motivation of workers to help company if needed (Index based on three interrelated questions) Var. no: 55, Willingness of company to care for the welfare of the workers as judged by the workers themselves (Index based on three inter-related questions) For all the variables we have arranged the scales so that a negative relationship indicate an association between High Absenteeism and Good Attitude/High Satis-faction/High Motivation/High Willingness. For the results see table 1. Table1 : Relationshipbe tweenM easures of Absenteeisman d AlternativeM easures of Satisfaction(P roduct-momentcor relation). Measures of Absenteeism Measures of Satisfaction Arriving Leaving Absent late early Var. no: 19. Attitude toward own work group -.12 - .28 .32 Var. no: 73. Attitude toward own foreman - .12 - .21 . 38 Var. no: 53 General satisfaction with company - .36 - .34 - .26 Var. no: 54. Motivation to help company if needed -.54 -.56 -.41 Var. no: 55. Willingness of com-pany to care for the welfare of workers - . 13 - .06 -. 20 Only a few of the coefficents in Table I are significant, but on the whole we find that our expectations are not met, with the exception that dissatisfaction with the immediate work situation seems to be related to a high frequency of leaving work before quitting time. The latter finding is plausible for two reasons: the conflict or the unpleasant situation that the workers would want to avoid (or protest) by being absent must first of all be found in the immediate work situation. Secondly, leaving early will represent the reaction, in time least removed from the 281
  • 6. determining factors. By leaving early the workers so to say can demonstrate his dissatisfaction relatively immediately. The tendency that high satisfaction in general was associated with a high degree of absenteeism was unexpected and we cannot readily give a valid explanation of this fact. One suggested explanation of the relatively high degree of absen-teeism in the American industry during the last world war said that never before had the workers had so much money to spend and were consequently more inclined to go absent. These workers were at the same time not necessarily dissatisfied in their job. This indicates a different type of absenteeism. Instead of being "pushed" oat by unpleasant conditions, the workers in this situation were more oriented outward and the company did not have a high enough valence for the workers so they were "pulled in" and back to work. This way of reasoning leads us to a kind of "push-pull" theory for absenteeism, to borrow some terms from mobility research. Our measures of satisfaction can be utilized to test this notion as two of the measures refer to the workers immediate work situation, and it will be here that first of all conflicts may arise and dissatisfaction may be produced. The three other measures however, refer to more general attitudes that reflect the workers' commitment to the company. The model that would take care of the two different types of absenteeism can then be portrayed as in Fig. 2. Figure 2: The ,,Push- PIll" Model of Absenteeismn. Satisfaction with Satisfaction with Rate of company in general immediate work situation absenteeism HIGH (1) Low rate of absenteeism HIGH LOW | (2) High rate of absenteeism HIGH (3) High rate of absenteeism LOW LOW (4) Rate of absenteeism lower than (3) above There is reason to believe that the attitudes toward the company in general will be more stable and enduring than the attitudes toward the immediate work situation. Consequently we assume that measures of the first set best reflect the degree of commitment the employees feel toward the company. Those falling into the "high"- categorya re then the ones that might develop an identification with 282
  • 7. Table 2: Rate of Rate of Rate of absentee- arriving leaving ism late early HIGH Attitude GOOD .21 .23 .07 toward POOR .30 .30 .18 General foreman saticfaction LOW (Var. no: GOOD .20 .25 .04 withn total 73.) POOR .15 .17 .08 company Attitude GOOD .21 .26 .08 (Var. no: HIGH toward 53.) no: own work POOR .26 .25 .13 group GooD .19 .20 .07 LOW (Var. no: 19.) POOR .14 .19 .06 Motivation HIGH Attitude GOOD .19 .22 .06 toward POOR .31 .33 .17 to help _______ foreman company LOW (Var. no: GOOD .27 28 .05 in case of 73.) POOR .17 .18 .09 difficult - I I I economic HIGHAttitud e GOOD .18 .24 .06 HIH towardsituation own work POOR .26 .25 .12 (Var. no: group GOOD .20 .08 54.) LOW (Var. no: 19.) POOR .16 .20 .08 Willingness HIGH Attitude GOOD .22 .23 .07 of company toward POOR .21 .23 .13 to care for foreman (Var. no: GOOD .19 .24 .06 the welfare LOW 73.) of workers 73-)_POOR | *19 I .20 .09 as against Attitude GOOD 1 .19 .21 .08 profit and HIGH toward production own work GOOD .25 .24 .12 (Var. no: LOW (Var. no: POOR .20 .24 o.0 6 SL.) 19.) POOR .17 .20 .08 283
  • 8. the company. Dissatisfaction with the immediate work situation might very well in this situation be reacted to by both avoidance and even active protest. We assume that those being "low" with respect to general attitudes toward the company in general will feel more insecure with respect to holding their own job. Low satisfaction with the immediate work situation will interact with these feelings in the way that insecurity is increased. It is consequently only in the situations with a high degree of satisfaction with the immediate work situation that these persons will "risk" being absent. It is further in this situation that the workers easily "fall prey" to barriers of attendance. As to the distinction between passive avoidance or active protest, neither will be predominant; the latter probably not being possible at all unless as sheer provocation. Two main hypothesis can then be derived from this argument: 1. A low satisfaction with the immediate work situation (exemplified by poor attitude toward own work group and own foreman) will lead to high degree of absenteeism under the condition of a high degree of satisfaction with the company in general. 2. A high satisfaction with the immediate work situation will be associated with a high degree of absenteeism under the condition of low degree of satisfaction with the company in general. All the variables intended to measure satisfaction are positively related, but the coefficients are not so high as to call these identical measures. In this case as in others, we look upon our measures as altematives or possible ways of measuring the intended content. In the following table, where we have related the measures of satisfaction to the measures of absenteeism, we have performed the same kind of analysis six times, one for each combination of the five variables of satisfaction.W e then base our conclusionso n the recurrenceo f the relationships in addition to judging the strength of the relationships. In Table 2 the two hypotheses are tested simultaneously, and the results are presented in a series of 18 tables. Each table consists of a column of four rates. According to Hypothesis 1. the second rate is expected to be higher than the first one. According to Hypothesis 2. the third rate is expected to be higher than the fourth. We have in the table set in bold type the high rates that come out as ex-pected. We see that the first hypothesis hold true for all three measures of absenteeism: for "absenteeism" in five out of the six cases, for "lateness" in four out of the six, and for "leaving early" in all six cases. The second hypothesisi s verified with respectt o "absenteeism"a nd "lateness", in both cases in five out of the six cases. The hypothesis does not however, hold 284
  • 9. true with respect to "leaving early". This result substantiate our previous notions about the difference between "leaving early" and the two other measures. The persons leaving work early are predominantly workers that are dissatisfied with their immediate work situation, if they at the same time are satisfied with the company in general the rate of leaving early goes up sharply. Summary The many studies on industrial absenteeism at present are difficult to compare and present a weak basis for designing further studies. This problem arises mainly from two reasons: first the numerous factors suggested as determining ones and the lack of organizationo f these. Secondly, the many contradictoryf indings point to the lack of coverage of broader conditioning variables in these studies. A model to be used as a frame of reference in further studies of absenteeism is suggested. In this model a first categorization of the determining and conditioning variables are utilized, while the total model tries to specify the underlying psychological pocesses postulated to be valid for the phenomenon of absenteeism. The model explicitly calls for much attention to and careful description of the kind and strength of the tie between the employees and the company. It is suggested that through such work a basis for comparable studies will be obtained. Data form a study of organizational behavior and change in a Midwestern manufacturing company is then utilized as an example that shows how measures of attitudes and satisfaction - taken as indicators of the kind of tie that exist between the employees and the company - will influence the rate of absenteeism. Finally it should be mentioned that the not so often used measure of absenteeism, namely rate of leaving work too early, seems to differ from other measures in the way that it is through this kind of behavior that the workers first of all "takes out" their dissatisfaction with their immediate work situation. 285 NOTES AND REFERENCES: 1) "Tested Ways to Reduce Absenteeism", Factory Management and Maintenance, 101 (March 1943), p. 83. J. B. FOX and J. F. SCOIT, Absenteeism: Management's Problem,B oston: HarvardG raduateS chool of BusinessA dministration, 1942. FLOYD C. MANN and JOHN E. SPARLING, "Changing Absence Rates: an Application of Research Findings", Personnel, 52, 1956: 392-408. S. A. S. MURTHY, "Absenteeism in Industry", Indian Journalo f Social Work, 14 (September,1 953): 132-143. GRANT W. CANFIELD and DAVID G. SOASH, "Presenteeism - a Constructive View", Personnel Journal, 34, 1955: 94-97. 2) "Absenteeism:t he New National Malady",F ortune, 27: 104-105. A. G. MEZERIK, "Why Workers Stay Home", New Republic, 108, 6. 437. 3) JOHN B. KNOX, "Absenteeism and Turnover in an Argentine Factory", American Sociological Rewiev, 26 (June, 1961) p. 425. 4) J. M. M. HILL and E. L. RIMST,"A Considerationo f IndustrialA ccidentsa s a Means of Withdrawalf rom the Work Situation", Human Relations,6 (November,1 953) p. 377. See also: E. WILLIAM NOLAND, "Worker Attitudes and Industrial Absenteeism: A Statistical Appraisal", American Sociological Review, 10 (August, 1945) p. 504. 5) DANIEL KATZ and HERBERT HYMAN, "Industrial Morale and Public Opinion Methods", International Journal of Opinion and Attitude Research, 1 (September, 1947): 13-30. See also: HELEN METZNER and FLOYD MANN, "Employee At. titude and Absences", Personel Psychology, 6, 1953: 467-485..