Understanding why people take ‘sickies’

You’re a company boss and you want to reduce illegitimate sickness leave among your employees. What do you do? Introduce schemes to increase job satisfaction among your staff? It sounds sensible – the problem is, time and again research has only found a weak link between measures of job satisfaction and employee sick leave. The same is true for measures of job involvement and organisational commitment. But now Jurgen Wegge and colleagues think they’ve found the reason for this. The key, they say, is looking at how these factors interact. Lack of involvement in one’s job only matters when it’s combined with low job satisfaction.

Wegge’s team administered questionnaires to 436 employees of a large German civil service organisation. On their own, neither job satisfaction (measured by agreement with statements like “In general I am satisfied with my job”), nor job involvement (measured by agreement with statements like “Most of my life goals have to do with my work”) was related to the amount of sick leave an employee had taken over the last year. However, low job satisfaction and low job involvement combined were strongly related to the amount of sick leave taken.

The researchers said their finding has practical implications. “…it can be argued that establishing high job satisfaction (e.g. by job-redesign strategies, promotions, increases of salary) among employees will pay off as this prevents the transformation of low job involvement into high absenteeism”.

Wegge, J., Schmidt, K-H., Parkes, C. & van Dick, R. (2006). ‘Taking a sickie’: Job satisfaction and job involvement as interactive predictors of absenteeism in a public organisation. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, In Press. DOI: 10.1348/096317906X99371.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.