Workers who feel they are being unfairly treated at work take more sick leave, according to new research. However, businesses can greatly improve in these metrics, by hiring and training better supervisors.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UK) and Stockholm University (Sweden) analysed data from 19,000 Swedish workers, and found “interactional justice” – the treatment of employees by supervisors – is associated with the risk of both long and frequent sickness absences.
Long sickness absence refers to a worker taking more than 31 days off in 12 months, and frequent sickness absence refers to taking sick leave (of up to one week at a time) twice or more in a year.
Lead author Dr. Constanze Leineweber says business leaders have control over this aspect of their work environment, and can greatly improve absenteeism through cost-effective policy tweaks.
“Perceived fairness at work is a modifiable aspect of the work environment, as is job insecurity.”
“Organisations have significant control over both aspects and our results suggest that organisations may gain by investing or improving their policies and rules for fair treatment of their workforce, and by improving job security.”
The researchers say employers should choose supervisors for their qualities associated with fair practices, and specifically measure supervisors’ performance on their application of organisational justice.
Providing supervisors with training on justice principles will also help ensure the workforce is treated fairly, and is relatively inexpensive.
In the model, interactional justice is divided into: informational justice – receiving truthful and candid information with adequate justification; and interpersonal justice – receiving respectful and dignified treatment from the supervisor.
Shorter but more frequent sickness absences are indicative of increased withdrawal behaviour that allows workers to get relief from strain. Longer absences reflect more serious health problems from prolonged exposure to poor work conditions.
“Our results underline the need for fair and just treatment of employees irrespective of perceived job insecurity in order to keep the workforce healthy and to minimise lost work days due to sickness absence.”
Read the complete study here.
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