The best medicine for productivity

Feb 06, 2012

A worker experiencing the stress of intense workdays might develop somatic symptoms, such as stomach ache or headache, which will eventually lead to taking leave of absence. But when the individual's supervisor offers emotional and instrumental support, the employee is more likely to recover without needing to take that extra afternoon or day off. This has been shown in a new study from the University of Haifa, soon to be published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology.

In earlier studies, scholars have shown that workers who experience at the workplace, due to, for example, high job demands and low control, develop psychological strain that translates into physiological symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches and fatigue. These are often relieved when the individuals have some time away from work to recover. The U.S. is losing approximately $225.8 billion per year due to absenteeism, and noting this, the present study, conducted by Dr. Michal Biron of the University of Haifa's Graduate School of Management, set out to examine what interpersonal workplace dynamics are influencing the worker's "burnout" symptoms and whether those dynamics have an effect on when the individual ultimately takes sickness leave to recover.

The study was conducted in a manufacturing enterprise in China and examined a sample group of 241 workers. As the study explains, in China there is significant distance between supervisor and employee, making it a particularly relevant context to examine the role of supervisor support relating to absenteeism. The workers were asked to report on common somatic symptoms, such as headaches or , that they experienced over the past month and to indicate how often their supervisor provided them with emotional and instrumental support once they experienced physical symptoms of stress. Data on sickness absence was provided by the employer.

The results showed that support from a supervisor when an employee is experiencing psychosomatic symptoms of the stress can make a real difference. When the boss offers support in the form of, for example, a lightened work load or stress management training – it is more likely to keep the worker from taking sick leave. This is because the worker feels more inclined to reciprocate the supportive treatment by keeping their work effort high. "The worker who is given this sort of support is more likely to overcome the somatic stress and continue to work productively, leaving recovery for the normal after-work hours when we recharge our batteries," explains Dr. Biron. A worker who develops the of stress and does not receive this sort of support from the boss might stay at work out of fear for their position. But as the study shows, this worker is also less likely to be able to shake off the symptoms and will in due course need more sickness absence.

The study also shows that co-worker support early on, when the employee begins to experience workday stress, plays a role in attenuating the somatic effects of stress, thereby reducing the likelihood of even developing the need for sickness absence. "We see from this study that employers can provide concrete support for employees experiencing somatic stress , but can also encourage co-workers to support one another in the first place and minimize the effects triggered by their workload," Dr. Biron clarifies.

"With the enormous economic losses due to absenteeism and with this still being a poorly understood phenomenon, the results of this new study are shedding light on those factors influencing and which can be considered in the effort to reduce the losses without compromising work ethic and commitment," explains Dr. Biron.

Explore further: Less privileged kids shine at university, according to study

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Coping with abuse in the work place

Jan 04, 2012

Confronting an abusive boss is easier said than done: employees coping with the stress of abusive treatment prefer to avoid direct communication even though it would be the most effective tactic in terms of emotional well-being. ...

Flexible workplaces reduce rate of sickness absence

May 29, 2007

People with fun and stimulating jobs, and who are able to adapt their workplace to their needs, have a lower rate of sickness absence and more often go to work despite being ill. This also applies to workplaces with heavy ...

Going to Work When Sick May Lead to Future Absences

Jun 10, 2009

Employees who often go to work despite feeling sick have higher rates of future work absences due to illness, according to a study in the June Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the ...

Exercise has charms to soothe a savage boss

Jan 24, 2012

lying, making fun of you in public and generally putting you down, he or she may benefit from some exercise, according to a new study by James Burton from Northern Illinois University in the US and his team. Their work shows ...

New management training could lead to improved worker health

Jul 27, 2009

In an effort to improve worker health, researchers from Michigan State University and Portland State University have created an innovative training program that calls for supervisors to better support their employees' work ...

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

Dec 18, 2014

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

Dec 18, 2014

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

Dec 18, 2014

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.