Calling in sick, from America to Zimbabwe

October 8, 2013

Susan is a highly productive employee but is absent more often than her co-workers. She has decided to take a me-day because she believes that her absence will not affect her overall productivity.

Legitimate reason to be out of the office, or punishable offence? Depending on where "Susan" lives, it can be either shows new research from Concordia University's John Molson School of Business.

According to a study recently published in Cross Cultural Management, there are considerable differences in attitudes towards workplace absences across nations. Analysis of responses from 1,535 participants in Mexico, Pakistan, Ghana, India, the USA, Canada, Japan, Trinidad and Nigeria proves that such absenteeism is more influenced by cultural stance than individual attitude.

Management professor Gary Johns was the senior researcher in this study. He explains that, "in light of globalization and increased interest in cross-cultural understanding of employees' attitudes, perceptions and behaviour, we set out to investigate employees' perceptions of the legitimacy of absenteeism from a cross-national perspective."

Overall the researchers found that respondents from Pakistan, India and Trinidad believed absenteeism most acceptable, while those from the USA, Ghana and Japan believed it to be least acceptable. Respondents from Canada Mexico and Nigeria were somewhere in the middle.

At the extreme end of the spectrum, Japanese respondents were least accepting of absence in the abstract but were also the least likely to hold absentees accountable for being away from work. They were also especially forgiving of specific cases of absence as recounted in the scenarios.

What does this mean in practical terms? The study's lead author Helena Addae explains: "Organizations that attempt to develop corporate-wide attendance policies spanning national borders should take local norms and expectations concerning into consideration.

"What's normal for offices in Pakistan will not be the same for those in the USA. Therefore, companies need to be culturally sensitive in establishing rules surrounding taking time off." Addae, who is now an associate professor at University of Wisconsin Whitewater, completed the study as part of her doctoral research at Concordia.

Explore further: Presenteeism: A new word for working when sick

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