Absence Typologies - the psychology of motivated absenteeism

For decades, need-based theories of motivation have emphasised the importance of need fulfillment on employee motivation and behavior. Applied to the management of employee absenteeism, organisations should seek to address the most critical, prominent needs of the broader workforce while taking stock of unique needs of different segments and individuals.

Motivated absence and why it matters

While many organisations might consider absenteeism to just be about sick leave and therefore cannot be touched, this in fact is not the case. According to Steers and Rhodes, absenteeism is the choice of a worker not to attend work when expected. This is known as “voluntary” absenteeism or motivated absence.

What this means is, ultimately, whether or not an employee decides to attend work, is driven by how motivated they are, as well as their ability to attend and perform their duties. Employees who are fully satisfied with their jobs have strong loyalty to the organisation and will actively engage by being present at work. They also tend to look at factors as problems or barriers to overcome as opposed to reasons not to attend. Even when they are feeling slightly sick, they will still attend because they want to.

The opposite is true of employees who are partially, or actively, disengaged from the workplace. This can lead to complex and chronic absenteeism, which negatively impacts not only the bottom line of a business, but also workplace culture.

The psychological drivers of motivated absenteeism

Addressing motivation is key to reducing absence, and there are four factors which drive 'voluntary' unplanned leave:

Locus of control
The perceived control a person has over their life and environment determines how much influence they think they have over their lives. A person with a high external locus of control is more likely to experience stress negatively and feel hopeless when challenged.

Coping versus defensive strategies
Coping strategies are the conscious, rational ways an individual deals with stressors or challenges in their life. High absentees tend to avoid the source of the stress, and not attending work is a key defensive strategy.

Planning skills
This refers to the ability to anticipate problems and generate scenarios to solve them appropriately. This skill requires a fair degree of forward thinking, anticipation, and personal organisation.

Self esteem
Self esteem is typically low if a person hasn’t yet identified the source of the stress and learned coping skills to address the stressor/s.

Absence Typologies

Direct Health Solutions (DHS) has built a proprietary Absence Typologies Framework to help managers understand the types of motivated absence patterns in individuals and teams. When it comes to the psychology of absenteeism, there are four main types of absentees:

These employees have an unhealthy attendance pattern and more than likely their attendance motivation is low.

Under the Radar
Under the Radars work to undermine the good work of the manager and the organisation. They are culturally misaligned and tend to blame others when things go wrong, and take the credit when things go right.

This type has very low resilience and do not cope well with pressure. They have many stress triggers and have not learned the required coping skills to deal effectively with them.

Absolute Troopers
This type has a very strong work ethic. They are committed to the organisation, and being present at work is a way of demonstrating this. Since they have high expectations of themselves and find it 0difficult delegating, burnout is not uncommon for this type.

Genuine illness aside, using the Absence Typologies Framework can help managers to proactively manage absenteeism and analyse patterns to help understand how to better motivate and engage their workforce, and where intervention may be required.

For further information on how DHS can help you get a handle on employee absenteeism and foster an engaged and productive workforce, please contact us today.