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Culture plays big role in absenteeism, study finds

Depending on your culture determines if you feel it’s acceptable for you to call in sick or be absent from work for other reasons.

Brad Killer/iStockphoto

Attitudes towards absenteeism at work vary widely from country to country and it behooves companies to be sensitive to these differences in setting time-off policies, says a new study.

The research paper published in the International Journal of Cross Cultural Management found that views regarding absenteeism are more influenced by cultural factors than by individual employees' attitudes.

Overall, the study – conducted in nine countries by researchers at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business – found that respondents from Pakistan, India and Trinidad consider absenteeism most acceptable, while those from the United States, Ghana and Japan have the least tolerant attitude toward booking time off.

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The research was based on responses from 1,535 employees working mostly in large multinationals in the consumer products and technology sectors.

One question asked respondents to say how many days over the past six months they were absent from scheduled work for any reason, including illness and personal reasons. The lowest mean average number was 1.49 days for Japan and the highest was 8.20 days for India.

Canada falls roughly in the middle of the pack, at 4.76 days.

The others are:

U.S.: 1.67

Mexico: 1.87

Nigeria: 2.87

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Trinidad: 3.05

Ghana: 3.72

Pakistan: 4.99

The study did not examine, or speculate on, what percentage of the self-reported days off were not legitimate.

"I don't think people in one country are more inclined than in another to 'pull a sickie' as they say in Australia," said Gary Johns, Concordia management professor and a senior researcher on the paper.

It makes sense, however, that some developing economies would show higher absenteeism rates than developed countries, he said. "There are more reasons to be absent in emerging economies. The infrastructure can be poor and gender differentiation higher, such that a spouse can't easily sub for somebody," for example in cultures where the husband staying at home to care for the kids is frowned upon.

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"Organizations that attempt to develop corporate-wide attendance policies spanning national borders should take local norms and expectations concerning absenteeism into consideration," said lead author Helena Addae, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

"Although our research does not suggest there are national cultures that condone absence, it does suggest that there are differing degrees of perceived legitimacy to be considered when making policy."

The research also singles out big sports events as a factor exacerbating absenteeism.

"Most of the countries in our survey have avid football supporters. In the 2010 World Cup football games, it was estimated that 80 per cent of the world's population and 70 per cent of Mexican employees would watch the games; causing significant football-related absenteeism worldwide."

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