Why Unfairness in the Workplace Means More Time Out Sick

Taking time off work for an illness is no fun for anyone. For the employee, it means a day filled with doctor appointments, aches, pains and worse. For the employer, it means valuable productivity lost and a disruption in work flow. There are several angles of attack in the battle for reducing sick time taken (improving self-care, better hours, hand-sanitizing stations at the office, etc.), but researchers are discovering more about how the relationship between staff and management has a role to play in the fight.

A new study published in BMC Public Health followed the findings from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Business School and the University of Stockholm’s Stress Research Institute and Department of Psychology as they delved deep into what factors affect sick leave. Using data from 19,000 Swedish employees, they found a clear relationship between higher incidents of sick leave and what is called interactional justice.

Organizational justice is a wide net that includes interactional justice and is defined by perception of fairness in the workplace. Interactional justice specifically relates to communication and relationships among staff. It can be broken down even further to an informational level (whether information shared with staff is true or candid) and an interpersonal level (treatment of staff by management-level employees).

The researchers found that lower rates of perceived justice in these areas correlated with more short, but frequent bouts of sick leave amongst employees, as well as more prolonged periods of sick leave. These results were the same when the study controlled for marital status, age, gender and socio-economic status. Even more compelling was the discovery that longer and more frequent sick absences were connected with a higher sense of job insecurity.

“Perceived fairness at work is a modifiable aspect of the work environment, as is job insecurity,” said Dr. Constanze Leineweber, lead author of the study. “Organisations have significant control over both and our results suggest that they may gain by investing or improving their policies and rules for fair treatment of their workforce and by improving job security.

Whether or not someone feels fairly treated can affect so many important aspects of life, and this research is a call to action for employers. Not only can improving fair treatment policies have a positive impact, but the authors also call for organizations to be mindful in their selection of people for management positions; choosing someone who practices fairness in their everyday interactions will likely be supportive of a company’s overall fairness mission.

There are many signs of a great workplace, but also signs that the work environment needs an upgrade. If you feel the setting is not supportive of your job and yourself as an employee, consider being assertive and asking that changes be made. Alternatively, if you feel you need to quit and find something better, do what’s right for you.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

38 comments

Marie W
Marie W9 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda M4 months ago

And if your job isn't even recognized as a job, forget about getting anything resembling sick leave or days off!

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Mike R
Mike R6 months ago

Thanks

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Anna R
Anna R6 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Maureen G
Maureen G6 months ago

A family member was treated very unfairly and while one can quit the job it isn't always easy to get another one in regional areas. This treatment at work eventually took its toll on the health of this family member with a very unhappy outcome.

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Jetana A
Jetana A6 months ago

A lot of my sick leave got used by "mental health days."

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Paulo R
Paulo R6 months ago

ty

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Lisa M
Lisa M6 months ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M6 months ago

Noted.

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Winn Adams
Winnie A6 months ago

Thanks

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