Unfair Treatment at Work Tied to Longer Sick Leave

Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are more likely to take longer and more frequent time off due to illness, according to a new study by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Stockholm University.

Previous research has found that taking time off for illness is often tied to negative circumstances in the work environment. For example, low job control and decision-making opportunities have been shown to increase the likelihood of sick leave.

A relatively new determinant of employee health is the employee’s perception of fairness in the workplace, known as organizational justice. In the new study, researchers focused on one element of this, called interactional justice, which directly connects to the treatment of employees by managers.

Interactional justice can be further broken down into two subtypes of fairness: informational justice (defined as receiving truthful and candid information with adequate justifications), and interpersonal justice (concerning respectful and dignified treatment by the manager).

For the study, the researchers from UEA’s Norwich Business School, the Stress Research Institute and the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University looked at data from more than 19,000 employees in Sweden.

They investigated the relationship between informational and interpersonal justice and long and frequent sickness absence. They also looked into whether times of high uncertainty at work, for example perceived job insecurity, had an effect on sick leave.

The findings show that lower levels of justice at work relate both to an increase in shorter, but more frequent sickness absence periods, and to an increased risk of longer sickness absence episodes, regardless of job insecurity and demographic variables of age, gender, socio-economic position, and marital status.

In fact, higher levels of job insecurity turned out to be an important predictor of long and frequent sickness absence.

“While shorter, but more frequent periods of sickness absence might be a chance for the individual to get relief from high levels of strain or stress, long-term sickness absence might be a sign of more serious health problems,” said co-author Dr. Constanze Eib, a lecturer in organizational behavior at Norwich Business School.

“Our results underline the need for fair and just treatment of employees irrespective of perceived job insecurity in order to keep the workforce healthy and to minimise lost work days due to sickness absence.”

The findings are published in the journal BMC Public Health.

“Perceived fairness at work is a modifiable aspect of the work environment, as is job insecurity,” said lead author Dr. Constanze Leineweber, from the Stress Research Institute.

“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.”

Source: University of East Anglia