Stop a Sick Day In Its Tracks

Feb. 23, 2012
Managers and supervisors can use this simple technique to help stop an employee sick day before it happens: Let a stressed-out worker know you care by offering supportive treatment.

Workers under a lot of stress may experience headaches, stomach pains or fatigue, which could result in taking sick leave. According to a new study from the University of Haifa, supervisors who offer support to the stressed employee may succeed in helping the worker feel better and able to stay at work.

The United States loses approximately $225.8 billion a due to absenteeism, making this a big issue for the American work force.

"With the enormous economic losses due to absenteeism and with this still being a poorly understood phenomenon, the results of this new study are shedding light on those factors influencing sickness absence and which can be considered in the effort to reduce the losses without compromising work ethic and commitment," explained lead study author Michal Biron, Ph.D., of the University of Haifa's Graduate School of Management.

Earlier studies have shown that employees facing stress at work develop psychological strain that translates into physiological symptoms. Biron set out to examine what interpersonal workplace dynamics may influence the worker's burnout symptoms and whether those dynamics have an effect on when the individual ultimately takes sick leave to recover.

Making a Difference

Researchers examined a sample group of 241 workers in a manufacturing enterprise in China. The supervisor-employee distance in the China work force provided researchers with a particularly relevant context to examine the role of supervisor support relating to absenteeism.

Workers were asked to report on common somatic symptoms, such as headaches or muscle soreness, that they experienced over the past month and to indicate how often their supervisor provided them with emotional and instrumental support once they experienced physical symptoms of stress.

The study results suggest that support from a supervisor when an employee is experiencing psychosomatic symptoms of the stress can make a real difference. When the boss offers support in the form of a lightened workload or stress management training, workers feel more inclined to reciprocate the supportive treatment by keeping their work effort high – and by staying at work.

"The worker who is given this sort of support is more likely to overcome the somatic stress and continue to work productively, leaving recovery for the normal after-work hours when we recharge our batteries," said Biron.

While stressed workers who do not receive this sort of support from the boss might stay at work out of fear for their positions, this is not a sustainable solution. These workers will be less likely to shake their symptoms, which means they eventually will need to take more sick time.

Coworkers can play a role, too: Early support from coworkers, just when an employee begins experiencing stress, can help reduce the likelihood of that employee needing to take sick leave.

"We see from this study that employers can provide concrete support for employees experiencing somatic stress symptoms, but can also encourage coworkers to support one another in the first place and minimize the effects triggered by their workload," Biron said.

The study will be published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Webinar: ISO 45001 – A Commitment to Occupational Health, Safety & Personal Wellness

May 30, 2024
Secure a safer and more productive workplace using proven Management Systems ISO 45001 and ISO 45003.

ISO 45003 – Psychological Health and Safety at Work

May 30, 2024
ISO 45003 offers a comprehensive framework to expand your existing occupational health and safety program, helping you mitigate psychosocial risks and promote overall employee...

DH Pace, national door and dock provider, reduces TRIR and claims with EHS solution

May 29, 2024
Find out how DH Pace moved from paper/email/excel to an EHS platform, changing their culture. They reduced TRIR from 4.8 to 1.46 and improved their ability to bid on and win contracts...

Case Study: Improve TRIR from 4+ to 1 with EHS Solution and Safety Training

May 29, 2024
Safety training and EHS solutions improve TRIR for Complete Mechanical Services, leading to increased business. Moving incidents, training, and other EHS procedures into the digital...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!