Manager’s behavior may affect absenteeism during reorganizations

Substantial changes in the organization/workplace may increase absenteeism among employees. However the managers can influence these transitional phases by their leadership.

Researcher Vilde Hoff Bernstrøm from the Labour Department (Arbeidsinstituttet) has in her doctoral thesis studied hospitals that have been through organizational changes, and she found increased long-term sick leave as an unwanted effect.

In the study Bernstrøm made findings that reveal that the way we execute leadership has an impact on sick leave, especially with regards to middle management. Middle management is responsible for implementing the changes and they are the main communication channel to the employees.

In the study clear findings emerged with regards to leadership affecting absenteeism:

  • Leadership behavior with strong demands on loyalty to the top management has a higher degree of absenteeism. Managers who are able to create some space and flexibility in their own departments and limit the negative consequences of reorganization will experience a lower degree of absenteeism.
  • Social support and care alone does not reduce absenteeism. The study shows that managers that show support, but avoid the “difficult conversations” are perceived as more tolerant of absences. The absence consequently increases.
  • Close monitoring/follow-up of employees reduced absenteeism. Being in dialogue with the employees and having the courage to have the difficult conversations is the hallmark of leadership that provides reduced absenteeism. If the manager provides support, and closely follow up the employees tasks it affects the absenteeism positively. The employees will experience to be seen, being supported and getting feedback on their work tasks.

In short Bernstrøm highlights the importance of recognizing that a manager’s behavior has impact on absenteeism. The managers know his/her department and employees the best and if provided with some leeway they have the opportunity to implement the changes in the best possible way.