Calling in sick? Be glad you don’t live in Japan

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If you have an employee who calls in sick so often you worry about their immune system, you might want to suggest they move to India or Trinidad.

Those countries topped a recent study of countries’ acceptance of calling in sick. The John Molson School of Business study found India and Trinidad were most accepting, while calling in sick was least acceptable in Japan and the U.S.

Management professor Gary Johns was senior author of The legitimacy of absenteeism from work: a nine nation exploratory study, which aimed to investigate employees’ “perceptions of the legitimacy of absenteeism from a cross-national perspective.” Globalization and increasing cross-cultural interactions meant the study had ramifications beyond any one country’s borders.

“Organizations that attempt to develop corporate-wide attendance policies spanning national borders should take local norms and expectations concerning absenteeism into consideration,” Lead author Helena Addae said. “What’s normal for offices in Pakistan will not be the same for those in the U.S. Therefore, companies need to be culturally sensitive in establishing rules surrounding time off.”

Employers in Canada with employees from a range of cultural backgrounds could also come across some conflict stemming from different expectations and acceptance of sick days. Communicating policy and training first line managers can help reduce the impact of those differences.

“If you’re talking about multi-cultural expectations regarding attendance, I think it’s getting first-line managers to talk about this and stress the importance and the expectations while also being sensitive to support issues,” Johns said. Differences in local support systems such as family means each employee has different needs for time off so it’s important to judge by individual situations rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

The study, which was partly funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, also found there is a correlation between the degree to which absences are accepted and the rate of absenteeism. At the extreme end of the spectrum, Japanese respondents were least accepting of absence in the abstract, but were also least likely to hold absentees accountable.

  • Mark on 2013-10-17 1:15:07 PM

    Did I miss something in the article? Why is Japan singled out?

  • isabella on 2013-10-19 5:35:03 AM

    I worked for a Japanese based auto company for many years - they were absolutely intolerant of any missed time - sickness OR holidays. I rarely missed time from work for any reason...even vacations were frowned upon...I was given an extremely hard time about having to have emergency gall bladder surgery - they made me take the time off as vacation and challenged me that I needed three days off from work. they had heard that with "new" keyhole surgery, patients could return to work the next day.... So disrespectful of local staff... HR and the exec's were terrified of losing their own jobs so just went along with anything they wanted.

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