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

Different countries have different tolerance for employees taking sick days, with Canada falling firmly in the middle. What does this mean for multi-cultural organisations?

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

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.” Globalisation and increasing cross-cultural interactions meant the study had ramifications beyond any one country’s borders.

“Organisations 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 New Zealand 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.

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