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Autonomy and support from colleagues cut absenteeism rates among older workers

22 September 2017

Older clerical workers are less likely to be absent sick if their job allows them a degree of autonomy.

That is the conclusion of research published today in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology by Gregor Bouville (Dauphine University), Silvia Dello Russo (Instituto Universitario de Lisboa) and Donald Truxillo (Portland State University).

The researchers examined a sample of 5175 employees taken from the French National Survey of Employment Condition to measure the effect of five key job characteristics - job demands, autonomy, skill variety, supervisor and colleague support – in encouraging or discouraging; absenteeism as clerical and manual workers grew older.

Silvia Dello Russo said:

“Many health conditions may become more common with age, and older workers find some aspects of their jobs increasingly demanding, so you might expect absenteeism to become more common as they get older. But the picture we found was more complex than that.”

The researchers found that, while there was a trend for older workers to take more days off, there are factors that can slow this trend. Clerical workers who have more autonomy in their jobs have lower rates of absence, as do manual workers who receive good support from colleagues.

Good support from supervisors was associated with lower absence rates in younger workers, but was actually related to higher rates in older workers. A finding that may have to do with the type of relationship older and younger workers develop with their supervisors and that deserves further investigation.

Silvia Dello Russo said:

“The study of age in the workplace is extremely important and timely since the population in many countries across the world is ageing (Eurostat, 2016). Our research has implications for better understanding the needs of the age-diverse workforce, and how different job characteristics may meet the needs of workers of different ages, ultimately exerting an impact on their sickness absences. Our research could help practitioners to rethink work organization to better adapt it to the ageing workforce.”

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