Presence at work: developing a nuanced understanding of worker presenteeism within context

Saade, Nathalie J. (2019) Presence at work: developing a nuanced understanding of worker presenteeism within context. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The phenomenon of workplace ‘presenteeism’ is receiving scholarly attention across various disciplines and paradigms. The predominant conceptualization in organizational research refers to workers who are “attending work while ill” as opposed to being absent (Johns, 2010, p.521). Scholars are increasingly pointing to presenteeism as a key contemporary concern at work. One important argument is that further to developments in political economy and employment relations, workers are becoming “too scared to go sick” (Taylor et al., 2010, p.270). Presenteeism has been defined variably throughout the literature. This doctoral thesis traces conceptualizations of presenteeism across disciplines and argues for the value of considering nuances in workers’ experiences towards theoretical development of the construct.

The thesis employs a working definition of presenteeism by attending to intertextual coherence across the various conceptualizations in the literature (Locke & Golden-Biddle, 1997). Therefore, presenteeism is considered here as a ‘problematic state of presence’. The thesis extends Johns’s (2010) view that presenteeism is catalytic to developing the ‘grey area’ which exists between absenteeism and ‘full work engagement’. Attendance, therefore, can be parsimoniously represented as consisting of absence and ‘presence’ at work, the latter considered here as a more encompassing notion of ‘being at work’. The value of perspectives in absence research is introduced to show important arguments challenging assumptions of absence as a volitional and static event with equivalent meanings for workers (Johns & Nicholson, 1982). Instead, it is argued that absence events are phenomenologically unique, with meanings varying across situations and time (Johns & Nicholson, 1982; Patton & Johns, 2012).

The aim of the thesis is to develop an understanding of presenteeism within its organizational and societal contexts by exploring nuances in presence at work as experienced by workers. An understanding of the problematic, intermediate, ‘grey area’ of presenteeism then becomes an analytical, empirical, and reflexive exercise involving dialogue with data, literature, and theory. An interpretive qualitative approach is employed to study experiences of presence across seventy-five semi-structured interviews in the UK and Lebanese country contexts. The sample includes workers from various backgrounds (occupation, gender, age, industry, sector, skill and job levels). The findings from this research elucidate four distinct patterns of presence at work (‘timelines of presence’). The findings subsequently show determinants of these patterns at the organizational and societal levels in a cross-country analysis.

This thesis therefore develops a nuanced understanding of presenteeism within context. This contribution is significant in several ways. A conceptualization of ‘presenteeism’ is firmly anchored in the presence timeline as the ‘act of attending work unwell’ which has variable meanings, determined through the dialogic engagement between the data and the literature. Accounting for the complex nature of presenteeism in a comprehensive theory leads to novel insight in a dynamic typology of presenteeism at work. Four ideal types of presenteeism are introduced, distinct in meanings: conforming, obligatory, dedicated, and calculative presenteeism. Each type is explained with reference to clearly defined conceptual and theoretical boundary conditions (absence, presence, perceived volition in attending, and levels of work obligation). Further, the employee-organization relationship is the key determinant of the patterns of presence (and presenteeism) at work. A secondary contribution to attendance dynamics theory is in providing further insight into the relationship between absenteeism and presenteeism behaviours at work.

Therefore, harnessing worker voices which display the central role of well-being in attendance and a nuanced approach to understanding presence as well as absence, is an important step towards developing an understanding of presenteeism. Implications for management are critically discussed, with a focus on fostering perceived fairness and clarity in the employee-organization relationship. Consistent with a mutual gains approach, a stronger focus on promoting well-being at work by managing the employment relationship is emphasized (Guest, 2017). The thesis also introduces avenues for further research on presenteeism, sensitive to nuances in behaviours and their meanings.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Jain, Aditya K.
Korczynski, Marek
Cai, Ziming
Keywords: presenteeism, absenteeism, presence, typology, employee-organization relationship, qualitative approach, comparative approach
Subjects: H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Nottingham University Business School
Item ID: 56783
Depositing User: Saade, Nathalie
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2019 09:36
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2023 15:23

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