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Presenteeism as a global phenomenon: unraveling the psychosocial mechanisms from the perspective of social cognitive theory

Cary L Cooper ( University of Manchester Manchester United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland )
Luo Lu ( National Taiwan University Taipei Taiwan )

Cross Cultural & Strategic Management

ISSN: 2059-5794

Article publication date: 12 March 2016




Presenteeism occurs when people are physically present in the workplace but are functionally absent (Cooper, 1996). With evidence from the developed West, researchers have argued that being excessively present may be even costlier than absenteeism to employers (Burton, Chen, Conti, Schultz, & Edington, 2006; Hemp, 2004). However, research on presenteeism in the East is almost non-existent. With the strong Confucius cultural imperative for hard work, the prevailing pressure for working long hours, compounded with the lack of labor welfare protection at the national level and lack of resources at the organizational level in SMEs, the problem of presenteeism in the developing Asian societies may be exacerbated (c.f., Bockerman & Laukkanen, 2010), making it a worthy subject for cross-cultural research and subsequent intervention. Thus one purpose of this article is to situate this problem in a global context, using the Chinese tradition as a cultural exemplar.


Furthermore, most of the existing studies on presenteeism have overlooked the underlying psychological process of such an act: why do people decide to work while sick? Thus, our second goal in this article is to outline a conceptual framework that attempts to explain central, dynamic processes and mechanisms through which people ascribe meanings to the situation, make decisions to come to work when ill, and attempt to achieve performance outcomes.


In formulating this scheme, we drew primarily from Bandura’s (1986) social cognitive theory (SCT) and tried to adapt, elaborate, and extend those aspects of the general theory that seemed most relevant to the basic personal experiences of presenteeism.


We have outlined a social cognitive conceptual framework, to facilitate theory integration in the field of presenteeism research. To systematically examine key mechanisms delineated in the overarching theoretical framework that accounts for the intricate relationships among self-regulation, presenteeism, and performance, we were able to bridge social cognitive psychological processes with organizational research on the global phenomenon of presenteeism. The thrust of using theoretical development to lead empirical investigation in this emerging field may also enable better managerial interventions to promote occupational health and employee development.


Cooper, C.L. and Lu, L. (2016), "Presenteeism as a global phenomenon: unraveling the psychosocial mechanisms from the perspective of social cognitive theory", Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, Vol. 23 No. 2.



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