The purpose of this paper is to examine and report how the construct of “Well-being” is being recognised within the public services. Using research conducted in a northern provincial police force in the UK the paper explores the issues that may contribute to sickness absence, presenteeism and leaveism; a recently described manifestation of workload overload. As sweeping public sector reform results in reduced workforce and potentially static demand, the question asked here is, “how do organisations adapt to the shifting landscape and retain employee engagement in the workplace?”
The study used A Short Stress Evaluation Tool to assess the risk of stress in the workforce. The questionnaire employed an online self-administered survey and collected data from 155 respondents on stress perceptions, health, attitude towards the organisation, job satisfaction and commitment to the organisation.
Sickness absence figures receive detailed attention when it comes to managing employees, but they may not represent a reliable picture. In this study one-third of respondents indicated that they had taken leave when they had actually been ill or injured; leaveism. The concept of leaveism does not currently appear within sickness absence reporting mechanisms, and the authors would suggest that the omission of this concept leaves a lacuna in current thinking that may have significant impact on both individual and organisational performance.
This research clearly shows that the issue of leaveism is a valid concept and has potentially far-reaching consequences. This study has only touched on the first (of three) of the leaveism behaviours and is conducted solely in a policing environment (although non-warranted employees are included in the research cohort). Further research could include attempts to quantify elements two and three of leaveism, and explore to what extent these may impact on organisations undergoing public sector reform.
Previous studies have highlighted the negative health effects on “stayers” in public sector downsizing exercises. This in turn raises the question of just how these “survivors” cope with the new regime; with potentially more work and less pay. The authors ask what behaviour cuts of this magnitude will eventually drive when the dust settles? As a consequence could the authors see an end to the practice of leaveism? In which case the authors could make the assumption that (in its first form) it may convert to sickness absenteeism? With a third of people surveyed conceding to the practice, this has far-reaching consequences. In comparison to presenteeism, which has no overt costs, this scenario presents an entirely different fiscal proposition.
Leaveism, a recently described and under researched phenomenon, is a hidden source of potential abstractions from the workplace, and could impact enormously on organisational effectiveness. The motivation for the practice is unclear, and could be a manifestation of loyalty, enjoyment or duty. It could also be construed as a reaction to fear of job loss, redundancy or down grade. Whatever the underlying reason this study clearly illustrates the potentially harmful consequences to (public sector) organisations.
Hesketh, I., L. Cooper, C. and Ivy, J. (2014), "Leaveism and public sector reform: will the practice continue?", Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 205-212. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOEPP-03-2014-0012
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