SOCIAL AND CULTURAL MODELS

Most of the other models of absence around which this chapter is organized are essentially individual-level models. That is, individual differences in demographic background, work attitudes, stress reactions, and health are purported to explain variations in attendance patterns. The limitations of this viewpoint are apparent when it is recognized that absenteeism and attendance are, respectively, the violation and fulfillment of social expectations that one party has for another.

One of the first descriptions of the social shaping of attendance patterns is seen in the work of Hill and Trist (1955), who showed how novice coal miners came to calibrate their attendance with that of their veteran colleagues. This early insight went largely unheeded until the limitations of individual demographic and attitudinal approaches became apparent. This resulted in a call for more social approaches to the study of absence (Chadwick-Jones, Nicholson, & Brown, 1982; Johns, 1984; Johns & Nicholson, 1982; Marcus & Smith, 1985; Nicholson & Johns, 1985). Since this mostly theoretical work was published, there has been a gradual accumulation of empirical evidence bearing on social influences on absence and attendance. In fact, if a new approach to absence can be said to have emerged during the review period, this is it. As Johns (1984) notes, this approach allows for a range of social influence from subtle social cues about acceptable attendance behavior to full blown, highly salient absence cultures with explicit norms and elaborate monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.

In what follows, I organize the reported research in an order that reflects increasing directness and confirmability of social influence on absence and attendance. That is, the order is meant to correspond to the extent to which alternative causes are less likely and 'black boxes' are replaced by explicit social mechanisms. Nevertheless, an ideal study would exhibit all of the features of this ascending hierarchy:

1. Between-unit differences in absenteeism.

2. Normative and other social correlates of absence.

3. Cross-level and multi-level effects in which attendance patterns at a higher level are mirrored in individual behavior.

 
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