Diversity Management

The Importance of Organizational Diversity Cues in Reducing Employee Absenteeism

The cost of absenteeism is estimated at $200 – $700 per employee, per day absent.  With numbers like these, it’s no secret that every employer has a vested interest in keeping missed workdays to a minimum.  In some cases, chronic absenteeism can be a precursor to turnover, another costly organizational problem.  Several studies have been consistent in their findings that black employees are more likely to be absent than white employees.  Until now, few have addressed the issue of why this is happening. Perceived support from the organization and its members plays an important role in determining who is more likely to miss work.  Employees who feel supported by their organization feel obliged to return the favor, which results in higher job satisfaction and commitment to the organization, as well as reduced absenteeism and turnover. Perceived support by one’s supervisor is also a key component because the supervisor is seen as a personification of the organization. The race discrepancy in absenteeism may be explained by the fact that black employees often perceive their work environments to be less supportive than white employees. One study showed that black employees are more likely than whites to experience discrimination and endure a less supportive work environment.

Implications for Organizations

Employees’ perceptions of the organization’s support for diversity are key. If a black employee perceives that his or her organization places a high value on diversity, he or she will perceive that the organization will be more supportive of minorities in general – “more support for diversity means more support for me.” A high perceived organizational value of diversity decreases the discrepancy between black and white absenteeism levels. In addition, consistent messages about the value placed on diversity are paramount. Black employees are more likely to be absent when they perceive that the organization places a low value on diversity, but not if employees had a same-race supervisor. These findings indicate that mixed messages about the value that an organization places on diversity can be detrimental. These findings underscore the importance of emphasizing an organization’s value of diversity to employees.

Practical Suggestions

Some suggestions to increase employee perceptions of the value your organization places on diversity:
  • Devote resources to ensure that diversity is being managed effectively.
  • Establish a system of accountability for ensuring diversity promotion – make managers accountable for the success of diversity initiatives.
  • Ensure equal access to networking and mentoring opportunities for all employees.
  • Use Management by Objectives (MBO) or succession plans to ensure development opportunities and promotions exist for minority employees.
  • Conduct diversity audits.
  • Provide high quality diversity training for employees.
  • Target efforts to recruit minorities.
  • Promote practices emphasizing equal opportunity.
Although this study focused primarily on black-white differences, other work has found that a low perceived value of diversity was related to higher turnover intentions across all groups, including majority groups. This indicates that diversity promotion within your organization is important for improving employee perceptions and improving employee commitment to the organization for all groups of employees.

Interpretation by:

Michelle Toelle

DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Avery D. R. McKay, P. F., Wilson, D.C. Tonidandel, S. (2007). Unequal attendance: The relationships between race, organizational diversity cues, and absenteeism, Personnel Psychology, 60, 875-902.