SIOP Members’ Research Explores Warm-Weather Withdrawal
By Stephany Schings Below, Communications Manager
As the summer season officially begins, vacations, parties, and other leisure activities can be a tempting respite from work for many employees. However, for some employees it can also have a negative effect on work attendance, according to recent research by three SIOP members.
Investigations into employee absenteeism have generally focused on the psychological factors behind missing work, but during their research SIOP members David Fried and Sean Robinson, both PhD candidates at Ohio University, their faculty advisor and SIOP Fellow Rodger Griffeth, and Arizona State University professor and SIOP Fellow Peter Hom wanted to focus on an environmental condition: the weather.
By evaluating weather favorability based on a comprehensive rating of several weather-related conditions, such as precipitation and humidity, the group found, as hypothesized, that absenteeism increases at both ends of the weather spectrum, with employees more likely to miss work during both poor weather conditions and favorable ones. Further, the group’s research showed that those employees with least satisfaction in their jobs were more likely to be absent during very favorable and very unfavorable weather.
“Like previous studies, we found that for the most inclement weather the probability of absenteeism is elevated; but, unlike previous studies, we found that as the weather becomes highly favorable for outdoor leisure activities, there is also an elevated chance of absenteeism among employees. Such findings show support for a U-shaped relationship between weather and absenteeism,” Robinson explained.
The research was presented as a poster in April at the 25th Annual SIOP Conference in Atlanta.
Weather conditions have been widely speculated to influence work attendance but have nonetheless received little research attention, Robinson explained. The first study to investigate a direct link between weather patterns and attendance was performed by S. J. Pocock in 1972, which examined the relationship between sickness absence and temperature on a sample of male manual workers. After the elimination of seasonal trends, Pocock found the attendance rate was related to the previous week’s occurrence of absence due to upper respiratory illness and the average maximum temperature 2 weeks beforehand. Two subsequent studies confirmed the negative linear relationship between temperature and absenteeism.
However, a 2005 study showed a U-shaped relationship between temperature and absenteeism (Markham, S. E., & Markham, I. S. . Biometeological effects on worker absenteeism. International Journal of Biometeorology, 49, 317–324). This effect showed absenteeism increasing at either extreme of temperatures.
Fried, Robinson, Griffeth and Hom decided to determine whether their research would confirm this U-shaped correlation. The group proposed that employees are more likely to miss work during favorable weather conditions because of the increased availability of desirable nonwork pursuits, such as gardening, hunting, and sporting activities.
In the only study to explicitly test a good weather leisure hypothesis such as this, Robinson said, researchers Coleman and Schaefer (2009) hypothesized that warm temperatures and high amounts of sunshine increase absenteeism but did not find support for a U-shaped relationship between temperature and weather (only low temperatures were related to absenteeism), nor did they find support for a link between sunshine and attendance. Robinson and his group thought these findings may be attributed to the omission of several weather variables Coleman and Schafer did not consider.
To provide a more valid test of the relationship between weather and attendance, the group used a more comprehensive measure of weather conditions, the Tourism Climactic Index (TCI). TCI is a widely used, validated quantitative rating system that measures ideal conditions for leisure activities. It is specifically used in the tourism industry and, in addition to temperature and sunshine, TCI scores reflect the influence of several other variables, including relative humidity, wind speed, and precipitation. High TCI scores reflect more favorable conditions for leisure, including warm temperatures, low humidity, no precipitation, and a slight breeze, whereas low scores reflect poor weather conditions, such as cold temperatures, precipitation, and strong winds.
“The previous studies simply measured temperature, but they didn’t take into account winds, humidity, or any other weather factors,” Robinson explained. “The reason our study is stronger is that the original study used snow, and subsequent weather studies only used sunshine and temperature. We used a more objective measure of weather that allowed us to scientifically measure weather in a way that considers a variety of biometeorological data. Using the TCI allows us to capture the weather days that are “ideal” for outdoor leisure activities.”
The group then assigned TCI scores to weather data they had obtained from the National Weather Service and compared it to attendance data for 234 nurses in the Cleveland area over a 354-day period to determine if there were any correlations between absences and weather conditions.
Their study found that higher absenteeism did occur during good weather. Furthermore, the group speculated that good weather would magnify the desire to be absent from work in dissatisfied workers. Indeed, their research showed that dissatisfied employees were even more likely to be absent from work during good weather. Robinson said the U-shaped correlation should show organizations’ management that favorable weather conditions can interact with job attitudes such as job satisfaction and influence attendance.
“It supports the idea that good weather serves as a gatekeeper that allows dissatisfied employees to act on their desire to escape work,” he said.
The hypothesis that dissatisfied employees will be more likely to be absent from work could relate to the idea that an employee’s level of engagement in their work will determine how likely they are to become distracted or tempted by favorable weather, said SIOP member Thomas Britt, a professor in the Clemson University Psychology Department. Britt said more engaged employees, who are also more likely to be satisfied with their work, are not as easily distracted by the weather.
“Highly engaged employees care about their work performance and believe was they are doing is important,” he said. “Engaged employees take personality responsibility for their job performance, and therefore become more absorbed in their work. Although I would not say that people who are engaged in their work do not notice the weather, they could be so absorbed with what they are doing that they are less likely to be tempted to miss work for it.”
In one study he performed with SIOP member Paul Bliese in 2003, Britt observed soldiers on a deployment in Bosnia, measuring the environmental stressors, the uncomfortable living conditions, temperature, and other stressors the soldiers encountered.
“We found that when people were not engaged in their work, those negative factors led to physical symptoms and negative well-being,” Britt said. “But when people were engaged in their work, the effect was weaker. The people who were highly engaged were focused on their work and really there was not enough attention to think about those other things.”
What can employers do to keep employees engaged? Anything you can do to increase engagement would be helpful in reducing absenteeism, Britt said. For example, in another study, he observed a group of soldiers on a medical mission to Kazakhstan.
“There was a lot of stress associated with the mission,” he said. “All of the soldiers were very committed to what they were doing. One of the things we observed with that example is that even though they reported that things were more stressful than they thought they would be, their physical symptoms didn’t increase. We attributed that to the fact that they were doing meaningful work during the mission, so really anything that highlights and can get employees focused on the importance of their work would theoretically reduce the likelihood that they would stray or be absent.”
Britt said four aspects of a job are important to engagement: guidelines, personal control over job, making sure what employees do is relevant to their training, and identity.
“When those things are present they will be more engaged in their work,” he said