Too scared to go sick?

Recently the Industrial Relations Journal published an article entitled “Too scared to go sick? The management and the manifestations of workplace attendance in the food retail sector” written by Anastasios Hadjisolomou (2016). Conducting several case studies in the UK and Cyprus, Hadjisolomou seeks to answer the question of how firms in the retail sector ensure cooperation of their staff with regard to attendance. Hadjisolomou refers to an earlier article from Taylor et al., 2010, in which the authors argued that many organisations have embedded a strict absence control regime as an integral element of their labour cost reduction strategies. As Hadjisolomou emphasizes in the discussion of his study, his results parallel Taylor et al.’s findings:

“Despite the differences in formality and the drivers of coercion, the data shows that employees across all four cases were indeed ‘scared to go sick’ (Taylor et al., 2010). Overall, the management across the four case study organisations attempted, as Taylor et al. (2010, p.283) conclude, ‘to solve the problem of the indeterminacy of labour’s attendance [emphasis original] through coercion rather than consensus’.” (p. 430).

This, however, is not the full story. Hadjisolomou also highlights that attendance “was also managed through cooperation and accommodation” (p. 430). In this sense, management did not only employ a coercive approach to force attendance. Particularly shop floor managers also emphasized the prevention of absence, using “flexible practices, such as shift swaps; notice to line managers; early leave; late starts; unpaid leave and a one/two-hour break, to accommodate employees’ circumstances outside work, encouraging attendance through accommodation and cooperation” (p. 428). In this sense, the front line managers attempted to accommodate the workers’ and the organization’s interests (at least to some degree) and not simply enforced attendance using managerial power.

According to Hadjisolomou the combination between coercion and cooperation, hence, punishing absence (i.e. the stick) and accommodating to the needs of employees (i.e. the carrot) constitutes a dual approach to absence prevention. “A plausible explanation to this is that management are aware of the need to combine punitive measures with practices that can sustain possible cooperation within the workplace” (p. 430). Following other authors, Hadjisolomou argues that creating and maintaining a certain amount of cooperation is necessary in order to ensure constant performance from labour, i.e. value-creation. Therefore, the firms in this study developed a “hybrid absence management regime, which balances coercion and cooperation” (p. 430).


Hadjisolomou, A. (2016) Too scared to go sick? The management and the manifestations of workplace attendance in the food retail sector. Industrial Relations Journal, 47: 417–433. doi: 10.1111/irj.12148.

Taylor, P., I. Cunningham, K. Newsome and D. Scholarios (2010), ‘Too scared to go sick’-reformulating the research agenda on sickness absence’, Industrial Relations Journal, 270–288

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