ABSENTEEISM IN I N D U S T R Y K. G. DESAI* Introduction....
Introduction.—Absenteeism and indebted-
But it becomes uneconomical as the
ness are regarded as two chronic problems management may be required to pay these
of our industries. Among many employers workers on other days when they cannot be
there is an awareness of the importance of given any work,; In the textile mills of
these problems, but there appears to be a Bombay their managements have introduced
pessimistic—'nothing can be done about a Badli system in which a permanent cadre
them'—attitude about tackling these
of workers is maintained by the individual
problems. Hence there are no whole-hearted textile mills. These workers substitute for
attempts to minimize the extent of these the absentee workers and are paid for
problems. In this paper an attempt will be whatever work they do (i.e. they do not get
made to understand the nature and causes paid for the days on which they do not
of absenteeism and towards that end it may work). These 'Badli' workers are usually
be possible for us to suggest some remedial unskilled workers and they cannot replace
measures. But before understanding the the semi-skilled or the skilled workers. So
nature and causes of absenteeism let us be even in these textile mills absenteeism
clear about the meaning of the term among the skilled and semi-skilled workers
is a problem. The remedial measures would
consist of attempting to find out the causes
There have been many definitions of of this phenomenon and then something
absenteeism but the most appropriate one could be done to remove them.
appears to be as follows:—'Failure of a
worker to report for work when he is
During the last few years with the
scheduled to work'. An employee is to be introduction of Employees' State Insurance
regarded as absent when he fails to report Scheme, the absence of the workers appears
to duty and it presupposes that there is work to have increased. It is claimed that the
waiting for him. This definition excludes panel doctors knowingly or unknowingly are
'leave' which the workers enjoy with the increasing absenteeism. A worker can
consent of the management. And late always approach his panel doctor and ask
attendance for work will be regarded as for a sickness certificate. And the doctors
absence (for that period).
many a time appear to oblige the workers.
Anyway, the employers are making an issue
Absenteeism poses a serious problem for out of it. Rather than facing the problem
many industries. It often results in loss of they are content with making a scapegoat
production, increase in the cost of production out of E.S.I. and the panel doctors.
and other inconveniences. For a cost-
conscious management it is an important
Patterns of Absenteeism.—While attempt-
problem. Sometimes the management may ing to study the problem of absenteeism it
make some arrangements for replacements. is essential to know its pattern in a
*Mr. Desai is Lecturer in Psychology, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Chembur,

particular industry. This pattern may differ and research only we have to ascertain the
from industry to industry, from city to city causes that are operative in a specific
and from country to country. We may find industry.
that in an industry absenteeism is more THE SOCIO-CULTURAL FACTORS AFFECTING
in one or a few departments only. It may be
observed that absenteeism is more during
the 2nd shift (it is more). It may be possible
The Socio-cultural background of
that absenteeism is more on certain dates in workers is an important determinant of
a month (notably after pay-days), or on behaviour. To understand the behaviour of
certain days in a week (it is observed that a worker it is necessary to understand his
absenteeism increases on the day following Socio-cultural background. Ours is an
the weekly off). It is quite possible that under-developed country though now we are
absenteeism increases during certain seasons developing at a rapid rate. The workers
(the monsoon, the Ganpati festival, the that we require for our industries are often
pooja festival, the Holi festival and so on). drawn from villages. They migrate to
On the other hand, we may observe that cities out of compulsion—for survival.
absenteeism may not have any fixed These workers are not accustomed to the
pattern but is confined to a few individuals rigours of city life. To them the life in the
only. Our course of action will then have city is drab, dull and un-inspiring. These
to be very different for different patterns. workers have a longing to go back to their
The measures that we propose to take, will villages. And on slightest pretext they do
have to take into account the pattern of go back to their villages. This can be one
of the causes of absenteeism.
Causes of Absenteeism.—For any social
Secondly, many of the workers belong to
phenomenon like absenteeism we should the joint families and many of their family
never expect to find a single cause or a members are staying at their native places.
single factor. As is true of all social These workers send a portion of their
phenomena a single effect is preceded by a earnings regularly at their native places.
multiplicity of causes. These various causes They also like to go back to their 'folks'
or factors together contribute towards the occasionally. This may be one of the reasons
final effect. Some causes may make more as to why the workers frequently go back
contribution whereas some may make to their native places.
insignificant contribution.
Thirdly, ours is a culture of festivals.
Especially in our villages many festivals
These factors can be grouped under three are celebrated with great enthusiasm. The
headings: (i) Socio-Cultural factors affecting workers who have cherished the childhood
the individual worker, (ii) Job-related memories of these festivals like to go back
factors and (iii) Other difficulties of the to their villages during these festivals. For
individual workers.
example, the Ganpati festival and the Holi
We are attempting to list the various festival are important for the workers from
causes. This list may not be exhaustive. And the coastal districts of Maharashtra
it is not claimed that all these causes will be (Ratnagiri, Kolaba & Thana) who comprise
operative in a particular industry. We are a large proportion of Textile Workers in
only stating that some of these causes would Bombay City. And during these festivals
be operative in some industries. By research many textile workers go to their native

places and absenteeism increases. This reasons, they choose to remain absent—or
may be still another reason why the workers pretend that they are sick and produce a
like to go back to their native places.
medical certificate.
Fourthly, many families of workers have
These are some of the Socio-cultural
their lands at the native place. In the factors operating on the individual workers.
monsoon season they raise the crops. For We can find out whether these factors are
this "purpose they require help—financial operative in a particular industry or not.
and manual. And many workers go back to If we find that absenteeism increases during
their native places during monsoon seasons— certain seasons only then we can say that
at the beginning and towards the end. the Socio-cultural factors are at work.
Speaking of Socio-cultural factors I would
like to record a curious observation made
The Job-Related Factors.—A worker
in the mining industry. There it was spends about 8/9 hours on his job every day
observed that when the pay scales were (weekly offs & holidays excepted). The
increased absenteeism also increased It remaining 15/16 hours are spent outside the
appeared that the workers did not need so factory—in his home, neighbourhood etc.
much extra money and this they spent on For the sake of convenience we have divided
booze. So rather than going to work and the life of the worker into two compart-
obtaining more money they preferred to ments—the life inside the place of work
retain the same standard of living and and life outside the place of work. But we
spend all the extra earnings on drinks.
have to realise that these two compartments
are not watertight. In fact the two do
This fact was also noted among labourers influence each other. The worker's
working in the Bombay Port Trust Docks. life outside his job may influence his
There when the Piece Rate system was performance on job and vice versa. In other
introduced many workers started getting words, the satisfactions that the worker
double the salary. Some of these workers, derives from his job and his frustrations to
then, would work only for 15/20 days to some extent influence the satisfactions and
earn the previously earned salary and then frustrations outside the job—in his home
they would stay away from work. They had life and Social life.
no desire for more money. So sometimes
financial incentives might create other
We will now consider the conditions on
problems such as these.
the job that might contribute to his
Some of our illiterate rural workers have absenteeism. As a general rule we can say
low level of economic aspirations and they that if the worker does not like the job he
would prefer to relax and take it easy, after is doing, then he will try to stay away from
being sure of having earned a salary the job as often as he can. But since the
sufficient to make both ends meet. This is job is also fetching him money which he
another Socio-cultural factor operating in requires for his survival and well being he
industries where the labourers are from is compelled to be present at the job. These
tribal groups.
two forces act upon him and pull him in the
opposite direction. Both these forces are
So we observe that for various reasons the operative on him at the same time.
workers are going back to their native places
or staying away from work. And since they
Now let us consider the aspects of the job
cannot get authorised leave for these various which the worker may not like:

Firstly, we have to point out that many than the unskilled workers, presumably
of our workers with their rural background because they take more pride in their work.
are accustomed to work in the open air and
These are some of the job-related factors
clear sunshine in the villages. They do not contributing to absenteeism. But to what
like to work in a confined, noisy, ill-lit and extent these can be operative in a country
ill-ventilated work place in the industries like ours ? Ours is an over-populated
(this is true of many Textile Mills in country. There is unemployment among
Bombay). The contrast between the two is illiterate workers and also among the
too glaring. For this reason the workers literates. In such a situation there is bound
may not like to work in such industries.
to be insecurity about the job. For survival
Secondly, the work which they were and for his own well-being the worker has
doing in their native places was meaningful to earn his salary and stick to his job. So
and interesting. The work which now they he cannot afford to be absent from the job.
are compelled to do in the factories is dull, He may not work with enthusiasm or may
monotonous and uninteresting. The nature work with less efficiency but he will come
of work is often not meaningful enough for to work regularly if he feels insecure in the
the worker.
job. So among our unskilled workers these
job-related factors may not be important.
Thirdly, the supervisor under whom he But among the skilled workers these factors
is working is an important contributor to his may be more important. They are not so
job satisfaction. A supervisor can make the insecure about their jobs and they are more
worker's life miserable in the job. What sort sensitive to job conditions and to supervision.
of adjustment a worker is able to make with So when we are thinking of the importance
his supervisor to some extent contributes to of job-related factors in absenteeism we must
his job satisfaction. In some studies it was know the type of workers that are involved
observed that there was much dissatisfac-
in absenteeism.
tion with supervision among the high
Now let us consider the other difficulties
of the individual workers.
Fourthly, the relationship with the co-
workers also plays in important role in his
Difficulties of the workers.-Here we will
job satisfaction. The companionship on the consider the health problems of the workers
job may act as a balm to the miserable life and their families, other domestic difficulties
in the workshop. A worker derives much of the workers, indebtedness among the
satisfaction from his job when he is working workers and other such factors.
in a congenial group of workers.
Firstly, let us consider the health of the
And lastly, the type of job which the worker as one of the contributors to
worker holds is also an important contributor absenteeism. In order to perform the work
to his job satisfactions. If the work is efficiently the worker must be in good
adequately suited the worker being neither health. And in order to be present on the
underqualified nor over qualified—the
job and work with at least marginal
chances are that the worker would be more efficiency he must be free from ill-health.
satisfied with his job. The worker who takes A sick worker is compelled to stay away
more pride in his work has more job from his job. So in order to attend his job
satisfaction. It has been observed that skilled regularly the worker must enjoy reasonably
workers are more satisfied with their jobs good health. There are many factors which

contribute to the ill-health of the worker. and it may not be possible for the worker
Inadequate and unnourishing food,
to board the train or to get down at the
congested home, lack of adequate ventilation destination. One is compelled to wait for
and lighting, etc. are some of these factors a long time in queues if one decides to
which contribute to the ill-health of the travel by bus. Shift duties may pose
worker. And looking at our workers' additional transport problems. A worker
residences we find that they are staying in finishing his duties at mid-night may not be
over-crowded, ill-ventilated and over-
able to reach his home by morning due to
congested homes. Looking at their homes lack of trains or buses. A worker who is
one may start wondering as to how they expected to start his work at mid-night may
survive at all. Anyway, poor health of our be compelled to reach the place of work
workers is an important contributor to much earlier for the same reasons. Some
absenteeism. But it is observed that many studies have indicated that absenteeism is
a time ill-health is the apparent reason for more among workers who are staying far
absence. A worker may want to stay away away from the factory.
for some other reasons. But he dare not give
Besides there are also other domestic
the real reason because it may not be chores which our worker has to attend. In
accepted by the management so he is our culture, specially in the lower classes from
compelled to produce a sick certificate to which we get a majority of factory
justify his absence. Now-a-days he may workers, the women folk are still expected
take help of his panel doctor (of E.S.I. to be in their home. They may not go to
Scheme) to do so. But ill-health of the market place to make purchases. They may
worker is often the stated reason for his not go to Rationing Offices to secure
absence. And whenever it is given as a ration-cards. They will not go to ration-
reason for absence it is essential to probe shops to purchase grains. The worker
deeper into the matter.
himself may be compelled to do all these
Another contributor to absenteeism is the tasks. And for these reasons he may be
poor health of his family members. When compelled to stay away from his job. The
the wife of the worker or one of his children point is that we must be aware of the
is sick, the worker may be compelled to difficulties of the workers and if manage-
stay away from work. Because he may be ment is able to solve these difficulties it may
required to attend to the sick person, to be possible to reduce absenteeism.
bring his medicine and assist in other
Another important contributor to absen-
domestic chores. This is another stated teeism is indebtedness. It has been observed
reason for his absence and this also requires that many a time the two go together, A
careful scrutiny.
worker may be indebted for some obvious
Still another contributor to absenteeism is reasons (marriages of self and family
the transport difficulty faced by workers. In members, sickness in the family, death in the
the rapidly growing cities the workers may family and so on and so forth) and may
be required to stay far away from the place take loans from unscrupulous creditors at
of work. It is not the physical distance from exorbitant rates of interest. And then the
the factory per se that contributes to creditors may start threatening him. And
absenteeism but the time involved in he may be compelled to stay away from
travelling from home to place of work and work for a few days (after pay day)
back. Our trains are always overcrowded to avoid these creditors. And because of his

absence he may get less salary and may not more important. So it is quite possible that
be able to repay the loan. Thus he enters the factors which are operative in the
a vicious circle from which he cannot get Western countries may not be operative here.
out on his own.
I believe that here Socio-cultural factors
These are some of the difficulties faced and the individual difficulties of the workers
by the workers and an attempt must be are more important contributors towards
made to understand the nature of the absenteeism. Further researches should be
difficulties faced by the workers.
directed at these factors.
So far we have discussed the various
The pattern of absenteeism in a
causes of absenteeism. In the case of a particular industry can indicate the impor-
particular industry all the causes may not tance of socio-cultural factors. We would
be operative. Some causes may be common then find that absenteeism increases during
in some industries. In addition there may certain periods only. If, on the other hand,
be different difficulties faced by the indivi-
absenteeism has no such fixed pattern then
duals in different industries.
we should go in for 'case study' type of
research. We should investigate in greater
These causes will have to be ascertained details a few chronic absentees. We may
by research. Now we will discuss the then come across some common difficulties.
research methods employed to understand I firmly believe that our workers remain
the nature and extent of this problem.
absent only because they are compelled to
There have been numerous studies on stay away from work. So we should
absenteeism. Researches in Western coun-
investigate the chronic absentees with a
tries indicate the importance of Job-related view to find out their difficulties. For such
factors. Some studies have also attempted a study the traditional Questionnaire method
to establish the relationship of absenteeism or the Interview schedule method is not of
with such personal factors as Age, Marital much use. We should go in for 'case study'
status, Years of service, Place of residence method.
(distance from factory) and so on and so
And after the difficulties of the workers
forth. Researches done in our country have are ascertained the management can then
followed this lead. But I feel that the think of appropriate remedial measures.
factors regarded as important in the Western
countries may not be found to be important
The Remedial Measures.—If any industry
in our country. There are vast cultural has a problem of absenteeism it should start
differences in the Western countries and with finding out the pattern of absenteeism.
India. Firstly, our workers are illiterate and The absenteeism can be seasonal. In such
are not urbanised to that extent. Secondly, a case the causes are to be discovered from
the economic condition of our workers is among the socio-cultural factors. If we know
rather deplorable. Studies in motivation of the cause we can bring down absen-
workers carried out in some parts of India teeism by introducing special incentive
have indicated that our workers regard schemes during these seasons. In the Bata
salary and security as the two most Shoe Co., the management has been able
important parts of the job. Whereas in to reduce absenteeism by about 70% after
the Western countries opportunity for the introduction of such a scheme.
advancement, good working conditions, If the absenteeism increases after pay-
good company are sometimes regarded as day it may be possible that there is greater

2 3
indebtedness among the workers. In such a food-grains can solve common problems of
case the long range measure would be m a n y employees.
introduction of credit co-operative societies.
W h a t I am trying to suggest is t h a t it is
up to the management to take cogniz-
If on the other hand, we find that the ance of the difficulties of the employees.
absenteeism m a y be restricted to a few Sympathetic management can always find
employees only then we have to study these out ways and means of solving the problems
employees with a view to understanding of employees. Such an approach will change
their difficulties. It m a y be possible t h a t the the attitudes of employees towards
employees m a y be facing such common management. And in the long r u n the pro-
difficulties as obtaining rations, difficulty of blem would be solved. But it is within the
transport, sickness in the family and so on. power of management to take a lead
By proper employee counselling, personal in the matter.
problems of the employees can be tackled.
Thus the problem of absenteeism can be
Starting a fair price shop, home delivery of tackled in our industries.
1Survey of absenteeism pattern by K. C. Seal in 'Labour Survey Techniques', published
by Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, 1964.
2Psychological Researches on Labour Problem in India' by H. C. Ganguli in 'Industrial
Labour in India', Ed: V. B. Singh, Asia Publishing House, 1963.
3Getting Across to Employees by John S. Morgan, McGraw Hill Book Co., 1964.
4 Personnel & Industrial Psychology by Ghiselli & Brown, McGraw Hill Book Co., 1955,.
5A Survey of Absenteeism in Laxmi & Vishnu Mills, Sholapur, by Dr. S. D. Punekar &
Others, Dept. of Social Research, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, 1962.