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European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology

For a Special Issue on

Absence and presence at work in the state of ill-health: Looking back and moving forward

Manuscript deadline
01 August 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Sascha A. Ruhle, University of Tilburg, the Netherlands
[email protected]

Heiko Breitsohl, University of Klagenfurt, Austria
[email protected]

Carolin Dietz, University of Technology Chemnitz, Germany
[email protected]

Mariella Miraglia, University of Liverpool, UK
[email protected]

Luis F. Martinez, Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal
[email protected]

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Absence and presence at work in the state of ill-health: Looking back and moving forward

Absence and presence at work in the state of ill-health:

Looking back and moving forward

Submission deadline for full papers: August 1st, 2024


Sascha A. Ruhle (University of Tilburg, the Netherlands)

Heiko Breitsohl (University of Klagenfurt, Austria)

Carolin Dietz (University of Technology Chemnitz, Germany)

Mariella Miraglia (University of Liverpool, UK)

Luis F. Martinez (Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal)

Background and Motivation

In the last hundred years, understanding absence and presence of employees at their place of work has been an ongoing issue for practitioners and academics alike. Organizations need employees to be present and to work, ideally in a productive way, while also accepting that humans are not always healthy enough to do so. This allows for different attendance behaviours, such as absence (or absenteeism), defined as not showing up for work as scheduled (Johns, 2008) or sickness presenteeism, the “behaviour of working in the state of ill-health” (Ruhle et al., 2020, p. 346). Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked increased interest in individual workplace attendance behaviour, such as the decision to work or not when exhibiting signs of illness (e.g., Kinman & Grant, 2021) or doing so from home (Brosi & Gerpott, 2022), as established rules and best practices of attendance were challenged. Further, the interest is renewed following the rise of working from home (telework) and its impact on people’s attendance behaviour (Steidelmüller et al., 2020). Prior to these changes, research has found evidence for dispositional and contextual characteristics affecting the attendance behaviour (Miraglia & Johns, 2016). What makes the individual attendance decision so important for individuals, organizations, and society at large is the evidence pointing to potential harmful consequences, such as reduced employee productivity (Burton et al., 2004), risks of long-term employee sickness absenteeism (Bergström et al., 2009) and impaired physical and psychological health (Gustafsson & Marklund, 2014).

While our current understanding of attendance behaviour offers some insights into the antecedents and consequences of employees being absent or present, more research is warranted (Patel et al., 2023; Ruhle et al., 2020), and many links with regard to social and relational dynamics remain unclear (Miraglia & Johns, 2021). Given recent developments, it is important to better understand a) the role of time and/or the social context, b) changes in perceptions of illness, c) (dys-)functional consequences of attendance behaviour, d) new and important work contexts, and e) methodological advancement, among others.

Regarding the role of time and/or the social context within the decision process, the underlying dynamics involved are still unclear. Absence and presence at work are considered episodic behaviours bounded in time (Johns, 2010), yet research that examines how such episodes of presence and absence affect temporal fluctuations in outcomes like strain, recovery, or productivity within persons is missing. While our understanding of the decision process has improved in recent years (e.g., Whysall et al., 2022), research on how the social context – broadly defined as “the opportunities and constraints stemming from the social forces operating within an organization, at the organizational boundary, and outside the organization that can influence the meaning and manifestation” of attendance (Miraglia & Johns, 2021, p. 38) – explains causes, dynamics, and outcomes of absenteeism and presenteeism is still in its infancy. We welcome research that explains how factors of time and/or the social context can predict attendance behaviour, contribute to explaining and/or modify the relationship between the behaviour and its known correlates, and consider factors of the social context as outcomes of (not) attending.

Furthermore, the perceptions of illness and attendance behaviours with regard to individual perceptions of legitimacy (Ruhle & Breitsohl, 2022) or organizational attendance norms (Miraglia & Johns, 2021) might have changed due to the pandemic, impacting how organizations deal with absence and presence, both at the workplace and when working remotely. We invite research that focuses on the perceptions of illness in various work settings. On a related note, our current understanding of the potential (dys-)functional nature of attendance behaviour offers only limited insights into the underlying psychological mechanisms as well as into circumstances that may influence the outcomes of such behaviour. More specifically, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting potential benefits of choosing presence over absence, both for organizations and individuals (Boekhorst & Halinski, 2022; Karanika-Murray & Biron, 2020; Wang et al., 2023). Moreover, it appears that contextual elements, such as work location (Brosi & Gerpott, 2022) or specific work contexts like job interviews (Schilpzand et al., 2023), may significantly impact these outcomes. Yet, a systematic approach to the potential circumstances leading to different outcomes is missing. Consequently, we invite theoretical explanations and empirical evidence into the nature of the outcomes of attendance behaviour.

Additionally, it is worth mentioning that research on presenteeism has focused on workers in managerial, professional, or executive positions, i.e. knowledge-based jobs, and recently focuses on “new” ways of working (Breitsohl et al., 2023), which might limit insights into understudied and important contexts. While it is important to account for current developments, such as presenteeism in gig workers or self-employed individuals, we also emphasize the need for research that focuses on understudied contexts and populations, such as people with distance to the labour market, working in the informal economy, or skilled and unskilled blue-collar workers. We are looking for research that focuses on these to better understand the reality of many workers around the world.

Finally, research on attendance behaviour might profit from moving away from cross-sectional study designs, utilizing single-source and self-reported data. While we agree that such approaches are not automatically flawed (Spector, 2019), relying solely on such limited approaches may introduce bias into findings. Therefore, we encourage submissions that offer methodological advancement to the field to broaden our understanding by using neglected approaches (e.g., experience sampling, multi-level models, latent class analysis, qualitative diaries, video methods, etc.) or critically discuss existing measures and limitations (e.g., organizational data, recall periods, etc.). In addition, we are open for research that combines these ideas or tackles other know challenges of research on absence and presence.

The following (incomplete) list highlights proposed contributions for the Special Issue that are embedded in strong qualitative, quantitative, as well as theoretical research:

  1. Role of time and/or the social context: Which role does time and timing (e.g., influence of an episode of sickness presence on recovery experiences and activities after work) have in the formation of the attendance decision? How does the social context shape the decision process (e.g., explaining the relationships between attendance behaviours and their well-known correlates)? Which impact do understudied aspects of attendance decisions (e.g., iterative nature of decision, repeating decision patterns) have?
  2. Changes in perceptions of illness and attendance behaviour: What impact did the recent pandemic have on perceptions of legitimacy, attendance norms, or other individual, organizational, occupational, sectoral, or societal concepts that explain differences in attendance behaviour and what role does the work location play in this (e.g., using different technologies or work designs for remote work)?
  3. (Dys-)functional nature of attendance behaviour: How can we understand and explain the potential functional and dysfunctional consequences of absenteeism and presenteeism? Which contextual factors and individual boundary conditions need to be considered? How can employees and organizations manage workplace attendance behaviour to create a healthy and sustainable work environment (e.g., practices or interventions in organizations to counter unhealthy attendance behaviours)?
  4. Understudied and important contexts: What can we learn from workplace attendance behaviours in unusual or under-researched contexts, such as employees with specific health conditions (e.g., chronic illnesses), non-traditional employer-employee relationships (e.g., self-employed professionals, gig workers), people with distance to the labour market as well as workers outside of managerial, professional, and executive positions?
  5. Methodological advancement: What methodological advancement are helpful to reduce the limitations of existing research, such as overcoming the challenges of single-source and/or self-reported data, cross sectional designs, measurement of presenteeism, atheoretical approaches, or conflating attendance behaviour with its consequences? How can we use methods such as experience sampling, multi-level models, or latent class analysis for a more fine-grained understanding of contextual and temporal factors with regard to workplace attendance behaviours?

The full call will be published on the EAWOP website (including references).

Submission Instructions


Full manuscripts should be submitted by the August 1st, 2024. Papers should be submitted through the journal’s online submissions system as a submission for this Special Issue.

Please note that we seek novel contributions and look for high-quality theoretical and/or empirical papers, explicitly looking for strong methodologies and analytical techniques. All submissions must follow the regular author guidelines of EJWOP (e.g., no studies with only student samples, no studies solely relying on cross-sectional self-report data, use British (-ise) spelling style consistently throughout your manuscript), for further details, please visit:


(1) Submission deadline for full papers: August 1st, 2024

(2) Reviews + decision round 1: November 1st, 2024

(3) Resubmission deadline: February 1st, 2024

(4) Reviews + decision round 2: May 1st, 2025

(5) Final submission round 3: August 1st, 2025

(6) Publication of the Special Issue by December 2025


For more information or to discuss tentative research projects or ideas for the Special Issue, please contact Sascha Ruhle ([email protected]).

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