by Julie Parkins
Calling in sick for work is something many of us have done at one time
or another. Perhaps we werent actually sick, but just felt that
we needed a mental health day.
Absence from work is so prevalent, and so intriguing, that Management
Professor Gary Johns will never run out of material. A 28-year veteran
of the subject, Johns has just been named to the Concordia University
Research Chair in Management.
When I started studying absenteeism, it was a pretty boring subject
and not many people looked at it, Johns said in an interview. It
was thought that it was simply a product of job dissatisfaction, which
is true, but thats only one of a dozen reasons. It was also associated
with demographics, but it wasnt clear then and it isnt clear
now why that is.
Johns work in absenteeism and other areas of industrial organizational
psychology has appeared frequently in nearly every top journal in the
field. He has earned the status of fellow in several professional societies,
and his advice is sought by the editors of academic journals. One colleague
quoted by Dean Jerry Tomberlin at the reception held in Johns honour
last Thursday went even further.
Dr. Susan Jackson, Director of Doctoral Programs at Rutgers University,
said, Dr. Johns is widely recognized throughout the international
scholarly community as the worlds leading expert on the phenomenon
of absence from work. Indeed, there is really is no one else who is a
close second in the field.
As Research Chair in Management, Dr. Johns looks forward to bringing in
influential speakers, planning conferences and involving more and more
PhD students in his work.
At the reception, he mentioned one of his former students, Jia Lin Xie,
who worked for a week in a Chinese restaurant to get data for her thesis.
Another study by Johns and Xie showed, perhaps for the first time, the
radical differences between Chinese and Western attitudes to absenteeism
and stress in the workplace. She is now a professor at the University
Early work has influenced
Johns takes great pleasure in seeing the effects that his work has had
throughout the years.
One of the coolest things in all of this has been how Ive
been able to have some impact on other peoples work. I was really
lucky that a lot of work that I did early on was assigned in PhD courses
all around North America and a bunch of graduate students cottoned on
Johns sees the need for even more emphasis on the so-called soft skills
in business today how people react in groups, understanding what
motivates people, and decision-making.
These soft skills are some of the hardest things to train into people.
The easy thing is that people like it and its interesting, but the
down side is that it can be amazingly hard to get people to change their
Johns cites the recent scandal at Enron as an example.
Its not that these people didnt understand Accounting
101 and Finance 101, they understood them all too well, well enough to
manipulate the books, anyway.
What they didnt understand is Organizational Behaviour 101,
and how to set standards and detect this sort of behaviour. This is the
greatest challenge. All this other material in business schools is irrelevant
unless it gets translated through behaviour perceptions and attitudes
of people in work.