Topic: Motivating Language and Employee Absenteeism

Author(s), Title and Publication

Mayfield, J., & Mayfield, M. (2009). The Role of Leader Motivating Language in Employee Absenteeism. Journal of Business Communication, 46(4), 455-479.


Research has found that about 52 percent of employee absences are discretionary. These avoidable absences are the result of factors such as stress and personal needs, and are inherently influenced by employees’ motivational states and leader behavior. This study investigated the impact of leaders’ spoken communication on employee attitudes toward absenteeism, and their actual absenteeism.

Motivating language theory (MLT) proposes that leaders’ use of three basic speech acts (direction-giving language, empathetic language, and meaning-making language) will improve employees’ performance, loyalty, job satisfaction and other key outcomes. Motivational language takes effect based on three assumptions: 1) MLT encompasses most cases of leader-employee discourse, 2) leader actions must be perceived as congruent with words, and employees must understand the intended messages, and 3) leaders will achieve the desired employee outcomes if they use all three types of language strategically.

This study surveyed 305 students who had on average 5 years of full-time or 2.5 years of part-time work experience. The questionnaire measured supervisor’s motivating language use, participants’ own attendance attitude, and the number of participants’ absent days from work in the past month. Structural equation modeling (SEM) showed that employees were more likely to have positive attitudes toward attendance, and thus fewer absences from work, if their leaders used motivating language. Leaders’ use of motivating language had no direct impact on subordinates’ absenteeism, but instead, reduced absenteeism by altering subordinates’ attendance attitudes.

Implications for Practice

Organizations might improve their employee attendance by enrolling leaders in motivating-language training programs. Leaders can increase their employees’ motivational states by explaining the culture of the organization, sharing concerns with employees, praising them on their work, commiserating with them on their personal frustrations, reminding them of organizational policies and goals, and giving performance feedback.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (full article, click “PDF-Volltext”) (abstract free, purchase full article)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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