Thursday, October 6, 2011

Shirking, Malingering, and other Unpopular Terms regarding the American labor force

So, the title might be overly sensational.

For an outside observer, finding measures of low conscientiousness on the job (shirking) or active deception to evade work (malingering) is a bit of a challenge, because workers have an incentive to conceal that sort of activity.

This rough study addresses worker injury on the job and attempts to determine whether outside incentives motivate changes in sick time and injury rates. Using some unsophisticated econometric techniques, surprising results are found. Surprising if you think unemployment levels and interest rates will not influence worker absences, anyway.

The paper:

Incentives for Health and Safety: Do Economic Conditions Influence Worker Absences?

Click the link to access the paper, in PDF form, off Google Documents.

Bonus material:

Malingering and/or exaggerating a real injury to avoid work is not a new phenomenon. Here are some illustrative anecdotes, documented roughly a century ago, which didn't quite make it into the paper.

Case I. W., aged 54, a labourer, met with an accident in February, 1907. He was crushed between a wagon and wall. He returned to light work eighteen months later, but after three months stopped, as he said work was causing him vague indefinite pains in the abdomen, especially on stooping, and that work made him sweat. On examination there was marked abdominal obesity due to his recent easy life, and the waist band of his trousers was too tight, so that the three upper buttons could not fasten. No other abnormality existed. This man could not be persuaded to work till the court stopped his compensation. He has worked well since and reduced his weight.

Case II. W., aged 26, a collier, was said to have sprained his back lifting a tub of coal. When examined fourteen months later he localized pain in a certain spot in the gluteal region; the spot was apparently excessively tender, but when his attention was withdrawn he did not notice the pressure. He also varied the locality of the tender spot. No other symptoms were present. He had bluffed the insurance representative for months by the vivid description of an injured spine, whereas there was no injury to the spine or lumbar muscles.[1]

[1] Gullan, Gordon. (1912, August) Medical Training For The Detection Of Malingering. The British Medical Journal. p. 222

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