December 15, 2013

He knows if you’ve been bad or good

From today’s Herald (or the very similar story at 3News)

A Wellness in the Workplace survey show sickies taken by people who aren’t really ill are estimated to account for 303,000 lost days of work each year, at a cost of $283 million.

Skipping over the estimate of over $900/day for the average cost of a sickie, this is definitely an example where a link to the survey report and some description of methodology might be helpful. The report says

The survey was conducted during the month of
June 2013. In total, 12 associations took part,
sending it out to a proportion of their members.
In addition, BusinessNZ sent the questionnaire
to a number of its Major Companies Group
members. Respondents were asked to report their
absence data for the 12-month period 1 January to
31 December 2012 and provide details of their policies
and practices for managing employee attendance.

In total, 119 responses were received from entities
across the private and public sectors.

which gives more idea about potential (un)representativeness. But most importantly,  while the survey has real data on numbers of absences and on policies, the information on how likely employees were to take sick leave when not sick was just the opinion of their employers. Unless you work for Santa or the NSA, this is going to have a large component of guesswork.

If you’re an employer, and you want to know whether inappropriate use of sick leave is a problem for your organisation, do you want to rely on your own guesses, or on an average of guesses by an anonymous assortment of 119 other organisations around the country?


Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »


  • avatar
    Thomas Lumley

    One more note. The similarity of the Herald and 3News stories strongly suggests a common source in a press release, but the press releases from Southern Cross and BusinessNZ are much more boring and responsible

    4 years ago