Business School Research That Might Surprise You: Part 2

In this second installment, I’m going to talk about two research papers that were presented at the recent Administrative Sciences Association of Canada conference. Conference papers are often the first time that a researcher presents a particular piece of work in public, so a lot of ideas in conference papers are in an early formative stage – but it’s exciting to hear these ideas and to see how they might develop further. I like these two papers because they both investigate relevant and timely workplace issues, but do so from unconventional perspectives.

Taking a Sickie for the Team

If your boss is taking a lot of sick days, or your co-workers are, does that make you more likely to take a sick day even if you don’t really need one? This study, by Angus Duff and Christopher Chan of York University’s School of Human Resource Management, tries to answer that question. The researchers got six months’ worth of absence records from one division of a professional services firm, and tried to figure out how much influence the average number of supervisor, departmental and team sick days had on individual workers’ number of sick days. They also tried to control any effects on the number of sick days that might be caused by the worker’s gender or their age.

They found that when the number of sick days taken by team members, department members, and managers increased, so did the number of sick days taken by individual workers. However, the department averages had a stronger effect on individual absence rates than did the team member averages or the manager averages. The researchers suggest that absence is a “learned behaviour”, and that workers look at how much absence is implicltly considered acceptable in their workplace when deciding whether to take paid time off themselves. The study is limited by the data only coming from one organization – but if workers are, indeed, basing their decisions about how much absence is okay on how much everyone else is absent, organizations concerned about absenteeism should look at overall absence patterns in units as well as individual workers’ absence rates.

Now that’s an absenteeism policy. (Credit:

Public and Nonprofit Sectors as Safe Havens

A lot of research on workplace diversity talks about recruiting a diverse workforce, but doesn’t pay a lot of attention to what influences workplace diversity might have on workers’ employment choices. Are there certain types of organizations that workers who worry about employment discrimination might want to work for? Eddy Ng of Dalhousie University, Linda Schweitzer of Carleton University, and Sean Lyons of the University of Guelph looked at whether lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) job seekers had different values about work than did heterosexual workers, and whether any differences affected the types of jobs each group of workers might look for.

The data used in this study came from a survey of 27,592 Canadian post-secondary students. 976 of these students identified themselves as LGBT, so  their answers were compared to those of 1,020 students randomly sampled from the rest of the respondents. The survey asked the students what salary they expected to earn in their first job after they graduated, what values were important to them in their work, and what kind of organization they wanted to work for.

Compared to the heterosexual students, the LGBT students had lower salary expectations and placed more importance on altruistic work values such as social responsibility and having a personal impact. And the LGBT students were three times more likely than the heterosexual students to want to work for non-profit organizations, and less likely to want to work in the private sector.

The researchers say that these results may reflect an idealistic view of work from people who are relatively early in their careers – but they also point out that the LGBT students may be driven more by collective self-interest (e.g. wanting to work in an organization that could make life better for them personally) rather than thinking that non-profit or public sector organizations would be good workplaces for them because there might be less discrimination.

All of the research I’ve summarized in these two posts have thought-provoking perspectives on work and organizations – which I hope might provoke some ideas for your own work or research. As I come across more research that tweaks my interest – which I have no doubt I will, since I seem to encounter a lot of great stuff – I’ll talk about it too.

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