Essays on Worker Absenteeism
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This thesis for the doctorate includes four essays on worker absenteeism in addition to an introduction chapter. The main aim of this work has been to gain more knowledge about worker absenteeism, both theoretically and empirically. The first chapter gives a review of the literature and places the four essays among other studies. Selected topics are discussed and this selection is mostly based on included subjects in the four essays, but also some other dimensions of absenteeism are included. As this thesis is empirical in nature, some of the available data is used to motivate the different sections. This gives the reader some idea about the order of magnitude and variation in the subjects discussed. It is an indisputable fact that absenteeism vary across the business cycle, and there are several explanations to this observed pattern. One hypothesis is that when the unemployment rate decreases, more so-called marginal workers participate in the work force and therefore cause absence. This is the composition effects. However, employees with bad absence-records may find it hard to get a new job when unemployment is high, so lower absence goes together with high unemployment. This is the discipline effect. Chapter 2 gives a study where we aim at identifying these effects. In the third chapter, the focus is set on the firm level and the overtime decision is studied. From earlier research, the relationship between worker absence and overtime work is not clear. It is reasonable to believe that some of the hours lost due to absenteeism are covered using overtime hours. However, widespread use of overtime work may possibly wear down the employees and therefore increase absenteeism. When moving towards explaining differences in absence rates among firms, differences in work environment have to be considered. To obtain information about firm specific work environmental issues, an extensive survey was directed. I started to prepare the questionnaire in the beginning of 1999. After a pilot survey of 50 firms, the final questionnaire was sent to 523 firms in November 1999. The questionnaire is included in Appendix B. More than 330 of these firms responded and, given the comprehensive number of questions in the form (almost 90 questions and sub questions), the response rate is satisfactory. Information obtained from the survey is linked to the already present database containing absence and wage data in addition to a number of other firm and time specific variables. The survey and some of the results (mainly frequency tables) are given in Appendix A. These data are used in the two last papers. The first, given in Chapter 4 utilizes information on Health, Environment and Safety and major changes that have occurred in the period 1990-1998 (see question 14 and 15 in the questionnaire). Different working conditions are related to wage compensating theory that suggests that firms with a poor work environment have to pay higher wages relative to firms with a work environment of a better quality. When workers are exposed to poor work environments they may be more absent prone and sickness absences are thus related to the quality of the work environment. In the last paper, I look at what affect the firms’ decision to invest in the work environment. This relates to absenteeism, as these rates are believed to be affected by the investment decision. In this thesis I have gone from studying absence at an aggregate level togradually include firm specific information and work environmental issues, ending with an analysis of the decision to invest in the work environment.