Wednesday, April 20, 2016

CTV blames workers... for non-existent problem!

Earlier this week, CTV News ran this story about sick time among managers at Alberta Health Services (AHS). The basic narrative is that “workers are lazy” and are bilking the system by taking too many sick days. As the “reporter” opens the story, he says:
It’s a job perk that many would love: months off without pay. But for Alberta Health Service managers, that’s not vacation. That’s sick pay.
The establishing shot pans across an empty room. Putting this image together with the narration and a headline about "squandering sick days" suggests AHS is some kind of ghost ship due to sick leave abuse. Which, if you have ever been to an AHS site, is clearly untrue. This pejorative framing continues throughout the story, “bolstered” by embarrassingly terrible analysis by the reporter.

There are about 8000 managers in the AHS system (including unit managers, patient care managers, metal health clinic managers, food service supervisors). CTV found “hundreds and hundreds” of managers taking more than three weeks of sick time and “more than 50” took the full 16 weeks of leave.

Is that really awful?

It is hard to say. Let’s assume that “hundreds and hundreds” of managers means about 500 (a guess—if it was higher, the reporter likely would have said “nearly 1000”). In other words, about 6% (give or take) of managers took more than three weeks of sick leave and 0.6% took the full 16 weeks of leave.

There was no real information about whether these leaves were legitimate or not, but the tenor of the story suggests there is some sort of scandal involved (we’re promised in the set-up that we’ll be “shocked” and the headline proclaims sick leave is being "squandered").

And there is also no comparative data provided (except an interview with an electrician, whose knowledge of sick leave in AHS is basically zero) about whether AHS managers take more or less sick time than workers anywhere else.

I’m not normally prone to defending managers, but this story is basically a drive-by smearing. There is no evidence whatsoever that sick leaves among AHS managers are being abused.

Indeed, the evidence is just the opposite: an employer attendance management program resulted in only a 1% reduction in sick leave. This suggests that the small fraction of AHS managers with more than three weeks of sick leave are legitimately sick.

This isn’t surprising: most managers will be older and, with age, comes higher rates of illness (and possibly injury). But CTV didn’t let facts get in the way of attacking workers.

Update: So, apparently, when you look at meaningful data, there isn't actually any problem here:
[Alberta Health Minister Sarah] Hoffman says, on average, non-union employees at AHS report 6.5 sick days a year, and that number is on par or below rates in other western provinces, and lower than the national average for non-union employees.
I wonder if CTV will retract its baseless claims now?

-- Bob Barnetson