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Up-to-Date Worker Profile

June 11, 1989

Until federal law prohibited the practice, it was not unusual for some employers concerned about rates of absenteeism to reject job applicants solely because of their race, gender or age, on the assumption that nonwhites, women and older workers were likely to miss more days of work and so reduce profitability. Now a new study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's research arm suggests that employers who cling to these stereotypes and try to evade the anti-discriminatory ban are not only violating the law but probably depriving themselves of qualified employees as well.

Basing its conclusions on surveys conducted between 1983 and 1985 by the federal National Center for Health Statistics, the National Chamber Foundation found that the probability that an individual employee would miss work:

Fell with increases in age;

Fell as education levels rose;

Was higher among married workers;

Was lower among nonwhites;

Was lower as family income increased;

Was lower among those who reported high levels of physical activity.

All of which might be taken to make a case for the idea that the employee least likely to miss work is an older, single nonwhite who is reasonably well educated, reasonably well-paid and not a couch potato. That is not to suggest, of course, that employers might now want to start discriminating against job applicants who don't fit that profile.

Interestingly, or so the study finds, smoking and drinking don't seem to have a statistically significant impact on absenteeism rates, although physical activity clearly does.

The lesson in this, the report suggests, is that employer initiatives to increase the level of physical activity among the work force could well pay off in less absenteeism and higher profitability. Some employers, motivated by their interest in controlling soaring health insurance costs, have already discovered that. Owners of low-absenteeism Japanese manufacturing plants where group exercises start the day of course made the discovery long ago.

Now, who's ready for a nice long walk at lunchtime?

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