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Part-time jobs a place for young workers to learn – and get hurt

Canadian researchers found the youngest group of workers, those between the ages of 15 and 18, reported more frequent injuries than their older colleagues.

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The Globe's monthly roundup of research from business schools.

As the high-school year winds down, teenagers will begin hitting the job market, some of them for the first time. Past research has shown that the skills they develop and contacts they make in these entry-level positions could set them up for success later in their careers.

But for some, these jobs can pose a physical risk, and it's the youngest workers who are most vulnerable, says Nick Turner, a professor at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business.

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"It's a double-edged sword," he says.

Dr. Turner, along with University of Regina business professor Sean Tucker and Kevin Kelloway, a professor of management and psychology at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, conducted an online survey of more than 19,500 employed Canadians between the ages of 15 and 25. About one-third of respondents reported having sustained at least one minor workplace injury such as cuts, burns and sprains in the previous four weeks. The youngest group, those between the ages of 15 and 18, reported more frequent injuries than their older colleagues.

The reason Dr. Turner and his co-authors focused on minor injuries rather than serious ones is because they are more common, they are a predictor of more severe injuries and they are a barometer of overall workplace safety. "I think it speaks to more generally how the employer and supervisor think about and deal with safety," Dr. Turner says.

The youngest respondents in the survey also reported being less likely to speak up when faced with hazardous work conditions, less likely to comply with safety regulations and procedures such as wearing protective clothing, and more likely to take short-cuts that could threaten personal safety.

There was little difference in the frequency of accidents cited by young men and women. However, young men were more likely to speak up about workplace hazards and to comply with safety procedures; yet, they also reported more incidents of safety neglect.

The reason for the discrepancy, explains Dr. Turner, is that young men tend to select jobs that expose them to greater physical harm than young women do. Young men also tend to be bigger risk takers at that age, he adds.

The findings should serve as an eye-opener for employers and managers and encourage them to think seriously about health and safety, especially when it comes to their youngest and most vulnerable employees. Because young people usually hold part-time or seasonal positions, they "are often seen as being at the periphery of the organization," and not top of mind when it comes to training, Dr. Turner says. "There are lots of things employers can do to encourage workplace safety through design of work, supervision and training provided."

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What's more, when young workers feel valued and committed to an organization, they are more likely to speak up about potential hazards, which can help prevent future injuries, he adds.

The study was published in the June issue of the Journal of Safety Research. Dr. Turner and Dr. Tucker are conducting a follow-up study for the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba that will track young workers for 15 months to learn about their long-term experiences with workplace safety.

Why Bono gets a bad rap for doing good

Ever since Bob Geldof and dozens of other 1980s musicians got together to raise funds in support of African famine relief, social responsibility has come to be seen as part and parcel of the music industry.

"There's a sort of expectation that they all do it," observes Todd Green, marketing professor at Brock University's Goodman School of Business in St. Catharines, Ont. And many do, but it seems that their efforts can be both a blessing and a curse, according to a study co-authored by Dr. Green.

Dr. Green and his research partners conducted in-depth interviews with consumers in Britain and Ireland about the role that socially responsible behaviour plays in consumption patterns. Participants reaffirmed previous findings that consumers place greater expectations particularly on large and successful bands to show social responsibility through charity work, promoting environmental efforts, advocating for LBGT rights and other means. However, some respondents questioned the legitimacy of these efforts and accused musicians of engaging in self-promotion. Bono took a particularly bad hit. Others said they attended concerts for the entertainment value and not to be preached at.

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"In some ways it's unfair," says Dr. Green, a self-professed music fan. "I think it's commendable that [musicians] do as much work as they do."

When participants were asked about the role that social responsibility plays in their own purchasing decisions, some mentioned attending charity events or supporting local talent. Surprisingly, some identified paying for music downloads or paying for streaming services as socially responsible behaviour. "I was disappointed that people gave themselves a pat on the back for paying for music," he says.

The lessons for musicians, adds Dr. Green, is to convince fans that they are either personally affected by the causes they support or actively engaged in them.

The study was published online in the March issue of the Journal of Business Ethics and will be published in a forthcoming print edition.

How executive pay soars: You scratch my back ...

Shareholders recently voted down compensation plans at several large corporations that would have awarded generous payouts to senior executives. Why, in an age of austerity, were the executives promised the rewards in the first place?

It could have to do with the close network of business executives that sit on one another's boards, according to a study by Fei Song, a professor at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Business Management in Toronto, and Chen-Bo Zhong, a professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

The researchers conducted laboratory studies in which participants were split into two groups: one essentially representing business executives and the other representing shareholders.

Those in the executive group were told they worked for others in the same network but not specifically which person. Then they were asked to allocate an amount of money between the person they worked for and to those in the shareholder group. The executives awarded more money to their work colleague and less to those in the shareholder group.

Perhaps even more telling, a significant portion lied about the amount that was available to the shareholder group in order to give more to their business colleagues. "People seemed to be willing to do unethical favours, even though the favours did not directly benefit themselves," the authors write. "We believe that the key motive is the anticipation of reciprocity."

In other words, they were motivated by an expectation that if they helped those who held positions similar to their own, others down the line would help them.

The article appeared in the April issue of the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization.

Rosanna Tamburri can reached at tamburrirosanna@gmail.com

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