04:06, March 08 270 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-08 04:06:04
Hidden gems from the world of research  
 Is naming and shaming bad bosses a carrot or a stick?

Shame is a powerful motivator, though not always in a good way. But maybe there’s a good use for it. So we discover from new research examining efforts by the US equivalent of our Health and Safety Executive to improve firms’ behaviour.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has got into the public shaming business, publishing press releases about employers violating guidelines and putting workers at risk. And it was incredibly effective. Not only did the “shamed” firms behave, so too did their neighbours – businesses within a 5km radius saw 73% fewer violations. The authors found shaming was even more effective than good old-fashioned investigations. It appears the regulator would have to conduct 193 extra inspections to gain the same improvements as one press release.

So good news for press officers and for our own business department, which has restarted its own naming and shaming scheme for firms failing to pay the minimum wage. But let’s not get carried away, close down our (already very weak) inspection regimes and spit out press releases. The research notes that these great results are quite dependent on workers having bargaining power to drive change in their workplace. And we’re heading fairly consistently in the downward direction when it comes to trade unions’ collective bargaining power in the UK.

It’s good to hear a dose of shame can be a power for good, but the goal is empowered employees, not just embarrassed employers.

Torsten Bell is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation. Read more at resolutionfoundation.org