Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Crap Reporting

In a typical piece of reporting designed to highlight bad news and add spin to boring statistics, the recent news that half the British armed forces are pissed off and would rather stop shooting and dodging bullets in preference to looking for jobs in a decreasing jobs market is not surprising.

At first glance, from a recruitment point of view, things look bad – about 50% are “thinking” of leaving.

The radio stations are all saying this and websites I’ve seen say the same thing:

Only the last link shows a figure right near the bottom that makes one question the validity of all this.

Consider this; you buy some bread from a shop daily.  Each day it’s lovely.  You do this for 10 years.  Each day it’s lovely until one day, it’s stale.  So you complain to the shop.

So you’ve bought 3600 loaves of bread over 10 years and complained once.  Did you praise the shop for each of the 3599 other loaves of bread?

er…no.  Why would you?  It’s our human nature to complain readily and praise sparingly.

Now back to the guns.  The MOD sent out only 24760 staff questionnaires from their whole workforce and got back less than 9000!. This is only 36%.

We can safely say that using the loaves analogy only the whingers will return the forms if there is no compulsion to do so.  So from these 9000, about half, 4500, are peeved with their lives in the armed forces.

Half of 36% is 18%.  This is considerably different to the headine figure, but doesn’t make such good news or doesn’t stand well when there are political axes to grind, does it?

Ultimately the people in the forces signed up in full knowledge that they’d have a good chance to kill and be killed.  It isn’t all skiing in Norway, disaster relief in Martinique or clumping round Aldershot.  In this light, the MOD should be really proud that the 18% whinge rate is just that.

As an aside, my company DHL had a similar exercise.  The return rate for forms was 53%.  The aim is to get a 100% return to get a clear appreciation of employee’s concerns.

By Strangely

Founding member of the band Crawling Chaos from the North-East of England