Integrity at Work and Dealing with Theft

March 19, 2014 Katharina Lochner

working behaviour in open plan office space

Changing Undesirable Behaviours

We have learned that 90 percent of people will cheat if they believe they will not get caught and that integrity is not stable, but rather depends on the circumstances. Thus, when intending to prevent dishonest or otherwise undesirable behaviour, employers can either select employees who are less prone to fall for the temptations of a situation or they can change the tempting circumstances. The latter does not seem to be as difficult as one might think.

An article by Wharton professor Adam Grant gives a few examples of such changes and their effectiveness. When stealing occurs in a company, managers often decide to install surveillance systems such as cameras. This can work, as a study by Lamar Pierce from Washington University in St. Louis shows. This, however, might backfire because it creates an atmosphere of mistrust. What Grant suggests is to take a closer look at why the undesirable behaviour happens. He cites a study by Gary Latham from the University of Toronto in which researchers were asked to find a way to reduce theft in a forest products company. Camera surveillance had been installed, but this had led to an increase in theft rates and employees even started stealing the surveillance cameras. What Latham did was find out why employees were stealing, and it turned out that they did it solely for the kick they got out of it. Therefore what the company did was establish a loan policy: employees could borrow whatever they wanted. This resulted in dropping theft rates and also in the return of previously “borrowed” material.

Latham concluded from his finding that stealing can, on the one hand, be dealt with by increasing the cost of stealing, but it can also be prevented by reducing the benefits of stealing. In the present study, it was the kick employees got out of stealing that suddenly was not there anymore after the loan system had been introduced. This is a good example of how a change of circumstances lead to a change in employees’ behaviour.

About the Author

Katharina Lochner

Dr Katharina Lochner is the former research director for the cut-e Group which was acquired by Aon in 2017. Katharina is now a researcher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn, Germany. In her role at cut-e, she applied the research in organizational and work psychology to real-world assessment practice. She has a strong expertise in the construction and evaluation of online psychometric tools.

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