Has theft become 'normal' and honesty become 'abnormal'?
By Gamal Newry
Feb 19, 2008 - 9:10:07 AM
Is crime out of control or are we as citizenry able to manage this problem? The first few weeks of 2008 as it pertains to crime may lead us to believe otherwise. As mentioned a few weeks ago we have seen a major upheaval in the amount of criminal activity. The police really have there hands full.
But really, is crime a police problem? Take for example the repair man be he a plumber or mechanic, does the fact that your septic tank has backed up or your car being unable to start really the problem of the fix-it-guy. When we consider it the issue may have been transferred to the police but crime is really our problem.
So what are we going to do, well essentially and realistically attempt to solve the problem? There are many suggested solutions primarily focused on the concept of harsher penalties, more police and 'swift justice'. The public calls for longer sentences and hangings. These remedies I feel are at the end of the spectrum after the rape or murder has occurred, similar to using a bigger mop to soak up the spill. Our focus should not be on reactive remedies but rather preventative measures.
Phillip Purpura in his book Security and Loss prevention states "In many businesses, so many people are stealing that those who do not steal are the deviants and outcast: theft becomes normal and honest becomes abnormal"
What makes people steal is the question in this edition, and we will attempt to unravel it, as it is key, to managing the problem. The old adage walking in ones shoes to see how they think is essential if companies desire to reduce loss via this avenue.
Aside from crime statistics provided by the Royal Bahamas Police Force, and studies done by other groups such as the Coalition of Private Sector Organizations, there is very little documented information about employee theft in the Bahamas.
Psychologists, sociologists, and criminologists have struggled for years to understand and describe the motivations of dishonest individuals. These disciplines have provided numerous studies in an effort to identify personality traits and characteristics most frequently associated with theft or fraud. They have also attempted to identify social forces and environmental factors that contribute to or might explain why certain individuals are dishonest and others are not. Only recently have these studies been directed to white collar crime, as the focus has been on violent crimes such as rapes, murders and bank robbers.
This all changed when in early 80's, researches from the University of Minnesota John Clark and Richard Hollinger, published the results of an extensive three year study they conducted on employee theft. This land mark study identified five characteristics to explain the phenomenon of employee theft, here are Clark and Hollingers characteristics.
1. External Economic Pressures
Prior to this study, the most frequent explanation of employee theft was employees stole from their employers because they had a personal problem involving alcohol, gambling, illicit affairs, or similar situations. This position asserts that "when economic pressures become great, people may turn to illegitimate means to achieve socially acceptable goals." Clark and Hollinger observed the connections between the nature of economic needs and the manner, in which the stolen materials satisfy those needs, had not yet been established.
2. Youth and Work
Another commonly expressed theory stated that younger employees are simply not as honest or hardworking as previous generations. Cited were two studies of retail employees caught in the act of stealing merchandise. Both studies indicated a disproportionate number of younger, newly hired employees were involved in theft. However, no clear and convincing evidence existed to confirm this theory.
The opportunity to steal items of value was considered one of the primary factors in employee theft by security practitioners. It was generally held that every employee is tempted to steal from his employer at one time or another during their career, based on their opportunity to steal. This theory was also never empirically studied until Clark and Hollinger's research in 1983.
4. Job Dissatisfaction
The idea that there is a cause and effect between job dissatisfaction and employee theft had not been included in most studies of workplace theft until Clark and Hollinger conducted their study. The theory suggests that the organization from which employees steal may influence such theft because management, directly or indirectly, is responsible for job dissatisfaction based on the perceptions of their employees.
5. Social Control
The social control theory suggests that the broadly shared formal and informal social structure within an organization greatly influences whether theft persists or not. Although not empirically tested until Clark and Hollinger's study, it emphasized the role individual work group norms played in deterring workplace theft. In addition, there was evidence in existing studies that theorized a relationship between supervisors/management, personnel and employees in deterring or encouraging theft behavior by employees. Both theories are similar to the deterrence doctrine, which assumes the threat of negative social sanctions from the organization or criminal law sector can affect the amount of theft in the organization. In essence, employees will be more likely to steal if they perceive the threat of detection and/or punishment for this behavior to be weak or non-existent.
Regardless the two primary objectives here is to reduce the events of theft and fraud in the workplace, thus the organization must be clear on identifying and uniformly sanctioning unacceptable behavior and secondly penalizing persons for infractions. As a result Regulations regarding theft by employees must be clear and frequently reiterated to ensure prohibitions regarding such activity are understood by all employees. In my opinion the message concerning loss prevention and penalties resulting from such action is lost or even neglected during pre-employment orientations for new employees and never again addressed until someone is actually caught stealing. Companies cannot rely solely on negative sanctions from society to apply to the workplace. Individual sanctions within the organization are important to help mold the culture and make certain expectations are clear. Enforcing the sanctions must also be uniform. It takes only one incident in which management staff is given preferential treatment to undermine the entire policy. Negative sanctions for theft must apply to everyone in order to be effective and management must be prepared to uniformly dispense organizational discipline.
is the President of Preventative Measures, a Loss Prevention and Asset Protection Training and Consulting Company, specializing in Policy and Procedure Development, Business Security Reviews and Audits, & Emergency and Crisis Management. Comments can be sent to P.O. Box N-3154 Nassau, Bahamas or, email
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