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Why Do Employees Lie, Cheat, and Steal on the Job?


September 2006These 25 reasons for employee crimes are those most often advanced by authorities in white-collar crime (criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, risk managers, auditors, police, and security professionals):



The following list is excerpted, with permission, from Fraud Auditing and Forensic Accounting, 3rd Edition (Wiley, Sept. 2006).

  1. The employee believes he can get away with it.
  2. The employee thinks she desperately needs or desires the money or articles stolen.
  3. The employee feels frustrated or dissatisfied about some aspect of the job.
  4. The employee feels frustrated or dissatisfied about some aspect of his personal life that is not job related.
  5. The employee feels abused by the employer and wants to get even.
  6. The employee fails to consider the consequences of being caught.
  7. The employee thinks: "Everybody else steals, so why not me?"
  8. The employee thinks: "They're so big, stealing a little bit won't hurt them."
  9. The employee doesn't know how to manage her own money, so is always broke and ready to steal.
  10. The employee feels that beating the organization is a challenge and not a matter of economic gain alone.
  11. The employee was economically, socially, or culturally deprived during childhood.
  12. The employee is compensating for a void felt in his personal life and needs love, affection, and friendship.
  13. The employee has no self-control and steals out of compulsion.
  14. The employee believes a friend at work has been subjected to humiliation or abuse or has been treated unfairly.
  15. The employee is just plain lazy and will not work hard to earn enough to buy what she wants or needs.
  16. The organization's internal controls are so lax that everyone is tempted to steal.
  17. No one has ever been prosecuted for stealing from the organization.
  18. Most employee thieves are caught by accident rather than by audit or design. Therefore, fear of being caught is not adeterrent to theft.
  19. Employees are not encouraged to discuss personal or financial problems at work or to seek management's advice and counsel on such matters.
  20. Employee theft is a situational phenomenon. Each theft has its own preceding conditions, and each thief has her own motives.
  21. Employees steal for any reason the human mind and imagination can conjure up.
  22. Employees never go to jail or get harsh prison sentences for stealing, defrauding, or embezzling from their employers.
  23. Human beings are weak and prone to sin.
  24. Employees today are morally, ethically, and spiritually bankrupt.
  25. Employees tend to imitate their bosses. If their bosses steal or cheat, then they are likely to do it also.

To be respected and thus complied with, laws must be rational, fair in application, and enforced quickly and efficiently. Company policies that relate to employee honesty, like criminal laws in general, must be rational, fair, and intended to serve the company's best economic interests. The test of rationality for any company security policy is whether its terms are understandable, whether its punishments or prohibitions are applicable to a real and serious matter, and whether its enforcement is possible in an efficient and legally effective way.

But what specific employee acts are serious enough to be prohibited and/or punished? Any act that could or does result in substantial loss, damage, or destruction of company assets should be prohibited.

The greatest deterrent to criminal behavior is sure and evenhanded justice; that means swift detection and apprehension, a speedy and impartial trial, and punishment that fits the crime: loss of civil rights, privileges, property, personal freedom, or social approval. Having said all that, why is it that, despite the dire consequences of criminal behavior, we still see so much of it? Apparently because the rewards gained often exceed the risk of apprehension and punishment; or, stated another way, because the pains inflicted as punishment are not as severe as the pleasures of criminal behavior. The latter seems to be particularly true in cases of economic or whitecollar crimes. Many times, if not most, when a fraud is detected, the extent of punishment regarding the perpetrator is to be fired, sometimes without even paying back the fraud losses. So while potential white-collar criminals might believe they might get caught, the ramifications are below some acceptable threshold.

Are white-collar criminals more rational than their blue-collar counterparts? If so, they probably weigh the potential costs (arrest, incarceration, embarrassment, loss of income) against the economic benefit—the monetary gain from their crime. If the benefit outweighs the cost, they opt to commit the crime—not just any crime, but crimes against employers, stockholders, creditors, bankers, customers, insurance carriers, and government regulators. 

2006 John Wiley & Sons. Used with permission.

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