This is why employees lie, steal and cheat

A study have discovered an upward trend in workplace cheating behaviour.
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A study have discovered an upward trend in workplace cheating behaviour.

COMMENT: "More and more, employees are lying, scamming, and deceiving to advance their interests."

When a journal article begins with such a bold statement, especially when featured in one of the most prestigious academic publications, it warrants closer attention. Serious academics are not the type of people prone to hyperbole, so when their soon-to-be-published study refers to the "upward trend in workplace cheating behaviour", you just know there's a lot of substance to it.

The scholars cite multiple examples, such as Volkswagen tampering with the emissions systems of 11 million cars and Wells Fargo firing 5000 employees for falsifying accounts, to demonstrate the extent to which people go to gain an unfair advantage.

The scholars state "the rise in cheating behaviour within organisations suggests that employees are not only attempting to advance their interests at work, but that they do so with little consideration of how their actions impact others or the organisation more generally". As a result, 7 per cent of business revenue is squandered each year.

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Organisations motivate employees to cheat when they pressure employees to raise their performance, studies have found.
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Organisations motivate employees to cheat when they pressure employees to raise their performance, studies have found.

The research comprised a series of studies, with the first three encompassing more than 1400 employees in a bid to discover the most common forms of cheating at work. How many of these have you been guilty of?

* Misrepresented work activity to make it look as though you have been productive.
* Made it look like you were working when you were not.
* Made up work activity to look better.
* Exaggerated work hours to look more productive.
* Came in late and didn't report it.
* Made up an excuse to avoid being in trouble for not completing work.
* Lied about the reason you were absent.

I hate to admit it, but I've been guilty of those once or twice over the years. (OK, maybe more than once or twice.) And I swear this isn't a flagrant attempt to shift blame, but could it be there's something about the way businesses are run that compels people to behave this way? 

If you're inclined to trust the research mentioned earlier, the short answer is yes. Namely, the hyper-competitive nature of business nowadays apparently motivates employees to do whatever it takes to win even if collateral damage ensues. The pressure to perform outweighs the pressure to be ethical.

A further series of studies by the same researchers involved more than 1900 people who were asked questions about whether there's "tremendous pressure to produce results" in their workplace and if failing to perform means their job is at risk.

That type of stressful work environment was conclusively found to "significantly" trigger anger among many participants who, in an effort to protect themselves, resorted to survival techniques characterised most frequently by the types of cheating noted above.

The scholars connect the dots by concluding that "organisations motivate employees to cheat when they pressure employees to raise their performance … Employees internalise performance pressure as a threat to their well-being. The perceived need to heighten performance in the face of substantial consequences creates a need for self-protection. Self-protection is reflected in the experience of anger … Angered and self-serving employees feel the need to cheat to protect themselves."

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So does this mean managers should no longer apply pressure? Of course not. It just means being cognisant there's a line. On one side you inspire a shift in performance. On the other you set off a chain of unintended consequences, many of which we're seeing played out in the media today.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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