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Workplace crime and deviance

Is delinquency a personal behavior that a person chooses or a result of organizational norms?

Most of the time, when we hear the word "delinquent", we imagine a big man, a thug, with an evil look on his face... However, few people think that "delinquency" in the workplace involves ordinary people like you and me.

The definition of delinquency in the workplace refers to behaviors made by choice by the organization's employees that violate agreed norms, ethics, or fundamental laws and threaten the well-being of the organization and/or its inhabitants.

What behaviors are considered "delinquent"?

  • Behavior directed against the organization - such as theft, vandalism, arriving to work late, and little effort invested in the work itself.

  • Behaviors against people in the organization, managers, or team members, including mocking people, teasing, rude behavior, and arrogance.

For example, taking a pen from the workplace, or printing personal things, may sound like something the organization can "absorb". However, when the boundaries are blurred, taking a pen can ultimately lead to the theft of funds or even fraud. It is not surprising that theft and fraud rank high as a type of crime gaining momentum in the US.

Did you know? By various estimates, three out of four employees have stolen at least once from their employer, and 95% of all organizations have experienced theft from one of their employees. The cost of delinquency in the workplace is not only in property but in people. Employees who were the target of a person who behaved delinquently towards them will probably develop related problems such as stress, a decrease in their productivity, low morale, and will usually also be the first to retire. The Financial Cost Estimate of employee theft f in the US is approximately $50 billion per year.

If so, what causes delinquency in the workplace?

There are two approaches to the origin of delinquency in the workplace. One approach emphasizes the norms of the organization as the factor that creates criminality, and the second approach emphasizes the employee's personality as creating criminality. The first approach claims that criminality is a direct result of work conditions. It is related to the degree of pressure exerted on the employees, the level of frustration at work, the level of control over the work environment, light disciplinary sanctions when violating the rules, and deteriorating conditions. The second approach examines the employee's character and uses his personality to explain crime in the workplace. According to this approach, personality determines how the employee will handle the working conditions and the organization's norms. Psychotechnical tests try to predict the personality profile of the person's criminal behavior, regardless of where he will work.

According to studies, we know that in practice, the causes of criminality involve both approaches - personality traits can increase the probability of that person committing criminal acts in the workplace. In contrast, a person with a different personality structure will choose a different strategy. However, to the same extent, the organization's norms also affect their employees' perception regarding what is "acceptable" and what is "forbidden".

In a study by Hanel (2005), 151 students, who work at least 20 hours a week, were examined on issues of delinquency in the workplace and the level of justice in the organization, and it was found that:

  • Workplace delinquency will be more common when employees are male, older, impulsive, score low on socialization, or do not perceive their conditions or organization as "just" or "fair."

  • The trait of impulsivity raises the possibility that the person will choose a strategy of "delinquency".

  • The combination of feeling that the place is unfair, and choosing to commit crimes, will be more potent when people have a low socialization trait score. 

  • A feeling that the place is fair will reduce the chances of choosing the delinquent strategy.

In conclusion, delinquency in the workplace is much more common than was generally thought and is mainly a behavioral choice influenced by the person's personality and his interpretation of the organization's norms. Have you encountered delinquency in the workplace? What do you feel was the motive for this? Please share with us...

Henle, C. A. (2005). Predicting workplace deviance from the interaction between organizational justice and personality. Journal of managerial Issues, 247-263.

By: Daniel Danino.

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