October 5, 2010

The Results of a Poll About Theft in the Workplace and Job Interviews

I'm back after a long break due to two deaths in my intimidate family. Those deaths could be foreseen in taking place, but even then it is hard to prepare for it actually happening. I have some experiences surrounding those events that I will talk about in my next post, but I first wanted to take down my poll and start a new one which I talked about before.

When I first started the poll I wasn't sure how many votes it would get, and my site traffic was a fair bit lower than it currently is. I was interested and did a blog post on how people would answer a specific job interview question that a couple of my friends ran into. It was the prefect opportunity for my first poll.

Before I talk about the results I'll give some background information from the American Society of Employers

1. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that 75% of all employees steal at least once, and that half of these steal again ...and again. The Chamber also reports that one of every three business failures are the direct result of employee theft."

2. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that $50 billion dollars are lost annually due to employee theft and fraud. Also reported by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce - 20% of all businesses fail due to internal theft and fraud."

3. "In employee surveys conducted by academics and other specialists, as many as 43% of workers interviewed admitted stealing from their employers."

With that 75% number in mind as a rough estimate let's break down the 143 votes. The assuredly skewed results of the poll were that 34 % of people have never stolen anything and would say that at  a job interview while 32% would have stolen from their workplace in the past and admitted in doing so. Leaving 4 % to not have stolen, yet state that they had and 28% to have stolen in the past and lie about doing so. I'll look at each of these answers and expand on them with some reasoning about the result.

So if asked in the situation of a job interview if you had stolen from a previous employer, 50 people (34% of voters) would never have stolen anything from the workplace and would tell their prospective employer that they hadn't stolen anything. Now I know a follow-up poll should be, "If asked on a blog poll about stealing from the workplace would you lie about it?", because whenever asking questions about morality or moral situations I don't think everyone is completely honest and I don't blame anyone for their lack of honesty. If you start admitting to random polls that you have stolen, then you might be inclined to embrace it and admit in less anonymous ways that you have stolen.

This 'I don't want to admit anything that may make people think different of me mentality' can be best seen in the sexual polls about homosexual experiences. An interview with Gary Gates of The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy flushes this idea out when he is asked about the amount of gay people within the total population. He can't answer with great certainty because the answer rests somewhat on how the question is asked.

When people are asked directly in a poll if they are Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual the results show a much lower total than if the survey asked if the person has had attractions to people of the same sex, or has had sexual encounters with people of the same sex. So people can be attracted to members of the same sex or have same sex relations and not identify themselves as Bisexual, Gay or Lesbian.

This finding isn't an exception, it's the norm. The most recent in-depth study that will be in the Journal of Sexual Medicine notes the anomaly that, "While about 7 percent of adult women and 8 percent of men identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the proportion of individuals who have had same-gender sex at some point in their lives is higher. For example, 15 percent of the men aged 50-59 said they had received oral sex from another man at some point."

Those results have a history that can be traced back to the studies of Alfred Kinsley his reports in Sexuality and the Human Male and Sexuality and the Human Female. The problem made Kinsley want to create a scale that ranged from completely homosexual to completely heterosexual instead of having that gap of people who engage in homosexual acts, but don't consider themselves bisexual or homosexual. 

In the same way that people can have sexual relations with a member of the same sex on a semi-regular basis and not identify themselves as Bi-sexual, I think people can have taken items from a workplace and not consider it stealing. With a sample size of just myself I can say that most of the people I have worked with at some point have taken something from the workplace and believe the actual number of people who have never taken anything from the workplace to be lower than the reported 34% of the poll, perhaps much lower.

National Retail Security Survey Report

The next most popular choice was having stolen from a previous workplace and admitting that they had stolen to the interviewer.  46 people for 32 % of the respondents would answer this way and would almost certainly, in my mind, pass up any chance of actually getting the job. These people would put honesty and integrity over the value of the job, but they would have been the same people willing to steal from the workplace...what a strange group of people. Apparently there are a lot of people who can say, 'I'm a thief, but I'm no liar!' I personally thought the number of people who would steal from a workplace and would be willing to admit it would be much lower. This remains an interesting surprise.

The only way I could account for this higher than anticipated percentage would be to posit that a persons belief in their own character isn't dependant on past actions. This speculation means that people view themselves as honest people and to avoid cognitive dissonance they answer a poll question in the most honest way they could, admitting their past actions, but keeping their view of themselves as currently an honest person intact.

Which brings up in third answer which I thought would be the most popular. 41 people or 28 % of respondents were people who had stolen something from the workplace in the past and would tell a job interviewer that they hadn't. These are the people who understand the context of the question, as Robert Mcnamara did in The Fog of War when he was asked about summer jobs. People who answered this way don't have the virtue of being able to answer the question the ideal way honestly, but they knew what the 'correct answer' was and gave it despite it not being an honest answer. I don't have much more to say about this group, except that they are obviously thinking about the implications of the question and responding to the pressures of those implications.

This brings up the last group, who would never have stolen anything from the workplace, but, like my friend, would have said that they had stolen in the past. 6 people for 4% would be in this extreme minority. They, like myself, would have witnessed almost everyone they know taking something from work in the past, and then thought that it didn't seem reasonable or likely that they hadn't taken something either. Worried about looking like a lair, they lie! They say they had stolen when they hadn't.

These people understand the context, the overall goal to get the job, but they misidentify what the 'correct' answer is. They identify themselves as people who have never stolen from work (which as the sexual studies show may or may not be the case), but are willing to lie to get a job.

In total only 32% of people would lie about what they had done leaving the overwhelming majority to either not have to lie, to have lied in answering this poll or to be honest about their past. These results show the value of asking this type of moral question in a job interview, as it will inform you of what many people have stolen in the past and could eliminate as much as 36% of people right off the bat, if you were adverse to hiring anyone that would admit to having stolen something in the past.

The poll also shows an employee theft rate of 60%, 15% lower than the estimate of the U.S Chamber of Commerce, which would also be in line with the understanding of a person can steal, but not have considered themselves to have stolen.

While eliminating potential employees in such a manner would then leave you with liars or people who hadn't stolen, it would still be an effective question, much more effective and revealing then I originally thought.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

1 comment:

  1. While there is humility in admitting that one had stolen from his previous work during job interviews, I couldn’t say it was a wise thing to do -- given that it will most likely leave a terrible impression despite the honesty. On the other hand, it might we worse for the applicant to deny the crime, and the company found out about it later, after background investigations have been done. I guess the key here is for employees to avoid any circumstances that will make irrevocable damages in their career and reputation, and for employers to be proactive in preventing those crimes in their company. Thanks for sharing!

    Betty Rose @ Phenix Investigations, Inc.