Workplace Deviance

Psychology 101: The 101 Ideas, Concepts and Theories that Have Shaped Our World - Adrian Furnham 2021

Workplace Deviance

Crime isn’t a disease. It’s a symptom. (Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye, 1940)

Work expands to fit the time available for its completion. (C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law, 1958)

People steal stuff at work. They take part in ’the unauthorized appropriation of company property for personal use, unrelated to the job’. They steal from their employer, their boss and their customers. It is all too common and can be costly.

We have a range of words to disguise the issue: pilfering and shrinkage, nicking and liberating stuff. There is a long list of what are called ’counterwork behaviours’ (CWBs).

CWBs include:

Antisocial behaviour: usually restricted to the workplace.

Blue-collar crime: everything from theft, property destruction and record fabrication to fighting and gambling by semi-skilled, often non-salaried staff.

Counterproductive workplace behaviour: any behaviour at work that goes counter to the short and long-term interests and success of all stakeholders in an organization.

Dysfunctional work behaviour: intentional, unhealthy behaviour that is injurious to particular individuals who do it either to themselves or to others.

Employee deviance: unauthorized but intended acts that damage property, production or reputations.

Employee misconduct: the misuse of resources, from absenteeism to accepting backhanders.

Non-performance at work: both not performing that which is required, while also performing acts not at all desirable.

Occupational aggressive crime deviance: negative, illegal, injurious and devious behaviours conducted in the workplace.

Organizational misbehaviour: behaviour that violates societal and organizational norms.

Organizational retaliative behaviours: this is deliberate organizational behaviour based on perceptions of unfairness by disgruntled employees.

’Political’ behaviour: self-serving, non-sanctioned, often illegitimate behaviour aimed at people both inside and outside of the organization.

Unconventional work practices: simply odd and unusual, but more like illegal and disruptive, behaviours.

Workplace aggression, hostility, obstructionism: personally injurious behaviours at work.

Unethical workplace behaviour: behaviour that deliberately and obviously infringes the accepted ethical/moral code.

Academics have tried to classify these misbehaviours into various categories: intrapersonal (drink and drugs), interpersonal (physical and verbal aggression), production (absenteeism, lateness), property (theft, sabotage, vandalism) and political (whistle-blowing and deception).


In a series of books and papers the anthropologist Gerald Mars showed that much cheating at work was a consequence of how jobs were organized. His initial focus was on the sorts of ’rewards’ people get at work. These he divided into three categories: official, formal rewards, both legal (wages, overtime) and illegal (prostitution, selling drugs); unofficial, informal, legal (perks, tips) and illegal (pilfering, short-changing) rewards; and alternative, legal, social economy rewards (barter) and illegal rewards (moonlighting).

Mars noted four types of cheats at work.

First Hawks , who thrive in occupations that emphasize individuality, autonomy and competition. The control that members have over others is greater than the individual’s own control. Occupations for hawks emphasize entrepreneurial behaviour, where the individual’s freedom to transact on his own terms is highly valued. Hawks are individualists, inventors, small businessmen. They are hungrily ’on the make’.

Hawks are typically entrepreneurial managers, owner-businessmen, successful academics, pundits, the prima donnas among salesmen and the more independent professionals and journalists. Hawkish entrepreneurial activity is also found in waiters, fairground buskers and owner taxi drivers. They are loners, individualists.

Second, Donkeys are characterized by both isolation and subordination. Donkeys are in the paradoxical position of being either or both powerless and powerful. They are powerless if they passively accept the constraints they face. They can also be extremely disruptive, at least for a time. Resentment at the job’s impositions on the employee is common and the most typical response is to change jobs. Other forms of ’withdrawal from work’, such as sickness and absenteeism, are also higher than normal.

Third, Wolves, who thrive in those ’traditional’, rapidly disappearing working-class occupations, such as mining. Wolves are found in occupations based on groups with interdependent and stratified roles, for example garbage collection crews, aeroplane crews and stratified groups who both live and work in ’total institutions’ such as prisons, hospitals, oil rigs and some hotels. Where workers do live in, or close to, the premises in which they work, group activities in one area are reinforced by cohesion in others. Such groups then come to possess considerable control over the resources of their individual members. Once they join such groups, individuals tend to stay as members.

Fourth, Vultures. Vultures are found in jobs that offer autonomy and freedom to transact, but this freedom is subject to an overarching bureaucratic control that treats workers collectively, and employs them in units. Workers in these occupations are members of a group of co-workers for some purposes only and they can act individually and competitively for others. They are not as free from constraint as hawks, but neither are they as constrained as donkeys. The group is also not as intrusive and controlling as the wolf packs.


First, let people know how uncommon it is. It is not the norm: everybody is not at it. It is a minority who fiddle like this. Give some statistics. Thieves, for that is what they are, are the exception and a group that will not be tolerated.

Second, explain the consequences of being caught with some ’case studies’, but do not go over the top. Spell out the first warning to sacking sequences. Beware the possibility of unintended consequences where making the punishment so severe that it simply makes people take bigger risks with the amounts they claim.

Third, explain the systems and methodology by which people are caught. Let them know that there are reliable and fair methods in place that will show up those trying to beat the system.

Fourth, conduct a few in-house programmes where employees at all levels discuss the company’s code of ethics and how, when and why fraudsters should be dealt with. Get all people involved: let them know the fraudsters are costing everyone who works for the company.

Fifth, review compensation and benefit programmes that look at internal and external equity meaning how people ’stack up’ against others in the organization as well as those working in similar jobs in different organizations. Don’t allow expense fraud to be seen as a way of reconciling proper pay differentials. Some supervisors turn a blind eye to it because they feel unable to reward staff in ways they think equitable and just.


Furnham, A. & Taylor, J. (2011). Bad Apples. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan

Greenberg, J. (1993). Stealing in the name of justice: Informational and interpersonal moderators of theft reactions to underpayment inequity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 54, 81—103.

Mars, G. (1984). Cheats at Work. London: Unwin.