The great global recession has claimed many victims. In many countries, unemployment is at near-historic highs, and even those who have managed to keep their jobs have been asked to accept reduced work hours or pay cuts. In some cases—say, the U. S. auto industry—job losses have been predictable but no less painful. However, in other cases, they have come as a surprise. Norm Elrod had earned an MBA while employed at an online marketing firm.
His degree didn’t save his job—Elrod was laid off in October 2008 and, as of April 2009, he was unemployed and still looking for work. “There’s a lot of frustration out there,” Elrod said. The financial and psychological pain caused by the recession may lead you to wonder whether employees attempt to get even. Is there evidence the recession has led to increased incidents of workplace violence, sabotage, or theft? As it turns out, this is a very difficult question to answer with any confidence.
The difficulty illustrates how OB can teach you how to think critically about problems and analyze them carefully. During any recession, there is no lack of reports on the calamitous effects of the downturn. The Times of London reported that U. S. job losses were directly linked to 58 fatalities in eight incidents during one month in 2009. Among them was a Vietnamese man fired from his factory job who killed 13 people at an immigration center in Binghamton, New York.
It’s not just displaced-worker violence that is getting headlines. Among nearly 400 employees asked in late 2008 whether the recession had caused a recent rise in thefts of money among employees, 18 percent said yes, 41 percent said no, and 41 percent were unsure. Though this poll suggests only a small minority of employers thought the recession had led to an increase in employee theft, the media reported the opposite result. The Wall Street Journal ran the headline “Businesses Say Theft by Their Workers Is Up.
MSN Money, under the headline “Businesses See Rise in Employee Theft,” reported the poll results as follows: “When asked if they had noticed a recent rise in monetary theft among employees, such as fraudulent transactions or missing cash, 18% said yes, 41% were unsure and the rest said they hadn’t. ” You’ll notice that, put another way, 18 percent agree that theft is up, and 82 percent either disagree or are unsure. But that makes for a less sexy headline. Another mischief factor is companies that exist to provide services, software, and technology to deter workplace theft.
While they might provide a valuable service to the organizations they serve, it is in their interest for employers and the general public to believe incidences of workplace violence and theft are increasing. These companies often produce press releases, which then work their way into the media and presumably generate potential clients for the organizations. One such company, for example, publicizes a study of workplace theft, reporting it has increased each and every year since 2003. We are not arguing that all business press articles—or all studies done by organizations—are inaccurate.