Stealing Boosts Staff Morale

Companies do all kinds of things to boost staff morale. They hire motivational speakers, have team-building exercises, give employees gifts, etc.

But the industrial psychologist Lawrence Zeitlin, in an article published in June 1971 in Psychology Today ("A little larceny can do a lot for employee morale"), argued that the most effective way a business could boost morale was by allowing its employees to steal a little from the company.

He argued that theft added to a sense of "job enrichment" by making the job more interesting. It gave employees a sense of satisfaction at getting away with it. Also, workers "often looked upon theft as a condition of employment." Furthermore, he noted, allowing the theft could be cheaper than installing elaborate security precautions.

In her book Management and Ideology, business author Judith Merkle provides some background info on Zeitlin's article:

Before its publication in Psychology Today the Harvard Business Review had previously turned down the article. It was, after all, a classic application of amoral Scientific Management techniques, and it offended the HBR down to its puritan roots. The interesting point is, however, that the control practices recommended in this article bear a close family resemblance to the working practices of Stalinism. Allowing theft, while keeping the rules against theft, certainly makes theft more thrilling, but it also opens up the way to arbitrary and discriminatory uses of power through the selective application of dead-letter rules. This is, of course, the first step in the destruction of the rule of law, and, in the long run, leads to the introduction of de facto totalitarianism.

Sydney Morning Herald - May 30, 1971

Posted By: Alex - Wed May 25, 2016
Category: Business, Crime, 1970's


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