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Employee Theft: Individual And Situational Determinants


The purpose of the study was to investigate determinants of theft, including individual and situational levels and their interactive effects.


The study’s design was a 2x2x2 factorial design on a population of 270 customer service representatives sampled across the U.S. large financial services company. In the study, Greenberg (2002) used 142 correspondents from an office practicing ethics program and 128 from remote offices lacking an ethics program. Among the participants, 69.5% were female having a mean age of 28.4 years and a mean job tenure of 17.3 months. 93.7% of the participants had completed high school and taken college classes. Further, 64.5% of the participants were Whites, 12.3% were African-Americans, 8.0% were Hispanic, 7.3% were Asians, and those from other racial and ethnic groups were 7.9%. The independent variables included corporate ethics programs, moral development, and theft victims. The study used a survey questionnaire as a research approach for collecting data of different study variables. Participants completed one hour-survey questionnaire done during non-work hours after being informed about experimental procedures and working for hours with underpayment. The correspondents were told that the payment was from either individual managers or the company itself. Every participant was given a chance to steal from a bowl of pennies, which they knew would not be detected. The research involved victims of theft, a behavioral measure of theft, anonymity, and debriefing.


The research findings revealed two outcomes, the magnitude, and incidence of theft, consistent with the research hypothesis. In the study of Greenberg (2002), 130 correspondents engaged in theft, which was demonstrated by those who took more than 200 pennies, and none of the rest of the population took fewer than 200 pennies. Participants involving the ethics program experienced significantly less theft at the conventional level with the program in place. Based on moral development, correspondents classified as conventional stole less than those considered pre-convention did. The findings also showed that factors accountable for ascertaining the amount of theft were also responsible for determining the theft rate. The mean of theft indicated conditions under which most persons were involved in a theft.

Research Limitations/Implications

The outcome has implications for research on the influence of injustice on theft behavior. Greenberg (2002) provides in-depth knowledge about why employees steal, which can be used for ethical development in organizations and filling the void that has existed due to lacking means of curtailing workers’ unethical behaviors and theft. However, the absence of extra data makes it challenging to claim those who steal a little money engage in conduct that quantifies them as theft. The present study presents another limitation whereby the ethics program employed was new, with recent ethics training needing to be addressed further.

Practical and Social Implications

Employees who attained a conventional level of moral development showed the best working of ethics programs. Therefore, based on the positive outcome of the research, companies can use ethics programs with sensitization of employees on norms of ethical behaviors through moral development. The study can also be used to determine the tendency of persons to refrain from harming those they are related with. The current study showed that underpaid employees only steal when conditions conspired to do so without being caught.


Publications and research about employee theft in an organization have increased. Research shows that establishing a channel of communication and making employees understand the cost of stealing is a suitable method for managing theft. The present study has received criticism such that the experimental situation is slightly artificial and entails a small amount of money, which cannot be regarded as theft. As a result, this has given rise to the need for future research to assess the amount of money deemed theft. The study proposes that there would be a need to evaluate the extent to which ethics programs that underscore punishment are more effective among different levels of employees in the future.


Employees’ theft, moral development, ethics program, employees’ behavior, U.S. financial company.

Critique (Positive)

The research is beneficial as it investigates whether particular behavior occurs under theoretically relevant conditions. The present-day research tests conceptually derived ideologies that can sensitize future researchers to different theoretically analogous real-world phenomena for examining subsequent research. The research comprised meaningful elements to workers at moral development levels, including conventional and pre-conventional. The ethical programs outlined in the study underscores the importance of behaving ethically and its consequences.

Critique (Negative)

The negative critique of the article is that the research failed to quantify the amount of money that can be deemed as theft. The research uses a questionnaire survey that is highly prone and subjective to bias.


Greenberg, J. (2002). Who stole the money, and when? Individual and situational determinants of employee theft. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 89(1), 985-1003.

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