Is humanity doomed to destructive behavior

When people harm companies: who are the culprits?

Hans is in his late 40s, has an impeccable reputation and is in the middle of a successful career. For health reasons, however, he has to give up his previous job. Fortunately, his employer can offer him an alternative. It's a rather simple job, but at least it's not on the street.

Soon after taking up the new position, pride and envy gnaw at him, especially since he feels it is unjust to earn much less than other colleagues. His job involves handling large amounts of cash. It doesn't take long before he begins to siphon off small amounts for himself - after all, it doesn't hurt the organization.

This goes unnoticed because there is no systematic incoming and outgoing control of the amounts of money. Over time, the amounts get bigger and bigger and add up to hundreds of thousands of francs over the years. Hans explains the luxury items and the expensive holidays that he can finance himself with the lottery winnings to his wife and friends. After the introduction of a control system, he stopped stealing for a while, but then continued and was ultimately convicted. He was even happy about that, because the burden of a guilty conscience that had lasted over ten years plagued him more and more.

The deceiver in the wake of his behavior

What drove Hans to damage his organization through the thefts? Is he just a bad person?

Evil, in the sense of morally reprehensible and harmful to others, could fit as an explanation - if you apply it to your behavior. But does that also apply to him as a human being? Research into fraudulent behavior would argue that this question would be negative. Rather, certain psychological mechanisms play a role that turn a dutiful, trustworthy and respectable employee into a criminal. Two dynamics are in the foreground:

  • As a first dynamic, people like Hans often act on the basis of a subjective assessment of their surroundings, which they experience as disadvantageous or hostile. This can be structural elements such as unfavorable working hours or poor wages, but also the superior. In this sense, the harmful behavior can also be viewed as an unauthorized rectification of grievances, sometimes even as revenge.
  • A second dynamic is the external pressure that a person experiences. This pressure can arise, for example, from debts, addictions or lifestyle needs and often increases in a spiral. This means that more and more means or actions are necessary to relieve the pressure, to maintain the material or immaterial gains achieved by the fraud, or to cover up the original fraud.

Theft and fraud are by no means the only forms of behavior that is harmful to the organization. The spectrum ranges from lying, falsifying, blueing up, misusing information, negligent handling of safety regulations to inadmissible gifts, damage to property, bullying, sexual harassment and even alcohol and drug abuse. All of this harms organizations and often also directly harms the people in them.

People with a dark side

The two dynamics cannot explain all types of behavior that is harmful to the organization in connection with theft or fraud. Aside from self-harm, the question arises why there are people who bully, sexually harass, spin up intrigues, and generally behave in a hostile and destructive manner and are always concerned only with their personal gain.

One should think, for example, of an employee who repeatedly insults others or even systematically excludes them, but presents himself as the top dog against the top. Or to the supervisor, who often drives off employees and puts them at a constant disadvantage. The specific case of an employee who caused damage of over 170 million Swiss francs in various companies, but was repeatedly able to evade the arm of the law and was most recently convicted in absentia, shows that destructive behavior occurs again and again.

Research explains such consciously harmful behavior, among other things, in the concept of the "dark personality" or personalities with a "dark core". This means negative personality traits.

It is characteristic of such people that they behave genuinely very selfish, greedy, manipulative and cold-hearted and do not shy away from having an adverse effect on others.

People with a dark side are not so easy to recognize because they consciously pretend, especially at the beginning of an encounter or relationship, and even have advantages in certain situations. For example, they can implement tough measures, take on responsibility, especially in uncertain times, or look “to the right” through networking.

How do companies manage to recognize harmful behavior and prevent it? You can read more about this in the second part next week.