John, a sales manager for a large manufacturing firm, rarely missed the sales meetings on the first Wednesdays of each month. With the economic downturn, he seemed to be struggling more than others to meet his sales projections, and he valued the meetings as opportunities to discuss issues with his colleagues.
In March and April, John’s boss, Ted, the regional sales manager, had rescheduled the sales meetings for the first Thursdays but didn’t bother to tell John. John complained to Ted about being out of the loop. Ted said it was a simple oversight but told John he might have a better chance of getting back into the loop if he could make his sales projections.
Shortly afterward, John heard Ted and two other sales managers talking about their dinner the previous evening. John wondered why he hadn’t been included, but he was too embarrassed to ask. With the decrease in his sales, John saw a decline in his income and perceived an erosion of his position in the company and his relationships with Ted and his colleagues.
Two weeks later, after many sleepless nights, John received some good news – a longtime customer called him to place a large order. Unfortunately, the next day the customer canceled the order because of his company’s economic problems. However, John didn’t remove the order from the sales system. He produced false shipping documents and told the business office that he would hand deliver the invoice to the customer. John used sales adjustments for months to hide the outstanding accounts receivable.
John felt he was forced to commit fraud because of his exclusion from sales meetings and Ted’s inference he would be “back in the loop” if he started making sales projections – a form of subtle bullying.
John’s manipulation of the records went undetected for several months until a routine physical inventory count prompted an investigation into discrepancies between records and available stock. John hadn’t actually misappropriated assets yet, so he was given the opportunity to resign. (Ironically, at the time of his resignation, the market had improved and John was actually meeting his sales targets.)
No matter how well organizations articulate their ethics and values in codes of conduct statements, if income, status, and self-esteem are inextricably linked to performance alone, some employees will be motivated to commit fraud. John received no direct monetary benefit from his manipulation of the company’s records. On the contrary, the benefits derived from being a successful member of the sales team far outweighed his concerns about a reduced income.
Though this case is fictitious, I conjecture that many fraud cases might have occurred, in part, because of workplace bullying. Much research still needs to be done, but in this article, I’ll discuss ways to prevent and detect fraud due to subtle and overt workplace bullying.
(Following this story are additional scenarios derived from fraud cases in which subtle and overt bullying could have been motivating factors in the employees’ behavior.)
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