Bad Boys (and Girls) Behave Badly



Who cheats on their taxes? While the first answer that pops to mind might be “everyone,” about 15% of Americans admitted to doing so in an interesting study by DDB Worldwide Communications Group. (In a separate survey, 85% of Americans were found to be liars. Just kidding.) Single men made up 64% of the cheater group. What I found interesting about this study’s data was the clustering of bad behavior. Look at these stats comparing the cheaters and non-cheaters willingness to engage in other behaviors:

  • Taking money from their child’s piggy bank: 28% vs. 8%
  • Working a job under the table while getting unemployment: 73% vs. 20%
  • Keeping the wrong change given to them by a cashier: 71% vs. 3%
  • Asking a friend to pose as an ex-boss on a reference check: 59% vs. 13%
  • Lying about their income to qualify for free government aid: 51% vs. 5%
  • Lying about finding something in their food to get a free meal: 26% vs. 3%
  • Wearing an outfit to an event and then returning it: 46% vs. 14%
  • Keeping a $20 bill they saw somebody drop: 31% vs. 12%
  • Shoplifting: 37% vs. 3%

[From MSNBC – Single men more likely to cheat on taxes by Ryan MacClanathan.]

Some of these percentages are stunningly high (though perhaps my surprise reflects a naively optimistic view of my fellow humans). Nearly three quarters of the tax fudgers would also keep extra change handed to them by a cashier (who might end up having to make up the shortage in the register), compared to a mere 3% of the non-fudgers. The tax cheats are twelve times more likely to shoplift, and ten times more likely to lie in order to qualify for government aid.

While most of these transgressions are taking money from a faceless company or government agency, that doesn’t mean the tax cheats respect individual people. They are almost three times as likely to pocket a bill dropped by another person.

My conclusion from this is that dishonesty is endemic to some individuals, and cuts across a wide variety of behaviors. “I’d cheat the government, but I’d never cheat YOU!” sounds good, but is unlikely to be true.

Hiring implications

Managers should attempt to identify dishonest behavior and attitudes during both recruiting and employee evaluation. An employee who admits to fudging her taxes is far more likely to end up pilfering supplies, inflating hours worked, falsely calling in sick, and engaging in other injurious behavior. (Naturally, all recruiting and employment practices need to be conducted in compliance with applicable laws.) Furthermore, it seems likely that an employee caught in one dishonest act will be far more likely to engage in other forms of dishonesty. (Another intriguing “tell” is that the tax cheaters were far more likely to be spendthrifts than savers.)

There’s one ironic limitation of the survey. If someone cheats on their taxes, lies to government agencies and businesses, etc., what are the odds that they will answer a survey honestly? How many of the “non-cheating” taxpayers are indeed truthful? Still, I think the clustering of bad behavior recorded is quite interesting, and the relative percentages tell us something about attitudes toward various transgressions.

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