Cheating in the U.S.A.

Discussion
Dec 18, 2008

By
George Anderson

Members
of the RetailWire community were understandably outraged in a recent
discussion on this site about a study conducted by the Josephson Institute
that found nearly two-thirds of high school
students had cheated on a test in the past year and 30 percent had stolen
something from a store.

Now,
a new study from HCD Research shows that our kids’ busted moral compasses
appear to be handed down to them by adults. It turns out that the majority
of Americans would be quite willing to pay someone a bribe to get ahead
if they thought they knew they could get away with it.

Here
are some of the findings of the HCD Research:

  1. Sixty-two
    percent would illegally pay a governor if it meant they could secure
    a job that pays more than $100,000 a year;
  2. Fifty-eight
    percent would pay the governor (or other government official we’ll assume)
    if it meant they could get off on a reckless driving charge;
  3. Fifty-eight
    percent would pay if the government could guarantee to take steps that
    would turn a money-losing business into one that turned a profit;
  4. Fifty-eight
    percent would pay to have access to the same medical insurance at the
    same price as paid by the state government.

Discussion Questions: Whatever happened to doing the right thing simply because it
was the right thing to do? Are retailers and those in related industries
as morally challenged as the respondents to these studies and leaders
in government and business who have recently been accused of corrupt
and illegal behavior?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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18 Comments on "Cheating in the U.S.A."


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David Biernbaum
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

Let’s look in the mirror.

Who can justify being a moral authority judge? For example, quietly, many suppliers feel that chain retailers routinely abuse them by charging egregious fees for promotions and advertising, without conscientiously making an honest effort to execute the promotion fully or properly. One of the companies that attended one of my recent “coffee talks” claims to have paid for slotting in a retail chain that never placed an order nor put the products on the shelves.

Every day, coupon redemptions are turned in to the clearing houses by retailers that do not even carry the item on the coupon. How does that employee feel about her employer, the one that was told to send in the coupons?

Warren Thayer
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

Sorry, I don’t think those findings hold up. Call me naive, but I have far more confidence in the general public. I’d want to know a whole lot more about the survey sample, and the research firm. My visit to the firm’s website, especially when I clicked on their tab called Mediacurves, inspired more confidence in headline-generating ability than it did in serious research. But that’s just me. Check it out for yourself.

Dick Seesel
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

Retailing is (unfortunately) a business where it’s easy to make the wrong ethical choice, whether you are a checkout-lane associate stealing petty cash or a higher-up responsible for large spending decisions. It’s important for retail companies, whether public or private, to put ethical standards in place and then to ensure compliance standards and “behavior modeling” by senior management.

But is this problem unique to retailers? Are their ethical standards any worse than in other industries? I doubt it…all you have to do is to read today’s headlines about Blagojevich and Madoff to realize that we are living in an era where a clear sense of right and wrong has sadly lapsed.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 5 months ago

What I find most interesting about this article is that the percentages are as low as they say. We live in a society that is results-driven, rather than process-driven. Doing one’s best is not good enough if the task has not been accomplished to perfection.

So it can only be expected that these values, combined with the sense of entitlement that today’s youth seem to exhibit, would result in the kinds of trends that this article talks about.

Maybe it’s time for corporate America to reassess its priorities regarding goals and values. After all, we can see what their current values have resulted in.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
13 years 5 months ago

Yikes! Pretty scary results!

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

I have dealt with government officials for a long time and never once has any of them said that they would perform a specific favor in exchange for a bribe. However I have noticed that if I make campaign contributions, I will usually find that projects are sent my way. Building permits are more easily approved. I can get through on the phone and actually have phone calls returned by important officials.

Obviously no one would donate money to a politician unless that person was going to be working for them. We expect a return on our investment. It’s generally just something that is quietly understood.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 5 months ago
The 2 big moral challenges that retailers have to deal with are sweethearting at the store level and buyer behavior. Sweethearting is the act of selling a product to a friend or relative at a reduced price or even giving it away for free. This can come from cashiers and floor associates. This is why a culture of honesty within the store is so important. Detecting sweethearting can be difficult and management must rely on the observations of staff to keep things under control. Open door policies and anonymous whistle-blower lines will improve the morality in the store. Most employees are honest; we want them to keep others honest as well. The moral issues in the buying department are a little harder to detect. Free dinners and sports tickets can be hard to track and it really is up to the individual buyer to report or refuse the gift. Some high profile retail names have had their share of trouble with morally challenged buyers. It is up to the leadership of the company to set… Read more »
Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
13 years 5 months ago

I think a lot of the outrage at teenagers stealing and cheating is misplaced–seems to me that is a fairly normal part of the growing up/rebellion conundrum. The scary part is that such a large percentage of adults seem so willing to at least think about unethical behavior.

One thing this says to me is that the idea that “the customer is always right” may not be applicable anymore. A better formula may be customer profiling, so retailers can treat profitable, ethical shoppers one way, and serial returners another way.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
13 years 5 months ago

I actually thought this question was somewhat humorous, especially on RetailWire. How many times have we had a buyer sit across the desk, and ask for something in exchange for getting a product on-shelf? How many retailers have asked us for “advertising money” and then never run the ad? Or run a rebate program in store, and have a 110% redemption, which is impossible according to the laws of physics and math?

The point I’m making is this. Retailers, manufacturers and brokers bend the rules all of the time to get what they want at the end–higher profits, more sales…bonuses for themselves. I’m not suggesting that there is no moral compass in the retail world, but I’m suggesting we all, WE ALL justify what we do, and what we do tends to bend the rules.

And that is how guys like Madoff can continue to do what they do without being caught. Most people turn the other way when they don’t want to know the real truth.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

One of the questions in the survey was “how much would you (illegally) pay (the governor) to have your trash picked up weekly”…. Huh? What kind of goofy survey is this? I think the outrage should be that people have to pay extra for something they’re already paying for.

But back to the larger issue and all of the handwringing: sadly–or perhaps happily, depending on your viewpoint–the world was never the ethical Eden most of us would like to think it was: the word “shoddy” dates from the Civil War, and literature from the beginning of time recounts thumbs-on-scales and other retailing misdeeds. Perhaps the world is even getting more honest…now wouldn’t THAT be a story worth reporting!

frederick healey
Guest
frederick healey
13 years 5 months ago

Success in life is not just about money. If you know in your heart it is the wrong thing to do you should not do it. I have met many people in life that have made wrong choices and they usually wish they could go back and do the right thing….

Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
13 years 5 months ago

I have lived in the United States since 1970 and have seen honesty standards decline over the years. However, I must say that still, the U.S. is a far more honest place than many other places in this world.

Dan Soucy
Guest
Dan Soucy
13 years 5 months ago
First of all, the headline to the linked article is misleading. The survey does not say 62% of Americans would pay to get a good job, it says that 62% would pay to get a government job that pays over $100,000. And then it says the respondent would pay the state governor off. And it isn’t 62% of Americans, it is 62% of 808 respondents, who happen to be Americans. This article seems to be pointed directly at the Blago-gate scandal coming from Illinois, not as a study of American moral standards. Out of the nine questions asked, only four of them quoted results where the majority of respondents would pay off the governor. The other five questions leaned the other way. It seems to me that this study says that Americans think government is corrupt, and that they are OK with that being the case. We need to be careful when considering these surveys of the source of the questions, as well as the demographics of the respondents. 808 people is a far cry… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

A number of years ago the Bureau of Labor Statics reported that one third of all employees are hard-core thieves. That means they will look for ways to steal from you. My research over the years and things I have seen from other groups pegs the number at about 20% hard-core thieves, 20% would never steal or do anything dishonest and the remaining 60% will respond to the way you treat the 20% at the bottom.

Since it seems that it has become more acceptable to do things that are dishonest in many organizations, you see the 60% moving toward the bottom.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

We took morality lessons out of the schools decades ago. It’s not unexpected to find that people aren’t as worried about morality as they used to be.

ANDREW CAVANAGH
Guest
ANDREW CAVANAGH
13 years 5 months ago
I work in Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia in retail Executive Education and for the last 4 years have been attempting to teach buyers for retail organisations the fundamentals of developing an ethical framework. Over this period of time several points have become apparent: 1. Very few people will make the leap of distinguishing between illegal and unethical, unaided. They just don’t see the difference. For most buyers unethical behaviour is legally defined. 2. When their job is on the line, it is the YOUNGER buyers who appear to be more willing to hold their ground. Older buyers seem to fall back into the ‘everyone else is doing it so I would be stupid not to’ defense. 3. Cultural differences make it exceptionally difficult for people to determine ‘right and wrong’, they do not exist as universal, concrete concepts. Company culture appears to be the major determinant. 4. There is a huge disconnect between the rhetoric of senior management in this area and the practice of buyers in their day to day job.… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

If crooked behavior was the norm, chain stores couldn’t survive. Most retail shrink stems from paperwork and procedural errors, not theft. Most American retail chains readily put people on cash registers and do no thorough background checks. In spite of employee turnover often exceeding 100% annually, the stores generally have shrink less than 4% of sales. That may seem like a lot, but if 20% of retail employees and customers took every opportunity to steal, there would be no chain retailers at all.

George Anderson
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

Elsewhere, the first paragraph from Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times today reads: “The stranger, a Western businessman, slipped into the chair next to me at an Asia Society lunch here in Hong Kong and asked me a question that I can honestly say I’ve never been asked before: ‘So, just how corrupt is America?'”

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