Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Forecasting Sabotage Events in the Workplace

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Forecasting Sabotage Events in the Workplace

Article excerpt

Acts of sabotage continue to occur in the workplace. Even though organizations have created ways to recognize and deter these events, such acts are on the increase. Pacific Bell was hit by more than 450 acts of sabotage during a monthlong strike by its communication workers a few years ago. One act included cutting off service to 30,000 local customers that took technicians a full hour to repair. A graduate student at Cornell created a virus that infected the computer network at the Pentagon. Thousands of terminals at more than 300 universities, hospitals, and research centers were crippled as a result. A few years ago, 168,000 payroll records vanished from the database of a Fort Worth insurance firm. Because only a few people had the skills and the computer access to do the job, the perpetrator - who had been laid off two days before - was found quickly. The company took him to court, where he was fined $12,000. His job? Manager of company security.

Research results are showing more consistent findings among sabotage acts. That is, regardless of its form, sabotage is often characterized by a deliberate behavior to damage company property, tarnish a company's reputation, or subvert its operations. Violence against employers is increasing.(2) More importantly, sabotage is normally premeditated; it is not a random act or a temporary loss of restraint (Giacalone, 1990).(3) Therefore, organizations today need to learn how to forecast a sabotage event. This report can assist HRM professionals in taking steps to predict the impact of an event upon the organization and the probability of one occurring. In effect, management would be designing a sabotage barometer. This proactive approach to sabotage, in conjunction with other creative security measures, forms a comprehensive program that can reduce the fallout of an event.

Prior Studies

Most research on this topic has focused on the causes of sabotage and the ways that organizations can guard against it. Giacalone (1990) found the saboteur to be the enemy within the organization, with causes of sabotage rooted in vengeance, defensiveness, laziness, and self-promotion. Navran (1991) reported that workers become saboteurs for two reasons: (1) retaliation (when employees feel that they are being mistreated and are getting even); and (2) self-preservation (where employees are attempting to meet the perceived expectations or requirement for success). Although some acts of sabotage may be partly motivated by the hope of financial gain, most appear to have been committed for other reasons. A primary motivation for many saboteurs is retaliation against management for policies or personnel actions.(4)

Other studies found that not all sabotage is worker sabotage. There can be management sabotage that centers on uneven work distribution, arbitrarily made investments, wages unrelated to productivity, and unfair promotions.(5) Organizational structure contributes to workers anger. Too often, companies rely on hierarchal structures that promote cultures in which "people at the top think, and people at the bottom do."(6)

Studies that reported new approaches to recognize and deter sabotage have contributed to the field. DiBattista (1991) provided a list of interpersonal approaches to reduce the risk of sabotage (manage the suggestion system, monitor the flow of written and oral messages, encourage feedback from subordinates), which can be implemented immediately. Long-term structural approaches can be used as well (setting up quality circles, implementing job enlargement programs, setting up autonomous production groups).

Management can more carefully screen job applicants, increase security measures and alert supervisors, maintain an accident log, prepare a contingency plan, and increase employee commitment to organizational goals and values.(7) Some firms have instituted innovative programs to encourage valid internal whistleblowing.(8)

Along the lines of screening job applicants, it was found that in checking background information, half of all applicants were disqualified. …

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