Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer.
Today’s topic is workplace misconduct, and my guest is Ben Mones, the CEO of Fama. His company recently published a report called The State of Misconduct. Among other things, they found that seven of the nine industries covered faced misconduct by at least 5% of their workforce. 11% of candidates behave badly, too, so what’s an employer to do? It starts by understanding what’s going on, and that’s what we’ll get into on this edition of PeopleTech.
Hi, Ben. Welcome. It’s good to see you. Fama and RecruitingDaily published research on the state of misconduct at work. For some reason, I just found that fascinating. Could you tell me about the research, but also what prompted it?
Yeah. Sure. The State of Workplace Misconduct Report is a report that we try to put out about every year or so. The thinking behind it is connecting what workplace misconduct means for the enterprise. I think, too often, we look at workplace misconduct as something that we review in the aftermath, something that comes out on a spreadsheet or, “Hey, we had this turnover,” or, “We had this lawsuit. This is the event that happened.” All too often, I think the signals of workplace misconduct, the connection of why we’re doing background screening, why we’re screening people in general, the why and what for behind it, what is the impact on businesses, whether it’s productivity, whether it’s turnover, whether it’s brand protection, et cetera. How does misconduct in the workplace impact the company itself and how can we look at signals of workplace misconduct as they’ve evolved over time to identify those signals as they reflect in the information age, what’s on social media, Google, et cetera, the signs of misconduct evolving.
What we’ve done with this report is essentially said, “Hey, look, we’re going to connect these signals of workplace misconduct to real-world impact inside of companies and start going industry by industry so companies can know how pervasive, for example, misconduct might be in their industry, how they can benchmark, for example, their company against their peers and begin building policies, programs and strategies essentially to reduce that misconduct in the workplace.
What we’re trying to do here is peel back I would say the curtain to some degree and start looking and saying, “All right, well, how are these signals of workplace misconduct varying by industry and how are they affecting companies?” That was really the purpose of the research and, yeah, a lot of it was helping companies benchmark and understand what’s out there.
Now, HR Acuity did a study of its own, and they found more than half of employees, 57%, left the job at least in part because of somebody’s misconduct. Since you’ve got such a wide view of it, can you put that number in context? It seems like an awful lot.
Absolutely. It’s one of these things, again, that too often goes unnoticed until we review the output of such misconduct. When we think about the impacts of workplace misconduct, it’s more around what we call the social multiplier effect. I saw the Acuity research on people more likely to leave a company, productivity, of course, going down through that period as well, but what most people don’t realize is that the misconduct in the workplace has a multiplier effect of about 1.6. That means that, for every incident of workplace misconduct, there is a 0.6% more likelihood, 0.6 of 60% more likelihood that there’s going to be another workplace misconduct event at that company.
When we think about it, it’s not just one event and one event happening, but really this question of how does one event lead to a daisy chain and normalization, if you will, of misconduct in the workplace, the repetition and the absorption of, especially in a vertical organization, you have an executive who’s doing it, that behavior becomes normalized. That’s the more anecdotal way to think about it.
Aa lot of this research is taking concepts. I don’t think it’s going to be foreign to anyone who’s listening to think that, yeah, if I’m in a workplace ripe with misconduct, I’m going to stick around or I’m going to stay. Folks know that you’re going to leave if you’re working in an org with a significant amount of workplace misconduct. I think what we’re trying to do here is take that anecdotal understanding, bringing it into something that’s a little bit more data-driven, data oriented and start talking not just about people being more likely to leave, but there’s Cornerstone research from Cornerstone OnDemand. Harvard back in 2016 put something out, set about productivity decreases between 30 and 40% in toxic work environments, and so this is all about quantifying.
I think the reality is, too, Mark, is people want to care about this stuff. They do. HR leaders really want to care, talent acquisition wants to care about this, but all too often, if the business impact and ROI isn’t clear to those with the purse strings, it’s not always something that’s acted upon, an action in a productive way in the workplace. That’s what we’re trying to do here is begin highlighting and saying, “This stuff matters. Here’s where it gets to. Here’s how it manifests. Here’s how it festers, if you will. Good people are leaving, like you said, and productivity goes down, so you really got to think about what happens with one event and how that transforms into the outcome you just talked about.
Now, your research also found that 11% of candidates are engaged in some kind of misconduct. What kind of misconduct would a candidate get into? Or maybe another way to ask the question is, a candidate is not even your employee yet, how do they conduct a misconduct?
Yeah. It’s a great point. I think it’s a nuance that we have to capture here not just in this conversation, but is highlighted in the research itself. Our focus is on the signals of workplace misconduct. When we think of workplace misconduct, we think things like harassment, fraud, illegal drug use, for example. What we’re doing here at Fama is offering screening technology that allows you to identify that about the people coming into your organization that in many ways have normalized that sort of behavior, as I mentioned, that have codified that approach to how they engage with their peers, their coworkers, clients, et cetera, in a way again that might be intolerant or harassing. It’s that very front of the candidate experience that we’re trying to say, “Hey, look, we can identify people who have a history of demonstrating not just misconduct that you want to try to identify, but might’ve done it at a previous employers or evidence that in other ways outside of the workplace itself.”
That’s what Fama does, looking again at these modern sources, looking at everything from publicly available social media, web results about a subject, online news, civil litigation, et cetera, trying to give an employer their best chance to identify those signs of workplace misconduct before they find their way into the org. Oftentimes, it’s not just firing somebody or it’s not just not moving forward with a candidate. A lot of times, what we’ve seen clients do is use this data and use this insight as a platform for intervention. What I mean by that is to say, “Hey, look, we saw you making these comments that were misogynistic. You did it two or three times about four years ago or so. We think you bring a lot to the table joining company X, whatever it might be, but we just want to let you know that behavior is not appropriate here.”
That kind of just course correction and defining the values of your organization through the lens of a new person coming in, that’s what, when we say, yeah, it’s not workplace misconduct by someone inside of your company, but people who have demonstrated signals of workplace misconduct that again might’ve been normalized or codified into the daily way they go about their professional life that we want to help you as an employer identify before it finds its way into your org.
Can you give me an example of one of these signals, how you recognize it and what it tells you?
Yeah. Sure. These are things that unfortunately happen every day. We’re recording this podcast on September 21st. There was an article that came out yesterday in The Wall Street Journal about a CEO named Kiwi Camara, for example, at a company called CS Disco where he was just let go from the company in a very abrupt way, severing a hundred million dollars pay package, and it came out because of his misconduct in the workplace, the way he treated women. There’s a whole article about it, whether it was alleged groping, things that were happening in the workplace, people treating unfairly, being harassed simply because of their gender. The signal on this person, if you look back in the history, you can find news articles, for example, that talk about his behavior in college of acting in an intolerant way towards others. We can actually track back and begin to see for certain individuals a pattern of historical behavior that, when we get to the point of saying, “Oh, my gosh, how did we miss this?” the signals are out there.
When we think about signals of misconduct, we think about people acting intolerant or hateful towards others, people that might have a history of maybe being involved in harassment litigation at a previous company, maybe as a manager or simply as a peer to another person. That’s what. When we say workplace misconduct, what we’re talking about is this question of, “How do we begin tracking signal, tracking patterns before they find their way into an org?” Unfortunately, the example of this Kiwi Camara person, a perfect example of what could have been avoided by doing a little bit more due diligence on someone before putting them in such a leadership position. It’s not just leaders. Again, this happens across the entire employment spectrum.
What can an employer do to address this if they find that they’ve got a lot of signals across their workforce? Are there things that they can do? I don’t know. Does it change the culture or what?
Yeah. There’s no one-size-fits-all, but to do the old, I’m missing the name of the cartoon, I think it’s Captain Planet, knowing is half the battle. Right? That’s the very first thing that we start with, which is saying, “How do we begin just setting the baseline of where we’re at as a company?” That baseline, again, through the research that we’ve created, you can actually see by industry. For example, like consumer services, you see about a 27% rate of potential workplace misconduct. In industries like healthcare, for example, that number drops down to about 4% or so. You can see what’s normal for your industry, what’s typical for your industry, and then, once you identify and say, “Hey, look, this is what’s happening,” you can go all the way from talent recruiting so you can very look at the front of the funnel, where you’re sourcing talent from, how you’re setting up your interview process to begin the candidate selection process, for example, of identifying the types of candidates who might want to work with you.
Maybe you begin taking more of a DE&I approach to the very front of the funnel, talent sourcing strategies, but getting into training, for example, intervention early on and again just setting the tone through programs, policies, whether it’s where you source talent, engage talent throughout that lifecycle to really begin assessing and saying, “This is the way that we do things here at this company, and here’s how we’re going to begin shifting the tide,” but again it’s really identifying at the very first bit where misconduct might exist in our workforce, and that’s really how we think about it.
Once you did all the research and you saw the report and read it through for the first time, what was the most interesting finding to you?
Yeah, again, I mentioned it at the top, but the thing that was most interesting to me that I hadn’t quantified, I hadn’t seen before, and this is a great report, I’m not touting my own base, of course, selling my own book here, but there are 86 citations in this report. We spent a year and a half, Fama and Recruiting Daily, putting this together, doing the primary research, validating our sources, et cetera, and we learned a lot through the process about the broader, I would say, academic view and also professional view in how others have approached this problem.
Again, it’s that multiplier effect. You don’t really understand that social multiplier effect of misconduct and the normalization of projection of leadership and what values, for example, are okay at a company and recognizing how that might impact others, so that 1.6 x multiplier effect, meaning that, again, one instance of workplace misconduct means there’s a 60% likelihood you’re going to have more misconduct at the workplace, you can imagine that daisy chain across events where you can see quickly how it’s another way of saying, “One bad apple spoils the bunch in a lot of ways.”
You don’t want to believe that that’s true. I think you recognize that a lot of companies have those platforms for intervention, whether it’s training, policy adherence, reporting mechanisms. There are great companies like AllVoices, for example, that do great harassment-reporting work, hotlines that you can call, et cetera, to begin stopping this stuff in its tracks. If those checks and balances are not in place, unfortunately, this is something that can run wild misconduct in a company and lead to an outcome that you’re only aware of when suddenly you have two, three, four, five, 20% of your staff suddenly deciding that they want to work somewhere else.
Well, Ben, it’s a fascinating report. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you about it. Thanks for coming here again, and I hope we’ll talk again soon.
All right. Thanks a lot, Mark. Appreciate it. If anyone wants to check out the report, head to fama.io and we’ll give you a link.
My guest today has been Ben Mones, the CEO of Fama. This has been People Tech,the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of RecruitingDaily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs, visit www.evergreenpodcast.com, and to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.