One Morally Bankrupt Apple Spoils the Bunch…

Topic: Counter-Productive Work Behavior
Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: The normalization of deviant
organizational practices: Wage arrears in Russia, 1991-98
Authors: Earle, Spicer, & Peter
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

…And by “apple,” I mean “organization”. Lately, have you found yourself wondering how they got away with it for so long (I’m lookin’ at you, Wall Street)? Have you wondered why corruption seems to be an industry norm instead of just one corrupt organization? Why didn’t anyone stop them? If it seems like all the organizations are in it together, you’re kind of right.

Research on the use of wage arrears—purposely delaying payment of workers’ earned wages—in Russia showed that as deviant business practices became the norm, they quickly adopted as the status quo for other organizations in the community. Looking at the numbers, it’s amazing how quickly this deviant practice spread. For the data reported, in 1991, 8% of organizations in Russia used wage arrears and of these organizations, they were an average of about 2 months behind in paying their workers. In 1998, 59% of organizations were using wage arrears and these organizations were well over 4 months behind in paying their workers.

What makes this all the more alarming is the reaction of workers to this deviant behavior. As arrears became more prevalent and extreme, workers were less likely to strike or quit. As deviant organizational behavior became normalized, the individuals being hurt by the practices adapted to the malicious practices.

In terms of preventing deviant practices, there are a couple of points for us to take away from this cautionary tale. First, deviant practices need to be stopped quickly, before stakeholders and perpetrators become numb to the corrupt behavior. Second, these wage arrears occurred in spite of laws against the practice. Regulations are not enough; we have to change the culture that rationalizes and allows deviant behavior.

Earle, J. S., Spicer, A., & Peter, K. S. (2010). The normalization of deviant
organizational practices: Wage arrears in Russia, 1991-98. Academy of Management Journal, 53, 218-237.