When Cheating Becomes the Norm


I recently facilitated a cohort of mid-level professionals and was saddened.  In this particular class, assignments are given as well as tests to determine classification in a particular area for evaluation and was required to enable the teaching of certain concepts.

These tests and evaluations must be done by all and we rigorously adhere to this standard, nobody is allowed to escape. To date, until this last cohort, nobody gets left behind.

However this set, was bent on escaping the requirement.  Additional time was given two days in a row, for these tests to be done.  These concessions have never been given before, and they still did not do it. On the day the results were required to be used, 3 people had still not done them. They then attempted to cheat right in front of me.  To say I was disappointed was an understatement. The effort that was desired from them was not a lot, but they just could not be bothered to put in the extra exertion required to pull through.

We see these cheating phenomenon in so many aspects of life today.  The recent one, was the cheating scandal in the US. Where about 50 affluent parents were discovered to have paid millions of dollars to put their children who would not have had a chance in prestigious schools. A thorough investigation was conducted and the parents have been arrested and will answer to their misconduct.

Parents paying crooked teachers and administrators have occurred many times in Nigeria, we have all heard stories.  But personally, I have never heard that a parent or a teacher was caught and persecuted. This nonchalant behavior to doing what is right continues to destroy the moral and legal compass of Nigeria.

Let’s look at some cheating scandals and behaviours:

“The UK government has once more discovered that cheating is flourishing in the university system. Earlier this year, the Department for Education warned that it was considering implementing a crackdown on students buying essays online. Not only would it fine students who submitted commercially produced essays as their own work — it was also considering giving them criminal records and have gone on to define guidelines to address the issue.’

“In 2015, Volkswagen admitted to creating a device that allowed the company’s vehicles to cheat emissions tests in the United States. The following year, Wells Fargo revealed that 5,300 employees had secretly opened millions of phony accounts in an attempt to hit sales targets and receive bonuses. More and more, employees are bending the rules at work to get ahead.”

What are the other types of cheating behaviours we see at work?  We see employees taking credit for others’ work to actually changing production numbers to appear more effective or better at their jobs, manipulating numbers for self-gain, like falsifying time cards, expense sheets, retirements, exploiting others, such as taking credit for work or stealing coworkers’ ideas.  In Nigeria, all of these above is the norm. Many are also saying the recent elections is a case in point.

Talking about how we can solve the larger societal problem where somebody trying to cheat you is the norm, will be a herculean task.  Let’s focus on how we can try to help organisations solve this problem.

“The researchers, Maureen L. Ambrose and Robert Folger from the University of Central Florida and Noel F. Palmer from the University of Nebraska–Kearney, found that cheating behavior was more likely to happen in organizations where employees were pressured to perform at a high level, especially when there were punishments for not achieving those levels. Lack of supervision and other support also contributed to cheating environments.

The risk factor and the threat is really the explanation for why cheating occurred. It’s that the employees feel the need to protect themselves,”

But the researchers say their findings don’t mean that companies need to be soft.

“It’s a really tough balance as a manager because research has demonstrated that if you don’t pressure your employees, their performance stagnates, and then that’s not beneficial for organizations because exerting a bit of pressure is a motivator,” Mitchell says.

Explicitly stating the organization’s expectations with regard to ethical behavior is a critical step. Many organizations do not overtly state such parameters, which may leave employees feeling like it is okay to cheat as long as the end result was met, Baer says.

Fostering an environment where employees can safely express their concerns about work demands without fear of retribution allows them to signal when expectations may be beyond their ability to achieve without cheating.

In addition, working with employees to ensure that they’re given stretch goals, but that the goals are still attainable, is useful, Mitchell says.

A key question to ask is, is everyone in the organization open to cheating or aware that cheating is taking place?” Probably not – at least not directly. But everyone in the company bears responsibility, and here’s why: A culture where lies and deception seem like viable options doesn’t just spring up overnight. It’s developed over time, and not by anyone saying “go ahead and cheat on that test” — not really,” says Joel Garfinkle.

“Such a culture is created when the consequences for being truthful seem worse than sweeping something under the rug and ends up breeding a culture of dishonesty and circumventing the rules in your organization”.

What can you do?

According to Joel Garfinkle, Build an open culture where the team is free to discuss their work, they tend to catch small issues and come up with solutions before the problem really has a chance to develop.  His advice is to do the following:

  • Frequent check-ins and chats with your team
  • Informal gatherings and idea sharing
  • Make building positive working relationships a priority
  • Regular status communication with all levels
  • Reward the raising of issues and risks
  • Openly thank or praise those who bring items forward
  • Encourage talking through and exploring all avenues for solutions
  • Focus on the learnings from mistakes, instead of mistakes themselves
  • Provide frequent, one-on-one feedback and coaching
  • Challenge your teams to look for possible risks before they become problems
  • Thank team members and reward hard work to pull through an issue

As leaders in our organisations and society, let’s work on stamping out cheating.  It’s destroying our value system and the values of generations unborn if not checked.