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Wanting More, Getting Less: Gaming Performance Measurement as a Form of Deviant Workplace Behavior

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Abstract

Investigating the causes of unethical behaviors in academia, such as scientific misconduct, has become a highly important research subject. The current performance measurement practices (e.g., equating research performance with the number of publications in top-tier journals) are frequently referred to as being responsible for scientists’ unethical behaviors. We conducted qualitative semi-structured interviews with different stakeholders of the higher education system (e.g., professors and policy makers; N = 43) to analyze the influence of performance measurement on scientists’ behavior. We followed a three-step coding procedure and found (1) that the participants described a variety of positive behavioral consequences (e.g., higher productivity) but mainly negative behavioral consequences (e.g., questionable publishing practices) of current performance measurement practices in academia; (2) that scientists’ behavior can be described as gaming performance measurement (i.e., achieving performance goals by reducing performance quality and focusing on those tasks that are measured); and (3) that gaming performance measurement shares the same characteristics as deviant workplace behavior (i.e., a voluntary violation of organizational norms that harms the university). We discuss that gaming performance measurement has not been considered as a type of deviant workplace behavior in the previous literature. Furthermore, we draw from research on deviant workplace behavior and goal setting to discuss psychological processes that may underlie gaming performance measurement. Our results indicate the importance of connecting literature on deviant workplace behavior and goal setting to advance our understanding of gaming performance measurement.

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Notes

  1. Source: https://www.nsf.gov/oig/_pdf/cfr/45-CFR-689.pdf.

  2. Ackman (2002) Pay madness at Enron. Forbes. Source: https://www.forbes.com/2002/03/22/0322enronpay.html.

  3. We downloaded information on the number of students at all higher education institutions in Germany from the website of the German Rector’s Conference (http://www.hs-kompass2.de/kompass/xml/download/hs_liste.txt). Because the university of corporate education was not included in this data set, we could not obtain reliable data on the number of students currently enrolled at this university. Therefore, the average numbers reported for the number of students do not include this university.

  4. The results are simultaneously reported for all five groups of interviewees. There were no meaningful differences in the answers the participants provided.

  5. From our review of frameworks we specifically exclude deviant workplace behavior (1) that causes harm to the organization but that is unrelated to an adaptation of core job tasks (e.g., stealing company goods) or (2) that causes harm to other members of the organization (e.g., sexual harassment).

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to express their sincere gratitude to the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, to the participants of the study, and to Margit Osterloh, who provided very valuable feedback on the interview guideline. Additionally, the authors thank the student assistants who were involved in the transcription of the interviews and partly in the coding of the interviews, especially, Miriam Rosentritt, Carl Schade, and Falk Serbser. Further thanks go to the two anonymous reviewers of the Journal of Business Ethics and to the editor. Their constructive comments and suggestions, which enabled us to improve the manuscript, were extremely helpful and supportive.

Funding

This study was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Grant No. FKZ 01PY13012).

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Correspondence to Laura Graf.

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Graf, L., Wendler, W.S., Stumpf-Wollersheim, J. et al. Wanting More, Getting Less: Gaming Performance Measurement as a Form of Deviant Workplace Behavior. J Bus Ethics 157, 753–773 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-017-3688-y

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