Wealth Shift: The Decline of Ethics in America
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How Wealth Shifty Are We?

As managers, we are not doing a very effective job of dealing with Wealth Shift behavior. As a result, employees are now rampantly Wealth Shifting in increasingly blatant ways. Wealth Shifting has become as prevalent in today’s adult society as skipping school and playing pranks has always been in adolescence. In some ways, like Peter Pan, we’ve stopped learning how to grow up.

As we saw in the last chapter, fully 60% of the workforce readily admits to stealing office supplies on a regular and ongoing basis. (The actual figure is probably higher.) Health care, information technology, and manufacturing are examples of three industries that experience ridiculously high rates of Wealth Shift. For example, hospitals lose so much wheelchair inventory (15-25% annually) that they now refer to wheelchairs internally as “Hot Wheels”. Some hospitals have even resorted to using tricks like welding intravenous bag poles onto the backs of their wheelchairs to prevent them from fitting into the trunk of a car. Hospital silverware and patient belongings (including “street value” drugs) often “go missing” from hospital cafeterias and patient rooms.

The hotel industry is also rife with Wealth Shifters. Managers of boutique hotels often experience the loss of high-end linens, soap, and other bath products (Helpful hint: look for both your lost inventory and the culprits on Ebay) and have instituted certain “don’task don’t-tell” initiatives such as ‘Towel Amnesty Day’ and ‘Pieces of the Past’ to try to get back some of their long-lost treasures. Remote TV controllers are one of the items cited as most often missing from hotel rooms (along with clock radios and DVD players), and mini-bars have to be constantly checked and rechecked to make sure the liquor hasn’t been replaced with water or tea. Amusingly, the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles has even had its ultra-expensive koi Wealth Shifted from the hotel’s fish pond. (Who knows, perhaps the perpetrators even used a Wealth Shifted ice bucket to accomplish the theft? Talk about adding insult to injury!)

When asked, the reasons that rank and file employees give for Wealth Shifting are fairly narrow in scope. They Wealth Shift because they feel underpaid and undervalued. They Wealth Shift because of the disparity they see between what they have and what others have. They Wealth Shift because they think it isn’t really hurting anybody -the company is just a faceless entity with plenty of cash, right?

And managers do ask. They do threaten. But despite management’s efforts to drum the concept into their employee’s heads that Wealth Shifting is the same as stealing, Wealth Shifters at the lower levels haven’t stopped Wealth Shifting. They just say they are sorry and then do the same thing again two days later. Why?

When a line cook is pushed to justify the theft of the cheeseburger he grabbed on the way out the door at the end of his shift, he can’t be made to think about magnitude – the fact that line cooks everywhere are out there Wealth Shifting hundreds of thousands of hamburgers every day. No, not at all. Wealth Shifting is a very much a mano-a-mano concept. It is a straight-up, “what I take” vs. “what you take”, dog-eat-dog war.

That being the case, regardless of whether he is capable of verbalizing it or not, you have to understand what your line cook is subconsciously thinking. He is thinking: What’s the theft of a cheeseburger, or even ten cheeseburgers every day, when compared to the fact that the regional manager gets a company car? These gas prices are hurting me worse than anybody else in the company, but nobody around here is giving me a car and paying for my gas to get to and from work. Hey, I know! I’ll compensate myself for the discrepancy by taking a few cheeseburgers instead!

And what’s the regional manager’s personal use of a company car when compared to the head honcho’s personal use of the corporate jet? And so it goes, up through the ranks. Without strong internal ethical compasses to guide us, or ethical mentors to teach us, all we are left with is our justifications of ourselves and our judgments of others. In the absence of someone else being willing to Go First, we are stuck in a stalemate situation.

Is this, then, what we have been reduced to? Acceptance?

Ok. Yes. Certainly, acceptance is an option. But before we get all cynical and decide that it isn’t worth it to sacrifice our own unethical behavior to gain the credibility we need to stop the Wealth Shifting behavior in others, let’s take a closer look at what a huge problem Wealth Shift really is.

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