Don't wait for fraud before tackling gambling issues
15 May 2009 8:33am
Gambling addiction is behind nearly half of all workplace fraud incidents, but employers keen to avoid them must treat the problem as an OHS issue, not a criminal one, says chair of the Gambling Impact Society, Kate Roberts.
While workplace fraud and crime can be side-effects of an employee's gambling addiction, they are at the "extreme end" and represent a tiny fraction of gambling-related issues, she says. Employers should raise their awareness about gambling addiction and take steps to prevent it long before such an incident occurs.
The Productivity Commission found in 1999 that 300,000 Australians have a serious gambling problem and each person negatively affects, on average, a further five-to-ten individuals. Therefore, Roberts says, employers should assume it's an issue they will encounter and take proactive steps to deal with it.
Most employers, she says, are quite ignorant about problem gambling and its effects, or they see it as "personal stuff coming into the workplace".
But this view ignores the relationship between work-created stressors and gambling addiction, which is similar to the way employees "self-medicate" using drugs and alcohol to escape uncomfortable emotions, she says.
Gambling addiction "needs to be treated in the same way drug and alcohol issues are", she says, but this is rarely the case.
The signs or symptoms of problem gambling can be hard for employers to detect, but they are similar to those that accompany other health issues and should be approached in the same way, Roberts says. They include:
a drop in work performance, often because the worker is "distracted" by their financial losses and how to recoup them.
absences from the workplace, including late returns from breaks and appointments, and missing appointments. This type of behaviour occurs "long, long before" addicted employees turn to fraud, Roberts says, so employers have plenty of opportunity to act; and
concerns raised by colleagues.
Shiftworkers are a high-risk group, she notes, as they're often alone for long periods of time and can fill the gaps by gambling.
The addicted employees that do turn to fraud often work in positions that involve handling other people's money, she says, and they rationalise their behaviour by seeing it as "borrowing - it is never their intention to steal. They get into major difficulties with that and it's a vicious cycle."
Take proactive steps
The steps Roberts recommends that employers take include:
accept that gambling is a prevalent issue in the community and that some employees are likely to be either directly or indirectly affected by it;
raise awareness through information and education in the workplace about gambling and its effects, and de-stigmatise it as a deviant behaviour so it is seen as an OHS issue instead. "People should feel they can reach out if they get into difficulties";
provide self-help resources for employees. If the employer offers access to an EAP, the provider should have specialist knowledge about gambling addiction as it is treated differently to drug and alcohol addiction;
avoid holding work meetings, functions or conferences in gambling venues, especially those with poker machines. Employers that do this are "creating issues for those employees that struggle with gambling problems. Just as you wouldn't have your team meeting in the local pub because alcohol in the workplace is not supported these days, you need to think about how you use gambling venues and choose not to";
develop clear policy on addictive behaviour that includes gambling and takes a rehabilitative approach;
specifically ban use of company internet or other employer-provided facilities for gambling purposes;
educate line managers and supervisors about gambling and how to recognise the warning signs. Managers must "recognise there is a huge stigma in the community and people are often very frightened to put up their hand". Managers should deal with the issue as they would any performance discussion, and "ask questions and open doors that will help people lift their performance, but keep in mind the broader health aspects".
Gambling the most common fraud motive
Gambling is now the most common motive for workplace fraud, according to KPMG Forensic's latest fraud survey.
Almost half (44%) of the total value of fraud from 2006 to 2008 was attributed to gambling, it found, which was a twofold increase over the 2006 survey.
According to the head of KPMG Forensic's Australian practice, Gary Gill, the "typical fraudster" is: "a 38-year-old male with no known history of dishonesty. A non-management employee of the victim organisation for six years, he has held his current position for four years by the time of detection.
"Typically motivated by greed and acting alone, he misappropriates cash to an average value of $262,000 over 11 months before being detected by the organisation's internal controls.
"Perhaps most alarmingly, his employer can expect to recover as little as 12 per cent of the proceeds of the fraud."
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