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Why honest employees commit expense fraud and how to stop it

A guide to understanding and tackling workplace dishonesty

Webexpenses wanted to find out more about the attitudes of UK employees towards expenses and workplace honesty. Almost three-quarters of UK employees surveyed admit to carrying out dishonest acts at work - but only 23% believe they are dishonest.

The findings help to highlight how expenses fraud has become so normalised within UK business culture that, for many, it’s not viewed as being wrong.

The honesty problem

The findings presented in this report highlight the way in which ‘fiddling’ expenses have become considered ‘normal’ within the business world; how employees no longer view it as dishonest.

It explains why so many employees, who are otherwise honest and truthful, find it acceptable to commit expenses fraud. And it helps to explain why UK businesses continue to lose around £100 million each year to falsified and exaggerated claims.

In this white paper, we will help you understand the underlying causes of expenses fraud, including dishonesty differences, and how to approach expense fraud in a new way.


Survey results

To find out more about attitudes towards workplace honesty and expenses fraud, we commissioned a survey of more than 2,000 UK employees. The respondents were given an assurance that all answers would remain anonymous, allowing them to be open about issues they may otherwise feel uncomfortable discussing.

The most striking theme to emerge is the way that workplace dishonesty has become considered ‘normal’ and ‘legitimate’ by employees. When respondents were asked if they had committed various forms of dishonesty in the workplace, just under three-quarters (74%) admitted they had.

When employees were asked why they carried out dishonest acts, this is how they responded:

  • Little chance of getting caught 39%
  • It’s normal - everyone does it 32%
  • The employer can afford losses 24%
  • Bosses are dishonest as well 23%
  • I hate my job 11%

Respondents were also asked what they would do if they caught a colleague carrying out an act of dishonesty.

Almost a third (32%) would ‘turn a blind eye’ while only one-in-five of employees (20%) said they would confront the person.

What these results highlight is the powerful role that workplace culture can have on the attitude and actions of employees. When you have an environment in which these kinds of attitudes prevail, it’s inevitable that you will have expenses fraud.

Dishonesty differences

The same kind of workplace attitudes was found throughout the responses but it’s interesting to look at some of the variations that did exist between different regions and industry sectors.

Looking at the percentage of employees who admitted to being dishonest at work, the results reveal Northern Ireland to be the worst area and northeast England to be the most honest region. Here’s the full regional breakdown:

Percentage of employees who have been dishonest at work:

  • Northern Ireland 95%
  • South West 82%
  • Yorkshire 78%
  • East 76%
  • Scotland 76%

It’s intriguing to consider what factors could be helping to create such variations. Whether there are specific social and cultural factors at play that could be influencing these attitudes towards workplace dishonesty.

It’s also worth considering an alternative interpretation of these findings and whether the regions and industries with higher percentages are actually just being more honest about their dishonesty.

The results could highlight how respondents in the lowest-rated sectors are simply less willing to accept the endemic dishonesty that takes place in their workplace.

Expenses fraud: a new approach

With knowledge of the various attitudes which give rise to expenses fraud, we can start to look at effective strategies to tackle them. To do that, it’s worth briefly looking back at why these attitudes have become such a part of working culture.

Effective monitoring

As seen in the survey findings, one of the root causes of expenses fraud is a lack of fear that any wrongdoing will ever be spotted or challenged. While this may have often been the case with paper-based systems, businesses now have the tools to effectively enforce
expenses policy.

One of the features they provide is the ability to set a variety of triggers and warnings which automatically alert an account manager whenever a suspicious or out-of-policy claim is made. It means that issues can be caught early and resolved before they become problems.

Policing your policy

One of the major benefits of a digital system is the way it allows businesses to integrate their expenses policy into the everyday working routines of employees. Rather than policy being a static document, it can become an active part of the work routine.

The smartphone app used by employees can deliver various on-screen reminders and confirmation checks to ensure that employees are made are aware of company policy. These can be tailored based on the type of expense being claimed.

It provides a powerful tool in combating that a new ‘normality’ of expenses fraud, providing a constant reminder of what’s expected of ...

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