Most people reading this might be thinking to themselves, what has gambling to do with the workplace? Well, here’s a name to get you started. Nick Leeson. Leeson, you may remember, was the man who in 1995 single-handedly brought down the UK’s oldest investment bank, Barings.
Leeson was a derivatives broker whose fraudulent gambling caused the spectacular collapse of one of the UK’s most established financial institutions. From the early 1990s, Leeson allegedly made countless speculative (and unauthorised) gambles on the stock market that at first made large profits for his employers. However, as with most gamblers, his ‘beginner’s luck’ soon ran out and he started to lose huge amounts of money. To cover up his large losses, he began to hide them in an ‘error account’ (ie accounts that are used by financial companies to correct their mistakes made in trading). It was on 16 January 1995 that one national disaster (the Kobe earthquake) led to a disastrous financial one (the collapse of Barings Bank).
Things went tragically wrong when Leeson – using his employer’s money in an effort to recoup some of the money he had lost – placed a bet that the Japanese stock market would not move significantly overnight. However, on the morning of 17 January, the Kobe earthquake occurred and it sent the Asian financial markets into turmoil. To try and retrieve the lost money, Leeson made a series of increasingly risky gambles by betting that the Nikkei stock market would recover quickly – but it did not. Leeson’s losses eventually reached £827 million (which was more than twice the bank’s available trading capital). After a failed bailout attempt, Barings Bank was declared insolvent just over five weeks later (26 February 1995). Leeson fled but was eventually caught in November 1995 and was charged with fraud. He received a jail sentence of six and a half years. Interestingly, Leeson (and others) went on to blame Baring’s own poor auditing and risk management practices.
Most companies probably do not have policies in place to prevent one individual employee gambling away all of the company profits. However, Leeson’s (albeit somewhat extreme) antics demonstrate that organisations need to acknowledge that gambling with company money can be disastrous for the company if things go horribly wrong. While no company expects an employee gambling to bring about its collapse, Leeson’s case does at least highlight gambling as an issue that companies ought to think about in terms of risk assessment.
Gambling is a popular leisure activity and recent national surveys into gambling participation show that around two-thirds of adults gamble annually and that problem gambling affects between 0.5-2 per cent of the population1. There are a number of socio-demographic factors associated with problem gambling. These include being male, having a parent who was or who has been a problem gambler, being single, and having a low income2. Other research shows that those who experience unemployment, poor health or housing, and low educational qualifications have significantly higher rates of problem gambling than the general population2.
It is clear that the social and health costs of problem gambling can be large on both an individual and societal level. Personal costs can include irritability, extreme moodiness, problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, family neglect, and bankruptcy3. There can also be adverse health consequences for both the gambler and their partner including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraines, and other stress-related disorders3.
For most people, gambling is not a serious problem and in some cases may even be of benefit in team building and/or creating a collegiate atmosphere (eg National Lottery syndicates, office sweepstakes)4. However, for those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues. Typically, problem gambling at work can lead to many negative ‘warning signs’ such as misuse of time, mysterious disappearances, long lunches, arriving at work late, leaving work early, unusual vacation patterns, unexplained sick leave, internet and telephone misuse, etc4. However, new forms of gambling, such as gambling via the internet or mobile phones at work, means that many of these warning signs are unlikely to be picked up5. However, just because problem gambling is difficult to spot does not mean that managers should not include it in risk assessments and/or planning procedures. Listed below are some practical steps that can be taken to help minimise the potential problem4.
Problem gambling can clearly be a hidden activity and the growing availability of internet gambling is making it easier to gamble from the workplace5. Thankfully, it would appear that for most people, gambling is not a serious problem. For those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues (and in extreme cases cause major problems for the company as a whole). Managers clearly need to have their awareness of this issue raised, and once this has happened, they need to raise awareness of the issue among the workforce. Gambling is a social issue, a health issue and an occupational issue. Although not high on the list for most employers, the issues highlighted in this article suggest that it should at least be on the list somewhere.
Dr Mark Griffiths is Professor of Gambling Studies and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology Division, at Nottingham Trent University. He has written over 1,000 papers and articles on various behavioural addictions and received 10 national and international awards for his gambling research. His latest book is Problem gambling in Europe (Springer, 2009).
1 Wardle H et al. The British gambling prevalence survey 2007. London: National Centre for Social Research; 2007.
2 Griffiths MD. Pathological gambling. In: Plante T. (ed) Abnormal psychology in the 21st century. New York: Greenwood; 2006.
3 Griffiths MD. Betting your life on it: problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal. 2004; 329:1055-1056.
4 Griffiths MD. Internet gambling in the workplace. In: Anandarajan M, Simmers C. (eds) Managing web usage in the workplace: a social, ethical and legal perspective. Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing; 2002.
5 Griffiths MD. Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning. 2009; 21: 658-670.
The revised criteria for pathological gambling by The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V) can be found at: http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevisions/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=210#