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Individuals with criminal records may stay in their jobs longer

In sales and customer service positions, employees with criminal records may stay in their jobs longer and be less likely to leave, according to a study published in the IZA Journal of Labor Policy.

Researchers at Northwestern University investigated the possible relationship between having a criminal record and job performance by evaluating data from employees in sales or customer service jobs in call centres in the US. They found employees with a criminal record stayed in their roles on average 19 days longer than those who did not have a criminal record.

Deborah Weiss, the corresponding author of the study said: “In sales and customer service positions, turnover is a major labor cost. Our study found that employees with criminal records had a longer tenure and were less likely to quit their jobs voluntarily than other workers. This finding suggests that individuals with a criminal record represent an untapped productivity pool.”

The authors suggest that employees with a criminal record may stay in their jobs longer because they have fewer job prospects outside of their current role.

Deborah Weiss said: “Job applicants with criminal records are much less likely than others to receive an offer of employment. Six months after release from prison, 50 to 80 percent of the formerly incarcerated remain unemployed. Some of those who are offered employment may stay longer because they have no other options and others may feel a sense of loyalty or gratitude to an employer who has given them a second chance.”

The researchers also found a 34% increased chance of misconduct in sales jobs for employees with a criminal record but not in customer service jobs, which may suggest that performance and tenure for employees with a criminal record may be better in customer service roles than sales roles. The authors suggest that despite this higher misconduct rate, sales employees with a criminal record may be a good investment for employers. The authors estimated that hiring a worker with a criminal record for a sales job increased expected theft-related costs by about $43, while saving the same employer about $746 in turnover costs on that worker.

Deborah Weiss said: “Finding gainful employment for individuals with a criminal background is an important public priority: without such employment, reoffending is almost inevitable. While our study may not entirely dispel employers’ fears that hiring applicants with a criminal record may carry risks, our findings suggest that there are unexploited opportunities to hiring applicants with a record in a way that makes sense both on efficiency and on moral grounds.”

The researchers used data on 58,977 applicants hired for sales or customer service jobs in call centres in the US, collected by a hiring consultancy from May 2008 to January 2014. The authors evaluated possible associations between having a criminal record or not having a criminal record and job performance, misconduct and time spent in the job.

The authors caution that the study only evaluated data from those working in the sales and customer service jobs, which may limit the generalizability of the results outside of these positions. The observational nature of this study does not allow for conclusions about cause and effect.

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Notes to editor:

1.    Research article: 
Criminal background and job performance
Weiss et al. IZA Journal of Labor Policy 2018
DOI: 10.1186/s40173-018-0101-0

The article is available at the journal website.  

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BMC's open access policy. 

2.    The IZA Journal of Labor Policy publishes scientific articles that are relevant for policy-making. This refers to papers addressing the impact of institutional settings and policy interventions on labor market outcomes, both from a theoretical as well as from an empirical point of view. In addition, the IZA Journal of Labor Policy publishes literature reviews and meta-analyses that synthesize existing research on policy relevant issues.

3.    A pioneer of open access publishing, BMC has an evolving portfolio of high quality peer-reviewed journals including broad interest titles such as BMC Biology and BMC Medicine, specialist journals such as Malaria Journal and Microbiome, and the BMC series. At BMC, research is always in progress. We are committed to continual innovation to better support the needs of our communities, ensuring the integrity of the research we publish, and championing the benefits of open research. BMC is part of Springer Nature, giving us greater opportunities to help authors connect and advance discoveries across the world.