Can Shoplifting Cause Problems in Employee Retention? LSU Researcher Provides Insights for Practitioners

April 11, 2023

Kris Lindsey Hall headshot

            Kris Lindsey Hall

Recent disruptions, labor shortages, and fiscal pressures have imposed and highlighted changes in the roles and responsibilities of frontline employees (FLEs) in retail service environments. Being yelled at, accused, threatened, or having their presence ignored while customers shoplift are just some examples of customers’ deviant behaviors (CDB) that FLEs are expected to endure on a regular basis without extra compensation. As a result, frustrated FLEs now find themselves saying “not my circus, not my monkeys,” which has a tremendous impact on organizations and retailing services.

Purpose of the Study

customer deviant behavior infographic

In a new paper titled “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys? Frontline Employee Perceptions of Customer Deviant Behavior and Service Firms’ Guardianship Policies,” Department of Marketing Assistant Professor Kris Lindsey Hall and co-authors perform a multi-method investigation to provide a clear understanding of the effects that CDB and specific associated guardianship policies have on frontline employees. The study was recently published in the Journal of Service Research.

Prior research prescribes that employees play a critical role regarding guardianship duties or the efforts to combat CDB and “guarding” the store. Yet, many firms fail to outline policy specifics or consider how these policies affect the FLEs asked to assume these responsibilities.  

Research Findings

“The five studies we used in our research involved interviewing and surveying retail salespeople and service industry workers, as well as some experiments to see how those working on the frontlines of retail stores (and their managers) would respond to different scenarios of customers misbehaving. We found that the policies stores have in place to protect merchandise from theft are upsetting the workers. Such "guardianship policies" can increase employees’ feelings of unfairness, as well as their desire to find new jobs,” stated Lindsey-Hall.

The study also showed that the category of required guardianship, or mandatory policing of CDB by FLEs, is perceived as less fair than policies prohibiting active guardianship. FLEs begrudge requirements to actively confront shoplifters but appreciate the autonomy and empowerment associated with being authorized to (passively) service those they suspect of shoplifting. Also, FLEs predisposed to anxiety have the most aversion to required guardianship.

After discovering these key points, the authors were able to provide insights as to whether and how organizations should prohibit, require, or authorize employees to actively confront customer deviant behavior or passively service these customers.

Insights for Practitioners

Most importantly, guardianship expectations should be set and fully communicated from the date of hire to offer the best and most comprehensive approach to combatting CDB and enhancing retention. Next, training should be conducted for both FLEs and managers and must include how to cope with, de-escalate, and handle CDB to increase employee self-efficacy and decrease burnout.

Lastly, firms should not only work to better identify FLE candidates with confrontation anxiety but also employ training to help all employees reduce and manage the anxiety that comes with guardianship. The authors’ work reveals that employees with heightened anxiety are more likely to view guardianship policies as unfair and more likely to leave the organization; therefore, prioritizing candidate selection and training efforts will yield retention dividends. Organizations should acknowledge the full spectrum of CDB types, develop appropriate guardianship policies to address each, and prepare employees to succeed. 

Read the full study:

Journal of Service Research

Widely considered the world’s leading service research journal, the Journal of Service Research (JSR) is a must read to keep up with the latest in-service research. Practical and readable, JSR offers the necessary knowledge and tools to cope with an increasingly service-based economy. JSR features articles by the world’s leading service experts, from both academia and the business world.


About the Department of Marketing

The Department of Marketing at LSU’s E. J. Ourso College of Business prepares its students for careers in sales/management, advertising, buying, product development, retailing, and market research. Our mission is to enhance and advance the reputation for excellence of the department, the college, and the University through high-quality, transformative research programs. For more information, visit the Department of Marketing or call 225-578-8684.