Why public employees manipulate performance data: prosocial impact, job stress, and red tape


While research on the dysfunctional uses of performance data is growing, we are still in search of theories that go beyond system-specific explanations and address data manipulation behavior at the level of the employee. In this article, we conceptualize different gaming responses to performance systems and test a model of performance cheating that emphasizes the critical role of employees’ prosocial impact, their job stress, and organizations’ red tape. We screen through a sample of almost 10,000 potential subjects and identify 964 public employees who work with performance data. Conducting a list experiment, a technique known to yield unbiased ratings of sensitive behaviors, we find that all three factors tend to reinforce performance cheating among public employees. The article contributes to the extension of causal chains in performance gaming theory via the inclusion of factors that have proven to be influential in behavioral research.

International Public Management Journal, 24(2): 164–182