Kinship ties and employee theft perceptions in family-owned businesses

Kimberly E. O'Brien, Robert M. Minjock, Stephen M. Colarelli, Chulguen Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Family business research typically views family firms using the frameworks developed for non-family businesses (e.g., agency theory, institutional theory). Thus, using an evolutionary perspective on family may help address gaps in the family business literature, particularly regarding deviance. In the current study, we use kin selection theory to predict that family members receive preferential treatment and this history of privileges can create entitlement and lead genetically-related employees to misuse company resources. Using an experimental vignette methodology and data from 161 people recruited from an online panel, we found that the participants’ purported genetic relatedness to the owner of a business increased their theft intentions and decreased their expected severity of sanctions and likelihood of being reported. Biological sex moderated the relationships between genetic relatedness and theft intentions, as well as between expectations of punishment and theft intentions. Specifically, when females expected higher severity of sanctions or likelihood of whistleblowing, they were less likely to report theft intentions, compared to males. The results of this study suggest that family business owners should protect against theft by all employees, including genetic relatives. Future research using field samples would help provide context for these findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-430
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Management Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Counterproductive behaviors
  • Evolutionary theory
  • Family business
  • Kinship
  • Lab experiment
  • Nepotism
  • Theft


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