People With Criminal Records May Make Better Employees, Studies Reveal

handcuffs-1078872_640For most employers, having a criminal record is ground enough to be denied a job. Many actually react impulsively at the mere sniff of a criminal record. As soon as a background check hints at a previous conviction, they don’t even wait to investigate it. They immediately drop an applicant or fire an employee.

This knee-jerk reaction has put numerous employers in legal problems. They have rushed to make a decision, only to later realize that the criminal records on which they based their decisions were false. In the end, they have been sued and ended up paying millions of dollars in damages.

If emerging studies are anything to go by, getting sued over rash decisions may actually be the least problem faced by employers who have a particular aversion to people with criminal records. They could actually be missing out on committed, dedicated, loyal and hardworking employees – the kinds of talent every employer dreams of recruiting.

The first study was carried out by a team of researchers from Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. This study tracked 1.3 million people who enlisted in the US military from 2002 to 2009. Among those tracked, 5000 prior felony convictions at the time they enlisted.

Although felony convictions often preclude people from serving in the US military, there are specific circumstances in which people with convictions can be enlisted. The 5,000 tracked in the study had undergone the rigorous screening process, and been allowed to enlist.

When the Harvard/Amherst researchers tracked the 1.3 million military personnel, they found no significant indicator that those which previous convictions were more likely to be dismissed over performance or disciplinary problems.

This runs counter to the common assumption which employers have against ex-cons. They assume that such people make bad employees. However, the researchers found that people with felony convictions were “no more likely to be discharged for the negative reasons employers often assume.”

When it came to performance, those with prior felony convictions actually out-performed their counterparts who didn’t have criminal records. They researchers found that those who had criminal records were promoted faster, and to higher ranks than other enlistees.

The findings from the Harvard/Amherst study tally with the findings of a 2014 analysis made by Evolv – a big-data company. Evolv specializes in performing data analytics to help employers decide whom to hire. After crunching performance data from millions of employees, Evolv made a startling discovery.

Evolv found that employees with criminal backgrounds were 1 to 1.5% more productive than their counterparts who don’t have criminal records. When factored across many employees, this seemingly small margin can add up to “tens of millions in profit and gain,” according to Evolv CEO Max Simkoff.

The exact reason why employees with criminal records outperform those without them hasn’t been empirically investigated. However, Jennifer Lundquist, a sociologist at Amherst (and co-author of the Harvard/Amherst study) proposed a number of factors which could account for the better performance of people with criminal records.

First of all, given that people with criminal records often have doors to employment closed, once they get an opportunity, they make the most of it. They put in their maximum effort and end up producing better results.

Secondly, being offered an opportunity may foster a feeling of gratitude towards an employer. The employees can feel appreciative to the employer for offering them a second chance. This feeling of appreciation fosters a fierce sense of loyalty, which motivates them to do their utmost for their employer.

Whatever the reason, research studies reveal that people with criminal records could possibly make better employees. For employers, such findings mean one thing: by summarily blocking opportunities for anyone with a criminal record, they could be shooting themselves in the foot. They could be missing out on the very talent they need to achieve their goals.

Brett McIntyre

Brett McIntyre
Brett McIntyre is the digital marketing director at Crimcheck, a NAPBS Accredited firm that specializes in pre-employment screening and background checks.

Brett McIntyre

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