Browse Definitions :

broken windows theory

What is the broken window theory?

Initially discussed in a 1982 article in The Atlantic by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, the theory suggests that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition might stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.

Origins and explanation of the theory

The theory emerged from an analogy where a building with a few broken windows, left unrepaired, leads to more broken windows and eventually to more severe damage or unlawful occupation. This analogy extends to other forms of disorder, such as litter on a sidewalk, which tends to attract more litter. Over time, these seemingly minor issues escalate, leading to an increase in more serious offenses, like theft.

As a corollary to the theory, when an environment is well-tended and problems dealt with as they arise, this also affects attitudes and leads to continued good management and maintenance.

Application of broken windows theory

Broken windows theory can be applied to different settings, including urban and corporate environments.

Urban settings

In urban settings, proponents of the theory argue that small instances of disorder like graffiti, public drunkenness, and fare evasion, if unaddressed, create an environment that suggests neglect. This perception then fosters an atmosphere where criminal behavior feels more permissible.

Corporate settings

In a business context, broken windows theory is applied not only to elements of the physical workplace environment but any kind of outstanding issue that has not been promptly dealt with.

Problems like absenteeism, information silos, poor human resource management, overwork, burnout, oppressive or disconnected corporate cultures, and a lack of employee engagement can be considered analogous to a broken window.

Effective management that addresses these small problems promptly can prevent them from escalating and maintain a positive and productive corporate environment. This approach encourages continuous good management and maintenance of both physical and organizational standards.

workplace transformation tips diagram
Effective ways to address broken windows theory type problems -- such as absenteeism, overwork, burnout, etc. -- in a corporate environment.

Broader implications and criticisms

While the broken windows theory has been influential in various fields, including policing and urban policy, it has faced criticism. Critics argue that it may lead to policies that target minor offenses at the expense of addressing deeper social issues. Additionally, the implementation of such strategies can sometimes lead to community resentment or an infringement on civil liberties.

The broken windows theory provides a useful framework for understanding how small problems if ignored, can lead to larger issues within any environment, be it urban or organizational. However, maintaining high standards and addressing issues promptly can foster a sense of order and propriety that discourages further issues.

Whether applying this theory to city streets or corporate hallways, the fundamental takeaway remains: managing and repairing the small things in environments can prevent bigger problems in the future.

As businesses rush to adopt new technologies in the name of achieving a digital transformation, it's important to remember how important company culture is in this effort. Find out why digital transformation also encompasses culture.

This was last updated in April 2024

Continue Reading About broken windows theory

  • SD-WAN security

    SD-WAN security refers to the practices, protocols and technologies protecting data and resources transmitted across ...

  • net neutrality

    Net neutrality is the concept of an open, equal internet for everyone, regardless of content consumed or the device, application ...

  • network scanning

    Network scanning is a procedure for identifying active devices on a network by employing a feature or features in the network ...

  • virtual firewall

    A virtual firewall is a firewall device or service that provides network traffic filtering and monitoring for virtual machines (...

  • cloud penetration testing

    Cloud penetration testing is a tactic an organization uses to assess its cloud security effectiveness by attempting to evade its ...

  • cloud workload protection platform (CWPP)

    A cloud workload protection platform (CWPP) is a security tool designed to protect workloads that run on premises, in the cloud ...

  • Regulation SCI (Regulation Systems Compliance and Integrity)

    Regulation SCI (Regulation Systems Compliance and Integrity) is a set of rules adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange ...

  • strategic management

    Strategic management is the ongoing planning, monitoring, analysis and assessment of all necessities an organization needs to ...

  • IT budget

    IT budget is the amount of money spent on an organization's information technology systems and services. It includes compensation...

  • ADP Mobile Solutions

    ADP Mobile Solutions is a self-service mobile app that enables employees to access work records such as pay, schedules, timecards...

  • director of employee engagement

    Director of employee engagement is one of the job titles for a human resources (HR) manager who is responsible for an ...

  • digital HR

    Digital HR is the digital transformation of HR services and processes through the use of social, mobile, analytics and cloud (...

Customer Experience
  • chatbot

    A chatbot is a software or computer program that simulates human conversation or "chatter" through text or voice interactions.

  • martech (marketing technology)

    Martech (marketing technology) refers to the integration of software tools, platforms, and applications designed to streamline ...

  • transactional marketing

    Transactional marketing is a business strategy that focuses on single, point-of-sale transactions.