Counterproductive and Deviant Behavior in the Workplace
Deviant behavior in the workplace may seem like somewhat of a rarity, but it is actually relatively common. Part of the reason behind that is that there is a broad definition of what is deviant or counterproductive, and part of the reason is that many organizations either ignore the behavior or take care of it internally, so it doesn't make the news or come to light. It is possible for organizations to minimize deviant and counterproductive behavior in the workplace, but they cannot completely stop it from happening (Jones, 2009; Smithikrai, 2008; Wilkerson, Evans, & Davis, 2008). The reason behind this is that human nature cannot be curbed just because there are rules at a particular company or organization. It may not be in a particular person's nature to be deviant, but that may not be the case for the person sitting next to him or her. With that in mind, many companies put rules and regulations into a handbook, and they make employees sign a form saying they know and understand these rules. This is to protect the company from a lawsuit in the event of deviant behavior by an employee, but that does not stop the deviant behavior from taking place.
Counterproductive behavior is somewhat different, because it does not have to be deviant or even something that directly violates the rules and regulations of the company. It could be as simple as wasting a lot of time during the workday and not ensuring that work is getting done properly. It could also involve personal phone calls, telling jokes, making fun of other workers, or doing anything that is not focused on the task at hand. Some of that may be against the rules, but it would be hard to call that behavior deviant. Most employees (and employers) see deviant behavior as illegal or immoral behavior, not something that is just slowing down the productivity of the employee and/or those around him or her. But, is counterproductive behavior also deviant behavior simply because it is counterproductive? Most researchers do not think so (Robinson & O'Leary-Kelly, 1998; Tepper, et al., 2008; Wilkerson, Evans, & Davis, 2008). Instead, they believe that counterproductive behavior and deviant behavior are two different things, but that there can certainly be an overlap of those areas when counterproductive behavior goes too far or when deviant behavior is also counterproductive to what the company and/or a particular employee is attempting to accomplish.
It is not actually that hard to be counterproductive as an employee. Something so simple as badmouthing other employees or supervisors can be enough to cause problems in the workplace (Wilkerson, Evans, & Davis, 2008). Studies have shown that there is a correlation between how much badmouthing is done and the level of cynicism shown by other employees (Wilkerson, Evans, & Davis, 2008). This was based on social information processing theory, and was used to see whether coworkers who badmouthed other employees or supervisors could have an influence on employees who heard them speaking that way. Would these employees who heard the coworkers badmouthing others start to think less highly of the workers being badmouthed? It turns out that yes, they would think less highly of those people and become more cynical about them (Wilkerson, Evans, & Davis, 2008). Then the workers who became more cynical could also start badmouthing those workers or other workers, and the behavior would spread (Wilkerson, Evans, & Davis, 2008).
Antisocial behaviors at work are easily shaped by the behaviors of the other workers (Robinson & O'Leary-Kelly, 1998). When one coworker was deviant or otherwise counterproductive, the majority of his or her coworkers developed the same traits. These coworkers also got along with one another quite well, because they all shared the same feelings and opinions. For those who were less antisocial or counterproductive than their coworkers, there were problems (Robinson & O'Leary-Kelly, 1998). It was harder for a less deviant person to like his or her more deviant coworkers. While this makes sense, it also shows how hard it can be for some people to work together because they do not have anything in common, including behaviors that are not appropriate in their workplace (Robinson & O'Leary-Kelly, 1998). When all employees are on the "same page" in relation to their deviance, they work better together than would employees that do not share both negative and positive traits (Robinson & O'Leary-Kelly, 1998).
There have been corporate and other scandals that have contributed to the cynicism of the public, but within the workplace the cynicism is often perpetrated by employees who feel as though there is something "wrong" with another employee. The person may be disgruntled, may have been turned down for a promotion, or may have even been rejected as a friend or a possible love interest. Whatever the reason for badmouthing, it is clearly a behavior that starts others in the company talking, as well. While it may not be deviant in nature, it is certainly counterproductive to a strong and healthy workplace where everyone works together smoothly for a common goal.
Another thing that workers seem to do, and that falls under both counterproductive and often deviant behavior, is get even with or seek revenge on a supervisor or someone who is higher up in ranking (Jones, 2009). When someone wants to get "justice" against a boss or a coworker, that naturally produces a counterproductive attitude in that person. That attitude can then spill over into the workplace and cause a disruption to workers who were not even involved in the original issue. What a worker perceives as "injustice" can really vary, as well (Jones, 2009). Some workers take everything personally, and that can stop them from taking a step back and being realistic about their interactions with others, including supervisors. If a worker takes something too personally, he or she may feel the need to get back at a boss or a coworker for something to which the other person has not even given a second thought, and which he or she did not intend to be offensive (Jones, 2009). Even a deliberate slight is not something for which an employee should seek retaliation, because there is no place in the workplace for something like that. It is much better for the person to focus on work, and avoid the drama that comes with deviant and counterproductive behavior.
Nearly 75% of employees engage in behaviors that are deviant, such as sabotage, vandalism, theft, and taking days off without excuse (Jones, 2009). While some of those issues sound (and are) worse than others, any deviant or counterproductive behavior can cause a problem for a company, because it disrupts the flow of work. It also costs billions of dollars each year (Jones, 2009). Some deviant behavior is very obvious and overt, but there are many covert behaviors that also cause financial and psychological hardships for companies and for workers and supervisors. When employees waste time or fail to take instructions seriously, they can harm the workflow of other people around them, and slow things down for an entire department or company (Jones, 2009). Over the long-term, that can be completely disastrous and can result in a host of problems that could have been avoided if the deviant behavior was discovered and nipped in the bud at the beginning.
It is not always the employees who are causing the problem, however. There are also many supervisors who show counterproductive and deviant behaviors by belittling employees, yelling at them, and treating them with no respect or decency (Tepper, et al., 2008). Supervisors may feel as though they can get away with this (and many of them do get away with it) because they are in charge. It is their company, and they are free to treat employees however they like. Even if they own the company, however, they are still not technically free to be abusive to employees (Tepper, et al., 2008). It is illegal to abuse and harass people, and that includes people who work for a particular person, no matter what position that person holds in a company or in the community. While the majority of supervisors are kind or at least decent and respectful to their employees, there is a small percentage who feel as though they can act however they like (Tepper, et al., 2008). That is clearly counterproductive to the workplace, but it is also deviant behavior in that it is not the norm in the workplace or in any part of society. Whether those supervisors act this way outside of the workplace would be worth consideration and could provide insight.
Any organization is clearly threatened by supervisors who act in a deviant and counterproductive manner (Tepper, et al., 2008). That kind of attitude drives away good workers who may like the company but who do not feel they should be required to work under those kinds of conditions. Additionally, there are many…