“Counterproductive” or “deviant work behaviour” is behaviour by members of an organisation that is contrary to or against the legitimate interests of the organisation, (Jones, 2009) in ways that cause damage either to the organisation, to its members, or to both (Smithikrai, 2008). Such behaviour may include production deviance, unexcused absenteeism, sabotage, workplace aggression, theft or fraud, (Smithikrai, 2008) bad-mouthing an organisation, (Wilkerson et al, 2008) deceiving customers, expense accounts cheating, and accepting or paying kickbacks (Litzky, et al, 2006).
Deviant work behaviours may be two-dimensional: interpersonal vs. organisational, minor vs. Serious. A recent multi-dimensional scaling suggests that counterproductive behaviours can be analysed on an interpersonal/organisational dimensional and a task-relevance dimension (Smithikrai, 2008). Counterproductive work behaviour can prove very costly to an organisation.
For instance, theft costs the retail industry in the United States’ about $15 billion every year; job performance and co-worker co-operation suffer when employees ignore instructions or waste time (Jones, 2009). A 2005 global survey on economic crimes by PricewaterhouseCoopers involving 3634 companies found that 45 percent of them were subject to at least one significant economic crime. According to the survey, the average financial damage caused by tangible frauds like misappropriation of assets, counterfeiting and false pretences was US$ 1. 7 million (Smithikrai, 2008).
The aim of this paper is to give a detailed discussion about the causes of counterproductive or deviant behaviour in organisations and eventually provide some useful suggestions on what organisations experiencing such behaviours can do to prevent or stop them, most of which will be based on previously conducted research that covers issues that are specifically related to this topic. Causes of Counterproductive or Deviant Behaviours Counterproductive or deviant behaviours may be a result of abusive supervision i. e. constant non-physical hostility – like loud outbursts and undermining – perpetrated by supervisors against their sub-ordinates.
The results of abusive supervision may include aggression directed at the supervisors, problem drinking, organisational deviance which consists of acts of theft, lateness, sabotage and shirking (Tepper et al, 2008). Both the employees’ characteristics and the work environments’ aspects can cause either positive or negative behaviour in an organisation. For instance, factors like job design, organisational injustice, perceived stress have been established as potential causes of counterproductive work behaviour. Individual characteristics which are connected with such behaviour are self-control, sensation-seeking and motives.
Organisational antecedents include organisational justice, job satisfaction and organisational commitment (Fodchuk, 2007). Several studies indicate that those who have a perception of greater unfairness are more likely to engage more in counterproductive work behaviour. Studies on perception of fairness in organisations reveal a connection with the distributive justice i. e. the outcomes individuals in the organisations receive, procedural justice, i. e. the procedures for determining outcomes, and interactional justice, i. e. inter-personal treatment from authorities.
Interactional justice consists of two distinctive components: inter-personal and informational justice. Inter-personal justice is the perception regarding how authorities treat individuals with dignity, sensitivity and respect. Informational justice is the perception of the adequacy of explanations authorities give regarding procedures and outcomes affecting members. Employees who perceive unfair treatment may consequently reduce their co-operative behaviours in order to avoid being exploited (Jones, 2009). Feelings of unfair treatment can cause employees to engage in counterproductive behaviour as part of retaliation.
For example, lay-offs can especially cause problems when victims develop perceptions of unfairness or injustice as they could lose jobs in spite of being productive and loyal. The laid off employees may become motivated to retaliate as a way of retaliating against the injustice meted on them. The laid off workers may no longer be members of the organisation, but they can have a negative effect on organisation, when they choose to retaliate by for example bad-mouthing the organisation to its associates, taking legal action against the organisation, sabotage or engaging in violence against the organisation or its agents (Skarlicki et al, 2008).
However, retaliation or revenge is not just limited to retaliation due to layoffs; it could be a result of other forms of perceived unfairness (Fodchuk, 2007). Apart from managers’ actions, there are other things that play significant roles in causing counterproductive work behaviours. Poor working conditions and organisational time changes can increase the occurrence of deviant behaviours. Also, some personality traits – e. g. low conscientiousness, cynicism, emotional instability, and external control – age and external financial pressure can lead to deviant behaviour (Skarlicki et al, 2008).
Systems of reward or compensation can also encourage employees into engaging in deviant behaviour, depending with how they are designed. Employees competing for rewards may find themselves looking out only for themselves and believing that dishonest behaviour is necessary for them to be ahead of their co-workers. When an organisation makes employees to depend upon gratuities or commissions it could be creating room for them to engage in deviant behaviours, rationalised under the guise of meeting customer satisfaction or sales quotas.
Research indicates that salespersons whose salaries are mostly based on commissions or gratuities or both had a very high chance of engaging in workplace deviant behaviours like padding of expense accounts and undercharging. For instance when automobile repair company pays its mechanics and service managers according to the number of sales and completed repairs, the employees, in order to meet these demands, can oversell repair services and do the repair work in a rush, resulting in poorly done work (Litzky et al, 2006).
Another common cause of counterproductive work behaviour is control of employees by managers, because they believe that the employees cannot act ethically or in an organisation’s best interest. Such managers believe that the employees’ goals differ from the organisations’ because they assume that the employees have their own self-interests, which they will pursue if they are not keenly supervised (Litzky et al, 2006). However, such negative attitudes towards employees can make the employees to feel that they are not trusted and therefore they look out for means of retaliation.
Such managers should expect negative attitudes towards the organisation’s from those employees they show distrust by subjecting them to too much supervision. In retaliation, the employees can engage in deviant acts like fraud, when they get the opportunity, and bad-mouthing the organisation (Wilkerson et al, 2008). Social information can also affect employees’ attitudes directly through explicit statements by co-workers regarding the work environment and indirectly by influencing of the processes of attention and interpreting environmental cues.
Social information in the workplace, for instance statements made by co-workers’ statements concerning an organisation, can shape how an individual thinks or acts towards an organisation. By interpreting social cues and concurring with co-workers’ comments can make an employee to fit in and socialise to a workplace. Employees may gauge any part of information’s usefulness by assessing its salience, credibility and relevance. Close co-workers are very likely to give such information, with the nature of such relationships having the potential of influencing the weight accorded to social cues.
For example, individuals viewed favourably are most likely to be more influential. Therefore, it is very likely that if the close co-workers give negative social information about the workplace, it is very likely to cause counterproductive or deviant work behaviours. An individual employee’s desire to be accepted and the desire to avoid consequences of non-conformity in a group can influence them to conform to a deviant group’s norms. When managers are themselves engaging in deviant behaviour, tolerate such behaviour, new-coming employees can find them under pressure to conform to the groups’ norms (Robison & O’Leary-Kelly, 1998).
How to Stop Counterproductive Behaviours in Organisation Managers often come across employees who attempt to justify their deviant behaviours after catching them. In most such cases, managers opt to terminate the workers as a way of ridding the organisations of such unscrupulous individuals. Nevertheless, it is very important to note that deviant behaviour is more of a function of a workplace and an organisation’s leadership than it is an individual’s personality trait (Litzky, et al, 2006).
This is because even employees who are basically honest can sometimes be pushed into inappropriate behaviour if they happen to view their workplace as unjust or to be treating them unfairly (Wilkerson et al, 2008). If they notice consistent deviant behaviours even among different employees, managers should not take it lightly; rather, they should take it as a warning signal. It is the manager’s duty to ensure they create ethical climates that keep honest employees from engaging in dishonest behaviours (Litzky, et al, 2006).
It is the top managements that normally set the ethical tones for their organisations and it is through the leadership that employees’ honesty can be achieved most effectively and in a short time. Managers should create ethical climates and become aware of how their actions may encourage counterproductive behaviour among employees. This way the distrust by employees, investors and clients that has rocked business in general will be minimised (Fodchuk, 2008). Managers’ behaviours influence ethics in organisations.
Therefore, it is important for managers at every level in an organisation to create ethical environments in order for ethical behaviour to permeate an organisation’s ranks. Honest employees are less likely to feel pressured or tempted to engage in deviance when managers themselves set examples by behaving ethically. For instance, if a company president is used to taking petty cash money, using company for sending personal mail, and having company employees carry out his domestic work for him, then sub-ordinate employees may be tempted to embezzle the company’s resources, e.
g. money, and defend their actions based on the company president’s actions (Litzky, et al, 2006). To avoid or stop counterproductive behaviours in an organisation, management should explain the organisation’s goals. This can promote ethical climates by reducing the risk employees engaging in counterproductive work behaviours. It is the duty of managers to make sure employees recognise that by engaging in actions that can harm the organisation they are also putting themselves in harm’s way (Litzky et al, 2006).
The managers should create awareness of the costs associated with deviant behaviours to the employees, by showing them how such behaviours can lead to huge losses for the organisation (Fodchuk, 2008). Organisations should also take the initiative of training managers on ways of interacting with workers in an interpersonally just way. Research shows that this increases job performance and reduces counterproductive work behaviour in organisations. According to research, training managers on interactional justice intervention significantly increases performance compared to performance before the training (Fodchuk, 2008).
Ethical environments can be achieved through promotion of relationships which are built on mutual trust and respect. Relationships built on mutual trust between managers and their subordinates can be created by establishing relational psychological contracts. A psychological contract is an implicit agreement developed between employers and their employees. Relational psychological contracts are personal, long-term commitments and are mostly based on trust. The kinds of psychological contracts developed by managers with their employees influence the employees’ attitudes and behaviours.
When employees feel that their employers are reciprocating their trust, the relational psychological contracts can lead to employees highly involving and committing themselves. Those styles of management that show high trust levels with minimal regulation encourage the employees to embrace responsible behaviour. In fact, research shows that the best way to control deviant behaviour was by promoting better communication, open discussions, and serious commitment on the part of the management in addressing deviance in the workplace (Litzky et al, 2006). Conclusion
Most of the counterproductive or deviant behaviours in organizations can be avoided if all parties do their parts as required. The management ought to provide the right ethical environments by leading by example, if they expect their employees to stay away from counterproductive or deviant behaviours. The employees, on the other hand, should find ways to address issues of perceived unfairness by their superiors in the organisation. This way, all parties in the organisation can help reduce or prevent deviant behaviours. The work of controlling with deviant behaviours is not easy.
Today, competition is increasing by the day, forcing managers in organisations to pressure their employees to deliver customer satisfaction and meet their individual performance targets. Consequently, employees who find themselves in such situations often become encouraged to engage in counterproductive behaviour in order to meet the organisation’s goals. Managers, therefore, should be aware that their actions can encourage deviant behaviours in honest employees. By developing mutual trust or long-term psychological contracts with their sub-ordinates, managers can help create climates that discourage counterproductive behaviours.
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