Organisational Misbehavior

Critically evaluate the argument that organisational misbehavior is a ‘normal’ feature of organisational life


The notion of organisational misbehavior can be interpreted in a lot of ways based on different perspectives, different people, shifting situations, and by the changing level of awareness and understanding on the life of an organisation.

There is a primary purpose of organisations in the context of fulfilling certain individual goals. Northcraft and Neale (1990, p.5) say that people come together and form organisations because organisations can accomplish things that are beyond the reach of individuals. They come together to accomplish what each individual cannot accomplish alone. The meaning of behavior in organisations according to Northcraft and Neale revolve around managing behavior to take advantage of the performance benefits of groups over individuals. This is where the concept of a good behavior and misbehavior takes shape.

Organisational Behavior

Organisational behavior is a multidisciplinary definition that illustrates a number of points (Gibson et al, 2000). Some of these points relate directly to the conduct of the organisation in society. First, it indicates that the behavior of people operate at individual, group, or organisational level. This suggests that when trying to study the organisational misbehavior in the perspective of being a normal part of organisational life, it must identify clearly the levels of analysis – individual, group, and the organisation being used. Second, there’s a distinctively humanistic orientation within the organisation behavior. People’s attitudes, perceptions, learning capabilities, and objectives are important to the organisation. They provide the rich mixture for their organisation’s culture and strategies to evolve and prosper. Thirdly, the external environment is seen as having significant impact on the organisational behavior. Finally, there’s also the application orientation which concerns providing useful answers to questions that arise in the context of managing the organisation.

Misbehavior is often interpreted to mean ‘bad behavior’ or a deviation from the normal norms and ethics expected of individuals and organisations. To say that organisational behavior also involves other certain kinds of misbehavior still descends to the fact that any type of behavior can be either good or bad depending on the context that it is applied to in real life situations. When this type of behavior exists and eventually prevails in any organisational setup, it would likely grow into a certain stature of normalcy and seep into conventional wisdom.

In order to understand why this argument seems to make sense in the framework of an organisation’s life, it is important to first identify the different compositions of an organisation, its objectives, culture, structure, and strategies. The complexities associated with these compositions have made it virtually impossible to model and envision a ‘perfect’ organisation.

Organisations have had some bouts with internal and external conflicts in one way or another. Some have mastered the arts of deception and impropriety. It is unrealistic to say that organisational misbehavior is not part of organisational life either. People in the organisation may misbehave and some people may blame the entire organisation. Others may blame specific people (especially managers) when the real shortcoming came from the organisation’s policies. Other groups within the organisation or network may deviate from agreements and norms. The organisational culture may not also be up to the times and the current business strategies may not sit well with government regulation policies and industry norms. If these things do happen (and they happen a lot), it is not viable and healthy to draw the line between laying out unspoken rules in classifying organisational behavior to be good and a bad.

People and Human Behavior

People make up the internal social system of the organisation (Newstrom and Davis, 1997). This system consists of individuals and groups, and large groups as well as small ones. People are the living, thinking, and feeling beings who work in the organisation to achieve their objectives. An organisational structure is filled up with people who decide and deliver the goods for the organisation. Diversity presents a lot of challenges for management to handle. When people become members of an organisation whether in official, unofficial or informal capacity, they bring with them different educational background, talents, interests, and behavior that they eventually contribute for the success or failure of the organisation. The relationship among individuals and groups in an organisation create expectations for an individual’s behavior (Gibson et al, 2000, p. 7). An individual can be presented here as the organisation itself. These expectations result in certain leadership and follower roles that must be performed so that there will be some kind of order and system.

Collective expectations can either conform or not to standard behavior. Collective misuse of resources interests, talents, expertise, and management strategies can constitute organisation misbehavior. Punch (1996, p.1) views these misconduct as harmful to the viability of the organisation and constitutes deviance by the organisation. To put it more bluntly, organisational misbehavior eventually boils down to the issue of profits and how it should be maximized. Money has always been a central issue in any organisation and it has often been used to measure the survivability of a business. Organisational goals always take into their mainstream policy the issue of financial and economic stability and prosperity. Punch (1996, p.214) strongly suggested that formal goals of the organisation thus constitute a ‘front’ for the real goals of management which is to provide a money machine for its owners and other insiders.

If it is already common and normal for criminals to use any tool or weapon to perpetuate a crime, it would also seem normal for organisations to use the organisation itself to obtain money from ‘victims’ of its misbehavior. The ‘victims’ may actually be the customers or the members themselves. It is a prime example of what is called the “organisational weapon” – the organisation is for white-collar criminals as the gun or knife is for the common criminals (Wheeler and Rothman, 1982, cited in Punch, 1996). In short, an organisation is set up for the primary purpose of making a substantial amount of money in the form of a profit and improving the quality of life for the individual members of the organisation.

Organisations have systems of authority, status, and power, and people in organisations have varying needs for each system. People need money and a sense of fulfillment. People also need power to impose their will to others. People want to attain a certain level of success as measured by their status and standing in the organisation. Taken as a whole, organisations follow certain types of ethical behavior and standards defined along its objectives and future goals. It is also believed that adherence to moral standards on the job can have positive outcomes on the organisation and society by promoting strong ethical behavior in any aspects of life (Mares, 2005). This strong behavior of one organisation can be used as a strong issue against another organisation which is considered to be ‘misbehaving’ just because it was not able to adhere to certain moral standards previously attained.

Organisational Structure

An organisational structure defines the formal relationship and use of people in organisations. According to Newstrom and Devis (1997), different jobs are required to accomplish all of an organisation’s activities. There are managers, employees, accountants, assemblers, and others who have to be related in some structural way so that their work can be effectively coordinated.

How is the structure of the organisation related to the conduct of an organisation? According to Thompson (1997, p.588), structure is the means by which the organisation seeks to achieve its strategic objectives and implement strategies and strategic changes. Assuming that these strategies and changes are concerned with relating the organisation’s resources to its goals, will these resources be used in the proper way acceptable to all in the society?

If change is necessary, it is correct to point out that resistance to change can constitute another concept of misbehavior. People confronting changes in their working environments often exhibit dysfunctional behaviors like aggression, projection, and avoidance (Hirschheim, 1995 p. 160). These types of behavioral patterns affect the overall behavior of the organisation.

Another thing to consider in the organisational structure is the way decision making is delegated and observed. Thompson described the extent by which a decentralized and centralized setup of management decision making is vital in adapting to strategic change. In a centralized setup, organisational misbehavior is usually highlighted at the top management level because only a handful of people are empowered to do the decision making. A decentralized setup allows decisions to be made by most people who must implement change and usually allows the organisation a more collective approach to making decisions based on what is morally and ethically correct. This statement however, does not imply that a decentralized structure eliminates instances of misbehavior. It only lessens the probability. On the other hand, a decentralized setup could empower smaller groups within the organisation to abuse their power and open the possibility of misbehavior on a smaller scale.

According to Tsahuridu, specialization and division of work that occurs in organizations may make people in organizations unable to see the illegality and immorality of certain actions. Each action is a part of a chain of actions, and even though each individual act may be legitimate and moral, all the actions linked together may constitute an illegal or immoral activity, which each individual participant may be ignorant of.

Organisational Objectives and Culture

Organisations must have objectives in order to exist. Objectives are always centered on what is basically ‘good’ for the organisation, whether the resulting action or consequences is ‘bad’. How is organisational objectives tied to organisational behavior?

Profit and growth are means to other ends rather than objectives in themselves (Acoff, 1986, cited in Thompson, 1997). There is then a question of whether profit is the ultimate objective of profit seeking business organisations or whether it is merely a means to other ends, which themselves constitute the real objectives (Thompson, 1997, p.153). Organisational behavior can be better understood by assuming whether the real goal of the organisation is to maximize profit or to provide them with a good quality of life and better standard of living.

Harris and Hartman (2002, p. 75) said that an organisation’s culture consists of the values, norms, and attitudes of the people who make up the organisation. Values show what is important; norms reveal expected behavior; attitudes show the mind-set of individuals. Organisational culture therefore tells people what is important in the organisation, how to behave, and how to see things. Culture is a part of organisational life that influences the behavior, attitudes, and overall effectiveness of members (Gibson et al, 2000).

Managers are usually in the forefront of formulating organisational strategies and policies. Johnson and Scholes (1997, p.79-80) argued that in formulating policies, managers should regard experience (good or bad) as constraints on developments. They say that in order to develop the organisation to cope with today’s changing environments, they need to challenge the people around them and experiment with their different ideas and conflicting views in a pluralistic approach. The job of top management therefore is to create this sort of organisation by building teams that can work in such ways through the development of the everyday behavior and culture of the organisation.

All of the issues related to the organisation in general have a tendency to influence and affect the behavior of the organisation. While it is safe to assume that the notion of misbehavior in the organisation tends to focus on the ‘wrong’ or ‘negative’ side of the organisation, it is preferred that misbehavior should be ‘corrected’ and dealt with by focusing on how to manage and institute reforms in the different aspects of the organisation. This is a tall and complex order. Organisational behavior is not only influenced by the different factors previously mentioned. Management policies have a tendency to adapt to changing situations in their environments. Some organisations’ strategies may take advantage of ‘weak’ government policies and regulations and find loopholes with which they can misbehave without being noticed. Other organisations’ strategies tend to focus on covering up unethical practices with good and convincing arguments that their actions go against standard practices but at the same time, benefit a large segment of society.

Punch (1996, p.1) described the behavior of today’s organisations as problematic and worrying. He reasons out that different kinds of organisational misbehavior are often caused by managers ‘lending’ themselves to deviant activities and the inability of government, business, and regulatory agencies to control effectively such misbehavior. He explains that this was largely because the subjects of business crime and corporate deviance have been sadly neglected by criminologists and crime-fighting bodies in favor of other areas such as street crimes, low-level law enforcement, and the prison system.

Almost everyday, new types of organisation misbehavior are being uncovered and brought out into the open. As these corporate scandals and other forms of financial misconduct often perpetuated by top level management are exposed, more and more sophisticated strategies and techniques are slowly being uncovered. It is quite interesting to know that one kind of misbehavior can be linked to another form of misbehavior in another corporate partner within the network of organisations. Other sets of misbehavior can involve almost all levels of the organisational hierarchy.

The realities faced by an organisation are different from others. Each organisation has an identity, an objective, a strategic plan, and differing sets of policies and regulations. Harris and Hartman (2002, p. 97) said this is because the underlying premise in the ideal culture is that the formal organisation’s norms and values are to be consistent with those of the various individuals and groups within the organisation. They say that the norms and values of individuals and groups of the organisation are hostile to formal organisational goals. This is especially true to members of top-level management and the rank and file members. Their hidden values may contradict the official policies of the organisation. Sometimes, the organisation may not value the potential contribution of its members. The need to create competitive advantage for profit and growth without the proper ethical system in place can lead to drastic steps and ethically questionable decisions and actions. Some members of the organisation may feel the need to make reforms while others may think taking radical steps will eventually spell success.

Discontentment and trouble may brew over different ‘signals’ and messages that the inner structure of the organisation send out to the outside world. It is therefore evident that culture can become very counterproductive and the basis of confidence, cooperation, and adherence to standard norms and behavior can be damaging to the overall behavior of the organisation. This is the start of the decay of organisational values and norms and provides a fertile ground for breeding misconduct and misbehavior in any front of the organisation.


Misbehavior is a normal part of an organisation’s life. It is not a question of whether it exists or not. It tends to become an issue when organisations tolerate and do nothing to correct these deviances from normal behavior and when organisations formulate policies that sheer away from ethical standards that govern them.

Why is it that organisational misbehaviors tend to exist even in model companies and organisations recognized for their professional excellence? There are different ways of understanding organisational misbehavior in the context of whether it is normal or not in an organisational life. If we try to look closely at the term ‘normal’ and ‘misbehavior,’ there are two things which would come into mind.

First, nothing is perfect and it is perfectly normal for people to commit mistakes, either willingly or unwillingly. People can always create rules and policies to counter certain misconduct. Organisations can always innovate and deviate from these rules in order to attain their goals. In these instances, there is no such thing as a perfect law governing businesses and there is also no such thing as a perfect business strategy. In normal instances, mistakes are part of the learning process.

As this cycle continues today, organisational misbehavior has already come to the point where people have already considered it part and parcel of their everyday life. It is part of the reality of life that has something to do with existence and how mankind adapts to ongoing changes. The only thing that people consider to be an issue in organisation misbehavior is the level or degree of how it affects society.

Second, in order to survive, some organisations have to take the risk, whether this will put them in the burner for good or elevate their status in the business community. These risks are normally present in their business strategies, structure, objectives, and culture. They can follow the business rules by the book and end up earning nothing or they may deviate from certain rules and norms and reap profits. Again, it is normal for organisations to take risks and reap the benefits.

All of the characteristics of an organisation are linked to one another to form their own identity and behavior. People are in a social structure within the organisation and are empowered to make good or bad decisions. The structure of the organisation limits or expands the power to make decisions.


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Journal Article

Mares, Micheal (2005), “The Importance of Business Ethics”,Retrieved last February 26,
2005 from

Tsuahurido, Eva, “Ethics and Integrity: What Australian Organizations Seek and Offer in
Recruitment Advertisements”,Retrieved: March 3, 2005 from