The causes of counterproductivity or deviations


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The aim of the following essay is to identify the reasons behind employees exhibiting counterproductive and deviant behavior at the workplace. The essay also draws attention towards the methods through which organizations can minimize such behavior at the workplace. The essay is divided into three sections. In the first section various reasons resulting towards counterproductive and deviant behavior have been specified and examined in light of various researches and different perspectives of various scholars. The second section addresses various methods through which organizations can minimize deviant and counterproductive behavior through the implementation and correction of various policies and procedures. In the end a conclusion is derived which delineates the major reasons for counterproductive and deviant behavior and how organizations can resolve these issues in order to minimize counterproductive and deviant behavior at the workplace.

Counterproductive behavior exhibited by employees at the workplace incipiently means any type of behavior exhibited by employees that harms an organization by precisely disturbing its property and operation or upsetting the employees to the extent that their job efficacy starts to decrease (Miles, Spector & Fox, 2001). The two particular classes of counterproductive behaviors that have been ascertained by scholars and researchers alike are those directed towards the organization and those aimed towards the individuals working within the organization (Fox & Spector, 1999; Fox et al., 2001; Robinson & Bennett, 1995). Corresponding to an estimate up to 75 per cent of employees have been found to be engaged in behaviors such as sabotage, vandalism, theft and unexcused absenteeism (McGurn,1988; Harper, 1990).

Counterproductive and deviant behavior has proven costly for an organization and has resulted in major losses for organizations worldwide. According to a research it was estimated employee theft cost the US retail industry 15 billion dollars annually (Hollinger & Davis, 2001). Other affiliated costs with this sort of behavior are the psychological costs sustained by employees who are not demonstrating this sort of behavior. The job satisfaction and job performance of an employee is likely to deteriorate working in an organization with high levels counterproductive and deviant behavior. The antecedents to counterproductive and deviant behavior are illustrated as follows.

Poor organizational justice has been identified as a reason for counterproductive behavior. Organizational justice is related to an employee's perception of fairness within the organization. The actions and behaviors of employees are strongly influenced by organizational justice and it strongly contributes towards job performance. Fodchuk has explained organizational justice in her article "Work Environments That Negate Counterproductive Behaviors and Foster Organizational Citizenship: Research-Based Recommendations for Managers" as follows: "The most widely recognized measure of organizational justice identified a four-factor structure, including distributive justice (fairness of the way outcomes are distributed), procedural justice (fairness of the procedures used to determine distributions), interpersonal justice (interactions surrounding distributions were respectful and sensitive), and informational justice (truthful communication of justification and explanation for decisions; Colquitt, 2001)." Having gained the knowledge of what is meant by organizational justice it is easily understandable why poor organizational justice will lead towards counterproductive behavior. For example if it is perceived by the employees that the organization is unfair to them or is not treating them fairly they are likely to resort to counterproductive behavior. This is also supported in the social exchange theory proposed by Organ (1988, 1990) in which he suggests that social relationships are always supported by an exchange of benefits and if there is a poor exchange of benefits it shall lead to counterproductive behavior by one of the involved parties.

A very basic example of this would be as follows. Suppose a supervisor were to praise and give a raise to one of his subordinates for the success of a project that was mostly accomplished by a second subordinate. The supervisor then verbally insults and scolds the other employees implying that they are lazy and useless. The scenario shall present three possible injustice stressors: distributive injustice (raise is unfairly distributed given work input), procedural injustice (decision-making procedure based on inaccurate information), and interpersonal injustice (scolding and disrespectful treatment). After having experienced this situation the second subordinate may perceive the situation as threatening and shall therefore experience negative emotions and in retaliation shall probably spend less effort at work, may steal office supplies or in an extreme scenario may become physically violent.

Personality traits are attributed to be another reason for demonstrating deviant and counterproductive behavior. The different personality traits amongst individuals suggest that certain employees are more likely to exhibit counterproductive behavior than others. Research suggests that conscientiousness is the strongest predictor of counterproductive behavior (Hough, 1992; Dalal, 2005; Salgado, 2002; Sackett et al., 2006) in a recent Meta analysis by Berryet al (2007) had also derived that conscientiousness, agreeableness and emotional stability are more strongly correlated with counterproductive work behavior.

Social pressures and poor leadership styles are also two factors leading towards counterproductive behavior. Supervisors or managers that verbally, physically or emotionally abuse the employees under them shall encourage counterproductive and deviant behavior amongst them. Managers may also sometimes unknowingly create an environment which shall contribute to their employee's deviant acts. A number of various social influence theories have suggested that both large groups and small group norms are liable to influence a variety of employee behaviors such as conformity, work performance and decision making quality. Group norm conformity is greatly influenced by an individual's desire for acceptance, rewards associated with conformity, desire for acceptance rewards associated with conformity and alternatively punishments associated with non-conformity. Work place deviance is therefore is going to occur when managers are going to tolerate or engage themselves in deviant behavior. This sort of behavior shall then become a norm at the organization and therefore newcomers will likely operate in such a manner. Barrie E. Litzky, Deborah L. Kidder and Kimberly A. Eddleston in their article "The Good, the Bad, and the Misguided" have given an example of this as follows, "Cheating on sales was so institutionalized among sales representatives at one organization that they created shorthand names for their tactics. For example, to meet sales quotas for average dollars spent per order, sales representatives would make silent sales by adding extra items to a customer's order. Most often the customers discovered the silent sales and returned them, to be restocked them at the company's expense. Of an estimated $130 million in sales, approximately $7.5 million was due to these fraudulent silent sales." According to the attraction selection attrition theory individuals with anti social tendencies are going to be attracted to and selected into those group environments that shall fit well with those tendencies. Behaviors and attitudes of employees in workgroups tend to be relatively homogenous and shall therefore be directly proportional to the level antisocial behavior within the group since they are expected to perform so by individuals who shall be experiencing an identical environment (Schneider & Reichers, 1983; Schneider, 1987). Conclusive it can be said that there shall be a positive correlation between counterproductive behavior exhibited by the individual and the degree of counterproductive behavior in the group he/she is in.

Another reason resulting in deviant behavior is role ambiguity. Role ambiguity means the lack of knowledge regarding a particular role and the resulting uncertainty about the expectations from that role. For example whenever managers pressurize their employees to maximize sales by doing whatever it takes they may be aiding in promoting role ambiguity. Therefore as a result employees will believe that engaging in deviant activities as shall help the business although the managers will condone it they would be expecting it (Litzky, Eddleston & Kiddler, 2006).

Another reason for exhibiting counterproductive and deviant behavior is the Violation of Employee trust. It is when employees perceive that there trust has been violated that the most deviant of acts occur. Research indicates that the most deviant acts when employees were severely reprimanded by their managers in front of their peers or customers. It is in these in such situations that the employee's trust is violated and the existing collegiality is diminished. Most commonly in response to such a situation employees usually do what was told by their managers explicitly not to do. It was indicated in a study of service employees that aside from the embarrassment of being scolded in public employees felt that the managers had broken their trust and further that they did not trust them to do their jobs properly.

Having gained an understanding of the various antecedents stated above for employee counterproductive and deviant behavior it shall now be discussed how organizations can minimize these types of behavior. As stated above poor organizational justice leads towards counterproductive behavior and is an antecedent for other undesirable behaviors as well which include lesser employee engagement, lower job performance and the degrading of the psychological contract amongst the employees and the employer. Therefore the need arises for a favorable management of organizational justice. In order to achieve this organizations should incorporate justice and equity into the organizational culture, training should be given to managers in regard to organizational justice and employers should try not to violate the psychological contract.

An ethical climate should be created within the organization so that many deviant behaviors exhibited by employees are prevented. Managers can also involve employees in formally defining theft and deviant behavior, which will help clarify the boundaries between suitable and unsuitable behavior (Litzky, Eddleston & Kiddler, 2006). This shall also clarify the issue of role ambiguity. Also this can be achieved by building trusting relationships which will lead to positive reinforcement of the psychological contract. As long as employees view their employers' trust as reciprocal, relational psychological contracts are likely to lead to high levels of involvement and commitment by employees (Litzky, Eddleston & Kiddler, 2006).

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