Misbehavior In Organizations Research Paper

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It is quite safe to assume that most, if not all, members of work organizations, throughout their employment, engage in some form of misbehavior that is related to their jobs, albeit in varying degrees of frequency and intensity. Such misbehaviors appear to range the full spectrum from relatively minor to very serious, for example, workplace incivility; insulting behaviors; social undermining; theft of company assets; acts of destructiveness, vandalism, and sabotage; substance abuse; and misconduct perpetrated against fellow employees, toward the employer, or toward other organizations. Such acts of misbehavior are important organizational events and must be better understood (Fox & Spector, 2005; Griffin & O’Leary-Kelly, 2004; Kidwell & Martin, 2005; Vardi & Weitz, 2004).

Organizational misbehavior (OMB) comes with a hefty price tag attached to it. Just 10 years ago, estimates of the costs of the most prevalent misbehavior, employee theft, run as high as $200 billion annually in the United States alone. Estimates of total costs resulting from problem drinking in the workplace were close to $170 billion. Fortunately, with the awareness of costs comes a growing consciousness of OMB. As Trevino, Weaver, and Reynolds (2006) recently stated, “Stakeholders, including stockholders, communities, and governments, have placed increasing pressure on organizations to manage employees’ behavior in ways that will reduce individuals’ illegal and unethical conduct” (p. 951). It is therefore incumbent upon managers to learn and know about such phenomena in their organizations, and to develop effective ways of properly managing them (see Ivancevich, Konopaske, & Matteson, 2005, chap. 8). In order to control such costs, leaders need to understand what motivates employees, as well as which factors in the work environment are conducive to such behaviors.

Over the last two decades, the prevalence of misbehaviors in the workplace has come to be coupled with a wide array of scholarly definitions and conceptualizations. They also come under a variety of terms denoting similar meaning, such as

  • noncompliant behavior (Puffer, 1987);
  • organizational misbehavior (Ackroyd & Thompson, 1999; Vardi & Wiener, 1996);
  • workplace deviance (Robinson & Bennett, 1995);
  • workplace aggression (Baron & Neuma,n 1996; O’Leary-Kelly, Griffin, & Glew, 1996);
  • antisocial behavior (Giacalone & Greenberg, 1997);
  • employee vice (Moberg, 1997);
  • retaliatory behavior (Skarlicki & Folger, 1997); and
  • counterproductive behavior (Sackett & Devore, 2001).

Considering workplace misbehavior as a form of deviance, Hollinger (1986) observed that sociological research on employee misbehavior centers around two foci: production deviance and property deviance. The first category includes various types of behavior that are counterproductive (e.g., substandard work, slowdowns, insubordination), and the second category pertains to acts against property and assets of the organization (e.g., theft, pilferage, embezzlement, vandalism).

A more comprehensive, empirically based typology of deviant workplace behavior was developed by Robinson and Bennett (1995). They conceived of employee deviance as voluntary behavior that violates significant organizational norms and that threatens the well-being of an organization, its members, or both. They offered a typology of “employee deviance” that consists of two dimensions: one running from personal to organizational targets, and the other from minor to serious infractions. Therefore, four types of voluntary and harmful misconduct emerge: (a) production deviance (e.g., wasting resources), (b) property deviance (e.g., stealing from company), (c) political deviance (e.g., showing undue favoritism), and (d)personal deviance (e.g., sexual harassment). Here, we expand on these typologies and offer a more comprehensive framework for learning about misbehavior in organizations.

The underlying question is, “Why do members of organizations engage in acts that constitute deviance from an acceptable mode of employee behavior?” Among scholars of management ethics, there is an ongoing debate as to whether the decision to misbehave (e.g., to make an unethical decision) is more a function of “bad apples” or of “bad barrels.” That is, are misbehaviors a function of the personal characteristics of individuals (the “bad apples” perspective) or of organizational and societal variables (the “bad barrels” perspective)? For example, some argue that organizational psychopaths may be responsible for organizational misbehavior including accounting fraud, stock manipulation, unnecessarily high job losses, and corporately induced environmental damage (Boddy, 2006). Others argue that neither the individual nor the organizational and societal perspectives alone fully explain organizational misbehavior. Most, indeed, propose explanations that integrate both perspectives (e.g., Robinson & Bennett, 1995; Vardi & Weitz, 2004). That is, organizational misbehavior is a function of the person and of circumstances.

We propose that misbehavior in organizations should be viewed not only as pervasive but, as intentional work-related behavior that mostly (yet not necessarily) bears negative consequences for both individuals (perpetrators and targets) and the organization. OMB is an integral component of organizational reality and an important facet of individual, group, and organization conduct—not a marginal, negligent (i.e., deviant) organizational occurrence. We therefore adopt the Vardi and Wiener (1996) definition of organizational misbehavior (OMB) as “any intentional action by member/s of organization/s which defies and violates (a) shared organizational norms and expectations, and/ or (b) core societal values, mores and standards of proper conduct” (p. 151). This excludes unintentional acts such as accidental damage to a machine or injury to a coworker which, albeit significant and costly, are not committed with a conscious purpose to inflict damage.

Basic Types Of OMB

An examination of a broad range of norm-violating behaviors in the workplace suggests that all such actions may be classified into three basic categories in terms of the underlying intention of the misbehaving individual:

  1. Misbehaviors that are intended to benefit the self (OMB Type S): These are mostly internal to the organization and usually victimize the employing firm or its members. Such behaviors may have three categories of internal targets: (a) the work itself (e.g., distorting data); (b) the organization’s property, resources, symbols, or regulations (e.g., stealing and selling manufacturing secrets); and (c) other members (e.g., harassing peers). An exception is a behavior by a member that appears to benefit the organization (e.g., overcharging customers), but is, in fact, intended to eventually benefit the individual (e.g., gaining a promotion).
  2. Misbehaviors that are primarily intended to benefit the member’s employing organization as a whole (OMB Type O): These (e.g., falsifying records or offering inducements in order to improve chances of obtaining a contract for the organization) are usually directed toward external victims such as other organizations, social institutions, public agencies, or customers. If the intention underlying this form of behavior is not primarily to benefit the organization, but is self-serving (e.g., for career considerations), it should not be classified as OMB Type O. More likely, this would be OMB Type S.
  3. Misbehaviors that primarily intend to inflict damage and to be destructive (OMB Type D): Targets of these behaviors could be both internal and external. Whereas the intentions underlying Type S and Type O misbehaviors are to benefit either the individual or the organization, the intention underlying OMB Type D is to hurt others or the organization. Such intentional misbehaviors (e.g., sabotaging company-owned equipment) may be perpetrated by members either on their own volition (e.g., as a revenge or a response to perceived or actual mistreatment) or on behalf of significant others (e.g., interfering with organizational operations to comply with a union’s expectations). However, the underlying intention must be to cause some type of damage. As a rule, when more than one intention seems to underlie an act of OMB, and when observations yield equivocal data, the predominant intention would determine the classification.

Antecedents Of OMB

Over the years, researchers have identified many antecedents contributing to property misconduct as feelings of injustice or exploitation, attempts to ease personal financial pressure, moral laxity, available opportunities, dissatisfaction with work, perceptions of pay inequity, feelings of frustration, and a desire to revenge. Vandalism, as property deviance, was also found to be associated with perceptions of inequity and mistreatment. Others have viewed misbehavior principally as retaliatory tactics against management mistreatment.

Our definition of OMB and the proposed conceptual framework, which emphasizes the distinction between normative and instrumental determinants of misbehavior, suggest the existence of identifiable antecedents that may affect the formation of the motivational components in the model. We believe that antecedents contributing to the instrumental component would primarily influence Type S misbehavior, and that antecedents contributing to the normative component would affect Type O misbehavior. Both forces may influence OMB Type D misbehavior. The antecedents are categorized according to the levels of analysis generally accepted by scholars of organizational behavior: organization, group, task, and individual.

Organization-Level Antecedents

Organizational Goals

Organizational goals—both implicit and declared targets that serve to translate organization strategy to actual plans, closely reflecting top management values and expectations —are likely to strongly influence members’ job performance and productivity levels. However, the pursuit of organizational goals may also encourage employee misbehavior, particularly when they are conflicting, highly demanding, vague, or unrealistic (Stein & Kanter, 1993) and are supported by a strong culture or by “neurotic” (Kets de Vries & Miller, 1984) executives. Ackroyd and Thompson (1999), for example, posited that employee misconduct is mostly a form of protest against arbitrary managerial control.

Control Systems

Control systems are physical or procedural entities within the workplace designed specifically to reduce the occurrence of events judged to be detrimental to the organization. Typically, they serve to increase the risk of detection, and thus, the likelihood that perpetrators of such acts will be sanctioned (Sackett & DeVore, 2001). It stands to reason that oppressive—as well as lax—controls, performance appraisal, rewards, disciplinary systems, and special monitoring arrangements may contribute to the emergence of OMB. Certain jobs and work organizations involve operations for which external control of employee behavior is inherently difficult. Home delivery, professional or food services, and operations in which cash transactions cannot be directly monitored by receipts and inventory counts are only a few examples of work processes that may, at times, be difficult to monitor. Thus, control systems may have direct impact on members’ instrumental considerations on whether to engage in, or refrain from, acts of misconduct: when confronted with extreme control (e.g., surveillance), employees might attempt to resist and protest through damaging behavior (OMB Type D); lax controls may, however, be perceived as a sign of trust and may lead to exemplary behavior. However, the very same signals may be viewed as a form of organizational weakness and may present a built-in opportunity to misbehave.

Organizational Culture and Climate

Organizational culture is widely regarded as a construct denoting the extent to which members share core organizational values (Wiener, 1988). Several writers have demonstrated the power of culture as a tool used by certain dominant groups to shape members’ values and to reduce deviance (Boye & Jones, 1997). Furthermore, the way employees perceive the fairness with which they are treated and the perceived equity of the distribution of resources are important antecedents of misbehavior. Thus, ethical organizational policies and practices (ethical climate) clearly influence the ways in which employees behave and misbehave (e.g., Vardi, 2001).

Organizational Cohesiveness

Cohesiveness is the degree of social bonding and normative closeness. In very cohesive work environments, the pressures to adhere to norms of work conduct are especially high. Cohesiveness, therefore, may affect misbehavior in a manner similar to the way that organizational culture effects OMB (Vardi & Wiener, 1996). Indeed, it may be more powerful. We regard this organization characteristic as a significant antecedent that may strongly contribute to wrongdoing in the name of ideology and organizational causes (OMB Type O). It may also facilitate and encourage widespread “prosocial” rule breaking in the organization (Morrison, 2006).

Group-Level Antecedents

As Goffman (1971) so vividly demonstrated, the self exists only in relation to others. In the workplace, the workgroup is indeed a very significant other. Griffin, O’Leary-Kelly, & Colins (1998) emphasized the importance of groups in terms of both the causes and the consequences of what they call “dysfunctional behavior” in organizations.

Internal Pressures

Ever since the role of work group affiliation was demonstrated to be a major determinant of work behavior, groups have captured significant research attention. Studies on groups and their effects within the organizational setting have exposed both positive (productivity) and negative (restriction) effects. Most theorists and researchers posit that workgroups bear a positive influence on individual work behavior by reinforcing normative performance and attitudes. Such influential social-psychological approaches as Bandura’s (1973) social learning theory and Salancik and Pfeffer’s (1978) social information processing theory attempt to explain why and how groups exercise (positive) power over their members. Social information processing theory would suggest that if one is a member of a workgroup in which misbehavior such as pilfering or false reporting goes unsanctioned, he or she is more likely to engage in such misbehavior as well.

External Pressures

Interest in group behavior in organizations has received significant boost from contingency, charismatic and transformational, and team leadership theories (Avolio, 1999). These approaches, however, tend to emphasize the role of the manager-leader in influencing subordinate (individual and group) normative behavior. But leaders may encourage both positive and negative attitudes and behaviors. Green-berg (1997) explicated the role of groups in enhancing not only prosocial, but also antisocial (e.g., stealing), work behavior. Robinson and O’Leary-Kelly (1998) found that the group’s antisocial behavior may actually serve as a model for individual members’ work related OMB (e.g., damaging employer property, purposely hurting a colleague, deliberately breaking rules).

Task-Level Antecedents

Job Design

Most jobs are designed so that they include some built-in opportunity to take advantage of or misuse various organizational resources (e.g., time, office equipment, work tools, telephone and mail, Internet, etc.). In many cases, the degree to which such built-in opportunities exist may enter into the instrumental calculations by the employee concerning the benefits, consequences, and risks of capitalizing on such opportunities. Some work organizations apply stringent mechanisms to determine what their employees are doing at any given moment, while others employ lax systems or none at all. It is clear that these may affect employee behavior and misbehavior in the workplace. Vardi and Weitz (2001) reported results of a field study in which job autonomy was a significant predictor of misbehavior.

Individual-Level Antecedents


Two personality variables in particular seem to affect motivational components and, in turn, the intention to engage in OMB: the level of moral development and the degree of sociopathic predisposition—the state characterized by disregard for social norms and obligations without the inhibiting experience of guilt and remorse—of an organization member. Of course, extreme degrees of sociopathy characterize only a marginal portion of any legitimate organization’s workforce.

Significant relationships between certain personality traits and workplace delinquency were reported by Ashton (1998). Trevino (1986) proposed the usefulness of such traits as locus of control and field dependence in predicting unethical decision-making behavior among managers. Griffin et al. (1998), too, included individual ethics, values, and morality as antecedents of dysfunctional work behavior. Fox and Spector (1999) also found that personality traits affect misbehavior and reported that significant relationships exist between irascibility, anxiety, impulsiveness, and organizational misbehavior. In addition, it is common knowledge that in extreme cases, sociopathic predispositions or pathological tendencies of organizational members are important antecedents of such conduct. Hence, undoubtedly, personality plays a role in determining whether a worker will misbehave.


When individuals perceive that they are being mistreated by their employing organizations, the valence of self-benefiting misbehavior may increase (Vardi & Wiener, 1996). Researchers such as Greenberg (1990) discovered that such feelings may lead to employee theft. Hackett (1989) found a stable relationship between job dissatisfaction and absenteeism, and Klein, Leong, and Silva (1996) reported a relationship between workplace dissatisfaction and sabotage.

OMB Manifestations

Following Vardi and Weitz’s (2004) classification, we organize the expressions and manifestations of OMB in five broad categories: (a) intrapersonal misbehavior (e.g., workplace problem drinking, drug abuse, workaholic behavior), (b) interpersonal misbehavior (e.g., incivility, aggressive behavior, bullying, sexual harassment), (c)production misbehavior (e.g., rule breaking, loafing, absenteeism, tardiness), (d) property misbehavior (e.g., vandalism, theft, espionage, computer hacking), and (e) political misbehavior (e.g., misuse of power, impression management, politicking, favoritism).

Intraperson Manifestations

Substance Abuse

One of the critical manifestations of intrapersonal misbehavior in the workplace is substance abuse, or excessive use of substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs (Bacharach, Bamberger, & Sonnenstuhl, 2002; Mangione, Howland, & Lee, 1998). The use of drugs by workers is perceived to be a growing problem for the American labor force.


Individuals may choose to “abuse” themselves at work in other ways as well. They may, for example, exaggerate the role work plays in their lives. Some, for a variety of reasons, become increasingly devoted to their jobs, to their work, and to their careers. Such overcommitment and over-involvement has been dubbed “workaholism” to denote a form of addictive behavior (e.g., Peiperl & Jones, 2001).

Interpersonal Manifestations


We begin with what Andersson and Pearson (1999) so aptly call “workplace incivility.” We find it necessary to stress that even miniscule expressions of impoliteness or rudeness may spiral into increasingly aggressive behaviors. One of the most common forms of workplace incivility is, without doubt, insulting behavior. Gabriel (1998), who charted different forms of insulting behavior such as exclusion, stereotyping, ingratitude, scapegoating, rudeness, and being ignored or being kept waiting, offered a unique insight into the social psychology of insults in organizations. To Gabriel, insults are intended to be slighting, humiliating, or offensive. Cynicism, another form of disparagement, is becoming an inherent characteristic of as much as 43% of the American workforce (Kanter & Mirvis, 1989). We treat cynicism as OMB because organizational members are expected to take their work environment seriously and act responsibly.


Retribution and revenge are retaliatory behaviors well documented in human history (“eye for an eye”) and are, not surprisingly, prevalent in organizational behavior (e.g., Skarlicki & Folger, 1997). McLean Parks (1997) has written extensively about the “art and science” of revenge in organizations. She has explored retribution both from the perspective of internal justice, as well as the reciprocity norms on which assessments of organizational justice and injustice are based. Her focus is on a type of reciprocal behavior that is relatively neglected: retributive justice, a form of justice available to those in organizations who feel mistreated, but are relatively less powerful. Perpetrators of workplace violence often see themselves as victims of injustice in the workplace. We view such conduct primarily as OMB Type D.

Hostility, Aggression, Bullying, and Violence

Cumulative survey data clearly demonstrate how prevalent violence in the workplace is. For example, in 1993 about 480 managers were surveyed about violence in their companies by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Seventy-five percent reported fistfights, 17% reported shooting, 7.5% stabbing, and 6.5% sexual assault. A year later, the American Management Association (AMA), found that of the 500 general managers surveyed about 10% reported fistfights and assault with weapons, and about 1% reported workplace rape. The 1996 SHRM survey shows that 48% respondents reported violent incidents in their companies as compared to 57% in the 1999 survey. Incidents of work-related homicides frequent the media citing emotional upheaval, stress, drugs, and layoffs as just a few of the factors which trigger such crisis events (Mantell,1994).

Sexual Harassment

Flirting, bantering, and sexual attraction are commonplace in work organizations. Certainly, not all social exchanges which have a sexual flavor constitute harassment or assault. Cleveland, Stockdale, and Murphy (2000) differentiate between workplace romance and sexual harassment. Consensual relationships, defined as those reflecting positive and autonomous expressions of workers’ attraction, are prevalent in the workplace. Sexual harassment, however, consists of unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It is unfortunately a pervasive phenomenon in work organizations. According to Schneider, Swan, and Fitzgerald (1997), to cite just one credible source, close to 75% of female employees report that they have been the object of sexually harassing behaviors in their workplaces.

Withdrawal Behavior

Undoubtedly, the most prevalent production-related misbehavior is the physical as well as the psychological absence or withdrawal from work (e.g., Hackett, 1989). In human resource terms, we refer to these as dysfunctional lateness, absence, and turnover. Unjustified absence from work and excessive tardiness, if they are acts of defiance of organizational norms, regardless of their consequences, are indeed a form of production and work-process related OMB. Not only do such behaviors negatively affect individual performance, they affect coworkers’ attitudes and work behaviors as well.

Social Loafing

Through a collective effort, teamwork may, indeed, ease the load and creatively enhance productivity. However, working in a team may also cause individual members to exert less effort than they may otherwise—social loafing (see Kidwell & Bennett, 1993). The survival and success of a team are greatly dependent on members’ belief that their participation in it will be personally beneficial to them, more so than if they worked on their own. When this belief is lacking, the willingness of the team members to contribute their relative share (sometimes more than their share) to the success of the collective task, diminishes.


Typically, whistle-blowing is an act undertaken by an employee when he or she decides to inform internal or external authorities or members of the media about practices considered unacceptable in the workplace. We view this phenomenon as a case of intentional organizational misbehavior, because in many settings, it may constitute a violation of core norms of duty expected from members. It is, to many, a form of treason or betrayal. Two of the most prominent researchers and writers on whistle-blowing, Miceli and Near (1997), view it as antisocial organizational behavior—behavior that is intentionally performed by a member of an organization directed toward an individual, group, or organization that the actor interacts with, with the intention of causing harm. For whistle-blowing to qualify as antisocial behavior under this definition, it must be pursued with the intent of inflicting damage or harming others. This behavior, then, is consistent with OMB Type D (Vardi & Wiener, 1996), and it would also be regarded as an antisocial act of retaliation or revenge (Miceli & Near, 1997). Blowing the whistle on the organization, or on specific members (e.g., superiors), would be considered as OMB Type O if it is motivated by a strong sense of identification with organizational values and mission, and thus, by a genuine concern for its well being and success.

Political Behavior

Scholars of organizations have pursued different avenues in their exploration of the intricacies of political action within work organizations. For most, the emphasis has been on the ways individuals and groups acquire and use power and influence to obtain desired resources. Some of the tactics actors choose to use are indeed legitimate and part of the normative system. At times, however, these tactics may indeed be negative, manipulative, and exploitative in nature (Vigoda, 1997). We take the second approach and consider as OMB those behaviors that are self-serving and manipulative and not sanctioned by the organization. Such behavior has many potentially negative consequences, including conflict and disharmony that occur when elements in the organization are pitted against each other. When individuals resort to deceptive and manipulative political tactics that are in violation of organizational codes of acceptable conduct, they clearly engage in acts of organizational misbehavior. Moreover, when their work environment becomes too politically oriented or politicized, it may inadvertently become an arena for various other manifestations of misconduct, such as social undermining and subversion, incivility and insult, betrayal, and revenge.

Property Manifestations

Conceptually, we regard acts such as theft, vandalism, and espionage as organizational misbehavior when the act violates core organizational and/or societal rules. Thus, if the company specifies that using the company car for private use is not permitted, any such use may be regarded as OMB Type S if the purpose was to benefit from it.

Employee Theft

Employee theft is by far the most pervasive and intriguing form of organizational misbehavior, and one of the costliest. Employees at all levels take home office supplies such as paper clips, return late from breaks, misuse computer time, falsify reimbursement requests, embezzle monies, cheat customers, use a design idea for private business—theft of some valuable organizational resource. It is estimated that 75% of organizational members steal something of value from their workplace at least once, and that most damage is not due to isolated grand theft cases, but to the accumulation of petty theft. To the extent that people desire to present themselves as behaving in a morally appropriate manner, they attempt to negotiate the legitimacy of their acts of taking with others who threaten to impose labels (e.g., “thief”) that challenge their moral self-images. Efforts to dissuade others from interpreting one’s taking behavior as acts of theft involve different mental mechanisms and tactics such as neutralization and rationalization. Greenberg (1997) proposed that employee theft may be deterred by efforts to counter these cognitive strategies as well as attempts to strengthen inhibiting forces and weaken encouraging forces.

Sabotage and Vandalism

Undoubtedly, the most blatant manifestations of employee misconduct that target the organization’s products and property with the intention to inflict some damage are vandalism and sabotage. Giacalone and Rosenfeld (1987) suggested that employee sabotage occurs when people who are currently employed in an organization engage in intentional behaviors that effectively damage that firm’s property, reputation, products, or services. Harris and Ogbonna (2006) found evidence of deliberate employee misbehavior—sabotage—in a variety of service settings. Some mild forms of sabotage and vandalism, such as graffiti or spreading rumors maligning the employer, are quite often dismissed by management and may at times even be tolerated. Any act that purposely inflicts some damage on the organization as a whole, its assets, or its stakeholders we regard as OMB Type D—damaging, destructive, or disparaging behavior committed intentionally.

Cyber Crime

One of the most frightening documents we read on computer-related misbehavior is Cornwall’s (1987) book Datatheft. It chillingly describes the endless opportunities to misbehave, the unlimited possibilities that the computer and the telecommunication systems provide and the incredible repertoire of activities they generate. With the Internet’s infinite capabilities of handling sensitive data, the opportunities to steal and manipulate other people’s data have risen exponentially.

A Model Of OMB Management

This framework posits four key points of intervention along the OMB process by which the organization may act to lower the probability of organizational misbehavior occurring (thus minimizing costs and other negative consequences). These four action levers differ with respect to their focus, and hence, call for different kinds of interventions. One important implication derived from this perspective is that we should think of the management of OMB not as a linear but as an iterative process (i.e., dynamic, repetitive, ongoing). Furthermore, the organization may apply a preventive strategy (i.e., try to prevent OMB) or a responsive strategy (react to identifiable OMB), or both. The key issue is, “To what extent does the intervention succeed in lowering the level and frequency of the misbehavior?”

In order to cope with organizational misbehavior, one must be familiar with the dynamics of the phenomenon. That is, management needs to gain an understanding of why employees intend to misbehave. Management should also be aware of the organizational forces that influence (increase or decrease) the intention to misbehave, and what are the possible expressions and costs that are to be expected. It is, however, important to keep in mind that there are possible beneficial as well as adverse consequences of the intervention(s) designed to control these behaviors.

We do not intend to provide the reader with a complete one-size-fits-all remedy to organizational misbehavior—such a panacea is beyond our reach. After all, work organizations differ in their goals, values, culture, rules, norms, and design, as well as in their control systems and the built-in opportunities they provide their members to misbehave. Similarly, employees differ in their personality traits, personal needs, attitudes, intentions, and desires. Thus, the varieties of possible forms of misbehavior, as well as the ways to confront them, make it impossible to cover the whole range of possible antecedents and expressions of OMB and to develop and implement a generic solution. Our goal is to offer some aids for the decision makers and organization development practitioners in their attempt to cope with the problem, to present the reader with guidelines for dealing with the relevant issues and devising proper alternatives for action. A word of caution: Interventions designed to prevent OMB may have an adverse impact on the level of OMB if not designed and implemented carefully and sensitively.

The Rationale for OMB Management

Although the costs of OMB alone may give sufficient reason for management to attempt to control it, other rationales exist as well. First and foremost is the legal rationale: Many forms of OMB (e.g., theft, homicide, fraud, sexual harassment, discrimination) are legally forbidden by state regulations which employers are obliged to enforce. Moreover, companies are typically considered liable for the actions of their employees even when these actions are not in accordance with company policies, and firms can be held responsible for employees’ OMB. For example, employers may be held liable of negligent hiring or negligent retention of employees with a known propensity for violence (Towler, 2001).

As shown above, the wide range of recorded manifestations and the heavy social and economic price tag they bear clearly indicate that organizational misbehavior cannot be perceived as a marginal aspect of the organizational life nor can it be overlooked. Managers should be aware of the phenomenon, its negative consequences to the organization and its stakeholders, and their need to alleviate the problem.

Prevention and Response

Researchers debate whether the organization should focus its efforts to cope with OMB in preventive activities (e.g., use selection procedures to screen out potential troublemakers, design the job a-priori so that it does not allow autonomy-related misbehavior), or responsive activities (e.g., termination of employees caught stealing). Denenberg and Braverman (1999) argued that trying to identify the cause of violence (and for that matter, any form of OMB) makes less practical sense than examining the capacity of the organization to respond to the signs of stress or potential danger, whatever their origin. Prevention, they argue, lies in recognizing the need for a prompt and effective response as soon as early signs (such as distress) appear. Hence, a more significant question, they claim, is not what causes organizational misbehavior, but rather, how well (i.e., quickly and efficiently) does the system respond to misbehavior (irrespective of the cause).

We follow Collins and Griffin’s (1998) proposed approach that counterproductive workplace behavior can be managed through the prevention of dysfunctional activities, the maintenance of functional work behavior, and the discharge of counterproductive employees when other means have failed. Prevention, they claim, begins with personnel selection and screening using cognitive ability (e.g., critical reasoning, interpersonal problem solving) and personality (e.g., reliability) tests designed to predict both productive and counterproductive job performance. Maintenance involves the integration of the newly hired employee into the organization through regulated practices, procedures, and culture.

understanding-and-managing-misbehavior-in-organizations-research-paper-f1Figure 72.1  An Integrative Model of Organizational Misbehavior Management

Figure 72.1 presents an integrative model of organizational misbehavior. It identifies four main points of intervention designed to decrease the likelihood of OMB occurring. These interventions are assumed to influence the future recurrence of the misbehavior by affecting actors’ intention to misbehave, directly or indirectly.

OMB Interventions

By OMB interventions, we mean any planned action taken by the organization in order to cope (i.e., prevent, control and/or respond) with organizational misbehavior with the intention of reducing the probability, frequency, scope, and costs. Our model suggests four points of intervention, in which the organization may attempt to intervene and lower the possibility of organizational misbehavior taking place. These phases are marked A, B, C, and D. As depicted, these four action levers address the four main transitions in the process: the preliminary phase (A), which can also be thought of as the costs — antecedents transition when dealing with second-order misbehavior; antecedents — intention transition (B); intention — expressions transition (C); and expressions — costs transition (D). Importantly, it is assumed that at all points, the intervention influence the possibility of the recurrence of the misbehavior by affecting actors’ and colleagues’ intentions to misbehave, either directly (phases B and C) or indirectly (phases A and D). The following section discusses these four points of intervention in depth.

Phase A: Preemployment

At this stage, interventions can be designed to prevent misbehavior from occurring in the first place or to alter the existing antecedents to prevent misbehavior. Use of selection techniques and careful job design/redesign methodologies are two examples for such interventions. The goal at this stage should be keeping potential OMB-related antecedents out of the organization. Such tactics may sometimes be problematic, as with the case of a job that requires assertiveness (e.g., sales people)—a personality trait that is arguably desirable, yet not too dissimilar and not easily differentiated in the selection stage from aggressiveness, which might lead to violent behavior on the job.

Phase B: Socialization

The intention formation stage (the antecedent — intention transition or phase B) calls for two axes of intervention: one that is aimed at affecting the normative force and one that is aimed at affecting the instrumental force. In both cases, the goal is to lower the possibility of a given antecedent(s) to trigger the intention to misbehave. In other words, interventions at this stage need to enhance the identification of the sense of wrongdoing within the individual—the understanding that, for example, stealing is wrong, or that violence is not the solution—while at the same time reducing the instrumental motive to misbehave (“If I am caught stealing I might get fired”).

An intervention at this point may address a specific antecedent (e.g., personal attitudes, built-in opportunity) or, assuming that the antecedents have a common denominator(s), be designed to address one or more of the four possible levels of antecedents (i.e., individual, task/position, group or organization). For example, job redesign may reduce the built-in opportunity to misbehave (i.e., reduce the instrumental force) while a system-wide effort to disseminate, communicate, and implement a nonmisbehavior policy (i.e., cultural change) throughout the organization may reduce the normative force. Some interventions may influence both normative and instrumental forces: a formal mentor-ship program, for example, may help communicate values of proper conduct to newcomers (normative), as well as the possible sanctions facing misbehavior (instrumental).

Phase C: Behavior Control

The focus of intervention at this stage shifts from prevention to deterrence. That is, from reducing the likelihood of the intention to misbehave to arise to actively reducing the probability of this intention of turning into an action. Naturally, reward, control, and sanction systems, which may deter employees from carrying out their intentions because of fear of the associated punishment, play a major role. Consider the use of tracking devices (control) combined with use of bonuses and employee stock options (rewards). An embittered employee may not choose to misbehave if he knows that he is being closely monitored and that if caught he may lose a bonus or, in more serious cases, his job.

Phase D: Corrective Measures

Interventions in point D (expressions — costs transition) have three goals: (a) minimizing the costs of the misbehavior, (b) restoring the damage, and (c) providing assistance (to both perpetrators and targets). Hence, periodical drug tests, for example, may help in identifying substance abuse, thus lowering the rate of accidents on the job. The substance abusers can participate in rehabilitation programs. Similarly, employee assistance programs (EAPs) for victims of violence or sexual harassment may contribute to their early return to work while reducing the possibility of second-order misbehavior perpetrated against their assessor(s) or a third party. It may reduce the possibility that the victims might sue their employer. As in point A, interventions at this stage may address a specific expression (e.g., theft, sexual harassment) or, assuming a common denominator(s), one or more of the five categories of expressions (i.e., production, property, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and political misbehavior). Hence, sanctions may reduce future absenteeism, while team-building interventions can be designed to cope with high levels of observed interpersonal misbehavior (e.g., aggression, bullying, withholding information, lack of cooperation) associated with a specific group or team within the organization.

A word of caution: OMB interventions, if not designed and applied carefully and wisely might, in fact, foster OMB. Punishment, for example, needs to be perceived as justified and proportionally relative to the severance of the act in order to be accepted as legitimate.

To conclude, the suggested guidelines for OMB management and interventions for its control are as follows:

  • First, OMB management is a dynamic, ongoing process, similar to the other conventional practices of administration and development, and is, in fact, part of it.
  • Second, there is no panacea for organization misbehavior; there is no one-size-fits-all remedy for OMB. Control mechanisms for its reduction need to be based on the specific needs of the organization, the members, and the organizational context. That is, the general phenomenon of OMB needs to be carefully analyzed and its components (antecedents and/or expressions) must be clarified and understood before designing and applying any interventions.
  • Third, there are four main points of intervention through which the organization may attempt to control OMB. The intervention points differ in relation to their focus, yet the general purpose of all OMB interventions should be minimizing (i.e., weakening) the relationships between antecedents, mediators, expressions, and consequences of the OMB cycle, with the intention of preventing undesirable behaviors (just as organizational change efforts are designed to enhance desirable ones). Obviously, some interventions or mechanisms may be used in more than one point throughout this process, and different interventions may be applied simultaneously. For example, in a transportation company whose drivers were involved in accidents (costs) due to substance abuse (expression), it may be wise to establish periodic drug testing programs and send substance abusers to rehabilitation programs (phase D interventions). Also, new employees should be tested for substance abuse prior to hiring, as part of the selection process (phase A interventions). A successful coping strategy calls for the simultaneous application of a combination of interventions, at different stages.
  • Fourth, for OMB interventions to be effective, they should be designed so that the employees perceive them as legitimate and justified. Perceived lack of fairness may lead to more severe forms of misbehavior in reaction to the imposed sanctions. This leads to the assertion that OMB interventions, like other managerial practices, need to be constantly assessed for efficiency and effectiveness relative to their goals. Finally, while designing interventions, managers should consider the possibility that an intervention—be it because of faulty design, improper application, or inappropriateness—may have undesired effects and may even trigger misbehavior.


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