Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Counterproductive work behaviour
What motivates counterproductive work behaviour and what are its consequences?
This chapter discusses the extrinsic and intrinsic motivations of counterproductive workplace behaviours (CWB) and their consequences. CWBs or workplace deviance are one of 3 major components of job performance as are task performance and organisational citizenship behaviours (Diefendorff & Mehta, 2007). These are behaviours which negatively affect an organisation and are responsible for damages anywhere between $6 and $200 billion in the United States (Diefendorff & Mehta, 2007). Given the enormous economic cost that these behaviours bring to the economy, the motivation behind them may be unclear. An analysis of current literature highlights several important psychological theories which provide answers, explaining why employees engage in CWB. Coping theory, self-determination theory and reinforcement theory are the main tools used in this chapter to explain employee motivations. An analysis of boredom as a motivator for CWB is also discussed. Further, the chapter highlights several extrinsic and intrinsic consequences of participating in workplace deviance. This includes consequences which are both positive (monetary) and negative (health-related) to the individual.
To get the most out of the chapter, readers are encouraged to pay close attention to the focus questions below, which direct towards important areas of literature. Readers may also wish to answer the quiz questions after each section to test their understanding of the principles contained in the chapter.
What is Counterproductive Work Behaviour?
Theft, sabotage and tardiness are all examples of Counterproductive work behaviours (CWBs). These are behaviours which at its most broad definition are actions by a member of an organisation, which are detrimental to the organization or stakeholders (Marcus, Taylor, Hastings, Sturm & Weigelt, 2016). They are the inverse to Organisational Citizenship Behaviours (OCB), which have positive consequences for an organisation. CWBs are often considered synonymous with antisocial and other unethical workplace behaviours (Furnham & Taylor, 2004). Unlike antisocial behaviours, CWBs do not require intent to cause harm. Rather, literature has defined CWB has simply having an observable effect or harm, without needing another explanatory construct (Marcus et al, 2016).
Behaviour that follows social norms may still be considered a CWB by this definition. Taking sick leave when an individual is healthy may follow social norms and be a common occurrence yet is still considered a CWB as the behaviour hurts the organisation (Furnham & Taylor, 2004). Individuals who leave an organisation for career progression negatively affect the interests of the organisation they leave behind and may therefore be considered a CWB. Similarly, work breaks may be against the interests of an organisation, who would preferably have employees working around the clock (Sackett, 2002). To avoid including these behaviours, which are generally positive to the individual, literature restricts the definition of a CWB to wrongdoing which negatively affect the organisationslegitimate interests (Sackett, 2002).
Paul Sackett described 11 categories of counterproductive behaviour (Sackett, 2002):
- Theft and related behaviour (theft of cash or property; giving away of goods or services, misuse of employee discount).
- Destruction of property (deface, damage or destroy property; sabotage production).
- Misuse of information (reveal confidential information; falsify records).
- Misuse of time and resources (Waste time, alter time card, conduct personal business during work time).
- Unsafe behaviour (failure to follow safety procedures, failure to learn safety procedures).
- Poor attendance (unexpected absence or tardiness; misuse sick leave).
- Poor quality work (intentionally slow or sloppy work).
- Alcohol use (alcohol use on the job; coming to work under the influence of alcohol).
- Drug use (possess, use, or sell drugs at work).
- Inappropriate verbal actions (argue with customers; verbally harass co-workers).
- Inappropriate physical actions (physically attack co-workers: physical sexual advances toward co-worker).
This chapter will focus on the psychological theories which explain the motivations for these CWBs and their consequences for the individual and the workplace.
Theories of Counterproductive Work Behaviour Motivations
One of the most popular psychological theories explaining the motivations for CWB is coping theory. This theory suggests that individuals engage in workplace deviance in order to reduce the effect of workplace stressors (Shoss, Jundt, Kobler & Reynolds, 2014). This theory traces back to a principle pillar of psychology, that frustration leads to aggression. Bushman, Baumeister and Phillips conducted an experiment investigating the motivations behind aggression and its effectiveness as a coping strategy (Bushman, Baumeister & Phillips, 2001). Experimenters used a method which involved participants consuming a placebo pill which was believed to "freeze" emotions. The premise being that participants would no longer act out aggressively as there would no longer be an expectation that their mood would improve. Researchers were then able to conclude that aggressive behaviour decreases when the expected emotional regulatory benefits of aggression are removed (Bushman et al, 2001).
Further literature applying these principles to CWB has been able to establish that many employees engage in CWB due to an expected emotional benefit (Krischer, Penney & Hunter, 2010). Empirical evidence does suggest that CWB is effective at reducing the emotional exhaustion employees experience in the absence of organisational justice (Krischer et al. 2010).
Organisational justice can be broken into two subcategories; Distributive justice and procedural justice. Distributive justice is the perception that an individual's pay is equal to the amount of work that is output. Procedural justice focuses on the extent to which decisions are made without bias (Krischer et al, 2010). Absence of organisational justice has been established in literature as one of the major predictors of CWB (Berry, Ones & Sackett, 2007). This is further emphasised by evidence linking low organisational justice with poor physiological and psychological health, notably emotional exhaustion (Vermunt & Steensma, 2005).
Importantly, research indicates that the extent to which employees engage in CWB as a coping mechanism varies among individuals. Some individuals will be more likely to participate in these behaviours then others upon consideration of situational characteristics (Shoss et al, 2014). Primarily, situational control is the most important of these characteristics. The less control that an individual is perceived to have over a situation, the more likely they are to engage in CWB to improve mood (Shoss et al, 2014).
Self-determination theory or SDT, is one of the wider intrinsic motivation theories that can be applied to CWB. Unlike extrinsic motivation which involves expending effort due to outside sources such as rewardsneed theory to motivate employee OCB and CWB. Together the two theories propose that individuals will perform well, physically and mentally when autonomy, competence and relatedness needs are satisfied (Michel & Hargis, 2017). Autonomy refers to the expression of independent choices and self-determination, competence relates to the effectiveness of social environment and relatedness, the connections with co-workers (Michel & Hargis, 2017). Evidence indicates that frustration or prevention of satisfying these needs will result in proportionate functionality costs (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Applied to the workplace, employees will be motivated to participate in CWBs where these needs are not satisfied.. Intrinsic motivation stems from a desire to participate based on interest and enjoyment from work (Michel & Hargis, 2017). SDT operates alongside
Vansteenkiste & Ryan investigated the applications of need theory within SDT. They concluded that support of needs and satisfaction served to promote well-being and growth of the self. Prevention of need satisfaction had the inverse effect. Maladaptive functioning and ill-being were significantly increased in environments where needs were not met (Vansteenkiste & Ryan, 2013). Organisational justice is a significant factor in mediating the levels of intrinsic motivation in employees. Literature describes a direct link between perceived organisational injustice and lower intrinsic motivation, which in turn is correlated to an increase in workplace deviance (Michel & Hargis, 2017).
To create a need supporting environment in the workplace organisations should seek to employ adequate procedural justice and effective supervision. Strong leadership and family support are also a further factor leading to a need supportive workplace (Michel & Hargis, 2017). Poor leadership and abusive supervision have been empirically linked to an increase in CWB as these prevent the satisfaction of needs (Tepper, 2007). It is worth noting that if an individual has a particularly strong interest in the work, intrinsic motivation may counterbalance the effect that perceived unfairness has on workplace deviance (Michel & Hargis, 2017).
Boredom as a Motivator
An engaging workplace is crucial, as boredom occurs when needs are not satisfied, leading to severe negative consequences for an organisation. The emotion of boredom is perhaps one of the most powerful motivators for CWBs that an employee can experience. It is also an exceptionally common emotion that employers struggle to prevent, some reports indicate that as high as 87% of employees experience boredom at least occasionally while at work (Van Hooff & Van Hooft, 2014). There is an abundance of literature which establishes a causal link between boredom, boredom proneness and CWBs such as absenteeism and low performance (Van Hoof & Van Hooft, 2014; Bruursema, Kessler & Spector, 2011). Boredom has been defined in the literature as "a state of relatively low arousal and dissatisfaction which is attributed to an inadequately stimulating environment" (Mikulas & Vodanovich, 1993, p. 3). Literature suggests that boredom can be broken into two categories, job boredom and boredom proneness (Kass, Vodanovich & Callender, 2001). Job boredom describes the degree to which a job may be considered boring, whereas boredom proneness refers to the individual differences in employees who are amotivational (Kass et al, 2001).
Research has linked job boredom to CWBsabsenteeism and reduced performance. Recent literature further explores the mechanisms by which boredom servers as a motivator for CWB (Bruursema et al, 2011). Major models to explain boredom and CWB, compare boredom to other work stressors thereby applying the coping theory. Evidence shows that employees who report high levels of boredom proneness are significantly more likely to engage in destruction of property, stealing and absenteeism in order to escape situations and work considered boring (Bruursema et al, 2011). Importantly research indicates that CWB which has been motivated by boredom is most often directed at the organisation and not other co-workers. Employees rarely engage in CWB that impacts co-workers as they are not seen to be the source of boredom (Bruursema et al, 2011). This is in line with other literature which suggests that revenge may also act as a motivator for CWB (Spector et al, 2005).
Literature further suggests that boredom may be an increasing problem in the workplace. As individuals obtain greater skillsets and education which exceed their current job requirements, rates of boredom are increasing (Skowronski, 2012). Interestingly, evidence exists which suggests that boredom may act as a significant motivator for innovation and creativity. Individuals, in an attempt to cope with boring work tasks, apply the self-determination theory to better the situation and themselves. Importantly this only applies to some individuals, as some may engage in CWB as opposed to creative coping methods (Skowronski, 2012).
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Consequences of Counterproductive Work Behaviour
Reinforcement theory provides an effective description of the potential consequences of CWBs. The theory further provides an additional explanation of the motivations of an employee who participates in CWB. This theory places a major emphasis on the consequences of an individual's behaviour and is a strong principle of learning. At its most basic, the theory states that an individual will be motivated to continue a behaviour if the outcome is positive, whereas a negative outcome will reduce the occurrence of a behaviour (Furnham & Taylor, 2004). Reinforcement theory is not the most optimal theory to explain motivation as it is an extrinsic theory. It relies on outside reward, which is costly to an organisation and employer. Ideally, intrinsic theories to explain CWB are employed as they are significantly cheaper (Shuck, Roberts & Zigarmi, 2018). The external reinforcers however, serve to explain some of the consequences of CWB.
Employees engaging in CWB may find that their behaviour is reinforced when there is no punishment for their actions and positive reinforcers continue. As a principle of evolution, people are driven to conserve energy. Employees who engage in CWB through reduced performance, absenteeism and theft will experience immediate positive consequences for their actions. Employees may be encouraged to continue CWB where they continue to receive a reward for reduced function at work (Furnham & Taylor, 2004). It is therefore important that employers reward in proportion to employee output. Further reinforcement of exceptional performance is shown to reduce the presence of CWBs (Furnham & Taylor, 2004).
Aside from monetary benefits to CWB, literature provides evidence that there is a causal link between participation in CWB and risks to an individual's health. Growing research indicates that there may be severe intrinsic consequences of committing CWB. Notably researchers have discovered that participants who perform CWB appear to undermine their own senses of morality and create severe distress in individuals (Yuan, Barnes & Li, 2018). Studies have been further able to demonstrate that participation in CWB can impact an individualsinsomnia through moral self-regulation (Yuan et al, 2018). Originally, individuals may be motivated to reduce workplace stressors through CWB, but performing such behaviours may ultimately result in a more stressful situation. Although the immediate extrinsic consequences of CWB may be appealing, the far reaching intrinsic consequences of deviance are not healthy for individuals. Sleep is crucial for functioning, evidence clearly demonstrates that behaviours which undermine a moral self-regulation extend into sleep health (Yuan et al, 2018). Further, there is evidence that CWB participants may suffer severe social sanctions from colleagues as a repercussion for deviance (Yuan et al, 2018).sleep patterns. Yuan and colleagues showed that CWB was related to
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This chapter explained why individuals are motivated to perform counterproductive workplace behaviours. To achieve this, several focus questions were asked at the start of the chapter. These questions were designed to draw attention to important components of literature that are necessary to understanding what motivates CWB and the consequences that follow. CWB creates an enormous economic cost to organisations,to reduce this it is necessary to understand what motivates employee behaviour.
Primarily literature focuses on the coping theory to explain motivation. As stated this theory seeks to reduce workplace stressors through behaviour which produces an expected emotional balance. In the context of the workplace, this often results in behaviour that is detrimental to the organisation. Stressors can range from poor leadership, to heavy workloads, individuals will react differently depending on their own differences. Boredom is perhaps the most common stressor that can be experienced. Though some individuals and jobs are more at risk of boredom then others, most employees will experience some level of boredom on occasion. The coping theory then explains how employees engage in CWB to reduce boredom. The self-determination theory combined with need satisfaction theory further explains how an environment which suppresses need satisfaction will motivate individuals to participate in CWB.
Although the immediate consequences of CWB are generally positive for an individual, the long-term consequences are large. Social isolation and sleep deprivation often occur in individuals who participate in CWB. The intrinsic consequences of CWB are not heavily researched and further literature is needed to address these. This is considering that employees who engage in CWB may experience a snowball effect that prevents them from reducing workplace deviance, due to a deterioration in mental and physical health.
- Boredom (Wikipedia)
- Coping (psychology) (Wikipedia)
- Feedback and career development (Book chapter, 2017)
- Honesty-humility and work performance (Book chapter, 2018)
- Loss aversion (Book chapter, 2018)
- Procrastination (Wikipedia)
- Rewards, punishments, and social cooperation (Book chapter, 2018)
- Workplace deviance (Wikipedia)
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- The Structure of Counterproductive Work behaviours: Dimensionality and Relationships with Facets of Job Performance - An article by Paul R. Sackett (2002)
- Ted Talk: How to make stress your friend (Kelly McGonigal, TED talk)
- TED Talk: Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator (Tim Urban, TED talk)