Work place has become more diverse and complex today, and with it employee behaviour is also diversifying. People react to different situations differently and technically it is this human nature that makes organization behaviour a vast yet an interesting field of study.
CPWB or ‘Counter productive work behaviour’ is an important aspect of work place management today. As per some researches done in the recent past, 75% of employees have at least stolen from their employers at least once and 33-75% employees have resorted to acts such as sabotage, vandalism, fraud, theft, absenteeism etc. In terms of cost, annual costs associated to violent acts at workplace have been reported to be as high as $4.2billion. Looking at these numbers, surely calls for a deep dive into this aspect of employee behaviour.
'Counter productive work behaviour' (or CPWB), in simple terms, is the intentional behaviour of employees against the norms and policies of the employer organization and can potentially harm the organization or its members. In other words, it may include any behaviour that is not accepted as per the usual norms of the organization. This definition brings under its gamut a variety of deviant behaviours at work place such as abuse, lateness, spreading rumours, backstabbing co-workers, sexual harassment, or even theft or sabotage in more serious circumstances. Such behaviours have been acknowledged in literature to stem from various reasons associated to work place such as stress, perception of injustice, favouritism, frustrations etc. and can have massive cost implications.
Researchers have focussed on the differing nature of such behaviours. Some acts of deviance are directed towards the organizations such as absenteeism, lateness, withholding efforts, theft, sabotage etc. Others reflect the aggression towards individuals such as verbal abuse, assault, sexual harassment etc. It depends on the reason of employee’s frustration as well. If an organization provides very meagre increments across the organization, employees are more likely to pin the blame on the management of the organization and its policies, rather than towards a specific individual. Personality of an employee can also impact as to which mode he or she resorts to for venting out his anger. Introvert employees may often adopt ways of silent rebellion such as calling in sick when they are not where as more vocal employees may resort to verbal abuse or arguments with managers on issues that stress them out.
From a point of view of management of such behaviour, it is important to understand how this CPWB stands differentiated from ‘unethical’ behaviour. For instance, disposing industrial waste in a river might be unethical from a common man’s perspective. However, it is not deviant if that is how the company policy describes that industrial waste be treated. Only a departure from an organizational norm is considered as deviant. Thus it is of utmost importance to demarcate counter-productive from unethical behaviour. It also makes sense to differentiate between the minor and serious forms of CPWB, which becomes evident from the extent of harm that the behaviour can create. Sexual assault, harassment, sabotage etc. are potentially harmful forms of deviant behaviour.
Organizations, and especially the HR, need to be vigil and cognizant of the fact that at the end of the day, employees are humans who are driven by their motivations, desires and their constraints. While it is best to control deviant behaviour, often, it is important to let employees let their anger out in order to stop them from taking bigger steps such as abuse, assault etc. Organizations need to frame, document and communicate sound policies so that employees are aware of behavioural expectations from them. Simultaneously, associated punishments and penalties also need to be defined loud and clear. It is indeed a fine balance that needs to be struck, especially today when work place and environment is undergoing radical changes.