Coralia Sulea


Counterproductive behaviors include: abusive behavior, physical and verbal aggression, making intentionate improper work, sabotage, theft, absenteeism, delays etc.. These behaviors are a set of distinct acts that have common characteristics: are intentional (not accidental) and intend to harm or harm the organization and / or their stakeholders- customers, colleagues and supervisors (Fox and Spector 2005).

Keywords: counterproductive behaviors, organizational deviance
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>> Counterproductive behaviors in organizations


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Comportamentul contraproductiv în organizaţii



Conceptualization of the counterproductive behaviors

Typologies and  structures of counterproductive behavior

Negative and positive dimensions of organizational deviance

Observing counterproductive behaviors – decision to disclose

Predictors of counterproductive behavior




For almost 20 years there has been a growing interest for research on workplace behaviors that harm employees or the organization, especially because of the harmful consequences and associated costs. These include costs at  economical (loss of productivity due to delay at the workplace, theft or sabotage) or psychological level (withdrawal or low job satisfaction- for those who are targets of counterproductive interpersonal behaviors or high stress and uncertainty – for those who perceive such behaviors) (Varda and Weitz 2004). These are important arguments for the need to identify predictors of counterproductive behavior at both interpersonal and organizational level. Such information will help organizational actors in terms of how to prevent such acts (during the selection process, directing their attention to those predictors related to personality that are linked to counterproductive behavior or to organizational level, taking into account situational factors that may trigger or encourage such behaviors).

Counterproductive behaviors include: abusive behavior, physical and verbal aggression, making intentionate improper work, sabotage, theft, absenteeism, delays etc.. These behaviors are a set of distinct acts  that have common characteristics: are intentional (not accidental) and intend to harm or harm the organization and / or their stakeholders- customers, colleagues and supervisors (Fox and Spector 2005).

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Conceptualization of the counterproductive behaviors

Counterproductive behavior at work (counterproductive work behavior – Fox, Spector and Miles, 2001; Martinko, Gundlach, and Douglas, 2002) was described, illustrated and analyzed in several conceptual forms. These behaviors have a negative nature either at the interpersonal level, for colleagues or clients, or at the organizational level, with the potential to cause significant damage and loss to the organization.

This type of behavior is analyzed either as a general construct or  through specific forms, more nuanced, as impoliteness, emotional abuse, bullying and mobbing (forms of nonsexual harassment) with an emphasis on the target of that behavior, and other forms (revenge, retaliation, violence and aggression), focusing on the instigator, which manifests the behavior, with his characteristics and motivation.

Although there is some overlap between the forms of counterproductive behavior, though they differ on certain dimensions, such as those specified by Pearson, Andersson and Porath (2005):

intention to harm (which may be absent, present or ambiguous);

target (which may be represented by individuals, organization or both);

types of violated rules (of the society, organization, working group or none);

persistence of the act (a single act or repeated over time);

intensity and depth of behaviors.

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Typologies and  structures of counterproductive behavior

Counterproductive behaviors were studied, initially, as isolated constructs (absenteeism, theft, etc.). Subsequently, research had turned increasingly toward finding a global construct designed to include more specific behaviors, based on the idea that a series of similar behaviors may be grouped, by some criteria, in dimensions or categories. If an individual manifests a behaviors from a dimension, then it is likely to manifest other similar behaviors as well. Counterproductive behavior has been studied either as a global construct or as a behavior with two dimensions (interpersonal and organizational – Bennett and Robinson, 2000), or having both those two dimensions, and related categories (Spector, Fox, Penney, Bruursema, Goh and Kessler, 2006).

In the last decade, most scholars have adopted the distinction made by Robinson and Bennett (1995) between behaviors that target the organization and  those aimed at another person. This distinction was best operationalized through Bennett and Robinson (2000) instrument, a bidimensional scale that was used in many researches on this subject (Interpersonal and Organizational Deviance Scale).

Robinson and Bennett (1995) initially developed a typology of counterproductive behaviors using multimensionale scaling technique. The two underlying dimensions explaining the model are characterized by two labels: organizational / interpersonal and minor / major. From them, yielded four quadrants in which are framed the associated behaviors.



Minor and organizational deviance


Leaving early

Excessive breaks

Work intentionally slower

Waste the resources

Major and harmful for the organization deviance


Sabotage the equipment

Accept bribe

Lie about the worked hours



Minor and interpersonal deviance



Gossip the colleagues

Acuse/blame colleagues

Unfair competition

Major and interpersonal devinace


Sexual harassment

Verbal abuse

Stealing from colleagues

Jeopardize the colleagues


Fig.1. Deviant behavior typology  (Robinson and Bennett, 1995)

The first dimensionminor deviance vs. major deviance – is reflecting, at one pole, minor deviant behaviors, that are not harmful nor for organization nor for the individuals, but the other pole is characterized by seriousness, with serious implications for organizations and individuals;

The second dimensioninterpersonal deviance vs. organizational deviance – has at a pole, damaging behaviors of individuals, but not for the organization and are on sight, and at the other pole behaviors that are harmful to the organization, but not to individuals and hidden.

Spector et al. (2006) developed an instrument with 45 items – Counterproductive Work Behavior Checklist (CWB-C) – which include the organizational and interpersonal dimension, and five categories: abuse, related production deviance, sabotage, theft, withdrawal. Abuse against others consists in harmful behaviors against colleagues and others to physical or psychicological  harm, through threats, inappropriate comments, ignoring the person or undermining its ability to work efficiently; production related deviance (more passive) is intentionally not doing the tasks as efficiently as it should; sabotage (more active) refers to the physical destruction or damage of property belonging to the employer; theft relating to stealing objects, information from the organization; withdrawal consisting in behaviors that reduce the working hours (employees work less than required in the organization, are absent, late or take more frequent breaks than permitted).

In 2004, Lanyon and Goodstein realized Counterproductive Behavior Index, which is another type of tool used in selection and organizational advice, but not in research. The authors assert that it is an integrity test, which is also a screening procedure for identifying job applicants whose behavior, attitudes and work-related values are likely to interfere with their success as employees. The CBI consists of an objective questionnaire with 140 true/false items and have seven dimensions: honesty, aggression, substance abuse, computer abuse, sexual harassment and overall concerns.

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Negative and positive dimensions of organizational deviance

The analyses and results presented above lead to an image outline at least undesirable of such deviant or counterproductive behaviors. From another perspective, certain behaviors that deviate from predetermined rules in an organization may lead also to solutions and positive changes. Further, will be discussed the two perspectve on deviance, the negative, and respectively, the positive one.

Deviace considered negative. This connotation of deviance which actually is the main concern of researchers and managers, highlights the main targets of various forms of counterproductive behavior. Thus, to deal with employees in a manner that it inconvenient for them is an approach with a negative impact on employees; rule violations result in damage to the society; sabotage, as productivity and property deviance damage the organization (Warren, 2003). In the same register, providing incorrect information, lying, dishonesty, constitutes a potential harm to the receiver of information, and organization as well, and when an employee steals something that does not belong to him, he comitts theft and damages the organization.

Deviance considered positive. Although attention is mostly focused on damage and other adverse effects caused by counterproductive behavior in certain situations, such behavior may even have positive consequences for the organization or its members. Hanke and Saxberg (1985 quoted Gallperin, 2002) introduced the term constructive deviance, which applies when employees engage in discrepant behaviors to advance organization’s interests. Similarly, employees who engage in discrepant behaviors such as „whistle-blowing”, meaning that they reveal the dysfunctional aspects of organization ( ro. „tragerea semnalului de alarmă” – where former or current members of the organization  notify certain persons or organizations that would be able to take action against certain illegal, immoral or illegitimate practices made under the control of employers) (Miceli and Near, 1997 quoted by Gallperin, 2002). Those who do so may violate the present organizational norms but contribute to overall well-being of the organization and have innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. In this view, they are seen as reformers, whose change efforts are to benefit the organization.

In this constructive approach to deviance are mentioned: radical, but temperate employees behavior, which may cause a certain state of things and lead to a change which is benefic for the organization; counter-role behavior, which involves behavior in a role opposite to the professional one, thus resulting in more efficient functioning of the organization; the disclosure of immoral or illegal practices, violating the rule on maintaining silence on the illegal activities of the organization; functional disobedience, or disobeying orders that are morally questionable, not complying  the organizational procedures for solving a problem or supervisor instructions on labor efficiency (Warren, 2003).

These approaches to deviance highlight the importance of exploration of what underlies these behaviors. Even if such conducts have negative consequences in organzation, it is important for managers to analyze their determinants and to interpret what signals these behaviors, to act on root causes and not just on the effects.

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Observing counterproductive behaviors – decision to disclose

Counterproductive behaviors do not occur in isolation, each of these have a degree of visibility. Their observation by colleagues, first, makes them not only simple observers, but individuals who may have an important role in encouraging or discouraging this behavior. Another perspective on “those who observe” focuses on how they can actually act, disclosuring the behaviors observed. „Whistle-blowing”,  (ro. „tragerea semnalului de alarmă”) was defined as the disclosure by organization members (former or current) of illegal practices, immoral or illegitimate which is under the control of employers to persons or organizations that have the capacity to act in this respect (Near and Miceli 1985 cited by Gundlach Douglas and Martinko 2003). This definition indicates that there are two main characters: one who engages in an unacceptable behavior and the one ho acts. Gundlach et al. (2003) propose a model of social information processing related to the decision to „whistle-blowing”. This perspective shows that people can be seen as motivated tacticians since they process the information about deviant behavior and choose relevant actions based on this informations. In this way are considered two sets of factors: intrapersonal and interpersonal. Regarding the first category, individuals are held responsible for deviance when their actions are perceived to be caused by their own reasons (internal causes) and they are made under conditions that allows the freedom to choose behavior (causes are controllable). People are emotionally more sensitive to the deviant acts when they assign internal causes to those who make them. Disclosure behavior is also related to perceptions of injustice that motivates employees to be centered on solving situations. The decision to disclose is largely focused, on the one hand, to switch to act and measure the gravity of behavior and, and secondly, to the balance between costs and benefits of such an action. With regard to interpersonal factors, is taken into account how attempts of social influence of those who engage in deviant behaviors influence disclosure decisions. Among these are mentioned: the presentation of mitigating circumstances that made the behavior, use the excuse or justification, underlying the isolated nature, but also the intimidation.

This analysis highlights another facet of the impact of counterproductive behaviors. On the one hand, they may be an opportunity for imitation by those who observe, or rather, “denouncing” them. Disclosure is not always easy, especially if it entails blaming by work-goup colleagues or even a leader who is not very interested in the reality of its work environment. Such initiatives, even whistle-blowing, can have a significant impact in managing counterproductivity because the earliest possible detection of such behaviors also favors an effective intervention.

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Predictors of counterproductive behavior

Bennett and Robinson (2003) highlight three trends in analysis of predictors or causes of counterproductive behavior. It will be used the authors structure to incorporate recent research on predictors of counterproductive behaviors.

1. Those dealing with deviance as a reaction to the employee experiences. Here are considered the reaction to frustration, lack of autonomy, organizational injustice, the organizational constraints and emotions experienced at work, perceptions of work situations. Counterproductive behavior as a  response to frustration received strong empirical support, sustaining the view that employee deviance is an emotional reaction to the experience of job related frustration stressors (Fox, Spector and Miles, 2001), the frustration being  interpreted as interference with the goals of the person or that occurred in the ongoing activity of a person. Bennett and Robinson (2000) also found a strong relationship between frustration and interpersonal counterproductive behaviors.

Some researchers consider that the lack of employees autonomy and participation have an important role in the manifestation of counterproductive behavior, it could constitute a way for letting down or correction for restoring employee’s sense of control over work environment. Analoui and Kakabadse (1992) have highlighted the possibility that one of the reasons why employees engage in unconventional practices is the desire to have more autonomy in the workplace. Dwyer and Fox (2000) provided evidence, although indirectly, for possible effects of autonomy at work. In this regard, an exaggerated monitoring of the manner of achieving professional tasks and not taking into account an employee’s ideas and proposals can favour the tasks assigned sabotage activities or disregard the autonomy of peers or subordinates. Fox et al. (2001) showed that autonomy at work has a significant negative correlation with organizational counterproductive behavior, but not with interpersonal counterproductive behavior. However, when high autonomy employees perceive a high level of stress, the likelihood that they engage in counterproductive behaviors increases.

Researchers examined the perceived fairness of outcomes (distributive justice), procedures (procedural justice) and treatment by authorities (interactional justice). Interactional justice includes perceptions on interpersonal justice, ie the extent to which authorities in the organization treat employees with respect and dignity, and informational justice, which is the degree to which authorities provide adequate explanations for decisions (Colquitt, 2001, Greenberg, 1993 ). Colquitt (2001) showed in his studies that organizational justice is best conceptualized in terms of four distinct dimensions: procedural, distributive, interpersonal and informational, the last two types being facets of interactional justice. Regardless of its forms, injustice is a loss of something, employees considering that they are entitled to that something, conviction that constitutes a significant motivator for attempting to restore the sense of justice. Different kinds of injustice are related to various forms of counterproductive behavior. Aquino, Lewis and Bradfield (1999) showed that perceptions on  interactional justice were strong predictors of deviant behavior oriented on organization and others, positive perceptions being negatively related to both interpersonal deviance and organization oriented. Bennett and Robinson (2000) showed that scores on the interpersonal and organizational deviance scales were negatively correlated with perception of procedural and interactional justice. Fox et al. (2001) found that distributive justice is significant correlated with organizational counterproductive behavior. Similarly, related to procedural justice, were found strong negative correlations with organizational and interpersonal deviance. Ambrose, Seabright, and Schminke (2002) showed in their study that individuals will engage in more serious forms of sabotage when experiencing various types of injustice.

Fox et al. (2001) reported that some organizational constraints (eg, situational constraints resulting from policies and procedures, lack of resources, etc..) are positive correlated with counterproductive behavior, especially with such as vengeance. They also showed that for individuals with high scores on trait anxiety, the high levels of constraints were associated with high levels of interpersonal counterproductive behaviors. For those who had high scores for anger, high levels of conflict were associated with high levels of interpersonal behavioral counterproductive. Mehta (2000), also, showed in his research that some organizational constraints are significant predictors of both organizational amd interpersonal counterproductive behaviors.

As for work satisfaction, it is related to counterproductive behaviors, correlations tending to be stronger for organizational counterproductive behaviors (Chen and Spector, 1992, Fox and Spector, 1999, Penney and Spector, 2005). People who had a low  work satisfaction developed more counterproductive behaviors (Lau, Au and Ho, 2003).

2. Those addressing deviance as a reflection of  employees personality. In this context, are analyzed dimensions of personality on the Big Five model, negative affectivity, and other types of emotions, locus of control, machiavellianism, narcissism, age and gender. Lee, Ashton, and Shin (2005) found that certain personality factors predict various types of workplace deviance. Deviance oriented on organization is thus associated with low conscientiousness and interpersonal deviance is associated with low levels of extraversion and agreeableness. Colbert, Mount, Harter, Witt, and Barrick (2004) showed that personality factors, as conscientiousness, emotional stability and agreeableness moderates the relationship between perceived work situation and counterproductive behaviors. Relationship between perceptions of environment development and organizational deviance was stronger for employees with low conscientiousness and emotional stability, and that between perceived organizational support and interpersonal deviance was stronger for those with low agreeableness. Salgado’s (2002) meta-analysis demonstrated that factors such as conscientiousness predict deviant behaviors such theft and drug abuse. He also showed that this factor is the most important predictor and that employees who have high scores on conscientiousness and agreeableness factors tend not to manifest counterproductive behaviors.

Vardi and Wiener (1996) examined the low level of individuals’ moral development and value incongruity between individual and organization. Also Gallperin (2002) showed that people with a strong ethical orientation are less likely to engage in either of the two forms of deviance.

Other authors mention the predictive nature of the level of individual integrity and certain personality inventory scales of the CPI (Hakistan, Farrell and Tweed, 2002). Individuals who have tolerance towards such counterproductive behaviors have a greater willingness to show such behavior at work..

Gallperin (2002), who showed that machiavellianism (a person’s tendency to perceive and treat people as objects that can be manipulated to achieve a particular purpose) is positive correlated with destructive organizational deviance and interpersonal deviance. Bennett and Robinson (2000) also found that scores on the machiavellianism scale correlates with the organizational and interpersonal deviance.

Mikulay, Neuman and Finkelstein (2001) mention several personal factors which may be predictors of counterproductive behavior, such as employees that have not yet developed loyalty to the organization where they work. It is also considered relevant the specific nature of jobs that certain persons have, involving a lower status or a salary.

Douglas and Martinko (2001) showed that trait anger, attributional style, negative affectivity and other factors of personality are a big part of the aggression variance in workplace. O’Brien (2004) showed that workplace perceived support is negative related to counterproductive behaviors and internal locus of control is negative correlated with these behaviors. Storms and Spector (1987) showed that people with an external locus of control are  more likely to react to frustration with counterproductive behaviors.

Trait anger correlates consistently with counterproductive behavior (Douglas and Martinko, 2001; Fox and Spector, 1999; Penney and Spector, 2002). Fox and Spector (1999) showed that a temperament structure that include anger is more strongly linked to interpersonal counterproductive behavior, and anger as response is related to the organizational counterproductive behavior. Herschovis, Turner, Barling, Arnold, Dupre, Inness, LeBlanc, Sivanathan (2007) in their meta-analysis showed that trait anger and interpersonal conflict were the strongest predictors of interpersonal aggression. For the organizational aggression, the most powerful predictors were: interpersonal conflict, situational constraints and work. dissatisfaction.

Penney and Spector (2002) found in their study that individuals with high levels of narcissism gets angry more often and tend to express themselves through counterproductive behaviors, especially when they perceive constraints in theyr work environment.

Personal and demographic factors also have an important role. Peterson (2002) found that some forms of counterproductive behavior are related to employees who are young, new in the organization and who work part time and have low paid jobs. Herschovis et al. (2007) found that men are more aggressive than women. Applebaum, Shapiro and Molson (2006), in their research, obtained results that showed that men tend to engage in more aggressive behaviors than women, for employees with less seniority are more likely to exhibit deviant behaviors related to organizations’ resources. Lau et al. (2003), in their meta-analysis showed that older people were generally less involved in counterproductive behaviors.

An important observation made by Megargee (1997, quoted by Ones and Viswesvaran, 2003) is that people avoid to manifest behaviors with an increased probability of negative consequences or of those that are not leading to achievements.

Liao, Joshi and Chuang (in 2004) reported that organizational commitment is negatively correlated with counterproductive behaviors.

Aquino et al. (1999) showed that there is a direct relationship between negative affectivity and counterproductive behaviors, negative affectivity was positively correlated with both interpersonal and organizational deviance. Negative affectivity is an important personality variable that describes the degree to which an individual manifests (in terms of frequency and intensity) levels of disturbing emotions such as anger, hostility, fear or anxiety (Watson and Clark, 1984). Was found that also high levels of negative affectivity are related to laying down minimum  and a high possibility to engage in withdrawal behaviors, to have a higher level of hostility, claims, and a more distant conduct (Necowitz and Roznowski, 1994).  Both Lee and Allen (2002) argued that job affects (work-related emotions) may be predictors for interpersonal deviance and job cognitions (work-related cognitions) predict organizational deviance.

3. Those who consider deviance as adjustment to social context. Even if, by definition, organizational deviance may involve violation of significant organizational rules, it could that the pressures of local work groups, the rules and regulations supporting deviance to be essential for it to occur. In this regard, investigations have revealed that a primary predictor of antisocial behavior at work is the degree to which an employee’s colleagues are engaged in similar behaviors (Robinson and O’Leary-Kelly, 1998).

Situational factors emphasize the nature of individual and organizational circumstances that would increase the probability of counterproductive behavior development. Varda and Wiener (1996) take into account the specific nature of the job opportunity, too loose system of monitoring and control of job activity and unrealistic or too demanding for employees organizational goals.

Various surveys have revealed a number of predictors present both at the individual level and at the level of context in which business operates. Further, we intend to present some theories and explanatory models in which behavior is explained phenomenology is considered counterproductive and in particular the interaction of these factors.

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Counterproductive behaviors have an organizational and an interpersonal dimension, with the potential to cause damage and negative effects both to the organization itself and to the people who are part of the organization. These types of behaviors are the product of interaction of certain individual and organizational factors. Among the main individual factors are personality traits, conscientiousness and agreeableness , whose low levels play an important role in the emergence of counterproductive behaviors ; on the same note is negative affectivity, which correlates in a similar way with high counterproductive behaviors. Also relevant are the employees judgments – more specifically, their attributions related to what happens at work. Among the organizational predictors we mention the importance of perception about organizational injustice, the low job satisfaction and other organizational constraints and stressors  such as role ambiguity. And finally, but not the last, an important role is played by employees discomfort at work. As for  work groups, they may be a factor for encouraging and maintenaning of counterproductive conducts because of their subculture, but also of their role models, whom exemplify such behavior.

From the scholars perspective, there are a number of instruments to analyze these behaviors, the most popular being developed by Bennett and Robinson (2000), and Spector et al. (2006). In general, are used self-report instruments, a basic requirement being the ensurance confidentiality of responses.

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