Types of counterproductive behaviors at work

15.10.2020

Although the logical thing is to think that all workers will always act in accordance with the interests of the company, this is not always the case.

We are going to discover what counterproductive behaviors at work consist of , what characterizes this type of behavior, what are the contexts in which it occurs and who are the people most likely to commit them.

What are counterproductive behaviors at work?

Counterproductive behaviors at work are those behaviors that some employees carry out, consciously and deliberately, and that collide head-on with the interests of the company , thus generating damage or losses at any of its levels. This behavior can be an isolated event or a constant that ends up assuming very serious figures in terms of repair costs for the damage caused.

Depending on the type of behavior and the intensity of the sabotage carried out by the employee, the company may have to face an unforeseen economic event, either directly, because it has to replace or repair the elements that have been damaged by the behaviors of the worker in question, or indirectly, because they have stopped generating a certain wealth. Both cases represent a loss that causes damage to the company.

And it's not just about financial losses , but counterproductive behavior at work also creates serious reputational problems, as having employees who deliberately boycott company actions is a clear stain on the brand. , and more resources must be allocated to recover the brand image that was had before these calamitous acts.

Another of the damages that these actions can entail is losing very valuable team members, since it is possible that the employees who have exercised counterproductive behaviors at work were previously highly efficient people and contributed great value to the company through of his remarkable work. The reasons that could lead to such a radical change in attitude will be explored later.

Finally, another of the negative effects that counterproductive behaviors can cause at work are judicial repercussions, since if the company manages to demonstrate that one of its employees took actions with the aim of harming the company, the most It is likely that they will choose to sue you and take you to trial, so that the justice will impose the corresponding sanction. But this scenario is still one more setback for the company, which could have been avoided.

Types of counterproductive behaviors at work

These behaviors can be categorized into different types, depending on their nature. Let's take a closer look at them.

1. Theft

The first of the types of counterproductive behaviors at work we have already anticipated, and it is about theft. Obviously, there are degrees, since this category ranges from the theft of a pen or other office supplies, to stealing cash directly from the box . The damage caused to the company will depend on the value of what was stolen, but we must not forget that ultimately, stealing is stealing, and any action of this nature is reprehensible.

To give us an idea, according to an investigation, thefts by employees represent, each year, losses of 40,000,000 dollars to US companies. This is a not inconsiderable figure and it allows a better perspective to understand the scope of this type of problem.

2. Sabotage

The second type of counterproductive behavior at work is that of sabotage. This conduct involves, deliberately, damaging or destroying company material, or interfering so that the processes lose efficiency in some way . Returning to the issue of ethics, sometimes the people who carry out these actions consider that they are totally justified

In order to understand it better, we will give an example. Imagine an office worker who deliberately drops his coffee on the computer and causes irreparable failure. At first we would think that his behavior only seeks to do harm, but his reasoning could be that this computer was already very old, constantly had errors and his superior did not provide him with a new one.

So, ethically, the person would think that his behavior would not be a sabotage as such, since he needed a computer in conditions to be able to work without problem and thus be more efficient. The reality is that the company has incurred an unexpected cost due to a deliberate action of the employee , so it would engage in counterproductive behaviors at work.

Sabotage is not to be taken lightly. Together with thefts and other types of fraud against the company by internal personnel, it is estimated that these behaviors generate from 10% to 20% of the total number of annual bankruptcies of companies in the United States, so they are factors to take into account, and companies must establish measures and awareness programs to prevent them from occurring, as far as possible.

3. Substance use

We enter a different terrain within the counterproductive behaviors at work, and that is that the next item on the list refers to the consumption of toxic substances, such as alcohol and drugs, within or before work hours, provided that the effects are within the individual's working time. It is an invisible problem, but a very serious one for some companies .

This type of behavior can generate losses of about 30 million dollars a year in all US companies, since it entails an accumulation of loss of efficiency of workers that ends up having repercussions in the processes of the organization and therefore also in its results (and its benefits).

4. Time out

The last of the types of counterproductive behavior at work would be that which has to do with inactivity within the working day , either in the form of unjustified absenteeism from the job, in more abundant and prolonged breaks than what the regulations mark business or even carrying out other non-company tasks during work time, such as browsing web pages for personal purposes or constantly checking your mobile phone.

It is a work time in which the activity that in principle should be carried out is not being carried out and which therefore supposes a notable decrease in employee productivity, making it increasingly difficult to achieve the marked achievements.

Offender Profile

For companies, it is vital to be clear about the profile of the worker who may have counterproductive behaviors at work and thus be able to anticipate these malicious actions, thus avoiding the terrible repercussions that we have known in the previous point. It does not always have to meet the same characteristics, but there are some qualities that tend to be repeated among these individuals.

The first factor that usually appears is the lack of empathy , and it is understood that workers who try to boycott their own workplace, in general, must have a low level of empathy, since they are unable to understand the needs of the company or identify them as their own, despite being part of it. On the contrary, they act against his interests, which, ultimately, would also be causing harm to himself.

However, research shows that these people do not always have a low level of empathy, far from it. In some cases, employees who engage in counterproductive behaviors at work have a high level of empathy. How is this explained then? Here another factor comes into play, which is that of ethics, and that is something very personal.

The point is that, in the eyes of the person, the actions they are taking may be perfectly ethical . If your moral code or your way of perceiving reality makes you understand that your counterproductive behaviors at work are actually totally justified behaviors, you will have no ethical problem in doing them, because it will not cause a clash of beliefs.

This ethical justification can be real, because we believe that actions are not harmful, or that they pursue a greater good, or it can even be constructed, as a form of self-regulation of the individual. In that case, what you will do is adapt your beliefs to the behavior carried out, so that there is no discrepancy that would lead to discomfort. That is precisely what is known as cognitive dissonance 

Finally, there is an important factor that you should never forget: boredom, or lack of motivation . Some behaviors, such as those we saw related to dead times, excessive personal phone inquiries, etc., are simply due to the fact that the worker is very unmotivated in front of his task and constantly seeks to escape from it through that type of actions.

Sigmund Freud confessed in his letters that he was afraid to travel. He called this type of anxiety "Reiseangst", although to this day, this particular phobia is known differently and defines a condition associated with generalized anxiety disorders.

Sleeping is a must. If we want to perform physically and mentally the next day, it is necessary that we have enjoyed a good sleep the night before. Only by having good sleep hygiene can we wake up rested and full of energy.

According to Harvard psychologist and author of The Sociopath Next Door , Martha Stout, one in 25 people is a sociopath . This can represent a real problem for today's society.