Workplace Deviance

aka Counterproductive work behaviours

What is workplace deviance?

Workplace deviance is voluntary behaviour that violates significant organisational norms, and in doing so, threatens the wellbeing of the organisation, and/or its members.

Organisational deviance includes behaviour such as:

  • unnecessary absence,
  • coming into work late and leaving early,
  • employee starting negative rumours about the company,
  • taking excessive breaks,
  • covering up mistakes,
  • not complying with health and safety regulations,
  • intentionally working slowly,
  • employee working unnecessary overtime,
  • making long-distance calls or mailing personal packages from work,
  • intentional production of low quality work,
  • employee intentionally making errors,
  • sabotaging merchandise and/or equipment,
  • misusing expense account,
  • unjustifiable dismissal of staff,
  • verbal abuse of customers,
  • fraud,
  • theft.
Interpersonal deviance may include:
  • employees competing with co-workers in a non-beneficial way,
  • blaming co-workers for mistakes,
  • employee going against boss’s decision,
  • boss showing favouritism to particular employees,
  • gossiping
  • verbal abuse,
  • bullying,
  • sexual harassment,
  • aggression.

It has been identified that 75% of employees have reportedly stolen from their employer at least once. Estimates also indicate that 33% to 75% of all employees have engaged in behaviours such as fraud, sabotage, and voluntary absenteeism.


Recently there has been significant interest in bullying within the workplace. Bulling is defined as repeated and persistent negative acts including;
  • social isolation, silent treatment,
  • rumours attaching the victim’s private life or attitudes
  • excessive criticism or monitoring
  • withholding information, depriving of responsibility
  • verbal aggression.
Bullying is particularly prevalent within the healthcare industry, especially the nursing sector. A survey carried out on Nurses by the UK National Health Service Community Trust indicated that 38% of respondents had experienced workplace bullying, while 42% of respondents had witnessed workplace bullying. Healthcare professionals are the second largest occupational group to report problems associated with bullying, behind teachers. However bullying is not only confined to these sectors; it is prevalent across a wide variety of industries. A recent study of bank workers in New Zealand found that 43% of employees had experienced bullying.

Consequences and Implications

Both the nature and frequency of workplace deviance poses a serious threat to organisations. Workplace bullying has significant psychosocial costs for the individual, as well as substantial organisational costs associated with high staff turnover, abuse avoidance, and protective behaviour, all of which reduce workplace productivity.

The financial cost associated with such behaviour is significant. The annual cost of workplace deviance on the American economy has been estimated to be as high as US$4.2 billion for workplace violence alone, US$40 to US$120 billion for theft, and US$6 to US$200 billion for delinquent behaviour.

What contributes to workplace deviance?

The high level personality factor “Conscientiousness” has been found to be a strong negative predictor of workplace deviance. The more conscientious a person is, the less likely he or she is to engage in deviant workplace behaviour. Other personality factors such as Impulsivity and Aggression are implicated in Interpersonal deviance.

Deviant behaviour cannot be attributed to personally traits alone. The workplace culture and climate also play a part. Studies have found that staff members who are dissatisfied with their jobs are likely to engage in both interpersonal and organisational deviance.

Studies have identified that counterproductive work behaviours and workplace deviance significantly and negatively impact job performance, whereas positive organisational citizenship behaviours have comparatively little effect.

It is much easier and more cost effective for organisations to increase their effectiveness by reducing counterproductive behaviours, than to train staff to demonstrate desirable behaviours.

What can be done to minimise such behaviour?

Substantial support has been found for the use of psychometric testing during selection procedures, as a means of minimising the potential for deviant workplace behaviour. Specifically, it has been established that selecting employees on the basis of the personality factors of conscientiousness, emotional stability, and agreeableness is likely to reduce the occurrence of deviant workplace behaviour.

Ensure that staff receive feedback on counterproductive work behaviours by including them in rating scales for performance appraisal.

Training programs should include a component that conveys to managers the pervasiveness and expense of deviant workplace behaviours, and explains the nature of such behaviours. Further, it is important to train managers about the importance of employee's job satisfaction. Dissatisfied employees are likely to retaliate against the organisation and its members.Organisational interventions designed to increase employees' job satisfaction, are therefore likely to reduce the workplace deviance.

Performance Group International Ltd.
Consulting Industrial and Organisational Psychologists
Telephone +64 9 478 5167
Fax + 64 9 478 5164

Contact us for assistance in reducing counterproductive work behaviours


Bennett, R. J., & Robinson, S. L. (2000). Development of a measure of workplace deviance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 349-360.

Dunlop, P. D., & Lee, K. (2004). Workplace deviance, organizational citizenship behavior, and business unit performance: The bad apples do spoil the whole barrel. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25, 1, 67.

Haaland, S. A. (2002). Understanding organizational citizenship and counterproductive work behaviours Examining interactions utilizing an organizational versus interpersonal categorization strategy. Central Michigan University.

Kelly, D. (2005). Review of workplace bullying: Strengthening approaches to a complex phenomenon. Journal of Occupational Health and Safety Australia and New Zealand, 21, 6, 551-564.

Lewis, M. A. (2001). Bullying in nursing. Nursing Standard, 15, 45, 39-42.

Lewis, M. A. (2006). Nurse bullying: Organisational considerations in the maintenance and perpetration of healthcare bullying cultures. Journal of Nursing Management, 14, 52-58.

Markus, B., & Schuler, H. (2004). Antecedents of counterproductive behaviour at work: A general perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 4, 647-660.

Mount, M., Ilies, R., J Johnson, E. (2006). Relationship of personality traits and counterproductive work behaviours: the mediating effects of job satisfaction. Personnel Psychology, 59, 3, 591-623.

Robinson, S. L., & Bennett, R. J. (1995). A typology of deviant workplace behaviors: A multidimensional scaling study. Academy of Management Journal, 38, 555-572.

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