Spotlight on counter-productive workplace behaviours

by Miriam Bell18 Sep 2012

Bad employee behaviour in the workplace appears to be a lot more common than many employers think, according to new study by an organisational psychology consultancy.

Researchers on the first comprehensive study into ‘counter-productive workplace behaviours’ (CWBs) found that most of those studied were guilty of at least some CWBs – including unnecessary sick days, inability to get along with colleagues, ignoring OHS or other workplace policies, and theft.

It turned out that at least two thirds of Aussie workers had been rude to their colleagues, while over 90% had disparaged the organisation they work for at least once, Andrew Marty from SACS Consulting said. “We were surprised by the relatively high levels of negative behaviour identified by the study and believe the findings have significant implications for Australian employers.”

Many clients had been surprised and concerned by the findings and by how common some of the behaviours in question were, he said. “Identifying CWBs is important for employers as they can cause staff energy levels, drive and commitment to work to drop. They can also create a downward spiral into truly negative behaviour such as widespread bullying and harassment. This, in turn, affects productivity and profitability of a business and the overall quality of the workplace culture.”

Among the key findings:


  • 86.6% of employees had ignored or snubbed someone at work at least once (41% had done so sometimes or more frequently).
  • Over half of employees (55.3%) of employees had taken things from work at least once (11% had done so sometimes or more frequently).
  • 21.4% of employees had ignored OH&S policies or procedures sometimes or more frequently.
  • 22.1% of employees had sometimes or more frequently taken a sick day when they were well enough to work.
  • Nearly 16% of employees were actively rude to colleagues sometimes or more frequently.
  • Men were more likely to infringe against their coworkers, while women were more likely to infringe against the organisation.
  • The 31-40 age group for women was a high risk for CWBs, probably because many were under enormous pressure to balance family and work commitments.
  • Younger employees (30 years or younger) were more likely to engage in CWBs than employees aged 51 years or older.


The research findings had been used to develop a unique online CWB assessment and to identify the personality indicators which suggest a risk in prospective employees, Marty said. “Organisations can use these tests to assess the likelihood of potential employees displaying these behaviours – and to select those candidates with lower risk of negative behaviours.”

More information about the study and the online assessment is available via the SACs website


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  • by Arielle Nakache-Moulay / Risk to Business 20/09/2012 12:25:37 PM

    It is truly startling to discover how many employers will turn a blind eye to workplace bullying and sexual harassment, to the detriment of their employees and employer brands. Regarding sexual harassment, our extensive report on Workplace Bullying reveals:

    20.8% of men surveyed reported being the victim of sexual harassment

    79.2% were women

    40% of people experiencing sexual harassment did nothing about it …. Instances are therefore under-reported

    In only 27% of cases reported did the organisation make things better.

    Once reported the victim's employer did nothing or turned a blind eye in 52% of cases.

    And, in 5% of the cases things got worse.

    Why are organisations not doing more to mitigate these matters before they get out of control?

  • by Bernie Althofer 25/09/2012 8:27:23 AM

    The million dollar question has been posed. At the risk of sounding like a heretic, I would suggest that there is no one reason why more is not being done to mitigate the matters. I have suggested in other forums that in some cases, executives do not know the extent of the problem because some matters are not officially reported, and in some cases the workplace culture is such that reporting such matters is 'frowned upon'.

    Despite the existence of policies and procedures and some training, the workplace culture can be a key factor in how the various forms of counterproductive workplace behaviours are managed. Whilst there seems to an increasing amount of data showing the extent of the problem, if workers do not feel safe in reporting the incidents, or if managers/supervisors lack the appropriate skills and abilities to manage incidents, then the incidents may be 'swept' under the carpet. This makes data collection difficult, and in turn, makes it difficult for those executives who manage with data, in that the full extent of the problem is not being identified.

    It might well be the case that part of the solution lies in performance management. If managers and supervisors had their performance assessed on how they manage people and conflict and the workplace culture (along with productivity measures) then they might turn their focus to being proactive. However, this would also mean that the workplace culture (in some organisations) might also need to change. Getting officers and workers to understand the physical, psychological and financial implications, along with the damage to individual and organisational reputations is always difficult when a prevailing workplace culture tolerates such behaviours to the point of acceptance.

    The tone of the organisation can be set at the top, but it has to be carried through at all levels, so if middle managers and supervisors are not prepared to follow this tone, negative practices can develop and engulf the organisation just like the creature from the black lagoon, or a pea soup fog.

  • by Bernie Althofer 25/09/2012 3:58:40 PM

    What is the role of auditors in detecting workplace bullying? In my view, they can play a key role as they are independent (and at least perceived to be) and can and do provide unfettered advice regarding the level of risk exposure that officers may face.

    However, given the complexity of issues involved in workplace bullying, and allowing for the decisions being made by Courts, Commissions and Tribunals, auditors are faced with a need to maintain currency of knowledge.

    'Auditing' workplace bullying is not just about the policy and procedures, but also includes a raft of related HR, operational, financial and IT systems and processes.

    How then do auditors acquire the knowledge to conduct an effective audit on this topic? They may seek advice from HR or even Harassment Referral Officers, Risk Managers and other organisational 'owners'. However, it some cases if might be necessary to seek external advice and guidance on the various nuances of this topic. It might also be the case that whilst the workplace culture plays a significant part in whether bullying festers away undetected and an audit is not conducted, auditors may not be able to provide an accurate assessment of the level of risk exposure.

    Unfortunately, auditors themselves may find they have to ask hard and difficult questions, and even make difficult recommendations they identify critical exposures in the workplace culture.

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