Counterproductive work behavior

What is counterproductive work behavior and how is it related to workplace bullying?

Bullying will stop
Bullying will stop only when the leaders stop tolerating it

Counterproductive work behavior is defined as behavior intended to hurt the organization or other members of the organization. It includes abuse, aggression, antisocial behavior, harassment, incivility, social undermining, and workplace deviance. In other words counterproductive work behavior is a fancy way of saying people are being bullied in the workplace. I do like the term – counterproductive work behavior though, because it really is counterproductive.

Anyway, a recent research paper on the subject found some very interesting things about who is usually the target of this sort of counterproductive behavior. See:

It turns out that negative emotions towards a target do increase the level of counterproductive work behavior towards a victim. The question is, what causes the negative emotions?

Well, this is a perception problem and it turns out level of physical attractiveness plays a role.

General level of agreeableness influences whether someone is viewed positively or negative and so whether they will be subjected to counterproductive work behavior. However, when attractiveness is taken into account, it cancels out the agreeableness factor.

My guess is that while we might be annoyed by someone who is grumpy and not warm and friendly, we have a more emotional reaction to attractiveness. Which is unfortunate.

But it does speak to the problem of denigrating comments. Bullying often starts with gossip and denigration of someone’s looks. There is a reason for that. If you want to make someone a target of harassment, you encourage others to view them as unattractive. If they agree, they are more likely to tolerate your bad behavior towards your target.

For managers it means that you cannot tolerate this sort of denigrating behavior. It’s not appropriate and it’s a first step towards bullying because it dehumanizes the victim in a way that makes them more vulnerable to counterproductive work behavior.

If you want a productive workplace, you can’t afford to allow this sort of pettiness to prevail.


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