Workplace incivility

UW is frustrated by a coworker who constantly spreads malicious and unsubstantiated rumors about him. EI is tired of a member of her work team who, when confronted with problems, takes out his frustration by yelling and screaming at her and other work team members. And SM recently quit her job as a dental hygienist after being constantly sexually harassed by her employer.

What do these three episodes have in common? They represent employees being exposed to acts of deviant workplace behavior. Deviant workplace behavior (also called antisocial behavior or workplace incivility) is voluntary behavior that violates significant organizational norms and, in doing so, threatens the well being of the organization or its members. The point below provides a typology of deviant workplace behaviors with examples of each.

Few organizations will admit to creating or condoning conditions that encourage and maintain deviant norms. Yet they exist. Employees report, for example, an increase in rudeness and disregard towards others by bosses and coworkers in recent years. And nearly half of employees who have suffered this incivility report that it has led them to think about changing jobs, with 12 percent actually quitting because of it.

As with norms in general, individual employees’ antisocial actions are shaped by the group context within which they work. Evidence demonstrates that the antisocial behavior exhibited by a work group is a significant predictor of an individual’s antisocial behavior at work. In other words, deviant workplace behavior is likely to flourish where it is supported by group norms. What this means for managers is that when deviant workplace norms surface, employees cooperation, commitment and motivation are likely to suffer. This, in turn, can lead to reduced employee productivity and job satisfaction and increased turnover.

Typology of Deviant Workplace Behavior:

Category Examples

Production: Leaving early
Intentionally working slowly
Wasting resources

Property: Sabotage
Lying about hours worked
Stealing from the organizations

Political: Showing favoritism
Gossiping and spreading rumors
Blaming coworkers

Personal aggression: Sexual harassment
Verbal abuse
Stealing from coworkers

Additionally, just being part of a group can increase an individual’s deviant behavior. In other words, someone who ordinarily wouldn’t engage in deviant behavior might be more to do so when working in a group. In fact, compared to individuals working alone, those working in a group are more likely to lie, cheat and steal. In this study no individual working alone lied, but 22 percent of those working in groups did. Moreover, individuals working in groups also were more likely to cheat (55perent of individuals working in a group heated on a task versus 23 percent of individuals working alone) and steal (29 percent of individuals working in a group stole, compared to only 10 percent working alone). Groups provide a shield of anonymity so that someone who ordinarily might be afraid of getting caught for stealing can rely on the fact that other group members had the same opportunity or reason to steal. This creates a false sense of confidence that may result in more aggressive behaviors. Thus deviant behavior depends on the accepted norms of the group or even when an individual is part of a group.

The Team Leader or the Department head connected with the group’s working can very much play an important role in rectifying their deviant behavior. But members in the department must bring to his attention the deviant behaviors. The Head can talk to such members who are erratic in their behavior and must not accept any excuses by the errants for such behaviors. The talk can to a large extent alter their errant behaviors. If the Head of the department observes their behaviors discreetly and finds that they do not improve then he can follow it up by a verbal warning, show cause notice, adverse remarks in Appraisals and as a last resort even termination. Termination because deviant behavior has a direct impact on work efficiency and good team work.