About Workplace Deviance

Workplace stress may be expressed as deviant behavior, such as rudeness or destroying company property.
Workplace stress may be expressed as deviant behavior, such as rudeness or destroying company property. (Image: Christopher Robbins/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Workplace deviance is “voluntary behavior that violates significant organizational norms and, in so doing, threatens the well-being of an organization, its members, or both," according to researchers Sandra Robinson and Rebecca Bennett. It takes many forms including withholding work effort, gossiping, theft, damaging company property, withholding information, verbal abuse and physical aggression. Deviant workplace behavior has been studied using a variety of labels, including antisocial behavior, counterproductive work behavior, aggression, retaliation and revenge.

Cost of Workplace Deviance

Workplace deviance is costly to both organizations and employees. The estimated total cost of workplace deviance in the United States is $50 billion per year and may be as high as $200 billion per year. In addition, 95 percent of organizations report experiencing some form of deviant workplace behavior. Victims of workplace deviance suffer from stress-related conditions, decreased productivity and low morale and are more likely to leave the organization.

Organizational Deviance

There are two main types of deviant workplace behavior and each type can occur on a scale ranging from minor to severe. Organizational deviance involves actions related to workplace productivity and property. Production deviance includes worker behaviors such as arriving late and leaving early, taking long breaks, working slowly, wasting supplies and cyberloafing – surfing the Internet, shopping online and social networking. Property deviance includes deliberately damaging equipment, theft, and lying about hours worked.

Interpersonal Deviance

Interpersonal deviant behavior is directed toward co-workers and managers. It takes the form of political deviance – showing favoritism, gossiping, blaming and taking credit for the work of others. Personal deviance includes verbal abuse, sexual harassment, stealing from co-workers and endangering their safety.

Workplace Deviance Causes

Workplace deviance is a case of "an eye for an eye" or "don't get mad, get even." When workplace stresses, either real or perceived, build to a point when a worker feels the need to take some type of action, deviant workplace behavior may emerge. It is driven by employee perceptions of mistreatment, frustration over working conditions, and organizational changes, such as reductions in work force. Abusive supervision may also play a role in the development of workplace deviance.

Organizational Justice and Workplace Deviance

Professor Jerald Greenberg at the University of Texas developed the concept of organizational justice, which is employees’ perception of justice and fairness in the workplace. It takes the form of procedural justice – how decisions are made; distributive justice – how resources are distributed; informational justice – how information is shared; and interpersonal justice – the sense of fairness in employee relationships with management. Employees’ perception of organization justice plays a key role in workplace deviance, with procedural and interpersonal justice being especially important. Perceived injustice is the core factor in deviant workplace justice. When employees perceive that the work they do is valued, that they have a voice in decision-making, are treated fairly, with courtesy and respect, they are less likely to engage in deviant workplace behavior. Basically, employees treat the organization and their co-workers based on their perception of how they are treated.

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