Another Harmful Effect of Workplace Deviance: Sleep Deprivation

Counterproductive work behavior (CWB) refers to employee behavior that could harm coworkers or the organization. These behaviors exist on a spectrum. On the low end of the spectrum are minor deviant behaviors, such as wasting time on the internet and chronic tardiness. On the high end of the spectrum are behaviors that begin to cross the border into criminality, such as theft and sexual harassment. When employees engage in CWB, they often believe that this behavior is justified and furthers their interests within the organization.

Organizations have an obvious interest in discouraging CWB. Much of the empirical research on this topic has focused on external consequences, such as disapproval from others. Relatively little research has focused on the internal consequences of CWBs. This is a surprising oversight, as people often experience a sense of guilt, regret, and sadness after engaging in negative behavior, and this can impact their overall sense of wellbeing.


To address this gap in the literature, researchers (Yuan, Barnes, & Li, 2018) examined how individuals feel about themselves after engaging in CWB and how those feelings impact their sleep patterns. Two of their studies asked participants to track their CWB, rumination, beliefs regarding moral self-worth, and insomnia over the course of approximately two weeks. One of these studies took place in China and another study took place in the United States, providing a multicultural perspective on the results. The researchers also completed a third, experimental study in which some participants were asked to recall an example of CWB in detail, and the impact on their sleep was measured the following day.

All three studies converged on the same result: individuals who engaged in CWB often experienced significant distress, which ultimately resulted in decreased sleep quality. This result shows that while employees may believe that CWB is an adaptive and justified response to workplace stress, ultimately these actions can have detrimental effects on their wellbeing.


This research further underscores the interest organizations have in discouraging CWB. Not only is such behavior damaging to the organization, it is also damaging to employees themselves. If employee wellbeing suffers as a result of their own CWB, they will be less capable of performing adequately or coping with stress, which ultimately sets them up to continue engaging in CWB. Reminding employees of the personal impact they will experience from CWB may be an effective way to decrease this behavior. Furthermore, employers may be able to remind workers of their ethical obligations by maintaining strong ethical practices within the larger organizational culture and having managers display ethical leadership.


Yuan, Z., Barnes, C. M. & Li, Y. (2018). Bad behavior keeps you up at night: Counterproductive work behaviors and insomnia. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103(4): 383-398.