How Organizations Can Discourage Employees’ Bad Behavior

Topic(s): Counter-Productive Work Behavior, organizational reputation, selection, workplace deviance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, 2016
Article: Off-duty deviance: Organizational policies and evidence for two prevention strategies
Authors: B.D. Lyons, B.J. Hoffman, W. H. Bommer, C.L. Kennedy, A.L. Hetrick
Reviewed by: Sadie O’Neill

Researchers often study counterproductive work behavior, which means employees’ bad behavior at work that is deviant or harmful to the company. But companies can also be harmed by employees’ bad behavior off-the-job, called off-duty deviance (ODD). This can include anything from socially unacceptable noncriminal behavior, like bullying on social media, to downright criminal behavior, like felonies or drug use. The negative impact of ODD can be severe, not only on employment outcomes, but also on the company’s reputation. What are companies doing to protect their valuable reputations?


First, the researchers (Lyons, Hoffman, Bommer, Kennedy, & Hetrick, 2016) investigated current ODD policy practices from a sample of Fortune 500 companies that likely set the trend for other firms. The researchers found the following:

  • Only 13.4%, or 67 out of the 500 companies, listed ODD policies on their website.
  • Criminal ODD is more commonly mentioned than noncriminal forms, but a majority did not explicitly mention the type of criminal behavior prohibited.
  • Noncriminal ODD policies most frequently mentioned social networking behavior.
  • Around half of the 67 policies included justification, most commonly citing the firm’s reputation.
  • While the company’s response to ODD policy violations weren’t commonly listed on the corporate website, those that did most frequently mentioned termination.


The researchers investigated National Football League (NFL) player arrests from 2001-2012. This may sound odd, but arrest rates were steadily increasing, so in 2007 the NFL adopted an ODD policy to monitor off-duty conduct. Did it reduce criminal ODD? Yes! The policy was especially useful in reducing criminal ODD in players drafted after policy implementation, but not for players drafted pre-policy. Not only did the policy reduce post-draftees’ arrests, but it effectively deterred criminal ODD for the next six years. In fact, arrest rates between pre-policy and post-policy draftees decreased by 55%.

The effectiveness of policies on noncriminal ODD is up in the air, and criminal ODD policies may not be as effective for employees hired pre-policy. This could be because they think the company doesn’t have enough authority or the policy is not legitimate.


Another possible avenue for reducing criminal ODD is through personnel selection. Researchers analyzed general mental ability and prior deviance of NFL players to see if criminal ODD can be deterred through personnel selection practices. Prior deviance included arrest or suspension in college, and happened in 6.6% of the players sampled. General mental ability was measured with the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test given during the NFL Combine, which is a showcase for potential draftees.

General mental ability was negatively related to criminal ODD, meaning that as general mental ability goes up, criminal ODD goes down. Also, prior deviance was positively related to ODD, meaning that when prior deviance is higher, criminal ODD was also higher. Importantly, both general mental ability and prior deviance are valid, or useful, ways to predict if your new hire will engage in criminal ODD. The authors noted that these tools are already widely used in the form of cognitive ability tests and background checks, and they are job-related and legally defensible. However, it is important to weigh the moral implications of not hiring past criminal offenders against the benefit of keeping the company’s reputation intact.


HR policy makers should consider the benefits and drawbacks of monitoring employees’ off-duty behavior. When drafting an ODD policy, consider focusing on criminal ODD. If including noncriminal ODD, social networking behavior is most frequently addressed. ODD policies may be more effective for employees hired after the policy is implemented, so be sure to discuss the policy and any concerns thoroughly with current employees. Finally, mental ability and past deviance can be used as part of a scientifically sound selection process to hire people less likely to commit criminal ODD. In short, policies and pre-screening for criminal ODD are two ways to keep your company’s image intact.


Lyons, B. D., Hoffman, B. J., Bommer, W. H., Kennedy, C. L., & Hetrick, A. L. (2016). Off-Duty deviance: Organizational policies and evidence for two prevention strategies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(4), 463-483.