Predicting Bad Behavior At Work

Counterproductive work behavior (CWB) remains a heavily-researched area in I-O psychology. CWBs can take a variety of forms, from relatively minor acts of workplace theft to dramatic outbursts of workplace violence. Regardless of who they target or how severe they might be, CWBs are always a negative phenomenon, and organizations have a vested interest in predicting the likelihood that employees (or applicants) might engage in these behaviors.


Traditionally, work linking personality characteristics to CWBs has been done using common personality frameworks, such as the Big 5. However, previous research has generated mixed findings in terms of how well these “common” personality traits predict CWBs.  As such, Wu and Lebreton suggest that it may be more effective to attempt to predict an individual’s likelihood of engaging in CWBs by measuring aberrant personality profiles. In their paper, Wu and Lebreton theoretically examine the links between CWBs and a number of aberrant personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

With an eye towards future research, the authors posit a number of hypotheses about the link between these three aberrant personality profiles and CWBs, including that individuals high in narcissism would be particularly likely to perceive hostile behaviors from others, and that primary psychopaths would engage in more thoroughly-planned CWBs.


This area appears to be a fruitful area for research. There is no doubt that CWBs remain a topic of great importance to organizations. It appears that measuring aberrant personality features has great potential to improve the prediction of CWBs in the workplace.


Wu, J. & Lebreton, J. M. (2011). Reconsidering the dispositional basis of counterproductive work behavior: The role of aberrant personality. Personnel Psychology, 64, 593-626.

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