The Golden Rule: Be Sweet and No One Gets Hurt

Topic: Counterproductive Work Behavior
Publication: Personnel Psychology (SUMMER 2009)
ArticleThe Relations of Daily Counterproductive Workplace Behavior with Emotions, Situational Antecedents, and Personality Moderators: A Diary Study in Hong Kong
Authors: J. Yang, J.M. Diefendorff
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

When workers are unhappy with their treatment at work, they tend to lash out. Surprising, I know. In my latest foray into the world of Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB) research, I encountered an article looking at interpersonal justice and its relation to all things CWB. In this case, the researchers found that when employees feel mistreated by their supervisors, they are likely to engage in interpersonal CWBs (e.g. being mean to coworkers). Think of this as a kick-the-dog phenomenon. On the other hand, when employees feel that their job roles are ambiguous or they feel mistreated by customers, they are more likely to engage in organizational CWBs (e.g. taking extra-long breaks). This is more of a d*nm-the-man approach.

These reactions are partially or fully due to negative feelings that those people or experiences invoke. A personal tendency toward negative emotions (i.e. high negative affect) exacerbates the relationship; however, high levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness mitigate the connection. So, you know, hire a happy and smart worker with an attitudinal bent toward enthusiasm and you’ve got yourself a winner.

As with any research that studies Counterproductive Work Behaviors with a self-report survey measure, these results should be taken with at least one full tablespoon of salt. The thing is, of the 23 counterproductive work behaviors (13 organizational CWBs and 10 interpersonal CWBs) that employees could report each day, the average worker only reported engaging in an average of .55 organizational CWBs and .36 interpersonal CWBs each day. That’s awfully low, but not unexpected. From a more practical standpoint, knowing that the connection exists when the reported outcomes are so low means that this is really something that merits attention. Make sure that your workers feel that they are being treated justly—it could be a little thing that pays off big.

Yang, J., & Diefendorff, J. M. (2009). The relations of daily counterproductive  workplace behavior with emotions, situational antecedents, and personality moderators: A diary study in Hong Kong. Personnel Psychology, 62, 259-295.