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How to Identify and Stop Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB)

What Is Counterproductive Work Behavior?

Managers often talk about boosting productivity, but far too few conversations address counterproductive work behavior (CWB) and how to handle it. CWB is a term used to describe any action taken by employees that is in opposition to a company’s goals and values. CWBs can set companies back when it comes to reaching objectives and increasing profits. They can range from small actions that become normalized to violent and even dangerous behaviors.
Although CWBs differ in levels of severity, most of them can be described as unethical in some way. However, it’s worth nothing that all unethical behavior can’t immediately be designated as counterproductive. If the problematic action is taken to benefit the company, it technically isn’t a CWB (It should still be dealt with, however, particularly if there may be legal consequences).

It’s also important to note that not all CWBs are done with the direct intention of sabotaging a company. While some workers no doubt find satisfaction in attempting to “get one over” on their employer, just as many fall into counterproductive routines and are unaware of the effect it has on the company. Poor management can play a role in this, especially if CWBs are commonplace and nothing is done to address them.

Before delving into how companies can lessen and eliminate CWBs, let’s explore the specific types that often crop up.

Types of CWB

There are multiple types of CWBs, and each of them will impact a company differently. Some appear more serious than others at first glance, but all of them can create noticeable problems if left unaddressed. According to HRZone, CWBs can be broken up into four categories:

  • Production deviance: This type of CWB is exactly what the name suggests, describing any action through which an employee is sabotaging their own productivity. This can show up as repeated tardiness or pretending to work when they aren’t. Such behaviors can create a backlog of work that needs to be done. However, if employees partake in this type of deviance, they’ll have less and less time to complete such tasks.
  • Property deviance: This category of CWB can be financially costly for a company because it involves the organization’s equipment. Property deviance involves theft or sabotage of a business’ devices or equipment, both of which require an employer to spend money on repairs or replacements. (That’s not to mention the cost of replacing employees who engage in this type of CWB.) It’s easy to see how this category of behaviors can detract from a team’s productivity and prevent a company from hitting its financial goals.
  • Political deviance: Political deviance can seem less problematic than other CWBs, but it needs to be taken seriously. Behaviors like workplace gossiping and showing favoritism fall into this category. And although “office politics” are normalized to a certain extent, toxic behavior can create an unhappy and unproductive work environment. Nipping this type of CWB in the bud will get employees who engage with it back to their own workloads, and it will prevent the rest of the team from following their lead.
  • Personal aggression: This type of CWB is taken the most seriously, particularly because such actions typically go against workplace policies or even employment laws. Actions like workplace bullying and sexual harassment fall under the personal aggression category. These can obviously create a hostile environment for employees — one that’s likely to decrease overall output and make workers feel unsafe. Like political deviance, if left unchecked, CWBs in this category can spread to an entire team.

Now that you have a better understanding of what CWBs look like and how they can affect employee productivity, let’s look at how companies can address them.

How to Avoid CWB at Your Company

The best method of dealing with CWB at your company is to identify it and stop it before it begins. This means setting clear rules and expectations to prevent each type of CWB before hiring new employees. Outlining these policies during your vetting process will often weed out some of the applicants who consciously engage in such behaviors. If you vet your candidates by asking character questions during interviews, you may also spot those whose goals and values differ from your organization’s.

Of course, the hiring process will never be 100-percent foolproof. The second step to avoiding CWB at your company is by addressing it the first time — and making it clear there are consequences. Employers will sometimes shrug off less serious infractions, like being late or overhearing gossip. Doing so can lead to repetition, however, and eventually an unproductive work environment.

When addressing smaller transgressions for the first time, it’s important to be assertive but not aggressive. Employee perceptions of a company can impact the likelihood of CWB cropping up. If workers see an organization and its policies as being unfair, they may continue to engage in such actions. For example, there are genuine reasons an employee may arrive late, or an employee may break equipment by accident. It’s important to hear them out while still emphasizing company policies. Making it clear that repeated infractions are not acceptable will keep them to a minimum.

For repetitive CWBs or more extreme behaviors, taking immediate action is necessary to keep your other employees and your business safe. If you confirm that one of your employees has sexually harassed one of their colleagues at your business, you need to act quickly to remove the guilty employee and keep the rest of your team safe. This will make it clear to your employees that such behaviors won’t be tolerated at your organization. You’ll also prevent any further damage from being done by the employee in question.

Preventing CWBs won’t be possible all the time, but consistently showing your staff that company values and policies are enforced will create a greater sense of awareness around these behaviors and make them less prevalent.

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