Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Counterproductive performance

December 13th, 2010 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Today I am revising a paper on the measurement of counterproductive performance.  This project is slightly outside the area where the bulk of my research lies – but it is an interesting area nonetheless.

Maria Rotundo at the University of Toronto led research on the measurement of performance.  She found that manager’s typically consider three dimensions when evaluating their subordinates, namely task, citizenship, and counterproductive performance.  Task performance represents the behaviours that are aligned with the main duties of the job.  Citizenship performance is comprised of all of the tasks people perform that go above and beyond the duties of the job (e.g., helping co-workers, attending company parties etc.).  Counterproductive performance is everything that co-workers should not be doing on the job – theft, vandalism, and for some organizations, surfing Facebook or the internet (whether this is or is not counterproductive could be the topic of a future Blog).  Counterproductive behaviours are not aligned with organizational goals and often cause disruption in the workplace.   While there has been an obsession in research about the measurement of task performance, few studies have looked at the measurement of counterproductive behaviours.

Our study was concerned with whether people rated counterproductive behaviours differently based on their own values and behaviours.  In other words, do people view ‘negative’ actions differently based on what they believe and what they themselves do.  When it comes to negative behaviours, it is all up for interpretation.  Outside of some pretty socially unacceptable acts, most offences are highly dependent on the viewpoint of the observer.  I think we can all agree that our perception regarding taking a personal call during office hours might be okay with some but a problem for others.  Even those behaviours that we think would be universally unacceptable are up for interpretation.  Let’s look at theft as an example.

Most of us would agree that it is inappropriate to take things from our employer – theft is wrong.  Would this belief change if you were underpaid by your employer?  Or if you viewed your work as being undervalued?  Equity theory tells us that when people believe their inputs are not equal to the reward they receive, they either decrease their effort or they find a way to increase the reward.  “The company owes me this USB key. I give them all kinds of things without compensation”; “I should not have to pay for my personal long distance call.  I bought some things last week and did not ask for reimbursement.”

A few years ago when I was teaching Introduction to Human Resource Management,  I was lecturing about Equity Theory in general and I mentioned the relationship between equity and theft.  One student proudly put up his hand and told a story about an employer who refused to give him a raise after a year of consistent work.  He was working for a butcher and noted that when the increase in salary was refused, he promptly began taking home meat for his family!  Meat!  That is not quite a few extra staples and some post-its.

The study that I conducted with Sara Mann from the University of Guelph found that ratings of counterproductive behaviour vary depending on the rater’s own counterproductive behaviours.  If I behave in counterproductive ways, I likely see your behaviours as less counterproductive.  If I do not engage in counterproductive behaviours, I am more likely see them in you.  This finding is fairly intuitive but it does let us know that individual rater effects are influencing counterproductive performance measurement.  We cannot really get an objective measure of counterproductive performance.  I, as the rater, will always be tied up in the rating itself.  The implication is that if we hope to find out who is undermining our organizational performance, we need to find people who view performance in the same way that we do.


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