March 19, 2016 Leave a comment
This essay will identify three common forms of destructive behavior in the workplace and provide suggestions to help leaders curb these types of behavior. There are countless forms of destructive behaviors in the workplace, so this paper should not be viewed as a comprehensive listing. Preventative and corrective actions are also numerous and should be customized to fit the specific culture and needs of a particular organization.
Common Destructive Behaviors
Johnson (2012) defines incivility as “rude or discourteous actions that disregard others and violate norms for respect” (p. 325). This type of behavior might often be ignored by management or dismissed as a personality issue that cannot be fixed. In fact, the guilty party may not even realize just how rude or discourteous his/her behavior really is. But, allowing an employee (or group of employees) to continue practicing incivility will alienate a great number of an organization’s employees. Wise leaders will intervene early on, knowing that failure to do so will put the organizational culture at risk and lead to diminished motivation, loyalty, and job satisfaction (Johnson, 2012).
Aggression can also involve very rude and hurtful behavior. But, unlike incivility, aggression is always tied to an intentional attempt to hurt someone else or the organization itself (Johnson, 2012). This type of behavior is most commonly a symptom of a dangerous emotion like envy, vengeance, or embarrassment. “Evidence suggests that people who feel negative emotions, particularly those who feel angry or hostile, are more likely than people who don’t feel negative emotions to engage in deviant behavior at work” (Robbins & Judge, 2010, p. 109). Wise leaders must work to strengthen the emotional intelligence of organizational supervisors so they can better anticipate, identify, and prevent such emotions from going unchecked among employees.
There are two primary forms of sexual harassment: quid pro quo (“something for something”) and hostile work environment (Pynes, 2009). Both forms are illegal yet far too common in the modern workplace. Like most destructive behaviors, sexual harassment has an extremely negative impact on the job performance of its victims (Johnson, 2012). It is incumbent upon organizations and their leaders to work to prevent these behaviors and to proactively address the issues through education and awareness.
Suggestions to Prevent Destructive Behaviors
A Solid, Ethical Culture
The first and foremost safeguard against destructive behaviors is a culture that organically discourages such actions. This can be fostered through incentive programs, evaluation processes, and clear company policies. But, it can only be reinforced and strengthened by consistent, ethical leadership at every level of the organization. “Leaders are the ethics officers of their organizations, casting light or shadow in large part through the example they set” (Johnson, 2012, p. 318).
Strong Whistleblower Policies
Whistleblower rules established by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act prevent an employer from taking adverse action against an employee who speaks out against organizational abuse, fraud, or criminal activity (American Society of Safety Engineers, 2004). This rule was enacted in response to the surge of corporate scandals like Enron, WorldCom, etc. A wise organization, however, will go beyond the regulations and protect those who point out the misconduct of fellow employees. “The organization needs to provide formal mechanisms so that employees can discuss ethical dilemmas and report unethical behavior without fear of reprimand” (Robbins & Judge, 2010, p. 241). When it comes to guarding against sexual harassment, it is especially important to follow two suggestions from Barbeito (2004). “Protection of the privacy of all parties should be included in the procedures” and “Zero tolerance and disciplinary action against perpetrators should be expected” (p. 24). And, that leads the discussion to the next point.
Swift and Decisive Action
Employees need to know that destructive behaviors will not be tolerated. No written policy or procedure will communicate this to employees better than what they actually observe. Swift action can also prevent certain behaviors from deteriorating into something even more destructive. “If left unchecked, incivility escalates into aggression” (Johnson, 2012, p. 327). Consistent actions will also encourage victims to speak out and bring destructive behaviors to the attention of management before a situation escalates to dangerous levels.
A Clear, Consistent Code of Ethics
Many have minimized the value of a formal code of ethics by highlighting the inherent vagueness of such a code and the difficulty of enforcement. However, the benefits of developing and administering a code are clear.
Employees in companies with formal codes of ethics judge themselves, their coworkers, and their leaders to be more ethical than workers in companies that don’t have codes. Members of code organizations believe that their organizations are more supportive of ethical behavior and express a higher level of organizational commitment. (Johnson, 2012, p. 339)
This results in an organizational climate that fosters more ethical (and less destructive) behaviors.
Principled leaders will obviously want to prevent destructive behaviors in their workplace. But beyond the ethical obligations involved, leaders should also realize the practical risks of leaving these behaviors unchecked (low performance, disloyalty, etc.). It is important to note that “those who engage in such unethical behaviors are driven to meet their own needs at the expense of coworkers and the group as a whole” (Johnson, 2012, p. 325). Although many of the preventative measures mentioned above will require a significant investment of time and resources, they will ultimately payoff in both tangible and intangible ways.
American Society of Safety Engineers. (2004). Whistleblower protection: OSHA publishes final rule on whistleblower procedures under Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2OO2. Professional Safety, 49(10), 16.
Barbeito, C. L. (2004). Human resource policies and procedures for nonprofit organizations. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Johnson, C. E. (2012). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: casting light or shadow (4th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications, Inc.
Pynes, J. E. (2009). Human Resources Management for Public and Nonprofit Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2010). Essentials of organizational behavior, 10th E. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
(Adapted from an academic assignment by Chris Ronk, Piedmont International University. The paper was originally submitted in partial fulfillment of course requirements at Concordia University Chicago where Chris is pursuing a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership.)