The Silver Lining of Bad Behavior

When some employees misbehave, colleagues work even harder.
The Silver Lining of Bad Behavior
HOW IS EVERYONE else in a company affected when some workers behave badly? If those other employees identify strongly with the company, they might be motivated to work even harder as a way to alleviate their own discomfort with the organization’s tarnished image.

“The silver lining of organizational deviance may be the efforts of the uninvolved,” says Brian Gunia, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in Baltimore, Maryland. He researched the topic with Sun Young Kim of the IÉSEG School of Management in Paris, France.

In three separate studies with about 200 participants from the U.S., the researchers found that, when co-workers behaved badly, employees who identified closely with their companies worked harder, most likely as a way to neutralize a perceived threat to their own sense of self. However, those who didn’t feel so closely tied to the organization were less likely to increase their efforts after co-workers indulged in misconduct.

The authors say that business leaders could use this information to strengthen the bond between good employees and the company. Leaders shouldn’t blame a “few bad apples” when something goes wrong; instead, they should emphasize that “anyone could have fallen into this trap.” This makes the non-deviants feel a sense of association with the crisis and causes them to work harder.

“The Behavioral Benefits of Other People’s Deviance” was published March 30 in the online edition of Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.