Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 38;   September 21, 2016: Counterproductive Knowledge Work Behavior

Counterproductive Knowledge Work Behavior

by

With the emergence of knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior is taking on new forms that are rare or inherently impossible in workplaces where knowledge plays a less central role. Here are some examples.
Police line tape

Police line tape of the type often used at crime scenes. On August 29, 2016, Hengjun Chao, a former researcher at the Mount Sinai Medical School, shot the Dean of the school, Dennis Charney, and another man outside a deli in Chappaqua, New York. Chao was apparently seeking revenge for Charney's having fired him for academic and scientific misconduct in 2009.

Although it is rare for knowledge-based counterproductive workplace behavior to lead to more conventional forms, it does happen. Photo by Tony Webster courtesy Wikimedia.

Employee behavior harmful to the employer's legitimate interests is called Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB). Gruys and Sackett [Gruys 2003] have developed a typology of CWBs that have since been widely studied and researched. They are property theft or destruction; misuse of information, time, or resources; unsafe behavior; poor attendance; poor quality work; alcohol or drug use at work; and inappropriate verbal or physical action.

While most of these categories apply to knowledge workplaces, knowledge workplaces are sufficiently distinct that they are spawning their own forms of these CWBs. Although they can all be subsumed into the conventional CWB categories, recognizing them as distinctive forms is essential to detection and control. Responsible management of the assets and property of knowledge-oriented organizations therefore requires familiarity with CWBs in forms rarely seen in other workplaces. Here are some CWBs specific to the knowledge-oriented workplace.

Fabricated results
Intentionally producing information assets and presenting them as factual, when they are actually only conjectured or imagined, can be damaging in itself. But when additional developments are built on foundations that include fabrications, the result is an unreliable mixture of fact and fiction.
Organizational perfectionism
Although we usually regard perfectionism as a personal dysfunction, its organizational form can be damaging on a far greater scale. It can consume resources and delay the availability of results that could otherwise have produced significant advancements for both the organization and society at large.
Plagiarism
Plagiarists do expose their employers to significant liability for theft of intellectual property. But perhaps more widespread damage arises when undetected plagiarists are subsequently assessed as more capable and responsible than they actually are. Their peers suffer by comparison, and employers then make erroneous task and responsibility assignments that can lead to organizational catastrophes.
Poorly documented work products
Some knowledge Responsible management of the assets
and property of knowledge-oriented
organizations requires special knowledge
work is valuable only to the extent that its results can be reliably reproduced, maintained, inspected, or extended by people other than its originators. Documentation is thus at least as important as the results themselves. Some knowledge workers distort or withhold documentation as a "job security" strategy. Too often, the strategy is effective.
Specious attacks on the work of colleagues
Toxic forms of workplace politics often include specious attacks on colleagues. However, in the knowledge-based workplace, these attacks can occur in the domain of the organization's knowledge-based work products. Combatants can make specious claims about one another's work, which, if accepted by management, can lead to strategic choices that harm the organization and its customers.
Excessive elaboration
Sometimes we make our problems, and their solutions, more complex than they need to be. By substituting complexity for completeness, we seek to impress others with our prowess. Utility and value rarely follow. See "Abraham, Mark, and Henny," Point Lookout for April 3, 2002, for more.

Although these forms of CWBs are more easily described than controlled, control begins with recognition. Have you seen any of the counterproductive behaviors listed above?  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Favor Symmetric Virtual Meetings  Next Issue

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For more examples of counterproductive workplace behavior in knowledge-oriented workplaces, see "Counterproductive Knowledge Workplace Behavior: II," Point Lookout for August 9, 2017.

Footnotes

[Gruys 2003]
M. L. Gruys and P. R. Sackett. "Investigating the dimensionality of counterproductive work behavior," International Journal of Selection and Assessment 11:1 (2003), 30-42. Back

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