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Volume 17, Issue 32;   August 9, 2017: Counterproductive Knowledge Workplace Behavior: II

Counterproductive Knowledge Workplace Behavior: II

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Last updated: August 8, 2018

In knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior takes on forms that can be rare or unseen in other workplaces. Here's Part II of a growing catalog.
A hot dog with mustard on a bun

A hot dog with mustard on a bun. As a boy, I spent some memorable days "working" for my uncle, who was responsible for food service at a local 80,000-seat sports stadium. It was an unpaid position, which is good, because I was only 11 years old. I never saw my job description, but if one did exist, it probably emphasized watching the games and cheering for the home team. But at this "job" I did learn about a procedure for controlling theft of hot dogs by employees who staffed a collection of about 25 commissaries scattered throughout the stadium. Stealing hot dogs from the commissaries was relatively easy, because they're small enough to conceal, and they're difficult to count at the end of the day as part of reconciling sales reports with inventory. So instead of counting the hot dogs, the management counted the buns. Nobody stole the buns — they were too bulky and not worth much. And they were easy to count. So the buns provided good data for validating the sales reports.

When designing control procedures, keep an open mind about what observables can serve the purposes of control. Subtlety is powerful.

Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB) is behavior harmful to the employer's legitimate interests. Gruys and Sackett have developed a complete typology that I briefly described in Part I of this catalog. Controlling these behaviors in knowledge-oriented workplaces requires recognizing the special forms they take there. That's why I collect knowledge-oriented CWBs as I remember them or encounter them. Here is Part II of my collection.

Deviating from required procedures
In knowledge-oriented workplaces how work is done can be as important as whether work is done. We have mandatory procedures to ensure that work is done correctly. Whether deviations and shortcuts result from negligence, ignorance, or intention, they erode confidence in results.
Concealing deviations from required procedures
Fearful about being discovered and then facing the consequences, those who deviate from required procedures sometimes conceal their deviations. Employers take note: when designing required procedures, take care to devise mechanisms that can detect both deviations and attempts to conceal those deviations.
Misrepresenting sources
When authoring reviews of knowledge literature, citing sources is a respected and valuable tradition. Typically, authors include citations when they paraphrase an important morsel of knowledge previously reported by another author. The key word here is paraphrase. To paraphrase is to restate in one's own words, usually to simplify or shorten the original statement. Restating the original statement so as to alter its meaning — often called "spin" — is not paraphrasing. It can be negligent misrepresentation, or lying, or goodness knows what else.
Withholding results, intermediate results, or methods
To withhold or conceal results is clearly a violation of the trust the employer places in the employee. Less often recognized as a violation is withholding intermediate results or the methods used to obtain them. How we generate knowledge can be as important and valuable as the knowledge itself — maybe more important and more valuable.
Misrepresenting status
Under pressure Under pressure to produce results,
some seek relief from the
pressure by misrepresenting
the status of the effort
to produce results, some seek relief from the pressure by misrepresenting the status of the effort. They claim more progress than they actually have, or they claim they've recently resolved obstacles not actually resolved, or they claim they're blocked by obstacles that don't actually exist, all to conceal the true state of the effort. The pressure they feel is sometimes unfair — it might be the root cause of the problem. Still, misrepresenting status is not the solution. It conceals the real problem, and therefore prevents resolution.
Invoking confidentiality illegitimately
Certainly there are occasions when internal confidentiality is appropriate, as when we must compartmentalize for security reasons the distribution of information and knowledge. And just as certainly, and certainly unethically, confidentiality can be abused for personal or internal political purposes. Such abuse can hinder the organization's attempts to fulfill its mission. Monitoring abusive invocations of confidentiality is difficult and doable. Don't get caught abusing the process.

Have you witnessed any of these behaviors? What did you do about it? First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Discontinuity Effect: What and Why  Next Issue

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See also Ethics at Work and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An onion, sliced and dicedComing December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
Winston Churchill in the Canadian Parliament, December 30, 1941And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.

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