John Hopkins Carey Business School

Staff misconduct is generally viewed, at best, as a predicament to be managed and, at worst, a catastrophe that damages morale across an organisation.

However, a new study led by Brian Gunia, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in Baltimore, finds that such “deviance”, or improper behaviour in the workplace, might paradoxically prove beneficial to general productivity.

The paper was co-authored with Sun Young Kim of Iéseg School of Management in France.

Previous studies have focused on the impact on those committing the misconduct. This misses what most organisations would be presumably more concerned about — the effect on staff as a whole, according to Prof Gunia.

Instead, he looked at the behaviour of the majority of “non-deviant” people working for an organisation where there had been a case of misconduct.

From three separate studies in the US with about 200 participants, the research team found that misbehaviour by a few pushes other colleagues to work harder in order to alleviate their own discomfort with working for an organisation whose image they feel has been tarnished. “The silver lining of organisational deviance may be the efforts of the uninvolved,” Prof Gunia says.

Although encouraging misconduct would be “patently unwise”, the authors note that deviance does happen with unfortunate frequency.

The problem might be that bosses too often do not know how to respond, or react in ways that exacerbate the issue.

Currently, the tendency of managers to blame a few “bad apples” when misconduct occurs is an error, the researchers argue, as this stops responsibility being assigned to the organisation’s structure and leadership.

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