Workplace Deviance: What Does It Mean and How to Deal with It

Workplace deviant behaviour is one of the biggest challenges managers face within a company. Unfortunately, awareness about this issue is quite low and very often managers do not realize that they are dealing with workplace deviance. Therefore, we have decided to write an article about the meaning of workplace deviance and ways to manage it.

What is workplace deviance?

Workplace deviance refers to voluntary behaviour that violates significant organizational norms. As a result, it threatens the well-being of a company, its employees or both. There are different classifications of workplace deviance however, we will discuss one typology offered in the research: A typology of deviant workplace behaviorsby Robinson and Bennet.

According to this research, there are two major types of deviant workplace behaviour: organizational and interpersonal.

Interpersonal Deviant Workplace Behaviour

This includes two main types of deviant behaviour

  1. Personal aggression is a major type of interpersonal deviance where it involves physical and verbal actions directed toward other individuals, such as harassment and abuse.
  2. Political deviance is a minor type of interpersonal deviance where it involves behaviours that intentionally disadvantage other individuals, such as gossiping and incivility.

Interpersonal deviant behaviour is very challenging to identify and address. Often abuse and harassment are not reported, and managers are unable to react accordingly. Additionally, gossiping may seem like a minor issue, but it could damage the company’s reputation and decrease the productivity within the company significantly.

Organizational Deviant Workplace Behaviour

Organizational deviant behaviour is directed toward the whole company, not towards specific people like in case of interpersonal. This includes:

  1. Property deviance – harm the organization’s assets and possessions. Examples: sabotage and theft.
  2. Production deviance – intentionally reduce organizational efficiency of work output by wasting resources and intentionally work

One of the most common examples of production deviance is absenteeism which you may have faced on multiple occasions. Moreover, often employees may adopt certain behaviour that is harmful to the company, but they are not aware of it. If they waste their work time on personal tasks, they might not be aware of how damaging it can be. Additionally, staff may engage in “light” theft of company resources such as stationery.

These “small” incidents can have overall significant damage to the company. Wasted time, stolen resources and shared corporate information can be very costly. Therefore, the prevention of workplace deviance should be one of the primary concerns of any company.

Top 5 ways to prevent workplace deviance

There are different methods you can implement to reduce workplace deviance. Here are some of the best ways to prevent deviant behaviour in your company:

1.      Improve the recruitment and onboarding process

Workplace deviance can be significantly reduced if you have employees that agree with your corporate culture and have the same values. One of the reasons for workplace deviance is people’s personality traits. Some people are simply prone to deviant behaviour and there is not much you can do besides not hire these types of people.

You can use Big Five Personality Traits test to hire people that are less prone to deviant behaviour at the workplace. Research has shown that people with a high level of Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Emotional Stability are less likely to show deviance at work.

Additionally, make sure to be very clear about your corporate culture during the onboarding process. Explain to new employees your values and rules. This will help them understand what is acceptable within the company. If your rules promote ethical behaviour, it will reduce the chances of deviance among employees.

2.      Promote ethical behaviour through company rules

Severe types of deviant behaviour such as physical violence, verbal abuse and sexual harassment should be addressed in the company’s overall rules. State explicitly what type of behaviour will not be tolerated in the company. However, it is a bit tricky to restrict “softer” forms of deviance such as gossip and misuse of company resources. These are not clearly identifiable and therefore, cannot be limited.  In such a case, you want to promote and encourage ethical behaviour and communicate about company values with new as well as existing employees.

3.      Implement incentives

When there is a case of ethical behaviour, reward it. Develop incentives to acknowledge and encourage good behaviour. Through motivational techniques and incentives let your employees know that their efforts will be rewarded.

You should remember that deviant behaviour does not mean that somebody is a bad person. Deviance can be a result of just a bad mood or miscommunication on your part. Especially, if there are cases of lighter forms of deviance. Everybody can behave defiantly given the right circumstances. So, do not put the blame solely on your employees. Create an environment where people are motivated to behave ethically.

4.      Lead by example

If you want to reduce deviant behaviour, then be the most ethical person in the team. Acknowledge your mistakes, admit the deviant behaviour but do not condone it. Remember, one of the causes of workplace deviance is management mistakes and an unhealthy organizational environment.

Keep in mind that humans make mistakes so be understanding and be the first to behave ethically.

However, never be forgiving towards harassment and violence. These are severe types of workplace deviant behaviour, and they should never be condemned.

5.      Promote Autonomy

The research “Promoting Autonomy to Reduce Employee Deviance: The Mediating Role of Identified Motivation” has shown that workplace deviance can be influenced by the level of autonomy employees experience. According to this research, the more autonomy employees have the more they identify with their work and company. Therefore, they consider workplace deviance as counterproductive and destructive to their own plans and goals.

Final Thoughts

Overall, workplace deviant behaviour is something every manager faces. You need to understand that it is not something completely avoidable. While you can decrease the chances of deviance and prevent it in certain cases, you cannot abolish it completely. As a manager, deal with every case individually and promote communication to handle deviance more efficiently.

Share this post