Narrow search results to:
Products & services
Blog articles
Knowledge Hub
Sample reports
Read time9 mins

What drives counterproductive workplace behaviours?

by | Sep 30, 2023

Save this item for later:
Your saved content:
Research into counterproductive work behaviour prevalence and key drivers.

Studying what drives employees behaving badly

We surveyed 1248 individuals, examining the primary factors behind negative workplace behaviours, in order to rule out psychopaths before hiring them.

Analysing data by gender and age, intriguing differences emerged among groups.

The overall occurrence rates of particular negative behaviours were also surprisingly high, ranging from 11% to over 35%.

These findings impact psychosocial risk management and suggest potential causes such as stress and biochemical changes.

What our research shows about CWBs

Watch the video to discover more about the results of our research into what drives negative behaviours at work, and the overall prevalence of harmful behaviours.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 8 – How to NOT hire a psychopath at work: Strategies and tips

And watch the previous video here:

Part 6 – How personal values influence employees behaving badly

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Research on counterproductive work behaviours

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number seven in our eight-video sequence on “Have you hired any psychopaths lately?”

Just to show you where we are up to in the sequence of videos, video number seven, this is an opportunity to understand about some research that SACS has undertaken into the topic of counterproductive work behaviours.

So over the years, SAC has done many studies into the personality and the values, drivers of negative behaviours at work and undertaken a range of other studies such as engagement of people at work and how that’s affected by negative behaviours.

So we thought we’d share some of that research with you today.

The next video will be about how not to hire psychopaths which is really a tying together of all the information that we’ve given so far about what are counterproductive work behaviours, the things that cause them, and in particular from a recruitment point of view, some indicators of negative behaviours that show themselves before you hire people.

Because as we mentioned in in one of the earlier videos, much easier not to hire people than to discover that you have a problem and then go through all the grief of separation, but also the damage that can be done in the meantime.

We studied 1248 people

Some key points about this research.

Firstly, this particular study was 1,248 people which is certainly big enough here in Australia and New Zealand to be a normative sample.

About half and half male and females, average age of participants 45.

And the salary, you can see average salary was 125,000.

In this study, we measured a number of negative behaviours and I’m just going to pick out some that I think are worthy of consideration.

Being impolite

Number five of the 10 that we measured, “I have found it necessary to be impolite to others at work.”

What you see is that 1% of the population does this thing frequently or extremely frequently and about another 14% does it sometimes, about 15.5%, nearly 16% of the population, are pretty actively involved in being rude to their colleagues.

Sometimes usually means that people can think of more than one recent example of where they’ve done this stuff.

So 16% is a lot, certainly a large proportion of your employees.

Imagine if you’ve got a thousand employees, you’re going to have 150 or something actually undertaking this kind of negative behaviour and you can imagine this effect being spread throughout that population of employees.


The next one I want to give you is number six which is, “I have taken the property of organisations I’ve worked for.” Once more, you see about 1% does this an enormous amount and you see about 11% are pretty actively involved in that.

I don’t know what you expect by way of theft within workplaces, but this is a large proportion.

One in 10 seems to be actively involved in doing this.

Let’s talk about occupational health and safety and we see that about 21% of the population sometimes or more frequently ignores occupational health and safety rules.

So for many organisations, occupational health and safety is an incredibly important thing and to have 1/5 of your workforce acting in this way, of course, is a cause for concern.

Snubbing others

Finally, I want to show you this one which is about ignoring and snubbing people.

This is kind of a crime of omission rather than commission if you want to put it that way.

But when this is bad enough, it turns into a thing called bullying by exclusion.

And we know that bullying by exclusion is an extremely traumatic experience for the people who go through it.

It’s no joke whatsoever and I’ve personally seen employees damaged very markedly, traumatised, in fact, by exclusion.

Let’s look at what the proportion of the Australian and New Zealand workforce is that does this.

About 5% or so is actively involved in this either frequently or extremely frequently.

But look at this, 35.8% involved in doing that sometimes.

So 41% of the workforce is involved to a greater or less degree in ignoring their colleagues.

I mean, that is a psychosocial risk.

It’s a significant psychosocial risk.

And I guess what this data shows us is that we get relatively few complaints about these kinds of things in most organisations.

So what’s happening here is that people are responding to a confidential survey and telling the truth.

And I think the key message here is that everybody needs to be aware that this is probably happening more than you’re aware of in your organisation.

Gender differences

Let’s talk about gender differences.

What we see here is a description of counterproductive work behaviours, males are this bluish colour and females are this greenish colour.

And if we look at total counterproductive work behaviours, what we find is that it’s not statistically different between men and women.

So you can’t say that either men or women are more likely to do this stuff.

Yes, I know there’s a difference on this graph, but the difference is attributable to chance.

What we do see is that there are quite significant differences between interpersonal counterproductive work behaviours and organisational counterproductive work behaviours.

In short, men are much more likely to do bad things to colleagues and women are much more likely to do bad things to the organisation.

Now, when you average them out, it ends up around about the same number of counterproductive work behaviours, but men tend to do more bad things to people whereas women tend to do more bad things to the organisation.

And there’s a theory in psychology, it’s called the People and Things Theory, that women are more concerned with people and men are more concerned with things and this kind of bears that out to a certain extent.

But I think that’s a really important point.

Don’t think that counterproductive work behaviours lives more frequently in men or women.

In fact, it’s around about the same frequency.

But the nature, the nature of the counterproductive work behaviours are different between men and women.

Changes in bad behaviour over time

Now, this graph shows you the difference between men and women over time.

And what we find is that in total, counterproductive work behaviours, you have women that start off relatively high in counterproductive work behaviours and then go to this peak between 31 and 40 years of age.

Whereas men start off around about the same as women, but gradually decline and drop off quite markedly around age 51.

So it makes you wonder what’s happening there.

What you’re seeing is a drop off in the counterproductive work behaviours of men.

If you look at that drop off, it seems to correspond roughly to testosterone.

And so levels of testosterone decline as men age and maybe that’s why you’re getting less counterproductive work behaviours because, as we said earlier, men are more likely to undertake interpersonal counterproductive work behaviours and testosterone does contribute to aggression type behaviours.

Let’s talk about women and you see that women start off relatively similar to men.

And then you have this peak of counterproductive work behaviours at around 30 to 40 years of age and it drops off quite markedly after that.

So it makes you wonder what’s going on at the 30 to 40 years of age.

Well, it may well be that what we’re seeing is the combination of the stresses of work and family because, of course, 30 to 40 years of age is often a time when people are juggling the work responsibilities and family responsibilities.

And even in today’s contemporary society, women certainly do more than their fair share of parenting.

And it may well be that that’s what’s driving it.

In other words, the stress of that kind of experience can cause more counterproductive work behaviours.

We do know that there’s a relationship, for instance, between stress and counterproductive work behaviours.

The more pressure you’re under, the more likely it is that you undertake counterproductive work behaviours.

And we do have the data to show that that expresses itself more in women in terms of organisational counterproductive work behaviours, maybe not turning up on time or maybe undertaking activities that don’t meet policy or something like that.

So that leads us to our final video and this one is really tying up all of the information that we’ve given you so far.

It’s about how not to hire psychopaths.

Click on the link near this video to join us.

Learn more about counterproductive workplace behaviours

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about dealing with psychopaths at work:

Part 8 – How to NOT hire a psychopath at work: Strategies and tips

And watch the previous video here:

Part 6 – How personal values influence employees behaving badly

And if you’d like some help with reducing the chances that your next hire will be a psychopath, contact us about our Psychometric Testing tools.

Save this item for later:
Your saved content:

Did you find this content helpful?

Please rate our content.

Average rating 0 / 5. Votes: 0

Please share any suggestions on how we could make it better. Thank you!

Tell us how we can improve this post?