Types, Antecedents & Outcomes of Organizational Dysfunctional Behaviors--A Review.

AuthorAgrawal, Aditya


Like individuals, organizations also suffer from malfunctions, deficiencies, and disorders that affect their health (Levinson, 2002). Kusy and Holloway (2009:10) added to the above observation saying that "Toxic people thrive only in toxic systems". Organizational dysfunctional behaviors (ODB) are not only reflective of an organization's culture, but they are manifestations of systemic problems that need to be addressed. It is vital to know the antecedents and outcomes of possible organizational deficiencies to sustain a healthy organization. These deficiencies are internal, often hidden from the employees and management but steadily prevent the organization from performing at intended levels. (Samuel, 2010; Carlock, 2013)

Organizational maladies happen due to dysfunctional behaviors at various levels (Appelbaum & Roy Girard, 2007; Carlock, 2013):

(a) Top management level--unethical practices; focus on the short-term bottom line, even at the cost of the business's long-term health and employees; inconsistent policies. Many workers become a party to or victim of unethical practices, creating unease, dissatisfaction, mistrust, and guilt.

(b) Co-worker Level--poor communication, workplace incivility, political work environment

(c) Employee level -Inability to cope with change, issues of prestige, personal (family incivility, family responsibilities, personal health)

Although toxic behaviors and incidents appear to be relatively minor, these seemingly minor but persistent abrasive behaviors have a greater potential to negatively affect the well-being than once-in-a-while events. (Cortina, Magley, Williams & Langhout, 2001)

We discuss in this article the implications of organizational dysfunctional behaviors and the typology of ODBs. We introduce two hidden dysfunctional states --fear and loneliness--that are caused due to organizational policies. Apart from inputs of extant literature, we also explain the processes associated with fear and loneliness. We examine three important causes of ODBs--organizational injustice, workplace incivility, and organizational politics. We also discuss organizational retaliatory behaviors (ORBs), which are often the outcomes of organizational policies and other dysfunctional behaviors. Finally, the article concludes with a reflection on possible remedies for ODBs.

Implications of ODBs

Almeida (2005) highlights that dysfunctional behaviors within an organization have indirect or direct cost implications. In a fiercely competitive workplace, stress and burnout are becoming a norm. These problems are compounded by issues such as abusive supervision, organizational injustice, and organizational politics. Frequent workplace conflicts and small social battles take a toll on an individual and seep out significant cognitive and affective resources leading to heightened stress. Chronic social stressors at the workplace can lead to anxiety, loneliness, depression, or reduced self-esteem leading to lower productivity and reduced team morale. (Dormann & Zapf, 2004; Penhaligon, Louis & Restubog, 2009).

Apart from indirect costs, there can also be direct costs due to sabotage or theft. Besides, demotivated or disgruntled employees can affect product quality, which affects the market reputation. Organizations can also be sued if adequate measures to prevent dysfunctional behaviors (say sexual harassment) are not in place, leading to decreased reputation and increasing hiring costs. (Litzky, Eddleston & Kidder, 2006; Van Fleet & Griffin, 2006). Litzky et al. (2006) report that deviant behaviors cost businesses more than $20 billion every year and cause 30 percent of business failures. Robinson and Bennett (1995) report that annual organizational losses due to ODBs could range as high as $200 billion.


Robinson & Bennett (1995) define organizational dysfunctional behavior (ODB) as any voluntary behavior that harms the organization or its employee. Dysfunctional (also called deviant) behaviors include sabotage, theft, or violent behaviors against fellow employees, late arrival, absenteeism, withholding effort, taking excessive breaks, and workplace incivilities (Van Fleet & Griffin, 2006; Carlock, 2013). Extant literature contrasts unethical behavior and deviant behaviors. There can be some actions that are both deviant and unethical. However, some actions could be considered ethical from a society point of view but will be considered deviant from an organizational perspective. Then there can be actions that are not considered deviant from an organizational perspective but are nevertheless considered unethical from society's perspective (Robinson & Bennett, 1995; Litzky et al., 2006).

Few researchers (Merriam, 1977) claim that deviant behaviors are due to personal attributes. Others (e.g., Greenberg, 1990) point out that organizational policies and contexts drive employees towards deviant behaviors. Then there are researchers (Litzky et al., 2006; Carlock, 2013) who emphasize that dysfunctional behavior is a function of both organizational values and individual personality.

Individual Factors

Individual-level studies have focused on understanding what kind of person is more likely to be involved in deviant behaviors. These studies have examined the impact of personality, genetics, family background, and social influences on an individual. Some studies (Neuman & Baron, 1998) have identified certain personality types that are more emotionally fragile and react by being aggressive and increase cases of workplace conflict. Other studies (Van Fleet & Griffin, 2006) have identified some personality types that get a perverse pleasure in troubling others.

Organizational Factors

Organizational policies and practices can encourage dysfunctional behaviors in multiple ways. First, culture and values create such conditions that employees feel slighted. Inconsistent organizational policies and poor interpersonal behaviors often lead to resentment, which then leads to deviant behaviors. Second, organizations can contribute to dysfunctional behavior by having a high tolerance for such behaviors. Van Fleet and Griffin (2006) point out that over a period, some employees "learn what kind of behavior they can get away with.". Third, in some organizations, uncivil behavior is supposed to be a part of the initiation, and accepting such behaviors is a sign of "belonging here (1)."

Robinson and Bennett (1995) classified workplace deviance along two dimensions. One is related to the severity of the action. Dysfunctional behavior can range from low level such as inappropriate dress, playing loud music to higherlevel offenses such as sabotage, theft, or violent behaviors against fellow employees. The second dimension is related to the target: organizational or interpersonal. Organizational deviance includes behaviors that violate organizational policies or destroy organizational property. Interpersonal deviance includes unacceptable behavior (workplace incivility or ethnic discrimination) against specific persons (Aryee, Chen & Budhwar, 2004; Hershcovis et al., 2007; Mitchell & Ambrose, 2007).

Hidden Dysfunctional States

There are two hidden dysfunctional states that are caused by organizational factors.

Organizational Fear: Fredrickson (2004) explains that organizational fear is linked with the urge to escape. Fear arises when there is discomfort in the existing or impending situations. May, Gilson, and Harter (2004) point out that employees feel unsafe when situations...

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