4 Counterproductive Behaviors Team Leaders Must Address

4 Counterproductive Behaviors Team Leaders Must Address

Not every employee is a superstar. And not every employee is a superstar every day. Normally, some people may slack occasionally. But if such tendencies are left unaddressed, this mild disengaged can grow into consistent counterproductive behaviors.

And here things get problematic: “State of the American Workplace” study found that only about 33% of workers are consistently engaged while at work. The rest are either just somewhat engaged or have behaviors that damage the productivity of others. Team leaders need to identify these “troublemakers” and their negative behaviors (termed CWB) and work to fix them. If no “fix” is successful, it is time to say goodbye.

What is Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB)?

The short and simple definition is this:

CWB includes all behaviors that harm the team and the organization.

This can manifest in several ways:

  • a high rate of absenteeism
  • too much socialization in the workplace
  • not meeting deadlines
  • criticism of others
  • aggression, and more.

Why People Engage in CWB

Disengagement and low morale are usually to blame for those counterproductive tendencies. The Gallup study referenced above explains why the majority of employees are not doing their best work:

  • Lack of job fulfillment: Some complain that either they constantly dealing with mundane and repetitive tasks. Or the superiors ask them to complete tasks for which they do not have enough skills. The result is they tend to “shut down,” and the pace of their work is far below expectations.
  • They don’t like their bosses. The reasons here are many, but employees complain that they are not given the bigger picture of how their work contributes to something. Also, some say that their bosses either ignore them or micro-manage everything they do or not give them enough autonomy of work.
  • Lack of flexibility. A FlexJobs survey reveals that when employees were asked where they go when they really need to get something done, only 25% stated at the office during regular work hours. 52% said at home. Flexible work hours are a relatively recent phenomenon, but 72% of those surveyed saw it as attractive for work/life balance and greater productivity.
  • Lack of Appreciation and Recognition. It’s hard for employees to stay engaged and productive when they believe that their efforts are not recognized. Or worse, that there are slackers who enjoy the same status and pay.

This may not be a comprehensive list of causes for CWB but are certainly the most common. Now, let’s take a look at how these translate into actual behaviors and what leaders should consider doing about them.

The 4 Types of Counterproductive Behaviors

To eliminate counterproductive behaviors, you’ll first need to learn how to recognize them within your team. Below are some common “red flags” to watch out for:

1. Poor Attendance

An unmotivated, unhappy, and unproductive employee does not enjoy going to work. So, they will take time off as often as possible. Unfortunately, these absences can impact an entire team’s performance.

What can you do about that? Well, it’s best to set up a closed-door meeting with such an employee to get to the root cause of their behavior. It may be a personal stressor or any combination of the causes above.

Try to have a frank open conversation. Don’t make any fast judgments. Your approach must not be one of criticism or rebuke. It must be one of concern for the employee.

2. Aggressive or Passive-Aggressive Actions

When people are naturally assertive and extroverted, actions may become verbally aggressive toward others, their supervisors, or the organization as a whole. These actions can also be triggered by a climate that is too competitive. This sets up a horrible environment for peers and supervisors.

There is no way for a team leader to sugar-coat addressing this issue. The culprit must be called out on his behavior and given very specific corrective actions. Many managers also provide a time frame in which to see solid improvement. If the employee does not correct his behaviors, the termination will be the answer.

Passive-aggressive behavior is a bit more complex. An employee is not openly thwarting the job at hand. Instead, they simply do not complete assigned tasks, miss deadlines, are absent a lot.

Again, team productivity depends on everyone pulling his weight. You must confront the employee and provide  them with corrective action. And that employee must understand that their work behavior will be more carefully scrutinized for at least a short while.

In the case of passive-aggressive behavior, a leader must also try to get to the root cause of the problem.

3. Giving into Distractions

Any workplace is full of distractions, both social and digital. And when the person constantly gets distracted and exercises little control over such tendencies, something must be done.

If you are noticing such a person on your team, consider this:

  • Give the person more challenging tasks
  • Provide them with additional training so that they may assume greater responsibility
  • Suggest changing their office space/seating.

4. Engaging in Sabotage

Sabotage is a strong word, and there are all levels of this activity. From deliberately missing a deadline to sabotaging the work of a peer, to delivering trade secrets to a competitor, this is perhaps the worst type of CWB. At a low level, it affects an entire team’s productivity. At higher levels, it impacts the entire organization.

There is no wiggle room for a team leader facing sabotage from one of his members. Termination must be swift. In some instances, a legal action might follow.

Is CWB Pervasive?

It would seem from the Gallup poll/study that it is. And there are plenty of other research studies that support this, including the estimated loss of $50 billion a year to organizations. The need for leaders to identify CWB’s in their departments and to address them (both proactively and reactively) is one of their most critical responsibilities.

Photo by Marvin Meyer

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