Counterproductive Work Behaviours (CWB) definition

Counterproductive work behaviour refers to actions by employees that go against the goals and aims of their employer. CWB is not necessarily malicious but it is always conscious – it doesn’t include accidental or unconscious behaviours or incidents. The driving forces behind counterproductive work behaviour can be very broad and include environmental reasons, lack of training, employee personality and life changes and external factors.

Typologies are used to identify and classify CWB in the workforce. One typology, by Robinson and Bennett (1995), uses the following four categories:

  1. Production deviance e.g. tardiness or goldbricking
  2. Property deviance e.g. theft or sabotage of equipment
  3. Political deviance e.g. gossiping or favouritism
  4. Personal aggression e.g. sexual harassment or workplace bullying

CWBs do not include unethical or illegal behaviours that contribute to an organisation’s goals, such as an investment banker using insider trading to increase the bank’s profit – this would form part of unethical pro-organisational behaviours (UPBs).

Perceptions of fairness in the workplace have been found to be strong drivers of counterproductive work behaviours – if a supervisor is perceived to have been unfair then the employee may in future ‘forget’ to flag up a potential issue to the supervisor so that the supervisor gets in trouble if the issue becomes severe.

Strategies used to manage counterproductive work behaviours (CWB) in the workplace are common at the recruitment stage, where companies use procedures like integrity screening and personality screening to identify individuals who may have a history of propensity to CWBs. Among incumbents, one of the biggest ways to reduce the incidence of CWBs in the workplace is by enhancing organisational justice and balancing perceptions of fairness.


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