employee behavior

It’s True What They Say About Bad Apples: Managing Employee Behavior

It’s true with apples as it is with employees: just one bad actor can spoil the whole bunch. Or that’s what new research from the Harvard Business Review has recently revealed about the negative impact of worker misconduct on employee behavior

employee behaviorTurns Out Bad Employee Behavior is Contagious

Researchers Stephen Dimmock and William C. Gerken had long known that, when it comes to workers not performing their duties as required, such instances seem to snowball.  The misconduct of one worker seems to “rub off” on those he or she works with, and what might have begun as an isolated event soon blossoms into a full-scale issue involving multiple workers all acting in unison. The function behind this seemingly contagious spread or bad employee behavior was referred to as the “peer effects” of being in close proximity with a dishonest worker.

While the data gathered can be extrapolated to any professional setting, Dimmock and Gerken looked specifically at the world of financial advisers. They discovered that financial advisors were, on average, 37% more likely to be led astray and commit conduct themselves if they’re put into close contact with a new co-worker with a history of misconduct. The peer effects at play meant that for every two cases of misconduct from single bad actors, a little over one more was generated by otherwise honest workers.

Contributing Factors to Bad Employee Behavior

Working out the exact ratio of “misconduct creep” from peer effects certainly showcases just how pronounced the problem is.  But the researchers didn’t stop just there, as they also sought to discover just why bad employee behavior spreads so seemingly virally. Digging deeper, they discovered some interesting trends.

By and large, it was discovered that supervisors played a minimal role in misconduct creep. This meant that the behavior was truly the result of peer interaction and not that of supervisors acting on workers. Most telling was that worker diversity seemed to reduce instances of bad employee behavior, whereas financial advisors with co-workers that had more homogenous ethnicities actually encouraged misconduct.

The Lessons Learned from this Research

The big question, of course, is how can the knowledge gained from this study help in reducing the impact of worker misconduct? Dimmock and Gerken themselves suggest that, seeing as how these instances stem from peer-on-peer interactions independent of manager influence, this opens up avenues for managers to aid in molding the corporate culture of a business to tackle the problem more decisively.

Yet targeting worker misconduct and providing safeguards to prevent bad employee behavior may be easier said than done. With the issue being identified as possibly beginning when a dishonest worker joins an already established team of otherwise honest employees, one solution may be to institute targeted team-building activities and events.Using team building in this manner can convey a number of messages. Most importantly, though, it shows that a team’s supervisors are engaged and dedicated to managing the team effectively.

This emphasis on hands-on and enlightened management shows potentially dishonest workers just how much oversight they can expect in their position. This certainly discourages bad actors from engaging in any unenviable behavior while on the clock. Other benefits of team building are also beneficial; these activities stress collaboration and communication in ways that drive employee engagement. An engaged worker is a happier one, a more productive one, and one that is hopefully less inclined to get up to no good. It might not be enough to eliminate the risk of bad employee behavior completely, but it’s a step in the right direction.