Counterproductive work behavior in teams and hierarchical relationships : Organizational and individual factors

  • Kontraproduktives Arbeitsverhalten in Teams und hierarchischen Beziehungen: Organisationale und individuelle Faktoren

Dregert, Swetlana; Letmathe, Peter (Thesis advisor); Harbring, Christine (Thesis advisor)

Aachen (2017, 2018)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, RWTH Aachen University, 2017


Motivation Theory considers how to influence work behavior of employees in a positive way in order to enhance productive behavior and to increase job satisfaction. Besides positive outcomes, such as organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), also counterproductive work behavior (CWB) is a component of employees’ work outcomes. The dissertation deals with the influencing factors on CWB, particularly workplace sabotage. Workplace sabotage as a form of CWB, can be seen as behavior that damages, disrupts, or subverts an organization’s operations for the personal purposes of a saboteur. Sabotage behavior poses a challenge for organizations as well as for research. It is often a covert behavior in the workplace, and hence it is difficult to observe and hard to manage. To overcome this challenge, the dissertation chooses laboratory experiments in order to create a controlled setting where it is possible to observe sabotage behavior and its influencing factors. The basis for the dissertation is a research model which analyzes CWB based on (1) the social context of employees as well as in dependence of (2) organizational factors and (3) individual factors. Concerning the social context, the dissertation considers interactions of organizational members in teams where the individuals are on the same hierarchical level or in a hierarchical relationship composed of a supervisor and a subordinate. On the side of the organizational factors the focus is on the organizational climate expressed by words (code of conduct) and actions (firm behavior). As a second organizational factor, justice in the form of fair or unfair promotion procedures is considered. On the side of the individual factors it is distinguished between personality traits, perceptions, and emotional responses which influence a person’s behavior. The dissertation consists of four papers. In research paper 1 (RP 1) the role of individual factors for CWB is deepened. A literature review of experimental findings is conducted which analyzes how individual and organizational factors - and especially the interaction of both - influence different types of CWB. Besides the identification of the most relevant factors, the literature review discloses potential research gaps in this area. Research paper 2 (RP 2) deals with the effect of the alignment between a code of conduct (what a firm says) and firm actions (what a firm does) on (non-) collaborative behavior in teams. Collaboration is operationalized by information-sharing behavior of team members. Using a laboratory experiment, it is found that a code of conduct has a positive influence on collaboration, especially when the code is concordant with the firm’s behavior. The findings further emphasize that the integration of norms expressed in such codes depends on need satisfaction, such as autonomy and relatedness. The results give a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of codes of conduct in dependence of firm behavior and are helpful for explaining the mixed findings from prior studies. Research paper 3 (RP 3) and research paper 4 (RP 4) deals with unfairness in promotion procedures. This is of interest not only for research, which has not yet dedicated enough analysis to this issue in the context of promotion at work, but also for practitioners, who need to organize successful promotions in order to ensure that those selected for promotion will have the required capabilities. RP 3 and RP 4 ask how unfairness in promotion procedures affects CWB in hierarchical relationships between supervisor and subordinate. Paradoxically, results from RP 3 show that supervisors who try to offset their unfair promotion may even benefit from procedural unfairness in the form that subordinates are more willing to cooperate with the supervisor. In RP 4 in addition, the motivational consequences of unfair job promotion procedures in dependence of individual factors are analyzed. The focus is on the behavior of the subordinates and their willingness to sabotage their supervisors. Results clearly indicate that the subordinate’s decision to sabotage the performance of the supervisor in order to decrease inequity depends on personality traits and emotional responses. While negative emotions, such as anger, lead to higher sabotage (although not for prosocial individuals) envy results in higher performance. The results from RP 3 and RP 4 help to understand individual reactions to unfair procedures induced by the organization and the consequences of unfairness for the relationship between team members in hierarchical relationships. Managers can often do more to ensure that processes are fair and that this fairness is communicated to all employees who are competing for organizational outcomes. Moreover, in order to successfully manage employees, it is important to understand the influence of individual differences on employees’ behavior.


  • Chair of Management Accounting [812110]