Rethinking Misbehavior and Resistance in Organizations: Volume 19


Table of contents

(16 chapters)
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List of Contributors

Pages vii-viii
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Misbehavior is ubiquitous. Its occurrence stretches back in time and shows little sign of abating. According to Richards (2008, pp. 653–654), organizational misbehavior “has been a prominent feature of organizational studies throughout the twentieth century and continues to command similar attention in the first decade of the twenty-first century.” Early interest has been traced back to F. W. Taylor's criticisms of workers’ restriction of output (Taylor, 2003) in the first two decades of the twentieth century, a phenomenon also considered by Donald Roy (1952, 1959) after World War Two, and subsequently extended by Jason Ditton (1977) and Gerald Mars (1982) to include workplace crimes such as “fiddles and theft.” In more recent times, such fiddles have been extended to the study of “cyberslacking” (Block, 2001), “cyberloafing” (Lim, 2002), and general workplace internet misuse (Lara, Tacoronte, Ding, & Ting, 2006). Yet, despite such interest in “organizational misbehavior,” the scholarship in this field is relatively recent and generally traced back to the work of Vardi and Wiener (1996) and Ackroyd and Thompson (1999).

Purpose – The purpose of this chapter is to offer a general review of the field of organizational misbehavior and to pose the question: what has happened in this field in the last twenty years?

Method – The chapter uses the theoretical framework developed in the book Organizational Misbehavior (1999) as a template and considers a range of developments in organizations and their context together with the findings of much new research into organizational misbehavior.

Findings – Classic forms of misbehavior identified in earlier work (absenteeism, effort limitation, utilitarian sabotage, etc.) are not as significant as they once were because the conditions necessary for the co-production of these forms of misbehavior often no longer apply. It is also proposed, however, that the findings from a great deal of the more recent literature – that there has been a proliferation in the range and types of organizational misbehavior and increase in its subtlety – are not indicative of a decline in the impulse to misbehave nor of the significance of misbehavior more generally. On the contrary, what we see is indicative of a period of widespread behavioral innovation, in which new outlets for the impulse to misbehave are finding expression even against a background of a general shift in the balance of power in favor of the employer. In the longer term there is every reason to expect that new areas of significant contestation will re-emerge, and with this the crystallization of some new and distinctive forms of misbehavior.

Social implications – A clear implication of the analysis is that there is little reason for complacency on the part of managers and management academics that the problem of misbehavior has disappeared.

Value of chapter – Updating the findings in the book Organizational Misbehavior (1999) in light of a range of recent developments in organizations and their context, together with recent research into organizational misbehavior.

Purpose – To examine Gerald Mars’ contribution to scholarly understanding of workplace crime by revisiting his seminal work, Cheats at Work, and to explore developments in the forms, patterns, and implications of cheating at work since its publication.

Methodology/approach – This chapter critically reviews Cheats at Work and explores the changing nature of fiddling over time using the analytical framework and four associated occupational categories of workplace crime identified by Mars. The review is based on three main sources: recent scholarly literature on misbehavior, deviance, and employee misconduct; cases from industrial law reports, newspapers, and social media; and the views of informants conveyed directly to the authors.

Findings – The analytical framework that Mars contributed remains useful even if the boundaries of the occupational categories of workplace crime are now more blurred, with some jobs and fiddles spanning categories. Although, technology has changed the nature of fiddling, new forms have emerged as old ones have disappeared.

Social implications – Three decades after publication of Mars's study, it is evident that fiddling remains a normal, albeit covert, activity in many jobs and occupations. His typology continues to be valuable for explaining patterns, forms, and implications of cheating at work.

Originality/value of chapter – Given the growing interest in the forms and implications of misbehavior and workplace resistance, this chapter provides an opportunity for reflection on the enduring salience of Cheats at Work, thirty years after its publication.

Purpose – This chapter aims to show that attention to nicknaming as a form of language-making and sensemaking can provide a valuable avenue for exploring employees’ assessments of (mis)behavior. It highlights the connection between gender and language-making as central to the way workers assess and respond to (mis)behavior in different workplaces.

Methodology – The chapter uses an historical perspective and concepts drawn from sociology and organizational theory. It identifies nicknames and nicknaming practices from a wide range of documentary sources and oral sources.

Findings – In considering nicknaming in terms of sensemaking and language-making rather than simply as a form of humor, the chapter shows that derogatory names enable employees to address the tensions and conflicts arising from formal organizational practices, rules, and managerial imperatives and workplace relations. It emphasizes commonalities in nicknaming practices that extend beyond the micro-level of specific workplaces and in doing so illustrates that nicknaming is not simply a manifestation of humor but as importantly of inter-subjective processes through which workers construct group identities to enforce co-produced informal rules of behavior.

Social implications – The chapter illustrates the importance of workplace nicknaming and its implications for the way employees try to influence the behavior of others by condoning and/or shaming those who conform to or defy informal rules.

Originality – The chapter's originality lies in its focus on employees’ own assessments of misbehavior and on commonalities in nicknaming practices in different times and in different places.

Purpose – The purpose of this chapter is to enhance understanding of misbehavior through an exploration of film and TV treatments of workplace relations.

Methodology/approach – Analysis of examples of misbehavior drawn from film and TV within a theoretical framework informed by formal and substantive rationality.

Findings – Workplace definitions of misbehavior are multi-faceted, contextually specific, and both perspective- and power-dependent. They are constructed within workplace settings, where expressions of formal and substantive rationality intersect with everyday working practices.

Research limitations/Implications – The discussion is limited by the mainly fictional character of the resources used.

Practical implications – The chapter illustrates how representations of organizations as “rational” are limited and how more complex understandings of rationality might contribute to a more nuanced view of the co-production of workplace misbehavior practices by managers, workers, and/or unions.

Social implications – The chapter illustrates how multiple rationalities may be expressed and socially embedded within specific workplace settings.

Originality/Value of chapter – The focus on mainly fictional examples drawn from popular culture to interpret workplace behavior is the chapter's most distinctive feature.

Purpose – To study misbehavior as a form of dissent and resistance in an organized labor situation where traditional forms of labor unrest are suppressed and the implications for how we understand the socio-political processes through which misbehavior is constructed.

Methodology/approach – Archival research, cluster analysis, thematic analysis, critical discourse analysis, actor-network theory

Findings – Misbehavior is linked to a series of sociological practices not least of which is the production of knowledge through actor-networks and their relationship to far-reaching discourses. In the empirical material we find a conflict between discourses of labor solidarity and unfair management practices and discourses of patriotism and anticommunism.

Research limitations/implications (if applicable) – This research is based on archival data, as such it is subject to the choices of holders to contribute and archivists to collect.

Practical implications (if applicable) – This work has implications for labor leadership in the understanding of which disputes may be constrained by contextual discourses and by management in the exploration of possible means of suppressing labor unrest.

Social implications – We have found that labor unrest may be constrained by contextual discourse but that suppressed unrest may result in misbehavior and other forms of counterproductive workplace activities.

Originality/value of chapter – The relationship between contextual discourse and employee misbehavior has not been studied in depth. This work presents a new view of the struggles of the unionized workplace.

Purpose – The chapter analyses potential interconnections between competing strands of worker misbehavior and mischief that result in forms of active resistance for those workers employed in nonunion settings.

Design/methodology/approach – The analysis integrates extant literature and theory concerned with differences between resistance, mischief and misbehavior on the one hand, and patterns of nonunion and unorganized workplace relations on the other.

Findings – Using a revised conceptual framework that advances a deeper and more nuanced understanding of unorganized workplace resistance, mischief, and misbehavior, the chapter illustrates the role that institutional and structural regulation plays in delineating between formal (and often collective) indicators of conflict, and informal (sometimes individualized) instances of mischief and misbehavior.

Research limitations/implications – The chapter offers a potential schematic framework for future researchers seeking to explore the complex interactions between resistance and misbehavior in a global and increasingly nonunion context.

Originality/value – While researchers have observed the quantitative decline in unionized conflict and industrial action, this chapter argues for a more inclusive incorporation of employment relations institutions to understand the deeper qualitative affects on workforce misbehaviors.

Purpose – This chapter seeks to contribute to our understanding of how the delivery of customer service shapes the development and expression by workers of resistance, misbehavior, and accommodation. Workers at three call centers enjoyed customer service and endeavored to enhance its importance. At the same time, however, they knew it to be emotionally wearing and, on occasion, morally dubious.

Methodology – The chapter draws on interviews with and a survey of call center employees and management and trade unions.

Findings – The chapter explores how workers used the aesthetic skills that underpin “good” customer service to subvert management objectives and give vent to their frustration with disgruntled customers.

Social implications – Even in the most closely controlled and monitored situations, people are capable of developing unanticipated and often ingenious responses to regimens that are antithetical to their immediate interests.

Originality – The exploration of how call center workers use their customer service and aesthetic skills to undermine managerial control.

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Purpose – This chapter seeks to understand the concept of consumer misbehavior, especially in the form of consumer deviance and/or dysfunction.

Method/approach – We review the marketing literature on consumer misbehavior, organizing the major themes scholars have used. We also differentiate between two perspectives researchers can employ: (1) misbehavior as deviance and (2) misbehavior as a wider construct.

Findings – Marketers generally overlook consumer misbehavior and put the cost down as that of running a business. Furthermore, they are burdened by the notion of customer sovereignty which is the dictum that “customers are always right.” But customers also lie, cheat, steal, harass, and abuse. Consumer misbehavior is thus multifaceted which in turn makes the definition difficult to pin down. After reviewing the many definitions of consumer misbehavior, including cyber misbehavior, the authors concluded that the disruption perspective is more managerially useful than the perspective based on violation of norms. This is because disruption of the business is not only harmful or unlawful but can lead to a loss of well-being, material resources, and reputation of individuals and/or organizations.

Implications – The chapter proposes a Pre-di-post framework that can be used to deal with customer misbehavior.

Originality/value – Most marketing scholars have focused primarily on misbehavior as deviance, yet this limits the kinds of problems one tends to focus on and the range of solutions one normally considers. We offer an alternative perspective where misbehavior may be instead “an unremarkable consequence of normal conditions” which may suggest a wider range of amelioration strategies.

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Purpose – To explore the links between entrepreneurship and misbehavior.

Approach – Conceptual development using cases as illustrative examples.

Findings – The chapter finds that there is an overlap between the way misbehavior is defined and the way entrepreneurship is conceptualized in the literature. It also finds previous research, distinguishing between desirable and undesirable misbehavior based on the intentions or the outcomes of behavior, insufficient in relation to entrepreneurship as misbehavior. The reason is that for entrepreneurial ventures, the underlying intentions are often good, but the outcomes often not; and that making assessments of the outcomes of entrepreneurial ventures a priori is notoriously difficult. Assessing misbehavior based only on organizational level evaluations is likewise insufficient in relation to entrepreneurship. The reason for this is that support for the venture may be needed also from actors outside of the organization. Furthermore, what constitutes the organization is not always clear. Therefore, we argue that it is necessary to broaden the view of what institutions determine whether a venture classifies as misbehavior when analyzing entrepreneurship.

Research limitations – The cases used to illustrate the overlap between entrepreneurship and misbehavior are conspicuous and not necessarily representative of entrepreneurship and misbehavior in general.

Originality – This is a first attempt at merging the misbehavior and entrepreneurship literatures, which highlights an important niche with a great promise for future research.

Purpose – Both misbehavior and commitment in organizations have attracted substantial attention. This chapter reviews the misbehavior and commitment literature to investigate the implicit negative correlation between these two important organizational phenomena.

Methodology/approach – A four-dimensional typology of counterproductive workplace behaviors (CWBs) is developed from the misbehavior literature, describing individual behaviors in terms of: their target(s), the vehicle for misbehavior, their social acceptability, and their quantity. The typology facilitates characterization of CWBs, and, more generally, comparisons between workplace commitment and the field of misbehavior, comprising the range of CWBs.

Findings – The chapter supports the assumed negative relationship between commitment and misbehavior although the strength of the relationship varies across some of the four dimensions.

Research limitations/implications – The reliance on secondary data limits evaluation of the typology. Further research using primary data is commended.

Practical implications – More insightful audits of organizational misbehavior can be produced to guide interventions. For example, CWBs that are directed at individuals, through a person's work role, and are socially unacceptable will require different interventions to those who are directed at the organization, through extra-role behavior, and are more socially acceptable (e.g., minor thefts).

Social implications – Clarifying the impact of CWBs on commitment and, hence, turnover, etc., highlights the cost of CWBs and may motivate organizations to address CWBs and, thereby, promote healthier workplaces.

Originality/value of chapter – This chapter is novel in developing a more comprehensive typology of CWBs. Describing the various CWBs in a single, comprehensive framework provides additional insight into misbehavior.

Publication date
Book series
Advances in Industrial & Labor Relations
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN