Organisational misbehaviour: Should management intervene?

by Dr Lew Tek Yew and Glynis Gregory

Organisational misbehaviour is defined as ‘anything you do at work that you are not supposed to do’. It is also often identified as behaviour that is unacceptable to management and may significantly disrupt its functioning.

Organisational misbehaviour is voluntary and committed by choice. The intention to misbehave is defined as behaviour exhibited by an individual or group that is purposeful and can be harmful to a person, the work group, or the organisation.

More often than not, individuals engage in organisational misbehaviour due to three reasons, that is, either to benefit the individual himself or the organisation, or with the intention to damage and hurt a particular individual, organisation asset or social unit.

Here, we aim to explain the term ‘organisational misbehaviour’ and its implication towards management-employee relations and the nature of control and power in workplaces.

Although rumour and gossip are often viewed as misbehaviour because it is often assumed to undermine productivity and reduce employee morale, it is however important in the workplace because it involves detailed knowledge of not just what is happening, but also who is doing what, with whom, how and why. Broadly, they are depicted as information, influence and entertainment.

Workplace romance is an informal relationship that occurs between men and women working together in an organisation. The most extreme negative power behaviour changes included favouritism towards partner, defected power, ignoring complaints about the partner, promoting the partner, flaunting and assuming more power.

Workplace sabotage is another type of behaviour that demonstrates employees’ resistance. Powerlessness is one of the mechanisms that drive employees to engage in sabotage in order to achieve a sense of authority. It intends to damage, disrupt or subvert the organisation’s operations by creating unfavourable publicity, embarrassment, delays in production, damage to property, destruction of working relationships, or the harming of employees or customers.

Employee theft constitutes one of the most serious types of misbehaviour in organisations. It is estimated that three-quarters of all employees steal from their employees at least once and many of these repeat such actions on a regular basis.

Lying can also be considered one of the ‘acts of resistance’. Lies have received little attention in management literature, yet we all know that it happens. People have the choice of whether or not to engage in misbehaviour by choosing to tell lies or to tell the truth in the course of their work. Employees will tend to lie when faced with conflicting demands.

In the workplace, harassers are usually male supervisors or managers. While harassment might appear to be about sexual attraction, it is primarily about men exercising power over women. It is seen as an inappropriate use of power that undermines, isolates and degrades women.

These are the most common forms of organisational behaviour. The question we need to ask now is why organisations tend to remain silent on such abuse of power?

This could be due to the fact that bullying is ‘acceptable’ in many organisations, provided the top management, as the mediator, agrees that in order to get things done, bullying is necessary.

Power and politics of organisations, and the need for managers to achieve a whole range of personal and organisational goals, sometimes compel managers to exercise bullying on employees because, although unpleasant, it is part of ‘normal’ organisational politics’.

The concept of power is also central to understanding workplace bullying. Those in lower positions in organisations are more at risk of being targets of hostile behaviour than those in higher positions. Bullies typically exploit the perceived inadequacies of their victims’ personalities or work performance, which in itself indicate powerlessness on the part of the victims.

In conclusion, management and employees are likely to strike out in an explosive manner when they feel powerless. If top management is to seriously deal with misbehaviour, they must be willing to deal with the issue in a straightforward manner, specifying corporate policies and practices that will compel corporate members to maintain ethical behaviour. Such intervention by top management is vital, and if properly executed, can reduce the consequences or costs of misbehaviour.

Dr Lew Tek Yew is a senior lecturer in management at the School of Business at Curtin Sarawak. He has published more than 30 journal articles and conference papers. His research interests include human resource management practices, perceived organizational support, employee commitment and turnover.  He can be contacted at +60 85 443939 ext. 3123or by e-mail to

Glynis Gregory is a graduate from the School of Business, Curtin Sarawak.