Productive & Counterproductive Behavior in Organizations

Productive & Counterproductive Behavior in Organizations

Productivity in the Workplace

What constitutes productive and counterproductive behavior is often the subject of debate defined by individual perceptions and measures of productivity. What one supervisor views as productive behavior another supervisor may not rank as important or even consider productive. Contrary to this subjective interpretation, productive behavior can be defined in an objective manner.

Defining & Measuring Productive Behavior

Productive behavior refers to behavior that fosters results or achieves goals in the workplace. Productive behaviors are measurable through performance metrics such as output, quality of work, and other standards. Behaviors that increase these measures are said to be productive while those behaviors that decrease these factors are considered counterproductive. Defining productive and counterproductive behavior in this manner dictates the need for some form of performance measure to qualify behaviors in this manner. Without some form of performance standard, any qualification of behavior as productive or counterproductive becomes arbitrary. 

Using a performance standard, one can examine workplace behavior with greater accuracy and understanding. Using a performance standard allows a company or researcher to see the impact that productive and counterproductive behaviors have on job performance and the overall performance of an organization. Both forms of behavior can have serious implications for an organization.

The Need to Measure Productive Behavior

Counterproductive behavior has a large impact on job performance. If one views job performance as a representation of employee behaviors contributing to organizational goals, then those behaviors detracting from organizational goals (counterproductive) are numerous (Barrick & Mount, 2005). This range of behavior is seen not just in performance of the job but also in employee interactions such as conversations or attitudes displayed that may positively or negatively impact job performance. This range of productive/counterproductive activities creates a problem of what to measure? Employees wasting time having personal conversations could be considered counterproductive behavior but so too could redundant work practices such as micro management or policies that make employees waste time. Any study of behavior must be focused on the performance of job duties as well as on specific metrics such as efficiency, outputs to inputs, cost per output, and quality standards (Barrick & Mount, 2005).

Without specific measures of job duties gauging behavioral impact on job and organizational performance becomes impossible. Because job and organizational performance are intrinsically tied together, any inaccuracy in measurement of one can adversely impact the ability to realize the cost associated with the other. For example, allowing employees to use social media such as Facebook while at work must be evaluated to know the larger ramifications for organizational performance, which in discovered in a survey of 3200 workers that 53% of respondents wasted two or more hours per week on social media and internet searches. These results show the tremendous impact that even innocuous behavior can have, and companies that do not investigate these activities, cannot know the degree of the behavior: productive or counterproductive. By understanding and measuring as many behaviors as possible, companies can create strategies that will alter or enhance these behaviors.

Understanding Motivation

Understanding the causes of counterproductive behavior allow for strategies, but in order to realize the causes, critical analysis of the workplace must be committed. Because productive strategies are founded in motivation, understanding motivation becomes imperative. This importance in understanding motivation stems from the fact that employees may act counterproductively for a variety of reasons (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2007). For instance, if an employee is wasting time on his or her computer it may be due to the fact that the employee is feeling disconnected from his or her job or has no personal stake in the workplace.

In order to motivate employees, organizations must find ways to build value for the employee (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2007). This can be done by linking organizational goals with employee goals. With linked organizational and professional goals, employees maintain high levels of satisfaction and motivation, thus promoting productive behavior.


Barrick, M., & Mount , M. K. (2005). Yes personality matters: Moving on to more important matters. Human Performance, 359–372.

Noe, R. A., Hollenbeck, J. R., Gerhart, B., & Wright, P. M. (2007). Fundamentals of Human Resource Management. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Salary. (2018). Why & How Your Employees are Wasting Time at Work. Retrieved from

Article Updated: 02/08/2022


Triola Vincent. Thu, Feb 04, 2021. Productive & Counterproductive Behavior in Organizations Retrieved from

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