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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Work Behavior

Counterproductive Work Behavior: Investigations of Actors and Targets by Suzy Fox, Paul E. Spector, Lynne M. Andersson, Karl Aquino, Julian Barling, Robert A. Baron, Rebecca J. Bennett, Robert J. Bies, Susan M. Burroughs, Stale Einarsen, Robert Folger (American Psychological Association, APA) Counterproductive work behavior encompasses a spectrum of actions that harm employees or organizations. These behaviors include bullying, emotional abuse, revenge, retaliation, mobbing, and aggression. They can range from severe, systematic, abusive bullying to milder, ambiguous episodes of workplace incivility. This volume examines the conditions and events in modem organizations that contribute to counterproductive work behavior, as well as the steps organizations might take to combat it. Authors from both North America and Europe analyze the interplay between the environmental factors of the workplace and the personal characteristics of the individual actors and targets of counterproductive work behavior. While these researchers study various aspects of this topic, the book deftly highlights the connections and distinctions in each of the authors' work. The result is an integrative and comprehensive resource that will help stimulate future research in the field.

Excerpt: Since the mid-1990s, there has been an explosion of research interest in behaviors at work that harm employees and organizations. Much of this interest has been stimulated by media attention given to workplace violence, especially that perpetrated by coworkers—for example, shootings within the U.S. Postal Service. Although such violence is quite rare, harmful behavior of lesser severity is commonplace. Research on milder forms has been featured in the national media, where it is often called "desk rage." As editors of this volume, we will call the domain of research counterproductive work behavior (CWB), although not all contributors will agree with this umbrella label.

There recently has been interest among researchers, managers, consultants, and the general public in the widely reported experiences people have of being recipients of harmful behavior at the hands of supervisors, coworkers, and others. These experiences can range from systematic, openly abusive bullying to milder, ambiguous episodes of incivility.

Research concerning counterproductive behavior at work has considered two major classes of factors—individual employee characteristics and characteristics of the workplace. A variety of personality variables, such as conscientiousness, locus of control, narcissism, trait anger and anxiety, and Type A impatience—irritability are among a few of the variables linked to these behaviors. Some researchers have focused on characteristics of the perpetrator, others on the victims, and still others stress the dynamic inter-play between the two. Research has shown that factors related to job stress, including lack of control, excessive workloads, poor relations with coworkers and supervisors, and both intrarole and extrarole (e.g., work–family) conflicts have been linked to harmful behaviors. In addition, fair treatment and workplace justice are important factors.

As the domain matures, more emphasis is being placed on the ramifications for individuals and organizations of these kinds of harmful behaviors, as well as approaches to solving the problems they create. This may prove to be the most controversial aspect of counterproductive work behavior research, because opinions vary widely regarding the locus of accountability (e.g., selection approaches versus organizational change) and the gamut of options available and hurdles facing victims of bullying. Our own work has suggested that a focus on employee perceptions of control and emotions can lead to job design and human resource practices that reduce harmful behavior.

The relative recency of most CWB research has undoubtedly contributed to a rather disjointed literature, with different camps developing different terminology and looking at somewhat different sides of an overlapping set of behaviors. These phenomena have been variously labeled as aggression, antisocial behavior, deviance, delinquency, revenge, retaliation, and our preference, counterproductive work behavior (from the actor perspective), and abuse, bullying, incivility, and mobbing (from the target perspective). The earliest empirical studies in the area of workplace aggression were published in the mid-1970s (Inkson & Simpson, 1975; Spector, 1975). Other early studies included Hollinger and Clark's (1982) paper on organizational deviance; Matthiesen, Raknes, and Rokkum's (1989) study of workplace bullying; Leymann's (1990) seminal work on mobbing; and Morrill and Thomas's (1992) paper on retaliation at work. Most papers in the area have been published since 2000.

The rapid and recent development in parallel of different perspectives has not left sufficient time for integrative work. This issue was noted as one of the most important for the field at an interactive paper session at the 2001 Academy of Management conference in Washington, DC. The session participants found that they were studying overlapping sets of behaviors from somewhat different theoretical perspectives, and tended to focus on distinctions and what is unique in each contribution rather than on connections. A need was felt for substantial integrative work to better tie the work together. Several of the contributors to this book participated in that discussion, which inspired this volume.

The chapters in this book have been written by scholars who have adopted different perspectives, perhaps different vocabularies or labels, and who have studied somewhat different sets of possible causes, consequences, or solutions. We have emphasized the desirability of relating, where feasible, each contributor's work to work done from other perspectives. The goal of this volume is to offer an integrative perspective that highlights connections and distinctions among different people's work, as well as a discussion of how conditions—events in modern organizations contribute to CWB and on things organizations might do to combat it.

As noted earlier, we have chosen the global term of CWB because it seems to encompass the critical features of the domain without excluding the distinct contributions of the various conceptualizations. It is not the intent of this book to force everyone into taking the same perspective or using the same terminology. Rather, its purpose is to build bridges among the different perspectives, showing where they overlap and where they are different. One of the strengths of CWB research is that there are so many different ideas that are contributing to an understanding of the underlying causes and consequences of the various behaviors that we study. Each perspective adds something important to our overall understanding.

This volume is divided into two sections, based on whether the central object of study is the actor or the target of the behavior in question. Section I looks at counterproductive work behavior from the actor perspective. Seven chapters discuss CWB from a variety of theoretical vantage points, focusing often on different precursors and consequences.



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