How to Counteract Counterproductive Work Behavior to Find Happiness

If you want to be happy with what you do, try to be a productive employee. Everything you do at work falls into one of two categories — productive or counterproductive. How effective you are as an employee is determined by the balance between the two.

If you spend far too much time trying to look busy when you’re not, avoiding returning phone calls to someone you should, and arguing with coworkers, your work will suffer. These are all classic examples of counterproductive work behavior — which is the type of behavior that employees engage in when they’re angry, dissatisfied, and unhappy.

If you want to be happy at work, you must find ways to counteract that counterproductive work behavior.

Give your employer a full day’s effort

In a survey of a group of 74 employees at one worksite, five of the most common forms of counterproductive work behavior involved stealing time from the employer. Employees reported often observing their coworkers:

  • Coming to work late without permission

  • Taking longer breaks than allowed

  • Daydreaming rather than doing work

  • Leaving work early without permission

  • Trying to look busy when you’re not

Sound familiar? There is a connection between being an unhappy, disgruntled employee and coming in late or leaving early. You could wait until someone or something makes you happier about your job, so that you can start looking forward to working a full day.

Or you could reverse the connection and decide to see if you’re happier when you give your employer a full day’s effort; if you do, you’ll get more accomplished and feel better about your individual productivity.

Treat your coworkers with civility

We live in a reciprocal world — anger begets anger, niceness begets niceness. Problem is, most people are waiting on the other guy to make the first move. Conflict management styles like compromise and collaboration, using anger constructively, and simple things like saying “please” and “thank you” — are considered forms of civility.

The survey suggests a number of uncivil behaviors that you need to avoid:

  • Ignoring someone at work

  • Being nasty or rude to a client or coworker

  • Blaming fellow employees for mistakes that you make

  • Insulting others about their job performance

  • Refusing to help out at work

  • Making fun of people at work

  • Being verbally abusive to a supervisor or coworker

You can counteract such behavior by:

  • Always be willing to help a colleague in need

  • Owning up to your own mistakes

  • Treating coworkers with courtesy, not contempt

  • Finding ways to compliment others for their work

  • Laughing with others, not at them

  • Telling at least five coworkers per day, “Have a good day!”

Be a team player

Teamwork seems to be the mantra of most workplaces today. One industry after another proudly heralds the fact that they’ve “gone to the team approach.” The problem with counterproductive work behavior is that it works against the team concept.

Ron, for example, would pick and choose when he wanted to be a team player. As vice president of marketing, Ron was a key player in the day-to-day operations of his company. When Ron was happy with the way things were going, he was cordial, provided other VPs with vital information they needed, and accessible to everyone.

But, when he was not happy, he would act like a contrarian — stubborn, oppositional, reclusive — for example, not returning important phone calls and e-mails to his colleagues. On more than one occasion, this cost the company money, not to mention alienating Ron from other members of upper management.

In order for teams to work, the team members must have:

  • A cooperative attitude: Unfortunately, Ron is one of those people who cooperates when it suits him and doesn’t when it doesn’t.

  • Complimentary skills with others on the team: Marketing was Ron’s area of expertise, which — when he cooperated — complimented his teammates in finance, sales, distribution, product design, and so forth.

  • Performance goals in common with his team: It’s always dangerous to assume everyone has the same goals in mind. Most often, they don’t — which means that they often find themselves pulling in different directions at the same time and getting nowhere.

  • A common philosophy about how to reach those goals: Even if everyone on the team agrees on a goal, they may not necessarily agree on how to best get there. In order for the team to work, all the team members need to agree on how to get there.

  • Mutual accountability: There’s no passing the buck when you’re a team player. It’s not enough to be accountable to yourself — you have to be accountable to everyone else on the team. And they have to be accountable to you.

Create good public relations

One of the most commonly acknowledged examples of counterproductive work behavior is complaining to people outside work about how lousy the place you work is. A lot of unhappy employees aren’t content to complain inside the workplace; they feel compelled to air the dirty linen with anyone in the community who will listen.

The thing is, complaining about your job doesn’t make you feel any better, but it makes those to whom you’re complaining ask themselves, “If the place is so bad, why on Earth does she continue working there? Is she not good enough to get another job?”

The other thing to consider is that an employer’s reputation, its credibility, is an asset — an asset which you as an employee share. When you badmouth your employer to others, you diminish that asset — and you and they both lose!

If you can’t say anything positive about where you work, it’s probably best to refrain from saying anything at all or, if asked, something fairly innocuous like “Oh, things could be better but, then again, no job’s perfect.”

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