Productive & Counterproductive Behavior in Organizations: The Need to Measure Performance

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Productive & Counterproductive Behavior in Organizations: The Need to Measure Performance

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. 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.

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 discovered in a survey of 3200 workers that 61% of respondents wasted two or more hours per week mostly 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.

Performance Measures

The modern human resource perspective focuses on job and occupation performance as a developmental process. Organizations seek to create highly skilled, autonomous workers, and as such, they must evaluate worker performance to identify strengths and deficiencies. Performance appraisal always falls into two categories of objective and nonobjective measures. Objective metrics, like time testing, skill testing, and adherence to policies juxtapose subjective standards such as opinion-based manager evaluations. Objective measures eliminate some bias and favoritism but are not a complete performance evaluation system.

The Advantages of Objective Measures of Performance

The primary advantage of using objective measures is their simplicity. These measures are easy tools to use because they often measure skills with a definitive "yes or no" or “pass or fail”. The worker either learned the new skill or not. This simplicity provides management with a time-saving method and low-cost appraisal. Perhaps more important the time and money savings is the easy implementation of the simple-to-decipher objective measures, needing only a basic skill or knowledge test. Despite their benefits, objective measures only tell one side of the story in performance management.

The Disadvantages of Objective Measures of Performance

The worst disadvantage with objective measures of performance is the over-emphasis of measuring goal achievement. Goals often become the standard that judges all activities, which blinds managers and workers to new or more productive methods. Goal standards also reinforce “right” and “wrong” thinking, leading to workers and managers fixating on goals as the measure of job success. This inflexibility stagnates the workforce in a desire to only achieve those goals without improvement. Goal fixation has many negative effects, such as reinforcing bottom-line thinking, which often disregards ethics. For example, when the objective measure of profit determines employee success, this standard overlooks how that profit happens, and that blindness can lead to ignoring and promoting unethical decision-making.

Objective measures also don’t take into account the worker’s satisfaction or value placed on the job. Companies routinely evaluate job performance as satisfactory or perfect using objective measures, but the employee may lack collaborative skill, have a hostile attitude, and in the worst cases, damage workforce morale.

When to Use Objective Measures

Objective measures work best in conjunction with other measures of attitude and traits or when skills and knowledge need testing. Learning new skills and knowledge ready lend themselves to objective testing, whereas creative activities should not have these measures governing them. For example, objectively testing workers for problem-solving skills may create poor results if the worker is limited to answering a multiple-choice test.

Objective measures should be seen as only one side of the coin of performance appraisal and incomplete without a subjective system. Using only objective measures will lead to a highly skilled workforce that cannot work effectively due to unmeasured factors such as collaboration. The high-performance workforce develops through a much more robust process.

Understanding Motivation In Relation to Productive & Counterproductive Behavior

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. 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. Corporate leaders and academics believe this can be achieved by linking organizational goals with employee goals. Theoretically, this goal linking appears rational, using some form of pay for performance that offers extrinsic and intrinsic to motivate employees to high levels of satisfaction and motivation, thus promoting productive behavior. However, pay-for-performace has yet to prove consistent or reliable motivation

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