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The Water Cooler

A blog of fresh ideas and findings from organizational leaders and researchers on how they’re making work better, shared regularly.

Are your best behaved employees also your worst behaved?

Who are the best citizens in your organization and who are the most toxic? Research shows that they might actually be the very same people, like workplace Jekylls and Hydes. And the cause is likely not schizophrenic employees but perhaps the perception of abuse of supervision.

Speaking at the re:Work 2016 event, Jared Valdron, a graduate researcher in I/O Psychology at the University of Waterloo, described how a model citizen could transform into a workplace deviant. Valdron’s study found that abuse of supervision can be responsible for turning the most engaged employees into the most destructive.

“Abuse of supervision” can refer to comments or actions that make an employee feel like they haven’t been treated fairly. “Imagine an employee who just engaged in unpaid overtime in order to finish a project,” Valdron said, “and then is called a slacker by the supervisor the very next day. Feeling unrecognized and mistreated, that employee might feel justified in falsely calling in sick the next day in order to balance the scales.” The feeling of being unrecognized and mistreated by supervisors after having done something good grants one “moral licensing” for doing something bad.

What can you do to prevent this from happening in your organization? Focus on reducing perceived supervisory abuse by clarifying roles and responsibilities with employees and setting realistic performance expectations, Valdron said. With small changes, you can turn deviants into model citizens once again.

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