Psychological Reasons Why Staff May Misbehave
We offer a few reasons why staff may misbehave after years of being good employees. Sometimes you have staff who are viciously loyal and hard-working, and other times you have staff that are slackers and generally disobedient. The types of staff member who slacks off and are disobedient are easy annoying, but they are easy to spot and relatively easy to manage because they are often predictable to a degree, plus they often have character traits that are easy to spot.
The types of staff member that really cause trouble are the ones that take you off guard. They are the types of staff member that may have been stealing for years without arousing your suspicion, or that suddenly let you down without apparent cause. Here are a few psychological reasons why your staff may suddenly misbehave without any apparent provocation.
The Social Bond Theory
Team unity is not just a buzzword thrown out by consultants; it does have its roots in basic human psychology. We are pack animals that thrive when working as a team. If your staff begin to feel more like moving parts in a larger machine, they are more predisposed to theft or things that would hurt the company. When their bosses or their company does not seem to have their best interests at heart, this may become reason enough for the staff member to become detached from the group.
(Kaptein, M., (2012) Reflections on Ethics at Work)
Feeling part of the group is a big motivator and it is the reason why some people kick up a fuss at having to work overtime, and why some people offer their own time free of charge. Napoleon Hill’s advice to a woman who hated her job was to go back in tomorrow with the attitude that she is needed. She did, and as a result, she was given more respect at work because she was more positive and helpful. This goes to prove that a staff member believing he or she is part of the team is a big motivator, and that not feeling part of the team is a massive efficiency killer.
(Hill, Napoleon (1937). Think and Grow Rich. Chicago, Illinois)
Over-Managing And Micro-Managing
A member of staff who feels over-managed will be more predisposed to breaking the rules and/or taking part in negative actions. This is especially true when the person doing the managing is seen as a micro-manager or a “Job’s worth.”
It is part of the Galatea effect, which states that people who have a very strong sense of themselves and their role will often have higher ethical thresholds, meaning they are less likely to be unethical at work.
(Merton, Robert K. (1968). Social Theory and Social Structure. New York)
People who feel as if they are robots, or that they are determined by their environment, will often have a very low ethical threshold. This is because they do not feel individually responsible for their actions. The power of this should not be underestimated, as psychologists believe that this is why some people commit wartime atrocities. The perpetrators psychologically let themselves off the hook when they are ordered to commit atrocities by their commander because they do not feel individually responsible for their actions.
(Merton, Robert K. (1936-12). “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action”. American Sociological Review 1 (6): 894–904.)
Giving Staff Members More Personal Freedom And Individual Responsibility
If people feel micromanaged or controlled like a robot (so to speak), they feel less responsible for their actions. Giving people more individual responsibility may be all that is needed to help them feel less controlled and less micromanaged. This should not be confused with giving a member of staff more freedom. Allowing an employee to have a strong sense of themselves does not mean giving them more freedom. It means allowing a person to control how much of their success they can control and how much they can take credit for.
For example, giving an employee more freedom to define deadlines may result in a lot of work being late. On the other hand, giving an employee an immovable schedule may result in poor performance and staff misbehavior. Allowing a staff member to negotiate a deadline prior to starting the task may help fix this specific problem.