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Why Teams and Departments Go Off the Rails

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Researchers linked group-level counterproductive work behavior to lower productivity and profit.

Credit: Getty Images

Two Rutgers-led studies examine how counterproductive behaviors and bottom-line thinking spread through the workplace, ultimately hurting productivity.

The first study, published in the Journal of Management, reveals why entire teams and departments may engage in behaviors such as bullying, stealing, loafing on the job, and chronically showing up late or missing work.

"It's a spiraling effect," says lead author Nichelle Carpenter, an Associate Professor of Human Resource Management at Rutgers. "When you change the norms for what is expected and permissible, certain behaviors can pollute the entire ecosystem at work."

The second study, published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, examines how adopting a "bottom-line mentality" short-circuits work teams. This happens when the team focuses too narrowly on a single goal such as opening new customer accounts, increasing sales revenue, or generating more marketing leads.

"The entire team gets locked into the same mindset and it starts at the top with the manager," says lead author Rebecca Greenbaum, a Professor of Human Resource Management at Rutgers. "Everything else goes out the window.

The loss of "psychological safety" makes employees less creative, less likely to speak up and think outside the box, and more withdrawn from their colleagues, researchers say.

From Rutgers University
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