Bad behaviour: Can it be predicted?

Could counter-productive behaviour at work be genetic? New research may indicate that poor behaviour at work could be influenced by genetics, but what can employers do about it?


A study released on 4 June by SACS Consulting investigated the prevalence of counter-productive behaviours in Australian workplaces. Additionally, the SACS researchers attempted to uncover whether it was possible to predict which prospective employees would undertake these behaviours before they were hired.

As personality testing formed part of the study, SACS Consulting Managing Director, Andrew Marty believes there is a genetic element to negative behaviours in the workplace. “There is substantial evidence that negative behaviours such as counter-productive work behaviours and violence have a genetic component to them,” he stated.

More than 1,000 workers from various organisations across the country completed anonymous surveys regarding their behaviour and personal histories. In addition to shedding light on some of the causes of inappropriate actions in the workplace, the survey revealed a surprising prevalence of bad behaviour in Australian businesses. For instance, close to three-quarters (73 per cent) of employees admitted to taking a sick day when they were not really sick, while more than half (56 per cent) had left a job because they did not get along with their colleagues. Other behaviours identified in the survey included two thirds (67 per cent) of employees who had been intentionally rude to others at work, and 55 per cent who had purposefully stolen from their organisation. Perhaps most surprisingly, 88 per cent of people admitted to breaking employment rules and a similar number (87 per cent) said they had ignored or snubbed co-workers they did not like.

The risk of these types of behaviours becoming a pattern of bullying behaviour is significant and employers cannot afford to ignore it. These findings are further reflected in iHR Australia’s workplace investigations survey report which is soon to be released. Evidence gathered from a random sample of 70 workplace investigations undertaken during 2013, shows that interpersonal relationship issues, lack of training and poor management were all considerable contributing factors in complaints. The SACS report refers to tools which can assist employers during recruitment, helping to assess a potential employee’s suitability for the team and the organisation, as well as for the role in question.


However, this is not the only avenue for employers concerned about poor behaviour within their organisations. As the SACS study points out, and as is apparent in iHR’s research, repeated poor behaviours can become part of the culture within a team; this creates an increased risk to health and wellbeing and therefore an increased risk of complaints and WorkCover claims. This problem needs to be addressed with existing employees and may require a workplace inquiry to ascertain where the issues are with subsequent action to resolve them.

Remedial activities may take the form of dispute resolution – such as workplace mediation, and training, coaching and team-building activities may also play a part.

Providing anti-bullying training to workers also helps to make it clear what behaviour is appropriate and how to handle issues when they arise.