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Defining organisational misbehaviour

‘Remember everyone has a story behind misbehavior. Nine times out of 10 the story behind misbehavior won’t make you angry, it would break your heart’ (Breaux quoted in Pica 2015).

In the previous step, we discussed the growing interest in organisational misbehaviour. Now, let’s move on to explore what organisational misbehaviour actually means.

Organisational misbehaviour has been the specific focus point of a range of scholarly debates that concern the tightening of management control over the labour process under quality management regimes (Ackroyd and Thompson 1999; Collinson and Ackroyd 2005). It could be said to mean ‘anything that you do at work that you are not supposed to do’ (Ackroyd and Thompson 1999: 2).

There are debates in many management circles about whether misbehaviour should be a more prominent feature or whether we should emphasise the creation of positive behaviour (Vardi and Weitz, 2004; Kidwell and Martin 2005).

Key writers have tried to define organisational misbehaviour by explaining the actions of members of an organisation. Sprouse (1992) described it as sabotage in the workplace. More recently, Collinson and Ackroyd (2005: 306), viewed misbehaviour as ‘self‐conscious rule‐breaking’. This is in line with Vardi and Wiener’s (1996) explanation that organisational misbehaviour is an intentional behaviour and is defined as ‘any intentional action by members of organizations that defies and violates (a) shared organizational rules and expectations, and/or (b) core societal values, mores and standards of proper conduct’ (Vardi and Wiener, 1996: 153).

Your task

Ackroyd and Thompson (1999: 2) suggest that organisational misbehaviour means ‘anything that you do at work that you are not supposed to do’.

Do you agree with their definition? How would you define organisational misbehaviour?

You may wish to think about your own experiences and consider something that has been done at work, which you are not supposed to do, but wouldn’t be considered organisational misbehaviour.


Ackroyd, S., and Thompson, P. (1999) Organizational Misbehaviour. London: Sage

Collinson, D. L., and Ackroyd, S. (2005) Resistance, Misbehaviour, and Dissent, in Ackroyd, S., Batt, R., Thompson, P., and Tolbert, P.S. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Work and Organization. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Kidwell, R. E., and Martin, C. L. (2005) Managing Organizational Deviance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Pica, R. (2015) Children Exposed to Trauma: Do You Know the Story Behind the Behavior You’re Witnessing? [online] available from https://www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/children-exposed-to-trauma-do-you-know-the-story-behind-the-behavior-you-re-witnessing [15 July 2018]

Sprouse, M. (1992) Sabotage in the American Workplace. San Francisco: Pressure Drop Press

Vardi, Y. and Weitz, E. (2004) Misbehavior in Organizations: Theory, Research, and Management. New York: Psychology Press

Vardi, Y. and Wiener, Y. (1996) ‘Misbehavior in Organizations: a Motivational Framework’. Organizational Science [online] 7 (2), 151‐165. available from https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.7.2.151 [7 September 2018]

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This article is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Organisational Behaviour: How to Understand Your People

Coventry University