You've seen the scandalous headlines about the startup known for its hard-partying culture, where the CEO had to send a memo banning sex in the stairwells. You've heard about the clothing company CEO who was finally fired after years of misconduct and numerous charges of harassment by former employees, some of whom modeled the clothing on sexually suggestive billboards. Or you've read the misogynistic text messages between the founders of another tech company where machismo seems to dominate.

After all this, you have to wonder what is it that leads workers and executives alike down the path of bad behavior and into the halls of notoriety. Don't the people engaging in these behaviors realize how much of an impact their actions will have, not just on their careers but on the organization's bottom line?

What Exactly is Bad Workplace Behavior?

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's first list the types of behavior that we can agree should not be acceptable in any workplace. Obviously, acts that are against the law or that can get you arrested (e.g. theft, physical assault) have absolutely no place in your organization (unless you're working in organized crime, but I digress). Included in this initial list are unethical actions such as messing with your time sheets or expense reports, intoxication on the job, abusing internet privileges, viewing pornography on company machines, accepting bribes and kickbacks, working for the competition, selling company secrets, etc.

But what about the more day-to-day actions that a worker may engage in? Glassdoor listed five of these more general behaviors as: passing the buck, constant negativity, thievery, office infidelity, and gossiping. CareerBuilder went a step further and surveyed 5,500 American workers on what bad behavior they actually saw exhibited in their workplaces. Their answers were on the more whimsical side, but were still eye-opening:

  • Whining 55%
  • Pouting that things didn't go their way 46%
  • Snitching on a coworker 44%
  • Playing pranks on coworkers 36%
  • Making faces behind someone's back 35%
  • Forming a clique 32%
  • Starting a rumor about a coworker 30%
  • Storming out of a room 29%
  • Throwing tantrums 27%
  • Refusing to share resources with coworkers 23%

Judging by some of the above, you'd think they were talking about misbehavior in an elementary school classroom. Sadly, these are supposed to be adults engaged on a professional level.

What Effect Does Bad Behavior Have on Business?

Whether you're talking about unethical actions or everyday whining, the thing about bad workplace behavior is that it's infectious. Someone starts gossiping over lunch, and before you know it, cliques of people are trading horror stories about the NSFW image they may or may not have spotted on their colleague's computer screen. If one employee begins abusing the work-from-home policies and procedures, others may follow suit. And if this type of behavior is not nipped in the bud, it spreads throughout the company. It becomes the company culture. Remember how corporate culture is how your company lives out its values? If bad behavior is allowed to exist, it will flourish. And the effects will endanger your business.

Here are two major effects.

1. Bad Behavior Costs You Customers

If a customer encounters incivility or any form of rudeness from someone who represents your company, they're not going to stay a customer for long. They're going to take their business elsewhere and then decimate your company's reputation on social media if their experience is particularly gnarly.

Say your support person ends up insulting a customer for their stupidity — you won't just lose one customer, you'll lose potential customers once the Twitterverse sees screenshots of the chat session. There is no room for rudeness when interacting with customers. Your company reputation is on the line with every conversation. In fact, when done right, a superior customer experience can be a massive differentiator that sets you apart from everyone else in your industry. So why allow customers to suffer from anything short of excellence?

2. Bad Behavior Leads to Employee Turnover

A BambooHR study shows that the third top reason why employees decide to quit so quickly after being hired is: their boss was a jerk. (First two reasons: changed their mind about the work, and different work than expected.)

The way you treat people, specially in the first few weeks of their onboarding, is crucial to retaining employees. After all, as a Forbes article once proclaimed: workers don't leave because of their company, they leave because of their managers.

Reasons why employees leave quickly after being hired. BambooHR study

When any sort of negative behavior is allowed to occur and unethical employees are neither reprimanded nor kicked out of the company, you're sending the message that it's okay to do stuff like this. Soon enough, everyone will be doing it. The employees who are ethical — likely your best and most diligent workers — will leave in droves because they won't be able to work in such a toxic environment. Goodbye, productivity. Hello, downward spiral into obscurity and possible bankruptcy.

Pull Out the Weeds Immediately

If you don't tend your garden, you'll end up with weeds. Corporate culture needs the same vigilance, the same type of constant tending. When a weed shows itself, pull it out! With proper training and proper nurturing, you can grow an organization that thrives without drama and conducts business ethically and cleanly. You'll find talented people will want to come work for you and those that already do will want to stay longer. Meanwhile, your customers will be praising your service to the world. Not a bad result from pulling out the weeds!

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