• Dr. Zarmina Penner

Hidden Cost of Bad Behavior in Organizations

My work brings me to many different kinds of organizations. While each organization I experience is functional in a unique way, dysfunctional aspects are similar across the board. One such dysfunctionality in organizations is readily tolerating bad behavior.


Tolerating bad behavior happens in many ways:

  • Not noticing

  • Noticing, but looking away

  • Noticing, but not knowing what to do about it,

  • Noticing, but thinking such behavior is normal.

  • Or thinking there is nothing one can do about it. Basically, giving up.

However, an essential aspect of leadership is regulating behavior.


Goals setting and tracking, behavior regulation, and the development of employee potential are the three core aspects of good leadership. Without the contrast between good and bad behavior, it is difficult to lead.


Organizational values indirectly describe expected, i.e., good behavior in a particular setting. Organizational values are usually more or less abstract concepts featured in company posters or formal settings. Rarely do leaders use them as actionable guidelines for judging and regulating behavior daily.


If team members call out bad behavior of their peers to their leaders, it makes them appear disloyal, unsocial, and weak. So, they mostly refrain from doing so and "do as if" it is not there. By the way, "doing as if" in organizations is worth a separate discussion.

For the small number of people in organizations who actively take advantage of the lack of behavior regulation, it is an optimal breeding ground. Bad behavior of a few usually has a significant impact on many.


Disrespect is the root cause. Disrespect undermines everything.  We move forward with our behavior. Without respect we move in the wrong direction.

You may easily recognize the following bad behaviors:

  • Not listening, talking too much, interrupting others

  • Not acknowledging the contribution of others

  • Not delivering on a promise

  • Excluding people that should be involved

  • Keeping key information back

  • Being late to meetings

  • Rude remarks and putdowns

  • (Your example)

Sounds normal? Let me assure you, it is not.

Bad behavior and its impact on productivity, time, motivation, and health is a huge hidden cost in organizations.


Bad behavior can be eliminated. Here is what you can do:

1)   Invest in conflict management skills and toughen up.

2)   Note the behavior you see around you now as clearly as possible. Maybe even quantify.

3)   Clarify what kind of behavior you want and the corresponding team values.

4)   Communicate what you expect and involve your team in setting up standard rules.

5)   Give feedback about bad and good behavior. Let them know you notice.

6)   Listen if your team is describing events that went wrong and analyze for disrespect.

7) Understand that bad behavior can be covert. Trust your gut and get to the root of things.

8) Don't let up. Don't let it pass. Don't look away.

9) Watch yourself. Ask for feedback. Contribute to good behavior yourself. 

10) Track your experience and results; pat yourself on the back and share with other leaders.

Good luck.

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