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Doing Bad to Feel Better? An Investigation of Within- and Between-Person Perceptions of Counterproductive Work Behavior as a Coping Tactic


Employee counterproductive work behavior (CWB, e.g., theft, production deviance, interpersonal abuse) is costly to organizations and those who work within them. Evidence suggests that employees are motivated to engage in CWB because they believe that these behaviors will make them feel better in response to negative workplace events. However, research has yet to consider the situational and individual factors that shape the extent to which employees view CWB in such a manner. In order to provide insight into the decision-making process surrounding the use of CWB as a coping strategy, this study leverages coping theory to examine the factors (both situational/within-person and individual/between-person) that contribute to employees’ beliefs that CWBs will be instrumental for emotion regulation aims in response to workplace stressors. In a repeated measures scenario-based study of 297 employees, we found that individuals’ perceived coping instrumentalities for CWBs are a function of the controllability and source of the stressor as well as a more stable learned response to stressful situations at work.

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  1. 1.

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.

  2. 2.

    Consistent with Edwards (2008), we investigated the possibility that these interactions may be spurious due to curvilinear effects by including quadratic effects of control and the moderators in each respective model. Because including the quadratic variables did not substantially change the significance and interpretation of any of the interactions, and because we had no theoretical reason to presume any curvilinear effects, we present the analyses without the quadratic variables here.

  3. 3.

    The Sobel Test is appropriate given that we do not estimate random coefficients for the path linking stressor source to perceptions of control (Bauer et al. 2006).


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Shoss, M.K., Jundt, D.K., Kobler, A. et al. Doing Bad to Feel Better? An Investigation of Within- and Between-Person Perceptions of Counterproductive Work Behavior as a Coping Tactic. J Bus Ethics 137, 571–587 (2016).

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  • Control
  • Coping
  • Counterproductive work behavior
  • Ethical decision making
  • Workplace stressors