Stressful situations at work often cause employees to engage in "counterproductive work behaviors," like taking a longer lunch or stealing office supplies, new research finds.
However, these employees often wait weeks or months after stressful times before engaging in these activities, according to the study, published recently in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. In the end, this type of behavior could be costing businesses much more than they originally thought, experts say.
Kevin Eschleman, one of the study's authors and an organizational psychologist at San Francisco State University, said employees don't just respond immediately with these deviant behaviors following dramatic changes in the workplace, such as the start of their busy season or working for a new, more demanding boss.
"They may also have a delayed response that isn't caught by the organization," Eschleman said in a statement. "That means the organization is not taking into account long-term costs associated with these delayed behaviors."
For the study, researchers surveyed employees in a range of career fields three times over six months, asking them about stress at work. They also asked employees if they had engaged in various counterproductive work behaviors. [Who Has the Most Stressful Job in Your Office? You Might Be Surprised ]
The study's authors discovered that while increases in stress did lead to immediate negative behaviors, it also caused some workers to wait weeks or months before engaging in such behaviors.
"Maybe you don't have the opportunity to engage in these deviant behaviors right away, and you want to wait until no one is around," Eschleman said. "Or maybe you think you can cope right away, but then down the road, you end up engaging in these behaviors."
Researchers found that agreeable workers who are more cooperative, good-natured and trusting of the organization, as well as conscientious staff members who are ambitious, responsible and abide by ethical principles, were the employees who were most likely to wait before displaying any negative behaviors.
Eschleman believes this is because, at least at first, these agreeable workers have more resources, such as more friends and other kinds of support, available to help them cope with the increased stress and keep them positive during stressful times.
Conscientious workers may wait to act out because employers tend to invest more money and benefits in these people because they are seen as hard working, the researchers said. For example, an effective training program can make it easier for employees to adjust to a new computer system, according to the study.
The added stress, however, can eventually overpower both of those types of employees, Eschleman said.
"Your personality might influence how you try to cope initially, but if things are bad for a really long time, it doesn't matter what your personality is," Eschleman said. "At the end of the day, you're going to do these deviant things."
The study results show that employers should take care to tailor programs to help employees deal with stress, as personality can complicate how and when employees act out, Eschleman said.
The study was co-authored by Wright State University's Nathan Bowling and David LaHuis.
Originally published on Business News Daily.