What Happens to Bad Actors in Organizations? A Review of Actor-Centric Outcomes of Negative Behavior

Rui Zhong, Sandra L. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Negative workplace behavior has received substantial research attention over the past several decades. Although we have learned a lot about the consequences of negative behavior for its victims and third-party observers, a less understood but equally important research question pertains to the consequences for bad actors: How does engaging in negative behavior impact one’s thoughts, feelings, and subsequent behaviors? Moreover, do organizational members experience costs or benefits from engaging in negative acts? We address these questions with an integrative review of empirical findings on various actor-centric consequences of a wide range of negative behaviors. We organize these findings into five dominant theoretical perspectives: affective, psychological-needs, relational, psychological-resources, and cognitive-dissonance perspectives. For each perspective, we provide an overview of the theoretical arguments, summarize findings of relevant studies underlying it, and discuss observed patterns and contradictory findings. By doing so, we provide a very tentative answer to our initial questions, contending that engaging in negative acts is a two-edged sword for actors and its costs seem to slightly prevail over its benefits. Nevertheless, we make this preliminary conclusion based upon an incomplete knowledge base. In order to further our understanding of actor-centric outcomes of negative behavior, we also identify several important research gaps and needed future research directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1430-1467
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Management
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Finance
  • Strategy and Management

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