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Never rat on your friends – Goodfellas

I’ve just finished reading “Snitch Culturein which the author claims “We now live in a society…where personal betrayal is seen as a virtue instead of the lowest form of human behavior.” He argues that “snitch lines” (in which people can anonymously report their peers), deny people the fundamental right and protection of our legal system: that of being able to confront the accuser.

Betrayal occurs when co-worker connection is diminished. Rusbult, Mainous, Farrell, and Rogers describe the 2×2 of exit, voice, loyalty, and neglect. Exit refers to physical departure by quitting, transferring, searching for a different job, or thinking about quitting. Voice describes proactive discussions with management to improve existing conditions; loyalty refers to passively but optimistically waiting for conditions to improve, whereas neglect is the process of passive resistance through allowing one’s performance to deteriorate. 

A Typology of Bureaucratic Response

In bureaucracy this four cell framework consists of exit, shamed silence, corporate unconsciousness (corporate mole), and malicious obedience, or passive resistance. Although some organizations view unconsciousness and shamed silence as beneficial, ultimately these activities are destructive to both the individual and to the organization. A type of passive resistance in bureaucracy is termed “malicious obedience,” in which rules are followed to the letter even when they produce a negative result. 

Corporate moles (e.g., resident sycophants) result because not everyone has the means nor the opportunity to exit, and because most workers over time adopt the values of their company. In environments where frank discussions aren’t permitted and where the cost of self-expression exceeds its benefits, “voice” consists of reconnaissance missions for the manager in charge.

Those who exist in shamed silence disagree with their organization’s policies, but have learned through a series of swiftly administered punishments to minimize dissent. They realize that conscientious objectors maintain their behavioral freedoms, but fail to court the boss’s favor.

Snitching does little to encourage teamwork – why cooperate with someone who will later stab you in the back? Tattling is code for lack of talent, and a way of deflecting attention from personal flaws. It’s a means for the shameless to score points against people whom they see as easy marks, with a boss who uses tattling as a proxy for micromanagement. Snitches cluster in safe havens and find solace with controllers.


As managers, your job is to ensure that people can do their jobs. In a culture of fear people are in protective mode, and not in a modality of peak performance. The result is a conglomerate who won’t help their peers, who don’t socialize with one other, and who suspect their colleagues of sabotage.

It’s hard to nurse camaraderie within a sea of secret police. Moreover, peers that are seen as cunning incite retaliation from the smeared. Tattle tales breed cya, and activity that isn’t spent on creative endeavors.

Author David Brooks argues: “We don’t teach these connections in school – to harmonize patterns…to make friends. But the happy life is defined by these sorts of connections, and the unhappy life is defined by a lack of them.” He further explains people feel disgust toward those who violate loyalty codes.”


Here are some ways to ensure a “snitch free” culture:

  1. People don’t engage in behavior unless they perceive payback. [Unless they’re auditors], tell employees their coworkers’ doings are none of their business, and policing their behavior isn’t part of their job. Respectful interaction entails dealing with others directly, and not in a roundabout manner. Tattle tales speak to others’ customers, stake out their territory, observe their patterns, and embellish the rest. Namie refers to snitches as two-headed snakes – workers who speak with a forked tongue to manage impressions of envied peers.          

  2. Bosses who abide snitches achieve economy through patchwork tales. Realize you only have one side of the story – one brimming with the mole’s personal agenda. Snitches circumvent the need (for bosses) to speak directly with employees, or to develop a relationship with anyone except his/her favored moles. Make it a habit to speak (on a regular basis) to all people within your sphere of influence.          

  3. Does your demeanor vacillate between dilettante and junk yard dog? Some may perceive snitching as a way to even out unpredictable behavior, particularly for bosses who gravitate toward informants.          

  4. Lay your cards on the table. Snitching is exacerbated by communication styles that are cryptic and peppered with innuendo. Don’t expect people to read between the lines.



Brooks, D. (2011). The social animal: the hidden sources of love, character, and achievement. New York: Random House.

Redden, J. (2000). Snitch culture: How citizens are turned into the eyes and ears of the state. Venice CA: Feral House.

Rusbult, C. E., Farrell, D., Rogers, G., & Mainous, A. G.  (1988). Impact of exchange variables on exit, voice, loyalty, and neglect:  An integrative model of responses to declining job satisfaction.  Academy of Management Journal, 31, 599-627.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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