Compliments of Gerald Carter via Flickr

Why does work abuse occur? A colleague explained that it happens when positional power combines with a fear of exposed incompetence. Some individuals (having played the system) are scared they’ll be uncovered for frauds.

Consider the bullies within your own office – I don’t imagine that anyone would accuse them of being overachievers. Illegitimate players who feel untouchable sometimes engage in behaviors that are unthinkable. Lobbing grenades at “soft” targets is a cover for their underdeveloped, or non-existent skill sets. Common sense dictates that these persons are not the office “stars.” The small and mean spirited thus engage in actions that are reserved for the untalented. If one’s primary activities are plotting coops against colleagues (or using one’s mouth as a weapon), it’s a sure sign of a cover-up. These behaviors emerge in droves when shelf-sitters perceive some peers as threats – individuals who by contrast can expose their charlatan status.

How do these imposters achieve their positions in the first place? The reasons are many – poor and perhaps rushed hiring processes, ingratiators who manage to “pull the wool” over the recruiting committees’ eyes, over-reliance on the “old X network,” and unhealthy relationships with the immediate supervisor. If the boss values political behaviors (or, those that suit their purposes), then those passed up the line may be threadbare with regard to relevant job traits.

Either way, the firm may obtain an individual who is less than qualified, but who possesses the lethal combination of marginal competence and power to punish. These folks (in an attempt to leverage their impact) may broker power from those considered mentors –  individuals in a pivotal position for whom they did “favors.” If the relationship is symbiotic, you may experience a shadow source of spitefulness.

The incompetent are easy to recognize. They’re the ones whom no one can fathom how they got their position, and the ones who either openly (or behind the scenes) are unsupportive of their peers – in attempt to eliminate the competition. They are people for and out for themselves – individualism gone bad in an attempt to garner undeserved rewards. The more cunning put on a cheery face for the office at large and ply their trade in secret – leading onlookers to blame the victim when he or she lodges a complaint.

How to handle office snakes?

Absent a change in top leadership (and a corresponding directional shift), a survival strategy is to steer clear and stay out of their way, especially if the person has a powerful caretaker behind the curtains. Weasels are ruthless in their quest to maintain dominance – even if it means kicking you to the curb.

The ideal scenario is for you as manager to refuse tolerating behaviors that undercut other people – like public badmouthing, clandestine snitching, stealing credit for others’ work  (or pressuring this from peers), and in general being disruptive in the department. If workers were rewarded for how they acted, much of bad behavior would cease to occur.

Share |

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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

Comments are moderated.

Comments are closed.