Bad Employees: Recognizing Zombies and Cowards

MindSet Leadership Principle #4 of 7:  Good staff have a right to work with good staff, not bad employees.

Yep – we believe this to be a commitment that should be made to every employee – and it is a commitment that leaders must maintain if they hope to attract and retain great employees.  Unfortunately, it appears to me (and verified by our ever-accumulating, aggregate MindSet Survey data) that this is a standard that many companies are failing to uphold.

The consequences of not protecting the right of good staff to work with good staff is particularly damaging when the miscreant employee is failing to meet the company’s cultural standards, i.e., the company’s overtly stated attitudinal and behavioral expectations.  Bad attitudes and poor performance are seemingly allowed to go on unabated – and the blame for this culturally poisonous situation is appropriately placed on leaders who fail in their responsibility to hold employees accountable.

But there is another repository of blame that is often overlooked.  Two other groups of individuals who usually say, “Who, me?” if ever they are accused of also being responsible for the tolerance of poor staff performance.  I refer to these groups as the Zombies and Cowards.  And what exactly is it they do to be responsible for this situation?  Nothing.  Yep – they do nothing – and that is why they are also to blame.

Zombies and Cowards are not blind – they can see that one of their colleagues is poisonous to the health of the company and their workgroup – but they are not the supervisor, so they stand by and say nothing.  They walk by and do nothing.  And even worse, when the supervisor does finally take action to hold the rouge accountable – and the rouge inevitably screams that he is being treated unfairly! – what happens?  Well, our Zombie just goes on home; after all, it’s not her problem.  And our Coward quietly nods his head in agreement as the rouge claims unfair treatment and the union, an attorney, or some governmental agency springs into action to protect this unfairly treated soul!

John Stewart Mill – the man I would put my money on as the smartest person to ever live – long ago made a brilliant point I think we would be well-served to remember.  He cautioned that we should never allow ourselves to pacify our conscience by the delusion that we can do no harm if we take no part, and form no opinion.  Roughly 50 years later, Thomas Burke is attributed to have fleshed out the thought (and President Kennedy later made famous) this way: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

MindSet implores leaders to grasp that the creation and protection of a great work culture is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.  But a great culture can’t be protected by leaders alone.  It requires an awareness – and a willingness to defend – from everyone in the system.

MindSet will continue to push leaders to not duck their responsibility to uphold the right of good staff to work with good staff.  But for those who work within a system but don’t have the responsibility of supervision – MindSet wants to challenge you as well.  Zombies and Cowards are not neutrals – their obliviousness and silence contribute to the demise of cultural health: it is sin by omission.

Every staff member should recognize their obligation to notice cultural poisons and to speak up – and assertively – in support of a good supervisor who is tackling an unpleasant problem.  Defend your work environment and strive to make it even better.  Trust your own eyes and judgment to defend the culture – and even in the face of noisy protestations from those who would pull the culture down, find the courage to defend what you know is right.

“Tolerance becomes destructive when granted to a rogue.”
– Kim Hoogeveen, Ph.D.

Thomas Mann > Quotes