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If your employees were faced with a situation where they had to choose between protecting a co-worker or their employer, how do you think they would prioritize their choice? Does it matter?
Consider these two scenarios:
1.) They have a co-worker whom they observe deliberately acting to gratify their own needs in a way that results in harm to your company or to other employees. Examples might include theft, embezzlement, credit card fraud, harassment or physical harm. Other employees are aware of, or are the target of, this behavior.
2.) They have a co-worker who is merely underperforming. Nothing illegal, but still, exhibiting behavior that diminishes the value of their work and the value that your company brings to your customers, suppliers and business partners. They and other employees are painfully aware of this underperforming co-worker.
Under either scenario, what action do you think your observing employees would take? Would they treat each scenario similarly? Would they act to protect the co-worker or your company?
Why should your employees be more loyal to your company than to a co-worker? Your company gives them a paycheck. A co-worker does not — ’nuff said.
The Damaging Consequences of ‘I Don’t Want to Get a Co-Worker in Trouble’
If any of your employees are observing the first scenario and are aware of a co-worker who is acting illegally or unethically, or who is putting himself or others in harm’s way, and those employees have not brought this behavior to management’s attention, then your company has a greater culture problem than I can address here. (Think financial ruin and law suit, and go from there.)
Addressing the second scenario, a more likely situation is that your employees are protecting an underperforming co-worker. In my experience, the most common reason for this is what I refer to as “I don’t want to get a co-worker in trouble” syndrome.
Protecting an underperforming co-worker is detrimental to your company as a whole for many reasons, including:
- Internal costs: An underperforming employee produces less output and poorer quality output, and likely makes more mistakes. The result is more re-work — usually handled by other, more capable employees.
- External costs: An underperforming co-worker who touches your customers, suppliers or other business partners is underserving these business partners. Do not give these business partners a reason to find alternative partners.
- Lower morale among your employees: If a co-worker gets away with doing less-than-desired quantity or quality of work, why would other employees be motivated to work harder? And if they do work harder, then why would they not be resentful? And why would they not look for another employer? The adage, “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch” is apt.
The First Step in Addressing an Underperforming Co-Worker
There are many ways to deal with an underperforming co-worker. Training, closer management and re-assignment are just a few. (Oh, yeah. There is termination, too.) The first step is being aware of the co-worker’s underperformance. The most likely source of this awareness is from your employees who place your company’s best interests above those of the underperforming co-worker.
Engaging employees in frank discussions about group performance can be a painful and sometimes awkward process, but you’ll be rewarded with a staff of quality, motivated employees. The benefits of this are many, including:
- Your company will be more efficient, and thus, more profitable.
- Your customers, suppliers and other business partners will get higher quality service.
- Employee morale will be higher.
- Employee retention will be higher.
- Your existing employees will be more likely to attract their friends to want to work for you.
Consider meeting with your employees to explain to them the importance of prioritizing your company’s interests above those of an underperforming or illegal-acting co-worker. Don’t know where to start? Ask the question, “Who gives you your paycheck, our company or an under-performing co-worker?”