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Dealing with the Workplace Tasmanian Devil

Dealing with the Workplace Tasmanian Devil

Battlefield HR: ‘You’re Wrong Because I Said So!” For us in the traditional workplace setting, we spend the majority of our waking hours at work. For some, the workplace is a place to get by, punch the clock, earn the paycheck and head for home or someplace other than work. I wrote about this example in my Walking Dead article.

For others the workplace is a place of true fulfillment and a joy to come to each day. Whether that day is fraught with challenges or runs smoothly, the organizational climate and culture lends itself to maximizing employee potential, recognition of accomplishments and the demonstration of consideration for all who work there.

But for some others, the workplace is a toxic hell. The thought of coming to work fills the employees with dread. Employees are belittled, ridiculed and treated by the leadership as little more than medieval serfs. Movies such as Horrible Bosses, The Devil Wears Prada and Nine to Five provide only a superficial view of what some employees face each working day.

While laws provide some protection against discriminatory harassment and penalties are clearly spelled out, the damage is done and the effects of the negative emotional and physical health trauma inflicted upon the employees may last for years.

The organizational climate and culture that fosters this toxic environment, creates an atmosphere which is akin to being in combat and perpetuates the existence of a creature I will call the “Workplace Tasmanian Devil’  or the WTD.

For those of you familiar with the Warner Brother s cartoon character, Taz as he is commonly referred is known for his voracious appetite and his destructive behavior by turning into a whirling vortex, destroying everything in his path.

 

Phylum: Catchabirdimus
Class: Bumblingfoolia
Order: Ravenous
Family: Eatitupious

 

 

 

 

 

In earlier articles, I wrote about toxic leaders and provided some descriptors for them. For your edification the scientific classification for the dreaded WTD is:

 

Phylum: madbossius-sociopathus
Class: Meansobia
Order: Narcissisticus
Family: Unstablepowermadius

 

 

 

 

 

In an organization I worked in, I had a run in with one of these dreaded creatures who just happened to be the second in command of the organization. The situation was that I had discovered that a chief minion of the WTD had engaged in activities that while not illegal, was certainly unprofessional and would certainly prove to be embarrassing to the organization. I brought this to the attention of the minion and directed that it be corrected. The WTD, crawled out of his lair and roared in outrage that his minion was never wrong, informed me that he had directed the minion’s actions and I needed to go back where I had crawled from. This roaring by the way was loud enough to be heard by everyone.

I then decided that I needed to take this battle directly to the WTD in his lair. I informed the WTD the situation needed to be corrected immediately and that he was wrong in instructing his minion to take the action she did. The WTD went into a berserker type rage and told me “You work for me” and that “I was wrong because HE said so!" I told him he needed to consult the organizational chart because (1) I did not work for him, but the head of the organization and (2) “Who died and made him God?” and said our organizational leader would be the next step to correct his behavior.

And so it was after the trip to the Boss, the WTD and the minion had to reverse course. This was but a minor victory as, the WTD continued on his destructive path to harass and belittle others over whom he had power. It was discovered that the WTD was the heart of many organizational performance issues, because of his behavior and desire to consolidate power and control. Since he could not control me, this was a constant source of frustration as I was able to make some minor headway in improving organizational performance and undoing some WTD decisions that were creating major organizational problems.

External stakeholders expressed grave concerns about his ability to “play well with others”, his frequent temper tantrums, poor customer focus and employees being thoroughly terrorized by his antics. Unlike the Warner Brothers character, the WTD is cunning, arrogant, extremely manipulative, vicious, vindictive, knows the system well enough to stay one step ahead of justice and thinks the rules do not apply to them. Lying and other unethical behavior is commonplace. The WTD uses his or her power to create legions of loyal minions who spy on the other employees and protect the WTD when justice is about to be delivered.

The workplace itself becomes extremely dysfunctional, where employee trust is non existent, fear is rampant, employee morale is rock bottom, the powerbase of the WTD is strengthened and the level of organizational performance is significantly reduced. In this jungle like atmosphere, WTDs leave their lair only to terrorize others or reward a loyal minion who has served up a hapless victim who has made the mistake of questioning the WTD on an issue, or to go on a rampage to ensure that the lesson is not lost on the others so that they may learn that they too could be next.

In my situation, this pattern of behavior was certainly intolerable. When I asked the Boss when was he going to do something about the WTD? He at first said, “That is just (WTD name) and he has always been that way”. I said, “Boss, this behavior is not acceptable that the organization has been put at risk because you have not reigned (WTD name) in."

The Boss realized that although he had known the WTD for a number of years, informal counseling was not going to cut it. However, the Boss was transferred to a new assignment and the new senior leader had to deal with the WTD. It is my understanding that corrective actions are being taken and improvements are being made in corralling the destructive behaviors of the WTD and mitigating the damaging effects of his actions on the organization.

The point of this little tale is that as human resource professionals, we are the guardians of workplace climate and WTDs cannot be allowed to thrive period. Swift corrective actions by the leadership and Human Resources must be taken to protect the employees and the organization. Behavior based policies and training on discriminatory harassment must be provided to employees and leaders so that WTD behaviors can be identified and dealt with promptly. Proper behaviors on treating all employees with respect and consideration must be modeled by organizational leaders so that they may be emulated by the employees.

It is my hope that WTDs become an extinct species and our workplaces are environments for positive employee development and organizational excellence.

For your entertainment I found this little clip from a 1957 Warner Brothers cartoon titled “Bedeviled Rabbit” featuring Bugs Bunny and Taz. This cartoon was produced before the time of many of you, but great fun! Enjoy!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOTlNOZB4Zo

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Colonel (Ret) Terry Fobbs, PhD, Consultant and Facilitator for Gailforce Resources, is an accomplished public speaker, facilitator and media commentator on human resources, leadership, motivational, national security and community issues. With a BS-Zoology, MBA, Masters in-Strategic Studies, PhD- in Organization & Management specializing in Leadership, Terry has earned the respect of his peers, employer and Gailforce clientele. Terry is an ISO 9000 Certified Lead Assessor, a Baldrige Quality Examiner with the Center for Excellence in Education and the Michigan Quality Council and a recipient of the Michigan Quality Council Quality Hero Award. Terry has served as an adjunct instructor in Business Management for the University of Maryland. He is a member of the Academy of Management and serves as a member of the Academy’s Organizational Development and Entrepreneurship committees. Terry plays active consulting and facilitating roles for Gailforce Resources, working with CEO’s, Boards of Directors, Business Owners, Municipalities and Sector Groups to turn their business strategy into execution and their people into valuable business assets.

2 Comments


  1. Unfortunately, where I live there are loads of smaller organisations where the WTD’s are the GM/Owner. What can be done here? Staff turnover is huge until they are surrounded by sycophants.
    New staff are employed then soon realise their mistake. This can really damage a CV and any future employment.


    • @Geoff-That is a very good question. The unfortunate thing with some small firms, is that some owners act as if they are Mongol warlords and place themselves and their companies at extreme risks legally and financially since WTD behavior certainly falls within the realms defined as discriminatory harassment. Many jurisdictions require employee postings of state and local laws prohibiting discriminatory behavior and actions or may even require employers to have anti-discrimination policies in place.

      Employees finding themselves in an environment where they feel they are being discriminatorily harassed should document what has occurred to them and bring it to the attention of the person who has engaged in the action or activity requesting that they stop and inform them that their behavior is creating a hostile work environment. They should also bring what has occurred to them to the attention of their supervisory chain. The employee should also in a non-confrontational way provide a recommendation for resolution of the issue that is creating that hostile work environment. This is especially important if the owner of the company is the WTD.

      It is advisable that the employee when informing the supervisory chain of what has occurred to them also provide a written documented complaint. Under federal law, the employer as well as the individual engaged in discriminatory harassment can be held legally and financially liable. In addition, reprisal actions by the employer or the individual involved in creating the hostile work environment is prohibited by federal law and has severe legal consequences.

      If the WTD persists in their behavior and mistreatment of employees, then certainly action can be taken by the employee going to their State Civil Rights Commission or to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The link for filing a complaint is:

      http://www.eeoc.gov/employees/charge.cfm Employees should be aware that the EEOC does have filing deadlines so their complaint should be timely. EEOC investigators will be able to either facilitate a resolution or take it to court.

      Other employee resources are Discrimination.com found at http://www.discrimnation.com or Tips for employees dealing with discrimination found at http://www.halunenlaw.com/news/employment-law-faq/tips-for-employees-dealing-with-discrimination/

      The bottom line for everyone to remember that it doesn’t matter what the size of the organization is, all employees deserve to be treated with respect and consideration and that WTD behavior is unwanted and will bring severe consequences both legally and financially to an organization if it is allowed to continue.

      Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond!

      Warm Regards,

      Colonel (Ret) Terry Fobbs, PhD

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