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Articles & Press Releases > Article 86

Is Sabotage Going On At Your Workplace?

If you landed on this page after a search on the search-engine-of-your-choice, welcome! This article was written by Glory Borgeson, an executive coach, author, and speaker. Schedule her to speak at your organization's next event:
Personal Branding Speaker; Emerging Leadership Speaker; Entrepreneurial Speaker

Workplace sabotage is no fun. Is it happening to your (or around you) right now? Read on for some ideas to help you confront workplace sabotage.

In-home dinner parties and cocktail parties were all-the-rage in the 1960’s. My parents held them and attended them regularly. Women wore party dresses and men wore a suit and tie. The hi-fi stereo was fired up. Children were not invited and young children were put to bed before the guests arrived.

When my brother and I were about 5 or 6 years old we decided to do a little sabotage to our parent’s dinner party.

Our mother set the table early on party day, including placing out the creamer and sugar bowl. The sugar was already in the bowl, making it even easier to carry out our little bit of sabotage.

And by “our little bit of sabotage” I mean – we did only one thing: We put rice in the sugar bowl, stirred it up well so that it couldn’t be seen, quietly held down our laughter, and then waited to hear about it the next day.

Well, to hear our parents tell the story, they were horrified when party guests stirred sugar into their after-dinner coffee only to see little white “things” float to the top of their coffee.


After that mild faux pas, you would think our parents would check the sugar bowl (and any other food we could have gotten our grubby little hands on) just prior to the party. But, no. A couple of dinner parties later, my brother stuffed a miniature green army man into the sugar bowl (which leads me to believe the rice was my idea).


It happens in the workplace, on college campuses, in families, and between so-called friends.

In high school, I had a friend whose older sister planned to be a doctor. At a reunion I asked if her sister was an M.D. She said no, because her sister (who went to the University of Illinois) became so disheartened during her undergraduate experience when students would sabotage others’ lab experiments that she decided to change fields.

Certain types of sabotage occur in business on a regular basis.

If you own a business, having an employee (or a family member who works at the business) who takes actions (or makes comments) to sabotage you, the business, or anyone else is someone who either has to change their behavior immediately or who needs to leave your company (i.e. be fired by you). Even though firing anyone is difficult, it has to be done. In this situation, you have control and need to make the change (they either shape up or ship out).

In the corporate workplace, sabotage can be more subtle. Most of it occurs between coworkers. Has it ever happened to you?

  • Someone purposely provides misinformation about you, your work, or your project
  • Someone changes data or other facts (inaccurately or uninvited) on a shared file
  • Someone purposely “forgets” to schedule something, arrange something, or communicate clearly about something
  • Someone purposely mixes the wrong products together (think rice in the sugar bowl)

If these types of things happen in your workplace, how you proceed depends on the situation:

  • If the sabotage is occurring around you (but not to you), pay attention. Could you be the next target?
  • If the sabotage is happening to you or your team, you need to figure out how much you can tolerate and who else is being hurt by it.
  • Determine the level of damage the sabotage is doing to people and the company.

While the story of my brother and me putting rice in the sugar bowl was more of a practical joke, ongoing workplace sabotage can hurt peoples’ careers for the long-term. It’s a type of passive-aggressive bullying that costs companies money and can cause an emotional toll for employees. Who wants to spend 40+ hours a week in an environment like that?

If this sounds like your workplace, consider your options:

  • Confront the saboteur.
  • Have a discussion with your upper management.
  • Have a discussion with an HR manager or director.
  • If you have either of the above discussions, give it a reasonable amount of time to see if there is lasting change. (Four to eight weeks is a reasonable amount of time.)
  • If there isn’t enough change after 8 weeks, have a second conversation with upper management and/or HR. Give it another 4 weeks.
  • If there is still no change (meaning the saboteur isn’t changing his or her behavior enough to say the sabotage isn’t occurring OR upper management hasn’t moved or fired said saboteur), it is probably a great sign that you should look for a new job (either in another area of the company or in a completely different company).

Meanwhile, if you have a 7-year-old who reads well, don’t let him or her read this article. It might give them ideas!

Glory Borgeson is a business coach, speaker, and author of "Catapult Your Business to New Heights: Sure-Fire Strategies to Increase Profit." The book includes an entire chapter on creating great customer service that retains customers, draws in new customers, and makes you more money. Click here to read more about the book on Glory's website. Or click here to read about the book on Amazon.

Glory Borgeson, President
© 2010 Borgeson Consulting, Inc.

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