Are Good Employees Afraid of Bad Employees?

By on December 6, 2012 in Human Resources

Employees are entitled to certain expectations in their work place environment. Those expectations include a well managed organization which is free from corruption. Being part of a well managed and respected organization may bring a sense of pride to that organization’s members. Likewise, the citizens that organization serves are entitled to expect a public service organization known for integrity, accountability and freedom from corruption.

No matter how hard an employer tries to hire good, upstanding, ethical employees, inevitably an employee will make a poor decision that impacts not only himself but the entire organization.

However, not all incidents of misconduct are equal. Some are willful and premeditated while others are simply the result of bad judgment. Some offenders have remorse while others do not. Some misconduct is a one-time individual act. In other instances the misconduct may represent a pattern of behavior committed by an individual or in collusion with others. Minor misconduct such as mistakes, lapses of judgment, or policy violations may be disregarded, but willful criminal violations should never be ignored.

Most public service employees are proud of the service they provide to their community and country. These are the good men and women who want to serve, help, protect and do the best job they can. However, these good employees sometimes encounter members of their organization who do not share the commitment to provide caring community focused service and whose misconduct places good employees in a difficult position. They are forced to make a decision about how to respond to their co-workers behavior.

Anyone who is fed up with corruption, misconduct, or looking the other way can supply information that allows them to follow their conscience and address the issues. An employee who makes a decision to follow their conscience becomes an asset to their organization by reporting wrongdoing. That employee becomes an asset who can have a positive and lasting effect on their organization by reporting dishonest or unethical conduct.

For most people, however, reporting wrongdoing is a painful experience whether the information is passed to a supervisor, an office which investigates employee misconduct, or an outside law enforcement agency. A consequence of reporting wrongdoing may be that the reporting employee is labeled a troublemaker and resented by management and snubbed by follow employees. Anonymous reporting of wrongdoing should always be considered and may offer protection to the employee who has decided to do the right thing.

Many bold determined employees have taken that honest but difficult step. They include Frank Serpico, arguably the most famous whistleblower, who reported pervasive corruption within the NYPD and Coleen Rowley, the FBI Special Agent who alerted Congress of the failings of the Bureau regarding the September 11th terror attacks. Also, the famous “Deep Throat”, W. Mark Felt, who was second in command of the FBI at the time of his cooperation with the Washington Post’s “Watergate” investigation that resulted in the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.

These three individuals shared a commitment to do the right thing despite the consequences and controversy caused by their actions. Serpico and Rowley both reported corruption overtly and both were denounced by their department’s leadership and follow officers. Felt believed he would be fired or criminally charged for his disclosures. As a result he protected his anonymity for more than 30 years although he was reportedly accused many times of being the informer.

Despite great personal risk there has been and will continue to be courageous employees who do the right thing and report corruption. Good employees do not have to tolerate or fear the bad ones.

John F. Hein is an adjunct instructor of criminal justice for the American Public University System and a retired executive of the former U.S. Customs Service. He served 35 years in civilian and military security and law enforcement agencies. He is a member of ASIS International, an association of security professionals, and has been a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) since 2001. He is the author of Inside Internal Affairs: An In-Depth Look at the People, Process and Politics.

© 2016 John F. Hein, CPP. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from John F. Hein, CPP.


19 Replies

Comments RSS

  1. Flo Iya says:

    I often wonder why bad employees get good luck a lot of the times and management cant see.

  2. GiGe says:

    You should be afraid of BAD EMPLOYEES if they are friends with a BAD BOSS as they have lots of resources available to torment you and no doubt they will do just that!

  3. FedMan says:

    I am a current Federal Employee, and I try not to meet any stereotypes.   After continuously witnessing time keeping fraud by several co-workers, I brought it to the attention of several managers, who simply dismissed my concerns and took no actions.  I made personal notes and then took my concerns to the local Human Resources to make an anonymous complaint.  That led to a chief to chief identified the issues as coming from an employee!  So much for being anonymous…  Managers suspect (or in the words of one of them, “we know it was you”)…so I’m sure to have the troublemaker label for the rest of my career…  Right?
    Anyway, that complaint led to the managers circling their wagons and determining what actions they could take to protect themselves…  In the interim, I submitted an anonymous complaint to the VA IG…where over time, they responded that their investigations led them to the conclusion that I was mistaken and that the supervisor was “aware of the employee’s actions” and surrounding circumstance indicated there was no fraud occuring…  But I kept on trying to resolve the situation.
    After several years, I finally got my day in court (Federal EEO)…and guess what…since the “official timekeeping records” (again, fraudulently submitted and signed for) indicate the user was on duty during the suspected times (despite numerous e-mails/telephone calls, as well as testimony from others, including the involved managers who ADMIT to having a “weak leave policy”), I lost my complaint…
    And the IG?  I got an updated letter from the them admitting that my concerns of the suspected fraud (in this case, amounting to about about $5K for each year, covering about four years, for about $20K total), was “not significant enough to warrant further investigation by them” as they have “limited assets” and must spend their time where it would be worth it.
    When I asked the VA IG to provide a monetary amount that they considered serious enough to warrant an investigtion, as I did not know they required a limit, and would like to have it for future reference…I never heard from them again.
    And guess what…the time and leave abuse within the VA organization I am in, STILL continues to this day.  I suspect it has gotten even worse as others have approached me on similar issues…but they see that I had zero luck insolving the abuse I’ve witnessed…and they don’t want the troublemaker label.  So, nothing is done and the managers congratulate themselves as they receive their annual bonuses for a job well done.
    So, are you surprised? No, neither am I…not any more.  Just disappointed…almost every day.

  4. Guest says:

    The bad employees are always the brown nose suck ups they are always hanging around the supervisors or superintendents laughing having a good time having lunch with them, when they are supposed to be on the job, they are trying to get up the ladder without paying their doing their job dues. 

    Bad employees will take credit for things they had nothing to do with, supervisors and superintendents no they did not have anything to do with that particular job,  “” Suck ups they are their pets they are being groomed because they are just like them “”, that is how they became supervisors and superintendents sucking up.

    Also the supervisors and superintendents are looking good on work performance securing their job, because of these brown nose suck ups, doing writeups and newspaper and media articles for them, make them look good.

    And when these bad employees become supervisors and superintendents they will have the very same thing brown nose suck ups making them look good.     And the circle will continue !

    That is why good employees are afraid of brown nose suck ups, the the deck is stacked against them.

  5. Guest says:

    ………… yes.
    Why are 4 “good” employees displaced because of a bad one ??

    • Guest says:

      Supervisors, Superintendents, Administrators, “”like the brown nose suck ups because they see them all the time “” because they make them feel good and important, “”The good employees they very seldom see them””, there out in the field doing their job they could not care less about them.

  6. msgrowan says:

    The article states a valid truism regarding the value to the nation of legitimate whistleblowing – the key word here being “legitimate.”  This is the always faced conundrum, i.e., to separate out valid whistleblower complaints from those that are really emanating from disgruntled employees who oppose operational policy decisions with which they disagree, even when actual fraud, waste, or abuse are not truly present, or are seeking to shield themselves from the consequences of their own misconduct or poor performance.   For every Ernie Fitzgerald (for those with long memories), Coleen Rowley, or Frank Serpico, there are untold numbers of other such complainants who are seeking to use the whistleblower process instead for their own policy agenda or to escape merited adverse action.   Agency IGs and the Office of Special Counsel have to face this reality every day in seeking to sort out the “wheat from the chaff,” as they weigh the merits of individual reported complaints.  Based on reports issued periodically by such investigatory organizations, the majority of such complaints have historically been found to be without sufficient merit to proceeed further.   This typically results in denunciations by various advocacy groups asserting that the IGs and/or OSC are not doing their jobs to “protect” whistleblowers,” without recognizing that such lack of action is usually warranted by the facts in the case as developed.  All this needs to be kept in mind as the whole issue of whistleblowing is considered.

    • Insideinternalaffairs says:

       Your statement on legitimate whistleblowing is well said.  Any investigative agency must sort fact from fiction.  My experience has been if a disgruntled employee sends enough anonymous complaints the investigative agency will eventually determine the person’s identify.  If a disingenuous allegation is sent as a defense against personal shortcomings, in my experience, it just causes more problems for the whistleblower.   It does keep the long arm of the law (or personnel action)  away for a period, but eventually someone has to pay the piper.

  7. Guest says:

    On the flip side, I have witnessed an employee who was about to be fired, report a bogus workplace probelm up the chain. When she was later fired, she claimed whistleblower status. Good news, the termination still happened.

    • Guestagain says:

      I’m not clear of what you mean by the flip side?  She was a bad employee, she made a false claim, she was fired.    All things things were supposed to happen.  The elephant in the room is what would happen if she was a bad employee and tried to save her career by reporting actual corruption.  In the criminal justice system, often the prosecution witnesses are jailhouse snitches, paid informants, and convicted felons.  It would be better if the prosecution witnesses were all Sunday School Teachers, Ethics Professors, and upstanding citizens beyond reproach.  Unfortunately, the upstanding citizens typically are not the ones who witness criminal behavoir.  Frequently “deals” are worked out with cooperative witnesses. Likewise, the good “model” employee on the fast track will be unlikely to to report corruption.  Its more likely to be reported by someone on the outs with management.  If this person cannot save their career by reporting waste, fraud and abuse, and its easy to fire, domote or otherwise punish “bad” employeees that may report corruption, what incentive do they have to report it?  The unfortunate choice for the taxpayer is whether toprotect “bad” employees or whether to tolerate official corruption.

  8. retiree880 says:

    I  think the percentages are probably more like 20-25% with the federal government.  This would include those who are not corrupt but are just too lazy or incompetent and cannot or will not do the job they were hired to do.  As long as it is almost impossible to fire poor employees, this will continue and we all will pay for it.

  9. Registered Nurse says:

    I work for the VA in Salisbury, NC where corruption, poor management, and substandard patient care is rampant, and my  attempts to bring the issues to light and resolve the problems have resulted in my “troublemaker” label.  Instead of fixing the problems, management merely covers up, and attacks any employee who speaks out.  I no longer have hope change will take place or that any oversight group will force change.

    • Roadwarrior says:

      You did the right thing. Faced with similar corruption and abuse, I spoke out and was ostracised and denied promotion for many years until a more ethical and dignified management replaced the old cronies. The bad managers tolerated and passively endorsed this reprisal against anyone who tried to stop the corruption.  Steve above has it right- organizational culture shapes so much of this behavior. Sometimes, if not us, who ?

    • Insideinternalaffairs says:

       Go outside your organization.  When you say corruption, does that mean someone is stealing?  Go to the newspapers, TV, your Senator or representation, BUT MAKE THE REPORT ANONYMOUS.  More on this soon.

    • Guest says:

      Yeah, same here.

    • guest says:

      VA OIG has an anonymous reporting line.  Use it.   Or contact your representatives in Washington who will ask OIG to open an investigation.  You can read various reports on their website.  Or, search around the web for reports of issues in the Reno VA reported by the local press there.  Or you can just do nothing.

  10. steve5656546346 says:

    I believe that it was the Knapp Commission that observed that 10% of the NYC cops would be good no matter what, and 10% would be bad no matter what.  The other 80% would be influenced towards the surrounding organizational culture.

    I believe that this observation is generally true of most any organization.