What to do when employees do the wrong thing for the good of the company

It’s easy dealing with people who do the wrong thing for personal benefit, but what do I do with employees who do the wrong thing in an effort to do something “good” for the company?


It’s never pleasant dealing with poor behavior. Most leaders would rather not do it at all, but still it needs to be done. And it’s easier when the person you’re dealing with has acted out of a desire to serve themselves, and in the process harmed the company. But what about the employee who does the wrong thing while trying to help the company? This is a situation where many leaders choose not to act, but this is a mistake.


When it comes to safety, this usually takes the form of an employee putting themselves at risk by cutting corners. They skirt the edges of the procedures and policies that were designed to protect them — but that, in their view, hinder operational efficiency. If a lock-out procedure causes a delay, they skip it. If there is a production upset, they don’t wait for a non-routine task analysis to be done, they wade right in and quickly get things going again.


Too often, this kind of behavior is rewarded by the company with a wink and a nod of approval. We don’t like the risks, but we like the results and appreciate the loyalty and devotion. There is a name for people who act like this. We call them “Good Employees”, with an emphasis on the quotations part of it.


We coined this term because when a leadership team discusses their people – who does and does not do the right thing for safety – these people enter the conversation. Inevitably, a leader will speak up and say something along the lines of: “Hey, you do realize we’re talking about some of our best employees here?” And in a way, we are. They are some of our most loyal and devoted people – qualities that can be hard to find and treasured when we do. But here’s the only proper response to that question: “Yes, they are. But how much longer are we willing to let them trade their safety for our benefit?”


Hopefully, the answer to that is, “It stops now,” because this is a poor trade. It’s an immoral trade. The way to deal with people who trade their safety for company benefit and approval is to sincerely tell them that you appreciate their dedication, but that you can no longer stand by and allow them to risk their life and health. That change may be very hard for them to accept. Much of their identity at work might be wound up in this behavior. Taking it away may seem like a punishment or lack of appreciation. Hopefully these people change, but they may decide to leave or they might force you to terminate them. In that case, your message to them should be: “You can’t work here because we can’t allow you to continue putting your life and health at risk. But you’re going to work somewhere. Please use this as a learning experience, so your future employer doesn’t have to tell your family and friends how good an employee you were.”


-By Ken Chapman, Ph.D.



Contact us if we can help you with this situation as a consultant, either in-person or remotely.





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For over 40 years Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc. has been making a measurable difference in the corporate cultures of American businesses and in the lives of their team members. KC&A’s value equation is “Committed to People, Profit, and More.”

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