What About Bob?

Published: November 17, 2022

Many workplaces struggle with the classic high performer who doesn’t play nice in the sandbox. His regularly committed sins are forgiven because his production exceeds his peers. While the leadership team is counting the money he brings in, he’s busy eroding the spirit of the workplace culture. It often starts with coworkers feeling sick to their stomachs after interactions with him and almost always ends with a recruitment/retention problem once word gets out that the team is broken.

Revise all job descriptions. Playing nice in the sandbox should be a mandatory competency of being a high performer. Jerks are never high performers over the long haul if they insidiously subtract from the wellness of the organization. When you do the math, their contribution inevitably ends up in the red.

This kind of toxic behavior gradually becomes normalized on many teams. What we tolerate, we sanction. “Oh, that’s just Bob” is a typical reply from a leader who is unwilling to hold Bob accountable. And the damage continues.

And here’s another thing – It only takes one. Most of us have experienced dysfunctional teams at some point in our careers. There’s usually a ringleader and then a small faction of minions follow. Driven by whatever unresolved psychological issue causes people to treat others badly in order to feel good about themselves, they slowly sap the energy from the ecosystem.

Every single member of the team, regardless of rank or status, is responsible for contributing to the wellness of the entity. There’s no room for Bob unless he steps up. There are countless ways for members to contribute positively:

  • Role modeling team-healthy behavior is just as effective as calling bull$#!T when someone causes harm.
  • Alignment with team values is just as important as holding others accountable for a violation of the code of conduct.
  • Delivering respect during all interactions is equally valuable to calling a time-out to repair a breach when someone has been disrespected.
  • Attracting employees committed to workplace wellness achieves the same objective as showing the door to Bob (or whoever Mr. or Ms. Toxic happens to be).

The national employee engagement numbers stay pretty consistent from year to year. Out of every 100 employees, about 30-35 would run through a wall for the team. About 50 come and go each day just doing their jobs and collecting their paychecks.  And then, 15-20 come to work each day for the expressed purpose of making life difficult for others.

The focus on culture building across industries over the past decade has shrunk that disengagement ratio, but there are few places that can boast 0%. What would it take to eradicate dysfunctional, toxic, soul-crushing behavior completely from your workplace? Even if it’s only Bob?

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.