The Horror of WorkZilla (Or, How To Handle A Nightmare Employee) ...by Bill Knell
Although self-employed for many years, I have been a regular visitor to workplaces small and large as a Business Consultant, Staff Trainer or Special Event Speaker. When the purpose for my visit has to do with business consultation, it doesn't take long for me to locate the biggest potential problem in any office. It's WorkZilla!
WorkZilla is a nightmare employee who instills a quiet fear in the workplace that causes productive employees to quit, stay home or just give up when it comes to deadlines or productivity. This monster is smart and knows how to exploit the system. Even if supervisors know about the problem, they are unlikely to report WorkZilla for fear of retribution. By the time upper management becomes aware of a WorkZilla in their midst, most of the damage is already done. This creature knows how to consolidate its power and create carefully planned barriers to prevent its dismissal.
WorkZilla isn't just smart; it's charming and often has many allies. Carefully winding its tentacles around the most emotionally or professionally vulnerable people within its sphere of influence, WorkZilla carefully builds a small group of dedicated supporters. This group is always ready, willing and able to counter any negative comments or complaints that might reach the ears of upper management. They become its first line of defense against administrative action.
Supervisors often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to WorkZilla. This nightmare employee creates a personality cult of peer support and hides behind any essential technical or other essential skills they may possess. Most nightmare employees manage to blackmail their supervisors by constantly reminding them how essential they are to any project. It's not unusual for WorkZilla to have more power and influence in the workplace then their immediate Supervisors.
Despite any technical or other indispensable skills a WorkZilla may possess, no workplace can function smoothly with one in their midst. There is always an ultimate price to be paid for allowing this creature to inhabit and flourish in any place of business. Besides creating an unpleasant and outright combative atmosphere, WorkZilla tends to reproduce. Once other employees see how this creature gets over on management, they learn by example and become workplace monsters in their own right.
WorkZilla is not the kind of creature that will respond to subtle hints. Trying to control it by sending employee behavior expectation and productivity memos to the entire office will meet with immediate failure. Such an action would merely create another tool that WorkZilla can use to consolidate its power and lower workplace morale. Any nightmare employee has to be directly confronted. Because WorkZilla has nothing but contempt for management, this confrontation has to be carefully planned and flawlessly executed.
Any confrontation must be based on facts, not here say. Simply rattling off a number of complaints from its peers will not be sufficient to take down WorkZilla. It would simply enlist an equal number of followers to discredit the whistle blowers. Complaints must be based on inappropriate behavior or actions that have been documented by upper management as they occur. This means that a period of observation and work evaluation will be needed before any confrontation is scheduled.
Immediate supervisors and upper management should conduct the confrontation and WorkZilla should be notified well in advance. Notification must be in writing and include a receipt signed by the nightmare employee and witnessed by at least one supervisor and a member of upper management. The purpose of the sit down must be clearly spelled out. That purpose is be to present specific allegations of violations of company rules, policies or workplace etiquette. WorkZilla should be given the opportunity to chose an alternative meeting date or time within reason. The nightmare employee must be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations verbally or in writing shortly after the actual confrontation.
Once the confrontation is planned and WorkZilla is notified, the entire matter should be kept strictly confidential. WorkZilla should be informed that he or she is not to discuss the meeting or purpose of the meeting before or afterward with other employees. The only contact regarding the matter available to it should be a member of upper management. There must be a clear and immediate sanction available if WorkZilla discusses the matter with others in the workplace or refuses to attend the meeting.
The idea is to begin to socially isolate WorkZilla from other employees and make him or her aware that their reign of terror is coming to an end. Because most of these creatures have egos bigger then their ability to control a workplace, the average WorkZilla will probably throw in the towel and resign. However, you must remember that WorkZilla is also a kind of jailhouse lawyer that loves to exploit the system. You must be prepared to follow through with the meeting in case he or she doesn't leave.
Before you hold court against WorkZilla, make sure that everyone on your side of the table is on board with the agenda. That agenda isn't to create a lynch mob designed to take down WorkZilla. It's an organized effect on the part of management to restore order and increase productivity within the workplace environment that had been disrupted by an employee's inappropriate actions. The idea is to bring WorkZilla into the mainstream of accepted employee behavior. While it's doubtful that will happen, the last thing you need is for WorkZilla to perceive the meeting as a corporate witch hunt with him or her caught holding the broomstick.
Once WorkZilla is isolated from his or her support system of dedicated followers, the idea is to give this creature enough rope to hang itself. Removing its ability to manipulate the workplace and those in it is like taking drugs away from a drug addict. It's unlikely that WorkZilla will be able to cope with losing the power he or she has worked so hard to consolidate. Instead, they'll probably try and negotiate one final victory in the form of a lump sum payment designed to bribe them to resign. Paying WorkZilla to leave would be a mistake and send the wrong message to other potential workplace monsters waiting in the wings. It would be better to hold its feet to the corporate rulebook fire.
WorkZilla is not a problem exclusive to workplace management. It will attack other employees for any reason or none at all. If you find yourself facing WorkZilla on a daily basis, it's important to keep a logbook. You should carefully document any unnecessary sarcasm, insults or outright slander directed toward you (not others). Incidents of project sabotage or purposeful work disruption are likely to be of particular interest to upper management.
If you do decide to blow the whistle, be discreet. While it may seem wise to engage other employees in a discussion of WorkZilla and even ask them to join you when reporting this creature, that's exactly what you should not do. WorkZilla exists because it understands the system better then you do. Enlisting the help of other employees will merely cause it to bring on those who are part of its personality cult. In the end, you'll look like the villain instead of the victim.
WorkZilla's worst enemy is upper management. They are unlikely to be as intimidated as immediate supervisors. For them, it's all about productivity. If you can prove that good people are leaving, missing work or slowing down because of WorkZilla, its days will be numbered. When reporting incidents, carefully follow company rules and do not expect an immediate response. If you have been the victim of any sort of direct harassment or threat of physical violence by WorkZilla, report the matter to your company security office.