Passive Sabotage

Here’s a powerful question that came in through this blog:


I work in an environment with 24-hour shifts, which creates a lot of social down time. It also gives ample opportunity for an individual to influence others. And sometimes, it is not always a good thing. An example is when an individual will hang around on off-days discussing the goings on of the organization, the leadership and other team members to stir things up and pull others into their negativity.

Where do these types of team members fit in at an organization that, to some degree, has to live with them?  As a union-affiliated department, management doesn’t have the direct ability to outright let these individuals go, even though they are aware of their subterfuge.

– Mike, Firefighter

Let me start out by saying, “I despise this type of person!!” He is practicing what author Pat Lencioni calls Passive Sabotage. Now, with that said, I have gossiped before in my life. I have said negative things outside of meetings that I shouldn’t have. But I’ve learned how damaging that can be by watching people like this tear an organization apart. I’ve even had this kind of poison on my team and MAN do I have stories!!!

But to answer your question Mike, there is no place for this person as a leader. I could attack your leadership with what you’ve shared, but I won’t waste the time. They obviously are more concerned about bureaucracy than the unity of the team. So instead, let me say that it is up to you my friend. Yep, you and anyone else who is sick of this person acting this way.

I would start by letting leadership know that you are going to start pushing back on this dude. Trust me, they’ll be relieved. Then, EVERY time this guy has something negative to say, I would respond by telling him and anyone in earshot that this kind of negativity will just tear down the organization. If he doesn’t like it, he can go somewhere else.

You don’t need to gossip with anyone else, but it is OK to let others know that you feel gossip and passive sabotage will destroy the team. And Mike, your kind of work NEEDS the team. Success happens in a team when there is unity. Click to Tweet

I say push back and let him and everyone else know that you don’t want to be a part of it. If there are genuine concerns, let’s all go to leadership to fix them. Stay strong brother, and thank you for your service!

Now, check out the incredible advice of the commenters.

Question: What would YOU do in this situation?

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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

72 thoughts on “Passive Sabotage”

  1. Those types of people don’t only exist in union affiliated departments….
    Those types of people will always exist, somewhere in this world. It’s too bad, huh? 🙂
    Chris is right, if those above can’t (or won’t) deal with the problem, it’s up to us. 
    At the same time, no matter what those above choose to do, how we deal with things is always up to us. We’re the ones in charge of how we react to people, how we talk, how we keep ourselves motivated, etc. I know those types of people can be very discouraging at times. Trying to look on the bright side, Mike… use it as an opportunity to grow. 

  2. What is it with bureaucracy at so many companies? I have not been in union situations, but plenty of times when everyone is aware of someone that is tearing the team apart and no action is taken. There is more worry about having all the documentation in order than keeping morale up and moving on as a team.Very frustrating!
    Can’t say I have had the courage Chris speaks of here, but not going along with the gossip has been successful in my experience… eventually. Being more vocal to the person stirring everyone up may have moved things along a little quicker.

    1.  @JoshPalcic I think the bigger the company, the more they worry about being sued?   I know at our facility, “Document, document, document” has been as ingrained as our mission statement has!   

    2.  @JoshPalcic These companies are so backward and blind! They worry about dealing too harshly with the problem people. This causes frustration and breaks the unity. The good people leave. Company struggles to stay open. Doors close.

  3. Get ’em gone!!!  They need to be helped, but not to the detriment of the team!
    We’ve had this person in our company twice.  My wife called it on both occasions.  (She’s smarter than me.)   She referred to the first as “Poision” and the second as “Devisive”.  The first tried to poision the environment and the second tried to divide us.  Score: Unity 2    Saboteurs 0

  4. This type of negative gossip tends to be contagious.  Years ago I was stuck in a car for three hours with an employee who complained about work and management the entire time.  Finally she asked me ( the older more experienced person) is it this bad everywhere.  My response was, “No, at some places it is much worse.  But if you hate coming to work every day that is usually a signal that it is time to start looking for a new job.”  She never again complained about work with me in the room again. 
    If you are not comfortable confronting someone directly, counter with positive information.  What management is doing right.  Why you still love working with the company and team. While that may not stop the individual it can often have an impact on others that as a team you stop engaging in the negative gossip.

    1.  @bonniemann I’m amazed you lasted three hours without throttling your co-worker! I think I’d have gotten violent after being trapped in a wee tin box for 3 hours listening to so many complaints!

      1.  @Bret We had just recently had an employee quit and before he left he spread his unhappiness around.  I was driving so spent the time just listening without commenting.  I think I was hoping that she would eventually get it out of her system.  But when asked a direct question, I took the opportunity to give her some advice without others around to hear it.   

  5. You know, I’ve worked in a firehouse. To make matters worse, we were all volunteers, so not only could you not fire anyone, there was no stick at all you could beat anyone with, because we needed every single warm body we could get to staff units and get apparatus out the doors when calls came in.
    That said, I think that while it’s human nature to want to spread negativity, and it does spread as easily as honey on a warm day, you can also use that same tactic to spread positive “vibes” as well.
    “Man, did you hear what Bob said about Charlie last night?”
    “Yeah, but you know what? I wasn’t there, so I don’t think it’s really right of us to get all up in their business over this, is it? Besides, they’re both great guys and they do good work and that’s what really matters. Oh, and you know what else I heard yesterday? That the new guy stayed two hours pas the end of his last shift to re-roll all the hoses on the engine so they’d fit better. Have you seen it? You should check it out. That kid’s something special.”
    Once won’t make a difference. A few sentences won’t cut it. But keep at it, and find some like-minded souls to do the same. See if you can start to spread that value of sharing the good about people as well. Address the negativity by not addressing it directly.

    1.  @Bret My manager always says “There are three sides to every story:  yours, theirs, and somewhere in the middle…the truth!” 
      Time and time again this has proven to be gospel!   

        1.  @Skropp  @Bret  @skottydog Maybe that’s where I heard it. I definitely picked it up here. Along with this was of gum stuck to my shoe….

    2.  @Bret Love the idea of spreading the positive instead of the negative. In Brian Tracy’s book “Kiss That Frog,” he says that in a garden, if you don’t plant flowers, weeds will just grow. The negative just festers if you don’t consciously “plant” positivity. I’ve seen firsthand how it can tear people and teams apart. And since you can’t change anyone but yourself, it makes sense to counter the negative “gossip” with positive praise.

  6. Man, I’ve been dancing around this issue for months on this site, Chris!  You’ve even met my department head at the lunch.  She’s awesome.  But it’s a bigger monster than either of us.
    Our organization has 17,000+ team members, and despite living in a “right to work” state, we can’t just cut out these type of people like cancer, even with ample documentation.  The two problem people in my department are still roaming the halls.  
    We sent both of them to  “working well with others” classes, one of whom is going for the SECOND time!  (Kind of like a “second final written warning”, huh?)  
    To compound the problem, one of the classes is the DISC profiling class.  Why on earth is that a punishment?   EVERYONE should take that class at the time of hire as a part of orientation, if not PRIOR to hire.
    How did I try to combat this?   I submitted truthful evaluations, had multiple sit-downs, and documented any issues…including gossip.   Eventually there will be enough rope, even in a broken system.

    1.  @skottydog There’s another book I’ve been working my way through and so far it’s outstanding. I can’t recommend it unreservedly because I haven’t finished it or put it to complete use yet, but it’s called “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler. I have an affiliate link somewhere for it but if you search Amazon you’re sure to find it.
      Here’s the supporting web site:

        1.  @skottydog They do training classes too. I can’t comment on whether they’re good or not, though, so you’re on your own there. What I’ve read of the book so far is really good stuff, and Stephen Covey wrote the foreword, for whatever that’s worth.

      1. @Bret SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION!!!! Haha, ok, not really Bret, I just love screaming that sometimes. Call me weird (you wouldn’t be the first…lily probably gets that distinction!). But I had to say it haha. Sounds like a good book!

        1.  @Skropp  @Bret Hey, I didn’t _post_ the affiliate link! I figured Chris might want to do that himself. 😉
          Truly, I get nothing out of the link above. Just to be clear. I wouldn’t do that on someone else’s blog. On my own, now, that’s another story, but I’d try to be clear about whether I had a financial interest or not….

        2. @Bret Haha. I so wasn’t even worried about it. Like I said. I just like screaming that sometimes. Like that kid in all the movies that just screams something at the top of his lungs that the others are trying to keep quiet.. And yes, I realize tat i just compared myself to the proverbial annoying kid in movies haha

        3.  @Skropp  @Bret I didn’t figure _you_ were worried, but I figured I ought to be clear all the same. No worries, brother! Keep screaming!

    2.  @skottydog Scott, I think you have solid strategies on how to navigate a bureaucracy-heavy system with lots of politics involved.  You can’t change the whole system, but you can create a positive ecosystem within it.  The two divas should appreciate everything that’s been done for them.  Sadly, wherever they go, they will continue to behave the same way.  Makes you wonder where life has taken them that they see through this foggy glass and are unaware of how much damage they do.    In behalf of all team members everywhere, thank you for being such a great leader.

      1. @lilykreitinger @skottydog I wonder if Scott has told these two that they are affectionately (or otherwise) referred to as “the two divas” on the greatest blog this side of the Pecos (ok, not really the Pecos, but it sounded like a fun phrase to use at the time…again, call me weird…)? And if he hasn’t, I think he should, haha!!

        1.  @Skropp  @lilykreitinger  @skottydog I would LOVE if they read this blog!  That would be a win-win, for certain!  I actually only mention them here, since I’m not in management any more.  I don’t have any reason to discuss them with my manager at this point.
          When others on the team cut them down, I just do the bobble-head nod.
          Even here, I feel like when I discuss them,  I sound like someone who was in a bad break-up and constantly talks about their ex!

        2. @skottydog @lilykreitinger Naw, I don’t think you sound like someone in a bad breakup…I was that person at one point in my life, and to certainly dont sound nearly bitter enough 😉

      2.  @lilykreitinger Wow, thanks Lily.  
        One of the two were approachable about this, and I assured her it would not affect her evaluation.  However, she took the denial route, saying “Nothing is wrong.  I’m happy.  You’re great.”   
        The other is not approachable at all.  
        Both will leave at some point, hopefully before they drive everyone else out.  But most of us don’t play their reindeer games, so they only have each other.

        1. @skottydog @lilykreitinger Thats the real cost of people like that huh? The good people they drive away. That, I think is the saddest part about situations like that. Not only do you deal with the issue, but then you lose the good people. I guess that’s what Dave means when he says you cannot have sanctioned incompetence.

        2.  @Skropp  @skottydog  @lilykreitinger It is sad when the good people leave and the average people become disillusioned and unmotivated. Hard to keep working really hard and staying positive if you see the leadership allow the negativity and poor work to continue. Even if the leaders don’t like it, the fact that they don’t deal with it can influence the culture. Pulls down the whole team.

    3. @skottydog Haha. I had to laugh Scott. Enough rope for what? To bind the team together as a cohesive unit?? Hahaha. Anyways, I think you’re o the right track. Honest is the best policy. You can only do what you can do. After that it’s up to the divas to make some decisions or management!! You’re a great example to me!!

      1. @Skropp Thanks, man! Of course I meant rope in which to bind us together! My superiors all the way up to administration level agree that one of two things will happen when people are unhappy (and vocal) about their job:

        They either move on, or they are asked to!

        (I don’t know what’s with me and the Snoop Dog quotes today—I don’t even really care anything about him. But here’s another: “Y’ain’t gotta go home, but ya gotta get the (heck) outta here!”)

        1. @skottydog Yup, but either way they move on!! I’ve got mad respect for you dealing with all the hoops and documentation… And as far as the Snoop quotes, I love ’em. Haha they crack me up. I don’t listen to much other than country, but there’s something “poetic” about rap…sometimes haha

  7. I would do and suggest the same thing, Chris! I’ve been dealing with a similar situation for a while now. There is a lack unity on our team. Apathy became the norm and began spreading. I began expressing my concerns and frustrations with my immediate leader. He shared the same feelings, but he seemed to be unable to do much about it. I continued to talk to him periodically about it, trying to follow the “proper line of progression.” Because of his position, he was “unable” to say anything too “harsh”. So I took some liberty.
    One time we had problems arise with the machine (factory) in this one guys area. He just stood there looking around, moving very slowly. I got on our radio (the machine is pretty big, and there are 7-8 of us working, so we use radios to communicate) and told him to hurry. Another person (from another shift) was surprised at how I reacted and said that I should calm down. The slow-poke agreed. I said, “You just need to do your job, or go home, or something!”
    Note: I am not just a mean, screaming person. It was a gradual process of trying to stay diplomatic and allowing time to learn the job responsibilities.
    I finally above my immediately leader (two levels up) and shared my frustrations with the apathy on the team (can there be a team without unity?). I emphasized the need to enforcing the rules and discipline process. I mentioned that I was ready to walk out on several occasions (this was a true statement, but I mainly said it to add emphasis and elevate the concern). I suggested having meetings to firmly establish the expectations and that discipline will come to those that consistently fail to meet the expectations.
    We have started to have meetings, but they are not quite what I envisioned. I do have to say that it is at least a start. Luckily, I have had a good reputation for being a hard worker and keeping a positive attitude. I think that gave me a lot more weight when speaking.
    End book here.

  8. Chris, thanks for blogging about this question and I agree with you.  Kinda feels like you challenged me to do something about it.  I am up for it but boy is it hard.  Taking on these types of co-workers will expose me somewhat too.  It will open me up for attack if you know what I mean.  But for the sake of my long term sanity and organizational health I need to stand up to his negativity when opportunities arise. 
    It does feel like an up hill battle because in my experience people really don’t change.  I have been focusing on being a light of possitivity and balance in the organization, with my shift especially.  I hope others see it.  I know the Fire Chief does and it is reflected in my evaluations.  It is just so hard to manage these employees.  In a firehouse environment you could spend years tracking down what people say and try to do something with it.  In the big picture it is very futile.  This individual has been told how he is in evaluations and he makes no effort to change and I guarantee he doesn’t believe he spews negativity and discontent in the organization.  I guess I feel like I will get some satisfaction from speaking up and calling the individual out but I highly doubt I will get any positive change.  The only time I have ever seen real positive organizational change is when a guy is so bad in the organization that the entire organization would turn on him and assist management on getting him to move on.  This isn’t one of those cases…….yet.
    Thanks for all the input from everyone.

    1.  @mikechambers Thanks for everything you do for your community. Working 12s, putting yourself in harm’s way, keeping our families and our property safe — you certainly deserve a better workplace than you have right now, and anything we can do to help you get one is just a small drop in the gratitude bucket.

    2.  @mikechambers  Hey Mike! Thanks for sharing your story with us. I can’t imagine dealing with nasty people on top of the high-stress nature of your job.  I know this may be really hard to do, but I would try to understand where this person comes from.  Has he been mistreated in the past? Does he have a really rough personal life to deal with and takes it out on coworkers?  Most people are not born that way.  I’ve had good results with extremely negative people when I’ve found out what makes them happy.  Sometimes it’s just being acknowledged, or being listened to, or someone catching them doing something good.  I’m not naive and I know sometimes the jerks are happy the way they are and no amount of kindness will change them.  It’s a Dr Phil moment, people do what works for them.   I highly recommend the book Switch, by Dan and Chip Heath, for you and your leadership.   Explains very clear ways to make even the hardest changes happen.    Thank you for your service to the community. You’re a true hero.

      1.  @lilykreitinger
         You know I do often wonder what causes people and this guy particularly to act this way.  We all speculate that his home life isn’t what he would like but we don’t know because he is the type to say how great his life is with out even being asked.  I think he struggles with honesty all the way around and specifically with himself.  I think so many interpersonal issues and reactions stem from insecurities.  In this case more of the professional kind.  This guy is a great firefighter but I think he isn’t as good and as knowledgable all around as he would like most to think.  Feels like he has a lot of balls in the air from things he says and fighting to not be found out.  He has a bad habit of seeking out “the simpathetic ear” that he can influence.  Coincidentaly these guys seems to be the younger firefighters in the organization.  Us guys that have been around for awhile are aware of his ways and he gets no traction with us.  Sadly he just simply seems to be wired this way, whether from birth or just 20+ years in the fire service.  It has become his organizational identity to a certain degree. 
        Thanks for the book recommendation and I happen to have it on audiobook on my iphone.  It is very good and maybe it is time to listen again.  

    3. @mikechambers Here comes my Stephen Covey affinity coming through. I don’t think you CAN manage these people. You manage things, you lead people. I think you’re on the right track mike, being a great example. Maybe asking them what they hope to accomplish by this backbiting? What do they think it’s going to fix? Then point out what you see it doing: causing disunity, putting the team in danger, causing stress, etc. basically lead them to see why they shouldn’t gossip rather than managing them to stop may work, may not. But it could help the others see the danger of the gossiping and maybe help to to stop it.

    4.  @mikechambers
       Is this the fire-fightin, air-conditioning Mike that I met in Orlando ELShip?  IF so, man I enjoyed our conversation & have been wondering about your “choice.”  If not, please disregard the false connection.

  9. “Supposedly” agreeing with the direction the leadership has set for an organization, and then sitting back and passively undermining the organization with the negative energy that gossip produces, is the worst kind of sabotage!
    I have two patent responses to anyone who wants to gossip in my direction: I ask, “Why are you telling me this?” and “May I quote you when I check this out?”

      1.  @Skropp  @rlawrencejr They usually work pretty good Mark. However, when dealing with a gossip, the second question usually has to come immediately on the heels of the first.

    1. @rlawrencejr I’ve heard a similar tactic, but to actually get a pen and paper out to write down.

  10. I’d say there’s a couple strategies you can use:
    – Stay strong for your manager. Support their leadership from your role, by aligning your   own attitude and work with their goals.
    – Be clear to the gossip that you will not engage in negative and destructive talk. It’s like   a toddler who throws a tantrum, it needs an audience to be effective. The minute it is   ignored, the behavior tends to dissipate.
    A few years ago, there was a member of the team where I worked who was being disruptive to everyone.  She was a very good worker but had a high need for social interaction, so she would come to people’s desks during work hours, send instant messages or emails constantly.  The group was gossiping horribly behind her back. I have to say that I complained too about her disruption.  I decided to stop the buck and I invited her out for coffee. It’s one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. I think leadership should have taken care of it, not me.  However, she drastically changed her behavior, agreed to keep her interaction limited to lunch hour, breaks or after-hours activities.  Out of my whole team, she is the only one who has remained a friend. Sadly, the team found other people to gossip about.

    1. @lilykreitinger Once a gossip, always a gossip, is that what I’m hearing? Haha. I think your strategies are great. If you tell the chief you plan on confronting the gossip I’m sure he’ll be grateful. I would venture to say most leaders want to stop gossip but feel like its an insurmountable challenge.

  11. My experience in shutting up a gossiper is to counteract every negative statement with a positive response. It gets awkward, sort of like an argument where no one really understands the rules. Eventually the gossip decides I’m weird (So what??) and goes on to bother someone else.
    Mike, if your dept. has a chaplain, get him to pray daily for the team to glorify God and to have unity. (My bro-in-law is a chaplain for a city fire dept. and LOVES it!)

  12. Well, I’m not sure there is anything I can really add to what’s been said. The other comments pretty much cover it! I’m in a work situation that is HORRIBLY riddled with gossip, and I do know it’s VERY easy to slip into it yourself (yup, I’ve done it more than once!). I think the hardest thing for me is dealing with the alienations and accusations that come from NOT participating in the company pastime. If you don’t agree and take your shots at management all of a sudden you’re “on their side”. Gossip is horrible. Chris is absolutely right about it ruining unity.
    How do you stop it? Like everyone’s said, one convo at a time. I also love Lily’s comments. I think just trying to sit down and treat that person as a human and talk to them is a great thing to try. Like some kids, they may gossip and cause issues just for the attention. Talkin to them and just mentioning that the backbiting just isn’t cool may work. Worth a shot if nothin else..

  13. What would I do in this situation?  Well, if I was a firefighter, I would consider several options. 1. Creative hose uses. 2. Critters in boots 3. Critters in fire protection gear. 4. No awesome firefighter food. (All the good cooks are firefighters.) 5. All the more reasonable and helpful answers below.

    1. @JoelFortner I hereby retract all my former opinions, advice and comments and make a motion fr the immediate application of the above solutions given by Mr. Fortner!

    2.  @JoelFortner I was thinking a “Scarlet Letter” type moment… like spray-painting a helmet pink as a badge of shame.
      In my time at Best Buy (we all sin), the Geek Squad folks had a “motherboard of shame” that they had to wear (yes, WEAR a motherboard) around their neck anytime someone messed up a computer. You couldn’t take the motherboard off until someone else did something wrong. Since the goal was to be excellent, sometimes it took a long, long, long time to get the motherboard off. Just a thought.

      1.  @Jon Henry  @JoelFortner Be honest, now. You’re Chuck, aren’t you?Sounds like an award my fraternity had — the Bodine (as in Jethro) award which we gave out at each chapter meeting to a deserving member who did the most boneheaded thing during the week just passed. For some reason, no one ever kept that trophy more than a week….

      2.  @Jon Henry  @JoelFortner Be honest, now. You’re Chuck, aren’t you?
        Sounds like an award my fraternity had — the Bodine (as in Jethro) award which we gave out at each chapter meeting to a deserving member who did the most boneheaded thing during the week just passed. For some reason, no one ever kept that trophy more than a week….

    3.  @JoelFortner Let him babysit an overtired toddler with a bad diaper rash after a birthday party when he’s way past nap time and loaded on birthday cake and ice cream. .. Oh and he’s got the 2-year-old molars coming in.

        1.  @Skropp  @lilykreitinger  @JoelFortner  Actually, no. That would be a mom’s nightmare which I try to avoid at all costs. There’s all kind of control strategies to prevent such a crisis.

  14. My first thought was similar to#3 from @JoelFortner . Icy Hot in the fire suit. Then I realized that could cause issues. Nevermind that.
    Also, nevermind that I really wanted to just rant about unions…but that does no good either.
    OK the kid in my aside, my brother-in-law went through a similar thing at his firehouse. 
    They did pretty much exactly what you suggest Chris.
    1. They called him on his crap. They told him once that the next time, they would simply remove themselves from his presence. If he continued, they would aggressively tell him to “shut up.”
    2. They united against him. They made sure they were all on the same page, that they did not want this kind of negativity and they they would back each other up in fighting it.
    3. They took on a warlike mentality. His attitude had to go…or he did.
    It is such a drastic difference from a non-union situation. Non-union, you give someone a chance or two, politely, and you get rid of the problem.
    Being a union shop, they had no choice after a while but to treat him as an enemy combatant and make his life miserable because of his actions.
    The one addition to this method is that I would throw in some positive reinforcement when the offender catches himself being negative. If he apologizes for being negative, make sure he knows you appreciate it.

  15. There was a time when I had a complaint about an overly negative co-worker who was the project lead. They would go to management meetings and complain about how the team was a bunch of slackers, and are just goofing off.
    I tried to bring it up with the person, but they didn’t want to “waste their time” talking about it. Management wouldn’t listen either – they kept directing me to talk to the person – who, of course, didn’t want to talk.
    At this point I was completely frustrated and desperately needed someone to vent to – talk it through, but was told by my friends that it was gossip. I was on my own and there was no one to help. I felt completely invalidated.
    Back to the original case: I think it’s important to assess if the person just likes to stir up controversy, or if there is a genuine problem that they’re wrestling with. Maybe all they really need is one friend to confide in, vent, and get some suggestions.
    If there is a genuine issue, but they’re prevented from presenting their case, I don’t know that the “gossip will tear the team apart,” message is the right thing to say.
    It is totally the right message, if person just likes to stir up trouble. If this is the case, they shouldn’t even be there on their off hours.

  16. Mike, Wow! There is not much chicken left on this bone but let me throw in a few thoughts. First, as an HR director that inherited a few of these operations, the first thing we did was draw the line in the sand. We admitted that whatever behavior was tolerated in the past; is just that, in the past. Notify everyone that whatever it is will no longer be tolerated. No threats, no anger, just set the expectations. (I love the Ramsey group’s definition of gossip; anything negative about the company or someone that is shared with someone that doesn’t have the authority to correct it, is gossip and will be tolerated once. I love this.)
    The team must be informed that this behavior is as detrimental to your business as fraud or theft and will be addressed with your Performance Improvement Plans and/or disciplinary system. Members of the team are encouraged to make leadership aware of infractions and leadership MUST take action. It may take a couple of investigatory meetings with the facts documented to track trends. In our class we teach a Discussion Log for each employee where ALL interaction is recorded to pick up trends. The discussion consists of this; “here’s where you are, here’s where I need you to be and this is what will occur if these reasonable expectations are not met.” Require “immediate and sustained improvement.”
    The good eggs MUST become intolerant of the negative behavior. I love the previous comments about “can I quote you on that” or “pull out pen and paper”. Allowing this behavior to continue is shirking the responsibility of a leader. I know you are not in a “for-profit” business but you have to develop what we call the Leader/Owner Mindset. This cancer will impact morale, attitudes, performance, retention and turnover. It can’t go unaddressed. If it does, it is because of lack of training on how to handle it or lack of accountability. Both can be corrected.
    Next; the union situation. So??? It doesn’t matter. A business should not suffer and tolerance levels lowered by the presence of a union. If this occurs, trust me, I don’t point the finger at the union. I point it at leadership. No union worth representing employees should ever support anything that hurts the success of a business. The fewer of these team members they deal with, the better they look.
    In closing; whenever there is time or money spent, there is an expectation. A paycheck is an expense so there is an expectation by an employer. You must meet them or there must be consequences. If I spend my time as a team member for you, I have expectations also. Provide me a good place to work where I enjoy being there and feel I am making a contribution. I also expect fair compensation. Your consequences in not meeting my expectations are poor attitudes, performance, morale, profitability and turnover. When the expectations of both parties are met, it is a powerful, very competitive force.
    In closing, closing; thank you for what you do. Before I began consulting I was an HR Director with some tough hombres to deal with daily but I never felt my life was on the line. I didn’t face the risk that you and members of our military and law enforcement face on a daily basis. I recently wrote and recorded a tribute song with a tough question; “Are you proud of what you’ve done with what they died for?” Check it out at   Hope I’ve thrown something in that helps.    

    1.  @Greg Gilbert
       Greg, thanks for all the input and you are right on the money.  I do believe the largest failure of the individuals in my organization including myself is that we don’t call him out enough when he says these things.  It is so ingrained within him that he often just interjects his negativity into any situation out of the blue.  Everybody, except for a few that like to complain and gossip also when in his presence, just tolerate it and him.  For a time I was in avoidance mode but that isn’t sustainable in the firehouse environment and I always try to have the “kill them with kindness and positivity” attitude but this individual is very resistant. 
      Dave’s definition on gossip is perfect and right on in my opinion too.  But Dave has the power of instant and final elimination.  Not to get to deep into the union structure but we don’t have that power here in a union environment.  Our union is strong as a whole with a large amount of resources.  Most Chief’s are a bit intimitated and simply don’t want to deal with union BS.  So I think they have just tried to get by too and this is an obvious failure on their part.  Union’s have an important role especially in the public sector we need a voice as to our collective needs.  That being said we collectively need to make a stand against individuals who cause discontent in the organization.  We have done that in the past but it was a very incompetant officer and at that point it was easy.
      In my view, as a peer there is very little I can do with this individual aside from what Chris and many others on this Blog have said.  The boss, in this case the Fire Chief, needs to take the lead and drive the bus or fire truck as it may.  To actively manage this individual to the full extent until resolution is accomplished to whatever end that is.  As an HR guy you should have a good idea of the amount of time and effort this can take away from seemingly more import tasks.  It is difficult to track down, interview and corral any and all info. surrounding this person and the issues they cause.  He is pretty slippery and has many intimidated because if you upset or cross him somehow you will be the next to be character assasinated around the fire station.  Kinda strange to say but he is a bit of a bully and if you met him today you would think he was the nicest guy.
      Sadly I have come to reallize that over the years we have developed an environment that allows gossip and negativity.  Frankly, much of it and the people that do it have ruined my job satisfaction.  Oddly I don’t see much of it on my shift because I breed an environment of fun and positivity (or at least I try).  I think most people in the organization have just come to accept it as part of the deal with the job.  That is sad.  Again, thanks for the input.

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