Sabotage in the American Workplace

With my brand new university degree in my pocket and after finishing military service (we are talking about the early 90’s), I invested all my energy and my scarce savings in a business project that failed.

Without illusions and without money (the term “entrepreneur” was not yet fashionable), in the midst of a brutal economic crisis, I was forced to accept the first offer of work that came to me: responsible for the section in a shopping center of a provincial capital.

My first day of work I started with great enthusiasm, but it did not take me 20 minutes to realize that this was not for me. However, I decided to continue waiting for a better opportunity. I became, therefore, an “unmotivated worker”, one of those who do the least to avoid being fired, whose work does not fill them in the least and they watch the clock continuously waiting for the moment to leave.

It did not cost me to integrate because in that commercial center demotivation was the norm. Only two people (the director, a badly faced man who shouted at us continuously and the head of the bakery, a 19-year-old boy who worked 14 hours a day from Monday to Saturday) seemed to show some interest in working. The rest tried to make our day as miserable as possible, hidden in the immense warehouse, oblivious to the demands of customers.

One desk was the meeting point for drug users. And there was a double bed that was strategically hidden where couples went to consummate their love. The unwritten rule was to change the sheets when the couple finished and put them back on sale.

I understood, given my limited experience, that the world was divided between motivated and unmotivated workers. But I was wrong; there was a third division.

One day I was taken to meet the condom replenisher, one of the products with the highest turnover of the shopping center. His task was to walk continuously from the warehouse to the line with a cart and make sure there was always merchandise. Despite the monotonous work that guy did, he always had a smile on his lips.

There are workers who substitute apathy for the desire to do all the possible damage to your company.

He was very well regarded because he always lengthened his work day when necessary. Until they told me his “secret”: in the process of removing the boxes of condoms from the store and putting them on sale, he was in charge of perforating them several times with a thin pin that was camouflaged in a ring that he wore on his thumb. He did not allow a single box to go to the store without boring it a minimum of three times. He had such a practice that the movement was almost imperceptible, like that of an illusionist master playing with the cards.

“But, why are you doing this?” I asked amazed.

– “I want to sink this fucking site. ”

– “But this way you only annoy those who buy condoms, not the company”

– “I hope that the parents of the children who have come to the world thanks to the boxes that I have pierced agree one day put together a class action lawsuit and ruin the owners of this hellhole”

This is yet another mysterious category: those who substitute apathy for the desire to do all the possible damage to their company. What leads you to make this decision ? It is not clear, some grievance at the hands of an intermediate position, an ascent that never comes, a salary increase below what was expected … and this person finds a new stimulus in damaging his company .

Since then, I have come across several other similar cases: the logistics manager of a courier company that diverted one out of ten shipments to an abandoned farm, the employee of a video store that spoiled an accurate cut of a DVD, programmers that consciously developed a defective code etc…

Damage to the company: is it something more frequent than we think?

The big question is whether we’re talking about isolated phenomena, or something more common than we may think. There is some indication that leads us to think that this is the latter, such as the detailed manual prepared by the CIA in 1944 with advice to slow down production in factories and businesses in areas occupied by the Nazis:

Some of the instructions to boycott the enemy without being discovered inside the factory or office include:

  • Insists that everyone communicate through corporate channels, avoiding informal channels.
    Raise irrelevant problems as often as possible.
  • If you are a taxi driver, take the longest possible route when you take someone to their destination.
  • Tell everyone who calls that the boss is busy.
  • Never teach everything you know to new workers.
  • Reward the worst and publicly punish the best
  • Maintain a high level of demand in irrelevant tasks.
  • Cry hysterically whenever you can.

The list goes on. In the book “Sabotage in the american workplace” are collected testimonies in the first person of employees who consciously decided to sabotage their company outside the war environment.

  • Some are simple anecdotes: the two ATMs of a bank branch that agree to miss the peak days of the month creating huge lines, or waiters who eat the desserts that should be served to customers.

Perhaps we are attributing this to human stupidity or random situations that only have explanation within the scope of evil?

But others show a much deeper hatred: a trusted employee at a conservative think tank in Washington proudly explains how he put the checks he received from his donors into the paper shredder, or a group of employees at an assembly plant in Detroit that, for years, sabotaged the carburetors that were mounted on the cars with the sole objective of seeing customers lose confidence in the brand.

In his own words: “I inspired and taught many others. They were bored at work, and being able to take the screwdriver and intentionally damage parts of the car without being caught was a relief. ”

How far does this phenomenon go? Are these isolated cases or are we just scratching the surface of a huge iceberg?

Can our dentist, our children’s teacher, our best friend, be a “saboteur employee”? Do we attribute these things to  situations of human stupidity? The gig economy, the sharing economy, freelance workers, corporate jobs…they’re all susceptible. I’m glad someone finally wrote about it.

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