« Recession-Proof Jobs | Main | Are You in Love with Your Job? »

January 20, 2009

Sabotage at Work: How to Fight Back

When I started at one of my old jobs, I was introduced around. A coworker in a remote location gave me what cops call a hinky feeling, but I figured we’d get to know one another and everything would be fine.

I should have gone with my first instinct. This person literally had it out for me from day one. And then, through some decisions by management, I wound up with her job, and all hell broke loose. She took it out on me by constantly trying to make me look bad. Even worse: She alternated her sabotage attempts with trying to become friends with me.

I decided I wasn’t going to get sucked into the pettiness and stayed away from her, killing her with kindness when I had to deal with her. She wound up getting laid off -- and since everyone knew what she was up to, her behavior meant she was not eligible for rehire.

Sometimes, as they say on “Survivor,” it’s best to outwit, outplay and outlast. But what if your saboteur works directly with you, or worse, is your boss? According to this Wall Street Journal article, workplace sabotage is on the rise in this difficult economy. And it’s a tough situation. If you don’t deal with it, a potential saboteur can hurt your career. Deal with it the wrong way, and you could look like a whiner or worse. The article’s advice:  

  • Don’t confront the person directly, but go to your boss about it.

  • Have someone talk to your supervisor if the boss is the problem. If it’s your boss, though, realize it may come down to one of you leaving the company.  

  • Document, document, document, so people know whose ideas those really are.

Have you ever worked with a potential saboteur? Tell us how you dealt with this person in the comments below. And check out these resources for more advice on this sticky situation: 

Share this post: Digg, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Bookmark and Share

Posted by Christine on January 20, 2009 at 01:23 PM in The Daily Grind | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Sabotage at Work: How to Fight Back:


I found the best way is to produce high quality work and not deviate from the work you do. If you never did quality work, your credibility isn't great. If you always did great work and in light of the saboteur's dirty deeds, you continue doing great work and build alliances around you, eventually the troublemaker will surface to everyone else and your credibility will remain obvious to all.

Don't lower yourself to the other's standards by getting even. It doesn't work.

Posted by: JB | Jan 27, 2009 2:10:15 PM

I've written a book about one aspect of this that is available on Amazon. It's called Blindsided--Recognizing and Dealing with Passive-Aggressive Leadership in the Workplace. Sabotaging behavior is one characteristic of passive-aggressive workers, whether they are the boss or your co-workers. As long as leadership allows this behavior to go on, and does nothing about it, the situation merely perpetuates itself. I agree that you shouldn't lower yourself to others' standards, but it is very difficult, even by doing high quality work, to maintain credibility when someone goes behind your back and sabotages your good name in a passive-aggressive way. I have seen good hard-working employees literally destroyed by a saboteur. They tried to deal with it themselves and got nowhere, because workplace management did nothing about it. It may not be like that in all workplaces but one such experience in a lifetime is more than enough to deal with and to bounce back from. Workplace leadership should be on guard against such behavior, but they are not.

Posted by: Paula M. De Angelis, PhD | Feb 3, 2009 11:27:07 AM

I agree...stay to the high ground and do your job to the best of your ability. However, in my attempt to share what I knew in order to be a "team player" a new person ended up in my chair, and now has my job and I am left without one. Make sure you hold enough back so that you are not completely expendable. This sort of sabotage is more covert but no less life changing.

Posted by: MAK | Feb 3, 2009 11:40:23 AM


I have the same thing going on --- a cycle of sabatouge and when the sabatouge doesn't work, befriending. It is really sick and appears like a desperate, insecure person is at hand. My "strategy" is I have no "strategy". I absolutely do not acknowledge any inapproprite behavior. Since I have taken industrial psychology, I am very well aware of group behavior and how to avoid any traps. This person has and will self destruct. I do my work very well, so I will never have a problem!



Posted by: Julieboolie | Feb 3, 2009 11:50:47 AM

Try working for someone that expects you to apologize for every little mistake you make!
I left because I refused to buckle into that nonsense to the point this person used her power and position to write me up. I will not go into the writeups - some were legit; others were assinine.

Others on this team would eat major crow to keep their jobs.
I was absolutely amazed at all of the false apologies flying around and the apologies that everyone was demanding from each other. I'd seen everything, but this was new to me.

What am I saying? Keep your dignity first; job second. I mean this, even in tough economic times.

Posted by: faker | Feb 3, 2009 1:03:26 PM

One of the single most important lessons I have learned is to NEVER let ANYONE at your job know ANYTHING about your personal business (except HR and that is only the things they need to know).

You are never safe with your personal opinions, your home life situation, your politics, or your religion with anyone - most especially your boss.

An old adage goes something like "a fool is known by his words and a wise man by his silence".

You are far safer to find your friends outside of work.

Make special efforts to avoid anyone who either has an odd reaction to you or who is too friendly. Either is likely to bode future trouble.

Posted by: wayne | Feb 3, 2009 1:23:16 PM

You are so right about doing high quality work, having great credibility, and by all means, document, document, document, note witnesses, and use a tape recorder if necessary. (Yes, you can do this, if it is for your protection). If you get to the point where you have to file a complaint, you will have all the cards. Don't ever stoop to anger or arguments with the person. If you do, you've lost the case!

Posted by: Dolores Husfeld | Feb 3, 2009 4:39:22 PM

Keep your friends close & your enemies closer = always good advice

Posted by: Lidia Sparacio | Feb 3, 2009 6:43:07 PM

I had a situation at my former job where a supervisor had it out for me since my first day. One of my problems was that he was tight witht the plant manager. It was like whatever this supervisor said, his word was gold. I didn't even work in his department!

I went to my supervisor, who kept telling me not to worry about it, or, the guy is just blowing off steam. That was really bothering me, because as MY supervisor, you'd think he would say something or at least have us in a conference to find out what was going on!

Being in the military for several years, I'm a firm believer in the chain of command, so I went to my supervisors supervisor, the guy who actually hired me. I went to him 3 times because the first 2 times he told me he didn't have the time to look into it, there were mechanical problems that needed his immediate attention. The 3rd time, he said to me that "you really don't want me to get involved with this do you?" Yes, I do! That's why I'm coming to you!

After that I checked the company handbook. The owner's have an open door policy, if there's a problem with harassment, etc. come to them and someone will look into it. So I did that, aired out my grievances, which was a double edged sword. One of the things that was a problem was that during the day, only 1-2 jobs were completed by this guy and his crew, while at night, between 5-8 jobs were completed by me and his nightshift crew. The owners took a look into that and more work was done by the day crew. But because I brought it up, anything that went wrong with ANYTHING was put on me first. I was blamed for a few jobs being wrong that I never worked on! I had my timesheets to prove it too. So I went back to the owners again after a few weeks of this going on. I was asked to put it in writing, which I did. The next day I was fired because I was told that we can't have anyone working here who isn't happy.

I was working in NYC, and NY is an "at will" employer so there wasn't anything I could do about it. I went to a lawyer who told me the same thing.

After they fired me, I was told by people who I'm still in contact with that they made a lot of changes in management and how things are done. They replaced me with 3 people. There were 6 people in the department during the day and just me at night. It felf good knowing I was doing the same amount of work as 6 people. And they needed 3 people to replace me.

It's too bad there aren't any workplace bullying laws, at least in NY. I enjoyed my job and for the most part, the people I worked with. It only takes one person in a position of influence to make someones life miserable and potentially ruin a career.

Posted by: Dan | Feb 3, 2009 7:20:43 PM

I would love to say that you can 'turn the other cheek' and kill the situation with kindness; however, it has been my experience that these type of co-workers (I have worked with two over the last 7 years) don't just go away. It has been my personal observation that they are threatened by your work ethic and/or performance, and being nice to them does not lesson the threat in their minds. On the other hand, confronting them and speaking out does not seem to help either. During both of my positions in doctor's offices, the doctor's were unwilling to take control of the toxic employee. They were both above this sort of behaviour and did not want to lower themselves to getting involved. In one office, the doctor continually said he was going to let go of the other employee. I guess this was his way of consoling me...hoping I would stick around a little longer. In the end, I left both offices. No amount of reaching out or kindness to my co-workers would earn their respect and professional behaviour. (I should mention that both co-workers were younger girls, and both apologized to me AFTER I left!) If anyone has an answer as to how to realistically work with someone who is trying to make your life miserable, I am very interested in hearing your suggestions. I am no quitter, but I only stayed 2-1/2 months in the second position. As soon as it became apparent that I could not win her friendship, or at least professional respect, I was out of there.

Posted by: JoAnn | Feb 3, 2009 8:47:58 PM

My saboteur came with the recommendation of the new VP. She was promoted from an entry level position. She also came with an attitude and a bulldozer. I tried to help her acclimate and learn the knowledge she lacked, but she would not show me the slighest appreciation for my efforts. As soon as I'd trained her to do an adequate job, the trouble really started. Since she was buddies with the VP, she could do no wrong. The "first" time she complained to our supervisor, I was written up and given 30 days to improve. The Area Director made no attempt to observe my efforts, and despite my GM's objection, I was terminated! I believe she was the younger cheaper manager and the economy might be the REAL reason I was let go, once I'd taught her to take over my duties. I'd feel a lot better about it, if they'd been honest and gave me a notice! I suspected that was what they were up to and wish I had trusted myself. I've been out of work three months now either way.

Posted by: John B | Feb 4, 2009 2:01:11 AM

The best way to handle any saboteur is to prove yourself outside of their vision. As in the comments in the survivor series pointed out "it’s best to outwit, outplay and outlast". This is especially true with a boss. When a boss can't derail you because they can't "kill" your spirit they tend to refocus.

It's best to gain as many allies as possible. Also, find your Ombudsman. They tend to hear your side of the story as the reality. Also make sure that it is pointed out that each time your boss or coworker exhibits the incorrect behavior as many of your allies hear about it.

Get people that are giving you work give you praise in front of your boss too. Also try to get that in black and white. More often than not email is a legal document. If your boss has a negative make sure you have plenty of positive available to back you up.

Posted by: Bill | Feb 5, 2009 8:17:46 PM

I'm young and have only been in my field for a little over 2 years, but have already experienced saboteurs. The first one was my direct supervisor at my very first job out of school. I obviously had a lot of questions since I was craving some real world experience. After a couple months, I realized she was giving me incorrect answers, either to make me look stupid and keep me from excelling or because she really didn't know, or both! I eventually started going to her boss for the answers (I couldn't really perform my job effectively without them) and she didn't like that, so she fired me.

I was just terminated 3 days ago by another saboteur. This one was a former "friend". She was also my supervisor (I'm still not sure why she was given that position with her lack of knowledge and management experience). I'm a very fast learner and shortly after starting there, was more aware of things than she was. I think she was a little threatened by the fact that other employees would come to me for help because she was unable to due to her lack of understanding of certain rules, regulations, and policies. She also has a very poor work ethic and was only in the office about 25 hours/week. Guess who picked up her slack and who took credit for it? She started getting heat from management, but instead of owning up to her faults, she shoved it all on me stating she was the one completing all tasks and I was a "poor performer". So before they could fire her, she let me go because she knew she would be needed once I was out and my department couldn't survive without her. I knew something like this was going to happen 2 months ago when I found out that everything she told me (except my rate of pay) during the interview process was a lie. If everyone else could see what a joke she was, why couldn't management? Oh, that's right - because they're all friends! I'd rather be in high school than deal with "office politics".

Posted by: Marissa | Feb 6, 2009 12:52:17 PM

My saboteur was the store managers mother best friend. and she would hide store invoices that came in before I arrived for my shift. then she would tell the manager that I forgot to do them or that I lost them and she found them under the office desk. after I was Fired, I went to work at a cash and carry Warehouse company. they were the main supplier for my former employer. the district supervisor assigned a new assistant manager at that store. she was back at her tricks with the new assistant manager. I found out that she had been changing my store grocery orders. Now she was calling every night after the orders were sent by the assistant and telling the Warehouse receptionist that she was the store manager and that the order was wrong and needed to be changed. then the manager from my old store found out I was working at the warehouse so he and his boss went to my boss saying that I must Be changing his store orders even though I did not have access to any computers at the warehouse so I quit that job!
I went into Manufacturing and left retail altogether

Posted by: tad | Feb 6, 2009 1:58:08 PM

Now you tell me. Sorry but I had no idea when I was sabotaged. I was frustrated on why my coworker was treating my customers with little or no respect. His live in girl friend contacted me and told me after I got laid off that once he found out how much money I made that he had it in for me. He has no clue on how to run or manage the business he's in charge of and the owner will find out after he runs that store into the ground. He can sometimes step into crap and come out smelling like a rose but I feel he will run out of rope soon. There is way too many people running businesses into the ground like him and we could figure out why our econmy is terrible. We need honest hard working people to manage business. The problem is if they are good liers the owner will trust him until it's too late. Sucks for me and the place that I worked. This will destroy them eventually for all of our hard and honest work. It only made sense to me after the fact I had no warning.

Posted by: Dennis | Feb 6, 2009 8:35:12 PM

I was so glad to find this blog entry! I work with a woman who's had it out for me since she joined the company over two years ago. She's so devious; she scares the crap out of me. I really fear that she could be the catalyst for me getting laid off even though I'm a really good, productive worker because she's such a suck-up and because she's so political and under-handed. She knows exactly what she's doing. She really amazes me. She knows exactly how to make herself look valuable to the organization despite the fact that she produces so little. It aggravates me. I've documented the strange things she's said over the years and saved every written communication I've had with her. I've only gone to my boss about her once (because I don't want to look like a complainer or like I'm trying to throw her under the bus, even though I'd like to). And the reason I spoke to my boss about her on that one occasion is because, in pissing me off, she was also flouting a directive from the boss. All I can do is keep working hard and doing good work and hope that she gets her comeuppance.

Posted by: Afraid to write my name | Feb 19, 2009 11:47:14 AM

Thanks for these posts. At least I'm not the only one. And, I have noticed there is more desperation in the air around offices these days. In my office, the lack of professional boundaries, the endless intrusion of personal problems (criminal children, mental illness issues,court proceedings,etc) and tell tale signs of substance abuse did raise flags for me from the moment I first started. I tried many things, many suggested in this thread. However, working hard, proving myself to my higher boss and treating others professionally was not enough to overcome this situation. Since I am not one to document things or sue anyone for hostile work environments, I should have found another situation immediately. As soon as I let my guard down, I was gone. My advice: when you see so many red flags, especially from an entrenched, direct supervisor, just turn around and leave.

Posted by: learned too late | Jul 16, 2009 3:40:18 PM

Does anybody have a story where they actually won? I'm getting desperate. My husband's boss lies behind his back and outright steals and claims his work as his own.

Posted by: Kelly | May 26, 2010 5:11:26 PM

Currently stuck in this situation. Started as an apparently new favorite (boss is manic and prone to both idealising and trashing people - another story). Anyway, this may be threatening the lady who has been there for ages and takes all the boss' crap. She has something of a martyr complex and keeps mentioning how he can't cope without her. Probably true, but this already fraught workplace has resulted in her resenting my presence, I think. Her job (well all the jobs there) are thankless. Add a shaky economy and it's a recipe for tension. I was somewhat naive in the beginning but I am catching on to her passive-aggressive game. She's alternately super-helpful and conspiratorial and then sarcastic, unhelpful and very happy to point out any mistakes. She intends to stay the queen. Well, I've decided that in this crazy workplace (have been lucky so far in past jobs and managers)I will not win. I am worried about a reference but luckily I have some savings and I think I'll make it through eventually. Past references are excellent. I agree with the above poster, at least in my experience, that neither killing with kindness, nor being assertive in the right way helps. She can keep her special position. I'm out of here as soon as possible.

Posted by: Need to get out | Jun 2, 2010 12:29:31 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.