Sartre said, “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself (Gensler et al, 2004).” Indeed, we are nothing if we don’t do worthy things. For me, work increases my self-worth because it is an opportunity to contribute to our society. I consider my work as my life since it gives me a sense of purpose and a feeling of satisfaction. Through it, I can positively touch the lives of people and deserving enough to be paid and respected. For many of us, the majority of our waking hours are spent in the workplace, with or without the pandemic, since we need jobs to survive.
But, what if we always see bad things in our work especially if they are done by our co-workers or superiors? It is quite frustrating to witness if such things happen in the workplace because it is supposed to be our second home. A workplace should be free from stress because bad things tend to negate that meaning or that sense of purpose that we seek. We become doubtful of our existence on that organization and they make us want to resign.
It is interesting to trace the common causes of such situations and how they usually occur. We don’t have to resign if we encounter such people in the workplace. A little bit of patience and a broader understanding is enough to survive such a challenge. When I say bad things, I mean unethical behaviors, practices, mistakes, or any other behaviors that negatively affect the operation of the organization.
Out of the almost 20 years of working, one thing that I have noticed is that many people have the proclivity to engage in unethical practices. Admittedly, I have my share of mistakes or ignorance while performing my duties especially during my neophyte years in the workforce. As I continue my professional life, I have learned to limit those honest mistakes as much as I can. I have earnestly tried to conduct myself ethically particularly in my dealings with other people. Though I committed errors in the past, I never did them deliberately. I could honestly say that I have performed my duties in good faith to be worthy of the salary I received from the company.
As I teach ethics in college, I always go back to an excellent article that was written by Dennis J. Moberg (2015) entitled, “When Good People Do Bad Things at Work.” Moberg (2015) was able to simplify the answers to my question,” Why people do bad things at work?” He explains that there are two types of workers who do bad things that we ought to deal with as we go to work with them daily. He emphasizes that these people may have good intentions but their actions show otherwise.
The first group consists of workers who perform unethical conduct because of greediness or selfishness. I’m sure many of us have met people who will do everything for their self-interests. I think they are among the worse people that we may encounter in the workplace. They are too egocentric that they resort to unethical practices such as bribery, fraud, and the like just to get what they want. Their primary motivations are money, power, and other available perks in the company. They have a complete disregard for the welfare of others even to the extent of violating the existing rules and regulations. They justify their actions as morally accepted which leads them to deliberately defy ethics and laws.
I came across some of them who are mostly at the top level of the organizational structure. In the school setting, these are school administrators who intentionally make decisions that are contrary to ethics or legality. For instance, they give due advantage to their friends by promoting them to higher positions despite their lack of credentials. They also justify their money-making activities such as selling books to students, conducting field trips, and others in pursuit of profit. Worse, they penalize their subordinates who criticize their decisions by reassigning them to positions with different nature of work. This is a common strategy of some top officials who have the power to take an employee or teacher out of his/her comfort zone and place him/her to another where he/she would be forced to resign. These school administrators use their authority to get back on their critics so that they can continue their money-making activities.
Moberg (2015) claims that there is another group that we should handle with a substantial amount of Socratic wisdom and an ounce of patience. This group consists of workers who commit unethical behavior because of their incompetence. Though they want to do their best, they still fail due to their lack of expertise in their work. They also pose problems because their incompetence interrupts or adversely affect the whole operation of the company. For example, an employee who accepts a task given by his/her superior even though he/she lacks the competence of performing it just to flaunt to his/her co-workers that he/she knows everything. The risk of failure for this employee is high enough that it may result in a waste of the company’s resources. Lamentably, some of these employees are fortunate enough to be promoted.
Paraphrasing the words of my favorite moral philosopher Socrates, people do evil things out of ignorance. If a person lacks the necessary knowledge and skills in a specific area of work, then he/she is expected to commit mistakes. Socrates suggests that we admit first that we know nothing to resolve our incompetence. In reality, some people are arrogant enough to deny the fact that they lack the skills required for the job. Socrates advises us again, wisdom comes from the initiative to admit that you know nothing.
To effectively handle these people who do bad things at work, some useful tips can be applied. These tips have helped me overcome the challenges of working with such people, which can also be applicable in your workplace.
- Focus on your job description. Improving your work helps increase your self-worth and effectively ignore these people.
- Don’t become what you hate the most. You must assure yourself that you will not do the same. Be aware of the influence these people have on you. Try not to become like them.
- Be guided by your moral compass. If you believe that it is wrong, then don’t do it. As Socrates said,” He who knows what is right will do right.”
- Re-examine your life in your current company. Ask the question,” Is it still worth to stay in the company despite the frequent occurrences of bad things?” If the answer is yes, then go ahead and face the challenges of working with these people. If the answer is no, then you know what to do.
- You may continue working in the same company with these people while doing something to correct the situation. For instance, you can file a complaint against your co-workers or superiors who engage in unethical practices but be sure to have concrete evidence to support your accusations. Also, be prepared for any form of retaliation since the subject of your complaints is most probably occupying a powerful position in the company.
- Continue to work positively and ethically and hope that such an attitude would influence your co-workers to do the same. You might be surprised by the enormous impact of positive vibes that will generate in your working environment.
Gensler, H. et al (2004). Ethics: Contemporary Readings. Retrieved from,
Moberg, D. (2015). When Good People Do Bad Things at Work. Retrieved from,