Everyone points the finger at a horrible boss, but one lousy employee can easily be at fault for an office culture failure. To be fair, bad employees are typically a little trickier to spot. Unlike horrible leaders and managers who are easily labeled as mean and demanding, bad employees have a sneaky way of disguising how much they dislike being a part of the team and are slacking off at their jobs.
Yet, if television and movies have taught us anything, the worst employees are often everyone’s favorite and funniest person on the team.
This got me thinking — there is a lot we can learn from the ‘terrible employee trope’ we often come across in popular media. As a case study, I’ve rounded up a few of the worst employees in pop culture history, including how to you can spot each trope in your own workforce and how to tackle each situation head-on.
1. Jim Halpert, ‘The Office’
Ah, ‘The Office’. It’s probably the first show that comes to mind when mentioning some of the worst employees on television. While Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute are pretty obvious examples of bad employees, we are calling Jim Halpert one of the worst of the bunch.
While he has shown definitely promise in his position (he even gets promoted from Salesman to Co-Manager at one point) Halpert shows very little respect for boss Scott with condescending and sarcastic remarks. He also pulls dangerous pranks on a number employees.
Other examples of this type are April Ludgate from ‘Parks and Recreation’ and Jake Peralta from ‘Brooklyn 99’.
When dealing with an employee that is hitting their targets but may be creating an uncomfortable atmosphere, constructive feedback is key. With potential aplenty, these employees need to know that you value their skill, but that focus is becoming a bit of an issue. By explaining the impact of the situation they are causing, you can both find a mutual solution that plays to their strengths and keeps them engaged in their work.
2. Rebecca Bloomwood, ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’
In this rom-com classic, experienced journalist Rebecca Bloomwood miraculously scores a job at personal finance magazine Successful Saving — which is ironic, seeing as she is on the brink of bankruptcy herself.
While the saying ‘fake it ’til you make it’ rings true occasionally, Bloomwood shows very little preparedness and interest in her job and even sneaks off to an interview at a competitor.
So what do you do when it’s obvious an employee no longer shows interest in their job? The first step is to figure out what went wrong. Set up a one-on-one meeting and have a conversation about why they think they aren’t performing as well as expected or are showing little interest in their job. Once you’ve worked with the employee to discover the source of their low morale, it’s your choice whether to assist the employee to do something about it.
The ugly truth is, a lot of employees start out enthusiastic and excited about a new job. But along the way, they find their enthusiasm punctured or they puncture their enthusiasm themselves.
Other examples are Homer Simpson from ‘The Simpsons’ and Dennis Nedry from ‘Jurassic Park’.
3. Randall Boggs, ‘Monsters Inc’.
Refusing not to be the top scarer of ‘Monsters Inc.’, Randall Boggs commits an unethical crime and fudges his scares numbers — basically the equivalent of employee theft.
Whether it’s check tampering, false recording sales for commission, or even lying about work hours, employee theft can never be tolerated. Other common unethical behaviors in human resources include the misuse of company time, lying and violating contracts.
There are a handful of popular culture characters who have been caught doing unethical things in the workplace, including Donnie Azzoff from ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and Alice Cooper from ‘Riverdale’.
While spotting unethical behavior in a work setting can be tricky, it is the manager’s responsibility to reinforce company ethics and standards. To avoid accusations, provide your entire team with transparency, communication, and accountability around ethical behaviors at least once a year.