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November 5th brings firework night, with its whizzes and bangs, its oohs and its aahs. This annual celebration of the foiling of Guy Fawkes’ plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 is perhaps British history’s most well-known tale of workplace sabotage.

However, sabotage didn’t even exist as a word for Guy Fawkes’ treasonous exploits in 1605 – the word “sabotage” in fact derives from 19th century French factory workers throwing their wooden shoes (“sabots“) into machinery to jam them and stop production. “Sabotage” then progressively entered common parlance to refer to all activities which workers could undertake to reduce production or rate of work.

It’s not just a historical term, though – in June 2018 Elon Musk revealed that a senior member of his engineering team had been fired for employee sabotage.  Musk said the employee had changed parts of the company’s manufacturing operating system code and sent “highly sensitive” company data to outside parties. Musk said that the saboteur’s actions were motivated by his desire for a promotion he didn’t receive.

With the motivation of disgruntlement or revenge then, employee sabotage occurs when an employee intentionally inflicts damage on the organization or its members with the intention of undermining or disrupting the operation or profit of the organization in some way.

Some examples of employee sabotage include:

  • Deliberate non-performance
  • Badmouthing the company online
  • Arson or vandalism
  • Falsifying or altering information on company records
  • Disclosing information to competitors
  • Spreading untrue rumours with the intention of causing damage to the company, other employees, or property
  • Disassembling key parts of machinery or other equipment

Why Does Sabotage Occur?

There are numerous reasons for employee sabotage. Employee sabotage is usually committed when an individual believes that his/her employer has done them wrong in some way. The sabotage is either directed towards other people or towards equipment or operations. Motivation can range from wanting to advance one´s career by making others look less qualified to venting anger or frustration against ‘the bosses’. It is easy to anticipate employee sabotage from workers during their notice period, but how can you spot it when it is less obvious, for example in long term employees who feel undervalued and overlooked?

How Do You Deal With Sabotage?

As a workplace manager, it is your responsibility to identify the problem, prevent it from escalating, protect any individuals involved, and take disciplinary action against alleged saboteurs. Managers who fail to recognize the potential severity of an employee sabotage incident often contribute to further incidents, including more damaging forms of sabotage. When facing suspected or actual cases of employee sabotage, it is important to follow up with a thorough and objective investigation. Here are some key questions that should be addressed:

  • Is the event deliberate sabotage?
  • Who is involved: an individual or group of individuals?
  • Is this an isolated event or part of a pattern?
  • Was the alleged saboteur provoked in any way?
  • Who is the target: an individual, group, or the whole organisation?

It is important that the details surrounding the act of sabotage are well documented, in addition to any action taken to investigate the action, its participants and victims.

How Can You Deter and Prevent Employee Sabotage?

To play a role in preventing sabotage, rather than deal with the costs of pursuing action after the event, you should ensure that all employees are aware of your company´s intolerance of sabotage, and that violating this policy will lead to disciplinary action, including potential termination of employment. The policy should be publicised and enforced to add further validity.

A formal, written policy will only get a company so far though. It is equally, if not more important, for employers to develop and practice fair employee relations, open lines of communication, and employee assistance programs so that employees are given a chance to express their feelings, ideas, and criticisms. The best defence against sabotage is to first prevent it. Treat your employees well and create a workplace culture in which every voice counts.

If this blog has raised concerns about your own workplace policy on sabotage, or if you need assistance in conducting an investigation or instigating disciplinary action, please contact Effective HRM for confidential advice or services.


And now for the winner of our Halloween Horror Stories Competition!

Marian Ryan, with Shaun Hutson’s “Slugs” as her favourite Horror story.

Slugs is a 1982 UK Horror Novel about a pack of carnivorous slugs terrorising the small English town of Merton. Guaranteed to give you goosebumps, Slugs is a definite treat for any horror lover.

Want to check out Marian’s favourite horror? Slugs is available at Waterstones or any other good booksellers.

Thanks Marian, we hope you enjoy the Wickedly Welsh Chocolate Hamper!


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