By: Stuart White 25-01-2019

Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,
It’s generally accepted today that employee workplace happiness can beneficially impact everything in your business, from behaviour, productivity, customer service et al; it’s therefore logical that the opposite is also true – that an unhappy or disengaged worker can adversely affect every aspect of your business as surely as one rotten apple will spoil the entire barrel.
According to a Harvard Business review, disgruntled employees have been known to cause a host of problems, including the creation of irreversible damage to your brand, alienation of your most valuable clients, effecting very expensive mistakes, leaking important company information, participating in internet “bad-mouthing”, stopping potential hires from joining the company, causing others around them to be upset and disengaged in their work and be guilty of theft, tardiness, missed deadlines. Bottom line – they are dangerous provocateurs and saboteurs!
Interestingly, the word ‘saboteur’ is derived from the French word ‘sabot’ or wooden clog and refers to protesting French factory workers in the 19th century who removed their wooden shoes and threw them into the machinery of the weaving looms to disrupt production. Of course, there can be a whole host of reasons that employees feel similarly disgruntled and much research points to a feeling of unfairness, or at least the perception that what is happened to you, is the catalyst for discontent. A case in point, which made headlines around the world this week, was when one worker, a builder from Liverpool, England, demonstrated in grandstanding style how being treated unfairly can have dire consequences for the employer. After he was not paid £600 (around P8000), the maltreated and malcontent employee drove a mini-backhoe through the glass entryway of a newly built Travelodge hotel. On the video taken by a fellow workmate and shown on SKY news, the 20-minute rampage included the vehicle crashing through the front door of the new building where the employee had worked. You could hear the angry man’s co-worker yelling, "That’s what happens when people don’t pay your wages, mate!"
Interesting, though, was that instead of outrage there has been much support for the builder after the video of his tantrum went viral online."Pay your bills next time, Travelodge," one person tweeted, though the building work had been sub-contracted by the hotel chain. One colleague said "I stand by what my colleague did today," he added. "He is owed £600 in unpaid wages and it just isn’t fair. That’s a lot of money to all of us and he has tried in every way to get what he is owed. He felt this was his only choice." A spokesperson for Triton Construction, the main builders at the hotel, told the Mail Online the labourer actually became upset after he couldn’t track down the boss that was due to pay him. I guess we all can relate to how mad we get when we are treated badly and money is often at the heart of many labour disputes.
This act of inconsequential minor vandalism pales into insignificance, however, next to the incident which happened here at home on October 11, 1999, when off-duty Air Botswana pilot Chris Phatswe commandeered one of the company’s Aerospatiale ATR 42-320 aircraft, took off from Sir Seretse Khama airport and for nearly two hours, circled the skies alone before radioing the control tower with the announcement: “I intend to kill myself.” After a long series of conversations that included Phatswe being granted an audience with the Vice President, he deliberately crashed the plane onto the tarmac, thereby killing himself and taking out two other ATR-42s. Within hours of the accident, newspapers around the world described Phatswe as “disgruntled” and angry at Air Botswana officials for suspending his flying privileges due to ill health.
In both these situations the employees felt they were being treated unfairly and reacted quite aggressively, with one taking it to an extreme level, and both clearly demonstrate that it is often not what happens to us but what happens in us. You see, when people feel they have been treated unfairly or see themselves as having been victimised unjustly, they respond as if it were a threat and go into "flight or fight" mode. Many neuroscientists are using scanning and monitoring techniques to study moral decision-making which in these instances both went awry. They have found that basic, primary and primaeval reactions occur when your brain determines a situation is “just not fair", demonstrating that your reactions are instinctually, not logically driven. The brain has such a robust response to unfairness proves that sensing an injustice is a basic, evolved capacity.
I know there was a time in my life when if I felt something was unjust I could stew on it for days – a reaction I know, logically and rationally, does not work for me or anyone for that matter. If we keep reliving the unhappy moment and devote endless hours to appealing the verdict of a wrongdoing in our minds, we will be left spent and miserable. Though it is sometimes hard to see, time passed in the courtroom of our mind trying the case over and over is really time wasted. Even though we're sure the verdict is ‘guilty’, there is usually no way to bring about justice in this life without becoming guilty ourselves and this is what both the pilot and driver did. They became prosecutor, judge and jury, rational thinking flew out of the window and they both chose a precipitous course of action which in their ‘right’ minds, they would never have contemplated. In each case they were pushed beyond their individual endurance and they acted accordingly to make a point.
The two incidents represent the polar ends of the sliding scale that is employee unhappiness to the point where logic becomes lost in a mist of retribution, from the ‘don’t get mad, get even’ to the ‘I’m going out in a blaze of glory and that’ll teach them’. In both cases, the object of this unreasoned nemesis was the employer, the real or perceived instigator of all the problems. So next time you create havoc by treating your employees poorly – even when that ill-treatment is largely in the eye of the beholder –give a thought to the wreckage – both literal and metaphorical - that can be caused and the damage it can do when someone is pushed to the edge of reason: And let’s hope that a trashed lobby is the worst-case scenario.