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3 Destructive Employee Syndromes No Boss Can Tolerate

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For an entrepreneur having employees can either be the greatest blessing of your professional life or the bane of your daily existence. A lot of our decisions as we grow our businesses center around what jobs we should hire someone else to do, who we should hire to do them, and how we should motivate, compensate, and manage the people once they’re on board.


After nearly 30 years of managing employees, hiring employees, and coaching other people’s employees, I can tell you there are three “syndromes” that will, without fail, make you wish you’d avoided employees altogether. Here’s how to recognize them, and why you should never put up with them.

1. Not-my-job syndrome.

You’re probably familiar with this one. You may have even seen the meme with the picture of a dead opossum lying in the middle of the road with the yellow center stripe painted right over it. I have yet to know anyone who didn’t get that meme, because we’ve all known (or been) the employee who was so determined to never be the sucker who requests to perform any task not officially in their job description were met with disdain and, when asked why they didn’t correct a potentially disastrous situation or mistake, they’ll respond with some variation of, “That is not my job.”

Imagine what would happen if none of your staff ever did anything that wasn’t, strictly speaking, their job. Every time you had a team member out on vacation or a sick day your well-oiled machine would start to hiccup. A heavier than expected work load, or a crisis in a project plan would cause a tail spin that would make heads spin. If you can’t afford for all of your employees to have this attitude you can’t afford for any of them to use “it’s not my job” as a reason for avoiding tasks or responsibilities.

Related: 13 Signs of a Disengaged Employee (Infographic)

2. "That’s my job, don’t touch it" syndrome.

We often mistake this one for the laudable trait of “taking ownership.” It’s great when you have someone who takes ownership of the outcome of a task or project, but when they’re so proprietary about it that no one else is allowed to pitch in you have just set your entire team up for a logjam. What you’ll notice, when you know what to look for, is that others on the team don’t contribute to the outcomes this person “owns.” They’ll also often complain that others don’t perform any task up to their standard, which again, we often mistake for a positive trait of an “excellence mindset” when really they’re sabotaging the results that others are achieving.

Once you view this attitude as proprietary rather than believing it is simply a desire to achieve excellent outcomes, you’ll start to see how it’s hampering others on the team from growing and developing. You’ll also begin to notice that backups in process or breakdowns in systems often occur because this person can’t keep up. You might even start to realize how dependent you are on this individual and how much knowledge and training they’re hoarding. Unless you want to be a hostage to their need for control and job security you’ll put a stop to their ability to ward off all offers of assistance.

Related: What You Can Learn From Hollywood on Hiring and Managing Employees

3. "OMG, it’s a crisis but it’s OK. I’ve got it covered” syndrome.

I call this one the “White Knight Syndrome.” When you have an employee with this attitude you’ll have very few dull days because there will always be some drama/trauma brewing. And you’ll likely be adding this employee to your gratitude list on almost daily, as well. Because whatever the challenge, they’re riding to the rescue.

But when you pay attention you may start to realize that they’re like the hero firefighter who turns out to be the arsonist. They’re so addicted to the recognition for being the go-to person in a crisis that they’re stirring the pot to make sure there is a crisis for them to go to. This might show up in the form of gossip that gets your team riled up about something that was, at most, a minor issue. Or it might take the form of more serious sabotage.

The costs of having this individual on your team are obvious. Even if they do save the day every time, the increased stress and reduced productivity take a toll.

Keep in mind that the behaviors associated with these “syndromes” are seldom coming from conscious mindset, and they’re almost never malicious. They’re usually symptoms of an emotionally immature or highly insecure mentality. It’s possible that with coaching the syndrome can be addressed, the behavior corrected and the mindset shifted to one of team collaboration and support.

Bu if you allow any of these syndromes a place on your team you’ll find that the mindset pervades the entire culture, resulting in a destruction of morale for your team, loss of productivity for your business and an increase in headaches for you.

Related: 3 Ways to Increase Employee Vitality as You Grow

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