Do I Really Want to Keep Wilbur?

How Bad Employees Undermine Employer Credibility

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | September 22, 2016

Joe owns and operates an express delivery service. His business began 26 years ago when he started driving a Chevy van to make deliveries for extra money. Joe now owns his own company with 22 delivery vans. He employs 19 full-time and nine part-time employees. Joe has worked with most of these folks for years and has little employee turnover.

Joe’s employees conscientiously learned how to do their jobs well and the business experienced steady growth. Then, three years ago, Joe decided to hire Wilbur as a dispatcher. His workplace has never been the same since.

Wilbur made a good first impression and got along well with Joe, but shortly after he was hired the other employees began to see his negatives. Wilbur didn’t believe rules or policies applied to him. His negative attitude was off-putting to the rest of the staff and no one wanted to work with him. His most striking negative was, however, that he consistently denied responsibility and blamed others for his mistakes.

A few months later, customers began to complain about Wilbur’s negative attitude over the phone. Those complaints eventually reached Joe’s desk. He confirmed the problem with a few other employees and wasted no time in calling Wilbur to his office. They met privately for over an hour.

The other employees were thrilled that something was going to be done about Wilbur. Many were hoping Joe would just terminate him because no one believed that Wilbur could successfully correct his own behavior. In fact, the other employees had already planned how the work was going to get done without him.

When the two men emerged, Joe announced that he was creating a new position and had decided to name Wilbur as the new Office Manager. When the other employees realized that Wilbur was now their boss and learned that his promotion came with a raise in salary, they were very discouraged.

There are few things that undermine employer credibility more than the continual presence of a “Wilbur” in the workplace. The other employees don’t understand how such an employee can survive, much less advance in an organization.

There are specific actions that Joe could have taken prior to, and throughout this melodrama, to have mitigated these negative results. Such actions are not always obvious to the employer.

One thing is certain, Joe did not help himself or anyone else by failing to address Wilbur’s short-comings.

It’s not easy to know how and when to apply best employment practices. Employers may need help to strengthen hiring practices, implement more effective employee training, coach for performance improvement, and take corrective action at the appropriate time.

Nevertheless, I am confident that an employer’s credibility—your credibility, is worth the investment of time and effort. And remember, expert assistance is just a phone call away.

David Cox


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