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The Journal Gazette

  • Winkeljohn

Sunday, July 30, 2017 1:00 am

Managers: Be leery of 'sharks' in workplace

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Discovery Channel taps into viewer intrigue with its popular annual Shark Week TV series, which just aired.

A “shark” isn't so entertaining in a workplace, though.

Competition can breed a “cutthroat” culture among colleagues, said Jennifer Winkeljohn, division director in Fort Wayne for Robert Half International. The specialized recruiting firm, based in the Chicago area, saw an analogy between the Discovery series and some workplace personalities and last week offered its local experts to discuss “survival strategies.”

Just like there are varied personalities in the workplace, there are hundreds of species of sharks. And while they can play a vital role in oceans and nature, according to, sharks are often viewed as predators.

In the workplace, managers might spot shark-like tendencies with some employees taking credit for the work of colleagues, essentially riding the coattails of others. Some employees have a tendency to bad mouth co-workers and supervisors; gossip can become unwieldy.

“One thing that we see quite a bit is people who are calling attention to others' shortcomings,” Winkeljohn said.

The culprits are sometimes trying to divert attention from their own weaknesses.

Managers should identify the individuals with these counterproductive tendencies. It's also important, Winkeljohn said, to have conversations with those affected, allowing them to cool down instead of react to attacks – real or perceived.

Dialogue increases leaders' ability to understand why someone has a contentious spirit.

“More times than not, I don't think it's a purposeful act, I think it's a reaction to something that's going on,” Winklejohn said.

Even when it seems tough to confront, leaders shouldn't be complacent in addressing behavior if they want to guard against a toxic environment.

“A lot of times, high performers will be given a pass because companies are afraid it will affect revenue,” Winkeljohn said, referring to turnover and the challenge of recruiting in a low-unemployment market.

Visibility preferred

A Wednesday article in the Wall Street Journal noted that full-time work from home is falling out of favor for some big employers, including Aetna, International Business Machines and Bank of America.

They are scaling back or dropping that work option, leaning more toward having employees present for the sake of collaboration. It also improves accountability in many cases.

Working remotely has its place, I think, but it takes a skillful, productive worker to carry it out. Sometimes it's hard enough accounting for the work that can or should be done by on-site employees.

Flexibility is important. There are times when remote work has just as much benefit to an employer as an employee.

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at