The Domino Factor

Picture this: Bert or Bertha has once again taken credit for the work that you have spent grueling hours over, to the extreme annoyance of your family and friends . . . and you are a man. Or, picture this: Bert or Bertha has once again taken credit for the work that you have spent grueling hours over, to the extreme annoyance of your family and friends . . . and you are a woman.

Same culprits, different recipient of the treatment. As a man, how will you most likely react? As a woman, how will you most likely react? Is there a difference in reactions and/or outcomes? Yes, there is.

Since the mid-eighties, I’ve dedicated a great deal of my time to dealing with the Bert and Berthas of the workplace—those conflict creators and saboteurs in your midst. 

Every work environment has some form of them—at times lurking in the corners in a stealth mode; at others, blatantly upfront with their actions. Real time jerks and jerkettes who cost the employer big bucks . . . and for that matter, as an employee, a job.

The Difference
The challenge for women in the workplace (and for managers who manage them and co-workers) is that there is a difference in how men and women respond to the rotten players in their offices and work environments. 

Men are more inclined to quickly evaluate what ole Bert and Bertha have done—they either confront the offender or decide that it’s not worth their time and drop the situation. 

Women react differently. Far fewer women take the man’s approach—directly confront or to drop it. Women are more inclined to side-step the conflict creator. . . and then tell their workplace friends, co-workers, anybody else who’s in listening range about what ole Bert and Bertha have pulled; they will share how upset they are and how it hurts or impacts them. Their listeners are sympathetic—empathetic. After all, they most likely have borne the brunt of bad behavior as well. 

It’s the Domino Factor—everyone gets caught up in it.

The Cost to the Employer
Productivity, or the reduction in it, rears its head. So does turnover. This is where the male/female differences are measurable. Women report that when conflict and saboteurs lurk in their workplaces, it takes them two to four times as long to complete a task.

As an employer or manager, it’s not difficult to figure out what the bad apples cost you and your department and organization. Get your calculator out. 

When good people leave—which is a direct result of keeping marginal and employees like Bert and Bertha—you now must replace them, possibly paying finder’s fees and/or signing bonuses. You may have to pay higher wages. You may even have to get more than one person to replace the good person that finally threw in the towel. 

In a recent interview with a manager in a hospital, she complained about a problem nurse—a woman whose behavior had let to three nurses quitting and going to a competing hospital. To replace the three nurses, she had to budget $250,000 (roughly one and one-half an annual salary. In addition, complaints bounced around the unit she worked in that work wasn’t getting completed . . . the Domino Factor was in motion. 

Most likely, that one marginal nurse had cost her unit in excess of $500,000 in lost productivity not to mention at least an equal amount in turnover replacement costs.

Is the Domino Factor exclusive to health care? Nope, consider your workplace when the rumor mill is in high gear—whether about personnel, a scandal or an imminent change. 

If the possibility of pink slips are around the corner, the Domino Factor is in play; when management seems to have lost its focus because of “distractions” like mergers, acquisitions, promotions, reorganizations, and senior management shakeups; or when changes are made without explanation. 

The result is worry, speculation, and guesstimating outcomes. The men hang at the “cooler” than go back to work; the women continue to dissect the latest at their respective workstations, either via desk chatter or on the phone. 

What to Do
As a manager, you need to tune in to the different styles of handling conflict. You need to acknowledge that it exists, determine its roots and work on resolution. If you don’t, it festers, plain and simple. Not all conflict is bad—but when it escalates to include others, then it costs money—lots of it.

As an employee, it’s important to look in the mirror and determine how you handle conflict. Do you identify the source, get your facts, confront it and work for resolution; or, do you bite your tongue, only to share it with others (never the conflict-creator) or act on it at a later time in a revenge mode?

Zapping Conflict in the Health Care Workplace is my latest work that looks closely at the Domino Factor (Mile High Press, 2004) in a female-dominated workplace. When conflict is in play (our latest study shows that over 85 percent of our respondents reported that conflict had increased in their workplace in the past five years), moneys are siphoned down the employer’s profit and loss drain.