In my work on employment mediation, I have read a great number of articles and books on how to be a good employee or manager, how to improve productivity in the workplace, or the well-being of staff, which seems to have been a recurring topic for the past few decades. Yet recently, I stumbled upon a very interesting document advocating for precisely the opposite: How to be a bad employee and how to sabotage the workplace.
Written in 1944 (declassified in 2008) by the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency), the Simple Sabotage Field Manual  was written for field agents to encourage acts of resistance by local inhabitants of occupied zones during the Second World War. Quite simply, the purpose of the manual was “to characterise simple sabotage, to outline its possible effects, and to present suggestions for inciting and executing it.”
What struck me about this manual was not the destructive sabotage covering a wide range of activities such as starting fires, damaging work material, blocking communication lines and transport routes etc., but “[the] second type of sabotage [that] requires no destructive tools whatsoever and produces physical damages, if any, by highly indirect means.” These indirect forms of sabotage include negative workplace behaviours to adopt in order to “make faulty decisions, to adopt a non-co-operative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit. […] A non-co-operative attitude may involve nothing more than creating an unpleasant situation among one’s fellow workers, engaging in bickering, or displaying surliness and stupidity.”
I have outlined some of these methods below. In looking at this list, I have found it a surprisingly fun exercise, and also a little bit disturbing given the nature of the document, to compare these to my work experiences, and to the behaviours I have observed in different organisations. I suggest you have a read through and ask yourself if you have ever been a saboteur in your own organisation? Not of course in a moralising way, but simply as an exercise to measure the consequence of some behaviours that, let’s be honest, we all adopt from time to time.
General interference with Organisations and Production
a. Organisations and conferences
- Insist on doing everything through “channels”. Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
- Make speeches. Talk as frequently as possible and in great length. Illustrate your points by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
- When possible, refer matters to committees, for “further study and consideration”. Attempt to make the committees as large as possible – Never less than five.
- Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
- Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
- Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of advisability on that decision.
b. Managers and Supervisors
- Demand written orders. Quibble over them when you can.
- Do everything possible to delay the delivery of orders. Even though parts of an order may be ready beforehand, don’t deliver until it is completely ready.
- In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers of poor machines.
- When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.
- To lower the morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
- Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
- Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one could do.
- Apply all regulations to the last letter.
- Work slowly.
- Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can: […] When you go to the lavatory, spend a longer time there than is necessary. Forget tools so that you will have to go back after them.
- Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skilful worker.
- Snarl up administration in every possible way. Fill out forms illegibly so that they will have to be done over; make mistakes or omit requested information in forms.
- If possible, join or help organise a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.
- Spread disturbing rumours that sound like inside dope.
General devices for lowering morale and creating confusion
- Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned.
- Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.
- In public, treat axis nationals or quislings [Read managers] coldly.
- Stop all conversation when axis nationals or quislings [Read managers] enter a café.
- Boycott all movies, entertainment, concerts, newspapers which are in any way connected with the quisling [read company]
Having read the document I believe we all, from time to time, voluntarily or not, sabotage our workplace. Let us hope we will never again have to follow these guidelines for their intended purpose, but I believe it can be used nowadays as an effective counter-measurement for our negative workplace behaviours. So many small things can delay work, irritate others or reduce the productivity of the organisation – Like reading a Simple Sabotage Field Manual on the workplace instead of writing a blog… Being aware of it may allow us to reduce our own negative impact on the organisation and improve our own quality and value as an employee, and inspire others to do good, rather to join in with the sabotage.
By Joachim Müller