The occurrence of malicious compliance among employees is almost always a sure sign that a company is ailing.

An example of malicious compliance is when employees are penalized for arriving just a minute or two late for work, even if it only happens once.

In the corporate world, most people have probably seen examples where people get away with the most outrageous behaviour simply because they weren’t technically violating company policy. Well, today we are going to discuss that practice of purposefully rebelling against superiors or company policies by following the letter of a rule to such as an extent that it actually ends up hurting those who made the rule in the first place.

This practice is known as Malicious Compliance, and it normally entails literally following a command, but not the spirit in which it was intended, and then precisely for the purpose of using the rule against a superior or for exposing an undesirable company policy. While malicious compliance can be found in various kinds of relationships where there is an authority figure involved, such as relationships between parents and children, the phenomenon is most commonly associated with the corporate world.

An example of malicious compliance would be as follows: say a person works for a company that re-imburses the cost of dinners when they travel for work. But when dining at a restaurant, the company’s policy also states that it only re-imburses tips which don’t exceed 10% of the dinner bill. Despite having a total budget of £20 per dinner, a client’s bill for a particular dinner is £10,90 and they tip £1, 10 to round the bill with tip off to £12. The company refuses to re-imburse them because they violated that part of the policy which says that re-imbursements cannot exceed 10% of the dinner bill. Now, the next time this employee dines out, they make sure to rack up a bill between £16 and £18 so they can tip even more without exceeding that 10% limit. The employee ends up purposefully costing the company more money by exploiting the rule, but since they are still complying to the rule itself, there’s really nothing the company can do about it.

Another example of malicious compliance is when employees are penalized for arriving just a minute or two late for work, even if it only happens once. In reaction to such a strict policy employees leave the office at that exact moment they are supposed to clock out and not a second later, regardless of what tasks may be left unfinished at the time. This will probably end up causing a much larger problem for the employer than someone arriving one or two minutes late every now and then.

The reason malicious compliance is so difficult to deal with as a company, is precisely because employees are using the company’s own rules against itself. But it must always be remembered that, almost without exception, there are underlying relational issues involved when employees revert to malicious compliance. It’s essentially a form of passive-aggressive behaviour, that is, a way of implicitly expressing displeasure with management-labour relationships, company leadership in general, or rules perceived as pointless. When employees feel so far removed from the management that they believe they cannot get through to them, they are more likely to try and find loopholes in company policy in an attempt to show their disregard for what they believe to be stupid practices and policies. When employees feel like the bond of trust between themselves and their superiors have been shattered, they often revert to malicious compliance as a way of getting back at management. This of course results in an even greater breach of trust.

Addressing malicious compliance means addressing the breakdown of communication in the company which resulted in destroying the mutual trust in the first place. Once a loophole has been exposed, however, your company will probably also have to re-work policies anyway so as to ensure that the same malicious action isn’t taken in future.

The occurrence of malicious compliance among employees is almost always a sure sign that a company is ailing. If acts of malicious compliance start to affect your work or becomes public knowledge, it can seriously injure your brand image, which is something you obviously always want to avoid at all costs. Naturally, it’s always best to be in a position where you don’t have to do damage control, but where you’re part of a team in which everybody always works together for the benefit of the company and towards the same ends. In this regard continually cultivating and maintaining healthy relationships within your company is simply non-negotiable.

About the Author

Paul russell

Paul Russell is co-founder of Luxury Academy London, a multi-national training company with offices in London, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise exclusively in the luxury industry and deliver training in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across the globe.

Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles within luxury hospitality. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.