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Selfish staff, a soul-crushing drag that sabotages morale and reputations


Selfishness is omnipresent; we may not see it clearly, but it very much exists.

Working with selfish colleagues has been a constant challenge throughout my design career. I've seen firsthand how their shortsighted focus on personal gain can undermine the entire team as they cling tightly to resources and recognition out of their personal insecurities.


They fail to see how embracing genuine collaboration benefits them far more than their usual stubborn, self-absorbed lack of consideration for others.


I've tried leading by example, communicating openly about the impact of their harmful actions, and setting firm boundaries, and often succeeded. But some are so entrenched in their selfish, or to put it bluntly, cheating ways that they refuse to change. It's incredibly frustrating to watch them sabotage their own potential by narrowly focusing on "me" over "we."



ROOTS OF SELFISHNESS


Selfishness is born out of personal insecurities

At the core of selfish behaviour often lies a profound sense of personal inadequacy and lack of self-worth. These individuals often feel they have little value to offer to others and may fear being exposed as undeserving.


This fear manifests in an obsessive need to acquire, control, and hoard resources, whether material or social, in an attempt to validate their own importance and stave off their chronic feelings of insignificance.


Overcompensating for perceived flaws

Selfish individuals may unconsciously believe that by grabbing what they can before others do, they can avoid being "found out" and protect their fragile egos. Sadly, this overcompensation for perceived personal flaws or shortcomings is a common defence mechanism.


By hoarding and prioritising their own needs above all else, they hope to project an image of strength and self-sufficiency, even if it comes at the expense of empathy and consideration for others.


The cycle of insecurity and selfishness

Unfortunately, this cycle of insecurity and selfish behaviour often becomes self-perpetuating. As individuals continue to prioritise their own interests, they further distance themselves from meaningful connections and opportunities for personal growth.


This reinforces their feelings of inadequacy, leading them to cling even more tightly to selfish tendencies in a desperate attempt to maintain a false sense of control and self-worth.


Breaking the cycle

Overcoming insecurities and the resulting selfish behaviours is a challenging but hugely important process. It often requires a willingness to confront one's own vulnerabilities, develop self-compassion, and cultivate a sense of purpose and belonging that extends beyond the individual.


With time, patience, and a commitment to personal growth, individuals can learn to value their inherent worth and find fulfilment in contributing to the greater good rather than hoarding resources for themselves.


SELFISH STAFF, OR DO WE CALL THEM CHEATS?


They undermine teamwork and collaboration

Selfish colleagues are often unwilling to share information, resources, or credit with their colleagues. This can breed resentment and undermine the collaborative spirit essential for effective teamwork. When designers prioritise their own interests over the team's goals, it fragments the team and prevents the synergy needed to produce high-quality, innovative work.


It stifles creative exchange

In a work environment, the free flow of ideas and open critique are crucial for pushing creative boundaries. Selfish colleagues may be reluctant to contribute their thoughts or provide constructive feedback, fearing it could make them appear less capable.


Erodes trust and morale

Selfish behaviours, such as taking undue credit, being negative, withholding information, or undermining colleagues, can quickly erode trust and morale. Designers may become wary of sharing their work or ideas, hampering the studio's overall productivity and cohesion.


Low morale can also lead to high turnover as talented designers seek more collaborative environments.


Compromises client relationships

When designers prioritise their own interests over client needs, it can damage important client relationships. Missing deadlines, providing substandard work, or failing to communicate effectively can jeopardise the studio's reputation and future business opportunities.


To counteract the damaging effects of such behaviour, design studios should foster a culture of trust, transparency, and shared purpose.

Promoting collaborative practices, honest recognition, and focusing on collective success can help align individual and organisational goals.


Only by cultivating an environment that values teamwork and creativity over petty self-interests can design studios unlock their potential and deliver high-quality work for clients.



WHAT ARE THE MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES TO CHALLENGE STAFF WHO DISPLAY SELFISH BEHAVIOUR, OTHER THAN SACKING THEM?


Encourage self-awareness

As a first step, help the selfish employee become more self-aware of how their behaviour impacts the team. Provide constructive feedback and create opportunities for them to reflect on their actions. Provided you don’t play the ‘shape-up-or-ship-out’ authority card, this can motivate them to start changing their mindset and work ethics.


Set clear expectations

Establish clear goals, roles, and responsibilities for the team. Explicitly outline the collaborative nature of the work and the importance of considering the group's needs, not just individual interests.


Foster a collaborative environment

Promote open communication, active listening, and mutual respect within the team. Model the collaborative behaviours you want to see and create opportunities for collective problem-solving.


Provide incentives for collaboration

Recognise and reward employees who demonstrate strong teamwork and prioritise the team's success over their own. This can help shift the focus from individual achievements to collective goals.


Offer coaching and support

Provide selfish employees with coaching, training, or mentorship to help them develop better interpersonal and collaboration skills.


Adjust job responsibilities

If the employee's selfishness stems from insecurity or a poor fit with their current role, consider reassigning them to a position that better aligns with their strengths. This can reduce their defensiveness and allow them to contribute more positively.


Address underlying issues

Explore whether the selfish behaviour is rooted in deeper personal issues, such as low self-esteem or fear of failure. Providing counselling or other resources to address these root causes may help the employee develop a healthier mindset.


Define clear expectations

Establish clear goals, roles, and responsibilities for the team. Explicitly outline the collaborative nature of the work and the importance of considering the group's needs, not just individual interests.


Communicate directly and privately

Have a direct but polite conversation with the selfish staff member. Discuss how their behaviour impacts the team and project. Keep the focus on their actions, not their character.


Be assertive and consistent

Always be clear about what you can and cannot do. Politely decline requests that fall outside your boundaries whenever a colleague violates them.


Remain calm but firm

Be consistent in communicating and enforcing your limits.


Encourage ownership and accountability

Emphasise the importance of taking ownership of tasks to ensure others hold themselves accountable. Provide support and feedback to build skills and confidence.


Promote a culture of respect

Adhere to your colleagues' boundaries as well. Avoid interrupting, demanding immediate attention, or disregarding others' schedules. 


Foster a team culture where open communication, information sharing, and mutual respect are the norm.

Escalate to management if needed

If a colleague's behaviour involves harassment, hostile actions, policy violations, or safety issues, speak to your manager or HR immediately. Don't just brude in silence. Document the issues and seek a resolution.



Setting clear, consistent boundaries is essential for maintaining a healthy, productive work environment. While it may be uncomfortable at first, being assertive in communicating your limits is an act of self-care and respect for others. With practice, you can learn to set boundaries that protect your time, energy and values.


The key is to address the selfish behaviour proactively through a combination of feedback, structural changes, and personalised support. With the right interventions, employees can learn to be more collaborative and considerate team players.

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