How Introverts Can Survive Incompetence in the Workplace

Mr. Jones insists on having an “All for one and one for all” work environment.

Since he took over as general manager of our financial department, it’s been a consistent run of pop-up office lunches, motivational speeches, and spontaneous meetings that turn into social events.

We keep hearing about the economy, differences in generational expectations, and a need to act as a collaborative team.

In my 21 years of employment, I have never seen such a strong push toward people getting along as opposed to mandating that employees work at a satisfactory level.

After all, we are all professionals, and getting along is not the problem.

However, there is a challenge that I see more often that isn’t being addressed.

A few of us broach the subject but readily change the subject when someone comes around for fear of being marched into the human resources office.

And it’s getting worse with each passing year.

That naughty little word that is gaining momentum in the workplace is incompetence.

I am still trying to determine if it’s a failure to be proficient at required tasks or pure laziness. I suspect mediocrity has become the norm, and incompetency has been normalized.

And there are few unicorns within any industry.

So why are incompetent people allowed to remain within companies?

I always thought that companies exist to create value and earn profits.

And what should introverts do to survive incompetence in the workplace?

First things first. Why do companies hold on to incompetent employees?

Mike Harden, CEO of the Clarity Group, outlines four reasons incompetent employees are retained.


If an employee has been at a company for a long time, management is disinclined to terminate loyal employees because of tenure.

Unlike when a company is a start-up, mature companies have abundant resources that do not depend on one employee.

Consequently, high-performing employees fill in the gaps of incompetence, and business continues.

If an incompetent employee does not become a legal liability, he can do minimal work to keep from getting fired.  


Managers believe that they can fix any problem. At a minimum, they think incompetent employees merely need coaching and more training.

The professional development industry has made billions of dollars on employee and leadership training. The Learn Experts blog reported that U.S. training expenditures were up 12% to $92.3 billion in 2021.

Many corporate managers don’t embrace the notion that an employee’s skills and motivation may no longer suit the organization’s needs.

Managers don’t want to feel bad about terminating incompetent employees if they haven’t committed egregious acts.

So, it’s not about the company’s success but the manager’s feelings.

Admitting mistakes

Managers don’t want to take responsibility for hiring incompetent employees and admitting a hiring mistake.

They read an applicant’s resume, ask perfunctory behavioral questions (“Tell me about a time when you….”), and believe the evaluation process stops there.

Managers never ask questions that evaluate an applicant’s thinking and reasoning abilities.

Questions like “If in five years you found the work monotonous or life got in the way, what would you do?” never get asked.

If managers were to include responses from job interviews within employees’ personnel files and refer to them periodically, managers could determine if complacency and incompetence have set in.

A belief in fairness

In contemporary society, the needs of employees appear to take priority over the needs of the company.

Managers want to be liked and admired versus being productive and profitable. In the spirit of fairness, managers give employees numerous opportunities to excel despite the impact on the company.

Managers must determine if they want to be popular or effective.

You can’t socialize one minute and manage the next.

This coddling and cajoling create employee incompetence because there are no expressed penalties for dereliction of duties.

Dealing with incompetence in the workplace is a dirty business.

Here are some recommendations for introverts to survive incompetence in the workplace.

Create systems inside systems

It makes little sense to complain if managers know unproductive employees who meet minimum requirements. After all, all those pop-up lunches and motivational speeches are designed for team building. And if you’re the only one complaining, maybe you’re the problem.

That would be the manager’s perception. So, you must create a system inside of a system by being familiar with policy and procedures, proper protocol, and an organizational chart.

What allies do you have to create to promote the idea of productivity and profitability? Some executives’ self-interest is tied to these objectives.

Also, collaborate with employees with reputations as the go-to people to sidestep incompetent employees. Leverage these go-to people and software to produce superior work.

Be firm but fair

If familiarity breeds contempt, don’t establish personal relationships at work.

When discussing an issue because you can’t get around an incompetent employee, ask for what you need directly. If he does not comply, state the impact on you to the incompetent employee and take ownership of what you’re trying to accomplish.

By understanding the limited value of this employee, you utilize him only when necessary.

Document everything

Documenting all your actions and correspondence and copying direct reports establishes you as a professional and creates a paper trail of your activities.

If a critical item falls through the cracks by an incompetent employee, you are protected by your reporting system.

You are on solid ground by referencing policy and procedures in your documentation.

Be like water

Being a strategist requires that you be unemotional in your actions. Martial artist legend Bruce Lee recommended that you become like water. Whatever the situation is, lean in and become flexible. By being adaptable, you maintain your standard and disallow incompetence from impacting you negatively.

Incompetence could impact your mental wellness. If you consistently fight unproductivity emotionally, you are harming yourself when no one cares, or else incompetency would have been weeded out.

You must develop highly evolved coping measures to protect your psychological and emotional well-being.

Think strategically

Life is much more fun when you view it as a game. If fortune favors the prepared, the more knowledgeable you are about human nature, the inner workings of companies, and your objectives, the more successful you will become.

It would help if you almost became robotic in your intentions to produce optimal results.

Your long-term goals and reputation depend on it.

As an employee, you accept the benefits and liabilities within a corporation.

It behooves you to develop coping skills that allow you to maintain high performance, sustain a peaceful state of mind, and grow exponentially.

You owe it to yourself because mediocre and incompetent coworkers will always exist. And there are very few unicorns in the world.

If you are a unicorn, it would be best to act like it.

—Sean Michaels


Harden, M. (2014, Aug. 4). 4 reasons you might be tolerating incompetence. HuffPost. Retrieved from:

Learning Program Management (2022, Apr. 19). How much do companies spend on training per employee? Learn Experts. Retrieved from:

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