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Decoding Dilbert

Decoding Dilbert (Part 2)

Welcome back to Decoding Dilbert, where we find Human Resources lessons in Scott Adams’ popular workplace comic. If you’re new here, check out Part 1. This week, we’ll joke about one worker’s incompetence, as the comic intends. However, we’ll also explain why this common cubicle pastime contributes to employee error and friction between co-workers.

Decoding Dilbert

At first glance, this seems like some good-natured joking about the red-haired employee’s incompetence. And hey, Dilbert’s day is going as planned. Does it really matter that there was an employee error? Of course it does.

Beyond the problem of inefficiency (what happens if the red-haired co-worker does something right for a change?), this strip illustrates a common problem between employees of different ability levels.

Notice that the red-haired co-worker (he has no name) approaches Dilbert meekly from behind. His eyes are huge, and he’s wringing his hands. He also spends the entire strip talking around his mistake. He’s very nervous!

Dilbert, on the other hand, never looks up from his computer. He is clearly engrossed in his work, and has little time for the red-haired co-worker.

Employees of different ability levels can have a hard time working together. Less experienced employees lack confidence in their work, while more experienced employees can be reluctant to help correct employee errors. This is because experienced employees can frequently perform a task in less time than it would take to teach someone else how to do it. For Dilbert, it’s easier to plan his day around red-haired co-worker’s incompetence than it is to teach him how to do his job.

Unfortunately, attitudes like this just perpetuate employee errors. It also creates tension among employees.

As a manager, work to spot situations like these by asking for consistent feedback from your employees. Dilbert might not take the time to correct red-haired co-worker’s employee error, but he might complain about it to his pointy-haired boss. As a manager, you have the authority to provide proper training where it is needed. This will help red-haired co-worker become a more competent employee.

Also be sure to educate both Dilbert and red-haired co-worker on how best to give and ask for help in the workplace. Perhaps provide red-haired co-worker with a mentor, until he learns to work more independently. And, let Dilbert know that time spent helping co-workers can be billed as overtime. That should cheer him up.

Decoding Dilbert unravels the real-world HR problems in the cartoon world of Dilbert comics. The series focuses on a different strip every week, with an eye toward improving employee-management relations. Suggest a strip by leaving a comment below, or send Kristin a tweet: @ithinkther4iamb #DecodingDilbert

IMAGE: Courtesy of

Kristin Anderson

Kristin has a B.A. in English from the University of Iowa, with an emphasis in creative writing. In her free time she enjoys long walks, kitchen adventures, and making puns.

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