White Elephants at Workplace

Pankaj Jasal, IT Director, Dell

Executive Summary

We all know about White Elephants and their value proposition (pun intended). This article talks about White Elephants at Workplace; what makes someone qualify to be one and how a company and team member should work with them.

Key Research Finding suggests that average employee engagement increases during first 5 year and then declines or stagnant (refer infographics below). That’s a key breakeven point for the corporate to seriously consider. Let’s take a stab at who might be these White Elephants, why a situation is tricky around then, what must a company do in dealing with them and how not to become a White Elephant.

Who are these White Elephants at Workplace?

I am coining this term to describe someone who is a tenured employee with the company, with at least 4-5 years of work experience in a same role/department/job description/grade/location. Their Economic Value has depreciated; however, they are too big to be ignored, and expected to be consulted for everything. They may be a One-Man Army, or used to be at one time; their salary has overgrown the grade/job and will grow by inflationary rates only, at max. But they are not ready and do not have required skillset to be promoted to next grade and because of them, others may not be promoted to next grade, sometimes. They may not be of retirement age; they have “history” card with them to throw for each discussion; they are well connected and may be respected. In their glorious career, they have seen growth and changes happening around them; they may have been a pioneer for certain work matters. However, they might have lost their mojo and their productive hours are depleting. They carry legacy with them and have their own set of loyalist. Their glorious days are behind them and they are set in their thoughts or worldview and feel strongly about that. They control the discussion/ meeting, nearly all the time and they may have stretched themselves too thin in too many things.

What should a company, HR, colleagues, manager and subordinates do in this situation

Most importantly company/HR/ Manager of a White Elephant resource must try to Re-train them; find different opportunities for them outside their comfort zone; find opportunity for them to be a mentor; challenge them with stretch assignments; send them for paid higher studies leave; have 360 degrees feedback for them with actionable items; if required have intervention – to shake them with true unbiased unfiltered reality check feedback and if nothing works then transfer them to different location, should they want to continue within same role/job description or as a last resort offer them graceful parachute to call it quite.

Recommendations for subordinates on How-to work with White Elephants.

They must respect them and learn as much as they can. They should provide them with latest technology/innovative ideas for implementation and leverage their experience for project delivery.

How not to Become a White Elephant

This is another thing that I want to talk about in this article. This is crucial for all of us and we must continually reinvent ourselves; be always on our toes; respect others and their point of view; encourage diversity of thoughts and action; find reasons to be active and go to work everyday and be genuine to increase our employee economy value to the company. We must increase our ‘Employee Engagement’ with new initiatives; don’t always be in a group of naysayers; be a mentor; be a mentee and always be in a learning curve. Change our job description every 3 years, because 1st year we learn, 2nd year we contribute and start adding value, 3rd year onwards your economy value add acceleration starts diminishing and we may hit plateau, 4th years onwards our economic value may start travelling south. That’s why we must understand and appreciate diversity; be grounded; deliver more and expect less; focus on value creation rather than throwing history cards and importantly don’t always start with 100 reasons why it should not be done and why it will fail and how it failed miserably in the past.


We all have seen such White Elephants in our corporate lives (and same may be applicable in our personal lives too). We need to empathize with them and if required arrange for an ‘intervention’ to make them understand the situation from outside-in perspective, in their own benefit. We need to find a win-win situation for everyone to ensure that their economic value must accelerate with the number of years of service with the company. In short, we need to do everything possible to ensure that we, and no one around us should become a White Elephant.