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Corporate Culture and the Prima Donna Employees - Dealing With Difficult People

Updated on February 29, 2012
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I'm a dad, husband, and Christian first. The rest are just life's add-ons: an educator & organizational development professional.


Have you encountered a difficult employee? Well, “difficult” is a broad category so allow me to qualify it further. Have you encountered prima donna employees? Just take a look around, you might be seating beside one now! Prima donna employees can pull down morale and productivity. Dealing with difficult people day in and day out can drive anyone insane. More importantly, it can derail the corporate culture that once made your company thrive.

Corporate culture goes beyond what you put in your company profile and slogans. One facet of company success is about corporate culture at its best. But then again there are employees who just ruin everything. One such nuisance are prima donna employees. Have you seen them around?

1. Showboating, grandstanding and all related terms

Who doesn't want their 15 minutes of fame? But these special employees don’t want just 15 minutes, they want the whole show. When given the chance they’d want the whole TV series and not just a special appearance. Employees like these are not hard to spot. Just start a conversation and they will pounce on it even when they’re at the opposite end of the room. It’s like they have built-in radar for grandstanding opportunities.

But some clarifications must be made. First, there are those who can draw the crowd with minimal effort because they have something useful to say. Also, there are those who command respect when they speak that everyone seems to shut up for no apparent reason other than the person is speaking. No, it’s not these people who I am referring to. It is the ones that who desperately require the attention of people without reason. It’s like they will die if they don’t grab the limelight. There might be times you hoped they did.

I’m sure you've seen them around. Perhaps you’re encountering them too often than you want.

Corporate Policies
Corporate Policies | Source

2. Constant complainer – from company policies to the air fresher used

It is one thing to complain about certain company policies but it is another to simply let out a barrage of nasty words about almost anything. I used to have a co-worker who seems to complain about everything. To say that he was irritating was a huge understatement. It’s too hot, it’s too cold, the floor is too slippery, the floor is too sticky…the rants just keep on coming!

Being opinionated about issues is one thing. But finding fault at everything even the mundane is another. There were times when I simply saw this co-worker as psychologically disturbed. Although he is not, many shared my sentiment.


3. Compares everything – from compensation and benefits to the color of push pins they receive.

Another annoying behavior of co-workers is when they keep tabs on what you have and compare it with theirs. It’s sad to fathom that there are 30-year old “professionals” who still act like pre-school students. What’s even irritating is when they whine about what they have when they see what you have. Grow up! If it weren't for laws against man slaughter, I bet you’d gladly extinguish his existence.

Whether it is insecurities or some other deeper pathological reason, people who unceasingly compare can strain relationship – to say the least. Worse, they simply build a negative view of their world.

4. Always right attitude

One more irritating behavior of some employees is the All-Knowing Syndrome. There are people who pretend to know everything. Moreover, they say it as if it is biblical truth. More than this, they will not concede to anyone even if they are downright wrong. Dealing with difficult people like these takes so much restraint and can be stressful.

Another variation of this is the don't-blame kind of person. These people seem to think of themselves as immaculate. Everything that goes wrong is because of someone else and not them. What's annoying (and equally fascinating at times) is their ability to find a fall guy for their own mistakes. Their lack of accountability is just overwhelming!


What to do

These problems with human resources is vital in maintaining a sane workforce. Unless you want bloodshed on a Monday morning, the company has to do something immediately. Knowing how to deal with difficult employees is definitely a must.

Know why

Before you try stabbing your co-worker with a freshly sharpened pencil, try doing some detective work first. Learn what prompts the employee to exhibit such behavior. Whether it’s some kind of Freudian reason or some other deep-seated kinks there is always a reason.

You can probe but do it in a non-threatening and non-aggressive way. Otherwise, you run the risk of a defensive mode or worse a sharp pencil stratigically inserted into your neck. Inquiring about a person can be personal so know your boundaries.

It is when you know the root cause that dealing with difficult employees become easier.

Important Reminder

Remember that every person responds differently. Furthermore, the suggestions here are mere guides on how you can improve the organization. So assess the situation before you dive right in. More importantly consult with professionals to point you at the right direction.

Counseling and coaching

Problems with human resources are often dealt with reprimands and sanctions. But before you flail out that incident report form try a less aggressive way. Performance coaching and interpersonal relationship counseling can correct behaviors. But the hurdle here is getting the person to admit they have an annoying habit. Whether it’s simply being dense or just denial, it’s one hurdle you have to jump over.

Remember, most of these people don't even know that they have an irritating behavior. Worse, they might even think it's you who have issues to resolve.

Check the work load

Productivity must be maintained thus checking the employees’ workload is necessary. Many individuals resort to deviant behaviors because of the amount of their work load. This can work both ways! Some find their jobs too boring or too easy. On the other hand, some may find their work to be stressful. Providing the right workload and the appropriate task will help improve the work attitude of people.

The amount and type of activities you give to a dysfunctional employee is directly proportional to the sanity of the rest of the office. So instead of dishing out too much or too few tasks, consider the person first.

Be quick

Whatever you are planning do it quickly. Waiting or hoping that everything will turn out for the better is a passive move that can be disastrous. Although it might not result in a murder, productivity can drop. Also, office relationships can have strains that may be irreparable. In worse cases, you might lose quality employees and end up with the ranting, showboating, know-it-all who is neither productive nor efficient.

Diffuse the situation before it gets out of hand. If you don’t deal with difficult employees immediately, you can breed the wrong corporate culture.

If you don’t deal with their behavior, you will give up a lot of your productive time. The employee will also feel out of control and they will negatively influence the rest of your team. When you start noticing the constant demanding behavior, I would suggest that you handle it immediately.

When faced with a difficult co-worker, remember that you have a choice. Going ballistic worthy of a slasher film award is one route. Or you can take a more productive route. Of course in both cases you try to deal with the problem. But don't hack and slice on my account.

Organizational culture is dynamic. But with this dynamism comes its fragility. Just one dysfunctional person can offset the balance and wreak havoc on your organization. Learning how to deal with difficult employees is not just important but a necessity.

The success of a company lies on many factors. But allow me to be the first to explicitly mention employee sanity as a driving force to business success.

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