Managing Prima Donnas at Work

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Do you have some employees or co-workers who think of themselves as extra special, indispensible and untouchable? Their superior attitude often ticks off the people who work with them. So today we look at the right and wrong way to deal with prima donnas in the workplace.
Dealing With Prima Donnas at Work
Employees and co-workers with superior attitudes see the world revolving around them and expect everyone else to bow down and kiss up (or kiss butt) to get something done. While saying “pretty please with sugar on top” might be nice, it really shouldn’t be necessary to get the person to do their job.
A misguided view: Often the prima donna forgets that his or her job function exists to support another job function. A classic example in a manufacturing plant is that the maintenance department will act as though they are doing production a favor by fixing something that is broken down. In fact the maintenance department’s customer is production. They are supposed to keep the line running and improve flow and cycle time.
In the office, a prima donna might work in accounting, reception, engineering, sales, marketing or quality. The prima donna is often a good performer who has let his or her special talents inflate the ego instead of focusing on serving others.
Managers are reluctant to address this behavior because they are lulled into a sense of complacency and fear a backlash. Plus the manager likes the work done by the person. Overall performance is usually less than it could be because the prima donna doesn’t share information or expertise very well, preferring instead to use it as a competitive advantage.
Reflection Questions
Who are the prima donnas in your work group? How does this behavior impact you as the boss or co-worker?
What NOT to do

  • Knock them down a peg. It really isn’t helpful to criticize or point out the person’s flaws or jump with glee when they make a mistake.
  • Over inflate the ego. While it’s positive to provide praise, avoid use of the words, “You’re the best!”, “We couldn’t do it without you!”, “Too bad everyone else can’t be more like you!”

Action Items

  • List the destructive consequences of having prima donnas in the workgroup.
  • Recognize that low self esteem might be behind this behavior. The person may be compensating for a feeling of inadequacy by acting superior.
  • Point out the specific behaviors (in private) that you want the person to stop doing. In many cases the person is likely unaware of how they are perceived.
  • Encourage the individual to share his or her knowledge and skill with others and then provide positive feedback when they do that.
  • Remind the individual who the customer is, their role in supporting the customer (internal or external) and that the overall success depends not on his or her individual talents but the overall capability of the group.

For some clients we have facilitated “team building” sessions to help groups realize that success depends on working together. If the prima donna is in a management or supervisory role then often one-on-one coaching is part of the solution.