By Aline Ayoub
Is a Nonconformist Employee working for you? Difficult employees in the office can cause significant workplace conflict. There is a wide variety of difficult employees. In this article we will discuss three of the most common: the drama queen, the victim and the nonconformist employee.
There are characteristic behaviours to what is also called the “toxic employee”. Toxic employees are individuals who may work for you but can be dangerous to your business because of the problems they create in the workplace.
They are called toxic employees because of the harm they cause, and also because their bad behaviour spreads, like a virus. They are de-energizing and frustrating, and at times critical of their team-mates. Yet their behaviour may not be illegal, nor against any labour law, so they can be difficult to fire.
As the business owner you may find yourself burdened by a toxic employee, watching painfully as they undo all your efforts to build morale, develop a strong company culture, strengthen the sense of team, and inspire the team to take initiative.
Let’s take a closer look at three very common and potentially dangerous styles that describe the toxic employee: the “Drama Queen”, the “Victim”, and the “Nonconformist employee.”
The Drama Queen Employee
Do you have this type of toxic employee in your midst? Sits up in bed every morning, and looks around her (or his) bedroom to address the cameras that are surely broadcasting their every move on a reality TV show. This is to say, the Drama Queen acts like they’re centre stage in a one-woman (or man) show—and every good show needs a little drama.
These types like to deliberately stir things up in order to watch the spectacle unfold. It gives their life meaning in some way and they may have a diagnosable personality disorder that is at play.
The Drama Queen is often at the heart of office conflicts, constantly demanding attention and time, which effectively kills productivity.
More than wasting time and depleting productivity, Drama Queens can have a negative effect on employee engagement. If they’re not center stage, they’re probably off somewhere talking to anyone who will listen, and odds are the conversation is in a negative tone.
According to a Forbes magazine article, “Negative office gossip can create productivity issues, morale issues, employee engagement and turnover issues, even liability issues when pervasive gossip is deemed ‘malicious harassment’.”
It’s difficult to manage Drama Queens, especially because they are highly social, and will not hesitate to use your attempts to manage them against you by further stirring up office drama. “No-gossip” policies are nearly impossible to enforce, and may cause employees to feel their conversations are being monitored. Aline Ayoub recommends establishing a productive way to communicate with difficult employees. The difficult employee should perceive your communications with them as articulate, clear and non-threatening.
The Drama Queen is a highly toxic personality in the small business setting, especially when they are critical of the company leadership. They are undermining all of your hard work as the business owner and swift action must be taken to either fire them or contain them. Do you have a Drama Queen issue that needs attention?
The Victim Employee
The Victim is a common type of toxic employee. Generally they are the slippery ones that avoid accountability at all costs, tending to blame anyone else if anything goes wrong. They are never without an excuse, and will damage the climate in the office because their negativity can be contagious.
They feel that people are against them, expressing it openly with a “poor me” attitude. They do not take responsibility for their actions, and are like a slow poison spreading a toxic influence throughout the company. For a small business, this can take a considerable toll over time, on the other employees as well as the business owner. There are two categories of the Victim.
The first type is the one who will wear everyone down with their victim attitude, and their pattern of not taking responsibility for their actions. This article, from Psychology Today, describes the victim mentality pattern in more detail and provides strategies to deal with the victim mentality.
The other kind of victim is the hypochondriac. They always seem to have some sort of ailment. They take advantage of your generosity by claiming an array of medical conditions as reasons to miss work or miss work deadlines.
You may rightly suspect that some, if not all, are completely unfounded. It can be tricky and a bit difficult to determine the legitimacy of all these poor health claims. Nevertheless they call in sick frequently, or cite “illness” as the cause for their poor work performance.
The new Bill 148 makes it more difficult to request a doctors’ note. Read up on the latest Employment Standards around employee leaves if it’s been a while since you’ve looked at the Ontario guidelines around your own office victim or hypochondriac.
Aline Ayoub advises a close monitoring of the days these toxic employees are calling in sick. To address this issue, you will need to demonstrate the impact the absenteeism is having on the productivity and your business. As the boss, don’t become angry at the victim employee (even though you may feel justified in your anger). In dealing with them maintain objectivity. For example give them the benefit of the doubt when speaking with them so as not to strengthen their perception of being a victim. All your employees are quietly watching how you handle this individual and you want to exemplify a company culture of mutual respect and healthy communications.
The Nonconformist Employee
These employees just want to rebel, regardless of the cause. They won’t follow procedure and are most likely actively disengaged at work.
Don’t get into a power struggle with the Nonconformist employee. Instead, try working with them, not against them. Advice from Aline Ayoub: a rebel is often an independent thinker, someone who in their heart simply wants to make a difference in the world. They take pride in not being someone who is just following along with what others tell them. If you can put these qualities to work for your organization, you may find you have an employee who can help your organization grow!
Beware that rebel employee who may also have a diagnosable personality disorder. Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), as one example, can make your workplace difficult. It’s a pattern of behaviour that presents as someone who is hostile, uncooperative or defiant. And these employees must be handled carefully if legal issues are to be avoided, due to their combative nature.
So you can see that as a business owner, having a nonconformist can create a toxic work environment, where you can lose good, productive, respectful employees because they become frustrated with the nonconformist and unhappy at work as a result.
Whether you feel that your own in-house nonconformist is an asset to your business or not, they can nevertheless have a negative impact on coworkers’ morale and engagement.
So lets do a quick recap. The toxic employee comes in many forms, but three of the most common are:
The Drama Queen Employee
They are malicious gossips who will turn the whole company against you and get everyone stressed over a workplace drama, and drive down productivity
The Victim Employee
Their poor attitude and work ethic will make them unpopular, and drag down office morale.
The Nonconformist Employee
They may be an asset to your company if you can figure out how to manage them! On the other hand they could be an aggressive, uncooperative problem to you.
Overall, knowing how to deal with difficult employees is a hard task for management. There is a growing awareness of personality disorders in the workplace, and handling them can be tricky business.
By identifying problem employees early and addressing the problem behaviour promptly is key. Use these situations to create a win for your company: demonstrate to your employees in how you handle these situations that you care about the well-being of the whole team, and that you value hard working, committed workers above the work they do for you.
Not sure where to start in tackling a difficult employee? Contact Aline Ayoub and get solid advice to resolve the issues as quickly and painlessly as possible.