Type A workers get more leeway

Managers may cut some slack for office diva who can produce

September 06, 2006|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun reporter

Dali Wiederhoft, a longtime publicist, is a high-maintenance employee.

She's aggressive, demanding and even a little pushy with her clients or colleagues.

But her boss would not have it any other way.

"I've had all kinds of employees over the last 13 years, and I'll take a Type A employee any day," said Edward Estipona, Wiederhoft's boss, who owns an advertising and public relations firm in Reno, Nev. "I don't have to babysit them, and their quality of work is high. The amount of headaches, if you want to call it that, are minimal compared to what you could get."

Office divas or high-maintenance employees can be found in almost every workplace. When they're top performers, managers and colleagues tolerate such behavior and perhaps even encourage it. But producing is key, since these workers could take up the attention of managers and sometimes alienate co-workers or even clients with their behavior. Case in point: Actor Tom Cruise, whose odd behavior prompted Paramount to cut ties with the movie star.

That's why employees need to have the skills, talent and work to back up their high-maintenance ways, experts say. Those who complain, whine and take up valuable time from a manager without producing superior results can find themselves typecast as a problem worker.

"They are like fine thoroughbred racehorses: high- strung, temperamental, high-energy, skittish sometimes, requiring very special care and feeding, and they will win races for you, make you lots of money and bring you fame and trophies," said BJ Gallagher, a Los Angeles-based workplace consultant. "The question to ask yourself is, `Is the cost of this high-maintenance thoroughbred worth what he wins for me?'"

Gallagher knows firsthand. As a former training manager at a large publishing company, she managed a freelance artist who was temperamental and needy.

"I would metaphorically put on a pair of kid gloves and gear myself up to meet with him to work on a catalog or brochure," she said. "I would flatter him and feed his ego and make him feel wonderful and special, and appreciated and cherished.

"I was willing to put up with his diva behavior because of his talent," Gallagher added.

It's a balancing act for bosses to keep high-maintenance workers in line while encouraging their successes. Such demanding workers are goal-driven, competitive and focused on their own success, experts say.

Such workers also can be risk takers, charismatic and enterprising.

Managers should make sure that high-maintenance workers are worth the trouble they can cause in terms of time and morale in the office. Other employees could follow suit if such behavior is tolerated, experts say.

Bosses and co-workers could find that their office superstars are becoming too disruptive to the team as well as alienating clients.

"Whether or not the person is producing a lot, if they're doing it in a way that's not inclusive or behaving in a way that's not fitting to the company, it has a role in the branding of the company," said Donna Flagg, a principal at Krysalis Group, a management and leadership training firm in New York.

Take former Philadelphia Eagles player Terrell Owens, whose antics and divisive comments after not receiving an upgraded contract angered the football organization and his teammates. The Eagles suspended Owens for four games last season and then deactivated him for the rest of the season. The team eventually released the star receiver, who is now playing for the Dallas Cowboys. (The Cowboys recently fined Owens for missing a team meeting and a rehabilitation session.)

In Cruise's case, Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone decided to end Paramount's relationship with the star and his film production company because his off-screen behavior - including the public airing of his relationship with actress Katie Holmes and his promotion of Scientology - was costing the studio money, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Redstone told the newspaper that Cruise's antics cost the star's latest film, Mission: Impossible III, between $100 million and $150 million in ticket sales.

Cruise agreed to a limited financing deal last month with a group of investors, including the owner of the Washington Redskins, to continue his production company.

Workplace experts say managers should not be wary of reevaluating whether high-maintenance workers are worth their time, effort and patience.

Besides a high-maintenance worker's solid performance numbers, such as sales revenue or meeting goals, managers should consider other costs, such as expenses related to hiring a coach to work with that employee, for example.

Then there are intangible effects, such as morale, teamwork and office culture.

"If the misbehavior comes from a very senior person, is he or she affecting a lot of people?" said David Jackson, a workplace expert at Mercer Human Resource Consulting's Baltimore office.

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