Good worker, bad attitude: How one employee can hurt morale

Prima donna dashes off scathing e-mail that blasts co-worker

We chuckle when we read about celebrity prima donnas, but it’s not so funny when the prima donnas work for us.

You know the type: Lots of talent, quality work, but arrogant and totally self-absorbed.

They’re the greatest. Everyone else stinks.

That’s the situation manager Tammi Walker found herself in when her resident prima donna got miffed at a co-worker and sent a scathing e-mail to voice her opinion.

Words from the high and mighty

“Tammi, I’m tired of dealing with your prima donna star,” employee Rick Roth said.

“What are you talking about, Rick?” Tammi said. “Better yet, who are you talking about?”

“The high and mighty Jessica Conklin,” Rick said as he handed Tammi a copy of an e-mail Jessica had sent him.

‘Tired of dealing with incompetents’

Tammi shook her head as she read Jessica’s rant.

“Are you an idiot? I told you not to use that approach, but you did it anyway. I’m tired of dealing with incompetents. I’m not going to have everyone thinking I’m a rank amateur because you won’t listen.  I don’t care what Tammi says, I’m never going to work with you again.”

‘I don’t deserve to be slammed’

“Rick, obviously I don’t approve of Jessica’s reaction, but give me the unvarnished facts,” Tammi said.

“I made an honest mistake. Like you told me to do, I asked for her input on my project,” Rick said. “It was a small contribution. But I was juggling 15 different things and accidentally left out her idea.”

“I was wrong, but I don’t deserve to be slammed like this.” Tammi said.

“Man, dealing with her is like dealing with a live volcano. You never know when she’s going to explode.  And as far as working with her again,” Rick said, “I don’t think she realizes that no one on the staff wants to work with her – much less me.  She may be good at her job, but no one wants to work with people who only care about themselves.”

The Big Question

Jessica was good at her job, but every month or so she would explode, and Tammi would have to spend time smoothing out the ruffled feathers.

Tammi had talked to Jessica about this before. She wondered what she could say or do differently this time.

If you were in Tammi’s position, what  would you do? One of the ideas below offered by our readers might provide you with some guidance.

1) Issue a formal warning in writing

If this happened before with Jessica, then I’m taking it to the next level. I’ll explain to her that we really appreciate her work, but that we also appreciate the work of Rick and others on the staff. To us, teamwork is more important that any one person. I’d let her know that the e-mail she had sent was totally inappropriate. If she has a problem with a co-worker for making a mistake, she should come to me, and I’ll deal with it. That’s my job, not hers. But she needs to realize that we all make mistakes sometimes – even her. I’d then give her a formal warning in writing about her e-mail and her outbursts. If this kind of thing continued, then we would part ways.

– Karen Jacobsen, Director of Development, Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh

2) Get her to look at the situation through Rick’s eyes

It’s important to get Jessica to see the world through different eyes. I’d talk about that. I’d ask her how she’d feel if she received an e-mail like the one she sent Rick. How would she react? She needs to realize that other people have problems to deal with. She’s not the only person involved. I’d advise her that when she loses her cool in the future to come and see me. And if she finds herself dashing off an e-mail like that .. pause, count to 10. then read it again. Most of the time people won’t send it at all.

– Claudia Sawyer, Chief Administrator, Trailboss Enterprises, Anchorage, AK


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  1. says

    Great advice from Claudia and Karen! I’ve been in Tammi’s shoes and took action that looks a lot like a combination of the two recommendations. Ultimately, she was so angry that I didn’t see her as right she choose to move to a new team (which I fully supported) and actually played more to her strengths as well.

    Again, great post that has me thinking!

  2. Rich Henson says

    That’s the perfect picture for this item, for this is truly a duck-and-cover situation. Some people come loaded for bear and start firing when they’re still in the hunting lodge! Good piece, great advice.

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