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Don't let an office diva use the workplace as her stage

By Lily Garcia
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, December 3, 2009 12:00 AM

I'm in a quandary. One of my direct reports has turned in her notice, and with my consent is using vacation time so that her last day will be Friday. Although a high performer, she's always been something of a diva, showing contempt for anyone who doesn't meet with her approval. I am glad she's leaving so that I can hire someone with a better attitude, but in the short term her skills will be missed.

Here's the problem: she's being extremely rude and uncooperative to me and the rest of the team, although nice to others. She has work that needs to be finished, or I'd tell her to make her resignation effective immediately. On one hand, I don't want to excite office drama by calling her on her behavior -- it's only three more days. On the other hand, I feel like my team and coworkers are seeing her act this way and will think I'm a pushover.

Do you have any suggestions on what I should do?

You are experiencing what a law school professor of mine termed, the "final period problem." As the theory goes, toward the end of the employment relationship, both the employer and the employee have strong incentives to abandon their mutual obligations. No longer invested in stimulating the employee's continued contributions, the employer has little reason to maintain lavish compensation, benefits, training, and other support. Lacking much motivation to keep up his or her end of the bargain, either, the employee can also be expected to act opportunistically. This can mean, among other things, producing less and flouting the norms of professional workplace conduct.

In reality, neither side usually behaves so badly because their antisocial impulses are tempered by other external factors. Employers recognize that how they treat departing employees will impact the loyalty and moral of those who remain and the reputation of the institution in the community. By the same token, departing employees tend to appreciate the value of leaving on a dignified note to ensure a good employment reference and preserve a professional network.

In your case, you are dealing with that rare person who seems to have either no appreciation, or at least no concern, for the consequences of her behavior. Your must weigh the value of having her on staff for additional days to complete projects against the liability of allowing her to continue her rude and uncooperative behavior unchecked. Based on experience, I can tell you that the value of her work for the next fex days is likely on a speedy downward trajectory. Even if she does manage to finish her remaining assignments, which I highly doubt, you cannot trust her to maintain the same standard of performance that you have come to expect. You or someone else will need to double-check and correct her work. If it is bad enough, you may even have to redo it.

Now consider the negative impact that your departing employee is obviously having on the office, including you. To me, at least, the choice is clear.

You are far better off showing the diva the door and asking a more dependable team member or two to help finish her assignments. Pay her for the remaining days that she would have worked if you must, but do not miss this opportunity to demonstrate to your team that you will not tolerate such behavior. I don't think you should be so concerned about exciting office drama. Your departing employee has already taken care of that for you. Your mission now should be to squelch the office drama as neatly as possible so that everyone can get on with their jobs.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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