Your Worst Employee Thinks He’s a Superstar

Go ahead and buy the most comprehensive and expensive talent management solution on the market. Spend hours training your supervisors to give honest and timely feedback to poorly performing employees. Document every conversation you have with coworkers who fail to meet goals and objectives on a regular basis.

Your worst employee thinks he is a superstar.

You know it’s true.

Whether it’s Donald Sterling or that guy Donnie from the loading dock, your laziest and most racist employee thinks he lights the world on fire. If you ask him, he is being treated unfairly. It’s other people who suck, and if you just pulled your head out of your butt and opened your eyes, you would see that Donald — or Donnie — is a scapegoat for a larger problem that you’re too stupid and cowardly to address.

Sound familiar?

Because that’s how it sounded to me when I worked in the trenches of HR, whether I documented a performance management issue in a cloud-based talent management solution or a paper-based personnel file.

Many good natured folks in small HR departments dream of the day where they can use integrated human capital software programs to manage all aspects of the employee lifecycle. I am here to tell you that Donald and Donnie exist in all companies, and no HR software will make this situation easier to manage.

So if your worst employee thinks he is a great guy, you have two options:

  1. Englighten him and demand clear, immediate changes
  2. Fire him

Someone has to tell the racist employee that he is not a superstar and that his horrible behaviors are unacceptable. Until there are robots and software products to facilitate those crucial conversations, HR is obligated to be a credible activist for change and intervene at the first sign of trouble. Even if our managers and leaders object to taking a stand, HR must have courageous conversations where we clarify that enough is enough.

And if HR does its job right, Donald (or Donnie) will know that resistance to the rules and norms of our modern society is futile. You either comply or get fired.

Are you brave enough to deliver that kind of message?

FOT Background Check

Laurie Ruettimann
Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader and an influential speaker, writer and marketing advisor. Her work has appeared in many mainstream print publications and major news media outlets. You can find her on twitter at @Lruettimann.


  1. Nicole H says:

    When I get these articles in my inbox, the author isn’t listed. But as I read this one about Donnie I knew it was you Laurie!!

  2. Amanda N says:

    I’ve found this to be true in every place I’ve worked- even my high school jobs had the worst employees thinking they’re hot stuff. The funny thing is, peers always know who the poor performers are, so when a manager fails to be blatantly honest with the crappy employee he/she quickly loses credibility with the rest of the staff.

  3. This is certainly true. What’s missing from the article is what to do when the worst employee is the owner/manager in question. There are certainly employees who just need to get their acts together. There are also employees who are correct when they point out serious organizational challenges and deficiencies. For example, I used to work at a company where the owner and his two sons favored method for communicating with employees was screaming at them at the top of their lungs, cursing them out, stomping their feet, calling them names, generally behaving like an eight-year-old throwing a tantrum, and even in a couple cases physically assaulting them. Often times for doing exactly what they were told to do by that very owner the previous time they ‘spoke.’ I seriously doubt everyone who pointed out that this was a problem was a bad employee mistaking themselves for a rock star. For every article like this, there’s another claiming that desirable and innovative employees rock the boat and will by nature question how things are done. The real challenge is separating the genuinely helpful and correct challenges from the ones that are just complaints from low performers.

    When the problem children are at the top of the org chart, this filters down into the culture of the entire company. And remember, most companies are medium to small sized companies, at least in the US, and are not necessarily run by people who know how to manage human capital. They just had a good idea and often thrived in spite of bad management practices which persist and eventually limit their growth. If the people at the top are the bad apples, your attempts to stop problems are just as likely to generate a rebuke, up to and including your own firing, as positive change. And if the the people at the top are the bad apples, your poor performers may in fact be A players struggling to change poor processes that are continuing because of momentum. It’s important to figure out what the real problem is before you assume Donnie is the issue himself. Bad managers are a reality, sometimes they own whole companies, such as with this Donnie.

  4. Tina Brinker says:


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