The Manipulative Employee


The workplace environment is rife with different (and difficult) personalities. This is to be expected and embraced. After all, doesn’t diversity bring about a more dynamic, productive and innovative workforce? If we all thought the same way and did things the same way, where would creativity and innovation be?

However, on the flip side of this, dealing with difficult personalities in the workplace can be challenging and demoralising. If the behaviour of a difficult person starts to impact an individual or a team negatively on a day to day basis, this behaviour can’t be ignored, and it is always best that it is nipped in the bud.

Recently I was brought into an organisation to investigate why a particular team was not getting along and was full of conflict. The HR manager suspected that a certain employee was responsible but did not have any direct evidence to support this view. Once I had individually interviewed each team member, what emerged was that this employee was indeed the root cause of the underlying conflict. It was evident that he was someone that thrived on drama. When confronted by his manager about his poor performance or by his colleagues for not pulling his weight, his tactic would be to point his finger at others, shifting blame and using half-truths and other manipulations to get away with this behaviour.

Every workplace will have manipulative employees who will use emotion to create conflict to cover up for their poor performance or their lack of substance. They are adept at using emotional tirades, which will often include fake outrage at being accused of poor performance, crocodile tears and blame-shifting.

What is pivotal here for leaders and managers is to recognise this type of behaviour and take action to prevent it from reoccurring. One cannot be intimidated by these individuals. Leaders must not get involved in the drama and must not play favourites. They need to clearly show that they do not tolerate this kind of manipulative behaviour and deal with it as soon as it emerges. Once these employees understand that their manipulative tactics have been recognised,  there is a good chance that the behaviour will stop. If it doesn’t, further action will need to be taken.