I have a relative (looks over shoulder) whose everyday life experience is a drama. Nothing is just ordinary or boring -- EVERYTHING is a production, every problem a crisis. I bet you know someone just like this. Needless to say, this behavior carries over to her work world. I know she is a very hard worker and she is very skilled at what she does -- but I can also imagine what she is like to supervise.
As a supervisor of someone who exhibits these traits, you are put into a situation similar to the townsfolk in the story of the little boy who cried wolf. With everything being a drama or a crisis -- how do you know when there is a real crisis? Furthermore, how can you actually judge how a person is doing in regards to their workload, if every response to a stimulus is drama?
As a manager, I try to make sure my staff is challenged, but I do not want to burn them out. As a manager, I also know that I have staff that will go "above and beyond" and work themselves until they are "crispy" around the edges. I try to gauge how close they are coming to crispy during "plate checks," which are reviews of their workload, as well as the quality of my day-to-day interaction with them. However, if you combine the drama king/queen behavior with the hard worker's intense desire to please, suddenly, I am in a quandary. Because I do not know what to believe - what the employee tells me or the behavior I observe.
Before someone takes this the wrong way, let me point out that we all act out at work sometimes. Perhaps more so during some periods than others; after all, we're human and we all have to release pressure. When I say act out, I don't necessarily mean yelling or screaming, but perhaps being more dramatic than we normally are or complaining more than we usually do. This is perfectly normal. However, if it gets to the point where people around you cannot distinguish between what is extraordinary and what is normal behavior -- that can be a problem.
Getting back to my relative, she has complained to me that she has been passed over for promotion and cannot see why because she performs well and gets good evaluations. In fact, she believes that she does her job better than the people that were promoted over her. I listen politely but usually don't say much other than perhaps they (her supervisors) were looking at other qualities that are harder to quantify.
Inside, I am thinking, well of course! Perhaps it's just my quirk, but I like my managers to try to be as level-headed as possible. I need to know when there is a real crisis that requires my attention and when a situation is just a regular workday problem.
Her dramatic behavior hurts her in a number of ways that she doesn't realize -- such as the possibility of being passed over for promotions. Another is that people have a hard time taking such persons seriously, always believing that they are just crying wolf again. And if that personality type happens to supervise other employees (like my relative), then there are other problems: Employees may be fearful of their reactions or simply discount them as impossible to work with.
All of this is terribly unfortunate, because my relative has some real skill and finding a way to address her behavior constructively might cause her to tone it down a degree or two in the workplace be appreciated for the hard worker she really is.
As managers, we have to deal with a lot of personalities. It goes without saying that some are more challenging than others. This one is tricky because it combines a strong work ethic (positive) with a flair for the dramatic (not so much). For those of us that have to deal with this type of employee, we need to be able to develop a "baseline" of their behavior so that we can determine what is out of the ordinary and what isn't. We also have to make sure that this employee is secure enough in the relationship with you that they will tell you when things are REALLY not alright. All of this depends on good communication between supervisor and employee.
Having said all of that, this is not easy behavior to change. It is more of a personality type - and as managers we are not clinicians, we just need to make sure we can get the best out of each employee as possible. In the case of my relative, that may be the exact place she is in and that's where her supervisor keeps her. I will continue to go along and be sympathetic (trust me, it is not my place to try to open her eyes to the situation) and enjoy her as a human being; unfortunately I have to take each thing she says with a grain of salt and if it is important, verify the information.
As supervisors, this may be the best we can do as well -- and if the employee is performing -- so be it. If you happen to be one of these dramatic types yourself, realize that sometimes the glass ceilings we bump into are self-created. In order to break through them, you are going to have to outperform your own drama. A good example of this is Terrell Owens of the Dallas Cowboys. T.O. has great skill as a wide receiver. However, his penchant for drama has clouded his image so much that it has overshadowed his performance. In my opinion, if he doesn't have some outstanding years with the Dallas Cowboys, he can forget about demanding the kinds of salaries he is accustomed to in the future. However, if he can cut back on the drama and perform to his ability - he may just get to the next level in his career.