What is workplace drama, from where does it come, and how does it affect the organization?
We do a lot of training and have noticed our clients’ ears perk up when we mention the word, “drama.” Why? Because most leaders have to deal with drama and its affects and many find drama difficult to manage. Let’s explore the basic nature of workplace drama.
What is workplace drama? Here is our definition: Workplace drama occurs when one or more people express themselves in ways that are emotionally immature or inappropriate for the setting or situation. Examples might include rants, whining, grumbling, crying, nitpicking, excessive fussiness, hurting another person’s feelings, lamenting, creating a fuss, putting on a show of emotion, pushing other people’s “buttons,” verbal sabotage or excessive or misplaced complaining. Drama is a cry for attention and it is a learned coping technique. The problem is that drama is not the ideal way to get noticed – and in the workplace, drama is usually an immature response.
Where does workplace drama come from? Drama can be triggered by an event, be a part of the organization’s culture, or be endemic to an individual’s behavioral tendencies or style. As leaders, we play a huge role in whether drama is reinforced or transferred into productive expression. I worked with one organization where the VP of Operations had weekly emotional meltdowns, where he would say he was quitting his job and storm out the door. This continued because the president, CEO and others reinforced this behavior and because the VP of Operations suffered no consequences for acting like a highly paid child. Luckily, most workplace drama is not quite that dramatic. Even so, many workplaces inadvertently reinforce the use of workplace drama to get attention.
How does workplace drama affect the organization? Your organization is like a stream – a place where productivity should flow with the work, tasks, thoughts, and creations of your people. Workplace drama is like the pebbles, rocks, leaves and fallen tree limbs that get in the way of the flow. Mild drama – the pebbles – affects the underlying culture and is an annoyance. If this is all the drama we have, then we are not doing too bad. Dramatic episodes, like mini meltdowns, friction, grand negative gestures, and manipulation borne from low self-confidence can seriously slow, divert or halt work. Imagine a team that is struggling with significant drama. Their team meetings might not be effective, some people will attempt to avoid other people, and communication will be controlled and guarded. Productivity will suffer, retention will suffer and the bad vibe will eventually spread to other teams. Workplace drama, as we have defined it, is a serious performance issue.
Think about your workplace. How much drama are you and your team faced with? Are you dealing with a small number of drama makers or do you have drama making imbedded into your culture? I worked with a hospital unit that suffered from extremely high drama (in an already stressful and emotionally draining profession!). Over the years, individual contributors and managers learned that by causing a ruckus, they could improve their chances for getting what they wanted.
The last two Lead Well e-newsletters focused on organizational culture and I see workplace drama as one element of culture that is particularly difficult to manage and reduce. As a leader, your first step is to know what workplace drama is, be better able to recognize it, and make choices about how to reduce the negative impact drama has on your team.