How to Deal With the Karen Walker Employee

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Remember the fabulous show Will & Grace? For those who were not privy to it, the show ran from the late 1990’s through 2005. Based in New York, it followed the lives of best friends. Grace Adler, a woman who ran her own interior design firm had an assistant, Karen Walker, a very rich, oft-drunk socialite. Karen made no bones about the job being a hobby for her, which resulted in some very funny moments. My personal favorite Karen-ism?

Grace Adler: Karen, I don’t want a check. I want assistance. I’m the boss. I give you checks.

Karen Walker: Yes, you do, honey, and I love them. I do. You know, I keep them all right here in this box.

While TV can show the hilarity of treating a job like a hobby, in real life it’s anything but. I’ve worked with two clients this year alone who were struggling with how to work with an employee who treated their job with a nonchalant, devil-may-care, laisez-faire attitude.

While I understand that everyone has a different tolerance for stress and some can make everything seem like a breeze, the Karen Walker employee is toxic because they do the bare minimum and seemingly flaunt it in the face of their boss and colleagues. They skim that line of acceptable performance, but seem to pull far enough away from underperforming at the last minute that it keeps them employed for far too long.

The cost you expect? Other employees. The Wills and Graces of the organization, the ones with actual passion for their job and a strong sense of work ethic. While underperformers can harm morale, the Karens pour gasoline on the culture you have tried so hard to build, and then slowly burn it.

The cost that may surprise you? It takes a huge toll on your brand and worth as a leader. People will wonder if you are either aware of their bad behavior and lack the guts to do anything about it, or if you are too clueless to notice.

Nip it in the bud. In the case of my two clients, they hired me to do coaching with each of their Karen Walker employees. The first? In Karen’s words, “Oh honey no, just no.” No amount of coaching, attempts at getting the employee to modify their behavior, recognize the impact on their colleagues, or gaining better understanding the company culture worked. Thankfully, the other person responded well to the coaching and was able to make modifications to their behavior and attitude and is now thriving.   If only Grace Adler had hired Pillar Search & HR Consulting!

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