Famous employees: How to tackle celebrity workers

Andy Warhol’s ’15 minutes of fame’ theory now seems increasingly likely for many of us. TV schedules are bursting with programmes devoted to turning anyone into a star, and the opening up of the music download market means that one-hit wonders from the 1980s could be top of the charts all over again.

But what happens if you employ someone who’s thrust into the limelight?

Autoglass engineer Gavin Jenks, for example, has done a series of radio commercials across the UK, and has gained quite a following in the Midlands (he’s based in Birmingham).

“I have to take one day off a month to record. But I get the mickey taken out of me so much by my colleagues, I keep it quiet,” he says. “Some people realise and say ‘are you the guy off the radio?’. I like the attention, but I can’t see myself going on Celebrity Big Brother.”

Linda Chick, an HR consultant at recruitment agency PES, also has first-hand experience of working with the newly famous.

In a previous incarnation, she worked alongside a fledgling England rugby player, but as his sporting career took off, his focus on his day job waned.

“Our chief executive was very happy to sponsor him, but although it’s all very sexy at first to be working alongside a sporting hero, people soon start resenting things,” she explains.

“Ultimately, if you are in a commercially demanding industry, you can’t accommodate passengers, and despite his profile, it was difficult to get any added value back for the business.”

The star felt uncomfortable about being absent so much and made a choice to follow his rugby career.

Role play

Faced with a staff member with a budding career in the limelight, the key thing for HR is to identify their commitment to their current role.

Ceri Roderick, who heads up assessment at consultancy firm Pearn Kandola, says: “You need to establish your employee’s commitment and if they are working for you to hedge their bets.

“You need a conversation about how it will affect their work, and then you need to have a conversation with team members. The politics of envy are the issue and a lot of that is down to the personality of the team and the person who is leaving.”

So if the person you hired to audit your accounts has a hankering to appear on MTV, how can you safeguard your company’s interests?


Jessica Corsi, a partner at employment law specialist Doyle Clayton, advises that it all comes down to both the actual contract of work you have with that staff member, and the psychological contract between the individual and their manager.

“If the person is exclusively your employee, then they owe you a duty of loyalty,” she says. “Let them know that you are aware of their commitments outside work. Providing your contract reinforces that during working hours they will carry out their duties, and will not undertake any other activities without prior permission, then as an employer, you are in a very good position.”

While they are still working to their employment contract, it’s up to you as an employer to control what they do during working hours. The big decision on whether to bet their future on 15 minutes of fame will be all down to them.

Top tips

  • Suggest a career break or unpaid leave

  • Ask the employee to mention your brand during media interviews

  • Have a back-up plan in place

  • Make sure your contract with them clearly defines your expectations

  • Give guidance on how you expect them to handle the situation

  • Look for a way in which other staff can benefit, such as free tickets or a free concert

  • Assess the team context the person works in – will their status as being ‘special’ hinder productivity?

  • Prepare both the individual and the team for the change in the status of the celebrity

By Lucy Freeman

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