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types of employees

There are many and varied types of employees. They all require slightly different approaches when you’re leading them. People are complex, and therefore a one-size fits all approach will never work. You may need to adapt your leadership style to cater for the different types of employees.

In this post I’ll discuss how to approach leading 21 different types of employees. Consider this a handy reference guide!

What? Are there really twenty one types? In my experience, sure. Could there be more? Probably.

Not all employees stay the same throughout their career. Some of the main types of employees may even overlap in characteristics. Some of the types of employees are also phases which employees move through as their circumstances evolve.

Ok, no more delays. Let’s dive right into the 21 types of employees, and how to lead them.

Note: This is a bit of a “tongue in cheek” article. While I have definitely seen these types of employees in my career, I’m having a bit of fun with this post, and am not trying to be disrespectful. The advice below is real, so I hope you have a bit of fun reading this and can put some of the tips in action!

1. The Entitled

Entitled employees have an “all about me” mindset. They feel that they deserve things. More money, more respect. Unfortunately, often they don’t expect to give anything more to get these things in return. Some people ascribe these characteristics to selfish millennials, but I haven’t noticed these characteristics only in this group.

Often, I see The Entitled in teams that have had weak leadership where team members are generally able to do as they please and be rewarded for average performance.

How to lead The Entitled:

  • Clearly explain what you expect from them in their role. Set clear expectations about what they will need to do to get what they want.
  • Set boundaries of expected behaviour so they don’t run off doing whatever they like.
  • Be consistent with consequences and rewards. You are going to need to retrain these employees so they understand that it’s not all about them.

2. The Unretired

People who have been in the workforce for a long time can become jaded. However, they often need to keep working because they can’t afford to retire. My brother in law coined the phrase for these people as “The Unretired”. Typically, The Unretired are older employees and you’ll need to know how to lead them. Of course, not all older workers are like The Unretired.

Typically, The Unretired will do the minimum necessary to avoid scrutiny. After all, they don’t really want to be at work at all. However, you can’t ignore The Unretired. They often have significant experience, strong relationships and have things to teach you, if you’re prepared to listen.

How to lead The Unretired:

  • Listen to The Unretired and take heed of their experience. Learn something, particularly if they are much more experienced than you. This will help you gain their respect.
  • Don’t pretend that The Unretired are going to be your most productive workers. Let them focus on their key tasks and make sure they complete them. But try not to burden them with team building or expecting them to go “over and above”. They have different priorities to you.

3. The Passive-Aggressive

One of the most frustrating types of employees can be The Passive-Aggressive. Dealing with passive-aggressive employees is not easy.

They may take a long time to respond to communication or may simply never respond. Or they may fail to mention important pieces of information, to trip you up. Basically, they want you to leave them alone, so they passively resist your attempts to engage with them.

The trouble is, you can’t just leave them alone if you need something from them, or need their participation. You need to be persistent and calm. They may not respect you, so it may be a case of earning their respect before they’ll be happy to work with you.

How to lead The Passive-Aggressive:

  • Keep calm and don’t lose your cool. The Passive-aggressive can be frustrating, but if you blow up, you might seem a little crazy. “I can’t believe Susan didn’t answer my email! How dare she?!” The genius of The Passive-Aggressive is that they have plausible deniability. If they don’t respond to you, they might say that they “were busy”. It’s hard to tell if they really are, or if they’re lying to you. That’s why you need to keep your cool, because it can be frustrating.
  • Build rapport by being persistent. They want you to go away. Don’t. Keep engaging them when you need to. You need to train them to understand that they will need to work with you and that you will still be here. Stay positive and upbeat while doing so.

4. The High Achiever

The High Achiever is great! Well, yes, she does good work and she cares about what she does. However, leading The High Achiever is no walk in the park. The High Achiever wants to be challenged with new and exciting tasks.

They may even want your job. You can bet they want to progress their careers, and that might mean they will leave your team eventually. But, while they are with you, you can expect them to do great work and to go over and above.

How to lead The High Achiever:

  • Provide them with opportunities to lead initiatives or projects. They want to build their CV, so give them the opportunity. You might not be able to give them more money, or a promotion, but you can provide them with accountability which makes good material for their CV. The High Achiever will become quickly disgruntled with meaningless, repetitive work.
  • Give them autonomy as much as you can. The High Achiever will quickly get sick of micromanagement, because they know they are capable.
  • Don’t hold them back. If they want to leave to progress their career, let them. But while they’re with you, see if you can help them develop the skills that will stand them in good stead in the years to come.

5. The Introvert

The Introvert is a special beast, sitting silently in the corner. They can be great assets, but are sometimes overlooked because they aren’t loud and opinionated. This can make them seem like they don’t care. It may even make them look like they have limited potential and are better put in the corner and forgotten.

However, I’ve met introverts that are amazing leaders, given the right opportunity. In fact, I’m an introvert myself, but have learned extroverted behaviours. Be careful not to overlook the introverted potential within your team.

How to lead The Introvert:

  • Specifically ask The Introvert for their opinion. They may not give it freely like others, but that doesn’t make it less valuable. You don’t have to make them speak in a crowd, you can ask them in private if that works better.
  • Engage in private conversation with The Introvert to assess their goals and aspirations. They may not reveal this easily, whereas some others will tell you all of their hopes and dreams immediately.
  • If your introvert wants to develop their career, give them opportunities to lead. Give them more accountability. But whatever you do, communicate clearly to others that this is what you are doing. Don’t make the introvert try to lead others who are unwilling. Pave the way for them to take accountability, and they may just surprise you.

6. The Under-confident

Similar to the introvert, The Under-confident might not scream for your attention. Perhaps they had a bad leader at one time, who destroyed their self-confidence. Or perhaps they just don’t yet feel they have the skills to perform their role effectively. Maybe they had overly critical parents, who knows?

Whatever the reason, The Under-confident needs your attention. You want to get to the point where you can trust them to work autonomously. However, until they gain confidence, you may need to offer continuous and time-consuming support. You need to show them that you trust them, and you may just see an amazing transformation.

How to lead The Under-confident:

  • Work with The Under-confident to discover their strengths and weaknesses. Put them to work in areas where they can showcase their strengths, and limit their shortcomings.
  • Make yourself available to provide support when they need it. Show trust, by letting them work autonomously. Provide close supervision at first, then slowly relax until they start to fly on their own.
  • Don’t be overly critical of The Under-confident. Even if they make a mistake, remember that you have before, too. Again, you need to train them to be confident. Eventually, they just will be.

7. The Doer (whatever they want)

The Doer can be one of the frustrating types of employees. Usually, The Doer can be found in environments where there is, or has been, insufficient structure and process. They may also be found in environments where weak leadership is present.

Basically, the Doer just seems to do whatever they like. They jump into tasks with vigour, but only when it interests them. They don’t necessarily work on the top priorities. Instead, they like to work on the things they enjoy. The Doer resists structure and process, because this would stop them from being able to do the fun stuff.

How to lead The Doer:

  • Set clear expectations for priorities and workload. Then reinforce this with consequences if they choose to ignore your priorities. Once again, this is a training exercise. Reward the right behaviour, not the wrong behaviour.
  • Explain to them why you need structure and process, and for them to perform their dedicated role.
  • Try to provide The Doer with some variety in their work, so they don’t feel stuck on routine tasks which will only encourage them to start “Doing” again.

8. The Uncaring

Believe it or not, The Uncaring don’t care about work. They want to turn up, do their jobs and go home. They don’t tend to put in tremendous effort, but they generally get their work done.

Sometimes this might be a sign of low motivation, morale problems or simply that work isn’t something that is their top priority. You need to diagnose what the issue is (if there is one) in order to provide good leadership to The Uncaring.

How to lead The Uncaring:

  • Speak privately with The Uncaring to see whether they have a motivation issue, morale problem or whether they just aren’t a “work person”. If it’s a morale problem, have regular coaching and performance conversations to see how they could be better engaged with work.
  • Similar to The Unretired, don’t burden them with team building and too many development opportunities if they aren’t keen. If they want to do their work and just go home, they still play a valuable role in the team.
  • Be careful not to completely ignore The Uncaring. This may just reinforce the problem which is causing them not to care. Monitor their attitude and behaviour to see whether there really is a problem.

9. The Overwhelmed

The Overwhelmed need your help. You give them work and they never say No. They have trouble pushing back and managing up. Even when you think they have too much work, they might not tell you.

Before long, they are flustered, stressed and irritable. The Overwhelmed are in danger of burning out if left unchecked for too long.

The Overwhelmed often want to do a good job. They think that if they refuse work, you’ll think they are incapable or lazy. As a result, they’ll just keep taking on work until they collapse.

How to lead The Overwhelmed:

  • Pay attention to behaviour of The Overwhelmed. Are they working long hours all the time? Are they irritable? Perhaps their have emotional outbursts frequently? These are all warning signs.
  • Explain to The Overwhelmed that it doesn’t do the team any good if they burn out. Explain clearly that you expect them to say No if they aren’t able to take on extra work.
  • Set an example by managing up effectively yourself. You can’t expect your team to push back on you, if you can’t push back on your own boss or other stakeholders who come with unreasonable demands.

10. The Frustrated

Frustrated employees can be a warning sign that things are not all well in your team. Emotional outbursts or withdrawal from the team are some of the warning signs.

You need to watch for frustrated employees and try to address any issues before a small frustration problem becomes a large morale issue. Frustration can turn your high performers into mediocre performers if left unchecked. Before long, they may choose to leave your team if they feel like they aren’t making progress.

How to lead The Frustrated:

  • Well, you don’t really want to lead The Frustrated. You want to turn them into satisfied and motivated team members. Monitor for warning signs such as emotional outbursts or emotional withdrawal from their work or the team.
  • Openly discuss their frustration to find out the root cause and work to solve it. It may be that they just aren’t right for your work environment. Or it could be that there are problems that can be fixed. Frustration is often a sign that your team member cares, which is a good thing. Don’t wait for the problem to fix itself. It won’t.
  • For more, read this post about dealing with frustrated employees.

11. The Adversarial

There are some types of employees that don’t play well with others. The Adversarial is one of them. They tend to have an attitude that “everyone else is stupid, except for my close colleagues“.

Obviously, when somebody has an attitude like this, it’s a warning sign. It is unlikely that everyone else is incompetent. It is far more likely that there are misunderstandings and misaligned priorities which are causing people to seem “stupid”. This attitude can cause significant negativity within a team.

The Adversarial can cause friction between teams and colleagues. Failure to address this friction can cause long-term communication issues and introduction of information silos.

How to lead The Adversarial:

  • Dig into the problems that are causing the adversarial attitude. Find the root causes, before relationships are damaged. You might need to mediate some discussions to get the real story. The perception of your team is at stake, so don’t let The Adversarial irritate people in your organisation.
  • Openly communicate your expectations of how The Adversarial should communicate and engage with other teams. Ensure there are consequences if they fail to adhere to them. It may be that The Adversarial is somebody who shouldn’t be communicating with others outside of your team, if they can’t change their attitude.

12. The Square Peg

The Square Peg is somebody who is in the wrong role. They might try hard and make a valiant effort, but they simply don’t have the skills, experience or personality to fulfil their role. It’s easy to notice, because performance issues start to occur.

You may also notice that others in the team become frustrated because they can’t rely on The Square Peg. If this frustration builds, you’ve now got disgruntled team members and they’ll want this situation resolved, fast.

How to lead The Square Peg:

  • The Square Peg situation needs to be dealt with promptly, before too many people become frustrated with their poor performance. The Square Peg might be trying hard, but you can’t let the situation persist.
  • You have several options. You can try to train or mentor The Square Peg to build their skills. Or you can move them to a role that suits their experience. You may even have to let them go to make way for a more suitable candidate.
  • For more, read this post about people in the wrong role.

13. The Incapable

The Incapable just isn’t very good at his job. They appear to have the necessary skills, qualifications and experience, but simply perform poorly. The trick is to understand why this is the case.

It may be from lack of motivation or they may be a bad fit for the work environment. This is a problem that needs to be solved, because frustration will build in other team members. Particularly if they feel as if they have to work harder to make up for their lack of performance.

How to lead The Incapable:

  • Leading The Incapable is not a long-term proposition. Similar to The Square Peg, you need to deal with this situation promptly. Failure to address the issue will make you seem like a weak or ineffective leader. The first step is to have a discussion about the performance issues and seek to find the root cause.
  • Sometimes, The Incapable might be a result of unclear roles and responsibilities in your team. Make sure they understand their role, and what you are expecting from them.
  • If the issues with The Incapable are fixable, then put a performance plan in place. It might be necessary to communicate your plan widely so people know you are addressing the problem. If the plan works, happy days. If not, it might be time to move The Incapable on, to stop them damaging the morale of your team too much.

14. The Unmotivated

One of the more common types of employees is The Unmotivated. The Unmotivated is a phase, more than anything. I’m sure there are times when all of us have been The Unmotivated. When you’re not motivated, coming to work every day is tough. The Unmotivated can strike all types of employees.

Motivation issues can be broad and wide-ranging. However, you don’t want The Unmotivated staying that way for long, because their performance will suffer. This will have knock-on effects for the rest of your team members.

You might notice a drop in quality of The Unmotivated’s work. Or perhaps an uncaring attitude. Perhaps they arrive at work later than usual and seem listless and bored.

How to lead The Unmotivated:

  • You don’t want The Unmotivated to stay that way very long. As with many leadership issues, the first step is a conversation to discuss the situation. Can you identify steps you can take to improve the motivation of your team member? Are they looking for more flexibility, autonomy, task variety or more responsibility?
  • Motivating team members is often not about more money or promotions, because these often only work for the short term. Many motivating issues stem from team members feeling like they aren’t getting anywhere or developing. Paying attention and discussing the goals and aspirations of The Unmotivated is a good way to proceed.
  • For more, read this post about motivating your team.

Tip: Dealing with unmotivated team members? Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Motivating Your Team Audiobook, for tools and techniques to get the best out of your team members. Don’t settle for a lazy, disinterested team… get the audiobook today.

15. The Slighted

The Slighted are disgruntled team members who feel as if they haven’t got what they deserved. It might be a promotion, more money or more responsibility. Often, this has been given to another team member and The Slighted isn’t happy about it.

The Slighted will show signs of The Unmotivated, but the cause is specific to being overlooked for something. They could even be one of The Entitled, or they may actually be right in feeling aggrieved.

How to lead The Slighted:

  • The Slighted need to understand the situation clearly. Sometimes, promotions or other rewards are misinterpreted by others in an organisation because they don’t have all the information. If you feel you have The Slighted in your team, you need to clearly explain the reasons behind the decision to reward another team member, instead of them.
  • When dealing with The Slighted, it’s important not to change your stance. Just because The Slighted questions your choices, it doesn’t mean your choices are wrong. Stand firm and don’t pander to The Slighted if you don’t feel they have a valid case. Backflipping on your original decision will make others question your leadership.

16. The Non-Committal

Another of the frustrating types of employees can be The Non-Committal. They talk a big game, wanting to contribute more, take on responsibility and be a High Achiever. However, when you try to get them to commit to deadlines or more responsibility, they make excuses and shy away from them.

Generally I find that The Non-Committal struggle to commit because they fear the consequences of failing to achieve what they promise. Either they feel they will be chastised unduly or they may be scared they aren’t up to the challenge. They want to step up. They just need a little help.

How to lead The Non-Committal:

  • You need to make the The Non-Committal feel safe. Acknowledging that they are “stepping up” and offering your support during the transition will help to do this. Letting them know that you believe in them is also important. After all, if you didn’t think they could do it, you would never have agreed in the first place.
  • It’s also important to help The Non-Committal understand the “What’s in it for me?” This may help them see that it is in their best interests for their development and career progression to commit and try to stretch themselves.

17. The Ruthless Career Climber

One of the tricky types of employees, The Ruthless Career Climber is going places, make no mistake. The only problem is, they don’t go about it in a respectful manner. They will stomp on throats to get what they want. For some, there is no problem with this. “It’s just business”, they’ll say.

For us Thoughtful Leaders, this isn’t going to fly. Sure, work hard and aim high, but go about things the right way. We don’t want The Ruthless Career Climber treating others like dirt, because it may damage your team and cause reputation damage in the long run.

How to Lead The Ruthless Career Climber:

  • You need to set clear boundaries for behaviour in your team. Acknowledge their ambition and drive, but also state that you expect them to exercise these in a respectful manner.
  • Ensure there are clear consequences for failing to adhere to your boundaries and respect others in your team. If they aren’t able to do that, then perhaps a better, more ruthless organisational environment is more suitable for them.

18. The Blamer

The Blamer is someone who likes to point fingers when things go wrong. This can create an unpleasant team environment. People may be afraid to try new things, for fear they might fail.

Often The Blamer acts this way because they like to deflect attention from themselves. Perhaps they are unconfident or fearful themselves and deflection is a good way to avoid scrutiny.

How to lead The Blamer:

  • The Blamer really only survives in an environment with poorly defined roles and responsibilities. When there is ambiguity about the responsibility within a team, finger pointing is possible. Make sure that everybody knows what they are accountable for and you’ll limit the ability for The Blamer to point the finger.
  • For more, read this post on addressing unclear roles and responsibilities.

19. The Closed Communicator

A close cousin of The Passive Aggressive, The Closed Communicator can be one of the more difficult types of employees to deal with. They don’t respond to communication, give one word answers and simply don’t want to engage with you much. They sit in meetings and don’t contribute, even when prompted. Generally, The Closed Communicator is not forthcoming with information, which can make them a frustrating beast.

It could be that they lack respect for you, or perhaps they are disgruntled. Whatever the reason, The Closed Communicator shows you that something is wrong. Closed Communicators have an issue with you or their environment. You just need to find out what it is.

How to lead The Closed Communicator:

  • You should intentionally flag The Closed Communicator’s behaviour with them, so that they know you’ve noticed their lack of engagement. Sometimes, this will shock them into being more forthcoming when they are called out for such behaviour. If not, it will at least open the door for an open discussion about the problem. Asking them probing questions or even guessing the reason for their attitude can be enough to make them open up, even if your guess is wrong.

20. The Always Busy

I’m sure you’ve seen them. The Always Busy will tell you just how busy they are, all the time. What they often fail to realise is that being busy all the time isn’t necessarily a good thing.

When you’re always busy, you are often reactive, and you don’t tend to be strategic about your work. You will find yourself dealing with crisis after crisis, and your time is managed poorly.

The Always Busy have what I call the “Busyness mindset”. They believe that being busy makes you more valuable.

How to lead The Always Busy:

  • You need to communicate clearly and consistently that being busy doesn’t mean being productive. What you want from your team is productivity and efficient work, not long hours and frantic activity. Often, constant busyness is unsustainable and may lead to burnout.
  • Encourage The Always Busy to be more strategic about their work and let go of the busyness mindset. Encourage them to look for better ways to work and manage their time better. If they go home on time and still get their work done, it’s time to congratulate them.

21. The Reliable Performer

Last but not least, one of my favourite types of employees is The Reliable Performer. The Reliable Performer gets things done. They do their work without much fanfare and minimal need for reward. They aren’t High Achievers, but they work consistently and you can rely on them to do what they say they will.

The danger with The Reliable Performer is that you may start to take them for granted. They don’t demand much, so it’s easy to overlook them while you manage the more difficult types of employees.

How to lead The Reliable Performer:

  • The Reliable Performer is a quiet achiever. Make sure you pay attention to them, show gratitude  for their work and discuss their goals and motivations. It may be that they are content with the way things are. However, you don’t want to run the risk of having them becoming silently disengaged.
  • Be sure not to lavish all your attention on High Achievers or the more difficult types of employees. The Reliable Performer gets things done, and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

There you have it. There are many nuances amongst the different types of employees. You need to be able to treat them in different ways, because no two are the same.

Use these types of employees as a helpful reference guide. Your situation will vary, but I hope you find the information a useful starting point to help you manage the different types of employees that you’ll find in your team.

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