How to Manage Difficult Employees: Six Iconic Types

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How to Manage Difficult Employees: Six Iconic Types

There sure are a lot of different personalities in the workplace. As a manager, you have to work with diverse personae on an even closer level. And let’s face it, some of those characters are difficult to deal with. The good news is, managing difficult employees doesn’t have to necessarily be difficult.

In a series of blogs, I took the liberty of introducing six difficult employees. I also provided an effective system for managing them called the 5Cs Framework. It consists of five steps to guide managers from beginning to end as they work with difficult employees.

The five basic steps are:

  1. Commit or Quit
  2. Communicate
  3. Clarify Goals and Roles
  4. Coach
  5. Create Accountability

Here’s a roundup of six iconic difficult employees. Take a look, maybe you’ve met some of these people?

Please keep in mind that both genders fit the bill for any type of difficult employee. Our choice in gender in the examples below is not intended to reflect otherwise. 

1. The Rude-nik


While The Rude-nik thinks he’s just being assertive, you couldn’t prove it from the people he works with. Name calling, hissy fits, raised voices, and sudden mood swings are just some of the gifts he shares with others in the workplace — all in the name of “doing his job.”  You can handle this employee — here’s how.

2. The Grumbler


It’s hard to cope with The Grumbler in an office environment — or anywhere, really. Grumblers complain, complain, and complain until the entire team’s enthusiasm is as good as gone. It’s not just enthusiasm they squash. Good ideas don’t have much of a chance of survival with their constant negative feedback. No sweat, you can handle her. Read here to learn how to manage The Grumbler with the 5Cs

3. The Excuse Maker

Excuse maker

This difficult employee sure is good at pointing the finger when something goes wrong. One key element to The Excuse-Maker is that nothing is ever his fault. How is that possible? Well, nothing can possibly be his fault because it’s his colleague’s fault, the client’s fault and sometimes — it’s your fault. Even inanimate objects like computers and printers can take the blame. Read here about five steps you can take as a manager to help The Excuse-Maker be less…difficult.

4. The AWOL

Empty Desk

If your employee is often late, disappears, no-shows or “just” neglects an important duty, you’ve got yourself an AWOL. Typically, when someone goes AWOL, her work piles up, deadlines are missed, and important messages go unanswered. And the AWOL creates constant low-grade tension, because everyone knows that somebody’s going to have to cover for her, yet again. If this sounds familiar,  you’re working with The AWOL and here’s how to manage her.

5. The Egomaniac

ego maniac

Let’s just say The Egomaniac is not a team player. A healthy ego is good, but when a head gets too big, it can definitely distract the team. Not to mention, The Egomaniac isn’t just thinking about himself all the time…he’s out for himself too. How are you supposed to deal with this person? With this tool box, you can effectively manage The Egomaniac.


6. The Do-Gooder

One unmanageable employee is "The Do-Gooder." Here is how to manage them.

The Do-Gooder is just as sweet as the baked goods she constantly surprises her team with. She remembers birthdays (and plans surprise parties), keeps tabs on the milestones of everyone’s children, and monitors the emotional states of her coworkers. All of that effort takes a lot of work– and time… time that’s not being spent on getting assignments done. Here’s how to manage The-Do-Gooder, who despite her big heart, can’t seem to meet deadlines.

So what do you think– have you met any of these people? Have you tried your hand at managing them?

To help busy managers deal with difficult employees, Jezra Kaye and I wrote Managing the Unmanageable: How to Motivate Even the Most Unruly Employee. In the book, we cover how to effectively manage many of the common difficult employees. I also love speaking on the topic.

I’d love to hear about your experience with difficult employees. Have any particularly difficult ones you’d like to introduce us to? Do you have the secret formula for transforming difficult employees into ideal employees? Do tell. Leave a comment below, send me an  email, or find me on Twitter.

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  1. Helene Rutledge
    December 30, 2014

    Dear Anne,

    I notice your archetypes are assigned gender language and pictures. While you may have just intended to alternate male and female in your examples, the pattern resulted in characteristics matching to the stereotypical gender for the behaviors. Workplace equality has had a difficult enough time without perpetuating these stereotypes.

    I just finished reading Egalia’s Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes by Gerd Brantenberg. It was written in 1977 and a bit over the top but it highlights that sexist views are so woven into our language, culture and society that change is haltingly slow. The UN “He for She” initiative highlights that this is not just a women’s issue and that enlisting men to support is essential to accelerate results. As a potential influencer, I would hope that you consider your impact on gender in the workplace by expressing that your archetypes could be men or women.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Helene Rutledge

    • Anne Loehr
      December 30, 2014

      Good morning Helene,

      Thanks for your insightful comments about gender stereotypes.

      As you may know, I often write, speak and tweet about workplace inequality, female leadership and unconscious bias; one of my most popular posts was about transgender people in the workplace.

      My team and I actually had a long discussion about which pictures to use for that particular blog, going back and forth with numerous ideas. No option was ideal, so we decided to alternate the genders evenly.

      Thanks for the suggestion to mention that archetypes could be either gender. I’ll revise that post accordingly.

      Happy new year!


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