Managing the Unmanageable: The 6 Most Common Types of Difficult Employees

As Manager, you’re probably used to working with people from all walks of life, but as you likely already know, difficult people can negatively impact team performance and morale and make your job a nightmare. 

Here’s six of the most common difficult employee profiles & how you can deal with each of them:

The Victim

The victim is the least accountable person in the office. Things always seem to happen "to" this person and they regularly complain about it.  This type of person usually lacks emotional intelligence and has an external locus of control. *And just to be super clear; there is a gigantic divergence between a) the unfortunate phenomenon of actually being a victim of a tragic event in life and b) living a life with a victim mentality, attitude, or disposition that predetermines a person’s view, response to, and woe-is-me interpretations of situations [they feel or behave like a perpetual or chronic victim]

How to approach The Victim:

The manager must clearly define accountability. Be really clear about what the person should be doing, the quality of the work that should be delivered and the time in which that should happen. Adopt a language of accountability and speak in terms of personal and team obligations. Reinforce positive behavior through dialog and recognition & emphasise that you are there to help them succeed.

The Hisser

Hissers are like coiled snakes. When provoked, they rise and strike, leaving terror in their wake. These types of people are prone to rants and raves, they can be pushy, or even be bullies. Nobody ever quite knows what will set these people off and therefore many approach them with caution of walk on egg shells around them.

How to approach The Hisser:

Explore the factors that drive this person's behavior. Are they feeling insecure in their role? Are they aware of how their behavior impacts others or the team as a whole? If this person doesn't care how his or her behavior affects others, don't expect a turnabout. Consider facilitating a team session where acceptable & unacceptable behaviours are agreed and each individual commits to operating within this framework. If this step doesn’t work, get HR involved & work on a 60-day performance plan outlining specific behaviours that need to change.

The Negative Nellie

Negative Nellies always seem ready to burst a good bubble. They tend to be the devil’s advocate, averse to change, critical of innovation and resist new policies and processes.

How to approach a Negative Nellie:

Negative employees can be trying, but when managers know how to handle them, they actually can be important to team dynamics. Every team needs a devil's advocate! Try to help your persistent pessimist leverage his or her negativity, in order to seek out positive team results. Invite him or her to be part of a change committee because they’ll help mitigate potential risks to the business and buy in to the process themselves.

The Ghost

Somewhere along the way, you'll hear these things: "Sorry, I won't be in today, I'm sick once again!" "I'd love to help you with this project, but I've just got so many other things to do." "I'm running out for coffee. Be back soon [in an hour]!" The Ghost always seems to disappear whenever there is work to be done.

How to approach The Ghost:

Unfortunately, these people rarely turn themselves around and have typically “checked out” from their role. They may be ducking out to go on job interviews, or they may just know in their heart of hearts that the job isn't for them. A frank, honest discussion about employee expectations is often the most effective way to deal with this type of person. Another option is to help move this person in the direction they seek – talk with them about their next career step and how you can help them in the process.

The Narcissist

Narcissists are the opposite of team players. They are all about themselves and their own egos – everything is brought back to them & they aren’t genuinely interested in other people.

How to approach a Narcissist:

If this person is extremely talented, there may be a way to create an option where he or she works alone or has limited team interaction. There are also some people who may be able to make adjustments to their demeanour if they are highly motivated toward success – in this case, you’d benefit from linking the desired behaviours to business goals and reward them when they hit the mark.

The Einstein

These people are smart, and they know it. They are often quick to let everyone else know it, too. Einsteins are rigid in their views and can often come across as arrogant and intolerant.

How to approach an Einstein:

Have this person explore the ways in which his or her intelligence impacts the team both positively and negatively. Let them do a solo analysis and draw his or her own conclusions. But guide the process so that you can coach them through any necessary change.