Conflict | 4 MIN READ

6 types of difficult employees that drive managers crazy

Written by Jennifer Curry

What do loss of productivity, interpersonal drama, employee retention, and low morale have in common? All are the result of hiring one of the 6 types of difficult employees. Bullies, Debbie Downers, Egomaniacs, Distractors, Deserters, and Excuse Makers can make your life and the lives of their co-workers hell. 

Whether you are a new manager just getting to know your team or you are in the process of training new employees, you must recognize the types of difficult employees in order to determine if they are coachable or need to be let go. 

Since people spend a significant amount of time interacting with their co-workers, you want your team to get along. Unfortunately, if your team includes some types of difficult employees, your workplace chemistry may suffer. 

Entrepreneur claims, “Researchers found a striking statistic that one in three of the employees polled said that a co-worker made them want to quit their job. Forty-three percent of women and 32 percent of men said that they wanted to leave because of a colleague.”

Moreover, a report by Cornerstone OnDemand found, “Good employees quit at a 54 percent higher rate when they work with a toxic employee. Additionally, the onboarding cost of hiring a toxic employee is three times the amount of a non-toxic employee.”

Don’t put your business at risk of losing your key players because of one difficult employee.

Recognize the Difference Between Toxic and Difficult Employees

Before we move on to describe the 6 types of difficult employees, it is important to note that just because an employee is difficult, it doesn’t mean he or she needs to go. Ultimately, it comes down to identifying whether the employee is merely difficult or toxic.

Merrian-Webster defines toxic as “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation.” Whereas a difficult employee may need coaching, mentorship, or mental health support, a toxic employee is one who debilitates the workplace and is unable (or unwilling) to change. 

Mimeo explains, “Toxic is not synonymous with difficult. Difficult employees are hard to manage or work with. However, the attitudes and behaviors of toxic employees are contagious. […] It’s important for managers to recognize when one employee’s toxic behavior has spread to other employees. The result can be detrimental:  toxic behaviors have a negative effect on team morale and productivity.”

If you find the rest of your team following this employee’s bad behavior, it’s probably time to say goodbye. On the other hand, if the employee seems teachable and open to change, welcome rehabilitation and get your mentors on board. Ultimately, as a positive leader, you must identify what is causing the behavior before you start writing a pink slip. 

The 6 Types of Difficult Employees 

The workplace is full of different personalities, which is a good thing. Until it isn’t. When your team includes one of the following types of difficult employees, you can be sure your whole team is affected. 

  • The One Who with Sociopathic Tendencies: When it comes to separating the types of difficult employees from the toxic ones, this one is clear. Work bullies exist. Whether they put others down directly in front of others, gossip behind their co-worker’s backs, or belittle members of their team online, they destroy workplace chemistry.  Entrepreneur reports, “96% of people say they have experienced workplace bullying,” making it more common than racial discrimination and sexual harassment. The workplace bully creates a toxic environment and must go. 

  • The One Who Leaves You Hanging: This employee is one who always seems to disappear whenever needed. He’s always late, leaving early, or calling out sick. In addition to his overall absenteeism, he appears to lack motivation – except when it comes to finding creative excuses for getting out of work. Note - Before you jump to conclusions, make sure you investigate to see if these absences are legally protected by FMLA or ADA. If not, document unexcused absenteeism. 

  • The One Who Distracts Everyone Around Them: The team clown or social butterfly may seem harmless, but they can quickly ruin your team’s productivity if they aren’t put in check. Essentially, they make chatting and entertaining their number one priority in the office. Worse - they encourage everyone to join in on the fun, which slows progress and keeps your team from meeting deadlines. 

  • The One Who Blames Someone Else: This employee has a way of always playing the victim card. He’s never at fault, always blames someone else, and is never without an excuse. Accountability is key, and this employee doesn’t seem to know what that word means. Note - Document this behavior so it can be used during coaching to show a pattern, thus holding him accountable in the future.

  • The One Who Never Has Anything Positive to Say: During your daily standup meeting, you can count on this person to act like Cynical Cindy. She always has something negative to say or some type of criticism to share. She makes her co-workers hesitate to share ideas, and her critical attitude is very contagious. 

  • The One Who Steals the Show: Work is collaborative – unless you have this type of difficult employee on your team. She’s a complete egomaniac, out for herself, and arrogant. As a result, she’s the opposite of a team player, doing whatever she can to make herself shine (even if it means bulldozing her co-workers). 

Last updated on February 9, 2021

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