8 Archetypes of Difficult Employees and How Leaders Deal With Them

Posted by Guthrie-Jensen Consultants

Let’s talk about archetypes. The Greek term means “original pattern or model,” of which all things of the same type are representations of, including persons, objects, and themes. It’s the universal language of writers, poets, painters, filmmakers, innovators, and lots of types of creative folks.

Additionally, archetypal reading—even having the most basic understanding of it—can help leaders manage their team more effectively.

A Brief Primer on Archetypes

Archetypes serve as the root of the collective unconscious of humankind, experiences, and concepts. That’s why writers, marketers, and other professionals refer to this powerful guide as it helps them understand the deep psyche of their audience.

Archetypes manifest within your own psyche; some may be more active than the others. It influences your behavior, through patterns, the way you relate to others, and your lives.

Leaders who want to be more effective in leading their team can also benefit from this indispensable tool. Here are three different ways the art of archetypal reading can help leaders better understand and deal with employees.

  1. Archetypes help leaders empathize with the core desires of problem employees.

    Knowing what your difficult employees want and showing that you understand them can help pick them up and motivate them to get back on their shoes.

  2. Archetypes help leaders align their teams.

    Understanding your company and team members on a deep and meaningful level enables you to assign the right people to the proper role.

  3. Archetypes help leaders see situations from a different angle.

    Those who understand how to read archetypes tend to spot issues and patterns, putting two and two together in ways other people cannot.

Every workplace is filled with different individuals that embody their respective archetypes. Below, we have a visual graph of the archetypes of problem employees that can help you, leaders and managers, to communicate more effectively with them. Let’s get started!

Infographic on the Archetypes of Problem Employees and How Effective Leaders Deal With Them

8 Archetypes of Problem Employees

Four cardinal orientations define each group of archetypes: order, freedom, social, and ego. Their respective directions are what motivates each archetype’s actions and behavior. Understanding each category allows you to interpret the motivational dynamics of each archetype.

ORDER a.k.a. archetypes that provide structure to the world

The Controller

Controllers are naturally friendly and easy to talk to, but these come with their desire to control everything—from working on the latest project to planning a team building. The good intention may be there, but their controlling nature can be limiting and annoying as other members of the team are not given a chance to showcase what they can do.

To deal with the Controller, open the floor to other people. Remind them that you work as a team, and it’s best to hear out different views. Explain to them that if they were in other people’s shoes, they’d expect the same.

The Aggressor

The Aggressor in your office is one of the easiest archetypes to spot. Is there someone in your team who always raises their voice when it comes to meetings or discussions to get what they want, even at the smallest things? If there is, then you’ve got an Aggressor.

Working with an Aggressor can be difficult. It can cause extreme anxiety to other team members as they anticipate when the aggressor will blow up again. Additionally, this circumstance at work can bring morale down.

To deal with the Aggressor, it’s best to be blunt. It’s never okay to turn anger or aggression on anyone. Conduct a one-on-one meeting with them to help deal with their underlying problem. You can also work on improving their mindset and attitude together by supervising their projects.

FREEDOM a.k.a. archetypes that yearn for paradise

The Slacker

Ah, the time-wasters. The only thing they care about when at work is what they’ll have for lunch and when they will clock out. Slackers try to avoid doing work as much as they can, resulting in turning in work late. They’re procrastinators who think that if they can get away with slacking off, then they will do it.

Their low motivation and bad timekeeping is a downer for colleagues, especially those who directly work with them. Additionally, if slackers get to do what they want, others may follow.

To deal with the Slacker, you need to give them a tap to remind them they’re at work to work. Give them surprise desk visits from time to time to see if they’re really doing their tasks. Impose strict deadlines and make sure their workdays are filled with duties—as it should be. Don’t forget to acknowledge their effort to motivate them to keep up the good work.

The Hot Mess

Similar to slackers, the Hot Mess can tank colleagues’ energy, enthusiasm, and productivity. Hot Mess employees are always dependent on other team members—they always ask for help, sometimes to the point of others essentially doing the work for them. They are also prone to miss deadlines or ask for extensions.

They aren’t reliable when it comes to working on difficult or sensitive projects since either they don’t know how to do their job or they can’t step up to the responsibilities.

To deal with the Hot Mess, have them take a time management workshop or online class. You can also help them manage their tasks and set their goals to help them get it together. Do frequent check-ins on them to monitor their progress.

SOCIAL a.k.a. archetypes that connect with others

The Gossiper

They’re entertaining, friendly, and funny. They vibe well with almost everyone in the workplace, which is useful if their job is facing clients. However, it could be a little too much. You know their chatting is getting out of hand when they’re billing fewer work hours and more chatting hours.

Their friendliness may tarnish others’ productivity, especially when they start the conversation with “rumor has it…” This action can affect their work and those of others.

To deal with the Gossiper, remind them that there are times for socializing and time for work. Moreover, you can put their communication skills to good use, such as in hosting engagement activities.

The Internet Junkies

Much like Gossipers, but in the digital space—the Internet Junkies bring their snooping online. They squint their eyes hard on the computer to give the illusion that they’re working. These are the people who can press Ctrl + W faster than their manager or boss can take a peek at their monitor.

They spend most of their workday surfing the net, chatting with people, tweeting, online shopping, and checking their go-to sites online—all these before they start working (sometimes, while working).

To deal with Internet Junkies, have them track their work hours and tasks using project management software to make sure that they get work done. If they have free time, allow them to browse and read valuable and educational articles. Ask them to take note of it to share with the team.

EGO a.k.a. archetypes that leave a mark on the world

The Alpha

Alphas are the self-confident folks in workplaces. They desire to be the center of attention, and their ambitious psyche sets their mind on making a mark. They’ll do whatever it takes to gain validation and praise, especially from top executives.

Because of this toxic trait, they have no issues stepping on those who rank lower to them. They can bring great work, but their narcissism can get under the skin of others.

To deal with the Alpha, closely monitor their work and snap them out when they start taking things in the wrong direction for recognition.

The Upstart

Upstarts are usually young and recently hired or promoted to a position. They are hardworking, ambitious, and behave as if they’re important (but they’re too new or lack the experience to be treated as one).

They may work hard, but they still have a lot to learn. To prove that they’re voice is just as essential as managers or leaders, they try to make an impression. However, they might take shortcuts and make mishaps in the process.

To deal with The Upstart, offer them opportunities for training to improve their skills and accelerate in their field. You can mentor them to help them develop the right attitude and mindset required for their work.

Over to you

It’s normal having to deal with different types of problem employees at work, and chances are, one particular office archetype irks you more than the others. If you see that the flame of recognition for each archetype exists in your own team or yourself, sit down and think carefully about the situation.

Look and study the patterns to help you formulate your move forward. You may also want to look into management training programs to equip you with knowledge and leadership skills in managing your team effectively.

Don’t forget to bookmark this article for future reference, a.k.a. when a colleague reminds you of one of the archetypes. Also, share this with friends who you think may find this relatable!

Stop Managing. Start Leading.
In our Advanced People Handling Skills program, you’ll learn how to put these concepts into practice so you can inspire your employees to perform better.
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