The 5 Worst Types of Employees

There are some types of employees you are thrilled to have work for you. One of my favorite employees ever was a woman named Mar. She was loyal, incredibly helpful, and cared more about others than herself. Everybody liked her, and it was bittersweet when she retired recently after 30 years of faithful service.

But not every person a leader hires turns out to be a gem like Mar. There are plenty of workers with habits and styles that don’t help a team. As leaders, we need to identify them and figure out how to steer them out of their bad habits (or avoid hiring them in the first place). Here are the 5 worst types of employees.

1. The Blamer

My friend Tony Dungy taught me that, win or lose, all good head coaches avoid blaming others. They take responsibility for the results of the game. Blamers, on the other hand, create tension and headaches, don’t take responsibility, look to find fault in others, and have no problem pinning problems on coworkers. If you have blamers on your staff, remind them they are answerable to the rest of the team and partially responsible for helping everything run smoothly.

Enjoying past successes is great—unless it means you never strive for more.

2. The Has Been

Have you ever been to a high school reunion where the former quarterback can’t stop talking about that touchdown he threw in the big game? If that reunion storyteller is John Elway, give him a pass. But if it’s someone who’s stuck on a past success to the neglect of new successes, there might be a problem. Enjoying past successes is great—unless it means you never strive for more. If you have an employee who is sitting back on yesterday’s wins, encourage him or her to think boldly about setting and chasing down new goals.

3. The Bare Minimum

Remember Michael Jordan’s Gatorade commercials, in which everyone wanted to “be like Mike?” A big reason why not everyone was like Mike is because not everyone was willing to work like Mike. The basketball great gathered groups of teammates to work out with his personal trainer daily from 5 to 7 a.m. They did exercises and lifted weights in his home gym during what Jordan called “The Breakfast Club”—all before their two-hour basketball practices. He wanted to be the best, so he did more than his competitors.

Workers who do the bare minimum may not technically be underachieving, but they certainly aren’t trying to achieve excellence, either. Productive employees are faithful, and they work hard. If you notice employees only doing the bare minimum, ask about their motivations and aspirations. Do they want to see progress and gains? What can they do to make that happen?

4. The Silent One

Not everyone is a vocal leader, but communication is a necessary part of success. It’s how others stay in the loop; you build cohesion and foster collaboration. If you have employees who never speak up in hopes of avoiding detection or conflict or out of fear of looking foolish, that’s a red flag. Silent employees can keep you from growing. Encourage them to speak their minds. Management won’t know their thoughts if they never chime in.

5. The Lone Wolf

Finding success while choosing to work alone will be hard. Even the best golfers in the world have caddies. The lone wolf would rather hunt solo. That’s a dangerous employee to keep on staff. There is a big difference between go-getters who take initiative and work well independently and lone wolves who do what is best for themselves at the expense of the team. Making decisions apart from what’s good for the group can torpedo a company. Be wary of lone wolves.

Sound off: What types of employees present the most significant challenges to leading well?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Do you think you’d rather be a boss or a worker? Why?”