top of page
  • Jonno White

30 Types of Difficult Employees Managers Struggle To Lead

What is a difficult employee?


A difficult employee can be defined as someone who struggles to work within the confines of a company's core values and policies. They often exhibit behaviors that are disruptive, unproductive, and detrimental to morale: poor communication, unwillingness to cooperate, lack of respect for authority, and a negative attitude. The presence of such employees can have far-reaching negative consequences.


Red Flag 1. Difficult employees blame others for their mistakes


Great employees and team players own their mistakes. Difficult employees blame. This type of behavior creates a toxic, adversarial culture where employees are hesitant to work together, leading to decreased collaboration and productivity.


Red Flag 2. Criticizing employees


This type of behavior creates a hostile and confrontational environment that quickly erodes morale, engagement, and productivity. Additionally, it contributes to a culture of fear, with employees becoming increasingly hesitant to share new ideas or challenge the status quo.


Red Flag 3. Dishonesty


Dishonest employees create a lack of trust between coworkers and managers which can lead to decreased collaboration and engagement. Additionally, a dishonest employee can damage relationships with external stakeholders. Dishonesty that isn't confronted can end up hiding big mistakes or even fraudulent activity.


Red Flag 4. Not completing work


Some difficult employees are difficult simply because they don't complete their work. Lencioni talks about emotionally intelligent and humble employees who aren't driven and describes them as 'the lovable sloth'. We might love them for their personality but when we miss a massive deadline because of them that love diminishes.


Red Flag 5. Not responsive to Calls


Most issues in every team and organization have an element of miscommunication. Some employees are difficult because they miscommunicate, or don't communicate. It's frustrating for a manager when you can't get on to an employee.


Types of difficult employees


Difficult employees come in all shapes and sizes, here are some helpful 'types' of difficult employees to look for and some terminology for you to consider as you deal with difficult people.


1. "The Passive Aggressive"


These employees may appear friendly and engaging on the surface but secretly harbor resentments or dissatisfaction that they never express directly. When you start leading them you don't even blink in their direction. But as the weeks and months progress you start connecting the dots. Unfortunately, passive aggressive employees can wreak havoc and undermine for a long time before you're even aware of what's happening.


2. "The Bully"


A bully is a difficult employee who consistently behaves in a manner characterized by the use of control, ridicule, and aggression towards another person or group. Bullying is often used to gain power and dominance over another person or group, through fear and intimidation. It can take many forms, such as verbal abuse, physical violence, cyberbullying, and emotional abuse. People who work with bullies feel like they need to talk on egg-shells. Bullies often make excuses for their aggressive behaviour or give apologies afterwards but the influence is more poisonous than they or you realize.


3. "The Grump"


The Grump is a type of difficult employee who is characterized by being generally unhappy and dissatisfied with life. They are often overly negative, grumpy and pessimistic, and have an unwillingness to cooperate, engage in teamwork or take on any responsibility. The Grump often lacks respect for authority, has poor communication skills and tends to be uncooperative with just about everyone.


4. "The Poor Performer"


A poor performer is an employee who consistently produces below-average performance or fails to meet the expectations set by their manager. Poor performers may display low productivity, lack of motivation, and difficulty working with others. Poor performers can also be characterized by having a negative attitude, lack of communication skills, and a general unwillingness to cooperate with team members.


5. "The Downer"


“The Downer” is a type of difficult employee who consistently holds negative attitudes and behaviors, making them detrimental to the workplace environment. They often display a lack of respect for authority figures, have poor communication skills, and are uncooperative with team members and management. The Downer also tends to be pessimistic and overly negative.


6. “The Narcissist”


"The Narcissist" is a type of difficult employee who has an inflated ego and believes they are superior to others in their workplace. They often demand attention and special treatment, display a sense of entitlement, and are unwilling to cooperate with team members or management. This can lead to a rift between them and other employees, resulting in decreased productivity and teamwork.


7. “The Time Waster”


"The Time Waster" is a type of difficult employee who consistently wastes time and energy in the workplace. This type of person has little regard for deadlines or efficiency, often spending hours on irrelevant tasks and procrastinating on important ones. They may also take frequent breaks or engage in casual conversations with coworkers that are unrelated to work.


8. “The Victim”


"The Victim" is a type of difficult employee who consistently portrays themselves as a victim in the workplace. They often blame external factors outside of their control for their failures and shortcomings, refusing to take responsibility for their actions or mistakes. They may also frequently complain and make passive-aggressive remarks that are directed towards their coworkers or management.


9. "The Argumentative"


The Argumentative Employee is a type of difficult employee who engages in frequent, intense arguments and debates with their coworkers. This type of person often has strong opinions on various topics and is not afraid to express them. They can also be very stubborn and dig their heels in when it comes to defending their views. They may also be quick to take offense if you disagree with them. They pride themselves on saying what they really think but actually contribute to a less vulnerable atmosphere where everyone else. isafraid to say what they really think.


10. "The Disengaged"


A Disengaged Employee is a type of difficult employee who demonstrates a lack of interest or motivation in their workplace. They often come to work with little enthusiasm, have difficulty focusing on tasks and may even appear apathetic towards their work. Disengaged employees will often complete tasks at a slower pace than usual, display low levels of productivity and only do just enough to meet the criteria.


11. "The Immature"


The Immature Employee is a type of difficult employee who behaves in an unprofessional manner, exhibiting childish and irresponsible behaviors. They often act out when faced with challenging tasks or deadlines, displaying petulant outbursts and throwing temper tantrums. They may also be overly sensitive to criticism, make inappropriate remarks or jokes that are offensive to others


12. "The Negative"


A Negative Employee is a type of difficult employee who consistently displays a negative outlook and attitude in the workplace. They often have a pessimistic view of their job and workplace, rarely take initiative or show enthusiasm for tasks, and may even refuse to collaborate with their coworkers or management. This type of person can be overly critical of themselves and others.


13. "The Disruptive"


A Disruptive employee is a type of difficult employee who engages in behaviors that disrupt the workplace. This type of person often has poor communication skills and is unwilling to collaborate with team members or management. They may also be loud, uncooperative, and argumentative, which can lead to decreased productivity and strained relationships between coworkers.


14. "The Rebellious"


A rebellious employee is a type of difficult employee who displays a pattern of refusal to abide by authority or rules. This type of person often has a strong sense of independence and may actively resist requests from management or team members. They may display aggressive behavior, such as arguing with superiors or refusing to complete tasks.


15. "The Gossip"


A Gossiper is a type of difficult employee who engages in gossiping and spreading rumors throughout the workplace. This type of person often thrives on attention and drama, often taking joy in being the center of it. They will pick up on any small pieces of information they can find, and then spread it to as many people as possible.


16. "The Bad Attitude"


The bad attitude employee is a type of difficult employee who displays an unprofessional attitude in the workplace. This type of person often fails to take initiative or show enthusiasm for tasks, and instead displays a negative outlook on their job and workplace. They will rarely show respect for management or other coworkers, and may even be openly hostile towards them.


17. "The Disgruntled"


A Disgruntled Employee is a type of difficult employee who displays a pattern of discontentment and unhappiness with their job and work environment. This type of person often expresses dissatisfaction with their role and the workplace by means of vocal complaints, negative body language, and even outbursts directed at coworkers or management.


18. "The Insubordinate"


An insubordinate employee is one who displays a clear lack of respect for authority or rules in the workplace. This type of person often openly refuses requests from their supervisor or team members, and may even argue with them directly.


19. "The Lazy"


A Lazy Employee is a type of difficult employee who displays a lack of productive effort or initiative in the workplace. This type of person may fail to meet deadlines, show up late, or procrastinate on tasks. Despite being given explicit instructions or resources, they often demonstrate an unwillingness to put in effort or take any initiative.


20. "The Underminer"


The Undermining Employee is a type of difficult employee who seeks to challenge or undermine the authority of their supervisors or team members. This type of person will often blatantly disregard instructions, rules or requests given by their superiors. They may intentionally avoid following orders, such as responding to emails, completing tasks on time or following company policies.


21. "The Toxic"


A Toxic Employee is an employee whose behaviour goes beyond negative attributes. This person causes rot in any team they join. Their behaviour is characterized either by high emotional intelligence: they know exactly the damage they're doing. Or very low emotional intelligence: they are causing interpersonal issues everywhere but have no idea they're doing it.


22. "The Procrastinator"


A Procrastinator is a type of difficult employee who displays a consistent pattern of delay and avoidance when it comes to completing tasks or meeting deadlines. This type of person often procrastinates in order to avoid facing unpleasant tasks, or simply out of lack of motivation.


23. "The Doesn’t Fulfiller"


This type of person often displays a lack of commitment or effort, and may be unwilling to put in the necessary work required to achieve desired outcomes. They may procrastinate, miss deadlines, ignore instructions or lack follow through on their responsibilities in some other way.


24. "The ‘Yes’ Person"