The 10 Types of Employees (And How To Manage Them)

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The 10 Types of Employees (And How To Manage Them)

Scott Hammer
November 30, 2020
13 min read

Throughout your professional career, you’ve seen all kinds of organizational strategies. Ornately arranged Post-It’s, hundreds of Chrome tabs, chicken-scratch filled notebooks—you probably have employees that fit into each of these categories. 

When it comes to management, there’s no singular, correct way to get it done. Everyone manages their workload differently. And now that you’ve migrated out of the office and into the living room, that fact is truer than ever. 

Your employees will continue to work differently. That’s exactly how it should be. As a manager, one of your top priorities should be to recognize the subtle—and sometimes not-so-subtle—differences in your employees’ personalities and work habits. In doing this, you’re putting an emphasis on individual growth and success.

But at the end of the day, your job is ultimately to facilitate growth and success for your company. By recognizing the different types of employees that you have, you’ll be able to translate their individual successes into the overall success of your business. Let’s take a look at the different types of employees that make up your organization and how you can best manage them:

The Free Spirit 

Who They Are: The Free Spirit craves professional independence and freedom. They seek to have autonomy in their respective role, and prefer to dictate their own creative direction. Usually equipped with a positive attitude, the Free Spirit often leaves the team feeling refreshed. Being the Free Spirit comes with notable downsides, too—they are generally not fans of bureaucracy and constraints. There’s a good chance you won’t hear from them for a few days. Despite the occasional headaches, they continue to turn in high quality work time and time again.  

How They Work Best: To manage the Free Spirits within your company, it’s best to tread lightly. Make sure that boundaries and parameters are given, but resist the urge to micromanage. The Free Spirits’ strength comes from their ability to autonomously think outside the box. Give them the tools for success, but let them figure out how to use them.

The Grinder

Who They Are: The Grinder is the ultimate team player. Unlike the Free Spirit, they won’t go AWOL for days on end, but they might miss an email or two while neck-deep in a project. As the ultimate workhorse, you know that The Grinder is always ready to take on the lion’s share of the work. They’re the first person you turn to when you need something hefty accomplished. They may lack some charisma and leadership abilities, but they make up for it with talent and effort.

How They Work Best: The Grinder works best when given clear, direct instructions. Structure is a huge component of success for The Grinder. As you’re managing, make sure you spell out exactly what needs to be done. Sometimes you may be looking for someone to bring new ideas to overhaul a project—you may want to turn to someone other than The Grinder for that. But, The Grinder will deliver everything you asked exactly how you asked to have it done, on time with no questions asked. 

The Pathfinder

man hiking

Who They Are: Always searching for the newest and best way forward, The Pathfinder is one of the key innovators in your company. Passionate, engaging, and intelligent, The Pathfinder finds creative solutions to problems and elevates the quality of work for many around them. The Pathfinder is unafraid to take risks—that in itself is a double edged sword. At times, other team members can feel intimidated by them. There is never malicious intent—sometimes the energy and passion exuded by The Pathfinder can unintentionally dominate the conversation and stifle the ideas of others.

How They Work Best: People like this are often the ones who find ways to solve the biggest problems on your agenda. Much like a nuclear reactor, they are extremely powerful but need to be carefully controlled. When in meetings, it’s best that you make sure The Pathfinder is not totally dominating the discussion. Make sure their points are heard, but make sure that ample time is given to others, too. If you really want to motivate The Pathfinder, tell them that they won’t be able to achieve what you’re assigning them. Odds are, they’ll find a solution that few others could have.

The Mediator

Who They Are: Thank goodness for the mediator. You can’t remember any particularly great or awful ideas they’ve come up with on their own, but they’ve sure had an important role to play when it comes to getting your team on the same page. Compromise, structure, and stability make up the core components of The Mediator. Every idea, big or small, good or bad, is equal until proven otherwise. When juxtaposing ideas clash in the office, The Mediator is there to bring a sensible solution to the table.

How They Work Best: While their originality and technical ability leave a little to be desired, The Mediator sure knows their way around the politics of a company. Fortunately for you, The Mediator does not play office politics for personal gain, they are in it for the good of the whole. As a manager, you would be best served to consult The Mediator on a variety of issues. They may not be the driving force behind the start or completion of any particular project, but they sure know how to bring about a peaceful resolution. 

The Giver

a helping hand on a climb

Who They Are: No, this section is not about the dystopian novel. In your company, The Giver is someone who routinely seeks to contribute in areas where they have a strong sense of the difference they are making. Whether they’re leading the way with charitable endeavors or have joined in on a project that they feel will have a lasting, positive impact on the community, they are up to the task. The problem? Sometimes the work you do won’t align with their preferences.

How They Work Best: To get the most out of The Giver, assign projects to them that are customer-facing. They’ll often jump at the chance to service someone directly. If this isn’t an option, assign them to a role where they’ll be able to substantially contribute. The Giver is always open to collaborating. Give them a chance to address and present ideas to their entire team—maybe some of their altruistic tendencies will rub off. 

The Whiz

silhouette of person and nightime city sky

Who They Are: The Whiz’s technical ability blows you, and everyone else, away. It’s an unspoken acknowledgement among your entire company that they’re clearly the brightest bulb in the box. When it comes to solving a technical issue, there’s no one better. But, there’s some issues. They can be messy, disorganized, and not all that personable. Direction is a huge issue, and their commitment and work ethic have been called into question more than once. You’ve tolerated it because, well, they’re The Whiz. You know they don’t intend to slack off, but they get bored and distracted all too easily. 

How They Work Best: Here is where taking a granular management approach is prudent. The Whiz may scoff at times when given directions, but really, they are well aware they require structure in order to succeed. Pick and choose tasks specifically for The Whiz—work that’s too simple or mundane will ultimately bore them and derail the timeline of your project. You might be thinking to yourself, “It’s not really fair that they get preferential treatment when it comes to assignments.” You’re right, it’s not fair. Unless the rest of your employees can start operating at the peak that The Whiz can (spoiler alert: they won’t), that’s just how it should be. 

The Task Rabbit

person hunched over computer on desk

Who They Are: This person is often very recognizable—they are always asking you for more work and what to do next. The work ethic and organizational skills of The Task Rabbit are second to none, but their level of autonomy leaves a bit to be desired. They complete work quickly and completely. You may not be able to grant them the same level of responsibility given to The Pathfinder and The Grinder, but you know they’ll succeed at any moderately challenging task. 

How They Work Best: People like The Task Rabbit are extremely valuable. They can be utilized to keep other less organizationally skilled team members on track. Shyness and lateness aren’t terms in The Task Rabbit’s vocabulary. Outgoing, alert, and punctual, they can help The Free Spirit and The Whiz meet deadlines they otherwise would have failed to meet. Just make sure The Task Rabbit has their directions in writing—they can be sticklers for following the rules.  

The Confidant

businessmen talking late

Who They Are: While their technical skills don’t blow you away, they always prove to be among your business’s most valuable employees when it comes to fleshing out ideas. You certainly wouldn’t assign them the lead role on most projects, but there aren’t many that you don’t have The Confidant consulting on. Put simply, their input is extremely valuable. More than once, you’ve achieved an “Aha!” moment during a conversation with The Confidant. Your other employees have had similar experiences. The main impact they have on your company is often immeasurable and intangible, making it difficult to define what they’re best at. It’s certainly hard to put a finger on exactly how, but they always find a way to help. 

How They Work Best: The best thing you can do as a leader is not to overthink the role of The Confidant. Bring them in on a lot of different projects, ideas, and visions. Share with them some of the new and upcoming things your company is working on. The Confidant loves productive conversations, so keep their role simple. Shoot ideas back and forth—let your minds wander. Heck, maybe share a happy hour with them. You’ll be amazed at some of the insights you’ll gain from a relaxed, free-flowing conversation.

The Statistician

man thinking over chess board

Who They Are: They aren’t the loudest or most frequent contributors in meetings, but when they speak, the information they provide is valuable, informative, and backed by cold hard logic. They form a foundational piece of any of your major projects, and may be brighter than everyone besides The Whiz. Some may consider The Statistician a pessimist, but they will dispute this by asserting they are simply a “realist.” Never missing an opportunity to deliver hard-to-swallow yet valid truths about someone’s work, they provide more constructive feedback than one often wants. 

How They Work Best: Obviously, having someone whose work is dictated almost entirely by math and logic is important. It’s also important to have people that think the exact opposite way. Pair The Statistician with employees like The Giver and The Mediator in order to strike a productive balance between logic and emotional intelligence.

The Contrarian

Who They Are: Yes, we all know this person. When you do a Google search for “Devil’s Advocate” their picture will be the first to populate your screen. At this point, you aren’t entirely sure what their stance on anything is. But either way, when there’s a debate to be had, you know who you’ll find right in the middle of it. While The Contrarian may irritate some, including you, having this person around is valuable in the right context. 

How They Work Best: They work hard, they’re smart, and they’ve come up with solid contributions across the board. But they are who they are—a contrarian to the bitter end. People feel most comfortable in an echo-chamber. But when it comes to formulating the best possible or idea or plan, it would be a disservice to everyone involved if you don’t consult someone who is going to tear apart your idea bit by bit. Sure, The Contrarian often does this simply for argument’s sake. Around the kitchen table, they probably aren’t so pleasant. But in the (virtual) conference room, their knack for arguing the antithetical position comes in handy for everyone. 

Knowing Your People

Managing your employees is never a one-size-fits-all approach. All of your employees are unique in the way that they work—no different than the uniqueness of how they look, dress, and live their lives.

Most of your employees will probably fit one or more of the personas above. That being said, there will always be some that won’t. That’s one of the great challenges of leading a business—smoothly blending together people of all walks of life in pursuit of a common goal. 

Some employees will take the ball and run with it, some will need some training wheels. Some will pull brilliant ideas out of thin air, some will find ways to improve ideas already in motion. Some will thrive right away, some will take longer to acclimate. Stay in tune with your people and however they may operate. Being able to distribute work appropriately and efficiently will make you successful this year, next year, and every year after that. 

Scott Hammer Headshot

Scott Hammer

Scott Hammer is a business technology writer. His background is in literature and education, which means he can quote Emerson and Thoreau at moments that seem appropriate, but are ultimately random. If pushed, he can also write really, really long sentences.