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Personalities in the Workplace

Updated on April 30, 2014

The types of worker a manager faces

As someone who has managed hundreds of people over the years, I have found three major types of workers. These are not personalities as defined by psychologists or other scientists. Rather, these are broad designations in workplace roles that will help you manage more effectively. Each type has their unique strengths and weaknesses.

  • The Worker Bee: Quiet, gives little feedback, does what they're told (and little more) and doesn't make a fuss; reliable and dependable within a narrow set of conditions; very respectful of authority.
  • The Team Player: Engaged, energetic, loyal, reliable; outgoing and takes initiative; rarely contradicts or challenges you; happy to do whatever it takes to help the organization; the athlete to your coach.
  • The Star: Ambitious and outgoing; reliable but only to a point; not only takes initiative but does things their own way; a maverick, a rebel, or a challenger; may consider you an equal.

In most organizations, these three major types form a kind of hierarchy: worker bees at the bottom, team players in the middle, and stars at the top. The very reliable worker bees execute the simple but essential tasks. The team players provide the energy in the middle that pushes the organization forward day-to-day. And the more ambitious stars, at the top, look beyond the day-to-day, think more strategically and critically, and provide an innovative vision. Stars are the most obvious choice for the leaders of the organization.

The worker's reliability and dependability increases as we go down the hierarchy, but their potential for creative change and making a significant contribution increases as we go up the hierarchy. That is the basic tradeoff the manager is faced with: the more reliable a worker is, the less creative potential they tend to have, and vice versa.

Just as the stars have the most potential, they also have the greatest risk. They are very talented and probably the smartest and most forward-thinking of all the types, but they may frequently butt heads with superiors. They are not interested in playing by the same rules as everyone else. You must give them room to grow and achieve without letting them get too disruptive.


Hiring and recruiting different personalities

When hiring, it is a mistake to select for only one type. A successful organization needs all three types. However, that does not mean it needs them all in equal number. Your ideal configuration may be 20% worker bees, 60% team players, and 20% stars. Or it may be 50% worker bees, 49% team players, and only 1% stars. It all depends on the nature of your organization, its industry and the kind of work you do.

A company with a flatter or more egalitarian decision-making structure, where innovation and creativity is prized among employees, would probably require a higher proportion of stars. An army of quiet, order-taking foot soldiers will not do, because this company needs to innovate and stay aggressive to survive.

By contrast, a more hierarchical operation with fixed rules and procedures, where the work benefits from consistency more than creativity, will require more worker bees. Having a large number of people thinking for themselves, questioning assumptions and questioning orders will only impede the effective functioning of the enterprise.



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    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 6 years ago from New York City

      Thanks, Ranzi. I don't think I could say much on workers with behavioral disabilities. Haven't had much experience with that.

      I would guess that, from the manager's perspective, their work output probably falls somewhere in one of the three types, even if the causes are different than usual.

    • Ranzi profile image

      Cut The Bullshit 6 years ago from All Over

      Some great information you have here. I'm still trying to figure out were I fit in. Actually what about a staff member with ADHD?