Three types of employees and how to identify them

Whether you are a start-up, a growing organisation, or an industry giant employing thousands of people, business and economic cyclicity is inevitable. When the proverbial fire strikes, what matters is not the size of your workforce but the traits of your people – are they fire-fighters or melting rocks, or worse, arsonists? Let’s take a deeper look at these three employee personas and how they impact an organisation’s ability to thrive under stress.

The fire-fighters

These are the people who despite the obvious stress all around, will keep calm and take the required steps (even if it means going beyond their defined job roles) to help douse the fire. They not only handle stress well but also channel it productively to get more done – be it motivating other team members to join the rescue team or staying at the forefront of the situation themselves, fighting it out bravely. These are your real heroes and you must hold on to them and try to hire more such resources.

The melting-rocks

These are the people who simply can’t handle the heat and melt under pressure. The stress gets to them and their functional ability takes a nosedive. As a manager, this can mean more time spent coaching the melting-rocks, to help them keep calm and carry on working. But the real danger comes from their ability to spread panic amongst co-workers. At a time that calls for effective collaboration from all ends, employees that crumble under stress can have a disastrous effect on the overall performance. Under stress, these employees become free riders.

The arsonists

These employees often come masked as fire-fighters, until you realise that they are not. These employees unwittingly complicate situations and put themselves above those of the organisation. Especially at a time, when collaboration is paramount.

Identifying fire-fighters and steering clear of the other two

Go back to the common interview question “How do you handle stress” and break it down into components that will reveal a person’s true nature. For instance:

Ask for specific examples of stressful situations the candidate may have encountered. Check if the examples seem relatable in an organisational setting. If the answers reveal a perpetual ‘damsel in distress’ kind of a situation, you may just be dealing with an arsonist.

Ask how the stress affected them – personally as well as in terms of work. There are people who actually become more productive under stress (the top ones among the fire-fighters) and others who withdraw into a shell completely (the lowest rung of melting-rocks).

Ask if you can speak to their previous manager to understand how they managed stress. If the candidate hesitates, the answers that the candidate may have provided up until then may not have been completely honest.

Checking in regularly is more important than you think

People evolve and develop desired traits when put under the right conditions. As a talent manager, keep evaluating your employees regularly to see how their stress-handling capabilities may have evolved and identify what led to the positive change. If it’s anything related to mindfulness trainings, workshops/seminars/retreats focused on work-life balance, you know where you should be focusing your energies to get more fire-fighters on your team.

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