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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is, first, to summarize six studies which analyze the key characteristics of different types of employees. Three types of employees found in workplaces all over the world are identified as “Necessities,” “Commoners,” and “Parasites” and, second, to combine the results of these studies in order to identify the key traits and behaviors that characterize each type of worker across a variety of social and cultural settings.

Design/methodology/approach – For starters, three types of employees are defined. First, a person is a Necessity if s/he is irreplaceable and critical to the functioning of an organization. Second, a Commoner is a person of normal ability and talent who has no significant impact on organizational processes. Last, Parasites are detrimental freeloaders who damage the functioning of an organization. To identify the principal characteristics of these three types of workers, a group of researchers led by the first author conducted six studies in which they collected survey data from undergraduate and graduate business students in the USA, India, Korea, Chile, and Japan.

Findings – The authors note the points of commonality and difference across the data sets, and offer their thoughts on future research in the area. The perceptions of what characterizes really good workers (people of Necessity) and very bad workers (Parasites) appear to be the same in all five countries. The picture painted for the Commoner across all data sets, however, is not as clear-cut.

Originality/value – The study described in this paper helps to explain both similarities and differences in employee characteristics between and among workers in different countries and cultures.


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DOI: 10.1108/19355181111124089 (Permanent URL)