Fairy tales and folklore: which character types exist in your workplace?

What links Star Wars with Shrek? At first glance, it probably seems like there’s no connections at all. Both films were produced by entirely different studios, were made decades apart, and one follows the story of an arrogant, cranky ogre while the other tracks the adventures of a meek but noble Jedi Knight.

So in what way could they possibly be connected? Well, despite the huge variances in subject matter, both films have a cast of character types which aren’t as dissimilar as might be initially thought – and which crop up time and time again in different stories.

Vladimir Propp, a Russian folklorist, was the first to bring these core character archetypes to life. He identified 6 unique characters throughout the 100 folklore tales he analysed: the Hero, who wants to achieve success; the Villain, who wants to foil the hero’s journey; the Dispatcher, who sends the hero on their journey; the Helper, who assists the hero; the Princess, who needs to be rescued by the hero; and the False Hero, who likes to take credit for the hero’s work.

But what if we could potentially see similar character types in the workplace, as well as in stories? Throughout our careers we come across a huge variety of people, and this inevitably leads to some recognisable traits cropping up from office to office. And sometimes, when things don’t go our way at work, we act in Shadow behaviour – where we’re unproductive, unmotivated, and generally a drain on others’ time and energy.

So what are 6 ‘Proppian’ character types of undesirable employee Shadow behaviours you should watch out for – and how can you make them desirable?

  1. The Hero

This employee is unwaveringly passionate and dedicated, with a roaring desire to achieve. But while they might seem like every employer’s dream, their unrestrained motivation and zeal can lead quickly to burnout, and encourage unworkable imbalance in their team. To get the best out of the Hero, cultivate a collaborative rather than competitive workplace, and ensure stress management procedures are in place to reduce burnout.

  1. The ‘Villain’

This employee, while not actually a villain, is likely very disengaged. They aren’t aligned with their organisation’s values, and actively resist every action that’s undertaken or every change that’s implemented – causing inconvenient conflict and discord. To get the ‘Villain’ onside, ensure they understand and share the organisation’s values and mission, and provide visible, motivational leadership.

  1. The Dispatcher

The Dispatcher is often a team leader, delegating tasks and encouraging team moral and progress. But they can sometimes be too overbearing and pushy – promoting unrealistic expectations and deadlines and enforcing unwarranted, and unwanted, pressure on team members. To ensure best teamwork practice, make sure everyone’s on the same page, and encourage fair, honest communication rather than one-sided criticism.

  1. The Helper

This employee sees themselves as the ‘salt of the Earth’ and consistently places everyone else’s needs over their own. But although endearing, their ceaseless assistance compulsion can cause their own productivity to suffer, as well as also posing a distraction for colleagues – eventually leading to resentment. To get the most out of the Helper, encourage their comradery within organisational culture, but keep their compulsion at bay by effectively and efficiently delegating tasks.

  1. The ‘Princess’

This employee is more passive than active, and often unmotivated and unproductive. They’d rather be spoon-fed and wait for others to pick up the slack than take the initiative and pull their fair share of weight – posing a major drain on the energy, enthusiasm, and morale of others. To kick-start this employee’s productivity, make sure they value the work they’re doing, and communicate – providing clear expectations and open discussion of potential problems or resentments.

  1. The False Hero

While this employee certainly poses leadership material, their ego can often get the best of them, and they’ll want to make their presence known – often seeking to be seen as the workplace’s ‘best’. They overshadow others, and attempt to take control and have things done ‘their way, or the highway’. To reign this employee’s ego in, set a teamwork spirit in cultural stone, and provide frequent honest (and positive) feedback.

Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list – there’s a myriad of different people out there, all with unique strengths, talents, and weaknesses which, when perfectly combined, can bring a wealth of advantages and benefits to an organisation. It’s just about finding the right balance of character – a balance which will be the most likely to lead to a happy ending for all.


PRINT® can help employers and team leaders to foster positive and productive teamwork and collaboration by identifying the unique Unconscious Motivators®, strengths, and weaknesses of each team member – pinpointing the recipe for the perfect blend of talent and ability to really make employees and their teams shine.


If you’d like to discover your Unconscious Motivators® or find out more about how PRINT® could engage your employees, email hello@discoveryourprint.co.uk, visit our website and social media (Facebook: @discoveryourprint, Twitter: @Discover_Print, LinkedIn: Print Profile Ltd) or sign up to our mailing list. If you’d like to bring PRINT’s benefits to organisations and businesses, we offer Accreditation courses enabling in-house coaches and learning & development professionals to become certified PRINT® coaches.