The Perfect Employee

Do you aspire to be the perfect employee? Perhaps you want to find and hire the perfect employee. Either way, this guide to recognizing the perfect employee is one you may find to be essential to your success. Please consider the guide carefully. As you will see, the perfect employee is rare. The best most of us can do is to come close. Even so, it’s well–worth the effort.

* The perfect employee avoids personal actions or involvements that may associate negatively with the organization.
If you are in the imperfect employee majority and plan to stay there, you likely believe that what you do on your own time is none of your employers’ business. The larger the organization is and the less important your job and you are within the organization, the more likely it is that your belief will work out okay for you. This is especially true if you stay out of trouble with the police and have no plan to get a higher position or more responsibility in the organization.

On the other hand, there are a few factors that can quickly make your personal life very relevant for your current and future employment. Two are central. First, the more sensitive to and dependent on public support or perception the organization is, the more your personal life matters and the more your behavior and personal choices become associated with the organization. Second, the higher or more important you and your position are in the organization or the higher your aspirations, the more your personal life matters.

The conclusion is easy. When employers are looking for the perfect employee or if you aspire to be the perfect employee, reputation, conduct and deportment do make a difference. Personal history, current and past reputation, the opinions of people who know you well and your current life circumstances matter a lot. They matter to perspective employers and equally matter to those who aspire to be the perfect employee.

* Shows up every day.
For most of us, this probably seems like one of those no brainers. For virtually all employers, though, it is far from a no brainer. I don’t know what the percent is, but experience tells me that it is about half and half. About half of employees show up every day unless they are truly ill or have a real emergency that prevents their being at work. The other half includes people who vary from those who make up an occasional excuse not to show up to those who use every excuse or justification they can conjure up. The worst of this group are those employees who don’t come to work because they just don’t feel like coming today.

Again, the conclusion is easy. Employers looking for the perfect employee stick with the group who responsibly come to work every day, in the absence of a legitimate reason not to be there. If you aspire to be the perfect employee, show up when you are expected, every time, on time, with none but legitimate reasons for being absent or late, no exceptions, no excuses. That is a major part of what employers mean when they talk about dependable employees.

* Is present all day.
This is obvious to most employees and employers but is a real brain twister for employees who just don’t get it. I think this is because there are only a few ways to be present and so many ways to be at work but not actually present.

Being present means that the employee is thinking about work and work–related activities, is paying attention to their work and to what is going on at work and is fully engaged with their work activities and responsibilities.

Not being present while being at work means thinking, doing and attending to anything other than work activities and responsibilities. The employee may be day dreaming, surfing the net, doing personal things on his or her cell phone, gossiping or socializing with other employees, taking care of personal business, spending way too much time in the restroom, taking way too long to complete work activities, or anything else that uses work time to do something other than work–related things.

Let me first be clear that no one can be present at work 100% of his or her work time. The reality is that an employee who is present over 90% of his or her work time is definitely up there in the perfect employee range. Having made that point, the conclusion is not complicated, but actually being present at work all day requires both commitment and personal discipline. If the employee doesn’t take personal responsibility to always be present, he or she will easily develop bad habits and make poor personal choices. The pull on one’s attention from non–work activities and interests can be quite strong. It’s easy to be or become a slacker. For employers and those aspiring to be perfect employees, slackers and those who are not fully present are out of the running.

* Is friendly and personable.
This is a two–parter. Being friendly comes first. Friendly is easily misunderstood. Some employees are more outgoing and others less. Some like to socialize and others are less inclined to just stop and chat. For some employees, being interrupted or distracted is not a big deal. They easily resume what they were doing or have little difficulty getting back on task. For others, staying on task or recovering from an interruption is quite difficult. None of this has much to do with being friendly. A friendly employee acknowledges others, does not avoid interacting with others, and interacts with others in a fairly open and easy way. They are comfortable with themselves and with spending time with other people.

The second part of being friendly and personable is key. Employees who are personable have a pleasant and approachable appearance and manner about them. They show a social green light most of the time. They don’t ignore others and aren’t someone who shows a social red light or even a yellow light very often. They are friendly and personable.

The conclusion here is usually fairly simple. Employers and those who aspire to be a perfect employee tend to favor employees who are friendly and personable. The important element is staying within one’s comfort zone. The key is to avoid overdoing the social part of friendly, while also avoiding any tendency to withdraw or avoid interactions with other people. There is a friendly sweet spot, and perfect employees find it and mostly stay in that sweet spot. They do this while assuring that their appearance and manner are consistent with being in the sweet spot.

* Is respectful and accommodating.
Being respectful and accommodating are the virtual other side of the friendly and personable coin. The hard part for some is understanding what respectful and accommodating really mean. It helps to see that people are multidimensional. They are complex. Briefly, people have physical, emotional, values, social, intellectual and cultural dimensions. Within these dimensions, each person is uniquely themselves. They have preferences and boundaries. Respect has to do with being sensitive to and taking time to understand the unique preferences and boundaries of other people, within their multidimensional self. First and foremost, respect’s bottom line is acknowledging the validity of the other person’s preferences and not violating their boundaries.

Accommodation then follows respect. The perfect employee adjusts his or her behavior and demeanor sufficiently to permit the other person to feel comfortable and respected. Preferences are validated, and boundaries are honored. Within that interpersonal context, the perfect employee is friendly and personable.

The conclusion is that being respectful and accommodating is sometimes easy and sometimes requires extra sensitivity, patience and interpersonal skill. Either way, the perfect employee always invests the time and attention required to be consistently respectful and accommodating. When employers see this ability in an employee, they know that there is a good chance that they have found a perfect employee.

* Conforms to organization culture, standards and expectations.
This certainly comes as no surprise. Employers are keen on employees who fit in, get along and go along. In part, this accounts for the tendency of organizations to mostly include employees who look alike, act alike, think alike, believe alike and you can add about any other “alike” that comes to mind. The smaller the organization, the more alike its employees are likely to be. It’s likely less true in larger organizations primarily because it gets harder and harder to find additional employees just like the ones who are already there.

It’s definitely tempting to take an extra hour, day or week to explain all of the down sides and drawbacks that result from this built–in lack of diversity and self–perpetuating sameness. The problems and issues are obvious, long–standing and nearly ubiquitous. Nonetheless, it is what it is.

The first choice of an employee prospect is to carefully explore the culture, standards and expectations of any perspective employer to determine whether they are a likely good fit. If so, then proceed. If not, the best choice for the perspective employee is to look elsewhere. Would that it was different, but it isn’t.

The conclusion from the perspective of potential employees is harsh. Conforming to the culture, standards and expectations of the employer is the only path to success. From the perspective of employers, there is a range of conformity that will be tolerated. Even so, the perfect employee conforms completely. Anyone who aspires to be the perfect employee will understand that reality and will conform.

* Is honest and trustworthy.
This comes pretty close to being one of those no–brainers. Employers have no interest in employees who are dishonest or who can’t be trusted. In most organizations, it’s close to a one strike and you’re out issue. Cheat, steal or lie and you’re gone.

There isn’t much to be gained from belaboring the point, so let’s cut to the chase. Employees must be honest and trustworthy, and employers are justified in expecting honesty and trustworthiness. Perfect employees are scrupulously honest and take personal pride in being both trusted and trustworthy.

* Avoids gossiping and negativity.
It may be surprising to recognize how difficult it is to avoid gossiping and negativity. In most work environments, it’s close to impossible. The key here is, “close to.” It’s not literally impossible but does require continuous attention and vigilance.

It’s safe to limit our interest to gossip and negativity directed to employers, co–workers and to clients and customers. Let’s call it work–related gossip and negativity. I doubt that much more explanation is needed. For most if not all of us, we’ve been there and done that. Sure, some of us more than others, but nonetheless, none of us are totally innocent.

The conclusion works like this. If being a perfect employee is the goal, Gossip as little as possible, as infrequently as possible, and then focus really hard on gossiping less and less often. Add that to a conscientious commitment to personally directing no negativity toward the employer, co–workers or toward clients or customers. You’ve heard the adage before. If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing.

* Doesn’t complain about or criticize others.
This is little more than an extension of avoiding gossip and negativity. The point of including it is to give substance to the gossip and negativity perfect employees avoid. Most gossip and negativity in work environments boil down to complaining about and criticizing the employer, co–workers, or clients or customers. More specifically, complaining about the employer or criticizing co–workers combine to account for at least 90% of all gossip and negativity at work.

That makes the conclusion much easier. To be a perfect employee, don’t complain with anyone about the employer and don’t participate in the criticism of a co–worker with anyone. Just don’t do it.

Does this mean that the perfect employee does nothing about real problems or serious issues? It assuredly doesn’t mean that. Rather, the perfect employee only discusses the problem or issue with someone who has the position and authority to solve the problem or resolve the issue. In the meanwhile, he or she avoids gossip and negativity, does not complain about or criticize others.

* Is helpful and cooperative whenever he or she reasonably can be.
“I get up, go to work, do my job and go home. That’s all I’m getting paid for and is all I’m going to do.”

Well okay. If that’s how you feel, it’s certainly a choice. Your employer is definitely going to be okay with your choice, so long as you are actually doing your job. It’s likely that you will keep your job – that job – as long as the employer needs someone to do that specific job. A promotion is not likely nor is being transferred to another job if the employer’s needs change. Even so, your employment is probably safe for now.

There is an important reality within every organization that may not be obvious. If each employee in the organization did his or her exact job and never anything more, the work would get done but not nearly as completely and not nearly as efficiently. That’s where helpful and cooperative come in. There are always little glitches, unanticipated problems, things that don’t work as they are supposed to work and people who aren’t performing as effectively as they normally do. At those times, people make the difference.

Think about helpfulness and cooperation as the oil that reduces operational friction, that gives the organizational moving parts a little wiggle room and makes up for those minor glitches and unanticipated operating problems.

That makes the conclusion clear. Employers value helpfulness and cooperation. Among other benefits, they serve the interest of the bottom line. In turn, employers prefer employees who are helpful and cooperative whenever reasonably possible. For the employer and for those who aspire to be perfect employees, being open to helping and cooperating is a definite no–brainer.

* Does whatever he or she commits to doing.
This is obviously important but is critical for those who aspire to be perfect employees. Usually an employee will get a pass if he or she misses a deadline or fails to follow up or follow through. The same holds for not getting around to returning a call, keeping an appointment, responding to a text or e–mail or just not doing whatever he or she was expected to do, especially if the miss is atypical or infrequent. For those on the perfect employee track, though, the standard is higher and absolute. Commitments are kept, no exceptions, no excuses.

It’s necessary here to emphasize a point that may not be quite so obvious. First, there are explicit commitments. The employee commits specifically to do this or that. He or she may commit verbally or in writing; but either way, the commitment is explicit. Beyond explicit commitments, there are implicit commitments. Here for the perfect employee are things like getting back with people who try to contact him or her, dealing with problems and issues as they come up, keeping his or her boss up to date –– particularly about any problems or glitches, always completing assignments and handling responsibilities, being on time and doing things on time.

The conclusion is easy to label but very difficult to achieve. The perfect employee keeps his or her commitments, whether explicit or implicit, no exceptions, no excuses.

* Does today’s work today.
This is one of the most difficult concepts for many employees to grasp but relatively easy to implement. The key is a change in perspective. Most employees were taught the new perspective when they were young. “No dessert until you finish your meal.” That’s not a new perspective? No, it isn’t; but far too many employees seem to have forgotten it or don’t know that it’s an important principle, not just something they were told as children.

There is a second part to the principle. Just because something doesn’t have to be done right now, doing it right now is never a bad idea. Even if it can’t be done this very minute, it can most always be done today. If that just won’t work, it can be the first thing done tomorrow. The point is that the perfect employee never puts anything off any longer than absolutely necessary. When a task is due is far less important than why it hasn’t already been done.

The most common excuse is, “I don’t have time. That’s why I’m always behind.” Let me simply suggest that putting things off and postponing working on jobs is little more than a very bad habit for most employees. If a little incentive is needed, a job done now most always takes less time than it will take to do it later and there is no time spent worrying about getting it done.

It’s another easy conclusion. Employers always prefer employees who consistently do today’s work today; and those who aspire to be the perfect employee make doing today’s work today a habit. They are also first in line for promotions and expanded responsibilities.

* Does his or her work competently, thoughtfully and completely.
It may seem remarkable that I’m just now getting around to including actually doing the job for which the employee was hired. After all, the job is the reason he or she was brought onboard. It follows that the employer expects the job to be done competently, thoughtfully and completely. For that reason, the employer only considered hiring people with the necessary education, training, skill set and experience to do the specific job; or so one might think.

The point needs to be made that employers frequently don’t limit the potential employee pool to people who are actually qualified for the open job. They seem to assume that everyone with a particular educational background or work experience are equally qualified to do any job people with similar backgrounds do. That is definitely an invalid assumption. There are other questionable assumptions that often creep into the hiring process, resulting in individuals being hired into positions where they are just not qualified to do the job, little lone doing the job competently, thoughtfully and completely. Job seekers beware. Just because you are offered the job doesn’t mean that it’s a job you will be able to do competently, thoughtfully and completely. More specifically, it doesn’t mean that it is a position where you can excel.

Those who aspire to be the perfect employee are well–advised to seriously think about how well they believe they will do in any position offered to them. Take the time and ask the questions required to be as sure as possible about the position, exactly what work is required and what else is expected, what support and training will be provided and what the work environment will be like. Is this a position where you can excel and flourish? It’s your career that is at risk if you get this wrong.

What is the conclusion? The employer makes its choice. The potential employee makes his or her choice. If the decision is to join forces, it’s up to the employer to keep all of its promises and commitments and for the new employ to give the opportunity his or her best effort. For those who aspire to be the perfect employee, the job gets done, competently, thoughtfully and completely, 100% of the time, no exceptions, no excuses.

* Looks for opportunities to thoughtfully improve outcomes for co–workers and the organization.
This is one of those easily overlooked activities that distinguishes the perfect employee from his or her peers. It’s also a central element causing others to highly value having him or her around. They really believe that things would go far less well for all of them if he or she were to leave. This added value also does not go unnoticed by those more senior in the organization.

There is a caution. Making a special effort to help others and the organization succeed and going out of one’s way to be helpful are good approaches to job success but watch out for too much of a good thing. The employee’s positive attitude and approach can be abused and misused by others. They can come to assume that the employee will drop what he or she is doing and help them. Organization superiors can also take advantage of the always ready to pitch in and help employee. The perfect employee takes care that helping others or going above and beyond never interferes with getting his or her work done, competently, thoughtfully and completely.

The conclusion requires a careful balance. The perfect employee does what he or she reasonably can to improve outcomes for coworkers and for the organization. He or she is a good team player. At the same time, the perfect employee takes care to assure that he or she always does his or her work, competently, thoughtfully and completely, on time, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.

* Appropriately engages customers, clients and other stakeholders whenever and wherever he or she has contact with them.
This brings us full circle. The perfect employee is not always at work but is well–aware that he or she is always an employee, a representative of the organization. What’s more, any interaction he or she has either at work or elsewhere may knowingly or unknowingly involve an organization stakeholder. Even more challenging is the fact that one never knows who someone else may talk to or may pass along what the employee has said or done. Whether we like it or not, we are always on stage and our role in the drama is as a representative of the organization. The perfect employee takes this role very seriously.

The conclusion is clear. If one aspires to be the perfect employee, don’t gossip about anyone or anything related to work with anyone, avoid any negativity or criticism of anyone or anything at work and be alert to those times when getting pulled into gossiping or negativity may be too tempting to resist. And here is a pro tip. Employers frequently see if they can get a job seeker to criticize or comment negatively about their current or previous employer. If the interviewee comes to the bate, the employer knows that this person is not going to be the perfect employee.

Now you know, so there you go.