Published: Apr 15, 2019
The phrase “problem employee" typically conjures negative traits such as an outright defiance to managers, poor job performance, and a glaring lack of reliability. However, a problem employee isn’t always a blatant disaster. Sometimes, more subtle negative behaviors can turn a once-promising worker into a manager’s worst nightmare.
If you're wondering whether you might fall into this dubious category, these five signs could indicate your standing as a problem employee, or one in the making.
1. You have trouble finding past managers willing to serve as references for you.
Generally, high-performing managers and supervisors eagerly accept the opportunity to provide references for excellent employees when those people are ready to move on. So if you’re getting ready to apply for a new role and find that multiple managers from your past can’t (or won’t) be references for you, that may suggest that you didn’t make as positive an impression on those bosses as you previously believed.
2. You can’t think of a single boss you’ve liked.
Think back on the last several bosses you’ve had. Can you honestly say that you liked (or, at least, enjoyed working for) any of them? If the answer is a resounding “no,” it’s worth looking at the relationships you formed with these people and considering whether your distaste relates to those people in particular, or to the concept of authority in general.
3. You do exactly what’s required of you, and never anything more.
Of course, being a good employee doesn’t require logging excessive hours and performing work tasks that far surpass your job description. However, if, when asked to help with a project that isn’t technically your responsibility, your immediate reaction resembles, “That’s not my job,” it becomes difficult for your boss and coworkers to view you as a team player.
4. You’re very invested in office gossip.
Office gossip occurs in the majority of workplaces, and when it’s kept to a minimum and involves fairly innocuous topics, it rarely causes a problem. But if you make it your mission to hunt down and collect the latest rumors about your coworkers and then proceed to spread them like wildfire, you’re contributing to a toxic environment that reflects poorly on your professional value.
5. When you make a mistake, you seek someone else to blame rather than accepting responsibility.
Everyone makes the occasional misstep at work, and reasonable managers know that to err is human. The way that you handle your mistake often says more about you as an employee than the mistake itself. Therefore, when your boss asks you about a mistake you’ve made and you immediately scramble for a scapegoat to blame, rather than accepting responsibility and sharing a plan for rectifying the error, it will likely lead your supervisor to question your judgment as well as your trustworthiness.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.
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