7 inarguable signs you’re an ‘incompetent employee’

This article was updated on July 29, 2021.

One of the most powerful assets in a company is the employees.

However, one of the most significant liabilities for a company is also its employees. The impact employees have on an organization is painfully obvious when incompetent, and dead-weight workers infiltrate it.

Organizational culture will usually determine whether incompetent employees are allowed to remain or weeded out. A culture filled with fear and intimidation passed down by the executive leadership will often keep others from being whistleblowers. 

Whistleblowers run the risk of being singled out and targeted if an incompetent employee is favored by leadership. In this type of organization, incompetence can run rampant and destroy the company from within.

If you look around and you can’t spot the incompetent employee, maybe that employee is you.

7 signs you’re an “incompetent employee”

Here are some of the tell-tale signs you are or are working with an incompetent employee.

1. That’s not my job

Nothing is more frustrating than employees who refuse to do anything outside their expressly stated job descriptions.

Good employees will usually take on extra responsibilities and are rewarded with increased experience and opportunities. 

Incompetent employees will rarely take on any extra responsibilities for self-serving reasons such as fear and laziness.

2. Quick to blame others

We’ve all been there. Our boss is furious because something didn’t go quite as planned. However, the reason for the mess up wasn’t our fault – it was our coworkers. At this fork in the road, we have two options. 

The first is to keep our mouth shut, apologize for the mistake, and ensure we will fix it as soon as possible. The other option is to tell our boss it wasn’t our fault and it was Susie who caused the problem. 

While this is the truth, the constant deflecting can be a sign of incompetence. If you’re competent, in time, the boss will recognize your skills and work ethic. If you’re incompetent, you will forever feel a need to blame others. 

3. Quick to take credit for every good thing

Similar to those who are quick to blame others, incompetent workers are often quick to take credit for the team’s success.

There is no “I” in team, but there is in “incompetence.” Workers who rely on others to look good rarely forgo receiving credit for accomplishments.

4. Make hard workers feel bad

This is another typical incompetent employee tactic. This employee scolds their coworkers who go above and beyond and “make the others look bad.”

They will tap into peer pressure to keep others from excelling and encourage them to stick with the status quo. If you despise the hard workers in the group, you may be an incompetent employee.

5. They believe seniority means they don’t have to work as hard

I don’t care if you’ve worked for the company for 20 years; it doesn’t mean the first-year employee should be required to work harder. Often the old salty veterans are quick to sit on their rear ends and bark orders at peers. 

It’s usually a mystery to figure out what these workers actually do. While there certainly are informal leaders in an organization, true leaders lead from the front rather than the rear.

6. They fight innovation and change

The old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is not entirely accurate. I know plenty of old-timers who are well versed in social media and technology. Those who embrace change are willing to learn new skills and adapt to the new normals. 

Incompetent employees fight change at every turn and are rarely willing to embrace innovations that are good for the organization.

7. Their work product is less than stellar

The most obvious sign of an incompetent employee is one whose work performance is consistently poor and requires the other teammates to fix it.

Underperformance not tied to laziness or the other above-stated factors is a clear indication of incompetence. 

Are you an incompetent employee?

More than likely, if you’re reading articles on the Ladders, you’re a self-starter and one of those motivated employees who makes the others look bad.

Fight toxic organizational cultures that embrace incompetent employees.