7 signs that you’re actually a problem employee

Problem employees aren’t always the blatant disasters we may assume. Sometimes, a more subtle brand of negative behaviors can turn a once-promising worker into a manager’s worst nightmare.

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When we think of “problem employees,” a few traits inevitably come to mind, including outright defiance to managers, poor performance overall, and a glaring lack of reliability. However, problem employees aren’t always the blatant disasters we may assume. Sometimes, a more subtle brand of negative behaviors can turn a once-promising worker into a manager’s worst nightmare.


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Wondering whether you might fall into this dubious category? These seven signs may indicate your standing as a problem employee.

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, rather, 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 whom 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 those people and considering whether your distaste relates to those people in particular, or an adversarial perspective 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. You struggle with punctuality, even after managers have raised the issue with you

A sure sign of a problem employee involves a reluctance to accept constructive criticism from your manager, even about something as obviously important as timeliness. If your boss regularly tells you that you need to stop arriving at the office 15 minutes late, a continuation of that behavior with no mitigating explanation doesn’t just read as flighty or annoying…it reads as disrespectful.

6. 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 “whoopsie” 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 may lead your supervisor to question your judgment and your trustworthiness.

7. You overstep your role during your interactions with coworkers

Maintaining a functional, amiable, and collaborative relationship with your workplace peers is a crucial element to success in most offices. To that end, you want to avoid treating colleagues of equal hierarchy as if they’re your direct reports. Does that mean that you can’t share ideas about a project that you’re particularly passionate about?  Of course not! But it’s important to treat colleagues with respect and allow your peers to feel heard, respected, and valued.

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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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