8 signs that you're a problem employee

How to Deal with an Employee with Personal Problems

Being successful at work is about more than the skills you bring to the job – it's also about your relationships with your colleagues, and especially about how your boss perceives you. You can have incredible skills in your field, but if no one wants to work with you, it's going to make your professional life harder and harder over time.

Here are eight signs that you might be perceived as a problem employee who's tough to work with – and that you could be putting your professional reputation and future options at risk.

1. You see management as your adversary. If you think peers who get along with their managers are suck-ups, and you see employee/manager relations as an "us vs. them" situation, chances are strong that your attitude is coming through to your manager and marking you as adversarial. And no one wants to spend their days working with adversaries, let alone pay them.

2. You say, "It's not my job" at least once a month. There are times when it's appropriate to say that you aren't the right person to do something, such as when you're swamped with work that your manager agrees is higher-priority. But if you find yourself refusing tasks on a regular basis, you're probably painting yourself as difficult. Job descriptions aren't comprehensive, and most people end up doing work that doesn't fall perfectly within their job description.

3. You take your manager's requests as "suggestions." Sometimes a manager's input really is a suggestion that you are free to take or leave – but more often, managers tend to expect you to do what they've asked. If you habitually ignore requests or input that you disagree with, over time your manager will figure out that she needs to scrutinize your work to make sure you're not rejecting aspects of assignments you don't like. You will probably not find that scrutiny pleasant.

4. You have trouble finding a former manager willing to give you a reference. If former managers don't get back to you when you contact them about a reference and they don't return reference-checkers' phone calls, there's probably a reason. Most managers feel incredibly awkward about turning down a request to be a reference, so if you're seeing a pattern of it happening, it's a sign that you need to rethink what's going on in those relationships.

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8 signs that you're a problem employee

1. Email signature.

Your email signature is possibly one of the most important branding tools you're not taking advantage of. It’s your chance to let everyone know what your expertise is, how to contact you and where to learn more about you online. Employees are often required to add the company logo, tag line and contact information to email signatures. As job seekers, an email signature is a subtle way to remind people what you do.

Quick tips: The most important information to include is your name, phone number, email address, desired occupation and link to your LinkedIn profile. An easy solution is to use an app like WiseStamp to create and insert your signature.

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2. Active and robust LinkedIn presence. 

LinkedIn has become a go-to source for companies of all sizes to seek out talent. While your profile will be similar to your résumé, it is not exactly the same. LinkedIn is a social network where people share information. Besides having a profile rich in content and media, you should also share newsworthy articles to help build your online reputation and stay connected with your network.

Quick tips: You must have a headshot, a headline that describes what you do and a summary where you tell your story. But don’t stop there. Embed a presentation that summarizes your experience or includes testimonials. Have you downloaded the SlideShare app for LinkedIn? What about the LinkedIn Connected or Pulse apps? ​These tools give you a better mobile LinkedIn experience.

(Photo: Getty)

3. An easily accessible, on-the-go résumé

There will be occasions when someone wants you to send your résumé ASAP or when you arrive at an interview and your résumé is MIA. Save your résumés so you can easily access them and share them from your mobile device.

Quick tip: Being able to access important documents from anywhere is critical not only in your job search, but at work, too. Learn how to save and share documents using Dropbox or Google Drive, which provide free storage and are easily accessible from any device.

(Photo: Getty)

4. Business cards. 

This may seem old-fashioned, but business cards make life easier. When you meet someone new or reconnect with an old friend, just hand him or her your card at the end of the conversation.

Quick tip: Your business card need only include the information you want to share: your name, occupation (or desired occupation), phone number, email address and links to any social media profiles, like your LinkedIn URL. If you want to use something more high-tech, try one of the apps that allows you to share your card from your phone, like CardDrop. Or pick up a business card with FullContact’s Card Reader.

(Photo: Getty)

5. Your perfected pitch.

You only have one chance to make a great first impression. Don’t blow it. You’ll need it when you meet people and they ask what you do. You’ll also need one customized for every interview you take. Your pitch conveys what problem you can solve for an employer. Use words and language to ensure your unique style and personality come through. And avoid résumé-speak or jargon that isn’t universally understood.

Quick tip: Keep your pitch under a minute, and practice so it sounds natural. If you need some guidance, check out the myPitch app created by Karalyn Brown of InterviewIQ.

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6. Target list of potential employers.

Rather than searching job boards all day, looking for the perfect job and getting lost in the black hole of applications, why not approach people inside companies you would like to work for? This route is more work up front, but it will help you stand out and rise to the top of the referral pile if you make the cut.

Quick tip: There are tons of apps for finding posted jobs, but what you really need is additional help networking. Don’t miss Alison Doyle’s new app called Career Tool Belt. It's loaded with job hunting tips, including the 30 Days to your Dream Job series to guide you day by day.

(Photo: Getty)

7. A dose of motivation.

Job searching tends to lead to frustration. Rejection is an unfortunate part of the process. Invest time doing things that rejuvenate your energy and keep you feeling hopeful, such as exercising, volunteering or learning a new skill. Keep moving forward and create to-do lists and follow-up actions every day.

Quick tip: Whether you use a calendar system or an organizational app like Any.do, mapping out your weekly activities helps maintain momentum and puts you in the driver’s seat.

(Photo: Getty)


5. You always ask for forgiveness rather than permission. It's true that as you advance in your career, you're expected to exercise independent judgment and make your own decisions in many areas, but if something is a major decision with high or public stakes, most managers want to be in the loop. If you regularly make calls that you know your manager might not approve and just hope you can beg forgiveness afterward, you're likely to seem like an increasingly high-risk bet for your employer.

6. You look for reasons things can't be done rather than looking for ways to do them. If your favorite refrain is "that will never work," you might be having a supremely frustrating effect on your team. People sometimes think they're serving a valuable role by playing devil's advocate, but constant naysaying takes the wind out of new ideas and initiatives and squelches people's enthusiasm.

7. You're stuck in a negativity loop. Occasional frustrations at work are normal. But if you feel negative about your job and your company every day, it probably shows – and maybe more importantly, it's probably affecting both your work and your quality of life. When that's the case, your best bet is to figure out whether there's a way to be reasonably happy at work or whether you'd be better off moving on. If you don't make that decision for yourself, it may eventually be made for you.

8. You've disliked every boss you've ever had. If you've never been satisfied with a manager you've worked with, you're the common denominator and it's likely to reflect something that's going on with you. It might be an inability to be satisfied, unrealistic expectations about work, a problem with authority, an anger problem, difficulty getting along with others or something else entirely – but it's worth taking a look at it and seeing if you can spot what's going on.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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