I don’t have any employees, not have I been an employee myself in years. However, I am a consultant. And as a consultant, I hear a lot.
Not too long ago, in a seminar on human resources management, the discussion turned to what makes an employee valuable. The topic intrigued me because the managers in that room were from two generations – baby boomers and Gen. X-ers. The complaints of managers from both generations seemed to focus a lot on the way in which millennials approach work. The word that kept popping up was “entitlement”: According to many people, millennials seem to feel entitled to great benefits and flexible work hours, but they lack any dedication to their jobs and companies.
I left that seminar with a goal in mind: to survey all of the organizations with whom I have worked over the past several years and ask them to list the most important qualities of their best employees. I had hoped there would be common threads that united great employees across industries and organizations – and, indeed, there were.
Here are the top eight qualities that respondents to my survey listed as characteristics of their best employees. I hope that job seekers will have a look at this list and reflect on how these traits will help them find success in their careers:
To say someone has character can mean a lot of things, but here is how the managers with whom I spoke defined it: First and foremost, character is honesty.
A number of the respondents added sub-traits like “trustworthiness” and “upstanding.” Managers want employees who stick by their ethical principles and never discarding them for the sake of expediency.
Dependability boils down to trust. Employers want to be able to trust their employees to fulfill their responsibilities without lots of hand-holding, coddling, or continual monitoring.
One of the complaints I’ve often heard is that millennials seem to want to work on their own schedules, but they don’t realize their schedules impact the schedules of their fellow team members. Employers want employees who understand that deadlines exist for a reason and that they have responsibilities to their colleagues.
3. Broad Skill Sets
This was the only trait among the top eight that related to hard skills. Of course, employees who have the skills needed for a specific position are good candidates for that position. Employees who keep learning and broadening their skill sets are even more valuable.
One respondent used a real estate analogy to explain the importance of employee skill sets: “When we buy a home, we do things over the years that will increase the value of that home. We make improvements. Managers want employees who work to increase their own value to an organization by adding to their skill sets and bringing ‘mini-skills’ to the table as well.”
This trait is of extreme value. When an employee can be given a long-term task and has the ability to tackle it on their own and meet all the deadlines with no prodding, a manager has one less thing on to worry about. Managers want to see employees who can manage their time well and who will stick with something, no matter how tedious or how challenging it may be. They want people who, when facing a task, will not give in to distractions or find excuses.
This one was a bit of a surprise. I did not think that it would be among the top eight, but sure enough, it is.
Employers like employees who are attentive listeners, especially during meetings and conversations. Many employees are so bent on making themselves positions heard that they fail to listen. Miscommunication and misunderstandings are the result, and these are never good.
This was high on everyone’s list – and also a cause for complaint during the seminar. The employee who fulfills the responsibilities outlined in their job description brings value to an organization, but the employee who goes above and beyond to improve the organization overall is absolutely invaluable. These employees are continually engaged at work and are busier than most of their colleagues because they think outside the box.
Employees who are dedicated to their own success tend also to be dedicated to the success of the organization – provided that they are not unethical in their pursuit of personal success, of course.
This last trait relates to many others on this list, and that is why it is bringing up the rear. Diligence, according to respondents to my survey, means “seeing things through” and “not giving up” when things see insurmountable.
Employees who exhibit diligence do not have that sense of entitlement that many of the managers in the seminar complained about. Instead, these employees feel that they owe their diligence to the companies – that their diligence is what earns them the benefits they desire.
A number of other traits popped up during my survey, but these top eight encapsulate all the most important aspects of what it means to be a great employee. Think of this as a checklist: the more value you can bring to an organization through these traits, the more career success you will see.