How to be the best employee

Author : Amanda Minuk

Being good at your job is something they don’t teach you at school. Here’s what you need to know. 

Higher education does a great job at teaching technical skills- from accounting to marketing, finance to engineering and everything in between. This is important because organizations need people with specific skills to get the job done.

But what is equally needed, yet under emphasized in higher ed, is what many may refer to as ‘soft skills’. Adaptability, accountability, positivity and communication just to name a few.

Universities are not teaching the etiquette or grit that’s needed to become a high performing employee and you, and your managers, are suffering because of it.

Why is it that there’s no emphasis on how to thrive in an office? No course on how to be a good employee or colleague? The first ten years of work sets the trajectory for the rest of your career, so knowing the secrets of high performers early will help you become irreplaceable, promotion-ready and raise-worthy.

Perhaps some people believe these are traits or lessons that can’t be taught, but I disagree. I think anyone can learn how to thrive at work if they have the right information and the motivation.

While this information is especially critical for new graduates, the lessons are applicable no matter where you are in your career journey. After speaking with a few high performing managers, here are their secrets on how to be the best employee.

1. Always put your hand up. 

Being a team player who takes on more than the job description is a key to being a great employee and showing value. When your boss asks for help, raise your hand to take on the extra challenge. Standout employees always take on additional projects.

2. Be proactive. 

Better yet, don’t wait to be asked. Be motivated to seek out challenges, propose ideas or ask your manager to take something off their plate. The best employees are not passive, they take initiative and run with things.

3. Work hard to create value. 

In school you could get away with slacking off or not putting in your full effort all the time. But not in the office. Top performers work hard and put in their greatest effort all the time. Prove yourself different than your colleagues- look to where you can add value to the team, your boss and the organization— make yourself invaluable.

4. Bring solutions, not just problems.

Problems and challenges will come up in every job. It’s inevitable. The best employees do not just bring the problems forward to their boss and let them deal with it- they come with solutions. While you may not always have the perfect answer, help your boss by showing that you’ve thought through some possible options.

5. Don’t complain.

No one likes a whiner and that is especially the case in an office setting. Managers can’t stand employees that complain about little issues that are outside of their control. Keep your complaining to your friends and family and maybe your best friend at work, but not your boss. Try to have a positive attitude- this doesn’t mean you can’t challenge ideas or question things.

6. Know that you are replaceable. 

Ouch. While this sounds a bit harsh, it’s the reality, especially early in your career. Having the mindset that someone is waiting for your job, can give you the extra motivation you may need to go the extra mile at work.

7. Make your own development plan.

Top performers make their own development plans, they do not wait for their manager to create something for them- because often that doesn’t happen. Chart your own path for growth and bring forward your goals to your manager. It’s important that you understand that while your organization wants to see you succeed, it’s still an organization with its own goals.

8. Never stop learning. 

The best employees know they don’t know everything and strive to continue to learn. Top performers still make mistakes, but what defines a top performer is that they learn from it.

9. Be adaptable. 

Circumstances change all the time. The best employees are able to modify their expectations and adapt to new situations. While it may be uncomfortable, top performers know that it is inevitable and strive to be flexible. This is especially true in the social impact sector.

10. Don’t expect a promotion. Earn one.

Everyone is not entitled to a promotion after a year. Promotions are earned when you show sustained great work.