7 Secrets to Being a Good (Even Great) Employee
While it can be difficult to define the traits of a good employee, it's easy to describe the perks.
A good employee, for instance, gets raises, promotions, and praise from managers. She is often a role model for her peers, gets selected for unique projects, and makes the whole work thing look easy.
But what does it mean to be a good employee? And what skills can you work on developing to ensure you're considered a good — or even great — employee at your own company?
Here, I spoke with HubSpot employees and managers to determine the soft skills required to be a good employee in any role, to ensure you're earning some of those perks we discussed earlier. Let's dive in.
1. A growth mindset and willingness to learn.
One of the biggest strengths of any good employee is an eagerness to learn and a growth mindset.
A growth mindset, a term first coined by Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, means you believe you can develop and refine skills and become better at something over time. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, means you feel that your intelligence and skills are inherent and unchangeable.
In the workplace, a marketer with a growth mindset might decide to take a few analytics courses to develop skills related to data, even if her background is more creative in nature. Alternatively, a marketer with a fixed mindset would avoid those courses, claiming "I was never good at math. It's just not something I can do."
A growth mindset can influence an employee's motivation, work ethic, and how well she responds to constructive feedback. As Dweck writes, "The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it's not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives."
Ultimately, a good employee is someone who is eager to try new things, adopt new skills, and grow.
As HubSpot's Marketing Manager of the Website Blog, Anna Fitzgerald, says, "A good employee is someone who can notice opportunities where it would make sense for your manager to delegate a task or project to you. It's a win, win. You take something off your manager's plate, and the new responsibility helps you grow and develop new skills."
2. A positive and solutions-focused attitude.
Employees enjoy working around people who are positive and solutions-focused when challenges arise.
It can be stressful to work around someone who focuses on the negative, or demotivates the rest of the team. For instance, at a previous company I used to work with someone who didn't feel fulfilled in his role. As a result, he often expressed his criticisms for the company to the rest of our team — which wasn't a great motivator for anyone.
A positive attitude can inspire your peers to work harder, and lift your team's spirits when you're confronted with a frustrating obstacle. Plus, happiness is correlated with greater success. In fact, one study found happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees, and happy salespeople produce 37% more sales than their unhappy counterparts.
A positive mindset also helps you shift more quickly into a solutions-focused attitude. For instance, negativity might cause you to feel frustrated when a roadblock presents itself. You might resort to self-blame, criticism, or simply a lack of motivation to alter your strategy.
A positive attitude, however, can help you remain confident, calm, and level-headed when a challenge arises. Positivity can help you reframe the problem in your mind, so you're able to say, "This challenge is actually an opportunity for us to rethink our strategy and create a better solution as a result."
Of course, everyone is allowed to have bad days, but the sign of a good employee is someone who doesn't let that bad mood get in the way of problem-solving or building strong team morale.
3. Empathy and emotional intelligence.
HubSpot's Marketing Manager Kristen Baker told me she feels that empathy is a critical trait for becoming a good employee.
She says, "A good employee demonstrates empathy when engaging with both colleagues and customers. Additionally, a good employee shows she cares about the impact her work has on those around her."
Baker adds, "Empathy can help you put yourself in your customers' shoes, which can increase motivation and purpose. When I understand our customers' challenges better, I see how much my own role can help serve those needs, and that motivates me to work harder."
Additionally, emotional intelligence is a vital skill for employees and leaders to hone. The ability to regulate your own emotions — as well as the emotions of others' — has proven invaluable in the workplace.
To increase your emotional intelligence, try taking an EI quiz to determine how emotionally intelligent you are, and then identify areas for improvement. (HubSpot even offers one!)
To practice empathy in the workplace, consider asking colleagues how they're doing, and practice active listening skills to develop rapport over time. For instance, if a coworker mentions he's celebrating his birthday this weekend, remember to follow-up and ask how it went.
Additionally, take the time to understand how your products or services meet your customers' needs. Put yourself in their shoes. Listen to customer interviews or read survey responses to better understand your customers' challenges, which will naturally enable you to feel more empathy towards your customers.
Being accountable simply means taking responsibility for your actions, and this is an incredibly important skill in the workplace.
People mess up every day — it's how you handle your mistakes that matters. Go directly to your boss, outline the issue at-hand, and explain how you might've created or contributed to the problem.
Showing you're not afraid to admit when you're wrong is a sign of a good (and honest) employee. It doesn't help anyone when you try to hide problems or point fingers.
Additionally, it's impressive if you take the time to self-reflect and consider how you might change your approach so you meet your goals next time.
For instance, if you're responsible for getting 12 posts published per month and you only manage to get 10 completed, you'll want to figure out what prevented you from meeting goal.
Then, when you approach your manager, you can say something like, "I had a difficult time with the last two pieces because I didn't accurately account for how long each piece would take, particularly the pieces that require external quotes. Now that I've reflected, I've recognized that I'll need to write three pieces per week, and give myself an extra couple days to conduct outreach and collect quotes before I begin writing my quote pieces."
5. Critical, big-picture thinking.
A good employee takes the time to pause in his day-to-day and assess bigger-picture goals, always ensuring his work aligns with the company's goals and has a positive impact on the company's bottom-line.
Even if you've just started at a new company, it's never too early to ask questions and take an interest in the larger organization. Strategic, big-picture thinking is a sign of a good employee, and your boss will take notice if you take the time to think critically about the problems or tasks at-hand and how they fit into your company's overarching strategy.
Charlene Strain, a HubSpot Associate Marketing Manager for Global Co-Marketing Acquisition & Partnerships, considers ambition to be a vital trait for any good employee.
Ambition can look differently for everyone, but in this case, we're talking about ambition as it relates to scalability.
As Strain notes, "To be a good (and even great) employee, you have to look for scalability in every aspect of your role. Find ways to make a process smoother, or implement processes where there isn't one."
Strain adds, "If you move up or out to a different role, think about if someone else could fulfill your day-to-day duties easily and grow the role and program. If not, think about ways to lessen this friction."
A good employee considers how she can make her role more efficient for the company at-large. She also considers how she might create new processes to make her whole team's outputs easier.
For instance, I've seen colleagues clean up outdated filing systems and create new, streamlined Google Drive folders for easy access to critical information. I've also seen colleagues re-shape how they tackle their own daily tasks for more efficiency, which has then been used at-scale to rework how HubSpot writers create content.
When you're in a new role, take the time to consider inefficiencies or small details that could lead to problems as you scale. Those issues could become growth opportunities.
7. Good communication skills.
Finally, a good employee is clear and direct with colleagues. She practices good communication skills — including active listening, setting clear expectations, asking questions, and showing interest in what the other person is saying.
We've all worked with colleagues who don't seem to listen when we speak, or don't follow-up on something they said they'd do. It's frustrating, and can reduce trust. A good employee practices strong communication skills every day — both in-person, and online.
A good employee is also able to articulate when she can, and can't, take on additional projects. This is part of setting clear expectations.
As Jen Stefancik, HubSpot's Team Manager of Channel Promotions, tells me, "You can say 'no' and still be helpful. For example, you shouldn't take on work you cannot or should not prioritize, but you can still put in the extra effort to suggest other avenues, resources, or advice to the person asking for help."
It's important to note — becoming a good employee takes time, and there will be setbacks.
As Clint Fontanella, Manager on HubSpot's Blog team, puts it, "Most people want to get ahead fast. They want to make more money, get a better job or promotion, and they start to measure themselves on that, rather than day-to-day performance. You're going to have bad days. There are people who are going to get promotions before you do. Your friend might land a new job and make more money."
"All you can do is focus on you and be as consistent as possible — both in your work and in your attitude — and good things will happen."