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The “ideal employee” is likely right under your nose


What do you think an “ideal employee” looks like? Could you be holding your team to impossible standards?

Whether subconscious or not, many employers tend to favor a particular type of employee: highly engaged in office activities or break room conversations, visibly enthusiastic about company culture, a tendency to overperform, etc. A recent survey from Joblist found that 25% of respondents who displayed outgoing or extroverted personality types received a promotion in the last year — the highest percentage of any group surveyed. When you feel passionate about what you do, it’s only natural that everyone else should feel the same…or is it? 

With widespread conversations around “quiet quitting” and employees’ preferences to work remotely or adopt more flexible hours, there’s an underlying tone that suggests to be a good employee, you must be outwardly engaged at your organization. We’re here to challenge that assumption.


What is an “ideal” employee anyway?

You don’t have to search far to find company leaders who display outgoing, extroverted, and enthusiastic personalities, and it’s true that they often make excellent bosses who can inspire and connect with people. The problem arises when they expect everyone who works for them to match their personality.

Many of our clients have written organizational mission statements and values that align with their executives’ personalities, using words such as “inspirational” or “passionate” to describe pillars of their team. While those characteristics are important to seeing company goals through and generating excitement for the work you’re doing, the truth is not everyone can — or wants to — fit into the same personality boxes. Measuring your employees against these personality-related traits can quickly lead down a road to resentment and frustration on both sides. 

Since childhood, many of us have heard the lesson that differences are a good thing, so it’s time we truly start believing it. 

Shift your mindset

Instead of focusing on how your employees or potential employees fit into your definition of an “ideal employee,” we challenge you to invest in people as they are now. 

Here’s the secret to employees who are content: They feel they’re being compensated fairly, they know exactly what is expected of them in their job duties, and they feel appreciated for the contributions they make. 

How would our workplace cultures shift if we met people where they are rather than where we think they should be? 

If your employees’ personalities or working styles don’t fit into your expectations, but they’re performing their assigned duties, we suggest shifting your own mindset. If someone isn’t enthusiastically joining in on company activities or “being an inspiration” to others, it doesn’t mean they don’t fit in at your organization. Making your employees feel appreciated and valued in their roles doesn’t happen through office pizza parties or company swag — it happens through being intentional in meeting their unique needs. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Respect boundaries and time. Remember that your employees’ jobs are one part of who they are. Expecting them to show up at happy hours with team members they see all the time or stay overtime at work after a full day is frustrating for them at best and a reason to quit at worst. 
  • Encourage different working styles. From communication preferences to career goals, everyone works differently, and that’s a good thing! Pay attention to what energizes or drains your employees. For example, if in-person meetings seem to leave them overwhelmed or unfocused, consider what can be communicated through emails or phone calls. 
  • Recognize them for the work they do. Everyone wants to feel that what they’re doing is important. It doesn’t always take “being passionate” to do a job well, and even your most introverted employees care about feeling seen. Regularly make a practice of recognizing your team’s contributions to the workplace. 

It’s beyond time that we start viewing differences in personalities and working styles as an asset rather than holding employees up to an impossible standard, or desiring carbon copies of ourselves. 

When you start to notice the strengths in your team and recognize them for who they are now, you just might find the healthier workplace you desire.