Good Employee, Bad Employee, and Becoming Indispensable

Posted: February 18th, 2017

Written by: David J. Volk, Esq. | February 9, 2017

Be indispensable or you might be dispensed with.

Good enough is not good enough. Until recently, mediocre performance was all too often tolerated. Boom times meant there were plenty of jobs. A lot of employers and customers had to tolerate less than the best performance. Well, the worm has turned. Your new benchmark needs to be great performance or you have a pretty-good chance of losing what you have and not easily replacing it.

Companies have downsized, people are not spending freely, jobs are scarce, and there are many qualified applicants for each available position. When employers are considering hiring new people, they struggle with whether it is the right choice or not. Job performance has a direct bearing on how successful a business is going to be, and in many cases, whether they are going to survive.

So, every job matters a great deal. Never think you are unimportant. There is an old story about a battle being lost for want of a nail. Put another way, a chain will break at its weakest link. Every employee matters. If you feel unimportant, it is time to start thinking differently.  

Your way of thinking must be that each task you perform matters. Each phone call, each customer contact, each task you carry out defines you. Be defined in a way that makes you proud. If you make that your way of thinking, you will be on your way to indispensable. Don’t make it just about you though. Others are counting on you as well. Your performance may affect whether they continue to have a job or get raises or get bonuses. You are not an island.   




A great employee does what they are supposed to do every time with no one having to worry that the work will be done. They do work right and on time. Dependability is probably the greatest single aspect of a great employee. If you can’t be counted on to get things done, there is a real risk others will get more and more of the work you used to get. 

Team Player

A great employee does not constantly seek attention. They work with everyone else to make sure that the things that need to get done do get done well and on time.

Takes Direction

A great employee takes direction, including criticism and advice, gracefully and makes this input work for them in carrying out their duties. Everyone I meet with must have a pad and pen and take notes when I give instructions on something. This has a number of benefits: you must pay attention to take notes, your chances of remembering what was told to you increases five to six-fold if you write something down, and you do not have to go back and ask what you were told to do. Think of the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza was given an important assignment and all he could remember about the task was that it had something to do with ‘downtown.’ If you have any doubts whatsoever, ask if you understand the assignment correctly while you are getting the instructions. It makes you look like you care about getting it right the first time.


A great employee is trustworthy. They do the right thing. They can be counted on to always tell the truth even if it’s not especially popular. If they did something wrong, they have the integrity to admit it was their fault. 

Participates in the Life of the Workplace

A great employee participates in the day to day life of the office.  He or she does not bow out of meetings or skip office birthday celebrations.  These activities enhance camaraderie and a sense of team effort. A great employee will not shirk participation in them. No man is an island.

Gets Along with Other Employees

A great employee minds their business and does not get under everyone else’s skin. That person saps office moral. You need to be a good co-worker to everyone which includes not looking down your nose at anyone. A two-faced person who is nice to people higher up the ladder and not so nice to others is going to make a lot of enemies.

Good Working Skills

Great employees strive to do their jobs with great skill and look for ways to do better. Consider yourself a lifelong learner if you want to succeed. If you continue to improve your skills, people will notice.     

Tact and Decorum

Great employees deal with sensitive issues in private and with diplomacy. They don’t tell tasteless, political, or religious jokes or send emails that do the same. Have a filter: ask yourself, would I tell my mom or dad or my boss this joke?

Great Attitude

A great employee helps make work great for everyone by having a good attitude about their job. Attitude is contagious. A bad attitude brings everyone down.

Knows the Employer

Your employer has goals and they should be something you believe in. A great employee will strive to help the company accomplish its mission. You are not just drawing a check. Your performance helps or hurts achieve success.

Takes Criticism Gracefully

It takes a strong and very smart person to accept that they need to improve. Constructive criticism can give an employee valuable ideas as to what is expected of them, what areas need improvement, and what needs to be worked on first. A great employee will use this input to improve their performance. The employee that rejects that advice is doomed. Doomed.

Cultivates Relationships with the Gatekeepers

Custodians, personal assistants, secretaries, bookkeepers and cafeteria workers are all important people and often wield more influence than many realize.  A great employee realizes that people with operational roles such as these can often be very helpful (or not) if they choose to be. A great employee treats all others with courtesy, respect and kindness. On a recent airplane flight, a smart executive told me he was brought to fix a company. His first step was to interview people from all over the company to figure out what needed to be fixed. Everyone matters. In Almost Famous, Lester Bangs counsels young William about the people in high school that were mean to him. He said, ‘you’ll see them again on the long journey to the middle.’ The high and mighty often fall because they are so proud of being high and mighty. And, that can get you in trouble.   

Learns New Skills

Times and technology change, and business demands change with them.  A great employee will look for opportunities to improve his or her skill set. Love technology. Learn it. The person who says ‘I am not good with computers’ is good to be on the outside looking in.

Is Never on Time-Is Early

A great employee strives to be early preferably by at least 15 minutes.  That way, if you are running late, you will still be on time. Note that overtime law is a big risk for a company. Make sure you follow company policy on work hours.

Asks About Expectations

An employee who asks about expectations as to his or her productivity will stand out from 95% of the other employees. How could anything be easier than saying what do you expect and how am I doing?

Is Part of the Solution

A great employee doesn’t whine about what’s wrong, and is vocal about what’s right. A positive attitude goes a long way.  If you do have to report a problem to a superior, take a suggestion for a solution with you.  Even if your solution is not adopted, you will be perceived as a problem solver instead of a complainer.

Doesn’t Drag Their Feet

A great employee doesn’t procrastinate and consistently let work go until the deadline is upon them and then have to rush to get it all done. In addition to driving bosses and co-workers crazy, enough last minute work should be done in the normal course of business to make unnecessary procrastination a bad idea. A great employee strives to have the reputation of getting all work done well ahead of deadline.

Gets Quiet and Gets to Work

While it is important to establish camaraderie and a good rapport with co-workers, that does not justify spending a half hour each morning comparing notes as to the previous evening’s activities with colleagues.  When this happens at least two people are wasting time.  A great employee will exchange pleasantries then get quiet and get to work.

Is Always Productive

A great employee doesn’t let work sit untouched on his or her desk for days. Instead they get it done and move on to the next task.

Dresses as Well (or better) than the Boss

A great employee shows pride in their work, that they are proud of their role and take it seriously by dressing for success. Dress professionally. Visible tattoos and piercings and edgy clothing approaches will offend a lot of decision makers. 


Everyone responds well to a confident, forward looking (but not arrogant) personality. A great employee who takes pride in doing his or her work well should let it show in a confident demeanor. Of course, there is a fine line between pride and bragging. Just knowing you can handle any challenge will manifest itself outwardly without effort.

Volunteers to Help

A great employee is a team player and cares more about getting the work done than claiming the credit. By volunteering, you may be able to select the role you will play in a project rather than having it selected for you. Think also, I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Help a colleague that is in the weeds and they will usually be there for you.

Limits Time on Personal Phone Calls, Emails, and Texting

While everyone has to deal with emergencies and personal business during working hours from time to time, it is always a good idea to limit these activities as much as possible. Other people can and do notice. And, a lot of companies have policies against this.

Stays Late

Other people notice those co-workers who hit the exit the second the closing bell figuratively strikes.  A much better impression will be made by those who stay 15 minutes extra.  The extra time can be used to get organized for the next day or to straighten up your work area. Blowing out the door right on quitting time is a clock watcher that is watched by people that may not approve. Again, be careful to comply with company policy on overtime.

Offers Guidance and Encouragement to Junior Employees

Everyone needs help from time to time, and no one ever became a success entirely on their own.  Helping junior employees learn the ropes shows interest in not only them but in the success of the business for which both of you work.

Avoids Arguing

If a great employee sees a problem, he or she is right to point it out (tactfully, and maybe offer to help also), but you should avoid having the discussion degenerate into an argument.  Remember that every opinion is right to the person who holds it.



“You bad man. Very, very bad man.” Babu Bhatt to Jerry Seinfeld (who is quite convinced he is a very, very good man for advising Babu.)


A chronic complainer sees the worst in every situation. On a rainy day, it’s too wet, on a sunny day it’s too bright. Their work station will be too small, the break room too large, or the chairs too soft, too hard, but never just right. People like this have a negative impact on their entire work environment which can often outweigh any contribution their skill set brings to the table. They bad mouth the boss or co-workers. Some are so bad they don’t stop at seeing the glass as half full. They are convinced it has a crack in it.

Naysaying and Lack of Enthusiasm

These people find a dozen ideas why every new idea cannot work.  They often show a general lack of enthusiasm for work requirements and are often unwilling to cooperate with new ideas.


This can take the form of speculating on the “real” reason for a co-worker’s absence, sharing information about a co-worker’s relationship problems, or raising the unconfirmed possibility that layoffs are coming. Malicious gossip such as this can destroy company morale and efficiency. 


These people have a superior, egotistical attitude and believe they’re never wrong. They can be pushy, demanding, argumentative and prone to abusive behavior. They thrive on the chaos they create and go out of their way to push other people’s buttons.

Laziness and Irresponsibility

Employees such as these are continually late for work and miss deadlines. When they don’t complete work, they make excuses and blame others for their failures. They show little concern about the success of the employer and don’t seem to care about their own careers either.


What could be worse? Your word needs to be your bond. Once you start selling your integrity for short term benefit, you have lost it.



Do What Others Can’t or Won’t

Employees who can get things done are highly prized. “Can do” people rarely turn down an assignment and always give their best even when not initially successful.


This is highly prized in almost every context. An employee shows loyalty by giving their best, refusing to gossip, consistently doing good work, and sticking with an employer during hard times. Employers routinely hold on to employees even if it means they don’t get paid. It can also be demonstrated by carrying out instructions as best you can, by communicating civilly and working out problems, and by carrying out functions in a prescribed manner even if you disagree with the procedure.

Being Proactive

Take responsibility for your own work and your own career advancement. In difficult times, make a special effort to be helpful not only in your own department but in related departments as well.

Giving your Best

Keep a positive mental attitude.  Employees with a good attitude, energy and the ability to work well with others will always stand out.


Every employer wants employees with good communications skills, including willingness and ability to listen. Business communication should be accurate and brief. Never lose your cool or whine. If you are upset, even if (and maybe especially if) justified, calm down before expressing yourself.

Being Caring

Imagine the favorite employee at your business who is also a senior decision-maker. That person almost certainly is perceived as genuinely caring about his or her co-workers. That person also almost certainly has great ability to get those working for him or her to perform at a very high level.

Strategic Volunteering

You can increase your value to your employer by volunteering for tasks for which you are not normally responsible. Choose projects with tight deadlines, especially ones that your boss could not complete alone.

Being the Turn To Person

Be the person the boss can turn to whenever there are difficult tasks to accomplish. Remember to treat these matters confidentially if circumstances so require.  When you are given tasks outside of your usual responsibilities, take the opportunity to learn about new aspects of the business. Learn to do some of your boss’s chores.


Employers value workers who are prompt, do good work on a regular basis, and can be depended on in both routine and emergency situations and during good times and bad. Dependable workers are far more indispensable than those who are not.

Being Pleasant

All bosses like pleasant employees because they are easy to work with and to have around. Other people feel the same way. Strive to be pleasant with everyone. No one wants to work in a toxic environment. Do you want to be the hazardous substance?




Merriam-Webster Dictionary / indespensable

Jonathan E. and Others, How to Be a Good Employee

Ann Frederick, List of Bad Employee Characteristics

Suman Chhabria-Addepalli, How to Become Indispensable at the Office

Frencessa Yin, Be an Indispensable Employee to Keep Your Job    

Ekta Bhatnagar, The Indispensable Employee



David Volk, a Business Litigation Attorney with Volk Law Offices, P.A., has 29 years’ experience and can be reached at or by visiting VolkLaw online at 

The matters discussed here are general in nature and are not to be relied upon as legal advice. Every specific legal matter requires specific legal attention. 

The law is constantly changing and matters discussed today may not be the same tomorrow. Legal matters are also subject to different interpretations by attorneys, judges, jurors and scholars. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created as a result of matters discussed here. You should consult counsel of your choice if you have any dealings in these areas of the law. Volk Law Offices, P.A. and its attorneys make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the matters addressed.