Productivity, Work Culture

Traits of an unproductive employee (5 of motivated ones)

By on February 12, 2019

In the book Jack: Straight From The Gut, the legendary Jack Welch talks about how he heavily focused on creating a high performing culture at GE. Only those employees who conformed to standards he set, were allowed to stay. The rest had to part ways with the company.

This book talks about how he did not tolerate substandard performances in the workplace. Eventually his vision and determination led GE to achieve the phenomenal success that it is known for even today.

It is highly imperative that the workplace consists of individuals who are motivated as well as engaged in their work. Considering this, if you were tasked with finding out the least productive or completely unproductive employees within your organization, how would you go about the process?

Fortunately, there are some key traits to spot which can reveal extent of productivity of an employee. Observe the unproductive individuals and you will find that they will display some or almost all of the following traits in their behaviour.

Traits of an unproductive employee:


Habitual procrastination can be easily spotted. If an employee is putting off important tasks and focusing on smaller items that add little value, it is safe to assume they are procrastinating. It is much easier to indulge in mundane activities as opposed to focusing on responsibilities that require more concentration. These individuals somehow convince themselves that they can get the important task done at a later stage and it is probably not that big a deal.

While it is okay to take a break from heavy thinking from time to time, if it happens on a regular basis, the employee’s performance is bound to suffer.

Tip: Determine if the employee needs any guidance with the important tasks. Sometimes excessive thinking too can have a crippling effect. Help them break down the task into smaller achievable milestones and make sure they get started at the earliest.

Coming up with excuses:

It is okay to fall short of a target. Companies where stretch goals are practiced, allow this. But when your employees start coming up with excuses for every time they miss a target, you need to start paying attention to them.

Identify the reasons behind the shortcoming. If help is needed, provide it in relevant ways. If anyone consistently feels they are failing to live up to their expectations, they tend to lose their moxie. These individuals always find a way to shift the blame rather than take the responsibility of getting better at their job.

Tip: Fear of failure can prevent individuals from taking on bigger responsibilities. Let them know that it is okay to try and fail rather than avoiding the challenge. Even failures serve as a lesson to succeed the next time.

Constantly complain:

Ever noticed how there is always someone who is not satisfied with the way things are progressing in the organization? These individuals are frequently found complaining about one thing or the other. Nothing is ever right according to them.

While it may affect their own performance, it is definitely going to impact everyone around these individuals. No one likes to work in a negative work environment.

Tip: Speak with these people and try to find out the cause behind their dissension. If they are behaving in this way due to certain unresolved grievances, then those need to be addressed immediately.

Do not take initiative:

Some individuals never take any initiative even when their teams need it the most. They want to be spoon-fed at all times. They will however manage to fulfil their obligations by getting the bare minimum done most of the times. After a point of time, you do not expect much out of them anyways. These individuals are content sitting on the fence rather than being involved and getting their hands dirty whenever required.

Tip: Create a workplace where employees are rewarded and recognized for coming up with creative or innovative alternatives to common problems. Encourage employees to give their best and in return acknowledge their efforts publicly. While it motivates them, others also see it as an opportunity to prove their own mettle.

Productive and highly engaged employees also display a few traits that can easily distinguish them from the rest. Some of these are obvious and can be emulated by those seeking to get better at what they do.

Traits of a motivated employee:

Asks the right questions:

The first and foremost thing that these individuals do is ask all the right questions. They do not hesitate or stop themselves from asking questions for the fear of being ridiculed or appearing foolish.

To get the job done correctly, they need to make sure they know everything about it. Only when they have complete clarity about what is expected of them do they move on to the next step.

Sets goals and gets results:

Now that the expectations are clear, people can perform better as they have clear targets to achieve. These individuals usually set quantitative (also qualitative in some cases) goals for themselves and have a clear definition of success and failure.

Not one to fall prey to set-and-forget mentality, they frequently check in the progress of their initiatives. This way they can easily identify if they are on the right track and whether their targets can be achieved within the determined time. With such an effective approach, they are bound to consistently get results.

Seeks feedback:

Motivated individuals have a tendency of seeking feedback on a regular basis. On one hand, it helps them rectify their performance if needed and on the other hand their efforts can be commended by their managers/peers. It works both ways.

Always in a learning mode:

Some individuals consistently display a desire to learn, develop and grow their skill set. This behaviour, also known as the growth mindset, helps them to take on challenges that others would otherwise shy away from.

When you work closely with your team, it gets easier to spot traits that reveal who are the motivated ones and who are the unproductive ones. How do you spot either of these within your teams?

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