10 Tips to Be a Better Employee

smiley face donut
(Guest Post by Dr. Dean Burke)

What would your co-workers say if they were being honest about you at work?

  • “She’s great!”
  • “I love how he always pitches in!”
  • “She’s a whiz with those complicated formulas-but doesn’t brag about it!”
  • “Did you see how she calmed that a-hole down that was complaining? She had him eating out of her hand!”
  • “Have you ever seen him frown or lose his temper?”
  • “Why is he so happy?”
  • “What’s SHE smokin’, I want som’a that!”

Or do you think it might be more like:

  • “What a bastard/bitch!”
  • “Don’t get in her way at 5:00, you’ll have Louboutin prints on your back.”
  • “Has she ever volunteered to work extra on a project?”
  • “Why hasn’t the Enquirer hired him yet? He knows more gossip than Kristin on “E!””
  • “The only time she smiles is when she’s blowin’ smoke up the boss’s…..”

My longtime employees told me years ago how afraid of me they were when they first started… And I’m a puppy dog. But because I’m a quite introverted and serious puppy dog, who frowned too much, they thought I was an ass.

What does it matter what your co-workers think? What your boss or your team thinks? Well, it matters only to your financial future and your work place happiness. How will you climb the ladder or become more successful in this economic environment without being a star? You have to be someone who makes the whole team better. Someone, as the saying goes, who is better than the sum of his parts…

The Dead End: You Or The Job

I have had the pleasure of hiring and working with lots’a folks over my 30 years owning a business, and have been on the boards of companies/organizations with hundreds of employees. And yet it still amazes me how many people think they’re under-appreciated and under-paid.

We have met the enemy, though, and we are it! We have the unlimited capacity to be self-delusional. You know who YOU would rather work with, but does anyone ever think that you’re THAT person???

Those that get ahead the quickest have a few basic skills in common. The old saying – common sense isn’t very common – has been repeated trillions of times ’cause it’s true!

Ten Tips To Success

What are a few basic tips for you to take to work tomorrow that will make you a better employee?

  1. Show up with a smile! Show up with a smile! Show up with a smile! A sense of (appropriate) humor will get you a corner office or promotion quicker than a snark or cynic.
  2. Don’t be the first out the door! No, I’m not just sayin you have to be a workaholic with no family life. But don’t let your mind/focus beat you home.
  3. Don’t bring your problems to work-and if you do- remember number 1! Fake it with a smile the first hour and you’ll get your mind where it ought to be.
  4. Compliment the folks one step below you, your equals, and those one step above you-any time it’s appropriate. Practice it on little things until it becomes automatic. If you get razzed about it, that probably means you are not doing it right. Learn your coworkers hobbies, their family issues and what makes them tick.
  5. Never criticize those same people unless it’s in private, and done in a “What do you think you might have done differently?” method rather than, “What the hell were you thinking, dumbass?” method.
  6. Never be satisfied with your knowledge of a subject. Those who don’t continue to learn are going backwards. If you aren’t reading journals in your field, going to conferences– even on your own dime- you’ll soon be the old guy in the same job you have now. Or out on the street…
  7. Learn about areas outside your focus. If you’re a new grad, don’t just work on your own project, see how your manager deals with staff, clients, and bosses. See what works and what doesn’t. Use those skills with your co-workers. If you’re an engineer, see how the sales department closes the deal. Use that knowledge to ask for a raise or get that special project you’ve been eying.
  8. Always review your email before you hit send: Forwards and replies are like snakes in the grass waiting to strike! A respected mentor of mine still gets red in the face remembering one such mistake. Never send an email when you are angry or upset. If you have something controversial to discuss, Pick Up The PHONE, dammit! E-mails are forever! People have trouble understanding moods when reading-they may miss your sarcasm and get the wrong message. (EDITOR’S NOTE: If you use Gmail, click under “labs” and add “Undo Send” to your account. It saves me every single day!)
  9. Be on time (That’s French for early) and ready to work.
  10. Deliver before deadlines and without reminders.

Think about your own career

  • Are you on the fast track, or the bridge to nowhere?
  • Are you the “go-to” guy, or the “I hide when I see him coming” guy?
  • Are you the one people come to for advice, or just to share an inappropriate joke or comment?

Seeing the real you in the mirror-can be painful. Realistic self-evaluation, even when it hurts, can help break bonds holding you down. If you have a trusted friend at work, do a little constructive criticism of each other. Without change, that glass ceiling you imagine might really be made of 20 feet of concrete, and titanium re-bar, speckled with kryptonite…

Don’t wait on that bunker busting bomb to free you! Free yourself!

Just as a professional golfer goes through the difficult process of breaking down his swing, and developing new muscle memory to improve his score, you must do the same at work.

Now, go break par, and don’t forget to enjoy the round!

Dr. Dean Burke blogs at The Millionaire Nurse where he teaches the basics of personal finance using humor and his medical background for a unique twist. His blog has been mentioned from the LA Times to CNN/Money.

(Photo by DaedaLusT)

(Visited 13 times, 1 visits today)

Get blog posts automatically emailed to you!


  1. David August 31, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    Great tips for being a better employee. It’s win-win for you and the company you work for. I’m grateful that I’ve been self-employed for 10 years and don’t have to answer to management. At this point, I may be ‘psychologically unemployable’ :-)

  2. Melissa August 31, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    Excellent post! I think often people forget how important in a job setting it is to be just generally pleasant to be around.

    We recently hired someone new at my work, and the ongoing joke was that the main qualification for that person was, “must get along with Melissa” because I’m the person they’d be around ALL THE TIME. It was kind of a joke, but not really. I mean, I can train someone to do the job, but I can’t train someone to be able to hold an intelligent conversation and laugh at my jokes…much as I’d like to try.

  3. Ten Bob August 31, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    I was feeling sluggish this morning until I read your post. As it turned out, I got into my office earlier than I’ve been in for a month! :)

  4. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager August 31, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    Couldn’t agree with you more. My first job ever was being a lifeguard and my boss told me “I pay you to smile”. That lesson stuck.

  5. Dr Dean August 31, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    @David, I agree, when you’ve been self-employed it’s a difficult mindset to work for others. But remember, those who are married or have a S.O. are skilled at making others happy-unless you’ve been divorced 5 times. Then maybe they need to read this too!!!
    @Mellissa-perfect example. Hopefully you aren’t tooooo hard to get a long with! LOL!
    @TenBob-Bettern’ a cupajoe, huh!
    @Jenna-even funeral directors need to be able to smile and have a sense of humor! Thanks!

  6. Jessica August 31, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    While some of these tips are great and I’m generally known for being the volunteer for anything, official team motivator, and happy go lucky gal; there needs to be realism. The reason that employees act the way do is a direct result of workplaces showing no loyalty to employees. After suffering round after round of layoffs, position changes, company changes, years without a pay raise, etc. a worker comes to realize that they are often times nothing more than a body in a seat unless they have an exceptional skill set and even then they can be used to train the replacement that will work for half the pay. I hold back on a job because I have no idea how long I will be there and I am constantly looking for the next step up even if that step takes me out the door.

  7. MD August 31, 2011 at 8:40 PM

    I can not stress the importance of not bringing your problems to work. This is often embarrassing and at other times very annoying. I have a co-worker that comes to work sad and emotional any time that something minor goes wrong in his life. He’s very grumpy and rude. Everyone is sick of him. He wonders why he gets the least amount of opportunities. Go figure.

  8. Jaime August 31, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    The problem is that a lot of workplaces tend to go into office politics. I read a study a few months ago that women and minorities tend to hit a glass ceiling so they often start their own companies and succeed.

    Yes it important to be a people person but if you feel like office politics is too much or you’ve hit a glass ceiling then you need to do your own thing.

  9. Dr Dean September 1, 2011 at 7:57 AM

    @Jessica-no doubt there are many crappy work places. But many “crappy” work places are that way from one or two cynical unhappy foks poisoning the well for the rest.

    If you have an evil boss or supervisor-make life plans to change things. Those who keep their head high and their sense of humor intact will get a new job faster than those who are a sullen, woe-is-me person.

    @Jen, good luck with your job search. I’m sure the right one will come along.
    @MD-you are right-on. Most folks are blind to their faults-it takes a lot of maturity to ask the question-could it be me or my attitude that is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
    @Jaime-you are correct. Your career may evolve-and you need to go in a different direction. Nothing wrong with that. You should have a realistic view of your future, and if there is none based on an accurate appraisal, move on. My post was to encourage folks to make the most of their work life and gifts. There are lotsa businesses who will make room for a excellent employee who may not normally be “hiring”.

  10. Heather September 1, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    I completely agree with leaving your problems at home. Years ago, I used to air out my occasional problems with my boyfriend (now husband) to some of the girls I worked with (we were all close friends) and it’s just not appropriate. I don’t feel it held me back, though. Since then, I have grown up and learned to keep my mouth shut in the office.

    I also agree with SMILE. I am a naturally happy person. I’m pretty bubbly and perky, even first thing in the morning. I can’t stand being around people who don’t smile or who are always down in the dumps. Good moods are infectious. I’m also known to be a little silly to help lighten the mood around my office. :)

  11. Dr Dean September 2, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    Every office needs a positve, bubbly person to keep things lively! Thanks for the comment!

  12. J. Money September 3, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    Thanks again for guest posting for us Dean! Glad others enjoyed this as much as I did :)

    @David – Haha, I like that – ‘psychologically unemployable’
    @ – Hah! Now THAT is awesome :) I’d totally laugh at your jokes! Esp if they’re cheezy ones – those are my faves.
    @Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager – So true!!! haha… love it.
    @Jessica – I think that can be the case too, but usually you’ll still make it a LOT farther if you go overboard and just kill it with both hustle and kindness. I’ve been at places where everyone held back, and because of it I excelled w/out even having to do much more than them cuz they all slacked! Makes the hard workers look even better ;)
    @MD – Agreed!!
    @Heather – I get accused of being “too happy” sometimes, haha… but much better to give off that impression than the annoying downer! :)

  13. Natalie @ Mango September 6, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    I think your point about recognizing our own faults is very important when talking about work-place behavior. I think a lot of the time, people don’t even realize that they are coming off as grumpy or hard to talk to, at work more than anywhere. When you’re at work, you are focused on getting a job done; you are busy; you are, well, working. It’s hard to remember in the middle of all of that, that you might come off across as annoyed or unapproachable. One of my favorite moments in Seinfeld is when George says in order to look like he is doing a good job at work, he just “looks annoyed” all the time. And it’s true! So just be extra mindful while you’re at work. People (like your boss) are bound to notice your attitude– even if you don’t!

  14. Dr Dean September 6, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    Great point Natalie. This requires an effort for most. But with practice, it will become second nature!

  15. J. Money September 7, 2011 at 2:26 AM

    Haha, I love that!!! I mean, not the part of always being annoyed-looking, but that it’s true that it DOES look like you’re working hard! haha… nice share :)

  16. Williams September 7, 2011 at 2:45 AM

    i personally feel the workplace should be conducive enough for workers to express opinions and introduce innovations without the fear of releave. employers should find time to actually findout from thier employees espcially in smaller organisations the best way to relate with them, that you pay your staff doest mean without you life will end.

  17. J. Money September 7, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    Agreed. Any CEO/Founder that literally has their door open anytime for their employees can really make a difference. The last two startups I worked at had this policy, and it really gave us all that feeling that we can voice any concerns/ideas/etc we have, and that they’d also be listened to face-to-face. Big fan of that.

  18. Paul @ SideGains November 2, 2019 at 9:28 AM

    Top tips. What the subtext to me in most of them is being respectful to people and behaving in a way you’d like your co-workers to. The workplace is a far better place without misery, sniping and poor engagement.