How to Be a Great Employee (And Make Yourself Happier In the Process!)

by Rebecca Harmon, MPM, RHIA, CCA

Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about being a good employee, and being a not-so-good one. I’ve spent my fair share of time as the office rock star but would be lying if I didn’t also report that I’ve spent time as an employee the boss wants to punt. But that’s OK – because if the river is always smooth, you never learn how to successfully navigate the rapids. I can state without hesitation that I can not only survive the rapids, but come out stronger on the other side.

Before you can move from being the office pariah to being a valued and well-respected Coder, you must be able to recognize what separates the two. What follows is a basic guide for evaluating your place on the continuum. Understand that this is a starting point and not the definitive guide to transformation; but a journey of a thousand miles still begins with the first step. This is a first step.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that yes – there are lousy supervisors and managers out there. We’ve all worked for one at some point in our careers. Consider it part of your on-going education if you’ve experienced it and survived to tell the story. It’s important to note, however, that if you leave a bad boss and find that your next boss has many of the same bad habits, it might be time to spend some time in front of the mirror. I hope it goes without saying that if you’re on boss #3 with the same bad habits that it’s past time for a serious self-intervention.

If a light bulb has come on for you, keep reading. The following is a short list of some of the habits common to great employees. If you don’t recognize yourself, don’t despair – rehabilitation is always an option and it’s not as hard as you may think!

  1. Don’t be unteachable. In sports, kids that are teachable will rise more quickly to the top of the team’s starting lineup than the kids who want to do things their way. If you’re an employee who insists that your way is the only right way, you’re quickly headed to the bench for the season and maybe longer. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked there, what your previous boss said you could do, or how it was done back in the day. Employees who are teachable are capable of growth, and if you’re capable of growth you’re an asset. If you’re not, you’re a liability and the organization will be looking for opportunities to replace you with someone who’s an asset. The world moves fast these days and no one has time to coddle a spoiled little leaguer.
  2. Don’t be a drama queen (either gender). If things are piling up on your desk and you’re feeling overwhelmed, the best strategy is to ask for help. This applies whether the amount of work is overwhelming, the skill set you have is not where it needs to be to tackle the work, or your own habits have created a backlog that has caught up with you. Quality employees – the ones managers want to coach and keep – are willing to ask for help. Hysterics and histrionics belong on reality TV – not in the workplace. High quality employees know this and act accordingly.
  3. Don’t keep score. Small children look at what their siblings or classmates get and whine if it looks BIGGER or better than what they have. Mature individuals understand that what they SEE is often not the whole story and so they concentrate on doing their very best, and not on keeping score with those around them. Spend your time upgrading your skills; turn your time and attention to solving a problem for your organization; reach out and offer to help someone who needs it. Don’t spend your time keeping a tally sheet, because chances are, when you pull it out to point out the discrepancies, you’re going to end up feeling foolish, or worse.
  4. Don’t be a tattle-tale. Employees whose first response to correction or criticism is to tattle-tale to the big boss, HR, or the Union are revealing something important about themselves and it’s not a positive reveal. Real growth comes when we sit with the discomfort of being called out on something and look hard at what we need to learn. If we never allow ourselves the time and attention to focus on what isn’t working, we’ll never figure out what we can change to improve our positions, our jobs and careers and we’ll end up stagnant, out-dated, and irrelevant.

If you’re dissatisfied with the opportunities that your career has presented to you this far, go through this list and honestly assess your history of responding to coaching, criticism, or correction at work.

  • Did you get hysterical or run to HR, the Union, or the big boss?
  • Did you dig your heels in and wave your finger in the air, pronouncing that “s/he isn’t going to tell me how to do my job”?
  • Can you list five people who are at fault for your failures, without your name appearing anywhere on the list?
  • How often, in the face of a challenge, do you say “I accept responsibility for this mess in my life”?

Here’s a simple formula: if the # of times you accept responsibility for the challenges in your career are more numerous than the times you blame others for your challenges, you’re on the right track. If it’s reversed, you have some work to do.
= if (I accept responsibility for my life) > (it’s someone else’s fault), “Success!”
= if (it’s someone else’s fault) > (I accept responsibility for my life), “Intervention time”

The bad news, if you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions, is that the only person who can change your trajectory is you. There are no magic pills, formulas or incantations that can quickly transform your current situation. The GOOD news, however, is that the only person who can change your trajectory is also you which means that you can begin today, right here, right now to do the work needed to make the changes that can chart your path to a better place.

This is simple, but it’s not an easy task. And in some cases, you may need to leave your current job to get a fresh start in a new place. But when you consider that we spend a majority of our waking hours engaged in work and work-related tasks (commutes, e.g.), the answer becomes obvious: it’s time to begin.

You can do it, and it is well worth the effort. Good luck!

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About the Author

Rebecca Harmon, MPM, RHIA, CCA
Rebecca Harmon returned to HIM practice in a leadership role after spending many years as an HIM educator. Tapping her broad history of diverse healthcare experience that began with a tour of duty in the US Navy, Rebecca writes regularly and speaks on education, workforce issues, management and life. An energetic and engaging speaker, Ms. Harmon enjoys sharing her unique perspective with student, faculty, professional and community groups.

4 thoughts on “How to Be a Great Employee (And Make Yourself Happier In the Process!)

  1. Linda Wyman - March 6, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    I love your articles, they are inspiring and encouraging for self development

    • Rebecca J Harmon - March 14, 2019 at 1:35 am

      Thank you !!

  2. mamta patel - March 6, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    this is the best article I have read

    • Rebecca J Harmon - March 14, 2019 at 1:35 am

      Thank you!