Why Do High-Maintenance Employees Get Ahead at Work?
A low-maintenance strategy may be the key to your career advancement
By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | September 12, 2017
Let’s begin with a less-than-clinical definition. A high-maintenance employee is one who demands your attention at work for some reason/purpose that is completely self-serving.
A high-maintenance employee will drain your energy throughout the day because it serves their interest-of-the-moment. At the end of the day (and if their need for attention has been satisfied), a high-maintenance employee typically feels pretty good about themselves until tomorrow. You see, this need for attention must be satisfied on a daily (or more frequent) basis. On the other hand, everyone else ends their days feeling exhausted with little hope for tomorrow because it’s unlikely this person will ever change.
There is nothing quite like working with a high-maintenance, egotistical employee who is the champion of his/her success, but never responsible for any problems or failures at work. The only redeeming comment I would have for such employees is: If you insist on being high-maintenance at work and demanding attention from everyone else, you had better be a financial rain maker.
However, today’s message is for the rest of us. We cannot afford to be influenced by high-maintenance employees. The attention they receive is too often negative, and their behaviors limit their careers.
If you intend to experience progress throughout your career, you don’t want a reputation of being a whiner or complainer about anything—from how much money you make to how another employee uses their vacation time. Complaints will attract negative attention at best. Frankly, drawing negative attention to yourself is about the dumbest strategy you could choose if you want to advance in your career.
Employers want employees who are responsible and proven reliable in difficult situations and challenging times. So, don’t complain, pass judgment, or spread gossip when the company is experiencing difficulties. Work harder and develop a low-maintenance approach as an individual and as part of a team.
When times are difficult, managers need employees who can help reduce their level of stress. You want to be that employee. You want to be the employee who delivers for your manager. You want to take on as much extra work as feasible. You want to make fewer mistakes than anyone else. You want to demonstrate initiative to the extent that your manager always feels confident that you are doing your job and he/she can count on you to do it well.
When your manager makes a request, respond immediately. If such a request comes by email, send a quick response saying, “I just received your request, and I’m working on it.” The manager now knows you’re working on the request, recognizes you as a responsible employee, and that you are again proving yourself to be reliable.
Whenever you have a meeting with your manager and team, be prepared. Anticipate questions that may be asked. Make sure you have whatever information you may need for a productive discussion. It’s frustrating for a manager to conduct a meeting with people who are unprepared. It makes you look bad, but it also makes you look like you don’t care.
Why do high-maintenance employees get ahead at work? The answer is because rather than everyone else demonstrating their competence and outstanding contributions in the workplace, they instead focus on avoiding these difficult employees, which makes otherwise better employees less visible and less competitive.
Employers do not typically want to advance high-maintenance employees (unless it is a relative or someone of unique influence). As such, it makes sense to adopt a low-maintenance strategy, which involves being more positive, reliable, responsible, and a better team player. All of which makes your employer’s job easier. It’s a strategy in which you’ll gain positive attention, and it may be your ticket to the next step in your career.