Deadbeat Employees

NPR had a piece on Deadbeat Dads yesterday (the U.S. Supreme Court is getting involved) as I was slowly coming out of my night’s slumber. I’m a product of divorced parents – they split when I was ten (some of you are now nodding your heads and thinking, “well, that explains a lot.”) Thankfully, my dad was (almost) fully engaged in our rearing; I mean, he wasn’t all that great about taking us to the dentist or dealing with any of the other day-in-day-out crap of corralling kids, but we saw him twice a week without fail, he listened, and supported, and he honored every last cent of his child-support agreement…plus some. He is no deadbeat.

The damage and havoc wreaked by deadbeats in this world is staggering. Hopefully you don’t need this blog post to educate you on this well-established fact. Have you ever thought about, though, the damage caused by deadbeats in your workplace? I’m not talking about deadbeat dads who work for you – that’s another matter. I’m talking about deadbeat employees. They aren’t deadbeat because they don’t show up; they’re deadbeat because they suck the life out of everyone else while they’re there. They aren’t always easy to identify and are even harder to publicly label once found.  No one likes to really talk about it; we make excuses for them; we praise their accomplishments and overlook their faults. But they are deadbeats never-the-less.

In my mind, you’re a deadbeat employee if you:

  1. Don’t show up to company events
  2. Ignore company-wide communications and external press on your organization
  3. Fail to give performance feedback and reviews to your employees…on time
  4. Take little interest in what your employees’ annual goals or long-term aspirations are – professionally and personally
  5. Have no involvement in recruiting talent to the organization
  6. Bad mouth your employer in public
  7. Couldn’t spout off at least one interesting fact about every employee you’ve ever worked with
  8. Refer to your employer as “the” company rather than “our” company
  9. Volunteer for nothing
  10. Refuse to accept employment as a two-way proposition

These things are expensive…to everyone. They impact the productivity, profitability, and all-around cultural fortitude of your organization. Why would you – why do you – stand for that? I honestly don’t care if you’re God’s gift to whatever product you sell or service you deliver. I’ll take inferior skill or intellect over your deadbeat behavior any day of the week. If you have employees like this (and you do) I’d say it’s high time you had a pretty serious conversation with them. If they don’t respond, kick ‘em to the curb cuz that’s about the only place a deadbeat belongs.

Image Credit: pag asa (flickr)

  • John Hunter

    It seems to me a bit harsh to compare missing those traits in an employee to a deadbeat dad. There is a difference between being a deadbeat and being lame or being less than effective or having shortcomings. To my way of looking at things I want employees to on-balance be a contributor. But people contribute in different ways. We don’t need everyone to list off the same traits and get annoyed at those lacking them. If someone has a couple weaknesses but has some really valuable contributions too – I think that is often preferable to people that don’t have any significant failing but don’t really have anything special they contribute either.
    John Hunter´s last [type] ..Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search

  • Charlie

    @john – to me these aren’t traits…they are the price of admission. we’re not talking about developing an expertise in any one of these things, we’re just talking about showing up, being visible, taking part, pitching in. These things while not always explicit but should very much be implicit in any job description. i don’t expect everyone to be an expert coach or mentor, for example, but i at least expect them to give it a shot and get it done and do so on time. i don’t expect everyone to be great at mingling or glad-handing or socializing, but i expect them to show up in support of a common cause. i don’t expect everyone to wave the company banner every where they go, but i expect them to keep their mouth shut if they have nothing nice to say…or move on to some other organization for that matter. this isn’t really about contribution – it’s about a fundamental level of engagement. and if you can’t post up to that fundamental level then in my mind you are in fact a deadbeat – and a drain on my energy, resources, etc.
    Charlie´s last [type] ..Deadbeat Employees

  • Jay Kuhns

    Great post Charlie. One of the things I love about being in HR is that I can remove deadbeats from my organization. It’s satisfying personally, but it is even more impactful when the deadbeat’s former colleagues reach out and thank me for helping move that person out. They deserve that kind of support from us in HR.
    Jay Kuhns´s last [type] ..Cant You See Im Busy!

  • Charlie

    @jay – that’s the thing i love the most…your good employees know who the deadbeats are. and your good employees get even better when they don’t have that crap to deal with. thanks!
    Charlie´s last [type] ..Deadbeat Employees

  • Rick

    Interesting article. Although I don’t quite agree that not showing up at company events or not volunteering constitutes deadbeat behaviour.

    I’m part of the sandwich generation and have to commit all of my non-work time to family obligations.

    Does my missing company parties or not having time to volunteer because of this make me a deadbeat?

    I don’t think so.

  • Anne

    When the company event is an after hours happy hour and people have children to pick up from daycare, yes, they may not show up and still not be deadbeat employees. Other employees have a 2 hour daily commute and may not want to do another 2 hours on the freeway to attend a company event on Saturday. Some employers don’t want employees to “waste” time learning interesting facts about every employee you’ve ever worked with.

    Let’s get realistic and stop with the lists that fill space, but are not relevant.

  • melissa

    I am thankful for hiring (and firing) my deadbeats for one reason: Without the bad apples my good ones wouldn’t taste so sweet.

  • Richard L. Diaz Sr

    There are alot of HR managers & employees that don’t Get It. They are actually holding up progress in their companies as they use THEIR personal politics to hire and judge. I love my career and position as a manager that consistently enjoys working in a team environment. Food Service is my passion. Has been for 25 years. Been there, done that and even burned the T shirt.

  • Charlie

    Thanks, everyone, for your insightful comments. I need to respond to Anne (and then Rick), though. “Not relevant” is a bit of a generalization don’t you think? I mean, you spent time reading it, it evoked an emotion, and then you commented. I’d say that constitutes “relevant” as far as you are concerned. Listen, nothing in the world of work is black and white. I understand the concept of multiple commitments and prorities; I have two kids, a wife. And a train to catch. And sometimes – in fact a lot of times – work takes a back seat. But every now and then the family takes a back seat and they need to understand why. You have an obligation to show up at work events and to volunteer every now and then – your family does NOT give you a free pass. And if you think it does, I believe you’re teetering on the edge of deadbeat. Thanks

  • Jane Sailors

    The American Heritage Dictonary defines a deadbeat as, A lazy person; loafer. I certainly do not loaf on the job. If I did nothing would ever get done. I to am part of the sandwich generation, helping with the grandbabies and helping with my mother-in- law. On top of this I also am taking a class and working three jobs. I do not feel I am deadbeat because I don’t attend school functions such as prom where the music is so loud a person cannot talk without yelling. If this qualifies me as a deadbeat, then so be it.

  • Perk

    Where in your determination of whether or not someone is a deadbeat do you look at their productivity doing the work they were hired to do?

    In my mind a deadbeat is someone not doing their job, whether or not they are also social butterflies.

  • Amy

    It has been my experience that if you work for a great company with exceptional management the employees respond in kind. When employees get complacent and just don’t care it is usually the company who isn’t appreciating or rewarding their employees. Companies better get it or the next generation will respond even worse. Companies need to understand the employee is an asset. Anyone who gets it understands that you have to take good care of your assets in order for them to appreciate in value. There are companies out there that have a very low turnover rate and then there is the other kind of company.

  • Charlie

    Maybe I should have titled this “Deadbeat Sandwich Generation.” Sheesh. And why is everyone so bent out of shape over the social point…#1? There are nine others…what about those? This isn’t a white paper – it’s a blog. Of course productivity matters. But my argument is that some of these other things, particularly if u r a manager, leader, or in a position of influence can be just as important. In fact, my argument is that without this stuff, your negative impact on the org may far outweigh any value you bring from your “productivity.”

  • cps

    A deadbeat employer turns a upbeat employee to a deadbeat one. It is the successful employer who makes it clear to its employees that it is a two-way proposition for achieving corporate goal by ensuring individual employee’s aim in professional and personal life. If the employer fails to cultivate it fails to reap the collective success. Sharing failure is easy but sharing success is what most of the company tumbles and deal with bunch of deadbeats.

  • Justice4You


    Diaz Sr. is right on. Many so called “managers” and HR departments don’t get it and never will. If you don’t drink the cool-aid you become a “deadbeat” ?!?!

    The time these red tape bandits spend “checking up” on everyone elses “contributions” is the real waste of time and “big-brother” nonsense.

    Not being able to give lumps of “extra” time to the company means you have a life ! News flash…have a balanced life is the opposite of office politics and the all too common work-a-holic American tendency.

    Europeans get more done than American workers while taking MORE vacation and spending LESS time at the office “contributing”.

    And sorry Charlie…family taking second place is the reason America is slowly drifting down the drain…read the news lately ?? Every extra hour sacrificing for the company is more health and domestic catastrophy our economy can’t handle.

    Feel free…be the “company kool-aid man” and lose all respect. Same as the brown-nosed brat back in school we all hated. And you wonder why employees don’t want the socialize with the likes of you !?!?

  • Charlie

    whoa, nelly. this one struck a chord. love it!

    yo, justice. i’m the last person to drink the cool-aid. where in this post do i recommend that you have to give your life away for your employer. how long does it take to do someone’s performance review, to learn a few interesting things about your employees/colleagues, to show some interest in a subordinate’s advancement, to shut your mouth if you can’t think of anything nice to say, read a press release about your company…and, yes, even stop by a happy hour and shake some hands? you don’t have balance – for you it’s all or nothing. i can give a little attention to my employer (as a two-way proposition) and not “drink the cool-aid.” seriously? by the way, i’m headed out to have dinner with my family at a beach in florida and haven’t picked up the blackberry in three days. and another thing…people love hanging out with me.

    so glad this is causing some debate…good stuff!
    Charlie´s last [type] ..What is your Employer’s Vintage

  • Joy

    I remember a t-shirt that said, “Attitudes are contagious…Is yours worth catching?” I believe you can be the best “contributor” while being grumpy about your work. No one wants to work with someone like that and the company as a whole suffers. Enthusiasm about your employer and fellow employees is priceless. Try being pleasant and actually giving something “extra” to your company rather than always expecting. I believe the author meant those individuals that seem to “buck” anything and everyone around them. There are legitimate reasons for not “volunteering” for that extra two hours, but what about 15 minutes to help someone or clean off a snowy windshield for a co-worker? When was the last time you paid it forward or exceeded expectations? I call the deadbeats as described grunts because that’s what they do – everywhere! Grunt at work, hurry home to grunt some more, can’t be bothered with others, etc. Since we spend so much time at work, why make it miserable? BTW – I am also in the sandwich generation and am very comfortable not checking e-mail while I’m with my family. Your employer pays for your work that enables your home life – be grateful!!! If you aren’t satisfied – go somewhere else or better yourself for a better job. However, the problem may be in the mirror.

  • h

    I think a deadbeat is someone who rides the clock, has poor customer service skills, contributes nothing positive, waits for someone else to troubleshoot/problem solve and
    FINALLY, last but not least schmoozes and gossips about others with the boss,to divert attention from the previous list.

  • Trying

    Good stuff – and I agree with most of what you’ve said. How would your observations change if the work environment itself was toxic? Several managers in my company, middle level and above, have operated on the “loyalty” philosophy that “you did what I told you, I paid you, we’re even” – which makes it tough to develop a positive outlook where loyalty is truly a value. Avoiding the deadbeat traits can help overcome much of the poor atmosphere, but in the end, the leadership need to create a positive and encouraging environment where the deadbeats are obvious and can be addressed quickly.

  • Beverly C

    Charlie, you hit a very sore spot with a lot of us “sandwich” generation workers. That is why your insistence on attendance at company events got such a strong response. In particular, women who juggle multiple responsibilities because of the traditional roles we’re often assigned by our culture or society find this insistence on company social events to be a burden. As an executive in a successful mid-size company, I am one of the very few female senior managers in my organization. As such, I’m pressured to use the company luxury box at the pro football stadium (not to entertain clients, but as a “perk’ for employees; going to a football game is, for me, punishment), to play morning tennis and afternoon softball, lunchtime bridge and attend weekly “happy hour” at a local bar. I also have three children to support both financially and emotionally, a husband of 31 years, four aging, retirement home living parents/in-laws and a church community I try to be active in and support. My male co-workers seem very interested in socializing together with their colleagues; I am not. I work hard, have an excellent career history, make my company tons of money and rarely (if ever take a sick day.) My direct reports have the lowest turnover rate int he company. I recruit some of the company’s best talent. But I draw the line at making my co-workers my social life. I already have one and the company doesn’t get it. Any of it. Maybe the men I work with want to be away from their homes and families for these “team building” events; I do not. Maybe they can’t make friends outside of work, I can. I like my co-workers, support their work whenever I can, but the company gets my work day. Not my weekends, not my downtime, not my recreation, not my friendship. If that makes me a deadbeat, then so be it
    And by the way, name calling may be good for a grabbing headline, but it’s insulting and demoralizing to hard working, conscientious and thoughtful people. It’s possible to be provocative and mature at the same time. Uncivil discourse is also a great morale sucker.

  • Brooke Howell, SmartBrief small-business editor

    One important factor has been left out of this discussion is that while there are plenty of employees being deadbeats at great organizations, there are also a companies that turn great employees into deadbeats. I know because I’ve worked for more than one of these in the past (luckily not now).

    Charlie is right on that employment is a a two-way proposition, so if you see your company filing up with deadbeats, you may want to take a look at how the company might be contributing to that situation.

    Your company might have a problem if:
    1. Make company events painful obligations that people dread or activities that only appeal to a small segment of your workforce.
    2. Constantly barrage your employees with e-mails that are long on words and short on information.
    3. Make the review process a meaningless exercise that has no connection to raises and career advancement or overload your managers to the point they don’t have time to manage the people they’re responsible for.
    4. See No. 4 above — it goes for the company too.
    5. Ignore employees suggestions of potential new talent for the company.
    6. Disparage your employees in public — or private.
    7. See No. 7 above — again, it goes for the company too.
    8. Refer to your employees as “they” instead of “us”.
    9. Fail to recognize and show appreciation for employees who regularly go above and beyond their normal job requirements.
    10. See No. 10 above.

    Bottom line, everyone has a role to play in building a pleasant and productive workplace. When people don’t pull their weight everything falls apart.

  • S

    This is a good list but the commentary is one-sided and from a management point of view. The article and author makes no mention of, and takes no responsibility for, employees who become jaded or just don’t care about the company because management didn’t listen, treated them badly to begin with, reneged on promises, had a bad boss who is rising in the firm, were asked to lie or cheat, or some other point that mattered to their enthusiasm for the employer.

    Any number of polls show there are, at any one time, some 50% of employees who are wanting to change jobs. They have their reasons too, and most of them aren’t deadbeats. Many don’t give a rat’s a– because they have been treated poorly. So, before “kicking them to the curb”, management should ask them why they are unmotivated–they may not like what they hear.

  • Blaine

    I believe Charlie is a closet cool aid drinker

  • Rob

    everyone seems to be critical of each other these day’s, it like a constant form of one upmanship, people should spend time worrying about the job they do and never mind the other guy it’s not your concern your focus should be on doing the best job possible for the guy who hired you period, back climbing,smoozing to get ahead and bashing you co-workers in a holy than thou manner makes you the problem on most teams. I had a great boss 1 time who called us in a did a survey “how are you percieved” everyone got to write about everyone else, he left a paper on the chalk board, people were convinced they were the greatest. when he handed everyone their tally, the faces were long and shocked at what each other had said, he smiled and called attention and raised the paper it said ” like shit ” that is how you are perceived. I think it gave everyone a valuable lesson and insight into how their view was self anointing and basically worthless, a little humble goes a long way and there is no I in team. and another great boss teacher tough me for everyone you think is an asshole, there are 3 that think you are – worry about the only person you can change- you!

  • Charlie

    @joy – you said it better than i did.
    @h – you’re so right about those people who are really good at masking their deadbeatedness
    @Trying – yes, absolutely. a deadbeat leader will breed deadbeat employees. but no one has to stand for a “toxic” environment. find a place where you don’t want to be a deadbeat…where you can be upbeat.
    @Beverly C – name calling? whatever. and so sorry you seem to be having a gender issue at work, but this isn’t a gender issue blog post. as an executive of your company, you in fact have an obligation to socialize with your employees every now and then – i didn’t say all the time and i didn’t say you need to “make their social life.” enough of the drama already. if you’re innocent on the other nine and guilty on the first, though, i’ll give you a pass.
    @Brooke – i like the spin and you are absolutely right.
    @S – one thing that i love about writing my own blog is that i get to make it one sided – my side. i agree that the organization has a lot to do with it. but then move on to another organization. you’re a free-agent…walk.
    @Blaine – you know absolutely nothing about me. my guess is this is the first time you’ve visited and read a post on my blog. poke around a little more and read some of my other stuff. you’ll soon realize most of it spills the cool-aid.
    @Rob – um, ok. but that’s not the kind of place i want to work. i have a vested interest in each and every one of my co-workers. their attitudes, their productivity, their contributions impact the experience i have. i don’t mean to change a deadbeat, i mean to just kick ‘em to the curb.

  • Jobu

    Charlie … I loved this article! You got everyone all fired-up and interacting and you covered some really awesome points. Not only that, but unlike a majority of the other blog writers out there … you have taken an active role in the follow-up discussions. I love that you are personally responding to everyone’s posts!

    I have been in my field for over 25 years and have had my share of really terrible employers and some equally awesome ones. The same can be said for my co-workers and people that I have had to supervise.

    I’ll have to tell you though that no matter how poopy or good the employer- nothing affects me on a day to day basis more than my fellow workers. It seems that slackers are way too prevalent in the work force today. There is nothing that kills the moral of a team more than having members of that team that aren’t at least attempting to pull their own weight. I am not talking about skill level, but rather the overall demeanor. Even if a person is getting the “work” done if they show up with a cruddy attitude it just permeates the whole place, bringing the overall success rate and productivity of the team down.

    I also totally get that people may not want to attend every after-hours activity that their work provides, and understand people have lives outside of work, but you don’t have to stay at an event the whole duration to be supportive. Stopping by even for a few minutes shows that you are supporting the event.

    Some of these people who are posting on here sound like they forget that these activities are intended to be for team-building and worker appreciation. Most of the places I have worked at don’t do any sort of after-hours activities, don’t give any bonuses, and don’t try to do anything nice for the workers at all! Of the few employers who would throw parties many had them during work. They would pay for food to be brought in, buy/rent a bunch of decorations, even give out gifts (usually company shirts, hats, etc.). This was during our normal work hours so the workers were still on the clock! Do you know that very few of the employees even thanked the employers for the parties; some workers even had the audacity to complain!!!

    I have great disdain for the loafers, the slackers, and the deadbeat employees … you are there to get a job done, quit whining, be part of the company you work for, and be thankful you have a job.

    I agree with you Charlie; if you don’t like your job, or the company you work for then why are you still there … move on!

  • Charlie

    Jobu – thanks so much for the kind words and insightful comment. i so strongly agree with you about the impact one’s coworkers have on the overall career experience. it’s so important – and often overlooked. there’s very little accountability to it either. work is already challenging enough; to also have to deal with a bunch of slackers or deadbeats…forget it! thanks again!

  • James Erskine

    Unfortunately, I perceive your prejudice as one of the main problems that businesses have. Without you, good managers might succeed in overcoming the discouragement to otherwise good employees. Work skills are valuable. But they can become devalued by the contribution of malicious people. I see you as a malicious person. Not that you will care. Think on it!

  • Charlie

    James – “malicious”? really? sorry you feel that way. i truly am passionate about employees and the experience we help to create for them every day. i’ve quite literally made a career out of that passion. and of all the things i’ve been called over the years – and that’s a lot of things – ‘malicious’ has never been one of them. i will, as you suggest, “think on it!” but probably not for long.

  • chris aka resource

    Hmm, sometimes a post strikes a nerve because it hits a little too close to home. It puts some on the defensive, and makes them uncomfortable. Well played, well played.

  • Charlie

    and well said, chris.

  • CA

    While I respect your opinion, it is that an opinion, not a fact. With that said, I work for a market leader in technology. While it’s idealistic believe that everyone should be living out our career as you see it, it’s just not feasible. I could understand if your post was written in say 1993, but this is 2011. People with jobs are doing the work of 2-3 people. Getting their work done “off the clock”. With ever changing priorities, people are putting up with insurmountable pressures in order to do get tasks A and B done, let alone C – M.

    Other people work in departments like HR, which does a lot of hands on employee management.
    Between meetings, meetings, meetings, I personally don’t have time to attend every work function nor do I want to. With all the company driven diversions, it’s unbelievable that management still has the nerve to want the employee to meet the deadlines that management are setting. If I weren’t constantly giving status and meeting, maybe I could make solid progress. Well actually I do make solid progress because I get the BULK of my work done…….after work hours. That is the unwritten reality of corporate staff in today’s world. Other people want to organize offsite volunteering opportunities DURING work hours in order to look good to managment and “feel like a good person”….then those same people who throw all of the co-workers progress time tables off have the nerve to complain how hard is to meet schedules themselves when they are part of the problem that is creating extra stress among the workforce.

    It’s not a perfect world and not all people have pleasurable attitudes, dispositions, and mannerisms. So while we keep things professional at work, you can not expect people to work to mesh whenever you want them too, just because that’s your ideal. Some people don’t want to deal that way. As an HR manager, do you believe in only hiring one personality type regardless of their compentency to do the work?

    You are correct that employment is a 2 way street, however the employees time will always be more valuable than the compensation as any employer is only going to pay enough to have intelligent enough staff to bring the results they want, **while still turning a profit**. So the output of the time is worth more than the compensation to the employer, and when that no longer rings true the employee is laid off or fired.

    So no, I don’t go to every company function because I simply don’t have time, unless the employer doesn’t mind missing their deadlines.

    I never understood the mindset of people who feel like “in order to be a good responsible person your actions should align with my ideals regardless to your circumstance” as if it is others aim in life to meet their approval outside of work performance.

    In my ***opinion***, socializing is a part of work, but keep it at that…at work. Outside of that, get a life.

  • Anonymous

    wow – thanks for the thoughtful response…and to a blog post that was published 8 months ago (which in blogging years is like 1993). everyone gets caught up on this company event thing. i didn’t say “all company events.” the lines between “life” and “work” are increasingly blurred. i don’t really even like the term “work/life balance” anymore (and i’m not alone). we belong to a community…at home, at church, on this globe…and at work. and to be an active member of any community, one has to show up. at least some of the time. thanks for sharing your opinion.

  • Jtesterester

    What a joke this article is. Don’t know what else to say about it…

  • Jtesterester

    Okay, I do know what else to sat about it. It is overly biased and entirely one-sided. In addition, most employees of large companies know that HR could care less about the human condition – HR simply stands for Headcount Reduction.

  • Anonymous

    love your comments. yep, it is one sided. that’s the beauty of publishing your own blog. but if you took time to read other content throughout, you’d see i do a pretty good job of talking out of both sides of my mouth. it concerns me that “most employees of large companies know that HR could care less about the human condition” not because you said it, but because you’re probably right. and that sucks. and that’s one of the things we’re hoping to accomplish through this dialog. thanks for contributing to it.