All Articles Leadership Management 6 employee warning signs -- and what to do about them

6 employee warning signs — and what to do about them

7 min read


SmartBrief is talking directly with small and medium-sized businesses to discover their journeys, challenges and lessons. Today’s post is from Matt Straz, the founder and CEO of Namely, the HR and payroll platform for the world’s most exciting companies. Connect with Straz and the Namely team on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Are you a small-business owner and would like to share your story? E-mail senior editor James daSilva at jdasilva [at]

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You know when something’s not quite right. Your new employee is the black sheep of the bunch, and you aren’t sure if they might be the wrong fit for your company or it’s just the learning curve.

Employee fit is influenced by both skill and culture. Skill is the easier aspect of these two, because it’s more tangible and you can always train someone to master a skill. Cultural fit is harder to pin down. It involves an employee’s personal values and the social norms they live by.

One issue with cultural fit often comes when someone puts themselves ahead of the team and the company. In a previous company, I had a person who felt that it was more about them, such as wanting a sales commission for deals they didn’t actually close. I also had a marketing person who would consistently try to be in the limelight. such as being in articles or advertisements.In hindsight, I wished I acted quicker on that behavior because, ultimately, I had to dismiss those people. Nobody wants to work for someone who is selfish and tries to take all of the credit.

If your employee is the wrong cultural fit for the job, you’ll want to know sooner than later so you can prepare. Replacing an employee can cost companies more than 20% of the employee’s annual salary. It’s time to investigate if there is a problem so you can be proactive rather than reactive in your management strategy.

Here are a few signs your new employee might be the wrong cultural fit for the job, accompanied by tips for improving the situation before deciding to let him or her go:


  1. “That’s not my job” mentality.

When an employee refuses to take on tasks outside of the position’s normal job duties, it shows she’s not a team player. If your company values flexibility and team collaboration, she’s probably not the right cultural fit for your company.

Sometimes, employees can learn to be great team players by watching others on the team support one another. Give the employee a project and supply her with the team and tools she needs for success. Ideally, throughout the project she will learn the advantages of working on a team and the value of others stepping outside their normal duties to accomplish the big picture goal.

  1. Negative attitude.

Pay attention to the way your employee speaks to others about work. Expressions like, “I don’t want to be here,” and “this place” are signs your employee feels negative about where he works. If any of those expressions contain profanities, you’re in trouble.

Why? Negativity in the workplace is contagious, research shows. One negative employee can affect your whole team and, if you aren’t careful, bring the whole business down.

A great way to combat workplace negativity is with positive activities that enhance team bonding. Take everyone out for happy hour. Perhaps all your new employee needs is to feel connected. If things don’t turn around in a few weeks, you’ll want to cut him loose.

  1. It’s ALL about the money.

If you’re employee asks more questions about paychecks, bonuses and raises than he does about the company or job function, that should raise a red flag. He might nickel-and-dime you for every expense, but when it comes to his work, he overlooks details easily and seems blasé about his work in general.

First, if an employee seems unhappy in his current department, check other departments to see if his skills might be a better fit there. If that’s not an option, try offering money-based performance incentives for elements like deadline timeliness, accuracy, and overall work quality.

  1. Extended absences.

After the fourth time-off request in a month, you’re starting to get suspicious. You’ve noticed your employee come into work 30 to 45 minutes late every morning. She seems to take extended lunches, too, some lasting more than two hours. Is it your employee’s goal to be at work as little as possible?

All of this time off wouldn’t be as much of a problem if she met her deadlines, but she doesn’t. Ask your employee out to lunch to discuss her self-proposed flexible hours. Are there any personal or family emergencies happening that are requiring her to take extra time off?

Stress the importance of meeting deadlines, and explain that you don’t mind allowing time off, as long as quality work is turned in on time.

  1. She lives for the weekend.

“Is it Friday yet,” you’ve heard repeatedly coming from your employee’s office. When you walk by, she’s texting or on her cell phone making plans with friend. At 4:30 p.m., she’s already logging off and packing her bag, even though her to-do list is still more than half full.

Talk to your employee about using personal time such as lunch breaks to make plans with friends. Work with her to develop an agenda for managing her work every day, give estimates for time spent on projects, and clarify daily deadlines.

  1. You need an “employee-sitter.”

If you have the sense that your employee is a loose cannon about to go rogue, he probably is. You gave him a project with a checklist, but still found five items overlooked. You asked him to prepare a report in a specific format, and he used a completely different program. You asked him to attend a business-casual after-hours company event, he showed up in cutoffs and a Hawaiian shirt. Mahalo.

It seems this employee is an independent thinker, which you value when it comes to innovation. The problem is you don’t want to send this employee anywhere alone for fear that he might make crucial errors, misrepresent the company, or worse, steal clients.

Talk to your employee about his training experience. Was he shown how things are done properly? What questions does he have? Give timely and consistent feedback on his performance. Be specific and use a method for presenting criticism in a positive way such as the sandwich method. Your employee will then know what your company values about them, and some things he should work on to be a better fit for the job.

Don’t doubt your intuition, especially if you’ve been working in management for several years. If you sense something is off, spend some extra time noticing your employee’s habits and patterns. If you think someone might be the wrong cultural fit, try a few of the methods above to see if things change after a few months. If not, it might be time to put up the hiring sign.