7 Phrases You're Saying At Work That Make You Sound Like a Lackluster Employee

Unhappy employee


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Taylor Tobin1.84k

If you've been in a management role for a while, you’ve likely encountered a wide range of employee excuses for missed deadlines, botched projects, and long-term absences. And in many cases, these explanations have a strong basis in fact and provide legitimate mitigating factors to the situation at hand. 

But some low-performing employees hide behind excuses to avoid taking responsibility for their own less-than-ideal track records. If these seven phrases pop up in your (generally unimpressive) employee’s vocabulary on a regular basis, they may indicate larger issues with this person’s suitability for their role and for your company at large. 

1. “It was actually [Coworker]’s fault.”

Obviously, employees shouldn’t be expected to take the fall for their colleagues’ malfeasances; if they’re blamed for a mistake made by a coworker, they have every right to explain that to their manager. But if an employee on your team regularly seeks a scapegoat for work issues that clearly fall within their purview, it’s your responsibility as a supervisor to investigate further and to hold your report accountable for their missteps. 

2. “That’s not my job.”

A “good employee” doesn’t need to take on tasks and projects beyond her scope on a regular basis. But if a coworker from another team asks for assistance in an area where you have solid experience and know-how, offering aid that’s reasonable within the context of your own workload signals your willingness to contribute to a collaborative office environment. Rather than immediately rejecting any request that doesn’t explicitly fall within your job responsibilities, agree to help out where and when you can. 

3. “No one ever told me how to do [X].”

If a manager assigns a task to her employee and said employee isn’t sure how to proceed, that person must take the initiative to tell their supervisor that they haven’t received necessary training/don’t know how to perform this aspect of the job, therefore enabling the manager to make alternate arrangements if needed. A bad employee, however, will frequently choose instead to avoid the conversation entirely. When the project deadline ultimately rolls around and this person has no work to show, they’ll give a too-little-too-late explanation like “Oh, I didn’t know how to do that.” Good employees are proactive about learning new skills and gathering information they don’t already possess.

4. “I have too much on my plate.”

Every employee becomes overwhelmed by her workload now and then, and good managers understand that the answers to their requests won’t be an enthusiastic “yes” every single time. That said, an employee who regularly expresses frustration with their amount of tasks and consistently refuses to take on any additional assignments isn’t managing their time effectively (and, even more problematically, isn’t communicating properly). 

5. “The client never responded to my email.”

Sending important messages to clients and coworkers and receiving no response counts among the most irritating pet peeves in many professionals’ estimation. That’s why, if your client hasn’t answered your last couple of emails and the issue is timely, you need to switch gears and try another tactic, like a phone call. Less-successful employees, by contrast, will often react to an unresponsive client by merely throwing up their hands, shrugging their shoulders and saying “Oh well, I tried.”

6. “I won’t get credit for this.”

Employees who work in a collaborative environment must accept (and, hopefully, embrace) the concept of teamwork. Sometimes, as a member of said team, you’ll put considerable effort and time into a project, and rather than receiving individual praise for your travails, your team as a whole will reap the benefits. Good employees view this as a fair trade-off for the many perks that come with a team dynamic (like constant support, resources, and fresh perspectives), while not-so-great employees balk at the idea of working hard without getting “credit” for it. 

7. “I don’t work well in groups.”

On a similar note, strong employees who don’t thrive in a team environment certainly exist, and they can find great success in positions that involve a solitary work style. But it’s crucial to know that about yourself and to seek out roles that offer that type of atmosphere. If you choose to pursue a career field that requires teamwork and collaboration, “I’m not good in groups” (with no proposals for improvement or for changing the expectations of your role) isn’t a valid excuse for poor performance. 

This article was written by a FGB contributor.