The 50/50 Employee

Over the last month or two I have had the opportunity to contemplate on my time as a direct supervisor of 10 to 12 employees. I came to the conclusion that there is a 50/50 contribution that each employee brings to their work environment.

The first contribution involves possessing the necessary skills for the position. In other words, “Are they competent?”.

The logical framework of the “workplace” consists of an employee performing a task for an employer. This is the short and the long of it – employees perform tasks that bring value to the employer. The task may be anything from producing a product to performing a service. However, we all know that the employee/employer relationship is far more complex. After all, when is the last time that you went to work, performed your role and then left? The employer/employee relationship is vastly more complicated due to the multiple levels of psychology involved in the work environment.

The second contribution is more enigmatic, more of the ‘soft skills’ category. It has everything to do with the employee’s contribution to the sociality of the workplace. On some level they understand the psychology of the workplace and are able to navigate it in a way that helps those in the workplace to contribute more efficiently. I argue that for most positions this skill is EQUALLY important to that of the first.

Let me give you an example:

One of my employees that I supervised had a Ph D. in our field while everyone else held a Bachelor’s degree. In addition, he was heavily involved in ongoing research. And yet, this employee, over the first 48 hour period that our field crew began interacting, alienated each of the six individuals in our group. The problem came to such a head that I could only accomplish our tasks by having this individual directly by my side over the remaining 6 days. In other words, despite being the most knowledgeable person by far in our group, his net contribution was negative.

On the flip side of that coin, on a much later field session I had a technician with very little field training compared to the rest of our crew. Yet by the time the third session began the following month, he was ably performing as the lead technician. This result largely stemmed from his background of working with teams while in the military as well as his native social intelligence.

I recently took a wonderful course in organizational management. To my surprise most of the coursework covered topics revolving around the psychology of the workplace. This course detailed the interactions between employees, between employees and employers from the employee’s perspective, between employers and employees from the employer’s perspective, between an individual employee and the larger group of employees, and on and on and on. In fact, the course focused on the mental aspect of the workplace over the physical and definitely over the topic of technical skills.

Why is this so important to understand? Because the employer is ultimately interested in obtaining the contribution of the employee. Further, to get that contribution the employer must deal with all of the psychological interactions we find in the work place. The employer that understands these psychological interactions will find it easier and cheaper to obtain the employee contribution. Therefore it behooves the employer to understand this work place psychology.

You may find that an employee who is working for you in the ‘hard skills’ sense is actually work against you in the ‘soft skills’ sense. Take the time to review who is working for you and try to pay attention to how they are doing in both of these two categories.


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