Rethinking The Ideal Employee

We seek a motivated go-getter to join our team. Workaholic. Has no life. Has no relationships. Available by cell phone 24-7. Glad to work evenings, weekends, holidays, and at the beach.

Willing to return early from vacations to handle fires. Our competitive pay is inversely proportional to hours worked. Add your heart and soul to our growing pile — um, I mean enterprise.

If recruiters really subscribed to truth in advertising, we'd see more verbiage like this. Just think how much time companies would save by not interviewing — or accidentally hiring — people like me. Don't get me wrong. I like to work. I love to work. But I want the freedom to unplug from my electronics and enjoy my family, friends, and hobbies.

Who Is Your Ideal employee?

Twenty years ago, I fit the workaholic profile. My employer suggested putting home telephone numbers on our business cards. I was single then, thought I could earn points by pulling all-nighters in the office, and did everything in my power to recruit like-minded individuals.

The law prohibits asking certain personal questions during job interviews, but it's usually possible to get the information you want anyway. For example, see how a candidate responds to "tell me about a project where you went above and beyond to deliver." If you hear "we worked a month of 100-hour weeks," or "I drove 400 miles through a blizzard on Christmas Day to deliver the prototypes to our customer," or "I had an accident the day before a big presentation and went directly from the hospital to the client's conference room, bandages and all," then you know you probably have the ideal employee. At least, your definition of ideal.

My Definition Has Changed

I know I'm about to state three big and perhaps unrealistic assumptions. But let's assume for a minute that a company has articulated measurable business objectives — not the pie-in-the-sky fluff that many organizations pass off as a vision. Let's further assume that the company has cascaded these objectives into measurable goals for individual employees and teams. Lastly, let's assume that we pay based on performance.

For a workplace that meets these assumptions, I’m fine if employees race out the office door at 4:00 p.m. or work from Starbucks, because I am paying them for the results they deliver, not the hours they clock. Yes, I want people who are eager to do a good job, but I also look for avid extracurricular interests, such as raising children and/or playing the trombone in a professional jazz band.

Here's why. Every moment away from work is an opportunity to absorb new information and impressions that can contribute to breakthrough thinking on-the-job. Every conversation at a child’s soccer game or while working out at the gym has the potential to yield new business connections and insights.

All-work-and-no-play erodes an organization’s effectiveness. Outside inputs — like hobbies, friends, family, and faith — produce fresh energy and ideas to fuel creativity and business success. If all your contacts and inputs come from within your organization, you become so insular and ingrained in the system that, over time, you can't see other ways of doing things. You become stagnant and unimaginative.

College admissions officers look for good students with solid GPAs and demonstrated commitment to extra-curricular activities. Some corporate recruiters do likewise — they want impressive professional credentials, along with evidence of outside-of-work pursuits. But some senior executives are still stuck in the mindset that business success requires working long hours, and that long hours are the best measure of employee effort and commitment.