I recently wrote a series of blogs on top traits that define the perfect employee. I suggested that the perfect employee is:

(1) both talented and hard working

(2) shows pride in the work they produce, and

(3) is fun to work with.

Many of you commented on these and agreed they are critical traits. But some things were clearly missing from the list. I did not discuss things like “passion”, ambition, or loyalty. Do I think these are important? Absolutely. In hiring and promotion decisions, most managers consider all three of these as well as the quality of work. Do I think either of them make a perfect employee? No.

But a few days ago, I received an email from a LinkedIn connection, who asked the question “What do you do when your teammate has lost their passion for their work but still keep the other traits? They still work hard and have a smile on at the office (or worksite) but you know they don’t have a burning desire to deliver their work?” I found that question fascinating and thought I would reply here.

A few thoughts:

1) Is “burning desire” to deliver necessary?

Let’s face it. I don’t live to work. I work to live. Anyone that knows me understands that I find life fulfilling because it consists of my job, my family, my friends, and all kinds of other things. I’ve blogged about “Finding Balance” and while I don’t always listen to my own advice, I do feel I am pretty good with my priorities. While I think pride in work product is important, it is completely respectable if you truly feel that you would quit immediately if you won the lottery. 😉

2) Can an employee without passion be fun to work with, continued to work hard and have pride in product?

I tried it once. I was miserable, working with an awful human being that sucked the joy out of everyone around him. Of course I am generally very hard working and consider myself very talented (self-pat on back) so I continued to deliver, working hard to both deliver on needed changes while also engaging colleagues and trying to work on culture. But, eventually, it became harder and harder to put on that happy face. One day, one of my direct reports came to me and told me he (and others) had noticed I just was not my normal self. I had lost my Henry V: my passion and drive. The miserable individual was “winning” and none of those above me were willing to do anything about it. And my team noticed.

This overall idea of ‘employees without passion’ is a fairly common problem in the American workplace: Salary.com studies show that 23 percent of employees look for a new job every single day, and per Gallup only about 31.5% of American workers are engaged in their jobs.

Give or take, that means 7 in 10 people you work with probably lack passion (i.e. they’re not engaged). That’s a huge number. On your way to get coffee, you’ll pass more people lacking passion than having passion for the work. If most people you work with are losing or lacking the passion and drive, what can be done? That brings us to our next question.

3) Can a manager help to reignite that passion and make the perfect employee perfect again?


  • Talk to your employees regularly and help them find the kind of projects and challenges that inspire them to greatness. And when I say talk, I mean actually talk — not e-mail.
  • Share your business goals and objectives and illustrate how the work they do ties to the objectives. This is the idea of tying ‘purpose’ back to the overall goals and objectives of the place (how it makes money). Many organizations and managers miss the importance of this tie.
  • Support passions outside of work. If an employee wants to participate in a community organization or charitable event, encourage it.

Here’s something thought-provoking to end on, courtesy of Thought Catalog and The Washington Post. There are two theories on passion at work: “fit” (that you need to find the perfect spot for you) and “develop” (that you can evolve to fit in at a place relative to your surroundings). Across four major psychological studies, researchers found equal levels of satisfaction in people who believed in “fit” and “develop” approaches. This goes to show that passion can be developed and cultivated, even in people who don’t necessarily believe that headed into a new job or experience. A lot of the process of developing passion will come back to relationships, and especially relationships with your direct manager. That’s why the bullets directly above are crucial.

Be sure to view all of the Top Traits:
Trait 1: Hard working AND talented
Trait 2: Pride in work product
Trait 3: Fun to work with

About Adam Stanley

Adam is an award winning technology executive with extensive achievement in driving value for businesses through technology and operational excellence. He was named one of the Top 25 CTOs by InfoWorld, garnered Crain’s Chicago recognition as one of the Tech 50 for 2014, and cited as one of the 100 most social CIOs by HuffPost. He is a strong inspirational leader and change agent with proven success driving growth, performance, talent retention, and innovation. A fixer and builder that can define problems, Adam can analyze large quantities of data, strategize, and execute on needed transformation. He has led global organizations and programs and is constantly looking for ways in which he can help drive positive change.

Adam is an avid traveler and has visited or worked in over 40 countries including South Africa, India, Netherlands, Thailand, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Egypt. He is an avid reader, a devoted dog owner, and a passionate fine wine and food lover. Having received his MBA in Strategic Management from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in May 2000, Adam also holds a BSBA in Finance from Washington University in St. Louis. He is a proud son of Chicago and got his start at Whitney Young Magnet High School and Academic Center.


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