Advice from a former “bad” employee

by Nov 30, 2020

Some say there is no such thing as a bad employee. I say bad employees definitely exist, and, for a time, I was one.

Let me set the scene: it’s mid-2020, the height of Covid-19. In my time off from UTS Careers, I freelance for another organisation to earn some extra money and gain experience. The amount of work available has understandably slowed down due to the changed working conditions of the pandemic, but I’m still expected to check in fairly regularly (I don’t) and complete tasks as necessary (I don’t).

You can probably guess the result of this inaction. While I didn’t actually ever get fired, all my tasks were allocated to another person, and I haven’t heard from the organisation since.

That being said, behind every “bad” employee is a set of real and understandable circumstances that have led them there. Bad employees aren’t born, they’re created. Maybe it’s personal issues, a disorganised workplace, or just a bad fit; either way, with a bit of work, bad employees can be made better.

Here’s what I’ve learned as a reformed bad employee. 


The first step is admitting you have a problem

It can be really hard to recognise a problem in the way you work. If you find yourself always relying on half-hearted excuses – or even straight up lies – for why you haven’t completed a task, the problem might lie with you.

In hindsight, the reason I wasn’t completing my freelance jobs or responding to my manager was because I had a mean case of burnout. A global pandemic, moving twice, managing a health condition, and expanding my job description at UTS had well and truly taken it out of me, and I needed all the time off I had to rest and enjoy my hobbies.

Learn from my mistakes: instead of ghosting or explaining away your lack of deliverables, admit to yourself that there’s a problem at work, and take steps to improve them.


Assess your priorities

Work shouldn’t always be your top priority, and that’s ok! In my case, prioritising my mental health and relationships over work took precedence. In most times, a move like that would be a really positive step, but the problem was that I wasn’t communicating this to my bosses.

When I sat down to think about my priorities when it comes to work, I thought about this quote from the 2020 UTS Copyright Agency New Writer-in-Residence, Bri Lee. While she’s speaking specifically about writers, this advice is applicable to all industries and disciplines.

“There are three things [a writer should try to be] and you have to always be two of them. You can either file on time, you can be really f***ing talented, or you can be a pleasure to work with. You always have to be at least two of those three things. And for me personally, when I was starting out, I decided that I had no way to tell whether or not I was talented, at all. And that meant that every single assignment I had needed to be filed on time, and I needed to make myself a pleasure to work with.” [x]

When I was completing my work I did it well, but I wasn’t making myself a pleasure to work with (ghosting doesn’t leave the best impression), and I certainly wasn’t completing my tasks on time.

When assessing your priorities, think of the three most important things you need to do your job well, stay fulfilled (whether that be professionally, personally, creatively, etc.), and achieve your goals. Then, evaluate how successfully you’re accomplishing these priorities, and what you can do to approve.


Communication is key

You’ve done the hard parts already, so the next step is to communicate, both with yourself and your manager. Take the time to really think about what you get from your work and how much effort you’re putting in. Are you taking more sick days than you need, feeling burnt out, or is your mental health suffering? If the answer’s yes, it’s time to do something about it.

Being honest with your higher ups can be tough. It’s hard being vulnerable at the best of times, but add the pressure of having your job on the line and it becomes even trickier. If you’re worried about how to address your concerns with managers, you could try talking to your HR department or a Career Consultant.  

Once you’ve prepared and found a time that suits you and your boss, sit down with them to discuss the problems you’ve been having and try to collaborate on some solutions. For example, if you’re finding yourself constantly having to complete tasks after work or on weekends, you might clarify your responsibilities and how they fit into your job description. Or if you’re feeling overwhelmed and out of your depth, you could discuss some professional development or training that could make you better equipped.

Struggling with having these talks is not uncommon, and it’s totally understandable to need support. UTS’s confidential counselling services can help with a range of personal difficulties.


Remember that no one is 100% happy or satisfied at work 100% of the time, but if you’re finding yourself exhibiting the signs of a “bad” employee, it might be time to rethink.

Take a deep breath and say it with me: “Hi, my name is ____, and I was a bad employee.”

Now, go out there and change things.


Featured image courtesy of Pexels

Lily Cameron

Lily Cameron

Communications Assistant

Lily Cameron is a writer and editor based in Sydney. She is a UTS Communications (Creative Writing) graduate, and current Communications Assistant at UTS Careers. She is passionate about telling stories, both hers and others’, and the way digital and social media is changing the literary landscape. Her writing has appeared in Voiceworks, The Brag, and elsewhere.