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In 2020, Let’s Debunk the One-Size-Fits-All Approaches to Success

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This article was originally published on, under Jeff Miller’s Forbes Human Resources Council column.

If you come in late, you’re lazy. If you work during off-hours, you’re committed. If you’re quiet at work, you must be disinterested. 

No matter your industry, department, company or its size, you are likely familiar with these common notions of what it means to be successful at work. In fact, despite the changing workplace, these constructs still hold a lot of weight. One study found 43% of managers have fired someone for being tardy even though, in some cases, the employee was productive when they were in the office.

While there’s some correlation between these behaviors and employee performance, that doesn’t mean they’re always accurate—and placing too much value on them can be toxic to employees. First, workers can end up spending more energy trying to appear efficient, hardworking or qualified than on getting work done. And second, valuing these behaviors promotes a one-size-fits-all approach to success and penalizes employees who might have great qualities.

By taking the emphasis off of these workplace myths, both employees and managers can make work less about appearances and more about quality.

Myth: "To be a leader, you must be extroverted."

In my experience, extroverts often get mistaken for great leaders because they tend to attract the most attention — think of the old adage "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." But extroversion alone does not make a great leader. In fact, when choosing a CEO, one study found that selecting boards often gravitate toward extroverts, but introverts are slightly more likely to surpass expectations.

To find the best leaders, managers need to make all employees feel like a leadership role is accessible to them. That means, rather than looking to personality indicators, managers need to make a conscious effort to inspect leadership skills. For example, the same study found that while high confidence — which is often confused for extroversion — more than doubles a candidate’s chances of being chosen as CEO, it provides no actual advantage in job performance. Instead, measure employee performance based on qualities like resilience or communication, which are less tied to introversion or extroversion.

Myth: "Be the first to arrive and the last to leave."

Time in the office — or, as is more common these days, time spent online — is a common way to signal hard work. But a study from Stanford University found productivity per hour declines sharply after working more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops even more, to the point where those working 70 hours a week get the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours. Moreover, the longer hours employees work, the more likely they are to suffer from anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Managers can protect employees from these workaholic tendencies by replacing the classic 9-to-5 format with something more flexible, like allowing them to create a schedule that’s tailored to their needs, meetings and deadlines. In doing so, managers create an environment where employees are encouraged to focus on their job performance rather than when or how long they’re online. But even with flexible schedules, some individuals may still be tempted to overwork. Managers can combat this by frequently checking in with employees, monitoring their workloads and hours — even encouraging them to sign off early every once in a while.

Myth: "Working remotely means you are slacking off."

The idea of remote work (whether full-time or the occasional day spent "working from home") is still relatively new, and many employers and employees aren’t sure that these workers are as productive or engaged as those physically present. To make matters worse, many people know someone who abuses work-from-home privileges — or maybe abuse it themselves.

But the data tells a different story: Remote workers are actually more likely to work longer hours than an in-office employee. Another study found that, after companies allowed remote work, at-home workers were not only happier and less likely to quit, but also more productive. Without the hustle-and-bustle of a commute or the distractions of an open office, employees could get work done better and faster.

Also, just because an employee is sitting at their desk doesn’t necessarily mean they are working. My computer faces away from the entrance to my office, so anyone who walks past wouldn’t be able to tell if I was casually surfing the web or watching Netflix.

In my experience, it’s not absence that causes a lack of engagement for employees. Instead, it’s about feeling less connected to the goals of their team and company. Regular check-ins to discuss progress toward those goals will help remote workers feel emotionally invested in the team and its goals — especially if they are the only one, or one of few, that isn’t in the office regularly.

Forget the Myths: Set Specific Expectations from the Start

Overall, managers can eliminate any misconceptions of what success looks like by setting clear expectations. For example: "I don’t expect you to come in on time every day, but I do expect you to meet deadlines consistently." This allows employees to pursue success in a way that aligns with their personal needs and helps them lean into their strengths. For some, this could mean working from home three times a week, or arriving early to work in a quiet office and then leaving a little bit earlier to avoid a noisy one. And when promotions come around, employees will feel confident that no matter their personality or physical location, they are being considered equally for the job.

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