What makes an employee invaluable?
The answer is the same whether he is vice president of a corporation or a clerk at the front desk of a hotel.
Key attributes include having a positive attitude, pushing to learn new skills and being willing to stretch beyond the scope of a job description.
All can make an employee memorable to the boss and valuable to a company. And being a valued employee is important; it can propel a worker up the corporate ladder in flush times and help employees keep their jobs in tough times.
The latter was particularly important in Nevada in recent years, as the state and nation struggled in the recession.
Nevada led the country in unemployment for two years. But the economy appears to be improving, and some of the largest employers in the state say they now have jobs to fill. Companies once again are beginning to hire, and 23,000 fewer people were looking for jobs last month than a year ago.
Whether a person is trying to get hired, move up internally or protect a current position, a positive attitude is vital.
"Attitude is the No. 1 thing we look for," said John Bibby, vice president of human resources for Sunrise Health.
"A person who shows up enthusiastic every day? That is someone a manager looks at and says, 'That's someone I can see in my operation,'" said Eloise Scavella, regional director for employment and training at Caesars Entertainment.
Enough people come to work surly, tired or late that those who show up on time and smiling stand out, UNLV business professor Joe Gilbert said.
"Part of being a good performer is just showing up on time," Gilbert said. "And then showing up ready to work, not impaired or hung over or tired. That can really go a long way."
Employees should make a point to show their bosses that they want to be a part of the company, according to Christopher Henry, vice president of human resources strategy and measurement for MGM Resorts International, the state's largest private employer.
"A high level of excitement and engagement always makes you stand out," Henry said. "During the interview process, that's what snags the deal for you, and if you're able to maintain that, that's something that's going to continue to make you valuable."
If times get tough, that can help a worker keep a job.
Companies like to keep layoff decisions simple. Either they hand out pink slips to the least senior members of a team, or they trim or close departments.
There's little a worker can do if layoffs occur by seniority. But if a company cuts back or closes an office or department, employees may have a chance to save their jobs. Those who have proven themselves essential are more likely be spared or offered a chance to transfer within the company.
"This is where people can protect themselves by being an outstanding performer," Gilbert said.
Gilbert said one of the best questions employees can ask themselves is: "What does my manager need?" In the business world, it is known as "managing up."
"These are not just butt-kissers," Gilbert said. "They can actually imagine themselves in the position of their bosses and they ask: What could make their lives better? Then, they do that. They make sure their bosses get no surprises."
That might include a worker going beyond her specific job duties. It's also a great way to get noticed. Even small gestures can catch the attention of people in executive offices.
"One of the main things I hear that stands out is guests saying they asked someone where the restroom was and the employee actually walked them there," Scavella said. "Those are the kinds of things we hear about."
Bibby recalled a nurse who helped admit a homeless woman to the hospital. The nurse went to a store and bought the woman pajamas so she would be more comfortable during her stay.
"Nobody told her to do that, and it wasn't in her job description," Bibby said.
Employees also can help themselves by performing necessary tasks that few others can do. An employee's value rises, for example, if he's the only one who knows how an essential computer program works.
Workers also can distinguish themselves by being willing to learn new skills or volunteering to take on new responsibilities. Scavella calls it stretching out of a comfort zone.
"Even when we look at candidates for positions such as regional vice presidents, every person's path to success is not a straight one," Scavella said. "They've always taken different directions to get there. But it's because they've usually been willing to stretch out of the box and do different jobs that got them where they want to be."
Experts recommend that workers volunteer to learn parts of an operation not usually associated with their jobs.
"One of the most impressive things I've heard was that one of our employees wanted to know how a department budget works," Scavella recalled. "That's something only managers usually deal with. But by knowing about those kinds of things, it can make them more valuable because they are willing to increase their personal knowledge base."
MGM Resorts International, like many companies, offers training to help employees learn new skills. That in turn can boost employee enthusiasm and engagement.
"We're firm believers that you always have to keep learning and growing, no matter what level you're at," said Patty Coaley, MGM Resorts International director of diversity training. "There are always new things to learn, and that keeps you fresh and engaged."
MGM offers courses ranging from basic computer classes to leadership training for managers.
"We are training our employees not just at the level of our own MGM standards, but on much of the same things other Fortune 500 companies are looking for," Henry said. "We want people to blossom here, but we also want to have them learning things so they can grow and blossom in any environment."
Companies are always looking for good employees. During the recession when hiring was at a standstill, human resources directors keep promising resumes on file. Now, they are filling actual jobs.
Caesars counted 500 job openings in July. Sunrise had 75. MGM reported 450.
Most likely, the applicants who show up with a smile, ready to work and learn, will land the positions.
"You can tell if someone has passion ... just by the way they talk," Bibby said. "There are four things we look for: attitude, competence, service, and safety. Everything else, we can teach."
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