by Rebecca Brossoit

I encourage employees, supervisors, and leaders to think of dependability as a characteristic that depends on the circumstance—­being reliable in the face of a challenging work task looks very different than being reliable in the face of a challenging life event. 

Dependability: Persisting through Challenging Tasks
Conscientiousness is a personality trait that is characterized by being organized, responsible, and self-disciplined–dependability is also one of the defining features of conscientiousness. Unsurprisingly, this trait is crucial in the workplace. Numerous research studies have found that employees who are more conscientious are better performers across different types of jobs. Conscientious individuals are also those who tend to go above and beyond their work requirements, like stepping in and helping their coworkers. Dependable employees can fulfill their responsibilities at work, even when they are faced with challenging tasks. Sometimes, it is useful for employees to adopt a short-term “nose to the grindstone” mentality and push through a challenging time-sensitive assignment. Other times, this is not possible or healthy.

Dependability: Asking for Help
There is no question that employees who are dependable in the face of demanding work tasks and assignments are valuable to a company. However, dependability looks different in the face of difficulty in one’s personal life. Outside of work, employees may be confronted with distressing and distracting current events and personal circumstances. In this way, dependable employees also know when to ask for help and seek support.

An Illustrative Example
I manage a team of students who are responsible for completing a series of technical and detail-oriented tasks for a large research project. One of the strongest students on this team consistently completed high-quality work that was finished on time, despite the difficulty and time-intensive nature of their assignments (i.e., they were dependable in the face of demanding tasks). As we approached the final deadline for the project, this student informed me that they were struggling to complete their work due to a serious situation in their personal life. Therefore, this student also demonstrated dependability by being honest about their inability to perform at their normal level. Their initiative to communicate early-on allowed me to 1) adjust the project plan by redistributing their work to the rest of the team, and 2) provide extensions to the other students to accommodate the additional workload. Ultimately, this decision was mutually beneficial—it was better for the struggling students’ mental health and the quality of the work on the project.

As a supervisor or leader, how are you encouraging your employees to be dependable in the face of difficult work assignments as well as in the face of hardship outside of the workplace?

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