3 min read

Your best employees are selfish

Yes really.
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on facebook

Yes really. Think of professional athletes who are ruthlessly focused on their wants and needs, in order to achieve their performance goals. In a different context Midwives encourage new mother’s to think selfishly about their needs because if they don’t, the whole household falls apart. It’s a practical, if not maligned reality, that selfishness has its place in society and indeed the workplace.


Individuals who are focused on their needs and wants tend to be in tune with themselves and consequently, self aware. This isn’t always the case of course and selfishness can tip into narcissism, psychopathic and megalomania pretty quickly… we all know those people! However being in tune with one’s energy, goals, strengths, weaknesses is surely only a good thing for those around you. Selfish behaviours often places us in a better condition to help others and in fact, spending time alone and prioritising one need’s is a behaviour seen in some of the world’s most successful people: Bill Gates, Ellen Degeneres, Naval Ravikant to name but a few proponents of meditation and solo reflection.


The most impactful, engaged employees are generally those that have balance in their lives. They don’t ask for more flexibility, they navigate their career to such a degree that they get it. Employers who restrict this basic need for freedom no longer benefit from that person’s meaningful work – they go elsewhere.
There are now countless studies which talk of the benefits of resting, walking in the woods, seeing family and generally doing the things that make us happy as well as plenty on the psychological damage burn out can have. (Heinemann & Heinemann 2017, Moeller 2018,) We need to have an honest conversation as employers about why we’re restricting employees from having total freedom. If we don’t, are we not embodying the true definition of selfish ourselves?
We all know the old ways of working don’t suit the modern world yet (most) employers have been slow to adapt. We still recruit in the old ways, still assess in the old ways, still manage in the old ways. If we want a modern, impactful, engaged workforce, we have to address the fundamentals to achieve that; starting with the fact that people want and need flexibility to be their best selves.


We hear lots of businesses say “but I want a long term hire to provide stability in my business”.
What’s stopping you from hiring someone on a long term ongoing basis but who works for one or two other businesses too? Choose a function with a high degree of automation (Finance for example) but needs senior resource to steer the ship, pro-actively analyse and provide meaning behind the numbers. The expertise they gain from seeing different working environments is plentiful and the motivation from that individual, allowed to work flexibly, huge.

Growth and Innovation

Another common request is the need for executives to drive hyper growth. These environments are exhilarating but the pace is unsustainable five plus days per week for a number of years. Instead be thoughtful about which areas need attention (Talent Acquisition is an obvious choice) and construct a team of interim/flexible change makers who will create real impact during a 12-18 month period. This type of person couldn’t care less about stability but they might care about money and certainly the intellectual challenge. So pay them well to do an excellent job as it’s a far less risky option than a steady person better suited to BAU.

A lack of innovation in businesses is something that’s talked about constantly. A senior, creative hire can really shake things up and get things done but why on earth would you confine them to the normality of the 9-5? Of course a business needs a little structure but if you explain those guidelines and then allow them to deliver and create impact. Rigidity of thought prevents innovation, why would your business be any different?

Accepting human nature

As managers, accepting human nature is actually a relatively new concept but one that can lead to a much more productive workforce, when incorporated properly. In reality if you can learn to read people’s characteristics during the hiring process, you can develop a team that naturally have the traits you’re looking for, this then cuts down on the time that needs to be spent ‘moulding’ your staff or training extra skills.

Romanie Thomas on LinkedinRomanie Thomas on Twitter
Romanie Thomas

Get Modern Leadership delivered

Practical insights into careers and the future of work