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Business, psychology

Are You a 2×4 Employee?

– 5 Signs of Your Obtuseness (and 3 solutions)
– Thick planks facilitate comprehension!
– Plow horse or race horse?


I confess.  I was a 2 x 4 employee, ie, the employee that you had to whack upside the head with a 2×4 in order to make them understand.

downloadTrue story:  After an unsuccessful job interview I began to protest, whine and complain to the recruitment consultant at which point she interrupted me and said bluntly “Duff, they hated you.”  (pause) Oh, said I (longer pause) I see.  And I really did see!  Once it was explained to me clearly.

Now I’m a boss and mentor but 2 x 4 Employees are with us still.  Employees so dense, so reluctant to comprehend, face facts and understand that, that in order to manage them you must “apply the lumber” (metaphorically speaking) or they’ll simply plod on like a plough horse while thinking that they’re American Pharaoh sprinting down the backstretch.


2×4 Employees don’t lack intelligence.  They’re just unwilling to comprehend, grasp reality, accept the situation and get on with it.  They feud with reality and insist things be other than they are (meaning, more suitable for them).  Alas, employment does not always conform to our preferences.


5 signs that you’re a 2×4 employee


 1.  You think a boss should be a friend.   Is a good boss kind, supportive, and helpful?  Maybe.  But not if you’re a sub-standard employee, a self-satisfied drone, a Gen Y dimwit whose inflated notion of self-worth is unencumbered by evidence.  Then you don’t need support, you need instruction.  You need directing.  You need hard coaching.  You need lessons in the reality of business life.   You need effective feedback.

2x4_1_1.350124509_stdEffective feedback comes in many forms:  robust conversations, direct orders, terse emails, a wooden plank (dimensions: 2 x 4) applied to enhance your cognitive processing.  (Hey, it worked on me!)

2.  Kisses and punches work better on you than words.  For 2×4 Employees, there’s no substitute for straight talk.  A good boss (or colleague) instructs you when to hold your tongue, keep your opinions to yourself, change your tone, check your ego, change your clothes, adjust your attitude, pull your head in (or take it out), stop gossiping, get on with your job, and deploy your attention elsewhere.

A good boss (or colleague) tells you what you need to know because you’ve already demonstrated that you don’t know it (thus revealing yourself to be a 2 x 4 employee).


If kind words and thoughtful gestures were effective with 2×4 employees, there’d be no need for clear, forceful communication.  As philosopher Ashleigh Brilliant says, words are a great form of communication but they’ll never replace kisses and punches.

3.  The world is streaming but you’re not attuned.   I’ve had to advise 2×4 employees at the basest level:  wear a suit and tie, lose those red socks, your deodorant is not working, your cursing undermines your credibility, you reek of cigarettes, don’t send that email, check your spelling, correct your grammar, etc.  But a simple look (or sniff) around the office would’ve told them all they need to know.  Truth is, the business world provides a non-stop stream of all you need to know and do in order to survive and flourish within it.  Simply look around at the way those you admire walk, talk, speak, write, act and behave.   Successful behaviours are on display.  Always.  So pay attention to your work culture and spot the cues and clues.   Or do you really need it right between the eyes?

4.  You’re stuck in one role.  Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.   True!  But be your best self; project the persona that works best for you in your business environment.  Maybe you haven’t discovered that persona yet.   Actors learn many roles (and seek them); it’s their craft.  In business as in life, you play many roles and wear many masks.  That doesn’t make you inauthentic; it makes you accomplished.  They award Oscars for this.  But nobody is born an Oscar winner.  All roles must be learned then mastered.

Here’s a psychological fact:  unless you spend at least some time ensuring that your perception by others is positive, you’ll discover that they may not applaud your work.


average-employee-skills5.  You’re average and don’t know it.   Truth is:  most employees not good enough to promote, and not bad enough to fire.  They’re just average.  Like you, probably.  That’s fine; it’s perfectly acceptable as long as you don’t expect to receive awards for being average.  Showing up to work, punching the clock, doing what you’re paid to do doesn’t earn you medals, accolades, or promotions.  It earns you a pay check.  If that’s not enough, then upgrade your efforts, actions and results.   Promote yourself first from average and I guarantee you’ll be noticed (because you’ll be so conspicuous).


The fundamental problem with 2 x 4 Employees that they don’t yet see the big-picture (which comes with experience).  They have difficulty adopting the managerial perspective.  The main reason 2×4 employees don’t “get it” is because they don’t see it.  They’re stuck on their own view.

Good news!  You too can graduate from being a 2×4 employee to being, well, whatever you want to be.  Here’s how:

  • Pay attention.  Your office environment is filled with cues and clues as to how you should dress, talk, behave in order to fit in and progress within your company.  Even emails have an in-house style.  Have you noticed?
  • Make mistakes, not blunders.  Everybody makes mistakes but not everybody makes blunders.  Mistakes are tolerated, blunders aren’t.  Blunders are errors of consequence, ie, expensive mistakes that cost somebody lots of money.  We can all live with a $500 mistake but few will tolerate a $500k blunder.  Keep your error rate low and your mistakes cheap.  Better to ask a stupid question than make a stupid mistake.  As in sport, the first step in winning is to avoid losing.
  • Don’t be allergic to advice.  Everybody knows more than you anyway so why be impervious to their input?  Wisdom doesn’t appear in words that you want to hear; it manifests as words you don’t want to hear, as things you don’t know, as ideas you’d previously rejected.  So grab it where and when you can, from any source, in whatever form it comes.  That’s called learning and it comes in many, varied guises.

r9e8dDo these 3 things and I promise to drop this stick of wood.

duff at podium 2Duff Watkins is a psychotherapist turned executive search consultant and career advisor.

He hosts the AmCham Business Podcast and is Director of ExecSearch International- Australia.

Other articles:
Why Top Performers Get Axed
4 Ways To Avoid the Axe
Expose Your Skills Not Your Skin
How The Job Market Really Works
The Only Career Advice You’ll Ever Need
25 Life Lessons From the Blues
Career Advice from a 2000 year old dead white guy
How Clueless are Google, Apple, Facebook?
So You Want to Be a CEO?

About Dr. Duff Watkins [www.execsearch.com.au]

international executive search consultant / author-- dispensing career advice about how the job market really works


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