Prof (CAPT) A Nagaraj Subbarao is a Master Mariner with a specialization in Ocean Engineering & Navigation and has led teams in adverse conditions over a career spanning two decades at sea. He has a MBA and M.Phil. in Human Resource Management.

He now works as Professor and Associate Dean of the School of Business at Alliance University, Bengaluru, India.

A few days ago a friend who works for a medium sized software services firm wore a worried look, as we met over dinner. On enquiry he said that, he was busy the coming week, campus selecting fresh engineers for his team and he was skeptical of finding the right kind. I acknowledged his concern and asked him what he was looking for in a young hire?

Here is his list:

1.Domain knowledge

2.Team player


4.Hard working

5.Good communication

6.Problem Solver

I further asked him if he had to choose a single competence or personality trait, what he would go for. That set him thinking and he did not give me an answer the entire evening. However he called me the next morning and said, that after mulling over my question, he had decided on a ‘responsible worker’, that is somebody who is responsible at organizational work.

The question is who or what is a responsible worker? Is somebody who works very hard a responsible worker? Arguably a responsible worker may be described as:

1. A person who believes firmly in the significance of the job that is the core to an organization and does it to the best of his/her ability to the required standards or better.

2. A person who understands what the core job at an organization is but does a secondary job, while ensuring that colleagues are taking care of the core requirement. She/he has a weather eye open to see if the organization is going in the right direction and is committed to its vision.

Irresponsible workers are either not engaged with the core activity or requirement of an organization and when this is highlighted, is not ready to accept it. They work on a whim or fad. Are workers responsible if they get the job done in any which way they can? In this context it can be safely said that illegal or partly illegal work definitely leads to irresponsible behavior at the workplace.

When the whistle was blown on the illegal activities of energy major Enron Corporation in October 2001, the big picture was one of immense fraud. But at a more intrinsic level was there irresponsible behavior on the part of many of the top management at Enron? A much publicized trial held the CEO and CFO guilty of fraud and so deemed them to be irresponsible towards the organization, its stakeholders and society at large. What was even more bizarre was that Enron’s financial auditors, Arthur Andersen, proved to be irresponsible as well, by allowing some of Enron’s senior management to fudge financial figures and was even found guilty of obstructing justice by shredding a great many records before investigators arrived at their office. Even before the American jury passed their verdict, the public had passed theirs and many of Arthur Andersen’s clients had dumped them and fled. Nobody likes irresponsible workers.

Responsible workers are accountable for what they do at the workplace and in today’s world of hype and failing values it is important that organizations have workers who will take the right path in getting the job done. Dishonest people are not responsible and will take shortcuts to success, a recipe for disaster, as was seen in the case of Enron and closer home with Satyam Computers.

We live in extraordinary times with the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Work practices and roles are changing but intrinsic human qualities like responsibility and conscientiousness are still the bedrock of work. Finding responsible workers through a selection process be it interviews or otherwise is a tough call and requires careful co-ordination between the HR and line manager. It is worth the trouble considering the damage that irresponsible workers can do.