Today’s slacker is harder to see, so supervisors often don’t know they’re being “slacked.” Coworkers almost always do.
The team is a slacker’s cover
“‘Slackers’ are people who know they could be much more productive but make a conscious decision not to be,” writes Adrienne Fox, in her HR Magazine article, “Taking Up Slack.”
Teams can be a slacker’s haven when all eyes are on the team’s results, not individual contributions.
I served once on a redesign team for a complex customer service process that involved major changes for the engineering, transportation, field service, and customer care departments. Half of this cross-functional team was there to work for a fix and the other half had made a conscious decision not to.
- Came to meetings unprepared
- Delayed decision-making
- Made excuses for not meeting deadlines
- Reassigned their work to others (scapegoated)
- Intentionally sent discussions down a rabbit hole
Their maneuvering was made to look like a genuine contribution to the team’s objective. Positions were couched in the right jargon, senior management was extolled, and current business practices affirmed. Blah, blah, blah! Even the formerly committed team members caved on this one. Me too…we were out-numbered.
This team ended after six months of endless meetings, leaving the process unchanged. The slackers had won at the expense of the company and the team’s reputation. Upper management never had a clue.
“Slackers become really good at manipulating their bosses or team members to keep up the impression that something takes longer than it should or invent barriers where none exist,” says Meagan Brock, HR specialist at the University of Oklahoma in Fox’s article. I guess so!
What makes a slacker?
Slackers are often unsure how to “win” at their jobs. Most employees come to work wanting to succeed. They want to know how to advance, earn more, and get interesting assignments with people they enjoy working with.
When they don’t see those conditions materializing, they decide to “fake it” rather than give it their all, especially if they’ll likely be rewarded anyway.
- make it look like they’re working at lot by scheduling documents to be emailed at off hours
- get appointed to important sounding teams where they engage with key players, appearing more influential than they really are
- make assignments appear excessively complex by the way they report on them
- use their specialized expertise to avoid engagement in broader efforts
When there’s slacking, someone’s making it okay.
Slacking is a consequence of weak management. Employees under-perform when they believe it won’t be noticed or really matter.
So here’s what bosses need to do:
- Make sure employees understand their jobs and the outcomes expected
- Give clear direction and hold employees accountable for their part
- Require action plans from each employee for specific assignments, including timetables and deliverables
- Understand how technology is being used, it’s relevance and cost effectiveness
- Ensure that employees have the resources and support they need
- Ask for coworker feedback on the contributions of other team members
- Provide coaching that builds awareness and desired behaviors
If an employee, who’s not willing to “put him/herself out there,” doesn’t have to work that hard to maintain employment and some reward, they will likely take the slacker route. As supervisors, we owe it to them and our companies not to let that happen.
Make hard work valued
It’s not the bells and whistles that make for a great employee; it’s their grit and commitment to push ahead, tackle the difficult, and turn things around on schedule. When your performance system rewards results achieved through hard work over the appearance of busyness, the slacker population is bound to decrease.
Fox writes, “Top performers want to perform at their peak. When they can’t, they will be vocal about it.” Time to listen up!
Have you been in the company of slackers at work? How did that work out? Thanks.