We’ve all encountered these people in the workplace. The guy who wanders around joking with everyone but never seems to do any actual work. The woman who files her nails when she should be typing a report. The slacker who…well…nobody actually knows where the slacker is or what he’s doing!
Co-workers label these folks ‘lazy’ and resent them for not doing their share. Bosses may be quick to replace them with someone who seems to get more done.
Workers who look lazy may actually serve an important purpose.
Consider the ‘class clown’ type – the one who’s always socializing and making everyone laugh instead of doing the assigned work. Measured by any usual standard, this person is horribly unproductive. But the class clown might be the one person that keeps everyone’s spirits high and makes them want to come to work each day. So instead of labeling the clown as lazy, a supervisor might recognize the clown’s unique skillset and transfer him to a position that’s better suited to his personality.
In a retail setting, for example, this happy-go-lucky type might be a disaster at restocking shelves but might be the perfect person to interact with customers. With this person on the sales floor, customers have fun in the store, and that encourages them to buy more and come back again.
As customer experience consultants, we are alert to these emotional cues that employees send to customers. We use Emotional Signature® to help our clients understand and improve the emotional content of the journey.
Lazy Daydreamer or Deep Thinker?
Creative work and strategy require concentrated thought, but employees who keep a frenetic pace all day seldom have time to stop and consider big picture issues.
If you saw the movie “The Martian,” you’ll remember the frantic NASA scientists who tried to figure out how to get food to an astronaut stranded on Mars. Their high powered teams were unsuccessful. The solution came from a guy who spent days holed up with his computer in a remote and disheveled office.
In a more down to earth setting, the employee who sits around filing her nails may be thinking of new ways to improve your customer service calls. She may offer suggestions, but if you are focused only on how many calls she took and reports she typed, you will miss an opportunity to make positive changes to your process. She in turn will feel less valued and may convey those feelings to the customers she deals with.
Lazy Workers in Reserve
Recent research on ant colonies suggests another purpose for lazy workers. Researchers have found that at any given time, about half of the ants in a colony are lazing about. Even when observed over time, about 20 to 30 percent of ants don’t do much of anything at all. Yet these lazy ants actually help make the colony more resilient by providing a backup supply of workers to replace ants that die or get tired. When needed, these slacker ants eventually step up and do the work.
People may behave the same way. Many parents are astounded when their slovenly teenagers go off to college and keep tidy dorm rooms. With no one to pick up after them, they start doing the work themselves.
From a customer experience consultancy perspective, surplus workers can prevent a staff shortage that may negatively impact the customer’s experience. If a company is short staffed, customers may not get the attention they need. If staff are overworked and tired, customers will pick up on these negative feelings.
Of course, some employees truly are lazy and should probably be fired. But before jumping to that conclusion, employers might consider whether the employee has skills and talents that contribute to the company in ways that aren’t easily quantified. Perhaps the person is better suited to a different set of tasks. Or perhaps some employees are valuable as ‘reserve’ workers because they will step up to the plate if they have to.
Have you worked with someone who seemed lazy but made an important contribution? Tell me about it in the comments below.
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