Wednesday, April 13, 2005

In praise of the lazy employee

Fast Company just published a feature on Extreme Jobs, noting that, while only 17% of managers worked in excess of 60 hours a week in 2004, the 50 to 60 hour workweek had become the norm, and some work more like 90 to 100 hours a week (my peak was in excess of 110 hours, I'm a bit embarrassed to note, and that was well before the current trend). A quick search on Google turned up a number of references, most indicating that having a lazy employee was a problem.

Years ago, I read an article saying that every organization should have at least one lazy employee. No, they weren't advocating hiring and keeping people who didn't want to make a contribution. They were talking about that breed of lazy employee who didn't want to do more work than necessary to get the desired result. They want to think, plan, and then do rather than just doing.

They want to know why it takes five signatures to get something approved when one should do. They want to know why the forecasting effort should take two weeks each month when a bit of rethinking could cut 50% out of the work and possibly get better answers. They want to know why they're tied up in bureaucracy when simplifying work would leave them more time to attend to customers' needs and to come up with creative new ways to make progress for the company. They're lazy enough not to take "We've always done things that way" for an answer; they want to figure out how to do more with less. They want to make more contribution than the 80-hour-a-week employee supposedly does and to do it with far less stress and strain.

If you're fortunate enough to have one of those lazy employees, I suggest you remember:

  • They may not always be right, but they're worth listening to; they are on your side.
  • They may well be the ones who give you the sustained contributions you need and the breakthroughs you dream about.
  • It might be a good thing if their approach rubs off on others.
  • If they're contributing in 40 hours what you expect from someone who works 60 hours, don't push them to the 60 hours; they may need time for ideas to percolate.
  • If you don't have any such lazy employees, why not? What is it costing you?

As one demonstrably highly effective manager I knew has said (my paraphrase), "The effective people are those who put in a solid six hours a day working on the right things and then spend another couple of hours listening to people and to ideas; they typically are much more effective than those who work late into the evening."

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Blogger curiouscat said...

Great post. I think you need someone who is not only lazy but a bit unreasonable.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
-George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

04 November, 2007 07:45  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

Good addition; thanks! I think it requires a good combination of advocacy and inquiry. I understand advocacy to be at least related to what you and GBS called unreasonableness and what some might call backbone. I see inquiry as the counterbalance that helps ensure the reasoning behind the advocacy is reviewed.

05 November, 2007 06:56  
Blogger tony fernandes said...

Good thinking - and workable too.

You only have to visit BestPrax Club's Blogs, in their portal , where 2 Blogs relate to what Bill says.

The blog showcasing Google's Recruitment Machine, shows how the 'balancing act' is done.

The 'Using Learning & Career Development, as the Driver for Employee Motivation'blog, is the key, to sustainability.

Shall welcome Bill's, and others, take on my views.

15 November, 2007 23:42  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

Thanks, Tony, for your pointer.

18 November, 2007 12:10  
Blogger los said...

My 8th grade math teacher once said I was lazy as if it were a compliment, but to be honest I'm still not 100% sure...

19 November, 2007 12:10  

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