3 things to learn from the office slacker

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You know the office slacker, right? The one who manages up, not to the team. One who slides by with deliverables and not really contributing anything of substance.


They stay working, getting good marks on their performance review, and continuing to get plumb assignments from management. Despite the fact that the office slacker clearly does not understand how to do the work.

Total frustration for those of us who get things done.

We can learn a lot from the office slacker. Not from the office slacker, but from how management handles the office slacker.

The office slacker is a management issue, not your issue

Your actions will never enable the office slacker to go away. Only management can do that. Management is responsible for the group and the performance within the group. Only managers can deal with office slackers.

Since the performance of the office slacker is not in your control, it makes no sense to get all invested on how poorly this person does their job. No matter how much it irritates you, you don’t have control.

So don’t get invested in how poorly the office slacker performs; it will just take your own job performance down.

How management reacts to the slacker informs you about management

What the office slacker does do is inform you about management. How does your manager handle the office slacker?

  • Does the office slacker get the plumb assignments?
  • Does the office slacker get better ratings then the rest of your coworkers? Or you?
  • Does the office slacker get the worst task assignments?
  • Does the office slacker get the least risky assignments?

The first question is: Why is this person still here? If you see the office slacker getting the plumb assignments and great ratings when the person just doesn’t get it, it signals that management doesn’t get it either.

Management is supposed to be about getting things done. When managers reward slackers with the plum assignments and ratings, it’s not about performance. Instead, management is more about something else — the good ‘ol boys club, the cool kids group, the in-crowd. Or something.

For this type of management team, it’s not about performance.

On the other hand, if your manager is giving the office slacker work that is not subject to a lot of outside risk (say, for example, a critical report to your manager’s boss), then you can look harder at the ability of the manager to do much with the office slacker and getting that person out the door.

Sometimes, management can’t do a lot with getting rid of an office slacker because of the culture, the rules, or the contracts. Managers in a performance environment, where their hands are tied, put the slacker into as little as possible that will impact the performance of the team. Which, ironically, feeds right into what the slacker wants — not doing the work!

This combination, then, of task assignments and risk associated with the assignments informs you of what the situation with management is with the slacker.

How many slackers in your department tells you your ability to succeed

Managers have patterns in their hires. Bold managers, wanting a good team, will expect each individual to contribute to the team to achieve their objectives. Getting things done means getting things done, not talking a good game and delivering nothing.

On the other hand, a department with a significant number of slackers signals a management team that isn’t concerned about performance, but about something else. Maybe it’s a good ‘ol boys club. Maybe it’s the cool kids on the block. But people who get things done won’t get anywhere in that type of environment. If you’re one of those people who gets things done and end up in a cool kids department, your chances of inducing change, getting good performance reviews and the associated bonus and/or salary increase is small.

And if you see people who you consider to be good people who get things done leaving the department, you have all the confirmation you need that the inmates have taken over the insane asylum and nothing you will do will change that.

How many slackers in your department?

Photo by Hey Paul Studios

  • Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    I was letting this make me crazy. I have put your article in my “personal” file where I go fo sustinence when it all gets too much. No sense telling you where I work, sub styles of management exist in every type of big business. Unfortunately, fear rules!

    • True enough! Thanks for the comment, though. It’s really tough in a work environment to focus on what can be controlled and what can be influenced. The rest we have to leave to analysis and what impacts those uncontrollable things could have on our job performance.

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