Easy Like Monday Morning









At the recent TruLondon event the comment ‘Recruiters are Lazy ‘caused a real stir. Almost immediately recruiters were talking about the hours they work, the early starts and late evenings. Certainly blog references to the comment have also tended to defend the dedication and long hours.

I think they are all missing the point though. When we talk about someone being lazy I don’t think we necessarily mean the hours they put in, the application and dedication…I think it’s more about the way their time is utilised, the methods they use and the outcomes.

With office jobs it’s easy to draw the distinction between clock watchers and those that work long hours. Yet I’m not sure the 8 to 8 person necessarily always achieves more than someone who puts in a shorter shift. So I turned to an industry where everyone works the same hours – an airline crew.

The crew on a flight are all putting in the same hours, so how would you define if someone was lazier than another? I asked my partner (possible her first appearance on this blog!) as she is a cabin manager for an airline – ‘How would you define a lazy crew member?’

She thought and said ‘They do the minimum. They’ve perfected the art of doing just enough. They won’t get into trouble, they are doing their job after all, but they are doing the minimum’

I have a feeling that this is where the ‘recruiters are lazy’ comment was heading. Some recruiters don’t go the extra mile. They post and pray, source and spray, and often use little wit or intelligence in how they find the best candidate. They have KPIs to hit, and as long as they hit them and pull in some transactional deals (often by focusing on the lowest hanging fruit) they will keep their jobs.

However this blog isn’t actually about recruiters (rare I know) but about how we define lazy.

The knee jerk response for most people when accused of being lazy is to talk about how long they’ve worked, or how hard they’ve worked, rather than how they applied themselves. Yet this is probably rooted in a traditional approach to work which has been gradually swept away.

Certainly when I first entered the workplace I joined an SME where loyalty and dedication had been highly valued. People received recognition for length of service and promotions were usually made on seniority.

Its people were managed on input, and rewarded on input too.

Yet this had been gradually changing, and whilst many established colleagues were effectively clock watchers, the new breed of workers (of which I was part) had proved ourselves to be willing to stay that bit later (or come in earlier) to get tasks done. We wanted to be rewarded on ability and achievement, and if we needed to work longer to get there we would.

Of course many businesses had already effectively created 8 to 8 working cultures, expecting, and demanding, longer hours. When I first started as a recruiter I remember a partner in an accountancy firm briefing me on a manager’s role. I asked him what made a good manager and he said ‘I get to work at 7am every morning. When I get here and the coffee machine is already on then I know I’ve got a good manager’.

Dedication, loyalty and long hours were not enough to get you the bonuses and promotions though. Some months later the same partner was talking to me about what makes a good partner in his firm ‘We’ve got lots of people who put in the hours but we need something more. We’re looking for the kind of person that can go to a networking evening, or a drinks party, and leave with a potential client. And can then help that client develop more so that we can earn more fees’

Managed on input, rewarded on output.

Today I think we’ve developed to the next stage. We are firmly in a world of 24/7 communication, work e-mails can be checked at 9pm or 6am, whilst on the train or eating breakfast. The expression ‘Generation Standby’ refers to everyone and the lines are blurred between when and where you’re at work and when and where you’re not. Long hours are no longer visible in the way they used to be.

Additionally I see newer entrants to the workforce as not having the same appetite for long hours. Don’t get me wrong, I believe they are motivated by doing a good job, creating really positive outcomes and are looking to learn and develop all the time, but maybe expect more of a balance between their working time and personal interests.

Whether it’s a teen doing their homework, a trainee in their first role or a worker in the knowledge economy, I think that we’re now in the zone of managed on output, rewarded on output.

(Before I return to where I started – what makes someone lazy – I have to hold my hands up and say that these observations relate very much to office work. It’s what I’ve known throughout my career and it’s the type of work that I suspect most readers of this blog do. I appreciate that roles in sectors such as retail, leisure and hospitality (say) do not so easily conform to the theory but suspect that the expectations of people entering the workforce, now and in the future, are more closely aligned with being managed and rewarded on output. How we absorb these will be a challenge.)

So what does make someone lazy? When you refer to a colleague or co-worker as being lazy what do you mean?

Length of time spent working?

How they have approached their work?

Or what the outcome of their work is?

Let me know what you think….and also how you think we should define it.


10 thoughts on “Easy Like Monday Morning

  1. For me it’s lack of attention to detail, not bothering to tidy up the tiny little things.

    In recruitment I’d generalise and say recruiters are lazy because they don’t really care about finding the best candidate, they don’t spend the time to really assess whether candidates have what their employer needs, they spend their time on cold calling new customers & putting out advertisements to capture as many CVs as possible, but when it comes to training their staff on how to assess whether a person is actually right for a particular role, they are generally lacking.

    I’m talking about external recruiters here, internal recruiters tend to pay a bit more attention to these things.

    I know you wanted a general discussion around laziness though, so I’ll go back to my original point- it’s about attention to detail for me.

    Can you be bothered making sure that your presentation is high quality, do you take time to spell check your documents, do you go to any lengths in order to ensure that the QUALITY of your work is of the highest possible?

    Those that don’t, I guess would fall into what I’d refer to as lazy, the ones that just do the job, without thinking of how they can improve or perform better, or achieve better results.

  2. Great post Mervyn. I think actually the meta-issues you describe do relate quite well to other industries. There may be different maturity cycles or the language may be different but I think you are spot on. A couple of thoughts….

    Some organisations are observed to manage on output but reward on input. Ostensibly it looks like the organisation is doing the right thing but dig a bit deeper and you soon seen the disconnect. When sycophantic it breaks organisational trust.

    Attendance does not equal performance – fact. Where the culture encourages or demands long hours it’s typically the perceived requirement of management. They work under the misguided belief that long hours are productive and rewarding. The reality is that human performance tails off rapidly after the typical 8 working hours… including those of managers.

    So perhaps another way of framing laziness is “misguided”. In many cases this probably also applies to their client focus too…

  3. Good questions – defining ‘lazy’ does feel like focussing on the negative but in some ways it could actually be the missing link when someone is performing the bare minimum, punctual and achieveing everything that is asked of them….but somehow not hitting the mark.

    I’d be most inclined to approach ‘lazy’ as the approach to work – lack of thought, creativity and pushing boundaries in the work someone undertakes. The added value of what they think, contribute or do.

    Sometimes people don’t have the freedom or resource to carry out/demonstrate their ideas or added value actions…but giving enough space and time in their schedule to think about their work in a wider context and communicate new ideas, could be great start to increasing that added value – and avoiding a lazy approach.

    I’m feeling a little lazy…it IS Monday…but after this coffee I’m going to kick it! Thanks for the thought provoking start to today!

  4. Mervyn
    Excellent food for thought. Lots of factors influence people and performance. Inherently “lazy” people, bad managers, poor organisational and job design, disenfrachised workers, greedy bosses…… I heard a long time ago an interesting twist on an old saying. “All work and no play makes Jack.??????….usually the Head of the Corporation.
    Again that raises a whole series of other questions about work life balance, family life etc…..

  5. I think your wife summed up the definition quite nicely. Being lazy at work is akin to doing just enough to get by. Hard working, doesn’t equate to smart working, nor does long working equate to high performance. My dad used to have a saying for people who are lazy at work. They look busy, but do nothing.

  6. A very good read and some very interesting comments. Just one question in possibly the other direction where does laziness meet expedience? Are there people who whilst they don’t do everything the “right” way get the job done by finding the most effective way to do it?

  7. Hi Mervyn. Great post, which I found thought-provoking. Maybe it is useful to start with the fact that humans are essentially lazy animals – by this I mean that if we have a choice we would opt for the easiest one ie we enter a park and the exit is directly opposite us diagonally but the paths take us around the perimeter. So, we cut across the path – the shortest route. You see this behaviour all the time. I’d equate this to the idea of doing the minimum in your job. Is that good or bad? The answer is in the context, the attitude of the person and the expectations around that role. I just think our default is to be lazy. Of course, as others have pointed out, lazy is now quite a loaded term, which usually equates to bad attitude. But, we are also inquisitive and social animals too, and we like intrinsic motivators. So, all is not lost – we have desires to be more than just lazy, we do want to do a good job too. Apologise if this response is a bit heavy on generalisations – my aim was to think of us as essentially quite lazy in the first place!

  8. Great post Merv … And props to Martin’s comment. I know when considering any new office process or requirement, the most effective route to mass adoption is to make it easier than the previous version (or path of least resistance) – so on this we’re agreed!

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