“I’ve got a lazy employee, what do I do?”
If I count the number of times that I have heard that statement being used, I probably should own a mansion by now. But the real question is this, “do employees really just become lazy or is there an underlying problem somewhere and what can leaders do about this?”
The word, torpid can be defined as being mentally or physically inactive or lethargic. Often this word can be used as a synonym for lazy. After writing an article about whether employees should stay in a toxic workplace or leave, it is imperative to bring a balance to the conversation and find out if the workplace is truly toxic or if you’ve become torpid. It is not unusual to hear the word, “lazy” thrown around casually by fellow coworkers, bosses, or employees, especially when a person’s work habits are frustrating to them. But let’s face it, we all have our lazy days. Sometimes, this “laziness” is not laziness but a classic case of burnout. Most people experience burnout at some point in their lives, especially employees working in high-stress environments like startups. Jobs that are repetitive or monotonous are also a factor for torpidity and being tagged as lazy.
Humans are especially fragile beings and persistent hard work can easily wear us down. It is a physiological and psychological reaction; absolutely normal. It is why we are prone to breaking down and becoming less productive as we count down to the end of work. [remember how you feel when it’s TGIF?] When an employee has gotten to a torpid tipping point, chances are that any demand on productivity can be interpreted negatively. For example, if Greg is burnt out, feeling disengaged and low on morale but his boss demands that he handle a strenuous job, he is likely to feel “maltreated” and stuck in a “toxic work environment”. But is that really the case? Is it a toxic workplace or is he torpid?
A toxic work environment is caused by factors like sexual harassment, a lack of respect for boundaries, and micromanagement among others. Each of these factors can create stressful conditions in the workplace for employees and cause negative health consequences the same way torpidity can, which is why it is important to know without an iota of doubt whether what you feel is a result of toxicity or torpidity like we saw in Greg’s example. The issue was not a toxic workplace, it was fatigue resulting in employee disengagement and a decline in productivity. [to know if you have a toxic workplace environment, read this article]
Employees are torpid or disengaged for many reasons but they all converge at a point – how they feel when they interact with:
1. Ineffective Leadership
Leadership ineffectiveness occurs when an individual in a supervisory position does not fulfil the guidance or teaching expectations of their job. Managers tend to be excellent at managing, but they are not always great at leading. This is especially true for new managers who have an ego typical of a manager but are not exhibiting the characteristics of an effective leader. No matter the industry, when employees see their leaders fail at leading, they tend to become demotivated and become disengaged. For example, a friend mentioned that the worst boss he ever had would provide him with feedback that always said something like, “you’re doing a great job.” But they both knew it wasn’t true — the organization was in disarray, turnover was excessive, and customers and employees were not happy. A leader must be firm, rooted in purpose and not afraid to lead.
2. Strong Office Politics
It is common for large organizations and organizations with egoistic leaders to have absurd office politics. Microcosms within a company are extremely detrimental not just to engagement but also to growth and revenue. It is possible for office politics to disenfranchise employees, thereby causing them to lose valuable bonds and relationships that could have contributed to the employee’s engagement, reducing torpidity. Office politics often motivates employees to focus on maintaining their ‘position’ rather than excelling. It is not healthy for any employee to get caught up in office politics. It is stressful. It is draining. It demotivates. It does destroy an organization’s possibility to improve productivity.
3. Purposeless Jobs
It is logical [and research-based] to postulate that if employees believe that their work is meaningless and does not contribute to the company, they will feel disengaged, torpid and think that their work is worthless. In the absence of organizational purpose being hardwired into roles and responsibilities, it is hard for employees to internalize their work and understand its relationship to the company’s values. Since there is no drive, this is a sure recipe for employees becoming “lazy”.
Employee laziness or torpidity can be attributed to a multitude of reasons beyond those mentioned in this article. However, with every problem comes solutions. Leaders and managers must understand that for employees to be highly engaged, it takes a combination of both effective leadership and management tactics. Think long-term. Here are a few steps leaders can take to improve employee engagement:
- Drive purpose in their job: how is what they do contributing to the business’s goals? That should be the basis of their job description. Don’t forget: every contribution is important in its own right, even if it isn’t equal to others.
- Make sure your employees are getting the tools they need to function by checking in with them. The fact that you show interest, even if you cannot deliver most of it, is a major factor in building trust between employees and management which is a vital tool to help the employee stay motivated on the job.
- Be open-minded, genuine, and sincere in your approach to understanding the needs of employees. It will close the gap between them and management and allow for ease in communication.
- Take office politics out of the picture and ensure a smooth career path for them. When people feel safe somewhere, they are much more inclined to work harder.
- Provide as many growth opportunities as possible for those with potential
It is easy as a leader to blame employees as lazy but not many people we term as lazy in the workplace are truly lazy. It all boils down to whether they are motivated or demotivated. Sometimes, a person could lack motivation for a long period of time and nobody gets to the root cause and so they get fired or they resign. Leaders need to motivate and inspire their teams. In order to understand what motivates your staff, you’ll need to work hard and establish a relationship with them. The idea of having lunch with someone seems simple enough, but when you are busy with your own deadlines, meetings, and personal struggles, trying to find the time to meet up falls to the wayside but establishing this relationship is important. In some cases, the job isn’t the right fit for that employee, but as a leader, you can do your part to minimize the risk of losing a potentially good employee, especially if it is because of an inaccurate assessment of their character.