Bill Gates said it best when he remarked, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” Most people assume that lazy people are slothful, unproductive workers who do everything but work while they’re at work. But there are many reasons why managers should start taking a closer look at employees who are lazy at work. They may seem lazy because they’re underworked, given work that is too easy for them, or they just may be really smart people who find ways to complete everything in a shorter amount of time.

If workers are perceived as being lazy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re bad employees or actually lazy. If they’re not fully engaged, they may have the potential to do much more. That’s why it’s worth taking a closer look at them. Here are a few ways to take lazy employees and turn them into some of the most productive employees in your workplace.

Learn to work with “lazy” employees

Different people work in different ways. When employees seem to be lazy, it might just be that they work in a more abstract way. Try giving them assignments that make them think, instead of just tasks for them to check off on their to-do list. This will allow them to put more thought into their work, and they may come up with something more creative. This could ultimately be way more valuable than having them follow a series of steps to finish a task.

Use these employees to their full potential

Employees who seem like they don’t have enough work to do but are still meeting performance standards may not be working at their full potential. Instead of giving them more busy work, find other ways to enhance the type of work they’re doing. Talk to them to find out where their untapped potential lies, and create specific work around that. Who knows, they might be management material.

Create specific programs to help boost productivity

If you have lazy employees who are getting their work done, see if you can create programs that allow them to explore other areas of the business. These programs might help them focus on new initiatives that might be more challenging. In my day, I’ve seen many companies provide opportunities for interdepartmental cross-training, and it’s worked very well to help employees get out of the rut of doing the same kind of work over and over again.

If you have employees who seem to be lazy but are still meeting productivity standards, it’s important to work with them in a way that gives both you and them the flexibility to do their best work possible.

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.

5 Comments

  • Avatar Annabel Lee says:

    This is a very interesting article. I think every manager should read it and learn how to differentiate between their employees. I have often heard of many managers who were dissatisfied with an employee, even if he was somewhat productive. Those managers were aware that their employees could reach higher levels of performance, but they did not know how to stimulate those employees. This article could be the perfect tool they need. Congratulations!

  • Avatar Rhonwen D. says:

    An employee who has reached a certain level of performance may lose enthusiasm if he or she is not properly stimulated or never faces new challenges or tasks. In this situation, anyone can become a poorly motivated employee who does his daily tasks but does not feel passion for the work. Such a person may seem lazy, even if he works every day and does his job. A good manager will know how to correctly interpret the employee’s behavior and will take the exact measures needed to maintain the desired performance level.

  • Avatar Berenice Turner says:

    As you said in the article above, a good manager will know how to distinguish between a lazy employee who avoids work and fails to fulfill daily tasks and one that could reach a higher level of performance but is underworked and bored. Sometimes it is quite difficult to do this because the behaviors are almost identical. In this case, the best solution would be for that person to be moved into another position in the organization or in another department in order to identify his real potential.

  • Avatar Alden Clark says:

    I do not know if “laziness” is the appropriate word to use in your article. I read it with great interest, and I’d rather think that you’re talking about employees that are rather poorly motivated or already bored at work. The fault may be the routine and/or bad management in the workplace. An employee who is capable of high performance needs to be continuously and properly stimulated and motivated. In this case, the key to success is finding the optimal motivational factor.

  • Avatar Brendan Caffrey says:

    Lazy British workers hold back economic growth?

    Much has been made of the low level of British productivity recently. But what is productivity? There is little agreement among economists of how it should be defined, and then measured. Perhaps the most common measure is output per hour worked.
    Using this measure the Office for Budget Responsibility (hereinafter OBR) set up in 2010 and used both by the government, and by the Labour Party, estimates that British productivity in 2015 will be about 1.4% higher than in the previous 12 months. This percentage figure is lower than most large European countries, but just higher than Italy. Why so?

    Answering this question is difficult because of all the different elements that go into production; elements that change over time; and the consequent difficulties of measurement. A short list would include levels of capital invested in plant, latest technology, and workers’ skills. Investment is low when there is a recession. This reduces labour productivity. Employers may hoard labour, because of skills already invested in. But if skills are not constantly updated, productivity falls.

    However, sticking with productivity per hour, OBR estimates British productivity will achieve in 2019 year on year growth of 2.1%. This may seem a small increase over 5 years. However, a comparison with the average of other European Union countries in 2013 shows British productivity was much higher than most countries, except Germany, France and Ireland.

    Yet another way of looking at this is to say that British productivity has returned to the level it had in 2008. 2008 was the crisis year when productivity fell in most western economies, because of the financial crisis. On these last two measures the British figures look pretty good. So why all the criticism?
    It may be a lingering prejudice about lazy workers.
    But many so-called inefficient employers have ceased to exist since 2008. The surviving employers may have workers with much higher productivity than before. The question then becomes where are these productive workers to be found? As the service sector of the economy is larger than manufacturing, they will be mainly here. But they are also in manufacturing.

    So whatever is the cause productivity problems in Britain it is not the existing workforce. If only the trade unions would take note, and publicise this!

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