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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 26, 2006

Those lazy slackers wear down us dutiful workers

By Larry Ballard

If you're reading this at work, stop for a moment and check out the person in the next cubicle.

Don't stare. Just act casual. Then watch carefully to see how much work he/she is/isn't doing.

And then consider the topic of this week's column: lazy co-workers.

We know who they are. They roll in late; scoot out early. They always talk about how "swamped" they are, yet we see them five minutes later at the coffee machine jawing with someone from another department about which TV show is the better, "CSI: Boston Public Miami" or "Miami Public Boston: SVU ... NY."

It used to be that every company could afford a few stragglers.

But Mark Murphy says that's about to change.

Murphy is the top dog at Leadership IQ, a Washington, D.C., training and research company that surveyed 70,000 employees and executives from 116 businesses on the topic of office slackers.

The survey showed that 87 percent of employees say working with a "low performer" has made them want to change jobs. Ninety-three percent said shirkers in the office hurt their productivity. (The other 7 percent said: "So?" in a really snotty tone.)

More interesting, Murphy says, is that 86 percent of executives admit they don't effectively manage the problem.

"When the overwhelming majority of employees say that working with low performers makes them want to quit their jobs, leaders should accept this as a wake-up call and tackle this issue immediately," Murphy says. "Low performers can feel like emotional vampires, sucking the energy out of everyone around them."

Now, look over to the next cubicle again. Don't stare. Act like you're all engrossed in this article, but watch that co-worker closely.

You could be looking at someone whom Tom Lutz calls a loafer, lounger, slacker or bum.

Lutz, a University of Iowa professor, studied workplace low performers and put what he knows into a book, "Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America."

Turns out the phenomenon can be traced to an article, "The Right to Be Lazy," written in the late 1800s. And it stretches all the way to Japan, where slacker is pronounced "freetah."

Lutz described a sort of chicken-and-egg dilemma. The number of freetahs, gold-brickers, idlers, laggards, lollygaggers and faineants (that's French, amigo) typically increases as companies struggle.

"Anti-work attitudes are very prevalent during times of fundamental economic change," he said.

As bosses come under more pressure from stockholders to cut fat and boost profits, they must be more willing to weed out the dead wood, says Murphy, because "if low performers start dictating the company's culture, productivity, quality and service will decline and people will avoid your company like the plague."

(This is particularly important, of course, if you happen to sell the plague, or any plague-related accessories.)

So the message is clear: Slackers, you are on notice.

Wondering who might be targeted in your office? Look around. The bums are easy to spot.

They're ones who sit around with the newspaper and stare at people all the time.

And it takes them a half-hour to read one stupid article.

Larry Ballard writes for the Des Moines (Iowa) Register.