JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Small business

Doing nothing and getting paid for it

August 17, 2012
Illustration: John Shakespeare.

Illustration: John Shakespeare.

American sitcom writer, Gary Janetti, recently wrote on Twitter that “sometimes pretending to be busy takes more effort than being busy”. I reckon he’s right. Even more fascinating are the employees who don’t even care to look busy. Doing nothing and getting paid for it is a labour of love.

There’s the Browser – the person who spends more time browsing the web than a spreadsheet. There’s the Hoverer, hovering around your desk chatting endlessly about nothing. There’s also the Decliner, the person who finds reasons to decline additional work – like an admin assistant of mine whose reply to every new request was a growl: “No, that’s an administrative nightmare.” 

In fact, she was the administrative nightmare.

All those people, and dozens of other permutations, are what many of us refer to as ‘bludgers’, but usually not to their face – and perhaps that’s where the problem lies.

Leadership consultant Blythe Rowe is the author of Bullies, Blamers, and Bludgers, released last month.

“Ignoring bludging behaviours is an all-too-popular strategy,” she tells me. “Leadership is not a popularity contest. You have a responsibility to have the hard chats with your team and, yes, sometimes even sacking the bludgers if performance does not improve.”

If only it were that easy. For many managers, the avoidance of disciplining a bludger isn’t due to a lack of desire; it’s due to a lack of support – whether that’s a wary boss, a nervous HR team, or restrictive legislation.

Still, Rowe suggests there’s stuff that can be done before it even gets to that stage. “Clarity is key,” she says, referring to a common cause of lazy performance. When a manager doesn’t articulate what’s expected of employees, it increases the chances they’ll underperform.

So what kind of clarity is important? “Clarity around specific outcomes, behaviours, timelines and consequences, including why it matters,” she advises.

Bludging seems to be relatively popular. In a survey of 11,500 people earlier this year, Ernst & Young discovered a third of Australians admit that a quarter of each workday is wasted. The diminished productivity results in estimated losses of $41 billion for businesses. 

In fairness to the respondents, they blame three major issues for their passivity. The first is the time they have to kill waiting for senior managers’ approval. In other words, red tape. The second is attributed to the reading and responding of emails, many of which are unnecessary (like the detested ‘cc’ field that guarantees an inbox full of irrelevant threads). And the third cause is technology, or rather, its tendency to malfunction.

Last year, Cracker.com compiled a list of seven real-life people who weren’t just lazy, they were “impressively” lazy. It’s like a Hall of Fame for bludgers.

Take, for example, the public service worker who took every Friday off without telling anyone. It took his employer 17 years to notice. 

Another employee at a different firm wrote a 300-page book while she was at work. The book was, aptly, a memoir on laziness. It included this passage: “I am going to sit right here and play Elf Bowling or some other nonsense. Once lunch is over, I will come right back to writing to piddle away the rest of the afternoon.”

In response to the negative connotation with which laziness is associated, a new term has emerged in the management lexicon: productive laziness. It refers to people who aren’t really bludgers but are nonetheless skilled at cutting corners. What takes others 20 minutes to do, they get done in five. And it’s mostly because they can easily pinpoint the fruitless aspects of a task, which frees up their time to do, well, nothing.

It’s quite clever, actually. If you can get away with it. 

What are your thoughts? Are you a proud bludger? Or just productively lazy?

twitter Follow James Adonis on Twitter  @jamesadonis

Poll: Which category do you fit into?

Poll form
  1. Please select an answer.
  2. View results
Browser

38%

Hoverer

2%

Decliner

1%

Just plain lazy

16%

The hardest worker in town!

43%

Total votes: 1702.

Would you like to vote?

You will need Cookies enabled to use our Voting Feature.

Disclaimer:

These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.

41 comments so far

  • What an idiot I am. I've worked damn hard at every job I've ever had, and I'd feel ashamed if I did anything else. Lazy people just make honest people work harder.

    Commenter
    JD
    Location
    Date and time
    August 17, 2012, 10:22AM
    • ...and they get paid the same as you too! Feeling better?

      Commenter
      ToughAsNails
      Location
      Date and time
      August 17, 2012, 6:23PM
    • Clearly. How's your work day going? Sent many posts off to internet forums have we?

      Commenter
      Robbo
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 18, 2012, 7:36AM
    • Hello Robbo. To answer your question, I'm not working today or when I did the post, as I've just got out of hospital after being suddenly taken ill, and spending a week there. 'Clearly' you were implying that I was bludging at work and writing posts. Wrong. How are you feeling?

      Commenter
      JD
      Location
      Date and time
      August 18, 2012, 2:34PM
    • Neither of you are revealing your names so this argument is pointless and invalid. Both of you should disconnect your modems and never return.

      Commenter
      Xbox360Mod
      Location
      Date and time
      August 19, 2012, 9:23PM
  • Efficiency is highly organised laziness.

    Commenter
    LB
    Location
    NSW
    Date and time
    August 17, 2012, 10:26AM
  • You want us to read this and classify as bludger for being on the browser too long?

    Commenter
    hardworker
    Location
    Date and time
    August 17, 2012, 10:41AM
  • The real bludgers are the managers whom cannot manage correctly and so muck up everyone else.

    Commenter
    positron
    Location
    on a wave
    Date and time
    August 17, 2012, 11:33AM
  • Good old George Costanza from the Seinfeld show. Now there's a master of procrastination and avoidance.

    I've admired him years but never been able to achieve such low levels of productivity - it's too much hard work.

    Commenter
    lostinspace
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    August 17, 2012, 12:04PM
  • Sometimes there just is not the work to be done, even though managers may think so. So I can finish my day's work in 4 hours and mess around the rest of the day, what am I to do? Declare myself redundant?

    Commenter
    MA
    Location
    Malbourne
    Date and time
    August 17, 2012, 12:18PM

More comments

Make a comment

You are logged in as [Logout]

All information entered below may be published.

Error: Please enter your screen name.

Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Please enter your comment.

Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

Post to

You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

Thank you

Your comment has been submitted for approval.

Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.