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.” 

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. 

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?

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