How a Lazy Co-Worker Can Affect Productive Employees

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Like yawning, laziness can be infectious.
Like yawning, laziness can be infectious. (Image: Christopher Robbins/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Not only do lazy workers affect the co-workers around them, but their actions (or lack thereof) run through the entire organization right down to the bottom line. Therefore, it’s vital to deal with laziness as soon as possible to avoid infecting your company’s culture and performance. By dealing with laziness up front, you avoid allowing it to permeate your entire company.

Morale Suffers

When workers see one of their own continually slacking off on the job and getting away with it, it lowers morale and causes the productive employees to feel that their hard work is unappreciated. As a result, the company could end up losing momentum as employees scale back on their output to compensate for the gap between the work their lazy co-worker is doing and the work they themselves are doing. If the lazy worker’s lack of output goes unnoticed, this can also cause tension between employees and their managers, because hardworking employees could feel that the managers aren’t involved in their processes. "Inc." magazine suggests that managers get to know their employees’ strengths and interests, and conduct internal audits to keep abreast of any loss of morale among the talent.

Expectations Diminish

A lazy worker can also skew other employees’ perceptions about an organization’s expectations. For example, if a particular worker is consistently absent for insignificant reasons (such as the weather, car trouble, personal errands), it could send the message to his co-workers that the company accepts this type of behavior. This type of laziness particularly affects newer employees, who are learning by example. The lazy individual lowers the bar for the fresh talent, creating a foundation for laziness for current and future co-workers.

Exodus Ensues

When dysfunction exists in a company’s culture and employees feel powerless to change that dysfunction, they leave to find employment elsewhere. Laziness that goes unnoticed by management is a form of dysfunction, because it signals a lack of respect to productive employees and a disconnect between management and workers. Stephen C. Harper writes for "Entrepreneur" that such problems drive away talent, leaving the company with employees who are limited in their capabilities or held back by the systems of behavior instilled by the company’s culture. The solution is to build an environment that promotes performance by allowing employees growth and encouraging innovation. When you develop a strong company culture that employees can embrace, they will become more committed to their roles and therefore find less reason to silently endure lazy co-workers until they come to a breaking point where they have to quit.

Corrective Considerations

Managers who value their employees could get a lazy co-worker to get back into a productive mode by figuring out the root cause of the individual’s behavior. Psychologist Leon F. Seltzer suggests that laziness is rooted in a lack of self-efficacy, lack of sufficient emotional support, needing recognition or lack of self-discipline. "Inc." magazine recommends motivating lazy employees through goal setting, the implementation of rewards systems, recognition of their talents and utilization of those talents and interests in their jobs. Also, having a frank discussion with an employee about his under-performance can clarify other issues causing laziness, such as home life, which could be alleviated by some time off.

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