Does It Pay to Be Lazy?

Organizations that reward lazy behavior by refusing to address it ruin their chances at getting the results they want.

Are you a slacker at work? If so, you may be more likely to be happy, content, relaxed… and blissfully unaware of your poor performance. That’s according to a recent study on employee engagement, which found that, in 42% of organizations, low performers are actually more engaged than high performers. They have less stress. They like their jobs. They talk up the company. They’re not looking for a new gig. But they bring minimal value to the organization – certainly less value than the people who deliver consistent results, day after day.


Wait. Something is wrong here.
If that seems unintuitive or just plain wrong, that’s because it is! It means that in 42% of the organizations surveyed, the underachievers are allowed to coast while top employees are taken for granted. No wonder the slackers love their jobs! They’re beneficiaries of a corporate culture that rewards poor performance and undervalues results.

Meanwhile, top performers end up taking up the slack, working long hours to compensate for their co-workers’ underachievement. And what do you think this pattern does to morale? That’s right: It frustrates the heck out of the good employees, ultimately driving them to look for employment elsewhere.

The upside-down, inside-out workplace
So now, not only do you have a bunch of lazy underachievers, you also have a growing group of malcontents who are focused not on their own work but on unbalanced workloads and unfair treatment.

For business leaders, this is a nightmare. And make no mistake: This is a leadership problem. As I preach over and over to my clients, the problem stems from management’s failure to provide feedback. Without regular and direct feedback, leaders are, in effect, protecting their laziest employees, allowing them to stay on without being accountable for results.

Stop rewarding lazy!
What’s the solution? The Reality-Based Leadership approach has always focused on flipping the employee engagement equation, with an emphasis on accountability for results. Leaders must hold their employees accountable and provide feedback that directly addresses performance. With proper feedback, the underachievers a) know that they are on notice, b) don’t get to bask in idle comfort and c) either shape up or ship out.

But that’s just part of the equation. Leaders need to “work with the willing,” engaging their top performers with new challenges and opportunities. That doesn’t mean letting them take up the slack for underachievers. It means investing time and resources in their advancement and growth. When leaders work with the willing, they eliminate the office drama – helping top performers focus on their own results instead of fretting about their co-workers’ productivity.


Leaders who follow this path will see dramatic changes in the culture. High-value employees will bring the whole package – hard work, powerful results, high engagement – while low-value employees will weed themselves out. The organization will no longer be a refuge for people looking for a free ride, but a place for dynamic, energetic and ambitious workers to challenge themselves.

Are you a Reality-Based Leader? Take this assessment to find out.

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