The art of slacking

Even if your boss doesn't notice, your co-workers probably will

Chances are you’re reading this dealing with the post-holiday blues. You might well be feeling a little slack when it comes to putting in a full day’s work

Fear not; it’s not your fault if you find yourself being a slacker. Apparently it’s genetic.

According to the Los Angeles Times slacker laboratory monkeys changed from “careless procrastinators” to “super-efficient workers” after they received injections blocking a gene that produces receptors for dopamine.

“The monkeys, which had been taught a computer game that rewarded them with drops of water and juice, lost their slacker ways and worked faster while making fewer errors”.

The theory is that monkeys — and also humans — will procrastinate if the reward is not immediate.

Monkey experiments aside, there's an increased interest in professional slacking in the workplace, partly fuelled by Frenchwoman Corinne Maier’s Bonjour Paresse (Hello Laziness): The Art and Importance of Doing the Least Possible in the Workplace. Writing on MSNBC.com, Jo Johnson says Maier is the closest thing France has to Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame). Inspired by working for 12 years in the French public sector, Maier’s sections in her manifesto include 'Business Culture: My Arse!' and 'The Cretins Who Sit Next To You'.

And perhaps Maier has stumbled on to something; Johnson writes that in its 2004 employment outlook, the OECD said the French worked 24% fewer hours than in 1970, while Americans worked 20% more.

Maier "writes for a group of people who no longer believe that work is the path to personal fulfilment,” she says.

Of course the internet is the ideal place for slackers. Fox News reports that there are websites targeted at such people (www.IShouldBeWorking.com and www.BoredAtWork.com).

There’s a message board on the former site where slackers seem to waste a lot of the day. The Fox News story features postings from people who seem to have made a lifestyle of turning up to work late, surfing the net while they’re there and then heading off home early.

The article says such slacking usually results from low motivation and a lack of connection to your job — in other words, not being engaged in your work.

“Jim Harter, Gallup's chief scientist of workplace management said a boss makes all the difference. ‘We’ve seen the strongest effect based on who the manager is,’ he said.”

The upshot is that bosses need to treat people as individuals if they want to prevent disengagement.

If, after reading the above, you’ve decided to take up professional slackerism, you should think carefully.

On CollegeJournal (www.collegejournal.com/successwork/onjob/20031210-maher.html) Kris Maher writes that Mike Kelly, who set up IShouldBeWorking.com, has been contacted by several people who say his site was a factor in them being fired. And Maher points out that even if your boss isn’t on to you, your co-workers will probably notice — and hold a grudge. He quotes an expert as saying that even if you’re really efficient and get your work done ahead of schedule, it’ll be the slacking that some people notice.

“What they don't know is that the person is a high performer.”

Mills is a Dunedin-based writer. She can be contacted at kirstin_mills@idg.co.nz

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