The Careerist: Are Lazy Workers Necessary?

June, 2016

Q:

One of my coworkers is so lazy! He spends most of the day sending texts on his phone – that is, when he’s not watching videos of silly goats on his computer. I’m ready to stab him with my pen. Should I say something to my supervisor?

A:

My mind turns to tiny surveillance cameras and a video blog dedicated to this rube, but you’d be wasting your time. Don’t let someone else’s performance distract you. Focus on your own awesomeness, and don’t bother ratting someone out; his inefficiency will be revealed eventually.

However, you might first try the compassionate route, and check in with him: Maybe he has work to do but no clue how to begin. “Hey, Shane, did you start that Carter report? Did you need help finding it on the server? Once you download it you can grab the numbers you need over here.” Having no idea where to start can paralyze even the best of us, particularly if someone is new and too chicken to ask for help.

A recent study on ants by a team at Japan’s Hokkaido University leads us to another theory: Lazy animals serve a purpose in a group because inactive workers only leap into action when all the other workers have become fatigued. Loafing ants are like an insurance policy, because if something catastrophic happens and all the worker ants are too exhausted to carry on with vital tasks, the lazy ants suddenly drop their iPhones and bust a move. So maybe your coworker is there to someday save your ass.

Read the full study at www.nature.com/articles/srep20846/


 

Q:

I’m in the middle of a job search and getting anxious. Should I take a job that’s beneath me just to have something, and keep looking for something better, or hold out for that better position?

A:

Be careful. A recent study should make you leery about accepting a job below your skill level, whether it’s part-time, temporary or full-time. The study, which was published in the American Sociological Review, found that employers have the perception that applicants with job histories of work below their skill level were viewed as less competent and less committed, and were less likely to be interviewed for a fictitious job opening. This was particularly true for male candidates.

For more on the study, see tinyurl.com/jobbeneathme


 

Q:

I’m a rotten negotiator. I try, but it just never seems to work at all, so clearly I need to up my skills. What should I do?

A:

I have good news. “Negotiation is both a skill and an art,” says John Barkai, a professor of law and co-director of the clinical law program at William S. Richardson School of Law, UH Manoa. “Not everyone can be a great chef, but everyone can learn to cook or cook better,” he says. “My point is, we can all get better at pretty much anything with study and practice. With a little effort, negotiating skills can be improved.” Barkai teaches alternative dispute resolution, conflict resolution and international negotiations, and just talking to him made me feel more confident.

Send me to Camp David!

He recommends reading the book “Getting to Yes.” “It’s what I would call the Bible of classical negotiations.” Most people fail at negotiation because they aren’t prepared, he says, and because they become dominated by emotion. When you feel yourself coming to a place of conflict, step back by asking questions. “The act of listening; repeat back what they are saying. You’re appearing to be interested but you’re buying yourself more time. Other times you might just have to say, ‘This is an important conversation, but this isn’t a good time for me. Let’s do it at such and such time.’ Then you’ll have your chance to prepare. And if it’s really heavy duty, you might want a third person as a mediator, or even a professional mediator.”

I suggested that in this era of contingent employment, permalance positions and contract jobs, negotiating is more important than ever. To which Barkai replied, “My belief is that ever since there have been two people in the world, negotiation has been an important skill. FaceTime, Internet. There’s more ways to do it now – it’s just more complicated.”


 

Q:

I’ve just begun managing a virtual team, and I’m worried: How do I know if everyone is getting their work done?

A:

You’re asking the wrong question, according to the expert I spoke with. “I think the assumption should be that you can effectively manage people remotely, and you go from there. The question is, ‘What kind of technology, social processes, and leadership can I use to support this?’ ” says Derrick Cogburn, Ph.D. Cogburn is an associate professor in the International Communication Program at American University in Washington, D.C., and is for the sixth year organizing a track on Global Virtual Teams at the upcoming Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, which will be held in Kona in January.

“Virtual environments can go beyond what you can get in a co-located environment,” Cogburn says. For example, he offers a highly technical data-mining class that offers both synchronous and asynchronous participation. Some students watch when it’s live, and some view a recording of the class afterward. Unlike a normal class, though, students can dip back into this recording while they work on their coding, improving their learning experience.

Opportunities are there for businesses, as well. “You can ‘chase the sun’ and divide the work on a product with teams in different time zones. By the time one team wakes up, the product they worked on yesterday may now be two or three iterations along.” Application-sharing software has made remote teamwork much easier, Cogburn notes, now that we can literally all be on the same page. He recommends Doodle.com and TimeandDate.com for setting up meetings and calls over various time zones and among different office locations.

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Author:

Kathryn Drury Wagner