Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Slackers Unite

Slackers are traditionally defined as people who avoid work as much as possible. Lately the definition has been honed more precisely to refer to those who avoid excessive work and undue stress, and who are good at mastering the art of indifference in the workplace. Viewed in this light, the slacker is a model employee. You should want these people on your staff -- and you should want to be one yourself.

K. P. Springfield's The Five Habits of Highly Successful Slackers has become one of the greatest advocacies for "Slackism", which promotes stress-free and enjoyable careers. Against the common wisdom which urges passion and enthusiasm in the workplace, Springfield and others argue oppositely: passion is overrated, exhausting, and can be psychologically detrimental to both yourself and your co-workers. Bob Sutton's The No Asshole Rule makes the same point: people often "care too much" in the workplace. You need to watch out for especially passionate and enthusiastic employees, because -- believe it or not -- they're often the assholes of your organization, and in turn easy victims of other assholes.

Take the following Slacker Quiz and see how well you score. Out of ten questions, I got 8 ½ right, so according to these graders I'm a pretty good slacker. Let's look at five of the questions: 1, 3, 4, 7, & 8.

1. When a co-worker who needs help comes to you with a question they are having problems with, and you know the answer, do you:

(A) Smile and say, "Sorry, I don't know the answer to that, but I think Swindla does!"
(B) Pretend you are on the telephone by striking up an artificial conversation with the dial tone and giving the person the "I'm on the phone" hand signal.
(C) Invite them into your office/cube, make some small talk, and then give them the correct answer.
(D) Give them the wrong answer and then anxiously wait to see what happens.

The answer is (C), and I agree. Slackism advises that "successful slackers always help their co-workers to help build a likability factor". And I would further point out that slackers have no reason to view their co-workers as competitors or adversaries. Slackers aren't insecure like that. Unless the person in question is a complete jerk, help the poor soul out when you have a moment to spare.

3. If you are in a situation where either a co-worker or a manager is trying to blame you for the failure of a project or other assignment, and you have proof that you are not to blame, do you:

(A) Go over that person's head and prove with the information that you are innocent.
(B) Send the accuser an email with a subject line that says "Herpes Test Results" while they are in a large meeting with their computer screen on a projector.
(C) Sit down with the individual and try to work out the conflict.
(D) Take the evidence, throw it up in the air and say "Whatever!"

The answer is (D), and again I agree. "Slackers never stick up for what they think is right, because in the corporate world it doesn't matter who is right. Do nothing and let events play out how they may." I wish more people could warm to this wisdom! Let people think whatever they want about you. You know the truth about yourself, and that's all that really matters, right? Yes, that's more easily said than done, but getting defensive over stuff like this will only make you a victim of your own personality in the long run.

(C) might sound like the "mature" answer, but don't kid yourself. People who like to fingerpoint and assess blame usually aren't worth the effort. They tend to be insecure types with poor self-images and thus enjoy seeing others get in trouble. Trying to work through conflict with them only gives them the attention they crave but don't deserve. Indifference is the sure way to go here.

4. When a co-worker has an "action required" item that they urgently present you with, do you:

(A) Ignore it and hope it goes away.
(B) Get the action completed immediately because it is required.
(C) Respond immediately saying that you are on it, but then do nothing until they follow up asking for an update, apologize profusely, and still do nothing.
(D) Tell the co-worker that particular responsibility is not in your job description.

The answer is (C) -- "The successful slacker never completes the task until three requests have been made" -- but I'm afraid I take issue with it. (This was the one question I got "wrong".) I follow this wisdom only in cases of someone I have no respect for or whose requests I consider silly. For the most part I actually prefer (B). After all, I do like helping most people, and I do believe in doing my job. I follow (D) if the task clearly isn't my job, but at the same time I don't like to be anal about the issue. Sticking slavishly to job descriptions can actually go against the slacker's natural tendency to be indifferent about things which aren't worth making a fuss over (see more about this in 7, below).

7. While interviewing candidates for a job, you discover that the interviewee is a potential successful slacker, do you:

(A) Show them the door immediately, you don't need another successful slacker impeding on your established territory.
(B) Ask them a lot of questions to see how qualified they are in successful slacking, and then hire them if they look to be Grade A material.
(C) In the middle of the interview, tell them you have to "take a dump", leave the room, laugh hysterically at yourself, and then spy in the window to see what their reaction is.
(D) None of the above.

The answer is (B), and I definitely agree. Strange as this sounds, when I'm interviewing someone and sense an overabundance of passion, a red flag goes up. These are often the people who will give other employees ulcers, act like pests, and drive you crazy. They can be whiners or loose canons; busybodies or gossip mongers. They question everything, and second-guess everyone -- even about matters which don't concern them. They see problems wherever they look, and love to piss-and-moan about them. They exhaust and demoralize other employees with their unchecked passion.

This isn't to say you want an apathetic employee. Slackism isn't apathy. Apathetic people have little to no interest in any job and shouldn't be hired. They're completely indifferent and don't care at all. Slackers care, but they care in moderation. They pick and choose their battles carefully -- and rarely. They practice the virtue of indifference not because they "don't care about anything", but because they recognize that most things aren't worth stewing over. They argue their points, but concede defeat when overruled by superiors without letting it bother them. They realize that life is too short to be anxious and bitter all the time about little things at work. They get a life and remove the workplace from their emotional center. Bob Sutton best defines the virtue of indifference as that of emotional detachment.

8. You find out that your manager is having an extramarital affair with a co-worker that is inappropriate and could be viewed as a clear HR violation, do you:

(A) Tattle to HR right away like a 2 year old goody-two-shoes.
(B) Inform them that you are aware of their misconduct but will keep it a secret.
(C) Don't say anything and keep it up your sleeve so that it can be used for blackmail purposes at the right time.
(D) Spread gossip around the entire group about a gross over-exaggeration of the truth including a reference to hyena sex using bananas.

The answer is (C), but I only agree with the first part (and so get half-credit). I mean really, blackmail should be beneath a slacker. As far as I'm concerned, true slackers just don't care about dirt like this. It's beneath their notice. They mind their business and are happy to do so.

Lesson learned from all of this? Emulate the slacker. Turn down your passion, up your indifference... and lighten up in the workplace. You'll find yourself going home happy and healthy for a change.


Blogger Paul said...

The last situation in your quiz came up in the episode of The Wire I saw this week (from season 4). The employee was a policeman doing bodyguard work for the mayor and walked into a room where the mayor was being orally serviced.

He walked right back out and later asked some people for advice. The advice he eventually got was to just lay low and expect that a promotion would probably be coming his way soon if he just did nothing about it.

Anonymous KP Springfield said...

Hey Loren,

This is KP Springfield. Thanks for taking the slacker quiz. You must be one of like...two who've actually completed it. So congratulations! In regards to question 4 - the ACTION REQUIRED - Not Really flowchart will better help you understand why you should never immediately complete tasks.

In the corporate world, many people think an item is urgent when it really isn't. The successful slacker uses the ACTION REQUIRED - Not Really flowchart to test the true importance of said task. Basically it works like this:

ACTION REQUIRED email sent to successful slacker from task originator. SS immediately acknowledges, but does nothing. If no follow up email - ACTION REQUIRED - Not Really.

If second email from TO is sent in follow up, SS will immediately acknowledge, but again, still do nothing. If no follow up, ACTION REQUIRED - Not Really.

If third email is sent from TO rife with all caps and empty threats, SS will acknowledge, apologize profusely - usually referencing a death in the family or related crisis - and get task completed immediately.

The ACTION REQUIRED - Not Really flowchart can be found in the book under Habit Four - Procrastination.


KP Springfield

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Hi KP,

Thanks for clarifying question #4, and yes, I suppose there are many places where every task is considered "urgent" when they're really not. In such cases I could see the wisdom in your advice.

Slack on...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ironically, I also think that this is the way to practice Christianity. It is how I pastor the congregations under my care, and how I live out my spiritual life. In fact, I have often spoken of "Christian Apathy/Indifference" to a number of people. All of the bad experiences I have ever had spiritually or temporally have been because of overzealous assholes.

BTW, Loren, have you ever read Richard Beck's blog "Experimental Theology"? I think you might find it interesting. He taught a Sunday School class on the "No Assholes" book.


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