Goofing Off On The Job—And Loving It

A new study finds that, in 42% of companies, low performers actually report being more engaged—more motivated and more likely to enjoy working at their organization, for example—than middle and high performers do, reports Lauren Weber in the Wall Street Journal:

“The findings suggest many organizations are not holding employees accountable for their work, allowing the worst workers to skate by, says Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, the Atlanta-based consulting firm that conducted the survey.

‘Low performers often end up with the easiest jobs because managers don’t ask much of them,’ he said, so they’re under less stress and they’re more satisfied with their daily work lives.

Meanwhile, dedicated and conscientious workers end up staying at the office late, correcting the work of the low performers, and making sure clients or customers are satisfied. This pattern breeds frustration and disengagement in the high performers—and perhaps ultimately drives them to seek work elsewhere. ‘They feel stressed and undervalued, and it starts to undermine the high performers’ confidence that the organization is a meritocracy,’ said Mr. Murphy.

To remedy the situation, managers should speak frankly with high and middle performers, ferreting out what frustrations might potentially send them looking for new opportunities. They should also find out what could motivate them to stick around, he added.” (Read more here.)

I find this surprising. For one thing, an “easy” job doesn’t usually result in engagement and satisfaction at work. Engagement comes from doing meaningful work that is neither too hard (which is frustrating) or too easy (which is boring). It sounds as if these high performing employees are falling into the first of these traps: their work is too hard, too demanding, and they are expected to do far too much.

I’ve been a freelancer for so long that I don’t feel in touch with office life. For those of you who work in offices: Does this ring true?

6 Responses to “Goofing Off On The Job—And Loving It”

  1. Jay says:

    What the study does not say is that low performers are good at company politics.

  2. Félix says:

    I’m really not surprised about those findings. And I can’t agree more with Jay. It is way easier to succeed in a company spending time doing politics, regardless the performances, than working hard and performing well.

  3. This could be true, and comparisons are hard to avoid. But I agree, Annie, that the true measure is engagement. When I’m engaged, I don’t have time, energy, or focus to dabble in envy or comparison.

  4. Marta says:

    I haven’t read the study, but I think it could suggest a number of things other than letting low performers skate by. I’m wondering how performance was measured, for instance. I don’t have corporate experience but in the schools I’ve worked in, I observed a link between high performers, people-pleasing, and a need for approval. Perhaps some so-called low performers are more engaged because they have a healthier work-life balance. In my experience, the 40-hour work week is a myth and high performers are also over-workers and they resent their colleagues who don’t behave likewise.

  5. Karen Johnson says:

    The same is true at schools for teachers. Many (most) work really hard but others don’t, yet the administration has no clue. Politics and schmoozing.

  6. Don Johnson says:

    I think this has more to do with managers who generally do not confront employees. Their work is probably no harder or demanding, they are just slackers whose bosses are afraid to confront them so they skate on easy street without consequences.

    If managers clearly communicate their expectations up front and then confront each employee to hold them accountable they can keep low performers from slacking (or let them go). If they let them slack-off they bring production and morale down since hard workers feel lack of fairness and accountability.

    Too many manager land in their positions because they were so good at their job, yet that doesn’t translate to being a good manager, unless they are fully training, of which the majority are not.

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