The Artful Skiver

Posted by jlubans on March 31, 2020

Caption: How to be at work when not there./b>

Skive, in British slang, began as a term for skipping school, playing hooky.
A noun and a verb, it now applies to filching time, from family or the boss at work, for personal use.
It’s a form of theft justified by the claim that it is earned and deserved.
Skiving ranges from taking sick leave for a home improvement project to holding down an esoteric full time job. We all know skivers (slackers) but few of us can make a full time job of it.
But, I had a few workers like that. One was in charge of keeping track of numbers for reporting out to other agencies, probably at most a few hours a week job. Somehow he’d managed to make it into a full time job!
While this worker was not a direct report, I still feel foolish about letting that happen!
At least one skiving study shows it is “borrowing” paid time for personal use ranging from online shopping to viewing salacious web sites.
The study">psychologist Tessa West, writing in the WSJ,
explains: “The average person spends 1.5 to three hours a day at work on “private activities” (70% of U.S. internet traffic passing through porn sites is done during working hours, and 60% of all online purchases are made during working hours.)”
While some of us may “tsk, tsk” about this and notch it up to the untrustworthiness of mankind, there may far more unsettling reasons for this behavior.
One is that organizations (and families) expect too much of its workers: the company may profess a desire for balance between life and work, but all the signals point to work comes first, personal time is second and best not taken.
Another reason is that many organizations claim to be democratic but in practice are hierarchies with top down decision making.
Theory X thinking rules the roost: if the worker is unsupervised he will take advantage of the organization; coercion is what makes people work.
You can sugar coat it, but many workplace bosses do not trust workers and give them little latitude for thinking, scheduling and working. Our workplaces are largely systems of masters and servants.
So, just like in ancient times, the clever slave tricks the slave owner. Indeed, there’s a literary genre around the cunning slave (e.g. Aesop) or servant (e.g. Jeeves) getting the upper hand on the feckless master.
And so it can be with the supervisor and the skiver.
One HR representative offered clues for spotting skivers at work – this is HR as truant officer.
There are several clues: one is the jacket on the chair (illustrated). The skiver leaves it to suggest he or she is at work but has stepped away for a moment and will be back soon. Well it may be two or three hours.
Another, looking-busy technique is to walk around with a piece of paper in hand.
That suggests a mission to clarify a memo, or to answer some important question.
In reality, the skiver is headed out the door for a latte and a bit of a rest on a park bench.
So, is it always going to be this way at work?
It needn’t be. We know from a simple experiment with boys clubs back in the 50s, that people work best under a democratic style of leadership.
That means the boss trusting and collaborating with workers. This results in high production and acceptance of responsibility by workers. Most importantly, when the boss leaves, the workers continue to work and produce.
Under the traditional HR autocratic model (close supervision and little trust in the worker) production can be goosed into high gear but once the boss leaves the goofing off begins, including bullying.
There are two options:
Leave things as they are and assume that skiving is a “cost” to the modern organization and trying to stop it will result in even lower morale and a further drop in production.
Or, we recognize that the workplace needs improvement:
Democratize the workplace (what this Leading from the Middle blog and book
Leading from the Middle.
are about).
Make work meaningful.
Give people freedom to make work related decisions.
Give people reason to believe their job has a future.
Work towards mutual support and respect.
And, leaders should model and encourage achieving a balance between the personal and the professional, not the latter ever ascendant.
My daughter is an Oregon State Trooper – a dangerous, stressful profession with a reputation for burn out.
She told me how impressed she was by the agency leadership’s repeated emphasis on work-life balance at the training academy. At the graduation ceremony, the commander spoke of the crucial need for family time at length in front of the many proud families in attendance.
Not only was it stressed in theory, once she got to her assigned station at the State Capitol, it is practiced.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

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