Deadwood, Quiet Quitters, Lifers, Goldbrickers, Shirkers, Slackers, et al.

Posted by jlubans on October 10, 2023

Caption: "Well, I finally managed to talk the boss into cleaning out a lot of the deadwood around the office, never dreaming, of course, that that would include me." Cartoon by Stan Hunt, September 14, 1957, Saturday Evening Post.

How to deal with deadwood in the workplace? Several years ago, that's the question I was during a teambuilding workshop.
The question was not unusual, since in settled organizations - like the ones I worked in - new hires often land amidst a large number of incumbents who?ve been on the job for decades. And, some incumbents are more "set in their ways" than others!
What is a new manager to do?
I forget my answer at that workshop, but I asked Google's Bard - an AI experiment.
I wanted to test how it (Bard) works and whether it would have a sensible-sounding answer.
Bottom line, it did!
In a better-than-expected version of a freshman term paper, Bard listed out steps leaders can take along with quite a good grasp of the topic and its difficulties:
"In the past, goldbricking and deadwood were more easily identified. Employees who were not working hard would often be seen goofing off, socializing, or simply wasting time. However, in today's modern workplace, it can be more difficult to spot these employees.
One reason for this is that many companies now have more flexible work arrangements. Employees may be working remotely, from home, or on a hybrid schedule.
This makes it harder for managers to track their employees' productivity and engagement.
Another reason is that many companies now have a more diverse workforce.
Employees come from different backgrounds and cultures, and they have different expectations of work.
This can make it more difficult for managers to create a work environment that is motivating and engaging for everyone."

Well, OK. How would Bard fix it?
"Set clear expectations. Make sure the employee knows exactly what is expected of them in terms of their job duties, performance goals, and deadlines.
Provide regular feedback. Let the employee know how they are doing and where they need to improve. Be specific and constructive in your feedback.
Offer training and development opportunities. If the employee is struggling with their job, offer them training and development opportunities to help them improve their skills.
Create a supportive work environment. Make sure the employee feels valued and respected at work. Encourage them to ask for help when they need it.
Give the employee opportunities to contribute. Find ways for the employee to use their skills and talents to make a positive contribution to the team

All sensible ideas and quite in keeping with the current thinking on the topic!
But, there was little of anything of a breakthrough in Bard's prescription and that is, of course, one of AI's limits, since its job, is it not?, is to reformat the published record in response to a particular query.
Yet, Bard's 1200 word essay - produced in under a few seconds - would get a pretty good grade as a freshman writing assignment! So, there's plenty there for my faculty friends to worry about.
While Bard offered pro-active suggestions - with which we all can concur - it did not mention how a manager's behavior toward workers can inhibit or accelerate quiet quitting. Or, even better, to encourage workers to "go the extra mile" in the workplace.
That extra mile was on display on a recent trip:
Early one morning, my wife and I had breakfast in a Boston airport hotel lobby.
My wife was trying to get the last bit of coffee out of the urn on the coffee bar and a man, passing by and observing my wife's efforts, said he?d take care of it, took the urn into the kitchen and returned with a fresh one.
It turns out he was our morning shuttle driver. I doubt that replenishing coffee urns is in his job description!
He was going the extra mile. Why did he do that? Was caring for others in his DNA or had he been given permission and encouragement by the hotel to make that extra effort?
An Harvard Business Review article, "Quiet Quitting Is About Bad Bosses, Not Bad Employees", explores the influence a manager can have on quiet quitters.
The study concludes that "managers who "balance getting results with a concern for others? needs" were more often perceived as effective managers. Those unable to provide that balance were seen as ineffective managers.
According to the HBR study, "(T)he top behavior that helps effective leaders balance results with their concern for team members was trust. When direct reports trusted their leader, they also assumed that the manager cared about them and was concerned about their wellbeing."
And that mutual trust led to a dramatic difference between effective and ineffective managers in the number of quiet quitters in the surveyed organizations: "the least effective managers have three to four times" as many quiet quitters.

ONLY a click away, some shirker and slacker fables for the workplace:

And, my book on democratic workplaces has much to say about trust building and effective leadership: Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright text by John Lubans 2023

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